Wednesday, January 18, 2006

After two and a half years I'm back to blogging. Regular updates on...
the wedding.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003


Monday, January 06, 2003

Rob's Top Ten Movies of the Year

1. Adaptation
2. Talk to Her
3. Punch Drunk Love
4. Minority Report

That's it. Adaptation, for it's self-consuming, confused, amusing brilliance. Talk to Her, for its suspense, precision and flawless execution of a script that would have been contrived and shallow in anyone except Almodovar's hands. Punch Drunk Love for getting me a second date. Minority Report for Sci-Fi that thinks like a book, but screens like a great thriller.

I bet monsieur Ben will disagree with 1-4, at the very least.

Monday, December 23, 2002

Saw Gangs of New York this weekend. I found it a crock, but as usual am in the minority. Barring the historical inaccuracies which I mind greatly, the film was predictable (am I giving it away? Or do you think Leo won't get the girl...) and uninteresting. Yet I used these inexcusable lapses in editing (a man whose father dies in 1814 yet is 47 in 1863 ought to make a terrifically interesting study in Einsteinian physics) to read up on the history of, among others, the Know-Nothing movement and found this gem. Why I love Honest Abe and why he continues to be the GOP's guiding light:

"When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty-to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy."

Friday, December 20, 2002

Note to self: cancel New Yorker subscription, renew Economist subscription. Take this article on contemporary Marxism:

"The core idea that economic structure determines everything has been especially pernicious. According to this view, the right to private property, for instance, exists only because itserves bourgeois relations of production. The same can be said for every other right or civil liberty one finds in society. The idea that such rights have a deeper moral underpinning is an illusion. Morality itself is an illusion, just another weapon of the ruling class. (As Gyorgy Lukacs put it, “Communist ethics makes it the highest duty to act wickedly...This is the greatest sacrifice revolution asks from us.”) Human agency is null: we are mere dupes of “the system”, until we repudiate it outright."

These thought pieces make the news -- WTO, Iraq, EU -- that much richer.

This is why I love

Karl Rove. Has his fingerprints all over this. Which explains why Sen. Frist, M.D., chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee during this past election cycle (worked closely with the White House on "strategery") and personal friend of Bush, is so quickly pronounced as frontrunner to head the GOP Senate contingent. And why Lott will keep his seat instead of resigning (hmm... what does Lott like... how about heading Appropriations for more delicious pork?). Rove isn't an improviser, which is why this looks like it took so long.

Thanks a Lott: It was bound to happen. Watch everyone take credit except the real mastermind.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

I have just seen the future brought to you by Google (who else?).

By the way, I don't smoke. I think smokers smell bad and waste money. As it seems many of our elected officials do.

I woke up at a human hour today, so I have time to harp on the tobacco issue. I tried to figure out what happened to New York City when it sold off its rights to the master settlement funds (it was due 3.4% of all funds, or about $7 billion).
It was difficult to find materials on the specifics of the bond sale, but far less onerous than finding say, city parking regulations.
The city sold its rights to TSASC Inc. (a non-for-profit affiliated with the city) in exchange for tobacco bond revenues for general budget purposes.
TSASC was going to sell four issues of about $700 million each. I could only find information on the earliest (see Annual Report).
I thought that the underwriting fee was a little high at first (gift to the bankers?), but with a capitalized fee of app. $14 million remaining on a $700+ million issue the 2% spread seems reasonable given the complexity of the transaction.
Interest rates were high, but given the high risk of failure by tobacco companies, completely understandable.
Citigroup (nee Salomon Smith Barney) ran the books, Bear Steans and JP Morgan were co-leads, which makes sense -- Solly has a long tradition in writing muni debt.

It looks like the entire process was kosher, and the city shifted the risk of failure of the settlement agreement onto municipal bond holders, who got a nice credit spread for that risk.

But even when accomplished legally and ethically (by government standards) I find this entire process odious:
- An additional government regulation which amounts to a hidden tax, borne by the lowest income brackets
- Allows politicians to pass the buck to future taxpayers while "balancing" the budget now
- Avoid cutting New York's ludicrious Medicaid spending -- which forces the city to match state funds
- Eliminates purpose of the entire MSA - pay for medicare spending, or additional worthwhile purposes (get kids to not smoke)

It's amazing what happens when the only people with cojones are jerks like this -- brother-in-law to Trent Lott no less!

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Kudos to Matt Drudge for linking an excerpt of John Dos Passos' "The Big Money" (copy in your bookshelf, Ashley, strategically placed there by yours truly) on the Wright Brothers. My favorite 20th century author does not get enough respect, and the above is not his best. I think it's difficult to top this condemnation of the Jazz Age, or this piece about patriotism and war. I highly highly recommend.

