May 31, 2005

40 things meme

Lacking energy and inspiration, I took this meme from Jennifer. Thanks for the boost! By the way, go see her answers. They rock.

1. My uncle once: took me for a ride in the hills of Los Angeles in his Porsche 911. I was maybe 12. It was hot.

2. Never in my life: have I been sorry I met, dated, and married my wife.

3. When I was five: I used to have a Great Dane named Claudius. He was my refuge when I was sad. He was so big, I could lie on top of him and cry.

4. High School was: a long time ago, but I can't seem to let it go. In some ways, it was a better educational experience than anything that followed. It was that good. Really.

5. I will never forget: what I was doing when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Rest in peace, Mary Joe.

6. I once met: Peter Graves. He lived across the street from my aunt and uncle and I went and knocked on his door. He was pretty nice to me, but then, I was just a little kid. I also once met Danny Glover and his wife in Paris. They were lost and I stopped and gave them directions and some recommendations about where to go, all without ever letting them know I knew who they were. I figured that they were on vacation and the last thing they needed was my telling him how much I admired his work in Lethal Weapon.

7. There's this girl I know who: used to piss us all off as a control freak, but then she had kids and, believe it or not, totally relaxed and became very easy to be around. Odd, huh?

8. Once, at a bar: what do you mean, once? Ok, how about my friend almost got beat up by the bartender when he asked said bartender what his background was that facilitated his writing a book on Irish mythology. The bartender took exception. Tips may have been lower than usual that night.

9. By noon, I'm usually: wondering where the day went.

10. Last night: I came up to go to bed and found that the Girl Child was still awake. She came in to keep us company while we brushed our teeth and then she got into my bed with her two stuffed animals. I joined her and we cuddled. It was delicious.

11. If I only had: taken that stupid Chinese language course pass/fail Freshman year, I would have graduated Summa from college. Grrr.

12. Next time I go to church: it will most likely be for a funeral.

13. Terry Shiavo: should be left in peace and not used as a poster woman for anything.

14. What worries me most: is the very real possibility that I may fail to equip my kids with everything they need to get the most out of this great big life. And that the people I love won't know it always, which could be why I'm relentless and obtuse in making the point. [This was Jenn's answer and I have left it pretty much the way she put it -- how can you improve on perfection?]

15. When I turn my head left, I see: File cabinets overflowing with papers and files, representing years or work and tens of thousands of dollars worth of time.

16. When I turn my head right, I see: a wall with some old French legal prints and a print of a clipper ship under full sail. I like maritime art.

17. You know I'm lying when: beats me. Ask my wife. She always seems to know and she won't tell me how.

18. What I miss most about the eighties: the music. And my youth. Lacrosse. That big old Oldsmobile I drove. My buddy, Jeff and the people he and I used to be.

19. If I was a character in Shakespeare, I'd be: wearing a cod-piece and waving a bodkin.

20. By this time next year: I will have hopefully settled into a new house, new community, new life, and be totally and utterly consumed by a piece of litigation so large that it makes everything else I've ever done look like a rounding error.

21. A better name for me would be: something that shortens better.

22. I have a hard time understanding: ketchup on a hot dog (or catsup, for that matter). Also, why people reflexively blame America for everything that is wrong in the world. May be related to the ketchup thing.

23. If I ever go back to school, I'll: take a Ph.D in something I really want to know more about -- like Classical Studies, or Architectural History, or Economics, or Renaissance Studies.

24. You know I like you if: I give you shit. In a nice way. Not in that this is an invitation to step outside kind of way.

25. If I ever won an award, the first person I'd thank would be: my grandfather. Unless my wife was right there. Then I would have to thank her. I love my grandfather like nobody's business, but I have to go home with my wife.

26. Darwin, Mozart, Slim Pickens & Geraldine Ferraro: Marlin Perkins, Schubert, Johnny Cash & Maggie Thatcher.

27. Take my advice, never: if you want me to get so pissed off after I take the time to give it to you that I will write you off completely as not worth the time. I am only partially kidding.

28. My ideal breakfast is: brunch. I love brunch. And bloody mary's. Seriously, everything about a yummy brunch -- the eggs benedict, the roasted beasts, the salmon, the shrimp, the dessert tables, the sausage. Love brunch.

29. A song I love, but do not have is: nothing really comes to mind, actually.

30. If you visit my hometown, I suggest: brunch. There really isn't much to do in my hometown *cue Paul Simon -- my hometown. . . * but there is a hotel that does a nice brunch. See #28 above.

31. Tulips, character flaws, microchips & track stars: Honeysuckle, idiosyncracies, chocolate chips & shooting stars.

32. Why won't people: drive better?

33. If you spend the night at my house: you will stay up too late chatting and drinking wine and will fall asleep in our guest room, amidst many, many books.

34. I'd stop my wedding for: a Menthos.

35. The world could do without: cruelty to children. It lacerates my heart.

36. I'd rather lick the belly of a cockroach than: Really? There's an answer to this?

37. My favorite blonde is: my wife, followed by my children.

38. Paper clips are more useful than: most other Norwegian inventions. Did you know that? Yup, a Norwegian invented the darn thing.

39. If I do anything well, it's: listen.

40. And by the way: did you really read everything or did you just skip to the end?

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:21 AM | Comments (12)

May 30, 2005

Memorial Day Photographs, II

Here is one image I think particularly haunting from the Korean War Memorial:


From the World War II Memorial:


A flower, placed in the hand of a dying soldier, part of the Vietnam Memorial:


And finally, looking towards Lincoln:


Posted by Random Penseur at 01:32 PM | Comments (3)

Memorial Day Photograps, I

A photo of the gold stars at the World War II Memorial:


Each gold star represents 1000 war dead.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:00 AM | Comments (2)

May 27, 2005

Decoration Day

This weekend will mark another "Decoration Day", or Memorial Day, as is has come to be called. I kind of prefer Decoration Day, myself. It was a day when people would gather together and decorate the graves of the dead soldiers (and I include sailors, air men, marines and coast guard here whenever I use the word soldier, ok) and remember.

