Thursday, August 17, 2017

Working vacation

It is of course a contradiction in terms.  I come up here to the Northeast in August with a few goals. First and foremost, to see family. All of Mary's people are here, and after 23 years or so they are my people too. The kids are used to seeing uncles, aunt, cousin, grandma, the sound, a play in the city. It is part of the rhythm of our life.

But, I already took a couple of weeks vacation in July. My practice is still not entirely at cruising altitude. Thankfully I don't have pressing and immediate client issues, except for figuring out how best to service my non-standard clients. But there is tons to do.

And I wake up first most mornings, and the air is cool, and I'm looking out over the water in a pretty chill locale, and days are shortened by the need to do family things in the evening... And we're having pizza tonight, so I should really exercise.

This is all layered on top of the general conflict within me of trying to figure out how best to allocate my time, feeling like I need to make good use of myself. And it is all within the context of operating within an extremely rarefied cohort in an atmosphere of extreme white privilege. So there is guilt.

Trump is 15 miles away to the south. This weekend there will be an attempt at a "March on Google" in New York. It will be interesting to see who turns out. Should I go?

Probably not. My instinct is that direct engagement with, or acknowledgement of, the extreme right is right now playing into Bannon's hands, giving Breitbart et al fodder to rile people up. This weekend, it is better to ignore them.

Or keep reading JD Vance,'s  Hillbilly Lament which I started last night. Pretty easy reading.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Finding coffee

I have written of the extent to which we, as a family, are held hostage by the tradition of afternoon coffee. It is really a little pathetic, but it's true.

Last summer we were in Normandy and, it being France, you would think that each village has a perfect little sidewalk cafe where one could get a cafe au lait and a flaky pain au chocolat while seated in the shade. But that is complete bullshit, it turns out.

Tourist bullshit. There were days when we found ourselves driving around for like 45 minutes to find something vaguely resembling this ideal. In many small villages, there is maybe a pizza place and a smelly Bar/Tabac, which would have worked for me, but not the kids. Sometimes there's not even that.

There is also no Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, etc. Just as many small American towns may just have a Pizza Hut or perhaps just Hunt Brothers pizza available at a convenience store (actually not horrible pizza, better than Papa John's or Domino's, and a pretty good business).

In so many ways, we constantly forget how good we have it.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Leaving it on the court

Played tennis last night, doubles, didn't play well. Last week I had played singles and had played well.

I know I know, why should you care? The point is, dear reader, that tennis has always been and continues to be an object lesson for the Grouse in self-control. I feel crappy when I play poorly, and it becomes hard to distinguish between performance and self-esteem, it gets hard to remember that having played poorly doesn't reflect badly on me as a person. In fact, upon reflection, I can see that letting it get to me reflects slightly badly on me as an adult, whereas the actual playing does not, except to the extent that it is impacted by my poor self management.

The key thing is getting some exercise, meeting and hanging with some folx, and so on. I get that as soon as I get home and nestle into the couch for some family viewing. (Right now "Stranger Things" on NetFlix, a production of some Durham boys and a woman I went to college with, oddly enough)

In the end, all I can really say is praise allah that I don't play golf. That would be a mess. Especially for you readers.



Tuesday, August 08, 2017

More on Ferrante

There is a temptation to call the Neapolitan novels a Bildungsroman, a narrative of personal formation and growth, and to an extent it is true. But in some sense it is the tale of the de-formation of personhood, the excessive and lifelong interdependency of two persons, namely Lenu (our narrator) and Lina, her best friend, rival, and other half.

The question that naturally arises is: how much is this norm, how much exception?  I.e. are we all like that, or is this a little extreme. As so many questions, I think the answer is probably: both. That is, the Lenu/Lina relationship is over the top, but in so being it digs into the heart of many human relationships, that many of us skate on the edge of excessive "enmeshment" (a term a counsellor friend I was talking with yesterday suggested) as we go through life, ever charting our own courses and being pulled back into the orbits of our key partners in life, our parents, spouses, friends, children, etc.

