Saturday, November 18, 2017

Checking in

It has been an uncharacteristically long time since my last post. In the interim, what has been going on?

  • Fundraisers for Graig Meyer, Floyd McKissick, and the SKJAJA fund
  • A going-away party for Lindsay Graham (no, not that one) of Car Pal and Saxapahaw fame
  • Big Data and Life Sciences event at NC BioTech Center
  • Lake Forest Association annual meeting (it passed bloodlessly)
  • Tennis with Z (no comment on outcome)
  • Several client reviews
Through all of this, Graham and I have maintained our steady diet of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 episodes. I looked at my timeline on the most famous of social networks, which shall remain nameless here, and saw that we wrapped up our viewing of Star Trek: Next Generation on January 20.  We have now watched six seasons of DS 9, so 156 episodes over ten months, so one every other day or thereabouts. We have achieved this momentous accomplishment despite deaths in the family, business and pleasure travel, work, school, all manner of impediments. This shows what one can do if one sets one's priorities correctly and keeps one's eye on the ball.

Much of this has been accomplished on our new couch. Recently, Mary put this very soft brown striped alpaca blanket that we bought in support of our neighbor Chadd's non-profit Teachers 2 Teachers International. They do very good work setting up peer-to-peer partnerships between US educators and those in the developing world. You should check them out.

More importantly, the blanket is exceptionally cozy. Graham sits under a grey fleece blanket, and I use the alpaca one, because he is too tall now for us to share one blanket. Often, I start dozing off during the episode, but I still hear the dialog. Also, after Graham leaves, the accumulated warmth on the couch persists, and sometimes I hang out and snooze a little.

Even Natalie, climbing in under Graham's blanket to watch an episode of Stranger Things with me and mom, recognized the exceptional coziness of Graham's set up. This is good livin.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The big stall

Listening to Ben Sasse's book on the way to a conference this morning, began pondering the much-ballyhooed stalling of median incomes since the early 70s. Began to ponder: is this in some sense reflective of an aggregate, homeostatic lack of desire for higher incomes? I.e. if one gets on the "hedonic treadmill" north of ~$75k of income, are we really dealing with broad problem of abundance, not scarcity?

As a society, in the West at least, we generate enough wealth to give everybody a decent life. But we don't know how to balance wealth generation and wealth distribution. People are geared to want more, more, more, both status and wealth. Deciding when you have enough and when to slow down is hard. And then what do you do with yourself? The cultural model tells us to eat better, live more fancily, travel more, but people don't get happier by doing these things, beyond a point. And we haven't discovered effective mechanisms for redistributing wealth via the public sector. Or at least we don't promote them well enough.

Again, we get back to the question of values and leadership. If more public-spirited behavior was validated more broadly and more convincingly, people would do more of it. But these values don't sell stuff.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Flat and round modalities

There is a lot of hue and cry these days about the dangers that social networks pose to the fabric of society. We're all aware that they have positive and negative sides. It is great to see people's kids, learn what they're up to, crowdsource wisdom about need x, y, or z, etc. And hear their reflections on the topics of the day.

The problem is that people only have so much time to put themselves out there. Or, if they really devote time (say, blogging), they sacrifice other aspects of their lives. To have recourse again to E.M. Forster's categories of flat and round characters, everybody is always more or less flat on Facebook or Twitter, certainly in any given post they are. You could take the time to study them over time, and maybe they get more round.

Social networks are of course only one context in which this happens. Anybody who is out in the world interacting with others one a more or less regular basis is alway truncating and trimming their self-presentation to play a professional or societal role: salesperson, politician, project manager, teacher, etc.

And we are all limited in the number of deeper, rounder relationships we can have. You just can't have more than a handful or truly best friends, we each get one mother and father. Maintaining all these relationships takes time.

