Be Loud! 15 has come and gone, and it was a rousing success, as last year. Such an incredible couple of evenings of music and people and love.
As for the music, to my mind the technical high point was Preeesh! doing the Pretenders' "Kid" with Mary Huff of Southern Culture on the Skids channeling Chrissy Hynde. So beautiful. This morning, as I try to sing that part, I find my voice breaking a little bit, and I start to fight back tears.
I may have shared about this in the past. Not infrequently, when I try to sing something that is genuine and emotionally charged, it is physically and emotionally difficult for me to do so. I start to cry. I think it has something to do with some sort of psychic disalignment deep within me, a sense that I am perhaps doing the wrong thing in life.
I am easily bumped off course internally, a little fragile. Just now I was reading Stephen King's interesting piece in the NY Times about being prolific, and I fell victim to that old "I shoulda been a writer" vein of thought. So, naturally, I came upstairs and wrote.
But it is a silly line of thinking and feeling for me to be dragged down into. There is no one thing I should be doing with my life. I did just fine yesterday. I raised some money for Be Loud! Sophie. I showed up on the soccer field and played 70 minutes in 85-90 degree heat in the first game of the season at sweeper, a position I haven't played in years, anchoring a decent defense to a 4-2 victory. In the middle of the day I even roped in a solid recruit on the spot because I knew we'd be a little short-handed.
I also talked to a bunch of people (50? 60?), so that at the end of the day I was just emotionally drained. Today, I will hang out exclusively with family, as much as possible.
Sunday, August 30, 2015
Be Loud! 15 has come and gone, and it was a rousing success, as last year. Such an incredible couple of evenings of music and people and love.
Thursday, August 27, 2015
I should have noted that my post on earlier this week on the high point of summer was prompted by my reading of Boys in the Boat, about the University of Washington 8-man crew that went to the Berlin Olympics and won, upstaging Hitler much like Jesse Owens had. Admittedly, they weren't black, but still.
Up in Larchmont there was great fervor about this book, apparently some poobah of some sort anointed it the greatest work on non-fiction since sliced bread. Naturally, this called forth the sleeping cynic in my breast, ever-envious of anyone who might pretend to write the greatest book of any sort, which I believe, of course, is in fact crouched somewhere within me, waiting to pounce on something.
But I read it anyway. And it was good, if not transcendent. Even though I knew what the denouement must be, it was suspenseful nonetheless. It was difficult to not like the main character, Joe Frantz, particularly since the author worked so hard to make him likeable. The fact is, even though I knew where it was headed, and even he telegraphed the moral thrust of the book -- that these hard-working honest working-class kids from bumfuck nowhere looked deep within themselves to rise up and conquer the elitists of the East as well as Nazis -- I found myself crying at the end. It projects an ideal of America that we, or at least I, want to believe in.
What's more, I learned quite a bit about Goebbels, Leni Riefenstahl, and the pig dog apologists on the 1936 US Olympic Committee. All told, a fine book.
And it reminded me of Seattle.
Monday, August 24, 2015
While up North, on those days that I didn't play tennis, I did some running around Larchmont. It was difficult not to notice how many of the fine homes in the Larchmont Manor were being spruced up. One house that I have often thought amongst the worst exemplars of the "car commercial" house had apparently bought or begun developing some land across from it so it could have symmetrical semi-circle driveways on either side of the road (it's hard to see due to shadows in the pic below, but this gives you a notion of what the house is like)
So. Lots of $ going into private residences.
Meanwhile, the streets and highways were falling apart. They're building a new Tappan Zee, hoorah, but lots of other roads are just in crappy shape.
Meanwhile, the world's markets are going to hell because there is a commodities glut.
So, here's my modest proposal. If things keep going south in the markets, we need quantitative easing that buys up not mortgage-backed securities and the like, as before, but that buys bonds slated to build bridges, roads, even the damned tunnel that Christie and Cuomo are arguing about. Use the cheap commodities to build things at fire sale prices.
Sunday, August 23, 2015
Seeing my friend Mark for the first time in almost 20 years was also pretty epic, but that was more of a personal treat than a family one.
