Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wall Street Sociopaths

Kind of muggy here, didn't sleep all that great, and still have a bit of a chest cold. We probably need to get a standup AC unit for Stella's room, because she doesn't have a window-based AC and we have to close her doors so the cats don't bother her all night. As a result her room can get quite hot. Maybe I will do that today.


If you haven't checked it out yet I recommend this week's issue of "New York"" magazine. There are two great articles in it that I really enjoyed. One is "Obama Is From Mars, Wall Street Is From Venus," about how the President and Wall Street are totally at odds, and the other is "Joan Rivers Always Knew She Was Funny," about the renaissance this comedian has experienced in the past few years.

Personally I have always loved Joan Rivers. I remember watching her on TV as a kid and just thinking she was hysterical. I didn't understand when so many people seemed to hate her years later. And she will rip into anyone, which is a bit refreshing. If she's ever been on The Howard Stern show I should probably make it my business to find that episode because those two in the same room must have been epic.

As for the Obama piece, it's amazingly well written and reported. But the subject matter is so frustrating. The point of it is that Wall Street is crying because an extremely mild financial reform package is coming down the pike. Wall Street must know these reforms will do very little, but their feelings are hurt that they are being portrayed as "the bad guys" by the administration.

There is a reason for this, they ARE the bad guys. Risk control at Wall Street was just about zero, and they melted down our economy. Now a few moderate suggestions are being put forward to make our financial world just a touch less wild and they are shocked and hurt.

This is why the public hates these guys. They are greedy and totally deluded about the damage they do. We suffer the worst economic crisis since the '30s and virtually none of these clowns even lost their jobs. Or, as we saw last year, took a pay cut. Their opinion is that we had the chance to clip their wings and blew it, so now leave the alone. It's hard to understand how they could feel this way, unless they are sociopaths, which they are.

According to a definition I just found on the internet -- I am a reporter after all --this is the definition of a sociopath: "A pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others and inability or unwillingness to conform to what are considered to be the norms of society."

Tell me this isn't Wall Street!

My favorite example of this behavior came on March 19, 2009 just days after the markets hit their lowest point in over a decade. Citigroup saw its share price fall from over $55 to under $1, during the meltdown. The only reason the company didn't implode completely was because it received almost $45 BILLION in taxpayer dollars to keep it afloat.

Although Citi was barely clinging to life the firm's CEO Vikram Pandit decided to spend $10 million to redecorate his offices!

This has always pissed me off for so many reasons. But the main one, if you can believe it, is this. I have to imagine that Pandit, as the CEO of a major American corporation, already had really nice offices. Just think about that. They were probably lovely, in fact, with the best furniture made of the best wood, the floors must have been either polished marble, or, again, wood. Everything about it was almost certainly already as good, and as pricey, as money could buy. But this wasn't good enough, and for the cost of $10 million taxpayer dollars Pandit decided they had to scrap it all and start again.

Why? For ego gratification? Because this is how a CEO asserts himself? To tell the taxpayer to get lost? I don't know, can never know, but to me this sounds like a sociopath. This sounds like someone with an inability of unwillingness to conform to what are "considered to be the norms of society."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Thoughts On Arizona, Where I Once Lived

I have some sort of mild chest cold. Spring colds suck donkeys.


Everyone is still asleep right now, and it looks like it should be a nice day here. I am happy about that. It always improves my moods to see the sun when I wake up. That was one of my favorite things about living in Arizona back from 1990-1992 when I went to Arizona State University. Summer was terrible, as was most of September into, but our winter here was mild and wonderful there. I miss it sometimes.


Dr. Harvey Karp responded to my post on the Huffington Post. I asked him if I could reprint his note. I do believe only the best things about him, but I have to say, we tried and tried to use his method with Stella, and didn't really get the results we hoped for. Your mileage may vary!


Speaking of Arizona I see it is in the news again. It seems the only time that state makes national headlines is when something extremely controversial happens. When I was there the big whoop was that they voted against Martin Luther King day.

There was an uproar, as you can imagine, or maybe even remember. Public Enemy countered with their song "By The Time I Get To Arizona." (Here are the lyrics.)

The video, I've been told, includes a plot to blow up the Arizona state capital. Because that's what Dr. King would have wanted? Anyway, my favorite response to the whole mess was from some comedian, whose name I can't remember: You have to be pretty racist to not want a day off.

And here we go again. I am not informed enough about the subject of illegal immigration to feel qualified to speak about what should be done. Stopping random darker skinned people, as a policy, seems unenforceable. It also makes me uncomfortable, on a personal level.

But I also know that the citizens of Arizona must be feeling completely at the end of their collective ropes to vote in such a draconian measure. Otherwise it never would have passed. Anyone from Arizona, can you fill me in, give me a sense of what it feels like on the ground over there?

The irony is I found Arizona State University a beautifully diverse place during my two years there. Certainly far more diverse than Wesleyan University, where I graduated. Wesleyan is famously liberal, so there were people who represented various groups, but I found the place had a lot of self-segregation, to be honest.

ASU was a different story. It is a major, major state school, with over 45,000 students. That's like 15 Wesleyans. My freshman year dorm was 15 stories high and housed 900 kids.

Within that population I met a lot of people who opened my eyes. I saw part time students who lived at home, single mothers finally getting their degrees, and a surprising amount of students from the various Native American reservations within the state. My favorite professor, Michael Mitchell, was an African-American, and had previously taught at Princeton. Through him I met more African-American students, including one who became student body president. This is an accomplishment in a school that was mostly white.

And, yes, there were lots, and lots of students who were either first generation or second generation from Mexico. This was normal, and part of the fabric of the school. I never heard anyone talk about it during my time there.

