Monday, December 26, 2011

End of year riches

At this time of year, these long days off, it's hard to know what to consume.  On the one hand, there are all these books I'm in the middle of, most prominently Peter Hessler's Oracle Bones and Ron Susskind's somewhat overrated Confidence Men, but also that biography of Henry Aaron that I need to polish off. Just finished John Elder Robison's Look Me in the Eye, which is well worth reading.

But then there's all the year end journalism, including the Economist year-end edition, always good, and the New York Times necrographies of those who died during the year, including Ira Glass's "These American Lives," much of which is touching.  And then, being here in Larchmont, there are all these Time magazines lying around, and many of the cover stories resonate.

And then there are movies to watch with the kids, including Elf, surprisingly good, with Will Farrell and James Caan and Ed Asner and Zoey Deschanel. 

And new CDs.  It's all just so much.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Christmas Spirit

It is a shame in many ways that I am so apart from the giving part of Christmas.  I participate in gifts Mary and I give the kids, but I never do any shopping whatsoever, now that the family has gotten out of the habit of giving gifts between adults.  Which is kind of a shame.  It is, admittedly, a total pain in the ass to figure out what people want, and I have done considerable and pretty successful research trying to find new Christmas music for Mary, but other than that I've been totally out of the hunt. Ahh well. Maybe next year.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Lessons and Carols

Just went to the Christmas eve service at the Episcopal Church in Larchmont. After all one reads about the waning of the traditional denominations, I felt like I was doing the church a favor by putting on a jacket and showing up. I needn't have worried. The little church was packed to the gills with dolled up WASPs.  Here in Westchester, the ruling class lives.

And they put on a nice little pageant, the kids did. Confident 7-year olds in front of the mike.

The odd thing was that the carols differed.  "Away in a manger" was sung to a completely different melody.  "Go Tell It on the Mountain" was very officious and formal.  I grew up singing:

Once I was a sinner,
I sinned both night and day.
I asked the Lord to help me,
And he showed me the way...

Go tell it on the mountain yatta yatta

Here they picked other verses:

While shepherds kept their watching
o'er silent flocks by night,
behold, throughout the heavens
there shone a holy night.. yatta yatta

And some other voice closely tied to the Xmas story. The point is, it was very formal, nothing about sin or salvation, as we had in our southern rendition, which certainly felt more influenced by Baptist, Methodist, proto-charismatic traditions where the emphasis was much more on the personal connection to Christ, the Lord, the whole nine.

At the end of the day, I don't feel a strong need to go back to church anytime soon.  I got my taste for now.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Young adults

Interesting discussion with Diablo Cody on NPR this morning about her new film Young Adult.  She mentioned that the movie was typical for our generation because we were so incredibly self-involved and rearwards-facing, that with Facebook and all we have succeeded in "completely recreating high school" and judge ourselves relative to our peers based on wealth, etc. yatta yatta.  Obviously I find this an interesting comment.  Initially it sounds very deep and true.

But, then again, it ain't all that true.  The prior condition, that of earlier generations, was of limited mobility where people lived in the same place and had relatively stable social environments over the course of their lives. More people lived amongst those they went to high school, and so were already doing the stuff she talks about. America has traditionally been a place of relative mobility, and certainly the Depression-era, WWII, and post-war generations did move around some. Those that did were less able to keep in touch with those they grew up with, and that's frankly kind of a loss.

At the end of the day, I don't feel oppressed by social networks or the fact that I'm back in my hometown.  I'm happy to see friends of mine who are doing well, but it's not really about money. The ones with good vibes in their homes and happy kids are in that category. I could give a fuck how rich people are, I want to see a good aura.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Check Engine

The "Check Engine" light on our 1996 Subaru Legacy Outback has been on for about 6 months now. It has been coming and going for many years now, almost always put down to a solenoid switch somewhere in the transmission, which we've fixed a few times. How liberating, then, it was to read a couple of years ago in the Journal about how Paul Kasriel -- the chief economist of Northern Trust. Kasriel -- according to his daughter -- put a piece of tape over the very same indicator on his 1995 Outback.

I will confess that, as we prepare to pack the thing Griswold-full of stuff to drive north to New York for the holidays, I am sorely tempted to take it in to the shop for them to double check that nothing is wrong with the car. It is, after all, gently creeping up on 200,000 miles (we probably won't quite make it there on this trip).

Mostly, though, it makes me wonder if I should have been an economist. Certainly, just writing this reminds me that I should try to drive the thing a little bit today so I can be sure to check the oil, which sometimes gets low this late in the oil change cycle.  We're about 2400 miles into the 3k cycle, so I should really get it changed in up North (if not before).

Friday, December 09, 2011

Xmas tunes

Thought this was published on Monday Started a quest for new Xmas music on Facebook last night, and got some good suggestions (if you're friended to me, and likely are, check out the thread). Then I realized that all I really needed to do was go to YouTube and look up "Lo How a Rose e'er Blooming," because the song is really difficult to mess up. Here are three versions. One we've been listening to for a couple of years, and a couple of ones new to us. Tallis Scholars Sufjan Stevens Feist Actually, the Feist version somehow stuck in my head so much that I was seemingly unable to go to sleep till about 2am, despite or perhaps because of the fact that I was in an excellent mood. Somehow new music and the promise of new music, particularly in a category where we had been stalled, got me all worked up, right when I needed it least.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Colonel Sanders Story

After a somewhat crappy day at work, came home and turned on the TV. The soccer on FSC was kind of middling and definitely a comedown after last night's defenestration of Man U by Basel (who were impressive), so I ended up on CNBC, for the first time in years, really since the crisis. While eating my Chinese leftovers, I settled in to watching "How I Made My Millions," which featured first a guy who made mattresses, and then a woman who printed bags and other promotional materials. Now I'm watching the biography of Colonel Sanders. I gotta tell you, CNBC is striking a good note here. Instead of focusing on financial markets or drug dealers or pornography, as it so often does, it's going back to the roots and looking at entrepreneurs. Of course, I really should be working, but that's another story entirely.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Driving and spacing

Was driving Graham to Tae Kwon Do today, after I dropped Natalie off at her singing lesson, when I put on Glenn Gould's Goldberg Variations, which my uncle Ballard gave me vinyl of a quarter of a century ago and which I've never grown tired of. This is, by the way, the recording of the second time he recorded them, from the early 80s. When Gould recorded them the first time, in the 50s, it was, if memory serves correctly, a career-making event, and listening to the two recordings one after another is a fascinating study in growth/maturation/flux, but that's a different blog post entirely, and one which I may have already written... In any case, I was driving along listening and, before I knew it, I found myself going 40 in a 45 zone, even though I should have been going 50 to be sure of getting Graham to class on time. This is, of course, a great space to be in. After class, I will face a dilemma, because Car Talk is on and even Graham seems to enjoy listening to Click and Clack. This is what is known as an embarassment of riches.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Long, slow weekend

My zealous colleagues kept sending me emails but I've done my best to ignore them. It has, after all, been a holiday weekend, and I've been in need of a holiday. Natalie, Graham and I hit the Muppet Movie today at the Lumina, where some very geeky kids gave us very good service. One guy even opened the door for me when I had nothing in my hands but a bottle of lemonade and some peanuts. One thing a long recession does is make suburban kids appreciate whatever freaking job their scrawny selves can get. No more "I'm gonna be an entrepreneur" or "I'm gonna day trade" for the pre-diploma set, just slingin sodas like we used to back in the day. At Tyler's on Saturday night I was trying to talk to a guy I hadn't seen in like 20 years when these graduate student or early 30s women were trying to flirt with us. On the one hand, it's nice, but on the other hand, I hadn't seen the guy in 20 years, and I'm freaking married. Can they not see the ring on my finger? If they wanted to get my attention, they need to be thinking about buying me a plate of nachos grande or a Cheerwine or something, things I can actually get involved with.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

If you haven't seen this....

Police pepper spray UC Davis protesters. This is absurd. This is not how we handle protest in America.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Geeks love studs

I was at a customer conference for a big Indian offshoring firm earlier this week, and Malcolm Gladwell was one of the speakers.  First, I must say that Gladwell is to be commended for taking his talk from his next book, rather than his last one, for generally putting a lot of energy into his talk, and for not using the phrase "10,000 hours of practice" once.  I'd contrast this with the spectacle of Michael Lewis, a better writer, totally dialling in his onstage talks and pulling from recent books.

However, there was an interesting moment where Gladwell started talking about reading Keith Richards's autobiography.  I don't really remember what his point about Richards was, but somewhere in there he made some point about Richards getting laid a lot and what the key was.  At the time, it didn't seem that significant.

A little bit later, Vivek Tanadive, CEO of TIBCO and a pretty good speaker himself, was holding forth on the same stage, pulling mostly from his most recent book, The Two-Second Advantage. Tanadive was talking about how complex event processing like the stuff TIBCO makes uses predictive technology in rapid iterations to model the fluid decision-making of top-performing humans. One of the examples he pulled out was some guy who's an amazing pick-up artist at bars, because he's able to anticipate how women will react to what he says.  No doubt Tanadive is trying to build an algorithm to model this.