But social media exacerbate all of these general tendencies.  Even, dare I say it, traditional blogs like this one. There's only so much time, and I gotta hop.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Dominance in the Hierarchy of Needs

These days I sometimes feel like I can't leave the house without tripping over Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which is invoked as a framework supporting just about anything.  According to Maslow, people have basically five kinds of needs: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization, arrayed in a pyramid. Take care of one level, and you can move on to the next.

So where does dominance or conquest fit into all of this? Somewhere around the esteem level, I would reckon, having never actually read the book. But, I would argue, on the macro scale, it is hugely important.

This was brought to mind by an article in the Times this morning about smuggling baby chimps and other primates, which is apparently big business. Rich people and provincial Asian zoos apparently gotta have them, and many chimps are trained to smoke cigarettes and drink beer because, of course, that's just adorbs.

Which is, honestly, one of the reasons why sports can be so great. People get to enact their need for dominance in a forum which is, when managed properly, relatively painless. When fans get too worked up about it, it gets silly, for sure. That's why it would be great if China could get good at soccer quickly. It is fine for them to have awesome divers and table tennis players, but if they could come to have success on the biggest of world athletic stages, it would probably go a long way towards letting them get their macro rocks off. Just sayin.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017


A friend and client was visiting from out of town last week, and before I put her on a plane she started asking me about what I wanted to do with my life. Did I want to go into politics? Write a book? A few weeks back Marvin was around helping us with some painting and he gently prodded me about me letting my musical talents wither. I have, admittedly, been playing more guitar, though it bothers Natalie when she is trying to work.

All of this takes me back to some very early ur-conversation I had with my mom where she cited the Parable of Talents from the Bible, which basically says (as I recall, getting late now, no time to Google, must hasten to work) that we all need to make use of our talents. Sometimes this thought drives me a little crazy, as I am reasonably talented at a range of things and a pretty hard worker, but I know I can't be good at everything given the old 24/7 constraint.

The thing about politics is particularly interesting. I had never even thought about going into politics until maybe 2010, when somebody first suggested it. More people have in recent years. This year somebody even tried to recruit me to run for Town Council, but I felt like I needed to focus on growing my business and being available at home, esp. with Natalie working on college apps. And it being her last year here in the house 😡.

But people keep saying they think I'd be good at it. I wonder at times if I am receptive to it in the back of my mind because it offers another arena in which I could compete with Josh. But Lord knows I am a few decades behind on that one, and really have little hope of competing effectively.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Neither bright-eyed nor bushy-tailed

I awake on Mondays not always refreshed and raring to go.  Part of it is the lack of separation between work and home. Given that my work is holistic and bound up with lots of people I know and love, and also not narrowly circumscribed into discrete functional areas, that makes it hard to walk away from. There are always things to read that are related to my work, and then there are social things that always offer the promise of meeting more people, some of whom might eventually become clients.

It is unseemly for me to complain about this. Nobody pushed me into it. But it is a feature, if not a bug, of my life.

Then there's the fact that we never go anywhere. Partially it's a function of being busy and having great things to do here. Plus we are averse to burning carbon gratuitously. On top of that, where we are is so spectacularly beautiful that we are less motivated than others to leave.

So I am always immersed in my life, which is more or less the same as my work.

Last night Mary came in announcing that Graham's grades were slipping a little. He is getting some Bs, alongside mostly As. On the one hand, we might not want to sweat that.  On the other hand, mostly it's reflective of him having poor work habits and organization. Which means we need to help him improve. This, after all, is what middle school is for. To develop better work habits so that kids are ready for high school.

The problem is that -- given his autism -- it is hard to break him out of patterns. We are used to doing exactly the same things week after week: martial arts, Star Trek. And Lord knows I live to watch Star Trek with the boy. The big conversations about growing up, work habits, etc., are better had outside the context of normal, ritual activities, and certainly outside the context of breaking in on him doing homework, or not doing homework, as the case may be. When we break in on him then, he gets testy. Which I get.