It's complicated. My memory of ASU and Arizona was of a place that had more than its fair share of white meatheads and snowbirds (the term for retirees who head down for the winter) but also a lot of true diversity. I learned an awful lot in my time there about other cultures and ways of living. I had an English teacher, Jean Erchel, (I have to spell check her name) who spent a great amount of time telling us about Native American cultures. It blew my mind.

I also took amazing classes on Jewish history, and experimental theater. ASU, to me, was a great, open, crazy, hectic place, with a wide variety of students, from literally every kind of background. Its diversity made it a thrilling place to be.

I took an art history class at night which was filled with students who worked all day, and many were much older. This was a new experience for me.

Of course I fell in with a great crew of freaks, many of whom came from backgrounds kind of like mine, but I still saw a student body that was, when you looked, many times more varied than what you could find at any small liberal arts school.

So, it's complicated. I feel unqualified to speak on the issue, as I haven't been to Arizona for years. Every time I've seen a check list for why illegal immigration is bad, I've seen another list for why immigrants of all kinds, even illegal immigrants, actually help the economic growth of an area.

People say they take away jobs. Others say they do the jobs no one else will do. And so on, and so on.

I would love to see what you think, in reader-land, on this contentious subject.

Have a happy Tuesday.

On Huffington Post Again

I posted the prior entry on the Huffington Post, if anyone would want to read it. I am, to be frank, not in love with their lavender color scheme, but this is what it is. Maybe next time I will write about something more lavender-ish?

Anyway, here is the link.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Everybody Has A Plan

Stella has always done things her own way

I titled this blog entry in honor of that great philosopher and statesman of our age "Iron" Mike Tyson. In addition to having been one of the most fearsome fighters of all time, he was also a strategist on par with Alexander The Great. I make these claims based on something Tyson stated before his fight with, if memory serves, (and it might not) Tony Tubbs. Tyson -- who had mowed down opponent after opponent like a thresher does wheat -- was told that Tubbs had a "plan" to defeat him.

Tyson's response? "Everybody has a plan, before they get hit."

Ladies and gentlemen, what a wonderful primer for parenthood!

After all, who among us was not an expert in child raising ... before we had one? Who did not tut-tut at those over-protective parents chauffeuring their progeny house to house to go trick-or-treating? ("In my day," we all said, "kids had to earn their candy!")

Who among us did not pass silent or not so silent judgment on the parents of the child who would not keep it down in the restaurant, on the plane, at the movies? Who did not hear about babies who refuse to sleep, bottle feed or crawl and simply wonder what the hell is wrong with these parents? They are so busy tending to their careers, over-parenting, letting nannies do it all, you name it, that they are simply not there for their kids when they need it most! Who didn't think these things before they had kids? I sure did.

I knew I would never be like that. I knew I would let my kids run wild in the streets and be free! I knew I wouldn't let my kid watch TV, eat bad food and ruin other people's meals, all at the same time in some cases. I knew this because I had seen what these other people had done that was so wrong, it was obvious to me, I had a plan.

And then I got hit.

But not just hit, staggered, blitzed, knocked out, only to struggle back up and get knocked out once more.

Suddenly my plans weren't going quite so swell. Suddenly I was in the unwanted position of being the recipient of other people's disapproval, tacit or otherwise.

It all started, fittingly, when Stella was born and, as I have exhaustively documented in this blog, WOULD NOT SLEEP.

This couldn't be! We had plans! Better still we had books that promised to cure everything that ails a colicky, upset, non-sleeping baby. One book you might know is called "The Happiest Baby On The Block." We made it our bible. Alas, it did not make little Stella into the happiest baby on the block.

The writer of "THBOB" is Dr. Harvey Karp, who seems like a thoroughly kind and decent soul. After two months of no sleep we were ready to admit our ignorance and surrender to his proven methods. After all, he wrote, if you do what he says a well-rested, happy, lovely baby is the inevitable result. It is unquestionable, it is science.

He advised us to first swaddle Stella every night before bed. We tried. First we tried with one swaddling blanket, but she would restlessly wriggle out of it in about 30 seconds. Oh, we must have had the wrong swaddler, so I bought another. This one was much better, it took her about five minutes to get out of it. We bought another, this one was the best of all, and cost the most by far. She'd be in it 15 minutes before we'd first see one foot pop out, then an arm.

But we believed, so we swaddled on. Stella would fight every step, but we knew what was best for her so we would doggedly keep at it, about five times a night, all night. Thank god we swaddled her so much, or else we would never have gotten some sleep. Oh wait, we didn't, because Stella would break free and cry again, and again. Then we would swaddle her again and again, in a never ending cycle of misery.

Karp also advised us that we were holding Stella wrong. So we started to hold her right, according to him, and sooth her with certain sounds that we had been too ignorant to intuit. We did this, and it worked about as well as the swaddling.

Rinse, lather, repeat, I think you get the picture.

We bought more books, each one knew the secret for how to get our child, any child, to rest. But if they all had the answer, I wondered, why were there so many different books? Hmmm, I preferred not to think such things as I checked out at Barnes and Noble.

All the while concerned friends and family would try to help us. Everyone had a hot tip on how this whole "baby" thing should work. Except my mother. I begged her for answers, and got none, other than to drive my colicky, fussy, at times sadness-inducing child (I cannot lie) around in our car, because sometimes it worked on my older brother when he was colicky. Drive my wailing kid around Brooklyn at 3:00 a.m., right.

Many of our friends had babies that were easier than ours. What, I wondered, did we screw up so bad to deserve this? And what did they do so rght? Why, I asked in vain, why do their babies sleep the sleep of angels, when mine does not and, shudder, NEVER WILL! Why are they better parents, and, by extension better people? I had no answers, but some of our friends tried to provide them anyway. What secrets did they know that we did not? I would ask them, only to get the title of yet another book.

