November 15, 2007

Where's the Style?

One of the most dissapointing things about living in Houston is the lack of style. This includes both men and women. In most cities, the streets are not full of dashing gentlemen and modern women. However, they exist and remind their peers that one's appearance can be drastically enhanced with proper clothing.

The most prevalent style in Houston reminds me of the no-face camera shots shown on the news when discussing obesity statistics. The few supposedly style concious count an Hermes tie or Gucci purse as the vanguard of cosmopolitanism. But, I digress...

Fortunately, I found The Sartorialist about a year ago and am able to follow trends and see examples of truly stylish men and women. A few of my favorites follow, but I would encourage anyone interested in fashion to check out one of the best blogs out there.

This gentleman was photographed in Milan. I am particularly impressed with the subtle details, yet relative simplicity of his clothing.

This gentleman was photographed in New York. Again, the details and accessories are what interest me the most. However, it never hurts to have a tailor as talented as his.

This gentleman was photographed in London. Simply classic.


New York


via The Sartorialist

November 13, 2007

Texas Rail

I've often wondered how well a high speed train system would work in Texas. Trains in Europe are reaching speeds of 200 - 357 miles per hour.

These speeds make previously dreaded road trips or flights unnecessary. For example:

Houston to Dallas by:
- Car = 4 hours
- Train at 200 mph = 1 hour 12 minutes
- Train at 357 mph = 40 minutes

San Antonio to Dallas by:
- Car = 4 hours 30 minutes
- Train at 200 mph = 1 hour 22 minutes
- Train at 357 mph = 46 minutes

Even shorter times separate cities like Austin from the rest of the state's major business districts (due to its central location). This would not only make business travel easier, but would also enable residents of one city to easily work in another. I know many people who would love to live in a different Texas city, but are constrained due to their employment situation.

One caveat for any development plans, however, involves the sprawl of a city like Houston. Personal transportation after a train ride is a necessity. This isn't Europe and walking or even biking are not a feasible options. Fortunately, MIT engineers are making progress on an innovative solution.

Meant to work more like a car sharing service than that of a personal vehicle, MIT hopes to change the way that we think about personal transportation. Stacks of vehicles could be placed throughout the city to create a small network that is linked to the existing mass transportation systems within the city. When a person comes gets off a bus or train, they can just hop into one of these vehicles and go about their business. They can either drop it off at the vehicle stack at their destination, if there happens to be one, or returned to their original stack, where the vehicle will be recharged and wait for the next person to take it.

via Inhabitat


The subprime fallout and subsequent roller-coaster financial markets are not entirely funny (after all, lowering my year-end bonus is no laughing matter). However, the decisions and business practices leading to this turmoil are quite amusing. Below is a short primer about the events leading to our current situation, made tolerable by British wit.

November 12, 2007

Peak Oil?

Oh, the infinite wisdom of Matt Simmons:

"If the world is nearing peak oil supply output, alternative fuels take on a more ominous urgency," said Matt Simmons, chief executive of Simmons & Co., a Houston-based investment bank. Simmons, a long-time proponent of peak-oil theory, popularized the idea with his 2005 book, "Twilight in the Desert."
--Dow Jones, October 23, 2007

It amazes me how often people talk without saying anything. Anyway, "nearing peak oil supply output" is broad and hard to criticize, but this surely doesn't help his argument:

Last week's news centred on the Tupi field - at present, little more than a couple of exploratory wells 280km off Brazil's coast in the Santos Basin. But those two wells have confirmed that the field holds between 5bn and 8bn barrels of oil, not far short of the entire reserves of Norway.
--Financial Times, November 12, 2007

Further developments to watch:

The president of Brazil, Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva, said the discovery of reserves that may total as much as eight billion barrels of oil and natural gas might lead the country to join the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
--Bloomberg News

My How Things Change

I'm too young to have full knowledge of what I'm about to say, but for posting sake I'll count movie watching and book reading as "industry experience."

A common expression regarding leveraged buyouts is "cutting/trimming the fat." This references any unnecessary or superfluous spending within a company. Once the private equity firm has acquired the company, a significant amount of new debt is partially intended to instill discipline in the company's operations.

Because of their leverage they cannot afford bureaucracy and excess fat; they need shorter lines of communication to customers, employees, suppliers and other constituents. They need to invest their capital in highly productive assets. They need to address the very concerns that business critics have leveled at American industry in its recent years of decline. Because they have few near-term prospects for liquifying their investment, they must take the long-term view.
--Wall Street Journal, May 31, 1984

Fast forward to the height of the subprime fallout and halting of LBO deals and the expression suddenly carries the opposite meaning:

Compare that to Blackstone and KKR, which larded their deals with ever increasing amounts of borrowings until investors turned off the high-yield spigot this summer. Until that spigot opens again, big U.S. buyout firms will largely be sitting on their hands, not exactly a recipe for cranking out the profits public shareholders will expect from them.
--Wall Street Journal, November 12, 2007

I believe more profound shifts in rhetoric will surface regarding "sustainable" and "renewable" energy sources. Sure, corn and soybeans are renewable resources, but are they viable sources for renewable energy?

