Tuesday, October 31, 2006

We Have Legality

The gap since my last post is down to two things. The first is that I have been taking pictures like mad with a rather elderly disposable Kodak, and thus all the amusing Flickr'd goodness waits on me getting the stupid thing developed. The second is that I have had to take an unusual amount of care with my most recent Sugarzine column. It's not up yet.

Oh wait, there's a third. I have been labouring under the shadow of the phantasms unleashed by the complexities of US immigration law. What happened, in essence, was that while applying for a green card (thanks, Mrs. Cutesome!), I blithely sodded off to Mexico. I was, unfortunately, unaware of the import of this wise post that Felix wrote about the Dual Intent Conundrum (not a Ludlum novel). It looked like it was curtains for the application, as well as Crimble in sunny Scunny.

But, utterly bizarrely, after a mere 45 minutes at Federal Plaza, I was waved through into the ranks of the employable after barely getting started on my wedding photos. I'm confused, elated, tired (that evidence did not collate itself, and hugely grateful to two people, Mrs. Cutesome (who in any case would be the source of all sunshine in my life), and my attorney, who must remain nameless. While termination of my employment no longer carries with it the threat of deportation, it does carry with it the threat of no cash money.

So look out, American suckas, I'm looking to take your job. Your votes will be next. And this time, I'm carefully listening to the man Salmon.

A tune, methinks. The runners-up:

Nine Inch Nails - Ringfinger
Black Keys - Have Love Will Travel

The winner:

Cornershop - "Good To Be On The Road Back Home Again (Gottenburg)"
Buy "When I Was Born For The Seventh Time" here. Then keep Fatboy Slim away from it

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Sam's Club

Spotted on the corner of Louisiana and McKinney in Houston. An SEIU demonstration. Which struck me as somewhat unusual, since Texas does not have a reputation, at least in my mind, as a particularly friendly place to the workers. Needless to say, few anglos. Turns out that they were janitors protesting the appalling conditions imposed by the local building managers.

And this must be the fourth time I've visited Houston, but the first time I explored the warren of tunnels running underneath downtown. Explains why there are so few people walking around on the streets. I will say in defence of my shortsightedness that I an rarely here in summer, and that normally I travel everywhere by cab.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Trattoria Trends

This hiatus has been one of effort, investigation, clone-wrangling and watching the Mets getting ritually mutilated. But I have found out something very important about the restaurant scene in Brooklyn, a subject that will appeal to whatever dribble of traffic remained after the Sheep Station-inspired Brooklynian-lanche.

Indeed, last night, ambling up Fourth Avenue in the bluster without anything so much as a brolly, I lurched into Sheep Station in search of victuals. But while they have by now printed a menu, they have also embarked on some manner of kitchen renovation, so as to render them incapable of serving up food. We repaired instead to Mulino, a block up Douglass on Fifth, and site of serviceable Italian comfort food.

For what it's worth, I had the prix fixe with house wine, yer basic pasta with meat, and a slightly smaller chicken francese than the a la carte option would have provided. Mrs. Cutesome had the pasta puttanesca ("Do ya think it's a bit, tarty?" she asked), and a ginormous caesar (a Little One might have been less appealing, mind). The entertainment came from the dubious Bay Ridge adulterers canoodling at the adjacent table and some execrable 50s Italian pop.

But the meal gave me a chance to settle one mystery of the Fifth Avenue restauarant scene. On this block, between Sterling and St Johns/Douglass, there is an Italian restauarant at each end with similar signage. There's Mulino, which has been here longer, and then there's Mangia, at the Sterling end. Mangia used to be a basic pizza slice place, which distinguished itself by coating its crusts with sesame seeds.

A few years back, and with little fanfare, the place decided to go upmarket. So, the slices got relegated to a corner, the chianti bottles with candles got busted out, and they started offering unlimted Bloody May/Mimosa brunches. About this time they acquired the Mangia name, and the new signage. I even fancied I saw the manager of Mulino, a distinguished looking gentleman with swept-back hair, loitering at the back of the new place.

"So what gives," I enquired of our waiter, "do you guys have the same management?" I could tell he was jonesing to close up show now that the Ridgers had taken their affection somewhere less public and the take-out orders had dried up. But he answered me, nonetheless. "No connection at all, what makes people think that?"

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Nuclear News

So after a post about the Atlantic Yards so maudlin that No Land Grab's Lumi could scarcely bring herself to summarise it, something a little lighter. Slate gives us the answer (Drumroll!) to why North Korean news releases sound so weird. best line:

"The U.S. imperialist robbers have stretched their crooked tentacle of crime-woven aggression with wild ambition"

In any case, you can read the whole thing here

Monday, October 09, 2006

Street Theatre

On Monday I wandered over to BAM to check out The Science of Sleep. The movie was this occasionally sweet, but frequently obnoxious and self-indulgent mess. Nice animation, mind.

