Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Christianity as war

In Athens there's a tremendous temptation to focus on the antiquities, from the Acropolis and the Archaelogical Museum to the Agora. But for my money, the most interesting attraction is the Benaki Museum, which focuses on post-Hellenic Greece from Byzantium forward.

After trolling about for a little while, I was fairly stunned by the incidence of the image of St George slaying the dragon, supposedly an allegory of Christianity's subjugation of paganism. "Supposedly" I say, because, upon reflection, the image of horses and spears seems more likely to have been a literal representation of Christianity's advance than a figurative one. Think about it, how were new converts to Christ won over? Did missionary's roll in and sweet talk them about the meek inheriting the earth? No. That whole ideology was a long way from being invented. A bunch of soldiers would come into a town, announce the arrival of a new religion, tear down pagan temples, and demand tribute. That's got to be how it worked.

Nowhere is the bellicose nature of Christianity clearer than in Greece, which stood at the Eastern edge of the Christian world, facing off against the Saracens.

AA Meeting 1:15 pm, Hamilton, NJ

Here's an old post from the drafts folder

Apparently some old-timer named Bob had passed away. People were sad. One septuagenarian, in bottle-thick glasses with a bad-assed black gaucho hat pulled over his face, told a story.

"One evening I was sitting there drinking and Bob come up to my door and set to knocking. 'Who is it?' I said and he said 'It's Bob. I've come to take you to a meeting.' And I said 'Like hell you do.' And he came back the next night and did the same thing and...." The story droned on for weeks, day after day, and the guy drew it out. And the effect of this repetition -- not unlike the enumeration of all the names of the fallen soldiers at the Vietnam memorial in DC -- was to say that this guy Bob really stayed at it, persisted, and here 30 years later were the fruits of his efforts, that had outlived him, this old drunk with a hat. And I teared up a little because the old timers really are and were like that, living the life, saving each other day by day.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Map hell

So this guy from Fidelity and I are setting up a place to meet: "There's a Starbuck's on, mmm... Page Road, next to a Jimmy John's, meet me there at 8:30." And I'm, like, "OK, sure." Now, I'm fairly certain that there was a Starbuck's and a Jimmy John's in the complex next to Mez, the utterly mediocre Mexican place belonging to the same group of unexceptional restaurants as 411 West, Spanky's, and Squid's, but I'm not certain.

So I go to the Starbuck's store locator. It shows no stores on Page, though it turns out to have one on Slater, which is next to Page. There is in fact a Jimmy John's at the same given address as Mez, though their websites have Xs on very different spots of maps. Google Maps Street view, unfortunately, was taken before the complex in question was completed, and in fact has completely unrelated street names in some places.

So I have to ride out there with something like 85% certainty that I know where I'm going. In 2009. Ridiculous.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Return to the ur-scene

While plowing through a very dry set of documents about trust and estate planning, I remembered that I have to be up on the UNC campus on Monday and in turn that I intended to get a library card while there.

Joy of joys! After years of living in a university town dominated by a private, snooty (and for no good reason) school, where library access for community members ran to the high three digits, it is a fine thing to be back on the red clay soil of America's oldest public university, where access is almost free. Though I have never gotten a degree from this place, I have used this library system off and on since 7th grade (when I got busted good for plagiarism on a report about the effects of radiation on cells [about which I knew fuck all]). The circulating movie collection sustained me during the years between college and grad school, when I was virtually coin free.

And I worry about libraries these days, with kids stealing shit off the internet all the time, will diminished library volume lead to defunding and dereliction? Last year's stats for the UNC Libraries looked OK, but the only frame of reference was 2003ff, so it's hard to say.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Racial Draft

Levy and I were discussing this today, so I called it up from the archives. A classic.

Racial Draft

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


It has been some time since I catalogued the cute things the kids say, though that was one of the original purposes of this blog (in the mutual fund world, this sort of straying is known as "style drift", as when a "Value" fund becomes a "Growth" one). Natalie has, alas, reached the age where she speaks more or less like a proto-adult, except when she's made to giggle.

Graham, however, still has some adorable catch-phrases. Right now he likes to start every third sentence with the word "Besides." As in, "Besides, can I have a snack?" or "Besides, Andrew had a baloney sandwich today" or "Besides, my favorite dinosaur is the Apatosaurus, which is another word for Brontosaurus." He's also fond of the word "original," as in "I was just resting my head on my original pillow." Gotta love it.

Graham has also continued on occasion to refer to me as "mom", which I love.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Air-conditioning in the South

As I write it's a lovely late summer day in North Carolina: 83 and not too humid. I'm at the library, escaping the noise and fumes of my boy Marvin doing some fine painting at the house. It's a good thing I brought along a flannel shirt and socks with shoes, because it's frickin freezing in here.