Thank the Lord for Dave Barry, who several months ago produced yet again his special blend of political satire, insight, and jokes about New Jersey in In War on Tobacco, money goes up in smoke.

How could I have forgotten the tobacco trial lawyers and their generous generous gifts to politicians (mostly on the left, but they spread their love around), like in Texas and my current domicile of New York.

This article, so succinct and telling, of course it could not be found without paying a fee. I offer you the cached google version.

In short: politicians give lawyers $13,000/hour fees for helping New York obtain a share of the $206 billion settlement. Those lawyers represent six politically connect firms. One of whom has strong ties to Governor Pataki; Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was a partner at another.

Please, someone, tell me again why this "news" is front page worthy?

The new Terminator 3 trailer is out. Here's a quick summary to save you 106 seconds:

Voiceover: The machines will RISE this July...
Screenwriters: But we're completely out of ideas!
Voiceover: Please watch it on July 2nd.
Ahnuld: I'm old.
Screenwriters: Bigger explosions, more tits... We were on a deadline!
Voiceover: Pretty please... There are more explosions...
Ahnuld: I'm old and cuddly. Hear me whimper!
Voicover: At theatres everywhere.

A riot, through and through, I promise.
Hey, what if there was a movie about aliens coming from the future to prevent Ahnuld from becoming the outspoken governor of California some years on? Oh, wait... this is that movie. Spoiler/Prediction: The aliens blunder by immediately ending Ahnuld's already-tepid acting career, thereby inadvertently hastening his political ascendance.

Ahnuld: I'm old. Vote for me.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

One interesting story, which of course won't be covered: where is the tobacco money going? The 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, in the sum of $206 billion, was supposed to help states recoup health care costs for smokers and to pay for education/prevention programs. Never mind that smokers already pay more in taxes than they receive in health care, or that cigarette manufacturers will pass along taxes to consumers, thus adding to the tax burden of the poor -- at least those are plausible arguments!

Here in NY, Governor Pataki suggested last week that the tobacco settlement money be used to limit the state's budget deficit, following in the footsteps of just about every other state.

The hefty underwriting fees go of course to Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan (I'm sure my old firm, CSFB, is licking the gravy too).

Those who profit:
+ Investment Bankers (yay!)
+ Politicians who would rather not make difficult decisions (all of them)

Those who suffer:
+ All taxpayers
+ Smokers

But we can rest assured that Trent Lott's college activities, which we haven't read on the front page of the NYT since the 1996 shot of him in cheerleading mufti, will be front and center.

Tuesday afternoons my mind meanders towards what to do this coming weekend. I like to believe I will hunker down and write the Great American Novel, but typically I end up eating buffalo wings, watching football and doing the Sunday Times crossword. My "down" time is often not spent effectively.

Same with the mass media. When Gary Condit (or O.J...) was the end-all and be-all, the 24/7 news cycle of an otherwise "quiet" period, I would say "why don't the major media outlets, with brainpower and money, spend this time pursuing real stories which are begging for coverage but always get buried... until something shocking occurs?" The shoddy "wall" between research and banking was well-known; the willingness for Muslim extremists to want to blow up Americans (see 1st WTC bombing, Khobar Towers, Embassy bombings, USS Cole) was no secret. Now that digging through Trent Lott's already known but little-publicized past is more important than say, development of nuclear weapons by Iraq, North Korea and Iran, I'm amazed at the creeping tabloidization of every major publication -- style over substance.

I feel that life becomes much easier when you comprehend Murphy's Laws. For example, I met Ashley today for lunch, and told her that I'd call her on my cell when I arrived downstairs. Naturally my cell had no reception. Did I cry? Yell? Throw the phone? Of course not -- I knew that I only needed to buy a pack of gum, collect the change and walk to a pay phone for service to be restored. To test this hypothesis, I crossed the street and entered a deli with my phone flipped open. I picked up a pack of Trident Bubble Flavor -- no service. Waited on line -- no service. Handed over a dollar -- no service. Collected my change -- service!

Saturday, December 14, 2002

The trouble with Trent Lott runs much deeper than the Republicans, along with their Commander-in-Chief, would have you believe. Is it possible that a man with Lott's segregationist record rises up through the ranks unbeknownst to the party faithful? No, it's simply unthinkable.

Don't miss Colbert King's excellent column on the subject.

Episodes like this in American politics are useful reminders that the racist past of this country is not nearly far enough behind us -- if at all.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

In my view there are four pieces of shit in the Senate that must be excreted, two on each side of the aisle.