Do we still remember? Do we remember the words on the Korean War Memorial in Washington D.C. that:


Men and women have died for our freedom and die today to ensure freedom for others. For this, if for no other reason, and there are plenty of good other reasons, I will pause this weekend, and I will remember.

May God bless all of our fellow Americans who this day wear our nation's uniforms.

And for those who did not come home, I want to leave you with some of the words from Taps (there are no official words), composed By Major General Daniel Butterfield, Army of the Potomac, Civil War, July 1862:

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake,
From the sky.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.

For information about Taps.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:31 AM | Comments (4)

A visit

Last night, I came home from work early, loaded up the car with the kids, and went over to visit my 90+ year old grandfather who broke his hip recently, in two places, and was now in a rehab facility a couple of towns over from where we live. So, off we went.

My grandfather is someone I cherish, deeply. He has been the man I have always wanted to be -- strong; smart; polite; worthy of respect; religious in a quiet, sincere way; good humored; and full of love. He is our pater familias.

Now, he is diminished in body and in mind. He has lost weight, because he isn't really eating. While I was there, it was clear that the nurses were making him drink Ensure, a nutritional supplement. He asked me 4 or 5 times whether the kids had eaten dinner yet. Each time, of course, I answered the question as if it was the first time I had heard it.

I know that we are all supposed to get older and eventually die. But I'm not ready for him to go yet. I think that having the kids around cheered him up. The kids were adorable and very well behaved and the expression of astonished joy on the Boy Child's face when he figured out how to operate my grandfather's hospital bed seemed to make my grandfather radiate happiness himself. I hope he decides that he ought to be taking care of himself and eating now that he has seen his great grandchildren.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:19 AM | Comments (6)

May 26, 2005

The Girl Child Commands

I'm home alone with the kids last night as my wife was stuck in traffic on I-95. I'm heating up some leftovers for myself for dinner and the kids are keeping me company. I have given them each a cookie, to their mutual delight. At some point, however, the cookies are gone, and this is what follows:

Boy Child: [Happily burbling along at great volume]

Girl Child: Silence!

Boy Child: [Continues to burble]

Girl Child: SILENCE!

Boy Child: [Abruptly ceases burbling and looks at her intently]

Girl Child: [Looks first at Boy Child to make sure he really is going to be quiet and then turns and addresses me] Pappa, we need more cookies!

Boy Child: [Looks at me and nods head while saying his little word for yes in tone of total agreement] Ah-ta.

More cookies were distributed. A happy and joyful noise returned to the kitchen table.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:05 AM | Comments (4)

May 25, 2005

A Sale of House Disaster Averted

To sell a house, to convey clear and good title, you need to be able to produce a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A clean CO is needed because it shows the world that the town or village says that the structure you are selling is a legal and proper structure with no code violations on file. Failure to obtain and produce a clean CO will be taken to mean that you don't have the legal right to occupy the dwelling on the property that you own. As you might imagine, it is a big deal if something goes wrong with the CO.

Something went wrong with our CO. Our sellers, the people from whom we purchased the house we currently live in, built a brick patio in the backyard. According to our buyers, that brick patio does not appear on the CO or on the survey and thus we do not have a clean CO and we need to get this taken care of. I learned this yesterday.

I pretty much almost went through the fu*king roof when my lawyer told me this, since neither my lender nor my title agency told me this when I bought the house. This can be a real problem to fix because you need to fill out an application, attach a certified architect's plan, a check for a fee, and hope for the best.

Well, as it turns out, problem solved. The head of the Building Department and I had a very nice chat. First we gossiped a bit about mutual acquaintances and then he told me that he remembered inspecting the patio some 13 years ago and that it was built before zoning laws required a permit or CO for these kinds of patios and he would send me a letter to that effect. Believe me, I asked no questions designed to probe the acuity of that memory.

What an exceptional, unlooked for act of sheer kindness.

The letter arrived the next morning (today), by fax, and appears to resolve entirely the issue my buyers raised.

I now have a nice, clean, sparkling, shiny CO to convey.

Thank goodness for small towns and the nice people who actually think that from time to time they're there to help you, not hurt you.

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:13 PM | Comments (7)

Notes to self

In lieu of a real post, I give you the following "notes to self".

Hey, self, are you listening? Some reminders are in order:

*Don't use the stairmaster for the full 30 minutes when someone else beat you first to the machine of choice because it makes your knees hurt;

*Low sugar or no sugar candy or snacks are still crap;

*A clean Certificate of Occupancy is a happy C of O;

*Don't use your cell phone while crossing the street -- it's a good way to get squashed by a bus because you aren't paying attention to the world around you;

*It isn't necessary to prove that you are the smartest guy in the room and in fact by trying to do so, you might just prove the exact opposite;

*Don't guess if you don't know the answer to a question;

*Decisions made in haste, while they may be regretted later, are often the most exhilarating decisions to make; and,

*Have you recently told your wife how much you love her?

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:47 PM | Comments (3)

May 24, 2005

Where hope goes to die

This morning, I had the pleasure (ok, not really) of sitting and waiting for an hour while a court reporter was procured who could record our oral argument. So I sat and I watched. And I came to realize that I was in the place where dreams died, where hope is buried. I realize that sounds melodramatic but I was in a courtroom where every case but mine was what we in NY call a Domestic Relations case, a matrimonial part, a divorce and custody case.

The room was so weird. I don't do matrimonial work and I’m so glad.

People start off married, usually, in the ordinary course, with great hopes for the future and dreams about the lives they are going to build together. This is part of the American dream, the fantasy wedding, the perfect spouse, then maybe some children and picture perfect Christmas cards with the beautiful children and Golden Retriever every year on the front.

Those dreams die in the matrimonial part. People come to bury their marriages, their hopes, their dreams, to fight over the issue of the marriage (the children), to battle over money and possessions. They start from love and end up in bitter hatred. I said to the Court Clerk, who I've come to know from before this Part was a matrimonial part, how can you stand the pain in this room? And he looked at me, surprised, and said, "I don't and I'm here every day".

