Thursday, August 31, 2006

And The...Yankees Lose

Yankees Move

I don't make a living from hating on the New York Yankees baseball team (their boss, that's another matter), but like many limeys love to see the top dogs brought down. Yesterday, though, they were taking on the team with the best record in baseball - the Detroit Tigers, who are my chosen American League team by marriage.

And a ripping game it was too. The above is a happy snap taken of the moment halfway through when they comb the pitch, not unlike the space troopers in Spaceballs. You can tell that the Yankees take things a little more seriously than cross-town underachievers the New York Mets, because the pitch combers don't do little dances while they're combing. Unless that's strictly a weekend thing. The Yankees almost took the game, but their closer bollocksed it all up, and we were treated to a top of the ninth, two-out, 2-2 three-run homer ffrom Detroit. If that last sentence meant nothing, move along, and get ready for some serious incomprehensibility come October, when the Mets try not to sod it all up.

Van Hunter

So this time it was Dinosaur Jr that got its gear stolen from a trailer following an Outer borough gig. My sympathies to the aging indie rockers - it looks as if their guitar set-up was almost as convoluted at that of Sonic Youth, who have also been ripped off in recent years. The sociopathic behaviour of frontnerds J Mascis and recently-returned Lou Barlow notwithstanding, I hope they can recover their stuff.

But this news is depressingly familiar, as this quick search of the mighty Vegan demonstrates. It's quite possible that there is an abundance of light-fingered hipsters in the borough. More likely, there's an abundance of careless musicians coming to town that thought that what with gentrification and all, there's no way that scrote punkers are getting their start in the biz the way the Sex Pistols did.

But this is utterly insane. Why the hell would venues not be able to direct a band either to a secure garage or be able to stash this for them? More importantly, shouldn't road managers be able to spring for some kind of security? I dare say for the smaller band such costs are going right out of their tiny pockets, but it seems like a pretty good investment, unless the history of these thefts is that most of the stuff gets returned by trawling Sam Ash and craigslist in a timely fashion. Or through mentalist blog appeals.

I imagine, though, that there's a decent amount of money to made for an enterprising young gent, or gents, that could hook bands up with a storage facility in their selected cities. It certainly couldn't hurt to cultivate the venue owners. That all said, it's not like I've ever taken a band on tour, and the only real advice I could offer a venue owner would be to never f*** with Peter Grant. And if one owned a time machine and had a yen to have them play your enormodome, that would damn useful advice too.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Evens Stevens

So, the ninja-esque parliamentary manoeuvre known as the secret hold we told you about yesterday? Turns out that the guy behind it is the fabulously crabby and crumbly Ted Stevens, senator from Alaska.

Stevens has most recently become internet famous for comparing the net to "a series of tubes". The speech wherein this comparison was made has been "remixed", if by "remix", you mean looped over epically bad downtempo trance music.

Before that he was known as the man that tried to slip a $200 million-plus amendment into a transport bill for a "bridge to nowhere", "which would link Ketchikan, Alaska (population 8,900) with its airport on Gravina Island (population 50)," according to TPMmuckraker, which has taken the lead in hunting down the senator.

TPMm brings this up because Stevens has tried to kill a bill that would place all recipients of federal money onto a single website because he says it is "too expensive". A better description would be "a pain in the arse to implement", but this would hardly be a reasonable plea given the amount that congress has been prepared to spend on stupid IT projects in the past.

Still, the title of "Bridge To Nowhere" does not really deserve to stand, since the bridge basically connects the Anchorage with the only land in the region suitable for additional development. Proof that the project isn't a complete waste of time is that the state is going ahead with the bridge anyway, possibly by funding it with tolls.

Talking of money well spent, I just got round to noticing that Wal-Mart is using the Dirtbombs song "Trainwreck" in their back-to-school commercials. The feedback is mixed - I'm not sure Mick Collins ever claimed to be a punk purist, but I'd be lying if I didn't feel a slight indie shudder at me band getting all exposed, filthy lucre notwithstanding.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Hold It Now

Two utterly insane bits of Americana today. The first of which is the "secret hold". America's senate was set to vote on a move that would pander to the nation's worst habit - spending scadloads of money while pretending not to. It would marry American persistence to American skills in information technology to create a single website that explained exactly where federal grant, contract and earmark money was going.

The website, the front door for a huge database, is described as "like google", which I think just means that you can search it. With luck it will be up to the standard of the SEC's EDGAR database, which is a criminally underused resource. I suspect, though, that implementing this database will be a bugger, if only from my observations of the comedic comings and goings of America's immigration machinery.

Still that shouldn't stop my lawmakers (yeah, that's right, I pay 'em, even if I don't choose 'em) from chasing after what should be a fairly obvious political plus for both of the country's parties.

But then, in a manouevre that would make Robert Walpole proud, an unnamed senator has decided to a secret hold on the proposal, which allows them to anonymously prevent it from seeing the light of day. The grounds for doing this seem rather hazy, almost the product of a country without a constitution. Which means we don't get our EDGAR of pork, unless the nameless scrooge steps forward.

