Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I don't think I mentioned that we have new kittens: Rascal and Leon. Pix to follow. Graham calls them "catty-cats".

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Revised epidemiology

Currently H1N1 vaccines are being doled out to particularly at risk populations: kids, old folx, health workers. Of these, only health workers are chosen because they're likely to infect others, but might that not be the right paradigm? Could it not make sense target vaccine distribution at people who are particularly likely to pass the disease on to others? Food service workers, for example. Might that not slow the rate of infection and thus the total footprint on the population more than focusing on people at risk of harm from it?

I dunno. It seems to me that the goal of epidemiology should be to minimize the impact of an event on a population in general, rather than on specific sub-segments of it.

That said, they should absolutely vaccinate my kids first. Then they can do whatever they want.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Farewell Clearwire

Shipped back my Clearwire wimax wireless modem and VOIP phone adapter this evening. It was kind of sad, although I did have some bad dreams about watching the blinking lights that denoted reception. Three hiccups in phone service in two weeks is 3 too many for a job with as much phone work as my current one. Back to AT&T. Even as a colleague in Chicago bitches first about his phone service and then today is without internet. The deal is, if I have a problem and blame Ma Bell, it's her problem. If I have a problem and blame a carrier nobody's ever heard of with a new model, I'm the idiot. Sad but true.

My toenail and the economy

It was December of 2007, and I hauled my sorry self up to Manville to play indoor soccer with Rob Finnegan and John Patterson pretty late at night. I'm not sure if it was the first game, when I -- for lack of understanding of what new Astroturf was like -- wore sneakers instead of cleats, and was thus abused mercilessly by opposing strikers and snickered at unceasingly, but on one occasion at least I stubbed the hell out of my left big toe.

And, as toes are wont to do, over time it filled up with blood and was shed once, and then a second time it just grew out, slowly, perhaps because of my advancing years. And only in the 3rd quarter of '09 was the last of the dark matter beneath the toe snipped away. Now the nail is thicker than its peer group, with which it may not reach parity for some time, if, indeed, ever...

Now, the astute amongst you will notice that the progress of this minor injury has coincided precisely with the period of this, the longest recession of the post-Depression era, if the preliminary release of GDP numbers on Thursday indeed confirms that we exited recession, however fragilely, in the 3rd quarter of this year. And the thickness of the toenail is like unto the "new normal" being touted by the dashing Mohammed El-Erian of Pimco, ex-of Harvard, as the new paradigm for the economy.

So, my readers, I trust that you will stay with me for further updates from this oh so prescient toe, a bellweather of all that is and may be.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Have been sick

Apologies to any regular readers out there, I've been sick. First was sniffly, then stomach was messed up. Thought, therefore, that it might be H1N1ish, but if it was, I must say I'm not sure what all the hype was about. Not that it was fun, there was a lot of pain in the belly, but it wasn't gonna kill me.

Come to think of it, I already blogged about being sick, din't I? More real content real soon. Got some doosies sketched out.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Out sick

Nasty stomach thing for both me and Natalie. Day 2. Highlights include

  • Another hundred pages of The Order of Phoenix
  • Listening to The Sorcerer's Stone as a book on CD with Natalie
  • Playing footsie under the blanket with her while reading (physical contact: a rarity)
  • Watching AC Milan beat Real Madrid 3-2 in Champion's Cup play
  • A nap
  • An episode of The Rockford Files
So, except for the physical discomfort, a fine day all told.

Friday, October 16, 2009

What is there to say

Sat in my office, looking north. Was on the phone approximately 3 hours today, coming to the end of my seven day trial of 3G Wimax provider Clearwire. After having a disastrous set of broken calls (two of them Skype calls, then one on the "land line" -- which is itself wireless VOIP), I called up Clearwire and threatened to cancel my service as the seven day trial period came to its conclusion. The customer service person (and their customer service is outstanding, it must be owned) stayed on the line with me for 45 minutes as we talked and tested different modem positions until we found one that was better, and then they gave me another seven days to test it.

We shall see. It's only about $500 cheaper than and AT&T voice/data bundle for a year, so it may be penny wise/pound foolish to stick with this new gizmo. Then again, I talked to a colleague in Chicago whose service from AT&T has been so miserable that he uses his cell as a primary phone.

I'm gonna be on the phone a lot. A little more time will tell.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Big Blue

Graham is going through an intensive whale phase, so he's been bringing home a lot of books about whales recently. He can actually distinguish between all the various types... even when their pictured in the distance, with just their tales sticking out.

