Friday, December 21, 2012

Shlock doctrine

In the Wall Street Journal this morning a story noted that the futures were off as everybody was apprehensive after Boehner said the Republicans had balked at his "Plan B". I quote:  "A selloff in the US Friday would revive memories of September 2008 when the chamber voted down the Bush administration's first Wall Street bailout plan, sparking a 778-point fall in the Dow Jones Industrial Average."  Ummm. The Dow ended up the day down 121 points, not even a percent down.

Similarly, a new conservative member of the Board of Commissioners or whatever in my mom's hometown voted not to approve funding for the next phase of a Senior/Recreation Center, stating that it would be irresponsible to move forward, given that "we're in a depression."

Well, I'm sorry, but this is all bullshit. We are alternately beset by memories of the financial crisis and their shadows, but we are not still there. It's all reminiscent of Naomi Klein's shock doctrine.  The deep-pocketed (of whom there are many) are trying to freak out the less so by preying on their fears, the better to scoop up their assets. Unemployment is not crazy high, the markets aren't insanely overvalued, and the fiscal cliff is not the abyss that was autumn 2008.  Shit, the Fed just put forward QE4, promising to pump another $45 billion of liquidity into credit markets monthly, on top of the $40 billion it pledged just a few months ago.  This most recent tranche, at $540 billion annually, is just about equal to the total projected impact of the Fiscal Cliff if we go over it.

Shit is a little bit crazy out there, but it ain't all that..

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

More books by and about men

Just worked through Eric Ambler's Cause for Alarm.  Of the great triumvirate of old spy writers:  Le Carre, Ambler, Graham Greene, I must say I'm most convinced by Le Carre.  Greene is too self-serious, Ambler is a little too larky and lah-di-dah at times. That said, he was really just developing the lexicon of espionage himself, so it's hard to fault him too much. Things he does seem ham-handed sometimes because we've seen this stuff honed so finely as the genre took flight.

Now I'm on to Robert Caro's The Power Broker, about Robert Moses. I'd always been intrigued by the book, but all the hullabaloo around his most recent volume on LBJ made me go out and by it. It is truly a tombstone of a book, Tolstoyan.

I'm all too aware of the fact that I've been reading exclusively male books, need to remedy that. I'm sure I won't plow directly through the Caro, will have to intersperse it with some novels.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Graham's new joke

Q:  What do  you get when you cross a German dessert with an annoying person?
A:  A pfeffernuisance.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

China needs an Olga Korbut

China has all of this money, and is tired of just lending it, it wants to buy things -- land and companies -- and participate in commerce. Problem is, the west is afraid of China, doesn't get it. There are very few friendly Chinese faces to the west, real ambassadors. Gong Li was close, but she's just a mask, albeit a comely one. Jack Ma of Alibaba and Taobao may be as close as the country has come, but he's a total geek.

China needs somebody like Olga Korbut. Come to think of it, Yao Ming was also not bad, but at 7'6", he's kind of an outlier. Oddly enough, Jeremy Lin,* who's honestly as American a story as you could get (think if Dave Chappelle ran a "National Draft" instead of a "Racial Draft".  How much would China and the USA bid for Jeremy Lin?  It would be huge.

*currently putting up decent numbers in Houston

Ultimate! Natalie scores!

It was cold and rainy yesterday, but the Philips ultimate team nonetheless trucked over to play its former arch nemesis Culbreth. When I got there a little before halftime (I have to remember they keep starting early to use sunlight), Natalie told me she had caught the frisbee once (her first in a game), and proudly showed me the mud on the knees of the black sweatpants I had been so happy to find in her size last week at the Target out by Southpoint.  And we were up 6-0, after getting spanked 15-0 by Smith the day before (a couple of strategic personnel moves by the coach didn't hurt).

