Friday, December 31, 2010

By the way

I looked back in the archive of posts and realized that the ones I'm really interested in are the ones about the family and kids, so that's gonna be a continuing direction for this blog:  less abstract, less writerly, more kid, family, and experience-focused.  Since Mary doesn't read it, maybe I'll even write about her.

To the Intrepid!

To close out the year, Graham and I ventured into Manhattan to visit the USS Intrepid as well as the Growler, the submarine moored next to it.  On the way in, and on the way back out in fact, Graham was excited to play "I spy with my little eye," so we played it, though the game is, truth be told, better suited to the car than to the train.

Once at Grand Central we lunched (with lemonade, to be sure), and checked out the main hall, then cabbed it over to the water.  On board the carrier, first we checked out the movie (remembering how utterly enthralled Graham had been by the film at Guilford Courthouse back in July).  It was good, solid propaganda. A couple of notes, though. They had this guy who had been a POW in Vietnam talk about how the war was fought to stop the communists from taking over the world and how it had been a righteous war.There weren't any black, hispanic, or asian folx in the movie, except for an Imperial Japanese pilot who was honored alongside the Americans.  And then there were Russian planes up on deck alongside French, British, Italian, Israeli, and American ones. What is the point here?  Is it that our wars are just and honorable, or that military people, to the extent that they have some code, are intrinsically honorable.  And therefore their toys are too.  Dunno.

Afterwards,  we stopped at H&H Bagels on 46th and grabbed a few.  That is a rarity for us NC dwellers.

Then Graham and I walked the whole way back across mid-town to Grand Central. I thought it would be nice to stretch our legs and get in a little father and son city time. I had forgotten that the Times Square region was generally gonna be shut down in preparation for the big New Years Eve thang. So we had to go as far north at 48th to cross over. Graham, who had never seen a big moving billboard, was transfixed by a massive one featuring undulating M&Ms at 48th and Broadway.  "What's that for, dad?  So everybody will want to eat M&Ms?"  I guess he has little concept of advertising, since he doesn't watch TV much.

In any case, we made it back.  It was tiring but fun.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

End of the work year

And wouldn't you know it, back pain.

Good timing, I suppose.  Meanwhile Graham and Mary Lee have made great progress on a puzzle showing the heads of all of the presidents from GW to BHO.  Looks good.  Must go check it out.

Huge mounds of snow persist here in Larchmont.


ps.  Just submitted this post for publication and Google (which owns blogger) served up some ads for back pain, herniated disks, the like, on the "blog has been published" page. I don't know if it's been doing this for a while and I haven't been paying attention.  I suppose it's no big surprise.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Back from NJ

On Sunday we rushed from Larchmont to Princeton, just beating a monstrous blizzard into town. Dumped bags at Ted and Kirsten's, then family at David and Carol's.  Parked car in library parking deck. Picked up khatti rolls at Kaliente Grill.

And then the storm rolled in, wind and snow in epic proportions, but we hunkered in and hung with our friends, tortilla soup and watched taped rerun of Barca crushing Arsenal 4-0, all goals by Messi, "the little magician," as the Brit play-by-play guys would have it.

At ten it was time to head the quarter-odd mile back to T&K's.  Too icy to drive.  Natalie sleeping over with Helen, so we piled Graham into a snow suit and put him on a plastic sled with a rope for dad to pull.  Deep snow, strong winds. David accompanying Mary and us boys on his x-country skis. A nasty night altogether, maybe 50 yards visibility, but Graham was into being pulled and said "wheeeeeee" for much of the way home.  Must have been like sleigh ride for him, back in the day.  It felt, in fact, like Russia might have.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Apple is rotten to the core

Apple just forced me to install iTunes to purchase a gift certificate for someone else. I like Apple less and less and time goes on. It is morphing into Microsoft, in terms of forcing vendor lockin.

This biases me even more strongly to go Android for my next phone and a tablet.

postscript:  after I went through the whole ordeal of downloading and installing iTunes, I am informed that my computer has only Quicktime 7.6.6 installed, where iTunes requires 7.6.7.  I should therefore uninstall iTunes, upgrade Quicktime, and then reinstall iTunes.  Steve Jobs can eat my ass.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Manhattan

Went to the city today for meetings. It was chilly, but bustling. After meetings, went to some thrift stores for fashion bargains but found nada.

Then went up to Columbia and had coffee with Joe Wolin.  On the way out I walked across 125th St to the MTA station there.  This is one walk I hadn't walked since 97 or so, and I must say that, recession or no recession, 125th St looked better. Better and more diversified retail.

As I was crossing Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, a guy turned and looked at the rather large ass of a woman in rather tight jeans and exclaimed "damn", in a way that seemed to imply that he should be given a medal for noticing.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

RDU-LGA

For the second year in a row, the ride to Larchmont from LaGuardia was much bumpier than the flight up.

Here, it is cold.  Tomorrow, Manhattan.

Natalie done me proud today.  When it was time for her dessert, I was trying to slyly indicate to Mary that there was pie she might have, while attention was focused on a bag of cookies.  Mary didn't know what I was talking about, but Natalie said:  "3.14?".  That's m'girl.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Throwing the ball

I don't know why I forget for such long periods of time to throw a ball with Graham.  It's not something that comes all that naturally to him, but he loves it!  I throw the ball softly to him, and he catches it.  Then he bounces up and down, maybe grabs his crotch for a minute, and then gives me a devious half-underhand half-sidehand zinger, topped off with a mischievous grin.  We could stand here in the study, eight feet from one another, and throw the tennis ball all day, if we didn't need to stop for the occasional snack.

As with anyone, a lack of facility with balls is nothing a few thousand reps can't cure.  We just gotta do it.  And it is the single most confidence-building, calming, and downright meditative thing to do in the whole world. Just throw the ball, back and forth.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

More things the kids say

Natalie is, for better or worse, beyond the age where she does many goofy things with language.

Graham is still there. Mary has only recently impressed upon him that "embarass" and "surprise" are not the same thing.  He had been saying things like "Isn't it embarassing that there were so many Hessians fighting with the British?"

More recently, he has been using the word "example" in many creative verb and gerund forms.  I.e. "I exampled him that gravity makes people stay on the ground."

On occasion, he still calls me mom.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Wikileaks

Did not have a lot of time to pay attention to the Wikileaks thing this week. Talked with friends last night and read more today.  Now support the guy more.  Certainly the Espionage Act is insane overkill.

However, the Swedish sex thing, lest we should forget, is a long-running story.  Here's a link to a story about it from back in August.

Yes they are working the charges a little bit harder now, moving to extradite.  He should face sex charges in Sweden and have a fair hearing. If he's found guilty, lock him up as statutes dictate, and give him a laptop. If he's not, he should stay in Sweden, which should refuse to extradite him to the US.

Slow days

I keep not writing, and in this I'm falling down in my commitment to this blog, which was originally to write, and to write something, anything, every day. Now that I am writing more for a living, I am arguably living up to the side of doing something by way of word production, for the sake of word nimbleness, every day.  I have, for instance, published 55 more "serious" blog entries over at Seeking Alpha (ps. if you have a sec, go there, register with the site, and become a "follower" of mine.  I need more)  where I alternate between being a shill and an asshole.  I have also published probably 200 pages of proprietary research about various facets of the life insurance industry, about which I'm learning more and more, and which can be interesting for a certain number of hours per week.

And so I blog a little less here, have a little less time for the deep thoughts.

Yesterday I caved in and went to Gretchen Rubin's "Happiness Project" web site and perused for a few minutes, then put her book on my Amazon wish list. Gretchen and I were in college together, and I'll confess to being jealous of her, and have often thought that having the free time that comes with marrying the son of a former Treasury Secretary certainly helps with happiness. But on her site she did show some generosity, some wisdom, some insight, and I generally find that getting over these petty jealousy things is better than harboring them.  So I'll read the book.  Or, as I do with many books, I'll give it 60-70 pages to speak for itself. Though (any family members reading, note that there are items prioritized higher on my Amazon list!).

Right now Mary and I are in the middle of watching Summer Palace, a 2006 Chinese movie about young lovers in college.  Lots of sex, really realistic (not pornish, but reminds me of having sex in college when hormones and emotion blend).  In general, so far it is the best film depiction of college romance I have ever seen. The bliss, the petty infighting and cheating on your lover to get back at them, the incredible attachment to one's lover and the catastrophe of break up, it reminds me of me.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire

Just read the second of Stieg Larsson's three mystery novels.  Enjoyed it.  Page-turner.  Would have snapped up the third one but it is only in hardcover in English and I'm too cheap for that and haven't yet gotten myself a Kindle or iPad.

