Monday, August 30, 2010

Attention winos > The fine wine market has recovered

From Financial Times: Bouyed by an increasingly feverish Bordeaux en primeur campaign, there is now no doubt that the fine wine market has [...] recovered from the doldrums at the end of 2008 when it plunged by 25%.  After small but steady incremental growth last year, the Liv-ex 100 Index has begun to accelerate. Since, January it is up by nearly 24 per cent and in April it sailed past its previous peak of June 2008.  Read the rest here.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Proud to be an American? Islamaphobia spreads.

Various News Reports:
From sea to shining sea: Mosques are being vandalized across the country, with the latest incidents at mosques in Queens and Fresno, California on Wednesday. In Fresno, Imam Abdullah Salem discovered a pair of signs at the Madera Islamic Center, one of which read, "Wake up America, the enemy is here"; a week earlier, a brick was thrown at a window at the center. Meanwhile in Queens, a man barged into the Iman Mosque in Astoria, shouted anti-Muslim slurs at the worshippers, and peed on prayer rugs. "He calls us terrorists, yet he comes into our mosque and terrorizes other people," said one worshipper. "This is a true hate crime."
Some intelligent discussion(s) on the subject

Monday, August 23, 2010

What !! > a Japanese flying pig twenty-seven feet in the air.

August 19, 2010 > a wedding story 38 years later as published in the Ridgefield Press

38 years ago, I married 24 year old Carol Renee Phillips in a teeny ceremony on a sultry day in an Universalist Church in Miami Florida. The witnesses, two friends, flew in for the secretive occassion. The date, August 19th, selected because it fell between the Democratic and Republican Conventions, both in Miami that year. No, Carol nor I was a delagate, rather we both worked at CBS News.
The minister read from a prepared script that I had written -- an intricately woven combination of Navajo & Zuni marriage ceremonies -- in a fenced garden in the back of the church, under the shade of a Flamboyan tree. It was steamy hot & I was sweating in an open Ralph Lauren sport shirt, blue jacket & tan slacks while my beautiful bride was dressed head to toe in a tailored white lace Mexican wedding dress that fit every curve of her young body.

Afterward we toasted with champagne, signed some papers and went back to our apartment to change into shorts & tees to rest & prepare for the evening's party.

The deal was this: none of our guests could know it was a wedding party as we didn't want them to bring gifts, just themselves.

"Can't I tell anyone I just got married?", my soon-to-be bride had asked during the closely held planning sessions? Only if they ask "what's new or what you did today", I had replied smartly.
At the start of the evening, as guests began arriving, I stood outside directing traffic as many merry pranksters had been invited. A few who went in came back out to offer their congratulations. "What for?", I'd ask. "Didn't you have a special event earlier today?" they replied, wondering if they made some embarrassing mistake.

Sensing a rat, I walked into the party only to find my newly minted wife re-dressed in her Mexican wedding gown, waving her left hand around, talking animatedly to our guests.

How in the world could anyone have walked into that room and not have asked a question leading to the formerly unmentionable reply: "Yes, I got married today."

And so gentlemen & young marrieds I say to you 38 years later, the lesson I learned that day is that your better half is, indeed, your better half & you'd best not forget it.

Why Doesn't the World Care About Pakistanis? > a moral question

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Book Review > "Innocent" by Scott Turow

406 pp
Other books by Scott Turow
  • Limitations
  • Ordinary Heroes
  • Ultimate Punishment
  • Reversible Errors
  • Personal Injuries
  • The Laws of Our Fathers
  • Pleading Guilty
  • The Burden of Proof
  • Presumed Innocent
  • One L

This book had 3 distinct story parts:

1. A love affair between an aging judge & a young lawyer
2. A court case
3. The relationship between a father & son

There are only a few characters in this book; the main ones are father, son, lover, DA.

For me, the core of this book is the relationship between the father and the son; both lawyers. The father, a well known & respected Prosecutor & Judge, about to be elevated from the Court of Appeals to the Superior Court, finds himself deliciously & troublingly embroiled in a great love affair and has to confront his demons.

That confrontation unfolds in a courtroom as Judge Rusty Sabich, once accused & acquitted of a prior murder charge, is again charged of murder; this time of his own wife.

The prosecutor's explanation of the murder plot takes shape as the reader is follows step by step through the logical questioning of the Judge and as he testifies to those questions put to him by the current DA, his prior & current nemesis. Of course, there are two sides to every court case & the defense side is just as convincing.

In the beginning of this novel Turow provides the back story of the prior murder charges (& acquittal) brought by Tommy Molto against Rusty Sabich; details not permitted into evidence at the second trial for fear of prejudicing the jury. It also puts the reader on the the emotional roller coaster that is the intimate & sincere love affair between Rusty & Anna. As a senior citizen, myself, reading about this sexy love affair produced some longing in me. Of course, it is immoral by our puritanical social standards but it is also very real, desirable and special for both participants. Unfortunately, it could never have ended well and didn't.