Our best meal of the summer, by general consensus, was at a French restaurant in Vancouver, after we had endured a hot and sweaty afternoon nearly circumambulating (oh yes I did write that) Stanley Park. Natalie got many fine selfies there.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Is metaphysical speculation, like sex, a young man's game? 10 years ago if I had posted reflections on a long drive from north to south, they would likely have been filled with more deep thoughts. Today, I am more empirical in orientation. Is it simply from a lack of energy for speculation, or am I intrinsically less likely to speculate?
The fact that I am asking these questions now suggests a couple of things:
- I ain't dead yet
- The morning is a better time to think expansively than late at night, when I am tired from a day of driving.
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
We drove home from Larchmont to Chapel Hill today, taking a slightly different route. At the start, we took the New York Thruway rather than the West Side Highway down to the GWB, owing to traffic, and as we curled slowly around the entrance ramp to the Cross-Bronx, it was hard not to take note of the masses of filthy, melted plastic bottles that people had tossed out of their windows along with other assorted trash. Nor could I say I could really blame them, because when you think of how the highways cut through the old Bronx nabes like they were nothing so that Moses could get suburbanites in and out of Manhattan and or from NJ to Connecticut, it's hard not to see the communities themselves as much other than human trash.
Further south, we took 301 from just past the Delaware Memorial Bridge all the way down to just north of Richmond, effectively skipping all but the easternmost edge of the DC-Baltimore sprawl. Maybe 30-45 minutes longer than using 95 and all its tributaries through there. Or, depending on traffic, maybe not. Certainly not as much of a hellhole as 95 between Richmond and DC. Lots of beautiful old motels and other roadside Americana, much of it just hanging on.
Saturday, August 15, 2015
It being a quasi-vacation week, I have been somewhat remiss in my blogging. Just sent Graham off to bed, and I'd better get my fingers, brain, and browser aligned here before I get distracted.
Tennis again with Rob today here in Larchmont. We decided against keeping score, which was good, and we hit together well for an hour or so, but at the end I needed to hustle back to the house to head into Manhattan. My phone, which had been snuggly nestled inside of my racket cover, went into my pocket and then, as if all that computing power gave it an actual brain of its own, it hopped right out and tumbled to the court. Crack! Went the screen, and that phone is toast. I can't even answer a phone call, so screwed is the screen.
And so, I fumed and flagellated myself mercilessly, but I had to get my shit back in gear, as Mary had convinced me that I should escort the kids into Manhattan to see Hamilton, which had received such rave reviews from everybody with a pen and a platform to publish on, and which Beth had somehow gotten tickets for, 3 days into its Broadway run after debuting to rave reviews at the Public.
The show, in point of fact, was phenomenal. I will try to give it its due in a later post, but now I must go and put Graham to bed.
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Played tennis with my friend David the other day in Princeton. It followed a pretty predictable script. I started off serving poorly, but playing well, even as I felt in my mind that I was fucking up.. But I kept playing conservatively, letting him make mistakes. Pretty soon I was up 4-1. He was frustrated.
On the one hand, I felt good for playing well. But a conflict arose. David and I are generally pretty evenly matched, and to crush him would upset the balance of power, and we don't see one another very often.
I by no means tanked the match. I would have liked, honestly, to have had the discipline to keep executing according to plan and playing well. But I didn't really care to mess with my boy's head.
Plus, playing conservatively and letting him make mistakes is somewhat boring. Also, he was a little angry. He stepped up his game, and I started going for some winners. Indeed, I hit some. But before long, he was up 6-5, and the sun was getting high in the sky, and it was time to swim. We decided that we would not be playing a tiebreaker, no matter what. It ended up 6-6.
Although I lost the eye of the tiger as far as winning goes, the second half of the set was much funner than the first half, because I stopped focusing on beating him and got into the groove of having fun.
Which brings us back to the broader question of goal-directedness, and the general focus thereupon in contemporary "success" thinking. What was my goal in getting on the court? Winning? Exercise? Having some yux with my boy? Clearly 2 and 3 were more important than 1. So that's how it went down.
Sunday, August 09, 2015
So there was a guy who went to college with me, he was friends with some guys I roomed with freshman and then sophomore year, they all played soccer for Yale. One time he was working on a paper on Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, and he was asking me about it and talking about how he thought it was a commentary on the oppressive Soviet regime. Never mind that it was written in the early 1860s. I thought he was a lunkhead.
