Sunday, March 29, 2015

On teaching chess to Graham

I wrote about this a month ago, but it happened again yesterday.  There we were playing, in the waning light of an early spring afternoon, and I discovered that I had accidentally put my queen in a place where she was actually trapped by Graham's pawns.  All he had to do was move one pawn and there was nothing I could do, I'd have to trade my queen for a bishop.  Not a good trade.

And I felt actual shame and fear:  oh my God, I thought, my queen, how could I do this.  So I resorted to subterfuge, I moved some things around on other places of the board and distracted Graham so he didn't realize the opportunity that he had.  And I got out of it.

Again, in retrospect, I could have shown him how much power and opportunity he had, but the drive to win was too strong.

I shared about this in an AA meeting this morning, and several people identified, including a grandmother who had recently been playing chess with her granddaughter and had a similar thing go on, she was overcome by the lust for battle and dominance.  The very nice male-to-female trans-person who sits in the corner came over to me and said that she plays and coaches some chess and that actually I should not let Graham win, that he would know and it is demeaning to him.  I was glad to have that vote of confidence.

But the shocking thing is, of course, the actual fear I felt at putting my queen in a stupid situation. It is not, in essence, dissimilar to the hypertrophied level of commitment that drove me to foil a goal-scoring opportunity in a soccer game last September -- and thereby sprain my hand pretty badly.  I'm still not 100% healed.

The question is:  why do I care?  and should I?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

On science, Yale, and linear pragmatism in higher ed

Having yesterday complained about somebody waxing macro and pretentious, I'm gonna turn around and do it myself.  So shoot me. It's my blog.

There was an interesting article in the most recent Yale Alumni Magazine about science coming to Yale, starting from 1802 forward.  It's hard to fathom, but before that there was literally no science.  Zero.  Then Ben Silliman went out and collected some curios, self-educated about chemistry, and became a one-man science faculty.  OK.

It's astonishing to see the progress of universities generally over the last couple of centuries.  I'm reading Meena Webb's Julian Carr, right now, about Carr, who grew up in Chapel Hill, later was one of the drivers of the growth of tobacco in Durham (and of Durham in general), and, presumably, will have something to do with the founding of Carrboro before all is said and done.  Apparently UNC had student bodies of something like 40, 50, 70 throughout the 19th century, and was almost done for when the Reconstruction government basically defunded it after the Civil War (admittedly, nobody had any money), and the faculty worked for free.

Things are better now for sure.  And, as the article on science at Yale continued, it moved towards the present, when President Rick Levin made efforts to raise the profile of the sciences at the university, in response to a perceived lack.  Which brings us back to recent uproars in New Haven about the university's underinvestment in science and computer science specifically, which Yale has in recent days addressed by funding an expansion of the CS department.

Whew!  That's a lot of prefatory rambling.  Here's my main point: society overall and universities in general have gone overwhelmingly over towards focusing on the practical in education, at the expense of pure enquiry into values, upon which the humanities and social sciences have historically focused, and in which they have excelled.  And yes, to create economic value you have to be able to do pragmatic stuff, we know that.

And yet the fundamental questions we struggle with most are not how to do things, but what to do, and how to get people to do them.  Overwhelmingly the world struggles from a lack of alignment on core values and leadership to create that alignment.  The world needs universities and other institutions of mind and spirit that focus on the big questions and developing people who can bring others together around approaches if not answers to those questions.  Hence the huge interest in TED talks.  We're like lost puppies.  And the genuine excitement when a skinny kid with a funny name struts across the stage, or a new pope changes the focus of the Catholic church.  Yale, and UNC too, should stay strong around their core missions and not kowtow to narrow-minded pragmatists.  But that's much more easily said than done.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The free-range public intellectual

I checked Megan McCardle's The Upside of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success out of the library some many weeks ago.  I have liked her work on Bloomberg pretty well, and I liked the looks of the book from the intro.

