Sunday, January 25, 2015

Playing chess with Graham

I have never had any difficulty letting Graham win running races, or soccer kicking contests, or anything like that.  Recently we have begun playing chess, and somehow this is different.  The urge to dominate and win is somehow more overwhelming, there is an almost moral compulsion to make the next move that will best allow me to win.

This despite the fact that Graham, like lots of kids on the spectrum, has a difficult time with competition and losing (those who have known me for many years might be thinking: so do you, Cleric), so it really falls to me when playing with him to try not to win and to help him learn to just play better.

Yesterday I did a good job with going slow and pointing out to him threats that might emerge two or three moves in the future if he didn't take action to foil my plans beforehand.  Strategic thinking. Still, by hook or by crook, in time I found myself in a very good position, threatening his king in many ways.  Thankfully, he said he was a little tired and thought we should quit the game for the night, which suited my purposes nicely.

Then, I made a fire and he lay down next to me and put his head on my stomach for a little while. Which was quite nice.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The mysterious lingering Googlebot

For some weeks now a majority of the traffic here on the Grouse logged by Statcounter -- one of the two ways I can track visits, the other is the counter native to the blogspot/blogger.com platform -- has come from Googlebots, which are the little automated agents Google uses to keep crawl from link to link and thereby index everything going on on the web.  I'm not talking about yesterday's post, either.  The bots are going back and looking at stuff that's years old.


Which strikes me as odd.  Google has to know the stuff has been there for some time.  After all, blogspot is freaking owned by Google.

So what are the bots doing?  Do they like my writing? Do they find it insightful?  I doubt it.  My guess is that Google is throwing some natural language processing at the blogosphere to try to actually understand bloggers so as to one way or the other market the data.  Build bigger and deeper datasets into which they can delve more deeply to sell more stuff.  That's what it's all about, after all.

Cat videos and grip

All too often late at night, when I know I should be blogging or working on taxes or reading one of the many books around me or playing guitar or talking to Mary or just trying to clear my mind, I find myself on Facebook reading what others have posted and perhaps even looking at cat, or goat, or puppy, or other random videos.  It's kind of embarrassing, honestly.

But it shouldn't be.  What's really happening is that my ability to be goal-directed is shutting down. Instead of watching late night TV and looking for a laugh or a nugget of insight there, I'm letting Facebook serve it up, in a manner which is curated by the people I've known throughout my lifetime, as opposed to by programming people at one of the networks.  And cat videos are nice, short, good-natured little narratives, or reflections on Being.

And yes, Facebook is learning who I am and what I click on and is honing its algorithms to serve up to me posts by the people it knows I prioritize, and then it is selling that knowledge to marketers, so they can give me more of what they know I want, etc.  To that extent I am outsourcing the disposition of my attention, and in some sense the formation of my ego and my legacy.

Whatevs. In all things there is and should be a balance between goal-directedness and just letting go. In baseball, if you grip the bat too firmly, it hurts your hands more when you strike the ball and you are less able to make the ball do what you want it to do.  One needs to grip the bat of being in the right way (insert penis joke here).

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Starved for narrative

Home from work in the evening, all too often I find myself starved for narrative, and specifically narrative that has beginning, middle, and end, as opposed to the endless middle and constant becoming of the markets, the economy, and the lives of the people I work with.  And so I find myself scurrying about, following links off of Facebook, reading this, that or the other.

On my bedside table, right now, the struggle continues to push forward through Caro's third volume on LBJ. I read half of Rabbit, Run before taking a break.  Just picked up a volume of Nabokov's stories, some of which are blissfully short, but they are written in a way that is so distant from my life now.

And so, the blog suffers.  My focus is diffused into so many shards of attention, on so many interesting and worthwhile topics, yes, but still.

Certainly I get a dose of somewhat discrete stories from watching superhero videos with Graham.  We just finished season 2 of "Ultimate Spiderman," praise the Lord.  I was sick to death of the wisecracking asides of that instance of Spiderman.  Bleck.  Now we have begun a 2001 series based on The Justice League, those old DC comic stalwarts.  It is astonishing how radically the quality of animation has changed since then.

Anyhoo, late now, off to bed.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Women with really short hair

I was just at a meeting where there were 3 women with really short hair.  Actually, two of them have been letting their hair start to get a little bit bushy, and I'm just sitting there going:  "no no no, go get that buzzed down again nice and tight."

I love the really short haired look on the ladies. It shows such confidence, no need to hide behind a bunch of follicles.  Almost all women who cut their hair really short look good.  Maybe there's some self-selection about it, I dunno.  I wish I could convince Mary to roll with a very tight look, but I think it will be quite some time before that happens.

