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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

more living for the city: 2 quotes

I came across two great quotes about the city that I want to get up before they slip away into the ether.

The first was in a book I was flipping through at a friend's apartment last weekend, called"New York Vertical": "There is no hope for New Yorkers, for they glory in their skyscraping sins; but in Brooklyn there a wisdom of the lowly." Attributed to one Christoper Morley.

I was going to leave it at that, but couldn't resist Google-ing it. Here is the full passage, which I pulled from this account of teaching Whitman in Brooklyn Heights (which reminds me I need to finally read some Whitman this summer..esp since this summer is being spent largely in Brooklyn):
New York is Babylon ; Brooklyn is the true Holy City . New York is the city of envy, office work, and hustle; Brooklyn is the region of homes and happiness. It is extraordinary: poor, harassed New Yorkers presume to look down on low-lying, home-loving Brooklyn , when as a matter of fact it is the precious jewel their souls are thirsting for and they never know it. Broadway: think how symbolic the name is. Broad is the way that leadeth to destruction! But in Brooklyn the ways are narrow, and they lead to the Heavenly City of content. Central Park : there you are--the centre of things, hemmed in by walls of pride. Now how much better is Prospect Park , giving a fair view over the hills of humility! There is no hope for New Yorkers, for they glory in their skyscraping sins; but in Brooklyn there is the wisdom of the lowly.”
Turns out this is from a 1917 novel titled "Parnassus on Wheels."

The other quote is better really--this one I came across at the beginning of Part Two of Jane Jacob's "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," which I started reading a few weeks ago, and have been making slow but steady progress on.

More on "Death and Life", and my concurrent reading of "The Power Broker", in future posts. For now, here Jane Jacobs quoting James Boswell:
"I have often amused myself," wrote James Boswell in 1791, "with thinking how different a place London is to different people. They, whose narrow minds are contracted to the consideration of some one particular pursuit, view it only through that medium...But the intellectual man is struck with it, as comprehending the whole of human life in all its variety, the contemplation of which is inexhaustible."
I'll comment only that it's been liberating to be freed from the one particular pursuit which dominated by first 14 months in the city (partaking in those skyscraping sins); and that I don't claim to be an intellectual man, but I am struck with the city, with comprehending human life in all its variety; and that it does seem to be inexhaustible, contemplating life in this great city of New York.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Living for the city: City Parks programs

The City Parks Foundation is pretty amazing. Last summer I mainly marveled from afar at their music programs...though I did make it last August to the 2nd day of the Charlie Parker jazz festival in Tompkins Square park, which was one of the best days in NYC last year for me.

This year, I've started to actually attend some of the City Parks concerts. Last Wednesday we took the train out to Crown Heights to see Bahamadia at Brower Park, which was a good, intimate show--just 40 or so people there, very mellow, so we could get up close. Then Thursday I wandered through the LES and the E Village and finally found the bandshell in the E River Park, in time to see about 30 minutes of KRS-One. By contrast, there were lots of people (a thousand? more?), and they were amped.

I'm planning to make it back to the E River bandshell this Thursday to see Willie Colon. I might even venture over to Queensbridge to see the Delfonics this evening. Then there's Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane, and Rashaan Patterson, all in August, all in Harlem.

All that I was aware of..but now just realized there's a whole CityParks Theater schedule I need to work in...3 different plays being performed at different parks over the next few weeks. Got to try to see at least one or two..

Though I already missed the showings in our borough, which were at Von King Park--which has become one of my favorite parks in the borough. Biked out there a couple weeks ago, which was my first visit this year. (I guess there were only 2 visits last summer, which means a grand total of 3 visits in my life..) That was at the beginning of my 2nd Brooklyn bikeabout, which I'll have to write up in detail sometime soon.

Friday, July 25, 2008

NYT: "The Debt Trap"

More NYT links about finance and the economy...