But here's my point: here are two pretty geeky, truly brilliant guys totally gawking at the accomplishments of modern-day Lotharios on a stage in front of a thousand people.

Lets turn this around and think about if they were praising the incredible accomplishments of women who got lots of men to do the nasty with them. What would we call them? Hmmm, let me think.  Not geniuses.

The thing is, just like the Zuckerberg character in The Social Network, we're talking about geeks who just want to get some action and approval from the ladies. The real question for men who are driven to sleep with lots of women is not the how of it, but the why.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Child puking into bag at Orlando airport

8 years old, bespectacled, geeky.  As the somewhat anxious, still geeky father of a skinny, anxious geeky child, my heart goes right out.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The 80% and the 20%

After Graham's Tae Kwon Do, we met Mary at Crate and Barrel to look at some bar stools to go at the counter at our house, once it's done. There were lots of plenty affluent people there, looking to buy this that or the other. Most of them, it must be owned, belong to the 99%.

The fact of the matter is that, even if my real income has declined over the course of the crisis, even if I lost a job and moved from one region to another for somewhat if not entirely economic reasons, I am incredibly fortunate.  If I am not in the 1% by US standards, I probably am in global terms.  Not that I'm gonna go run down the numbers. I was born to the dominant ethnicity in a place that values education amongst all else, and grew up with great people.

A key problem with OWS as well as the Tea Party is that they frame the plight of the middle class as one of victimization. Ever since Rick Santelli started ranting on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade about how he didn't want to be paying other people's mortgages, the white middle class -- no doubt sick of being guilt-tripped by every other sub-segment of the population -- has been trying to make itself out to be getting screwed. Santelli didn't want to be paying other people's mortgages although, in fact, owing to the Chinese government's reluctance to let the yuan float, his own labor was in fact being subsidized by some Chinese people working at, say, Foxconn, who themselves were getting hosed, and who later found another way to express their own discontent, a la Werther.

So, though my real wages have declined over the course of the crisis and have not appreciated dramatically since over the last decade, I'm really in no position to whine since I've benefited so incredibly from where I was born and raised, from the fact that I am white, male, a WASP, and even from the course that the economy has taken over the last couple of decades (technology and finance). And ever since I started working in the private sector and earning a real wage (April, 2000), I've been astounded by how low taxes have been.

I even worked at Goldman Sachs for a little while and, though I didn't think the people there were evil, I thought that the way they lived their lives verged on it.* They work too hard, take themselves too seriously, and focus too much on money. And all across Wall Street, Manhattan, and the upper echelons of the corporate world I see much of the same.  It's not that it's necessarily evil, it's just a little repulsive.

But at the end of the day more than 1% benefit, and taxes should be higher on more than just the very rich. Not that it's all about more tax revenue. It's good to have Republicans staying vigilant on government expenditures.  "Should the government be in that business?" is an evergreen question.



*As an aside, I must say that the technology groups within Goldman that I saw are very meritocratic and ethnically diverse, with particularly strong female leadership.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Life in the Rental

Met with our general contractor about our renovation today....

Oh yeah, the renovation. Many people pepper their blogs with pictures of their renovations in progress and, truth be told, I had intended to do the same thing, but I keep forgetting. Renovating your house is, shall we say, a process, and a torturous one at that.  At the end, alluring, is the promise of moving back in to the finished process.

But I, in zen-like fashion, am firmly rooted in the moment. At times the renovation is itself a horribly distended moment, but mostly I must say I kind of like being in our little rental house. It's cozy, much smaller than the main abode.

On weekends, when we try to watch movies, with the kids' bedrooms right off the living room, Natalie sometimes complains that the TV is too loud, which is a bummer. And Mary with her interior design magazines and various and sundry house parts, and Graham with all his millions of toys and Star Wars books spread out all over the place, all that gets a little old. Not that I anticipate it will automatically fix itself in a bigger house.

But mostly it's just kind of nice to come home and be a few steps from any given family member.  Once back in the manse, we will undoubtedly disperse to our respective corners from the overwhelmingly huge open space that was once four rooms and an attic but now can only be called "the Nave."

And the rental sits up on top of a hill on a cleared lot, so when I step out the back door to grill or go get the mail or juggle the soccer ball or carry out garbage, I look up and there are the stars and the moon, which ain't bad.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Another Year

This weekend we watched Mike Leigh's most recent film, Another Year. While the film can be a bit difficult to watch as much of the screen time is occupied by a couple of alcoholics who are friends and colleagues of the protagonists, one of whom is pretty much an open and bottomless wound, it is, in the end, a Mike Leigh film, which is a good thing.  Leigh has a vision which is infinitely more human than most of the rest of the directors over the course of cinema history, and all he cares about is people.

And it is, moreover, a film warmed by the presence of Jim Broadbent, who is really one of the great actors of our time.  It wasn't until I looked at his IMDB page that I realized just how omnipresent the guy is, he's really the Morgan Freeman of Great Britain, the moral center so many directors call on.  And apparently he's done 7 films with Mike Leigh, and I haven't seen all of them.  I'll be fixing that.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

This weekend's viewing

Finished up City Island, with Andy Garcia. A nice little movie, very much worth seeing, like a younger and less ambitious cousin of Moonstruck.

Then we watched In the Loop, with James Galdofini and a bunch of foul-mouthed Brits.  Extremely funny and cynical, though it putters into an anti-climactic end.  Still, well worth seeing.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pigs

Flying from Ft Lauderdale to Charlotte last night, a couple got into the two seats between me and the window.  He had on a Guns and Roses like bandana, with long hair, with his head shaved up under his ears and some patchy jeans. I started talking to them, and it turns out they were down in Florida getting married.  Alone.  Without family, on purpose.  Stayed in some luxury time share on Fisher's Island near Palm Beach.

Turns out, they needed time alone.  They had 5 kids between em, 3 from previous marriages and a couple of their own.  Both were in college, and he had two jobs.  One of them, it turns out, was in a slaughterhouse, slaughtering 1300 pigs a day.  And he gave me a fair amount of detail around the processes involved in killing them, which.... I will spare you. It made me think about vegetarianism, but when he hit the ground he was intent on finding some bbq (and rightly so, though the slaw down in that part of the state kind of sucks).  I think he wanted to fuck with me a little bit (and he did).

And between the five kids and two jobs, he had found time to master Angry Birds, to get up to levels Graham and I have never dreamed of.  A very sweet guy.  Spent a lot of time looking through his wedding pix (they were both in white) on his computer and declaring that this one or that one is the best.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Businessweek

I never thought an issue of Businessweek would make me cry, but here comes this week's with a picture of Steve Jobs on the cover, and I'm thinking:  oh, here's Businessweek's tribute issue.  So I start thumbing through it and see, in fact, that it's something more than that.  It's all about Jobs and Apple, every page, and there only appears to be one advertiser, and you can guess who it is.  20 consecutive pages of pictures of Steve and people around the world with Apple products, with quotes from Steve about life and death superimposed on them.  No logos.

It is, in short, a little breathtaking.  I'll read the articles later.

And keep in mind that I'm not even really an Apple fan. I'm writing this on a wintel machine, have an Android phone, mostly use my iPad (which I got for free) as a reading device.

Went back and read the articles, and they didn't add a ton to what I had read earlier in other places, but I did read it all.  Jobs was a compelling figure.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The New Yorker for the iPad

Is ridiculously large.  This week's is 186 megs.  The whole iPad stores 12 or 16 gigs.  Unless I'm mistaken, the New Yorker could theoretically max the thing out in a little over a year.  Absurd.  Nobody needs the ads to be this freaking hi-res.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Occupy Together

I really need to do some work tonight, but I keep coming home and getting sucked into reading about the Occupation, because, yes, it's important. If you haven't read Naomi Klein's speech from Zuccotti Square, do.

OccupyTogether is also impressive.

I have outlined some of my misgivings about the Occupation, but, while everything they say is not right, and they don't have all the answers, in essence they are not wrong.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Lots of TV

Graham, was sick today, so we watched a lot of TV, or, as the case may be, videos.  Late morning, it was Looney Tunes, including "The Scarlet Pumpernickel". Later, as part of his new Star Wars thing, we watched Revenge of the Jedi. I guess I had never watched it before, because I definitely had never seen Darth Vader pick up the Emperor and hurl him down into the conveniently placed abyss, and then have him die, helmet off and looking all space skanky, in Luke's arms.

The 99%

I have been spending a fair amount of time at We are the 99% reading the stories there.  Much of it is moving and powerful and times are hard and lots of people are getting fucked, but sometimes it's annoying to read about people who undertook impractical courses of study and huge debt loads and then are surprised they can't find work.

I know it is ridiculous for someone with a PhD in Russian Literature to say that, but it's true. I wouldn't have studied what I did if it meant taking on debt. I am definitely amongst the 99% in terms of income and wealth, but I'm towards the upper end of it, and am perhaps amongst the 1% in terms of good fortune and educational attainment. I probably could have joined the 1% had I been more practical in my career choices and had that world just not seemed shallow and repulsive and just too focused on work.