Over time we developed a strict routine before bed so Stella would know to get ready for sleepy-time. It never worked. As I have written about before, we tried a white noise machine called a Sleep Sheep to bring her into dreamland. It failed. We had a mobile that played soothing music, it too was a disaster.

This went on, and on, much like my description of these events, for a very long time.

Finally, about eight months ago, something started to change. I am knocking wood very hard right now, even as I write this, by the way. We would do Stella's bedtime routine, and I would hold her on my shoulder and she would cry and then, usually, go to sleep. Sometimes most of the night, even.

Then I moved on. I would hold her on my shoulder and then ease into our rocking chair. Over time she would allow herself to get rocked to sleep this way. During the first year of her life she would cry if I even got near the rocker, so this was progress.

Then we moved on some more. I would sit in the rocker, and she would fall asleep after I'd sing to her for 20 minutes and easily transfer her into the crib. Then it took 10 minutes, then 5, and so on.

Now I take her, put her onto my shoulder, and sit in the rocker for literally 10 seconds before she wriggles a little and points to her crib. I then put her in the crib, she rolls over, and, boom, she's out. This last stage has been the default for about the last six months at least, and she has learned to mostly sleep through the night.

What happened? Did we suddenly become better parents, all knowing and wise? I don't think so.

What about our friends and peers? Suddenly many of them have seen their perfect sleepers start to have real trouble, just as Stella goes in the other direction. Other people we know with easy children soon felt emboldened enough to have a second one. In many cases the new kid is, you guessed it, a troubled sleeper.

Did these people all of a sudden become bad parents? Of course not.

What I have started to believe is that with babies there is much in the way of leading a horse to water, but not being able to make them drink, breastfeed, sleep, crawl, talk, you name it.

You wouldn't know it to read all those parenting books. They all imply that there is an ideal time-frame for all these milestones, and if you just follow their method, and do it by the (or in this case their) book you will inevitably succeed, your child will thrive, and in 22 years everyone will have a good laugh about this stuff as she graduates from Harvard.

I am here to say such hard and fast rules are just about useless. If your child is not ready to sleep, for example, such books make you feel like something is wrong with either your baby or you. I am here to tell you all this is bunk. If your child is not ready to sleep through the night there is nothing on god's green earth that will change that. Yes, you can set up a nice environment to make sleep more inviting, but you cannot force kids to sleep, or hit any milestone, until they are damn well ready.

You'll never read this in a book of course, unless some day, I guess, I write a book. Why is this? Because there is no money in it. We all want to believe there is a secret sauce to parenting, a tip we just haven't figured out yet that will change everything we want changed. But you can't trouble shoot a kid.

In other words, at every age our children have an awful lot to say about their lives.

Like I said, nowadays Stella sleeps like a champ. Randi and I both realize this could change tomorrow. Again, would we have all of a sudden become terrible parents if this came to pass? Wait, don't answer that!

Our kid is an individual, somewhere within the spectrum of all life, but in her own unique frequency within this spectrum. Do I believe we can guide her and shape this frequency to align it more with ours? Of course. We just can't plan on it.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Some Random Thoughts On A Saturday

Gray day over here, everyone is still asleep. The Brooklyn Baby Baby sometimes sleeps in a bit when it's overcast outside, because the sunlight doesn't peer into her room quite so much. I am kind of embarassed to note that all these months later instead of shades or curtains in her window we have a torn-out black plastic garbage bag to keep out the light. It mostly works, but doesn't look all that great.


In the name of having a better life, I have made the effort to think more positively within the past few days. I would really, really like to keep moving in that direction. I remember not long ago I saw a local dad that I know and I asked him how he was doing. We were both at the playground. He smiled and said, "couldn't be better!" The look of contentment on his face as he said it first took me aback and then inspired me.

That day I started to say this to myself: "couldn't be better!" I even made it a status update on Facebook. This simple act seemed almost revolutionary to me. (And not just to me, I actually got a comment from someone to that Facebook post. The responder was kind of shocked I could write something so optimistic on a Monday!)

You see, I'm not typically the most bright-eyed of guys. I have always, in fact, enjoyed a bit of a jaundiced view, even as I maintain a bit of optimism about things and people. This, I believe, is the central paradox of being a journalist: you are both cynic and idealist at the same time, with more of both than most people. You believe to doubt so many things, but never doubt that things are really worth fighting for. At its best this is what the profession is about anyway.


So this is my goal: realign my thoughts, build a fortress of positive thought around myself. At this point my fortress is about as well put together as the straw hut in the three little pigs but I used to have no hut at all. But life lived that way is so much harder, so much less fun. Writing this blog more, tell you the truth, helps me. Every morning I do something that is simply, selfishly, a pleasure. I get to express myself freely in words, without any fear of repurcusion, or need to please anyone. Or even need to prove what I think or assert, unless I want to. Instead I simply can write and figure out how I feel about things. (That's a great quote, btw, I recently read, but I forget who said it. The effect was they said they write in order to understand what they think about things, not that they understand things and then write about it. This is how I feel too. I often surprise myself when I actually try to tease out an idea on paper, or the screen I guess. What I felt I didn't understand can become more clear as I write it down, and sometimes things I thought I knew crumble under the weight of writing about them.)


Last night Randi and I (or is it Randi and me? I always get this wrong) had a very cool discussion about many of the great male writers of the 20th century: Hemingway, Miller, Mailer, that crowd. Even Bukowski, perhaps my recent favorite of this bunch, got thrown into the mix too.

Maybe I've haven't read them in long enough but I couldn't help circling back to a recent "Vanity Fair" essay by James Wolcott, where he talks about how Mailer's central weakness was that he seemed deep down to neither understand women, nor like them. Expanding on this theme I had to grant that the same could be said of both Hemingway and Miller, with the former being a little bit better on the topic of the female of the species than the latter.