The NYT had a prominent article front and center of last Sunday's paper, headlined "Given a Shovel, Americans Dig Deeper Into Debt." I didn't find the article itself particularly impressive. It written by one of the Times' business columnists, Gretchen Morgenson, who I'm becoming increasingly unimpressed with..I also saved the column she wrote for Sunday's Business section ("Borrowers and Bankers: A Great Divide"), with the idea of posting and commenting on how unsubstantive it was--it's only redeeming quality being that she turned it over to John Bogle at the end.

But the impressive part of the "Debt" article was the full page graphic that accompanied it. Going onto just now to find the graphic, it turns out the article is just one piece within a pretty fancy interactive feature called "The Debt Trap".

Check it out--esp the interactive graphic I'm talking about, which is a timeline of American average household savings vs. average household debt, decade by decade since the 1920s, with debt broken down by type (mortgage, credit card, home equity, vehicle & tuition). An excellent interactive depiction of some fascinating data.

The easiest way to get to the graphic: From "The Debt Trap", click on "Series Index" (bottom right), then on "The American Way of Debt", and finally on "Launch Interactive"

(Why bury this under 4 clicks w/o a direct URL I can copy and paste..that seems like poor UI design--esp if traffic is driven to these sites by other sites, in particular blogs.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Regulatory arbitrage?

Can someone help me out and decipher the following quote:
"What we have is obviously very dynamic markets that have the ability to run circles around regulators and they have an incentive to exploit every possible opening there is for regulatory arbitrage," says Raghuram Rajan, a University of Chicago economist who sounded alarms about the excesses building up in the financial system back in 2005.

(from "Markets Police Themselves Poorly, But Regulation Has Its Flaws", WSJ, 21 July 2008)
Who is the "they"? The regulated agents, i.e., banks and other financial institutions? What exactly is "regulatory arbitrage"?

A google search turns up this from wikipedia:

Regulatory arbitrage is where a regulated institution takes advantage of the difference between its real (or economic) risk and the regulatory position. For example, if a bank, operating under the Basel I accord, has to hold 8% capital against default risk, but the real risk of default is lower, it is profitable to securitise the loan, removing the low risk loan from its portfolio. On the other hand, if the real risk is higher than the regulatory risk then it is profitable to make that loan and hold on to it, provided it is priced appropriately.

This process can increase the overall riskiness of institutions under a risk insensitive regulatory regime, as described by Alan Greenspan in his October 1998 speech on The Role of Capital in Optimal Banking Supervision and Regulation
I need to sit down and unpack all that..

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Epic Brooklyn escapades (3 of 3)

One of my plans for the summer is to check out different far-flung Brooklyn neighborhoods, whether by bike, foot, or bus. So far I've gone out on 3 such escapades: Crown Heights, which I biked through on Wed, July 9; northern Bed Stuy and along its border with East Williamsburg/Bushwich, which I biked on Wed July 16; and the length of Fulton St from Stuyvesant Heights (Lewis Ave) back to Fort Greene, which I walked this morning.

I'll have to recount the first two in more detail in future posts. Here's a brief account of this morning's walk:

Actually this jaunt, unlike the other two, was unplanned. I'd taken the bus (B25) from Fulton at Lafayette all the way out to Lewis Ave in the morning, in order to get a coffee and do some reading and thinking at Bread Stuy. Finally started some language study while on the bus--listened to a couple Brazilian Portugese podcasts I'd d/l'ed from iTunes!

My plan for the morning had been to get out of there in time to make it back to Shambhala in Prospect Height for an 11:30am yoga class. But first got a little delayed in leaving Bread Stuy (for good reason..conversing with people), and then made the error of walking west along Fulton--first instead of walking a bit east to the Utica subway stop, and then second, walking right by the Kingston-Throop stop! Ended up walking all the way to Nostrand, where I went down to see if a C would come along...which it didn't, and since it was already nearly 11:30am by that point, went back above ground and decided to just walk the rest of the way home.

One interesting observation: you can get knockoff Brooklyn t-shirts for $7 out there (the script, "we run Brooklyn") opposed to paying many multiples of that at Vinnie's Styles.