This is before we even begin to discuss Lenu and Lina as "types" representative of historical courses, Lenu, like a leftist/literary Forrest Gump, travels out and everywhere, becomes through her spouse and kids a global citizen, Lina never goes anywhere, but delves deep into the historical roots and bowels of Naples, all the while becoming ever more complex, deeper and richer. Or not.

It is a big burgeoning troth of food for thought. Them belly full but me hungry.

Monday, August 07, 2017

The Neapolitan Novels

I'm not sure when I started them, not all that long ago, it's kind of a blur, but I pushed through to the end of volume 4 of Elena Ferrante's quartet yesterday.

It is a remarkable series of books. To fully encapsulate it, I have to resort to Tolstoy's perhaps apocryphal rejoinder when someone asked him what Anna Karenina was about. He started to recite the book from the beginning. And Tolstoy is, in the end, the best analogy to Ferrante, though her project is closer to War and Peace than it is to Anna Karenina in the sheer breadth of its scope and ambition. It is closer to Faulkner, though, in the intensity of its focus on place, in this case Naples.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing is that, although it is told from the first person, Ferrante resists the temptation to have what Forster calls "flat" characters. Instead, the characters are all more or less "round," complex, with multidimensional motivations for their paths in life. While there's no doubt that some are more fully-fleshed than others, there's at least an attempt at some depth wherever possible, which is not chopped liver, as far as novel-writing goes.

And for this reason, having finished it, I am ever so slightly tempted to go back and read it again. Not that that's gonna happen, it's kindred to the urge to have another baby long after you've really sworn it off and can see the finish line of emptynesterdom.

But I will read more Ferrante in time, to be sure.

For now, Deep Space 9 beckons.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

The vanishing of labor, continued

Building on this theme from a few weeks back.

The whole idea that all jobs can be automated away and that therefore there will be no work in the future is predicated on the idea that the only work worth doing is the jobs that are being done. So, if groceries can be rung up, or assets allocated, or loans underwritten by bots, then everybody should be sitting around.

Meanwhile, climate change continues apace, there is food insecurity in Africa and food deserts in lower income neighborhoods, obesity is on the rise everywhere, everybody feels like they need a gun because everybody else has one, especially those bad people over there. There is horrific inequality all over the place, health care cannot be equitably provided, etc. etc. Globally, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and Palestine, amongst others, present seemingly insoluble challenges.

I am reminded of Giuliani's sneering branding of Obama as a "community organizer." It seems to me that community organizing is the thing we need most, only we need it at a much higher level than Obama was doing it in Chicago. In 2008, he seemed like he might have raised his game to do it at a global level, but that proved to be too great of a challenge even for him. The Nobel Committee fell flat on its face fawning before him, even as McConnell and the Tea Party threw up a wall of white resentment. Boehner may have represented a bridge not taken.

This is not Obama's fault. It is our fault, and our problem, and our path out.

It is not that work is vanishing, but that there is so so very much work to be done, and the very best work. We just need to figure out how to do it. Melinda Gates is doing a pretty good job showing white Americans an ideal of how it might be done. She is the new Princess Diana.

Time to swim.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Thank you, Jesus

I went to a pig picking out west of Yanceyville yesterday, and was guided in my way there by the ever faithful Sergei and Larry, appearing in the guise of Google Maps. They took me down many a country road that I ne'er had seen. I was intrigued by many things, but first and foremost by the "thank you Jesus" signs that I saw in many yards. They were so uniform, I assumed that they must have been distributed in a top-down fashion, and that it couldn't have come from just one church. I assumed as well that, if WalMart or some other retailer was selling them, there would be more than one variety.  And since there was punctuation absent, to wit, a comma that should have been there, I assumed that it must have come from somewhere within the Trump organization. It seemed like Bannon's work, most likely.

But when I got home later and had sufficient bandwidth, I put the question to Sergei and Larry directly, and they informed me that it was in fact a bottom up effort, founded by a kid from nearby Asheboro who has founded a movement to put these in many yards.


So I guess my suspicions were unfounded.