I think I need to take him out to lunch next weekend.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Muttering soul

At the AA meeting this morning I sat next to a person (no need for more detail) who sipped coffee loudly and whispered aloud between sips and was making some sort of clicking sound in the back of his/her throat. It was a little annoying and made it difficult to concentrate on what was being said.

Then I remembered where I was, and that I had no idea where this person was in his/her process of recovery. It could have been a very fresh thing. The person could still be in withdrawal, for all I know. It's a hard fucking thing to deal with. There is high comorbidity between mental illness and substance abuse disorders, of course. And what the fuck did I sound like sitting next to people in my early days? What did I smell like?  Lord only knows.

It was, in fact, a rare privilege to be there.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The internet of us

There is a great deal of hullabaloo and fear around the influence of internet and social media on us these days, and not without reason. New regulations are proposed to let us drill down on who paid for Facebook ads and what else they paid for, blah blah blah, as if that was going to solve the fundamental problems that have caused things to go awry.

I doubt it. People will learn to game that too.

The main, underlying problem is that we aren't well grounded, don't have a shared set of values based even on a broadly founded conception of who the other is. Everybody is scared of rapid change, and we go about expressing it in different ways. Some brandish every larger guns and drive ever larger vehicles, others institute trigger warnings and safe spaces.

Everybody huddles amongst their own, when they should be out talking to others and listening. But that is the hardest thing of all to do, in our era of profoundly assortative huddling, facilitated by online communities and the home delivery of everything.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The inner game

Out on the court with Nathan today, he inquired if I had read The Inner Game of Tennis. "Maybe 30-40 pages", I admitted. "I think that's really all you need," he responded.

Actually, I think the opposite is the case. Where matters of the spirit are concerned, by which I mean anything pertaining to the struggle to control ourselves and maintain equanimity in the face of... whatever stressor threatens to unsettle us, there is a need for near constant reminders of the basic principles of being in the world.

That is why people go to church, temple, bible study, mosque, 12-step group, over and over, day after day, week after week, hearing the same basic truths intoned. There is no new wisdom, but there is an ever-refreshing need for it.

I broke Nathan's serve at love the first game, and then he mine, so the first eight points of the match went to the returner of serve.  And then, at the beginning of his second service game, he won the point, and I swear there was the faintest glimmer of fear within me that I would crumble and lose. I was able to recover and remind myself to do basic things decently, and I beat him 6-3, like I usually do.

In the end, the inner game of tennis is just remembering that each point begins the struggle for self-possesion anew. It reminds me of how Kierkegaarde, at the beginning of one of his books, maybe The Present Age, talks about how each life inaugurates once more the struggle between good and evil, and that therefore there can be no progress in ethics. Just an eternal beginning at the beginning.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

How I roll

I don't know if I have taken the time to complain about the light coming in my East-facing desk window in the morning. It gets particularly bright -- you will not be shocked to learn -- in the autumn, as the leaves come off the trees. It can be rather vexing, and I have resorted to various strategies to counter it:  draping my exterior monitor in a flannel shirt, wearing a baseball cap, putting a standing lamp behind the desk, jacked up on a plastic crate, and hanging a dark shirt from that.

But why don't you just get some curtains, Mr. Grouse, wouldn't that be logical? Indeed it would, all too logical. But I am lazy and generally hate home improvements, which take away time when I might be reading, blogging, napping, watching Star Trek with Graham, doing sports, or learning songs on the guitar. Or even working, which does happen.

I have hit on an even more ingenious solution. An old desk came free when mom's company was sold. First we stuck it in David's office, then he passed away. It was in the corner of the rec room for a while, then Mary had that repainted, and it has migrated up here to the bedroom, where it now sits and gives me a lake-facing desk. Rather nice. Particularly when combined with one of the surplus external monitors, also scavenged from mom's most recent company. All in all, good livin.