The people in that room were interesting. There were lawyers and litigants. The lawyers seemed, many of them, to know each other. I guess it's a small bar, even in NYC. The lawyers were on friendly terms with each other, and that's to be expected when they're not in front of the judge trying to tear each other's hearts out. But the litigants. . .

The litigants were different, although democratic in terms of social class. First, every woman client in that room, whether her marriage was officially pronounced over by the State of New York or not, had taken off her wedding band and engagement ring. Every one. And I looked, out of curiosity. Second, the room ran the gamut of types of people -- young blond Upper East Side looking women; older people; young people who looked too young to be married; a woman in the uniform of the US Postal Service and she was sitting next to a much older man in a suit and tie who was wearing what must have been a $10,000 watch (and yes, I kind of know these things). Very democratic in that sense, as all the problems were washed up equally in front of this judge's bench.

And the hatred, hiding as indifference, the aggressive indifference as people there were ending their relationships. They would refuse to look at each other, even as they had to pass within inches of each other. Why, I wondered. Two of them were there to fight over custody, neither of them in the full flower of youth anymore, why couldn't they behave like adults, I wondered. How badly had they hurt each other that it came to this?

The postal worker sat next to me for a little while. I think she was not represented by counsel and I guess she took time off from work to attend this session of the Court. She looked so sad.

And one woman, one woman hovered behind her attorney as he made his argument to the bench. And she crept ever closer as he spoke, until, when the judge made a ruling, she stood behind him and buried her face in her hands and began to cry, very quietly. And no one in the room batted an eye as she almost silently wept, except for the lawyers there with me on the commercial case. We don't usually see clients cry. But then, we don't usually hang out in a place where dreams go to die.

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:21 PM | Comments (14)

A moment observed

I am back from Court, where I was this morning as a judge sat there, after tens of thousands of dollars, no exaggeration, were spent on motion papers, and said she hadn't read the papers and what were we down on. An outrage. A total outrage.

Anyway, I am more mellow now after an excellent lunch at an old style Spanish restaurant. I had arugula with manchego cheese in a sherry vinegar and oil dressing, followed by red snapper baked in a clay pot in a tomato puree and onion sauce. Delightful.

On the walk back, I observed a moment between two other people. It almost made me feel like an emotional voyeur. They were both in their early 30's or late 20's, both professionals (at least dressed that way) and appeared to be taking their leave of each other as he continued down Madison and she entered an office building. He said goodbye and turned to leave and she turned away to go in. And it was this moment that I saw, this moment where she made a half pivot as her steps to the lobby slowed and she looked back at him with this expression on her face -- like she was willing him to look back at her -- this expression that was half resolve, half puzzle, all yearning, all speculative. I think he did not look back at her because she looked a second time, as if to give him another chance, and I think I saw a shadow of disappointment cross her face. I slowed, a tiny bit, somehow drawn to her hope, her neediness, her wanting, her orbit, and that's why I noticed this, but it did happen very quickly, objectively speaking. And then she went inside and I continued up Madison, full and content from my excellent lunch.

But I wondered, was this the beginning of a relationship or the end?

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:58 PM | Comments (1)

May 23, 2005

The Girl Child adds to the list

My wife just wandered in late and I give her the recitation of the evening accomplishments and the Girl Child chimes in:

Me: The children have been bathed, teeth have been brushed, milk has been given . . .

GC: And noses have been picked!

Excellent addition. I note that the Girl Child refers to her nose, not mine.

Now, off to read a story.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:38 PM | Comments (3)

History Today: Annotated

Lacking inspiration after an entire weekend spent in the office, I give you my annotated Today in History post.

Today the following people were born:

*1707 Carolus, or Carl, Linnæus. I can't find a link about him I like, so I will content myself with a very brief description. He was a Swedish botanist, known as the "Father of Taxonomy" because he created the system by which, scientifically, plants and animals are named and organized.

*1795 Charles Barry, the architect of the Westminister Palace (Houses of Parliament in London). Barry also designed the Reform Club, in London, where I had the pleasure of drinking a bottle of Champagne (Reform Club Champagne, said so on the label) on the second floor overlooking the grand, interior courtyard. In the below picture, there are now tables along the railings. A very pleasant place to sit, drink, and converse.


The building is really quite magnificent. The Reform was also the place from where Jules Verne had Philleas Fogg begin his journey, Around the World in 80 Days.

*1848 Helmuth von Moltke, the German Army Chief of staff in World War I, until relieved for poor leadership. The war started under his watch.

*1883 Douglas Fairbanks, actor and husband of Mary Pickford. The first King of Hollywood, some say.

*1910 Artie Shaw, the "King of Swing", born Arthur Jacob Arshawsky in New York. Shaw was the iconic bandleader in the 1930's.

Shaw could scarcely have known that within a short time he would make a hit record of a song called Begin the Beguine, which he now jokingly refers to as "a nice little tune from one of Cole Porter's very few flop shows." Shortly before that he had hired Billie Holiday as his band vocalist (the first white band leader to employ a black female singer as a full-time member of his band), and within a year after the release of Beguine, the Artie Shaw Orchestra was earning as much as $60,000 weekly -- a figure that would nowadays amount to more than $600,000 a week!

By the way, Shaw gave all that up after Pearl Harbor when he signed up for the US Navy.

Deaths today, include:

*1498 Girolamo Savonarola was burned at the stake in Florence. He is a curious character. He was a fiery preacher who denounced the excesses of the Renaissance and who came to dominate Florence in 1494, banning gambling and taverns and making sodomy a capital offence. He created the "bonfires of the vanities" in which paintings and books were burned.

1881 Kit Carson "trapper, scout, Indian agent, soldier and authentic legend of the West".

*1906 Henrik Ibsen (link is to interesting essay on Norwegian Foreign Ministry website), Norwegian playwright, dies at 78. If you can read Norwegian, and even if you can't, I suppose, here is an interesting chronology of his life. And here is an excellent biographical sketch.

