Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Running and Blockus

Last night was a little cooler here in the Piedmont. Graham and I went out by the lake for some running races and, if you'll believe this, he beat me every time!  Amazing.  No but seriously, he is getting faster.  We must encourage this running thing.  Low tone resolves from the bottom up. It was the case with me too, I excelled first at running, then at other physical stuff.

In other news, Natalie and I played our second game of Blockus last night.  The first time we played it resulted in a dead tie as we each got all our pieces down, which made us realize that we needed to get more players in to make the game more challenging, so we invited the unsuspecting Mary.  Natalie and I both kicked off trying to get strategic on the other, but Mary didn't know anything about the game.  In the end, Mary humiliated both of us, crushing us by multiple squares.  She claimed to know nothing, but I think in fact she had been practicing on the sly.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Toy Story 3 -- a scary part

This is a very good movie, even in 2-D. I will confess that I am a pure sap (as many of you may have figured out), so I am very reachable by a sweet little story about friends and growing older and moving on etc.

If you can believe it, it was my first time to the movies with Graham. Thankfully, it wasn't insanely loud. For many years we wouldn't take him to the pix for fear his sound sensitivity would kick in, but this was OK. 
I wouldn't have expected this movie to have a scary part (plot spoiler here), but as all the toys are staring down the maw of an incinerator and they join hands in resignation to their fate in a very 9/11 way, it was difficult to figure out how they were going to get out of it, even though you knew they had to just so the movie could go on.

Graham, however, didn't really know that at a core level, and he was terrified.  He was crying from fear. I held his hand and told him it was going to be OK, and I wanted to scoop him up and put him in my lap, but didn't, for fear he might think he would lose face in front of Natalie and Makenna (both rising 5th graders) and Josh (going into 3rd). I should have picked him up.  Man, you hate to see your kids scared like that.

Historical temperature data at

When I look up historical average temperatures at, they always seem lower than what we experience. I'm pretty sure that's because they're working with a relatively long data series, back to the forties or something.  The problem, of course, is that global warming is a very real thing, so the data skews cooler than what's going on outside.

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to have the historical data to work with, and it is directionally accurate. It's just that it's less helpful than it could be.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Southwest Airlines Flight 933 -- Family boarding

Caroline.was flying back to Boston today, actually Providence, so as to avoid regional jets.  Southwest is the one that flies the fat boys on such short hops.  So I take her to the airport.

After waiting around in the cattle pen that always precedes boarding SW, everybody lines up by those little posts.  Caroline being 12 and traveling alone, I figure they'll let her pre-board. You can forget about that:  "If she's 12 she's not considered flying unaccompanied, she can board with the families," says the nice lady.  OK, I think, that's not too bad.

So they let Business Select customers board.  Well, that makes some sick sense, I think,  business before families, sure.  And then they let all the "A" Group passengers board.  That's maybe 40-50 people.  So I figure I just missed something and insert Caroline into the queue around B10, where she would be supposed to be if she were an adult.

But no, now they announce "all families with children 4 or under."  NOW is the time for family boarding.  After half the plane is already on.  Got it. So Caroline gives me a little hug while the boarding bitch is trying to her along.

Thanks Southwest.  Thanks a lot. It all makes perfect sense now.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Teenage poetry slam

After a feast of pulled pork at Bullock's, Natalie and I went to Duke for the poetry slam at the end of cousin Caroline's poetry camp.  Baldwin Auditorium was not well cooled, for sure, and many a teenager took the stage to trot forth their poetic stylings.  There was much talk of flying, nestling in pillows and falling asleep, flesh hanging from limbs like baby pigs after napalm bombings (OK, only one of those), domineering mothers.  Some kids wrote about friends who died of cancer, or how much they loved their dads (that was an awesome poem).  There was much angst and hinting of sexuality, but not much sweating or thrusting. Rhyme and meter were rare, and rarely coincided with much talent. After the poems by the popular kids, there was much whooping.

