Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday Night in Greenpoint: "Mono No Aware" Film Performance at East Coast Aliens

Ignoring the chilly downpour at 6 p.m. tonight, we took the fabulous G train two stops north to Greenpoint Avenue and walked the four blocks to the Franklin Street studio of East Coast Aliens to join a crowd of hipsters for "Mono No Aware," a program of live music, performance, and audio to accompany 16-millimeter and Super-8 film prints.

According to Wikipedia, Mono no aware (物の哀れ, literally "the pathos of things"), also translated as "an empathy toward things," or "a sensitivity of ephemera," is a Japanese term used to describe the awareness of mujo or the transience of things and a bittersweet sadness at their passing.

"NO DIGITAL!" said the guidelines calling for entries at Mono No Aware's website. Explicitly not a film festival, the event's focus is "the cinematic experience," one its organizers believe can best be achieved by "the magic in seeing the film as a print." Here's the genesis of Mono No Aware:
In 2005, four friends got together to watch a recently finished film piece on 16mm. The film was thread, curtains drawn, the lights dimmed and a brilliant image took the screen. Seconds into the film, a collage of audio from the streets filled the room drowning out the hum of the projector. It was an urban soundscape. Created by children playing, construction in the distance, and the rustling of the trees, this accompaniment seem to be written for this piece. For the next two years these filmmakers have turned backyards, rooftops, and living rooms into microcinemas creating film events which live in the moment. Unable to rely on the surrounding sounds, they began to add their own live music, poetry, stories, and performance.

Deciding that others should share this experience, the four friends pooled their spare cash and sweat equity to start the first Mono No Aware event in 2007. Tonight's event took place at the capacious salon of East Coast Aliens, an enterprise that combines professional artistic services, like a couple of huge production studios, and a center for art, culture and debates.

Seeing the event listed from "6-10 p.m.," old fool that we are, we got there around 6:15 p.m., following the bearded young Japanese guy in a leather jacket in the first car of the G train whom we correctly spotted as someone going to Mono No Aware.

We found a second row seat in the bleachers as music blared and we watched people put up four big white screens, at least three of which seemed to be bedsheet-type material duct-taped to the walls. As it turned out, the event wasn't going to start for another 75 minutes or so.

Lucky for us, we heard someone call our name. Our young friend Francisco, an up-and-coming photographer and a former student, was sitting just behind us. So, rather than being bored, we got the pleasure of boring someone else.

Otherwise, like the Ancient Mariner, we'd have to stoppeth one in three at random and go on and on. And in Francisco, we had someone who endured two of our classes and mastered the art of staying awake while we blather on. Actually, he told us about some interesting projects he was working on, one involving televisions and magnets, and we shared our enthusiasm for Nam June Paik.

People drifted in and mingled by the bar or got seats in the bleachers. We explored the space a little and were impressed, even by the downstairs. The crowd was mostly under 35 - we were, as we often are, the oldest person around - but all were grateful when a dreadlocked young guy who didn't give his name but obviously was one of the event's founders, got our attention, thanked us for coming, and said we'd see better from the floor in front of the screen in which the first film would be shown.

After about twenty minutes into a melange of ever-shifting blurred images, one of the mishaps to which film projectors are prone to occurred. We're old enough, of course, to remember those 1950s and 1960s movies in the basement. Our dad had an expensive projector, but there'd often be unspoolings, reels burning up, and other problems like the one that at Mono No Aware tonight caused various freezes, white nothing, and delays.

By the 1970s, our projector got use mostly for the Safari Awards, a legendary annual event in the East Flatbush home of our friend Lenny Tropp, who showed the experimental movies he made on 16mm. (We are in one as a traffic cop set on the old LIRR freight tracks south of Brooklyn College.) Soon after, our dad's old weirdly-colored movies of childhood birthday parties, a boxing match we had with Brucie Davidson when we were four-year-olds (the shaving cream commercial is the highlight), and our brothers costumed as Mighty Mouse and Alfred E. Neuman for Halloween were transferred to no-fuss, no-muss VHS tape.

But we actually enjoyed watching two of the organizers working on the projectors (one was brought in a substitute in medias res) as they at several points had to thread or feed the film by hand or grab it as it went out of the projector. It sort of reminded us of Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory. If it made some in the audience impatient, it was also a reminder that older technology provided less than seamless experiences, ones more spontaneous and surprising than we often see, akin to the problems in live music performances or poetry readings (malfunctioning mics, badly-tuned instruments, lousy acoustics) that make them earthier.

The second film performance, on four screens, took place after half an hour break. A couple Francisco knew - we think they're also students at our beloved School of Visual Arts - began dancing, though surprisingly, given the excellent sounds throughout the evening, no one joined them. The second film featured a variety of images, most black and white and seemingly footage from the 1940s and 1950s, with live sound accompaniment and the performance of a woman in a sultry black and crimson dress who occasionally held a guitar and walked around the space where the prints, on four varying-size screens on two walls, were being shown, as she made strange movements and seemed to be playing with her split ends.

Some of the images in the film project seemed to be the much-missed Salvo detergent tablets from an old TV commercial; a horde of Formosan women, all looking like Mme. Chiang Kai-shek, marching around in a huge gymnasium; a press conference, perhaps given by former Rhode Island Senator John Pastore; an upside-down horse; a luncheon in Olanthe, Kansas, or Ladue, Missouri; leggy preteen tap dancers, both girls and boys; older very square square dancers; lots of foam; the causeway to Miami Beach during Arthur Godfrey's heyday.

(Photo courtesy The Roaring Twenties (Lucas Cometto), who skillfully documents lots of NYC events at Flickr)

"That was the worst thing I've ever seen," Francisco's female friend told us when we came over to say good night, as we were tired. True, people did start to get up during the half-hour, but we've been to lots of these events. We saw something very similar back in Soho in the 1970s, and in the East Village in the 1980s, and in South Beach in the 1990s.

This young woman, if she is to be any kind of visual artist, will no doubt see many more things she will think are worse. Granted, it seemed a little pretentious, but that's what these things are supposed to be. And we've been surprised at how conventional the tastes of many twentysomethings seem to us. Just last week one of our students told us she'd never seen any film so "weird" as the establishment masterpiece we'd recommended, Buñuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

Anyway, we are grateful to the people who set up Mono No Aware - which, if nothing else, got us out of the house on a chilly, rainy Brooklyn Sunday when all sensible people are at Art Basel Miami Beach. Here are the accepted entries from this year:

Fern Silva / Doron Sadja

The geo-political rise and fall of a future American hero, a vague visionary representation of the assassination of our new president. Conceptually influenced by the 8mm Zapruder film of the assassination of JFK, which made waves around the world, the importance of motion picture. Sound will play a part in this by creating overwhelming psychological collages through feedback, mutated instruments, extreme frequencies, dense splashes of light, color, texture, & action.