I'm now about 80 page into it. As many of you faithful readers (I love you all!) know, this is often an inflection point for me with books, and I may just need to return this one to the library soon.  My core issue with the book is this: I was connecting with McCardle well when she reflected on her own challenges and how she overcame them.  But then she veered off into abstracting about the nature of human experience using a wide range of materials drawn from anthropology, business anecdotes, behavioral economics, and I can't remember what else.

It seems to me that the influence of Malcolm Gladwell as well as a general trend towards interdisciplinarity in academia hasn't been all that felicitious for the reader, necessarily.  The temptation for a writer to draw together disparate strands of discourse into one big narrative is huge, it makes us feel big and mighty.  Lord knows I fall victim to it.  At least the bite-sized snippets I serve up here on the blog steer clear, to some extent, from the temptation towards aggrandizement.

But all too often it's easier to connect to people writing about things that are nearer to home.  The dictum for years has been to "write what you know," and it's deucedly hard to have true command of a lot of stuff, and harder yet to bring it all together coherently.

Yes, that is the goal in the end, to make sense of it all.  To communicate that sense is terribly hard.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Repetition and identity

So I was about to blog about the most recent Inspector Wexford novel I read, when I thought, "I wonder how many times I've blogged about Ruth Rendell?"  I did a quick search of the blog and discovered that the answer is:  many.  Dating back to 2009.  Though I have been reading her since before that.  As attentive readers may have noted, I highly recommend Rendell's novels, especially those about Wexford and his sidekick Mike Burden.  I have probably now read 3,000-4,000 pages about these two and a bunch of murders in and around their fictional town of Kingsmarkham.

Then I looked at my post from two days ago "Squirrelling biomass," and I thought:  "that phrase sounds familiar."  So, after a quick search, I found another post with exactly the same title here, from just over a year ago.

I suppose it should come as no surprise that I repeat myself.  I am, after all, me, and my brain has not changed dramatically in how it works, nor how it thinks about things. If anything, this points up the need for me to push outside of my comfort zone and do other things.

But hell, I'm doing that every day, these days. Sales, by god, selling financial advisory services.  It's new for me.  I'm used to thinking about markets and money and finance etc. etc., and have been getting better at it all the time, but convincing people to entrust their life savings to me and our firm, that shit is new.  So I guess it is natural that, come bedtime and weekends, I tend towards continuity, reading the same things, doing the same things, thinking similar thoughts, being myself.

Certainly my commute is not feeding me flavor like it used to in the Northeast.

One thing I'll tell you is this:  often, at bedtime, I find myself fantasizing about biscuits from the Biscuit Kitchen. I know I am on record as not finding them as good as the food press makes them out to be. They are not that much better than Time Out or even Biscuit Kitchen, but they are damned convenient in that drive-through format.  So I lay my head on the pillow and fantasize about a sausage, egg and cheese.  And then, in the morning, I eat the same cereal that I eat every day, and then carry on.

Bored bots, what they mean for Google

(I wrote about this a month ago, it's still going on.  Here's a new thought)

For some now, an absolute majority of the traffic to my blog has been Google bots going over old posts.  I wonder if this has something to do with the thinning of the internet as so much interaction has migrated to social media and people and businesses stop maintaining traditional sites with their own domains.  So that the bots have less to do, and keep traipsing over the same old internet, perhaps looking for new connections.  Good luck with that.  I think it also has implications for Google's core search business and legacy business model. Not that Google doesn't find ever more ways to be everywhere. But making money off of ever new offerings may get more challenging.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

squirrelling biomass

After all the recent storms, many trees are down around here, and as I run I often look at fine-looking piles of wood and think, "if only you could be mine."  Today my mom had me over to her house to help her and David and his son Ethan take care of a big holly tree that had come down. I got there a little late, though about when I said I would, and saw that the big tree had already made its way out to the street.  So there were these good-sized logs just sitting there. A little longish, perhaps, but then I have a big fireplace, now don't I?