One new problem is that there are now a couple of branches that are stopping my view from being truly spectacular in all seasons.  I need to get Rick Serge and his team back over here to take them down, along with that skinny tree they forgot to take out when they were here in the Spring.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Empathy engines

Claire Messud was recently quoted in The Guardian as saying:  "Maybe in 50 years there won't be novels." Coming from someone like her, who has devoted her professional life to the form, and admirably and successfully, that's a sad admission, a, d hopefully more of a call to arms.

I drove to Charlotte last Thursday evening with Natalie and Susannah to see John and Hank Green on tour, in support of the release of John's most recent novel Turtles All the Way Down. If you don't know who John and Hank Green are, Google them. Amazing, inspiring, positive nerds. John wrote The Fault in Our Stars. John's new book is about a teenage girl with OCD. Somewhere in his presentation last Thursday, he talked about how the essential function of narrative art was to inspire empathy for others.

I like it. I studied a bunch of highfalutin theory in college and some in grad school, and while not all of it was bullshit, I think that the fundamental project of theory became in a sense one of conquest and power: to create an all-embracing theory that offered its exponent a corner of reality. To stake a claim. And that got tiring.

Good novels (movies, stories, novellas, even documentaries and non-fiction, etc) do their jobs to the extent that they offer insight into others' thinking and feeling, how they process the raw material of their lives, and help us live our own. They help us slow down and get out of ourselves. To do so is not chopped liver. It's a tough thing to do.

I'm reading Messud's The Burning Girl now. It's her sixth book, closer to a novella than a novel, as if you freaking care. I have been drawn in and am flowing along with it, so it is doing it's job nicely.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Garbage Day

The town picks up the recycling on Mondays, the garbage on Tuesdays. Graham, being the young male in the family, has inherited the traditional male chore of taking these things out to the street. Why we have somehow settled into this traditional gender-based division of labor I can't tell you, but we have.

In any case when he takes out the bottles and stuff from the recycling drawer on Mondays, he on most weeks takes out the plastic bag from the indoors recycling can and emptys it into the corresponding receptacle outside, and then puts the plastic bag back into the can inside. That's how cheap and green we are. We do that till it starts smelling.

But on Tuesdays he's supposed to take the bag out and put it in the garbage can, full of trash. Last night I noticed that he was putting the plastic bag back into the garbage can, having emptied it out in the driveway. Mary is a bit of a stickler for this kind of stuff ("It's supposed to be in a bag!")

So when I pointed this out to him last night, I'm sure with a touch but not a heaping spoonful of reproach in my voice, he hunched forward his shoulder, expelled a breath, and looked at me with a bit of fear, as if I was going to let him have it. I just told him to give me the bag and went outside. I saw there was no hope for getting any of the garbage back in the bag, so I just threw the bag in there with the rest of the stuff.

This is a little bit odd, because, although I might get a little animated about this or that, one thing I am proud of is that I have never struck a child or Mary, and I think generally have managed to keep temper tantrums to pretty dull roars. Of course, my point of reference was my dad who, without being the world's most violent dad, did on occasion employ a little physical violence, and certainly had a major temper that he was not afraid of letting fly verbally, or, say, by peeling out of our driveway dramatically, flinging gravel back into the bushes.

If there's one thing I feel I can be proud of, I've pretty much steered clear of the worst excesses of anger. I think.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Defined benefits

There was a piece in the Journal yesterday about the daunting overhang of retirement health and pension benefits in Connecticut and New Jersey. Basically, the two states are pretty screwed financially because they can't fund benefits. This is a big problem not just there, but in many places. The "funding ratio" has undoubtedly gotten better this year as asset prices worldwide have risen together, but the issue is not resolved. Democrats try to ignore it, Republicans sometimes fixate on it in a downright mean-spirited way, but it doesn't really go away.