*1934 Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were shot to death by police in Shreveport, LA. The FBI site makes for interesting reading on these bank robbers.

Today, some of the following things happened:

*1618 The Second Defenestration of Prague when the two Roman Catholic Governors, and their scribe, were tried, found guilty of violating the law granting freedom of religion to Protestants, and thrown from the window of Prague Castle into a pile of manure. This marked the beginning of the 30 Years War. "The Roman Catholic officials claimed that they survived because of the mercy of benevolent angels assisting the righteousness of the Catholic cause. The Protestants claimed the officials survived because they landed in horse manure." Source. I've been to Prague Castle, many years ago, and it is quite beautiful.

*1701 Captain William Kidd (great bio of his time in New York at link) was hung in London following his conviction for piracy and murder (more info here).

*1911 New York Public Library building at 5th Avenue dedicated by President Taft.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:10 AM | Comments (3)

May 20, 2005

Meme rash

I have been tagged by a couple of memes (is my nose bleeding?).

Eric got me on the this one:

List five things that people in your circle of friends or peer group are wild about, but you can't really understand the fuss over.

Ok, since I like Eric and I sort of think this one is interesting, I'll give it a shot.

First: Reality Television.

Reality television is not reality. I have seen very little of it and what I have seen is execrable. I don't really need that much crap in my life.

Second: Competitive Admission Pre-School

Ok, while maybe I do understand it, sort of, that there are a limited number of slots at good pre-schools in New York City (read: Manhattan) and every parent is convinced that his or her child will not get into Dalton if they don't go to Ms. Frobishers' Finishing School for the Pre-School Years, it's the hysteria part of this that I don't get. Schlepping your poor kid from interview to interview and test to test. For what? A pre-school where you get the chance to spend $12,000 a year for nose picking and finger painting? Please.

Third: College Savings.

Much of my peer group is consumed with the idea of college savings. We are more concerned at this point with retirement savings. As my wife points out to me, the kids can, if they have to, borrow money to go to college. No one will ever lend us money to retire. That said, we are putting money away for the kids, we're just not consumed with it.

Fourth: Golf.

I'm sure it's very nice and all, but have you ever been part of a golf conversation without wanting someone to come along and either shoot the people talking about golf or shoot you and you don't care anymore which it is?

Fifth: Crackberrys

Why do you want to be reachable from work all the time? Why is constant availability a virtue for most people? Why sit there and peck away, looking so terribly important, when all you're doing is exchanging bullshit with a friend? I don't get it. I don't have one and I don't want one.



Tinklebelle tagged me with a book meme:

1. Total number of books I’ve owned

No idea. I can say that when we bought our last house, I had an additional 80 linear feet of shelf space put in and I've outgrown it in three years. We are voracious readers in my house.

2. The last book I bought.

I'm not 100% sure. There were two books. Right now, I'm not supposed to be buying any more books in light of the impending move. But the two I bought were:

Alexander Hamilton: A Life, by Willard Sterne Randall (currently a bargain selection on Amazon, I note); and,

Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything,
by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner.

3. The last book I read.

I am almost finished with Rubicon : The Last Years of the Roman Republic,
by Tom Holland. I would have finished it sooner, but I keep falling asleep on the train at night!

4. 5 Books that mean a lot to you.

Gee, I am not really sure. Some books have meant more to me at other times than now, for instance.

How about, and only as a partial list:

*Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, by Marc Weissbluth (a must read for any new parent)

*Kim, by Rudyard Kipling (inspired a life long fascination with the whole region)

*The Three Musketeers, Dumas (love historical fiction)

*The Norton Anthology of Poetry (enough said)

*Breakout: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea 1950, by Martin Russ (the heroism of these brave men during a war we often forget about will take your breath away).

I think this list could go on and on, but I have to get some work done today.

5. Tag 5 people and request they fill this out on their journal.



If you want to identify yourself and play along with either of these two memes, that would be great, but I'm not inclined to tag anyone else with any memes. Not really my thing. But thanks for asking me to play!

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:36 AM | Comments (12)

She just wants to direct

The Girl Child hopped out of bed last night to keep her mother and me company as we brushed our teeth. These little visits are usually quite welcome. One of the things the Girl Child likes to do during her time with us is to jump up into our bed and hang out for awhile until we're done. But she's a nice girl and she always asks:

GC: Mamma? Can I go opp i sengen din? [mixing Norwegian and English]

[long pause as Mamma's mouth is filled with tooth brush and tooth paste]

[GC appears to grow a bit impatient with not getting an answer but seems to know that Mamma is not going to respond with a full mouth]

GC: [Tone: Bright and cheerful] Just nod your head yes, Mamma!

Which my wife did as I hid my face so the Girl Child did not see me laugh.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:34 AM | Comments (5)

And another good word bites the dust

I was reading the NY Times this morning on the train on the way into the City, not an unusual activity for me, and I was happily browsing through one of the weekend sections and skimmed an article on Montgomery, NY. The article was about how Montgomery is a good place for a weekend home. I am not, emphatically not, in the market for a weekend home but, having never heard of Montgomery, read the article anyway. The following sentence, appearing in the "cons" section of the article, practically jumped off the page at me:

The community lacks diversity; according to the 2000 United States Census, the village of Montgomery was more than 90 percent white.

According to Wikpedia, "Diversity is the presence of a wide range of variation in the qualities or attributes under discussion". I thought that was pretty well put actually.

Although, from the NY Times perspective, diversity as a word has bit the dust and no longer means anything close to that. In the new lexicon, diversity means non-white. Diversity, the word, has been reduced to a rather simple concept meaning any person or culture not white.

Pardon me while I retch or mourn, I'm not sure which. Either way, I think the Times was insulting.

Why? Well, it seems to me that the assumption implicit in the Times' use of the word diversity in this fashion is that the 90% white residents of Montgomery present a united and homogeneous front, allowing for no divergence of thought, experience, education, viewpoint, national origin, religion, social class or you name it, all the things that contribute to a rich and vibrant community tapestry. I bet if you picked five random Montgomery residents, they wouldn't necessarily agree on anything. Indeed, that's what makes a horse race.

