Saturday, April 28, 2007

Hedge Hogs

Robert Kuttner talks about the most visible and dangerous development in contemporary capitalism, the hedge fund, that unregulated engine of the rich to create outrageous personal wealth while endangering the economic lives of everyone else and, indeed, the entire financial system.
Beyond the risk of a crash, hedge funds and private equity operators are driving the wrong brand of capitalism. Theirs is a capitalism of windfall returns for financial engineers, and less security and income for workaday Americans. Hedge fund capitalism also signals that real entrepreneurship -- patiently nurturing a new idea and building a company of managers and employees -- is for suckers.

Sunday, April 15, 2007



Q. What is your salad dressing of choice?
A. Olive oil and balsamic (or, rather, faux balsamic, since I was told that true Balsamic vinegar from Modena in Italy is aged over 100 years and costs about that)

Q. What is your favorite fast food restaurant?
A. Closed.

Q. What is your favorite sit-down restaurant?
A. I think about restaurants the way my dad used to think about food: it's all good, unless it's bad.

Q. On average, what size tip do you leave at a restaurant?
A. I shoot for 20%, but can't vouch for my math

Q. What food could you eat every day for two weeks and not get sick off of?
A. Give me each day my daily bread, just make it good

Q. What is your favorite type of gum?
A. Plaque-free


Q. What is your wallpaper on your computer?
A. Generic

Q. How many televisions are in your house?
A. Zip these days, and I don't miss it at all. Then again, the Sox will be playing the Yankees next weekend.


Q. What’s your best feature?
A. My gender.

Q. Have you ever had anything removed from your body?
A. My hipness.

Q. Which of your five senses do you think is keenest?
A. Touch.

Q. When was the last time you had a cavity?
A. Where?

Q. What is the heaviest item you lifted last?
A. My responsiblities.

Q. Have you ever been knocked unconscious?
A. By the bottle.


Q. If it were possible, would you want to know the day you were going to die?
A. Absolutely not. Death's certainty yet unknowability is essential to the human condition.

Q. Is love for real?
A. Love is real, various, ubiquitous, rare, essential, God, all you need.... It's the human equivalent of the connection that makes a flock of doves change direction all in the same precise instant.

Q. If you could change your first name, what would you change it to?
A. Dunno

Q. What color do you think looks best on you?
A. Black and white.

Q. Have you ever swallowed a non-food item by mistake?
A. Only on purpose.

Q. Have you ever saved someone’s life?
A. Every time my daughters got near water before they could swim.

Q. Has someone ever saved yours?
A. When I was a twelve-year-old boy, I bounced a basketball from the sidewalk into a busy street and without thinking reached down to get it. This lady driving a red Pontiac slammed on her brakes, swerved to miss me, swerved back to avoid a head-on collision with cars coming the other way, saving my life, hers, and several others with some fancy-ass driving. Her car ended up broadside on the street and, like me, unscratched. My savior--pretty, dark hair, thirties--rolled down her window and said to me, "You asshole!"


Q. Would you walk naked for a half mile down a public street for $100,000?
A. You wouldn't even need to bring clothes to my jail cell.

Q. Would you kiss a member of the same sex for $100?
A. Where?

Q. Would you allow one of your little fingers to be cut off for $200,000?
A. I have a feeling the originator of this même is a twelve year old boy.

Q. Would you never blog again for $50,000?
A. Would I still get to complete mêmes?

Q. Would you pose nude in a magazine for $250,000?
A. This one seems a bigger dilemma for women. We boys have no problems, except imagining getting paid for it.

Q. Would you drink an entire bottle of hot sauce for $1,000?
A. Is this a même for measuring masochism?

Q. Would you, without fear of punishment, take a human life for $1,000,000?
A. Or sadism? It's an S/M même from the mind of a twelve-year old boy.

Q. Would you give up watching television for a year for $25,000?
A. For that kind of money, I could watch the Sox in a very posh pub.

Q. Give up MySpace forever for $30,000?
A. Do you mean, my space?


Q: What is in your left pocket?
A. The usual.

