Hurricane Sandy and Bureaucratic Fuck Up


If the punch line of FEMA and New Orleans is corruption, then the final word on New York City and Hurricane Sandy has to be beaucratic red tape.

According to the New York Times,

While hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money sat waiting to be used, devastated homeowners were stuck in an application process that was overdesigned and undermanaged to such a degree that, until a few months ago, not a single one of the 20,000 homeowners who applied for help rebuilding their homes in the city had seen work begin.

20,000 homeowners still don’t have a new house. Millions of federal dollars have been shelled out to business consultants. And families in Staten Island have moldy sheet rock. Nice.

New York State and New Jersey dealt with the catestrophe much better. Our summer rental house on the Jersey shore was in great shape, as was every other house on the block. There were one or two straggler houses that were still being fixed this summer, but 95% of the island looked fine. Two years ago, the entire island was under water.

What did New York City do badly? According to the Times, there were several errors. The priority went to building structures to prevent damage for future storms. There was endless paperwork, shoddy computer systems, untrained staff, and narrow minded managers.

People need to lose their jobs over this one.

The Last Girl From Larchmont

Joan Rivers was an amazing woman. A fighter. She fought against society that demanded that girls had to be nice and quiet. I’m very sorry that she’s gone.

Read this article by Joan about comedy and career. It’s great advice.

I think it was Cosby who also said to me, “If only 2 percent of the world thinks you’re funny, you’ll still fill stadiums for the rest of your life.”

My advice to women comedians is: First of all, don’t worry about the money. Love the process. You don’t know when it’s gonna happen. Louis C.K. started hitting in his 40s; he’d been doing it for 20 years. And don’t settle. I don’t want to ever hear, “It’s good enough.” Then it’s not good enough. Don’t ever underestimate your audience. They can tell when it isn’t true. Also: Ignore your competition. A Mafia guy in Vegas gave me this advice: “Run your own race, put on your blinders.” Don’t worry about how others are doing. Something better will come.

Curls, CVs, and Other Random-ness

The boys head back to school tomorrow. Of course, I left everything to the last minute. We were out of the house at 9 am to pick up t-shirts with ironic graphics.

They both needed haircuts, too. Scissor cuts for both of them. None of that electric razor business for them.

I hope that Ian’s Lands End backback arrives with the UPS afternoon delivery. I put off this purchase for so long that they sold out of orange cammo, and we had to settle for a dull and predictable navy blue. They’ll have to use last year’s lunch boxes, until a new shipment arrives at the Land’s End warehouse.

Lots of people have sent me a link to last week’s New York Times article about how frizzy, curly hair is back in style. Straight is out. Which is good, because I have been going bigger and bigger in the past year. I read the article to see if they had any new tips on hair product. They mentioned several trendy women with curly hair. I know St. Vincent and Lorde, two curly hair chicks. But I never heard of Petra Collins or Olivia Bee. I ended up googling them. Their websites were more interesting than their hair.

Olivia Bee’s photographs were pretty cool. Blurry and dreamy and edgy. Petra Collins is cleaner and more traditional. I liked how her website included her art and her essays.

I redid my CV a couple of weeks. I had separate CVs for academia, journalism, and blogging/social media. I took down the walls between all those activities and put it into one giant CV, along with other activities like autism activism. It was strangely empowering. The whole is much more interesting than the separate parts. Now, I’m going to make myself a website CV with links to the professional writing and activism, plus some of my favorite photographs. Continue Reading →

SL 617

Today, I’m deep cleaning the house (hello, spider webs under the coffe table!) and making five different kids of cold side salads. There will be 26 relatives here tomorrow to celebrate my parents’ 50 anniversary. Everybody will be here all day, so I’m arranging two meals. It will all be fine, just lots of moving around today. It’s another 10 days until I have the kids in school full time. 10 days.

Here are some things that caught my eye:

Horrific child abuse case in England.

Boycott APSA because it falls on Labor Day.

The gay subculture at Fire Island.

I’m reading stuff today in between the cobweb cleaning, so I’m here.

The New Pop Culture

Facebook is for old people. The VMAs are for old people. So are the Emmys, People Magazine, Oscars and TMZ.  E-mail is for really old people.

I know way more than my fourteen year old son about A) who Miley Cirus brought to the VMAs (a homeless guy), B) the name of Beyoncé’s daughter (Blue Ivy), and C) the latest Ariana Grande-Nicki Minaj song (Bang-Bang - looks like child porn). Jonah says that his friends don’t talk about Hollywood gossip or even have favorite bands. Some of the girls occasionally talk about Taylor Swift.

So, what do they do? Well, they will power watch a favorite show on Netflix. My son watched all nine seasons of the Office this summer. 300 hours of TV! On his laptop. I’m really proud.

Both of my kids spend a lot of time watching other people playing video games on YouTube. It’s so, so, so boring. I don’t get it. Don’t know about Twitch? Read this and this.

Twitch isn’t the only game in town.  There’s Captain Sparklz on YouTube for Minecraft, and Harry101UK for Portal 2. Jonah likes Miniminter for FIFA 14, Inside Gaming and RoosterTeeth. Check out the hit numbers on those videos. Millions.

They spend a lot of time on YouTube watching news shows and music. But really silly music. Ian loves Weebl’s Stuff.