So what is it about air conditioning down here, why the continual overkill, even in a place where eco-consciousness is pretty well ingrained? One has to carry a wrap wherever you go in summertime so as not to freeze, but it's blazing on the street. I don't get it.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Route 70

On the long drive to Morehead City yesterday, there were many highlights. All of which were only noted in passing, as Graham and Natalie were rather keen on getting down there.

Amongst the things we did not stop for:
  • Nahunta Pork Center: "America's largest pork display!"
  • Gun and Knife Show at the New Bern Fairgrounds
  • Big and Tall Men's clothes -- "with pants to size 84"
  • King's of Kinston, "Home of the 'Pig in a Pup'."
Missing out on the last was, naturally, a shame.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Vote for Carrboro Farmer's Market

Vote for the Carrboro Farmer's Market as America's best Farmer's Market. Go here BEFORE MIDNIGHT TONIGHT. If Carrboro wins, it will get $5,000 to buy a machine to accept food stamps.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Continued arrival

My days continue to be sucked up by the little details of arriving here: making this house suitable for habitation by the family, especially Mary. Today we consulted with our boy Marvin about some paint colors and techniques for lightening knotty pine panel, then hosted a chimneysweep (who informed me that one of the chimney liners was cracked which will cost ducats), got the old Subaru fixed, paid some bills, and otherwise delt with crap.

In other news, check out the sweet article on my once-fleetingly colleague Felix Salmon, who has recently taken up residence behind the wheel of economic discourse at Reuters.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Dark and Bloody Ground

Tonight I'm watching a 1974 episode of The Rockford Files with the title given above, in which Jimbo gets put in harms way by some chick he used to date. I realize that's not narrowing the field very much, because this is pretty much the plot of half of the episodes. I predict that Jim will come out unscratched in the end, but that he won't be a penny the richer or wiser.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Power of Song

We watched a documentary about Pete Seeger named The Power of Song, one of the rare occasions when we actually pulled the trigger on one of those many documentaries on our Netflix list. It was a fine piece, and Seeger is a very inspiring human, an uber-grandpa for all of us.

But his role in the propagation and popularization of folk music and the banjo may be more problematic and complex than this movie lets on. The film tells of how Seeger's parents, classically trained musicians, went South in a wagon with violins and a piano to take music and culture to "the people" and were stunned to find that the people already had music of their own. Seeger went back to the well and mastered pickin and a grinnin, no one doubts that.

But the next day I was listening to some Porter Wagoner and I had to wonder: what does the Grand Ole Opry set think of Seeger? Probably the same thing some Schwabian bard thought of Herder when he came nosing round back the glades back in the 1760s: "buy me a drink and leave me be."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Carolina Chocolate Drops

Say no more.



I continue to be surprised by the rain delays at the US Open, thinking: but how can it be so rainy there when it's sunny here? And then I remember that I'm 500 odd miles away.

Which was the point of moving.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Government salaries

Was doing a little benchmarking last night at JobNob and saw some interesting trends in Raleigh. We all tend to think that federal government jobs don't pay well, but these numbers seem to indicate otherwise. Putting aside some biases in sampling (the large numbers of reported government salaries seem to indicate that there's some official effort to report to the site, probably as a recruiting measure, whereas in the private sector lower salaried employees are more likely to self-report), these numbers are nonetheless a little eye-opening. Once you factor in the long-term benefit conferred by a defined benefit pension plan (I think the Economist back of the napkined that at 25-30%), those are pretty good ducats.

Consider that the AFGE -- the American Federation of Government Employees -- has 600,000 members. I imagine that numbers those large would hinder any effort to impose any sort of management discipline on the federal government.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Things are poppin

A lot of activity at the desk over the last few days. The steady drumbeat of good market news and positive soundbites from the economic and political establishment is clearly translating into some hiring, at least for people like the kid. If I am not careful, I could be gainfully employed in a manner of days, which could put a crimp into my tennis and otherwise diversified portfolio of sporting.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Explication du texte

Certain of my readers have at times expressed frustration at the opacity and arcaneness of the blog, which is kind of just par for the course. But certain things can be explained.

The title itself, "Chew Your Grouse", has been touched upon in earlier posts, like the inaugural one.

But the current subtitle is probably a little bit mystifying. Who are these mysterious Kaufmans to whom I liken myself?