And if you think America's 99% are hungry, think how hungry the 99% in China, India, Zambia, Indonesia etc.are, how hard they're working, and what they're getting back in real terms.

But a big part of our problem now is indeed that America isn't producing things the rest of the world wants to buy.  To stay affluent we really do need to focus on science and math education -- which means that people need to be focused on the potential economic returns of what they study.  I have been extremely lucky in my ability to fight my way back from being impractical, and that I chose to do it right when unemployment was very low.

But we also need support for entrepreneurship, which means that making credit available to small and medium-sized businesses is important.  And at the end of the day the government is not going to do the best job doing that. Well-regulated capital markets can and should do a good job.  Does Dodd-Frank do a good job of doing that?  Who knows, there's too much of it to say and it's not well articulated. It's better than nothing, but probably too much. Reinstate Glass-Steagall?  Maybe.

So, yes, tax reform is necessary.  Wealthy people aren't paying enough taxes, and that includes me. Yes, health care reform is necessary.  Let people keep marching, and let us all keep reading and talking.

I know I keep rambling on.  Must go play with Graham.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Fox Soccer going downhill

Why so little Premier League and Champions League these days?  Has all the good stuff moved to Fox Soccer Plus or something where you have to pay a premium?

Or is this about general Murdoch empire financial weakness?

Murdoch has brought very little good into the world: the Simpsons, FSC.  And both seem to be fading.  So sad.

Update:  just saw that this is an off weekend for Premier League and that Wayne Rooney was off getting himself in trouble in Montenegro, so maybe I haven't been paying attention.   And I will also note that college soccer seems to be getting better in America.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

On Steve Jobs and Jim Valvano

I've never been a huge huge fan of Steve Jobs, though he has truly changed our lives. Somehow I thought the back-dating of stock options was in bad taste, and his management style sounded atrocious.

But I was nonetheless very sad to hear he had died, and I had a hard time falling to sleep last night.

I had never heard about his 2005 Stanford Commencement address, but it was everywhere this morning and I read it, and it is moving.  But it reminded me of another, similar, stronger moment even.  I've posted this before, but here it is again. It's worth watching every few years.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

One of my readers asked me what I think of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and that's a good question. I don't know what to think, so I keep reading. In the last few days I read Nikolas Krystof's piece in the Times, this critique of it, this piece in Dissent magazine, this piece in the Awl, and other stuff too.

The truth is somewhere in the middle, and the truth is that I've been working in and around finance for a decade and I'm not always happy with what I see.  I was in the hedge fund world for a few years and I was pretty disgusted, not necessarily with the people who made a lot of money, and I didn't see so much of them, as the hoi polloi in the crowds who fawned on them with so much adulation and so coveted their ducats.  Many of the people who were actually making money were in fact pretty interesting people, and really focused on understanding things clearly -- which is how they became successful -- rather than on strutting around displaying their wealth.  Though I never went to any of their houses. Had I done so, I may well have been disgusted.

So I've been in and around finance for a decade, and have developed a fondness for companies that focus on providing good value to clients.  I love Vanguard, though most of my money's at Fidelity (long story).

So, do I think everybody on Wall Street are criminals? No, but there is a degree of nastiness that gets distasteful.

Do I think that the answer to our health care problems can just be fixed with a stroke of the pen and saying that everybody gets free health care?  No.

Do I think that the wealth dispersion in this country is bad for our society?  Yes.
Do I think that this problem is easily remediated by just taxing the hell out of the rich? No.
Do I think that the Bush tax cuts were one of the stupidest policy decisions of our lifetime?  Yes.
Do I think that the war in Iraq has been the stupidest foreign policy venture of my sentient lifetime? Yes.

Similarly, excessive executive compensation is definitely a problem, but it can't be solved by just outlawing big salaries. More progressive taxation is probably par of the answer, if not a somehow simplified tax code (I'm not a tax guru so I won't pontificate on what it should be).

But do I think that the solution to our fiscal situation is as simple as banksters stealing people's money?  No. Increases in longevity and demographic curves (all the retiring boomers) as well as chronic diseases (obesity, diabetes, etc.) have changed the picture for us. Entitlements will need to be tweaked as we age.

But yes, McDonald's et al. are pretty evil.

But am I substantially invested in the stock market?  Yes.  I'm too lazy to own rental real estate and I think that burying gold in one's backyard is nihilism.  Though the regulatory structure we have is imperfect and Harry Markopolos of Madoff fame clearly demonstrated that it is worse than that in certain ways, the free press and some pretty hard-nosed and hard-working analysts provide a level of corporate governance in the US that's better than most other places (compare recent experiences in China and the collapse of Satyam in India in 2008). I believe that, net net, capital markets are a reasonable way to channel savings towards productive enterprises.  I just prefer index funds because I don't want to pay high fees. Not because fund managers are criminals, but because, on average, they suck.

And, being in the markets, and being employed near the industry, and with a child headed off to college in 7 years for which I'm saving and investing, I feel conflicted and a little guilty watching Occupy Wall Street.
 
So, in the end, I guess I come down being somewhere close to Kristof. I think that Occupy Wall Street is a good thing all told. Certainly the cops don't need to be spraying pepper spray in the face of non-violent protesters. It gives voice to people on the left who are pissed, and by doing so increases the probability that Obama won't be unseated by some right-wing freak.

But he should be chastened.

Off to bed. Tomorrow I'll surely think of something else.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Exile on Wall Street

Although my grousing has cut back some, I continue write a lot (maybe 200-250 pages a year) in both a professional and semi-professional mode, but it's in large part sort of fragmentary and concerning things that I only kind of care about, so I often wonder what I'd write a book about if I had time and energy to write a book. The big immediate if dreadfully boring topic is the challenge of staying focused on earning a living, but also the intermittent push and pull of life in and around financial markets.  On the one hand, as my buddy Jim, who writes marketing stuff for a big bank, said so well, "the American and world economy is so infinitely complex and fascinating," and one could really spend one's whole life reading and thinking about it without dying intellectually.

The problem, of course, is that there is so much else in the world that's also not only interesting, but compelling. There's morality, ethics, mortality too. Which is not to say that being homo economicus is necessarily immoral or even amoral. But I don't think there's an easy answer to that question , which is really just one facet of a bigger one: what is one (or, specifically, what am I) supposed to do with one's life?  And the only way to have a perspective on it is by stepping back from the life financial and looking at it.

And, yes, family and leisure are what's supposed to give us that, but you need a little more even. And that's where culture and just Being in the Social World come into play.  Doing things for others, seeing how other people live, reading novels, etc. To say nothing of soccer and snoozing and cupcakes.

And so, I sense that one day I will write a book.  But, I think, what will it be about, and what will I name it.  If I were to name it based on my current condition, the best title that comes to mind is Exile on Wall Street, the sense of being trapped in the world of money, markets, and, yes, technology, because I have to be.

But then I google that title and find that, lo and behold, it has already been claimed by the ever-energetic banking analyst Michael Mayo, whose book is coming out this November and, in fact, sounds like it's gonna be a good one.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mushrooms

We've had a fair amount of rain recently, and I haven't been able to help but to notice the sheer abundance of fungi in the yard of my house, my rental, and the woods when I've been running.

I assume the rain and the mushrooms are connected, but, since I know bugger all about nature, since I've spent my whole life focused on first culture and now finance, I really can't be certain. One thing I have noticed, is that there are a lot of mushrooms, and it makes me want to sing the Smurf song.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What we need more of

There's an older black guy across the street from my office who lives in one side of a little duplex.  He goes outside on the porch to smoke (though I've never seen a wife, so I wonder who forces him).  He was just outside trimming his hedge with an electrical trimmer and, I must admit, it looks rather nice.  He doesn't seem to have enough money to paint his house, but whatever.  Anywhere people in a marginal area are working to take care of their homes and properties is a good thing, a small victory for order in the battle against the ever encroaching 2nd law of thermodynamics.

In affluent areas, on the other hand, people go way overboard trying to impose order on the landscape and thereby bracket contingency.  There, I think, a little chaos is good.

Invictus

Just watched Clint Eastwood's Invictus.  It is not a complicated movie, but it is a compelling one, and worth watching. There's no need to for me to recount it, just watch it if you haven't.

But it is a hopeful movie, and in that regard a nostalgic one, because we're not in an historical moment that feels hopeful.  Obama had the rhetoric and the political skills onstage, but in a backroom setting he hasn't swung it, though he's tried to do the right things and I certainly hope he pulls it out and becomes more effective.

Mandela pulled off something very special in '95, it turns out (I missed this story when it happened). If someone could rise above the political fray now and build consensus and direction, we'd all be the happier for it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Josh on Amendment against Gay Marriage

I'm proud of our boy Josh, let's tack one up for the archives.  Not only is he doing the right thing here, he's doing it in a compelling way.  This is almost as good as his goal again Sanderson.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lean on Me

Natalie is practicing "Lean on Me" on the piano and singing along. Priceless.