There is less anal rape than there was in the first one, which is refreshing.  Still, Larsson cannot help at times but think himself Tolstoi.  He thinks he needs to delve into the interpersonal relations of every group of people in the novel, when he doesn't. I don't care, and I don't think most readers do.  I shouldn't complain that there were 250 pages more than were needed for a book with this level of ambition, and which is mostly for killing time anyway, but here I am, complaining.

Anyway, the dude is dead and we're not getting more of these so we should just enjoy what we've got, I reckon.

California Dreaming

This film, by Cristian Nemescu, is well worth watching.  Based on a real incident.  A NATO train headed through Romania gets stopped in a small town by a corrupt stationmaster, who demands customs paperwork, which the soldiers on board don't have because they've had minister-level phone calls giving the train safe passage all the way down the line.  So the train gets stopped for a few days. Hilarious hijinks ensue.

The local high school girls think the GIs on board are cute ("like Ricky Martin!"). There's a great sex scene. The mayor of the village wants to establish sister city status with the commanding officer's home town. Fax emerge about personal histories from WWII.  There is an Elvis impersonator and local schnapps.  Armand Assante has a rare chance to actually act.

And then there's the end. As Zhizhek would say, an "incursion of the Real," followed by an idyll.  Watch it.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Volecats

Mary has been traumatized by the voles that have nibbled on the roots of all of her plants and made them not grow. So we decided to let our cats outside to attack the little buggers.

The other day she had a tree guy by the house to consult with her on what trees need to come down for our upcoming renovation. They got to talking of plants, and then voles, and then cats, in short order.  He told her that his cats were named Volecat 1 and Volecat 2.


In other news, Graham is now missing both of his two front teeth. It's pretty cute, I must say.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Beantown

Went to Boston this week on business.  Often when I travel I see things that are worth blogging about.  Not this time.  It was grey and rainy, and reminded me why moving to the southeast has not been a bad thing.  I got a cold.

I did have some fine seafood noodles at a Vietnamese place called Pho Pasteur in "Chinatown", and had dinner with my boy Steve at this place L'Petit Robert that everybody agrees is supposed to be hype.  I can confirm the hype part of it, though the hype doesn't seem justified.

Then I stayed in the Hyatt "Harborside", which is a euphemism for the airport Hyatt, since the airport is itself Harborside.  There I watched "Russia Today," or "RT", a Russian government funded news channel which is strangely like a trashier MSNBC, and is pretty much thinly-veiled Russian state propaganda spiced up with coinspiracy theory for "birthers" and 9/11 "truthers", but with an American professor-like anchor in the Rachel Maddow slot and a young hip girl "Alyona" up against Keith Olbermann.  I am half-shocked that Glenn Beck and his band have not found time to attack it, but probably half because it's not worth their time, and half because the two stations do share some conspiratorial foci.

Wikipedia reports that RT has won some awards, including the "Eurasian Academy of Television and Radio Prize for Professional Skillfulness."  Way to go!  If they keep at it, they may at some point in time rise up to the level of the Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Santa

Natalie is wise beyond her years.  She has not sat on a Santa's lap since she was 3 or 4. When questioned, she says that she likes Santa just fine, she just doesn't like people pretending to be Santa.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Outdoor cats

Last night at around 10:30 while I was watching the Fox Soccer Report our cat Leon, who has turned into quite a nocturnal prowler, dashed across our patio.  Our other cat, Rascal, who was inside, seemed a little excited.  For some reason I thought Leon was being chased.

Now Leon, for some reason, is quite shy and I am only able to pet him when he has been sleep-snuggling with Rascal or in the sun and is in a state which I characterize as "kitty narcosis."  Otherwise, he generally stays away from me.  He was a shy cat even when we were picking him out as a kitten, but Graham insisted that we get him, so I overrode Mary's sensible character-based objections, and we took him home. Despite his shyness, he is very very soft, and sweet.

So I was alarmed when he dashed by in a seeming huff.  Mary and Natalie have much better luck with him, so I had Mary go outside and call him, which she had previously always done successfully.  To no avail.  Even when we tried the generally infallible technique of shaking his food bowl for him, he did not come.  I searched the backyard for him with a flashlight.  No kittie.  I was having visions of one of the neighborhood foxes having noshed him.  At last, Mary went out and searched under our deck, where he likes to hang out, and claimed to have seen his eyes, but he wouldn't come in when she called him when we turned out our lights for the night.

Even accepting the idea that pets are, in the end, a way to teach your children about the inevitability of death and that time heals wounds, it was disconcerting.  I wonder how I will do when Natalie is 16 or so and stays out till 3 am and turns off the ringer on her cell phone.

Leon came meowing by our door at about 4 am.  Mary, of course, had to let him in, lest he decide to run away.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Hmmmm

Last week I know I had stuff to write about, but then I forgot.  Now I am sitting by the fire, looking out at the lake, recovering from the last session of eating while preparing for the bout of exercise which will make the next one both possible and maritally permissible.

Have begun reading the second Stieg Larssen novel, entitled The Girl who (something something).  I get the titles confused.  After 200-odd pages the thing is just starting to get in gear.  Normally I wouldn't have so much tolerance for a slow plot, in the absence of Dostoevskiesque depth, even with the liberal besprinkling of lesbian sex (which is pretty clinical), but I guess I really do like this Lisbeth Salander character.  It is odd to feel strongly for a character so Asperbergery, but she is pretty endearing.  She's loyal, she's moral, she's deucedly clever, and she kicks more ass than a person of her poundage probably should be able to.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Competition

At the meet the other day, in Natalie's race, a girl collapsed in the chute after the finish line. A 10-year old. She lay there for a long time, crying, so exhausted she couldn't get up. The referees kept saying to her, "get up, go to the end of the chute and give the judge your number." They were fricking apparatchik Nazis. The girl's mom wanted to go in to her daughter but they kept waving her off till she finally just went in there to her daughter and helped her up. There were several other girls who were crying after the finish line, and one who was puking in the last 100 yards. 10 and 11 year olds, mind you.

Cross-country is indeed a cruel sport. It's just you and the distance and your competitors and your pain tolerance. But for girls or boys this young to push themselves this hard, that's just silly. Compare Natalie, here in this photo courtesy of our own Jonathan Drake at the race a couple of weeks back. She did not win the race.  But she did not cry or puke either.  She did not look this happy at the end of the race, but she did maybe 15 minutes later. That's more like it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Country Driving

So Natalie and I were gone 26.5 hours, of which I drove 12, and she ran for less than 20 minutes. But it was fun, in it's own perverse way.

Living in the country looks very hard these days. The economics just aren't there. Even Natalie noticed the preponderance of Dollar Generals. In general and in theory, offshoring and free trade make sense, but there are social externalities that just aren't priced in.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Winchester, VA, Hampton Inn

Just drove 5 hours, mostly in darkness. The best part was listening to Natalie sing "I am the walrus" with her headphones on. When we got to our hotel at 10, Natalie remarked quite ingenuously on the brick walkway: "Nice pattern." You gotta love it.

Florida Republicans

Somehow I got on their mailing list, and they keep sending me stuff, though I'm so obviously not one of them. I keep meaning to read some of it to mine it for laughs, but never have time.

Am shortly off to drive Natalie to an X-country meet in northern Maryland. What a haul! But she's into it, so go we will.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Children's books

I was impressed listening to Salman Rushdie's talk about his new book on the Diane Rehm show today, particularly since Diane was on vacation. I mean, I respect her and all, but I hate her voice.

And then it was great to see that Graham had come home from the library with books that weren't all about war, though admittedly one was about the conquest of the Americas, wherein Spanish conquistadors take Aztec and Inca emperors hostage in their own capital cities. You know that takes cajones. I try to let Graham know that this is really not the preferred way of doing business.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The results are in

The first annual Phillips Junior High School track all-stars challenge went off today at a reduced distance of 400 meters. Here's how it went down:  Jonathan Drake took the lead at the outset and stayed there, winning in 69 seconds, besting Clark Troy's 70 seconds.  Then the runners wheezed and expectorated, and then ran some more gentle 300 and 200 meter intervals to conceal the fact that 44-year olds had been racing on the track. And jogged.  And stretched.

Pizza was then consumed at Sal's

Money will be paid to a charity of Drake's choosing.

Palin's Alaska, Putin's Russia

I haven't seen Sarah Palin's new reality show in which she frolics and cavorts about her might home state, but I have read about it. Hunting, fishing, climbing, bears, family, and a Ford F150.  Sounds like America! The frontier!  Manifest destiny!

Sounds a lot like what Vladimir Putin has been up to while Medvedev keeps the Russian seat of power warm for him:  bear hunting, chopping wood shirtless, driving across Siberia in a new Lada, etc.



Although it lacked an explicit ideology of Manifest Destiny, Russia's self-image has always been defined by the seemingly limitless expanse of land that was their for the taking, and the associated natural resources. Neither Russia and Putin nor America and Palin do not let themselves get pushed around by a few metrosexuals with Priuses and yoga mats.

