Saturday, February 18, 2017

Sam Stone


One day in college, I was sitting on the couch of Wayne, the a non-Yale student stoner who hung out and played a lot of hackeysack and to a lesser extent frisbee. He had some good weed, I'm sure, and we were smoking it while listening to some music. I didn't know what it was, but then I heard the chorus:  "There's a hole in daddy's arm, where all the money goes" -- and in an instant I was transported back to childhood. innocence  This was John Prine, "Sam Stone," and it was a record my dad had played a lot, in some ways his answer to mom's Carol King Tapestry, a record that I associate strongly with him.

At the time I was, of course, not paying attention to the lyrics, I had no idea what it was about.  I was a kid. When I listened to it again as an adult, I got it. Vietnam vet, heroin addict, overdose. Done. But the chorus reaches back to childhood to say: this is in fact the story any kid, and the transition from innocent child to dead addict is seemless and invisible and is in fact not the insertion of one thing in place of another, but different stages of the same thing, or, rather, the commingling of two seemingly mutually exclusive things.

Last week I went to an AA meeting and a woman shared about her son, who had been off at a rehab, then spent time in a halfway house. On his first night home, he overdosed and died. She went out and got drunk. When she told the story, all the oxygen went out of the room, but then the next person raised his or her hand and shared another experience because that is what we do.

It is hard for those of us who live relatively stable lives to grasp the seriousness of the opioid epidemic now. I won't trot out statistics, but it is very real and present. I buried a friend last Friday who had many years of sobriety after some years of serious drug addiction, but we don't know what killed him in the end. In some sense, it doesn't matter, in other senses, it does.

In the years following the end of the Soviet Union, as the metanarrative of a great and successful Communist society -- which had seemed plausible following WWII and the end of Stalin's years for a couple of decades but then eroded through the 70s until it collapsed under Gorbachev -- Russia began to experience very negative demographic trends. Under Yeltsin, Russia basically smoked and drank itself to death. People stopped having babies. Putin came along and changed the game. He is evil and a kleptocrat, but he gave and gives Russians something to be proud of and hang their hat on.

The West has seen some of the same things happen. Anne Case and Angus Deaton of Princeton have shown that, for the first time in history, mortality for white American males is going backwards: white men are dying younger, and substance abuse and mental health are the big drivers. Branko Milanovic of CUNY has provided a broader framework for causality around this:  median incomes for the middle classes in the developed world have stagnated over the last few decades while the middle classes in emerging markets have made progress, and the rich have gotten richer.  Small wonder that kleptocrat populists are able to gain power while blaming immigrants.

I may have made some of these points before, and I don't have time to tie it all together because, as is the case every Saturday, it is time to take Graham to martial arts. And then it is time to get outside and enjoy the day.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Differentiation and being onesself

One of the received doxas of management theory of the last quarter century or whatever is that providers of goods and services should always be seeking to differentiate themselves from their competition, to demonstrate how they are different. This is reminiscent, on the one hand, of young people trying to mark themselves off as distinct by how they dress, piercings, tattoos, the music they listen to, etc. Amongst individuals, this quest to differentiate onesself has pushed itself forward as the Boomers have aged and Madison Avenue has gotten smarter, to where people at ever higher ages are still trying to be cool. By the time they are at death's door most but not all people are over it.

People often ask me, how do you differentiate yourself from other advisors? And it is a tiresome question, because what they are really asking is "how are you better?" and the subtext is "how are you going to beat the market?"  Given that beating the market consistently is more or less statistically impossible, what they are really asking is "how can you lie to me to give me the impression that you, and by extension I as your client, are privy to a special sauce which is available only to the select wealthy few?" Which is silly, but it is what some people want, and those people are looking for someone other than me to take care of them.

I am focused increasingly, in all domains of life, to trying to stop demonstrating that I am different than other people and just being myself. It is, in fact, a good deal easier to do that.

I recently bought some new jeans and also black jeans.  I have been wearing them more and more during work hours, and enjoying it. Wearing jeans is more who I am. Tomorrow I am going to Duke Law School to meet a prospect, a referral, and since people in universities have gotten oddly more formal in their dress even as universities have drifted ever leftward in their curricula, I am going to make and exception and wear some khakis. Black ones. Such is life.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

The Undoing Project

I just finished Michael Lewis's new book The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds.  As with many Michael Lewis books, it was a little uneven;  I feel like Lewis has license to write basically whatever he wants because he is Michael Lewis, after all, and he writes so well and has been so successful and has such incredible access.  In a sense, this is evidence of the sort of mean reversion that is observable in all human endeavors:  you can't be great in everything you do.