Reading and Control

Mornings I often wake up anxious.  Weekend mornings, of late, maybe marginally less so, but anxious nonetheless.  So I sit down and start reading, trying to get a handle on the world. Yesterday I read about pork prices being driven up as the price of corn rises (ethanol, the Chinese's growing prosperity and their insatiable lust for meat of the pig [they locked in much larger than expected corn futures contracts a month or so back]).  Recently in the MidWest there have been reports of non-trivial pig theft, where people back up a truck to a feed lot under dead of night and take maybe 30 or 40 in a load (hard to miss if a farmer has a couple of thousand of the delicious little porkers.  Also copper, which is generally considered to be a great leading indicator because it's such a fine conductor (copper prices are off a little now, but the Economist offered some caveat [can't recall] telling me why not to freak out about it, so I went with it).

It's all about control. I know in my gut that I can't control it all, much less comprehend it, but it's hard to fight the temptation to do so.

Generally, a good weekend day is one in which I get out, see people, gain perspective, and let go and have

the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
(thanks AA!)

Much of it is about talking to other people and seeing that they're not freaked out. Yesterday a cookout at the Sieglings did the trick most awesomely.

Exercise is also key.  By the end of the day I'm usually better.  And then comes Monday.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Optimism

Started reading Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum's That Used to Be Us last night.  I'm with them. Realist optimism is the order of the day. (two days later, I've read 40 pages and am not all that optimistic about the book.  Simplistic and high level thus far.  Must skip forward to anecdotes)

Had started reading Matthew Ridley's The Rational Optimist back during the Japanese nuclear thing earlier in the spring, but crapped out in the middle of that one. It just read too much like a long New Yorker article without an editor.

The New York Times Magazine had a piece this last weekend about the principal of Riverdale (that's Archie, Veronica, and Jughead's nabe, you know) who's focused on a character-building initiative at the school.  He and a peer at a charter school have isolated 7 factors that they believe are correlated with success for students:

  1. Zest
  2. Grit
  3. Self-control
  4. Social Intelligence
  5. Gratitude
  6. Optimism
  7. Curiosity
I wrote these on a piece of paper and pasted it next to my desk.

Of course, I remember well reading another study that said that the best predictor of success amongst college seniors was not just having a plan for one's future, but writing it down.  I know I didn't do that.

Meanwhile, my renovation is coming along.  I keep meaning to write about it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hunam Restaurant, 9:15 pm, Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Chapel Hill, NC

Usually when I pick up food from there it is empty, so I went in sweatpants, but last night the place was hopping.  It appeared that there was a Chinese party of some sort. Somewhat formally-dressed Han  were having pictures taken in front of a picture. A sole white guy stood uncomfortably amongst them in a t-shirt, shorts, and sneaker, a teenager with a moustache clustered with some young ladies in skirts, apparently somebody's date.  That was good to see.

Meanwhile, by the register a black guy in his 60s or 70s sat there. The proprietor came back in from outside, a little flustered.  Apparently, somebody had come in and stolen the guy's food right off the counter.  It seemed like this had happened while he was sitting there, cuz he looked at me and said, somewhat comprehensibly, "I been sitting here for 20 minutes and...."  His wife came in from the parking lot, apparently trying to figure out what the hell was going on.

And this within 200 yards of police headquarters.

I have to wonder if the restauranteur will comp the guy his food after they make it again.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Punch buggies

I am often saddened during the day when i pass a punch buggy and there are no children in the car for me to punch. It seems like such a waste.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Movie Reviews

Road to Nowhere -- Just goes to show you, don't trust movie reviews from the Economist.   The glowing portrait in that mag must have been because it was August and they were desperate for copy and some intern from Oxbridge named Alistair piped up and said "I saw a jolly good flick over the weekend," which appealed to his sophomoric taste for everything meta and a really pretty actress.  In fact, the movie was just a bummer, overwrought, like going back and watching Jarmusch's Stranger than Paradise 15 years later and thinking "man, we must have been stoned to think this was cool."  Mary would easily have not finished this one, but I pushed through to the end, thinking it might get better.

The Black Balloon -- Toni Collette stars in this Aussie feel good film about a really autistic kid and his family, mostly about his 15-year old brother, also pretty nerdy by macho down-under standards, if cute.  For some reason, the hottest blonde in the brother's class decides that this skinny kid with the odd brother is hot, and takes after him. The romance is completely unmotivated at a plot level, but from a filmic perspective, it's always good to have and excuse to have eye-candy in a bikini around.  Even with a pubescent blonde model onscreen much of the time, not worth watching, we didn't finish it.

Star Wars -- Graham and Natalie had never seen it, so I got it out of the public library. Surprising how stilted and formulaic it is, after all these years, but you've got to give Lucas credit for creating lots of wierd creatures and a pretty fully-fledged world.  Graham has read lots of books about the series, so he knows what all the creatures are called, but he was still bouncing up and down with excitement. Natalie thinks it's silly and boring and went back to playing with her iPod and reading fantasy novels.

Monday, September 05, 2011

At the tank museum, Danville, VA


After months of delaying it, I finally took Graham to the tank museum in Danville this past Saturday.  There were some surprises.  For instance, I was a little surprised to learn that flash photography was a strict no no, because the tanks were so delicate and sensitive to UV light.  But, OK.

Admission was $10 for adults, $9.50 for kids under 12 and seniors.  You know we hit them up for that fat discount.  It was a little disappointing, having paid all that money, to learn that firearms were not allowed. What about my right to bear arms?! The lady at the counter gave me a map and showed me where the "latrines" were. While I was paying and then taking his camera back to the car, I told Graham to go in and look around.  I meant the gift shop, so I was a little nonplussed when he had hied off into the cavernous museum itself.  

And I really needed to pee, and thought he might too, so I hustled into the bathroom, calling out his name.  A guy in there, who looked a little like George Carlin, told me he hadn't seen anybody.  This guy had a pistol in a holster on his belt which, given the proscription on guns, confused me.  Turns out, he was an employee -- one of perhaps two in this massive hanger-like facility that held some 60 tanks and personnel carriers.  So that made sense.  I mean, of course employees might need a gun or two, just in case somebody else snuck one in.

(to be continued....)

Sunday, September 04, 2011

teaching aggression and a desire to win

To what extent is it teachable? Some kids clearly have it earlier, and a lot of it is probably straight hormones. There is a radical split.between competitiveness.and.participatory ideologies at present. As with most things in life, there is most likely a need for compromise and balance.

On the one hand, our kids need to be able to compete or, in time, they, and we, will be eaten alive, first by their peers, then by those hungrier than us (China, India, Korea...).  On the other, a six-year old whooping it up every time he wins some trivial competition -- and we've all seen them -- will get him (and it's usually a boy) in trouble at some point in time.

Friday, September 02, 2011

On Paul O'Neill

I had been meaning to read the book Paul O'Neill did (with Ron Susskind of the Journal) about his time as Secretary of the Treasury under W.  Entitled the Price of Loyalty, it came out in 2004 and sold a bunch of copies then. I finally found a copy not long ago, and am now hoovering it up. It's a good, if depressing book.

O'Neill tells of how he came into the Bush administration together with relatively rational moderates like Christine Todd Whitman and Colin Powell, and was marginalized by ideologues Cheney, Rove, and welterweight economics advisor Larry Lindsey from day 1. On the economy and taxes, Bush rode into office on his overwhelming mandate of hanging chads and Antonin Scalia having promised to lower taxes and take advantage of a phantasmagorical $5 trillion projected surplus by cutting taxes, and pushed forward with the unqualified tax cuts which have proven to be one of the single greatest policy mistakes of our lifetimes, over the reservations of O'Neill and Greenspan, who advised that taxes be cut only if certain fiscal triggers were tripped. Then, in the first meeting of his National Security Council, Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney showed up with a hard-on for regime change in Iraq and, shortly thereafter still in early 2001, memoranda circulated about who might be buyers of Iraqi oil assets.  Hmmm.

In any case, more later.  Good book.  I like Paul O'Neill. If there were still more Republicans like him, our lives would be less painful.  Obama should figure out a way to bring him and Powell into his pantheon of advisors if not his administration.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

from the clouds

Read the profile in New Yorker of Bridgewater Associates' Ray Dalio this evening. Had a hard time putting it down. Many of the really successful hedge fund guys are just so smart it's just compelling.  Jeremy Grantham, Barton Biggs, Soros, you read much of the stuff they write and say about what they're doing and the analysis is compelling by its sheer breadth and ambition.  They make a lot of money, yes, but that's kind of a pain in the ass actually because then everybody comes round and sucks up to you. But the discipline and insight of it all is engrossing.

Often, when they start philosophizing, they go downhill.  Soros -- far from being the evil puppetmaster Glenn Beck makes him out to be (it's clear the puppetmasters are in fact Roger Ailes, Karl Rove, and Dick Cheney) -- is warmhearted but pedantic. Dalio sounds overbearing.  Grantham, depressing as he may be, is perhaps the exception. Sad to say, he's pretty much a hard-eyed empiricist.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Our renovation

Many people blog a lot about their renovations. I haven't done so. Somehow it doesn't inspire me to write.