Hemingway, at least, had one all-time great female character in Lady Brett from "The Sun Also Rises." Miller? I can't remember any memorable females in any of the books of his that I have read, and I've read quite a few. This is a shame, because in Miller's personal life he was very sweet and often tender-hearted in his lengthy correspondence with Anais Nin. Their letters to one another are a real treat to read, and at times he seems to worship her. But when you read "Tropic of Cancer" you would be hard pressed to find any admirable or even memorable ladies in its pages. Or, for that matter, you'd be hard pressed to find any other memorable men, either. The guy's ego and solipsism were pretty much off the charts at that point.

And Hemingway's female characters, from what I read, seemed to get less and less complex over time. "For Whom The Bell Tolls" is hundreds of pages long, but I'll be damned if I can remember one line of dialogue that the hero's Spanish girlfriend says. I can't even remember her name. All I can remember is that he called her his rabbit. Or maybe it was "little rabbit?" Someone out there, probably, will let me know.

After a while I simply had to ask: what the hell was wrong with these guys? Why did they seem to, there is no other way to think about it, hate women so much? It pisses me off, because it really seems like an Achilles Heel that they all shared. And these were great writers. But they could have been greater still.

Randi said she believed these guys were threatened by the nascent female empowerment and sexuality that started to bubble to the surface in the 20th century. Even flappers, anachronistic as they seem today, were on the vanguard of social change in the 20s. Instead of embracing this, it's possible a lot of tight-assed guys ultimately felt scared by this. This makes a certain amount of sense.

I also ended the night by thinking that even if all these guys were assholes to women, and they were, that it's pointless to judge them today based on contemporary standards. In some cases they wrote about this stuff 80 years ago. It was a different world, and a different time.


Interestingly I feel Bukowski comes off the best in this bunch when it comes to the ladies. Yes, he was a drunk, often loutish asshole much of the time, but at least his women were recognizably people. And over time he mellowed and the sharp, sometimes actively unpleasant edges started to come off.

If you want to read a really sweet book by him, and, yes, I said sweet, try "Hollywood." It was written towards the end of his life, when he had finally found some degree of success and comfort, after decades of madness and poverty. He is happily married (crazy right? Him?) and along for the ride as they shoot the movie "Barfly."

I recommend.

I would write more but Stella Rae woke up early today. And now she's crying for me to come and get her. Good morning!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Some Random Thoughts On A Thursday

So, I'm thinking this random thoughts thing is working for me. Let's see where it goes today. As usual I offer thoughts will little factual backup, and few links.


So, yesterday I spoke to kids at the Explore Charter School in Brooklyn for a program called ABC Day. I spoke with my friend Eric and we talked about being journalists. We spoke to eighth grade students, and told them the ups and downs of it, at least from our angle, and why we keep doing it. It was good to remember why I got into this line of work when I started and what has kept me at it all these years. Eric's presentation included a great piece he created for radio program Studio 360, about the use of music in Disney movies and shows, and went down a storm.

I have to say, I really don't feel all that informed about the charter school vs. public school debate, but I very much liked being in that school yesterday. The hallways were clean, the kids were well-behaved and respectful of their teachers. Everyone seemed to genuinely be there for the best reasons, and administrators seemed very much a part of the lives of the students. I even saw the principal directly comfort an upset student. The student had gone to the principal personally, and they had a little talk about whatever it was that had been on the child's mind.

I believe it is probably quite rare for most big city principals to be that close with their students.

And, yes, the students wore uniforms. I know that 15 years ago this would have seemed extremely upsetting to me, making the kids in the poorer areas conform like this, but it didn't bother me at all yesterday. In fact it seemed, to me, to help foster a sense of mission: we are here to learn, this is our learning uniform.

What can I say, I really liked it. I need to learn more about the pros and cons of how charter schools impact the rest of the educational budget and all that, but for now, count me a fan of at least one school. If they are all, or mostly, run as well as Explore then I can't see how they are bad for students, the world of education and ultimately our nation.


The financial meltdown seems to just be getting started. Gold is shooting through the roof, and yesterday I read an extremely depressing article in Rolling Stone about how various parties are trying to scoop up land in Africa to farm it because they believe the world is headed for a food crash. When that crash happens they want to be the ones holding the food, because people will pay anything for food.

Money will mean less and less in this reality, because if you're starving your paper currency can't really help you.

God, this really seems like a "Mad Max" sort of reality that is being bet on. But the sad part is so many of the world's nations already believe this Malthusian scenario is likely. Various nations are fighting to buy this African land from the various political factions that control it, with some wildcat-style American capitalists coming in too.

Add in our horrific oil spill, malfunctioning economy, corrupt banking industry and even more corrupt culture in Washington, D.C. and you have a picture that is as grim as any I can remember.

I think we in America have been accustomed, over the past several generations to just sort of knowing that things will work out somehow. And they mostly have. A lot of this, however, has come from borrowed money in the past decade, more or less, but now there is no more money to borrow. What now? We are going to have to go on a money diet, in a big way, in this nation, and also go on a goods and services diet. Whether we want to or not.

On the one hand this upsets me, but on the other hand I know that we have so much crap we don't need in this country and we are always frivolously spending our money, borrowed money, on even more crap. There is a conspiracy to keep us buying stuff we don't need. Maybe the coming reckoning will finally downsize our materialism with what we actually need and can afford. If we did that, I am confident America and the world will be just fine.

However, I am loathe to give up my six guitars.


I really hate to end today's entry on such a downer note. So I'm not going to. Speaking to those kids yesterday probably did more for me than it did for them. I remembered the best part of what being a journalist is about, and in the process I got to remember some of the best parts of me and who I am. I felt a reconnection with my idealism, ambition and love for writing, interviewing and sharing stories with the world.