Palin is a woman of the people. They like her. Compare Bristol Palin on "Dancing with the Stars" making fun of mom vs. Hilary Clinton marrying a jewish kid in a yarmulke who works for Goldman Sachs at a multi-million dollar wedding in New York. Which plays better in Peoria? Palin can't control her daughter, right?  Kids rebel.  Who can't relate to that?

We underestimate Palin at our own peril.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Getting ready for dinner

As Mary was getting ready for dinner tonight and putting on some foundation, Graham looked at her and said:  "What are you trying to do, make it look like you're made of mushrooms?"

Then we went to the Gourmet Kingdom in Carrboro and had a fabulous meal.  Eat there.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The best cartoon ever

Saturday, November 06, 2010

I/O Ratio

I read somewhere that Todd Combs, whom Warren Buffett has apparently chosen to succeed him as head of investments at Berkshire Hathaway, reads 500 pages a week, and I thought: "that's something to aspire to."  I have no idea how much I read each week.

But, as this blog demonstrates, just reading doesn't quite do it. There is a compulsion, on the other side, to expel some of the accumulated and combined thoughts. As I'm more or less writing for a living now, this acuity of this need is at times "fulfilled" by my work, or, rather, it is displaced by the grunt work of putting together "professional" and targeted thoughts.

But my question to myself is, how much of the burning need to write is straight up ego?  Certainly there's an aspect of getting the thoughts validated by readers, which can be measured by my (monumental, to be sure) site traffic, as well as by the quality and sheer girth of the enlargement themed poetry that it inspires. Though surely haiku would do because (as I've been told many times [for reasons I don't quite understand]) size doesn't matter.

The truly egoless, or zen way, would probably be to accumulate knowledge and perhaps wisdom for its own sake, and not share it.  Or would that be the proverbial sound of one hand clapping or, as the case may be, doing something else?

Friday, November 05, 2010

More on American History

So we've jumped from Pearl Harbor back to the American Heritage series on presidents, where Graham has me reading the one about William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, and James K. Polk. Polk has virtues, but by and large it ain't that scintillating.  Graham just liked it because that's when we fought with Mexico.

But I feel this big yawning gap in there. We skipped right from George Washington to here. Jefferson is a big enough thing to have skipped over, as well as the Monroe Doctrine, but really what we've missed is Andrew Jackson. That guy was the paradigm shift, the moment that American History got some hair on its chest and stopped being some logical extension of the Enlightenment. For better and for (considerably) worse, Old Hickory was the Elvis of the 19th century.  He even changed men's hair.

 .... went back and looked quickly at the Wikipedia article on Jackson. Given the themes he brings up

  • winning the popular vote in 1824, but having Henry Clay do a backdoor deal to get John Quincy Adams in the White House sets up the "people" vs the "elite" theme
  • railing against the Bank of the US as empowering the rich, the elite, the foreign..
it's interesting the Tea Party crowd chooses to go with the rather staid founding fathers as role models when they've got a true kinsman in Old Hickory.  But look at what he did when he destroyed the bank:
The bank's money-lending functions were taken over by the legions of local and state banks that sprang up. This fed an expansion of credit and speculation. At first, as Jackson withdrew money from the Bank to invest it in other banks, land sales, canal construction, cotton production, and manufacturing boomed.[33] However, due to the practice of banks issuing paper banknotes that were not backed by gold or silver reserves, there was soon rapid inflation and mounting state debts.[34] Then, in 1836, Jackson issued the Specie Circular, which required buyers of government lands to pay in "specie" (gold or silver coins). The result was a great demand for specie, which many banks did not have enough of to exchange for their notes. These banks collapsed.[33] This was a direct cause of the Panic of 1837, which threw the national economy into a deep depression. It took years for the economy to recover from the damage.
Basically, the lesson is that you can't trust a redneck with monetary policy.

As an aside, we may note the Jackson was said to have been born just across the NC-SC border on the South Carolina side. Ben Bernanke, of course, spent most of his childhood in Dillon, SC, and worked at South of the Border as a teenager.  Spooky.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Ft Lauderdale, the W Hotel

Hotwire was kind enough to put me into this here W Hotel for $109 a night. The whole idea of the W, it seems, is to flatter the ego and make you feel like you are hip. It actually works, sort of. The funky music they play in the elevator makes me dance some steps which seem hip to me, when I am alone in there, though I wonder if there is a camera and if some security guard is up there going: "there's some middle aged guy in here in office casual and/or running shoes who thinks he's hip".

They think of everything here! There's a little package with a condom, lubricant, and mints, and even a CD with the soundtrack of the sounds of the W hotel worldwide that I could take with me to make me feel hip even when I'm not here. I'm sure it would sound snazzy in the stereo of the late model Camry I've got parked here (for only $31.80 per night).

Miami is like a tropical New York. Big, dense, seemingly a place of fearsome traffic. In the shadow of the W, and the Ritz Carlton are these little motels set a block or two back from the ocean, some of them seemingly converted into apartment complexes like where Joe D'Alesandro et al. lived in Warhol's Heat. Just behind ours is one that is that Mediterranean pink, that looks like it is utterly derelict.  Probably the owner wants to basically blackmail the owners of the W into buying it.  It will probably work.

Two blocks south of here there are lots of places where you can get liter-sized flourescent tropical drinks, and many people in tank tops enjoy them.  The manikins in the beachwear stores have most improbably large breasts, in fact ones that look like fake breasts.  Think about that. You could make a manikin with large breasts which have a natural curve, but no, better to make plastic breasts modeled on silicon ones. I guess it's greater verisimilitude.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Pearl Harbor

Graham has transitioned from the Revolutionary War to World War II, having decided to skip the Civil War and World War I. Which is OK, but there's a lot of explaining to do with WWII as well.

So we've been reading a book about Pearl Harbor. And it's pretty serious, and it's hard not to be drawn in by the actual heroism of the military people and their families. WWII was a just war, and a nasty one. There are gory parts of this book that I have to skip past with Graham, which is not so easy now that he can actually read.

And it's hard reading about Pearl Harbor not to think back to 9/11. Sitting at my desk at 9:04, looking north across 5th Avenue at all those people coming out on the balcony of Saks 5th, looking south and gesticulating, wondering what was going on. Then the phone call from Scott, saying a plane had flown into the WTC, and thinking that it was some wack job like the German guy who landed a Cessna on the White House lawn. Then David coming in the door, having put his wife on the PATH train for her office in the towers, but now unable to reach her. Then going down on the street and looking downtown at around 10, watching them burn and knowing that I had to get off the street or I'd start smoking again.

And then, some 5 weeks later, Bush, spurred on by Wolfowitz and Cheney, goes and fucks it all up with the Axis of Evil speech. We had the moral upper hand and righteous indignation, but we just had to go and throw it away for the sake of oil and ideology. A Texas-sized and Texas-themed mistake that may prove to be for us what Afghanistan was for the Soviets.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Scenes from a wedding

Brother Rob was kind enough to put up some pix of my kids from Alison and Justin's wedding, so here they are.  Natalie was pretty much a show stealer, most agreed.


Sadie and Graham were also very cute.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Obsession

When I get a new CD (yes I still buy them), I typically fixate on a song and completely obsess about it, playing it over and over again until it basically suffuses me and wraps me up in its perfection.  Right now, this is the song.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bettie Serveert at Local 506

Went to the show last night. It was good to see them live after all these years, in a room filled quite reasonably with other 40-somethings trying to get their groove back on.

But my god were they loud.  Were all the bands like that back in the dis-ay?  Between being up late and how loud it was, I felt almost like I had been drinking this morning. And how does Carolyn van Dijk or whatever her name is keep her voice when singing over volume like that after all these years?  In fact, it was difficult to determine if she actually had kept her voice, or at least the nuances of it, as they were not on display.

Just as importantly, why were they so loud?  It seems like a young man's game, a phallic need to project narcissistically into space, and certainly the lead guitarist fit the phallic bill, and van Dijk, sadly, played the Narcissus role.  You might have thought they had gotten over it.  We were all there on a weeknight, admittedly, to pretend that we were young. But it certainly was not lost on me that I was pretending.

Monday, October 25, 2010

In the mountains

Asheville. Wedding at the Biltmore.  It's hard to imagine anything much more incongruous than this house being built in backwater Appalachia late in the 19th century as lavish as the Biltmore House, though mom's husband David assures me that tourism and leisure have been core to the regional economy since around then anyway so maybe it's not that wierd.  The Biltmore now has 1800 employees managing 8000 acres.

At the wedding itself I got seated next to a nurse from Charlotte in sparkling Jimmy Chu shoes who asked me what I did for a living. When I told her what I did, she said something like "it would be better with a different president."  Whatever my misgivings about Obama's success in his first two years, there's no doubt he's the best option we had and, indeed, have had for some time.  So I arranged a new orifice for her.  I said it didn't matter who was president, taxes need to rise because of where we've got ourselves, and that the Bush tax cuts were the worst fiscal decision of our lifetime.