While in college, I told that story to others in the tony literary circles in which I circulated, as a demonstration of how limited some student athletes were and how, by extension, superior we self-appointed intellectuals were.
I ran into him on the subway once when I was in grad school. He was in med school or in residency uptown at Columbia Presbyterian, and he was very friendly and pleasant (as indeed he always had been). I tried to be the same.
Not long ago, I heard that he had died. Suddenly, at the age of 48. It turned out he had become a... brain surgeon. In fact, the head of neurosurgery at a major hospital, where he mentored lots of people, performed 300 operations a year, published hundreds of peer-reviewed articles, all about aggressive brain cancer.
The moral to the story is, aside from the fact that insecure 20-year old potheads do not have the greatest judgment, is that it's really difficult to know people in any way unless you make the time to talk to them at length. What the hell did I know about this guy? Diddly.
And, unfortunately, this really seems to validate the theory of the Dunbar number, which says that any given person can really only begin to know about 150 people, and of them you can claim to know only a handful well.
So, eventually, you have to abstract up and start to behave towards people based on gross generalizations. But the best way to do it is to try to be generous and assume the best.
Friday, August 07, 2015
We hadn't watched John Stewart for a while, he is on too late, but when I heard on NPR that last night was to be his last show, I knew that it would be special.
And it was. The first bit where he gathered all of his alumni together ran on a bit, but it was sweet in nature, and I guess that's how it had to be because that's how big his posse was. Same thing for the second bit, where he went backstage and introduced us to everyone who was back there. It was a big team, but he did the right thing by introducing every single one of them, seemingly.
Then there was the last bit when he just looked at us and gave us a little sermon on bullshit. And then Springsteen played.
By the end, I was in tears. I am, in fact, crying a little bit now. Partially from exhaustion from having gotten up early two days in a row and then staying up too late last night.
But partially because it is, in the end, just sad, truly the end of an era. When I had watched the show in recent years, which was an infrequent occurrence, I felt like it had slipped a little bit into a rut. But who doesn't, after all? Doing a show, or even a blog, daily over years is an extraordinarily hard thing to do. Staying funny and relevant is incredibly difficult.
In the end, it was his purity of heart and spirit which distinguished Stewart, and will continue to do so. Watching Colbert speak straight from the heart to Stewart last night was truly special.
And I realized this morning that there has been only one true parallel moment to Stewart's passing the baton like this. Not Carson. Not Letterman. Not Leno.
Cronkite. Walter Cronkite defined what it meant to cover the news and public discourse when we were young, and he did it with incredible dignity and forthrightness, and his retirement was an epochal moment, really, the beginning of the end to broadcast news. I was 15, and I still remember it. Stewart, despite operating within an ironic mode, did the same thing. He was funny, he told jokes, but right below the surface he was deadly serious, and we knew and know it. It wasn't the many layers of indirection of the Colbert Report, beneath which we knew what Colbert was up there. Stewart's earnestness was always just millimeters away.
And so, sigh, we will wait to see what comes next. Hopefully, it will air earlier in the evening.
Sunday, August 02, 2015
So some friends told us how they had been at the beach last week somewhere in North Carolina. Their kids were swimming in the waves, and it being this summer, everybody's got sharks in the back of their mind.
Except for those who have sharks in the front of their mind. These rednecks came down the beach, planted a confederate flag in the sand, and started shark fishing, running bloody bait out into the surf using some sort of small boat or something and luring sharks and other big fish back towards the shore where they could be caught. Eventually they caught some massive stingrays or something.
But it was no longer a good place for kids to be swimming, that's for sure.
America's proud white men will always find a good way to say fuck you. Of that we can be certain.
Saturday, August 01, 2015
Long-time readers of the blog will already know that I am a big fan of Jacques Tati, and in particular the 1953 classic Mr Hulot's Holiday. The topic has come up before, in particular in this 2004 post.
A dog lays in the middle of the main street of a provincial French town. When a bus rumbles through, the dog moves, and then resumes its former place. Soon thereafter, a small car appears, an ancient, claptrap, backfiring convertible, top up, beladen with all manner of fishing poles, nets, tennis rackets, and other vacation props. The dog does not move. A hand reaches out of the car and squeezes the old fashioned bulb horn on the car's side. The dog languidly raises itself from its position of leisure and ambles round the side of the car to see who it is. The hand pets the dog, before the car moves on.
