Saturday, February 17, 2018

Lengthening perspective

Just came back from my Saturday Al-Anon meeting, which is a key moment in my week, and which I had missed two weeks in a row owing to Natalie's Mock Trial and then guys' weekend at the lake. And I have been busy during the week so haven't making meetings then.

So I was kind of in re-entry mode, my mind swimming with a thousand things, many of them professional in origin and, frankly, nature. First off, listening to these people whom I have been getting to know for 6 years now on a more or less weekly business as they shared about health crises and other stuff with spouses or kids, or watching the couple where the guy always brings his wife with dementia to the meetings, but whose condition has progressed so far that he now has to physically help her sit down in her chair, it occurred to me that so much of my job is helping people lengthen their perspective. To think better and more clearly not about what is happening today, this week, or even this year, but what is likely to happen over time period between now and when their next financial goal (college, retirement...) or potential risk factor (health event, war, identity theft, car wreck...) gets in their face. And that the people who are best able to conceptualize and manage long horizons are those with disciplined spiritual practices, deeply-held values, or, possibly, athletic practices. Something else in their lives that transcends the present.

It could be argued that community organizations, and in particular religious communities, are particularly well-suited for offering this perspective because they are so often explicitly thematizing continuity across major life events (births, comings of age, marriages, deaths).

I also, it must be admitted, started thinking about emerging markets (EM) and how active management might theoretically add value vs. passive because of the absence of overarching regulators to encourage the development of strong corporate governance. I.e. how index funds channeling money into immature markets might be sending dumb money into the hands of scoundrels. It made me want, on the one hand, to reach out to my friend who is head of retail distribution at BlackRock to ask about how they are handling governance for EM, but also I think it validates paying a little extra for Environmental-Social-Governance ETFs for Emerging Markets because they provide this influence inexpensively.

Thankfully, is a three-day weekend so some of this train of thought may die back a little.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Guys in a pizza place

I went to Randy's Pizza on Miami Boulevard to get a slice today. They messed up my order, so I had to stand around for a couple of minutes while they fixed it. As usual, the place was largely full, and 95% full of guys. Guys in denim, guys in khaki, guys in flannel, no guys in suits. In other words, regular guys, not fancy guys.

Now, I'm sure they were more educated than most. Probably the incidence of advanced degrees in that room was much higher than in your average group of 80 guys around America or the world. But they weren't all Ivy-educated PhDs in frickin Russian Literature or something equally useless. I'll bet there were a lot of MS in Engineering from NC State or Virginia Tech kinda guys. I.e. degrees attainable by normal people who figure out something practical to study and apply themselves to achieving a goal.

And my point is (as I'm sure you were wondering) -- I think these guys were regular guys who had worked hard to get their educations and did pretty well, but they didn't come from silver spoon backgrounds. They got the kind of education anybody could get if they applied themselves and figured out a way to move towards educational and career opportunity, be they from a county red or blue. So why on God's green earth are we bending over backwards to keep dangerous, boring and soul-sucking manufacturing jobs in rural counties when we should be focusing on moving people towards where jobs are and getting them better jobs and better lives? That's my point.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Rage, rage against the dying of the light?

Now I am reading Maybe Esther, by my friend Katya, recently released in English. This morning I was reminded of the irony of reading it while up at the lake, with almost all of my oldest friends (we missed Konanc this year), after writing about the wistful envy she felt when I told her I had such long-lasting and rooted relationships (see here).

After making my way through Knausgaard (still eagerly awaiting Volume 6 in English) and Ferrante, it is hard not to see something in the intense first-personness of all these books, and how compelling it is. It is as if the I of the narrator, attacked from all sides by big data, artificial intelligence, social media, what have you, insists upon itself energetically.  And yes, as an individual myself, it is hard not to root for the I, to believe in the distinctiveness of the individual.

We can only hope that it is not a rear guard effort. Though I guess I must say that I should speak for myself. As if there were anything else I could do.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Hanging by the fire

It is the end of a long day of hanging with the boys up here at the lake. Eric was just saying something, probably unimportant, but Niklaus turned up the music so loud we couldn't hear anything because they were playing a song that was popular when he and Marvin went to Jamaica 30 years ago.

Thankfully, Carolina beat State earlier, or the mood would be much less buoyant.

