On Friday at a Vietnamese place on Miami Boulevard, there was an African-American guy wearing a do rag with some piercings who waited on us. Really he was more in a backwaiter/bussing role, but still he was on the floor.
This is a very rare thing for an establishment not specifically serving a black population, particularly with the head gear, and speaks volumes about the tightness of labor markets here in the Triangle right now. Populations that used to be outside the labor market are being drawn into it, and in new roles. Let us hope this continues.
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
On Friday at a Vietnamese place on Miami Boulevard, there was an African-American guy wearing a do rag with some piercings who waited on us. Really he was more in a backwaiter/bussing role, but still he was on the floor.
Monday, January 16, 2017
What with it being Martin Luther King Jr. Day -- I hope you all enjoy the holiday! -- and with everyone in the world weighing in on reflections on the Obama years, I will join in a little while my brain is still in writerly mode, before it has been overly sullied by the manifold claims on my time and attention that pile up over the course of any and every day.
First off, I will confess to bias. I basically love Barack and Michelle. They strike me as fine, public-spirited people who have done incredible things, and who I think have long and admirable lives in front of them. As others have noted, they've gone through 8 years without a hint of anything scandalizing, in distinction to the Clintons.
The "red line" moment with Syria may have been his biggest blunder. He presented something that sounded very much like an ultimatum, and then he didn't back it up. There are certainly cogent analyses arguing against this, like this article on Politico, but in this case perception is more or less reality: after his vacillation Syria got much much worse. Overall, those on the Right who lay chaos in the Middle East at Obama's feet conveniently forget the fact that it was Wolfowitz's vision for the region that really accelerated the decline under W.
I sometimes wonder if Obama hasn't to some extent informalized the office of the Presidency excessively. All this hanging out with Jimmy Fallon, coffee with Jerry Seinfeld, sitting between two ferns with Zach Galifianakis, it made him seem cool and hip to a certain portion of the populace and electorate, but mystified others and made him more distant. Yes, a man of the people, but of only one set of people. I know it's hard for a sitting President to go to tractor pulls, etc. Maybe if he had gone onstage with the redneck comics like Jeff Foxworthy etc. I dunno, maybe they were shooting bile at him. Certainly it paved the way for Hillary going on "Between Two Ferns" during the campaign, which was certainly not her best moment. If I was Steve Bannon, I would have pushed that out hard across my platform to demonstrate how distant she was from middle America. I mean, I know she was going for Bernie voters with that stunt, but still.
One small thing. I've read about how, after dinner -- which he tried to do at home as much as he could to provide a stable atmosphere for his girls to grow up in, which is awesome -- Obama liked to retreat into his office and read, think, and watch Sportszone at 11. I think this image of the philosopher-President is appealing, it's a nice way to live life and certainly he is an exceptionally well-informed and cerebral human being. In retrospect, he might have been well-served by spending more time with Republicans to understand their issues better and figure out how to move his agenda forward. The drinks Reagan often shared with Tip O'Neal are often cited as a model. He could have done more of that.
In the end, it appears that he had a difficult time getting as much done as he would have liked through legislative channels because Republicans dug in their heels and opposed him from day 1. McConnell said as much, as did others. Thinly veiled or out and out racism, a brilliant ground game by the Koch brothers and their allies at the state level, and a steady stream of vitriol from Fox News and its social media spawn made this not just a no risk strategy by the Republicans, but a winning one. In the business sphere, there was an element of a capital strike, in which businesses chose to do stock buybacks rather than take risks to invest in R&D, CapEx, or hiring. Everybody else was doing it, why not? As a theme, "capital strike" flowered the most in 2011-2012, but as a phenomenon it never really went away.
OK. By now I'm just rambling. There is so much more to say, for the most part, others are saying it, and I'm sure others have said these things too.
For now, we move forward. We have a new Citizen in Chief who has great promise as a leader in whatever he does, so long as he doesn't get sucked too far towards the flame of wealth and privilege. And Michelle can change the world too. I think they just need to be careful not to suck up too much oxygen and camera-time to help Democrats find a new, electable President, cuz Barack can't be elected again, and Michelle doesn't want the job. And who can blame her?
