Monday, July 16, 2018

Sore

My shoulders were in great pain from my once-a-year foray onto the basketball court, where I made the strategic error of playing 1-on-1 with Z before the 3-on-3 with the gang. I think I burned some of my annually available "rookie magic" in that game. Ah well.

Then, yesterday evening I did a baby triathlon of running around the lake, then playing frisbee with Graham for as long as I could keep him out there, then swimming maybe a hundred yards - out to the outer float and back. Today I am toast.

I did reintegrate myself into my re-reading of William Gibson's 1986 Count Zero, inspired by this Douglas Rushkoff article. Rather disturbing stuff -- I will explain the link later. Which reminds me to keep my nose to the grindstone and focus on the essential. Hang out with family. Serve clients. Work to help elect Democrats and facilitate dialog between warring factions in America. Exercise. Sleep. Repeat.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Driving with Graham

Once more I am driving Graham to chess camp in the mornings. This year he is a junior counselor, which is awesome. With Natalie leaving the house so soon I am very focused on spending as much time with the kids in as many ways as possible.

Again -- and I may have written about this before -- I have decided to always put him in the front seat and to programmatically leave the radio off. No NPR. We get plenty of information.

Today we discussed the Strzok hearings, which Graham had watched clips of and then Colbert's commentary or skit or whatever. Graham said the most striking thing was the amount of cursing that he heard. At which point in time I launched into a long disquisition on the attitudes towards foul language over time, how it has increasingly permeated higher registers of discourse where once it was anathema -- for example TV news and also politicians' speech -- and how generally the erosion of norms of discursive behavior had evolved into a problem that makes it difficult to have productive dialog. Which is different from how it seemed to me as a kid-teenager-young person.

I realized that I was sort of dadsplaining.

We talked about other stuff too, boredom, attention issues when reading on the internet, optimizing gas mileage in a Prius, how people sometimes get irked at Prius drivers for doing so. Blah blah blah.

It was awesome. At lunch today I will take him to a new dumpling place in Apex. Psyched for that.

For now, back to the coal mine.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

A rare day, and being second born

It feels almost like autumn out there, and yet here I am at my desk with a daunting task list at my right elbow: bills, travel planning, event planning and other political stuff. Piles of periodicals and resumes and folders containing... the only way I know is to open them.

On my left, the books. The Henry James novel I'm 2/3rds through, the Doris Kearns Goodwin book I'm 1/8th into and really need to finish before I go to Larchmont in a month, just so I don't have to carry it up there. Buffett's annual letters. I think I'm on 2008, almost done with this volume (goes through 2012).

Natalie has gone to IKEA in Charlotte to do dormroom shopping with a couple of besties, and also to meet her future roommate (of all things Yale could have picked an Indian girl who went to Charlotte Country Day) for lunch.

Over our vacation, as we were having family meals, it occurred to me that all too many of our stories from the early days of parenting were of Natalie, of course because she was our first experience of parenting. And from the experience of the parent you are going through two big things: having a child, on the one hand, and being a parent, on the other. By the time Graham was born we had more than 3 years of the parenting thing under our belts.

And when we tell the stories of those days there is a special emotional intensity of the early days for Natalie, child 1. There just can't help but to be, because she ushered us in to the new dimension of our lives that was parenting (and appreciating our own parents differently). So how does that sound to child 2, in our case Graham? I wonder if he catches it, in the back of his mind.

There's a book by a guy named Frank Sulloway called Born to Rebel, which talks about the significance of birth order in people's development. In short, first born kids are more inclined to be conservative, order-takers, whereas second born kids pushed back against norms and changed things. I remember having a copy of this book and reading some of it in my very early years in the private sector, between 2000 and the blog's inception date. At the time, it was too heavy, I was learning too much between work and parenting, didn't have the bandwidth to grok it. Now I might. I put it back on my list.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Driving in Montana

There was an LED sign near the west entrance to Glacier National Park which proclaimed that there had been 59 traffic fatalities in Montana when we got there. It was up to 61 by the time we left.

