Last Wednesday went to an opening of a show at the Nasher, curated by my friend Joe. Modern and contemporaryish art, stuff I'm not in contact with much and haven't really been for some time.
Now, time was, I used to roam the galleries of Soho, checking stuff out, particularly when there was free wine and, when that became less relevant, snacks. I liked to rub shoulders with all the good-looking and fashionable people because it made me feel -- you guessed it, good-looking and fashionable. Not that I think all that many people were convinced.
By being near all that art and occasionally reading a critical journal about it, I was able to sometimes actually have an informed opinion about it, which would allow me to talk about it, thereby enhancing the impression of my being well-informed. Some of it actually made an impression on me and made me think. Other times, I was just playing the game.
Wednesday, however, I was well-removed from the game, as I have been wandering the caverns of finance and raising children for some time. So I was able to view the art as a garden-variety philistine. Some of it was thought-provoking, other parts of it less so. Honestly, I was there to work the room and look for paths towards potential future clients, so it was difficult for me to maintain a calm and genuine focus on the art. I also wanted to eat the ribs, which were perfectly decent, and the seared tuna doohickeys.
But it was good to go back in amongst the art and at least check it out, note my distance from it, and know that I had to come back.
In particular, there's a room-size installation of flowers blowing in the wind projected onto the wall that was beautiful and meditative, and a wall of mostly aerial photography by Ed Ruscha. I will try to get back there with more time before the show closes.
Monday, March 02, 2015
Last Wednesday went to an opening of a show at the Nasher, curated by my friend Joe. Modern and contemporaryish art, stuff I'm not in contact with much and haven't really been for some time.
Sunday, March 01, 2015
Towards the end of a generally thoughtful piece in today's NY Times about how finance continues to attract too much talent to developed economies, Gretchen Morgenson notes that "one way we subsidize debt in this country is by providing tax deductions for mortgage interest. That policy encourages borrower to take on bigger home loans than they otherwise might."
Reform of the mortgage interest deduction has been on the table of tax reformers for a long time. I think everybody just assumes that it is one of those quirky giveaways in the tax code, but in fact is a restriction of the principal once enshrined in the tax code from the 1913 passage of 16th Amendment empowering Congress to levy taxes that all interest was deductible from income. I just looked it up, it was news to me. It wasn't an issue back then because at that time, almost all interest was incurred by businesses, so financing costs were legitimate business expenses. People paid cash for houses most of the time, and/or got land given to them by the government through homesteading provisions as the nation moved west, and then built a house out of some trees and rocks, godammit.
In any case, the mortgage interest deduction does at this point in time feel a little distortive and like a middle-class entitlement. If it is ever going to be taken away, now is the time to do it. With interest rates at an all-time low and with almost everyone who can refi already refied, the dollar impact of the mortgage deduction to government revenues and household balance sheets should be at a cyclical low.
This is similar to what the Economist and others have argued about that explicit and implicit subsidies (i.e. tax rates too low to cover actual externalities) on petroleum. That is, with the price of oil so low, now is the time to reduce subsidies to it (as Indonesia, India, and Malaysia have done).
If we're gonna do it, get er done.
Saturday, February 28, 2015
After a couple of wacky snow-disrupted weeks, this is shaping up to be a particularly busy weekend followed by a similarly loaded week. This evening, the Frank Porter Graham ACLU dinner (thanks to Jane and Adam for offering to host us at their table). Before that, Graham has asked me to go outside sledding, so he can show me how he goes over this little ski jumpish bump. So I gotta do that. And I gotta go exercise.
Tomorrow more, similar stuff.
Meanwhile, my task list fairly burgeons at my right elbow, including such items as "taxes", which I've done much of the high-level stuff on but haven't done the donkey work of totting up expenses. And there's some plumbing to be done too. And I should really order myself some new shoes from Zappo's.
But things keep popping up, things that should be done nowish, intervening into the flow of things that really need to get done at some point in time. So we return to the eternal dance of fluid prioritization which we call life. Back to it.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
This is my last post, perhaps, in my series about Coach Smith's memorial service. It is the least flattering for me personally, but I feel it needs to be recorded for the sake of historical accuracy.
I, like many others, was operating under the assumption that it was going to be a crowded event. For over a week beforehand, we had heard about how there would be shuttles running for the Friday Center, and my boy Crabes had even speculated that there might be televised overflow space at Carmichael.