  • Andy Kaufman -- less of a mystery. Lattke from the 80s sitcom Taxi, he of Mighty Mouse fame from SNL and later career forays into extreme life/art boundary crossing as a professional wrestling provocateur.
  • Walter Kaufman -- Professor of Philosophy at Princeton, translator of Nietzsche and others. A horrifically egotistical man, who would pepper his volumes with footnotes to his own books and would place his own introductory essays (for example in a sampler on existentialism) on a par with those whose works he edited (i.e. Kaufman, Kierkegaarde, Sartre, Heidegger). This amused us to no end in college.
  • Henry Kaufman -- The original Dr. Doom (an interest rate hawk). A fine old Wall St eminence grise, a sober economist and long-time Managing Director at Salomon Brothers, who very charmingly and affectingly nodded to his wife at the end of the acknowledgements to On Money and Markets: "She has been the center of my world for more than four decades, and has shared all the strains and triumphs of my life and career. How could I ever acknowledge her enough." In other words, a very centered and balanced guy.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Cigarette break

I've been running in the mid-late morning (I know it's foolish and I should go earlier in late summer heat), but twice I've seen the same foolish thing: a bus driver stopped at the bus stop right by Booker Creek apartments who has left his bus -- a double, accordion-length thing -- running, while he stops for a cigarette in the bus stop enclosure. I'm sure the bus is empty. Probably his schedule accomodates this. It may even be that the energy expenditure break-even period for turning an engine that big off is less than that of a typical car (typically reckoned to be 1 minute).

But still it seems excessive, if not downright wrong. The best way to disincent this behavior would be to build in some performance-based compensation possibilities for bus drivers around fuel consumption, and/or itemize their health care insurance premia based on tobacco consumption. But I'm sure that ain't going on.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Owls in the night

Last night from down the hill into the ravine outside our window we heard what could only have been bird sounds, but from a thick thorax cavity. One was nearby, on this side of the lake, and it called out at a somewhat regular rhythm. And then, from across the lake, came an answering call.

A little poking around shows this to have been the typical call of a Great Horned Owl.

I don't remember owls being around when I was growing up. Maybe there are now no predators, letting populations rebuild, or maybe I was ignoring them back then.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

History decimated

I was dumbfounded to discover -- while trolling around Atlantic Beach, North Carolina using Google Maps Street View -- that the putt putt golf course that my dad always claimed was the first one on the East Coast, which had belonged to our family in the 40s and 50s and which would have made us so much money just to own the real estate in the 80s -- is gone. Decimated. History.

From the looks of it, some developer flattened the whole boardwalk carnie scene Ferris Wheel scene around there and was gonna put something big in there, and then (you guessed it) ran out of cash. Or maybe this is North Carolina's version of Asbury Park, faded glory. Only there's not enough of a gay community in this state to give it the hope of a comeback that Asbury Park has.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Wrinkles in faith-based investing

I have always eschewed active stock selection, buying instead into random-walk, Boglehead theory. But overweighting domestic stocks is actually a form of faith-based investing: faith that the US will come out ahead. In general this has been a good bet. In the late 70s and early 80s it looked like were were toast, but then we turned out to be more like French toast, enriched by eggy ideas and the sweet sweet syrup of continuously confident fiscal policy. But somewhere along the way this confidence metastasized into hubris.

For now, The Economist cites as basic US competitive advantages over the rest of the developed world productivity growth and population growth, especially via immigration and assimilation. Europe doesn't do the latter nearly as well, and Japan totally doesn't.

But relative to rising Asia and Brazil, an entirely different set of dynamics are at work. Those folks are hungry and competitive, while we are threatened by educational underperformance by Anglos. We have great universities but a bunch of slacker kids. We only have a fixed quantity of very high-end imported talent from India and China, and they are geographically circumscribed to specific regions, and as the balance of economic power shifts the talented ones will be drawn inexorably back to their homes.

We need to do a number of things to be sure they want to stay here, or reverse brain drain will accelerate. We need to maintain the comparative advantage of open and civil society versus the male-dominated and caste and statist constraints of Asia. And we need to kick our own kids' butts into gear.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Is Yahoo slipping?

Yahoo mail is dramatically more feature-rich than gmail, no question about that. But is Yahoo! getting squeezed in terms of keeping the servers running smooth? It seems to me t
hat I'm seeing hiccups in the way the thing works all too frequently. Emails don't get sent. I can't search my inbox without throwing an apache error. And so on and so on.

Is this a result of the failed monetization of a free service? Build it and they will come, but then what the hell are you gonna do?

I remember riding to a wedding with someone from D.E. Shaw back in '94 or '95 and she's telling me that they're starting up a free, web-based email service called Juno and I was just dumbfounded. "How's that gonna work?" I asked. Maybe it hasn't.