Sunday, January 15, 2017
Amazing obit of Zhou Youguang in the Times today. Had never heard of the guy.
He died at 111, having invented pinyin, the standard system of transliterating Chinese into roman characters. Before the system was adopted in 1958, roughly 85% of the population was illiterate. Now that's down to about 5%. That's a massive shift, numerically much bigger than what Gutenberg, the King James Bible, public schools, and the development of a mass press did in the West.
Late in life he became a critic of the regime, and here's one great quote: "Chinese people becoming rich isn't important. Human progress is ultimately progress towards democracy."
Though he is new to me, I miss him already.
Now I gotta go play tennis.
Saturday, January 14, 2017
In the morning, around the time my caffeine infusion has peaked for the day and I've read the first few articles, there is a period of maximum syncretism, where everything (sometimes) gels in my brain and I am just about ready to solve world hunger blah blah blah. Problem is, most often I then need to do something like either get to work or go play tennis or otherwise engage with the world, and so my thoughts get clouded and distracted and whatever brilliance I had flowing through my brain is dissipated into this, that, or -- on occasion -- the other.
Friday, January 13, 2017
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
The Journal ran a piece today about how Chinese insurance companies are selling risky products to retail investors to invest in risky business opportunities. For example, Anbang Life Insurance bought the Waldorf-Astoria in New York for about $2 billion:
Sunday, January 08, 2017
For much of the last two snowy days, we were without land line and, much more importantly, internet. It was rather awesome. Nobody isolated in their rooms with their devices. Natalie went over to her friend's house, where they lunched and watched a stupid movie. Graham read with me in the living room, then we went out and sledded. Mary cleaned up a bunch of crap that had been accumulating on the island in the kitchen and around her desk. I made a ton of headway on a Wallander novel. Last night we all hung out around the fire in the living room and read. Except when people interrupted me with their stupid talking.
No but seriously, it was enough to make me think about turning off the router for a certain number of hours per weekend or even evening.
Not that it was without adventures. For example:
- After lunch on Friday, I went back to the office to get my computer, then headed home. When I sat down in my car, I felt a sharp pain near my left hamstring. "What the hell?" I thought. It turned out to be a toothpick which was somehow sticking out of my seat and stuck into my leg, like maybe an inch deep. I had to pull the mofo out of there, and it hurt like hell. On top of having fallen on my right butt cheek on the tennis court Wednesday night (though I won the point), this makes me a little gimpy.
- Early that evening, I put down some salt on the steps leading from our driveway to our side door. At around 7:45 on Friday evening, as frozen precip of some sort was just starting to come down in earnest, Mary discovered we were out of cat food. I had to run out to Pet Smart on the Boulevard to get this ridiculous prescription food. When I got back, there were a bunch of deer hanging out by the steps, licking up my precious salt. The bastards. I honked at them pretty good.
- Yesterday Graham and I were out sledding by the lake. I use this rather minimalist, Zen roll up sled kind of thing. Just a sheet of plastic, really, but it slides rather well. It was pretty windy, and as I made my way back up the hill, the wind blew it up and it hit me in my chin, breaking the skin and drawing little blood. Later a crew from the local CBS affiliate was interviewing people about the sledding, and I shared a few trenchant insights with them, garnering some portion of my proverbial 15 minutes of fame. Not long after that, I was hanging out with Chris Senior talking about this and that, and he looks at me and goes "It looks like you've got some of your lunch on your face." He helped me clear it up. Thankfully, this hadn't shown up on TV.
- The night of the snow, I had a dream. I had recently been to the barber, but he hadn't cut my hair as short as I like it. It was a bummer.
Monday, January 02, 2017
We have been to the Northeast and back, repeating the rhythms of the season, which go something like this: drive north (Subway for lunch, Starbucks mid-afternoon), arrive Larchmont (lasagna from Mercurio's in Mamaroneck). Christmas (Turducken), open presents. Joy! Stay for a while. Drive home, stop in Princeton for a night or two, hang out with friends (take-out from Ricky's Thai in Skilllman -- Duck Noodles!!). Drive home (Subway, Starbucks).
