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

Decompression

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

Repetition

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.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

A Tragedy

There's a story in today's Wall Street Journal about a couple of twin boys from a small town in Texas. It is in the vein of the blue/red nation split that has been a major theme leading up to and following the most recent election. It is meant to somehow encapsulate the experience of "a generation of rural youths who enlisted after 9/11 and shouldered the greatest burden for the nation's defense." A legitimate point, no doubt.

It starts with one of the brothers looking at his twin in his casket. OK, obviously we are meant to feel sad, and rightly so, clearly the guy has made the ultimate sacrifice, and has earned our respect.

I keep reading. "Chris was a born fighter from Red Oak Texas, a Marine commando with six tours of duty. In combat, he could orchestrate from the chaos a lethal strike by jet fighters, helicopters, mortar, and artillery, raining hot metal on enemies a few hundred yards away." (Italics mine) By this point I can only think "what the fuck?" This is not the language of journalism, but a lyrical aggrandizing of war, like the heavy metal Go Pro videos of choppers and dudes running with guns and explosions that the military runs to make war look cool.

I keep reading. Mike and Chris are the kids of a truck driver and a nurse, who tried to raise them right, but they were rambunctious and got into trouble anyway. They got into fights, did and sold drugs, one got shipped off to a relative, one went into rehab and got a schizophrenia diagnosis. Frankly, given their rap sheets, they would probably still be behind bars if they were black.

Instead, they found a path into the military. One of them enlisted on 9/12/01, the other soon thereafter. The military was good for them, until they saw too many bodies explode. More mental illness and drugs. Eventually one of them kills himself. Not so very long after that, the other one kills himself too. They are buried together.

It is indeed sad, tragic even. But I can't help but to go back to "raining hot metal." Bullshit.

In fact, my mind goes straight back to Ron Suskind's The Price of Loyalty, about Paul O'Neill's brief tenure as Treasury Secretary in the W administration in 2001-2002. When Bush came into office, before 9/11, Cheney and Rumsfelt were already chomping at the bit to get back into Iraq. 9/11 provided a watertight pretext to go back in.

I have said it before, I'll say it again: 9/11 was the fork in the road, the great lost opportunity for the United States. We had the goodwill of the world, and we squandered it. The Axis of Evil speech and the revanchist military adventurism upon which we embarked under the flag of "hitting back" have led us needlessly into a world of hurt. If we had instead earmarked $50 billion towards public health initiatives in the developing -- and especially the developing Islamic -- world, the arc of history might be bending in very different ways.

We didn't. That is the tragedy. Mike and Chris led challenged lives, and were unquestionably brave. In peacetime, the military could have been the best thing that ever happened to them. In the end, they were sacrificed on an altar of raining metal.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Loyalty, Brexit, Choice

There was an article in the Times today about how American owners are messing up British soccer. I wasn't aware there were so many American owners, but I totally get it. Sports teams and their relationships to their fan bases are a special team, as we Tar Heels know. And, as I think I've shared over the years, my own relationship to UNC has been frayed in recent years, as I realize that it is as much if not more to the institution of Dean Smith and Bill Friday as it is to a succession of guys who can run, jump and shoot.

When Fox Soccer started showing lots of Premier League soccer round about 2006-7, or when I first noticed it, they showed the big clubs the most:  Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, etc. But probably United most of all, so I got to know them.

And it did seem that United had a special culture under Alex Ferguson, longer tenures, greater continuity. Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney, there seemed to be a more stable core there than at other clubs.

Rooney was at the center of it all. You could tell he had issues, he was brash, I occasionally heard a story about him sleeping with somebody else's girlfriend. But he always seemed genuinely excited when he scored, he really enjoyed the game, he took it very personally in a good way. He was invested in his team.

But like all of us, he aged, and over time became less of a superstar. He did not have Giggs' preternatural longevity. So this summer, when I heard that he had spurned offers to go to America or China to cash in big and had chosen instead to return to Everton, I was impressed. I view this as like Lebron going back to Cleveland, though of course he is not at the same level as Lebron, and there is no hope whatsoever of his sparking a miracle there.

