Saturday, May 23, 2015

Philomena

After being together, and being kind of tightwad homebodies, for 20-odd years, Mary and I have watched so many movies, that we have grown a little tired of them. Mary, in particular, rarely cares whether we watch anything at all on a weekend night.  As I'm sure I have blogged before, we long ago fell into the practice of watching half of a movie on Friday night and if -- if and only if -- we found it compelling, watching the rest of it on Saturday night.

Often we get discs from Netflix and let them linger in the Almirah drawer below the TV for months. Such was the case with the 2013 Stephen Frears film Philomena, which Mary had put on our list because it had won some prizes.

But this was a very very good film, and it restored my faith in directors, and made me want to start digging around and looking for good filmic stories again. It tells the story -- based on actual events -- of an Irish flack/journalist type who gets fired from a pretty high level government job and is down on himself. He gets paired up with an older woman, in this case Dame Judy Dench, who had had a child out of wedlock when she was young, and had done so within the auspices of an evil nunnery, who gave the kid away, as per their business model. They team up to find out what happened to the kid, and in the process find themselves, blah blah blah.  Sounds corny, but it is masterfully done.

We watched the whole thing. We laughed, we cried.

Rent it.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Un Buen Carnicero

Saw this documentary about Tolo, a butcher at Cliff's Meat Market, at the Southern Documentary Fund event in Durham last Sunday.  It's a good video, worth the 15 minutes or so it takes to watch it. Or at least half of it.

What's interesting is that, though it's "about" Tolo, the theme that jumped out at me was that Tolo and Cliff are basically just embodiments of a Platonic ideal of the butcher -- or anyone in customer service, for that matter.  Which isn't surprising, since Tolo was trained by and works for Cliff.

On the one hand, it's nice to see a cross-section of Carrboro's legacy African-American and newer hispanic populations.  On the other, there are almost no hipster white people in this doc, which seems a little out of keeping with the reality of Carrboro today.  It is a sentimental casting of a "real" or "authentic" Carrboro which does, as we see, still exist.  But it's not all there is, not by a long shot.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Cambria Suites, Morrisville, 6:43 pm

So I went to an event co-sponsored by the local MIT Alumni Club and The Indus Entrepreneurs, which, as you might imagine, is an organization of Indian expats who support entrepreneurialism.  I was surprised, when I got there at around 6:15, that everybody was already getting dinner.  I was expecting coctails and milling about for an hour or so, which is traditional at this kind of thing.  That's how you get to meet a bunch of people.

But I nonetheless bellied up to the buffet and got myself some chicken breast, really delicious and cheesy noodles -- like mac and cheese from a box on steroids -- plus salad and a pecan chocolate tarte thingie.  Not bad all told.

I found myself seated next to the guy in charge of the Google Fiber rollout to the Triangle.  Except for those of us who were there to mill about and prospect, he was the guy everybody was there to see. And he was a cool guy. From Ann Arbor, moving to Chapel Hill.

So a little bit later he gets up in front of the room and starts presenting, talking about the experience of the pilot Google Fiber rollout in Kansas City and how much energy that spawned.  Very cool. Steve Rao of Morrisville asked some intelligent questions. Then the open Q&A starts. And it goes like this:

  • "Is there a special package for small businesses?"  "Yes"
  • "Is there a special package for non-profits" "No, use the small business package"
  • "When can we expect Google Fiber to come to my house" "I don't know.  It depends upon permitting in specific towns and how long it takes to do the physical rollout. Impossible to predict."
  • "Is there a special package for a company like mine, an IT services company that co-locates within a data center."  "No, Google is not a wholesaler."
  • "No but seriously, when can we expect Google Fiber to come to our houses" "I already told you I don't know"
  • "But really.  2 years?  5 years?" "I don't know"
It kind of got old.  It would have been better to have more time to mill and learn about the other people in the room instead of having him answer the same stupid questions over and over again.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Long weekend

Busy busy.  Driving hither and yon.  Talking to people.  Eating a lot.

Ended the soccer season with a 2-0 loss, but concluded the season with only the most trivial of injuries, which must be considered a victory.  Looking forward to the fall with gusto.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Inflammation

Played tennis with Adam Thursday, then soccer yesterday, and now my knee is swollen and sore. Today I took Graham out to throw the frisbee a little and found myself pretty immobile, unnable to chase the damned disc.