Monday, January 19, 2015

MLKJ Day Celebrations

Somehow we as a nation haven't figured out how to celebrate this holiday.  There are plenty of civic-minded speeches and gatherings to discuss the progress or lack thereof of people of color and others who aren't doing so well, but celebrate it?  Why aren't we evolving a tradition of potluck suppers and getting together and enjoying one another's company?

For one thing, and I can attest to this for me, Martin Luther King Junior Day has become the final coda to the holidays of December and the New Year's, when our family is invariably traveling.  Then we come home, get back into the rhythm of office and school, and work hard through January to get things in gear for the New Year.

So by the time this one comes around, it's great to just kick back and enjoy life a little, have a truly quiet and peaceful holiday.  I had a coffee set up for this afternoon with a guy, but it got canceled.  And I'm totally cool with that.  Graham and I will play some frisbee, maybe some chess, watch some Spiderman videos.  Mary has gone to Lowe's to get the mailbox that she asked for as her Xmas present.  I am backing up her computer.

Last night mom made us corned beef and cabbage and potatos, kind of impromptu, and it was very nice.  Maybe that will become a tradition.

Meanwhile, I see that in Durham, at a place called 5850 Bistro and Martini Bar on Fayetteville Road, they are having an MLKJ Day throwdown.  It's in an area where the population seems to be mostly African-American, but the gallery of pictures online makes the clientele appear to be pretty evenly mixed white and black.  As anybody who lives in the United States knows, this is pretty rare.  I really should haul my lazy but over there, because it looks like they are doing it right.  But I will probably stay home with the family.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Google maps in Canada

I can so totally get sucked into looking at Google Maps in Canada, trying to find roads and pictures of the remotest parts of this great northern swampland.  What is astonishing is that you can be nosing around a place that is completely in the middle of nowhere, where there are no roads, no towns, nothing, and you'll happen upon a place that is designated a "Preserve Ecologique" or parkland or something.  As if there's some sort of need to invoke law to protect a place that is utterly impossible to get to.  Silly Canadians.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Suggestibility

In the Times yesterday it mentioned that Manuel Neuer, goalkeeper for Bayern Munich and Germany, might snake the FIFA Ballon d'Or award for the best soccer player in the world in 2014.  He would be the first goalie to win in over 20 years.

Immediately my mind went "well, if he's the best goalkeeper of all time, why shouldn't he?"  And where, gentle reader, did I get the idea that he was the best goalie of all time?  Well, they said it on TV during the World Cup, now didn't they?  And once  they had said it, I watched him and thought:  "well dag, he is rather good, sure enough."

Now, I watch a lot of soccer.  Not as much as many people in the world, but I like to.  And I try to be as discerning a judge as possible.  Those of you who read my blog are well aware of how hard I try, how important to my ego it is for me to try to be well-informed and impartial evaluator of just about whatever comes in front of me.  But, honestly, it's hard to evaluate this kind of stuff.  Sure, Neuer has won a lot, but he's been on great teams, has had great defensive teams in front of him.  Sure, he makes great saves, but so do other keepers. I think objectively I can accept that he is exceptionally effective coming out of his box and squelching opportunities proactively. But "best of all time?"  Honestly, what the hell do I know?

But all TV had to do was plant that seed in the back of my mind and I'm half ready to accept it. Therefore, the Ballon d'Or seems only meet and right.

The bigger point is that it's deucedly hard to make these kind of decisions, to decide what is the absolute right thing.  And that the easiest way to do so is to accept expert testimony at face value. For most domains in life, thankfully, we don't have to make an absolute right decision, we just have to make one that's good enough and move on.

Same with the Ballon d'Or.  Messi and Christiano Ronaldo have split it between the two of them for the last 6 or 7 years.  I say give it to Neuer.  Give it to a keeper.  Share the wealth, and keep on going.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Rooney's lack of class

So Southampton just beat Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford, and after the game Wayne Rooney was being interviewed.  He was philosophical in saying "that's football," in the sense that in a low-scoring sport it's easy to lose even if you play well, but when asked whether Southampton played better than Man U, he responded "well I've seen them play better."

Now, if he had been Dean Smith, he would have said "yes, they outplayed us," and he would have praised the opposing coach and team.  Of course, basketball and soccer are indeed different sports, with different scoring profiles, and soccer does admit of much more randomness than does basketball in determining outcomes.  Basketball is much more aggregative and cumulative in a given game, whereas soccer is cumulative over the course of a season, but less so in a game. But still, it wouldn't have been so hard for Rooney to have been more gracious in losing.