And so the world is introduced to Mr. Hulot, the main character of Jacques Tati's 1953 classic Mr. Hulot's Holiday and several sequels. Perhaps never before, and never again, has so thoroughgoing a meditation on the nature of Being Loud graced the silver screen. Hulot is a bumbler with a heart of gold, Tati the king of slapstick. Everywhere he goes he wreaks quiet havoc, whether playing ping pong while bouncing from room to room, accidentally rearranging card game players and creating fights, listening to jazz cranked up to 11 in the dead of night while sitting stock still, smoking his pipe, or opening just doors that let in the powerful breeze off the sea, deranging everything from hairpieces to tea being poured. Whenever possible, having accidentally created chaos, Hulot scampers unseen up to his garret room in the inn by the sea that is the film's central setting, often leaving telltale footprints.Hulot, in short, is the great disrupter, the puncturer of balloons, the man of the hour. If you haven't seen this movie, run out and do so. It is the quintessence of summer.
Sunday, July 26, 2015
After it was suggested by our friend Lisa K, who in fact bought us a copy, we watched the movie Role Models the other night.
It is, no doubt a silly movie, implausible in a wide variety of ways, so many it's not even really worth listing them. And yet I liked it. It was emotionally satisfying. The good guys overcome some challenges and then triumph. There were goodly yux. It was a perfectly decent evening in front of the television. 1.5 thumbs up.
Saturday, July 25, 2015
Natalie had some old pictures from Princeton of herself and Graham on her bookshelf, ones taken by Mary, so better than this, to be sure. Looking at them I thought, "oh how cute, what an idyllic period of our lives," and so on.
Then I reflected again that, in fact, at the moment when Mary was taking them I was probably being pissy with her and in a hurry, stressed out about work, irritated that it was taking her so long to take them. Probably trying to figure out how to get my next snack. Because that is part of how we operate. She takes a long time to do things, and I get cranky, but the results are nice.
Sunday, July 19, 2015
Out on the lake today for a long swim before the afternoon storms rolled in, I realized I was getting a lot of sun, and was reminded of Big River Man, a documentary about a Slovenian guy who sets out to swim the Amazon from its source to the sea. He does in fact achieve his goal, but he goes kinda nuts in the process and ends up pretty much back where he started, broke and half-broken.
Which struck me as kind of a cautionary tale to all the one reads about goal-setting, the importance of having clear and well-defined goals if you're going to achieve anything noteworthy. Case in point: there was an important and oft-cited study involving Yale (or was it Harvard) grads about goal-setting that showed that those who had written down their goals early in life were more likely to achieve them.... or was there?
Here's a blog post that suggests that this famous study is in fact apocryphal, though the blogger did find another small study that validated the basic idea.
Whatever. If in actual fact an unexamined life is not worth living, and I buy that hypothesis, setting goals early in life and mindlessly following may help you reach your goals, but at considerable cost.
In any case, it is time for lunch.
Saturday, July 18, 2015
The Wall Street Journal ran an article yesterday about how economists in Silicon Valley, including and especially Hal Varian, Google's Chief Economist, believe that standard measures of productivity don't adequately account for the improvements to our lives that technology has ushered in. How much easier it is to search for things, get directions, to do any number of other things that the web and smartphones other technologies have let us do.
There is some merit to their arguments, though they are awfully reminiscent of how neo-Austrian and other economists argue that products are so much better (dishwashers and cars break down less often, etc.) that we should adjust how we measure inflation, and thereby reduce the annual increases to government benefits such as Social Security, which will therefore make it easier to balance the budget.
In essence, the argument is: if a unit of production or productivity (the ability to find a movie, cool milk, or drive a mile) is cheaper over time, people need less money to maintain their standard of living.
This flies in the face of all the research that indicates that people's perception of their economic well-being hinges less on their absolute ability to do live in a certain way than in how they compare to their neighbors. I think, in a sense, that people feel well off if they feel that they are in a position to influence the arc of their life: that there is hope that they and their children can do and get better.
I had lunch with a guy who spends a lot of time in China a couple of days back, and I asked him if he would rather be poor in the US (where they objectively might have higher income and be able to buy more stuff) vs. rural China, and he said probably the latter. China, messed up as it is, perceives itself to be moving forward, whereas we don't.