However, given that they appeared to be perched in the yards of many presumed Trump voters, I still don't get it. It would be good to have more discussions with rural Christians to understand how they square Trump with the savior.  I just don't get it.

Today, at RiteAid, I took my blood pressure from the little machine there. When I was done, it said something to me and I was like: "what?"  I thought it had said "Praise God." Then I reflected, and decided it must have said "Great job." I guess I am a little jumpy on the question of Christian theocracy these days. But who could blame me?

Clearly, this week's events show that the Mooch, if no one else, walks in the footsteps of Jesus.

Discussing rugs

I have been encouraging Mary to make a decision about a rug for the rec room for some time. Just now she called me in there to help her look at some options, and there were many variables to consider, culled from design web sites she had looked at and imagined scenarios of guests in the home that happen infrequently.  Also perceived budgetary constraints, she thinking that she needs to spend little money because many months ago I suggested that we should have a budget for the overall project of redoing the rec room.  In my mind, having a budget doesn't mean doing everything as cheaply as possible, it just means having some sort of framework in place for the overall spend. I like spreadsheets.

She makes me crazy with some of this shit, and I don't necessarily articulate my craziness well. I think the root issue is that I have my own loopy cogitations I am continually trying to sort through, so that being dragged into her overthinking just adds insult to my own already bad enough injury.

Also, she wants everything to be perfect because she's afraid she'll be locked in forever, whereas I want to have it good enough so we can move forward and achieve the ultimate aim -- having it look good enough so we can host more.

All in all, it's just marriage, as complex an evolutionary process as one is likely to find.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Levanter

I read through this 1972 Eric Ambler novel between volumes 3 and 4 of Ferrante. A palate-cleanser, as it were.

At first it seemed sort of slow to get going, kind of quaint in the degree of technical detail into which it delved around various matters concerning the manufacture of this or that (the Levanter in the title is an industrial exec with an engineering background), and in the scale of evil contemplated by the neerdowells he runs into and must foil, as of course he must.

But Ambler was one of Hitchcock's core writers, and not for nothing. From improbable material, by 2017 standards, he was able to weave an impressive set of conflicts and plot. Relative to the hyperactive and explosive plots we are used to from novels and movies today, it is slow, but worthy reading. This is one of his best.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Quick fix

I have been kvetching about the interior of our old Volvo off and on for about two years now, judging by the blog (I see entries from November 2015 mentioning it). A couple of times I have been on the point of plowing money into it, then held back for this or that reason.

Just yesterday, Natalie went and got her "after 9s" license, meaning she is now just as adult a driver as I am, in the eyes of the law. To celebrate, she went out to a movie and then hung out with her friend's Dora and Susanna.  So she merits a car, according to the law of the suburbs.

The other evening I was looking at places where the header (interior fabric) of the Volvo was hanging down by the front and rear windshields, and I thought:  I wonder if a stapler could help with that?  So I went inside and got a stapler, and I'll be damned if it didn't do a good job addressing the basic problem.

The main thing that had been bothering me in the interior had been the fabric hanging down from the sunroof, which just looked crappy and filled me with a little shame. I thought:  "There's no way the stapler will work here." But I tried it anyway and, though it doesn't look good if you look right at it, it does hold the fabric up.

Which just goes to show you that people, me in particular, should not overthink and overfeel things.

And, with the money I saved, I was able to make a small contribution to the website tracking Susanna's dad's battle against leukemia, or, rather, informing the community around him. Not that I actively thought about it that way, but that's what I did.

Moving on now.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Reality check

Headed to lunch today, was right on time, which means I wasn't 5 minutes early, which in business circles is optimal. So I was rushing, and I was thinking the place I needed to pull in was 100 yards down the way, when in fact it was right there. I could have just gone further down and pulled in to the other end of the parking lot, but I didn't.  I had accelerated needlessly, and I veered into the parking lot and slammed on the brakes.

The people at the Subaru dealership had recommended that I go ahead and get new brakes, while the people at AutoLogic said I had another 7500 miles before I did. At that moment, it felt like the people at the dealership were right.