And part of my reaction to Lewis is, as I think I've shared before, jealousy and envy because I feel like I should be Michael Lewis, out writing about whatever the hell I want to and getting paid for it, as opposed to writing about whatever the hell I want to and not getting paid for it.

And so, the book. It is the story of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman and their groundbreaking work in psychology that has impacted so many domains. Funny, I had always thought of them as psychologists whose main impact has been in economics, under the banner of behavioral economics, but it turns out that's just one epiphenomenon of their work, the one I've run into.

I have read other books about behavioral economics, usually I don't finish them. This one I finished, because, in the end, it was the story of the remarkable friendship between these two guys and its growing pains, how the one who appeared to be transcendentally brilliant (Tversky) got all the prizes as the two of them got traction, how his brilliance made him a difficult person which spoiled their theretofore incredibly tight friendship and partnership, then how they stuck together to the end nonetheless when Tversky got cancer that killed him fast and young. In the end, Kahneman got the Nobel, and has become more famous.

I cried at the end, and it made me appreciate my excellent friends. I called one today, whose dad is dying of cancer and is in the country for a few weeks. I had been too busy to do it of late, and couldn't make it to New York to see him. But it's OK.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Here I am

It's a typical Sunday morning.  We made pancakes, and were reading the paper.  After looking at the sports page, the one time a week I look at one these days (I get soccer news on weekend nights online), I started in on the Sunday Review section. Very quickly I could see myself getting sucked into the mire of the Trumpmania from which we all suffer now.

I had to pull back and come upstairs to try to lengthen my perspective here on the blog, to try to remember that the world is happening in cycles other than  those dictated to us by our lunatic Tweeter-in-Chief, the oracle of logorrheic bile pent-up within so many. See, there I go. It's hard to escape it even for a few minutes,so thoroughly does it permeate our every pore.

And indeed, there's really not much else of note going on in the world, though I should pause to note that Natalie and her team won their first mock trial competition yesterday, that Graham and I are making headway on Star Trek: Deep Space 9 and that, though the show does not compare with Next Generation, I am glad that we have something decent to watch while sharing a blanket in the rec room and that, in particular, I am delighted to have side-stepped a need to watch season three of Avengers Assemble, which would surely have been more of Hulk, Thor and the gang smashing and crashing against an ever-wider array of new and rehashed supercriminals hell bent on destroying the universe as we know it.  I should also say that I went out and played basketball with a couple of guys including Skeet Baldwin yesterday, and that I pretty much shot him out. Today, both of my wrists are sore and one quad where this guy kneed me, but that's the game.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Listening

The other day I met with a couple of prospects who had been referred to me by not one, but two clients, independently.  A nice thing.  We sat and talked for an hour or so, and I walked away from the conversation with about half a page of notes about them.

Which is not really enough. The problem was, of course, that I had been talking more than I had been listening and asking questions, which is really my job. I need to know who they are and what they value so I can offer them good counsel.

I realized that quickly, then thought about it in my meeting yesterday morning. After the meeting, a few of the guys and I repaired to the chilly Starbucks in the foyer of the Harris Teeter by the mall, as we do sometimes. I decided to resist the temptation to talk and to just ask questions and listen to the other guys.  I lasted about 15 minutes, before I started holding forth about something.

This is a facet of the problem of Protuberance (as already documented in these posts).  I.e. the need for the fragile male ego, to wit, my own, to assert itself to establish dominance in the domain for which it is best suited.



It is hard right now to sit back and listen to anything quietly, as Trump and his crew seem hell-bent on wreaking as much destruction as possible as quickly as they can.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A girl and her cat

This morning Natalie started singing one of her more recent songs about our more social cat, Rascal.

Rascal has four paws,
Rascal has four paws,
Rascal has four paws,
And Bingo was its name-o

Earlier tunes include

Rascal cat, is wearing a hat (sung to the tune of "Jesse's mom" (has got it goin on)).

Other highlights of this girl/cat relationship include Rascal sitting on Natalie's lap at the island in the morning when she is having her cereal, and at her desk in the evenings (and daytime) when Natalie is doing her homework.

Natalie also likes to raise Rascal in the air over her head, look up at her, and cry out "Simba!", in the manner of The Lion King. Rascal does not object.

We are not the only ones who will miss her when she is gone, all too soon.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The open kimono and alignment

I just read through an interesting article on the use of body cams by police in the New York Times Magazine that Graham had been saving for me on the floor of his bedroom. Basically, the article revolved around the experience in Seattle, where some hacker kid used freedom of information laws to compel the police department (SPD) to release all of its body cam videos.

Of course, the first problem is the sheer quantity of data, which is huge. Then there's the issue of confidentiality for the citizens in the videos. And there are lots of other issues too, nothing is simple in this life.