The house is going to be great, don't get me wrong, but the process is sucking the life out of me. And I'm not even doing a tenth of the work that Mary is.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I have been buying the same razor blades for years

And still, when i look at all of the variants available in the drug store, i get confused.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

I keep intending to write

and then end up reading or doing something else. Whoops!

Was just on a cruise ship for a week to the maritime provinces and New England. In Halifax, Nova Scotia, I rented a car and Rob and I drove off out of town into the little peninsula just west of the city. As always, trying to be smarter than everybody else, I did not go in the direction of Peggy's Cove, where the tour buses go, but went instead on the East side of the peninsula, which led us to Crescent Beach park, which was in fact a good thing. Beautiful place.

Intense to get a load of Canadian nature up close, the shit Natalie wouldn't let me check out last year when we were in Quebec. Generally nature is impenetrable there. Rocky. Marshy. Foresty. Rob's word was "inhospitable," which seems right. We went to the end of one road and came to a place where a pine forest was slowly growing and collapsing with moss all over it. I reckon it was the slow formation of peat bog or some such. You didn't see many deer tracks because the forest was so dense that how the hell would the little bambies get through there? In another place there was stuff that seemed like bamboo growing between a path (not a natural one, entirely maintained by the state, as it would need to be) and the rocky shore. Very cool.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Back from the Hills

Drove out west over the weekend to pick up Natalie from camp. Spent the night in Shelby, NC, where I was able to get a room at the Hampton Inn for only 7500 Hilton Honors miles, which is very cheap. The place was just fine. Best of all, it was right across the street from Bridges Barbeque, a fine old very homey purveyor of pig. Only thing is, being out west, they serve that wierd red slaw there, which doesn't offer any sort of dialectical interplay with your pork. Still worth going.

On the way along NC 74 towards Hendersonville, where one cuts over the ridge to Brevard, I saw some interesting stuff. A Jackson/Hewitt shop (tax-preparer targeting lower-middle folks) seemingly sharing space with a tattoo parlor. An insurance brokerage clearly colocated with a photo lab. Financial services firms are muddling through the post-crisis world where they no longer are perceived as workers of magic.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A bag of pennies

After hearing of how someone from the school's 2001 Camry had been broken into (maybe the door was unlocked) and the change in the thing between the seats was taken, I decided to try out a little experiment. On our somewhat lower income street, I left maybe 30 pennies in a somewhat if not perfectly translucent bag. At first it was over towards a corner where a brick wall meets lower brick wall (waste height) which holds a flower bed. 3 feet away from a sidewalk. No takers after a week or so.

So I moved it closer to the sidewalk, about a foot away from it. Still no takers after a day or two.

Today I upped the ante and put a quarter and a dime in there, my change from coffee at Weaver St. Let's see how long that sticks around.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Even more pix from Gwynn Valley





Wednesday, July 13, 2011

On the couch with Graham

Graham has gotten quite long of leg, and of late has taken to stretching out on our one sofa and reading Harry Potter. When I try to lie or sit at the other end of the couch he claims that it is "annoying," and refuses to really bend his knees much or do the cozy leg interlacing thing. Instead, he likes to extend his legs out fully and push his feet into my penis, in an often successful attempt to make me sit up. Clearly he is growing up.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

More pix from GV





Saturday, July 09, 2011

At Camp

Say no more.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Drop off at camp

Today was the first day of the three week session at Gwynn Valley.  Natalie was bouncing off walls silly, it was getting annoying.  For the last couple of days I kept saying "we gotta get you to camp."

Turned out, and we were fools not to have perceived it or otherwise discovered it, she was nervous.  Last summer at camp was -- as dedicated readers will recall -- really a transformative experience for her.  She was nervous at first, but she loved it loved it loved it.  She was so excited when I came to pick her up, really glowing in a super-positive way that I hadn't seen for a long time.  The horseback riding, doing a musical, making friends, singing songs, a whole range of pure childlike activities that are somehow less prevalent down in the lowlands, though school's really not that bad.

And when I suggested to her that she go for 3 weeks this summer, she was all over it, no hesitation.  And she is all about whatever bits of independence we grant her at home:  stay at home alone, walk to the library alone, walk to the drug store alone, she loves it all.  She generally revels in increasing independence.

But, 10 days and 3 weeks are, in fact, different, and she's never been away from us for that long before, and she finally brought it up herself on the way there today and Mary and I were like, of course she's nervous.  3 weeks is a long time.  So when she was all settled in and it was time to say goodbye, she leaned down from her bunk and gave us extra big, extra long hugs.  Which is not really her normal way of being.  And then we left.

But in 3 weeks, when I go to pick her up, I'm certain it will be all good.  And then we'll move on to 4 or 5 weeks.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Natalie prepares for camp

In case you have forgotten, Natalie loves going to Gwynn Valley.  This year she's going to a long session, almost three weeks.  Already last week in the hills of Virginia, when she was bored, she began planning, writing a day by day list of who she was going to write to during the afternoon quiet time.  She's been collecting the envelopes in which she will send letters, perhaps has even addressed them.  Last night she was packing her T-shirts in large ziplock bags and then (just like Granny taught her) sitting on them to expel the air from them so they'll take up less room in her bag.  After doing so, she noted that they might get wrinkled and put a finger to her lips and said."don't tell mom."

I forget who it is who has written on the virtues of boredom for kids. Certainly Freud's work on daydreaming points in that direction. Having nothing to do can surely focus them on the things they want to do.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

In the hills

In the mountains of Virginia. It looks a lot like Vermont in many regards, except that fresh mozzarella and the like is less readily available, and confederate flags are more frequently seen.

I took my road bike thinking, "well maybe it won't be too hilly for me." It was.

There was an awesome stream down the hill behind the cabin. At first glance, it looked muddy, but in fact it was as pure and cold as most mountain creeks, it just had a sandy bottom. Natalie for some reason could not be drawn in, but Graham and I adventured up it at length, and found many "rapidlings."

For much of the time we just hung out in the cabin and read. I read a Donald Westlake novel called The Hook that had fallen out of a box of books my dad had given me to dispose of a month or so ago and had been lingering in my car trunk.  I knew from years of intensive mystery/suspense reading passed that Westlake was an author that I respected, but I can't really remember any of his books.  This one was intense, Hitchcockian, shades of Strangers on a Train, if more disturbing even in the end.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Back from San Francisco

Out there for the first time in over a decade. A great city, to be sure, but in some ways it feels like New York in the 80s: lots of homeless people and dog shit everywhere.

Admittedly, I was kind of hemmed in by work and didn't really exit the Tenderloin/Nob Hill/downtown region till the last night, when we went down to the ferry building, which was pretty much closed down at night except for fancy restaurants. We walked from there to Fisherman's Wharf, which definitely sucks, although they did have Squirt in the 7-11. They also had a most impressive selection of hot dog and taquito varietals on the hot rollers. Really pretty disgusting.

On the way back, I enjoyed some bonus hospitality at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, thanks to a late plane from New York. I continue to believe that place has reasonably priced food, for an airport.

One thing, though. It was over a hundred outside, and inside the airport it wasn't cooled very well. A woman who lives there told me that it used to be kept cooler. They've no doubt adjusted the temp as a cost-savings measure. What's odd is that, former Texas governor and US President George Bush used to tout air-conditioning as the best approach for dealing with global warming. Where's the strong cooling, oh mighty W? I guess that plan kind of depended on the notion that the US could just buy its way out of anything. Whoops!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Disneyland and guilt - I remember Ensenada

At times I feel guilty about not taking my kids to one of the Disney places.  Natalie just turned 11, she may be passed the prime time.

Then again, I went to Disneyland when I was 10.  We had driven across the country in our Winnebago, and were convinced that we were so superior to everybody else because we didn't have to check into hotels and such like.  In retrospect, that doesn't seem liek such a big deal.

In any case, we went to Disneyland, and I hardly remember anything.  I think we went on Magic Mountain.  I vaguely remember some automatons singing "It's a Small World, After All."  Hooray.  I think I got sick.

A few days later, we drove down the Baja to Ensenada.  We wanted to get tacos, just like the ones we got at Tijuana Fats back in Chapel Hill, only authentic. Actually, I think we just wanted tacos. So we drive into Ensenada and there's some kid selling tacos in a cart.  We get one. Disgusting. No lettuce, no shredded cheddar cheese, the shell wasn't even crispy and fried.  So we head off to a restaurant where we sit at the bar and my dad holds up 3 fingers and maybe says "tres."  So they bring us three orders of three tacos, also not good.  My dad gets pissed off.

So we go down to some restaurant in a boat in the harbor and my parents get some kind of seafood stuff. Most importantly, there are seals swimming outside the windows, right down near us.  Or so I recall. It was totally cool.

The point is, I don't really remember Disneyland, but I remember Ensenada.