Nevertheless this secret affair, to all except the participants, plays a pivotal role in Rusty's wife's demise and the strengthening of Rusty's  relationship with Nat, his  overshadowed son (who is clerking in the Superior Court), and who hasn't quite found his place in life when the story begins.

The dialog between father & son seems haltingly genuine as does the court testimony and other relationships in the book. None was a real stretch for this reader. It all seemed so credible, thanks to the author's talent. It will probably make an excellent movie one day.

I consider "Innocent" a thoroughly enjoyable read; once I got into it, I could hardly put it down. For anyone who likes a process piece, like a CSI or seeing how lawyers present opposing views of the same evidence, this is a definite read. I'm giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A perfect NY story > Starbucks' strange vernacular finally drove a customer nuts.

Lynne Rosenthal, a college English professor from Manhattan, said three cops forcibly ejected her from an Upper West Side Starbucks yesterday morning after she got into a dispute with a counterperson -- make that barista -- for refusing to place her order by the coffee chain's rules.

Rosenthal, who is in her early 60s, asked for a toasted multigrain bagel -- and became enraged when the barista at the franchise, on Columbus Avenue at 86th Street, followed up by inquiring, "Do you want butter or cheese?"

"I just wanted a multigrain bagel," Rosenthal told The Post. "I refused to say 'without butter or cheese.' When you go to Burger King, you don't have to list the six things you don't want.   Read the rest of this delicious story here.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Sunday morning viewing

Christian Amanpour's "This Week" covered one important & terribly sad issue: Army suicides. But it struck me that in her interview with vice chief of staff of the army, General Peter Chiarelli, who is in charge of solving this problem, I heard more from Amanpour than I did from Chiarelli. Not good for an interviewer.

I forgot about 'Face The Nation' & felt like I had 'been there, done that' with David Gregory's "Meet the Press" so I didn't bother.

On the other hand, Chris Matthews and his merry band voted 7 to 5 that Hillary Clinton would run as Obama's Vice President in 2012, switching jobs with Joe Biden.

And then Mathews ran some absolutely charming stories told by Bob Smith, the former White House pianist who entertained presidents from Nixon through Clinton.

Mr. Smith told the story about Richard Nixon used to order aboard empty bottles of very expensive vintage wines when entertaining on the Presidential yacht, Sequoia.. Then, before his guests arrived, he would stand at the bar with a funnel, filling the bottles with swill akin to Carlo Rossi. And when all his guests later rose in a toast, relishing their fine wines, he'd wink at the piano player as if to say: "Got 'em!".

Cary Grant ducked out of a White House dinner to sit down & play a few tunes with Mr. Smith. When dinner was announced, Cary Grant, who had been standing next to the piano with his cocktail, didn't follow the crowd into the next room. 'Mr. Grant', said the piano player, 'aren't you hungry? Don't you want any dinner?' 'No', Mr. Grant replied, explaining he was tired of everything, including being Cary Grant. All he wanted to do was to be Archie Leach (his real name), to listen to Cole Porter music & to reminisce -- which is exactly what he did for the next hour or so.

And finally, Mr. Smith told the following anecdote. After Bush senior won the presidency, the entire Bush clan came back to the White House to celebrate. And as Smith explained it, he recognized everyone: sister Dorothy, brothers Jeb, Neil, etc. etc. & then there was this guy who sat in the corner....

Chris Wallace of Fox News had an interesting interview with Ted Olsen, a conservative, who successfully argued for the rights of gays to marry (in opposition to California's Prop 8) before a gay, Republican Federal Judge. It was Olsen's contention, as a conservative, that this right is granted under the 14th amendment to the constitution & that the judge was anything but an activist judge; more to the point: he was following the original meanings of the 14th amendment.

It was clear that in the interview that Chris Wallace was totally outmatched by Ted Olsen who is used to this question and answer format, having argued so many cases before the Supreme Court. Chris Wallace tipped his hat to Olsen at the end of the interview.

Fareed Zakaria, of CNN, had two interesting interviews: one with Hamid Gul, the 74 year old former Pakistani ISA chief who is named in the WikiLeaks documents as plotting with the Taliban against Allied interests, particularly the United States. But as Gul pointed out in the interview, the U.S. pays for information & the Afghanies, a 'wily bunch who will do anything for money', simply manufacture information to get the money. Given the poverty in Afghanistan, this probably makes some sense. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine that these tips aren't well corroborated. However, I was surprised to hear Gul TOTALLY dismiss Hamid Karzai and call the Afghanies a 'treacherous' bunch. It seems there's no love lost there. Gul is credited with helping to organize the  Mujaheddin to fight against the, then, Soviet Union.

