Tuesday, March 31, 2009
I don't know about you, but I think America was at its best back in Sept 2001. A great deal has happened since then, but I think its important to look back and remember how we all felt then.
Monday, March 30, 2009
Friday, March 27, 2009
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
A couple of tidbits regarding the disaster known as Detroit MI have caught my eye lately.
That Detroit has been in decline for decades is certainly not news. Back in the 80s, an effort at urban renewal, centered around Renaissance Center, bloomed in the downtown area, but nothing much came of it. Years of job losses, political corruption, mismanagement, and general decay have left the city an urban wasteland of epic proportions. While there are still affluent suburbs aplenty, the core is a disaster unequaled in the developed world.
A series of photos of abandoned buildings of all sorts was published recently published as a Time magazine photo essay. The only clean-up done in some of Detroit's once-stately hotels and other buildings has been done by looters. The pictures, taken by a couple of French photographers, are haunting.
But, out of this blight, something is emerging. A small group of artists have bought badly distressed housing for ridiculously low prices ($100 for a house and land?) and are renovating, wiring up to solar power, planting gardens, and making something out of less than nothing. It's reminiscent of the reemergence of Manhattan's SoHo and TriBeCa neighborhoods, where the avant garde began squatting in abandoned warehouses and factories and, over years and years, turned blight into a trendy, popping place-to-be.
We've seen similar efforts right here in Dallas - the West End, Deep Ellum, and Exposition Park spring to mind immediately. The degree of success has varied, and the long-term viability of all these areas is still somewhat in question, but the attempts have been made.
Will the same thing happen in Detroit? Hard to say. There are obvious, huge distinctions - as bad as SoHo was, it was still mere blocks from Midtown, which never decayed to the same extent. The devastation in Detroit may well be too far along to reverse.
Nevertheless, it is fascinating to watch an area die out, and few hardy souls attempt to bring it back.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Dad, you might be interested in this one.
The Great Wilonsky posts on Unfair Park today regarding a late entry into the AFI International Film Festival (to be held in Dallas in a couple of weeks): A forgotten film by documentarian Frederick Wiseman, shot in 1983 and entitled The Store.
It turns out that Wiseman produced a four-hour doc on Neiman Marcus in it's heyday.
Now, this is of some note on general purposes. Neiman Marcus was, for many years, Dallas' major redeeming feature. As much as, and probably more than, that stupid TV show, NM symbolized the glitter of Dallas, and put it on the international map. This film captures NM towards the end of the "We Have a Marcus (Richard) In-House" years, before the company was bought, and watered down, by General Cinema. In those days, everyone who was anyone in this town did a stint as a salesperson or assistant buyer in the joint. As such, The Store is worth seeing by anyone and everyone who lived, or who wanted to live, in Dallas in the halcyon days of the mid-80s.
But there is more at work here than general purposes. In 1983, the elder Curmudgeon (Curmudgeon Emeritus, if you will) was at the height of his long run as NM's Executive VP of Just About Everything At One Time or Another, and yours truly was indulging in a bit of shameless nepotism, working in various menial, but highly educational and entertaining, positions in the underbelly of the company.
So, one would think that a lot of folks either he knew, or I knew, or both, would make an appearance in this one.
I doubt I'll make the show (it's on a Monday afternoon), but I might check it out on video...
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Saturday, March 07, 2009
The anti-Israel Master Race in Sweden took to the streets today, battling police in an effort to interrupt an Israeli-Swedish tennis match.
A tennis match. What, they couldn't find a rhythmic gymnastics competition to disrupt?
The far left in Scandinavia is truly amazing. Blessed with a nearly homogeneous population, a wonderful little Socialist paradise of a welfare state, and a work ethic that makes the Australians look like Tom Peters, the Swedes (and the rest of the blonde-and-blue Nordics) are usually amongst the first to start pointing fingers at "injustice" wherever they can find it. I can only assume this is to assuage their feelings of complete impotence on the world stage. I mean, really; who the hell cares what Sweden thinks?
Here's an idea: Give the world something more useful than Ikea and Haagen-Dazs, and maybe we'll drum up some interest in your point of view. Oh, wait, I forgot Volvo. You got me there. I'll shut up now.
I don't know why the pointy-headed liberal Euro gets such a rise out of me, but they do, and without fail. Let's relocate Sabra and Shatila and a few of the other craphole-where-the-Arabs-dump-the-Palestinians-so-they-don't-have-to-really-deal-with-them camps up north, and then lets see what they have to say.
Friday, March 06, 2009
Zimbabwe's Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, and his wife, Susan, were involved in an auto accident earlier today in a rural part of the country. Susan Tsvangirai was killed, and the PM was injured.
Details are sketchy, but it appears a large truck was involved. According to the BBC, the driver of the truck was asleep at the wheel.
On the surface, this event has all the hallmarks of an authentic, tragic accident. Zimbabwe's decrepit road system, rampant drunk driving, and non-existent law enforcement make traveling by car moderately less risky than swimming laps in a pool of battery acid. Huge wrecks and fatalities are all-too-common on rural roadways, especially those in the more-densely populated eastern half of the country.
However, given Mugabe's track record, the "accident" angle cannot be taken at face value. That Tsvangirai himself was in the car at the time of the wreck makes everything about it suspicious. Mugabe and his vile, violent cronies stand to gain from this sort of unfortunate "accident", especially if Tsvangirai had been killed. He was not, but the loss of his wife of 30 years (and mother of his six children)is nearly as good from the ZANU perspective. Tsvangirai is, no doubt, personally devestated. There's every chance this blow causes him to leave public life entirely.
I hate to be cynical, but it's a mistake to put anything past Mugabe.
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
More on (pun intended) the Citigroup debacle in a recent Economist article.
The gist of this one is that Citi was too big to manage. Anyone who has worked there could tell you that much. Whilst inside the belly of the beast in the early 2000s, it occurred to many of us that there was no way anyone could keep track of the behemoth wrought by Weill. With 300,000+ employees, operations scattered literally to the four corners of the world, languages, cultures, banking laws, customs, technologies, currencies, and controls of every stripe imaginable, Citi defied the imagination.
I went for months at a time without talking to anyone outside the company. Between our cash processing at Citibank in Delaware, our umpteen acquired portfolios in probably 20 states, our IT in NYC, our foreign operations in Canada and Puerto Rico, our nun-with-a-ruler auditors crawling over the entire operation like ants, and management EVERYwhere, I spent days, weeks, months on interminable conference calls, fighting for my little projects, fending off intrusive managers looking to validate their positions, auditors more concerned with methods than results, and an aversion to risk at all levels which bordered on psychosis.
We got very little actually done, but burned calories and brain cells at suicidal rates. Any minor success was often chalked up to the "even a broken clock is right twice a day" theory, rather than any talent or skill on the part of the victorious party.
It's no surprise to me that all sorts of illegal and bone-headed shenanigans were going on in the brokerage and mortgage lending areas. I submit that these are only the illegal and bone-headed shenanigans which came to light. Many more were occurring in less-sensitive areas or by crooks or bone-heads less ambitious or more skilled in covering their tracks.
Morale inside Citigroup, at least amongst those I worked with directly, was horrible and beaten down back in the days when Citi was a money factory. Now that the red ink is flowing in Zambezian torrents and the axe is swinging indiscriminately, I'm sure it's as much fun as a Dickens-era garment factory.
Thank the sweet, clean Maker of Us All I got out of there when I did!