The moral to the story, if you hadn't gotten there, was that I should have left earlier. I have, in fact, been taking silly risks to carve 15-30 seconds off of things, like being one lane to the right of where I need to be 300 yards down the road, making it necessary to beat the car to my left off the line. This is not a hard thing to do if I focus on the light and utilize the newfound advantages of my stick shift. But it is still stupid. Bad for gas mileage, bad for the car, and it makes me focus on beating somebody off the line, which is an idiotic waste of attention.

Note to self. Leave earlier.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Back from the hills

Our flight got in at around midnight last night, so I am in the wierd time warp of West-East jet lag during daylight savings. If feels like it's about 10:30 to me now, but it is past noon.  Hopefully by the time evening rolls around, I will be better synched up.

There are times when I wonder whether I would be better off with a more thematically-focused blog, and am a little envious of peers who do have more unified online presence, Anne Applebaum, say. They can freely promote themselves under their own name and build a "brand", not even as it were, for realsies. But they lack the freedom to go offroad and just wing it, which I have preserved. Sort of.

My friend Steve, a rather practical fellow, once said that he always read the Economist from the front: upon receiving it, he would read the four to five leader articles in one sitting. The Grouse, ever the contrarian, decided it made sense to read it from the back, always beginning with the weekly obituary, because this is the best way to keep things in their ultimate perspective and consider the long view of what is a life well-lived. Last week (I am two weeks behind) featured a consideration of the life of Heathcote Williams, a British poet of whom I had never heard.

In a poem called "Autogeddon," Williams referred to car travel as the "TV of travel." After almost two weeks and maybe 700 miles in the car over the last couple of weeks, I hear that. We blew in air-conditioned comfort (often not needed, given that the temp outside was 65ish much of the way) through a lot of landscape, some of it glossy, much of it less so. But I'm not gonna sit around and flagellate myself. We saw a lot of America that few people see. Flying over is even worse. Riding a bike is better from the perspective of engaging with one's surroundings, but few are those who have the time to do long bike rides, particularly when accompanied by 79- and 13-year olds. That ain't happening.

We saw some places well off the beaten path. The day before yesterday we drove from Mendocino to Sacramento to fly out, and our trip took us on Rte 20 along the northern shore of Clear Lake, California, through towns with aspirational Euro-monikers like "Lucerne" and "Nice." Clear Lake is, to be clear, a big lake, and it's pretty, but fancy it ain't. Rte 20 hugs the northern shore, skirting through communities of small houses, mobile homes, and modest eateries and hotels. Rooms at the Lake Marina Inn in Clearlake Oaks, with spectacular views across the lake at what we would consider mountains back east, can be had for $69 a night.  On the internet they look clean.

It's reminiscent of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, and a reminder that there is much beauty and comfort to be had for the American middle class, if it can just figure out how to keep a job that will let it schedule vacation time. And stave off obesity and opioid dependency and death by 300 million firearms. No mean feat.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

In the hills

We have now made our way down the Pacific Coast from central Oregon to Little River, CA, right near Mendocino. Between the two we have gone through some of the most starkly beautiful, and at the same time intensely isolated, places in the lower 48. Many's the time I'd gaze through the windshield and think:  "man, it would be cool to live out in these hills, away from the pushes and pulls of civilization, yatta yatta yatta".

Thing is, I am apparently not alone in this thought.  Thing is, it would appear that these wilds up here attract all kinds of eccentrics. There were lots of dirty, bearded hitchhikers (an objective description, mind you), and other wild-eyed types walking on the sides of roadways off in the middle of nowhere. Lots of hardscrabble mobile home communities.

Up near Eugene, CA, we stayed in a Hampton Inn out near the highway (a mistake, by the way, the old town was cure and there were some groovy looking inns that were probably cheaper. I just didn't have the energy to research cool lodgings for every night). Between our hotel and the breakfast place we hit, maybe 150 yards away, we passed 4 homeless people. And another guy sitting alone in a pickup truck with a covered back with a bunch of crumpled up Bud tall boys thrown back there.