Brittany Gravely & Jennifer Pipp // Ken Linehan, Rick Prior, & Sean Andrews

A common affinity for scientific-nostalgic-hallucinatory-mystical-types of sounds, feelings, & imagery leads the way for this group. A collage of electronic-analog sounds respond to sequential images while projections are modified by hand with filters, focus & prisms in response to psychedelic sound. Depending on strategy, but mostly telepathy & synchronicity, the performance unfolds … strange at times, capricious, and surprising to both performers and the audience.

Sam Dishy

A series of moments captured in a way only Super 8 knows how to do. This film is a simple and pure expression of cinema. A reminder to the audience of the short glances, daydreams, and emotions which carry us through life. The piece will be accompanied by guitar and violin.

Seyhan Muaoglu & Jess Ramsay

Abandon all conventions associated with performance as the boundaries between audience & artist are blurred in a roomful of film projections, sounds, contemporary dance & audience participation. Projectors, an array of analog devices, digital instruments, & live sampling of sounds help marry technology with obsolete media. Driven by fascination and obsession of all mediums, the visual language is expanded upon expressing the beauty of film, cinema as experience.

The Midwest Book Review on Richard Grayson's "Summer in Brooklyn"

The Midwest Book Review reviewed Richard Grayson's Summer in Brooklyn in its November Small Press Bookwatch:
What goes through the mind of someone just reaching their prime as the seventies begin? "Summer in Brooklyn: 1969-1975" is a collection of summer diary entries from critically acclaimed author Richard Grayson. A window in the mind of a writer in a time where Vietnam War was dragging on, inner chaos roared through the country in response, and so much more occurred. "Summer in Brooklyn" is a vivid picture of the era.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Saturday Morning in Williamsburg: Christine Noschese's Documentary "Metropolitan Avenue"

Whenever we attend a meeting at the Swinging 60s Senior Center, as we did on Monday night for the transportation town hall, we're reminded of a scene in Christine Noschese's terrific 1986 documentary Metropolitan Avenue, which details the struggles of Williamsburg and Greenpoint to survive in the difficult times of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In the scene, set in the senior center, members of various neighborhood groups are called upon to stand as the groups' names are called. Our beloved landlord and his late wife and mother-in-law, whom we miss every day that we live in the house where "Granny Agnes" grew up a century ago and where her daughter spent her entire life, proudly get to their feet with others from the Conselyea Street Block Association.

Unable to sleep this morning, we found our VHS tape of Metropolitan Avenue, bought at a Broward County Public Library sale of old library items some time in the late 1990s and watched it for the umpteenth time. Our landlord, "Uncle Phil," is featured in several scenes, for he was a community activist back in the day, but Noschese's film centers on the working-class women of all ethnic groups who spearheaded the Northside's refusal to die as a neighborhood.

Not many of the newer residents have seen Metropolitan Avenue, and we think that's a shame.

Julie Salamon, in a brief notice in the Wall Street Journal on May 15, 1986, wrote:
"Metropolitan Avenue" is Christine Noschese's memorial to her childhood in an ethnic enclave where clotheslines still flap outside tenements and feisty inhabitants worry about bus service instead of the latest in brie. The picture is an unpolished, pleasurable piece of sociology.

David Robinson, reviewing a string of film documentaries in The Times of London on October 30, 1985, noted in passing:
A more determinedly optimistic film from America, Christine Noschese's tough but cheerful Metropolitan Avenue, showed the people of a multi-racial Brooklyn neighbourhood aggressively conscious of the need to conserve community life, and fiercely engaged to combat the efforts of the city to sacrifice them to civic cut-backs or the predations of property developers.

Walter Goodman, writing in the New York Times on May 16, 1986, did criticize some of the film's weaknesses:
In taking her camera to Metropolitan Avenue in the Williamsburg and Greenpoint sections of Brooklyn, Christine Noschese was onto something. It's a neighborhood, we learn, in which Italians settled nearly a century ago, Poles about 60 years ago, blacks after World War II. It has been sliced up by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and beaten up by all the common depredations of urban life, yet it remains home to a lot of people. Miss Noschese, who grew up in Brooklyn, set out to celebrate the efforts of some of the people to hold onto and improve their communities.

That's the chief pleasure and the chief problem of "Metropolitan Avenue," which opens today at Film Forum 2. Miss Noschese's documentary, her first professional effort, leaves no doubt about her affection for the women who have been rallying their neighbors in behalf of such amenities as street lights, bus service and police protection. They are immensely likable, and the movie succeeds in bringing out similar feelings for home and family from the Polish woman who had her house bulldozed to make way for a factory, the Italian woman who sends her child down to the store secure in the knowledge that there are always people around keeping an eye on the neighborhood's kids, the black woman who grows tearful trying to express her affection for the public-housing project where she has brought up her children.

The problem is that Miss Noschese has come to praise not probe. Her periodic intrusions have all the weight of a composition for a 10th-grade civics course: "Meeting these women reinforced my pride in my background." Too much of the hour is taken up with ceremonial occasions and the women cheering one another on - "Even though you don't know big words, you shouldn't be afraid to talk."

We learn little about how the black and Hispanic tenants of the Cooper Park Houses get along with the Poles and Italians a few blocks away or how the people make their living or whether young folk are staying in the neighborhood. The celebration of "people power" gets between the audience and the people along "Metropolitan Avenue."

But here's Richard F. Shepard's praise in the August 16, 1988 New York Times, when the film appeared on television:
If a definition of a good story is that it dwells on an individual and emerges with a universal, then "Metropolitan Avenue," a Brooklyn neighborhood story to be seen tonight at 11:30 on Channel 13, fills the bill.

This hourlong documentary, part of the "P.O.V.," for point of view, series, probably touches on every problem that every urban neighborhood has either gone through or will face. But do not think for a moment that you are in for another one of those shows in which troubles and stridence are heaped on your head and the fade-out is some sort of solemn question about whither goest.

This program is all about solutions and, in the world of media, where troubles emerge only after the pot has boiled over, it is upbeat. The people of this part of Greenpoint and Williamsburgh have not achieved utopia by any means, but they have started down the track toward civilized, harmonious living.

