Friday, March 30, 2007

And I Am To Be Listened To Regarding Music Why?

The latter part of this week has been largely fulfilling, not so nuts as to explain my silence though. It sometimes feels as if getting out a huge old post or two leaves me scratching my head for something useful today. I was even hoping against all hope that the new column at Sugarzine would be up, but i think that Liz the editrix is either a stickler for going live on the 1st of the month, or the phoned-in sloppiness of my latest column has given her an aneurysm.

Anyhoo, I'm off down the pub. Have a good weekend. Oh, and go and find "Keep Me Running" by the Blue Van, and listen to it till you're nauseous. It's really good.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

On Drug Crimes And Business Plans

Crime Scene On Dean
Originally uploaded by Gringcorp.
Mayhem in N. Slope! Those of you wondering whether the gentrification of the north end of fifth avenue is terminal have more to chew on. This rather terrible cameraphone picture is of the crime scene on Dean and Flatbush last night around 8pm.

There are more details on the incident at Gothamist, but the essence is that a cop stopped a pot smoker, and the pot smoker shot the cop in the ankle. No-one was killed, but it was enough for the mayor to issue a plea, with a strangely bantering tone, for people to stop taking shots at cops. Anything to keep the City's finest safe, and all that, but the performance just made the mayor look nervous.

But I digress a little. I was walking back from the Pacific Street subway when I noticed the telltale yellow tape and klieg lights infesting the upper reaches of Fifth Avenue. I could have lingered and found out the reason, but a hearty late dinner of Mrs. Cutesome's goulash stew and pierogis awaited.

This morning, as I have already related, the reason became clear. I had speculated that there was some to link to a shooting at a Mexican restaurant on the same block a few years back, but that was a crime passionnel, and not likely to spawn follow-up violence.

Let's take a look at the collateral damage to the gentrification debate. The plus? Possible drop-off in foot traffic at the rather spiffy, but rather crowded new Alchemy. The minus? Bruce Ratner's claims of some kind of hellish warzone in the N Slope/P Heights nexus are somehow lent credence. As a quick postscript to the preceding dose of flippancy, I wish the injured officer a speedy recovery.

But staying on the Atlantic Yards debacle for a moment [those from outside the Borough may stop here], I was pretty gobsmacked to learn that the developer had not submitted a business plan to the state when asking it for all kinds of juicy subsidies and the power of condemnation and so forth. This is pretty much project development 101, and gives you a pretty good idea of how much Bruce Ratner is winging it.

I'd left a comment at Norman Oder's place a few months back, looking at how a comparison of the Mets and Yankees stadium financings might give us an idea of how Ratner would cobble together his suite of tax-exempt bonds for the project. Oder, old line journo that he is, either missed or rejected the comment (which I'm fairly certain was not as rude as much of what I've written on this subject).

But the point stands. A business plan would give the interested reader an idea of what revenues Ratner is devoting to repaying what sources of financing, and which parts of the project are included within the scope of the naming rights cash, tax-exempt debt, taxable debt, state subsidies, state money towards infrastructure improvements and so forth. It is, wearingly enough, often withheld as commercially sensitive, and I'd assumed that the state could stonewall in this fashion for ever.

But no, Forest City has not actually bothered to put a business plan together for its public partners, partly because it wants to be able to slosh its capital expenditure towards whichever use is most lucrative, and partly, I suspect, that it wants to dedicate as little of the project revenues towards servicing the taxable debt as possible. This would indeed have a substantial effect on the project's internal rate of return (a number, expressed as a percentage, that is not the same as "profit", or many other accounting concepts, but both do correlate with a large number of the same inputs, per a discussion here).

But anyway, I need to put a business plan together before spending more than a couple of grand of my employer's money. It is abject lunacy that Ratner cannot assemble one of these for a sprawling mixed-use development that threatens to gut the prettiest county in the United States. [Actually I can't get sign-off on a few hundred in expenses from my employer right now as a result of some tedious interdepartmental feuding. Wonderful]

Monday, March 26, 2007

Hell Gate Bodge

There is a delightful and erudite article on the provenance of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the Guardian today. The writer is Germaine Greer, who, like Stilton, or Damon Albarn, is getting much better with age, especially over the expansion of Stansted Airport.

Please do read the whole thing, if only for this nugget:

"It is sometimes said that the single-arch bridge built by Dorman Long over the Tyne at Newcastle is the model for the Sydney Harbour bridge, but this was opened only in 1929, five years after the Dorman Long tender had been accepted. The real model is almost certainly the Hell Gate arch over the East River in New York."

So, while we wail and gnash and fret and weep about the fact that the US is losing its edge as the Wild West of late-period capitalism, we can be reassured by the fact that the iconic bridge of the Asia-Pacific region is modelled after a structure that is barely glamourous enough for the average New Yorker to overdose under.