I am continually inspired to learn from those younger than me, including colleagues, and know that I have far to go. I now know that I not only want to start tackling bigger, more ambitious projects, but I want to get much, much better at planning the next step in my career. I am inspired to become better at setting goals. I've coasted at times, but I don't want to any more.

Of course I am rambling, but I hope you get the idea. Happy Thursday, it looks like a nice one here in Brooklyn.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Some Random Thoughts On A Wednesday

As usual I make no great promises of my fairness, or even accuracy. These are random thoughts, probably without the benefit of links, unless I really feel it.

Another wet, cold, miserable morning. I am going to speak to children today, with my friend Eric Molinsky about what it’s like to be a professional journalist and writer. I have to remember to keep it positive, even though the reality is my profession has swirled the drain more times than the Tidey Bowl man. But as I read over my clip book from Forbes I did see, in fact, a lot of articles that made me proud of what I decided to do with my professional life.

In 1999 I visited a refugee camp in Thailand for Burmese driven out of their native land, because it is an autocratic, despotic nightmare. The camp was little more than a collection of mud streets and thatched huts. Mangy dogs roamed free. The people I saw that day were called White Karans. The Karans are an ethnicity, I believe. The White Karans are Christians and the Red Karans are Buddhists.

Both Karans became victims of the minority ruling party of Burma, which is one of the most inhumane and cruel in the world, and still, to this day, doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

But what I saw that day humbled me. The people I met were sweet, kind, open. They welcomed me, a total stranger, right into their lives, as they pumped water, or played music. In one case this music played was by a man who strummed a guitar with the remains of what had been his right arm, the rest blown off courtesy of a landmine.

I talked to as many as I could see, took as many pictures as I could, and was in awe of how much more, well I must say it, happy they seemed, even here than the average, neurotic American suburbanite. Would they gladly switch places, these Karans, with a free American surburbanite, even a neurotic one? Of that I have no doubt, but even amidst such harsh conditions they had classes and schools, and were an open friendly people.

Before I left I gave them what extra clothes I had, and a deck of playing cards. The little children were so starved for novelty that they swarmed me to each get a card. A card! Think about that. Our kids are bored with their opulence, and these kids were overjoyed to simply have something, anything, new.

When I made it back to my guesthouse in Mae-Sot, on the Western edge of Thailand I told another person living there about where I had been that day and what I had done. He, a younger man of 25, looked me in the eye and told me that refugee camp was actually the third one on that location. The first two had been burned down by raiding Burmese with guns, killing, no doubt, many people inside. And still they smiled.

That day I vowed, I will write about these people, somehow.

Cut to eight years later, I am a reporter at Forbes. I learn that the George Soros Open Society Institute, a group dedicated to fostering democracy through the world spends millios of dollars to foster the elected government in exile for Burma and foster pro-democracy movements on the ground. And to help take care of some of the same refugees I met so many years before.

Now, I realized, I could finally write about these people that I feared the world had largely forgot, I could finally find a way to fulfill the promise I had made to myself all those years before. And I did. True, since the article was in Forbes, we focused more on the Soros billionaire-guy angle than on the refugee angle, but I did the best I could with where I was to finally raise some awareness of this horrible ongoing tragedy. I got to do my job, I got to be proud, I got to feel like I made the world a better place, even if only slightly.

That’s what I remember, that and the few stories I have written like that, when I stand proud to be a journalist.


My cat, Cromwell, has made a new habit of sleeping on my pillow at night. More than once I have been woken in the middle of the night to the feeling of a sandpapery cat tongue running through my hair. He’s grooming me! Yes, this is very sweet and all but also a bit strange. Last night he even started to lick my cheek. Thanks buddy, I love you too, but while it’s okay for us to love our pets, as the saying goes, it’s not okay for us to love our pets.


The more time goes on the more and more the bank bailouts just seem all kinds of screwed up. Something is so wrong when we give hundreds of billions of dollars to a firm like AIG, for fear that if we don’t the economy will collapse, and AIG then turns around and pays tens of billions to firms like Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank. These firms then, in turn, pay hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses. A bonus is something extra when you’ve done your job well. It is the last thing we get when there is extra money after everything critical has been taken care of. Obviously things were either never as bad at AIG as we were told, or they just didn’t care, they plundered us.

Of course AIG gave itself lavish bonuses too, including “retention bonuses” for the same losers who almost drove the company under. This is a mystery that can never be satisfactorily explained to me.


I think I have become more than fed up with the gourmet comfort food craze in New York. Hamburgers costing $15-$25 are surely for people who have just received their bailouts from Wall Street.

Wall Street really has ruined just about everything good about NYC. The obscene paychecks these hucksters made drove up real estate prices so much that the middle class was virtually driven out of this great city. Then they become, as a class, Too Big To Fail, at least to ask our mayor. So we have to do everything we can to save them. Even though Wall Street, as a group, created no actual, lasting prosperity for Main Street over the past decade. In fact stocks, as measured by the S&P 500 are still down.

We were all better off when the financial sector was just one line of business competing amongst many for real estate in this town. Bankers are wily, dangerous and so, so greedy.

This leads me to a longstanding theory I have about recessions. It’s only a recession when it happens to rich people. For poor people it’s a recession every god-damned day. But when something bad finally hits the extremely wealthy in their paychecks, then the government pays attention, we are told it’s a crisis and something must be done to save these poor souls. This is so ironic because even in a recession the very wealthiest suffered by far the least, at least when you go by the unemployment figures. Sometimes it all is just that naked and obvious.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Some Random Thoughts On A Tuesday

Wow, this waking up early thing to get more done is a new concept for me. It is almost 6:00 a.m. and everyone else is still asleep. The little girl is probably going to wake up within a half hour or so, that's been her recent pattern. And when she wakes up, we all wake up. But I have to admit it makes me feel good to be up doing something I actually care about, writing, and keeping up with ya'll. Again, these are some random thoughts, probably without links, or even proof, so you get what you get on this rainy Brooklyn Tuesday morning. (Okay, I added a few links.)