The other big issue with the Silicon Valley argument that the internet makes us better off because it gives us more information and more choices about a variety of things is that, as behavioral economics has taught us, more choices is not necessarily better than fewer ones. More choices complicates decision-making, on average. That's why there is consensus that the right number of investment options in a 401k is 10 or 12 max, because otherwise people sit around second-guessing themselves.
Oh yeah, one other thing. If we are all sitting around looking at the internet researching and choosing and shopping, it decreases local interdependency. People are less inclined to walk next door and ask a neighbor's opinion, and thereby get into a conversation about a thousand other things and get to knoiw one another better. Facebook etc. facilitate complex peer-based decision-making, but in a virtual, rather than a physical model. Jane Jacobs thought that Le Corbusier and Robert Moses were the death of the neighborhood and the city, but maybe it's the internet.
Monday, July 13, 2015
So after 3 months or so I have come to the end of my re-reading of A Suitable Boy. Certainly, I am glad to have read it again, no doubt. But I confess I was a little disappointed in the denouement, I thought it was going to go in another direction, towards the ideal, rather than what Vissarion Belinskii -- back in the 1830s -- called the "reconciliation with reality," and Franco Moretti, much later, termed "The Way of the World." That is, the way that fictional characters grow up and come to grips with life as it is, as opposed to how we would like for it to be. I am being deliberately cryptic, and I won't spoil it any more for those of you who haven't read it yet.
But I am nonetheless excited for the sequel to come out in the fall of 2016, if all goes according to schedule. A Suitable Girl, it will be called. I remember vividly how I wished for the sequel when I came to the end of it for the first time.
Perhaps I should go back and re-read The Golden Gate in the interim.
Between home and work today I heard of two recent deaths: the expected one of the 93-year old mother of a client's husband, and the shocking one of the 36-year son of a friend. It is in the nature of things at this stage of my life that, as someone who talks to a lot of people both by inclination and profession, I hear more and more of these things as I age (admittedly, I heard from the father of the 36-year old of a wedding too, so it wasn't all doom and gloom).
But it does put things in perspective, and reminds me to keep facing forward and staying positive, wherever possible, because I profit little if at all from going the other direction.
Before either of those conversations, let me add, I had a very interesting conversation with a dental hygienist about epigenetics and leaky guts and food allergies (she had lots) and Celine and, now that I think of it, my growing preference for happy endings in books as I age. Which is right on topic.
Sunday, July 12, 2015
So Natalie was just recounting to us her experience her first week at Duke TIP, where she's taking Criminal Trial Advocacy, and she told us that she had won best in the class for some argument they presented, even though many of the kids in there are older than her and have copies of the Declaration of Independence and/or the amendments to the Constitution posted above their beds. She also said that nobody's arguments had been particularly water-tight, including her own which she considered rather half-baked.
And within me I felt swell up at the same time tremendous pride, and deep below that a sense of relief that "my child will be OK."
This, I submit, is at the root of the hyper-competitiveness for our children to achieve at the absolute highest level, to get into Ivy League schools and then keep going, it is this fear that if they don't, they will not be OK later in life, that they will be subsumed within the wave of global competition and automation and shifts in the competitive landscape (you should hear doctors talk about the projected impact of Obamacare on their earnings prospects going forward) that continues to eat up once seemingly safe white-collar professions.
I don't think this is a new insight on my part, but I felt it pretty viscerally just then.
But the idea that my daughter-- super-smart, born into a family and place that prioritizes education and with other socio-economic advantages -- is at particular risk is, well, silly. Compared to kids from truly at risk populations?
But we, members of the chattering class, are nonetheless driven by a deep-seated need to protect our littluns. And, lord knows, we do. We wear ourselves to the nib driving them to activities and paying for enrichment opportunities. We advocate for gifted programs in already high-achieving school systems. And then we wonder why there is an achievement gap and blame the school system.
Anyway, today on the phone I did what I considered the most important thing for my daughter: I encouraged her to not be hard on herself for any imperfections in her legal arguments, because she had done great. And when she said that she had been fighting a little cold and hadn't been running in the mornings as she had planned (because she wants to stay in shape for an ultimate tournament she has the day the summer school ends), I told her to rest, hydrate, and have fun and don't beat herself up.