On the way back from the mountains we drove through the Craggy Gardens area of the Blue Ridge Parkway, where we probably drove as high as 5600-5700 feet, and where you're so high up that the plants are like those in Quebec.  It was awe-inspiring (though the kids were bored). I think Mary was finally convinced that North Carolina is indeed really cool.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My trip to Orlando

All work, little fun.  For excitement, I rented a car.  The first night I drove to a hotel near the airport, the Sheraton Suites, which I scored for $59 off of Hotwire.

I went running around a barren area of corporate America, filled with every shade of middle tier hotel you can imagine. There was a Holiday Inn with a Hooters in it. Just the thing for the kids.  I ran past an Oracle building, where I came to the end of the road, and a big field next to the interstate leading back towards a runway or something.  I ran across the field, and the air got cool and fresh, and I could sense some of the original charm of Florida, though there was a menacing looking trailer off in the corner of the field which looked a little too Texas Chainsaw like for the kid.

I also saw some "development coming soon" and "this office building for rent signs".  The most unexpected thing, though, was that a Starbucks along Rte. 482 was closed when I went past it this morning at 7:30 or so.  Starbuckses are supposed to be open at that hour.

For the conference I stayed at the Loews Portofino on the Universal World (or whatever it's called) property.  The whole place was a little cheesey, but they could have messed it up a whole lot worse, and would surely have, if it had been built in Vegas.  In fact, when the sun was going down and after, it didn't look all that fake.  And, in fact, it was possible to get confused about where you were from within the many piazze within the hotel, just like in the old country.

What I don't understand for the life of me is how hotels never have the Fox Soccer Channel or, quite often, Comedy Central.  What else are you supposed to watch?

There was a CNN news store at the airport.  I wonder where the Fox News viewers were supposed to purchase their news?  Oh yeah, they don't read.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Optimism

At the bottom of the escalator, where passengers take leave of escorts, an Asian couple in their late 20s were kissing and giggling uncontrollably before the female of the pair flew off to wherever she had to go for the week. As she passed by, an austere white woman of 60 or so scowled at them, presumably because they were in the way.  Whatever. I was just trying to think back to when I had been uncynical enough to titter like that, especially in public.

On the flight to Orlando, a 4-5 year old boy sat by the window and screeched from excitement as the plane lifted off the tarmac.  A couple of rows back, his twin brother did the same.  First flight. Awesome.

Earlier, on the blacktop outside Estes Hills's gym, Graham rode his bike in circles large and small for 11 minutes without touching his feet to the ground on only his second day of riding, as his dad kicked himself for forgetting to bring the camera to shoot a little movie.  Not that we have that much space on our memory card.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Yet another soul

As I may well have said before, no riches quite beat new music, and the great benefit of being middle aged is that it doesn't matter at all when you come across it. It can be years late, and no one will mock you for being so out of  date, or, if they do, it's really their problem.  So coming across the Shins in a stack of CDs recently was quite a revelation.  The album version of this song is beautiful, but somehow this acoustic version seems more direct, less mediated by technology and indeed, technique.  And check out the lyrics below. The guy can write.



Foals in winter coats,
White girls of the North,
File past one, five and one
They are the fabled lambs,
Of Sunday ham,
The EHS norm.

And they could float above the grass,
In circles if they tried,
A latent power I know they hide,
To keep some hope alive,
That a girl like I could ever try,
Could ever try.

So we just skirt the hallway sides,
A phantom and a fly,
Follow the lines and wonder why
There's no connection.

And week of rolling eyes,
And cheap shots from the trite,

And we're off to Nemarca’s porch again,
Another afternoon with the goat head tunes,
And pilfered booze.

We wandered through her mama's house,
And milk from the window lights
Family portrait circa ninety-five,
This is that foreign land,
With the sprayed on tans,
And it all feels fine,
Be it silk or slime,

So, when they tap our Monday heads,
To zombie-walk in our stead,
This town seems hardly worth our time,
And we'll no longer memorize or rhyme,
Too far along in our climb,
Stepping over what now towers to the sky,
With no connection.

Oooh waooooooo waooooooo
Oooh waooooooo waooooooo
Oooh waooooooo waooooooo
Oooh waooooooo waooooooo

So, when they tap our Sunday heads,
To zombie-walk in our stead,
This town seems hardly worth our time,
And we'll no longer memorize or rhyme,
Too far along in our crime,
Stepping over what now towers to the sky,
With no connection.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The ADP Call Center in Bangalore

.. or wherever.

Had a problem with my FSA account managed by ADP and called customer service.  They guy who picked up seemed to have an Indian accent and was, almost certainly, in India.  People always complain about call center experiences, offshoring, etc.  This guy was frickin awesome.  Very pleasant, gave me good advice, sent me on my way with good wishes for my day.  What's not to like?

Only in Montreal

Going thru my wallet I found the business card of one Gretzky Chery, the super-friendly young African-Canadian guy who helped us get a rental car from Enterprise when Natalie and I went through a few weeks back. I would wager that it's only in Montreal that a guy of apparently West African descent (maybe Cote d'Ivoirian or Senegalese?) is gonna have his first name be taken from a Polish-Ukrainian-Belarusian (most likely from the shtetl, honestly) hockey player. Gotta love it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

On the field

Yesterday Nick Nack and I took Natalie -- along with her team -- to a cross-country competition an hour or so away.  I thought it would be good for her to be in an actual athletic competition, something she has avoided for her 10 odd years on the planet.  And it was good for her, as we shall see.

But first we had to deal with me.  When we got there, there was blaring music, there was blazing sun, there were tents for shade and really skinny cross-country looking kids jogging around getting ready, checking out the course.  And the kids were nervous, and I was like "oh man, my daughter's getting involved in a real competition here."  And she is not morphologically optimized for x-country, no lithe gazelle she.  Nor has she trained a ton (which I think is appropriate for a 10-year old).  But the prospect of her competing in the blazing sun got me stirred up, and I just wanted to keep her in the shade, hydrated.

So her coaches got her out on the course, running around, checking it out, and when I saw her and Isabel way out in front of the other kids I was like "slow down, girls!"  And then the race before hers all the kids, including Natalie, were running around cheering for their teammates, and I was afraid she was going to tire herself out.  And they took forever to get her race started, and I can't nudging her and Isabel over into the shade. And then at the starting line Nick Nack was leading the kids in "strides", sprinting out 50 yards before the race, and I ran over saying "what the hell is he doing?"

At this point in time, another of the coaches, one who had run on the Olympic 10k team in her prime (not all that far past) turned to me and said "Are you always critical of everything?  He's doing strides.  Why don't you just chill out, man?" And there were a few more sentences which I have forgotten or repressed, and I realized that I must have looked entirely like "one of those parents."  So I slunk away.

And then during the race I ran around the course and cheered.  Only I didn't really feel comfortable just cheering for Natalie or our kids, but I was totally feeling it for the really plump kids who were bringing up the rear, and I stuck around and hooted and hollered for them, and I realized that it was all about how shitty I felt on most athletic fields of endeavor back then, not because I was fat, but because I was scrawny and uncoordinated and was never top tier at anything, till I was 13 or so and started to break out on the track and the field as well.

And Natalie had a great attitude all day.  She ran almost a personal best in that nasty heat, though she wasn't toward the front of the pack, and she cheered for her team and when I encouraged her she stayed with me and cheered for fat kids we will probably never see again.  And in the evening, when she was talking to grandma and Rob on the phone with Mary, she kept saying "we've got to tell them about my race."  And then when the subject of it came around she said "Oh, it was just a race."

Thursday, October 07, 2010

What to say

Sat at my desk today.  Worked.

Went to lunch with the guy I sublet my office to.  He told me some things that may be useful in the business world and could make me a more effective professional, but are not interesting, and are reflective of a wierd functionalist reductiveness that is part and parcel of dealing in the for-profit world.  Am I really excited by this?  No.

On the other hand, we sat with Graham's therapist this morning and had a great conversation. The guy is very interested in learning about our little boy and also our family dynamics which impact his development.  At the end of it Mary was a little upset with me because she had not had time to hit on all the points she would have liked to because we ended up talking about my relationship to my dad, Graham's granddad, for a while.

As you can tell, these were two very different conversations.

Here's a picture of Graham from his trip to Williamsburg with grannie.  There are others he would probably prefer be shown, including many ones with him astride this or that cannon, but this one I like particularly.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

2 days in Paris

Directed by Julie Delphy (her directorial debut), this one had gathered dust by our DVD player for some months.  But then, uncharacteristically for us, we watched the whole thing start to finish in one setting. 