So he brought one home called Big Blue, about a girl who dreams of swimming with a blue whale. So she tells her mom about it, and they go to Baja California with some whale specialist friends, and the girl actually swims with a blue whale, looks it in the eye, has that total bonding thing that is mentioned in a recent New Yorker article about whales of the Baja.

And I actually cried as she was swimming with the whale because it was so beautiful, the tone was just perfect, the girl knowing exactly what she wanted to do and then actually doing it. It was like that book about the little girl who wants to be in the Nutcracker and instead of getting a good role has to play a little fir tree, but she dedicates herself to being the tree and glides out onto the stage and experiences bliss.

I wish my job was like that, I tell ya.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A train went past

On my first day at my Carrboro desk, I saw a train go by on a track I thought was long since defunct. An engine, at least. Pretty cool. I will be more mindful as I cross the track in the future.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Hawk brother

As I slowed at the end of my bike ride yesterday, ready to dismount to go around the chain over the entrance to the parking lot at the end of South Lake Shore, I espied a hawk landing on a branch not twenty feet away from me. He sat there for a while as I looked at him and drank water, he remained still even when I spoke to him. It was amazing.

When I got back to the house and recounted this, and then checked in Raptor! A kid's guide to birds of prey, I discovered that the striped tail and reddish brown torso clearly demonstrated that this was a red-shouldered hawk.

And then... when I was bathing in the outdoor shower, looking down at the lake, I saw Graham gesturing with a big smile from over in the dining room, I thought at me, but then I realized he was pointing behind me at something as everyone gathered round him, and I turned and saw a red-shouldered hawk, looking intently at me, again 20-25 feet away on a low branch. And he just sat there as the whole family came outside with cameras, binoculars, etc. And Graham walked out towards him even closer than the shower.

If I were new agily inclined I would probably believe there was some mystical hocus pocus between me and this hawk, or hawks. But I'm not. But it was very cool.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Natalie's videos

Was planning to right a post about the New Yorker article about Larry Summers (perhaps tomorrow) when I happened upon a trove of short videos Natalie had made with her digital camera. Playing in Larchmont with Graham and Sadie, videos of Grandpa, goofing in the character of "Cheesie Lady" in her room while mocking Mary, but most importantly having pillow fights with Helen and Ella, perfectly at ease, glowing, a Natalie I don't have access to on a day to day basis. It made me doubly sad to have left Princeton, to have ripped her away from her friends.

Thursday, October 08, 2009


Not much time to write tonight. Packing up my office crap to move to the new office tomorrow. Taking all the business books, plus a few essentials from my former life:

  • Pretty much all of Wittgenstein: Tractatus, Blue and Brown Books, Culture and Value, the Philosophical Investigations
  • John Donne
  • Wallace Stevens
  • Volume 1 of Pushkin's Trekhtomnik, including all the early verse
  • William Carlos Williams
  • Alfred Jarry, Ubu Roi
  • Ian Watt's Rise of the Novel
  • Washington Irving stories
  • Gogol stories
  • Denis de Rougemont, Love in the Western World
  • My dissertation
Not that I intend to read any of these, except for the occasional dip into the poetry and perhaps Jarry, it's just good to look at the spines and remember what's in there. Like a mental sorbet.

Listening to stuff I got off of Napster in 2001. Still good.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Bernanke at Princeton

In March of 2006, shortly after he was appointed Chair of the Fed, Ben Bernanke returned to his recently jolted employer in Princeton to deliver his first public address in his new role. Somehow I got a ticket, which pissed off certain of my colleagues to no end. Bernanke spoke at length about price stability and how that had evolved into the key goal of the Fed. Specifically, he described how a view held in the early sixties that high inflation and low unemployment were fellow travellers got skewered, thanks to Uncle Milty Friedman in theory and finally Paul Volcker in practice, who demonstrated that low inflation and low unemployment went together even better. And then he fairly gushed about Greenspan (as, admittedly, we all did back in the day):

Most striking, Greenspan's tenure aligns closely with the Great Moderation, the reduction in economic volatility I mentioned earlier, as well as with a strong revival in U.S. productivity growth--developments that had many sources, no doubt, but that were supported, in my view, by monetary stability.
Whoops! I would guess that Ben would like to take that one back. In the end, Bernanke praises the consensus that has been achieved, and notes that "we will continue to learn about the economy and economic policy," but the overriding sense was that the Great Moderation and the consensus that had built it meant that he could run on autopilot, an impression furthered by having a railroad executive (John Snow) at the helm of Treasury.