Unfortunately, it was too wet out for us to play basketball ourselves, so Crabill and I had to go for a run, to supplement our earlier walk. This, of course, to justify the excessive amounts of food we have eaten/will eat later. I for one am intent on hitting the pecan pie from Bullock's left over from last last night.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Props due

After a relatively lazy Sunday, I am still in recovery mode from my 15-hour day with Natalie and her team members at the Mock Trial competition. They did not, in the end, win. They lost in the Regional final to a team of home schoolers who are apparently the children of lawyers, for whom Mock Trial is apparently like the Olympics. They were almost flawless, if a little smug.

The amazing and beautiful thing was the speed with which Natalie and her teammates accepted the loss and turned positive. In the car they were all effusively professing their love for their teammates and for Mock itself, though there was a little frustration with some of the specific judges' scoring. Of the third attorney beside Natalie and her fellow senior, a freshman, who was a little meek and unpolished, and who probably dragged their score down, all they could say was how good she was going to be. I was nothing but proud of Natalie and friends.

I am also, I must say, most impressed with the stamina of all my fellow parents who cart their kids around weekend after weekend and then go to work on Monday. For various reasons I won't dig into here, Mary and I have been somewhat spared this fate, and often have two-day weekends at home, not infrequently involving naps for your boy. I am utterly spoiled.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

The flow of discourse

It is almost lunch time, and I am frankly hungry, because Sunday breakfasts are just pancakes with some nuts on them. So I am in some sense racing against the clock to post, because I know that after lunch I will fill the pull of my schedule: need to work on taxes, on other stuff and then exercise before mom comes over for dinner around 6.

It is often thus on weekends, particularly on Sundays, as I see the weekend slipping away towards Monday, which doesn't look too different in my life to the untrained eye than weekends do, though I serve a slightly different set of masters slightly differently.

For me, I am always scambling internally, however to optimize my input/output ratio, a theme I have taken up before. On the one hand, I hear the voice of my friend Blue, a rather capable writer who has settled in to self-publishing prolifically on Facebook, who noted some time ago than when you are reading, you are not writing.

Which is true. But the question this begs is: why should I prefer output to input? Isn't that just egocentrism, this belief that the world profits more when I am spewing my mouth?

Ultimately, I think what I am seeking is an optimized equilibrium within the flow of discourse. Reading enough to keep me dynamic and thinking, writing enough so that worthwhile thoughts are crystallized and shared. Really, I just need to make small notches in the tree of discourse, less so that others can remember that I was there, more for my own sake. Like the spines of books facing out, so I can remember I was there.

But now I am in need of protein, and I know all too well that if I get too far behind this curve, I will pay the price later in the afternoon in my inability to do much of anything. Which is good for noone.

Saturday, February 03, 2018


In High Point, at a Mock Trial competition. Natalie and friends are competing against another team that they don't consider strong competition, but it's hard for me to figure out who's winning, so this produces some anxiety. I really freaking want them to win. Which is really kind of silly, given that Natalie is already in her dream school, so is her friend Makenna.

But damn, I want them to win, and will take it personally if they don't!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Missing Natalie

Graham and I walked to the library yesterday and thence to the grocery store, office supply store, and pharmacy to pick up stuff. Yall can probably guess which ones, no reason for me to plug them here.

I wanted to do the walk because Graham had told me how his friend Jake knew how to walk from the library to the grocery store to get a baked treat, and I was frankly a little shocked that Graham didn't have this geography straight in his head. So we got it straight.

As we walked, we talked a little about high school, looming next year. I asked if he was mostly looking forward to it, or mostly not. The latter, he said, but one of the biggest reasons was because Natalie was going to be reason. "Is it just because you'll miss her?" I asked. "Yeah," he said.

My kids do make me proud.

Friday, January 26, 2018

State/Gown relations

I met a guy from the University of Georgia over Christmas vacation, a humanities professor. He said that when he joined the university some years ago -- and this is still a common practice there -- they put him on a bus with other new hires and took them around the state to introduce them to people.

Just now, I was reading an article about weather volatility -- basically how global warming will make the incidence of extreme weather events rise. Not just warm weather, but extreme cold snaps too. And, thought the thesis makes sense, and it is supported by data and well-grounded principles, this is the kind of thing that climate change skeptics eat for breakfast. Here's what they say: "See, the ivory-tower liberals don't really know anything, they just want to make you get out of your truck and into a little Japanese car because they hate America. They'll twist their story around however they need to."

But part of the problem here is that the universities are so distant from red counties and don't make much of an effort to bridge that gap. And because university business models don't encourage behavior that would bridge it, like sending faculty or even grad students out to rural high schools or chambers of commerce to give talks about what they do and the high-level state of their fields.