The second interview was with Serbia's well spoken, 35 year old Foreign Minister, Vuk Jeremic,  (someone I knew nothing about) who stated categorically that the current government is committed to solving all their problems with breakaway Kosovo diplomatically and legally; dismissing any & all military options as a thing of the past. If this is so, it would be a tremendous advance in Balkan politics.

This was one of those Sunday mornings when I actually felt I had learned a thing or two watching the boob tube.

Friday, August 06, 2010

The great depression > rare images 1939-1943

Faro Caudill family eating dinner, Pie Town, NM, Oct. 1940
From the Denver Post Plog. These images, by photographers of the Farm Security Administration, Office of War Information, are some of the only color photographs taken of the effects of the Depression on America’s rural and small town populations. The photographs are the property of the Library of Congress and were included in a 2006 exhibit Bound for Glory: America in Color.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Wired > Gadget Lab > Robotic Eye


The eye has a transparent-plastic inner sphere with a set of magnets around it, painted to look just like a human eye. It is suspended in fluid and has a transparent outer shell. Using electromagnets from the outside, the eye is moved sideways or up and down, giving it a smooth and easy motion. “It is as fast as the human eye and as good as the human eye." The pupil and the back of the eye are clear. A camera placed at the rear of the eye helps the eye see. Read more here

The road to serfdom > A blog entry by an ex-Goldman Sachser

Charlie Chaplin stands on Douglas Fairbanks' s...Image via Wikipedia
[...] If Wall Street investment bankers were dogs, they would flaunt their expensive collars and leashes as marks of status, [...] we were basically the trader’s little bitches, and any quant who’s honest with himself realizes that. In time, we quants developed knee callouses from genuflecting to service the traders, on whose profits our livelihoods depended. 

[...] The sad truth is: quants were the eunuchs at the orgy. We were the ever-present British guy in every Hollywood WWII film: there to add a touch of class and exotic sophistication, but not really matter much to the plot.

[...] Your entire worth as a human is defined by one number: the compensation number your  boss tells you at the end of the year. See, pay on Wall Street works as follows: your base salary is actually quite modest, but your ‘bonus’ is where the real money is. That bonus is completely discretionary, and can vary anywhere from zero to a manifold multiple of your base salary.

So, come mid-December, everyone on the desk lines up outside the partner’s office, like the communion line at Christmas Mass, and awaits their little crumb off the big Wall Street table. An entire year’s worth of blood, sweat, and tears comes down to that one moment. And the entire New York economy marches to the beat of that bonus drum. [...]  Read the rest of this interesting blog @ Adgrok

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Monday, August 02, 2010

The New Yorker > The Empty Chamber. Just How broken is the Senate?

An excellent article by George Packer & a must read for anyone who is truly interested in understanding why nothing gets done in Washington, DC.
[...] In general, when senators give speeches on the floor, their colleagues aren’t around, and the two or three who might be present aren’t listening. They’re joking with aides, or e-mailing Twitter ideas to their press secretaries, or getting their first look at a speech they’re about to give before the eight unmanned cameras that provide a live feed to C-SPAN2. The presiding officer of the Senate—freshmen of the majority party take rotating, hour-long shifts intended to introduce them to the ways of the institution—sits in his chair on the dais, scanning his BlackBerry or reading a Times article about the Senate. Michael Bennet, a freshman Democrat from Colorado, said, “Sit and watch us for seven days—just watch the floor. You know what you’ll see happening? Nothing. When I’m in the chair, I sit there thinking, I wonder what they’re doing in China right now?”
Between speeches, there are quorum calls, time killers in which a Senate clerk calls the roll at the rate of one name every few minutes. The press gallery, above the dais, is typically deserted, as journalists prefer to hunker down in the press lounge, surfing the Web for analysis of current Senate negotiations; television screens alert them if something of interest actually happens in the chamber. The only people who pay attention to a speech are the Senate stenographers. On this afternoon, two portly bald men in suits stood facing the speaker from a few feet away, tapping at the transcription machines, which resembled nineteenth-century cash registers, slung around their necks. The Senate chamber is an intimate room where men and women go to talk to themselves for the record. [...]

Beautiful Spaces > Design Is My Muse

Library of the Future > The Mansueto Library in Chicago

Movie Review > Salt

Salt: She's beautiful, there's a plot about Russian sleeper agents & complex action sequences. It's a  thriller. What more can anyone ask from this genre? I think it's a 'go-see' if you like this type of movie. Angelina Jolie carries the film, plays it to the hilt & is... well, sort of believable, as a REALLY tough CIA operative named Evelyn Salt. This is the 'pilot' film. Expect sequels; I'd bet money on it. Would 3.5 stars (of 5) be too much? Nah. I enjoyed it. It was fun. Here are a couple of other reviews.