So I loaded those puppies into the conveniently present Prius and carried them back around town to the crib.  But there in the wood stack were big sections of the Poplar that the people from the electrical company took down in November of 2013 because branches were encroaching on the electrical lines (here's what I wrote about it then).  I burned a bunch of that bad boy this winter, but there are huge sections of it that had just not wanted to split, even when I tried 4-6 weeks ago before we got our big snows.  But I didn't want to pile new wood on top of them if there was hope for them yet.  So I got out the old axe to give them one more chance.

And they split.  I guess 16 months is kind of a magic number for curing wood, or something about the change of the seasons loosened them up.

Meanwhile, I have been converting the seeming "yard waste" of branches taken down by the storm into what I like to think of as "yard bounty," by breaking em down into short sections and piling them up as kindling up under the deck getting ready for next year.  Soon, I will need to take all the ashes out of the fireplace.  I was going to put them in the compost, as I have on occasion in the past, but the internet just told me not to.  Sigh.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Racism and UNC football

I was talking to a guy last week whose son had played football for UNC.  He told me about the incredible level of racial tension on the team, of how black and white players do not sit together for meals and how the black players flat out hate the white players.

Presumably, the coaching staff does little to manage this situation.  I don't know about you, but this strikes me as less than ideal.  Time was, the American core culture sports -- basketball and football for the most part, to a lesser extent baseball, at least in the south -- acted as a great melting pot, the test nucleus for integration.  They weren't universally successful in terms of providing a path to integration and economic progress for everyone, but at the very least lifetime relationships were forged between black and white players.*

The week before, I had been to a talk by Duke football coach David Cutcliffe.  Not caring much about football, I had never heard of the guy.  But he talked a good talk about focusing on the character of his players when recruiting, on looking specifically for kids who didn't just do well in school, but who had shown character in getting their butts to class on time. I must say I was impressed.



*As an aside, I should note that I've always felt a bit of guilt that, as a soccer player, I was, unbeknownst to myself, part of the leading edge of resegregation. I just knew I was too scrawny to play football and somehow never developed into much of a basketball player.  I tend to put my basketball underperformance down to late-blooming and poor fine motor skills, but who knows, maybe that's just excuse making.  Other skinny white kids did OK.  Like our boy Riguz.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

I made Natalie cry at the dinner table

This week one evening when Mary was out at a meeting of some sort, Graham, Natalie and I were having dinner.  Natalie and I were talking about her course selection next year, and she said she wanted to take Theater.  I asked if it was honors, and she said no, that Theater 1 and 2 didn't have honors options.  Then we got into the whole GPA discussion and how this would hurt her GPA and thus her class rank, all of that.  I wasn't being heavy-handed, was trying to keep an even keel.

But she was getting upset, tears started welling up, she was really stressed out. "Just tell me what to do," she said.

This whole college admissions psychosis is the hardest thing in the world.  Frank Bruni's piece in the Times today was very good.  It made me cry. We have tried not to guide her too much, to let her find her own way, because she makes such good decisions and is doing so well and is so smart and is generally pretty happy.

And the problem is, we don't know what is the best thing for her.  On the one hand, I went to fancy schools, and though college in particular was a difficult time in my life for a lot of reasons, I'm glad I went to the college of my choice and I really enjoyed the quality of education I was able to access there.  And it was hugely validating to my ego to have set the goal of getting in there and then doing it.

On the other hand, too much of my ego is tied up in educational prestige.  That all happened 25-30 years ago, and it has limited influence on my happiness today.  Except I do still like books and learning and I appreciate having intelligent friends who are good human beings that I made back during college and grad school.  But it also put me in a peer group of people who have gone out and ruled the world, and sometimes I fall victim to measuring myself against them and feeling like shit about myself.

I also made some wacky career decisions that have at times complicated my life later.  Part of me wants to counsel her to be practical in her career decisions so that she doesn't live her life like a temporal pretzel, as I sometimes feel I have.  But she's not even 15 yet.