The second half was even better.  Natalie caught two, one of which was for a point, and she threw a completed pass to a teammate (also a first).  It was a little wobbly, but who cares. The Phillips B team won, and the A team lost only 9-8 after a bad day the day before at Smith.  And Natalie was glowing.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Dreamscape

Mary says she doesn't understand watching sports. I understand that it can be overdone. And yet, you've gotta watch some. Part of it is just watching what I term The Struggle being acted out before me, and beyond that, there's something idealized about The Struggle being conducted within a pretty strict format of rules and honor/sportsmanship. Sports are the way life's supposed to be.  You step onto the field and everybody understands the rules. There are heroic/tragic moments like Luis Suarez of Uruguay putting up his hands to stop Ghana's desperation ending seconds' goal in the World Cup 2010 finals (in Africa!). At the time, I thought it was the most low-down and despicable thing he could do, but upon reflection, it was the absolute right thing to do, the only thing he could do, and he processed it in microseconds and realized what he needed to do. Maybe the most dramatic moment in sports ever. And then Gyan (a super nice guy, who had killed the US in the previous game) blows the penalty.

Mostly, I view watching sports, and for me soccer, as an eternal dreamscape.  It is about imagining what you can do if everything goes right. As in below.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Native Speaker

I had better go ahead and write about Chang Rae Lee's Native Speaker before the book fades from memory. It is a very very good book, richly layered and folded back onto itself, yet direct and human as well. The one and the many, this one, that many. I can't very well pass judgment on its evocation of the immigrant experience, but it rings true, memories of father and son lost, seemingly nearly regained, then exploding and fading, all at once. Well worth reading.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

No cop-killer I

I had a dream last night that I killed a cop. Or, rather, that I thought I did, and I felt horrible about it, though, come to think of it, there was no body, there was just a place on the side of a country road where there was maybe a little blood or something, and towards the end of the dream I was getting ready to call the cops and tell them where I was and that I had killed one of theirs (to be sure, it was a generic cop, not "officer Smith" or anything). And then I woke up and I was greatly relieved to learn that, of course, none of this had happened. I hadn't done anything wrong.

In general I can be pretty hard on myself, have pretty high if not downright unrealistic expectations, but fuck it. I didn't kill no cop.

Reminds me of a great scene from the 1994 movie The Glass Shield, which was a pretty early movie for Ice Cube and one where he really showed he could act. He's playing a kid suspected of killing a white woman, and when he's brought in for questioning they're trying to pin it on him, so they ask where he was at the time of the crime and he responds:  "I don't know where I was but I know I didn't kill no white lady," and his timing and tone and everything were just perfect. The perp was, in the end, if memory serves correctly, a cop. I shoulda iced that motherfucker.

Sunday, December 02, 2012


The topic for today's 10am AA meeting was resentments, which is a big one. Rather than share there, I thought I'd post here.

Just within the last 24 hours I had thought about how there were a couple of friends who live long distances away from me with whom it feels like I have to do all the work of staying in touch with them, and I resent that. Not infrequently, however, I get an excess of inbound traffic of people asking for my time or attention, and I come to resent that. It leaves me with not enough time for myself. Net net, then, it boils down to being troubled about my inability to control the way people pay attention to me. Which is just one of those things. Sometimes I really strive for the attention, other times it becomes a burden.

On the blog I know at least that if I post more frequently and more directly, I'll get more traffic, which, I will confess, I like, thought I don't like it enough to actually promote the blog much, which I view as cheap.

I know that, professionally, the more I blog and tweet the more attention I get out there in the public sphere.  Problem is, in my new role, my firm has never done any marketing whatsoever, has always gotten business in word of mouth, and I won't be allowed to bring in business until my boss decides I'm ready to represent the firm, at which point in time she'll remove my training wheels, as it were, so I have to sit on my hands in my public persona for a while. Which is, truth be told, OK.  I am, by the standards of today's longevity expectations for ruling class Americans, still kinda young, so there's plenty of time to make noise professionally.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Winter's Bone

This is an uncommonly good movie, not airbrushed, by no means for the faint of heart. Does not gild the lilly of the South, and some may fault it for its excessive portrayal of Appalachian poverty, but whatever. Good watchin. Rent it.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

No thanks

Apparently some factory warranty is about to expire on our 2010 Prius, bought recently from CarMax. I know this, because I've gotten something like 5 solicitations from various shysters sending me extended warranties. The one we got today is in an official looking mailing labeled "Motor Vehicle Division," as if it's from the DMV.  I open it up, and I can't even see what company is offering the product to me. They just tell me I'm approved for 0% financing for "5 year additional 100,000 miles" coverage.