This is, of course, more easily said than remedied. The fact is that professors and future professors are competing with people in Stockholm and Beijing and Canberra to produce research that moves the ball forward in their fields.  Building presentations for general audiences is really the work of PBS and National Geographic etc. But they also lack effective footsoldiers and advocates, as they are squeezed for cash and need to focus on their own core demographics to survive.

But it is work that somebody should be doing. It is, frankly, the function of the pubic sector to do this kind of work that markets do poorly.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The snow

There is a lot of snow on the ground, and looking at the weather, it's not entirely clear that it will all melt out and then have the ground dry in time for people to be able to park on the grass out back for our fundraiser for Josh on Thursday. Oh well. We shall see. That is well beyond my control.

It has been an eventful snow.  Wednesday, the day of the big dumping, we lost power from about 2pm till midnightish. Natalie was at a friend's house, and at length we were able to convince her to ask her friend's mom to let her stay the night. Meanwhile, we were trying to figure out whether to make a break for my mom's house (she still had power). Around 5, we decided to do it.

First, we had to find Graham.  He had headed out at around 2 to enjoy the snow. We thought he was out back sledding, but his friends Ethan and Daniel informed us that he wasn't. So we had to call around. Turned out he was down at Ben's, showing good initiative on his part. He had walked down there and knocked on the door. Two thumbs up!

So we gathered stuff and started heading out to the car to drive to mom's, when I was approached by two neighbors, a mom and a daughter. Turned out the granddad (father of recently divorced husband, who was in Chile), a 95-year old guy on oxygen, was alone in his house a mile or so away at the bottom of a hill. They needed Subaru help. So we piled in my Subaru and went down to get him.

It was slippery as fuck. To make a long story short, the car did pretty well going downhill, and after considerable effort to get Pop-pop in the car with his wheelchair and a bunch of oxygen tanks, we headed back uphill.

This didn't go so well. At a switchback turn, my car slid side to side and just stopped making progress. So I had to back down the hill, between a bunch of parked cars, with poor visibility, trying to keep moving for fear I would get stuck again. We made it, and got Pop-pop back in his house, but it was fucking hairy, and the Grouse was sweating no little bit through all of this.

I left the car at the bottom of the hill and walked home. Graham was asleep already on the couch. Mary made a hearty soup on our gas stove. We ate by candlelight. I was asleep by 10. Pop-pop got through the night fine, I learned the next day, helped in no small part by the fact that his house was usually kept at 79.

In retrospect, I wish we had had Natalie walk home so she could have shared the memory with us.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Slow going

January has been a bit of an exasperating month.  I see that I blogged last about college financial aid applications, so I will not go deep into the details of my continuing logistical struggles on that front. I will say they are technical right now, involving file-size restrictions for efaxing things to a college that requires faxes or hard copy mailings. Had I known what a pain it was gonna be, I would have just stuck paper in the mailbox.

Arghh, enough of this whining. It is beautiful and white outside. The kids didn't really need three days off of school, but they got em. Last night we watched multiple episodes of Brooklyn 99.  It is a good show, not great, the main thing is that Natalie will come and sit on the couch with me. Which, given her pending disappearance from the house, is a big deal.

My other computer has finished, wheezingly, the simple task I had set for it, so I need to get back to work over there. One of these days I will fully transition to this new one.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Positive and negative

Graham and I are now alternating Deep Space 9 one night with The Blacklist the other. Actually, we are ending up watching The Blacklist more often, kind of because it is the shiny thing, kind of because James Spader is somewhat irresistible in the role of Readington, though the rest of the cast is pretty much from generic multi-ethnic casting 2018. Not that they are bad, it's just they are who and what they are.

I have framed this as "positive" vs. "negative" viewing, as DS9 typically ends up affirming our belief in humankind or, to be more precise, humanoidkind, whereas the Blacklist can get pretty durned dark. There is often a fair amount of killing. However, as Graham has pointed out, the last couple of episodes of DS9 got a little dark. There was indeed some murder, though it was in the end committed by a Vulcan who was annoyed at pictures of people laughing with friends, which is more or less understandable. And Spader is just a lark.

So, in the end, it is by no means black and white.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Early rising

Awoke early this morning, earlier than usual on a Saturday. In the run-up to our event a couple of weeks out, Mary re-initiated the theme of "I have to do everything" (pertaining to getting the house ready) and I got a little miffed. The depth of her lack of understanding of what I do, of what it takes to run our household, outside of the obvious, physical tasks (yardwork, cleaning, cooking, etc.) never ceases to astound me.