Delphy and boyfriend Adam Goldberg (he of The Hebrew Hammer fame, he was a bad-ass stoner at Columbia when I was there in grad school) are "lovers" from New York who come by her place in Paris on their way back from a "vacation" in Venice. Hilarious hijinks ensue. It seems so improbable that Woody Allen didn't have a hand in this movie, though Goldberg channels him as a character and Delphy's concept and execution owes a lot to the old pervert genius.  Only it's funnier than Allen's stuff has been for the last decade.

Rent it.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Obama's Failure

I was at a party yesterday talking to a couple of older Chapel Hill women wearing batik and other old school fabrics, and talk turned to politics.  To rile them up, I said outright that "Obama has failed."  It worked, and they pointed out that Obama had pushed through major legislation, including health care, stimulus, and financial reform, despite the fact that the Republicans were being the party of no really effectively.

This is all true, and these would be momentous accomplishments indeed for any legislator.  But Obama is not one anymore, he is an executive.  His job is not to get laws passed, but to manage the country to a better place, to execute and get things done.  The government cannot itself create enough jobs. He needs to bring his stakeholders along to where he wants them to go, and he has not done that.  He has been outfoxed by Karl Rove, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and a bunch of other jackass freaks.  The business world has put on a very effective capital strike, holding lots of cash on their balance sheets and not hiring people because they are so scared. 

Obama hasn't convinced enough Americans that he's doing the right thing.  We may hope that the health care reform will end up being transformative enough to justify the tremendous sacrifice that has been made for it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The word of God

I was showing Natalie a painting of St Jerome in the cathedral in Montreal the other day and explaining to her how the Catholics needed to invent a myth of him being visited by the spirit, the Virgin Mary, etc., while translating the Bible into Latin, in order to say that the Latin Bible was literrally the word of God.  Then it occurred to me that fundamentalist Christians have the same issue.  So how do they handle the translation issue, one wonders?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tanger Outlet Mall in Mebane

I met a guy recently who's working on the work site for the Tanger Outlet Mall in Mebane.  It's a big deal this, an $8.5 million land sale for Mebane for a 317,000 square foot outlet mall.  Hold me back.

But even if it is for useless retail selling Americans crap they don't need, it will mean jobs, albeit shitty ones.  But not construction jobs. Apparently there are anglophone site managers on the job, but some 300 largely paperless hispanic guys doing the work.  Now, I am not anti-immigrant by a long stretch. I think what's going on in Arizona is a blight on our national conscience.  However, if you've got work on commercial construction that's supposed to be done by licensed contractors being done by illegal immigrants, that's questionable. There should be some law enforcement agency tasked with managing this and staffed adequately to do its job properly.  Incidentally, I don't think we should deport the working guys. That's just a waste of time. The general contractors, developers, etc. should be fined or otherwise dinged.

If doing the job legally made it uneconomical to do the job at all, then perhaps we don't need more outlet malls. Isn't that what all the outlets in Burlington are for?  Is the vacancy rate there really so low that we need so many more outlets?  I tend to doubt it.

Probably the only way this thing gets done is if the whole thing is basically done illegally.  So there are more $7.50 an hour low-skilled jobs for English speakers of all races and creeds to hawk Chinese-made garbage to one another.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Natalie and Clark take Quebec -- High- and low-lights

First, a warning to visitors to Montreal.  The Biodome and the Insectarium, both on the grounds of the 1976 Olympics, are supposed to be awesome.  Penguins, porcupines, and all kinds of roaches.  What's not to like?  Unfortunately, after driving out there, we discovered that they were closed, and had been since June 16, because of a "labor action", i.e. a strike.  What a bummer. Unfortunately, even in times of unprecedented economic woe and stress on public finance, Francophone public sector workers are still keen on getting what they perceive to be rightly theirs.




Our greatest highlight was, quoth Natalie, the visit to Montmorency Falls Northeast of Quebec, which are some 30 meters higher than Niagara Falls, we'll have you know.  The ride up and back in the cable car was a big winner.  On the way down, we had the car all to ourselves! There is apparently a beautiful road along the hillside from the falls out towards the Catholic cathedral at St-Anne-de-Beaupre. Unfortunately it was a impassable when we were there due to construction.  We went on a "detour" that took us on some winding residential streets out to where the road ends.  Literally, it backed up to forest and, judging by my inspection of Google maps the night before, there was nothing back there except for trees, lakes, and critters.  I was very curious to see it.

Natalie, on the other hand, was not interested in bucolic country driving. After checking out the cathedral, which wasn't entirely her cup of tea, she said she wanted to head back into town. And who can blame her, Quebec is an awesome little burg.  But, after lunch, first we stopped into the Musee des Beaux Arts de Quebec.  It was a cool looking building.  Unfortunately, they were dunning us for $15 for adults and $7 for kids.  That's more than the frickin Met in NYC suggests you contribute, if memory serves correctly.  Our guidebook told us of a fascinating part of the core collection explaining the conflict between academicians and the avant-garde in Quebec from 1860 to 1945. I can tell Natalie how that looks myself in about 5 minutes. There's no need for us to subsidize Quebecois exercises in generalized finishing school.  Natalie was as outraged (if not more so) than I was. So instead we walked around in the park outside and saw some silly
statues and some excellent historical plaques, including one from the decisive 1759 battle between the French and the English, in which one side "cleverly outflanked" the other. We were certain that Graham would love this.



One thing we can say of Quebec in the fall is that, though the leaves are purty, it's getting chilly.  Our hotel was one of the tallest in the whole town, and when you stepped outside, wind often whipped ferociously round the corner.  It actually blew my prized Camp Gwynn Valley baseball cap off my head! But a friendly cabbie retrieved it from under his car and said "Bienvenue a Quebec!" There was also a fair amount of rain. On our first night in Montreal, Natalie and I went out for an utterly non-notable walk through generally boring parts of town, getting pretty drenched in the process. In Quebec, we also got wet. Ah well, the place is lovely, and the Hotel Frontenac is pretty enchanting.  I think Natalie will remember our trip for some time, and I know I will.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The beginning of the end of the world

Driving north today on Route 40 from Montreal to Quebec City, it was rather empty.  To the west of the highway, we could see farmhouses and small villages in the distance.  I was saying to Natalie that in Canada not too far from where we are the paved roads might end, perhaps even 15-20 miles from where we were.  Looking at Google maps in the hotel later, I discovered just how right I was.

It's astonishing.  Unless I'm reading these maps wrong, things really thin out to the northwest of this road.  Man I wish we had time to just nose around the outback up here.

And then you get to Quebec City.  This little piece of pseudo-Europe at the frickin end of the earth. Wall to wall cute and tourist shops.  There's a falafel place a few blocks away from a seminary straight out of some Bergman movie with a courtyard where kids have been playing for 300 years.

This despite the fact that it's not much further north than Paris, or even Seattle.

As we drove, we played some very quick games of "I Spy", which goes "I spy with my little eye something that is (name the color)."  It went quickly because there was nothing, literally nothing, but green, yellow, and red trees, green grass, grey sky, grey road.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Oh yeah

So Natalie and I got stopped at passport control coming into Canada.  I had gotten her a passport, and thought I was doing pretty well.  And I had the declaration.  But no, they wanted to see a passport photo.  And an itinerary, to prove that we intended to leave the country.

Most of all, they thought it was suspicious that I was travelling alone with Natalie.  "Where's your mom?  Why didn't she come with you?  Do you have a signed (preferably notarized) letter from her stating that it's OK for her to be traveling with you alone? etc. etc."

Apparently, lots of people abscond with their children.  The guy downstairs at customs actually called Mary on the phone and asked what Natalie was wearing.

On the one hand, I think it's nice that Canada is taking an interest in childrens' well-being.  On the other hand, it's a little obsessive. If I didn't have proper documentation and attestation that we were on vacation, what recourse would Canada as a state have?  Who supergovernmental authority confers on Canada the power to judge how I take vacations?

Natalie and Clark take Quebec: v1, Montreal

Our plane was a little late leaving Phillie for Montreal, so by the time we got to our hotel downtown it was 5 pm and we were starving.  Natalie declared that we needed, first and foremost, to sample a poutine, that delectable assemblage of french fries, cheese curds, and brown gravy that all the kids have been talking about.  The guys at the desk at our hotel were of one mind on where to go, La Banquise on Rue Rachel, which was not anywhere near the Old Town but was in a pretty cool neighborhood where people actually live, sporting a number of other homey looking boites. La Banquise proved to be a favorite of the tattooed, sideburned, and pierced crowd, but there was nothing wrong with the fabled dish itself.  Which is not to say that I feel I need another one soon.

Right now we're back at the hotel, cooling our heels for a few minutes before heading out to eyeball the old town and port and some kind of a nightcap. We are also sampling some fine television:  Dogs vs. Cats on Animal Planet.  So far it's 2 to 2, with our favored felines having taken the Petathlon and the cleanliness competition.