The first really rather odd thing about this is that I thought the whole point of this pork barrel politics stuff was that politicians could boast of how much money they'd robbed from effete non-resident New York tax-payers and spent on Poulty Security or whatever for the boys back home. I'd think it would be a rather handy campaign tool, instead of spending precious campaign material acreage on listing these stupid projects they'd lured to inappropriate locations, they could just say "go to and watch me earmark the shit out of anything that moves."

But the stupidest thing I've seeen in connection with this is a post on the website of a political action committee run by Senator Bill Frist, the man to whom, in his capacity as senate majority leader, the senator with the secret hold would have had to apply. Here's what he said:

It is deeply ironic that bipartisan legislation dedicated to transparency in government has been obstructed by the least transparent possible means.

As far as I can tell, if it was a democrat Frist would have been perfectly within his rights to tell us it was one of them. Either way, he either knows it was a democrat or knows who it is. But instead of clarifying this situation, without, I might add, even needing to identify the senator, he retreats into nonsensical pieties. Follow the hunt for the delinquent legislator here.

The other insane thing for today is how New york city managed to create their own version of London's Chelsea, only, and this boggles the mind, worse. Undergage rich girls? Check. Psychotic bouncers? Check. Gangs of marauding tow-trucks? Check. Guards barracks? Alright, you've got me there. Anyhoo, the centre of New York nightlife, at least the more glamorous and high-octane bits, is a couple of blocks of the far west side of Manhattan, conveniently close to New Jersey, and nowhere near where I'd ever like to go.

Next time a visitor from overseas asks me why we're going drinking in Fort Greene, or maybe Ludlow if I'm feeling very edgy, gets this quote from Rob The Bouncer:

On any given night, the clubs of West Chelsea admit literally thousands of subhuman degenerates of well-below-average intelligence -- lacking any degree of common sense whatsoever, even when sober -- liquor and drug them up until they're incoherent, then let them all out into the streets of Manhattan to fend for themselves and be hemorrhoids up the ass of every decent human being within a twenty block radius.

That's why I'm very glad to be much too old.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Death To The Keytar

Today, in fantastically stupid instrument news, we have a couple of plucky but doomed instruments looking to stem the flood of pretentious musicians heading into keyboards. The stakes in this battle, as you can imagine, are pretty high. For starters, the faux-box-pimping no-marks of 33Hz would have to rethink much of their aesthetic.

The most interesting new entrant is the Tritare, a Canadian instrument that has been constructed along rigorous mathematical principles, and produces "non-harmonic sounds". The sound is described as something between a guitar and a gong, and is presumably soon to wake many hippies from their torpor/freak them the hell out. Apparently any current guitar player can master it quite quickly, although the Norwegian death metal scene would seem to be the most appropriate source of customers.

Not so the Pikasso, which lurched from the mind of Pat Metheny, and features 42 strings. "42", of course, being the answer to "How many ways can I freak Yngwie J. Malmsteen the hell out?" I have no idea how practicable this instrument is. Apparently, like certain brands of sanitary product, it is contoured to one's body, just as long as that body belongs to Pat Metheny.

Anyhoo, on closer inspection, it turns out that this geetar has been in existence for over 22 years, which hardly makes it a prime candidate for storm trooper in the Keytar Wars. More importantly, it fails to take into account recent advances in FRICKIN' LASER HARPS, devices which will someday make all regular music obsolete.

[UPDATE - Dearie me, looks like we even have something topical to offer you.

Frank Zappa - "My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama"
Yep, you can indeed find "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" here.]

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Marathon Man

Ted At Seaport
As much to move the nascent racially-tinged flame war below off the top as anything else, here's a quick note of the Ted Leo show from Friday. I had meant to highlight it in advance, but the day job got in the way. It was the fifth year running that Ted has shown up at the South Street Seaport, and the guy's shows are pretty much the only thing that would drag me down there.

This post would have been up on Saturday night, to be honest, but I had forgotten that posting from my Flickr account would not work with the new version of blogger. So the post got eaten. It wasn't a huge problem, since the post wasn't long, and I've since recycled some of the material into a Sugarzine column. Which will be up soon.

Ted was on pretty good form, and played for about two hours. I did my usual trick of disappearing for tthe encores, so I'm guessing I missed the "Ballad of the Sin Eater", "Come Baby Come", and maybe "Tell Balgeary, Balgury is Dead". Maybe a cover, too. The crowd wasn't that bonkers, but there was plenty of space, some pretty cheap beer, and the weather held off.

More importantly, the new material is sounding pretty good, and if anything more beserker than the "Hearts Of Oak" stuff. I do believe he's gonna put the riffs up front. There's no news of when an album is coming out, but take it from me, Ted, I think it's ready. You'll do Touch And Go proud

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Hoop Drools

I'm a nerd on so many different levels. Only my relatively large stature prevented me from being "crushed" during my teenage years. But in between avoiding competitive sports and smoking endless cigarettes I still took the odd moment to sneer at athletes.

