stars | 365:185


For the 4th of July, a closeup of the flag that draped my WWII-veteran grandfather’s coffin in 2002.


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discovering columbus


Thanks to a well-timed reminder from a friend the other day, I managed to snag a ticket for this weekend’s opening of Discovering Columbus. Artist Tatzu Nishi has done this with other monuments around the world, and here’s he’s created a living room set piece surrounding the statue of Christopher Columbus so that he becomes a really large coffee table display. Sure, it’s a little weird, but it gives people a rare opportunity to get up close to a piece of art (and views!) that is ordinarily out of reach at the top of a 70-foot pillar. It also serves as a preservation effort – once the exhibit is done, the scaffolding will remain so that the heavily worn marble statue can undergo its first restoration effort in over 20 years (why people continue to think that a soft, easily-worn stone like marble is a good medium for statues that spend all their time exposed to the elements escapes me, but the choice was made well-before the current decision-makers were born).

In any event, the photos are a bit repetitive, what with there being the one statue (and the 3 good views out the windows), but hopefully they’re enjoyable. I highly recommend visiting if you get the chance – it’s free, but you need to get a ticket to reserve a time slot for crowd-limitation purposes. The public art fund website appears to have crashed (or they forgot to pay their bill!), but tickets are also available on the third floor of the Time Warner Center.

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Happy July 4th


I normally try to dig up something inspirational for independence day, but today I didn’t get around to digging through my Thomas Jefferson reader or inspirational letters from Washington on freedom of religion. Instead though, here’s a pic of the flag my family of godless liberal heathens still feel inspired to hang on our front porch. Because this is America, where we have the freedom to be godless liberal heathens.


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so…that happened


Apologies, but I need to have a little digression from the photography, and while I’ve posted a few links on twitter and Facebook, I have too many thoughts to get out.

Approximately three years ago, I got laid off from my job as a lawyer at a big new york firm. At the time, I was devastated, because I LOVED my job. Sure, it had its stresses and its late hours and its…personalities, but by and large, I liked what I did and I was good at it. The story at the time was that, since I wasn’t going to make partner, it was time for me to leave. In a recession. As I understood it at the time, they were trying to avoid getting tarred in the legal press for mass layoffs, so they started with the most senior associates and tried to tie it to ‘other’ explanations. The decision was made by someone (or someones) in upper management without consultation with the team I actually worked with, as the partners I was actively working on deals with had to find out from me that I had been canned. That made things a bit…awkward, particularly given that one partner had a ‘state of the relationship’ meeting with the GC at one client only a day earlier, where the GC apparently spent time talking about how glad she was that I was back on the team after returning from overseas.

I spent two years unemployed, looking for a job. Happily, about a year ago I started working again at an ‘alternative’ legal services firm that seconds its employees full time to companies, so I spend my days doing interesting work up in Stamford at a big multi-national company.

In the past few weeks, the firm that laid me off, Dewey & LeBoeuf, has been in the news quite a bit. Because they’re imploding in a spectacular fashion. On the front page of the New York Times. From what has been reported, as well as what I’ve heard from a few former colleagues that I remain in touch with (who have all managed to find new firms, thankfully), it’s largely due to gross mismanagement on the part of the post-merger firm.

Some background. I worked for Dewey Ballantine, which merged with LeBoeuf Lamb in 2007. As the story went at the time, Dewey had a bunch of debt but a stellar name, and LeBoeuf had solid financials. Even though the Dewey name came first in the post-merger firm, that was due to a quirk of Thomas E. Dewey’s estate requirements, and the merger was really a takeover by LeBoeuf – as evidenced by the fact that the post-merger leadership was headed by the LeBoeuf team.

So – to the current day. In order to attract some top talent from other firms, the leadership handed out a few payment guarantees. A few of these things are typical at any firm, but they should be limited because they otherwise undercut the entire nature of a partnership structure. But the vaunted, fiscally conservative post-merger management apparently decided to start handing out these guarantees left and right, including to incumbent partners. When they did their unusual bond offering in 2010, they didn’t disclose this. They apparently DID disclose that they ‘eliminated’ 300 lawyers post-merger, so their attempts at obfuscation discussed above were clearly just that. The Dewey debt pre-merger pales in comparison to what was apparently run up in the post-merger environment. As the story has been reported, none of the partnership were informed of the guarantees until last October, at which point there was mutiny. The Manhattan DA is apparently investigating the leadership to see if they did anything criminal.