More updates to come.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Our house got broken into

And they stole Mary's MacBook.  That's the third time we've been ripped off in the last 3 years.  Once in Princeton, once someone stole the Garmin out of our car in Carrboro, left unlocked by a garage that will not be mentioned by name because they so honorably ponied up for a replacement, and now this.

Apparently the "pre-disastered" theory espoused by Robin Williams as Garp in "The World According to Garp" does not quite work out in real life.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Highlights Magazine

Can kiss my ass.

My mom bought a subscription to Highlights for my kids.  They kinda like it, though Graham finds it a little light on the revolutionary and other old fashioned war content.  So the magazine sends subscription renewal reminders to both the subscriber (my mom) and the recipient (us), so that we both pony up or need to coordinate.  Maybe this is common practice amongst magazines, but it's a shitty one nonetheless.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Joe Strummer: the Future is Unwritten

This is a very good documentary, for many reasons.  I had no idea that Strummer and Mick Jones had played together again. I actually cried when I saw that.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Jeremy Lin

You gotta like this kid.  He is gonna sell some sneakers.


.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chapel Hill Transit

Partially because the town is not as cool as once it was, there's no cooler thing about Chapel Hill these days than the free buses.  When my car was broke last week, I had to ride the F bus from downtown Carrboro to down by Whole Foods, and it was very convenient, despite stopping at the Mall for 7 minutes, despite the fact that the AC wasn't on in the morning when it should have been.

The actual buses are suspiciously similar to the ones they had when I was in junior high, back when you had to pay money, but that's beside the point.  They are not only free, they have free bike racks.

However, one gets the feeling that there is piss poor route and fleet optimization. Morning buses headed into town are full, which is awesome, and evening rush seems to have good ridership as well. But I run in the evenings around Eastwood Lake, and I see the G bus come down N. Lake Shore.  It is almost always completely empty. Once I saw one rider.  Buses use a lot o. gas per mile. I get 55 cents per mile as an expense for driving my car, when I drive on biz.  I'm sure that's a Federal rate. I don't know what the comparable figure for buses is, but it's much higher. To say nothing of the emissions issues.

There should be a way for buses to run less empty. Use vans.  Give people who use lightly traveled routes off hours vouchers to call cabs.

There are hardware limitations around vans, and possibilities for abuse of a taxi scheme, sure, but I'd like to know if these issues are being studied.  Does the system track rider volume at all?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

So much time, so little of it to blog

Had a tree guy come by the house yesterday to talk about taking down branches to open up our view of the lake. He also looked at a poplar out front, and pronounced it dangerous to the house.  His arguments seemed sound, and Mary's been wanting to get rid of some trees anyway to get more light on the house.  It's coming down.

Most impressive indeed* was the guy's get up. Long hair and beard. Civil War type leather hat.  Boots that laced up almost to his knee, with a knife sheathed in there for good measure.  Old school Chapel Hill, though he hailed originally from Western Massachussetts.

He liked to tell stories about jobs, in fact, it was difficult to stop him from doing so once he got wound up. He told us one about having to make it so water could flow through a pipe ("We had to get on that job while it was still dry, and the water level was so low cuz of the drought, you see") which turned out to have a big rock cropping up in it about  30 feet in ("there was no way anybody could climb up in there, so I figured the only way to take it out was to use a high-powered rifle.... So I put on a welding mask, just in case there was any blowback from in there, but I didn't pull down that really dark piece of glass, you know, just the inner glass piece so that I could see... with five shots we took about 12-14 inches off a that piece of rock, you know"). In any case, in due time, we got organized to have him come do some work.

 *Speaking of "indeed", Graham has taken to larding the word "indeed" into his discourse.  So we might ask him "Graham, would you like some soy milk?" And he might respond, "indeed."  Or he might say something like, "you know, when Benedict Arnold was talking to the Green Mountain boys about going up to Ticonderoga, they agreed, because, indeed, there was a lot of artillery up there to steal."  As you might have guessed, he has kept up his taste for the Revolutionary War.

He has, however, diversified slightly.  Last week, for writing homework, they had to write a sentence saying what they liked.  Examples on the piece of paper included "Jake likes bugs" and "Nina likes her puppy."  Graham wrote "Graham likes WWII."  There's nothing like a nice contraction to make writing assignments easier.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Moron koran-burning

A few more thoughts.

  • Although Obama takes the right position in decrying the burning, he shouldn't have dipped down into this discussion.  He has taken the bait. Now loonies of all stripes will want to get his goat.  There are plenty of federal employees who can comment.
  • Appropriate local responses might be to burn bibles, flags, constitutions right across the street
  • The US press might decide en masse not to film live footage of the event.  If Al Jazeera (not a bad news organization) and other Islamic press outlets are the only ones with cameras, Jones et al might think differently about what they're doing.
  • Although the First Amendment constrains the government from abridging freedom of speech, there's no reason the populace can't act as an obstacle to press access.  Why don't a bunch of citizens create a cordon of intentional traffic accidents around the burning site so that press trucks can't get through?  It would be ironic indeed if Cash for Clunkers made it difficult to find good cars to sacrifice.  Or just a good old-fashioned sit in?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Burning the Koran

Heard about this during morning drive time then quickly forgot.  What idiocy.  Burn the Koran to demonstrate hatred of Islamic radicalism.

People will die. Lots of Bibles will burn too.  I can't think of a good reason not to burn a few myself, save for the wasted BTUs.  Come winter, it may be time.

Lets go Tar Heels

The graphic below is taken from www.data.gov the US Federal government's flagship for open data.  The darker states have higher ratios of library books per capita.  North Carolina looks suspiciously low.  Fewer than Tennessee?  Then again, so does Massachusetts, which makes me question the data quality.  That's too much of an outlier.  Still, pretty cool stuff.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Parking lot

Went out to the REI near the South Point Mall today around mid-day.  Trying to put a kayak on the roof of the Outback (I know that sounds like a cliche, but it's true), while pushy women in white Range Rovers waited for the spot next to us.  Reminded me of what I hate most about suburbia.

On the other hand, the fact that there was no space in the lot indicates to me that the substantial portion of the populace that is employed was out spending this Labor Day.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Up the Yangtze

I usually don't want to watch documentaries on weekends, but this one was absolutely worthwhile.  The trailer overstates its hamhandedness.  Yes it thematizes the displacement caused by the Three Gorges dam product.  Yes it graphically juxtaposes silly American tourists with not-quite-yet-so-fortunate Chinese.  But it is really about characters, a young peasant girl and her family as well as another guy, less poor, who work on this boat.  And how they fit into a moment in Chinese history.  Well-done and nuanced.  Watch it.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Entrepreneurial University, my white ass

UNC has a new chancellor, one Holden Thorp, the winsome lad with the John Edwards hair depicted below.  Apparently, Mr. Thorp, a scientist, has a bee in his bonnet about universities being entrepreneurial.  He even wrote a book about it with some guy named Buck.


In Thorp's view, all classes should have "impact."  That means that they should be "relevant."  To effect this, professors teaching courses about things that happened in the past should as a matter of course analogize to the present, so that kids can see how they have "impact."

I can assure you that, as someone in the private sector who is searching for suitable job candidates, what I'm looking for is ones who can recite for me ways in which their professors told them that things from the past were similar to contemporary life. I certainly am not looking for people who have honed critical faculties, who are creative, or who are able to think for themselves. May sweet little baby Jesus save us from neo-functionalist morons like this.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Something in the Tea

In the NY Times this Sunday, one David Tulanian of LA writes:

I, for one, certainly don’t want anyone — especially the government — telling me what I will eat. As an adult, I should be able to determine my own dietary needs, thank you very much.

Three months ago, a visit to the doctor revealed that at 5-foot-8 and 225 pounds, I had become “obese.” Also, my blood pressure was high, as was my sugar level. In response, I cut my food portions in half, skipped desserts and took brisk 30-minute walks.

Today, both blood pressure and sugar levels have dropped considerably, and I am 30 pounds lighter. Another 30 to go and I’m home free.
I wish I too had such a brilliant doctor.  One who -- all by his lonesome -- would define standards for obesity and conduct research on the correlations between blood pressure, blood sugar levels etc. to let him/her give me good advice on health. Where does this guy think his doctor learned what to advise him?

Public health is one of the best and most important things the government does, and at $31 billion, the NIH is a steal. Long-term, obesity is a bigger threat than the debt, comparable to global warming. If anybody from the Northeast remembers the anthrax scare in the fall of 2001, those people from the NIH were fucking heros, and what Michele Obama and Jamie Oliver are doing now is hugely important. One hopes they can be successful.