- Strom Thurmond (R-SC), who ran for president in 1948 on the segregationist "Dixiecrat" ticket
- Robert Byrd (D-WV), who was a member of the KKK.
- Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D-SC) continues to hide his anti-Semitism (along with President Pro Tem Senator Byrd above) in the guise of "concern for the plight of Palestinians" -- losing votes by 94-2 (yes, Fritz, maybe you do care about Israeli troop deployment in Hebron, but why do you bait Alan Greenspan in a Finance committee hearing and do everything but call him a money-grubbing Jew? Or compare Ariel Sharon to Saddam Hussein?).
- Trent Lott (R-MS) yearns for plantations and Jim Crow .

The good news: One is retiring in three weeks, one has an advanced level of Parkinson's and likely will retire soon, one is old and doesn't enjoy being in the minority (politically and with his archaic beliefs).
The bad: The fourth is about to become Senate Majority Leader. Again.

I've polled every Republican I know.
In favor of Trent Lott as Senate Majority Leader: 0%
Opposed: 100%

He makes me cringe to be in the GOP. I understand why in 1996, when Dole retired to run for President, the Republicans chose Lott -- the lesser evil of two Mississippi mediocrities. Gramm was too old, Hatch too strange, D'Amato too endangered. But in 2003 the GOP has a deep bullpen of young Senators with brains and morals -- Bill Frist, MD of Tennessee (in whose office I interned in 1997), Jon Kyl (Arizona), Sam Brownback (Kansas) or Mitch McConnell (Kentucky). Please Dr. Frist, cut out the cancer.

I realized the humor incipient in online dating when a previous boss at a large investment bank had his profile on (Ashley, can I get sued for this?) I particularly enjoyed his "fairly diverse" nature: "I have season tickets for football, but also really enjoy art museums and other forms of art."

Thus Rob had much difficulty assuring me that the following Eme Kah character is fake. Dear Lord, I can conjure a googol of meatheads (but with better vision) who might write this brilliant satire :

"I'm not dating three chicks at the same time and "can't make up my mind". No! I'm dating three chicks at the same time and have pretty much made up my mind that I wanna string all three along."

It's frightening when a women penetrates so deep into the male psyche. Please visit her site, link at left.

Monday, December 09, 2002

I don't mean at all to pick on Sean John. He's a talented, intelligent, successful businessman (and, IMHO, a mediocre musician) who could bust a cap in my rear. I use him as an example because I am simply astounded, daily, by the ability of people in this country to one morning begin the process of reinvention -- for better or worse. Not merely to escape the chains of the past and start life anew, as so many immigrants do, but to conceive one's future and willfully, tenaciously pursue and chase and fight until it is the present. To picture oneself as President while a small-town poor boy with an abusive alcoholic father (not once... twice! Reagan, Clinton). Or two kids in a Cupertino garage tinkering with a computer. Or a uniformed Catholic schoolboy itching to become a hip-hop star.

To someone utterly mystified by the future, I would love to know how are these people able to dream of themselves.

If you enter the URL you will automatically be redirected to which of course makes sense given the artist's desire to change his stage name. From Mr. Combs' biography:

"It is a rare and significant occasion when a musical artist captures and expresses the sentiments of a generation and expands his horizons to make an impact on society, creating a union between music and life."

And got to tax JLo like the government.

Raise your hand if you think that there is a breed of dog called 'Schnoodle.'

Well, there is. A cross between a Schnauzer and a Poodle, apparently.

And they are very cute. Very cute.

Instead of the grotesque "Schnoodle," they should call the breed "fuzzy", lower case f.

p.s. Not surprisingly, Schnoodle owners do not take after their dogs. Do not visit "oodles of schnoodles", the home of the "Psychic Schnoodle Hotline" and "A Schnoodle Christmas."

May the web remind most of us that we are sane. May the other of us not treat our Schnoodles too badly.

Saturday, December 07, 2002

"Yes, there are deprivations, there are the deprivations which give rise to our worst sorrows, but what does it truly matter what we have lost, when what we have lost is not yet used up. There are so many things susceptible of being loved that surely no discouragement can be final. To know how to suffer, to know how to love, and when everything collapses, to pick it all up again, simply the richer from suffering – happy, almost, in the awareness of our misery."

- Albert Camus

Do you miss poetry? I do. Maybe you like it and read it. But do others? Do you see it or hear it in public? Not much poetry recitation going on around the proverbial water cooler, huh? Yet, one assumes that it's out there: sitting in hardcover books in the 'Literature' section of Barnes & Noble, tucked away in specialty magazines, lying in wait in the bookbags of students everywhere.

Here's proof that poetry is doing exactly what it's supposed to do -- touching people. The Favorite Poems Project, started by former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky in 1997, is a collection of poems submitted by "Americans from ages 5 to 97, from every state, of diverse occupations, kinds of education and backgrounds."

My favorite part of the project is the video archive -- which contains short (3-5 minute) documentaries, each featuring one person reading their favorite poem and explaining how they relate. Here's construction worker John Doherty of Braintree, Mass reading from and speaking about "Song of Myself." (Close your eyes -- it's JFK). A fifth-grade student reads (actually, almost sings!) "The Sloth" by Theodore Roethke.

