Thursday, 7 June 2007

Issue 14 - Back but still bad

24 September 2004

Downtown from the Big B - a taxi driver's worst nightmare once they pass the last numbered street.

Now, I know for a fact you missed me.

As the tide of derisory comments began to rise (“I don’t know how you can write so much about nothing,” quipped one brazen hack from a long way upstate), I thought it would make more sense to simply let you sit and stew without some of my unique insight for a while.

In reality, as Kim would say, life got in the way of living, and my job and Kim’s assignments got in the way of everything other than sleeping and breathing.

It’s not necessarily the case that we are past the long hours and high stress – more that we have reached the limit of human endurance, and need to take a few evenings off (and one day a weekend or so) for ourselves. In the interests of brevity, I can sum up the past two and half months as follows: work, assignments, work, assignments, work, assignments, work, assignments, Kim's sister Keryle had a healthy baby girl (Thalia Rose), work, assignments, work, assignments, weekend camping in Hammonasset, work, assignments, work, assignments, work, assignments, saw the final of the US Women’s Open tennis in Queens, work, assignments, work, assignments, work, assignments, etc, etc.

Thursday last week was our six month anniversary since we arrived in New York. Now, six months is not a long time unless you’ve worked as many long hours and weekends as we have, and the reality is that the six years in Switzerland already feels like the distant memories of last year’s holiday.

So, what do we think of the place after six months? There’s certainly plenty to think of, so for the benefit of being able to hold your attention without moving pictures, I’ll do this in bullet-form:

1. I can find my way around now – knowing the downtown area gives me a huge advantage over 90% of New Yorkers who prefer to navigate by the numbered avenues north of 14th Street. When the Morgan Stanley finance department moved downtown three months ago, everyone looking for restaurants, shops and bars seemed to rely on the local knowledge of the Kiwi who had just moved from Switzerland. Scary.

2. When going away for the weekend, fly or take the train – but try not to drive. The American love affair with massive automobiles also appears to extend to a love of stationary Sunday evenings on the I-95 coming back in to New York.

3. Tourists are a pain in the backside. Times Square is the unique preserve of Tourists – so much so that there should be checkpoints between 42nd and 50th streets to keep them penned in there. Businesses which I need to visit should then be forced to relocate to a tourist-free-zone.

4. Who is Robbie Williams? Isn’t he related to Serena and Venus?

5. Acronyms are efficient, but do not on their own represent a valid language. For example, I work for Morgan Stanley ISG, in the MSCI Barra FCG team at 5/1NYP. Speaking in complete sentences seems to necessitate an exceptional attention span.

6. David Beckham, yes I’ve heard of him. Isn’t he the one in the grubby video with Paris Hilton?

7. Paris Hilton is a tramp – she is so naaasty, I hate her. Oh wow that’s funny - she’s on the cover of the OK, Cosmopolitan, GQ and Redneck Gun Club magazines on my coffee table.

8. Baseball is a game of long breaks between sporadic action played over 3-5 hours, with unbelievably unhealthy junk food consumed during the especially long breaks. American Football is a 60-minute game played over 3-5 hours, which implies at best two minutes of inactivity for every minute of action. As my good friend Snowflake says, it’s all a bit like watching Leicester City play, except that the boredom only lasts 90 minutes at Filbert Street

9. Mariah Carey is a pop goddess. What do you mean you don’t like her? She made it all the way to stardom from suburban Long Island, and I’m going to be just like her. Who is this Robbie Williams guy again?

10. We’re going for dinner at Paris Hilton’s favourite restaurant tonight - she is no naaasty, I hate her. I wonder if she’ll be there. It would be great if Mariah was there as well, wouldn’t that be cool?


Hurricanes are a serious business.

New Orleans was apparently already a scary place before all of the people who are actual or potential Bush supporters left ahead of hurricane Katrina. The fact that it became even scarier afterwards is due to the ability of those left behind(evidently not Bush supporters) to be unpleasant to each other in adversity. Would this behaviour have been repeated in other countries if the circumstances were the same? Of that I am not sure.

The Washington Post quoted an interview with the police captain at the New Orleans convention centre who said that they had 10 officers trying to patrol five large halls in total darkness. In the end, they had to dress in SWAT anti-riot kit, and raid for the rapists and murderers guided only by the muzzle-flashes of guns being randomly fired by thugs. After three days of this, they all wanted to simply resign and save themselves, but they stuck at it rather than leave the weak and infirm alone in the presence of men behaving like alligators. From the sound of it, it was safer being a white American living in downtown Baghdad than it was in New Orleans after the hurricane.

One other story in the NY Times tells of three trucks of bottled water headed to New Orleans which were held up in upstate Louisiana for three days because FEMA officials would not let anyone go to New Orleans without a delivery consignment. No-one (including the FEMA officials) knew what a delivery consignment was, except that this delivery did not have one. People were dying in the 40-degree heat for lack of clean drinking water, and all FEMA could do to help was set up a bureaucracy which actively prevented any help from getting through. It seems that if you need to organize something very big and important, the best way to ensure that absolutely nothing gets done is to create a federal agency run by your least qualified best friend to aggravate the crisis.

The popularity of the previously teflon-coated Mr Bush appears to have genuinely taken a blow over Hurricane Katrina. With Hurricane Rita having hit Texas last month, people will be starting to ask whether the President is to blame. The President will respond by announcing a global “War on Hurricanism,” which will require an invasion of Iran, who the CIA will determine have the capacity to launch a Hurricane on the mainland USA with 45 minutes’ notice. At the same time, new CIA evidence will find that a North Korean underwater nuclear test was responsible for the Boxing Day Tsunami last year, necessitating air strikes on rice fields near Pyongyang.

The War on Sanity continues.

Here’s a little note borrowed from a deep-thinking friend of mine – I’ll try to be faithful to his analogy here, with his permission so long as I don’t give away his identity.

The argument goes that anyone fighting the US knows they are totally outgunned and have no real chance of success. Before the US administration started using the interrogation tactics in use at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, they also believed they were really only facing the cast of “Friends”, but with guns. This was a useful tool in the minds of opposing soldiers – they could fight to glorious but inevitable death, or give up and be treated fairly, and get a hot meal before going back to their families.

Now the Bush administration has decided that prisoners of war can be “entertained as enemy aliens” at Guantánamo without the right to petition an independent court for their release, or even worse become “ghost detainees” in places like Pakistan or Turkey, the option of giving up and having it easy is pretty much off the table. What does this mean? I can tell you that I would fight to the death if the alternative was interrogation under torture. And I wouldn’t exactly be very nice to the occupying forces afterwards, that’s for sure.

The battle for hearts and minds doesn’t seem to come up in news stories any more.


And now for the photos:

The Snowflake trying hard to convince himself those glasses make him look like a male model (or South American dictator)

The Gunks on a normal Monday in summer (Kim's weekly climbing retreat)

Sunset at Hammonasset State Park campground in Connetticut.

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