This should not come as a shock to me, as I am several weeks past 49, closing in on (gasp) 50.  But it was, in fact, rather disconcerting to me to be constrained in my ability to get around.  I found myself viewing it as rather portentious.

Fact is, however, that I am much less immobile than I was, say, 5 years and change ago, when I yoinked my butt muscle while waterskiing after getting shitty advice from Niklaus on technique. That took a while to heal, and I wasn't 100% certain that it would.  I seem to recall being somewhat philosophical about that incident.

The difference is, I think, that my next birthday is in fact that big 5-0, and that I am therefore fearful about and in denial of aging.

Baltimore and the banality of evil

The NYTimes ran a story today on the cops who were involved in Freddy Gray's death in Baltimore. Basically the story is that they were normal people:  the black woman cop was a particularly good egg, a church-going model citizen who was from Tnd lived in Baltimore, unlike 65% of Baltimore cops (normal -- cops get paid lower-middle to middle-class salaries and typically don't want to live in a ghetto and/or can't afford to live in expensive pockets of infill/reurbanization). One of the white cops had some mental health issues and had had his weapons confiscated three years previously -- which is pretty normal too, from a number of perspectives.  Per NAMI, the National Association on Mental Illness, 6.7% of the population lives with major depression, 18% lives with anxiety disorders.  The guy driving the van was a passive guy, hadn't made great career progression, which is pretty normal too, not everybody is gonna make captain.

These cops worked within a dysfunctional police department in a city with a challenged political culture.  Normal.  There was institutional racism.  Normal.

I'm deviating from the point I set out to make.  These were regular people who fucked up in the course of doing their jobs, and a kid died.  There may have been malice (I admit I haven't been following the details too closely) Now there are heavy charges filed against them.

I was reminded first of Marx's old phrase from Das Capital:  "Sie wissen das nicht, aber sie tun es", "They know not what they are doing, and yet they are doing it."  Marx used this phrase to characterize commodity fetishism, the way in which the social relationships between people were made material items within the economic system, so that the original relationships (the way in which commodities are produced) are forgotten.

Slavoj Zhizhek came along 140 years later and used the phrase to characterize ideology as such. Ideology, per Zhizhek, is the process of sedimenting relationships into the everyday so that their origin is forgotten).

And so, back to Baltimore, normal cops, some exemplary, some simply human, all-too human. Between them, they cost a kid his life.

But what about me, sitting here comfortably in my leafy abode?  Where do I fit into this?  I think a lot about soccer. I love the game. It was a game I could compete in when I was young, being too skinny to play football or basketball when very young.  We had a great team.  We won the state championship.  We were all white.

Fast forward 30 years and soccer is the great warrior sport of suburbia, dominated by white, affluent kids who can pay for expensive coaches from a young age.  Yeah, the hispanic population does pretty well too, but you don't see that many black faces.

When in school I had some black teammates in track and field, and lord knows I tried to be a good basketball player, never with much success, but that's where I got to know some other black guys at the most basic of levels.  But mostly I lived in a segregated world.

And now, it's even worse.  I see almost no black people in my work, except when I go to lunch, where I might be served by some at Jimmy John's.  Excellent guys, both the guy who works the register and the older guy who works the sandwich line.

Anyway, I ramble, and I must stop.  My point is this:  it is a shame that good people were involved in Freddy Gray's death, but we all are.  The officers getting charged are in a sense serving to exculpate us, to ascend the cross to atone for our sins.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Good meeting

Caught the second half of an AA meeting near my office today.  A woman shared about her deep gratitude for her job, which was at a family casual kind of restaurant, which was hard for her to get. She had a few felonies, it seemed.  She was in her 50s, and lived with her mom, who has dementia. But she had a number of years of sobriety, which had been inconceivable to her before she got started, in prison.

This is why I go to meetings.  This was true, deep, and earnest gratitude, of the sort one so rarely hears outside of "the rooms."  There's nothing like it.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

In progress

Graham appears to have lost the key to the Prius, and he swears it's somewhere in the mud room.  So I have been going through the mud room looking for it.

I don't know when the whole mud room concept bubbled up into consciousness and became a thing that we all must have, but it did happen, and we have one.*  It is, to pull back one of the greatest hit words of era of literary theory, very much a liminal space -- that is, a threshold -- designed for taking things off, and putting them down, before continuing on.  Conceptually, it's first and foremost about getting things off while heading into the house.