Caroline's poem rocked, and I captured it on "film" for posterity.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Obama seeks more Ass to Kick

President Barack Obama, apparently not feeling that he had kicked enough ass for one week, has summoned Malian referee Koman Coulibaly to the White House after the official's questionable call of an unspecified penalty resulted in the canceling of the US's go-ahead goal against mighty Slovenia in the World Cup:  "The American people demand an explanation, and we demand accountability.  However I may sympathize with Mr. Coulibaly for being skinny and having a funny name, we cannot allow for such a travesty of justice to deny us the victory which should rightly have been ours." 
The President, on the recommendation of key advisors including David Axelrod and most likely Larry Summers, though possibly Paul Volcker or even Peter Orszag, is considering a demand that FIFA set aside funds to compensate possible victims of this heinous crime, which could include t-shirt vendors and bars who might have derived income from elimination round games had the US progressed, in the event that England defeats Slovenia and the US fails to defeat Algeria, or if England should score enough goals to progress on the goal differential in the event that both of the group's final games result in a draw.  Obama continued:  "The businesspeople of this great country of ours will not be deprived of revenue opportunities that should have been theirs, had this egregious misjudgment not occured."  Rumors abounded as well that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid were in preliminary talks with Tim Geithner about possible release of TARP funds, and/or were writing some compensation for potentially harmed into the pending financial reform legislation.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Lonely Hearts

Tonight we started Lonely Hearts, a 2006 noir thing with Travolta, James Gandolfini, Salma Hayek, and some sick fuck who looks like Jim Carrey. It's a stylish thing, but nasty and formulaic at once.  Then again, when you've watched thousands of movies, they all start to run together.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Analysis makes paralysis -- in the lunch line

There is a guy at the lunch counter where I get my sandwich who is so painfully deliberate that it's, well, painful.  Every step in making a sandwich takes more time than it should.  When he cuts into the sub roll (always "whole wheat," mind you), he lacks the confidence to cut towards the ends, and then pushes them open a little by hand.  When he puts cheese and meat in the sub, he nudges each piece in individually.  When he wraps the sandwich at the end, he doesn't seem to have developed a technique for wrapping it, he seems to be doing it almost anew each time, despite the fact that he's been doing it for months.  I tend to order simpler sandwiches when he's minding the counter.

I don't mean to bust on the guy too hard.  He has a job. He comes in to work. He may have anxiety issues, he may be on meds, he may be doing as well as could ever be hoped.  He may sense my impatience and get freaked out.  I should probably strive harder for zen calm when I order from him.

I do wonder why store management puts him in a customer-facing role.  Does he do worse in back prepping chickens?

Mostly, I view him as an object lesson in confidence, or the lack thereof.  Most people, when they do things over and over, come to believe in their ability to do them. He doesn't seem to. Belief in oneself is key to any process improvement.  It's his manager who should be paying attention and encouraging him.  And, I guess, in the absence of management, maybe his customers.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Things heating up

Today I was wearing my "I love Slovenia nogometna"* T-shirt. Coming back from Harris Teeter with my lunch, I heard out of the corner of my ear:  "Slovenia's going down" (i.e. against the US later this week), and then "Lucky goal!", in reference to the Algerian keeper's fumble of the Slovenian captain's good but not great shot yesterday.

*The word for soccer in Slovene, as well as Croatian, is of course "nogomet," not "nogometna" (an adjectival derivative [nominative singular feminine]). Note also that this shirt from was available for $6.99 a few months back, but has been marked up to $17.99 during the World Cup.  This argues more for inflation than deflation, or at least for cleverness.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Netflix needs to get it in gear

I find it astounding that Netflix is one of the top performing stocks of 2010. Every disc we get from Netflix has major scratches on it. Every one. It's a pain in the ass. I don't know what its licensing agreements from studios look like, but given that we're talking about eminently reproducible digital content, I can't imagine there would be any constraints on Netflix burning new discs and retiring old ones whenever it wanted to. The cost of the disc itself can't be high, and the process for burning it shouldn't be labor or capital intensive.

Netflix is running serious brand risk. I mean, think about it, we pay them $20 a month or some such, we probably get around to watching 2 or 3 videos on average a month. And for this we're getting a good catalog, good fulfillment, but a really shitty end user experience. They need to get on this or they will be the toast quickly.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Why no world cup footage on Fox Soccer Channel?

I must say this: for all the enthusiasm and focus that the Fox Soccer Channel has brought to the buildup to the World Cup, the fact that ABC or ESPN or FIFA or whoever has not let them license / show highlights from the game is out and out pathetic. For shame. The stateside audience for soccer would be dramatically lower without FSC.

Friday, June 11, 2010

"I scored a goal in the World Cup final"

OK. Not me, exactly. Because I don't get ESPN3 and can't watch games live, I went to good old ESPN to check the scores, and saw its video feature on guys who did score goals in the final (no coverage of the women's final, yet...). Pretty amazing. A guy from Uruguay who beat Brazil in 1950. The guy who scored 3 to beat Germany at Wembley in 1966.