So why wasn't he?  Is it more important in soccer for players to believe in their superiority even when they lose?  Is it inherent in the role of the coach rather than the player to be the gracious one?

Or has something fundamentally changed in the way we view competition?  Certainly, for UNC, something changed since Smith departed.  And now the university is on the point of paying the price for it.

More Things Kids Say

This morning, as we were getting the Sunday pancakes ready, Graham addressed me as "mom."  He hadn't done that recently, but I totally love it when the kids get us confused.  I feel like it hearkens back to the time when we were basically an undifferentiated parental unit, a bulwark against the world.

From the depths of memory, something reminded me of how Leslie's girl Caroline, when we were visiting them or they were visiting us, must've been 12-13 years ago, was playing with Natalie. Natalie was either trying to snake some of her toys, and Caroline said "Natalie's trying to be grabby." That's cute right there.

Friday, January 09, 2015

The World Made Straight

Went and watched the opening night showing of Dave Burris's premier film The World Made Straight this evening.  The film was not as violent as the trailer would have you believe, and it was much better than the New York Times gave it credit for being.

Yes, there was some silly stuff. The protagonist goes and shacks up with the professor after getting kicked out of his own house after only meeting the guy once, and a couple of days later he's already casting this guy as a father figure.  Similarly, he tries to hop up on his candy-striper new girlfriend on their first date, on which he's taken her out to a creek to watch him fish.  But it's a movie, not a novel, and we have to make allowances for these kinds of accelerations sometime so that the movie can proceed through its narrative within the standard 2-hour expectation.  And movies can also be permitted to work at this archetypal level, where things are just simpler and flow more easily than real life.

Overall, it's a quite a good film.  I'm proud of our boy Durris for getting this done. No mean feat.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The content of anxiety is irrelevant

I have shared here before about how I have on occasion had anxiety dreams.  Back when they were in their worst efflorescence, a few years ago, I saw a cognitive behavioral psychologist for a little while. Can't recall if I shared about her.  Love her.

One of the things she talked about was how the content of anxiety is irrelevant.  If you are prone to anxiety, as I on occasion am, the anxiety finds a vessel.

Case in point:  last night.  After a couple of nights of imperfect sleep, I've gone back to taking a melatonin at bedtime.  It has worked pretty well.  This morning, at some time, my brain got focused on whether melatonin was bad for my kidneys, or nephrotoxic -- though as I half-slept I was thinking the word was "neurotoxic".  I have to monitor nephrotoxicity.  I don't know if I've shared about it, but it's one of the little medical things of which I have to be mindful.

So I lay in bed and thought about it ("perseverated," technically).  Not too badly, and as I did it I was more or less aware of how ridiculous it was.  I didn't lose too much sleep.  But still.

While in Princeton, I had the pleasure of having coffee with one of my most regular readers, who recently had been through a little heart surgery, and was looking and sounding fantastic.  This kind of thing puts it all in perspective.  The trick, of course, is to keep it there.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

95 Express lanes south of DC

I am sure that I have ranted about I-95 between Richmond and DC, particularly around Quantico and Fredericksburg.  Because the 95 system is but a single pipe through there, because there are no alternatives parallel to it, there is all too often butt nasty traffic through there.  I hate it.

But today we were able to take the fresh express lanes south from the 95/495/395 confluence for 15-20 miles, courtesy of our EZ Pass.  In several places, we were cruising at 70 while traffic in the local lanes was crawling.  I felt like a king.

As of now, I don't know how much it cost us to do that.  10 bucks, 12?  I could look it up on the EZ Pass website, and I'm sure I will.  Saving us 30-40 minutes and the heartache associated with dad sitting there in the front seat acting pouty and grumpy made it money well-spent, for sure.

But what if I were a commuter and came through there a lot, daily.  The ducats would add up pretty quick. It would, in fact, be a pretty regressive and exclusionary road, a perk for those willing to pay the premium to book these expenses daily.  And how much did it cost to build this highway for the pretty wealthy?  I'm sure I could look that up too.  It was maybe 20 miles of road that goes north with morning rush hour and south at the end of the day, therefore with complex reversible entrance/exit ramps.  My guess is not less than $10 billion.  Is that the best use of our transit dollars?  Hard to say.

It worked for us today, I can tell you that.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Alan Furst, Blood of Victory

I had been unable to finish the last Alan Furst novel I tried to read.  It was too much seafaring, too boaty -- and those of you who recall my wedding will remember that I was very pleased with its setting at the Larchmont Yacht Club -- with the sole caveat that the lovely view was marred by all those stupid boats (I pray the boaty contingent of Berridges will not take offense).