The hacker kid eventually ended up working with the SPD to develop automated methodologies to redact video to protect confidentiality and manage the huge volume of requests, and then, having an aggrandized conception of himself as a "change agent" and low social IQ for working within large organizations (really not an easy thing to do, certainly not my forte), he ended up pissing off the team that ran the 911 unit and got himself banned from SPD HQ.

So he went back to being a complete pain in the ass and writing automated scripts to put in innumerable freedom of information requests for other stuff, crippling the SPD again.

Fundamentally, our whole paranoia about police overreach is a problem of alignment. People don't trust their motives, so want to micromanage them, but really don't have the disposition or skillset to do so, but the problem starts with poor lines of communication between PDs and the populations they serve. Again, the fragmentation of the media universe is a big part of the problem. Time was, all there was to watch was local news and then Cronkite, Brokaw, etc. So people watched that. And when the chief of police came on and discussed a big case, they were able to communicate out effectively.

But maybe we also didn't hear about many Eric Garners, Alton Sterlings, Freddy Grays,....

OK.  By now I have been writing too long and my discourse is falling victim to the blog form, which is to say, the need to oversimplify to get on with my day.

Let me say this. I ordered some firewood a few weeks back and it turned out the guy I was talking to was somebody who went to high school with me, a good guy who had had a career on the local police force and then had gotten injured on the job, discharged as disabled, and totally screwed by the police pension plan because he didn't quite make 20 years. Our views are very different on gun control and perhaps on many things, but he teaches courses on gun safety and is a 100% excellent human being. He told many stories of being on the job, being in danger, trying to help people of color, and I think he is entirely earnest, and certainly took much more risk than I ever have and has served the public nobly and honorably. I look forward to talking to him more as life moves on.  It was, frankly, one of the highlights of recent months. I probably already blogged about it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Do rag on the floor

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.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Barack and Michelle move on

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

Zhou Youguang

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

Moment of clarity

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.


Today I had to do a workshop in Durham, but I had some time to walk around 9th Street before so doing, which was excellent. Sadly, though, I passed by what I'm pretty sure was the old Nice Price bookstore, which now seems to be a Papa Johns. What a downgrade. Which reminds me of the upcoming closure of the Bookshop on Franklin Street, a topic to which I cannot begin to do justice right now. There will be at least one novel-length post on that sad subject.

Was also surprised that Monuts had taken over the old Magnolia Grill space, and actually has a bar. Not something we think of as combining naturally with donuts. But this is Durham, after all. Portlandia East.

Later, I went for a run in the woods at Carolina North, up behind the old nabe. For most of my run I wound around in the woods between the main Pumpkin Loop road and the airport, an area which is 95% pines, calm and majestic. I didn't realize the extent to which the greenery up at the top and the soft carpet of pine needles below impart a special quality to those woods at this time of year, until I crossed over the road towards the railroad tracks and Seawell School Road, where all of a sudden I was in hardwood land, where the path was hard and rocky and the trees, bereft of leaves, offered no shade, so the light was pretty harsh.  I'll be headed back to the piney woods at this time of year.

Then went to Flyleaf Books and got a copy of Michael Lewis's new book on Kahneman and Tversky. The great thing about Lewis is that, when he's in his groove, whatever he's writing on is like candy. Back to that.

Friday, January 13, 2017

this is just to say

Natalie
got her
license

Graham
seems to be
sprouting a
mustache

Is nothing
sacred

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

big deal

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:

One of its funding sources is 28-year-old Dai Yiyun, an executive assistant in Shanghai who decided to plow $22,500 into a three-year interest-bearing deal that also includes a small amount of life insurance. When Ms. Dai checks Anbang’s app, she says she is monitoring the rate of return and has no idea how much insurance the product includes. She adds that Anbang’s high-profile investments give her a thrill. “I feel I am part of the process, part of the deal,” she says.

This deal mentality amongst average citizens is probably not a good thing. The idea that we are going to become wealthy by buying and selling things -- or participating in the buying and selling of them by others, is pretty silly. It may end up in tears, and having a President who proclaims himself the master of the deal will probably not help.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Quiet days, not without adventure

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

Beginning again

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.


Several nights in a row I fell asleep early on the couch in the sun room, the best of which was with Beth's dog Jenny warming my feet and even snoring for good measure.

One downside of our drives is that, since everybody has a profusion of electronic devices now, we spend too much time with our eyes and ears glued to them in the car. That's something we need to work on.

It has been a short holiday season, thanks to this darned calendar, and today it is grey and rainy here in Chapel Hill. Ah well. Back to life, back to reality.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The year ahead

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

"Merry Christmas!"

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

Being mean to Natalie

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

Turns out, this post is more or less a Christmas letter

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

Ends and beginnings

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.