This came back to me as I watched Vince Carter and top wife-beater Jason Kidd mumble their way through a press conference organised by their boss Bruce Ratner aboout the stadium. Here's the low-down (Realplayer link) from Kidd on why he just loves his boss' project:

""He's doing it not just for the Nets, but for the community, for the youth to have role models to be able to look up to not just for ten years but for longevity."

Carter's statement, which I haven't been able to hunt down, was if anything even less coherent than Kidd's. It's a tribute to Ratner's cynicism that he thinks that merely hauling two athletes onstage to repeat "Youth", "Goal" and "Unity" in an indeterminate order will provide the requisite publicity boost.

Looks like the hack klatch and litigation, though, are the main real hope for the project.

[UPDATE: Whoo-hoo! Two years of posting insulting things about the people promoting the project, and I finally get an ill-informed accusation of racism! I knew they were falling down on the job. See the comments for details. I always suspected that scribbling inflammatory stuff to get the landgrab's attention would get me into trouble. But this bears repeating - if you want a learned and substantial discussion of the project please go to Mr Oder's excellent place.]

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Ready, "Get", Go

I haven't so far mentioned the public hearing taking place today on the godawful stadium project. All spanners and brickbats available should be thrown at this tax-wasting monstrosity. Because judging by how the bonds for the new Yankee and Met stadiums sold, the man Ratner is not going to have a hard time funding his own boondoggle. I'd like to give you more of an idea of how the two baseball deals worked, but it kind of conflicts with my day job, so I will unfortunately demur.

Instead I'll post a remix of the new Rapture single. Not so much because it's rare, or topical, or hasn't appeared anywhere else (ahem), but because Mrs. Cutesome says she likes it. Now, she even remembers seeing them in Philly a few years back.

The Rapture - "Get Myself Into It (Remix)"
Buy the album real soon, like

Mittel L Dopa

So, top left-leaning German author Gunther Grass has confessed to a youthful indiscretion. It's not a normal youthful indiscretion, like writing bad poetry or trying marijuana. No, Grass, currently pimping a volume of memoirs, let slip that he was a member of the Waffen SS during the dying days of World War II.

My knowledge of the man's work consists of an hour spent leafing through the first chapter of the Tin Drum as a bored teenager during prep. Indeed, I once managed to insult the good denizens of Calw by confusing Grass with their noted son Hermann Hesse, who was of anything even more of a hippy.

So I'll spare you too much of the analysis of his work, and do what I do best - impugn the motives of those that commented on the revelation. The comments are basically variants of that popular flavour Schadenfreude and Ass. And few of them focus on the fact that Grass was drafted into the SS unit and never fired a shot in anger, or that while he never fessed up, most descriptions of his wartime activities say that "it was assumed that" rather than "he asserted that".

The most entertaining commentator is Christopher Hitchens, although his article on the subject is nowhere nears as intemperate as the headline ("Günter Grass is a bigmouth, a huckster, and a hypocrite") suggests. Hitch is loath to utterly put the boot in, knowing that morally pure sh*tkicking writers are in even more scant supply than their morally impure counterparts (right, Mr. Hitchens?). He hews awkwardly to the conventional wisdom, which is that Grass' writing is not what it used to be.

Still yelling at Hitchens for yelling at Grass for persisting as a caveman leftist is not too fruitful. And I hope almost sincerely that those that are attacking him now are treating the exposure as payback for his most recent anti-American outbursts. Because if they thought that asking Germany to confront its Nazi past made him a sanctimonious bastard, then might this not suggest that they are a gang of unreformed, ODESSA-shagging Dentists From Brazil?

Still, to step back from the name-calling and seventies movie references a moment, what's been so interesting about the US reaction is how little credit it gives to the German habit of self-examination (I'm talking about the Germans' habit of turning a flashlight onto their culture and identity in this instance rather than their turning a flashlight on their bowel movements).

I get the impression that merely to call for more rigorous confrontation with a country's past is somehow creepy. And I'll go out on a limb and suggest that the difference between Germans and Americans is that while both care about whether other nationalities like them (unlike, say, the British, or Millwall on sea), the Germans are interested in the details of the answer. If you think that I'm engaging in crass simplifications here, spare a moment to consider the career of one Karen Hughes.

It might explain a little the difference between the European desire to understand how the holocaust happened and the urge simply to say that it was very bad and to urge us never to forget, US historians being prominent amongst the ranks of the latter. Now, it is important not to minimise the import, scale and depravity of what the Nazis did to the Jews, and its important to say this, in small part so that people will keep reading your argument.

I was struck by this when finishing Stephen Ozment's A Mighty Fortress. Ozment's book attracted quite a few brickbats, many of them for some inaccuracies in his retelling the Great War, and some others for his book being a little short. It's certainly clear that the guy's most comfortable discussing the sixteenth century and Reformation, and I think that his attempt to show that the duality between individualism and communalism (Bad -isms? Probably both of them) has been a constant is worthwhile.