Under the Times' use of the word, you can only have a horse race if the horses are all different colors. I cry foul.

Mind you, I don't really blame the Times for this (for once). I think that the Times is merely reflecting a broader cultural elite sense here. And so, another good word bites the dust.

Except for here, because I am not bending on this one. Diversity means more than race. At least, it ought to, anyway.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:27 AM | Comments (4)

And a happy, wet morning to you!

It was raining this morning on me as I walked from the gym to the office. Big fat, slow, lazy drops, coming down so reluctantly that I could practically track their trajectory before they plopped on the sidewalk. I was without umbrella today and that was just fine. By the time I got to my building, I was a bit wet. I rode up in the elevator with an elderly African-American man and we had the following conversation:

Me: Good morning, how are you this morning?

Him: I'm fine, thank you. How are you?

Me: Wet, mostly.

Him: Well, that's not all bad, is it? I mean, when you wake up from a good dream, you're wet, right?

Me: Different kind of wet but I totally see your point.

*Sigh* I heart this City.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:51 AM | Comments (2)

May 19, 2005

From the mouths of babes: lots of honesty

I have been having some crappy days at work so I decided to cure my bad mood by throwing myself into my children and playing and having fun and keeping the Girl Child (4+ years) up late so she could watch some baseball and hang out with me. Incidentally, it worked pretty darn well, too. Actually, the whole night was nice.

My wife was late so that meant I had both kids all to myself. I made dinner for my wife and me and ended up eating with just the kids. The Boy Child (2+ years), according to the nanny, did not eat at all today. Well, he ate just fine for me. Cut up pineapple (which he calls "anna", from ananas in Norwegian) and which he insisted on putting into his mouth himself with the fork, sliced mango (which he shared with his sister), over 1/2 of a huge grilled knockwurst, and quite a few spoonfuls of my very, very spicy black beans (after each spoonful he reached for his sippy cup and then kind of gasped "mor" or more). Tough kid.

The Boy Child was shipped off to bed and we came back downstairs to clean up the kitchen. The Girl Child had aftens, which is Norwegian for a snack you have after dinner -- she had a little bit of melted jarlsberg on bread with oregano on it, one of my wife's favorites. And then we went into the living room to watch baseball and hang out.

Kids, I think, have no conception of honesty/dishonesty. Up to a certain age, they don't seperate fantasy from reality -- it all blends together for them. But when they do talk truth, when they do speak honestly, unfettered by any social conventions or constraints, you get entertaining conversations like the following:

GC: Yum. I just farted.

Me: Why did you say yum?

GC: Because my farts smell yummy.

Me: Why do you think they smell yummy.

GC: Because my poop smells yummy. [pause] Well, my poop doesn't always smell yummy. Sometimes, my poop smells really, really bad [head nodding hard for emphasis and said in a very earnest tone].

See what I mean? Still, so young and already so wise.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:50 AM | Comments (9)

May 18, 2005

Those early trains attract an odd mix

As regular readers may have gleaned, I am early train type of guy. I take either the 5:26 or the 5:56 a.m. train into work every morning.

As an aside, I usually take the 5:56 train home. That led me to the starkly depressing realization that I exist in 12 hour periods defined by my trains. I don't know why I find that so depressing, but I do and I certainly cannot identify anything uplifting about this division. But, as I said, this was an aside and not the main point of this post.

No, the main point is to reflect on the weirdness that is the early train.

The early train is a different crowd from the rush hour / express train crowd. These early types are quieter, with one or two exceptions, and include a similar mix of people. There are the finance types, the people who trade for a living or work on foreign securities markets. In fact, one acquaintance asked me which bank I worked for. Then there are the critical function types and I include police officers and the like in this group. You often see them on this train along with NYC Police Academy cadets in their uniforms. Finally, there are the gym rats and I'm in this group. We're all either in our workout gear or clearly unshaven and on the way to the gym to spiff up for the day. These are just general observations and I'm sure that there are lots of different people taking the train who don't fall into these groups.

Then, there are the weirdos. I commute with at least three of them. I suppose, since I have no reason to think otherwise, that they are perfectly nice people but they have mannerisms that cause them to stand out from the herd. Of course, I have named them.

First, there's the Twitcher. Twitcher has something going on with her that causes her facial muscles to twitch and contract into a rictus of a teeth baring grin, except without the friendliness that the word grin connotes. She is in her mid to late 30's is my guess, slim, with short hair and favors blue jeans. Seems nice enough, but who knows. It requires a real effort to look away from the twitch on the platform.

Second, we have the Talker. The Talker is a tall woman, maybe in her 40's, a little thick in the body, looks like she may have played power forward for her college basketball team and still favors that kind of haircut. I call her the Talker not because she talks to me, no, that would be just fine. I have dubbed her the Talker because she appears to be talking to herself, sotto voce, in an impassioned way complete with anguished and sometimes exaggerated facial expressions and head shaking. She conducts arguments with herself and seems, from my vantage point, to be on the losing end of those arguments. I try not to stand too near to her out of a fear that I will be able to overhear the argument and might, against my will, be drawn into it.

Third, and finally, we come to my favorite. I call him Yoga Boy, or sometimes just Yoga. Yoga is probably in his late 50's. He is short, maybe about 5'3'', very thin, with graying hair, balding, and some sort of skin condition that causes his skin to dry out and flake. He is usually dressed in some sort of jeans / sweatshirt combination, carries a back pack with a "No Blood for Oil" and an anti-Bush pin on the shoulder strap. He does not sit on the train. He instead stands in the vestibule and appears to engage in some form of meditation. His eyes closed, standing away from the wall, his knees flexed, he contemplates some inner, more peaceful place, or so I imagine. Hence, Yoga Boy. He stalks up Park Avenue with me or near me almost every morning and appears to move with a barely contained rage. So much for the inner peace thing. His elbows jut out to the sides as he swings his arms and his back pack rides down low over his hips as if it was slightly too big for him. And he hates red lights. When he sees the light is about to go against him, he breaks into an odd floppy bird kind of run, with arms akimbo but keeping his center of gravity very low. I find myself cheering him on in his quest to make the light. “Go, Yoga, go!” Although we stand on the platform together in the morning and although we walk up Park more or less together, he has never acknowledged my existence. I have looked at him when he arrives on the platform so as to at least give him a friendly nod, but his gaze is resolutely fixed simultaneously both inward and outward across the platform. Either way, although we have stood next to each other for months, I clearly do not fall within the scope of his gaze. That’s actually kind of fine with me.