Meanwhile, I'm watching a little Dirty Harryathon here on AMC and just enjoyed a 1988 cameo by Jim Carrey as a junkey rock star. He just got whacked.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Western Pennsylvania, 1953

I happened across a web site for model railroad enthusiasts. It turns out these guys are pretty precise and granular in their recreations. The one below depicts a railroad in Western Pennsylvania, 1953.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Home decoration magazines are pornography for women

They oppress men with the unrealistic ideals they depict. The big difference is that women can leave them out all over the house, often with the centerfolds spread open for all to see.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Update on kids

Tonight was milder, went in the yard and played baseball with Graham.  For the first time with his new, actual baseball-sized ball.  After a while he started to hit it, and then took to running some imaginary bases, carrying his bat with him.  As he ran the bases, he sang a little song that sounded a like a pixieish version of the shark music from Jaws.

For her part, Natalie went on a school trip to Jamestown/Yorktown/Williamsburg today.  Kids were supposed to get to the school at 5:45.  She insisted on setting her alarm at 5:20 so as to get to the school a minute early.  She is clearly inheriting traits from her father and grannie.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Around the World in 80 Days

Graham and I just finished reading this Jules Verne classic.  Awesomely good fun. Excellent surprise ending.

There were difficulties, to be sure, when our heroes Phileas Fogg and Passepartout pass through India and have to interrupt a suttee, the ritual burning of the wife on the funereal pyre of the husband.  I didn't really feel like spelling that one out for Graham, had to finesse my way around it and improvise filler.

Aside from suttee, I learned one new word:  "resounce".  Unfortunately, I have no idea what it means.  I just looked it up, and it only seems to appear on the internet as a misspelling of "resource" (as in "Human Resounces).  But there are 12,300 instances of it in that way.  The publicly available Oxford English Dictionary has no record of it.  But it was in there, I swear. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Big readers

Tonight, some 11 minutes after her bedtime, Natalie had about 20 pages left in her chapter. Now, she usually doesn't let me kiss her, preferring to squirm and screech and push me away till I give up. Tonight, as I leaned in to try, she says "I'll let you kiss me if I can finish my chapter."

Earlier, Mary had been trying to get Graham to put away some books. Graham, from his prostrate position on the clinch, responds, "as you know, my career is in reading."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Back from the West

Flew through Dallas, which had been inundated with hail yesterday, causing massive damage to lots of planes and really screwing up American Airlines flights pretty good.

My flight was cancelled but I got on one a couple of hours later, so I had time for some brisket at Dickey's. While it's not pulled pork done properly as in you-know-where, it was pretty decent nonetheless, and the slaw and roll were quite good.  Surprisingly, or perhaps not all that surprisingly, when you stop to think about it, there seemed to be some meat -- most likely a pork varietal -- in my mashed potato casserole, which also had a little cheddar on top. That didn't need to be there. Should've had the mac n cheese.

Basically, I got there at a pretty good time, as the planes were getting rolling. Rumor had it that AA had pulled in excess planes that had been out to pasture in the desert during low volume season.  But people had been stuck in that airport overnight and were cranky and bitchy, so I was glad to see them go, frankly.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Downtown San Diego

On the one hand, people live down here, there's a grocery store, a gym with young people exercising, microbreweries, a Nordstrom's, etc.  In many ways an improvement over what I'm sure it was like 20, 30, 40 years ago.  Greener, sure.

Palm trees.

But there's precious little texture or flavor to be had down here.  All told, it's representative of little more than the malling of urban America.

The biggest surprise about San Diego is how mild it is, temperature wise.  Late May, highs in the mid to high sixties. Cloudy in the mornings.  Not what I would have expected.

Monday, May 16, 2011

J-O-B and more

Nothing puts a damper on a nice blog worse than working does.  All day long, into the night, working on that do-re-mi.

On Saturday I was finally able to get Graham out to Target to snap up a baseball bat to replace the one that has suspiciously vanished. And he picks out a nice, ultra-light metal one, entirely suitable for a boy of his lean profile. The idea was that he could whack the ball off of the most excellent T I purchased for him at the army-navy surplus/junk store on Main St in Carrboro.

But no, Graham wants me to pitch the ball to him, and so I do, and, lo and behold, he sets to thumping the thing pretty good, over my head any number of times.  And then he decides it's time to run an imaginary set of bases, bringing the bat with him.  I couldn't hardly tag him out at all, so quick was he round the bases.

And then, later, I took him back out to Tae Kwon Do where they were having nerf dart gun battle night. When Graham got there, Mary reported, a mighty arsenal of flourescent nerf dart guns was spread out on all the Zen-spare wooden benches, while a bunch of mostly 10-12 year olds sat in a circle out in the middle of the mats, presumably receiving instruction from the dojo. Graham was awestruck, but had a good time.

Meanwhile, Natalie had headed off to an evening of contra-dancing for tweens at some church.  She put on a nice skirt and a little tank top number. 11 is just around the corner, and I think the opposed genders are beginning to take note of each other. She pronounced the evening to be "Awesome!", and then the next morning presented me with a neatly written and categorized birthday list.  When I suggested she type it into the Macbook lest the only copy of it be lost, she said "OK.  I love typing!"

Despite the working thing, times are good.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Back from Gotham

Made a one-night, one-day trip to New York for a conference over the last couple.  Arrived in the fair burg to perfect springy weather.  When I got to LGA, I found out that the guy who I was supposed to be having dinner with had forgotten about it, which turned out to be a great blessing in disguise.  With time to kill, I hopped aboard a bus into Queens to catch the 7 train.  I got off at Roosevelt Ave, got a couple of little empanadas -- ostensibly chicken and beef, but really pretty indistinguishable, as both were mixed with a lot of potatoes, but tasty nonetheless with some green salsa.

I started looking through my phone for someone to have a drink with. Ended up in the west village with a former colleague who has just written a novel about management consulting. Sounds exciting.

Then I walked south to Beth's place in Tribeca, past the haunts of my early courtship with Mary:  Sheridan Square, esp. Patisserie Claude, which was 5 stories below our window.  Lupe's, where we had our first date (after seeing the flick Heavenly Creatures at the Angelica, in which two Aussie tweeners get psycho and whack their mom, if memory serves correctly). Good times all.

And then, yesterday, when I had some time to kill between my conference and drinks with the guy who had blown me off the day before, I called up my friend Corinna who works there on 42nd St and we hung out on the street and chatted, just like we would've 20 years ago, only without the cigarettes.

Good livin.

Friday, May 06, 2011

The Spooky House

At the end of the road where we are renting just now is a very nasty looking little house. Only a dim light ever shines through the window, nobody in the neighborhood knows who lives there, it kind of freaks those of us with kids out, particularly cuz there's a path leading past it that goes through the woods to a place where other kids live, so it's a natural place for kids to walk.  In front of the house are an old Chrysler K car wagon and a Nissan truck, both of them derelict, rotting into the earth.

It is, in short, a mystery, but no longer.

At Johnny's this evening, I ran into Rick, of longtime local and touring band Southern Culture on the Skids. The house, it turns out, is occupied by Mary, the bass player, who has maintained a largely nocturnal schedule. Figures. The big white van that is sometimes parked out front was, in fact, the clue I expected:  a rock and roller lives here, not an actual axe murderer, just someone who cultivates that aesthetic.

Jumping up

This being basketball country, as kids we always liked to jump up and touch things with our hands: branches, ceilings, girders, you name it.  It showed we had reach and hops.

So I wasn't all that surprised when, this afternoon, as I raced against an apparently onrushing thunderstorm (which in fact passed us by) over to Weaver St to get my normal afternoon coffee, a 60ish woman, thinking nobody was looking, bounced up a little bit to touch her head to a banner hanging down over the sidewalk, advertising some kind of seafood for sale. The urge to show hops does not die easily in these parts.

New verbs from Graham

Observate
Maneuverate

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The Sportswriter

Coming to the end of Richard Ford's The Sportswriter, I'm happy to say.  I was a big fan of its sequel, Independence Day, where I felt like our hero, Frank Bascombe, was sorting through real shit in a real, if stylized, way. This first book reads like Camus comes to the suburbs, pure and simple.

It is definitely bittersweet to read of Haddam, NJ, this thinly veiled Princeton, lacking only a university (which Princeton, in its own way, does as well, and I'm not saying that as a Yale guy).  So much else feels like home.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Geniuses

In some VH1 rockumentary about the Who, Pete Townsend said something like: "Keith Moon is a bleeding genius, Roger Entwistle is a genius, and I'm some kind of a genius, but Roger Daltrey is, well, just a singer." I thought that was kind of an odd thing to say.

Then I got my first copy of Live at Leeds, a week or so back. The first song, Heaven and Hell, pretty clearly shows what he's talking about. Entwistle sings lead. Fact is, even Townsend is in the back seat here. This song is basically an excuse for Moon and Entwistle to go wild. Maybe the best jazz/rock fusion ever.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Judaean People's Front or the People's Front of Judaea

Got an email at work today very reminiscent of Monty Python:

The National Employment Law Project is currently promoting a research brief which claims minimum wage mandates don’t reduce teen employment. The Employment Policies Institute (EPI) completed a new analysis demonstrating how the study uses faulty methods to promote the activists’ agenda. Below is a press release and statement from EPI on the analysis.