Last night I watched the ESPN documentary "Muhammad and Larry" about the 1980 fight between The Greatest, Muhammad Ali, and The Most Under-rated, Larry Holmes. It was obviously sad and heartbreaking. By 1980 Muhammad Ali was obviously already on his way into dementia and Parkinson's. There is a lot of footage of him being out of shape, and getting beaten up by his sparring partners. It's so hard to forget that only six years before he was filmed for perhaps his greatest fight, "The Rumble In The Jungle," where he beat George Foreman.

So here are a few random thoughts about this fight.

My god, boxers age in dog years. It would only be a few years later that Larry Holmes himself would take a terrible beating (though he won) against a former Ali sparring partner Tim Weatherspoon. That was kind of the beginning of the end for Larry, though he came back a few times.

Larry Holmes comes across as a very cool dude. Doesn't need the limelight, is content with what he has, made himself a world champion, stayed married to the same woman for over 30 years. Ali, by contrast, as great as he is and was, seems much more insecure, always begging for people's attention. I think it is this latter trait, this need, that ultimately kept him coming back again and again, way past when it was too late. Well, that and the money.

Larry, today, seems like a content, happy guy and not all that punchy for a longtime professional boxer. God bless him for that.

I forgot how good Larry Holmes was. You see I was a bit of a fight fan in the 80s, so Holmes was the guy when I was growing up. To others he may have been in Ali's shadow, but I had mostly missed the Ali era, so that didn't mean much to me. So seeing a young, lean Larry Holmes in action was a blast of sweet nostalgia. Personally I think he would have given Muhammad some real trouble no matter when they fought in Ali's career, and might have beaten him.

Ali was only 38 when he received his royal beat down in 1980 from Holmes. That's the age I am now! And yet I feel that if I worked out and really put my mind to it I could get into much the same shape I was as a 25 year old. Am I as delusional as Muhammad Ali was?

The doc reveals that about two weeks before the fight that Ali started taking thyroid medication! This killed his energy and made it impossible for him to win. I have to admit, some part of me was thinking, man if Ali hadn't done that he might have showed Holmes a thing or two! But instead the entire fight, the entire fight, is Ali getting beaten up. He had nothing.

In the doc they also flash back to the Ali-Spinks rematch from 1978. I remember watching that on TV! I was rooting for Ali so hard, it was like seeing god on my television. And he won. But now, seeing the footage, I think the only reason Ali won was because Leon Spinks was probably coked out of his mind. (My lasting memory of the fight is from before the fight. As Ali is being lead to the ring the places goes absolutely crazy! Like rock star crazy, only more. I remember so clearly that someone had actually brought a painting of Muhammad Ali posed on a throne like a king to the actual fight! And they showed it on TV. This is my sharpest actual memory, that painting!)

In the Holmes fight the only energy Ali seems to have is for riling up the crowd before the fight. They must have been very excited. In fact one thing the documentary does that is great is talk to a longtime Vegas bookmaker who describes the atmosphere -- even for an old, washed up Muhammad Ali -- as electric. God, these people, these parasites. You really get a good view for why it must have been so hard for Ali to stay retired. All these people kept dragging him back, and he couldn't live without the crowd.


I boxed for a little while when I was in my mid-20s. I think the main reason I did it was to learn how to take and give a punch. I never knew how to actually throw a punch, and wanted to learn, kind of like Peter Brady, in that episode where Mike Brady teaches him how to throw a mean right cross and beat up that school bully. ("My toof is loof!")

These days I don't think most parents teach their kids to stand up to bullies by ripping them right in the mouth, but times have changed. For the better? For the worse? Hard to say. Mike Brady wasn't a real dad, after all.

But anyway, yeah, I boxed. Or at least trained to box for several months. I learned to hit the speed bag (which was very cool). This made it extra sad in the documentary when they show an old Muhammad Ali not able to get any rhythm on the speed bag. Because, you know, he was about to go into the ring with the world's most dangerous fighter, and he had been doing it for decades. And because I could do it. To see him not be able to was so sad.

I would hit the heavy bag, which I liked too, and that weird bag that was on a rope that extended to the ceiling from the floor; this was my favorite. I skipped rope, but didn't do the road work, because I hated running and still do.

I even got in the ring a few times, which was very educational. Pain is a good teacher! Yes, I learned how to punch and be punched. Depending on whom I was fighting it could be a good deal more of the latter than the former. I learned, to my dismay, that I was a bleeder. Give me a good shot in the nose and it's raining blood on the canvas. Gross! I remember the normally hard-edged trainer, Dave, looking at me in disbelief as I kept on dripping.

But, honestly, I wasn't too bad at it. I had a few rounds that were pretty good, including one against this jacked up muscle head, kick-boxer guy, where we went toe-to-toe for the entire round, it made me feel good.

Boxing was a sport that had a lot of brotherly love in it. That's why you always see fighters clinch at the end of a fight, you actually develop a bond with someone via the process of trying to hit them, as they try to do the same to you. It's a real feeling, oddly enough.

I remember sparring with one older guy, who had to be in his 50s. He stopped me half way through the round and started to train me how to move better. Then when I landed a punch, using what he just gave me he said, "Nice right!" Now if teaching someone how to hit you better isn't brother love I don't know what is!

I punched very well for my size and weight (I was a middle weight, but on a good day, my coach said, punched more like a heavy weight, I swear he said it I didn't!), but couldn't dodge punches very well. As a result I could do okay against other total beginners, but I spared a decent amateur once, and let's just say he made the canvas real red real fast, I barely landed a punch.

