Sunday, July 24, 2016

Refreshment

I bought a Lyle Lovett CD at the Thrift Store for a buck. I forget what it's called. I had never really listened to Lovett that much, but he's one of those guys that I look at and feel like I should like him. I do have pretty vivid, if most likely erroneous, memories of him in Robert Altman's The Player as Whoopi Goldberg's slightly creepy partner on the police force, especially when they chant ("one of us, one of us").  That is a movie I really need to watch again, even over and above Mary's aversion to rewatching things.

In any case, I've listened to the CD in part a couple of times now. It's not that great, yet one of the songs has gotten stuck in my head anyway and I am pleased with that because, hey, it's a perfectly nice song and addition to my internal soundtrack.  And the money went to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools. What's not to like?

When I first started writing this blog, I envisioned it as a place to keep my writing muscles tuned up, and that therefore I would write in it every day, if only for 15 minutes. This discipline has slipped, and I would be surprised if I ever got back to doing it even 6 days a week, but I should try to up my rate. I find that I am most inclined to write in it in the mornings, and when I'm feeling good. The problem has been that, during my recent period of professional transition, I have felt harried and pressed in the mornings, and therefore not good most of the time.  I will work on that.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Long day of many activities

Went swimming in the lake, and for the third time in a row it appears I am getting stuffed up.  It appears I may be allergic to something in there, which is kind of a bummer.  I count on being able to swim in that durned thing in the summer, when it is really too hot for a sensible person to go running or do other above ground activities any time other than first thing in the morning -- which is when I like to drink coffee, thank you very much.  I could go swim in the pool, yes, but that is dead boring, and there are no herons to startle there.

In the evening, we want to a party at Alan's house.  A very interesting and diverse group of friends he has. Talked to a white guy who had a medical specialty of sorts early on, nice guy, but hadn't really thought very broadly about much stuff.  Then I talked to a African-American guy from up near Person County who ran his own highly specialized business and had figured a bunch of shit out, and then another businessman from Senegal, who was very curious and rambling in his interests. He had not long ago gone to China and told tales of entire malls specializing in athletic shoes on the one hand, or cosmetics on the other.  I had never heard about that.

It is enough to make me lament much more deeply than I already did the relative monochromism of my social and professional circles,

Monday, July 18, 2016

Loud muscle car

On my way to AA yesterday morning listening to NPR in my Prius I was passed by a very loud muscle car, and it occurred to me how much the car and its noise reflected the threatened masculinity and perceived inadequacy of the owner.  Then I thought about Trump, and all those who support him, and how they seem to fall into the same camp, making a lot of noise because they are scared. Rage, rage, against the dying of the white.

As we continued on, I wondered if the driver might be headed to the same AA meeting as I was, and it turned out that (s)he was (I assume it was a guy, but who knows?  I've been wrong about many things in life).  I parked in another lot than the car's driver, and didn't see who it was, and I'm glad about that, because sobriety and politics should not mix. I hope the person chills out in time.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Parable of Messi and Ronaldo

On the Messi/Ronaldo debate, I have always come down on the side of the Argentine little magician. I like his style on the pitch better, I appreciate his determination and grit, etc. etc. His story of overcoming the liability of his smallness resonates with me, and so on.  Plus the issue of Ronaldo's blinding good looks, perfect physique, and seeming ego.

But in recent weeks we have heard the revelation that Messi has been sentenced to something like 21 months in jail for tax evasion, and then somebody on Facebook tapped me into the fact of Ronaldo's pretty substantial charitable inclination.  He was even voted the world's most charitable sports star.  And then there's the issue of his clear and indubitable deep desire to win the Euro, and his leadership off the field after injury took him out of the championship game. So maybe I've been judging a book by its cover.

(forgive the seemingly jarring transition and skeletal argument.  this is a stub of what should be a bigger, professional post). I wonder if there's not something similar going on with value and growth stocks.  Value stocks are supposed to win over time, it is one of the observed anomalies that undercut modern portfolio theory, or the idea that markets are perfectly rational.  But up until recent weeks, growth (stocks like Amazon, Tesla, high-fliers that capitalize on observed trends but may be capital-intensive as they grow) had been leading value for a long long time.  I actually just checked the numbers and value seems to have made a comeback for the time being, over time periods as long as 5 years.