Pretty soon I was back on a stretch of Fulton I'd walked before. I had dragged Anj out there for the "Universal Hip Hop Parade" last August, which culminated on Fulton between Nostrand and Bedford. Specifically, outside the famous Slave Theater (see the photo, and also the subsequent ones in my flickr photostream. See also this NYT article and this more recent Brownstoner post for some background and the latest news on the Slave Theater).

Even then, I'd noticed there were some Bengalis in Bed-Stuy. There was a small halal grocery store we sat outside of, where I spoke some Bengali w/ the proprietors

Today I noticed/realized that there's quite a Bengali community right around Fulton and Bedford. I noticed a couple more halal spots (granted, not necessarily Bengali)..and quite a few Bengali-looking folk walking up and down Fulton.

Then came across a restaurant on the south side of Fulton, just west of Bedford, that had a blowup of a newspaper article about the restaurant and the owner--which informed me he had opened this halal restaurant on Fulton in 1986! Ended up talking to a guy who came out of the spot, and then to the owner who was walking in...I'll have to go back and try the food (halal soul food!), and maybe talk to the proprietor about what the neighborhood has been like over the past 20 years..

I kept walking, and was soon back on even more familiar turf--Clinton Hill and then Fort Greene. There are a few spots along there that I have been intending to finally check out: Joloff for some African food, Olivino for some wine, Country House for some grub.

Back in our 'hood, picked up a handful of bananas from my man on Hanson Pl, and spent a few minutes speaking some more Bengali with him, talking about life and work in this country of ours.

Friday, July 18, 2008

more historical context from the WSJ..

I have resurrected the blog, but the posts have been all finance lately..even though that's been occupying ~1/3 of my mental space these days. i'll have to blog about the other 2/3 sometime soon.

But here's another relatively short WSJ article from earlier this week that gives some more historical context to the current financial crisis:

"Past Crises Suggest More Waves of Pain"

Which reminds me of the famous Santayna aphorism: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

I'll pull some key paragraphs from the article over the weekend, in case you can't read the whole thing on the WSJ site (memo to Murdoch: free that content!)

Here is an intro graf:

The rhythm of the credit meltdown the past few weeks -- the daily drumbeat of falling bank stock prices, the repeated waves of investor relief and revulsion, the multiple rounds of money raising by banks that never seems to be enough -- is reminiscent of financial crises past.

Look back exactly one decade -- to the Asian financial crisis in July 1998 -- for one of many examples of the parallels.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

WSJ: "the book on bank bailouts"

Some recent-historical context for what we're heading into with the US banking system: this is a short WSJ article describing banking crises and subsequent governemnt bailouts in a handful of countries over the past couple decades: Japan, Thailand, South Korea, and Sweden.

The punchline: "This history shows it is almost always a painful process, typically costly to taxpayers and best done quickly."

Japan and Thailand/South Korea episodes I knew something about: Japan with it's "lost decade", as Japan's government/regulatory system got serious only after "allowing troubled banks to limp along and accumulate more bad loans for several years." That followed an asset bubble in Japanese real estate and equities (sound familiar?) .

That wikipedia link is the 1st hit if you google "japan lost decade." 6th hit is this Mpls Fed research paper, which I'd actually downloaded at some point over the past year, but still haven't gotten around to reading. That paper, incidentally, is co-authored by Ed Prescott, who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1994.

The banking crisis in Thailand and South Korea followed the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, which is something I need to learn more about.

I didn't know, however, that Sweden experienced a banking crisis in the early '90s--also due to the collapse of a real estate bubble!

Sweden's experience in the early '90s is often cited as an example of a decisive approach. After a real-estate bubble popped and bankruptcies soared, the government said it would protect all depositors and creditors in its floundering banking system.

It did this by creating government-organized 'bad' banks specifically to manage troubled assets, and set tough conditions in order for banks to get new capital from the government for the surviving banks.

In the end, the government handed over $11 billion to the banks, and the crisis wrung 4% out of Sweden's gross domestic product, according to the World Bank. (For more information, see the World Bank database of banking crises.)