In our case, it has evolved or devolved, depending on how you view it, into the place where things slow down before heading out of the house.  For example, paper and plastic bags headed either to the thrift store or to the grocery store to be recycled. And other stuff, similarly headed out for its next, new life.

It is very easy for me to get judgmental about this kind of thing.  In my mind, I am very much the get things done, drive things through to completion kind of guy.  One of the things that sometimes drives me crazy about other people (and I won't name names here) is their tendency to let things sit and not finish them up.

Excavating the mud room looking for the Prius key is kind of driving home the point that I am deluding myself.  Things I have found that are on my plate include:

  1. A bag of tennis balls that came with the hamper I bought at least 7 years ago so I could work on my tennis serve.  I never have.  The balls suck.  I should throw them away.
  2. An old headset that went with some cell phone. It sucks.  I did just throw it away.
  3. A biker-type bag for Tata Consulting Services that I picked up at some conference.  It is ugly, and I have never used it. Should go to thrift store.
  4. A bookmark from a used book store in Durham which was new within the last year or two.  I stuck it in a book.
  5. A bike bottle holder, which I undoubtedly bought to put on some bike.  I put it in the cubbard above the washing machine
The list goes on and on.  Similarly, there is a pile of old New Yorkers dating back well into 2014, perhaps 2013, that have been sitting on top of my dresser waiting for me to go through them to see if there's anything worth reading.  I sorted about half of them last night, then it was time for me to help with dinner.

In any case, the point here is that I too am always behind in everything, that there are always too many little projects, that I need to really let go and focus on the most important stuff.  Right now that includes eating lunch with Graham, and then getting outside to enjoy the beautiful spring day.

Soon, it will be hot.




*I am shocked that the mud room did not make it onto the list of "Stuff White People Like." It belongs there, I think.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

A wee vacuum

Graham is out at Sam's birthday party.  Soon they will be headed off to see the Ultron movie, having enjoyed their pizza.

Which is odd for me.  Normally Graham and I would be getting ready to settle into the couch to watch an episode of an animated superhero series ourselves.  Right now, we're watching Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H, a pretty stupid show featuring, as you might guess, a lot of smashing by Hulk and his crew of other Hulks (Red Hulk, She-Hulk, SCAAR, and Blue Hulk).  It's a nice time of evening.  I'm able to look out across the lake as Graham snuggles into me and the gamma-irradiated crew does battle with a host of evildoers.

At least it gives me a few minutes to blog.  Not that, strictly speaking, I am all that short on time to do so, it's more like energy and impetus.  All too much of my days these days are spent doing things which would once have seemed almost a bit far-fetched:  cold-calling, warm-calling, following up, lunch, coffee.  I haven't been listening to music or NPR in the car, I've been listening to sales training and other "inspirational" CDs, which I have been told is what salespeople do.  And I, right now, am developing sales discipline.

Fact is, there is much wisdom in what I am consuming these days, as I know I've mentioned before. It is just quite distant from what I once considered wisdom, so that it's difficult to say what's so wise about it.  Except for the fact that it counsels belief in oneself, courage, and persistence.  And rest.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Taylor Swift and show tunes

Just drove Natalie and some friends home from an ultimate frisbee game.  We plugged Natalie's phone into the car stereo, and then drove along singing along with show tunes, Taylor Swift and god knows what else.  Light years away from work.  Need more of this.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Park Life

I have long been critical of the office park as a gestalt, thinking it soulless.  Just now I had to rest a little before going to a networking event in a little while, so I went for a walk.  There is a path that wends between a couple of parking lots, and beside it a leafy bower (just watch as my diction gets all bucolic on ya).  I ambled along there as the sun was going down, when I came to a little spot where there were some weathered picnic tables in the shade.  I could have kept walking and turned left and been back on Emperor Boulevard as rush hour traffic headed out, but I thought, no, I'll have a little rest on that picnic table.

So I lay down in the shade there, and there was a nice breeze, and around me, I could hear the gentle swooshing in the distance -- on the far side of the trees and the many 2-4 story glass, steel, and brick edifices which surrounded me on all sides -- of rush hour traffic.  The air was mild and it was, in all honesty, quite nice.

In principal, yes, I would rather be headed home to see my kids, but since I need to stick around out here in Park to go hear Josh give some Republicans hell on a panel on public universities, in the hopes of both enlightening myself and meeting some well-heeled prospects, it could have been a hell of a lot worse.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Presence, reflection, and blogging

Graham and I were playing with a little helicopter blade toy (don't know what to call it today) when I had the horribly sinful thought that sometimes I get bored playing with him and that I resent that I am called upon to be his constant playmate (as opposed to Mary doing more). Then it occurred to me that I just needed to focus on being present and in the moment because he is getting older and before too long he will be off to college.