I think it not implausible to guess that many come up hear for the promise of an independent, living off the land lifestyle, and end up having economic difficulties. Mary thinks I am overgeneralizing, but I think I have some experience at the intersection of substance abuse and mental illness.

In Garberville, CA, in the heart of Humboldt County -- an area much-mythologized in my younger days -- we had lunch at a little deli. Sitting there waiting for our sandwiches, we saw every stereotype of a pothead ever dreamed up by Hollywood central casting. Getting gas after lunch, I remarked to my mom what I joy of a sight I must have been when I came home from college back in the day, and she had a good laugh. Moving on.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

On the coast, with a novel

We are here at Waldport, Oregon, in a beach house that looks like it is right out of the Brady Bunch, looking out at the ocean in the distance, down the bluff.  It is a perfect beach house, Mary did miraculously well to find it.

I am making my way to the end of the third volume of Ferrante's neapolitan novels. Although I have resisted the temptation to try to learn about the author, out of respect for her desired anonymity, I am understanding the urge to look into it. In so many ways, these books are the perfect bookend to Knausgaard. He of the north, she of the south. He purportedly autobiographical and true to life, narrator and author entirely fused as one, but so often stretching credulity, in the sense that it seems impossible that one could remember so much detail, so we often find ourselves asking: could that really be true?

Ferrante, on the other hand, is the opposite.  It is all supposed to be fiction, but it seems so real that the question that constantly pops into my head is: "could this be anything but autobiographical?" And yet I feel as if it is only right to let the question hand in the air, and just keep going.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Theme music

As Graham and I have made our way through the various serieses within the Star Trek universe, or whatever you want to call it. One thing that has remained consistent is how enjoyable it is to whistle the theme music, particularly because Graham doesn't like it at all when I do it. Or even when I sing along. Recently, he has taken to climbing on top of me and trying to hold my mouth shut and otherwise squash my head in a mostly vain attempt to stop me from joining in the theme to Deep Space 9. So much so that I have learned to prophylactically remove my glasses and put them on the little end table/bookshelf, lest they fall victim to Graham's aggressions.

Natalie, by way of contrast, very much enjoys singing along to theme music with me, a tradition which we kicked off back when we were watching Parks and Rec together, and which has continued on as we make our way through Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Let me just say that season 3 of Kimmy has them reaching fairly hard with the old plot generation algorithms, though the last one (episode 11) was nothing short of genius, primarily due to a tremendous guest performance by Rachel Dratch plus Tina Fey too.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Moving things out

No martial arts for Graham today.  There has been a lot of crap piling up around our rec room and mud room for months. I often look at it and think "why doesn't Mary get this shit out of here?" The fact is, by so doing, I am really ignoring the hard facts of sedimented gender roles in our household: it is 99% a male function to carry things out of the house. It just is. Trash, compost, stuff headed to the thrift store, even bags when we head out on family trips. It is mostly the job of me and, to the extent I can draw him into it, Graham.

Mary does much of the carrying things in, specifically groceries, and to a lesser extent mail.

If I let this bother me, and am just letting myself get foolishly sucked into a mental and psychic battle that does me no good at all.

So my Subaru is now jam-packed with stuff and I just need to figure out which lucky thrift store will be the winner. Mary saw a nice little informal jacket for me at the Goodwill on Weaverdairy just the other day. Why she didn't snap it up, I can't tell you. I must coach her to trust her instincts more.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Flowers in the crevasses

On the front page of the Journal today there is a story about Nike and Amazon. Basically, Nike hadn't let Amazon sell its branded products directly because it didn't want to give up control of its branding and also wanted to maintain higher margins, but lots of 3rd party resellers had been selling Nike on the Amazon platform anyway. What is interesting is where they got their products. Many of them apparently scour discounters like TJ Maxx, Walmart, even Nike's own website, hoover up stuff, and then sell it on Amazon.  Really small players, like one person with two or three helpers.