So it turns out, according to the Google, that Rooney returns to Old Trafford today. It also turns out that there was a lot of criticism of his self-centeredness and money-grubbing through his years at MU. Guess I missed that. Certainly I don't have time to read English gossip columns. I basically like the guy. So shoot me.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Letting go

There is so much to do, so many responsibities. This morning I went to my meeting, had to take some stuff to the dump, in the middle of it Natalie texts me because she doesn't know where to go for her college counseling session. Should she text the woman she was meeting with, she asks me. I was about to call the woman myself, but then I realized: no, my daughter has a "smart phone," and she needs to learn how to use it. Which means dialing somebody up and calling them.

Then I get home. Mary is in the middle of taking some light fixture out of the ceiling and having problems, a task I wasn't expecting to fall on my lap. Natalie needs to print her transcript/resume. The college counselor needs to be briefed on where we are in the process. Marvin shows up to do some painting. Graham needs to go to martial arts.

And this is all going during what is supposed to be blogging time, people. It is hard for me to let go of shit and let it flow. I know I cain't do all of this, but sometimes it is just so hard to coordinate and facilitate and breathe.

My shoulder is still hurting, I know that I should not play soccer today, much as it kills me.

In the background of all of this, we've still got to get the house prepped for Graham's birthday party tomorrow.

Why you should want to read about all of this, I can't tell you. Perhaps it is by way of excusing the lack of thoughtful blog posts.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Mountain Road

We were off at a family wedding in Rome, Georgia over the weekend. A few reflections:

  • The south is not dying everywhere. On a walk we visited a cemetery up on a hill over the local river. At the top was a memorial to the confederate soldier, of whom 300 were buried there. Nothing was defaced. Down at the bottom we saw there was a big statue in honor of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate bigwig and an early leader of the Klan. 
  • On the way back, we took back roads through the North Carolina mountains rather than staying on the interstate. It worked out well. The roads were much prettier, though the most remarkable thing was how hard it is to have a business even on what should have been pretty key tourist thoroughfares. There were of course the familiar bunches of failed and mouldering motels, some transformed into long-term low-cost housing for itinerant workers and/or people with otherwise unstable life situations. But we stopped at a place with a beautiful overlook along a ridge near the Nantahala Valley. There was a nice outdoor eating space, but the bar/restaurant was defunct, and its sitting space was served by a taco truck, which itself was only just opening up when we got there around 1 (maybe they were watching from across the road and nobody had stopped, and didn't want to waste fuel?). In any case, the tacos were perfectly delicious.  I should have tipped more.
  • But it was hard to concentrate on the scenery, because we were focusing on listening to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a very good and insightful book.  It was just long enough to occupy us the whole way there and back. I will have to comment on it in another post, the work day beckons.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Hidden inflation

Central banks, the Fed in particular, have been concerned in recent years about their inability to push inflation above 2%, which would let them raise rates and provide them with ammo for the next recession. This evening, at Nantucket Grill, I saw numerous signs of hidden inflation.

For starters, on Tuesday, cake night, you now need to order a $13 entree to get free cake. Used to be $10. So lower discounting, or greater pricing power.

At check out, they tacked on a 20% mandatory tip for our group of 7. 18% used to be standard.

Most importantly, service was slow, and in particular they had a hard time getting bread to our table. This reflects super tight labor markets and high demand.

All told, it took us 2 hours for what should and could have been a 90 minute meal. Which is a pretty big hidden cost.

Also, they put a bunch of squash in my pasta dish. I don't know what the fuck was up with that.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

I/O Ratios writ large

I have written about input/output ratios before at the micro level, but a post on Facebook brought me back to the theme at the macro level.