Veterans Day

We are who we are because of these men and women. Honor them today and always.

November 09, 2007

Picture of the Day

Here's to the weekend!

Waitress 1 - "Journalism" 0

After all the pundits and indiscriminate blogs have had their say, a voice of reason is heard.

Ms. Esterday, waitress at a Maid-Rite diner in Iowa, regarding the accusation that Hillary Clinton failed to leave her co-workers a tip:

“You people are really nuts,” she told a reporter during a phone interview. “There’s kids dying in the war, the price of oil right now — there’s better things in this world to be thinking about than who served Hillary Clinton at Maid-Rite and who got a tip and who didn’t get a tip.”
--The New York Times

Via Eunomia

Internet Radio

After a host of cynical posts yesterday, I'll try to lighten things up for Friday!

Starbucks has changed its cups, movies return to tired plots and the weather is forecasted to be in the 80's this weekend. That, of course, means only one thing. Christmas is approaching with the grace of a freight train and even 23 year olds pause to consider their list for Santa!

One interesting item is an internet radio player. A recent article from The Atlantic discusses the overlap of relatively new technology with a century old medium. Listeners are no longer constrained by their location when seeking local content. For example, I live in a city 150 miles from my favorite radio morning show. Hauling a laptop around my apartment, I listen every morning. The prospect of having an actual radio to play these stations is appealing.

As mentioned in the article, radio is one of the most inexpensive forms of media. This allows programs with a limited local audience to continue operating. Unlike television (which I strongly prefer in HD), the number and diversity of quality radio stations is immense. Rather than standard U.S. dominated television programming, a listener can tap into the rhythms of Africa, opera from London, news from Dubai, etc, etc. This is the type of technology I can get excited about.

** For those of you who know who I am: If I link to an article that requires a subscription, let me know and I'll email it to you. **

November 08, 2007


From the New York Times:

Looking for someone to curate your life? Need a personal concierge whose expertise is not picking up dry-cleaning but helping chose your wardrobe, your tastes, your friends? Ms. Storr calls herself a personal manager, but her duties go far beyond that. Her clients, all of them men, pay monthly fees of $4,000 to $10,000 to have her be their personal decider in nearly all things lifestyle-related.

The New York Times really should stop printing things like this if they want to enhance the image of the city. While hiring Ms. Storr in the name of being fashionable and having the right friends, her clients exemplify the rapid homogenization of the city.

Calling on assistants including a stylist and a caterer, Ms. Storr helps people figure out their tastes.

All in all, if you are a grown man (all 8 of her clients are men) too busy to know what your "tastes" are but wealthy enough to spend $10k a month for hipster school, take time to reexamine some things.


From The Atlantic's December calendar section:

December 21--
Spooks join the social-networking craze this month when the director of national intelligence launches “A-space,” a Facebook of sorts for the top-secret set. The spies’ new tools—blogs, wikis, and Amazon-style recommendation engines—aim to spread information and surmount the intelligence agencies’ “need to know” culture.

See a previous post for some of my concerns with this new system.

Judges vs. Jihadis

I have a strange feeling David Rivkin and Lee Casey did not put too much thought into today's Wall Street Journal op-ed. The piece swerved its way to a conclusion regarding a law enforcement approach to fighting terrorism, criss-crossing an irrelevant and dated issue.

As the great Italian legal scholar and reformer Beccaria wrote in the 1760s, to prevent crime, "make sure that men fear the laws and only the laws." Where respect fails, of course, there also is fear of punishment under the law -- deterrence. The system breaks down, however, when the criminals neither have respect for the law nor fear its potential punishments.

My first suggestion is to stay off if you aren't going to find something that supports your argument. The quote is admirable and hopefully applicable to the U.S. court system, however we are to believe this standard won't suffice in the current state.

The followers of violent jihad do not respect the laws of democratic governments, but claim a superior legitimacy in the form of their own interpretation of Islam's Quran and Shariah law. Many of them also do not fear punishment.

This is the point where we are expected to celebrate the policy of the U.S. vs. that of many European countries. If al-Qaeda doesn't respect laws or fear punishment, what are we supposed to do? Apparently the most logical solution is military attacks in which we kill all terrorists. This is as empty a policy as any. Anyone who believes it is possible to eradicate terrorism and/or the ideals driving it is delusional. In fact, I believe our latest efforts will in fact backlash in spades. The world is a big place and has citizens gripping twisted ideas of Islam throughout. Committing considerable time, effort, resources and lives to one country that was initially only tangentially involved is irresponsible. Continuing such a policy, bolstered by the use of torture and violating treaties, is obscene.