Christine Noschese, the show's producer and director and a former Brooklynite who delivers the narration, expresses a point of view, focusing on the women of the diverse ethnic communities. She documents, through interviews, their strength, individually and collectively, and their persistence.

The neighborhood's problems are almost textbookish in their content. In the 1950's, the elevated highway split it in half. In the 1960's, a new housing project brought 900 families, most of them black, into a community long settled by Italian-Americans who lived in neat private houses. In other situations, a manufacturer of boxes receives the go-ahead to demolish homes to make way for its new plant, and the local police station is threatened with closing.

It was these sorts of problems that injected a previously unknown sense of activism into the lives of the people of the neighborhood. Anger at decisions made by faraway forces grips the residents and bridges are built between black and white. Surprising and beneficial results ensue.

Ms. Noschese obviously loves these people and she presents them to us as demonstrators, as passionate participants in meetings and, less formally, looking back at the days when the Dodgers played at Ebbets Field, when parents worked hard and were happy to be where they were. Even now, the camera gives us a neighborhood like a small town, with Manhattan's mighty towers looming in the background, a mighty engine that runs because people from neighborhoods like this go downtown to make it go.

What has happened goes far beyond community good deeds, and it is noted that the problems and the racial divisions remain. But a start has been made, and the people, through the action, have a better sense of individual worth.

"Yes, I am a somebody," says a white woman.

"This community made a woman out of me," says a black resident who was originally from Georgia. "It is like part of me, it is me. My community is my heaven."

That is something worth hearing in times when the presence of microphones and cameras so often inspires only bombast from those exposed to them.

Writing for an academic audience in the December 1986 issue of American Anthropologist, Alice Reich reviewed the film:
...there are six or seven women who feature prominently in the film. These women, through caring for their children's safety, caring about the quality of their lives, and nurturing "a place where people care for each other," move smoothly from "traditional" roles into political activism. We go with them through their activities, their lives, their neighborhood. Mildred Johnson shows us the Senior Citizens Center: "This we had to fight for, it was very hard to get, so this is one of our masterpieces that we've done." The making of structures that support everyday life is more than the struggles with indifferent officials and institutions; it is art. We hear about the difficulties of integrating what had been largely a White ethnic neighborhood: "We still have some racial problems. As long as we have a community, we'll have struggles. But the barriers are tumbling, we understand each other -- we need each other."

The film does not ignore losses to the community, from the departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers to the tearing down of homes and the threatened withdrawal of municipal services. A rally opposing the closing of a police precinct headquarters shows us the coalitions of community organizations in action. But it is this action that makes it primarily a hopeful film, focusing on the energies of people. We see people active and involved, fighting and winning if not always the direct object of their struggle, at least a way of being human (Pat McGinnis tells us that she never thought she would have the courage to fight city hall when she was being evicted. "I am a somebody," she says, "and if it hadn't been for all this, I wouldn't know it."), fighting to keep their politicians and city bureaucrats attentive to their needs, fighting to reproduce their culture in a meaningful way. As we hear of an expressway that split the community in half and destroyed 200 homes and the Catholic church, we see the procession from the new Catholic church winding its way under the expressway.

It is a hopeful film, but its hope is not naive optimism. The hope comes in the way that these women live their lives and the lessons they learn in the living. Noschese's last comment is, "These people never gave up and I hope they never do." We hope along with her.

It is a splendid film and would be useful to courses on women, community. and urban anthropology, politics, even social movements, and should generate good discussion on a wide range of issues.

And Sheila Benson wrote in the Los Angeles Times on August 9, 1988:
"Metropolitan Avenue" is Christine Noschese's first film, a study of her back-fence neighbors in Brooklyn who unexpectedly found themselves dealing with that hydra-headed monster, politics, when all they wanted was not to let the neighborhood go down the tubes. What plain people, with no more experience than you or I, can do when pressed, makes this a pungent and renewing portrait, and these terrific women, frank, salty, unafraid, become its undeniable stars.

Christine Noschese received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Individual Achievement for her film, which took five years to complete and won the John Grierson Award for best social documentary film by a new film maker at the 1985 American Film Festival.

We heartily recommend watching Metropolitan Avenue. Umpteen times.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday Morning at The Junction & Downtown Brooklyn: (Not So Much) Black Friday Shopping at the Triangle Junction & Atlantic Terminal Malls

Getting to the Triangle Junction Mall at 8 a.m., this morning we saved hundreds of dollars on this day after Thanksgiving. A few hours later, we saved even more a few miles up Flatbush Avenue at the Atlantic Terminal Mall. How did we save this much money? We didn't buy anything on Black Friday, merely watched others doing so.

And from the look of things, this recession/ depression is severely crimping sales as strapped consumers behave more like us than they do normal people.

At 7:10 a.m. we caught a southbound B48 bus on our corner of Lorimer Street, took it through various enclaves of Williamsburg, Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights to Eastern Parkway, where we hopped on a 2 train to Flatbush Avenue/Brooklyn College.

As a pre-teen in the Kennedy administration, "going to the Junction" was a big treat for us, though it usually meant getting glazed donuts and comic books and window-shopping around what was the closest thing to a shopping area we could get to from Flatlands on the B41 bus.

By the end of the 1960s, we were jaded by our every-weekday trips as a student at Midwood High School and Brooklyn College, and these days we make the trip twice a week from Williamsburg to teach classes in creative writing and the short story, not to shop.

Passing a dozen or so Jehovah's Witnesses ladies at the train station, we made our way to the new Triangle Junction Mall between Nostrand and Flatbush Avenues on what used to be municipal and private parking lots where we kept our gold '73 Mercury Comet when we couldn't find a meter or a legal space anywhere else.

The mall's main store is Target, the fourth in Brooklyn, opened just last spring. Of course, the Circuit City in the same mall, which opened later, is already closing as that company, bankrupt, is forced to liquidate. Three people with big signs announcing the end of Circuit City, if not the world, are strategically placed on different corners, including in front of the elevator to the subway station.

Target usually opens when we get there at 8 a.m. but today it opened at 6 a.m. for the Black Friday rush. Except when we take the escalator up, the store looks pretty empty for such a big sales day.

Where are the frantic mobs that traumatized us eight years ago - the only other time we went to a store on Black Friday - at the now-shuttered Mesa, Arizona, K Mart on Dobson and Broadway? We got to that store at 7 a.m. and were swept in with the huge crowd and found all the "doorbuster" bargains sold off before we came to them.