Spokespersons are available for interview. To schedule, please email or call me at blah blah blah blah


"The Employment Policies Institute, no no, we don't have truck with those wingnuts, they're sitting over there!"

Friday, April 22, 2011

Conversations in my head

All too often when I am out exercising (OK, I suppose that itself doesn't happen all too often) I find myself arguing in my head with my boss. I suppose it may have been worse in former jobs, when I actually saw and had to deal with my boss more frequently, as opposed to now, when he's on the other coast, but still.

This is a bad sign. I am 45 years old. Exercise is supposed to be a time of clearing one's mind, getting away from all that, like Calgon ("take me away!"). I suppose the best plan would be to lose the boss, but then I would lose the income stream.

The next best plan, which I put into action today, was to go have lunch with friends, which invariably puts things into context and actually gives ideas as to how the boss, over time, might actually be lost. Stay tuned. Though, of course, the lunch made it all too necessary to get back out and exercise, delish though it was.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Unread email count hovers near 666

This has been going on for months. I have flirted with the dread number of the beast, off and on, for some time in my personal email account. Each time I see the number pop up I instinctively rush in and cull my unread emails, harvest the junk, get it down in 600 range, but then it creeps back up on me.

I know if I went in and got it down to 400 or so I'd feel better. Or do I derive some sick pleasure by this dalliance with digital Mephistopheles?

Last week in Vegas I was in room 669, in the "Roman Tower." Across the hall from me was, you guessed it, room 666. Gee, if I were designing a hotel, I'd think of skipping that number, along with floor 13, right?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Best Blog Ever

Somebody I hadn't been in touch with for some time, someone from grad school, told me today that mine was the best blog he had ever read. This warms the cockles of my little blogging heart, I must tell you. It is ever harder to write a blog, when so little happens in my life, when I must spend so much of my time cobbling together words about such exciting subjects and insurance and technology, when my ears and mouth work so hard with the telephone and the so-called electronic mail, so little room is left for the soul.

Or, rather, I have to keep digging down looking for it, but it is there, and I do try to put it here, and all without drilling in detail into the personal lives of family members (no mean feat). Surfacing the soul from the narrow confines of the four walls of my office, with the comfortable chair that I so rarely sit in, with all those books, some of them worthwhile, others merely useful, that I so rarely read, consumed as I am with churning through the ephemera of risk management and the digital piping that subtends it, putting myself forward as an expert because, by all means, there need to be experts.

Some years ago, when I first found myself dabbling on the edges insurance, long before I knew enough to even fake a description of it, I went out and bought a slim volume of Wallace Stevens, who was of course an insurance executive by trade. I still haven't read much of it.

Monday, April 18, 2011

nicknames of our cats

Rascal is also known as Nunu or, simply, "bottom kitty", primarily because she likes to have her butt scratched but also, in truth, because that's the role she plays with Leon. Leon, the dominant, is also known as Ruru.

Another singer

Aside from the New Pornographers record, I also got The Crane Wife, from the Decemberists. An interesting comparison. As I said, AC Newman doesn't impress me that much as a singer. Maybe he has pipes, but you can't tell because he's hiding behind the ladies who, for some reason, always sing along at the same time.

Colin Meloy of the Decemberists, on the other hand, is clearly not a great technical singer.  And he looks an awful lot like Dwight Shrute, from The Office.  But he is a wonderfully expressive and human singer, he lets his passable if imperfect voice hang out their naked, and it works. And when he gets a great singer in (say, Shara Worden), they just let her rip. And, in the end, the Decemberists are a better band with greater vision.

Construction

It is difficult for me to get to my office without passing a major construction site which has closed at least one lane. Time was, I would have considered this a pain in the ass.  In 2011, I recognize it as a sign that I live in an area that is doing OK economically, and so am cheered.

Also, it slightly extends the time I can listen to music in my car. Just traded in some old boox at Nice Price and snapped up a live Cream record and the Who's Live at Leeds for the car stereo.  Yes, I know, I am old, but so what.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Wasting Asset

Just got the New Pornographers' most recent, if not quite new album Together.  Here's what I don't understand.  They are a good band, with a good sound, and an admirably egalitarian ethos. A.C. Newman writes some good songs.

But the times when they really soar and shine is when Neko Case steps up front and belts. She's the secret weapon that makes them into a great band at times. She's the only one whose voice has a lot of meat and texture.  So why is it that there's only one track on the record where she really fronts the band?



 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sergio Ramos is a thug

In both of Real Madrid's Champions League games against Tottenham, Ramos was on Gareth Bale like something out of Mad Max. He should have gotten cards both times. And Bale still schooled him a couple of times.

On the other hand, I've come to enjoy watching the curly-headed Marcelo work.  That guy has craft.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Back from Vegas

I had the distinct displeasure of heading out to America's fetid armpit in the desert, Las Vegas.  God, what a dump. At least I was able to do some worthwhile business there and had at least one decent meal, which really isn't as easy as all the hype would lead you to believe.

Tuesday night I walked from Caesar's Palace to the Venetian to figure out where I was supposed to meet somebody the next morning. To do so I had to pass by Casino Royale and some restaurant with an all-bacon theme. I saw a rail-thin woman in heels and a tight black dress walking along as if she had just chugged a gallon of paint thinner, staggering and barely staying upright with the support of the guy who had surely plied her with it.

I rode to the airport in a stretch Hummer that showed up at just the right time when the taxi queue had gotten too long at Caesar's.

I flew to Memphis, and was delighted to spend an hour and a half at this modest little airport with decent pulled pork barbeque (thought the sauce was too sweet).  While I was there there were two announcements that people had lost things:  first a woman left some silver earrings at the security checkpoint, and then someone else left a cellphone in the bathroom. That's more like it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Good Hair

Usually when we rent documentaries I get bored, but I had been pushing to get Chris Rock's Good Hair for some time, and finally, this weekend, it arrived.  Watch this movie. It's funny, but not all that funny.  Rock is serious about this subject, about protecting his little girls from feeling shitty about their hair, and he uses the influence and access that comes with being a very famous guy to go out and make a serious, engaging, unrelenting movie. He leaves very few stones unturned.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Our open-minded girl

Natalie, on her choice for desert tonight:  "I'm not picky like you, mom.  I'll eat Hershey's chocolate."

Monday, April 04, 2011

Sublet changeover

So my subletter moved across the hall into his own office late last month, and the guy through the wall from me took over his space. In my mind, my first subletter was very fortunate that his space was taken over with no effort from me.  I released him from the next month's rent -- which I was not contractually obligated to do -- but then he wanted me to prorate and get rent from the other guy for the days that I let the other guy took over his space.  He calculated the amount that he should be paid as $53.16.

I laughed at him, told him that he was lucky that I wasn't enforcing the one month's notice thing, and told him that if he wanted the $53.16 he could ask my new subletter for it.  Well today me and the other guy finally executed a a sublease and I got a deposit and a check for April's rent, and I couldn't help but notice that he had also cut a check for $53.16.  Hmmm, I wonder who that could be for?

Saturday, April 02, 2011

The decline of the NCAA

A short piece in the New Yorker this week spoke honestly about the decline of the NCAA as a stepping stone to the NBA, as the NBA D-League and European leagues become better places to play.  Oh well.  I'm sorry, but living in a place where college basketball dominates the landscape and has for my entire lifetime, I can live with that.  Universities with big teams have drifted too far from their core missions.  Big money sports were not supposed to be what the university was all about.  If college basketball becomes less relevant to the ongoing operations of the university, that's OK.  It would certainly be preferable if the same thing happened to football, since football really sucks.

Universities can think up a new funding mechanism other than headline sports. If, in states like my own North Carolina, that means that the flagship university (Chapel Hill) ends up getting marginally less money as other universities (UNCs-Charlotte, -Greensboro, -Asheville, -Wilmington, etc.) develop stronger donor bases, that's OK too. The university is not about sports, and it in particular is not about one specific sport.

What we do want to have is a strong public higher education ecosystem with a healthy mix of public and private funding sources.  California public education is hurting now.  Texas just realized it had a $27 billion fiscal hole. North Carolina must retain its leadership position.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Hearth fried pizza

Grabbed a couple of slices from Whole Foods today.  When I was getting them out of the car at my office, some dyslexic optical illusion made me mistake "hearth-fired pizza" for the altogether more impressive "hearth-fried pizza."   For a moment, I thought it was love.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Back from Boston

Where I suffered the indignity of having to wear my winter coat again, during the spring no less, but also the joy of lobsta salad as well as some fine Vietnamese noodles at lunch time.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Stripped down cell phones for teens

Just read NYTimes article on sexting. Makes me wonder. Are there stripped down phones for teenagers that don't offer texting as a feature? Could one lock them down so the functionality couldn't be added? Given all the driving related issues with teen texting, seems like a natural, though there are unintended consequences of making them talk while driving. Maybe just target for pre-driving teens?