[Image from Tom Fletcher's wonderful architecture site]

All You Old Time Slopers Move Along

I am really indecently proud of securing the map you see below. I'm extremely surprised that more real estate brokers don't hand this out to the suckaz moving to the neighbourhood and wanting to know where PS321 is. In fact, I am confidently going to predict that this is going to be the number one source of traffic to this shoddy blog. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you... the Park Slope School district map, courtesy of the Department of Education.Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
I should note, for those of you interested in such matters, that I do not intend to spawn forthwith, just that such considerations are material when buying property [Larger size is here].

And for your yuppie twofer, I finally swung over, chaperoned by Mrs. Cutesome, to Alchemy, which has better food, and an older crowd, than either its name or decor would suggest. Yes, Chowhound stooges, the chickpeas are good, as was the Guinness Sticky Pudding.

In fact, it was all good, and the owners are going to be millionaires, but I'll confess that the idea of a "gastropub" in New York City strikes me as faintly peculiar. In this instance, the owners just set up a pretty good restaurant in a casual environment. In the UK, gastropubs are all about taking perfectly good sleazy drinking holes and turning them into this morass of stripped pine with occasionally good food. I don't think Alchemy's geniuses want any part of such a movement, although the idea of taking Jackie's Fifth Amendment and giving it over to wankery is superficially entertaining.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Miami Debased Machine

Miami Debased Machine
Originally uploaded by Gringcorp.
Any plans that I'd had to provide dispatches from Miami evaporated in the face of driving rain, wind, my inability to remember my camera, and the fact that, as ever, I barely left my hotel. I had a jolly meal with some Central Americans at a joint called Setai, and some good fun hours with some gin, but in general the trip was the same antiseptic and mostly unnecessary waste of jetfuel that these things always are.

I snapped the above with my telephone on the way back to the airport, a steep-sided and decrepit roof that seems to have no industrial nor climatic justification, and has been captured very badly, since I was rushing to avoid the car coming up in the outside lane.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Further Dutch Dubiousness

Entirely a coincidence this, my second post in a row about a Dutch bank. This time, though, I promise not to include gratuitous link-whoring keywords designed to attract the attention of the larger Brooklyn blogs.

But I've been threatening for a while to do an occasional series on the awfulness that is financial advertising. This will be a tricky gig to pull off, because financial advertising ultimately funds my day job, and I'll also have to be slightly careful that I don't use adverts that run in titles with which I'm associated.

Still, the vapidity that passes for marketing in financial services never ceases to appall me. This is by no means confined to print - my decision to watch NY1 in the morning stemmed in large part from the terrible wealth management ads that run on CNN at that time of day (the impotence ads that run on Anderson Cooper? Fine).

It's a thankless task, mind you, presenting a conservative and reliable front while desperately trying to imprint your brand on the indifferent viewer. The only safe venues for this are sports promotion (golf, sailing, ultimate fighting) and possibly bribing journalists. the latter approach, more's the pity, is no longer fashionable.

Making outrageous claims about your ability to achieve outsized returns is also a no-know, unless you include so many qualifiers and disclaimers as to muddy the message irredeemably. Moreover, it has become very unfashionable to remind your clients of how greedy they are. The nadir in this respect was Citigroup's "life's about more than money, eh?" campaign, which nauseated the New York metro area a few years back.

European banks, however, tend to be the worst offenders, whether through language differences or the heightened conservatism of European sources of capital. And our first victim comes from Holland. It is an advert that ING ran in the Economist.

Its pitch can be boiled down to one tag line: "We sponsor Formula 1 - pretty cool, eh?" Beyond this, the advert is without any nutritional value at all. Take the main statement "Only by understanding your needs can we provide you with the right solution." I can translate this from the Dutch: "We will do what you want us to do," which is reassuring coming from a service industry. Sort of like a food maker saying "we taste good".

"Whether in banking, insurance, asset management, or Formula 1, the key to success is the same. It's all about making the right decisions based on facts and figures." This is reassuring. ING will not pull an idea out of their ass and present it to you as the New Hotness. Because you can't do that in motor car racing. To me, this seems to be setting the bar awfully low.

it's at times like these I can sympathise with the attitude of the larger investment banks, which tend not to advertise on such a profligate scale, beyond occasionally announcing a completed deal or letting you know what their new logo is. If you can't find something interesting to say, best not to say anything.

[Slightly off topic, but do you wish that Saab stopped advertising cars based on their ability to make jet planes? It's been decades since the Jetsons came out, and as far as you, I, or the highway patrol are concerned, they're still completely different things.]