Today, at Target, it turned out there was no rush. Indeed, most of the big sale items will still be on sale on Saturday. There's almost no one at the checkout counters except a little Orthodox Jewish boy whose mom is buying an Elmo's World Record-and-Play Center and a Muslim lady in a head scarf with a huge box containing something called a "Storm Rocker" with some kind of wireless POD or something for $44. We looked at the boxes of it piled high and still aren't sure what it does.

There are a lot of other big boxes of stuff practically being given away that few people want, although we are tempted by a $29 Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner. The aisle to the escalator up is clear, and the Menswear section looks more like Ghosttown, with one young Caribbean-American couple and two gay teenage boys languidly looking at bargains they don't seem to be all that interested in.

Passing sales items we have no use for - stacks of $69 pink Disney Princess bikes and $79 blue Marvel Spider-Man bikes; a Hamilton Beach Classic Hand/Stand Mixer for $25, an 8-bottle wine cooler - we see the electronics section has more action. Electronic keyboards, wide-screen TVs, and other stuff are getting sold, but the crowds aren't nearly as large as we expected.

If we were seven years old, on our wish list would be one item on special sale at Target: the $19.99 Easy Bake Oven and Snack Center so we could, as the sign said, "Discover the excitement of REAL BAKING!"

But the first light-bulb-powered version of the Easy Bake Oven appeared when we were 12, too old for it.

So for Xmas/Chanukah 1959 we had to settle for this huge realistic-looking car dashboard - which no doubt led at age 16 to our sneaking illegal drives around Mill Basin in our mom's fire-engine red Valiant and relying on girls to bake Alice B. Toklas brownies a couple of years later.

Circuit City was just sad. Most of the good stuff in the mammoth store is already gone, since those going-out-of-business signs have been around for weeks.

It reminds us of the sad day in the summer of 1997, when we we were traveling from Manhasset to Williamsburg when we stopped off at Main Street in Flushing and got to experience the last day of the fabled five-and-dime Woolworth chain. (One of the main hangouts of the Sultans - the not-so-bad-boys gang, um, club - we belonged to circa "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" - was the Woolworth's at the strip shopping mall on Ralph Avenue near Flatlands Avenue.) That Flushing store looked forlorn, and so did everyone in it.

Ditto this doomed Circuit City, and seeing a pre-teen girl holding a give-it-away T-Pain CD and a videotape of the complete first season of One Tree Hill is truly depressing.

There were pretty long lines for the B41 bus going to Kings Plaza, the mall that opened in September 1970 three blocks from our old house - and where our dad and uncle had a store and where we often went with our college friends for lunches at Cooky's or The Crepe and the Pancake or to movies on Friday night and where we worked in Alexander's Department Store in the menswear department, near our friend Marilyn Citron at the cash register, as we kept straightening out the tables of puckery polyester pants and the racks of powder blue leisure suits.

So perhaps New York City's first indoor shopping mall was busier. The B41 Flatbush Avenue bus - and the Q35, which stops across from Kings Plaza on its way to Rockaway - were too crowded for us to want to travel down that particular retail memory lane, so we opt for a road closer and less traveled by.

We retreat to the Hillel Place Starbucks - a long time ago the site of the legendary Campus Sugar Bowl greasy spoon where Andreas and the Cypriot Greek guys behind the counter would call us "Blondie Boy" when we ordered our chizburger and lime rickey. (Their lime rickeys were the best.) We read the day's Times, with a front-page article headlined "Retailers Offer Big Discounts, and Then Pray" and the big op-ed piece, "Dying of Consumption," saying:
There is a deeper, potentially positive, meaning to the decline in consumer spending: Americans are now moving back to more prudent income-based lifestyles.

We look across to the McDonald's and remember a group of us going there to try it the day it opened in 1971. Shocked to see Brooklyn College President John Kneller there, we asked him what he was doing with a double cheeseburger in his hands. "Why not?" the French scholar said. "It's nutritious and inexpensive."

A few years later we'd go there regularly as an MFA student with our mentor, the BC fiction writing program director Jonathan Baumbach, who always spent less than we did because he had his Big Mac Attack Pack booklet of discount coupons - which, being legendarily cheap (yes, that part of Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale is based on reality), he never shared with us, when we were earning the minimum wage of $2 an hour.

Going back to the Junction, we pass a bunch of stores replacing the long-gone places we loved: the Campus Corner restaurant, the Barron's and Barchas bookstores, the Campus Closet menswear store where our friend Brian McNeela worked and whose owner was a customer of our dad's Art Pants - and so we got this wonderful white wool crew-neck sweater with occasional colorful threads in the weave for almost nothing. Having our whole family in the garment business meant that we didn't buy retail until we were in our forties.

We take the 2 train to Franklin Avenue, spot a 4 and take it one stop to skip Eastern Parkway- Brooklyn Museum, Grand Army Plaza and Bergen Street, and get to Atlantic Avenue two minutes faster. The Atlantic Terminal mall is indeed crowded, and we go upstairs to check out the Target.

Reportedly the number-one store in sales in the entire Target chain, this one is more bustling than its sister at the Junction, but given the highly-trafficked, high-population area, it's not a Black Friday madhouse by any means. A few years ago, this would have been a typical Saturday afternoon.

At 11 a.m. now, we walk around and notice that not one of the 25 or so checkout counters has more than three people waiting to have their purchases rung up. A Target employee is directing those with fewer purchases to express lines on the Atlantic Avenue side of the store, but they don't seem much faster. It's all pretty quick. We've waited on longer lines here in the summer of 2006.

Anyway - did we tell you we hate shopping? - we left the busy-but-not-superbusy mall and walked our oft-trod route around the Williamsburg Savings Bank Building (One Hanson Place, for those who don't miss the dentists), BAM, and that little triangle park that no one seems to have to the key to, and entered the G train station at Fulton and Lafayette for our ride back to Williamsburg and the end of our Black Friday no-shopping free.

Total amount spent: $2.34 on the venti black iced tea at Starbucks. It would have been $2.60 but we have the new 10% discount card that Starbucks started giving out when it began closing its stores and losing customers due to the bad economy.

We're spending the rest of the day reading one of our favorite authors who tried to tried to sue us: E.L. Doctorow. Welcome to Hard Times.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wednesday Night in Greenpoint: Thanksgiving Interfaith Service at Congregation Ahavas Israel

Approaching our seventh decade on this planet, one of the fully-absorbed lessons from our atheist Brooklyn grandfather and great-grandfather is that it’s nearly always a mistake to enter a synagogue.

But hope and community triumphed over experience and ancestral wisdom last night as we took the B-43 bus to the corner of Manhattan and Greenpoint Avenues and instead of heading for the marquee of Starbucks like a sensible person, turned around and headed for Noble Street, where the 2008 Greenpoint-Williamsburg Thanksgiving Interfaith Service was scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

We weren't sorry we did. It is Thanksgiving, after all.