Basically, the value story resonates with middle-class investors.  We like the idea that prudent, soberly run businesses should win over time. It's a turtle vs. hare thing, and many active and program-driven funds and ETFs capitalize on this belief.

But what if this bias has lowered the cost of capital for firms that look like value investments, encouraging them to be less efficient and effective stewards of other people's money?  I've heard this argument made about socially-responsible firms, and it kind of makes sense. If I were a CFO, I would consciously endeavor to make my firm look like a value investment.

Just sayin.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Highlights

Sam was over last night for dinner, and Graham was recounting some of the highlights of our trip to Europe.  Naturally Graham's attention turned to the moment when, having visited the American cemetery at Omaha Beach in Normandy, we were returning to our car down the hill.  We passed some cows grazing in a lovely meadow.  One of them, bearing tag 20740 on its ear if Graham's memory serves correctly, was using the barbed wire which enclosed the pasture to scratch a couple of itchy spots on his face.  A minute or two later, cow 20747 started doing the same thing and then, to compound our mirth and pleasure, pushed his head forcefully through the barbed wire and started eating grass and even pink roses on the other side.  It was, it must be owned, pretty awesome.

(The pic below was taken at a distance and then blown up, hence its mild graininess. Still, you get the idea).


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

In Luxembourg Gardens

So there we were, in Luxembourg Gardens, at around 4:30 on a mild day in late June. We had enjoyed our afternoon coffee in a cafe nearby (idiot dad somehow having missed the cafe right in the park while studying a park map).  We pulled up some chairs and I was ready to settle in for some chilling and people watching in one of my favorite places on the planet, a place where I had spent a lot of time in the summer of '92 when I lived in a spartan hotel room near the Sorbonne and took classes on the other side of the park at the Alliance Francaise.

I was happy.  Graham, however, was not. He was tired from what had legitimately been a long day of schlepping through first a museum, then through some streets of central commercial/tourist Paris.  He wanted to go home on a subway before rush hour got started, so that he would be able to sit on the train.

I think Natalie said "we can sit here for 10 minutes or so, and then move on" or something like that, and I grunted approval.  Graham kept asking the time, and after 10 minutes he began to get upset, and even to cry a little.

I asked him why, and he said, in short:  "When you said 10 minutes I thought you meant 10 minutes, and I find it upsetting because if I can't trust you, my own father, that means I can't trust anybody."

This was a rather remarkable thing, for him to get to the root of what was bothering him and be able to articulate it.  Even for a 12-year old without autism, I think, that would have been pretty impressive.

So, pretty soon, we got up and left. We went a couple of blocks out of the way to show Natalie a corner of the Sorbonne, but pretty soon we were on the subway back to our Airbnb. Sadly, it was a pretty crowded trip home and I'm not sure Graham was able to sit the whole way. But it helped us set our general priorities for the next few days, because we knew what was important to Graham, and it's helped me think about communicating with him since then.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Overcoming fears

While driving him to chess camp this morning, I talked to Graham a little about getting on the floating docks out on the lake. In the past, Graham has ascribed his aversion to doing so in terms of the ickiness of the algae on their underside.  Fair enough.

So I brought it up to him and told him that I didn't think they were so icky underneath anymore and that, in any case, the algae wasn't really going to hurt him anyway. Then he said that his concerns were not so much for the ickiness, but for the feeling of uncertainty being on the floating docks engendered in him (because they move around), and for his fears about getting off of them. He didn't like jumping off of them, and he certainly didn't like diving off of them, because he didn't like diving off of anything.

And this is where I realized that I have substantial fathering work to do on this score, the managing of uncertainty and risk-taking.  I have seen Graham make real progress on this front in terms of going down hills on a bike or a sled, but in bodies of water it's another thing. One problem is his insistence on wearing goggles. I can't get him past that, and that puts a damper on diving.  But I think I can get him to jump more vigorously while holding the goggles.

Obviously his autism is an issue here, I need to dig into that and figure out how and how much.