There are lots of people I know who didn't go to fancy schools and who seem to have done just fine in life.  Who knows if they are confused on the inside. One must be careful not to judge one's insides against other people's outsides, as I am at times wont to do (for example, 2 paragraphs ago)

My dad, particularly in his later poet phase, and probably when we were younger and I was tuning him out, often espoused living the simple life and eschewing materialism.  When we moved back to NC, he told me that Chapel Hill was basically corrupted by the rat race and that Hillsborough was a better place.  Sometimes I wonder if he was right.  But it was impossible to listen to him because he was so overbearing and insufferable in so many ways, he listened so poorly.  Most likely, there's probably a "grass is greener" aspect to that argument.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

A portrait of Ellie

I was told by my first girlfriend Mary that I should really go to Chapel Hill Sports Club to meet people for business purposes, and that the path to that went through Michelle's dad Charlie.  So I called up Charlie, formerly head of the state high school athletics association, and he informed me that the Durham Sports Club was in fact better, and that it met at the Croasdale Country Club and I should come there.  So I did.

When I got there at 11:30, I discovered that the mode, if not the median, age of those attending, was about 75, and that therefore 11:30 was a little bit late to show up for a lunch buffet.  There was a spot at a table with some fellows of about that age and one a good deal younger, so I sat down with them. I introduced myself, and a couple of them said "you're not Mike Troy's son, are you?"  I allowed that I in fact was.

So most of the people at the table knew my dad, had gone to high school or junior high school with him, and remembered him fondly, if not in elaborate detail.  One of them was the same class at Durham High as my dad's brother Ballard, and asked after him, and I had to inform him that Ballard had passed away a year or so back....

Which made me think back to our visit with Ballard in the summer of 2013, when the fam and I stayed with him in College Park, Maryland, using that as a base for traipsing through our nation's capital.  Ballard had a portrait of his wife Ellie -- who had predeceased him some years back -- out on the piano, and when we came home late in the afternoon we found him enjoying a healthy glass of whiskey and sitting with her portrait.  It was part of his daily routine, this communing with her likeness.  I don't know whether he disclosed this habit with the lady friend he was courting.

Monday, March 02, 2015

At the Nasher

Last Wednesday went to an opening of a show at the Nasher, curated by my friend Joe. Modern and contemporaryish art, stuff I'm not in contact with much and haven't really been for some time.

Now, time was, I used to roam the galleries of Soho, checking stuff out, particularly when there was free wine and, when that became less relevant, snacks.  I liked to rub shoulders with all the good-looking and fashionable people because it made me feel -- you guessed it, good-looking and fashionable.  Not that I think all that many people were convinced.

By being near all that art and occasionally reading a critical journal about it, I was able to sometimes actually have an informed opinion about it, which would allow me to talk about it, thereby enhancing the impression of my being well-informed.  Some of it actually made an impression on me and made me think. Other times, I was just playing the game.

Wednesday, however, I was well-removed from the game, as I have been wandering the caverns of finance and raising children for some time.  So I was able to view the art as a garden-variety philistine.  Some of it was thought-provoking, other parts of it less so.  Honestly, I was there to work the room and look for paths towards potential future clients, so it was difficult for me to maintain a calm and genuine focus on the art.  I also wanted to eat the ribs, which were perfectly decent, and the seared tuna doohickeys.

But it was good to go back in amongst the art and at least check it out, note my distance from it, and know that I had to come back.

In particular, there's a room-size installation of flowers blowing in the wind projected onto the wall that was beautiful and meditative, and a wall of mostly aerial photography by Ed Ruscha.  I will try to get back there with more time before the show closes.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Tweaking the Code

Towards the end of a generally thoughtful piece in today's NY Times about how finance continues to attract too much talent to developed economies, Gretchen Morgenson notes that "one way we subsidize debt in this country is by providing tax deductions for mortgage interest.  That policy encourages borrower to take on bigger home loans than they otherwise might."