This Tulanian guy obviously has great willpower and discipline, and if he can keep his weight off, and remain healthy, he's a true exemplar, but an exception. Keeping off weight is hugely difficult, that's why weight loss is an enormous industry.  One wonders if he's been slipping a little something in his tea over there at the Tea Party.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Just when you think

Your daughter is growing up with her pierced ears, she goes off to the mall and comes back with a ten-pack of plastic earrings in the shape of African animals: lions, monkeys, giraffes, etc. Gotta love it.

Map of the World

Mary's college boyfriend Khalid had a band called Map of the World, based out of Ann Arbor (naturally), together with his sister, whose voice is reminiscent of Natalie Merchant. They sound pretty good.

So when Mary told me she had gotten a "map of the world" shower curtain, I was initially surprised, thinking she had been back in touch with Khalid.  Not that there would be anything wrong with that. We hear of occasional contact with Khalid from Kate or Valery or others who are back in Ann Arbor. And Mary -- to her infinite credit -- doesn't get jealous when I have lunch with or talk to my ex-girfriends, which is something I like to do.  I mean, I stay in touch with my other friends, right?

And if she had gotten a free shower curtain, hey, that's cool too.  Of course, it turns out that it was just a shower curtain with a map of the world on it.  Which is awesome.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Kudzu

When we were young there was a lot of concern with kudzu.  We saw a documentary in Jim Charles's class about how noxious it was.  REM put it on the cover of Murmur back in '83 as a metaphor for the degradation (in all senses of the word) of southern culture.

Wikipedia emphasizes that it is still a menace "Kudzu is a serious invasive plant in the United States. It has been spreading in the southern U.S. at the rate of 150,000 acres (61,000 ha) annually," blah blah blah.

However, coming back to the south after roughly a quarter century either in the Northeast or otherwise preoccupied, kudzu seems less rampant.  Maybe it's because the Triangle has burgeoned and kudzu has been pushed back right here, or maybe it's because kudzu seemed like such an apt metaphor for how we felt about a lot of things coming out of stagflation, Vietnam, Iran, and other traumas of 1973-82.  Or maybe it's just me.  Thoughts?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

New books and shelves

Hauled these very heavy but not all that beautiful shelves from my mom's husband's office last week. They were empty and crying out for books, so I am bringing in books one box at a time, emptying shelves at home in prep for renovation. Then I bought two more at the thrift store today, including H.L. Mencken's classic which nobody reads The American Language.  OK, so the guy was an anti-semite. He still did some good work.

In any case, it feels good to see more boox in here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Starbucks -- safe for white people

Is it not curious that it is socially acceptable for middle-class white people to work at Starbucks and its competitors, but at no other fast food places? This was rather clear yesterday morning at RDU at around 7am. Starbucks was run like a tight ship, a bunch of attentive young white people processing order efficiently, expeditiously, and courteously.

Iced joe in hand, I went to the breakfast place down the way to get a biscuit. There, a couple of hispanic people and a black guy were minding the store, doing a perfectly fine job. In front of me, however, was the prototypical angry white man (AWM), fresh off the back 9. He ordered scrambled eggs with country ham, no biscuit or other carb. I got it, a recidivist Atkins diet guy. However, the hispanic guy wasn't quite following him for a second. So AWM snapped at him. Having once lashed out, he moved down to the beverage area, where he asked the black guy for an iced tea. It looked like a 20 or 24 oz cup to me, which in my estimate is pretty big. AWM, though, commented that "I wanted a large iced tea," but when he got no response he acquiesced and paid the bill.

So what is it, then, about Starbucks? Do they pay better and have better benefits?(I think there's a measure of truth to that) Does the fact that it's a premium product with Euro-sizing (tall-grande-vente, if I have at long last mastered it) confer prestige on the task of serving it? Would AWMs heap scorn on servers of color if given the opportunity? Is it the absence of grease that makes the labor more seemly? It's a mystery to me, I must confess.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The world's shyest bass player?



Lyrics (not my translation)

Girls : Why does he act as if he's not interested? x 3

Even if you ask, I can't say anything.

Please don't ask why I put my head down.

I don't know, and there's nothing I can do.

The well inside my heart has dried long time ago.

*Don't think me as a sweet guy. I'm just a normal guy without any taste.

Girls : x3 Repeat

If you ask me again, I do have something to say. My heart used to burn in love. I don't know why not these days. Even a small lit scares me now.

* - repeat

Girls - Repeat

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What I did for lunch today

Went out and got a burrito.  Saw Crabill and Jane Stein.

Then I watched this, and I hunted down and bookmarked a couple of the things he's talking about.  Good stuff.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Afeared of the gnats

So I walked down the hill at dusk and went for a swim in the lake.  At one point in time, a heron flew over my head. Later, I saw the moon through the trees, so I swam further out into the lake to have a look at it.

This was much better than being swarmed by rabid gnats.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Swarmed by gnats

The other night, I went running.  At 8:30 pm, it was 88 degrees out. Because the family was still up north, I decided to go 5 miles or so. Running along North Lake Shore, I heard a strange buzzing sound, which presaged an attack by a swarm of small insects.  My first thought was gnats, though, in the air, they seemed white. When they landed in the sweat on my chest, however, they were dark. I definitely couldn't breathe through my mouth, so I used the nose. To get away from them, I had to accelerate to a near sprint, which wasn't so bad, as I'm training for an 800 meters showdown with Drake in October, but it wasn't really what I wanted to do at that hour in that heat, but then they caught up with me, or perhaps another swarm found me, so I had to speed up again.  After 3 reps, when I headed up the hill, I seemed to have shaken them.

All told, it was straight out of Hitchcock's The Birds, save that I'm not as pretty as Tippi Hedren, nor do I have her diction.



Thursday, August 12, 2010

From Springsteen to Joy Division

On the Arcade Fire's first album, I thought they owed a lot to the Pixies.  On the second, Win Butler often felt like he was channeling the Boss.  This time around Joy Division seems like the key influence.  All good.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Vongole

When Mary and I quit Manhattan in '98, we moved to Somerville, NJ, a town with deep roots in what I came to consider New Jersey's legacy ethnicities:  Italian and Jewish-Americans.  These were the people that gave the Garden State good food before the onslaught of the Indians, Chinese, Brazilians, and others that lomade it an even better place to eat.

On main street in Somerville there is a place called Alfonso's, a family-oriented pizzeria and trattoria.  On the wall in the front of Alfonso's is a picture of a couple of plump Italian guys mustaches, sitting in their undershirts in bright sunshine, next to some water.  They are eating what is clearly linguine with clam sauce, and they are eating it out of a metal tray, like what you might use to make brownies.

Although I have never lived like that, I think of that as the essence of summertime.

Tonight, with Mary and the kids away, I made a nice linguine alle vongole, way garlicky, though with canned clams.  The cats went nuts.  I didn't give them any.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Low on ideas

Being away from my kids, and no longer commuting, it becomes tougher and tougher to generate ideas for blogs, as the sources of randomness are largely removed from my existence, being replaced by grinding routine.

At JFK's shiny Jet Blue terminal last week, I sat and watched people walk by, looking for something bloggable.  There was very little, aside from a four-year old boy lagging behind his parents while wheeling a small suitcase in the shape of a hound dog's head, complete with droopy ears.  But we can file that right under missing my kids.

I did note that Jet Blue and Dunkin Donuts have apparently executed a strategic alliance of some sort.  In the terminal and on the plane, there wasn't a dram of Starbucks to be had.

Here at home, I've begun another Alan Furst novel, Red Gold, and must say that it's starting out even better than the first one I read (Dark Star ??).

Also, the guy who looks like Jeff Daniels from Dumb and Dumber at the deli at the supermarket has stooped to new lows of sadistic languor. It's as if he's performed a reverse time-motion study (time-stasis?) of the sandwich-making process, and has sought out and attained new ways of making a sub even more slowly.  I have to give it to the guy for thoroughness.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Back home

Having ditched my family in New York, I'm back in Chapel Hill this evening, enjoying an exciting evening of TV. First, the Premier League season preview show on FSC.  And then, during commercial channel-flicking time, I espied John Huston's classic Victory, perhaps the greatest soccer movie of all time, with Pele and Bobby Moore and Sylvester Stallone wandering around Paris drinking shots of cognac, speaking horrific French, and lounging shirtless in a solitary confinement cell.  When Pele scores the equalizer on a bicycle kick, and then Stallone saves a penalty at the end despite knowing nothing about goalkeeping....  ah yes, that's good TV.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Lifetime achievement award for the Tappett Brothers

I'd like to go on record plumping for Click and Clack, the Tappett brothers, of "Car Talk" fame.  More even than John Stewart, they are probably the most talented entertainers of their generation, and they impart useful information too.  Here's proof:  Natalie, at the tender age of 10, knows nothing about cars, and doesn't want to.  But when the Tappetts are on, she joins Mary and me in shooshing everybody else in the car (AKA Graham) so she can hear them.