The service, now in its eighth year, brings together local Muslim, Christian and Jewish congregations on Thanksgiving Eve, rotating venues among the different houses of worship, including St. Stanislaus Church, Reformed Church of Greenpoint, Greenpoint Islamic Center, St. Cecilia’s Church, St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church, Ahavas Israel, Our Lady of Carmel Roman Catholic Church, St. John’s Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church of the Messiah and the Episcopal Church of the Ascension.

In the summer we often walk up Lorimer Street to its Noble end, but had never noticed the 104-year-old Ahavas Israel synagogue before, nor its next-door neighbor, another historic shul in somewhat worse repair that belongs to the congregation, which was founded in 1893 – by German Jews, from what we could tell, although the architecture of the sanctuary seemed kind of Moorish, or at least Sephardic, to us.

We traded in our Mike Nesmith wool hat for a yarmulke (at the Jess Schwartz Jewish Community High School in Phoenix, where we worked in 2005-06, these were always called “kippahs” and the word yarmulke was verboten; the boys hated to wear them, whatever they were called, and the dean chastised us more than once for not stopping our students from “playing with their kippahs in class”) and found a side pew in the back.

Immediately an octogenarian across the aisle sized us up as a prospective temple member, and we took advantage of his naiveté to ask him some questions. Yes, he said, it was a pretty small congregation – we’d been unaware that there ever was a Greenpoint Jewish community – but no, it wasn’t filled with old people but mostly members in their thirties and forties, “the people who’ve revitalized the neighborhood.” The old man said he usually ran the Sabbath services since their old rabbi died in 2007, although they’re looking for a replacement.

The synagogue’s president, Naomi Wolfensohn, our new friend told us, was a lawyer and daughter of Sir James Wolfensohn, the financier: “She’s helped us a lot.” The synagogue obviously has seen better days but they’re obviously spending money trying to renovate it. (Getting the mimeograph machine out of the downstairs men’s bathroom might be a start.)

Once we determined that this was still an Orthodox congregation, we told the man across the aisle that Hebrew was gibberish to us and if we ever did go to a synagogue, which we wouldn’t any more than our parents, grandparents or great-grandparents did – which is to say when kosher pigs fly – it would be a Reform synagogue where things were in English. The old man protested that we’d probably find their service in Hebrew enjoyable.

Maybe, we replied, but if we wanted to spend Saturday mornings listening to a language we couldn’t understand, we’d probably just watch the cartoons on Channel 47. He nodded and never spoke to us again, even though we politely added that we hadn’t like the Roman Catholic Mass when it was still in Latin, either.

The program began with Naomi Wolfensohn welcoming all of us from various churches, etc., and talked about this Thanksgiving being a challenging time for the nation and the community. She acknowledged by name the ministers and priests who were in attendance, as well as Assemblymember Joseph Lentol and Jerry Esposito from Community Board 1.

The Greenpoint Reformed Church’s pastor, Ann Kanfield, was the first clergy member to speak to the crowd of over 100 people. Her church is nearby on Milton Street, and its congregation includes one old-timer who “grew up in the congregation” who, upon hearing that this service would be at Ahavas Israel, excitedly said, “We worshipped there!” Back in 1942, it turned out, when their congregation determined that the number of Reformed Protestants in Greenpoint was getting smaller, they moved to their new church and sold the old one on Kent Street, and before the new building could be occupied, they temporarily held Sunday services at this shul. “So, on Thanksgiving eve, we’d like to say thanks for the hospitality,” Rev. Kanfield said.

She went on to say that we should respond to these challenging times alluded to by Ms. Wolfensohn, should bring not lamentations but with a recognition that they’re times of opportunity. She talked about “lean times” and “the gift of desperation” and the Reformed Church’s soup kitchen and that afternoon’s pre-Thanksgiving dinner and the help received from other neighborhood religious leaders and congregations.

The priest from the Episcopal Church of the Ascension spoke next, quoting from a blog post from one of his colleagues in Atlanta, Wendy at I Are A Writer, who said that all of us should do a five-minute-then-pencils-down thankfulness list, and then recorded what she herself was grateful for, like sandwiches, her olivewood cross and her “stupid brilliant brothers.”

Charles Chesovich (we think that's his surname), the director of liturgy from Our Lady of Carmel (“some of you may know us from our little feast”) came to the podium next and talked about Christian Unity Week and the event that they usually had the day after or before Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He discussed the five implications for believing in God; we believe we counted more than five that he mentioned, but may have mistallied after we heard “coming to know His greatness and majesty.”

He then recited an Iroquois prayer giving thanks to “our mother the earth. . . and rivers and streams” and more.

Fuad (we didn't catch his last name), the spokesman for the Greenpoint Islamic Center, started by saying “Sholom Alecheim” and “Salaam Allahkim” to which the audience responded in turn. He said that one of the Center’s goals was to participate in community affairs and that after this year, due to overseas travel, he will be giving up his role as spokesman in favor of the speaker he introduced, the imam’s wife, Sister Noor (again, we didn't catch her last name).

After apologizing for her speaking skills as “the new kid on the block” – she actually was the most eloquent speaker of the evening and the only one with a genuine Brooklyn accent – Sister Noor told an Arab parable about an ancient imam’s advice to someone asking how to lift the burden from his shoulders. She also quoted from Sartre’s Huis Clos – “Hell is other people” – and sardonically remarked that we sometimes don’t realize that we are “someone else’s hell.”

Naomi Wolfensohn then introduced the keynote speaker, the celebrated Rabbi Avi Weiss, the founder and president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah on the Upper West Side, a rabbinical school that “subscribes to a modern, open approach to Orthodox Judaism.”

We’re familiar with Rabbi Weiss from our Phoenix colleague, Rabbi Darren Kleinberg, one of his graduates. Rabbi Weiss is also national president of AMCHA, the Coalition for Jewish Concerns, and senior rabbi at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, a “modern and open Orthodox” congregation in the Bronx.

He spoke about his congregation getting involved in interfaith events following the slaying of Amadou Diallo and its hosting of numerous interfaith gatherings throughout the year, such as the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day event with the Green Pastures Baptist Church choir. “How beautiful, how wonderful it is, sisters and brothers,” the rabbi said, “to come together.”