Monday, March 19, 2007

Fresh Dutch Hatin' Flava

Well, well, well. ABN Amro, the world's least consistently managed major bank, is the subject of takeover speculation. The leading culprit is, apparently Barclays. This is probably good news for for the hapless shareholders of the bank, including the Children's Investment Fund, and Teh Children that get a cut of its management fee. ABN Amro, as I have ranted in the comments of this post, has, at least in the corner of the world of finance in which I operate, a reputation for capricious and muddled management.

Now, where does this leave the Brooklyn resident, and more importantly, those looking for information on the Atlantic Yards project, and most importantly, those looking to direct the flow of information on the Atlantic Yards project? It's a good question, because I am not a man known for arbitrarily hating on Dutch banks. The Dutch East India Company and its bullsh1t overpriced eighteenth century nutmeg monopoly, that's another question. Dutch East India Trading, the NY-based record label that put out records by mid-Brooklyn art-rock heroes of the 80s Phantom Tollbooth? Still another question. But I digress.

The reason why we should be interested in this news comes back to apress release from venerable libertarian Gary Popkin urging a boycott of Barclays over its naming rights deal for the ugly @ss neighbourhood-destroying new Nets arena. This would be the Barclays with a very small retail presence in the US financial services market.

Now, having watched Gary fruitlessly trawl for nominating signatures at the 7th Avenue subway stop, it's clear that he relishes being the Forlorn Hope (a term of Dutch origin, by the way, and if you click on one wikipedia link during this post, make it this one) of the New York participatory political process. But in this respect he may be ahead of the curve.

Because ABN Amro, in addition to a rather sleepy commercial and investment banking division, also has a pretty large retail banking operation in the Midwest. This is centred on its purchase, really quite a long time ago, of Lasalle Bank. Should Barclays acquire ABN, it would, in addition to providing Barclays with much better distribution for its financial products, also provide Brooklyn stadium hataz with something to reject.

If that's not enough for you, and it would be quite understandable if concerned Brooklynites boycotting a Midwestern retail bank were having a minimal effect, then consider that Barclays would also be buying a diamond bank. We know how much you Slopers hate the conflict diamonds, and think it is also fair to ask your diamond dealer if ABN or Barclays tainted your rock. Beats the hell out of trying to work out who assembled your exchange traded fund.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Horizontal Denial

Today was both a good and a bad day to restart the practice of taking a constitutional in Prospect Park of a morning. The good was in the marked rise in temperatures that we've experienced this week. It was also a chance to catch up with some of the changes that I might have missed in the neighbourhood during my weeks of stony-faced shuttling between the subway and the apartment.

Not too much to complain about, barring the printed signs on Sixth Avenue, which contain a forthright protest against plans to turn both Sixth And Seventh Avenues into one way traffic thoroughfares. I had not noticed the ones on Seventh, either because I don't spent as much time on Seventh going to and from my constitutional, or because Sixth is much less afflicted with crazy old people that rip signs from lamposts, yea, even the Ones For Missing Cats and Ones For Lost Child Toys With The Kid's Face Blurred.

My immediate thought on hearing of this plan, which has been discussed at length by the normal thoughtful and perceptive crew, was that only a Park Slope driver could hate this plan. I assumed that this was going to be a boon to double parkers and involve longer trips round the block to ferry kids around and deal with alternate side parking rules. Nothing, so far, to concern a confirmed pedestrian.

But, as one commenter swiftly pointed out, dual carriageways make for awful drivers. Exhibit A: the Flatbush Nutters, a group of drivers that constitutes a clear and present danger to pedestrians. Exhibit B: the chaps on Prospect Park West. More refined, yes, but dangerous nonetheless.

Still, where I'm sceptical is in how this relates to the Atlantic Yards project. I'm not sure how much increasing traffic flow on these streets will take the pressure off Fourth Avenue, which is our current preferred north-south dual carriageway. This Brooklyn Papers article outlines a rather convoluted scheme for rerouting the traffic at the top end of Fourth Avenue, and it's clear that there are decent numbers of people heading east, although a lot of the traffic from south Brooklyn would be better advised to take the Belt Parkway.

I'm just not convinced that funneling westbound traffic onto Flatbush Avenue at an earlier stage brings the developer any benefits. Still, since the Streetsblog article that raised the connection notes that the Atlantic Yards' environmental impact statement does envisage some kind of monkeying around with Fourth Avenue, the traffic does have to go somewhere.

So, if Ratner and his backers really are willing to facilitate the horrendous traffic speeds and potential for increased child deaths that a one way system in Park Slope would create, just to make a cosmetic improvement to the project site, it would be the clearest sign yet that the project's planning is in the hands of incompetents and knaves.

The reason it was a bad day to start running? Too little sleep and too few smiles. I feel like Amelia right now, only, ya know, male.

Marine Research - "Parallel Horizontal"
Get past the tedious Heavenly fans and Get "Sounds From The Gulfstream" Here

Monday, March 12, 2007

Not Currying Favour

The Chips Are Down
Originally uploaded by Gringcorp.
Wow. Strike threetwo for the limeys persuading the denizens of New York that they have discovered a whole new form of curry. In the last few years there have been three failures of New York establishments purporting to offer British-style curry.