For worldwide soccer, Jonah looks at KickTV and Football Daily. There’s also Bundesliga.

For science, Jonah watches Vsauce.

For animination, there’s Domics.

Ian first music downloads have all been music from his favorite video games, like Portal 2.

Affordable Housing

We seem to have a housing theme going this week. Let’s keep it going.

Paul Krugman notes that that the Sunbelt and Atlantic have seen big population and business growth. Part of their growth may be pro-business and pro-rich policies, but he thinks the biggest factor that explains their success is the cheaper housing. Zoning laws are halting denser and taller buildings in California and the Northeast, so there is very little new construction. Existing homes grow more and more expensive. So, working class and middle class young families are relocating, even taking pay cuts, so they can get cheap, large homes with granite counter tops.

Krugman says that we can encourage growth by reducing regulations on housing.

And this, in turn, means that the growth of the Sunbelt isn’t the kind of success story conservatives would have us believe. Yes, Americans are moving to places like Texas, but, in a fundamental sense, they’re moving the wrong way, leaving local economies where their productivity is high for destinations where it’s lower. And the way to make the country richer is to encourage them to move back, by making housing in dense, high-wage metropolitan areas more affordable.

People are finding cheaper housing within metropolitan areas by continually gentrifying and dealing with looonnnnggg commutes, but it is simply not possible to create the amount of cheap housing that is available in Atlanta around here. There’s not enough space. Older infrastructure. Politically, it is a non-starter, because no voter wants to see their housing values go down. What to do?


Apparently Ian has a great deal of musical talent. We just figured this out. Oops. I’m dealing with it now. We’re signing him for all sorts of music lessons, including one place that specializes in teaching kids classic 80s rock. It puts them in a band after a few lessons.

To get Ian ready for the rock music school, we pulled out our old Who and Stones albums. And, yes, we still have albums. I surprised my husband by knowing all the words to Quadrophenia. Ian and I are listening to Queen right now.

Suburban Walls

The Washington Post has a really dumb article about race, class, and the suburbs. I mean it’s an important topic, but the writer discusses the topic like it is a brand new development and that it is unique to St. Louis. (How old is this writer? 12?) I don’t usually point to bad articles on this blog, but I’m grouchy this morning…

The article contrasts Ferguson, MO, a suburb with a majority of African-Americans, with other suburbs that have more whites and more wealth. The writer says that segregation is reinforced by housing prices and zoning laws in the wealthier, whiter suburbs.

St. Louis’s geographic divide stems from a legacy of segregation — legal and illegal — and more recent economic stratification that has had the effect of reinforcing racial separation. Even now, some tony suburbs maintain large-lot single-family zoning, essentially closing the door to lower-earners who might want to subdivide a property.

Middle class suburbs have zoning laws? No way! Get out of town! These zoning laws help maintain a certain image of a town, keep property values high, and maintain a homogeneous population? Really? This is groundbreaking stuff here.

In my old neighborhood, people parked their cars on front lawns and left the waste from their construction jobs in their backyard. Honestly, it drove me bananas. In our new, wealthier suburb, that just doesn’t happen. One neighbor backs his Mercedes into the driveway, because he wants the car to always point forward. In the old town, there were drive-through, fast food joints in the middle of town. Here, there’s a French bakery and a Kate Spade handbag store. In the old town, any business, no matter how ugly, could plop itself wherever it wanted (provided they paid off the right people), because of the need for tax ratables. Here, it took 30 years to get permission from the town to build another shopping center on the ramp to the major highway.

I can never subdivide my property and make it a two or three family home. Actually, you can’t do that in almost any suburb in this country. I also can’t change the footprint of my house much. I can’t turn my house into a five story, glass box. I can’t turn my house into a business. There are millions of things that I can’t do. I need approval from a zoning board. In my parents’ town, if you cut down a tree, then you have to plant five more.

Do all these rules make it impossible for lower income people to move to this town? Yes! There are some apartments near the center of town with lower-income people. Some of Jonah’s friends live there. But no new apartments have been constructed in this town since the 1960s. Any proposal by a developer to build multi-unit apartments is immediately squashed by community groups with Facebook pages.

Now, are suburban zoning laws a terrible thing? On the one hand, these zoning laws do result in economic segregation. On the other hand, suburban zoning laws are the result of local decisions, little democracies. People can create communities of their choice. If the people in Cape Cod want all their houses to be three colors, then good for them. The place looks wonderful and it brings in a lot of tourists, who love the Cape Cod esthetic. If the people in Town A want to make laws that say that everybody has to wear a hat on Thursday, then that’s fine, too.

Also, people set up these zoning laws, because the value of the house is largely determined by its location in a particular community. A house is a person’s biggest investment, their larger purchase, their retirement plan. If that retirement plan is compromised by the fact that a neighbor begins parking their car on the front lawn, then the person will get understandably pissed off. Hence, zoning laws.

I’m not sure how we can create more diverse suburbs, while maintaining the right of local people to self-determine the appearance of their community.

Painted Brick Pony


We love painted brick. And there was tons of it in Georgetown, DC and in Baltimore. This pony was off some alley in Georgetown. The orange and green of the natural brick next to the creamy lavender painted brick is perfect. I would like to mount this pony on the side of my house. I bet my neighbors would love it, too.