Ozment spends a fair while on this duality, exploring the image German generals during the Roman empire, both high officials and barbarians in Roman eyes, and looking at the traumas that Germany experienced during the Thirty Years was and Napoleonic era. Germans tended to be rather paranoid about the threat from internal and external enemies, and Hitler exploited it cleverly.

You can imagine that for all this, Ozment's treatment of the WWII era is much too light on discussion of the holocaust. Ozment does say the book is an attempt to see whether viewing the holocaust as the end point of German historiography is a worthwhile exercise, or whether it was just the most grotesque result (of several) of German contradictions. I must say I was worried that there was too much explaining of German anti-Semitism, and too little defining of it, but the conclusion is a little more reassuring, and drops the name of Grass repeatedly, and since Ozment has a better feel for the inner mind of a sixteenth century burgher than the German High Command he probably should get a pass.

Which is why I found the debate in Alan Bennett's History Boys (a play I caught recently) rather interesting. There are multiple themes at work, and the play's depiction of Oxbridge exams and History was frighteningly similar to my own experience - my avoidance of molestation and attendance at a fee-paying school notwithstanding.

But to describe a conflict between a glib and needlessly flash modern-style teacher and the more traditional and morally-compassed methods of the old-school pervert teacher is at times artificial. To say that the Holocaust cannot be put into context is one thing, to say that it should not be explained is another. More likely Bennett was simply saying that one shouldn't play around with the facts of an atrocity just to stimulate a jaded Oxford entrance professor. But to question popular asssumptions, this glib and morally unmoored writer would suggest, is not always bad, provided it is done with the requisite sensitivity.

Oy. Looks like I've taken a perfectly erudite and sprawling post and tacked a truism on the end. That's what studying Germans will do for you, though. There's one topical bit of music for today, mind. By a band whose lead singer had the same last name as Gunther Grass' city of birth...(Wasn't your mp3blogging licence revoked some weeks ago? - Ed)

The Misfits - "Halloween"
"Get Yer Legacy Of Brutality" here. This blog disclaims all responsibility for you turning into a bluddy goth

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Hack Attack

I've recently been a little consumed with the politics surrounding the Atlantic Yards developent. For one reason, it's an issue that concerns me, in a way that much of city politics doesn't, beyond a certain lurid curiosity that I have about it. And yes, as I seem to have to stress every time I discuss, I don't have my papers, and thus The Vote.

[On another note, who knew that Tony Blankley, editor of top Moonie-owned right wing samzidat sheet the Washington Times is not only of limey extraction, but reasonably charming over email? We salute you, Tony, or give you celestial love greetings, or whatever Reverend Moon's adherents do]

What's fascinating to me about the way that this big-assed real estate scam dressed up as a basketball stadium is how it intersects with the existing fault lines in Brooklyn politics. What we previously had was this rather cool (for the uninitiated and deeply cynical) but mostly inconsequential insider-insurgent dynamic, which was notable for the sale of judgeships, politically-motivated prosecutions of rivals (and bonus specious firings of underlings!), and Clarence Norman.

Now, what the stadium financing has done is expose just how rotten the Brooklyn one-party Borough is. It is probably of little surprise that top Clarence Norman pal Carl Andrews is among the candidates up for election in November. It is probably more surprising that since he's a former state senator he's picked up a bunch of endorsements in his bid to replace Major Owens as my (?) congressman. He's rather pally with Ratner too.

I will heartily encourage you to visit the Atlantic Yards Voting Guide to get an idea on where the candidates stand on the issues. And please sodding vote in the Democratic primary on the 12th September, because there are politically starving limeys in Park Slope that would kill for your vote. By the time we get to the November election you'll be faced with either the guy who was hand selected by the Democratic party party machine or a Republican patsy.

And you know where that gets us? Betsy Bloody Gotbaum.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Cool Is The Degree

Cool Is The Degree
Originally uploaded by Gringcorp.
I was up disgustingly early this morning for an 8am appointment with La Migra, and must say that despite the location (Downtown Brooklyn) and the decor (how does one make a shade of blue forlorn?). they were really very pleasant. The fingerprinting technology, on the other hand, was a mite more temperamental.

I'm not sure I'll ever completely feel at ease with immigration-related matters. There's too much that can go wrong, and the results of a foul-up can be disconcertingly final. This despite the fact that I've never been detained or deported.

The case of the Mackinac Three, the three gentlemen of Palestinian descent detailed for owning too many cellphones, first as potential terrorists, then as fraud suspects, should give one pause.As far as I can tell, they weren't immigrants, but if they were, I have a suspicion that immigration charges would have been thrown into the mix.

I spent yesterday persuading my new telephone, a Nokia 6102i , to chat with my iMac. It was tricky, because iSync doesn't support the model, but this lovely plugin did the trick.

I had settled on the model rather grudgingly, because I wanted a low-end Nokia with bluetooth, but not necessarily a fliptop phone. I had my eye on the Motorola L2, which is slightly more metal (literally, in this case), and a little more futuristic. But the L2 talks to macs even more grudgingly, so Mrs. Cutesome is checking it out right now.