Montana has more fatal automotive accidents and more traffic-related fatal automotive accidents than any other state in the country. Anecdotally, I will also say that I was struck by how few police officers I saw while out there. I'm pretty sure it was just one, while we were in a 45 zone coming into Columbia Falls from the west. I would have spaced out on that cop had Mary not said something.

That said, from a speed perspective, I think Montanans, like most folks west of the Mississippi, do a better job self-regulating than we do back east. Here we are always hurrying to something. It seems they aren't in as much of a rush out west.

But there were an awful lot of bars out there. In the town where we stayed, Martin City, the only two retail establishments, one of which, seemingly anticipating my arrival, had put this excellent sign out by the road.


Overall out there, there is a lot of focus on selling big things with big engines. Trucks, boats, ATVs, chain saws, what have you. I get it. Nature is big out there, you have to work hard to keep it at bay. Push electrical mowers and dinky shit like that ain't gonna cut it. We have historically used big machines to keep nature at bay. We still do, even here, we are just duplicitous about it. It happens while all of us office workers are off doing our thing, crews of people -- many of them hispanic and quite likely less than perfect from a documentation -- come in and cut the growth back. Hence the impossibility of working from home on the east coast without hearing mowers, leaf blowers, string trimmers, etc. Nature fights back.

But I have riffed on this before. Time for lunch.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Young old people

When I was a kid at the beach I had a sense that I was preternaturally aged because I sat in a squat chair in the waves and read books all day. First mysteries and espionage stuff, later some Russians and other stuff. I swam a little to cool off.

We don't go to the beach much because Mary isn't into it and my family is fair-skinned. So we go to natural parks and walk around. Over spring break we walked around Charleston. We go to a lot of historical museums.

Most of the people we see are older people, though there are some other families. But our kids never go to amusement parks, they don't like going on rides, etc. I think they would have gone to Disneyland or certainly Harry Potter World, it just never happened.

And now Natalie has gone and gotten Ken Burns's 12-hour documentary on America's national parks. We started watching it this evening. That is some true old white people's shit.

To her credit, Natalie has her mind set on visiting all of America's national parks. She has gotten a few under her belt by now, is well on her way.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Why people hate soccer

Today's games have been pretty boring, technically. 1-1 Spain-Russia, 1-1 Croatia-Denmark after 110 minutes now.  Not a lot of close moments. But, since I was trapped in the mountains of Montana with no TV and really crappy throttling of highlights on YouTube because of the low bandwidth, I have been unable to stop watching.

Despite the slowness, it is good drama. Denmark is unquestionably playing with more confidence.

Holy fuck, Luka Modric misses a penalty at 115.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

In the hills

We're in Montana at Glacier National Park, where it is very beautiful, and chilly. They say the stars here are spectacular. Problem is, we are so far north, and so close to the solstice, that I can't stay up late enough to see them. Literally. I go outside at 10:45 after brushing my teeth, and there is still a little hint of sunlight way on the western horizon, enough to make it difficult to see stars.

We have a little cabin out on the edge of a farm with a stream right next to us. It really doesn't inspire us to get up early in the morning to hustle off to get more done. But it is getting late in the morning now, should start ambling towards the door to go see a salt lick where there should be mountain goats.

Yesterday we saw a baby bear. Fortunately we were in our car, because I'm fairly certain that mamma bear must have been nearby and we didn't want to fuck with her. We let the baby cross the road, and Mary almost had an orgasm from delight.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Packing for trip

Heading out to Montana shortly. While packing t-shirts for this last vacation while Natalie is a permanent resident of our household, I found myself gravitating towards t-shirts of schools, camps, and organization which the kids attended/participated. Sigh.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Bald head

On the way to work this morning, there was a guy behind me in a convertible with the same baldness pattern as my dad had, and, though I held my dad's hand the entire day that he died, and I saw him dead, somewhere in the back of my mind, in the base of my being, there was this crazy hope against hope that it was him, and I could not not turn and look as the car went past me.

It was not him.

10,000 hours of what?

Nas Daily, on Facebook, is a good guy, Palestinian dude traveling the world making 1-minute videos on a variety of topics. He recently made a video celebrating the fact that he had, over almost 3 years on this project, spend 10,000 hours or so making videos, thereby reaching the "10,000 hours of deliberate practice" threshold that Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers, said was necessary to become world-class at something.