The worry during every bailout is that the act of fixing bank problems will make bank managers complacent in the future, believing they'll be saved when they make mistakes.

One way of limiting this "moral hazard," said Urban Backstrom, former governor of the Swedish central bank, in a later speech, was "to engage in tough negotiations with banks... and enforce the principle that losses were to be covered in the first place with the capital provided by shareholders."

some IndyMac numbers

Some numbers on IndyMac's asset & liability portfolios that were in a WSJ article I was just reading:

IndyMac had $19bn of deposits, of which $1bn was uninsured, held by ~10,000 different people (for an average of $100,000 per person). The article reports that IndyMac will make 50% of uninsured deposits available it sounds like eventually everyone will get their money back. Maybe once the FDIC breaks it up and sells off different pieces to other banks. so it's not a question of people losing their money, but of liquidity--some of those depositors won't be able to get all their money right away.

Also, they have $15bn of outstanding loans, of which ~$1.7bn are "nonperforming"(meaning, it seems, either 30 or 90 days past due:

The next thing I want to learn about is the SIPC (Securities Investor Protection Corporation), whose mission is "Restoring funds to investors with assets in the hands of bankrupt and otherwise financially troubled brokerage firms."

Friday, July 11, 2008


I missed last year's Afro-punk festival altogether--I distinctly remember planning to to make it over to Brooklyn for at least the block party, but couldn't fit it in to that Sunday's schedule. As I wrote to some cats last July, I claimed to be "too beat from the last couple days, and got to chill/get some errands done before the work weeks starts up again." (I see from the e-mail thread that the previous couple of days had included seeing Pharoahe Monch at the Highline Friday night, and "Radio Golf" on Broadway Saturday night, and I had a soccer game Sunday afternoon, so it's understandable I didn't trek from Chelsea deep into Clinton Hill for the block party.)

I also missed about half of this year's festival, which has been running July 4-13, as we were out of town over the long 4th weekend. But upon returning to Fort Greene on Sunday, I've gotten a good taste of the happenings: stopped by the skate park Monday and Tuesday afternoons (I'd even volunteered though to do some voter registration, but didn't end up hooking up with those people); and I got us tickets to see the "flagship"/title movie of the festival Wednesday night, with James Spooner introducing it. We'll see if I can squeeze in a visit to the concert in Fort Greene Park tomorrow (in between a possible trip to the Brklyn Botanic Gardens in the morning, some sneaker shopping Anj wants to get in on Flatbush, and the Brooklyn Hip Hop festival, which starts at 4pm (flyer here), and the festival afterparty ("Detroit Comes to Brooklyn"!)--I'll have to do a separate post on those, assuming we make it.)

And definitely want to swing by this year's block party Sunday'll be much easier to do so this year, as it's been easy to stop by the skate park and make it to at least one movie, as we live in the neighborhood.

A couple resulting thoughts: I won't pretend that I'm not quite completely an outsider to this culture--quite obvious that, since I'm neither afro nor punk (neither in lifestyle nor listening, as the movie in particular drove home), nor do I don't skate (apart from taking out Anj's long board a couple times a few weeks ago--the last time ended ignominously, on the pavement of Fort Greene Park).

All that made me think again about whether (or, to what extent) I remain an outsider to the culture of hip hop that I do identify with. Moments like that, I remind myself of Mos's verses on "Fear Not of Man":

people be askin me all the time,
"Yo Mos, what's gettin ready to happen with Hip-Hop?"
I tell em, "You know what's gonna happen with Hip-Hop?
Whatever's happening with us"
If we smoked out, Hip-Hop is gonna be smoked out
If we doin alright, Hip-Hop is gonna be doin alright
People talk about Hip-Hop like it's some giant livin in the hillside
comin down to visit the townspeople
We are Hip-Hop Me, you, everybody, we are Hip-Hop
So Hip-Hop is goin where we goin
So the next time you ask yourself where Hip-Hop is goin
ask yourself.. where am I goin? How am I doin?