I have also seen stories about how, when police departments try to jigger their retirement benefits downward, that it becomes harder to recruit new cops. I have also heard, right here in Chapel Hill, of a cop who had to retire after 18 years after an on the job injury hauling somebody out of his car after an accident, or subduing a suspect, and got screwed because he wasn't vested.

None of this shit is simple.

In any case, I was reminded of conversations I had not long ago at a wedding with some white people from a small town in North Carolina. I didn't talk politics with them, but it is reasonable to assume by virtue of their general cultural proclivities (strong church, football, baseball, recently purchased power boat) that they vote Republican. The dad in the family started working in the school system relatively late in life, but was very clear on his timeline to vesting in the state pension and retiree health benefits. The mom had taught until had maxed out her retirement, as had her mother before her. Her dad had worked for the Federal government his whole career. He, at least, was for certain a pretty strongly expressed racist.

But they were all government employees, through and through. On the one hand, they are to be thanked for their service. On the other, they are ill-placed to systematically criticize government overreach, or dependency of this population or that on the government.

It would be very interesting to see a thorough analysis of rural counties, not just for their dependence on explicit wealth-transfer programs, but to see how much of their overall economies ultimately flowed out from federal, state, or local coffers in the form of payroll. I suspect it might be much quicker, cheaper, and easier to just look at their economies in total, tot up private sector investment and receipts from outside the county, and then subtract.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

An Ant Moves its Leg in China

I posted this under my legal name elsewhere, might as well share it hear too, for my truly faithful readers.

I was astounded to read, a couple of weeks back, that a Chinese money market fund associated with Ant Financial, was offering investors returns in excess of 4%. Ant Financial, for those of you who haven’t been following, spun out from Alibaba, the e-commerce juggernaut founded by Jack Ma, China’s analog to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. This “money market fund” manages $200 billion, making it the world’s largest.

By comparison, US money market funds earn almost nothing these days.  Money market funds typically inv/est in highly-rated debt securities which mature in less than one year, so they are highly liquid, which means one can expect to sell them with no loss of value, even if interest rates rise.  At present, US 30-year bonds pay only 2.87%, but are exposed to considerable interest rate risk. 

“How can this be?”, you may well ask.  How can Chinese get 4% interest with no risk to principle, while in the US even very long-term debt offers considerably lower yield?  Great question, and the answer falls squarely into the bucket of “don’t ask.” It defies logic, and constitutes a systemic risk in China to which we would not expose ourselves, even if we could. But here’s the good news:  China’s regulators realize that there is a systemic risk, and it was recently reported that they are putting in place measures to reduce the returns available to money market funds and restore them to their original function of low risk and high liquidity. If all goes well, yields available to Chinese investors will be brought down in an orderly fashion, and risks will be squeezed out of the system.

But here’s the real question:  “Why should I, as an American, care about Chinese money market funds?”  The reason is that the Chinese capital markets are maturing, regulators are imposing order, and they are gradually opening to and integrating with the rest of the world’s markets. The two mainland Chinese stock exchanges, in Shanghai and Shenzhen, together have about $8 trillion in total market capitalization, out of about $77 trillion worldwide. But it is very difficult for foreign investors to invest directly in these markets, and they were only recently integrated into the most popular emerging markets index, and at a disproportionately low level.

Again you ask:  “Why should I care?”  And here’s the real reason: the more China opens, and the more tightly integrated are its markets with those of the rest of the world, the more aligned are its interests to our own. We come to be increasingly in business together. Perhaps the most haunting book of 2017 is Graham Allison’s Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap. Basically, Allison’s thesis is that, most of the time in history, when a rising power (China) comes into conflict with an existing power (the USA), there is most often war. War with China would be ugly, and would be unlikely to be just us against them. Allies would be dragged in, things would escalate... Even if we won, we would lose.