Despite the fact that there have been real critiques of Gladwell's guideline, there is a ring of truth to it, and Nas has definitely gotten good at making thoughtful and attractive videos that elucidate a single thought in a minute.

And it led me to reflect: what have I gotten good at through 10,000 hours of practice? I haven't blogged that much yet, though it might seem like I might have.  I have been offering some sort of operational/financial guidance to people and businesses for north of 10,000 hours, but the challenge is that the specific type of advice has varied, I don't have 10,000 hours of deeply specialized experience speaking to the specific needs of a specific audience. Certainly I have spent 10,000 hours musing on the human condition and being in the world, but that and $2.75 will get me on the subway. Lots of people do that.

I think that the codicil to Gladwell's 10,000 hours guideline is -- and he probably says this, I've never actually read that book -- is that you have to find a specialization to which relatively few others have dedicated themselves. Rapier, for example, or eminent domain. Or steel futures. And it's helpful to find a specialization for which there is a market. But if the market is big enough, it will be crowded with others. Aye, there's the rub.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Thuggishness and history

Today in the Journal Sam Walker has a piece about how calculated thuggishness and rule-breaking is rewarded. He specifically cites the instance of Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos taking down Liverpool's Mohammed Salah in the Champions League final, injuring the Egyptian's shoulder and taking him out of the game, part of what led to Real Madrid's 3-1 victory (on top of errors on the part of the Liverpudlian goalkeeper that are basically unforgivable at this level of soccer).

On his overall point, he is right. The decision on whether to adhere to or break rules is always and everywhere a risk-reward calculation. Almost everywhere and at almost all times, people are happy to go 67 in a 55 and the cops will let it go. Going 73 in a 55 is a different version of the same calculation.

But what Ramos did to Salah is different, for a variety of reasons. Salah is the greatest new star in the soccer firmament, a joy to watch, comparable only to Messi in his creativity (Christiano Ronaldo is different because he is taller and faster and his technical virtuosity is of a different type). So hurting him robs us all of a source of delight.

More importantly, Salah is Muslim, and he celebrates goals on the pitch with displays of Muslim devotion. Therefore, taking him down on the world stage -- as Ramos did -- will surely have been interpreted in terms of the Dar-al-Islam vs. Dar-al-Harb, or echos of the Reconquista, in many places where people gather around the Islamic world. Ramos is fucking Spanish, think about it. We don't need this kind of shit in a world where we are still trying to figure out how Judaeo-Christendom and the Islamic world can best coexist.

If you think that's stretching things, just consider that soccer is played with low scores and low margins for error. Every goal in major competitions is remembered by fans. Sergio Ramos is a great defender, but he is basically a thug in much of his game. He has been for a long time. This level of calculated cynicism debases the beautiful game.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Twilight of the luxury brands?

Today's Journal was filled with interesting stuff, but perhaps the most heartening was a little note about an unexpected way the food and beverage value chain is being disrupted. Specifically, how German discount grocer Aldi has produced a scotch that won a rating in a taste-test by liquor industry professionals that exceeded that of some Chivas Regal premium label, but costs half as much.

I love this stuff. The guy through the wall from me at my last office, a CEO at a medical devices company, and I were always comparing the quality of cheap K-cups of coffee from places like Aldi and Costco to Starbucks. Starbucks is still better, to my mind, but doesn't necessarily justify a 40-cent unit-cost premium for everyday drinking.

The important thing is this: if companies can make great stuff cheaper and challenge incumbent brands, that is just awesome. It means people's return on an hour of labor -- measured in quantity/quality of goods purchased, gets better. It's all good.

Buffett liked to call out See's Candies as an example of a really successful business that was not capital-intensive, and therefore had high margins. The flipside of it is that these businesses are therefore dependent on the quality of their brands, which ultimately consists in a few of things: dependable and consistent quality of product, metonymy with economic class association (i.e. you feel affluent because you buy it), and perhaps some quasi-Proustian connection to an earlier-in-life experience on the part of the consumer. Most of the price may be built into the second two, which in some cases may afford the producing firms a surplus margin which lets them focus on culture within their firms, which lets them focus on product quality.