On the way there, I noticed that the entirety of Flatbush was closed off for what was by all accounts a rather lame street festival, and that the closing had sparked off a series of traffic jams on the avenues heading north to Flatbush and Atlantic. It was rather droll watching the South Brooklyn drivers lose it, and the cops yelling at them for a while. But walking the length of Fifth Avenue was pretty wearing, since one moves to the the neighbourhood in part because the traffic situation is normally pretty quiet.

Which brought me, yes, to the Atlantic Yards proposal, a subject about which I have written very little recently. The reason for this relative quiet lies in two recent events that demonstrated to me a) how little I really understood how this borough works and b) how much the debate over the Atlantic Yards is choreographed by forces we're reluctant to acknowledge.

The part a) came to me after the brutal, and decisive, victory that Yvette Clarke scored in the race for the democratic nomination for the 11th Congressional district. This was a candidate that made little concession to the fact that the district had gotten whiter and richer, and who romped home based on a strong base of support from unions and the West Indian community.

I don't think I was the only one who was surprised by the result - Yassky had obviously very little conception of the war for the nomination taking place outside Park Slope. Owens showed little inclination to cut the sort of deals that would have allowed him to vault ahead of the other candidates, even though he had a pretty inclusive platform, AY opposition aside. Still, Clarke had a reputation as a pretty diligent council member, even if she did fudge her resume.

I probably should not be too harsh on myself, a relative novice, for misreading the race. Although the idea that I'm as excluded from understanding the political process as I am from participating in it is a little hard to bear, I can always take comfort from the plight of the Working Families Party, which has built up a pretty formidable supply of political capital in the region, and was utterly unable to deploy it in the race for the 11th, so riven by internal divisions was it.

Which brings me to b). I was chatting to a colleague of mine, I'll call him Vade, because he's vaguely dark and vaguely evil, and not for any other reason, oh no. Vade serves a role in the following discussion not unlike that of Bobo the Pimp on p341 of St Hunter's Campaign book. Bobo, a valet at a Miami hotel, understood instinctively that Nixon, by ceding the platform at the 1972 Republican convention to the right wing of his party, had guaranteed a hassle-free run at the re-election, but left his party in the hands of its unelectable element.

Vade is a pimp and a hustler by nature, like his predecessor Bobo, and he understood the nature of all this farting around with DEIS statements and board votes and so on. He's always been pretty cynical about the whole process, a curious Nets fan that thought he would be well out of Park Slope by the time Ratner got his stadium built.

But he has a keen eye for insincerity and greed, and that's pretty much all that the Empire State Development Corporation, the city planning commission, and probably the Public Authorities Control Board are giving off right now. I feel, much as I did after the primary for the 11th, that events are moving according to a plan that bears no relation to what is happening on the ground.

Political blogger Digby was in the habit of calling the political posturing that surrounded the bogus compromise on permitting torture by US soldiers and agents Kabuki, after the highly ritualised and very formal Japanese theater. I'm not sure how apt it is, but the idea that 90% of the actors in the torture farce were going though motions designed to expose them to a minimum of electoral liability is hard to escape.

This is, then, to reduce city politics, maybe all politics, to a highly calibrated machine, one that reduces the possibility of outside influence to a minimum. Vade understood instinctively that the whole AY thing was scripted. I'm wondering why it took me quite so long.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Cage Wars

Yesterday, Slate's Jack Shafer put up an interesting little article on the rise of Bloomberg News. It is, to be honest, a rather depressing read, describing Bloomberg News as a rather pretty addition to the suite of market data products which drives subscribers to rent Bloomberg's rather expensive terminals. The rather expensive terminals, though, do enable Bloomberg to pay seriously above average salaries to its journalists.

When coupled to the ridiculously prescriptive style manual that it imposes on its employees, you're left with a ridiculously sterile, if remunerative, gig for a seasoned reporter. To be clear, I think that a huge part of the Bloomberg approach to writing is very sensible - you might have a bunch of stockbrokers for readers, but you sure as hell don't have to talk like them.

But this creates a terrible bar to coherence in front of all but the best writers. I've always thought that Brits might value readability over making an honest living, a product no doubt of the humanities heavy, and financially non-burdensome, higher-education system that prevailed till recently in the UK.

As Shafer notes, reporters in the US expect to get paid quite reasonably and at the same time hold on to ridiculously lofty ethical ideals. He doesn't quite say that's headed to extinction, and it's true that some media outlets are doing quite nicely by serving as vehicles for ads to the right demographic.