But as I realized that I needed to write about that thought, a further thought came to me:  that this constant need to blog, to reflect, to write, bespeaks a consciousness of an absence of fullness in the present, in simply being.  Whereas I in fact strive to be present, to be grateful for where I am at any given moment.  Which is why things like soccer and laughter are such joys to me, they offer such fullness, they keep me in the present.

And if, as many have postulated, the act of reflection or abstraction is what ultimately distinguishes humans from animals, it is also the thing that keeps us in our heads, divorced all too often from unmediated experience, or being in the present, which I think is pretty much in tune with Czikszentmihalyi's concept of Flow (I gotta read that book), which we all seek.  So the thing that makes us what we are and which has facilitated the marvelous division of labor which has in turn allowed us to develop so much wealth and longevity and control so many of the hazards and perils that buffet us continually, this same thing cuts us off from and problematizes our ultimate goal.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Living local

So I met yesterday with the guy who arrested me for my second DWI, 24 years ago.  Great guy.  28 years on our home town police force, has grown through a number of roles on the force, and has done a lot of interesting other things and has been well-integrated in the community.  Wise fellow, great aura.

In the course of our conversation, it comes out that he has only been west of the Mississippi once, to go to a conference in Utah.  Which raises the question of the value of travel.  It is accepted almost axiomatically amongst the chattering class in which I find myself that traveling the world broadens the mind, enriches the soul, yatta yatta yatta.  But is it necessary?

I like to galavant around a bit myself, and I think that seeing more stuff gives you perspective on where you live and where you come from.  But it is not a necessary precondition of wisdom or happiness.  It is more, I think, of a conversational bauble.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Quick meeting

I met with this Russian realtor woman in North Raleigh yesterday at the end of the day at some swank cafe in a ridiculously faux shopping center.  She was late, and she was also 6'2" or so.  She hails from Rostov-on-Don, like my dissertation advisor.

At first she was perfectly pleasant, but pretty soon she was visibly laughing almost laughing at me. We talked about getting back to Russia, which she does, but I haven't done, which isn't all that surprising.  I allowed that I couldn't figure out how to arrange it, and she said "Americans are always making excuses like that."  Me: "But when I travel, I want to take my family, and it could easily cost $12k to take the four of us over there for any length of time."  Her: "Russians always travel on points, I pay my mortgages with credit cards."  Me: "I don't have a mortgage."  Her:  "You only have one house?"

Apparently, she owns multiple rental properties, pays her mortgages with her credit card, having found a mortgage company that would let her do that, and flies on the points.  And I was an idiot for doing anything other than that.

After discussing what I was doing trying to network my way into the Russian community in the Triangle, she gets her car keys out of her Louis Vuitton bag:  "Russians don't like paper.  We like gold, silver, houses.  I don't think we're a good market for you."  Pretty soon she was taking off.

So I went home. It wasn't all bad that we wrapped up quickly.  It was, after all, my birthday.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Wedding weekend

My cousin Neva's girl Brooke got married near Greensboro yesterday.  It was a lovely event, and it was great to see lots of peeps from my mom's side of the family.  For dinner, there was breakfast food, which is apparently a tradition in their family.  The bride was beautiful, the groom charming.  What was not to like?

I did find myself curious about many of the wedding attendees, kids in their mid to late twenties maybe thirties, comfortable in suit, tie, and party dress.  So many of the songs played were wedding and party classics, and had dances or singalonging well-known to the revellers.  When "Sweet Caroline" was played and the song "good times never felt so good", the throngs on the dance floor called out "so good, so good, so good."  I had never heard that one.  It was all very tribal.  As one who never quite joined the tribe, I couldn't help but look at these young guys in suits and ties, singing along, doing the little dances with aplomb, and wondering what it was like to be them, focused on learning the steps, climbing their ladders, taking comfort in belonging.

Mom took an entirely different approach. When their were step dances going on that everybody knew, she got right out their and tried to learn the steps.  This just a week and change after her 77th birthday.  It made me rather proud of her.

Natalie too joined in the dancing, with me and mom and later mom's sister Faith and her daughters and granddaughters. That was pretty awesome.  Graham maintained a wallflower atttude.