I do wonder if it annoys him when I chat with my friend, though, as we wait for the train together.

Welcome to my world on the 5:56. I am but a spectator on this one, most of the time.

I do wonder, only fleetingly, what my fellow passengers would write about me, given the opportunity.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:03 AM | Comments (14)

May 17, 2005

Just slammed today

I am just totally slammed today. Running around, working with four other lawyers in my office, trying to get a pleading put together that will survive a motion to dismiss, a very technically complicated pleading in a very complicated case involving several different judicial fora. Still no time, therefore, to report back on Washington D.C., other than to say it was a great trip.

Played hookey this morning from work and accompanied the Girl Child to her "art show" at pre-school. That was great fun and I got to be the adoring dad and take pictures of her posing in front of her creations.

Then I went to work and went right back down the rabbit hole. C'est la vie.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:52 PM | Comments (2)

May 16, 2005

Kosovo and the Beach Boys

Go and watch the Norwegian peacekeepers/soldiers dancing to a US soldier version of the Beach Boys classic: The video link. I think it's kind of funny but I gather it is causing a strong reaction in Norway. My Norwegian sister in law, who sent it to me, thought it was funny, too.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:46 PM | Comments (6)

The Girl Child requests clarification

No time today to give the full update on the D.C. trip (it is now 2:15 and I have been flat out running since 8:30) but I did want to quickly memorialize the conversation I had last evening with the Girl Child (remember, only 4 years old) as we were preparing to go out for an after dinner family walk:

GC: Pappa, are you ready to go?

Me: Not quite. Just give me a second to check the score on the Yankees game.

GC: What, are you going to sit there all night?

Me: Yes. Exactly. I am going to sit here all night.

GC: Mamma! Is that [short pause] appropriate for Pappa to sit there all night?

Her mother opined that it wasn't and I was summarily evicted from the living room. On the plus side, it was a beautiful night for a walk.

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:22 PM | Comments (3)

May 12, 2005

Sure is quiet around here, huh?


*dropping stone down well of posts to hear a far away splashing noise*

Well, ain't going to get any better until next week. I was in Philly all day yesterday on meetings. Saw none of the fair city except the windowless conference room and the taxi to and from the train station. Today, after a whirlwind of activity, I am off to Washington D.C. where I am leading a small group of friends (about 15) on a fun filled tour of the City. I will report back on some of the more interesting details upon my return, but, it will involve a private tour of the Supreme Court.

So, gotta hustle outta here.

Speak to you soon!

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:27 PM | Comments (10)

May 10, 2005

If you can read this . . .

If you are reading this, chances are that you are not Guatemalan. Or, at least, that you did not spend your formative years in Guatemala. What do I mean by this? Simple. Guatemala has a huge literacy problem. We witnessed it first hand on the plane coming home. To give credit where credit is due, my wife picked up on it first and clued me in.

A substantial number of people boarding the plane to NY in Guatemala City could not read their boarding passes. The crew, knowing this, had to tell them where they were sitting by either leading the passengers to their seats, almost taking them by their hands, or by pointing to exactly which seat they had. One of the crew confirmed to my wife that a lot of people boarding in Guatemala could not read and needed the crew to fill out all of their immigration and customs forms. The crew did say that some of the passengers asked them to do it out of laziness and not because they couldn't read, but still. The crew came from El Salvador, by the way.

Can you imagine what that must be like? Navigating the rocks and shoals of modern life without being able to make sense of the world around you? Or, maybe you compensate, like where one sense gets stronger when another when gets weaker. Beats me. But to be deprived of reading poetry.

The literacy rates are very poor, according to the research I've done. Actually, one UNESCO graph is particularly interesting because it casts the information in the form of illiteracy percentages. If you click on the link, you will see that almost 4 out of every 10 Guatemalan women are illiterate and about 2.5 out of every 10 men are illiterate. Those numbers tower over all of the other countries UNESCO includes in their graph.

One aspect of the literacy problem fairly leaps off the page: the disparity between literacy rates for men and for women. This suggests that women have much more restricted access to formal education than the men do. It also suggests that women have it much tougher in general in Guatemalan society. Or, at least, maybe they do. I don't really know enough to fully draw that last conclusion. But is does suggest that, ipso facto, fewer opportunities exist for women as we in the developed world understand those opportunities.

No matter how you look at it, it's a total mess.

Still, I don't want to leave this topic with the implication that there is no hope. Since 1980, some 25 years ago, the rate of adult illiteracy has dropped from 47% of the population to 29.5%. That suggests hope, right?

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:04 PM | Comments (3)

The Girl Child contemplates the pool

The Girl Child and I were standing at her grandparents' pool, looking at it, after we agreed to go swimming. Concerned by the possibility that the water was chilly, we were standing there, waiting for the other one to go first, to take the first toe step, then knee step, then tushie step until you hit the tummy step. She was wearing her little water wings and waiting to get in so I could throw her, and I mean throw her, in the air. While waiting, we had the following conversation:

Me: Do you want me to go get you the inflatible ring?

GC: The ring? That, I could do without.

She's been spending too much time with my father.

And while I remember, the Boy Child graced us with what might just pass for a sentence:

Opp, go, bil [yes, mostly he speaks Norwegian]

Thus telling my wife that he wanted to be picked up and he wanted to go out for a ride in the car. It appears he may be putting the whole language thing together. Which is nice.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:35 PM | Comments (3)

May 09, 2005

Back from Guatemala

I am back from Guatemala, arriving home at a little after 1:00 this morning. I lack the coherence to give a full and reflective report, so, instead, I'm going to sort of sum up in a series of stand alone vignettes and random thoughts:

*They should just admit that the country is humid and that central air conditioning is helpful.