Q: Is Napoleon Dynamite actually a good movie?
A. I actually laughed.

Q: Do you have hardwood or carpet in your house?
A. Yes.

Q: Do you sit or stand in the shower?
A. I've sat through a rain shower, a baby shower, and a wedding shower, but generally stand for a meteor shower.

Q: Could you live with roommates?
A. Could they live with me?

Q: How many pairs of flip-flops do you own?
A. No pairs, only flip-flop, flip-flop

Q: Last time you had a run-in with the cops?
A. I have more of a drive-in history with cops.

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A. Young again. A twelve year old boy.


Q: Friend you talked to?
A. My best friend, Robin.

Q: Last person you called?
A. My older daughter.


Q: First place you went this morning?
A. To pee.

Q: What can you not wait to do?
A. When ya gotta go, ya gotta go.

Q: What’s the last movie you saw?
A. Volver, perhaps as good as a movie can get when it has no remotely likeable male characters.

Q: Are you a friendly person?
A. I did this même, didn't I?

Friday, April 6, 2007

Warner Warning

Walking by Ty Warner's various sea-front properties in Montecito last week, I witnessed an army of laborers building, renovating, beautifying. An economic apologist might piously point out how many jobs "Ty" is creating, how much money he's pumping into the local economy (though I wonder how much of the reported hundreds of million actually stays in the local economy and how much goes to imported luxuary items and materials). But to me, the significant fact is that so much capital and so much human labor, skilled and unskilled, lower class and lower middle class, is being devoted to the exclusive benefit of rich people.

Consider the Warner properties, not including his multi-lot bluff-top estate, and not including the cost of actual purchase:

  • Biltmore Hotel, recently renovated for a cool $240 million (for 233 rooms). Rooms "start at $550" a night.
  • San Ysidro Ranch, recently renovated for $130 million (for 40 cottages and suites), plus an additional $25 million for the Stonehouse restaurant. Accommodations available for $800-$4,000 a night.
  • Coral Casino, currently undergoing a $35 million renovation. Membership cost unavailable on the Internet.
  • Montecito Country Club, renovation plans in the works, with Jack Nicklaus designing the golf course. Membership, $10,000.
  • Sandpiper Golf Course, $124-$144 for a round of golf.
  • Rancho San Marcos, currently a relative upper-middle-class bargain at $65-$85 for a round of golf, though changes are expected.
Apologists might point to the $1.5 million he donated to the Sea Center on Stearns Wharf or the $40,000 to renovate the path in front of his bluff-top estate. Please! He invests hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps as much as a billion dollars, in properties that benefit exclusively rich people and gives two local donations worth a fraction of 1% of his other local investments, just barely enough to get his highly visible name on a highly visible public building, plus, of course, the aesthetic satisfaction of beatifying the view from his estate (even changing the color of the Sea Center).

Ty Warner epitomizes the worst of contemporary capitalism. He makes a fortune selling frivolous beanie babies to kids and crazed collectors, then invests that fortune in luxurious playpens for the rich and super-rich. His idea of public spirit, his contribution to making the world a better place, begins with personal aesthetics and ends with public relations. The saddest part is that he is typical, more successful than the run-of-the-mill millionaire, but still playing the same game of individual aggrandizement with little or no sense of larger purpose.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Digital Death

Writing about art and immortality in his book, Ancient Mesopotamia, Stephen Bertman writes:
We labor under an illusion if we assume our present age will be better remembered than antiquity. The average life expectancy of magnetic tapes, audio or video, is only 10 years; of optical disks, 5o; of archival quality microfilm, but a 100. In fact, average-quality CD-ROMs become unreadable or unreliable after only five years. Advances in technology, moreover, make older computer hardware and software obsolete; and as they grow obsolete, their data becomes unintelligible. Meanwhile, the film that recorded the images of the past is already crumbling; according to UNESCO, "three-quarters of the films which were made worldwide before 1950 have already disappeared." Thus our so-called Age of Information may be known to the future as an age of missing information.
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