Reform of the mortgage interest deduction has been on the table of tax reformers for a long time.  I think everybody just assumes that it is one of those quirky giveaways in the tax code, but in fact is a restriction of the principal once enshrined in the tax code from the 1913 passage of 16th Amendment empowering Congress to levy taxes that all interest was deductible from income.  I just looked it up, it was news to me.  It wasn't an issue back then because at that time, almost all interest was incurred by businesses, so financing costs were legitimate business expenses.  People paid cash for houses most of the time, and/or got land given to them by the government through homesteading provisions as the nation moved west, and then built a house out of some trees and rocks, godammit.

In any case, the mortgage interest deduction does at this point in time feel a little distortive and like a middle-class entitlement. If it is ever going to be taken away, now is the time to do it.  With interest rates at an all-time low and with almost everyone who can refi already refied, the dollar impact of the mortgage deduction to government revenues and household balance sheets should be at a cyclical low.

This is similar to what the Economist and others have argued about that explicit and implicit subsidies (i.e. tax rates too low to cover actual externalities) on petroleum.  That is, with the price of oil so low, now is the time to reduce subsidies to it (as Indonesia, India, and Malaysia have done).

If we're gonna do it, get er done.


Saturday, February 28, 2015

Hustle and Flow, again

After a couple of wacky snow-disrupted weeks, this is shaping up to be a particularly busy weekend followed by a similarly loaded week.  This evening, the Frank Porter Graham ACLU dinner  (thanks to Jane and Adam for offering to host us at their table).  Before that, Graham has asked me to go outside sledding, so he can show me how he goes over this little ski jumpish bump.  So I gotta do that.  And I gotta go exercise.

Tomorrow more, similar stuff.

Meanwhile, my task list fairly burgeons at my right elbow, including such items as "taxes", which I've done much of the high-level stuff on but haven't done the donkey work of totting up expenses. And there's some plumbing to be done too.  And I should really order myself some new shoes from Zappo's.

But things keep popping up, things that should be done nowish, intervening into the flow of things that really need to get done at some point in time.  So we return to the eternal dance of fluid prioritization which we call life.  Back to it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Getting there

This is my last post, perhaps, in my series about Coach Smith's memorial service.  It is the least flattering for me personally, but I feel it needs to be recorded for the sake of historical accuracy.

I, like many others, was operating under the assumption that it was going to be a crowded event.  For over a week beforehand, we had heard about how there would be shuttles running for the Friday Center, and my boy Crabes had even speculated that there might be televised overflow space at Carmichael.

So the day of I started calling around to figure out how to get up there.  I figured carpooling was rational, because there would be no place to park.  I ended up riding with Dan, Susanna's dad, and his son Eli.

Now, Dan has been to the Dean Dome many times before, as compared to my one time, and had a favorite place to park.  Nonetheless, as we approached while heading around on the bypass south of town, there was traffic (on top of the memorial service, there was church traffic from St Thomas More), and I had the brilliant idea of parking at my mom's house, which, as the crow flies, is very close indeed to the Dean Dome.  From walking around back there with Mary, I remembered that there is a very fine trail system, which, I reasoned, would get us through to the Dean Dome very easily.  I convinced Dan that this was a fine idea.

However, neither Dan, nor Eli, nor I am a crow.  We parked, and then we set off to the Dean Dome.  I remembered that, at the end of the cul-de-sac through the woods up behind my mom's house, that there was a trail.  On closer inspection, it wasn't there.

Meanwhile, the clock was ticking. We had gotten to my mom's house at maybe 12;50, and doors were to open at 1 pm.  You must recall that we assumed it was going to be crowded and the we needed to be there to get good seats.  So I'm getting nervous, thinking "This is Dean Smith's memorial service.  It's a big deal.  And here I am messing up and making not just Dan but Eli late for this momentous, once in a lifetime event.  We're going to get horrible seats."

So, to make a long story short, we ended up cutting through somebody's back yard (and a deep pile of leaves) before we found the cul de sac that had the trail off it.  Then we had to cross a creek on some rocks and climb up a pretty steep embankment.  Oh, had I mentioned it was muddy because of all the recent snow and ice?  It was slippery, we got some mud on our jeans.