To wit, I endured a proctological exam from Yale this week concerning the financial details of running our household. The amount of money we spend, without doing much that looks expensive, is pretty astounding. Putting it in their buckets (they had a bucket for haircuts and toiletries but not for home maintenance) was a lot of work. They were obviously interested in the lumpiness of my income. Building a business as a small businessperson is a hard fucking thing. It takes a lot of effort over time to become sustainable.

So I am tired, it is Saturday, and it was not my intent to be up quite this early. But here I am, ready to greet the day. Now that I am drinking some coffee, it will get better.

I'm excited to meet with mom and a couple of people from the Orange County Democrats later about trying to flip Person County in the state legislature this fall. The county went 57-40 for Trump in 2016, a margin of less than 4,000 votes. It should, in principle, be doable.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

The early daze

I've been reading Richard Ford's Between Them, about his parents and his memories of growing up. Good, but not his best work. Certainly not worth $26 for the slim hardcover.

It got me thinking about the kids' early years, and the function of this blog, which was partly intended to be a scratchpad for the experience of raising them. So I started looking over some of the early posts. Sadly, there wasn't as much direct description of being with the kids as I would have liked. Much of it was just me rambling. Hopefully if I read on into 2005, 2006, 2007, I'll find more about the kids.

Certainly the blog came to late to capture the early memories of Natalie, who was north of 4 by the time I got started. So it missed out on precious things like how when I would read her Green Eggs and Ham, she pretty quickly got so she could fill in the end of every line.

As in:
(Clark) "I do not like" (Natalie) "green eggs and ham,"
(Clark) "I do not like them" (Natalie) "Sam I am!"

She got to this point pretty durned fast. It was beautiful to see.

Recently Graham has been joining me in late afternoon walks, as I try to make sure he does something with his body on any given day. Today we went all the way around the lake for a second time.  Today he told me that, in telling him the story of my own complicated career path, in which I resented my mom pressuring me to become an economist, he had discerned vague pressure from me for him to become an economist. I assured him that I meant to put no pressure on him at all, and told him that it was great he could tell me that (as indeed it is).

The odd thing is that he would have heard that message at all. We have to be very careful in how we communicate with our kids, even when we are just trying to be open.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Labor market growing pains

In a number of contexts (dealing with our broker/dealer, at lunch sandwich place, at a Starbucks, at our pharmacy) I am seeing service standards slip of late, new employees who don't seem to know exactly what they are doing. This is generally reflective of growing pains as people enter/re-enter the job market. As consumers, we must be mindful and tolerant of this.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Miles and miles

After months and months of procrastinating, I finally went through my drive tracking app and classified all of my drives for the year as business or personal, for tax reasons. A couple of high-level observations. First off, I drove fewer miles for business this year then I did last year. My initial inclination was to chide myself for slacking off. But then I realized that I had in fact driven a lot of those miles with family members in the car, that it was a good year for hanging with the family, and that that of course is an excellent thing.

Still, there was an awful lot of toing and froing. 6 trips to the Northeast, 2 to the West coast, plus jaunts to DC, Georgia, Greenville, SC, Charlotte. But none to the beach or NC mountains, which is kind of a waste.

It is good that I have spent a fair amount of time here on this couch away from home, including some napping. I need one of these bad boys in my study.

Closing thoughts

Having breakfast yesterday with my friend, he characterized himself as despondent over the political situation, and I was reminded of what Anna told Mary a month or so back, when they were having a glass of wine while Josh and I joined a bunch of dedicated grey Tigers watching our boys bring the soccer state championship back to its rightful home at CHHS. Anna said that Josh always maintains his optimism, even when the Republican legislature cuts him and Roy off at the knees continually, with bullshit like a 40% budget reduction on the flimsiest of grounds.

This kind of optimism in the face of adversity is hard to maintain, but it is the only way to be, because if we allow ourselves to get dragged down into the mire, we won't get out and make shit happen. Doug Jones was a great victory, but it is only the start. 2018 needs to be a big year. And it ain't just gonna happen.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Settling in

Wrapping up the day here on this most excellent couch, a fine day.