First down was Curry Source, on Pacific Street in Boerum Hill, which offered pre-prepared curry to take home and reheat, and was pretty good, but was also pretty pricey. Its main advantage came from offering the hard-to-find British foodstuffs, although these days the more basic stuff can be found at Key Foods, and the more rarified at Myers. The Curry Source is now a real estate agent, though their website is still up.

Then there was Brick Lane Curry House.

Ah. No there wasn't, Gari. Some co-worker lied to you about it a few months back, and since you're rarely in the East Village you fell for it hook, line and sinker. Brick Lane Curry House is alive and well and collecting the usual mixed bag of reviews on Citysearch. It's pretty good.

So, I'm left with the typical dilemma of the blog post author whose googling does not match up to his starting assumptions. Do I abandon the venture, and try to cobble together a review of last night's Reigning Sound show, based entirely on my ill-remembered impressions (it was pretty good, by the way)?

Or do I shrug off the fact that one leg of my three-legged rhetorical stool has come off, treat it as a flesh wound and press on. Well, you know Gari N. Corp, and you know that the "N" stands for "Not Negligible Amounts of Hubris".

So we bring you item three. Discovered during me Slope-Gowanus stroll yesterday. This time I'm certain. The venerable Brooklyn Brit outpost Park Slope Chip Shop closed down its Curry Shop annex to concentrate on frying, as recounted by this poster at the Park Slope message board.

So, from the available evidence, we can infer that there aren't enough British Curry fans in Brooklyn to sustain enough ventures, but that if your establishment is close enough to other Indian establishments, then you might enjoy a slight flight to quality, especially if you plaster the walls with London Underground signs.

Which probably tells you more about the cultural desert of Manhattan, and the fact that the poor dears have to struggle on without a Kinara than anything else.

But still, I think there is a sense that we've reached the high water point of British branding with curries. That there are some areas where the American consumer will take British superiority for granted, and others where he or she won't. And no-one needs the British take on an Indian foodstuff, whatever the Curry Source man says.

Not as bad as Gawker thinks we are. But not, you know, all that

Sunday, March 11, 2007

I'm In Ur Nabe, Happysnapping Ur Iconz

Yeah, that's right Mr Gowanus Lounge. Follows, 'opefully, a little set I took this afternoon, wherein I attempt to compose pictures at a level above that of a child. Problem is the DNS, or the registrar, or blogger, is making it hard to access the site via anything but RSS. I'm looking into it.

Heavy Metal Bonfire

Well, that was fun. Ten days of alternately subathing, flying, and trying to amuse laconic Australian bankers through a haze of jet lag. I have to say, though, I found the big lumpy continent a rather relaxing, and less crass, version of Disneyland, all sun and amusement and sooper pleasant locals. Probably the grumpiest person I met the whole time was the ticket agent on my departing flight.

Now you could highlight the weird state of the country's television market, the three types of rugby and the absence of coloured faces as evidence of a deeper malaise. And I went over fully expecting to come to blows with antipodeans over their brash nature. Not a bit of it - this is a society that works, for better or ill, through the energy of short, blonde, cheerful, female, teenagers.

There's something, though, a little disquieting about the Australian habit not only of fetishising informality, which is probably much less jarring to an American as to an Englander, but also of enshrining nicknames in official speech, what this academic calls "an immoderate use of pseaudonyms". Thus the nickname for a Working Man''s Club - Workie - becomeI s its formal name. There is a better example, of a government form that is now known formally by its nickname, but I can't for the life of me remember its name (actually, I think it's the Rego).

The other thing that's annoying about Australia is the prime minister, John Howard, this oily lugubrious pompous character, whose penchant for waistcoats is the least, yet most telling, of his failings. I was observing him flinging mud at the opposition leader, Kevin Rudd, who has been in a spot of ethical ethical bother of late.

I'm not exactly sure how he's managed to stay in office for 12 years, because he really doesn't come over as an appealing person. There are several reasons for his longevity - the uselessness of his Labor opponents, a dab hand with racially-charged rhetoric, that crazy nativist lady - but at the top of it is probably Howard's ability to position himself as a plan speaking type.

And here's my own theory for his resilience. It's that Australians sometimes conflate plain speaking and honesty. After a few days of meetings, particularly those where reading between the lines is important, I've noticed that they're not the same thing. A bold, slangy, even blunt statement, is not always conveying useful information. If you notice a slight preponderance of "mays" and "sometimes" and so forth, its because I'm not certain of my conclusions. But then that's what clarity demands.

Normal service, with luck, resuming soon. Hopefully without any more of that maudlin jazzing from the British Airways lounge at JFK.