It is truly astounding how markets work, how people can be disciplined about pricing, see opportunities, and dive in their and make things work. In aggregate, the third-party resellers were in effect eroding Nike's power over the presentation of its own brand, which in turn pressured, if you will, Phil Knight to toodle up from Beaverton, Oregon and do a deal with Mr. Bezos up in Seattle.

The economy will continue to change. As AirBnb, Uber, and Lyft change lodging and transportation, new niches will appear. Already the question of little amenities in AirBnbs arises. If shared soap and shampoo is not attractive, who will scale up the delivery of miniatures to AirBnb owners? (thinking for just a second: Amazon) What about new kinds of hostels for Uber and Lyft drivers who spend 4 days a week in higher rent locations like the Bay area then retreat to where they live? (Probably someone on AirBnb) I'm pretty sure this is happening. Uber and Lyft should be gathering data (or someone should) to help drivers shift between metro areas in response to shifts in volume, perhaps for events, or for seasons. If, for example, there are parking constraints around beaches in summer, and a lack of public transportation, we should see Uber/Lyft van services arise that can provide fluid, variable capacity between places on, say, Long Island, and Jones Beach, for example. I just read that institutional buyers have been buying houses and apartments in choice neighborhoods and turning them into AirBnbs, which has in turn impacted the availability of housing in some markets. And has riled neighbors.

On the other hand, friends in Princeton just built a spare room on the back of their house and are clearing $3k a month from it. I stayed there in March (for free, thank you). It was nice.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

No NPR in the car

Driving Graham to chess camp in the mornings this week. Although NPR is often a constant companion for our family in the car, I have been leaving it off this week, to foster conversation.  I have to start most of it, which is fine.

Things we hit today:

  • There are apparently no attractive girls in the 7th grade at Phillips. I find that surprising. There were a bunch when I was there. We discussed my first girlfriend, also named Mary.
  • Graham didn't really understand that I went to both AA and Al Anon, doesn't know the difference between them.  We will continue this discussion, maybe tomorrow.
  • Graham is not ready to learn to shave the little bit of peach fuzz off his top lip. I didn't expect that he would be. We left it that he will tell me when he wants to. I will try to come back to it in a few months if I don't hear from him (I doubt I will). 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The bubble in hand held devices

No, not those.

What I mean is the ones containing, meat, cheese, and the like.

At the airport in DC I had breakfast bao, steamed Chinese buns like the roast pork buns available at Chinese bakeries.  I used to snag them for breakfast near Penn Station back in the day, ones with traditional Chinese fillings, and they were good. These airport ones had bacon, egg and cheese, egg and spicy sausage, etc. They were fine but not exceptional. Not as good as the traditional Chinese versions, nor as good as bacon, egg and cheese on a hard roll or biscuit. Admittedly, the portion size was not excessive and, in the combo of two with a perfectly decent cup of coffee, they offered reasonable value.

Then yesterday I went to Makus, a new empanada place out where 54 hits Garrett Road and 751. The empanadas were passable and looked cute, but were nothing special from a taste perspective. The rice and beans side was probably from enormous cans of beans. But basically they were nothing to write home about, much less blog...

If I didn't have a bigger point to make, that is. The food truck bubble has long since passed its apogee. Food is not better because it comes in a truck. The movement is basically a cost and regulatory arbitrage deal: you don't have to pay rent, AC, plumbing, all these costs that a brick and mortar restaurant would. The workers suffer in the heat of the truck, sweating profusely into their goatees and multiple piercings.

I think the same thing is happening with the street food scene. Empanadas can be great, as can burrito-like things from many cultures (we had good Asian quasi-burritos in New Haven in March, and the Chinese burger I had in Oxford last year was delish). But they have to be done well and distinctively. If you just wrap meat, cheese, veggies in a different shape of bread product and denote it with a foreign word, it doesn't become better ipso facto.