Although the Civil Law system is marginally better suited than the Common Law system for antiterror prosecutions -- permitting more closed proceedings and less technically demanding evidentiary standards -- both are built upon the assumption that it is better to let the guilty go free than to convict the innocent.

That is an appropriate balance when a society is dealing with its own reprobates. It is not so obviously correct when the threat is a foreign movement whose purpose is to cause death and destruction on a grand scale...

...Only the law of armed conflict permits the flexibility needed to disrupt al Qaeda's operations on an international level.

Finally, the authors reach their conclusion that an individuals rights and the applicability of American values is safe and acceptable when dealing with American murderers and rapists. However, when a foreign movement is involved (are we are still arresting people or have we started taking foreign movements to our prisons?) we must lower our standards and invoke war. This contradiction within American policies belittles the effort to bring democracy and stability to Iraq and beyond.

November 07, 2007

Terror's Advocate

On my list of things to see, Terror's Advocate is very high. From the trailer it appears to be a chilling story about the nexus of terrorism, moral judgement and the rule of law. My personal belief is that everyone is entitled to a fair trial in front of an unbiased court. One injustice not perpetuating another. However, I feel this documentary will question humane treatment for some of the world's most inhuman actions.


This past weekend I saw Bella. Not wanting to spoil the movie for my legions of readers :), I'll share my thoughts without revealing too many details.

Bella was a refreshing movie experience in many respects. First, the story and the sequence in which it develops were enough to keep viewers engaged. Many movies I have seen recently rely on cinematography or force of personality to bring viewers in. Bella simply has a beautiful story and is revealed with perfect tempo (until the end that is). Second, the main character, Jose, is a sharp contrast from what society has come to expect of people like him. Once a rising professional soccer player, a tragic event alters everything about him. His sudden humility and good-heartedness transform his life and remind the viewer of a love for others rarely seen. Finally, I appreciated the subtlety throughout. The movie is never quite a love story and never quite an argument, no matter how natural the progression would be. Rather, the characters treat other with respect and understanding. The events taking place and emotions therein are heavy and raw, yet gently navigated. Bella leaves viewers reassured of a love that transcends personal gratification, a love simply of life.


I don't blame Zuckerberg for trying to monetize Facebook to a greater degree. Realistically, any successful website will ultimately function as a business with profit and market value driving content decisions. However, Facebook does not sell books or news, rather it creates a social gathering place for "friends." Now, this quasi-genuine interaction is at risk of becoming just another marketplace for advertisements. If I wanted that, I would turn on the TV.

Facebook's new technology will let businesses build custom-designed "pages". Users will be able to become "fans" of a company's page, 10,000 of which were launched last night.

Anything they do on the page, such as reviewing a product, would then be communicated to that user's friends and accompanied by a logo, creating "social ads". These will be auctioned, and buyers can opt to pay for impressions on the number of clicks. Mr Zuckerberg said that, by interacting with a company's Facebook page in this way, the site's users would act as "trusted referrals" for advertisers. "A trusted referral is the Holy Grail of advertising," he said.

Facebook also announced two other related technologies. One, will track purchases users make on outside websites, and then report those to friends on Facebook.

The other, will allow advertisers to track how their social ads spread among users.

Facebook took pains to assure its users that the new technologies would continue to respect their privacy. But one analyst said there was a risk the new idea could backfire if users felt the new system violated their privacy or bombarded them with unwanted ads.

--Financial Times, November 7, 2007

Continue to be aware of the privacy issues surrounding this site and others. I feel real invasions of privacy slowly creeping into our daily lives. Don't look to Zuckerberg or the Google guys for comfort either, as their business plans are built on accessing every last drop of information.

Clumsy Writing

Yesterday I came across A Reader's Manifesto by B.R. Myers. My literary reading has increased lately, so finding this essay was incredibly timely and relevant. Myers challenges the modern literary elite to return to a natural prose style. His examples help a novice literary reader understand the pervasive mediocrity in modern writing.

The only way out is to look back to a time when authors had more to say than "I'm a Writer!"; when the novel wasn't just a 300-page caption for the photograph on the inside jacket. A reorientation toward tradition would benefit writers no less than readers....Whatever happens, the old American scorn for pretension is bound to reassert itself someday, and dear God, let it be soon.
--B.R. Myers


Today Earnest Observer changes course and will function as an everyday journal. While maintaining anonimity, I will post on what I have been reading, watching and otherwise doing. There will be times for essays and pictures, videos and one-liners. I am dissapointed my last post is two months old and think this format will make me a better and more active blogger.