He also spoke about how often we forget to say the two words “thank you” and how all the Abrahamic religions share a belief that every human being is created in the image of God. Then he started singing – the rabbi is definitely what back in the day we used to call a “listener” – “Lean on Me” as two floppy-haired moppets, boys about 6 or 7, frolicked wildly in the balcony (the mechitzah, for the segregated women congregants).

Rabbi Weiss said that “religious coercion” is an oxymoron and that the U.S. is the most religious developed nation because we have strict separation of church and state and have the first amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion. So he gave his thanks for the United States, for the troops and their families, and then for “spouses, parents, grandparents, siblings, children, grandchildren,” et al.

Then again with the singing, this time “I Believe.” And after that a song we didn’t know:
This is the house
The house of the Lord
This is the house
The house of the Lord
I wish the best for you

Which engendered a lot of swaying on the rabbi’s part and his asking others from the different denominations to join him onstage with their arms around their shoulders and swaying. Then the audience joined in. Luckily there was no one else in our pew, and when a young lady in the pew in front looked hopefully, we shook our head and said, “We don’t do that.”

(We actually did say “we” – showing the sad result of an unfortunate early decision to write our furshlugginer blog in the first person plural and our determination not to waver in our creative writing professors’ rule that one never breaks point of view.)

As we watched everyone swaying with their arms around each other’s shoulders, we were reminded of why our Grandpa Herb and his father Zayde Isidore always felt no good could come from religious services. We hate “kumbaya” too.

Rabbi Weiss said he saw people do the same thing – link arms and sway, that is – when he watched four Latino rock guitarists play “This Is the House” at Pope John Paul II’s appearance at Yankee Stadium. We were reminded of why our ancestors always were Dodgers and Mets fans.

Anyway, after Rabbi Weiss thanked everyone in the universe, including the dark matter, there was a short silent prayer led by one of the priests, and Naomi Wolfensohn apologized for a mistake in the program that said that light refreshments would be served downstairs after the service. “Actually, Jews never have light refreshments,” she said. As we saw the thick pita bread with gobs of hummus and sour cream and loads of chocolate bobka passed around later, we understood religious truth.

Anyway, it was a nice event, enjoyed the mostly older crowd with dragged-along kids, none of whom had as much fun as the two boys running wild during most of the service.

Today is Thanksgiving and we’re grateful for everything. Truly. Isn’t life wonderful?! Especially when the G train doesn’t take too long to get you home.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Monday Night at the Swinging 60s Senior Center: Williamsburg Transportation Town Hall

Last evening we sauntered over the few blocks to the Swinging 60s Senior Center on Ainslie Street by Manhattan Avenue. (In just a couple of years, when we finally will achieve the status of sexagenarian, we expect to be hobbling over there a bit more often.) Several of our local elected officials had called for a Williamsburg Transportation Town Hall from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Although moderator Rich Mazur of the North Brooklyn Development Corporation had ten items on the agenda given out as the "topics" that would be discussed, most of the meeting was taken up with just two issues: the bike lanes along Kent Avenue, part of the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, which have caused parking, safety and other woes for the Hasidic community, businesses on the street, and local residents; and to a lesser degree, the current inadequate service and proposed Metropolitan Transportation Authority cuts on the L, G, J, M and apparently doomed Z subway lines serving the area.

There were maybe 200 residents there, though we are pretty bad at judging crowd size when we don't actually use our fingers to count. (It was pretty shocking to us last summer when people started quoting our guesstimate of the audience at the Metropolitan Opera in Prospect Park as reliable).

The crowd seemed a pretty representative sample of the Williamsburg community except for a paucity of hipsters. We sat in the back, with a bunch of young Hasidic guys, and two women of a certain age who reminded of us of the aged male hecklers in the old Muppet Show. They criticized everyone.

Councilmember David Yassky, who apparently called the meeting with State Senator-elect Daniel Squadron, was speaking when we arrived. Councilmember Diana Reyna was also sitting on the panel up front, along with other officials whose names we didn't quite get, though we think there were representatives of U.S. Reps. Nydia Valesquez and Ed Towns. Assemblymember Joseph Lentol, unable to attend to a death in his family, also had someone from his office there.

Facing the politicians and the crowd were the MTA's director of government affairs Hilary Ring and the agency's Brooklyn point man from community relations, Andy Inglesby, and (we think) the New York City Department of Transportation's Brooklyn commissioner Joseph Palmieri and bicycle program coordinator Josh Benson.

Yassky began by saying Williamsburg has not been well-served by the strained transportation system and will be devastated by the proposed MTA cuts to bus and subway service (including permanently making the Queens terminus for the G train at Court Square rather than ever going to Forest Hills - which it hasn't for nearly every recent weekend we can recall; ending all M trains at Broad Street, Manhattan, rather than ever going back into Brooklyn all the way down to Bay Parkway in Bensonhurst; and killing the Z line altogether).

Since everyone from the Brooklyn newspapers to Channel 12 and local bloggers were there, we expect to see a lot of material online about the meeting from people who actually report legitimate news stories and will defer to them, linking as stories appear.

The first post we saw this morning, though, was from bikers Harry Schwartman and Jeff Tancil, with an account at nyccommuterblog:
Simple summary: the Hassidim are pissed. . . business owners are also pissed. So was this lady behind us, who represented everyone's palpable displeasure with the new bike lanes on Kent Street.

Speaking as a dude who bikes every day and is wholeheartedly in favor of bike lanes, including one on yummy wide Kent Street, I can get their beefs.

The Hassidim can't safely drop their kids off and it does sound like some cops didn't get the memo about stopping exceptions, leading to some perhaps dubious tickets.

The business owners and their bunged up deliveries most certainly get the short end of the stick.

So, the bike lane is not ideal. As a biker, I don't ask for the world. I want a basically car-free space, where I feel might rights and person are respected: I am not scrapping for a wee sliver of the road that I most certainly deserve to be on.

Anyhow, David Yassky sort of played conciliator and agreed that there should be further discussion amongst affected parties.

As an alter kocker, the last time we regularly rode a bike on a public thoroughfare was in 1998, when we lived on a cattle ranch in northeast Wyoming and pedaled between Sheridan County and Johnson County (okay, the Ucross ranch straddled the county lines) on U.S. Highway 14-16.

We rode against traffic so we could catch the waves of the passing drivers, that being how you drive on federal highways in the people-deficient Cowboy State. In jam-packed New York City, we walk or drive when not dependent on the MTA. And we don't hang out on Kent Avenue So frankly, we were both disinterested and uninterested in the bike brouhaha that dominated the meeting.