We finally made it there after navigating this truly very nice trail system that was not very linear at all.  And the punchline was...

It wasn't all that crowded. We got pretty awesome seats.  I have already told the rest.  Never again will Dan trust any great ideas that might come to me on the spur of the moment. And rightly so.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

At the Student Activity Center

So today was Dean Smith's memorial service at the Dean Dome, or as Coach Smith would have had it named:  The Student Activity Center.  He was really opposed to having it named it after him. Several people said that.

It was a long afternoon.  We left my house at around 12:30, got home 5ish, but it was worth it.

I cried a lot.  It was very moving.  Few people were as well loved as he was, and rightly so.  Really an amazing guy.  I realize that I am still processing my dad's death, and that in some sense Coach Smith, like Mary's dad George, was the steady regular guy dad figure that my own more freedom-loving dad never quite wanted to be.  Not that my dad didn't have his good points.

So what can I say.  Lots of people told beautiful stories about Coach Smith and his influence on them. I should say that I am calling him Coach Smith because Roy Williams said that he never called him Dean, always Coach or Coach Smith, even after he was invited to be on a first-name basis, long after the elder of the two retired.

Many spoke well and movingly, all of them, really.  Coach Williams himself did a good job and was very direct, expressing regret for never having told Coach Smith that he loved him, and imploring all of us to let the people around us to know we loved them.  That was well done.

Going back to my wish list from a couple of days back. There was no mention or acknowledgement of the murder of the three Islamic students two days after Coach Smith died.  I thought that was in bad taste.

There was very little allusion to the academic scandals.  All the players who took the stage represented the university well. Antawn Jamison alone didn't really sound like someone who had graduated from a top-notch university, though it was noted that he in fact had.  And he still sounded like a fine human being.

Only when Dean Smith's daughter got up, unannounced, and specifically acknowledged Chancellor Tom Ross and then attested to how much her dad believed in the mission of the university, did we start to get anywhere.  Then Robert Seymour of the Binkley Baptist Church, minister to Coach Smith and maybe to Bill Friday too, was helped to the podium by Brad Daugherty (who himself had done the university proud in his remarks).  Seymour spoke movingly, and noted that the university should never place athletics before academics.  Point blank.

Well done.

Numbers

As is my habit, I began my Sunday by reading the sports page of the Sunday NY Times.  It's the only sports page I get all week, and I particularly like the lead story each week, which is typically not about a big name team or player but rather about the normal human struggles of people who love whatever game they play and/or overcome something.  This week it featured a New Zealand basketball team that plays in the Australian league.


So I read that, and was as inspired as I usually am by the tale of spunk, perseverance, and generally good human nature.  Then I started reading stories about the NBA. The interesting thing was that I don't really understand any of the stats they were quoting.  I mean, I can kind of guess, but I don't know how they are calculated, really, don't understand the inputs to them, all I know is that there were no mentions of your typical stats:  points, rebounds, assists, steals per game, shooting percentages.  None of that.  Which just goes to show how thoroughgoing has been the influence of the new metrics ushered in by the reign of Sir Billy Beane at the Oakland As, as chronicled by Lord Michael Lewis in the canonical Moneyball.

All of this is ironic, given the extent to which I used to memorize sports stats when I was younger, the extent to which I clung to an ability to remember and regurgitate numbers as a demonstration of my self-worth, my primary weapon in the games of dominance we played as young boys.  I wasn't great at sports, I didn't attract the ladies, but I could memorize and spew out some stats, that I could.

On the other hand, I did yesterday finish reading Peter Bernstein's 1992 Capital Ideas: The Improbable Origins of Modern Wall Street, which chronicles the development of the science of thinking about investing and markets, from the formation of the first indices through the development of portfolio insurance, and its (perhaps exaggerated) contribution to the 22% crash on October 19, 1987 which remains, even after the financial crisis of 2008-9, still the greatest single day event of most of our lifetimes.