Got to love that line about hip hop being like some giant living in the hillside, coming down to to visit the townspeople!

No coincidence that there's a 4CD(!) Mos box set titled "We Are Hip Hop, Me, You Everybody". I think I saw this in the record shop on Ann Arbor, but passed on it at the time...

Looking fwd to this weekend's final Afro-punk events, and to being in Fort Greene through next year's installment--and maybe hosting some friends for it.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

the resurrection - summer in the city

A resurrection of the blog, yes, but also of the self...

It's been free 3 weeks already that I've been free. Thought I'd start chronicling some activities and thoughts here.

The last two days have been good ones in the city--how life in the city should be. Went into Manhattan yesterday, late morning, to play some pickup soccer, on the Sara Roosevelt fields in the Lower East Side. The same fields where I play in the NYCoedSoccer league, and where Steve Nash had his "Showdown in Chinatown" "pickup" soccer game, featuring himself, Baron Davis, Jason Kidd, Claudio Reyna, and Thierry Henry. We swung by to try to watch some of it--I went straight from watching Germany beat Turkey in the Euro semis--but there were too many people around and on the fences to really see any of the action.

After soccer, walked back to Union Square and finished the first chapter of "Death and Life of Great American Cities." Just started it that morning, on the train going into the city. Figured it would be a good companion piece to "The Power Broker," which I started last week.

Coming back to Brooklyn from Union Square, stopped by the skatepark set up in the BAM parking lot, as part of the Afro Punk festival. Going back there this afternoon, for my first volunteer activity--holding it down at a voter registration booth for a few hrs.

Even then the day wasn't over. Anj had some softball games scheduled to be played in Randall's Island, so I headed back into the city and all the way uptown on the 4, to 125th and Lexington. But before a bus could come to take me across to the island, got word that the games were just scrimmages, and might not last long. So instead I wandered back west along 125th St, and down through Marcus Garvey Park and 5th Ave to 116th, and caught a crosstown bus across 116th to 3rd Ave, where I'd looked up some Mexican spots to check out.

Noticed already the resonances of reading Jane Jacobs, of observing the urban environment(s): 125th was vibrant, raucous, whereas 5th Ave south of Marcus Garvey was pretty desolate. Fine in the late afternoon, but prob not inviting at night.

I'll have to make it over to Randall's Island at some point while reading "The Power Broker." Everyone, at least everyone who lives in, or is interested in, New York City, should read at least the introduction to that book. The climax of Caro's introduction is his description of Moses's "autonomous sovereign state", whose seat of power was the Triborough Bridge Authority's offices on Randall's Island.

Enjoyed the trip to 116th St: found a couple nice spots to eat and drink, and checked out a small soccer shop.

Today has been all in Brooklyn, but did get out of the neighborhood. Took the B25 up Fulton, which with its detour to Atlantic drops me conveniently on the edge of Prospect Heights. Walked down Washington and dropped in to say hello at Shambhala, then continued down to the Brooklyn Museum. I'd planned to buy tickets for the Murakami exhibit later this week, but discovered the museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Contemplated taking the bus out on Eastern Parkway, to hang out and read a bit around the Eastern Parkway & Kingston area that I'd driven past last week.

But decided against that--plan to bike out and through there sometime anyways--and since it's Tuesday, figured a better use of time would be to visit the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Walked through, from the Eastern Parkway entrance south to the Flatbush Ave gate. Sat in the Cherry Esplanade and finished a chapter of "The Power Broker", and thought parts of the Garden looked familiar from "Brooklyn Babylon". Got to watch that one again.

Emerged on Flatbush, and figured I'd try to find NYC Swag, so walked all the way down to Parkside, stopping on the way to get some lunch at the branch of Ali's Roti Shop. Decided against a full roti, and instead got a double and some phoulourie. Eventually found the storefront for NYC Swag, but it wasn't open, so hopped back on the B41, stopped at Pintchik's for some home and garden supplies, and then caught the 2-3 back home.