But here's more, courtesy Ben Fried on Streetsblog:
Convened by City Council members Yassky and Reyna, the meeting got off to a rough start after MTA reps delivered news about service cuts that will affect the neighborhood. The tone was set for a contentious discussion of Kent Avenue. "Business owners came out against it," said Sholom Brody, a member of TA's Brooklyn Committee. "The problem is 'no standing'; they're really upset about the stretch between Clymer and Division Avenue," a small portion of the lane's full length.

The parking situation has already been through community board review. In April, CB1 approved plans for the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, which would offset the removal of parking spots on Kent by identifying new spaces on side streets. (The current bike lane is a stopgap until the Greenway is built.) All told, DOT made three presentations to the community board about the project [PDF]. Opponents now say this process was insufficient.

An NYPD ticket blitz immediately after the parking rules took effect appears to have inflamed opposition, and the usual canards, of course, are in full effect. According to Brody, one bike lane opponent claimed to have seen only 20 cyclists use the lane over the course of a full day, a figure that DOT refuted with its own 12-hour count -- 500 cyclists.

Streetsblog regular Dave "Paco" Abraham inspected the new lane on a recent ride organized by the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative. Any hindrance to drop-offs and deliveries caused by the "no standing" rule need not give rise to a hot-blooded confrontation, he says. "The problem is very workable and the BGI and CB1 supporters readily admit it should be addressed and corrected."

And here's the other side, thanks to Ben Muessig's article in The Brooklyn Paper:
Opposition to newly painted bike lanes on Kent Avenue is so strong in Williamsburg’s Hasidic community that one Orthodox leader vows that the faithful will block traffic if the city does not remove the cycling routes.

In South Williamsburg’s Satmar section, the wheels were already spinning against the bike lanes — which eliminated curbside parking and standing when they were painted last month — and now City Council candidate Isaac Abraham kicked the conflict into a higher gear when he said this week that private buses would obstruct Kent Avenue to pressure the city to remove the lanes and reinstate alternate-side parking.

“We will ask all the drivers: ‘When you pick-up or drop-off our children, put your bus in an angle, block the entire street, wait ’til the parent gets to the door of the bus, [and] slowly — very slowly — take your child off or put it on the bus, [and] don’t rush to get back on the sidewalk,’” said Abraham, who added that the protests would occur every morning from 8 to 10 am and each afternoon from 4 to 7 pm and would be accompanied by rallies.

“One day the traffic will be backed up all the way to Long Island City to [the] Department of Transportation Headquarters, traffic will come to a halt,” he said.

Abraham revealed to The Brooklyn Paper his calls for a traffic slowdown just before a contentious Nov. 24 neighborhood meeting that addressed the controversial Kent Avenue bike lanes, which are placeholders for the proposed Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway — a divided cycling and walking path planned to stretch from Greenpoint to Sunset Park.

Members of the Hasidic community said that blocking traffic is their only effective way to protest the no-stopping, no-standing signage that they have fought since the city installed the signs on a Saturday last month and immediately issued tickets, even though observant Jews aren’t allowed to move their vehicles on the Sabbath.

And the New York Observer weighs in with "The G is for Gloom":
At a transportation town hall meeting at the Swinging Sixties Senior Center in Williamsburg on Monday, Andrew Inglesby, New York City Transit's assistant director of government and community relations, spelled out the challenges the agency confronts:

"It's a tough number that we had to get to," he said, referring to the M.T.A.'s obligation to balance its budget. "No matter what you do you're going to get grief from one neighborhood or another. And we really feel like we spread the bad news for everyone."

Acknowledging the breadth of the current crisis, activists and elected officials perceived G service as crucial to the health of Brooklyn and Queens.

"Anytime you're cutting the G," said Jake Maguire, a spokesman for Councilman David Yassky of Brooklyn, "you're stunting the development of the communities along the G corridor, which is really significant. So I think that has a serious impact for the city."

When we entered we were asked to sign in, and if we wanted, to fill out a paper asking "what issue you would like to see addressed this evening." Although we didn't fill one out, on our way out around 8:20 p.m., we found a pile of these discarded forms in the garbage at the back of the room.

Some of the issues that these community residents wanted discussed included "The future of Williamsburg and population expansion," "Bus service (direct) into Manhattan," "Efforts being made to separate pedestrian and bike traffic on the Pulaski Bridge," and "The fact that you're robbing us blind!!"

Friday, November 14, 2008

Small Press Publisher Dumbo Books of Brooklyn Announces Its Conversion to a Bank Holding Company, Applies for Bailout Funds

This morning we are issuing the following press release:
BROOKLYN, N.Y., Nov. 14, 2008 - Small press publisher Dumbo Books of Brooklyn today announced that it was applying to the Federal Reserve to convert into a bank holding company so that it will be able to accept deposits and be eligible for federal bailout funds.

"This will help us survive in these perilous times for everyone, including small publishers of literary works," said Dumbo Books CEO Richard Grayson. "We want to avoid the fate of other small publishers, like Impetus Books, which have recently shut down due to the economic climate."

"The bailout cash from the Treasury Department will greatly help secure the future of Dumbo Books," Grayson said.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wednesday Evening at the Brooklyn Heights Barnes & Noble: James Grant & "Mr. Market Miscalculates: The Bubble Years and Beyond"

We've just come back from the Court Street Barnes and Noble, where we went to see James Grant, author of the just-published Mr. Market Miscalculates: The Bubble Years and Beyond, a collection of prescient essays and articles by the erudite editor of Grant's Interest Rate Observer, whom we've admired since we first saw him two decades ago as a panelist on Friday night public TV's Wall $treet Week with Louis Rukeyser.

During Grant's 45-minute talk and Q&A period, an audience of about 30 to 40 people listened with rapt attention, though we found it slightly disconcerting that a backdrop to the investment analyst was a huge red neon sign saying CHECKS CASHED from the the corner store just across Schermerhorn Street.

On the other hand, perhaps it was a perfect setting for a discussion of the economy and financial world at a time when, as Grant suggested, it's possible to get many recent hits by Googling "worst since the Great Depression."

Wearing his trademark horn-rimmed glasses, a bow tie and black pinstriped suit, Grant was introduced by the Court Street Barnes & Noble's Paul with a standard bio and some of the blurbs on the new book, like
"When it comes to writing about complicated matters of business, Jim Grant has no equal." – Steve Kroft, 60 Minutes

"Jim Grant thinks outside the box - Please read him, listen to him." – Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
and finally, this from David F. Swenson, Yale University's Chief Investments Officer:
"In the past quarter century, Grant's Interest Rate Observer earned and maintained a place on the 'must read' list of every serious student of markets. Jim Grant's trenchant observations and elegant prose never fail to illuminate and educate....Read, learn and enjoy."