In the car I upset him a little, he cried a tad, but I assured him I just wanted to work with him to help him overcome his fears because that's what parents do.  With Natalie out of town for debate camp for a couple of weeks, that offers Mary and me an opening to focus on Graham.

Then I took him into the chess center and he walked right in, found another kid, introduced himself, and invited the other kid to play a game.  Which is itself huge progress.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

This week

I have had other, typical and trivial thoughts this week, but it seems somehow wrong to write anything without chiming in about the shooting deaths in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Dallas. It's not that I have anything particularly deep or novel to say, it just feels wrong to let them pass in silence.

First off, I should note that the most common thread seems to be guns. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile had them. Micah Johnson had some particularly high-powered and nice ones. Even a couple of guys who were participating in the "peaceful" march in Dallas, one of whom (Mark Hughes) was wrongfully pegged as a suspect and had his name and picture flashed around the world as such, was carrying a rifle.

Now, certainly if everybody can have guns of all sorts, that right extends to black people. Sure. There are just too many damned guns around. It's crazy.

I should note the exception that Micah Johnson, of course, wasn't killed by a gun but by a "robot-delivered bomb." Which is only natural. If everybody has guns, cops of course need better stuff. We should soon see cops using drone-delivered bombs, if not drones with assault rifle type stuff in them. I mean, why not, right?  We need it to protect ourselves from all those guns.

And then to the question of white privilege and segregation.  Where to begin. It's all true. I live in a house that feels like a fortress shielded well away from all strife. My office is even worse. In the course of my everyday life I see people of color on Facebook, in stores (mostly in poorly paid service roles), in AA meetings, and very rarely elsewhere.

It's a big freaking problem. What to say right now. I need to try to organize a Bulls game outing and invite more black guys we grew up going to school and playing basketball with.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Calm

Settling into my new office, which is very calm and quiet, a welcome change from my old place, where I felt a constant need to be on the phone pushing for new business. Make no doubt, I need to do that here too, but today, alone, I am in a calm position to gather myself and take stock of what's coming down the pike. It is a welcome change.

I am even able to read and think somewhat calmly about things, which is important. I have always felt that my best use is at my desk thinking and reading two or three days a week, in the streets the other time. Each is a way of apprehending to world, each has its merits, and they complement one another. But the pressure to be out 5 days a week -- even when I wasn't actually able to do it -- took me away from what I think of how I can best be of service to clients, which involves processing and thinking as well as talking on the phone.

So it's all pretty much good today.  Though it has felt hot in here at times, even though the thermostat is right where we keep it at home, and I've even got my lights off.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Spotlight

On the flight from Reykjavik to Boston on Saturday I watched Spotlight, the Oscar-winning and -deserving film about the Boston Globe team that doggedly pursued child molesting-priests within Catholic Church and the power structure that hid and supported them until they were finally rooted out, triggering worldwide reform. I cried a lot.

Part of what moved me was what they were after, yes. Child molestation is emotional stuff, and priests are an easy mark. But just as much as that, I was moved by the purity of the quest and wholeheartedness of the investigative journalists, especially Mark Ruffalo. It is rare in life, and certainly in my life, that one can have as full-bodied a commitment to what one is doing than the Globe's team does in this movie: they know what they are doing and why they are doing it, and they are on it, damn the torpedoes.

In this quality, Spotlight hearkens back to a venerable tradition in movies. All the President's Men, Norma Rae, Silkwood, and even Erin Brockovich come to mind as forebears,  Michael Moore kind of lives this life, though he has devolved into a parody of himself, much as Orson Welles was captured and subsumed by Citizen Kane.  But it felt like I hadn't seen a movie like this in a while.

To the Spotlight team's credit, and here I mean writers and directors, they resisted the temptation to make the journalists altogether holier than thou. It would be plot spoilerly to spell out exactly what I mean by that, but they exercise restraint, even though they set us up with red herrings to think they're not gonna. I am being deliberately mysterious here, because I think everyone should absolutely see this movie.