But what the Nokia does have is a camera, and I reckon I'll be taking quite a few happy snaps with it. I'll try and keep the cheerfully painted trucks to a minimum, but this one, on the way back from downtown, really caught my attention.

[UPDATE. It's not easily googleable, but this French Canandian gentleman claimed to have a version of iSync for the L2, but is appears to have disappeared as a result of him going over his .mc file transfer limit. Needless to say, I didn't save it either]

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Moorside Rule

About one-third of the recent delay in posts can be ascribed to the somewhat screwy way by which blogger beta came in to the world. In other words, it couldn't work out which of my passwords to use - the google or the blogger - or my laptops couldn't decide, or I was being an utter moron.

To be honest I didn't have anything particularly pressing to communicate to you all. I did want to mark the passing of Bruno Kirby, who many of who would have known as Lieutenant Steve from Good Morning Vietnam, or from City Slickers. The obits have described him as a character actor, although he was much funnier than that.

My favourite role of his wasn't even a long one. It was as Tommy Pischedda in Spinal Tap, and the following quote is pinched from this messageboard.

[Tommy Pischedda is driving Spinal Tap from the airport in a limo]

Tommy Pischedda: Excuse me...are you reading "Yes I Can"? You know what the title of that book should be? "Yes I Can if Frank Sinatra Says it's Okay." Cause Frank calls the shots for all of those guys. Did you get to the part yet where Sammy is coming out of the Copa... it's about 3:00 in the morning and he sees Frank? Frank's walking down Broadway by himself....

[Spinal Tap raise the partition in the limo thus cutting Tommy off]

Pischedda: Fuckin' limeys.

I used to trot out that last exclamation whenever I encountered a fellow limey behaving badly in New York, but since I haven't been hanging around Soho or Central Park that much recently I've been known to whisper it under my breath at the approach of every compatriot, as if desperately to assert my own uniqueness. You might even call me a self-hating limey.

Tune? Well, it ain't a polka, that's for sure, though it is related to the GMV soundtrack The soundtrack features some dialogue which didn't make it into the movie, as well as some songs that failed similarly. I was always puzzled about the tune selection until I finally got round to buying the first Nuggets compilation, and realised the whoever had compiled the soundtrack had just copied the last two sides of Nuggets.

So, instead of The Them's version of Muddy Waters' Baby Please Don't Go, featuring a young Van Morrison, I'll give you the Amboy Dukes' version, featuring a young Ted Nugent. Psych!

The Amboy Dukes - "Baby Please Don't Go"
Nuggets here, or the Dukes' Loaded For Bear here

Friday, August 11, 2006

Head On

Pah, just like an out-of-touch and autocratic blogger to get on to a consumer fad well after it's been played out. I refer, of course, to bloglord Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, who just produced a post about media consultants that references NY Governor candidate Eliot Spitzer's ads and talks about how slick they are.

I've been a fan of Spitzer's ads for a while, in part because they make him seem all presidential, but mostly because they obscure what a strangely-proportioned head he has. The initial round of adverts (link here to ginormous windows media file) managed to avoid portraying his forehead at all. It's true, you do need to pay big bucks to get attention to detail like that.

There are signs, though, that this might be slipping. The latest ad from Spitzer (yep, another huge wmv file) seems to be an attempt to humanise him through the timeworn tradition of having adorable little children and minorities hold up poorly-written signs in his support. They also, however, display the man's gigantic cranium.

It is not my purpose to mock the candidate - a man I consider an exemplary sh*tkicker of which all New Yorkers should be proud. But one of the first things I was told to look out for when I moved to this fair country was the Americans' obsessions with wonderful-looking hair, an observations that six years of watching late-nite infomercials have done little to counter.

The man may have had a reasonably natty haircut, and the adverts are nowhere near as nuts as those of gay ex-governor of New Jersey Jim McGreevey. But Spitzer's media ops need sprucing up, in the humble opinion of this receding blogger that mocks the bald.

To celebrate our migration to a new shonky mp3-hosting website, we present a tune with exactly the same title as the post (but not the one you think, or the ad you might have noticed recently)

Urge Overkill - "Head On"
Get yer "Americruiser/Jesus Urge Superstar" here. Marvel at how those so suave can produce this so murky.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Short restaurant review here. There's a cursed restaurant spot on 6th Avenue and Sterling that used to house a Japanese restaurant that went under. This Japanese joint, called firstly Yakitori Canteen, and then Y Sushi Canteen in a bid to reach the healthy Sloper demographic, never really caught on. See, Sixth Avenue doesn't get a lot of foot traffic, or any other traffic, and there are few examples of restaurant nearby that have been able to make a go of it. Hunan Delight being an exception and St Mark's Bistro proving me dead right.