What’s come out in the press is that they gave out 100 of these guarantees, then ran out of money to pay them as the economy took time to recover and more and more clients got stingier with external legal spend. So guarantee-less partners stopped getting paid altogether. Those partners, obviously, were going to look for any reasonable exit plan, creating a vicious cycle where the firm had less and less income (because a law firm has no ‘assets’ other than its legal talent). Earlier this year, FedEx apparently cut them off and the cafeteria stopped accepting the in-house payment system. And as partners start leaving, the chances that their clients (who move with them) will continue to pay outstanding bills to the old firm drops dramatically (sure, they have an obligation to pay, but they’ll focus on the new firm that they want new work from).

I’m torn between extreme sadness for a 100-year reputation that I helped contribute to for a few years, and the schadenfreude that comes from seeing the people who decided that I was an expendable resource that they could brag to investors about cutting get hoisted on their own petard. Mostly sadness. And horror at watching the slow-motion train wreck wreaking havoc on peoples’ lives (particularly the staff) because a few people were so freaking greedy.

What a shame. I now count myself lucky because at least I got some severance and COBRA coverage during my unemployment. In any event, I’m not spilling any secrets at this point, given how much of this has been written about in the press, but I just felt the need to get my thoughts down on (virtual) paper.

I’m also starting to feel a little weird, as I moved to Dewey from Thelen Reid & Priest, which went bankrupt about 3 years after I left there as well. My resume is starting to look like a graveyard.

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Happy new year!


Happy new year everyone (all 6 of you who continue to read!). Due to the fact that, in my soul, I am an 83-year-old woman, I managed to fall asleep at about 10 last night, not even getting woken up by the fireworks at midnight. Assuming there were fireworks this year!?

While 2011 was certainly a better year than 2010, what with becoming a gainfully employed member of society again, I’m strangely glad for it to be over. Here’s looking forward to 2012, when we can finally disprove those mayan calendar prophesies once and for all!

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10 years on…


I didn’t think it was going to hit me the way it did today. And today isn’t even the day. Tomorrow is the day. But this morning, I woke up and NPR was playing a variety of follow-ups and StoryCorps pieces from relatives and survivors, and I just completely broke down, by myself in my apartment, in wracking sobs.

But that was early in the morning. I pulled myself together for my day of running errands downtown, from getting my hair cut to buying shoes and doing all sorts of things that I end up doing when I have any reason to go visit my old neighborhood between Union Square and the Flatiron…

And as I was walking through the greenmarket, making my way up towards that same Flatiron building, I looked up and saw a giant billow of smoke going up to the sky. Only a few people seemed to notice it, but the screaming fire engines and cop cars and…smell…of burning air just about caused me to lose it again. Particularly when I realized that I was standing almost exactly in the same spot…on 20th and Broadway, that I was standing when the first plane hit the first tower 10 years ago tomorrow (back then I was walking down 20th from Broadway to Fifth, and saw the first tower on fire, not on TV but with my own naked eyes when I reached Fifth Avenue). I had such a sense of deja vu, and I realized almost an hour later, even though I had managed to get on with my day, that I was still visibly shaking.

And I say this as a person who, on that day, was safely several miles uptown from ground zero and didn’t lose a single person that I knew.

Tomorrow is going to be rough for a lot of people in this city, and I just hope that everyone gives people the space they need to get through the day.

I’ve seen a lot of people doing “where were you” pieces, but I wrote mine 5 years ago. I can’t say it better now than I did back then, so I’ll just link.

(oh, and the fire today? apparently just a transformer on the roof of a building)

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074/365: spring!!


I noticed these popping up out of the ground. I’m seriously hoping this means that winter is really ending.

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book review: all the devils are here


All the Devils Are HereAll the Devils Are Here by Bethany McLean

A really in-depth look at all of the decisions and events that led to the 2008 financial crisis/collapse, from the internal workings at all of the major investment banks, the sub-prime lenders, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the ratings agencies and AIG. No one (or very few people) actually committed “crimes”, but everyone kept pushing the envelope of what was appropriate within their given sphere, and each bad decision was compounded by the bad decisions of 100 other players. Each of these financial products (from the mortgages themselves to the securitization vehicles to the collateralized debt obligations to the credit-default-swaps to the synthetic CDOs), when first created, made perfect sense. But not necessarily when all thrown into the mix at the same time, each one feeding off of the other in a vicious cycle of lower and lower standards and more and more debt.