That's the other thing about boxing, it's exhausting! Three minutes in the ring feels like a very intense 45 minute workout doing something else. We always think of punching, but when you punch and miss? It wears you out, and fast! That's why defense and blocking are so key. It takes just as much energy to call back a missed punch as to throw it, so you can wear a guy out simply by making him miss.

After a few months I quit, but I think about doing it again some day. I liked it, in its way, although sometimes I think I should consider a contact fighting sport that isn't quite so designed to give you brain damage.

And that's the thing about boxing, I can't watch it anymore. I know too much about what happens to these guys at the end, we all do. It's impossible to watch footage of a limping, silent Muhammad Ali and believe that this is a sport that should be supported, at least for me. No fighter could ever shut Ali's mouth, but when you take all of them together, they, over time, did it better than they ever could have imagined.

I wonder if other fans feel the same way about pro football. It's hard to watch a sport that you know ruins people's lives.


Okay, a few quick thoughts about the economy. I have heard from very reliable sources that up in New Canaan, CT things have started to really quiet down in the high-end real estate world over the past few weeks. This must be a reaction to the stock market turning down in that same time.

I fear we are headed for a double dip recession. When you look at the chart for the S&P 500 you see the market fall off a cliff in late 2008, like go straight down. Then the correction of the past year, or so, is virtually straight back up. This is not a sustainable pattern.

Also, it's kind of hard to believe we have a real economic turnaround when the only things that really go up are banker's bonuses and the stock market. Jobs are still terrible, housing has only turned around at all because of government supports and people are still totally grim about the future. Add in the massive BP oil spill and you have a bummer of a month in May.

Me? I don't try to predict where the markets are headed, it's impossible to know. But I would like to get invested again, even if things go down for some time. It's the only way to build up any sort of wealth at all if you make what I make, and weren't born wealthy.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Some Random Thoughts On A Monday

Don't have real any real deep hypotheses for this Monday, but just wanted to take a few minutes and address some stuff that's been on my mind.

Stella is definitely in the Terrible Twos. She's alternately happy, sad, happy again, loving, upset, crying, trying to speak, speaking, eating very well, not eating at all, the whole deal. It's like menopause for toddlers. I also think she has a molar coming in. She also makes this kind of low grade whining sound a lot. Kind of like this: uuuuuuuh. It's been driving me and her mom a little crazy.

But the good news is that despite all this she is still healthy and growing, and all that. She loves her daycare days (today is one, we do it two days a week) and is becoming a bit more of a hugger, but not too much more. She'll kind of hug us to keep us on our toes, so that we don't get too used to it, or expect it or anything. For example, two days ago I was down on her playmat with her, and she got behind me and gave me a hug from behind, shocking me. Then I wanted to give her a hug back and she acted like I had completely offended her. Frankly, that part reminded me a lot of my dating life back in my 20s.

She still loves to have us read her stories, and she LOOOOOVES TV, a little too much. We don't watch much, on the theory that too much TV gives you social development cancer (I just made that up, but I think you know what I mean), but every single freakin' day she picks up the remote control and screams and wails for the "teebee" which is what she calls it. We resist most of the time, but not every time. She loves "The Wonder Pets" which is a cute show, but has a character with a speech impediment. Also the lesson is the same every single time: use teamwork!

Speaking of TV we've been watching "America: The Story Of US" on The History Channel, (which must have recently run out of documentary material on Adolf Hitler.) It's a great series, and one that is highly recommended. The episode on "Cities" which aired last night is required viewing for anyone that knows and loves NYC, as so many of the developments that hallmark the modern city started here. And the time they dedicate to showing how they actually built The Statue of Liberty simply gives me chills. It must have really been something to see when it was actually copper colored.

Even so, there is something about the show that Randi noticed that I did not. They go through all these great historic events, and cover many things that aren't typically taught in school, (like the race riots of the summer of 1919), but didn't cover the 19th Amendment, when women got the right to vote, at all. We get 10 minutes on The St. Valentine's Day Massacre and Al Capone, which is always fun, but the political enfranchisement of half the population seems to be not much of a big deal I guess. Randi's view is that this sort of bias is all too typical, even among liberal dudes.

(Maybe they will cover this down the road? Or maybe I somehow missed it?)

Still, there is lots of fun stuff to learn from the special. For example, we've learned that in the 18th century America's chief export and cash crop was beaver pelts. I now maintain that we would be wise to return to a beaver-based economy to get us out of our current economic malaise.)


Speaking of the economy, I am still thinking of what to write for my second Huffington Post column. I want to write something about the business world, since I allegedly know something about it, but I am not sure what yet. I will keep you posted as ideas come to me.

My new job has been a fascinating educational experience, though. I am helping to write an investing newsletter. Much of my job consists of reading financial statements, and gathering items of interest about firms that we hope are good investments. It is very intense and gives me a new appreciation for how hard it is to find a great stock. My contention has long been that most people shouldn't "play" the market, they should carefully select a group of reliable index funds, and put money in every month, good or bad. I did this for a long time, and have no complaints about this strategy, although I did temporarily halt my payments when I lost my job.

Truth is I still think most people would be wise to invest with indexes and dollar-cost-average, but there are some people, not too many, who have gotten fabulously wealthy by picking individual stocks, and beating the indexes. So that is always on my mind: most people won't beat the market, by definition, but some will and make boatloads of money.

What I would actually DO with boatloads of money I can't say. I've never had to think about it! But it's a reasonably safe assumption to say that I probably wouldn't buy an actual boat.