Bloomberg takes this a step further, with the articles serving as adverts for the pricey subscription service. And thus they have to be timely, plainly written, and no-nonsense. To work at Bloomberg, you need to be smart enough to know when you've got your hands on something good, but so smart as to be using, say "fervid" to describe the state of a market.

The main legend that attaches itself to working for Bloomberg is that once you work there, and leave, you may never be rehired. Which strikes me as the most ridiculously over-the-top corporate self-aggrandisement I've ever encountered. That said, I like living in the city the gaffer's running. To my eternal chagrin.

What was I saying? Oh, yes, working at Bloomberg can be a bit boring, even with the free crisps and whatnot. Money's good, though. Glad you hung on? I don't think so.

Have a good weekend. Here's some anthemic but scratchy Superchunk. Go buy it in hi-fi.

Superchunk - "New Low"
Buy "On The Mouth" here. Won't be 5 quid, but then we can't all be trawling Cambridge vinyl shops all day, can we?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Future Idle Heroes

Word comes to me of a huge conspiracy involving global oil markets, the president of the United States and the global investment bank Goldman Sachs. I'm inclined to disregard it, not least because Lyndon LaRouche has already conclusively proved that the Duke of Edinburgh is pulling the strings.

The theory goes as follows - Bush's new Treasury secretary, Hank Paulson used to be chairman of Goldman Sachs. The president's electoral fortunes rest upon cheap gas prices. The price of gas recently fell because Goldman Sachs decreased the proportion of unleaded gasoline in a commodities index it runs. Investors that follow the index had to sell unleaded gasoline to match the portion in the index.

The first bit - true. The second - plausible, though never decisively proved. The third, well, here's where greater minds than mine have been taking apart the evidence (and yes, that was another hint that the subject for this post was a Dan Gross column).

There's not a lot to recommend the theory, since the dates of falls in gas and the changes to the index don't match, even when one takes into a account that the prices in question are futures, and the announcement of the shift in the weighting of unleaded gas and the implementation of the shift are a while apart. More importantly, the price of crude oil, which we use to make gasoline, has been going down too.

The Goldman Sachs commodities index is relatively well regarded and its movements are well watched. Moreover, the amount of hedge fund money pouring into energy means that it's possible that such adjustments might move prices. Still, it's unlikely that the double-digit percentage drops in prices would result from such a reweighting.

I imagined that one way to get a handle on the effect of the movement would be to see what happened to the component of the index whose weighting increased. This component is known as the "Reformulated Gasoline Blendstock for Oxygen Blending futures contract", and is, as Gross notes, the type of gasoline into which one can blend the biofuel du jour, ethanol.

Now I went out and to see how that price behaved, and the the chart to say the least, was not that encouraging, with the the November future dropping by roughly 27% since mid-July. But more entertaining to me was going off on a different conspiracy-related tangent, sparked by the word ethanol.

Now ethanol, unlike crude oil or gasoline is a very thinly traded commodity. The market for ethanol derivatives is very much in its infancy, and Goldman is one of the leading firms offering hedging products to producers that can provide them with certainty as to the price they will fetch for their ethanol. Ethanol's price is a derivative, among others, of the price of gasoline, particularly the type of gasoline in which it can be blended.

Goldman, like any respectable commodities broker, will presumably have taken steps to offset any exposure to prices it has taken on as a result of it providing a hedge to an ethanol producer. And the ethanol chart does not seem to have moved in the direction the conspiracy theory intended. But it doesn't mean they weren't trying, eh?

Station's A Mostly Bodacious Creation

I Tell You, It's Bluddy Sheep StationWot a terrible day to be yapping indelicately about my latest west Slope restaurant discovery. For the gargantuan R.W. Apple is no more. I'm not exactly sure what Johnny Apple did in the late seventies, eighties and nineties - there's a ginormous gap in my knowledge between the early seventies, when Hunter Thompson was rather fond of hurling insults his way, and the last several years, when he would pop up to write an entire article about ham.

A favorite dish in our house is what used to be called crab meat Norfolk: slices of Smithfield ham, arranged in individual ramekins (the kind often used for crème brûlée), topped with premium jumbo lump backfin crab meat, dotted with butter and run under the broiler. Surf and turf, sweet with salty.

Sounds ace. I suspect that Apple would disapprove quite massively of my habit of claiming restaurants. He seems to have settled on a few old standbys, albeit dotted everywhere from Paris to Williamsburg (no, not that Williamsburg), and eaten them clean.

That said, I'm going to treat this little corner of Brooklyn as my own, and a thorough, and timely, claim to knowledge of all of its its eating establishments is an integral part of that. And thus, with a pretentious sweep and an unconvincing happy snap from my Nokia, I claim Sheep Station for Her Majesty.