In closing, I should say that I was embarassed by how much I was crying and kept turning my head so that nobody could see. I don't know why I am such a sap and so easily moved, at some times, when I have seen a million movies and TV shows and know, at some level, that in the end it is just a movie. I tried to justify it to myself by saying I was tired and had gotten up at 4:45 to herd my family cab to Charles de Gaulle airport (all true!), which in my mind's eye was going to be a chaotic vision of people from all over the world flying hither and thither and long lines, when in fact it was anything but that. But that's the subject of another blog post altogether.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Home again

Yesterday was a long day of travel, from Paris to Reykjavik to Boston (where we had lunch with Leslie and family at the airport to RDU, thereby making lemonade of the 3.5 hour delay lemon).  All told, about 20 hours of travel.

So when we got home, we were tired.  As is traditional, I was sort the mail between wheat and chaff -- mostly the latter, by far.  At some point in time in there I stood up at the island in the kitchen, and the stool which had been behind me was pushed back, either by me, or by Mary, who maybe wheeled her suitcase through. At any rate, I sat back on a stool that wasn't there, and fell on the wood floor on my butt, which is now sore, along with my back. Then in the middle of the night, a calf cramp, an all too frequent occurrence at this age. So, in fourteen hours back at the house, two small injuries. Doooohhh!

Of course, when I woke up in the middle of the night to pee, I was a little confused about where I was, and, more importantly, where the bathroom was. This waking and sleeping got conflated into a dream in which I was in a multi-level chateau of some sort, in which the bathroom on each floor was in exactly the same place as our bathroom, and contained the same stuff. My dream-inspired brain was trying to figure out if that meant that I had multiple sets of all of my prescription drugs, thereby saving me rather reasonable amounts of money.

Then I woke up.  And we made pancakes, as we always do on Sundays.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

At the Calais Terminal

We were picking up our car from Europecar at Calais, and they were having some trouble setting us up with a GPS. The one inside our car (which the woman kept saying was an Audi, but was in fact an Infiniti) would only speak to us in German.

As I was standing by the car and the Europecar woman was trying to jigger the controls to make it right, two guys came by hauling a ginormous luggage cart towards a bus.  One younger guy was pulling, visibly straining, while an older guy, wearing a uniform and dress shoes, was pushing.  It was straight out of Tati. The younger guy looks at me and says:  "Koennen sie uns hilfen?" ("Can you help us?")  So I helped them push the luggage cart to the bus. It was absurd.  2016. Western Europe. Go figure.

Eventually they got us another GPS. The woman was like "this one is in English." The text was in English, yes, but it was speaking to us in Croatian.  At least I speak a little Croatian, so I could make out the main points of what it was saying. Eventually I made it speak English to me.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Social externalities

Was just reading The Economist's survey of the future of agriculture, in which it looks at a wide variety of new technologies impacting how food is grown, and I found myself thinking of how, in this field too, the economics are now tending towards providing disproportionate rewards to those who can intellectualize and in turn automate the fundamental processes of production.  The technology being thrown at farming is nothing short of amazing.

And so, even as locovorism for the elite and a back to the land ethos push a small number of people back into farming and provide a means of livelihood for some traditional farmers who can adapt themselves to a new supply chain, wealth in food production as in so much else will continue to concentrate itself in the hands of a corporate few.

This is something we are seeing in so many fields. Technology is eating everything, simple jobs are disappearing, honorable ways of earning livings for people of few intellectual and social privileges are slinking and sliding into the dustbin of history.  It all seems inexorable.

On the other side of this same coin, we see deep anomie, populations falling further into disarray as their paths toward betterment seem foreclosed.  Just in the USA we see declining mortality due to mental health issues and substance dependency, specifically opioids; afro-separatism expressed in generations of naming conventions (witness NBA players Dontae' Jones and Dahntay Jones, for one small example); racist hatemongering from Duck Dynasty to its logical heir, Donald Trump, and on and on and on.  In Europe we see neo-Nazism in lots of places, from Le Pinism to the Leave movement in the UK....

In the Islamic world, there's been plenty of analysis of how the fundamental inability of authoritarian petrokleptocracies to keep up with the West economically has created a class of young people -- and males in particular -- with no future who are ripe ground for terrorist recruiters.