This is the third of Bernstein's books that I've read, having started with his 1996 Against the Gods. still one of the better books I've ever read.  Capital Ideas is a good book, with the primary fault that it doesn't actually lay out any of the formulas whose evolution it charts (Williams's Dividend Discount Model, the Sharpe Ratio, the Treynor Ratio, the Capital Asset Pricing Model, the Black-Scholes Equation).  I suppose it presupposes that anyone geeky enough to read the book would already be familiar with them, as indeed I am, due to the CFP curriculum.  And having the equations in there would surely be boring.  But he could have at least taken the time to do a one-page explication so that readers wouldn't have to refer back to external materials and/or their own faulty memories to contextualize things properly.  I know I didn't bother.

But I still love the guy.  And I suppose I still kinda live on numbers, just a different sort of them.

Hey, here's a tie back. Michael Mauboussin of Credit Suisse Asset Management said at a conference not long ago that batting .367 today is the equivalent of batting .400 back in Ted Williams's day, due to better pitching, fielding, etc.  I.e. batting .367 is a three-standard deviation event, something like that.  And that's how it is in investing too, was his point.  Think about it.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

What I'd like to see

Tomorrow is the big memorial service for Dean Smith at the Dean Dome.  Here's what I'd like to see:


  1. A discussion of what Dean Smith meant to the university and the community.
  2. Discussion of the shootings of the 3 Islamic students, and how that, combined with the death of Dean, marks a watershed for Chapel Hill
  3. An active admissal of how fucked up the academic-athletic scandal has been and the extent to which it endangers the credibility of the university.
  4. Invocations of Bill Friday and a discussion of how Tom Ross getting forced out of the Chancellorship and the twin threat of Art Pope's ascension threaten UNC to its core.
  5. Some mention of Gene Nichol and the attempt to close the Poverty Center
  6. Carol Folt in the driver's seat, and Roy Williams in a supporting and subsidiary role.

I wouldn't bet on any of this, beyond the first.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Graham goes sledding

Today, for the first time in his life, Graham went out by the lake and really sledded.  Which is to say, he went up and down the hill, multiple times, with enthusiasm and glee. He didn't embrace the absolute riskiest elements, to be sure.  He controlled his speed of descent by dragging his feet, but he went from the tops of pretty steep slopes to the bottoms of them, and he was digging it.

It's hard to express how huge this is.  He's always been a little shy of speed and being out of control.  It is true that he went on a biking trip with Granny, David and Natalie last summer and had some pretty awesome downhill runs, even skinning a knee a little.  But today was nonetheless a breakthrough.

And he wants to go back out after lunch.  I had better eat and get some work done.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Teaching purpose

As I have continued to plow through the literature of self-help, motivation, and sales training, one consistent theme is that to do anything well, you've got to have a clear sense of purpose in life, and that you must perceive that what you are doing is aligned with that purpose. Otherwise, people will basically smell weakness and/or lack of commitment and won't trust you. So all the gurus tell you to figure out what your purpose and/or goal is, write it down, repeat it, visualize it, so that you can actualize it.

Problem is, life is complicated, and we only divine our purposes as we go.  But this kind of thought process could be facilitated at younger and lower levels.  So, given the centrality of purpose, why isn't it tought more?  That is, while we can't teach people what their purpose (and I can hear those of you who recently attended the special showing of The Jerk thinking;  "special purpose") is, we could be more explicit about designing curricula and methodologies around the process of working towards a purpose.

As well as on goal-setting and processes for tracking progress towards that purpose.

This would be good stuff.  Easily as important as courses that dither around making sure kids have read Shakespeare, Sophocles, and Toni Morrison -- although those courses direct kids obliquely towards the same questions.  Why not just put the questions out there, bluntly?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Cleavage sells all

So this week at a local "leads group" I've attended a few times now, a woman did a slide show about her horse farm and the various riding programs it provides.  One of her young daughters was working on the farm while figuring out what to do with her life.  This daughter was blonde, slim, and -- being a member of the ruling class -- not unattractive, and she featured prominently in the slideshow. In fact, there was even a picture of her on a horse, leaning forward, wearing a tank top which, seemingly not by accident, displayed non-trivial cleavage.