  • Breakfast with my boy Dave Berck at the Nautilus Diner
  • QC'd a last couple of college essays for Natalie, who insists on applying to a few more schools, for some reason I don't fully get
  • Ran my mom out to LaGuardia, encountering very little traffic
  • Went for a run in the bitter fucking cold, so as to justify my dessert, a pretzel cupcake that Natalie had made with her cousin Sadie. Sadie distracted Natalie with her constant patter, so that Natalie accidentally put in a whole stick of butter when two tablespoons were called for. Perhaps the best mistake ever
  • Graham and I watched not one but two episodes of The Blacklist

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Late night in Manhattan

Yesterday found us out late in Manhattan, late, that is for us. After a comped dinner at the Roxy in Tribeca (oysters, mussels, and some delish trout for the Grouse), we went downstairs to a small cinema where a special showing of Amadeus had been arranged, after which Mary's sister Beth (who played Mozart's wife) went onstage and answered questions with some other dude who had been involved with the movie. It was great to see the film again, and fun to see Beth being the center of attention, as she has dedicated her life over the last couple of decades to some pretty hard-core momming, but the whole shebang wasn't over till something like midnight. Which is frickin late for the Grouse, particularly when he has been feasting.

But it was all good nonetheless, and good for Natalie to be out in the evening checking out some cool Manhattan shit. There was a jazz quartet in the restaurant when we were eating, and they were tight. Then there was a little speakeasy downstairs next to the movie theater where there was another jazz band playing and couples were dancing very old school. Which is to say, stuff you don't see in the suburbs all the time, the magic of the big city. Good for a teenager who is headed out into the world soon.

I was, nonetheless, sad to have had to rush through dinner at the end and not gotten a chance to sample the chocolate pecan pie. I kept thinking about it. Shit, I'm still thinking about it.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Layers of China

Reading Qui Xialong's Red Mandarin Dress. I was about to note something, but then checked and see that I have made the same point here in reference to an earlier novel of his.

My point was, basically, that everything in his novels seems to take place between layers of reference: to class, history (especially the Cultural Revolution), and classical Chinese literature, or more modern culture referring back to the latter. Everything is somehow refracted.

I would say as well that in Peter Hessler's work, especially Oracle Bones, this same impression is present, namely that all of Chinese daily life is somehow tied up with the past, both immediate and distant. I guess that's true of life here too, we just experience it differently because it is the water within which we swim. I guess the question would have to be whether this impression is an effect of my distance from Chinese culture, or it is somehow peculiar to and tied up with it.

(Reading on, a couple of days later, it occurs to me that I am just in a sense dusting off the whole concept of intertextuality here, the idea that we are all always ("always already", as we were once wont to say) living in and through a set of texts. This is all too clear to me, sitting here in Larchmont on the couch, gazing at George Sr's walls of bios of Churchill and JFK and books about the Great War, while Graham at the foot of the couch scrolls through endless Web discourse about the alternate worlds that capture his undying fancy. The theoretically-inclined humanists were on to something deep, they have just failed to sell it well and convincingly, and it is all too easily forgotten from deep within The Struggle to propagate our class and assure our children's place within it).

Who the heck knows? It's a cold and grey day outside, and mostly I'm just happy to be here on this Larchmont couch, truly one of my happy places, looking out at the Long Island Sound, after a brutal day picking our way up the 95 corridor yesterday.

Time to put this infernal laptop down.

Friday, December 15, 2017

VHS day

Natalie got into Yale. Hooray!

It has been a long haul. She has always been an exceptional girl, then young lady, and we knew she would do well, but because she has no patents or start-ups under her belt, something like this was no shoe-in. She did the leg work, and it happened.

So via John and Hank Green, she had turned me onto the Mountain Goats, which until then had been one of those Durham bands that I didn't have time to pay attention to. But I started listening to some of their stuff and watching the videos on YouTube, and came across this one.

And I was listening to it yesterday evening, after she had told me she got in, and I just started crying, and I think the reason is this: for me, high school was war, and Yale was victory. It was a rear-guard war, to be sure, making up for the earlier years when I had buck teeth, was scrawny as fuck and, yes, people were mean to me. I don't think I was a nasty warrior, unless you were a forward trying to bring the ball down my wing and I wasn't able to cleanly out accelerate you and take the ball when you lost control of your dribble. If I had to take you down, you knew it was war. Other than that, it was all pretty civilized.

But make no mistake, at some very basic level, it was war.

To the best of my knowledge, Natalie didn't have to put up with that much after an initial mean girl episode back in 6th grade, the moment she pivoted away from a set of girls who would go on to become "popular," when she took up with another crowd of gentler and geekier ones.

But she worked her ass off, almost always with a smile. And now, like me, she got in early, and can enjoy Christmas and consider whether she wants to apply to other schools.

For me, once the war was over, I took a couple of years of R & R, didn't necessarily utilize the institution as best I might have. Part of me was still fighting, not unlike those Japanese guys on the islands out in the Pacific. Hopefully, she won't have to do that. I don't think she will, and perhaps that is what in the end, was so moving.