So this is why we care, and this is why we pay attention to these things. Although there are many skeptics these days about the benefits of markets, overall they have been forces for good in the world last century. Markets help capital connect with opportunities, and regulators make sure that this happens in an orderly fashion. As this great swarm of ants in China is brought under control, we all stand to benefit.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

College essay

Natalie wrote her free hand main essay for the Common Application on the Fourth Amendment -- to wit, for those of us who need a refresher course, the one that protects us against unreasonable search and seizure. It's about 90% ready for the UNC application. Mary and I have reviewed it, as has Kristin Hiemstra, the professional we are working with (since we are just amateurs, after all), and it's pretty much there.

Mary and I both read it and felt that the question "why?" wasn't really perfectly answered. Why does a 17-year old care so much about search and seizure? Part of me wants to have her dig deep into it and reflect on its attraction to her, but I look back at where I was when I was her age, and even older, and think about the things I did with hair, clothes, facial hair, music, just to "define myself" or whatever, and I think "if she wants the Fourth Amendment to be her thing, that's cool."

Then again, if I had to guess why search and seizure seems so close to home for her, I'd say this: she is a little private, and can get pissy when we tell her to clean her room. She won't fly off the handle, but she pushes back. And that's the worst form of rebelliousness she has yet shown to us. OK, that and sometimes going for that extra cookie of french fry, but that is behavior she has pretty much learned from me, so who am I to criticize? In short, marking off her room as her own clearly delimited space is her primary form of teenage rebellion. It's a whole lot better than pot, cigarettes, drinking, other forms of self-destructive behavior.

Therefore, she can have the Fourth Amendment. We may yet nudge her to articulate its attraction better in her essay, but overall, whatevs.

Saturday, October 07, 2017


Graham has no martial arts today, which means I didn't have to hustle out to the park, so my schedule is blown wide open. No soccer game till 2.

I am almost overflowing with things to do:

  • Clean desk
  • Clean mud room
  • Wash windows
  • Read books (this one, that one, or the other one?)
  • Read Natalie's college essays (UNC is due October 15, does that lock the Common App?)
  • Learn more Leonard Cohen (or Jason Isbell, or...) songs on guitar
Meanwhile, I hear Natalie downstairs in the kitchen. That is a rarety, a desert bloom. Probably should go take advantage of that.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017


I was about to write about how much I love whistling the theme music to Star Trek: Deep Space 9 and annoying Graham, then I did a keyword search of the blog and see that I have already done so thrice. It reminds me of the old rule of thumb from the asshole school of comedian: "a joke just gets funnier the more times you tell it."

Oh, the eternal joys.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Again on inflation

nb. With regard to inflation, I recently saw photos and stories on Facebook of empty shelves on grocery stores in Brooklyn. This is more evidence of hidden inflation, our collective failure to appropriately price labor, or rather, or reluctance after years of low prices to accept the actual cost of labor. The stores should be paying people more to stock shelves, and these higher costs should be reflected in the prices paid.

I'm sure, in fact, that that is what is happening. People are getting the things they need from stores, but instead of paying higher prices at a given distribution point, say, Trader Joe's, they are going to another store and buying it, spending more time shopping, perhaps paying more.

Or maybe they will buy more  from Amazon.

The cultural poetics and business logic of funerals

It is reflective of where I am in life that I have gone to a lot of funerals over the last few years, and I've been to them in different types of congregations:  Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Baptist, Quaker, Catholic and one at an African-American church. I am surprised in fact that there haven't been any Jewish ceremonies mixed in there. There is a lot of variety in how people are sent off.

Most notably, one Episcopalian Church, the nice one up on Franklin St next to the planetarium, insists upon a pretty rigorous minimalism and uniformity. Short testimonials, always the same readings from scripture. I spoke to a guy involved in the congregation, and there's a clear purpose to this: supporting the idea that we are all the same before God.

I have spoken at a number of them, a couple in Episcopalian churches, one Presbyterian. In at least one of them we were given pretty rigid time-boxes by the minister, part of the understanding that this is, after all, both their business (so they have to manage their hours) and a pretty standardized show where they understand generically what their audience wants and can tolerate. What plays in Peoria, as it were. I get that.