I was a little surprised by this. I know that marketers always choose to feature attractive young women to sell anything, but I would not have expected to see a fairly crunchy and PC woman putting their daughter's body out there like that.  Even if she was pretty hot.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Tipping points

Was talking to my friend Eric yesterday when he suggested that I read Gladwell's The Tipping Point and think about some of its implications for the way I should be trying to generate business for myself.  This is a different way of thinking for me.  As a blogger seeking to pretend to a certain Zen level of generating a General Theory of Everything which will wow and generally overawe my readers, when I have read Gladwell in the past it has, naturally, generally been in the spirit of competition.  As in, "though I'll never have hair as good as Gladwell's, my blog is nonetheless deeper than his writings, and therefore I am superior."  You can see the fruits of my sophomoric sniping during my first reading of this book by following this link.

So now I'll go back and reread Gladwell, more in the spirit Eric suggested of trying to take useful nuggets from it which will help me provide good services to clients and thereby generate more business. We'll see how it goes.

Monday, February 09, 2015

On his passage

I had wondered how it would feel when Dean Smith died, and now it has happened.  Yes, it is very sad, but at least his family has been released from the burden of watching a great man decline into dementia.  We were spared the same fate with my dad, who went much earlier in the process of decline, due no doubt to the fact that he didn't make sure that he always got the best medical care available to mankind, whereas Coach Smith was undoubtedly attended to at all times by veritable flocks of caregivers.


So He is gone now, following not so very long behind Bill Friday, and now UNC is on its own, and perhaps will be lorded over by none other than Art Pope.  God save us.

Over this past Christmas, when George Jr. was in the hospital and Mary Lee was upstairs sick with the flu, it occurred to me at some point in time during the holiday dinner process that there were no adults downstairs, it was just us kids in charge, and that we could do whatever we wanted to.  Never mind that there was we the kids averaged roughly 50 years in age. I forget which article I read recently about the things one figures out in one's 40s, first and foremost is that there are no adults.  Dean's passage brings home the fact that, even if we are still kids inside, that if we behave sensibly and decently, we can at least fool our kids and propagate the myth of adults for at least another generation.

Friday, February 06, 2015

The comfort of the Book

I just saw that I had twice alluded to the transition from a Spiderman series to a Justice League one within the space of a few weeks, which marks a new low in terms of me repeating myself.  Ah well. The ravages of age.

Now I will return to another theme I've touched upon recently, though from a different angle: I find that I am at my best when I have a book to which I return at the end of the day that I am really into, which pulls me along.  And why is that?  Precisely because the book gives me a comfortable story within which to ensconce myself, to protect myself of the uncertainty of the broader narrative of my life:  will I get that account?  Will the kids do well in life?  How long will I live?  Etc. The radical contingency of all that is unnerving.

So everybody's got their narrative fix that comforts them.  Sitcoms, TV crime shows, movies, pop songs, comedies and tragedies on stage, they all ultimately resolve in a way that is expected and comforting.  Except, of course, the ones that don't.  And I've written elsewhere about how I've gravitated over time towards happy endings because the unhappy ones upon which the most arch of avant-garde literatures focus so much of their energy do, in fact, mess with my head.

People who really have religion and/or are deeply embedded and invested in particular ideologies probably need fewer narrative prostheses because, after all, they feel they know how the big picture is going to end.  Alternately, one could say that the obsessively perseverate over the same stories (the Gospels, Socialist Realism, etc.) as a way of keeping other narratives out.

But of course this blog is quite the opposite of a well-constructed book.  It is instead something like a running Talmud on my life.




I was about to bring up the point Robert Belknap of Columbia once made about the piece-bien-faite, but then thought to see if I had mentioned it before.  Of course I had.  Not once, but thrice.