There were also a couple of black kids, 6-year olds, who were the flower girl and ringbearer, who were out on the floor the whole time, and a couple of UNC-G students (I'm guessing), who were doing funky dances with them and forming a ring, holding hands with somebody getting in the middle having a Soul Train-style spotlight on them.  That was rather cool, seeing these un-self-conscious guys holding hands like that.

In many ways, the whole thing encapsulated many of the simultaneously hopeful and mystifying characteristics of the South today:  at once old school and new.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Not so, novel

Last weekend I was delighted to find a copy of Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy at the Bookshop on Franklin St, still perhaps my favorite commercial establishment of all time.  I remember reading that book 20-odd years ago, probably not too long after it came out in 1993, and being completely enraptured.  I still think it is one of the better novels of the last couple of decades, and recommend it heartily.

But I'm having a hard time getting going.  It is a big book, on a big canvas: 1400-odd pages about India and a bunch of families and politics and lord knows what else.  It's been so long, I forget.

I was about to expound at length on my resistance to fiction, and then I thought:  have I blogged about this before?  And of course I have.  Here.

I'm having a lot of trouble with it now.  Oh well.

Gotta go push family into motion. We need to leave for my cousin Neva's daughter Brooke's wedding in Greensboro soon.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Anniversary

Attentive readers will note that I have been posting perhaps more than average about my father and fatherhood of late.  Only yesterday, I was reading one of the little Al-Anon daily readers and the reading concerned how the writer had always thought of his alcoholic dad primarily as a monster but then only later in life realized how messed up his dad's own life had been, how challenging a hand he had been dealt.

Which took me back to sitting next to my dad's deathbed, holding his hand in his last hours of life, particularly as I was waiting for Leslie to get there from Boston, while dad's sister Frances was telling me stories about how crazy their own childhoods had been due to their own fucked up parents.Stories I had never heard before.  Somehow my dad had never thought to tell me this stuff. or, more likely, had been unable to.

And then I realized that it was the 2nd anniversary of my dad's death. It was an emotional moment.*

Which raises the question, what do I tell my kids about our own childhoods?  My memories of it are, at best, episodic and inchoate. I often rely on other people telling me stories of things I have repressed and/or just forgotten.  Certainly, even if I were to recover all of it, I wouldn't tell them everything.  Mostly it's helpful to recover memory to get in touch with the roots of my own patterns of feeling.

Maybe my dad was right, to a certain extent, to shelter us from the nasty backstory of his own upbringing, though it limited my ability to connect with him.  Life is complex.




*Interestingly, Facebook took it upon itself to remind me that it was the second anniversary this morning, by reposting the picture I had posted of him the day after he passed.  Thanks, Zuckerberg.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Jule Carr

I've been reading Meena Webb's biography of Jule Carr, a rich industrialist dude from Chapel Hill who was instrumental in the development of Durham and the tobacco industry therein (and who knew that Durham was a nothing crossroads until the 1870s) and then later bought the mill in Carrboro and had the town named after him.  My dad was really into Jule Carr, and he in fact gave me this book.

It's pretty good, but it veers too deeply into the sheer enumeration of detail and wealth at times. Yeah, the guy was rich, and hard-working, and he built some amazing houses and whatnot.  But it gets old.  One gets the feeling that the author just has a ton of pride that our part of the world had its own little robber baron, though of course he got his ass handed to him by Buck Duke.  What's even more interesting is how captivated my dad was by the guy, given my dad's demonstrated disdain for wealth in general.

Admittedly, many of my dad's markings in the book are about Horace Williams, the great scholar from UNC who played a key role in early days of Trinity College, which then became Duke.  Dad named his cat Horace Williams.

But the book is dragging a little bit.  I may have to go back to Caro and LBJ for a little while.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Father figures

Some months ago, my Al Anon/AA sponsor fired me and, he said, all of his sponsees, needing to focus on himself.  Which is cool, I get that.

And yet, some months later, he seems unwilling to actually engage me in any real way.  After today's meeting, in which I had identified particularly with what he shared, I went up to him to tell him that, and he basically looked past me and moved on to speak to someone else.  Which is pretty odd.