Needless to say, anything that so many people are trying so hard to sell to me is absolutely not worth buying. This is one of the general rules of life.

"The lady doth protest too much, methinks"

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Back to the old town

So, mom and I were up in her home town yesterday, making the rounds, and had some great moments.

First, we were looking for a deadbeat tenant, someone who had walked away from a trailer parked on one of our lots. Like most single-wides, it's not too new, and won't win any beauty contests. We need to just haul the thing away, but to do that, we need title to it. This tenant has a couple of choices, she can sign over title to us, or she can go through a lengthy procedure whereby we force her to do so, which involves going to court, hiring a lawyer, paying fees, etc. As a bonus, my mom actually wrote the procedure for doing this, back in the late 80s-early 90s, when she was a very active member of the NC manufactured housing industry association.

So, we pull up into this driveway of a small, well-tended house which belonged to a woman with the same name as the mother of the renter. One of two with that name in town. It's November 27th, mind you, and this house has some very impressive and elaborate Xmas decorations out. There are a couple of trucks there and, as we parked, I saw back in the shed/barn structure that there's some old dude there wearing hunter's day-glo orange who's squatting down working on a small engine of some sort. Surprisingly, no dogs were barking.  Now, you'd think that if a couple of people you didn't know pulled up into your driveway, you'd go out to greet them to figure out what's up, no?  The guy doesn't budge. So I walk up to him and say:  "Does such and such live here?" and he says "Nope." Something like that, not much more. And I turn and walk off.  And I realized that, in my sport coat and khakis and white shirt, this was like something straight out of The Rockford Files, hunting down the renter on the lamb.

Later, mom and I paid a visit to the local rep of the NC Forestry Service. We're thinking about converting some undeveloped land into forest land.  We'd log it and get a little money out of that, but mostly we'd cut the taxes on the land by a factor of ten. So we're telling the guy where the tract we're thinking about is, and we say that it backs up to the farm of Johnny H.  "Oh, I know where that is," he allows, "when I was younger, I used to pick tobacco on that farm.  He had two mules that were so well-trained, we'd load up the cart and say 'go to the barn,' and the mule'd walk straight to the barn.  They'd unload the cart and say 'go to the field', and they'd go right back out there. And imagine what would happen if those two mules come up on  each other on that single track....."

Let's just say the guy could talk. We talked for a right good while, learned a lot of his medical history, we did.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The so-called fiscal cliff, taxes, etc.

I don't know if I've gone on the record recently, but let me do so. A few bullet points so that staff members of the administration and Congress -- who should be trolling the blogosphere -- can find this and grasp it quickly. I am a Democrat and will always vote Democrat until Republicans can put their bibles back in their pants and show some respect to women, the gay community, and the "minorities" who are now the majority.

  • Over time, at present, taxes need to be higher on not just the top 2%, but the top 10 or 20% or maybe even more. The upper-middle class has plenty of money to spend on crap it doesn't need. The taxes don't need to be raised right now, maybe, but over time they could be. I think that, in fact, the upper middle class could easily sustain a tax bump right now and it's consumption wouldn't be dinged all that hard.  Maybe we'd eat at restaurants a little less, but that's not a big deal compared with maintaining continuity in important government functions (which also have wage-earners performing them).
  • The Republicans are right that the tax code needs to be simplified:  a blanked limit on deductions is not  a bad idea.
  • Entitlements do need to be pared. People live longer, we can retire later, so Social Security ages can rise. I don't buy the argument that means-testing for Medicare is a slippery slope. Rich people can buy better healthcare, they don't need as much government money.
  • Though I am a big consumer of public television and NPR, and I believe that some government programs appeal to some constituencies (these appeal to liberals), while others appeal to others (conservatives love the military), and that on principle public TV and radio should therefore retain support, I don't think it's worth going to the mat over. Public radio, TV, art etc. can get money from the affluent that consume it. It is much more important to protect the NIH, CDC, etc. Public health needs to retain government funding.
  • The Republicans argue that charitable organizations do a better job of taking care of poor people than does government. This is bullshit. If you starve the government of revenue by keeping taxes low, rich people buy fancy boats and other gewgaws, poor people get fucked and get angry, do not feel that they participate in broader society, lose all hope, and turn to crime (gross oversimplification). Then we throw them in jail.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