Fundamentally, so much of this seems to be a response to an economic pie that is shrinking due to a worldwide dependency ratio that becomes increasingly unfavorable as populations age, and technology that appropriates a lion's share of what economic bounty there is to those who can dream up technologies to streamline production and distribution.

Which pisses people off and makes them sad.  And, in turn, violent and nasty towards one another.

What if all of this can be classed as an externality, in the same way that CO2 emissions are unpriced externalities of fossil-fuel burning?  Which is to say, what if the rolling up of profits to technologists messes up society and peoples' lives so badly that its repercussions should be classed as real costs?

In which case the real economic value is not provided by your Bill Gates / Sergei and Larry / Jeff Bezos types but by those who can figure out how to sort out the damage that they cause. In some sense, nobody would disagree that King, Gandhi, and in our day maybe Pope Francis or Temple Grandin are bigger, more important figures than your big technologists.  But it is hard to price and compensate them, particularly as they aren't the sort who really prize money.

In the abstract, this all sounds plausible. The difficulty is in pricing it all and administering it.  If Amazon or WalMart or Cargill/Monsanto etc. displace a bunch of people and make their lives utterly miserable, how do you quantify it?  By contrast, formulating and setting up a Carbon Tax is child's play.



Graham and Mary are now up and having breakfast.  Time to get ready to go out and see London!

London

We got here, yesterday, bleary with jet lag after flying through Boston and Reykjavik to save a couple of grand on airfare.  Somehow we managed to stay up till 10:30, which allowed us to more or less get synched up on time (ask me again at the end of the day about this).

So I was just sitting here poring over the maps of London and the Tube and the Overground train, trying to figure out how it all fits together, but it occurs to me that this is a perfect instance of where I need to just let go and let things happen.  I by nature am perfectly cool with stepping outside, hopping on any old bus, and going with the flow.  I guess I am concerned with Graham's energy level over the course of the day, that he will flag and get whiny as the day rolls on.

Fact is, over a few days I will get the hang of this place, and I suppose looking at the map for a while will let the city kind of gel for me. But is it worth the time it takes to do it?

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Griswolds take Europe

Once more, life imitates great art, and we are some five hours and change away from setting sail for the other side of the pond. Natalie and Joan are, of course, already there, having been in Spain for a week and change, biking and living the high life despite some brutal heat down there in Andalucia.

It has been a hard-working couple of weeks here in NC, blocking and tackling to retain my book of business as I've transitioned to my new firm. It hasn't all gone perfectly, I've retained maybe 85% of my assets, as my boss picked off one client and a couple of others aren't sure they will stick around. But that is life.  I have been honest and upfront with them to the greatest extent possible.  I think I'll pick up half of the stragglers when I get back, and chalk up the rest to experience.

Being a nervous ninny, now that I'm in a relaxed place about my work, I had to find something else to freak out about. And the strikes in France have offered me that. Images of and stories about garbage piling up in the streets of Paris while millions of Europeans pour into the city for the European soccer championships have irked me a little overnight. Much as I'd love to see a game or two, my family could give a rats ass about sports, and mostly I just want to chill, stroll, eat pains au chocolat, and dig the city once we get there.

A woman at Al Anon who has spent lots of time in Paris assures me that it is all nothing and I shouldn't give it a second thought.

Lord knows, I'll try.

And I'll try to blog from the road too, but that gets hard sometimes.

For the flight, we will have turkey sandwiches, potato chips, and Oreos. When I showed Graham the last two items, he perked right up, whereas he had been a little mixed before about the prospect of flying. The boy loves him some potato chips.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Breakfast vignette

Every school day for some time, Rascal, the by far more social of our two cats, has joined Natalie for cereal. Natalie gets her bowl of cereal, sits at her stool at the bar, grabs whatever she is reading or watching on her phone ("How I Met Your Mother", "30 Rock", "The Office", whatevs) and settles in. Then Rascal comes and sits or stands on Natalie's lap, and Natalie pets her or rubs her belly.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Update

It has been one of my basic policies here on the Grouse to not blog about work or marriage, or at least to do so very little. Mostly for political reasons.  But this has the effect of, to a certain extent, sealing off the most important topics in my life.