The new place in this spot is a soul food place called Sadie Mae's Cafe, and it will sell you a half fried chicken for 13 bucks, thank you very much. We went there last night, and I have to agree with this poster. It's balls. Slow, flavourless, badly cooked. I think there is room for some midprice soul food, since Biscuit (RIP) and some of the places on Fulton and Vanderbilt do it pretty well. But you have to be very careful, lest you end up going the same way as P Diddy's Mum's place

To be honest what I think the spot needs is an utterly obsessive and over-the-top place run by a compulsive Frenchman, not unlike, say, Applewood, although word from the developmentally challenged colleague in advertising that sits opposite me is that Applewood is struggling. So you might want to troop down to Red Hook in future. Anyway, I'm only going to be a little sorry (and that mostly on account of the very nice server) when the red ink swallows it - given how many items were unavailable last night I think the death spiral might have begun.

Something Rotten

A quick odds and sods post to alert you to grave happenings in the borough. First off, and considerably later than the competition, a link to the recent New York Magazine article on the Atlantic Yards. It's a rare mainstream city-wide press article that's pretty critical about the project.

Now I suppose I should be thankful that a reporter at a proper magazine has taken some time to go over the main flaws in the Carbuncle that would eat Prospect Heights (Or Robocop's Delta City, as some might have it). I certainly don't subscribe to the "I was into hating it before it was popular" indie wankery coming out of the dear old NY Press.

What really galls me is that the author of the piece suggests that only local residents and those employing the gut instincts of an 80s cop movie hero can truly hate the project. The models do exist to show that the project can't produce enough in tax receipts to pay for itself, and the statistics exist to show that most of the housing that will be built in 30-stoey high monstrosities over my neighbourhood will only be affordable to the same gentrifiers that are accused of mindless obstructionism.

I can't go near the racial and class debates that surround the project, and respect the writer of the piece for trying to engage in them. All I'll say is that the yuppie swine driven out by the Ratner project will go off and probably build some achingly cool communities someplace else, and the middle of Brooklyn will be left with a sad, windswept, empty expanse of towers that will make Co-op City look cheerful.

By way of comic relief, and because we haven't mocked the little creep since he went under the knife, we will notice that Marty "With Great Stupidity Comes Awesomely Little Responsibility" Markowitz has gone down to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens to salute a rare plant that smells just like his mind tastes. Fortunately there does not yet appear to be a picture showing the meeting of these two kindred spirits and intellectual equals.

(As a quick aside, I would like to point out the reports of Mr. Markowitz' interest in running for mayor. I could not be happier at this news. It would prove once and for all that the city's Democratic party is much better at inoffensive hack candidates than able administrators. It may even hasten the demise of a party in urgent need of a brutal makeover. But I digress)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Tottenville Beach Is Lies

I had my reasons - though lord knows I'm an Outer Borough fetishist - for travelling to Staten Island. But they were all pure. I had received word of a mythical beach at the bottom of Staten Island, a quiet and unspoiled stretch of parkland at the southernmost tip of New York State - Tottenville Beach. And all we needed to do was take an R Train to the Staten Island Ferry, followed by the Staten Island Railroad. This process took a mere two hours, or twice as long as it would have taken to kayak there.

What we found, at the end of the railroad, was a superficially charming bit of suburbia, all painted wooden houses and well-tended gardens. This gave way to a much less charming version of suburbia, all ill-proportioned mansions and endless rows of SUVs parked in the street. And 20 minutes later, no Tottenville Beach. The Tottenville Beach, where "you can relax while sunbathing, or stroll down its sandy coast taking in the fresh air and beautful views."

[Quick aside here, but you may notice that I am taking care to mention Tottenville Beach as frequently as possible. This is so as to make this page visible to the casual google-searcher. And thus prevent future generations falling prey to such bilge as the above-quoted]

What do find at the end of Carteret Street but an abandoned and ill-maintained stretch of scrub. An insect-ridden, arid waste of prime real estate. When we chance upon the shore (you're in luck, the tide's in, explained the old-timer we stopped for directions), we encounter a two foot wide strip of dirt lined with a black and oily film. Which may or may not have something to do with the chemical storage tanks that were visible from the Tottenville Railroad stop. We turn round toot sweet.

As a final aside, you may have heard that the Staten Island Railroad, while not a part of the subway system basically consists of subway trains running at street level. The novelty wears off rather quickly. The first thing one should notice is that, being at street level, they maintain excellent wireless coverage, including those beepy Nextel walkie-talkie things. The daylight also seems to make the youth of the borough behave in an even less housetrained fashion than normal.

Long Island beckons. Bugger. Never thought you'd hear me say that.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Love Lee Day

The ability to mark the passing of genius black hippie Arthur Lee without posting some topical tunes is quite clearly beyond this malcontent. I'm not going to go so far as to post the man's entire ouevre on the web, more to post music from two Gumby Fresh favourites. Thought that it would be nicer than depriving whoever is picking up his bills of the royalties.

so, we have the Make Up's wish - finally granted, and the Hellacopters.

The Make Up - "Free Arthur Lee"
Buy "I Want Some" here. The sound of an entire aesthetic being copped

The Hellacopters - "A House Is Not A Motel"
Buy "Cream Of The Crap Vol. 2" here. It's an ironic title

Thursday, August 03, 2006

No Light

So today was such a scorcher I spent it in bed. Many of you will, quite rightly, deem this reaction to the recent elevated temperatures as a tad extreme, especially since I have gone on record as saying that air conditioning is an affliction of the weak. The reality is, of course, a tad more complex, and you should ascribe the first sentence to my love of surprises and other staples of hack writing.