If great product development and execution can nail the product quality question, and marketing and social networks can get the word out, it will exert pricing pressure on all producers and ultimately result in a better unit cost of quality for everybody. I for one would rather not pay more for a brand.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Pride, and shame

Natalie gave the valedictory address at ECHHS graduation on Saturday in the Dean Dome, and she did an awesome job. To be clear, she was one of 35 valedictorians in a class of 400ish, but, of those, only five wanted to speak, and they all submitted speeches which were anonymized and then voted on by all 35. So she won a little competition, fair and square, to be able to speak. Go Natalie!

When I posted pix of her talking on Facebook, Mary wanted to add a note of clarification about her being only one of thirty-five, and part of me wanted to do that too. But this instinct to not self-promote, motivated by some WASP sense of justice and modesty, is one of the things that hold us back commercially as a family. Not that we are starving, but we perhaps make things harder for ourselves than we need to.

On Friday night, there was a smaller ceremony just for the valedictorians and their families. At this one, all 35 had a chance to get up and address the crowd. One of them took the opportunity to promote a small business he and a friend were starting. I can't remember what the business was, but I have to give him props for making use of the opportunity. He had a ready-made audience of what can be assured was, on average, a pretty high-achieving and affluent cohort. He was handed the mike, and he asked for business. That is a good instinct. One has relatively few free opportunities in life handed to one on a silver platter, and you gotta run with them.

Figuring out exactly what it is you want to do with them, aye, there's the rub.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

A dream

Graham had to be at Phillips at 7 this morning to get on a bus for a field trip to Carowinds. It was my job to get him there, and my alarm was set a little early. Naturally, I was in waking mode prior to the alarm going off.

While I was in that state, I had one of those dreams. I had agreed to leave my car somewhere so it could be used by my friend Nick. The place where I was was a shifting amalgam of Princeton and Chapel Hill, so the parking spot I was leaving the car in had features of each place, now the train station, now a shopping center. The car I was leaving was the old Volvo, the blue 240 I had inherited from mom right after Mary and I got married, actually the car my mom bought as a present to herself upon her divorce from my dad (odd to think how quickly one event followed upon the other, within the lifetime of one car). At one point in the dream it seemed to me that the car was a convertible and I couldn't figure out where the button was to put the top back up, which was important because for some reason I had agreed to leave my phone in the car for Nick's use.

My friend Elizabeth was with me and I felt some responsibility for getting her to the train station on time. Therefore I felt time pressure.

At a very high level, I think the key thing about this dream is that I had overextended myself for some reason. Why was I leaving Nick my car? More importantly, my phone? Why did I feel responsibility for getting Elizabeth to the station on time?  Or, fundamentally, why did my subconscious load all these additional burdens onto itself?

It is probably not entirely incidental that today is my wedding anniversary, and therefore also Natalie's birthday, and also Leslie's, facts that have been obscured in the lead up to Natalie's graduation this weekend and the arrival of guests (Rob and Mary Lee) and the graduation party we are throwing. Things that kinda slipped my mind as I was focused on getting Graham ready for his field trip -- the first big school field trip he has ever gone on.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

The Club

On Saturday I talked to Graham about going to play tennis at "The Club." It turns out, he was a little confused about what I meant by that, not clearly identifying "The Club" with the Farm, or Faculty Club, where he is used to swimming. So he thought we were going to a club where "everybody looked like they were out of a Patek Philippe commercial, like wearing khakis and the khaki version of shirts." We got him straightened out.

Monday, June 04, 2018

ER visits

As we approach Natalie's graduation and 18th birthday this weekend I have reflected a little on this parenting thing. One success metric which came to mind is number of visits to the emergency room.  In 33-child years of parenting (Natalie 18 + Graham ~15), we have been to the ER a grand total of 3 times:

  1. When Natalie was just a baby I came home and Mary was freaked out because Natalie was puking, but mostly because Mary had left her on the bed earlier and she had fallen down and Mary was terrified and ashamed that she had had a nasty bonk that was the cause of the puking. So we took her down to the ER, and they checked Natalie out and even did an MRI. I remember Natalie as 15-month old or whatever with her little head in the MRI looking up at us all WTF as we held her hand and sang "Bah Bah Black sheep" or something to keep her calm and still.