So the day of I started calling around to figure out how to get up there. I figured carpooling was rational, because there would be no place to park. I ended up riding with Dan, Susanna's dad, and his son Eli.
Now, Dan has been to the Dean Dome many times before, as compared to my one time, and had a favorite place to park. Nonetheless, as we approached while heading around on the bypass south of town, there was traffic (on top of the memorial service, there was church traffic from St Thomas More), and I had the brilliant idea of parking at my mom's house, which, as the crow flies, is very close indeed to the Dean Dome. From walking around back there with Mary, I remembered that there is a very fine trail system, which, I reasoned, would get us through to the Dean Dome very easily. I convinced Dan that this was a fine idea.
However, neither Dan, nor Eli, nor I am a crow. We parked, and then we set off to the Dean Dome. I remembered that, at the end of the cul-de-sac through the woods up behind my mom's house, that there was a trail. On closer inspection, it wasn't there.
Meanwhile, the clock was ticking. We had gotten to my mom's house at maybe 12;50, and doors were to open at 1 pm. You must recall that we assumed it was going to be crowded and the we needed to be there to get good seats. So I'm getting nervous, thinking "This is Dean Smith's memorial service. It's a big deal. And here I am messing up and making not just Dan but Eli late for this momentous, once in a lifetime event. We're going to get horrible seats."
So, to make a long story short, we ended up cutting through somebody's back yard (and a deep pile of leaves) before we found the cul de sac that had the trail off it. Then we had to cross a creek on some rocks and climb up a pretty steep embankment. Oh, had I mentioned it was muddy because of all the recent snow and ice? It was slippery, we got some mud on our jeans.
We finally made it there after navigating this truly very nice trail system that was not very linear at all. And the punchline was...
It wasn't all that crowded. We got pretty awesome seats. I have already told the rest. Never again will Dan trust any great ideas that might come to me on the spur of the moment. And rightly so.
Sunday, February 22, 2015
So today was Dean Smith's memorial service at the Dean Dome, or as Coach Smith would have had it named: The Student Activity Center. He was really opposed to having it named it after him. Several people said that.
It was a long afternoon. We left my house at around 12:30, got home 5ish, but it was worth it.
I cried a lot. It was very moving. Few people were as well loved as he was, and rightly so. Really an amazing guy. I realize that I am still processing my dad's death, and that in some sense Coach Smith, like Mary's dad George, was the steady regular guy dad figure that my own more freedom-loving dad never quite wanted to be. Not that my dad didn't have his good points.
So what can I say. Lots of people told beautiful stories about Coach Smith and his influence on them. I should say that I am calling him Coach Smith because Roy Williams said that he never called him Dean, always Coach or Coach Smith, even after he was invited to be on a first-name basis, long after the elder of the two retired.
Many spoke well and movingly, all of them, really. Coach Williams himself did a good job and was very direct, expressing regret for never having told Coach Smith that he loved him, and imploring all of us to let the people around us to know we loved them. That was well done.
Going back to my wish list from a couple of days back. There was no mention or acknowledgement of the murder of the three Islamic students two days after Coach Smith died. I thought that was in bad taste.
There was very little allusion to the academic scandals. All the players who took the stage represented the university well. Antawn Jamison alone didn't really sound like someone who had graduated from a top-notch university, though it was noted that he in fact had. And he still sounded like a fine human being.
Only when Dean Smith's daughter got up, unannounced, and specifically acknowledged Chancellor Tom Ross and then attested to how much her dad believed in the mission of the university, did we start to get anywhere. Then Robert Seymour of the Binkley Baptist Church, minister to Coach Smith and maybe to Bill Friday too, was helped to the podium by Brad Daugherty (who himself had done the university proud in his remarks). Seymour spoke movingly, and noted that the university should never place athletics before academics. Point blank.
As is my habit, I began my Sunday by reading the sports page of the Sunday NY Times. It's the only sports page I get all week, and I particularly like the lead story each week, which is typically not about a big name team or player but rather about the normal human struggles of people who love whatever game they play and/or overcome something. This week it featured a New Zealand basketball team that plays in the Australian league.
Saturday, February 21, 2015
Tomorrow is the big memorial service for Dean Smith at the Dean Dome. Here's what I'd like to see:
- A discussion of what Dean Smith meant to the university and the community.
- Discussion of the shootings of the 3 Islamic students, and how that, combined with the death of Dean, marks a watershed for Chapel Hill
- An active admissal of how fucked up the academic-athletic scandal has been and the extent to which it endangers the credibility of the university.
