Tuesday, January 27, 2009

ox populi

so i was at a party over the weekend and i met this dude who, upon being introduced to me said, "hey, happy new year!"

considering it was january 24, what do you think he meant?

(a) "happy chinese new year!" since january 26 is chinese new year and obvs i'm chinese?
(b) "happy lunar new year!" since he knew koreans also celebrate lunar new year and he can tell koreans and chinese apart?
(c) "happy new year!" since that's what he says to everyone during the month of january regardless of race?

Microsoft, Hunh?

Now, I love to hate on the New York Times as much as the next person, particularly since in my line of leisure the next person is E.

I mean this venerable institution actually declared New York over and Washington ascendant because the collapse of Wall Street makes it difficult to justify buying $20 cocktails in this, the age of Malia and Sasha. [Ed's note: I have no idea why I can't find a link to the article, which appeared as the lead piece about a week ago, but my word is my bond .] The article is notable not only for its its jarring inanity, but also because all its quotes seemed to have been sourced to bartenders and Iowans, and gathered via email.

But propers where propers are due. In my time away, there was perhaps only one truly notable viral video -- see above -- to make its way onto the scene: the Microsoft extenda-Internet-ad for Microsoft Songsmith, a program that provides predictive, jazzy accompiniment to one's sad, solitary karaoke . As Gabe Delahaye, my soulmate in snark, says "nothing can prepare you" for the video. Anyway, this entire post is pure re-blog, and even the leaden-brained Times has gotten into the fun with its own kicking-Microsoft-when-it's-down piece on the "synthetic treacle" (hours of fun!) Songsmith offers a desperate generation.

Anyway, you must watch the video. You simply must.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Untriumphant Return

For many years -- until the proliferation of thermal-melded soccer balls which are now fashionable-- Sialkot, a city in northeastern Pakistan, was to leather soccer balls of quality as Cuba is to cigars. Pakistanis have never managed to assemble a decent soccer team, unlike our Persian neighbors to the west, but as a child I would take great pride in the fact that the instruments of the sport were manufactured -- nay, delicately hand-sewn -- in my homeland.

And as a child, if I ever found myself in a sporting goods store, I would inspect the pricey Adidas soccer balls for their "Made in Pakistan" label, and beam inwardly. It was only a couple of years later that I realized or was informed that Sialkot had managed such dominance in the soccer ball market because of its surplus of poor children and surfeit of capitalist impulse. You see, hand stitched soccer balls are a marvel of construction. You need tiny hands to patch together the small leather hexagons into a ball in such a way that identifying the last stitch sewn is impossible for the human eye. To be able to do this while maintaining 650 uniform seams is a skill that eclipses any I am possessed of.

My youthful nationalism, my naive pride, those childish things, faded away as the years passed. As an older child, I'd walk into sporting good stores, and cringe at the labels on the soccer balls. It wasn't just the icky feeling all of us have when confronted by the uncomfortable truth of our reliance on sweatshop labor. No, at nine or ten, with a mind polished in the Episcopalian tradition, I came to understand a new concept: there but for the grace of God go I . Why those kids and not me?

There are a lot of explanations, I suppose, for why them and not me, but ultimately, the only real explanation is luck. The sheer dumb luck of being born to parents who wanted more for themselves than their parents had, who wanted their kids to have more than they had, but more important, parents who had the ability to achieve those ends.

Now, I've not blogged for weeks, I realize. Readers Owen and Anonymous Alex and others have drawn attention to this fact, and while I have had taciturn periods in the past, this particular extended silence had less to do with lethargy (my constant cross) than with John Bradford's words above. I know I tend toward misdirection in these pages quite a bit, so let me say it bluntly: From December 27th to just a few days ago, I've resisted the urge to put into words my fury at what Israel has wrought in Gaza. I have resisted the urge to link to Juan Cole, to Glenn Greenwald, to Haaretz editorial writers, to BBC and Jazeera podcasts -- though those resources kept me at bay, reminded me that though Israel policy goes undebated by the petty children who bloviate about everything else in the august halls of our Capitol city, there are in this country voices of reason as well. Now, I resisted this urge not to spare you, reader. You're an adult and you've made the conscious choice to tour these pages, and I make no guarantees about what thine eyes will see here. No, I resisted because my anger just made me inarticulate, and if this blog is anything, it is a record of my attempt at artful writing -- or at least writing that I will not be ashamed to revisit in the twilight years.

But none of this changes the fact that Hamas places no value on the lives of Palestinian children; in its nihilistic enterprise it offers them as sacrifices to a murderous and bloodthirsty IDF. Israel meanwhile can't even feign a serious justification for its quixotic quest. With no military or political goals (other than internal electoral ones), it has murdered scores of children. Powerless and frustrated, I see the pictures of their corpses (on non-American news sources) and I revert to childhood stupidities: There but for the grace of God go I.