From the side, Grant asked, "Can you read that again?"

Paul began, "In the past quarter century..." and the author said, "Just kidding." We're not sure if Paul was going along with the joke or thought he had a Wall Street diva on his hands. After all, he's got to deal with authors all the time.

As Grant took the podium, the Brooklyn Heights resident said, "Good evening, neighbors. Well, if I'm going to read this whole book, I had better get started. This should take about three or four hours."

We already remembered what we like about Jim Grant from his TV appearances. Although smart and very serious about finance and the economy, he's never taken himself that seriously - or has the wit and skill to effectively pretend that he doesn't.

Grant began by saying his publisher, Axios Press, hates the title. "Mr. Market" is an anthropomorphic invention, a highly flighty and volatile fellow who one day is so depressed that he'll sell you everything he owns for a nickel and the next day, off his meds and madly euphoric, he wants to buy you out because he sees only blue skies ahead.

(He didn't mention that the author's 1993 book also had Mr. Market in the title: Minding Mr. Market: Ten Years on Wall Street With Grant's Interest Rate Observer, which featured cartoons by our wonderful Midwood H.S. Spanish teacher from 40 years ago, the very clever Hank Blaustein.)

Grant skewered the rational expectations school of economics and the idea that the market is a cool, calculating contraption that efficiently absorbs all relevant information and therefore always prices things correctly. Instead, he said, it's a collection of human beings just like us in Brooklyn: not all that efficient but not so totally inefficient as to be predictable.

"Mr. Market needs a hug right now," Grant mused, discussing the day's drop in the Dow.

He called the current stock market a "value restoration project," and wondered why people think it's great "when Barnes & Noble has a sale and you can buy my book for $5 rather than its true worth of $50" [its list price is a rational $22] - but on Wall Street people love to pay high prices. Right now, Grant said, Wall Street is having a going-out-of-business sale and nobody's walking into the store.

Turning to the cause of the current financial disaster, Grant - whose essays and articles have been predicting it for years - speculated on who is to blame: Moody's for giving AAA ratings to now-worthless instruments? "Our masters in the Federal Reserve"? The people "who applied NOT to get a mortgage loan and were turned down" and so were approved for mortgages at a time when "nobody could afford NOT to get a house"? Wall Street's Nobel-track economists who packaged hundreds of thousands of individual lousy mortgages into Goldman Sachs contraptions they sold to investors more than willing to overlook reality? All of the above?

The rare financial writer who's also a gem of a stylist, Grant likened the structured mortgage business as purveyors of 25 pounds of junk in messy and bloated trash bags that were put through a garbage compactor and come out as neat oblong packages. Of course they are still selling garbage, and garbage they have belatedly proved to be.

Grant then recounted some previous episodes of financial madness in U.S. history from what he called "this must-read book." One section of Mr. Market Miscalculates is headlined "In Kansas We Busted."

Around 1888, before the existence of the Fed or Moody's to take the blame, Americans similarly succumbed to mass lunacy when, because railroads needed to settle the lands near the tracks they were receiving federal subsidies to build, entranced Easterners with low interest rates and fanciful tales of the for-a-song paradise they could find in the Great Plains.

Land prices soared at a time when uncharacteristically wet weather caused record-breaking harvests of wheat and other crops. Soon after a University of Nebraska professor proclaimed that man-made climate change would produce increasingly longer growing seasons and ever more bountiful harvests, a drought took place, crops failed, and the now-broke settlers returned east, with wagons bearing signs reading IN GOD WE TRUSTED - IN KANSAS WE BUSTED.

Grant wondered how people would back on the big bust of "2008 and a half" decades from now, when it may seem as if there was "a mass stepping off a cliff." The book's theory is that the Fed reacted wrongly to globalization. Saying we're all kind of sick of hearing Tom Friedman go on about the earth being flat, the New York Times columnist did have a point: In recent years people around the world have been lifted into the middle class by dynamic capitalism and advanced technology in what has been, in many ways, a wondrous time.

But the Fed "hates falling prices," Grant said, because they fear deflation and do everything to prevent it. By chopping interest rates to 1%, the Fed got prices up again in "a furious bull market" as home values increased many times over. But deflation, in Grant's opinion, is not so much prices falling but a mass withdrawal of credit, a margin call on nearly everyone.

As usual, we've got pages of semi-legible memo-pad notes, but we'll close out with just a few highlights of Jim Grant's interesting talk:

- Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, who's "become a law unto himself," seems to be changing on a daily basis what the bailout will look like. When Paulson and other administration officials say that the financial crisis is "contained and limited," Grant said, they mean "on planet Earth."

- Now, as in many historical periods of great technological change, such as the period after the building of the Suez Canal, those who had a vested interest in the world as it had been ended up losers, but many more were winners and society as a whole benefited. We think Grant used this as justification for his feeling that the feds should let failing companies like General Motors fail.

- Right now will be looked up as the good old days for serious long-term investors as Mr. Market is giving them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy low and sell high, which Grant says is exactly the opposite of what the many in the foolish herd actually do.

- The Obama administration probably won't be much different than the Bush administration in regard to reacting to the credit crisis, financial meltdown and economic turmoil: "If you'd asked me eighteen months ago, I wouldn't have said that, but there's not much left for the Democrats to socialize and nationalize that the Republicans already haven't."

- "Long live the Value Restoration Project. Don't lose hope now. The market is like Major League Baseball: try as they might, those in charge can't destroy it."

You can read the author's own words in these post-bailout op-ed pieces in The New York Times and The Washington Post.

The witty and often on-target Jim Grant is too laissez-faire for our tastes, but then we're all socialists here at Dumbo Books. Also, we suspect that he's a bit premature in telling people stocks are at rock-bottom prices now and we lean more to the view of Nouriel Roubini that a severe recession "implies further downside risks to global equities on the order of 20% to 30%" and that bargain-hunters should wait a while, even if they're young and investing with a very long time frame. Not all of Grant's calls over the past few decades have been proven right, but then whose have? After all, look at the books we've published. (You'll be one of the few.)

Meanwhile, having joined the burgeoning rolls of the Cautious Cheapskate Consumer Club, we passed up the chance to buy an autographed copy of Mr. Market Miscalculates tonight but are on the waiting list for the book at the Brooklyn Public Library. We look forward to reading it and are grateful that we got to see Grant in person in Brooklyn tonight, as we suspect Ben Bernanke may soon make him an offer even Jim Grant can't refuse.