- Invocations of Bill Friday and a discussion of how Tom Ross getting forced out of the Chancellorship and the twin threat of Art Pope's ascension threaten UNC to its core.
- Some mention of Gene Nichol and the attempt to close the Poverty Center
- Carol Folt in the driver's seat, and Roy Williams in a supporting and subsidiary role.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Today, for the first time in his life, Graham went out by the lake and really sledded. Which is to say, he went up and down the hill, multiple times, with enthusiasm and glee. He didn't embrace the absolute riskiest elements, to be sure. He controlled his speed of descent by dragging his feet, but he went from the tops of pretty steep slopes to the bottoms of them, and he was digging it.
It's hard to express how huge this is. He's always been a little shy of speed and being out of control. It is true that he went on a biking trip with Granny, David and Natalie last summer and had some pretty awesome downhill runs, even skinning a knee a little. But today was nonetheless a breakthrough.
And he wants to go back out after lunch. I had better eat and get some work done.
Sunday, February 15, 2015
As I have continued to plow through the literature of self-help, motivation, and sales training, one consistent theme is that to do anything well, you've got to have a clear sense of purpose in life, and that you must perceive that what you are doing is aligned with that purpose. Otherwise, people will basically smell weakness and/or lack of commitment and won't trust you. So all the gurus tell you to figure out what your purpose and/or goal is, write it down, repeat it, visualize it, so that you can actualize it.
Problem is, life is complicated, and we only divine our purposes as we go. But this kind of thought process could be facilitated at younger and lower levels. So, given the centrality of purpose, why isn't it tought more? That is, while we can't teach people what their purpose (and I can hear those of you who recently attended the special showing of The Jerk thinking; "special purpose") is, we could be more explicit about designing curricula and methodologies around the process of working towards a purpose.
As well as on goal-setting and processes for tracking progress towards that purpose.
This would be good stuff. Easily as important as courses that dither around making sure kids have read Shakespeare, Sophocles, and Toni Morrison -- although those courses direct kids obliquely towards the same questions. Why not just put the questions out there, bluntly?
Saturday, February 14, 2015
So this week at a local "leads group" I've attended a few times now, a woman did a slide show about her horse farm and the various riding programs it provides. One of her young daughters was working on the farm while figuring out what to do with her life. This daughter was blonde, slim, and -- being a member of the ruling class -- not unattractive, and she featured prominently in the slideshow. In fact, there was even a picture of her on a horse, leaning forward, wearing a tank top which, seemingly not by accident, displayed non-trivial cleavage.
I was a little surprised by this. I know that marketers always choose to feature attractive young women to sell anything, but I would not have expected to see a fairly crunchy and PC woman putting their daughter's body out there like that. Even if she was pretty hot.
Thursday, February 12, 2015
Was talking to my friend Eric yesterday when he suggested that I read Gladwell's The Tipping Point and think about some of its implications for the way I should be trying to generate business for myself. This is a different way of thinking for me. As a blogger seeking to pretend to a certain Zen level of generating a General Theory of Everything which will wow and generally overawe my readers, when I have read Gladwell in the past it has, naturally, generally been in the spirit of competition. As in, "though I'll never have hair as good as Gladwell's, my blog is nonetheless deeper than his writings, and therefore I am superior." You can see the fruits of my sophomoric sniping during my first reading of this book by following this link.
So now I'll go back and reread Gladwell, more in the spirit Eric suggested of trying to take useful nuggets from it which will help me provide good services to clients and thereby generate more business. We'll see how it goes.
Monday, February 09, 2015
I had wondered how it would feel when Dean Smith died, and now it has happened. Yes, it is very sad, but at least his family has been released from the burden of watching a great man decline into dementia. We were spared the same fate with my dad, who went much earlier in the process of decline, due no doubt to the fact that he didn't make sure that he always got the best medical care available to mankind, whereas Coach Smith was undoubtedly attended to at all times by veritable flocks of caregivers.
Friday, February 06, 2015
I just saw that I had twice alluded to the transition from a Spiderman series to a Justice League one within the space of a few weeks, which marks a new low in terms of me repeating myself. Ah well. The ravages of age.