OK. I am boring even myself with this simple enumeration. One of the high points this year was taking Natalie into the city and walking around NYU, the East Village, and then Columbia. I did my best to show her what I know of the city, though at some points in time it devolved into what Natalie termed: "a tour of your life in the city." But she was OK with it.
This year it was noteworthy that on Christmas morning there was no mad crush to open presents, all the kids were satisfied with their stocking-stuffers so we even got to have breakfast before the great rending of paper and saving of bows for next year.
Friday, December 30, 2016
So, 2016 has been a particularly shitty year in politics, not just in the US, but around the world. North Carolina has obviously been ground zero for some of the worst of what we've seen stateside since the election.
The Republicans have effectively cut the new Democratic team off at the knees and hamstrung (forgive the use of mixed leg metaphors, it's a work day, and it's just a blog) its ability to be effective through normal, administrative means. Which means that 2017 and subsequent years will be challenging (duh).
But if we flip the situation around a bit, we can see that the year ahead, in particular in the run-up to NC's special legislative election in fall 2017, what has been handed to the Democratic leadership team: Roy Cooper, Josh Stein, Elaine Marshall, Graig Meyer, Floyd McIssick, Steve Rao etc., is an opportunity for leadership of historic proportions. An opportunity to figure out how to define a new agenda and connect it with the people and voters of NC. It is an opportunity they, and we, cannot fail to grasp, an opportunity of historic proportions.
Grasp it we must.
Sunday, December 25, 2016
The Trump people and everyone on Fox News has been so triumphalist about the "War on Christmas" being won, at long last, that it reminded me anew of how silly it is. Natalie said she had heard about a last, scrappy group of Christian resisters, who are huddled round a Christmas shrub in someone's basement. God bless them every one.
Was just out running here in Larchmont, where there's a non-trivial Jewish population and a bunch of other people too, maybe. Actually, given how rich a town it is, it's probably pretty much goys, shiksas, and Jews, with a small smattering of Asians of indeterminate religious leanings. So, particularly since it's Hanukkah too this year, I was more careful than ever to not say "Merry Christmas" when I was out. Except when I was passed by a blonde woman with three blonde daughters who looked as if they had stepped from Martha Stewart central casting. I said "Merry Christmas" to them.
It is nice that all the kids are older. There is less pressure to hustle directly to the opening of presents. We were even able to have a civilized breakfast before going in by the tree to rip up wrapping paper.
Right now Beth took all the kids to see their uncle George, who is in a rest home here in Larchmont because of some health issues he's having at the moment. So it is rather quiet here in the household. Honestly, by sitting here writing, i am wasting perfectly good reading time when I could be in the sun room, potentially even descending towards a nap. Off I go.
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Yesterday just before dinner it turned out Natalie didn't like what Mary had made, so she was gonna cook herself some eggs. She put the top back on the pot Mary was cooking in in a really loud way, and both Mary and I jumped on her about it. Then, for some reason, I made fun of Natalie not once but twice, after which she had a rare tantrum, slamming things around, bursting into tears, saying I had been really mean to her, and stomping back to her room. I pretty much ruined family dinner.
In truth, she was right. I don't know where that came from. When I am catty or worse to Mary, I understand the underlying issues at work, even if I don't blog about them much because I value my marriage to Berridge (just had to roll with the rhyme, which I had somehow never made) too highly. But with Natalie, I don't know. I am not often mean to her like that, so it was odd.
At least it is rare, and has been noted.
Sunday, December 18, 2016
It has become increasingly apparent to me over time that I must write in the mornings, before the world has begun to claw away at me. On Sundays there are first pancakes to be made and eaten, newspaper to be read, sometimes tennis to be played and/or and AA meeting to be attended, and by the time all that's done it's already noon and the mindset to write has passed. Which is why my hit rate is better on Saturdays than Sundays.