*I'm sure I've said this before, but Guatemala is an exciting, vibrant, lovely, dirty, sometimes scary place, filled with kind and gentle people who carry lots of guns, all the time, all over the place.

*Driving behind a pickup truck in which six National Policemen were sitting in the open bed of the truck, on the walls of the bed, was scary enough but when one of them started playing with his Uzi, I wanted to throw myself over the children and close my eyes. All we needed was a pothole. Big sigh of relief when they turned off the road.

*The National Zoo in Guatemala City is a friendly place and we were there on a day when the place was filled with children from outside the city. They were mostly indigenous peoples and we dressed, many of them, in traditional clothes. They were flat out fascinated by my blond haired blue eyes kids and spent a lot of time looking at them and talking about them. The Girl Child became uncomfortable with being stared at for so long and by so many. The Boy Child was oblivious. My mother in law explained that these children had probably never seen anyone who looked like my children.

*Marimba, when played for the locals and not the tourists, can be a lot of fun. It must have something to do with the vibe of the people listening and dancing to it.

*I know I've written about fruit in Guatemala before, but it is so damn good. We also had some other cool things:

pacaya: A vegetable, the initial blossom of a variety of date palm tree; has a slight bitter taste. Used in salads; deep fried in egg batter or served in a tomato based sauce. Most appreciated by Guatemalans and Salvadorians. Consumed year round in particular during Holy Week and November 1 (All Souls/Dia de los Difuntos).


Huiquil (which I am spelling wrong and which we had in a soup.

*More later on a couple of other topics from the trip.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:33 AM | Comments (6)

May 06, 2005

How do you feed the children?

The newspaper headline this morning here in Guatemala City was stark: 50% of Guatemalan Children Are Chronically Malnourished. It came with a helpful photograph of three small children sitting by the side of the road eating some meager looking tortillas. The poverty in Guatemala is breathtaking, as I'm sure poverty is anywhere. But when you put that statistic to it, it becomes much smaller and more immediate, the scope of the poverty, that is. Poverty becomes a hungry child, it's really that simple.

The consequences, it seems to me, are much graver than simply a child without enough to eat, a child who goes to bed hungry. Chronic malnutrition will stunt brain growth and will make it easier for disease to grab ahold. The malnourished child today, assuming he lives, will be the burden to society later, unable to earn more than a subsistence wage, if that. This seems fairly obvious. Solve the hunger problem and you give society as a whole a fighting chance.

The problem is that I don't see it changing in the near future.

Pity the hungry children in Guatemala. They deserve at least that.

I feel totally helpless.

Posted by Random Penseur at 05:09 PM | Comments (5)

May 05, 2005

Lessons learned in transit today

Sure is beautiful here in Guatemala today. The kids are out in the pool, splashing their grandparents and enjoying themselves immensely. So I decided to make myself scarce for a moment to give them all some time alone and what better way to occupy myself than sharing some of my newly learned lessons.

*Waking children up at 4:00 a.m. to go to the airport is an exercise fraught with hazard.

*Thanks to the nice Transportation Security Agency lady I now know that when zipping the suitcase closed, do it in such a way that the zipper pulls are as far from the handle as you can possibly place them. This deters thieves in the baggage handling area from doing a quick unzip and stick hand in move. She explained that if they have to search for the zippers, they are more likely to just move on the next bag. Now that the bags have to be unlocked, this is just damn good advice. I think of it as a reward for being nice to people and chatting. I bet a lot of people don't chat with this lady and therefore don't get this safety tip.

*There was an adhesive fake fly on the urinal wall in JFK, Terminal 4. I read that a Dutch company (and I read this years ago but I think it was in the NY Times) figured out that if you put the fly there, guys will aim at it and thus the amount of spillage on the floor is reduced by some percentage. As I perversely refused to pee on the fly today, I learned that I would have hated to be the guy responsible for measuring the amount of urine on the floor of the un-flied urinal v. the flied urinal. Some jobs, I realized, I would not be happy having.

*Finally, it's really kind of fun typing on a Norwegian keyboard. It has all these cool letters built right in: Ø; Æ; and, Å. That said, the Norwegian spell check will not be very helpful in checking this post. Win some, lose some.

Posted by Random Penseur at 06:28 PM | Comments (2)

May 04, 2005

Nothing is easy when you're four

I've never really thought that my daughter was given to melodrama, but last night we had the following conversation after I put her to bed, late, and after I had read her three, long stories.

GC: Pappa, nothing in my life is going right!

Me: [actually a little alarmed to hear a 4 year old say that] Why do you say that, Peanut?

GC: Because I never get to have 4 stories!

Oh, the humanity!

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:22 PM | Comments (7)

When it rains, etc.

This is shaping up to be a very bad year, demands of practice wise. This week alone:

*I am preparing a major adversary proceeding complaint arising out of a bankruptcy as special counsel to the trustee in bankruptcy;

*I have been approached by another lawyer, a friend from the train, who wants to refer me a potentially huge case involving really arcane issues of property law -- she said, and I thought this was nice, that she's tried to explain this case to three or four other lawyers and so far I'm the only one who has been able to follow the bouncing ball; and,

*I believe that I will be retained today in a piece of international litigation that will make every other case I've ever worked on in my whole life look like a rounding error and has the potential to consume me like a monster.

The rest of the year is suddenly looking like it's going to be exceptionally busy.

Oh, and I'm supposed to go to Guatemala again tomorrow on the dawn patrol flight for the weekend. Expect blogging to go real light for the next couple of days.