There will be a shake out, these places will fail if they don't get better.



nb. This is not to say that all food trucks or hand helds are bad, many are products of diligent and creative foodies. But they don't win just cuz.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Self management

In DC this morning, stayed in a very lovely AirBnB in Mt Pleasant, then had to make for Reagan National Airport, so conveniently well-served by the yellow line. Left at 7:30 to walk to Metro, but the heat was rising already so I was sweaty by the time I got to the station.  I will spare you the details about my minor technical issues with the Metro save to say that, when I bought a day pass for the Metro the day before, I asked and was told that the pass worked on both Metro and buses.  THIS IS NOT TRUE. It messed me up and cost me a little money. Nuffsaid on that.

Anyhoo, I was sweaty when I got to the Columbia Heights station, but I had built in a pretty good margin for error for my flight. Or so I thought...

Actually, I had, but managing the uncertainty of whether or not that was the case is always challenging.  On the train platform there was a mob and the train was standing there empty. Medical emergency. The train moved soon enough.

I got to the airport an hour and 40 minutes before my flight, and walked down to the gate and saw there was no line whatsoever at security. Great. Except that the woman who was letting people into the line said:  "No, you've got to go down to the other concourse, your flight's down there."  So I turned around and walked the 200 yards or so down the way. And as I did, I looked, and in the distance I saw lots of bodies in silhouette down the way and had a moment's "oh no!" flash through my brain. Not a freak out, just a little warning.

And I recognized what was happening, and just kept walking at a reasonable pace till I got down there and saw that the lines weren't really long.

I wasn't really worried about missing my plane by now, mind you.  It was more about getting food and coffee.

But the main thing is that airport experiences give me/us opportunities to observe myself in moments of potential stress and use data to manage myself. Yesterday I checked the status of parking at RDU online and realized that I was going to need to park in an offsite lot, so I left 15 minutes earlier than normal. And probably needed no more than 10 of those 15.  Last night I asked my host about typical lines at National, and he gave me a departure recommendation, then checked to see that there weren't big delays on the Metro line.

And so, by asking lots of questions and using data, I managed through nicely. And even had time to blog. And try out some of the breakfast bao (chinese rolls) here on the concourse. OK, not great. But different, and not expensive by airport standards.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The vanishing of labor?

Some years ago, it must have been five or so because he passed away in 2013, I was sitting with my dad in Hillsborough at Weaver Street and dad said: "There's going to be a huge problem because all the jobs are going to disappear as technology takes over all the simple tasks." Of course, since dad said it, I immediately thought: "that's total bullshit" and began ruminating on why it must not be so.

Over the last few days, a couple of very smart people advanced the same argument, and indeed this way of thinking has more or less entered the mainstream. One guy I was talking to speculated that idle males would become a problem in America just like it has in the Arab world, where it is often considered a key factor in facilitating the rise of first Al-Qaeda and then, presumably, ISIS

Reading the recent survey in The Economist of the evolution of the drone really does cause me to think about how the global supply chain of services is being dramatically reshaped, and predictions about driverless trucks in the not-too-distant future also make it easy to envision a world in which there is not much of a place for quasi- to semi-educated men.

Indeed, there is a parallel thread out there around the opioid epidemic and more broadly the "deaths of despair" most convincingly brought to light by the work of Angus Deaton and Ann Case of Princeton, suggesting that people are dying because they have no place in the world. And the was indeed presaged by the declining population in what was once the Soviet Union owing to alcoholism and smoking as people were flummoxed from loss of place in the world and the failure to find a viable economic model, all of which created the opening for Putin.

I am not so jaundiced about the whole thing. Yes, plenty of jobs are going to be destroyed. And yes, plenty of people, many of them men, are going to have to figure out what the hell to do with their lives to feel decent about themselves. And yes, the easiest way to do that is to give them uniforms and guns and let them go out and shoot, beat or oppress somebody. But it doesn't have to be so. People are educable, and they are not all evil, even the white guys who voted for Trump. In some ways, the opioid epidemic is bringing them to their knees and making them recognize that there is a place for government and for new paradigms that offer a hope of life.

This piece in today's Times was inspiring in particular along these lines.

Anyhoo, it's Father's Day. Time to go downstairs and start complaining about being hungry. 5 more hours to indulge my inner slacker, who has actually been grinding through an intermittently interesting book on a chapter in the history of finance.