Because, lord knows, I am all too good at that, and that's what I don't want her to learn to do.
Saturday, July 11, 2015
Having short hair is an addiction of sorts, and it can be expensive. For years I have been going to barbershops, rather than to hair stylists, to feed this addiction, and also because barbershops tend to be a little less rarefied than their upscale cousins, and as such they are places where I can dialog with less fancy people than those who are my natural cohort, having gone to fancy schools and gotten advanced degrees.
My most recent barber is kind of country, though he went to the same schools as I did (Seawell, Phillips, CHHS), his household had a different educational/socio-economic profile than my own. But once he had to leave his old location because of price, his prices have crept up to where I've been paying $23 after tipping him out.
And that's expensive, since I have to go in monthly or so to keep it tight. So yesterday Crabill and I had lunch at Jamaica, Jamaica, out where 54 hits 55, and I had noticed that there was a barber school next door. Like the one in Durham I went to a couple of years ago, this one appeared predominantly African-American, judging from the guys who hung out outside it at lunch time, as I had seen before on other occasions when I had ducked in for jerk chicken or fish in gravy.
But it is cheap, only $5 a cut, so I decided to give it a shot. I went in, paid my fiver, and was assigned to, shockingly, the only other white person in there, a skinny white guy with longish hair pulled back tight in what looked like a hairnet but wasn't. Low melanin count notwithstainding, he was very African-American in his diction. As he cut my hair diligently and with great attention, we talked, as one often does. Turned out he had seen tours of duty in in Iraq and Afghanistan, and had another part-time job over at Syngenta.
The place had great music and a great vibe, Marvin Gaye and the like, and I watched all the other guys (it was almost all guys) working with clippers, being very attentive to detail as they cut people's hair. There was much more attention to detail then to speed.
I had to wonder if I potentially messed with the groove of the place by being a rare white business guy going in there. There's only one real way to tell: keep going back. On day 2 he seems to have given me a fine cut, a little bit shorter off the top than the country guy I usually go to, but that's good. I had been meaning to see what it looked like if we went shorter up there.
Saturday, July 04, 2015
I was listening to My Bloody Valentine's collection of EP's from 1988-1991 this morning, the couple of songs that fit into a short drive. The first song is really good, but then it drops off a little. I find myself wondering if it was worth the money to buy it, even if it was given to me as an Xmas gift. Then the fourth song comes on, and at first I think "this is a pretty good song," then it occurs to me that, indeed, the song is no more than pretty good, and that I am cutting it some slack because I like the band and, as I said, I don't want to feel like the money or even the time spent listening to it has been wasted.
It occurs to me that a large part of aesthetic judgment is just like this: we really root for our own stuff, the home team, because it's just so much easier for us and it justifies our own behavior. So, for instance, all the players on Manchester United or Chelsea seem like big stars because we see them on TV all the time, they are familiar. It is much more difficult to be objective in evaluating players on minor teams who you don't see all the time. And we have to like or appreciate what we see, or we must admit to ourselves that we have been wasting our time watching crap.
So much of life is like this. You have to pull for what you know, for what you do, because that's all you have to go on, and the alternative is to go around beating yourself up continually for doing or buying the wrong thing.
The world needs for people to specialize, to have a well-articulated division of labor, in order to have some efficiencies of scale. How screwed would I be if Mary and I had to both build and maintain my living structure, raise and prepare all my own food, be 100% responsible for raising my kids and curing them of maladies, etc.
But specialization by its nature creates silos, and to be firm and secure in our ever deeper ensconcement in our own silos, we have to keep digging in. But the deeper we go, the less oxygen and perspective their is, so we must diversify too. Or, rather, we must always seek a balance between specialization and generalization, a mix of desk time and interaction with others.
To bring it back to culture, we need particularity and local culture, folk music and landscapes and landmarks and street food and barbeque regional chauvinism and dialect and all that. We need a sense of place. But if that was all we had, we would be screwed. We also need a healthy interaction with the big Other.
Finding the right mix is the crux of it.
I am reminded of Deleuze and Guattari and their talk of deterritorialization. It was always a bad-assed sounding word, though I never really knew what they were talking about, because it was so impossible to read them.