At any rate, I picked up Furst's Blood of Victory at the Friends of the Chapel Hill Public Library sale for two bucks a few weeks back, and it has proven to be a good use of money.  This takes us back to dry land, with Furst's typical rag-tag group of Eastern and Western European resistance/intelligence agents toing and froing about Europe, trying to quietly stop the Nazis or their precursors or something.

Once again, our hero shacks up with a lady of shared interest, and they do the nasty in some cold rooms and other makeshift settings. This is one of Furst's great motifs -- the, if not quite transformative, at least salvative quality of staying warm and getting busy in the face of death. Not quite love, but necessary companionship at a time of maximum uncertainty, which grows into something more, almost love, good enough, deep enough for the circumstances. Much better than nothing.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ringing in the new

A good day here.  Coffee with Michael Goldman in Port Chester.  A prospect declared her desire to become a client at around 3, George came home from the hospital, so Natalie and Graham and I went up and visited with him and Susan an Paolucci late in the afternoon. We sat around his bed and told jokes. There was no traffic on 95 or 287 going either way. Just had lasagna from Mercurio's for dinner, and then snuck in a little peanut brittle for desert. Took Kevin to the station, and listened to a some fine songs by the Shins on the way back.

All in all, a perfectly decent way to ring out 2014, which was a reasonably serviceable year.  We're gonna ramp it up a little in 2015.  More energy, more joy.  Happy New Year to you, dear reader.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Discipline

Looking back to the beginning of the Grouse, one of my goals was to give myself a place to write, and to force myself to do it.  Daily.  In this last bit I have failed in recent years, despite knowing full well that it is the act of and effort it takes to do something that ensures that one remains good at it. Not that I am by any means positioned to comment on the quality of my writing.  At the very least, I know that writing more increases the probability that what I write does not suck.

And yet, as I have said, I am to the point in life that I really need to let go of the romance of being a writer, and certainly I can't let my ego hinge on my being one.  Nor, indeed, can I let my ego depend too much on what I do in general.  All too often I find myself reading about other people (just now about British statisticians during WWII in The Economist) and I become jealous of them for finding such a firm calling in life.

This I gotta get over. Do my job one day at a time, hang with the fam, read, write, exercise, sleep.

Right now I need to shower, shave, then maybe go to the hospital to sit with George.  Or play chess with Graham.  A new thing.  Last night I had a check mate opportunity staring me in the face for five moves and I kept not taking it, hoping he would see it.  In the end, it was getting late, I had to do it.

In retrospect, the better move may have been to alert him to the threat and help him think through ways of trying to get out of it.  That's my next move.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

All quiet on the Eastern Front -- Not

We've had busy holidays here in Larchmont.  George Jr. in the hospital, Mary Lee with the flu, Beth falling down the stairs and hurting herself while holding the injured dog Jenny, lest Jenny injure herself worse.  Graham having mysterious abdominal pain that, Praise the Lord, just cleared up. Mary and I have been fighting off colds.. or is it allergies in my case?  Flooding in the upstairs bathroom,, then the downstairs bathroom.  The stopped-up kitchen sink.

For the moment, all is calm, so I will stop tempting the gods with my litany.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Recovering joke oxygen

Visited with Frank Miller of Columbia yesterday, one of my professors from back in the day, a fantastic guy.  He's in the hospital at the moment for some trivial crap, but it's no fun to spend Xmas there for sure.

Like my dad, Frank is a great teller of jokes, and I found myself going back to Daniel Wallace's Big Fish, telling Frank about the old jokes that were in there, the ones my dad had told for decades, and being shocked that he didn't know them.

I tried to tell them again, but could only do so ham-handedly, forgetting many of the key inflections and the timing, only kind of remembering the flow.  As I think I may have said here on the blog, though I have been known to make people laugh now and again, I have never been a joke teller.  That was always my dad's domain.  He sucked all of the joke oxygen out of the room.

Now, all of a sudden, I am feeling somewhat energized about jokes.  I'd like to learn some, learn how to tell them.  I think you can see why.

Perhaps not coincidentally, at dinner last night my mind wandered back to the 1995 movie Funny Bones, with Oliver Platt, Jerry Lewis, and what should have been more of a breakout role for Lee Evans, as this kinetic comic savant from Blackpool, England.  I need to watch this movie again.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Back to the city

Some days in New York I'm just sad I ever left.  There is a vitality to being in the streets of this place unlike that of any place I've spent a lot of time, though in principle I recognize that some other places should be similar.  London, in particular.  Probably Hong Kong too.  Big, dense, open cities where people flock to from all over, but aren't focused on some kind of local of national purity.

