Tuesday: Haikus and Mysteries VIII

February 22, 2011

Kigo, Kireji,
the strict, stylized elegance…
Samurai Twitter?

Today’s mystery: Is it Presidents Day (like Veterans Day)? Or Presidents’ Day (like All Saints’ Day)? Or President’s Day (like Valentine’s Day)? I’m confused!  Only the last variation seems obviously wrong…  although technically the Federal holiday is still known as Washington’s Birthday, in which case the euphemism(?) could perhaps also be a singular possessive.

Secret Eatings

February 16, 2011

I’m struggling to find the motivation to write about a Serious Topic today, so I will refer instead to one of my favorite prompts from an undergraduate creative writing course.  We were asked to consider a passage by author and gourmand M.F.K. Fisher in which she describes her sublime and barely articulable pleasure in drying out and eating the sections of a tangerine.  Her prose is a delicate, succulent morsel.  As Fisher knows, none of us can possibly replicate her experience in savoring this particular preparation.  She hints, however, that perhaps we can access this transcendence indirectly by reflecting on our own ‘secret eatings’?  The professor’s challenge to the student, of course, is fairly transparent: determine one’s own ‘secret eating’ and find a way to give the reader a taste.

As an erstwhile Fat Kid who has evolved into more of a refined ‘foodie,’ I have many candidates.  I realize it is a bit of a cliché to speak of dishes, flavors, and aromas that take one back to childhood.   But with the taste of mint chocolate chip ice cream (the artificial green kind, of course; and ideally with hot fudge) I can immediately conjure up happy memories of playing Street Fighter II with my best friend, or The Simpsons with my sister, at Wonder ice cream parlor, right around the corner from my house.  The sight or smell of a Nathan’s hot dog (with any luck, accompanied by fries that are smothered with ‘aged cheddar cheese’) bring me to one of many a Saturday afternoon with my dad at Aqueduct or Belmont racetrack, where I acquired at an early age a habit of hunting for pricing anomalies in markets, and a skepticism of the wisdom of such endeavors, that perhaps help explain both my current employment in the financial sector and my conflicted feelings about it.  And veal parmigiana – preferably the tough, cheap stuff, drowning in red sauce and pizza-grade cheese – oh, let’s not even try to go there.  As a Brooklyn kid, one’s notion of the proper taste of Italian staples, bagels with a shmear, and egg nog is invariably shaped by one’s neighborhood establishments.  Forget the milk-fed, organically-raised and gently-massaged cutlets that may show up in Whole Foods.  I will always prefer my veal parm from Sonny John’s on Avenue N.

However, none of these really satisfy the definition of a ‘secret eating’ – they are relatively straightforward comfort foods, perhaps seasoned with a dash of place and time, and a pinch of generalized nostalgia.  And even now it is hard to re-create the experience of enjoying these meals as a child who cared not about calories, trans fats, and triglyceride levels.  Such knowledge tends to impart an unfamiliar, bitter aftertaste.

My best example remains the same as when I wrestled with this question years ago: a slightly under-ripe banana, mashed into a paste with a fork just prior to consumption.  The fork, essentially, pre-chews the banana for you, allowing you to bypass the initial astringent, starchy phase to jump directly to the just-sweet-enough pulp. Once the banana is soft enough to eat properly, it is already too late for mashing.  The pulp becomes cloying; too much a reminder the ‘banana flavoring’ in milks and candies.  Why this taste and this method of preparation remain so resonant for me, I’m not really sure.  But, like Fisher’s tangerines, it’s hard for me to imagine that someone else would enjoy this peculiar mixture in quite the same way as I do.

Tuesday: Haikus and Mysteries VII

February 15, 2011

what pleasure there is
in breaking with convention

Today’s mystery: Was Proust’s madeleine impossible?  And who investigates such questions?  (The motivation for raising the raising of this question will become clearer in a forthcoming post.)

A bourse is a bourse, of course, of course

February 14, 2011

Is there something about the Big Board that drives otherwise-reasonable people batty?

Last week, merger talks between NYSE Euronext and Deutsche Börse were confirmed.  A handful of friends and relatives, whom I consider a reasonably representative sample of informed and engaged Americans, expressed concerns that I’ve subsequently heard raised by a variety of public figures.  Roughly, the issue boils down to: is nothing sacred in America?  Are we really going to allow foreigners to snatch up such a critical piece of financial infrastructure?  I’d wager, though, that most people have no more than a vague sense of how a stock exchange makes money.  I won’t go into detail here, but suffice it to say that exchanges now more closely resemble technology firms than august financial institutions.  If IBM and Sony were to join forces to develop new technology, reduce costs, and improve efficiency for customers, I wonder whether it would elicit such a strong knee-jerk response?

Senator Chuck Schumer decided to take a break from dealing with the couple of small problems facing our great nation to opine on the marketing strategy of the prospective combined company, as reported by the NYT among others: “It is totally logical to keep the N.Y.S.E. name first. If for some reason, the Germans sought an alternative option, it could be an indication that they are trying to wield an upper hand in the new company and would seek to make other business decisions that could go against New York.”

I mean… really?

I’m glad we’re at least temporarily shifting the conversation about Wall Street away from its incorrigible greed and recklessness, as if those weren’t also iconically American.  But it’s naive and counterproductive to think of business as anything other than global.  This is not to say that one shouldn’t ask questions about how global companies should be governed, or that it’s not sensible to view consolidation (a) among financial institutions or (b) among gatekeepers of infrastructure with some concerns about protecting the public interest.  Let’s just try to be reasonable even if there’s a big stone building with a big American flag on it in play.

I don’t know much about the financial rationale for the proposed merger of the exchanges, although some analysts seem to be excited about it.  I suppose optimists are untroubled by the ideas that: (a) you will have to pry profitable OTC derivatives businesses from broker-dealers’ cold, dead hands; and (b) that there is likely to emerge an incredible amount of competitive pressure via as-yet-unknown technologies to drive down costs in any product, as was the case in cash equities trading.  As usual, the Economist gives a wry précis, which is largely borne out by this compilation of analyst soundbites, for whatever those are worth.

The NYSE floor is nice for photo ops, and well worth a visit for any New York tourist or local.  And of course it gives all those CNBC anchors somewhere to stand while they try to look thoughtful and busy.  I doubt either of those valuable functions will be impaired as a result of a merger.

Tuesday: Haikus and Mysteries VI

February 8, 2011

“If I keep this up,
someone’s gonna get pregnant”
– Prince at MSG

Today’s mystery: What the heck happened to me?  Where’s my new content, darnit?  Mea culpa.  I’m at a new job, launching a start-up, which has almost entirely consumed my time, energy, and cognitive bandwidth.  I hope to return to a more frequent posting schedule once I have a bit more control over my life.  In the meantime, enjoy some horrible, horrible tattoos and feel bad about humanity. [Link is somewhat NSFW.]

Tuesday: Haikus and Mysteries V

February 1, 2011

raining in new york:
your golf umbrella tells me
you are a douchebag

Today’s mystery: Will the upheaval across North Africa and the Middle East prompt a reconsideration of Bush 43’s objectives and legacy in that region? EDIT: Forget that.  Why did I have to smack my forehead when I learned that the Adult Video Awards are held in Las Vegas… at the Palms Casino?  [Link is somewhat NSFW.]