But the main thing I have to admit to myself is that, 2 years to the week after my dad's death, I am still excessively dependent on substitute father figures.  I have had a bunch in my life:  my high school soccer coach and my wife'd dad stand out in particular.  In the absence of a good one, I easily substitute whoever is my boss at a given moment.  For example, my current boss, who shares many character traits with my dad, some positive, some negative.  I certainly lay myself open to being too dependent on his approval.  In the absence of it, I feel fear.  Of course, with a boss, you do kind of need their approval.  The key thing is not to over-cathect it.

At some level, my basic situation is ridiculous.  Everybody's father dies at some point in time.  Mine, in particular, was less than ideally available when he was alive, but so are a lot of dads.  So we have to learn to live without them.  On the other hand, it's pretty normal.  As we age, we learn that there are really no grown ups, there are just those to play the role better.

And today, one day after her 77th birthday, I should well and truly give thanks for having an awesome mom. She has her quirks, and she herself grew from a problematic relationship with her own parents, but she is always there for me.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

On teaching chess to Graham

I wrote about this a month ago, but it happened again yesterday.  There we were playing, in the waning light of an early spring afternoon, and I discovered that I had accidentally put my queen in a place where she was actually trapped by Graham's pawns.  All he had to do was move one pawn and there was nothing I could do, I'd have to trade my queen for a bishop.  Not a good trade.

And I felt actual shame and fear:  oh my God, I thought, my queen, how could I do this.  So I resorted to subterfuge, I moved some things around on other places of the board and distracted Graham so he didn't realize the opportunity that he had.  And I got out of it.

Again, in retrospect, I could have shown him how much power and opportunity he had, but the drive to win was too strong.

I shared about this in an AA meeting this morning, and several people identified, including a grandmother who had recently been playing chess with her granddaughter and had a similar thing go on, she was overcome by the lust for battle and dominance.  The very nice male-to-female trans-person who sits in the corner came over to me and said that she plays and coaches some chess and that actually I should not let Graham win, that he would know and it is demeaning to him.  I was glad to have that vote of confidence.

But the shocking thing is, of course, the actual fear I felt at putting my queen in a stupid situation. It is not, in essence, dissimilar to the hypertrophied level of commitment that drove me to foil a goal-scoring opportunity in a soccer game last September -- and thereby sprain my hand pretty badly.  I'm still not 100% healed.

The question is:  why do I care?  and should I?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

On science, Yale, and linear pragmatism in higher ed

Having yesterday complained about somebody waxing macro and pretentious, I'm gonna turn around and do it myself.  So shoot me. It's my blog.

There was an interesting article in the most recent Yale Alumni Magazine about science coming to Yale, starting from 1802 forward.  It's hard to fathom, but before that there was literally no science.  Zero.  Then Ben Silliman went out and collected some curios, self-educated about chemistry, and became a one-man science faculty.  OK.

It's astonishing to see the progress of universities generally over the last couple of centuries.  I'm reading Meena Webb's Julian Carr, right now, about Carr, who grew up in Chapel Hill, later was one of the drivers of the growth of tobacco in Durham (and of Durham in general), and, presumably, will have something to do with the founding of Carrboro before all is said and done.  Apparently UNC had student bodies of something like 40, 50, 70 throughout the 19th century, and was almost done for when the Reconstruction government basically defunded it after the Civil War (admittedly, nobody had any money), and the faculty worked for free.

Things are better now for sure.  And, as the article on science at Yale continued, it moved towards the present, when President Rick Levin made efforts to raise the profile of the sciences at the university, in response to a perceived lack.  Which brings us back to recent uproars in New Haven about the university's underinvestment in science and computer science specifically, which Yale has in recent days addressed by funding an expansion of the CS department.

Whew!  That's a lot of prefatory rambling.  Here's my main point: society overall and universities in general have gone overwhelmingly over towards focusing on the practical in education, at the expense of pure enquiry into values, upon which the humanities and social sciences have historically focused, and in which they have excelled.  And yes, to create economic value you have to be able to do pragmatic stuff, we know that.

And yet the fundamental questions we struggle with most are not how to do things, but what to do, and how to get people to do them.  Overwhelmingly the world struggles from a lack of alignment on core values and leadership to create that alignment.  The world needs universities and other institutions of mind and spirit that focus on the big questions and developing people who can bring others together around approaches if not answers to those questions.  Hence the huge interest in TED talks.  We're like lost puppies.  And the genuine excitement when a skinny kid with a funny name struts across the stage, or a new pope changes the focus of the Catholic church.  Yale, and UNC too, should stay strong around their core missions and not kowtow to narrow-minded pragmatists.  But that's much more easily said than done.