Dayjob central was located well within the zone, bounded by Fifth Avenue, 14th street, 40th street, and the East River, which was today roiled by threats of blackouts. It has become quite apparent that these feeder cables, and not a lack of suitable generating capacity, are at the root of the power shortages that have accompanied our 100 degree-plus weather. Which means that, yes, it's all ConEd's fault. That's not quite true, actually, it's the fault of whichever genius thought that one could square installing the redundancy in electrical systems required to meet such weather conditions with being a Fortune 500 public company.

Parts of my building were asked to perform voluntary evacuations, and since the company-wide email stressing that it did not apply to the able-bodied of our number arrived rather late in the day, I opted to work from home. Before you snicker at this, I will have you know that I produced quite the masterwork about financing infrastructure in the middle of World War III. (It is, needless to say, quite easy to insure it as well)

There's yer horrible heatwave story - a morning spent with the lights dimmed, a half-arsed evacuation, a jolly ride home on the Q, and an afternoon propped up in bed with the AC on low.

You may also wonder who Gumby Fresh supports to be the next Democratic candidate for US Senate from Connecticut. I know I do, even though such an endorsement, if it represented a monetary figure, would be forbidden. In one corner you've got this sweaty pompous moralistic old timer, Joe Lieberman (think of a less principled Roy Hattersley), and in the other you've got this slightly goofy, slightly more charming, slightly less snotty version of John Kerry, which is to say, he's still pretty awkward but means well, called Ned Lamont. Lamont would have had this sewn up, except for the fact we're a) scared of the FEC, and b) dismayed by the fact that Ned once drew a salary from the arch-clowns at Cablevision.

And a note on the use of blackface in lazy election-related blog invective. It's enormously retarded, much more retarded, say, than using "retarded" to mean "stupid" in lazy blog posts. Got it? It has to be retired. It didn't work last time. Won't again. If saying "you are engaged in cheap racial pandering" doesn't do the trick, time to move on.

Ahem. Right, time for the nightly puppies. Hang in there Mrs. Cutesome!

[Picture courtesy of flickr user mphoenix

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Carr, A One-Time Co-Pilot

My sympathies go out to Allen Carr, the man who helped a bunch of people quit smoking and made a decent living in the process. He's been diagnosed with lung cancer, at the age of 73. I'm sorry, because Carr was one of the factors in my giving up smoking (that, and a stern warning from a doctor and the love of a beautiful Cutesome).

There was something deeply annoying about the style of the book he wrote, and which I read during a car-trip to Massachusetts. Still, it was penned by a man who trained as an acccountant, and was more concerned with bombarding you with reinforcing messages than mad prose stylez. And he certainly did what he said on the tin, and has a 75% success rate in my dayjobland.

Carr's statement sort of sums up the man's qualities:

It is not possible to tell if Allen’s cancer is linked to his previous 100 cigarette-a-day addiction. Allen has also spent many years in smoke-filled rooms since he quit, whilst treating smokers for their addiction. One of the unique features of Allen Carr’s Easyway Clinics is that smokers continue to smoke whilst attending the sessions. If this time he has spent with smokers has contributed to his current condition, Allen’s view is that it’s a price worth paying, especially as his method has successfully treated over 10 million smokers. He is certain that had he not quit, he would have been dead 20 years ago and confirms that the last 23 years he has spent as a non-smoker have been easily the most enjoyable of his life.

Right there you have it, a plug, a hint of piousness, and the knowledge that there's no way in hell you could do a Markowitz on the guy, because he obviously means every word he says. Goood luck, Mr. Carr.


Slate's been a frustrating beast of late. Its tendency, frequently endearing, to indulge its talent, has brought it to the point that it resembles nothing so much as the eclectic, yet repetitive, cast of characters that made up "Taki's Top Drawer" in the front of the New York Press in the early years of this century. Only less bloodthirsty.

Jack Schafer's MethPress Box is among the more entertaining. The clown Weisberg gets to call his column "The big Idea" either because it's the only one he can keep in his head at any one time, or because he's the editor. Today he decided to inform us that sanctions don't work, except for South Africa, which he minimised, and Libya he ignored. In fact, he should have titled his column "Sanctions Don't Work On Nutter Dictators", but that wouldn't be snappy enough for him, and might invite the argument that a lot of things don't work on nutter dictators, including occasional bombing and visits from Condoleezza Rice.

The man disgusts me, and it pains me to think that he is Dan Gross' editor. Gross' column today, like most of his stuff, takes an educated tilt at the conventional business wisdom. The article starts, quite rightly, from the assumption that US CEOs are quite conceivably talking nonsense when they blame recent legislation such as Sarbanes Oxley for the drop-off in big listings in New York. Never mind that the Economist did the article a few weeks back, because its worth revisiting.