It’s hard to say who was the worst player in the bunch. Was it AIG, which essentially allowed the entire risk-management function to exist inside Hank Greenberg’s septuagenarian head? Or the ratings agencies, who kept giving all of these things triple-A ratings, which were supposed to mean that the investments were as “safe as treasury bonds”, even after they were well aware of the underlying problems? Or the investment banks who sidelined their own risk-managers because they didn’t turn a profit? Or the subprime lenders, who were handing out reams of money to people that they knew could never pay it back, even in a best-case scenario?

And of course, popular notions of “who’s to blame” are often not anywhere near the truth. Fannie and Freddie got a large share of the blame for causing the problem, but in actuality, they were very late to the party, and only ended up in the subprime market in the first place because they were required, by law, to guarantee a certain percentage of low-income housing. Because the subprime lenders were undercutting the more traditional “hard money” lenders that had previously serviced this market, Fannie and Freddie almost had no choice but to start buying up subprime loans. Of course, they didn’t take a step back and try to use their mighty lobbying power to get out of this obligation, or to highlight the problem, but it’s a very different scenario than the idea that they “caused” the entire mess.

Just amazing.

Not quite as “entertaining” as McLean’s prior book, “The Smartest Guys in the Room”, but then again, the collapse of our entire financial system was bound to be less entertaining than a bunch of guys in Houston who were just giant fraudsters, spending tens of thousands of dollars on everything from race cars to strippers.

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365 take 2: new year, new project


Some of the 365 folks and I have kept in touch via twitter and flickr, and we decided to try again beginning in 2011. Meaning today! We’re doing things a little differently this time. Rather than having to take a picture every single day, you can take up to 7 pictures a week, but they can all be on the same day, or you can continue to do the one-a-day method. This will hopefully reduce the feelings of failure everyone inevitably got last time around when they missed a single day. It will also reduce the need to “cheat” when seeing something awesome to photograph after you’ve already posted your daily photo (which happened to me once or twice).

So, on that note, Happy New Year everyone!! This was taken in the three seconds between when the fireworks started and my parents’ dog (who I’ve been dogsitting for a few weeks) had a total meltdown at the noise and dragged me bodily (he’s a tiny jack russell terrier, FYI) back to my apartment, even skipping the treat-laden doorman to book it directly into the elevator.

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2010 NYC marathon


As I do every year, I decided to take some photos of today’s big event, the ING Marathon. Because I had gone to the same spot in Central Park for the last two years, I wanted to change things up a little bit, so I headed to Columbus Circle. Which was a big clusterf*ck of people and security gates. Next year, it’s back to Central Park. Just as an example of how poorly planned it was at Columbus Circle, they had a whole slew of bleachers set up so that people could watch, except…The police had blocked off all access to them, so they sat empty while we were penned in behind security gates only a few feet away. Even the police officer I said something to agreed that this was remarkably stupid, but they were, of course, powerless to do anything about it in the face of direct orders to keep us penned in.

As a bonus, a supremely inconsiderate gentlemen, who was at least 6’5″, decided to push his way directly in front of me. I am, of course, 5’4″. This led me to have to contort myself and hang over the barrier in a really uncomfortable way to get any decent pictures at all. Quite a change from Central Park, where people take one look at the short girl with the big camera and pretty much just make room for me at the front, since they can see over my head anyway! Silly me, I thought the crowd would be less obnoxious further away from the finish. I’ve learned my lesson, and I’m planning on heading back to Central Park next year. Either that, or I’ll be really adventurous and head out to Brooklyn or Queens.

As far as pics, I got most of the front-runners (except for the women’s winner, because the one pic I did get of her had a motorcycle cutting off her head), and some silly costumes, and a few pics even came out decently. Once I got worn out from contorting myself (and, because of the way I was standing, cutting off all the circulation to my left leg), I headed to the Time Warner Center to get an aerial shot. Here are the pics (as always, click to see the full picture):

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