In big news, Natalie for the first time decided that her room was dirty and needed to be vacuumed, so she vacuumed it. Amazing.  She has also been coming home from ultimate practice thinking that she needs to take a shower and wash her hair. Wow.

I used to think of this blog as a place to hone the craft of writing, and so I wrote faithfully.  Of late, that compulsion has been to some extent lifted from me. I suspect that it is because I'm getting more comfortable in my own skin and feel less of a desire to demonstrate to the rest of the world, and to myself, that I can write. My ego is less tied up in jumping through verbal hoops and taking you with me. In other words, I need to perform less, because I need the approval of you, my readers, less. So I am, to some extent, looking for the next big driver. For now, it is preserving memories for the future, because, as I look back over the past of the blog, I most appreciate the memories that are already preserved there.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Our common goal

It is considered almost axiomatic in the career and management community today that those with clearly defined goals are most likely to be successful, as demonstrated by their success in reaching those goals. All the time one reads about executives talking about interviewing who say that they like to hear about what people do on weekends or when they have free time -- because it tells you so much about who they are. Presumably you're supposed to be doing some ambitious do-gooding or athleting of some sort.

So if you have goals, and a clearly defined path to achieving them, you'll be successful. Problem is, they have to talk about it all the time.

In the end, we all share one common goal. That is, death. All of this manic striving to achieve other goals on the way there is -- to a large extent -- an attempt to overcome that certitude, or to posit something one can have control over so as to not focus on the thing we can't, in the end, control.

You might as well have fun. On Saturday night, for instance, we watched "Dumb and Dumber" for like the 10th time. Man is that movie funny.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Day's Wait

The events of this weekend reminded me of this story by Hemingway, really one of my favorite stories.