A friend of mine said that he was spending sometimes 5-6 hours a day watching CNN or MSNBC and that he knew it was bad and felt he was addicted to outrage. In the wake of the election, this is a trap many of us have fallen into, to varying extents. There is so much going on that it is impossible to stay on top of it all. It has felt often like a Bannon-led blitzkrieg, to push liberal buttons as hard as possible to keep us trapped in front of our television sets, while who knows what the fuck else is going on. In some regards, the answer to that may be as little as possible, as the Trump administration has sought to lay siege to the deep state by what can only be termed "malign neglect." As Exhibit A, I offer this Michael Lewis article on the current status of the Department of Energy.

But look at that, there I go advocating more input. The key thing now is that there is a limit to how much we can take in, and how we should be taking it in. I kind of feel that any data that can be consumed within the walls of one's own house, car, or office should be limited. There is inherent value in going out and talking to other people, particularly people who are different from you, by virtue of whatever, political inclination, race, class, you name it. Often the conversations are frustrating. Often engaging in them is an art in self-restraint.

OK. Having said this, I have a call scheduled now with a young woman who used to be my next door neighbor in Princeton, whose dad went to high school with Mary, so I can recommend her for a job with the CTO of the New York Times, who I went to Yale with. These are all people I love, members of my tribe. I'll talk to some different people later.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

What to do

As Hurricane Harvey begins to abate, a tension wells up within me about appropriate responses. Even as the floodwaters have risen, there are a host of voices focusing on the climate-change and other political themes around the storm, including: to what extent did climate change exacerbate the storms impact? To what extent is the damage a function of poor urban planning?  Will willingness to fund relief follow a political path (i.e. will Republicans who balked at funding relief for Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast change their tune for a Texas-focused storm?)  Are inland people inappropriately subsidizing those who live close to coasts?

These are all valid questions.  Is it the time to be asking them now, or do they just distract from a proper focus on supporting first responders?  Do they need to be asked now just because media cycles turn so quickly, and if we are focused next week on North Korea or Russia or some other left-right violent incident?

None of these are easy questions.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Re-entry

I went with Natalie to her high school to do an administrative chore to get her a parking place.  I wasn't prepared for how emotional it would be, between the fact that she -- my little girl -- is a senior in high school, the level of stress and anticipation in the students themselves (or was I just projecting?), and me just settling back into my own groove and getting things back in gear. And just being tired from a long weekend of the Be Loud! concerts.

At the high school, they were serving food near the entrance. I am guessing that that is part of a government program to make sure that lower income students have something in their belly before school starts, an unquestionable good thing. But I found myself kind of wishing it wasn't happening right there at the front door, as if to begin the big status sort (as if class weren't already visible enough) just a few steps inside the school. There was an African-American kid eating his food near us while Natalie and I were waiting for an administrator to arrive at work and let us do our business (we were early, to be sure). He was hunched over his bowl and I could sort of feel his mild shame. Or, again, I could have projected it, and just have that on my mind after reading Hillbilly Elegy as well as this excellent story in the Times about an unexpected incident of grace.

In any case, I was overall proud to be in America this morning, I was given some hope.

Though my freaking shoulder is intermittently killing me from that tumble I took this weekend on the soccer field. By now it is pretty clear that we aren't talking about muscles here, Konanc's reassurances notwithstanding. It is most likely tendons. Crabill is gonna rib me mercilessly about it.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Dip in

I usually avoid the City when we come to the New York area in August, too hot, nobody's home. Yesterday evening I made an exception to see my friend Eric who was in town from Italy. His dad is pretty sick, will probably not be long amongst us. A great great guy, it will be very sad to see him go.

So I popped in after dinner, listening to the new Jason Isbell live shows that George had ripped for me from wherever it is on the interweb that he gets music. Great great stuff. And it was a beautiful night for a drive, the air cooling. I will confess that I feel like I know the roads a little less like the back of my hand as the time of my Northern residence recedes further into the rearview.