Today I'm going to cross the line a little. On Monday I quit my job and, within an hour, began another one, doing the same thing at a different firm. This week has been a fire drill of talking to my clients, explaining the move in as general terms as possible, and trying to convince them to stay with me.  Thus far things have gone well.

But to back up a minute, just quitting my job was an important step for me. I wasn't happy where I was, and I had known that a change needed to be made.  There were scenarios which might have resolved the situation under which I wasn't going to need to do anything dramatic, but those fell through for reasons entirely beyond my control in April, reasons intimately bound up with the things that were making me unhappy. At that point in time I knew I needed to make a decision to change.

Which freaked me out a little. I have historically had difficulty leaving jobs under my own initiative. I had a great offer in DC in 2006 which would have gotten me out of another devolving work situation, but I couldn't talk Mary into moving from Princeton, and I couldn't insist on doing what I knew would have been a good thing. Instead I rode that situation out, and ended up being let go as the financial services arm of that firm got winnowed down as people left and as another line of business rose up to dominate the firm.

I also historically had problems leaving romantic relationships.  I couldn't admit to myself I was unhappy when, for example, a girlfriend and I were geographically separated and I needed more constant companionship and, lets face it, sex (this was when I was in my teens/20s). So I would cheat on girlfriends and more or less force them to dump me.

Sometime this spring, I realized that this behavior all traced back to my parents' divorce, when I saw the situation going south and I knew it was fucked up, but I couldn't do anything about it. So I stuck my head in the sand, denied it, smoked pot, drank beer, told jokes, and tried to wish the situation away. Obviously that didn't work out very well. My parents split up, which was the right thing for them to do.

So, quitting my job was the right thing to do. It has been an anxious, hard-working week, calling all my clients on the phone and trying to retain them as my boss does the same thing.  Then actually doing the administrative things that need to happen to hold on to them. Mostly it has been going well.

In the end, I know it is the right thing for me, and for my clients.  For reasons I won't delve into here, because they're really not that important in the long arc of my life, and those of my clients.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Well

I meant to write a little something here at halftime, instead I am entirely entranced by this video of John Fahey playing a concert in 1981. He is a freak, yes, but a special one indeed. Acoustic, yet electrifying.  I will take my guitar downstairs to play during the second half commercials.


Saturday, June 04, 2016

What a drag it is getting old?

Was just out playing soccer in the heat, I thought my calves were going to cramp up a couple of times.  But they didn't.  I was drinking Gatorade, feeling pretty clever to be getting all those electrolytes into the old bod. Then I got in my car and felt life my right foot was about to freeze up, so I put on a flip flop, and I got through it fine.

Eventually, however, it caught up to me. Niklaus and I were chilling on the dock out in the lake, and I dove into the water to cool off. The act of diving caused my right calf to freeze up fully, and after I swam back to the raft, pulled myself onto it, and stood up, my left one cramped too.  Great, I thought. Here I am 50 yards from shore with two cramping calves.

In the end, I had to swim the whole way back using only my arms. It was interesting.

In any case, it was good to hang alone with my old friend out on the dock.  45-year friendships do not grow on trees. It is fine to find time to nurture and enjoy them.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Contradictions public and private

I usually don't get around to the front page of the Sunday Times, because Mary grabs that while I start with Sports, then move on to Week in Review, followed by Business, if I get there. Today being Memorial Day, I got to it.

There were two stories branching from Page 1 that pointed up aspects of something we already know all too well:  tons of money held privately, with not enough flowing to the public sector. The first story was about "free ports", where rich people store art, wine, and other expensive stuff away from the public eye in a tax-preferred setting. Nuffbeit to say that lots and lots of art is stored in this fashion in places from Geneva to Singapore to Newark, Delaware. There's debate about the wisdom of having so much art hidden away from a cultural standpoint, as in shouldn't people be able to see the art.  I get that, but I don't worry about it too much. There's plenty of art in the world, and people can always and always are creating more anyway. The chief lack is a lack of time to appreciate it, and/or piece of mind to be able to facilitate its appreciation, because people are stressed about feeding their families and/or otherwise vouchsafing their safety and prosperity.