Sheep Station is an Australian gastropub located on Douglass and Fourth Avenue, a mere block and a bit from my residence. The decor has the shacky flavour of an actual corner of the Outback, but the lounge-like lighting tends to play down the details. No sign, as one might imagine, no printed menus yet, and no credit cards for now.

We learned a fair amount about the background to the place. The owner looks not unlike a younger version of the bad girl's favourite Australian, Bryan Brown. He appears to have had a hand in sundry Smith Street ventures, including, for a short period, Quench, and would provide, I think, convincing evidence that Gowanus is the new Carroll Gardens, only with worse greenery.

As a place to hang and drink, it does the trick very well, even providing three sizes of beer, so as to leave, say, a Mrs. Cutesome able to continue her dayjob later into, um, the evening. No Brooklyn Lager, but no Six Points either, and Fosters only in bottles. It does its best job of laying on Belgian beers, and should get round to having Guinness on tap soon.

The menu consisted of Green salad, beet and manchego salad, Australian burger (cheesburger with beet, pineapple and fried egg), cheeseburger, lamb sandwich, lamb cutlets, mussels, fish and chips and oysters. Mrs. Cutesome seemed satisfied with the lamb sandwich, and I found the fried fish to be if anything better than the Park Slope Chippy. The fries were your standard skinny, unpeeled gastropub fare - not to my taste (give me soggy slabs of potato, you buggers!), but probably what the market's after. The mussels and oysters were done by the time we camme to order.

Big shout out to bartender Sheila, who was probably forced to change her name when she came to work there, although not her accent, because she sounds a little like Ellen DeGeneres. There's also a back room, and should you require something on Fourth for a birthday party, and it's too cold to use Cherry Tree's garden, you should definitely take a second look.

[UPDATE. Welcome, Brooklyn Record readers. This blog is mostly about Brooklyn and metal and restauarants and hating on that stupid stadium project. But there is the occasional whimsical foray into high finance, politics, and half-baked "Brits do it differently" observations. So a mixed bag. enjoy]

Monday, October 02, 2006

Piano Player Daters

Blummy, I do not normally get amused by the bands that feature prominently on Stereogum, but this lot can be the exception. Lovelorn boozy songs about lovelorn boozing. With pianos. Sort of like a cleaner Husker Du, or a more tuneful Afghan Whigs, and thus turning into something awfully close to the Brooce. I also try and avoid listening to stuff on headphones in the office pour pas encourager les autres, but I have been forced to make an exception for The Hold Steady, which is being streamed here. Sod it's good, even though it's not really metal, and the hipsticles hold the same opinion.

Speaking of why hipsters shouldn't be allowed near keyboards, me new Sugarzine column is up. Not as bad as I recall. You have already seen some of my pictures, but the column is more like a word-picture.


Flatbush Farm
Originally uploaded by Gringcorp.

Well, this restaurant has been looming on the consciousness of North Slopers for a little while now, at least until we heard that the Pirate King and his concubine had been moving into the neighbourhood, and got excited about that instead.

(Quick aside here:

There, that's better)

So, this Flatbush Farm. not wild about the name. Even less wild about the sign. Quite like the bar - good selection of smaller brews and a fun bar menu. Intimates that it's down with local and/or organic produce without quite coming out and saying it. I'd been getting the odd beer there on the way back from work (um, sorry Freddy's), and the bar menu was pretty solid. Lots of cool toasty things and plates of sausage.

The bar's been open for a few weeks, and they finally got round to opening the restaurant. The site will be familiar to former patrons of the defunct St. Mark's Bistro, which struggled manfully with what to do with the space next door to the restaurant, and at times had it turned into a bar, a deli, and an empty store. The new owner has bashed through between the bar and the restaurant, and I must say the redecoration works much better for the bar bit than for the restaurant bit, where the colour scheme comes over as a bit gloomy.

The long-form version is that the terrine was almost obscenely chunky, sort of like the "before" of porky scratchings. The mushroom spaetzle were good, though, if a little cold, which suggests that the kitchen is taking a while to get its timings right. As for the mains, the goulash was pretty tasty, though not that exciting, but the noodles were fun. Mrs. Cutesome's duck confit was much more aggressive.

You'd probably find cooler restaurants further up Flatbush (Frannie's, Kombit), or further down Fifth (too many to name), but Flatbush Farm's solid and has a kicky garden, which is just what's needed at a restaurant opening in September. Still, the most exciting new opening is further west, but I will not identify it, for fear that another will try and pwn it before I get round to doing so.

But no, it's not the new Tempo Presto on Seventh Avenue, although I will stress that I have in fact pwned it before it even opened. So there:

Buh-bye Carvel

More hairy porky goodness here