The web, at its best, I think.

Friday, December 06, 2002

An AP story today reports that the Pentagon's F/A-22 Raptor figher jet program is facing cost overruns of $700 million. Therein, is this little gem:

"One of the biggest problems with the Raptor has been getting the software for its sophisticated cockpit controls to work properly. The Air Force's goal is for that software to require restarting only once every ten hours, on average."

Only once? I didn't know Microsoft makes cockpit software!!! Redefines the 'blue screen of death,' doesn't it?

With the ground approaching too rapidly, Capt. Jackson rebooted his cockpit system just in time to level out his $100 million fighter jet... but his wife hand laundered his flightsuit the prior night, and now, frantically trying to straighten out the crumpled, nearly melted post-it note he had left in the vest pocket, he could not make out the washed out letters of his password...
He reached for the eject cord... not realizing that pulling it would be quite useless, without the certificate of authenticiy and CD-key that were sitting on the desk back at his quarters, some 500 miles away...


Thursday, December 05, 2002

Ok, I know that railing against the evils of capitalism, materialism, etc... is a bit naive and very stale. I also know that posting two Maxim links, within thirty minutes of each other, makes me look like a fervent reader of Maxim, which I am not (not even for the articles...).

Still, this ad is quite special. Maxim strongly urges you to marry NOW! And as long as you're getting married, why don't ya be a good boy and buy an engagement ring from their advertiser? Who wouldn't jump at this opportunity??! Myself, I'm doubling the number of my daily emails on, stat! And I urge you to do the same -- you wouldn't want to get married after the sale, now would you?

It's reminiscent of the company that keeps spamming my inbox, suggesting, advising, goading... no, pleading(!) with me to MOVE TO CANADA NOW -- and then offering to help me with that process, while I'm at it. They email me almost daily -- and I have come to think that they must be either very dumb or in posession of a very twisted sense of humor.

What's that line from Trafficant? Beam me up, Scotty!

I grew old the day I started worrying about 'young people nowadays.' Now I'm just working on cynical, bitter and jaded, and soon I'll be off to Florida. 'Young people nowadays' don't really follow politics, the news, etc. They are happily ill-informed, or uninformed, rather (you have to be somewhat informed, to be ill-informed, I posit). Can we all agree on that? So, how do you find common ground then? About someone like Strom Thurmond, for example? Recall his racist past and point out his vigorous campaigns against civil rights? Discuss the merits of his latter day transformation? How about something we can all agree on, instead? He's old. He's very, very old. Maxim's take.

Interesting times for Europe these days. I've been reading symposia and articles about Europe's political future, including Friends? Foes? Disconnected Strangers? from the American Enterprise, and input from the Times of London like Schroder is leading Germany to disaster. Better to go for the primary sources, I think, so I tried to read the EU papers. With my shaky knowledge of German and the help of Babelfish I could follow this article on Strom Thurmond but not much else in Der Spiegel (I think it's entitled "From racist to record Senator"). Why is there no Memri to translate what's in the European papers? Or is there?

Archimedes asked for nought but a place to stand to move the world. But in our relativistic age, who can find this ever-fix'd mark upon which to plant a lever?

The Jets. What is there to say? Sadly, they're likely dead. Robbie and I were at the game last year IN OAKLAND (I wore black around the stadium, green in my seat). Which the Jets won. With time expiring. By a John Hall field goal. I thought they could pull it off -- Pennington, Martin and Abraham were all playing well... but they suck.

Thanks, Rob. We here at Mad Benjamins are certainly glad to have you aboard! I made the changes to Andrew Sullivan's description. I will also start adding political commentary shortly, as soon as we do something about this pesky "job."

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Ho, hum! May this blog turn out to be more original than its opening entry. I want to hear from someone who absolutely LOVES Microsoft and wants to bear Bill Gates' ugly-ass children. (Additional ugly-ass children, to be precise.)

Also, I submit that the correct pithy summation of Mr. Sullivan's venerable enterprise is "The mum of all blogs."

And what would be? "Punditry, porn, panhandling, tastefully packaged" ?

Send us your short and sweet media mottos and we'll post the best.

Except Excel. I have spent about two weeks installing Windows XP, Office XP, graphics drivers, CD-RW drivers, service pack updates, xp updates and Just For Men (Natural Ash Brown) just to use the (admittedly beautiful) XIRR function.

It's taken me almost a year to realize that while, yes, I am a tad slow, it is not because I cannot control time, space and blogspot. It just takes an unusually long time to register changes in my template, which I am not used to. If you FTP an html file, it should be accessible immediately, no?

Take 2. Dear Lord I hate all things Microsoft.