After the talk, questions were limited to Princeton undergrads and there were only two, softballs about the Fed's role in managing asset prices and what the heck was up with China.

I so terribly wanted to ask him why he felt sure that the consensus was robust and what sort of skeptical skunkworks they had going on within the Fed trying to imagine what could go wrong.

And we got the answer to that in due course. Not much.

That said, I'm not down on Bernanke now. The guy has danced with the devil as well as anyone could have expected, expanding the Fed's repertoire of steps as needed. Yes, he's stomped on a toe or two here or there, but he's nimble nonetheless. Ron Paul and his obstructionist cronies should stop posturing, back off and let him move forward to confirmation hearings.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

On "vacation"

Despite that, I had 3 meetings before noon, one of them admittedly entirely social, and then a four hours of another kind of meetings in the afternoon. So I'm going to pretty much punt on the blog today.

Monday, October 05, 2009

My new room

Signed a lease and got keys to the new office today. Now it just remains to figure out how to handle phone and internet service.

At home in the PM, was snoozing lightly on the couch while Graham showed me something he was building with cardboard blocks, when my phone rang. It was some fast-talking consultant interested in perhaps subleasing the other room in my office. That was quick, I thought. He was not all that convinced when I described the lack of a window as a "feature", but I think he liked the price. I'll meet him tomorrow. We shall see.

Now to bed. Throat is sore. This is supposed to be my vacation week and I have three meetings tomorrow before noon. One of them involves good coffee, at least.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Not quite lost

On a lovely fall day here in the heart of the Piedmont, the family bethought itself to have a "nature walk" in the woods, so we went to the forest around my old neighborhood, the thousands of acres which have come to be called "Carolina North." And walk we did, diverging from the main path onto the ones shown in purple on the map, where the children proceeded to run and frolic. And when we got to the place where we were to rejoin the main path, the kids declared their preference for staying in the shady forest. And they were having such fun that I couldn't correct them, though the trail did loopdy loop in such a way that it was hard to know just where we were.

Now, I won't say it was the quasi Blair Witch experience that we had had a few years back near Princeton. I knew these woods better and knew quite well that we were between the airport, Airport Road, and Seawell School road, but within that space I'll confess to being a little confused. And then finally we emerged onto the main path and trouped back to the car, having, in the end, probably walked three miles, a non-trivial quantity for a six-year old softy like Graham.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Richard Thompson -- Adieu, adieu

I feel like I may have posted this before, but no big loss if so, a beautiful song.

Friday, October 02, 2009

In town

After about 7 weeks back in Chapel Hill, today was the first time I took the opportunity to walk around town and really check it out. As everyone says, the 100 block of Franklin Street has indeed really gone to the dogs. Stupid chains and bars everywhere. Nothing for the townsfolk to speak of, except maybe the Sugarland bakery. Highlights of our stroll:

  • Two police substations within half a mile of each other: one in the BofA building, one by Granville Towers
  • Fine lunch at the Mediterranean Deli
  • Nothing much else to speak of
The town has to some extent been genericized and denuded of character. Or maybe we've just gotten old. Lots of good places to eat, that's for sure. And, for those who still do it, drink. Fewer places to park than before, when there were already few. Hence the free bus service. Can't argue with that.

In other news, have come to terms with landlord (OK, he's my stepdad) to sign a lease on some office space for my new job. Soon I will have, as they say, A Room of My Own. What's more, it will be A Room With a View.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

On campus

Returned to the UNC campus after years away today. Was generally overwhelmed by the throngs, the veritable hordes of students, a significant plurality of whom were wearing Carolina blue at a random moment, as they shuffled along in the overcrowded walkways and sprawled on the grass.

In Davis library, I snapped up a library card for $25 and then made my way up into the stacks to look for books on the history of life insurance, a field in which I need to soon exude expertise. Was somewhat nonplussed by the physical aspect of the place. The elevators were tagged with gang logos and anonymous homosexual comeons, the kind of shit you're supposed to see in a rest stop bathroom.

I went upstairs to the 9th floor lounge to take in the view, thinking that it might perhaps have changed in the nearly two decades I had been away, with the massive influx of population and all the necessary development. I needn't have worried, it looked just the same. Green rolling hills into the distance.