There is a growing trend towards "laughology," a belief that laughing is just flat out good for you. There are some guys in India who go out on the beach and just laugh for the sake of laughing.  I'm not going that far.  But the Tappett brothers are both funny and have incredibly infectious laughs. They have it "going on," as the young people say.

And the credits at the end ("our Russian chauffeur is Pickup Andropov") are an incredible exercise in sustained creativity, funny every week, just like the scene at the end of the opening sequence of the Simpsons where the family gathers around the couch. As of May, 2010, Groening and crew had done 464 versions of that, and they're all pretty funny.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Despicable Me

This is a harmless little formula-driven romp for Steve Carell and somebody at one of the factories that makes cartoons.  I laughed, I enjoyed myself, the air-conditioning was working just fine on a hot summer day.  Natalie liked it too. IMAX didn't add to anything but the cost, however.

Afterwards, I took Natalie to explore the charms of New Roc City, including the mighty amusement arcade and the glo in the dark indoor putt putt course.  The latter holds no charms for my high brow girl, however.  I, however, am intrigued...

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

40,000th hit

Today the blog celebrated it's hard-earned 40,000th hit (excluding RSS feeds, of course).  The lucky surfer hailed from.... Kathmandu, Nepal.  I kid you not.  He had googled the phrase "LG sucks", and found my ruminations on that topic.

Monday, August 02, 2010

P531, the 6:30 to from Boston to Framingham

Some things feel familiar, some things dramatically different.  The train car is the same as the older stock in the New Jersey Transit fleet.  On the absolute up side, there is wi-fi service.  What is odd is the ethnic component.  There are a couple of Asian people, but other than that, it's as white as can be.  Rather strange.

I'd like to check in with Mary on the phone, but am afraid I would be sternly rebuked by barrage of arched eyebrows.  Will wait.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Had to Cry Today

Blind Faith is so good, I'm going to have to extend my classic rock spelunking to Cream, Yardbirds, Traffic.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Random notes

  • After ragging on Larchmont a couple of days ago (actually, it wasn't so much about the town as it was about how the town reflects the general distribution of wealth in our fair land), I got an email from my friend Cricket saying I should turn my attention to Scarsdale or Greenwich, since she and Tioma and their kids now live in Larchmont.  Cricket, apparently, has not been following the Grouse long enough to have kept up with how I have heaped abuse on those towns, most particularly on how it's impossible to get Gatorade in Greenwich.
  • Graham, once more having gotten sick at Grandma's house, was not able to go into the city today.  We had planned to hit the Statue of Liberty, but that was downgraded to a trip to the Met (museum, not opera). He has thrown a tantrum and gone on hunger strike, refusing to be assuaged by the promise of either Liberty's Kids or a trip to the Thomas Paine Cottage in New Rochelle. Tomorrow they are supposed to go see The Lion King on Broadway, but missing that has little leverage over Graham, as he knows full good and well that there is no revolutionary war angle to it.
  • It's a beautiful day on the East Coast, finally.  I will get out for a run and/or swim in due time, but first must give Graham one more chance to wise up.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Stieg Larrson

As I mentioned a few days back, I was reading Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I finished it.

In the middle of it, I was excited about it.  By the time I got to the end, less so.

Yes, he is readable.  Yes, the mystery is good and compelling.  But in the end he's too focused on S&M, bondage, rape, pedophilia, violence against women, etc.  And he's too obsessed with tying up loose ends in quintuple knots.  When the main enigma is resolved, there are still 60-70 pages left and I'm thinking "what's left?"  Well, there was another plot thread he decided he'd better beat to death, so he did.

And, what's more, as with Henning Mankell's Wallander, our hero Blomkvist is so focused he only eats and drinks one thing, in his case coffee and sandwiches.  Towards the end, we don't even know what's on the sandwiches.  It's just "sandwiches."  It gets old.  Not that mystery novels need to be food-centric.  Patricia Cornwell trips over herself writing about fresh garlic and extra-virgin olive oil, as if to convince us that they're sophisticated in Richmond.  But check out the food in the novels of Qiu Xiaolong.  You could just keep the noodles and dispense with the murder.  It's good to have balance.

 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Larchmont retail

For the last couple of days I've been working at the public library here in fancy pants Larchmont, NY, whence my wife hails. I will confess that I am surprised to see that retail here appears to have become even more rarefied over the course of the crisis and its "aftermath".  On the Boston Post Road, for example, there is a spot where within the last two years two boutique chocolatiers have moved in across the street from one another.  There are now three fairly upscale cafe/bakeries on one block. The old school sports store on Palmer Avenue -- which had a lot of racquet sports stuff in it -- closed, seemingly a victim of the Dick's or whatever up at New Roc City in New Rochelle. Now there's a racquet sports store pure and simple. There is a truly world class fromagier here. 

What this says to me is that there has been no real impact of the crisis on Wall Street compensation.  But, then, we knew that.

Monday, July 26, 2010

True Love

As we have reported, Graham is going through a period of obsession with the Revolutionary War.  Which is only natural, after all.

So when his cousin Sadie, scarcely one year younger than him at five coming on six, asked him on the beach yesterday if he loved her, I suppose there's no reason we should have been surprised at his answer.  He paused and thought deeply, and then said:  "I love you when you talk about real historical data."  (or perhaps it was historical "facts," or "dates", the record is a bit murky here).

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Maserati with a bumper sticker

Luxury insouciance apparently knows no bounds.  At the Princeton Shopping Center this evening, after picking up a variety of Klondike bars (Oreo! Heath Bar!  who knew?), I saw a navy blue Maserati sedan, the four door, an admittedly very handsome vehicle.  On the left side, just behind the gas cap, was a bright yellow and green round sticker that said something like "Frogbridge Rules" with picture of a frog in a baseball cap or somesuch.  A school sticker.  I inspected it and am 90% certain it was a sticker, not a magnet. This car lists for about $120k.

This is very strong fashion statement indeed:  "Here in a lengthy and nasty recession, I care so little about my status vehicle that I put my kid's school sticker on it."  I think we get the point.

Excellent trip to the pool

It was very hot here in Princeton yesterday so we all went to the Broadmead pool late in the day.  Graham, who has been very circumspect around the water, ended up being pretty active.  Over and over, he walked along the side of the pool, holding onto the edges, and then climbed out when he reached the lap-swimming divider.

Even better, Natalie was very excited to climb on my back and play bucking bronco. We did it again and again.  This after months and years of her scarcely wanting to touch me at all, except when giving me the occasional punch in the arm.  It warms dad's heart.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

TV appearance

So I was sitting on David and Carol's porch in the heat yesterday, plowing through Stieg Larsen's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, when my cell phone rang.  It was a producer from Bloomberg, who wanted me to be on Bloomberg News that night to talk about management changes at AIG's Asian subsidiary AIA.  Of course.

So I borrowed a jacket and a tie from David to go with some of the office casual stuff I had brought with me.  Then I dropped Mary and Natalie off at Stacy and Sophie's and went to the Princeton Library (after buying the FT and the WSJ to read on the train and stopping in Iano's for pizza).

At 4:37 I was on a NJTransit train to Manhattan, sweating like a pig from being over dressed in a heat wave.

At Bloomberg, it was just like everyone had said. Fish tanks. Free snacks. A little pancake makeup.

The experience in the actual studio was odd.  They gave me a mike and an earpiece.  I was gonna be talking to a woman in Hong Kong.  A man's voice came on from London and we did a sound check.  They told me to look at the camera.  Problem was, there were two monitors of just my face right below the camera, and another monitor with another camera angle of me in the corner.  I couldn't see the face of the woman I was talking to.  What was worse, I was in a glass room and all these people were walking by leaving work.  Naturally I looked to see if I knew any of them.  There was a guy with what was probably a viola in a case on his back, probably going to quartet practice after work.  He walked back and forth.  The camera was by far the most boring thing in my visual space, and that's what I was supposed to look at.  Ridiculous.

Then the anchor came on and introduced me, and mangled not only my firm's name but the last names of the CEO and recently deposed chairman of AIG (who had been CEO of American Express and is a really well-known person).

It was all pretty confusing.  Considering that, I think I did OK.

Here's the video.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Home from camp

I picked up Natalie from Gwynn Valley on Tuesday.  She had an excellent time there, and has in particular gotten excited about riding horses.  Naturally, I have scheduled time with a certified financial planner to map out the ramifications of this newfound love.

No but seriously.  I now have a new picture on my desktop.  It's a little small, I need to go back to the camp website and buy a higher quality one.  But I think you get the point from looking at it. She is very happy.

When I look at the picture, I almost instinctually sit up straighter, as part of a shared posture improvement drive Mary and I have embarked upon recently.  I also try to concentrate more on my work to bring home them ducats, at least when I'm not blogging.