Even today, on the way to my desk I had to fend off myriad chores, piles of laundry to be laundered, bed to be made, stacks of magazines to be weeded through, etc. At the very least I did not look at Facebook or email.
For the blog is, for me, by now, quite clearly my interface to the ages, the mediation between the present, the past, and the future, when I can come back and view this stuff.
This will be another interesting Christmas. Various family members have varying health and other challenges. I won't go into them here, out of respect for their privacy. Us, when you get right down to it, we are fine. What are our challenges now? I will catalog them only for the sake of posterity.
After her bus was insanely late and she and her friend arrived at school right when testing was started, so she was stressed out and crying, Natalie got a disappointing score on her PSAT and won't be a National Merit Semifinalist. Had they taken her SAT scores from sophomore year, she totally would have been, so we were pretty confident that she would be. It's not a big deal, but is only emblematic of the fact that we are entering into the crunch time of the college application process and we on the one hand want the absolute best for her, but on the other are trying to minimize our participation in the national psychosis around where you go to college. And it's hard with us having gone to pretty fancy places. We want her to do well without losing sleep or joy. And knowing that she has our love always, no matter what. She continues to do debate and mock trial and generally works her ass off while rarely getting cranky. We don't worry about her doing drugs or alcohol. What's not to like? I do wish more boys would show appreciation for how pretty she is, but I have seen from others from my high school days that there appears to be little correlation between being "popular" in high school and happiness later in life.
Graham is playing ultimate frisbee, which is awesome, he just hasn't figured out how to integrate himself into offense. Which I totally get. Offense can be profoundly confusing because you have to think ahead of the other team on your feet and be creative. I think I probably gravitated towards defense for this reason, it is more or less rules-based. You learn what you are supposed to do and do it. Also, his room is an absolute wreck and has teen boy smell, but at least it's less bad in the winter. I have mentioned his comb and you know where we are in Star Trek, so you're up to date there.
Mary over the last week has gotten more active politically, having spent a couple of days up in Raleigh protesting the Republicans "special sessions" during which they went out of their way to cut the legs off of Governor-elect Roy Cooper. Fuckers. She seems energized by this, which is all good.
She continues to push us further in the direction of a plant-based diet. Sometimes it sucks. Not rarely I eat some lentils for dinner and then drift off to sleep thinking that maybe I'll get myself a biscuit from Sunrise the next day.... I almost never do. In the end, I know that she is doing the right thing both environmentally and from a health perspective, and that every time I eat a plant-based meal I cultivate an appreciation for it.
Me, I keep plugging away at building my business, having switched firms in the middle of the year, right around our big trip over the pond. That was stressful, and building a business is not easy. Managing other people's money is also not easy. I obsess a little. But I have been sleeping fine, partly because I keep exercising. I've been playing more tennis recently.
OK. I've been blogging long enough, time to get ready for Granny and David to come over later. There is much tidying to be done, and it's better if I am proactive about it rather than waiting for Mary to come ask me.
Saturday, December 17, 2016
Graham and I are approaching the end of Star Trek: Next Generation, to wit, we're in the middle of season 7 of 7. Of late it had seemed as if the old plot-generating algorithm was running thin, spitting out junk, but yesterday we watched an episode that kicked it into gear again. A whole new set of characters were introduced, four young officers, all hoping for promotion. Friends but rivals. In one episode it began to build real characters out of them, and then at the end there was a surprise which brought me to tears. It was all character-, not plot-driven. I realized how deeply I have been drawn into this cast of characters, and how much I will miss them.
I hope Deep Space 9 will be as good. That's where we're headed next.
Twice this week, I got a chance to drive Graham and a friend home from ultimate frisbee games. The first time, the two of them argued about the relative merits of the first Captain America movie and Captain America: Winter Soldier. They got into a lot of technical detail about the intensity of fight scenes, etc. This is important stuff for 13-year old boys. I realized that it was one of the first times I had ever driven Graham around with a chatty friend. It was so exciting to me that, at one red light, I was distracted and pulled forward when the green turned on for the left turn lanes. I was going straight. I stopped myself quickly and inched back, but it was still rather embarassing.