    She was fine. She must have eaten something or had a little bug. Hence the puking.
  2. We had gone up to Chester, NJ to do some antiquing when Graham was two or so, so Natalie must have been five. Mary was having fun, but the kids were bored as hell and I was taking care of them. It was winter, so we had on coats and gloves. We were crossing the street and Graham was pulling away from me real hard and his glove came off, so he banged his head on the street. It was a rough pavement, so he had a pretty decent gash in his forehead and I picked him up and he was bleeding all over me and I freaked out a bit. I called Mary on her cell and yelled at her and she came over and we put Graham down on the sidewalk. Somebody had the bright idea of immobilizing his head. An ambulance came, and we rode to an ER 25 minutes away.

    Turns out he was fine. If you cut your forehead like that, it just bleeds a lot.
  3. We were up at Kate's place at Canandaigua and Natalie stood up and hit her head, then got a little woozy. Mary was at Wegman's with Carol and David and Maxie, so I had all the girls: Natalie, Helen, Margaret, and also Graham. I had to take all the kids to the ER, and had to put Margaret in the front seat. Being a rule-follower by nature, she was a little scandalized by that. Helen was in the back seat with Natalie and Graham. Natalie let her head fall towards Helen but she was having none of that, and pushed Natalie's head a little cavalierly.

    This time, Natalie actually had a little concussion, and was unable to swim with the other kids for a day or so. This occasioned a little meltdown, as was documented here back when it actually happened.
In some ways I almost view this low incidence of ER visits as a parental failing, to the extent that it represents super high risk aversion on the part of my kids. There was something magical in the way that, as a child, I would break a bone or something and it would hurt like fuck, and then we'd go to the ER and they'd calm it and me down and all was better. Somehow this experience taught me that the world would figure shit out, that all would be in order no matter what despite immediate indications to the contrary. But you have to test fate to get to that understanding. Perhaps.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Deep Space 9: The Final Frontier?

Graham and I finished watching DS 9 some months ago, I probably shared about it. At that point in time I, for one, was excited about continuing on to watch Star Trek: Voyager, and I thought Graham was too. There was just the little matter of finishing up with The Blacklist. 

However, I have since learned that Graham is not psyched at all to watch Voyager. It looks increasingly like it may never happen. When Graham forms an opinion of something, it tends to stick.

I am very sad about this. For one, I just enjoy watching something with him every night, curling up under a blanket on the couch and chilling. Really it's about physical contact with a loved one. Watching Brooklyn 99 with Natalie is plenty good, and he often joins us so that is double fun, but I know that's gonna end.

But Star Trek has special status in the world of watching because, frankly, it is generally positive in orientation., unlike most crime shows It may take multiple episodes, but eventually the good guys win.  And like all of Star Trek, it is resolutely multi-species, multi-cultural. There are positive characters from generally negative species. The core team shows they love each other in surprising ways, especially when the ultra-mercantile Ferengi Quark backhandedly demonstrates his affection for the changeling cop Odo. All kinds of good stuff.

I would like more. I think perhaps I should suggest to Graham that we together go to a Trekkie convention to rekindle his interest.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The center of it all

In Stegner's Crossing to Safety, there is a moment when the narrator describes the writing cabin of the father of one of the protagonists up at their summer lake house in Vermont, and as evidence of his level of abstraction and distance shows him working on the Bogomils and Albigensians. My heart, of course, fairly leaped at this little point.

There was a moment when I was working on my dissertation, call it 1995-96, where the confluence of Bogomils and Albigensians seemed right at the heart of it all. The Bogomils were a sect that, in their day -- 12th-13th century, somewhere in there -- were amongst Slavic lands most popular in what subsequently became Bosnia. It was their relative success that made Orthodoxy weakest amongst the Bosnians, so when the Ottomans came through a couple of centuries later, Bosnians converted to Islam, whereas those who later came to call themselves Serbs and Bulgarians stayed true to Christianity. All of which was a precondition to the wars in Bosnia in the mid-90s, in which Islamic patriots from as far away as Afghanistan came and fought.