I am trying to work up the courage to do a bucket list thing, which is do five minutes of open mic standup this week. There are a few places in NYC that are allow nobodies to get on stage and give it a shot. I keep saying I will do it, and keep finding reasons to not do it. This week my reason is that I haven't had time to prepare my jokes or practice. I guess I can always find a reason to not do something, but I would like to give it a shot anyway, maybe right my jokes, or ideas, if they don't actually make the grade a actual jokes, down.

If I did it it would be Tuesday night, tomorrow! Zoinks! I will tell you if it happens and how it goes.


I've been toying with this idea that organic food is the new kosher. But I haven't really planned the whole idea out yet in my mind. My idea is that for the most part the health benefits of organic food have been shown to be nominal versus conventional farming, but people are still lining up to buy organic food anyway. (I say this because a big study from the University of Sydney found this to be true.) I can link to the studies that prove this, but for now, trust me that I've done some research here. Or don't trust me, it's your right, I guess. I try to be a reliable narrator, though. I will link later, cause I have to get to work soon.

Why are people so hot to buy organic food, and pay more, during a recession, if the health benefits have never conclusively been proven? I have a few half formed ideas, but they're not more than that.

One idea is that we feel that organic food simply has to be "better for us" and better for the planet even if the actual vitamin content, for example, is just about neutral versus conventional food. I think a good amount of this relates to pesticides, which, it should be noted the Australian study didn't examine. I have heard that organic farms use fewer pesticides, but that the amount you get on your fruit at the supermarket is just about the same whether you buy organic or not. (I can look this up, but haven't yet. Assume, for now, that I am just throwing out ideas here.)

I think there is also a humane factor at play. There has been a lot of information that's come out about how horrific factory farm life is for animals, for example, and I believe a lot of people are willing to pay more if they believe it means a better life for the animals they consume.

Third, I think there is simply a huge mistrust of the practices and power of big agriculture. Like so many things in our business world the agricultural business has consolidated greatly over the past decade, another legacy of the lax Bush business environment. I think it's possible that many people simply don't trust the intentions of a firm like Monsanto, and would much rather give their money to a local guy, even if they don't actually know this person or ever see their farm.

I have also come to think that one part of it is spiritual, in a sense. And that is my belief that in some way eating organic, for some, is kind of the new kosher. People do it because it assuages guilt, and they feel that they are "doing the right thing," even if the direct benefits of it are hard to measure. Seeing that seal on their milk, or meat gives stressed out American families a sense that they are doing all they can to promote the good health of their kids, and they don't have to think about it too much more.

This is the part that seems, to me, how eating organic is like eating kosher. For a long time there was an argument I'd hear where people would say the ancient Jews were practical and that's why they kept kosher, because if pork or shellfish went bad it could kill you. This sounds reasonable until you learn more. The truth is the ancient Jews kept kosher to stand apart from the rest of the idolatrous world, not for practical reasons. (Think about it, thousands of years ago in the desert you couldn't keep any meat around for long.) They did it to look at themselves favorably and to know they were doing the right thing.

I think this is the part that connects kosherness and buying organic food. As religion is a less central part of so many modern lives something has to fill that void, so people can feel they are living right, and in accordance with what is moral. It's practically hardwired into us. There are so many modern liberal folks who eschew the scriptures but embrace the belief in the organic rules put down by the FDA. They believe in it, it gives the simple act of eating a sort of deeper meaning, morally, not just for health. It makes them consider what they are doing every time they chew, which is not so different than how religious Jews are told to consider the lord above in everything they do, including that most basic of all acts: consuming food.

It gives a modern, ramshackle, sometimes meaningless-seeming American life a sort of definition of what is good, and what is right, and feels like action. In every bite, and every time we buy something to eat.

Does this seem far fetched to you? I would love to see what you think, whomever you might be, out there in cyberland. I sometimes get readers from places as far away as Europe or the Mid-east. Invariably these folks come to the site because I wrote about boobs once or twice. But for the rest of you, I would love to see what you think.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

TMI Alert: Baby Poop

Yeah, if you don't want to read about The Brooklyn Baby learning how to poop in the potty maybe this isn't the entry for you.

Anyway, assuming you're still reading here we go.

It's been a bit of a struggle to get Stella to go on the potty. Which is frustrating because she initially seemed to take to it so well. She was, dare we say, precocious about it. Before her bath we'd let her run around naked for about 20 minutes and then bring her over to the potty. She'd sit on it for a few minutes and eventually started to tinkle in it. Which was great. This was about four months ago or so.

Then, I guess, we just sort of got lazy about it. And stopped with the training so much, because we figured, oh, she's got this.

Needless to say, there were many pee-pees on the floor that followed, as did many poopoos on the floor too. God I hope she doesn't read this blog when she's like 15 years old.

But in the past few days we've been really focusing on it again. You see I would kind of bribe her to sit on the toilet by reading to her. She would sit for the length of the book and then get up, and move onto the next thing, without going in the potty. Then, most times, she would promptly go on the floor. Thank god baby pee has a mild floor cleaning agent!

But tonight, at last, we had success. And the irony is I didn't even feel like doing the whole routine tonight, because I thought we weren't getting anywhere.

But I gave it one more try. She got naked before her bath, I bribed her with a story and she sat on the potty. She made some little grunting sounds, which she does alot anyway, and that was it, I thought. Nothing. However, when she got up, voila! A huge poop. I mean it was like man sized. I was shocked!

And then we cheered and Randi gave her a Girl scout cookie. Amidst all this cheering and clapping and positive reinforcement Stella looked mildly surprised and a bit taken aback, I guess, by our raucous and happy reaction. But she took the compliments gracefully and destroyed the cookie. Then Randi wiped her now more accomplished tushie and I prepared her bath.

For a brief moment I thought I would take a picture of this proud moment, but then I thought better of it. It was a milestone, yes, but I think, in this case, my memory will serve just fine.