So there you have it. A serious post. I feel better for having committed it to these pages. Thanks for indulging, thanks for returning (if you left), and I'll get back to regularly scheduled programming shortly. There is buffoonery in this world worth writing about and I will get to it.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

john thain owes me (and you) $1.2M

last week i turned into some sort of crazy obsessive maniac who couldn't stop looking at photos of malia and sasha (pronounced rick warren style, of course). i thought i was being a touch more creepy than what would be considered normal, then i read the comments on the slideshow, mostly from people who wanted to take the girls home and buy them ice cream, misery-style. now that's creepy.

anyway, where did you watch the inauguration? was it you arriving in DC in your private jet? my office set up giant tvs in the cafeteria, which was pretty thoughtful of them since cnn.com just wasn't cutting it. and yes, i can confirm that a room chock full of corporate lawyers found the sight of dick cheney in his wheelchair completely, utterly hilarious.

everyone celebrated differently. this guy decided to bake the most, uh, offputting cookies ever (you've got to watch the video, seriously), some wept, and one person decided to let her hat do the talking. we've heard a lot about how michelle obama chose immigrant designers, like taiwan-born jason wu or cuban-american isabel toledo, but dudes, foreal, a korean-american milliner from detroit--hockeytown!!--made aretha's hat!

despite this incredible moment in history, the deprecession continues. and the princes of wall street again prove to us that they are complete failures in PR and they could care less about winning over the american people since they already have all of our money anyway. john thain attempted to break the bonehead mold by apologizing for his inappropriate decorating expenses:

The final topic is the expenses related to my office. The $1.2 million reported in the press was for the renovation of my office, two conference rooms and a reception area. The expenses were incurred over a year ago in a very different environment. Nonetheless, they were a mistake in the light of the world we live in today. I will therefore reimburse the company for all of the costs incurred.

finally! taxpayers, $1.2 million. thain, at least $3.2 million...and counting...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

i'm so glad we're giving these guys our money

the journal had a curious article about a not-so-secret society of wall street luminaries that meets only once a year, called kappa beta phi. GET IT?? so clever, those financiers. dick fuld, stanley o'neal and bridge aficionado jim cayne were no-shows, as were former wall street power brokers john corzine and mike bloomberg. nonetheless, the dudes (and they were mostly dudes) still managed to have a good time.

now, i know this is meant to be tongue and cheek, and the members seem to be somewhat aware of their own ridiculousness, but they just couldn't fully stop themselves from appearing like total jerks. shouldn't these guys at least pretend to endear themselves to the public? how out of touch and offensive can they be? let's hear the highlights:

"I feel like the mayor of New Orleans after Katrina," quipped Alfred E. Smith IV, the group's leader, or "Grand Swipe," at the opening of its annual black-tie dinner last week.


Phi Beta Kappa's key includes a hand pointing at three stars that symbolize the society's principles: morality, friendship and learning. Kappa Beta Phi's key has images of a hand, a beer stein, champagne tumbler and five stars. The stars represent Hennessy cognac and the hand is there to hold a glass.


The group's humor is anything but politically correct. One crude joke took aim at Rep. Barney Frank's treatment of the U.S. taxpayer, with a reference to Mr. Frank's sexual orientation. Mr. Frank is the first openly gay member of Congress.


the article also mentions how the society inducted new members who dressed in drag to perform musical ditties, including the following, set to american pie:

A long, long time ago...

I can still remember

How the Dow Jones used to make me smile.

And I learned my trade and had my chance

The music played I did my dance

And I made seven figures for a while.

I can't remember if I cried when they pulled the plug on Countrywide...

It sucks that Iceland is out of ice....Bye, Bye to my piece of the pie...Now I travel coach whenever I fly...Maybe this will be the day that I die.

i hope so!

Monday, January 12, 2009

but will i like a blaffair to rememblack?

i was on the phone with my mom the other day and i said something along the lines of, "i still have a hard time believing i'm 30; i forget my age sometimes." my 60-plus-year-old mom replied, "oh, that doesn't stop. i do that to this day."

sure, we all know the common signifiers of Bona Fide Adulthood, like child-rearing or homeownership, but nobody tells you whether Adults should enjoy bacon'd! (which i did. immensely. and felt kind of guilty about it afterward) or watch gossip girl (which i do not, only bc i feel a little lech watching such young-looking guys, but i think i'm alone in this). bc y'know, this stuff isn't productive. Adults belong to kiwanis clubs, know how to fold fitted sheets, make their own kimchi, figure out tax deductions, etc.

anyway, do marketers know any better? we all know we're being manipulated even though we'd like to think we can rise above it. the new yorker this week has a detailed and sometimes unnerving article about the marketing of movies. i think the studios' mantra is,

“If we weren’t making decisions based on marketability, John Malkovich would be in every movie,” a top studio marketer says. “Great actor, but not someone you want to see half-naked in the sheets next to Angelina Jolie.”

yowza. they don't have to be so mean about it. i'm sure some people would love to see that.

and man, they've got all of us pegged:

Marketers segment the audience in a variety of ways, but the most common form of partition is the four quadrants: men under twenty-five; older men; women under twenty-five; older women. A studio rarely makes a film that it doesn’t expect will succeed with at least two quadrants, and a film’s budget is usually directly related to the number of quadrants it is anticipated to reach. The most expensive tent-pole movies, such as the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, are aimed at all four quadrants.