Though Mary would mock me if she bothered to read my blog, this is heady, emotional stuff. Many of us get married and have kids, and unless you're first to die, everyone loses loved ones over the course of a life. Those are huge moments. But even Michael Jordan hitting the shot in '82 to give Dean Smith his first title doesn't compare. The World Cup is on an entirely other level. Go to ESPN and watch some of these clips. It's pretty cool.

Then try and return to your day job.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Breakfast with a cop

I had breakfast with a cop today. He had arrested me 18 years ago, and I bought him breakfast to thank him for doing the right thing and not cutting me any slack just because we had gone to high school together.

He asked me what I thought of the economy. I gave him a long-winded answer about how we're at a tricky point in needing to encourage debt and consumption in the near term when we really need to cut it in the long term, how we don't need big SUVs and McMansions blah blah blah.

I asked him what he thought. He said he sees the marginal portions of society and it's been very alarming how they've been underserved in the last decade or so. How the closing of the mental health center in town in 2003 had left a lot of people stranded and in need of services, how private sector contractors had ridden in on a white horse and said they could take care of the "segment" and turn a profit, and then had pulled out and run for the hills when they couldn't. He said that the disparities in wealth he saw were deeply troubling and that the passage of the health care bill was clearly a step in the right direction. He worries about seething anger amongst the poor.

This is a long-time cop, a guy who sends one of his kids to Catholic school. A guy who pulled bodies from the wreckage of 9/11. Not someone you think of as classic bleeding-heart liberal, though we are, admittedly, in a liberal town (but an affluent one and one where the underclass is relatively small -- which lends more credence to his POV).

It was another one of those moments where I thought about what I was doing with my life.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Musical interlude

Monday, June 07, 2010

Financial Reform: Faces of the Affected

The Wall Street Journal ran a story that nearly had me in tears. It charted the wide implications of the financial reform legislation currently pending in Washington, including pictures of the sad lot shown below. They come from all walks of life: derivatives trader, auto dealer, attorney general, retailer. What they share is a deep foreboding of dislocation should the current legislation pass. It will rip through their lives like Katrina and Rita, or Thelma and Louise.

I'm sure that, gazing on their anxious countenances, you are seized with empathy and compassion and you think, how can I help? What can I do to make their lives a little easier, to protect them from the impending storm? What you can do is take up a quill pen, like the ones our Founding Fathers used when moved by the spirit of sweet little baby Jesus, and write to your congressman or senator. Man the proverbial levies of freedom! Line them with the sandbags of liberty! Let them know how you feel about the impending threats to the ways of life that these good white men have known and loved for generations. Don't let a tragedy that we can prevent come to pass without a fight.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Obama's Katrina?

A lot of people are asking whether the Gulf crisis is Obama's Katrina?  There are a lot of heady themes wrapped up in this simple question, and I think it's best to address them head on.

  • Was Katrina Bush's Katrina?  The idea is that the moral emptiness of Bush's regime was laid bare by the images of the forgotten underclass languishing at the Superdome and Bush and Chertoff's failure to respond. In fact, we were all complicit in the first bit, and Bush's failure to respond probably didn't cost him many votes in 2008.  It may have galvanized Democratic voter registration drives, though.
  • If Obama fucks up, is the Democratic Party fucked forever?  Of course not. A lot of people were panicky around Scott Brown, the Tea Party, and now BP.  The fact is that, as Obama has noted, the regulatory apparatus and culture around oil drilling, suburbia, and energy consumption have been bipartisan and cultural for many decades.  That said, three decades of Republican domination and wild west mentality have played a big role.  It is shameful that auto sales in recent months have been driven by SUV and truck sales (though lots of these have been fleet purchases for contractors).  People have short memories.

    To come back to my point, lets assume the Republicans regain seats in the mid-terms and Obama loses in 2008.  That does not mean we'll never have another black president or another progressive one.  In my view, the senate supermajority has caused the Democrats to be suboptimal listeners and reactive opportunists, and this is coming back to bite us.

    Deepwater Horizon is not Obama's fault, and he can't fix it, any more than he can fix unemployment.  Things take time. People are freaked out about hyperinflation when deflation is the bigger threat, but Fox News and the Tea Party have gotten the upper hand in terms of defining the debate.  I think Obama should bring Volcker to the podium to talk about more than just proprietary trading. People respect him and will listen to him.  There may be a fear that he will overshadow Bernanke.
Anyhow, my gut is that however bad Obama fucks up, he will eventually be viewed as a positive figure, because he has a good heart and his vision of America is one that is credible and in line with what most people, if not white people petrified by change. And because he's young and has a great career ahead of him.

OK, this is rambling, but hell, it's a blog.