Thursday, September 29, 2011


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.


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


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.