women above twenty-five are automatically OLDER WOMEN? dear lord. well, i'm game. let's see whether they can put baby in a quadrant. here's what young women like, according to marketing experts:

friendship - check
pop music - check
fashion - check
sarcasm - duh-really?
sensitive boys who think with their hearts - omg check!
and romance—but not sex (though they like to hear the naughty girl telling her friends about it) - it's like they interviewed me for this shit.
They go to horror films as much as young men, but they hate gore; you lure them by having the ingénue take her time walking down the dark hall. yeah i hate gore, but i also hate horror movies. i'll pretend this is me, though, since who doesn't like dark halls?

whew. so it appears that i'm not a total hag as of yet. but what about the OLDER WOMEN? what do they (we?) like?

feel-good films and Nicholas Sparks-style weepies - hell no
they are the core audience for stories of doomed love - maybe?
triumphs of the human spirit - ugh, no again
They enjoy seeing an older woman having her pick of men - who doesn't?
they hate seeing a child in danger - i can take or leave this one.

but just when i'm feeling good about myself, i read this:

Particularly once they reach thirty, these women are the most “review-sensitive”: a chorus of critical praise for a movie aimed at older women can increase the opening weekend’s gross by five million dollars. In other words, older women are discriminating, which is why so few films are made for them.

maybe this is why i've been hating so many movies of late. bring on the Form 1040.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The ramen girl

finally, brittany murphy and ramen together! in one movie! yesssss!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

rescue me

some part of me wishes we can return to a barter economy. my socks for your pencils, or whatever. at least i would be able to understand how it works.

as the economy sank further and further, i took up reading the wall street journal, which i'd only associated with alex p keaton up to that point. the journal manages to synthesize complicated concepts like CDOs in a couple of sentences, while the times can barely explain leverage. moreover, the journal consistently includes sexy details like "On Tuesday, Mr. Buffett says, he was sitting with his feet on his desk in Omaha, drinking a Cherry Coke and munching on mixed nuts, when he got an unusually candid call from a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. investment banker. Tell us what kind of investment you'd consider making in Goldman, the banker urged him, and the firm would try to hammer out a deal."

nonetheless, i enjoyed (?) reading this two-parter in the times from michael lewis and david einhorn on the state of the financial markets. indeed, this is an uncertain time; so much of what we'd assumed was real turned out to be spectacularly illusory. although it is much too easy to reduce this debacle into the usual for-profit bad, public service good dichotomy, we discovered that the two worlds are rather intertwined and, sadly, the destruction of the former has infected the latter. we all lose.

in any case, i am completely fascinated by this madoff thing. the family drama - i don't believe for a second that his sons weren't involved; the sheer breadth - literally six degrees of kevin bacon; those mysterious women (make sure you click on the link here) i once read about in vanity fair and vaguely envied despite their equine features - was their dad involved somehow or is it all just coincidence?

our justice system showed its best side, as it let a man who, in his own words, perpetrated (okay fine, allegedly) a $50 billion fraud traipse around lexington avenue like nothing happened. then the prosecutors thought better of it and decided upon house arrest. THEN, yet another shonda:

The disgraced financier Bernard L. Madoff tried to hide at least $1 million in watches and jewelry from government investigators and should have his bail revoked and sent to jail immediately, federal prosecutors told a judge Monday afternoon.

more impressively, the sons turned the father in!

Last week, Mr. Madoff’s sons, Andrew and Mark, received three packages, containing valuable jewelry and watches, as well as inexpensive items like cufflinks and mittens, according to a person briefed on the contents of the packages. Within a few minutes of receiving the packages, Mr. Madoff’s sons called the law firm of Paul, Weiss, which is representing them, to tell them about the packages, this person said.

guess they've lost their fear of being left out of the will.

and what did congress do? hold yet another hearing, of course. as usual, it was chock full of pithy condemnations and self-righteous anger. here's an idea - do something about it. and that "something" shouldn't be "give away all of our money to a bunch of guys who made more last year than i will in several lifetimes." oh what do i hear? a legislator is coming to our rescue?

Perhaps, one lawmaker suggested, the term “Ponzi scheme,” named after the Italian immigrant who engineered the huge pyramid-investment scheme of the early 20th century, should be declared obsolete and replaced by “the Madoff scheme.”

yes...that's the solution.

sometimes i think to myself, will i ever stop being cynical? isn't it just an easy out? but this unfathomable failure of public trust - how is it that we are giving money, our hard-earned money to vikram pandit? to lloyd blankfein? don't you think hank paulson would've noticed if $750 billion had gone missing during his tenure at goldman? after all, it might have prevented him from amassing an $800m fortune. is it trite to be angry about this at this point? i'd much rather the government give my money to the guy i saw taking a shit in broad daylight on 8th street a few months ago or some welfare queen so she can buy that cadillac she's been eyeing. this entire meltdown has only proven that i haven't been cynical enough.

there is a breathtaking thought.

in parting, to the girl who farted TWICE on the machine next to me at the gym: not cool, man.