Then, when I got to the boy's house, I overshot and went to the next house. It was, admittedly, very dark there, and I wasn't used to approaching their house by car from that direction (I run past it all the time), and their house looks a lot like their neighbor's. But still.
I was hoping nobody noticed this stuff but me, but when I dropped him off on Wednesday he said, as he was getting out of the car: "You didn't run any red lights and you didn't miss my house." I hope he didn't tell his parents. I am pretty sure, at least, that they don't read my blog.
Monday, December 12, 2016
For many years I was the only person who could cut Graham's hair, we couldn't get him to go to a professional to save his life. Not that it was at risk. Mary put this down to his sensory integration disorder, which is a fellow-traveler of autism. Fine. For me it was quality time with Graham, an instance of our special relationship, though I never got particularly good at it.
Somewhere in there we got him to go to a barber. Not frequently, mind you. He still prefers to let it grow. I can get him to cut it now and again, usually in prep for some sort of big event, a distant cousin's wedding or something.
Washing it is also a struggle, because he only likes to do it right before bedtime so he can get in his jammies and under blankets and be warm, which I get. But given that his hair is not short, he wakes up with it really messy.
Not long ago, his friend Ben suggested he get a comb. Surprisingly, this recommendation stuck, and Graham project-managed us to make sure that we got him one, and we did. Today his hair looked messy, him having washed it just before getting into bed, so I took him in the bathroom and began instructing him in the use of the comb: how to put a little water on the comb and/or your hair, how to go gently through the tangles, etc.
His hair still looked pretty messy, because, honestly, he needs a cut, but I'm not going to press that too hard. One thing at a time.
This is why we live, folks.
Saturday, December 10, 2016
On my way back from my meeting this morning, I chanced to look up the hill on Tadley. Halfway up, I saw a guy in black spandex, with an orange t-shirt, wearing a floppy hat, presumably to keep the sun off of his face. He was squatting, like they do in Russia and Asia and other places where there aren't enough public dollars to pay for benches at places where people wait for public transportation, and in the manner that fitness gurus like Ido Portal suggest.
I think this was the same guy who once told me that the pieces of plastic on the ropes strung between the stumps in his front yard, put there to stop people from parking, spelled something in morse code. Upon inspection, I found that they spelled "Iborg", which is presumably a reference to a Star Trek episode (I think it must be in Deep Space 9, certainly Graham and I haven't gotten there yet).
Our hills attract a number of fitness eccentrics. Such as:
- The sept- or octagenarian who walks backwards, up and down the hills
- The quasi-anorexic woman who walks up and down Tadley in all seasons shifting what is probably a 3-pound plastic ball between her hands, surely for upper-body work
- The guy who always reads a book while walking (actually, he is mostly on North Lake Shore)
- The guy with a healthy belly who walks with a big camera with a telephoto lens who shoots birds. Once Mary stopped and talked to him, and he offered her a card with the URL of his bird pix, saying to her something like "I assume you can secret this on your person" (i.e. the card)
- The guy who we call Sal, because of his resemblance to Sal from Dog Day Afternoon. One time I ran past that guy when he was walking with a young woman, presumably his daughter. They were speaking Russian. I never spoke to him in Russian, being shy and ashamed of my deteriorating language skills. Haven't seen him for a while. Seems like he may have moved away, malhereusement.
Friday, December 09, 2016
I had breakfast at a place in RTP this morning with a woman I had met at some networking event. I had a very nice western omelet with some grits and rye toast but, because we were talking about business and doing that little dance, I was unable to finish all of it. Now I am mourning its loss.
Thursday, December 08, 2016
It has been some time since I had the discipline to write daily. Back in the early days of the blog, I used to. When I went on vacation one time in upstate New York where there was no internet access (remember when that was possible!), I even sent some posts to John out in San Francisco so he could post them as if I were still at my desk. Amazing to think of it.