... just learned on Fbook that providers offer this.  Good to know.  Why didn't these parents do that?  I guess the fact is that texting is just one avenue.  If they can't text things, they'll email attachments or something. This is more a cultural/parenting issue than a tech one.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Ghost Writer

Friday night. Watching Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer.  I didn't realize it was his movie, and then the music, the mood, it was all so Hitchcockian, so I looked it up.  In reality, this movie very much hearkens back to The Tenant, Polanski's 1976 classic, in which Polanski moves into the Paris flat of a woman who killed herself by jumping out the window and then thinks everybody's conspiring to turn him into her so he'll kill himself too.  "They'll never turn me into Simone Chueil!", she said. We'll see how this one turns out.

Sunday morning... Finished the movie.  It's as good a thriller as has been produced in some time, possibly since the Usual Suspects.  Went in directions other than expected.  Left me sitting on the couch thinking back, tallying up.

It is a shame Polanski's career got sidetracked by his pedophilia.  A great great director.  So many of the great ones in all domains get sidetracked by their dicks, as if they think the laws of nature don't apply to them.  Polanski, Woody Allen, Tiger Woods, Chaplin, Slick Willie, JFK, MLKJ, etc.

Don't be surprised if it happens to Michael Lewis.  That book he wrote on fatherhood was just dialled in from a lounge chair somewhere on St. Barts.  He has too great a range and facility of intellect and pen to acknowledge limits.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hide the Banana

I have a family of monkeys.  Each of us eats a banana a day.  They are, after all the most conveniently pre-packaged fruit and vegetable serving you're going to find, and they are tasty.  I eat mine at right about 10am. So the bananas disappear quite quickly, and when their numbers get low, Mary starts to squirrel them away in the cabinets, lest the kids should make them into potassium-laden desapericidas in the blink of an eye.  Often I have to ask where they are.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Shins

I recently got the Shins' 2nd record Chutes Too Narrow. I gotta say that one of the great joys of being middle aged is not caring about buying a hot record 5, 7, or 10 years late.

Anyway, I continue to think that -- at their best -- the Shins are as close to the second coming of the Beatles that we've seen. The craft of the songs, the melodies, the harmonies, the total package. So it was interesting when I had them on in the car and Graham commented that they reminded him of the Beatles because of "the way they sing together."  Admittedly, his frame of reference is particularly narrow because Natalie loves those mop-topped Liverpudlian rapscallions so, but stll.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Return of the repressed

Throughout the work day I've been trying to concentrate on work, with limited success. Though I've stayed away from the allcaps over at Huffpost, the reportage at Bloomberg and at CNN has communicated loudly and clearly enough.  The shit in Japan is flat out scary.

I should not allow myself to be infected by this stuff to the extent that I am, and yet I cannot not get dragged into it.  It makes my skin curl.

Chernobyl was more than half a lifetime away, The Day After well more than that.  We had worried about AIDS for a while, but getting married and settling down tamped that down.  9/11 and its nephew anthrax came and went, and we've been on orange security alert or higher for so long that that's a joke. It seemed that I was back to the place where organically occurring cancer was the big worry. Now nuclear is back and in our face with a vengeance, and it's freaking real.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Enough with the shouting headlines

I had been reading Huffpost a lot until the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis in Japan.  Since then I've really tired of the enormous freaking headlines and have returned to CNN and other more down to earth news sources.  Huffpost is getting foolishly alarmist.

Artists live on

Just saw in the Times that Rob Pruitt lives on as an artist and has a new art awards program under the auspices of the Guggenheim.  It's good to see people living on.  I remember having dinner around '87 at what was to become a Lower East Side institution -- a Mexican restaurant called "El Sombrero" -- with Rob and his then partner Jack Early (from Winston-Salem, his dad is a lawyer of my dad's vintage and was known back in college days as "Squirrelly Early"). I knew them through Mattie Antezzo. Sometime in the middle of dinner, maybe towards the end, Rob swept his fork across everyone's plate (i.e., about five of them), made a big mess, and came up with a big composite mouthful of rice, beans, pork, salsa, what have you.  And ate it.  I was fucking furious.  I was not done with my dinner and I didn't have much money at the time.  Fucking artist junkies, I fumed. But it's good to see he's still around and that Jack Early (whom I last saw at the awesome Housing Works Thrift Store in Tribeca) is also having a comeback show.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Fat heads

I picked up my Gwynn Valley baseball cap the other day and found that the sizing was adjusted for a head bigger than my own, which could only mean one thing:  Mary, she of the mighty noggin.  I jokingly started accusing her of borrowing it and adjusting the size, when Graham rose to her defense, saying that my head is bigger than hers.  Well, both Mary and I corrected him on the one, but he came back at us:  "But your head is much fatter."

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Passing strangers

  • Robert and I went to Dick's the other night, me to return a mini-stairmaster that was broken, him to look for a sleeping bag for his daughter or something like that.  As I was checking out there was a black woman at the register, 50-55 or something, wearing some sort of faux fur headband.  She was waiting for a manager to come up front.  As it turns out, she was hoping to apply the $10 discount coupon that was printed out on her receipt to the purchase for which it was a receipt.  Readers of science fiction will recognize one of those time travel paradoxes at work.  The manager came up front and said "we'll do it for you this time, but these usually apply to a subsequent purchase."  The woman rejoined:  "Well, that's not what the sales guy said, he said it could apply to this purchase.  That's kind of a case of... what you call it?  Misleading information, wouldn't you say?"  The woman was clearly proud to have broken out a threatening technical term like "misleading information," and her body posture implied that she had a team from Skadden, Arps waiting in the wings. The manager, surely an hourly employee with shitty benefits, clearly just wanted this troublemaker out of his store so he could close down.
  • Friday night we got take-out from the Thai place down at the shopping center. On the phone, the guy asked my name, and I told him, "Clark".  Consonant clusters like "Cl" don't always go down so smooth with native speakers of Asian languages, so he said, "OK, Bark".  Which is cool.

    So when I got there 15 minutes later, there was only one take-out order waiting and the guy leads me to it and shows me the bill and I jokingly said:  "How'd you know it was for me?" and he said "Oh I know your name, Bark."  Which was plausible, as I've ordered and picked up there many times in the past.  But still, you gotta love it.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Colorful socks

I suppose it is a fad, but, like any fad, it is particularly cute when it is my children who are engaging in it.  Right now one of them is colorful socks, particularly ones with toes in them. Natalie is digging them these days, as in the picture below, in which she darts out of the range of field of my camera, but I nonetheless capture one elusive sock. 

Of course, like any other self-respecting 5th grade girl these days, she has also been amassing an impressive collection of hand sanitizer, in many different aromas. One of her friends, she told me has like 30 different scents!

Monday, March 07, 2011

Stormwater mgmt

The town has been looking at our proposed renovation carefully, and one thing it was concerned with was the creek down at the bottom of our yard.  It seems that new laws were passed in December mandating that areas around streams be left "undisturbed" to slow the flow of water down into them to reduce the amount of nitrogen and other crap that goes down to Jordan Lake, to prevent or reduce algae blooms.  So some dude from the town was poking around my yard last week.

When Graham and I were over there by the lake yesterday, I looked down the hill in my yard and noticed a yellow "no trespassing" sign down there. The casual observer would not know if it referred to my yard or the area down below, but I know.  The town wants people to stay away from the stream.  Good luck with that, I say. I'm not reprimanding kids looking for newts.  More importantly, it's not like human presence is hugely impactful down there.  Hello, town, it's the freaking deer.  If you want foliage to grow around streams, you've honestly got to get more aggressive culling those big doe-eyed rats who nibble up all the understory everywhere and traipse about with utter bamby sangfroid.  Deer are not literate.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Picking paint colors

We are currently working on picking paint colors for the house, because we have to pick the color of our screens so that we can order windows so that they can be ready for the general contractor so that when he's done with demo and framing and whatnot there can be some sort of inspection so that they can move forward with drywalling etc.  Something like that.

The eternal regression of decision-making.  Arghh!

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Standing in the kitchen

There is really nothing better than standing in the kitchen in the evening running over with your spouse the amusing things your kids said or did that day.  If there had to guess at the meaning of life, that would probably be as close as I could get.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Confusion over Iraq

Graham continues to alternate watching the military channel with cartoons.  Today I came home and he was talking to Mary, confused.  Apparently, he had seen a program about Desert Storm or whatever we called it, and had seen our tanks roll smoothly and easily into Baghdad, and had even seen President Bush flashing a victory sign. Mary was explaining to him why, in spite of this, we were still at war in Iraq.  So confusing for the 7-year old set.

Playing in the creek

Yesterday went to Community Park with Graham and his friend Sam.  Eventually they ended up down in the creek, where they played in the sand and got (you guessed it) filthy. Watching them expand a rivulet into a stream while Graham's butt crack hung out of the back of his jeans was, as they say in the Mastercard commercials, priceless.