The Albigensians were a Western outcropping of the same heresy, centered in Languedoc, over between Provence and the Pyrenees. In his 1939 classic, Love in the Western World, Denis de Rougemont somehow tied the Albigensians into the concept of tragic love that became the norm in Western romance, such as that of Lancelot and Guinevere.

So, at one feverish moment when I was deep in my dissertation on the allegorical nature of love narratives in the Russian and western novel, the Bogomil/Albigensian thing somehow was a big freaking deal, it tied together what I was working on and what I was seeing in the headlines, and made me feel like I had my hand on the pulse of history. I'll be damned if I remember exactly how it all fit together, but it did. In Stegner's novel, nobody wants to talk to the old scholar about the Bogomils, after lunch they send him packing back up to his little scholarly shed, but I would totally have loved to talk to the guy. For 10 minutes or so. Then I too would have fallen prey to the blandishments of the lake.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Archival post

Easing into this Memorial Day. Mary is away in Georgia with her photography school buddies, we're planning to have sushi with mom this evening in Carrboro. It's overcast now, and I slept in as I'm still recovering from four days of talking to people up north.

While I was up at Yale I talked for a little while to a guy who was in my residential college, but whom I didn't know well at all, to say the least. It turns out we're in the same business, nominally, though firm now manages about $28 billion with about 30 employees, orders of magnitude more than we do. I will confess to getting curious, and I looked him up at the SEC web site and also using the Google. I was somewhat comforted to see that he is in a family business, which was founded by his dad. His lifestyle was evident on the web, and he's just a ton richer than I am. His vacation house is crazy nice. He basically lives on another planet.

But the fact of the matter is that the planet I live on is just fine. Last night Graham and Natalie and I had poached eggs and asparagus with nice bread from Whole Foods (Natalie's idea). Actually Graham ate chicken. Then we gathered under the very soft blanket on the couch and watched two episodes of "Brooklyn 99." Then I watched Lebron finish off the Celtics, which was pretty boring basketball, but I have to admire him and them for getting that done in Boston.

Graham, who acceded to getting a haircut yesterday, just emptied the dishwasher and went to the curb to bring in the recycling container and get the mail. All without having been asked to do so. Then I came downstairs, with the intent of checking to see if Graham had any homework to work on before his friend came over. He was sitting on the couch working on something, "also hanging out with Rascal," he added. Rascal is sitting in one of her favorite spots on the couch, the same spot where she hunkered in amongst 70-80 people when we did a fundraiser for Josh in January.

I haven't heard Natalie fill the dishwasher. I may have to ask her. Then again, she is probably reading Anna Karenina, of her own choosing, which ain't chopped liver.

Oh yeah, yesterday Natalie had a young man over to bake scones. I will omit his name out of respect for his confidentiality, but he was a very nice young fellow. They baked both scones and banana bread. For some reason the boys at East never seem to have appreciated what a lovely young lady we have raised. Maybe she intimidated them.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

On the pond again

And so, the spring travel season draws to a close. Over 8 weeks, Charleston, some swamp near Columbia, Seattle, Greenville, Asheville, New York, New Haven.


This week's was a particularly long trip, four long days, three nights, a little too late in the season from a weather perspective, though somehow I didn't wilt in Manhattan in black jeans when it was maybe 90 out. Perhaps it is a sign of aging, my mother's mild cold-naturedness setting in. How many people did I talk to, 35, 40? It's a total blur, as reunions often are.

Late Saturday at LaGuardia it was practically desolate. I suppose everyone had already hied off to wherever they were going.

Pressing forward with Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety, per Emily's suggestion. When I started it, I first thought "ugh, On Golden Pond with higher sheen," but there is something about it that is worthwhile, earnest. Fact is, I actually liked On Golden Pond, though I imagine it would be feel like a period piece of its own by now.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Romance

Watching the pilot for "The Office" with Graham last night, trying to figure out what we'll watch together next. Afterwards, Graham said he didn't like the Pam-Jim plot line. "You mean the romance?" I asked. He said yes. He also said he had a list of other shows that were ruined by romance plot lines.

We're getting there.