Gross compares the results that firms listing in new York get against those that list in London. and he compares their fees. The results are a huge difference in the fee levels in London and New York, and the difference between the offering price of a share issue and the level it closes at at the end of the first day's trading is a little smaller in London than it is in New York.

Now, before I start crowing about the innate superiority of British stockbrokers, and trust me I won't, I will note that the UK market is much less liquid, its volumes are lower, and its investors are still a little less sophisticated. Pricing issues in the UK may well be a little easier to gauge.

What is almost certainly true is that the legal bills associated with US IPOs are higher, if only by comparing the per partner profit expectatiosn of US and UK securities partners. I'm almost certain as well that US associates will be billed at higher rates than their UK equivalents, even allowing for exchange rate volatility. I could muster the anecdotal evidence but to do so would mean disclosing a few bits of, um, privileged information. Or waiting until the UK lawyers of my acquaintance to wake up.

The US lawyer of my acquaintance, on the other hand, gets a kitten. Hello Mrs. Cutesome!

If you're a little bored of this business talk, then never fear. I have a new column up at Sugarzine. Be warned though, that's pretty f***ing pompous as well.

[Kitten courtesy of Flickr user drotmalac]

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Morons For Electrons

So I'm sat here at, um, the day job, writing this in a t-shirt. I guess you'd call it an ironic t-shirt, since it sports one of the most witless messages ever committed to fabric. The maker is the Edison Electrical Institute, and the t-shirt was produced for its annual financial conference. It features a cartoon crystal ball with a generic line graph inside, and the slogan "Inside The Crystal Ball: Growth In The Industry's Future"

There's something faintly endearing about this inept carcrash of mindless business cliches. You'd be tempted to ignore it as the droolings of some of half-bright PR monkey toiling away in the basement of some power coompany because their uncle in HR couldn't be bothered to pay for daycare. And I'm sure that there was much worse on display elsewhere at the conference.

But the investor-owned electrical utilities, the membership of the EEI, have a combined capitalisation of $550 billion, and are responsible for keeping the lights on. They produce roughly $27 billion a year in earnings. And are probably the least exciting part of the US economy.

Now of course it wasn't always thus. Some of the most glorious early failures of the US capitalist model concerned its nascent electrical industry. The US electrical industry sprang up in large part due to Thomas Edison's entrepreneurial urges, but Samuel Insull both expanded and perfected large scale electrical provision, and almost destroyed the industry with his rampant financial speculation.

Insull's legacy was the Public Utility Holding Company Act and a system of regulation that allows electrical infrastructure to remain in private hands (although in much of the US it is still publicly-owned). So you're left with an industry whose returns are at least scrutinised and often dictated by local regulators.

An industry with this sort of profile hardly attracts the keenest minds out of business school. Utility managers have a few ways of increasing returns for their shareholders in the face of regulation;

1) Lie about their costs to regulators in a bid to increase the about of return they can earn
2) Skimp on investment in infrastructure
3) Cut back on labour
4) Invest in businesses which are much riskier than selling power
5) Operate in areas with a rapidly increasing population

The results of these have been:

1) Civil penalties for companies caught playing withthe accounts
2) Queens turning into a hell-hole
3) Job losses
4) Large losses at PG&E, Xcel Energy and, um Enron
5) Should be foolproof, although Nevada Power seems to be consistently capable of getting into financial difficulty.

Enron's contempt for utility executives was one of their few genial traits, although I refer, it should be noted, only to those drawing massive salaries as the leaders of public companies for doing engineers' jobs - badly.

I quite understand that electrical companies need to raise capital, and should be able to that as cheaply as possible. I just happen to believe that stock markets are an utterly stupid place to find this capital.

And no, I don't think that waving competition at the industry has the ability to change it. Nicole Gelinas, while a capable writer about infrastructure, and an acute commenter on the Bloomberg administration's priorities in this regard, does not convince when positing a solution.

Competition in electricity provision results in the creation of a market so artificial that the market for electricity production looks sensible by comparison. And it leads to the sales fiascos of IDT Energy and its ilk. Electricity is not a commodity, and even if it were no-one wants to go comparison shopping for it. Cell phone service and doctors take up enough of my time.

That's all from Citizen Smith for now. By a 4200-1 chance, this song came up on shuffle while I was writing this, so I will share its luminous topicality with you.

Spiritualized - "Electricity (Live)"
Buy "Royal Albert Hall October 10 1997" here. It's red. Literally red, that is

[UPDATE: Gelinas emails to say that she does not advocate the introduction of competition in electricity distribution. This is true, and the coment was a lazy misreading of her remarks. She's calling for the mayor to lobby for rate increases for ConEd, and to make sure they actually spend them on upgrading infrastructure. I'm sceptical that such regulatory solutions can work when a firm's primary loyalty is to its shareholders, and think that some kind of municipal or not-for-profit owner of electricity infrastructure would be much neater and cheaper. But I should have made trhat point more clearly, and not characterised Ms. Gelinas' vieews the way I did. Apologies]