Not no mo. I have gotten slack in my dotage, and all too easily sucked into the maelstrom of Facebook, the eternal joys of watching soccer highlight videos on YouTube, or, as I have mentioned, just playing the guitar. All in all, pretty good living.
This evening I got home not too crazy late after a happy hour out at the Frontier, where I befriended a retired radiologist from Montreal who had lived in rural Virginia for a long time before settling in the Triangle in his retirement. Interesting, smart guy. Back at the crib, I stuffed some food down my gullet, and then Graham and I took in an episode of Next Generation, of which there are precious few remaining.
At lunch I snuck out to an Al Anon meeting at a church in the park. As I was leaving, I pulled out in front of an older Buick. I probably should have let the guy go before I pulled out, because he wanted to pull out and pass me on a two-lane road with a double yellow line pretty close to RTP, so not out in the country at all. In the end, the guy thought better of it.
Saturday, December 03, 2016
Trying not to get sucked down into the endless maelstrom of post-election dread and fear, of late I have been playing the guitar more and more. After years of hands softened by playing my old classical guitar (which I wrote about now north of a decade ago here), I have taken up with the Gibson sunburst guitar that Mary's brother George left for me in the attic in Larchmont. The neck is narrower, the frets closer together, so it feels tight on my stubby hands, but I'm getting there. They key thing has been to put the classical guitar in its case so that I am not tempted to pick it up.
Also, the strings are steel (or some kind of metal) rather than mostly nylon, so it's harder on my hands, so I am developing callouses on my fingertips, which is good but wierd after all these years of soft hands.
I've been learning more songs too. For a long time, my repertoire has been fairly limited. One thing that's been helpful is finding resources on the so-called interweb which have all the lyrics and chord progressions in the songs. Makes things damned easy. Another boon granted my by Al Gore's mighty creation is guitar dudes on YouTube showing licks and ways of holding one's hands in non-obvious (at least to me) ways to facilitate moving between chords. That has meant unlearning many decades of muscle memory, not a quick and easy thing to do, especially with the limited time I can/do make available for playing.
My repertoire has been expanding to include John Prine, Neutral Milk Hotel, Sharon Van Etten, etc. One important thing I've tried to do is write down songs that I've learned. I did that, but I forgot where I wrote it down. Sigh. I know Google docs would be a good place, but keeping track of all one's Google docs is a chore in itself.
In general, the challenge of multiple file management constructs is a whole nuther kettle of worms, worthy of a blog post of its own.
Now to take Graham to martial arts and read Buffett's 1990 Letter to Shareholders.
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
The other night I was hoping to watch Next Generation with Graham, but he said he didn't feel like it. I was a little upset, and he came over and gave me a hug and apologized. Mary suggested that we watch Dave Chappelle's segments from his hosting of SNL, and I reacted negatively at first, thinking that it would surely be election-related and therefore stress-inducing, which was precisely what I was trying to get away from.
But we went ahead and watched it. We sat down on the couch with her laptop and pulled up Chappelle and leaned against one another, and I calmed down. As always, he was transgressive, wise, funny. We watched all the sketches he was in, and while they weren't as good as Season 1 of his show from the Comedy Channel, what is? That is an extraordinarily high bar for anyone.
Mostly I got what I needed. I sat on a couch with a family member and shared a narrative while touching their body, which is all I really needed to get out of myself.
Admittedly, when Graham and I watch Next Gen (or when Natalie and I watch The Crown, for that matter), we have the additional element of some very serious couch-slouching and a blanket, but this was with Mary, who will not be leaving me within a few short years to go to college. So in that sense it was even better. It is hard to get her to sit on a couch and watch things with me.
Monday, November 28, 2016
Was just reading the reading reviews/recommendations at the end of Nick Murray's monthly newsletter for advisors. He is always primarily positive and hortatory in his reviews, and he reads broadly -- if in a right-leaning sort of way. It always makes me want to read more. The effect is not unlike that of Buffett praising all of the wonderful managers of the portfolio companies of Berkshire Hathaway. It just makes you want to keep going.