But there is a lot of value being stored away and non-trivial taxes forgone. Though it's not as if just putting the art in the public eye and/or circulation would increase economic value. To the extent that it decreased scarcity, the forced showing of all that art could crash art markets and/or constrain margins at art museums. Which would be a relatively victimless crime, it's true.

The other article concerned the decline of CUNY, which, like many public universities, but perhaps more acutely so, is hugely underfunded but also has a lot of high paid administrators. New Yorks State and City and funding it as once they did, so higher fees are being pushed onto students, buildings are falling apart, classes are getting bigger and fewer between, etc.

It seems like a classic situation where rich people need to step into the breech and give to CUNY.  In general it seems like the high net worth are more inclined to give to the fancy private schools that they attended than to less well-heeled public ones, but that maybe back in the day this was less the case, that your Carnegies and Rockefellers better understood the need for supporting public institutions. We need to get back to that, and the Giving Pledge that Gates and Buffett have spearheaded points in the right direction.

That said, I can say for myself that this is a good deal more easily said than done. I came back to NC with a vision of giving to causes outside of my socio-economic milieu, to institutions like NCCU in particular, but the exigencies of life and how it happens have led me to support the things that impact us more immediately:  cancer (after Leslie's breast cancer and Sophie's losing battle) in particular is hard to get away from. Yes, I support Josh, and yes, I go out of my way to participate in the recovery community in places where I at least see and can help less wealthy people (Governor's Institute in particular), but really I live my life among affluent white and Asian people, and I rarely break out of that, and I slave away to protect my own class status by educating my kids well. And that is in turn driven by uncertainty about the future and their own ability to maintain their own class status, because of common causes (technology, globalization) and particular ones (autism).

It is hard to do the right the by the public sphere.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Moral superiority

There was a moment when I was driving home this morning when I passed a couple of Passats, I think they were diesels, next to each other near Chapel of the Cross.  One was jumping the other. A WASP in a jacket was standing in front of it.

Safely ensconced in my Prius, a felt a wave of righteousness sweep over me as I thought of the emissions scandals.  And then, in the blink of an eye, I caught myself and thought "where the hell did that come from?" and backed off a little.

Whither Chapel Hill?

I don't necessarily make it to uptown Chapel Hill and Carrboro every week, so on those occasions that I make it to the 10 am Sunday morning AA meeting I like, I wend my way home by driving through town, even though I could use the bypass. I like in particular keeping track of the major construction projects, so that there impression on me will be gradual, instead of driving up there one day and being like "WTF, there's a 6-story building now."

In principle, I am all for developing upwards and increased density. It should bring more and better jobs, more urban intensity. It is kind of working. The other day I learned that both Google and Tibco have development teams located in the building which until recently housed Aveda, across from the University Square redevelopment. Those are good jobs to have downtown.

However, all this construction of new buildings is also just pushing up rents and driving out the kind of businesses that have historically given Chapel Hill-Carrboro character and made it an interesting place to be. Nice Price books is gone. Just today I saw a relatively newly vacant space on Main Street in Carrboro, where photographer Jesse Kalisher had his space (no big loss, really. His work wasn't that interesting, he was reputed to be an egotist). I fear in particular the day when the Bookshop on Franklin Street gets pushed out. That place is the birthplace of my soul.

So I'm seeing lots of retail vacancies already up on Franklin Street. In addition to the empty holes where restaurants should be down near us. This suggests that retail space is being overpriced in generally, and that more and more expensive retail space isn't going to do anybody any good.

It will need to be fancy eateries. But those are coming and going pretty quickly too.

Here are three thoughts

  1. The rarefication of Chapel Hill proceeds apace. The more metrosexual and cosmopolitan it becomes, the more it loses its soul and becomes kind of insufferable.
  2. The problem of excess retail space is secularly connected to the rise of Amazon. One local merchant, a jeweller, said to me not long ago that he was sanguine on the prospects for retail in general in America.
  3. Eventually the price of retail space may have to drop and be subsidized by office and residential tenants.