So today, coming down Park towards Grand Central on the East Side, a security guard-type guy, African-American, greeted some other black guys with Local 147 jackets on. "Merry Christmas, fellas, don't forget to praise the Savior."  I had a feeling it was in solidarity, real happiness to see other black people in a pretty cold and white place.  But there was such enthusiasm in it that I, done up in quasi-Wall Street office casual, with my black leather briefcase and all that, was caught up in the moment and broke into a big and utterly genuine smile and merry christmased him right back.  And he was cool with it.  And why the hell not?

My shoes, which are pretty freaking old, were lacking in tread and slipping around on the wet pavement, and I remembered I intended to do some shoe shopping, so I hung a left and went back up to Saks Fifth, stopping in a couple of other footwear-dedicated emporia on the way.  Nothing really caught my eye, and when I went into Saks -- fed by the memory of snapping up some nice keds on sale some years back -- I found myself cruelly disappointed.  Everything was way more expensive than I was gonna pay.  All the shoes on the sale racks belonged there.  Butt ugly.

And being in there reminded me of how intoxicating the wealth of Manhattan is.  All the svelte ladies and aloof gents. All the mirrors on the escalator which give you lots of time to assess yourself.  And I was reminded that it is not me.

On the way out, caught up in the spirit of the season, I thought "maybe I'll look into some pretty little useless trinket for Mary."  (What she wants for Xmas is a new mailbox, and she'll get it, too).  I stopped at a display of cashmere scarves and examined the price tag.  $1100.  Nope.  Kept on walkin.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Too young for that

Last night Natalie went to a party at a friend's house.  Before the party, her friend Melanie came over to hang out.  Both of them were very pretty in little party dresses.  I assumed that there would be boys at the party, and, indeed, when I knocked on Natalie's door to tell her it was time to head over, they were sitting in the middle of the floor reading The Good Girl's Guide to Boys.

Naturally, I inquired whether this was to be a co-ed party, to which Natalie responded "We're too young for boys."  There may well have been a note of sarcasm in her voice, but I believe that the party was, in any case, largely if not entirely boy-free.

But, I mean, whatever, she's in 9th grade, after all.  I'm sure that she rubs shoulders with the occasional boy on the debate team, or perhaps at model UN, or even at mock trial.  But not on the girls' frisbee team or in feminist club.  She stays busy, to be sure.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Heroes

So I continue with the reading of books recommended by my boss that I would never have even considered in earlier life, part of my program of radical submission to a new master.  Most recently, it has been Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich, published in 1937.  It is apparently a classic of capitalist inspirational literature, having sold something like 20 million copies.  And, to be sure, there is much wisdom in it, if also much hokiness.

One interesting point that made me stop and think.  He asks who the reader's heroes are.  And I have to ponder:  who are my heroes?  Beyond Dean Smith, it's tough to say.  Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, those are cool guys for sure.  Heroes?

Do I lack for heroes because of deep deep seated skepticism?

Monday, December 15, 2014

A clean well-lighted sandwich

The night we were married, Mary and I made off to Croton-on-Hudson for a mini-honeymoon of a couple of nights, having planned a real honeymoon in Italy already (see here).  We got to the bed-and-breakfast in Croton at about 4 in the morning, and the next day, whenever we woke up and then subsequently got up, we set off to have some fun.

First, we needed to feed ourselves.  I had memories from a teenage visit to our friends the Adamses of their some nice little spot down by the river in Garrison, not too far up the way from Croton, so we headed up there.   But when we got there and went down the hill to the train station, I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to get where I was thinking of.

But there were a couple of teenager dudes hanging out there in the parking lot, leaning up against a Saab drinking Beck's (OK. At least that's how I remember it).  So I pulled over by them (and we, admittedly, were driving a Volvo) and asked if there wasn't a place to get lunch down by the river.  And one of them goes "Oh yeah, if you go around over that way there's a store where they can make you a sandwich, but it's maybe not the best from the point of view of, whaddayacallit, cleanity."

Cleanity.  He actually said that.  The rest of the dialogue is best effort on my part, but I'll be damned if he didn't say the word "cleanity."

And so we went around over that way and got ourselves a couple of roast beef sandwiches and sat in some little park down by the Hudson and ate them.  I believe there may have been a yellowjacket or two trying to get a piece of me.