Last Sunday I went to a Baptist funeral. This was downtown Chapel Hill, so not quite your garden variety Baptist funeral, but it was distinct certainly from the "mainline" protestant (Episcopalian, Presbyterian) funerals I get more of. The people spoke for longer. As long as they wanted to. They told however many stories about their loved one as they wanted to. It was lovely. The preacher spoke for longer, and it really felt like he knew the family very well.  The widow asked him, and him personally, to sing "Amazing Grace," so he sat down at the piano and sang it, in front of 500-600 people, and then had the congregation join in at the end. It was very moving. I learned a lot about the guy and his family that I had never known, but that is pretty standard, and that's why I go, in the end.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

More thoughts on inflation and labor markets

I went to the dentist on a couple of weeks back, what I can't help but to think of as "spa day," because I get to recline in a comfortable chair while women minister to me. My dentist even gives me a mouth and jaw massage at the end of the exam while checking for cancer! Awesome.

 There was a new hygienist, as there often is. That is not reflective on the quality of the dentist I go to (she is the best), but rather the state of the labor market for hygienists. There just aren't enough. So they can go where they want to and can always get more money.

This one used to work at the UNC dental school, where she liked participating in the mission of preparing new generations, but her advisory case load and hours were excessive, made it hard to get home to see kids. Basically, the university treated her as captive. So she left.

Her husband has been driving for UPS for a long time. They want to kick him upstairs too, but he likes the fixed schedule and is fine with the money and doesn't want the additional burden associated with managing other people.

Recently moved from Hillsborough to Chatham County so they could get a bigger piece of land. They are perfectly happy with their lifestyle.

This may be a little known piece of the inflation puzzle -- a lack of productivity growth leeds larger employers to expect higher hours at more responsible position as employees mature -- but people push back against it by not progressing. After all, the research on the "hedonic treadmill," which states that peoples' sense of overall happiness and wellbeing plateaus at incomes above $75k -- has been pretty broadly disseminated. People just have to resist the blandishments of consumer society.

I think that the fact is that, in geographic regions where there is affluence, it is perfectly easy for people to earn a living, so long as people (and their employers) are willing to abide by basic social norms -- employees accept roles within teams, get to work on time, be courteous, etc. This is easy enough to do for people with decent educations and decent role models in their households and communities.

Unfortunately, we aren't doing that well at facilitating these things for a lot of our population. Government owns some of it, individuals own some of it.

We had a chair delivered from a home design chain recently. It was delivered by a couple of guys, one of them straight up African-American, the other might have been Hispanic/African-American (he stayed in the house very briefly, which is why I can't remember). In any case, they drove up from a warehouse near Charlotte. The black guy said that he was from Maryland and that when he lived there he "mostly never worked," but since he had come down here he had been working steadily for 7 years. He was proud of it.

I think the idea that African-American males don't want to work is purest bullshit. Sure, some don't. I think many are just frustrated and stymied, and are hamstrung by nonsense misdemeanors on their records for shit that would never have stuck to a middle class white kid. Where the cops might have driven a kid home and talked to his parents, have made an effort to keep their record clean so as not to "mess up their lives." I have been getting to know a guy from Durham for whom this is absolutely true.

But now I am rambling.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A quotable boy

So the mom of a friend of Graham's was walking by with her husband and said that her son was going to an Episcopalian Youth group on Sundays. So we are not big churchgoers, and in that regard I consider us typical Episcopalians, but any opportunity to get Graham together with friends is OK by me, and she said we didn't need to be active members of the congregation. So I went back inside to tell Mary about it before I forgot it.

Graham was in the kitchen emptying the dishwasher at the time. I told them, then hurried off to go running. Mary tells me that he looked at her and said: "Would this be an appropriate time for me to say the I know what that is and I'm not interested?"

That's my boy.