And now if you'll excuse me, I have to go call some economists. I also need to consider having my head examined.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:37 AM | Comments (4)

It's all in the way you tell it

So, there I was, sweating away this morning in the gym and half-listening to CNN when they did a really interesting interview with an automotive industry analyst who was brought on to talk about the stark drop off in sales at General Motors. She was quite good, actually, explaining that what has the Street so freaked out is that the drop in sales was mostly in the SUV market, where GM makes all their money. If Americans are not buying the big Suburbans than GM ain't making no money, Well, she said it better. Then she was asked about whether union deals were hurting GM and whether GM was really spending too much on healthcare.

And this is where it got interesting for me. The analyst said that $1200 out of every car sold is used to pay for health care costs. Ok, well, that seems like a lot but I have no way of knowing. How do I put that in context? How many workers does that $1200 pay for? How many retirees? How many families? In short, how many people are covered by that?

Well, she went on to put in context for me. And this is what I mean when I say that it's all in the way you tell it, all in the way you present information. Telling me $1200 per car really tells me nothing. But tell me:

General Motors spent more on health care last year than they did on steel

and you've smacked me upside the head and caught my attention. She felt that for a manufacturing company, this wasn't very good.

Can you imagine that? Is GM a manufacturing company or a social welfare state? Let's see if we can figure that out a little.

GM, according to their annual report for 2004, had net sales and revenue of $193.5 billion. GM seems to divide themselves into auto making and finance/insurance divisions for revenue purposes. That's our first hint that GM may not be just a manufacturing company -- they have a f/i division big enough to warrant a separate discussion in the annual report. Automotive still is the biggest, earning $161.5 billion of the $193.5 and f/i earning some $32 billion. But I do note that only f/i earned a profit -- some $2.9 billion. Unfortunately, I lack the time to probe further and I cannot seem to isolate how much GM spent on steel last year or even what the costs were associated with the automotive divisions. Not a shock, really, when you're dealing with a company that size.

But still, more on health care than on steel. Stunning, isn't it?

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:27 AM | Comments (5)

May 03, 2005

Welsh Rap Review: QRed

QRed was kind enough to email me one of his recent compositions: "Fuck with QRed". It's off his most recent album, 'Survivor Series', out now on Progenitor Inc., done with him and Hos, his deejay. QRed describes his song as a "straight up battle tune". I describe it as hot, with rousing beats, big old bass and drum line, and excellent lyrics. It's got something to it, something I am having problems articulating here but it sort of reminded me of some of the tunes from Apache Indian, like "Make Way for the Indian", if you can remember that song.

In any event, I liked the tune very much and, on that basis, would absolutely recommend the album. I'll get back to you if QRed gives me touring dates and information.

For further information, I direct you to QRed's websites: DRMSolutions and LifePlusRecordings.

Cheers, QRed and thanks for the tracks!

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:02 PM | Comments (0)

Behind the Curtain: Arthur Ferguson

I came across, in my wanderings, the following extract which I copied and pasted from I don't recall where but which inspired me to do another Behind the Curtain post:

In 1924, a Scottish conman by the name of Arthur Ferguson succeeded in extracting from a wealthy American businessman a down payment of £6,000 on Nelson's Column. Ferguson had met his victim in Trafalgar Square and convinced him that it was being sold to reduce the national debt and that he was the estate agent charged with effecting the top-secret sale. Emboldened by his crime, Ferguson went on to con other tourists out of a £1,000 downpayment on Big Ben and a £2,000 deposit for Buckingham Palace, before heading for America, where he was caught trying to sell the Statue of Liberty to an Australian tourist.

The information on Ferguson is scant, unfortunately. In fact, I suppose I can't really do a Behind the Curtain Post for him considering the paucity of material.

I found this as an aside in an essay about another conman, although it appears to have been cribbed without attribution from the FreeDictionary:

It finally dawned on Ferguson that America was indeed the land of opportunity, and so he emigrated there in 1925. He sold the White House to a rancher on the installment plan for yearly payments of $100,000 USD, and tried to sell the Statue of Liberty to a visiting Australian, who went to the police. The authorities had been looking for the mysterious salesman of public landmarks, and Ferguson went to jail, to be released in 1930. He profitably continued his trade in Los Angeles until his death in 1938.

Even if this is not really a Behind the Curtain post, I don't know what else to call it and I would have really enjoyed meeting this fellow. Although I'd have left my wallet at home.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:37 AM | Comments (3)

The Arcades

One wonderful thing about London is the many arcades. The shopping arcade is, as you might guess from the name, a series of arches, roofed, with shops in the spaces between the arches. In many ways, they were the first shopping malls, providing covered spaces for upscale merchants to appeal to the monied classes. Here are some of my favorites. They are glorious looking spaces. We'll start with the more obscure Albermarle Arcade:



Another arcade, off Piccadilly:


And, finally, the Burlington Arcade front facade:


And a close up:


These were the height of fashion when they were built. The first shopping malls in London!

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:06 AM | Comments (4)

May 02, 2005

Signs of the times

I saw one of the following signs, read about the second one, and was sent the third by a friend from New Orleans. The creativity that goes into these things is quite something.

The First Sign. Spotted while driving in the Bronx yesterday right next to Yankee Stadium, stopped in traffic:

Why Lie? I Want A Beer!

And yes, people were indeed giving the thirsty guy money.

Second Sign. Read about this morning in the Metropolitan Diary:

Ninjas killed my family. Need money for kung fu lessons.

No word on whether he was getting any closer to his revenge.

Finally, a picture sent to me by a buddy who was in New Orleans and came across this fellow with this sign:


Posted by Random Penseur at 09:08 AM | Comments (4)

May 01, 2005

Today's Lesson: How to deal with a troll

Today's lesson of how to deal with a troll is brought to you courtesy of Linda, who demonstrates the proper way to heat the poker before applying it to the troll. It was a thing of beauty. And remember, a thing of beauty is a joy forever!

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:10 PM | Comments (3)

Georgian Lights

Today's architectural element picture from London are these beautiful Georgian lights. Note the cones hanging off of them, they were used to extinguish the torches needed to light the lamps.


Let's also throw in a Georgian fan light window to go along with it:


Posted by Random Penseur at 12:05 PM | Comments (2)