Now I will return to another theme I've touched upon recently, though from a different angle: I find that I am at my best when I have a book to which I return at the end of the day that I am really into, which pulls me along. And why is that? Precisely because the book gives me a comfortable story within which to ensconce myself, to protect myself of the uncertainty of the broader narrative of my life: will I get that account? Will the kids do well in life? How long will I live? Etc. The radical contingency of all that is unnerving.
So everybody's got their narrative fix that comforts them. Sitcoms, TV crime shows, movies, pop songs, comedies and tragedies on stage, they all ultimately resolve in a way that is expected and comforting. Except, of course, the ones that don't. And I've written elsewhere about how I've gravitated over time towards happy endings because the unhappy ones upon which the most arch of avant-garde literatures focus so much of their energy do, in fact, mess with my head.
People who really have religion and/or are deeply embedded and invested in particular ideologies probably need fewer narrative prostheses because, after all, they feel they know how the big picture is going to end. Alternately, one could say that the obsessively perseverate over the same stories (the Gospels, Socialist Realism, etc.) as a way of keeping other narratives out.
But of course this blog is quite the opposite of a well-constructed book. It is instead something like a running Talmud on my life.
I was about to bring up the point Robert Belknap of Columbia once made about the piece-bien-faite, but then thought to see if I had mentioned it before. Of course I had. Not once, but thrice.
Thursday, February 05, 2015
OK, I've done it again, I've squandered an otherwise potentially useful evening on Facebook. Admittedly, I did reconnect with someone I went to high school with and then refriended in grad school and got to see that she lives in Southern California, that her daughers are the same age as my kids, and that they play a lot of soccer and go on some awesome trips. Truly, it was good to reconnect, even at that most basic of levels. But still.
Friday, January 30, 2015
As I was pulling out of my nabe this chilly morning, I found myself behind a municipal truck with a couple of guys in day-glo vests collecting yard waste. One of the two guys had hopped off and was collecting a bit of scrub, and there was a bit more than he could get in one armload. Maybe I'm just projecting, but his body language to me conveyed fear, because it was rush hour time, and here I was, a guy in a white shirt and a tie (I'm headed to Victor's memorial service later) in a silver Prius -- which conveys its own attitude. I rolled down my window and said "you're good!" and then, as they pulled away up Ridgecrest, I rolled down my other window and called out to both of the guys "have a great day!" They were visibly enthused, and waved and smiled and called back to me.
I have often thought about tipping the garbage guys. We now tip school teachers, newspaper delivery people, baristas, etc. These people are all worthy of some sort of gratuity, to differing degrees, but the people riding on the outside of those stinky trucks more so than most. The trick is, how could you do it? Unlike the newspaper people, they can't leave notes telling us about their lives and how to send money to them.*
Sometimes waste handlers work for outsourced companies like Waste Management or North Carolina's own Waste Industries. Most of these firms have implemented good processes to use mechanical arms to pick up trash and recycling without a human jumping off the truck. That's part of another thread about automation and low-paying jobs disappearing. Forget about them.
Back to the guys riding the trucks in the cold. How can we tip them? This is a worthy question.
*Now that I think of it, how do I actually know that the note left in my driveway around the holidays is from the actual newspaper person? That would be a great scam.
Thursday, January 29, 2015
So, honestly, I really do my best to stay positive about Cary, to seek out the best stuff there. I had lunch with Gina at Belle a few months ago, and that was pretty nice. When I needed to have a coffee with a professor from State, I suggested La Farm rather than a Starbucks he mentioned, because Our State magazine (to which I have recently subscribed -- yes, gentle reader, I am that old) said it had the best bread. It was a little disappointing to realize that La Farm was the place that baked bread we get at Whole Foods in Chapel Hill, but what can you do. We like the bread, there was just no discovery to be had.
So when, at lunch the other day, I saw that Cary magazine was having its annual best of issue, I thought I'd check it out. And what did I find.
Best Burger: Five Guys CHAIN
Best Fries: Five Guys CHAIN
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Time was, this blog was for writing, though it has of late devolved into something more like transcribing. Though nobody has been irreparably harmed, it is something of a loss.
I checked out and then started rereading Don DeLilllo's White Noise this last Sunday. The plan was that it was gonna be for a book club, but then I discovered that the club meets the day after I get back from guys' weekend up at the lake, and it may just conflict with Downton Abbey, as well. I didn't remember liking White Noise that much. I read it maybe half my life ago, and I figured that if I didn't like it that much then, odds were I wasn't gonna like it that much now. So I should tell you I've been pleasantly surprised. There is much in the book that is just plain silly, yes, I'll grant it that, but DeLillo just plain old writes good. Like he's been practicing or something. Which should come as no surprise, as he is in fact an actual writer, who strings together works in a becoming fashion quite frequently.