I got off the West Side Highway at 125th Street, mesmerized by the new Columbia science building where the McDonald's used to be. Much has changed. But I was very happy to see that La Floridita, the Dominican place just North of the McDonalds (and KFC?) where I used to get 1/4 chicken with rice and beans for $2.95, had found a new, somewhat swankier home just west of the gleaming newe tower.

As I pulled up to a light, I was reminded of an incident 30ish years ago when I pulled up to 6th Ave and Central Park South. I was used to the "stop and go" style of handling red lights in the suburbs, in which we suburban boys, whose time was so valuable we needed to rush. Would pull up to a red light, stop instantaneously, and then invoke the right on red priviledge to get around the corner before the pedestrians on the sidewalk started across the street. So I tried that right there at 59th and 6th with a bunch of people on the sidewalk, but pedestrians had already started into the crosswalk. I slammed on the breaks. Hilary screamed at the top of her lungs: "You fucking idiot what the hell are you doing?!" The pedestrians cursed me and a couple hit my car with fists. No one was hurt.

And thus I learned that there is no right on red in New York City.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Brands, paralysis and value

Behavioral economists have done a lot of research on decision-making, and one of the themes they have isolated is that having too many choices makes it harder for people to make decisions. I've seen the most work on this theme around investment decisions, specifically the number of investment options that should be made available to retirement plans. Fewer is better, and some 401ks now have as few as 5 options, plus target date funds.

I think the principal holds true in life in general: faced with too many options, we get overwhelmed. My mind races to the stories of people leaving the Soviet Union for the first time back in the 80s and 90s, coming into western stores, especially in the United States, and freaking out over the surfeit of options for everything. We all have a little bit of that, and the internet makes it worse. So we revert to the tried and true, and that means brands, first and foremost. Be streamlining decision-making processes, brands help us save our most precious commodity: time, and allocate it to higher-value-add functions such as exercise, strategizing and talking to people,

This is particularly true of cheap little things, like razors. Last night Rob was showing me some Korean razors that he thinks are better than the brand I use (I'm not gonna plug here), but why should I bother looking into it, particularly since our pharmacist Steve has talked me into doubling or tripling the life of each razor cartridge by just using it longer?

Because of this, brands actually add huge value to our days by not letting us get distracted by stupid little crap. Small wonder that, when you look at world corporations, there has been an evolution from a time when the majority of their value was explained by tangible, physical assets to now, when most of the value is tied up in intangible assets like goodwill and humam capital.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Short day

What with the eclipse coming up and all, then we head up to Uncle George's in the evening.

Spent the weekend reading JD Vance's Hillbilly Elegy. The advance press was warranted on this one, it is worth reading. There may be some who resist the idea of crying for lower-income white people, on the theory that they are, after all, white, and particularly the males amongst them therefore have a couple of things going for them, however they may whine about affirmative action stacking the cards against them. I get that.

However, here's a fact: despite all the talk of the fragmentation of the media and cultural landscape, the rural and post-industrial white people have a pretty consistent cultural footprint. Fox News dominatres the ratings for news, and a lot of them watch football and baseball and like the military and flags and church. So they are pretty reachable in a way that the left is not. So it is in fact worth taking the time to understand where they are coming from.

But I shouldn't reduce the reading of Vance to merely a political exercise. This is a brave and thoughtful book, and he is clearly a pretty remarkable guy. Most importantly, he really keeps his eye on the ball, and concentrates the book on what he thinks are the most important issues in his life, and how they refract the bigger picture of America.

I remember making it halfway through Sonia Sotomayor's memoir, which has many common threads with Vance's. Then about halfway through she gets distracted talking about what a good cook she has become, as if trying to impress the reader. I think what turned me off was a little bit of vanity, which would obviously annoy me, the most humble and virtuous person on the planet. Vance does not fall into this trap.

I hope he runs for office. Anyone who calls out Mitch Daniels as his favorite politican can't be all bad. I won't promise that I would vote for him, but it would be good to keep hearing his voice.