Maybe not every day, but often enough. Gotta keep practicing.
Sunday, January 25, 2015
I have never had any difficulty letting Graham win running races, or soccer kicking contests, or anything like that. Recently we have begun playing chess, and somehow this is different. The urge to dominate and win is somehow more overwhelming, there is an almost moral compulsion to make the next move that will best allow me to win.
This despite the fact that Graham, like lots of kids on the spectrum, has a difficult time with competition and losing (those who have known me for many years might be thinking: so do you, Cleric), so it really falls to me when playing with him to try not to win and to help him learn to just play better.
Yesterday I did a good job with going slow and pointing out to him threats that might emerge two or three moves in the future if he didn't take action to foil my plans beforehand. Strategic thinking. Still, by hook or by crook, in time I found myself in a very good position, threatening his king in many ways. Thankfully, he said he was a little tired and thought we should quit the game for the night, which suited my purposes nicely.
Then, I made a fire and he lay down next to me and put his head on my stomach for a little while. Which was quite nice.
Saturday, January 24, 2015
For some weeks now a majority of the traffic here on the Grouse logged by Statcounter -- one of the two ways I can track visits, the other is the counter native to the blogspot/blogger.com platform -- has come from Googlebots, which are the little automated agents Google uses to keep crawl from link to link and thereby index everything going on on the web. I'm not talking about yesterday's post, either. The bots are going back and looking at stuff that's years old.
All too often late at night, when I know I should be blogging or working on taxes or reading one of the many books around me or playing guitar or talking to Mary or just trying to clear my mind, I find myself on Facebook reading what others have posted and perhaps even looking at cat, or goat, or puppy, or other random videos. It's kind of embarrassing, honestly.
But it shouldn't be. What's really happening is that my ability to be goal-directed is shutting down. Instead of watching late night TV and looking for a laugh or a nugget of insight there, I'm letting Facebook serve it up, in a manner which is curated by the people I've known throughout my lifetime, as opposed to by programming people at one of the networks. And cat videos are nice, short, good-natured little narratives, or reflections on Being.
And yes, Facebook is learning who I am and what I click on and is honing its algorithms to serve up to me posts by the people it knows I prioritize, and then it is selling that knowledge to marketers, so they can give me more of what they know I want, etc. To that extent I am outsourcing the disposition of my attention, and in some sense the formation of my ego and my legacy.
Whatevs. In all things there is and should be a balance between goal-directedness and just letting go. In baseball, if you grip the bat too firmly, it hurts your hands more when you strike the ball and you are less able to make the ball do what you want it to do. One needs to grip the bat of being in the right way (insert penis joke here).
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Home from work in the evening, all too often I find myself starved for narrative, and specifically narrative that has beginning, middle, and end, as opposed to the endless middle and constant becoming of the markets, the economy, and the lives of the people I work with. And so I find myself scurrying about, following links off of Facebook, reading this, that or the other.
On my bedside table, right now, the struggle continues to push forward through Caro's third volume on LBJ. I read half of Rabbit, Run before taking a break. Just picked up a volume of Nabokov's stories, some of which are blissfully short, but they are written in a way that is so distant from my life now.
And so, the blog suffers. My focus is diffused into so many shards of attention, on so many interesting and worthwhile topics, yes, but still.
Certainly I get a dose of somewhat discrete stories from watching superhero videos with Graham. We just finished season 2 of "Ultimate Spiderman," praise the Lord. I was sick to death of the wisecracking asides of that instance of Spiderman. Bleck. Now we have begun a 2001 series based on The Justice League, those old DC comic stalwarts. It is astonishing how radically the quality of animation has changed since then.
Anyhoo, late now, off to bed.
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
I was just at a meeting where there were 3 women with really short hair. Actually, two of them have been letting their hair start to get a little bit bushy, and I'm just sitting there going: "no no no, go get that buzzed down again nice and tight."
I love the really short haired look on the ladies. It shows such confidence, no need to hide behind a bunch of follicles. Almost all women who cut their hair really short look good. Maybe there's some self-selection about it, I dunno. I wish I could convince Mary to roll with a very tight look, but I think it will be quite some time before that happens.