He came into the room to shut the windows while we were still in bed and I saw he looked ill. He was shivering, his face was white, and he walked slowly as though it ached to move.
'What's the matter, Schatz?'
'I've got a headache.'
'You better go back to bed.'
'No, I'm all right.'
'You go to bed. I'll see you when I'm dressed.'
But when I came downstairs he was dressed, sitting by the fire, looking a very sick and miserable boy of nine years. When I put my hand on his forehead I knew he had a fever.
'You go up to bed,' I said, 'you're sick.'
'I'm all right,' he said.
When the doctor came he took the boy's temperature.
'What is it?' I asked him.
'One hundred and two.'
Downstairs, the doctor left three different medicines in different colored capsules with instructions for giving them. One was to bring down the fever, another a purgative, the third to overcome an acid condition. The germs of influenza can only exist in an acid condition, he explained. He seemed to know all about influenza and said there was nothing to worry about if the fever did not go above one hundred and four degrees. This was a light epidemic of flu and there was no danger if you avoided pneumonia.
Back in the room I wrote the boy's temperature down and made a note of the time to give the various capsules.
'Do you want me to read to you?'
'All right. If you want to,' said the boy. His face was very white and there were dark areas under his eyes. He lay still in bed and seemed very detached from what was going on.
I read aloud from Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates; but I could see he was not following what I was reading.
'How do you feel, Schatz?' I asked him.
'Just the same, so far,' he said.
I sat at the foot of the bed and read to myself while I waited for it to be time to give another capsule. It would have been natural for him to go to sleep, but when I looked up he was looking at the foot of the bed, looking very strangely.
'Why don't you try to go to sleep? I'll wake you up for the medicine.'
'I'd rather stay awake.'
After a while he said to me, 'You don't have to stay here with me, Papa, if it bothers you.'
'It doesn't bother me.'
'No, I mean you don't have to stay if it's going to bother you.'
I thought perhaps he was a little light-headed and after giving him the prescribed capsule at eleven o'clock I went out for a while.
It was a bright, cold day, the ground covered with a sleet that had frozen so that it seemed as if all the bare trees, the bushes, the cut brush and all the grass and the bare ground had been varnished with ice. I took the young Irish setter for a little walk up the road and along a frozen creek, but it was difficult to stand or walk on the glassy surface and the red dog slipped and slithered and fell twice, hard, once dropping my gun and having it slide over the ice.
We flushed a covey of quail under a high clay bank with overhanging brush and killed two as they went out of sight over the top of the bank. Some of the covey lit the trees, but most of them scattered into brush piles and it was necessary to jump on the ice-coated mounds of brush several times before they would flush. Coming out while you were poised unsteadily on the icy, springy brush they made difficult shooting and killed two, missed five, and started back pleased to have found a covey close to the house and happy there were so many left to find on another day.
At the house they said the boy had refused to let anyone come into the room.
'You can't come in,' he said. 'You mustn't get what I have.'
I went up to him and found him in exactly the position I had left him, white-faced, but with the tops of his cheeks flushed by the fever, staring still, as he had stared, at the foot of the bed.
I took his temperature.
'What is it?'
'Something like a hundred,' I said. It was one hundred and two and four tenth.
'It was a hundred and two,' he said.
'Who said so?'
'The doctor.'
'Your temperature is all right,' I said. It's nothing to worry about.'
'I don't worry,' he said, 'but I can't keep from thinking.'
'Don't think,' I said. 'Just take it easy.'
'I'm taking it easy,' he said and looked straight ahead. He was evidently holding tight onto himself about something.
'Take this with water.'
'Do you think it will do any good?'
'Of course it will.'
I sat down and opened the Pirate book and commenced to read, but I could see he was not following, so I stopped.
'About what time do you think I'm going to die?' he asked.
'About how long will it be before I die?'
'You aren't going to die. What's the matter with you?'
Oh, yes, I am. I heard him say a hundred and two.'
'People don't die with a fever of one hundred and two. That's a silly way to talk.'
'I know they do. At school in France the boys told me you can't live with forty-four degrees. I've got a hundred and two.'
He had been waiting to die all day, ever since nine o'clock in the morning.
'You poor Schatz,' I said. 'Poor old Schatz. It's like miles and kilometers. You aren't going to die. That's a different thermometer. On that thermometer thirty-seven is normal. On this kind it's ninety-eight.'
'Are you sure?'
'Absolutely,' I said. 'It's like miles and kilometers. You know, like how many kilometers we make when we do seventy in the car?'
'Oh,' he said.
But his gaze at the foot of his bed relaxed slowly. The hold over himself relaxed too, finally, and the next day it was very slack and he cried very easily at little things that were of no importance.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Little joys

As the sun has been rising earlier in the morning, or, rather, early enough, the bus seems to be arriving earlier as well. So twice this week, Graham and I have crested the hill only to see the bus approaching down the way, and he has set off at a tear to catch it, clomping down the hill, backpack flapping, in his excitement to get on board.

At the other end of the day, when I pick up Natalie from ultimate practice, she's been in a fine mood.  To make a long story short, Natalie has been retained on the Phillips "B" team, and seems to be getting into it. Most of her friends have stuck with it, and she's now joined on the team by not just Arden, but also Jennifer, Jennie, and Jennie Bob. The coach seems bent on whipping them into good shape, and she's embracing it.

Man, I'm not capturing the sweetness of her mood, oh well. I've tried.

Back at the house, Graham, usually pathologically averse to competition in which he doesn't hold a commanding advantage (like the one his rear seat, non-driving  status confers on him in the punch-buggy game) has taken to competitive spinning of Ninjago warriors, despite the fact that I kick his ass pretty regularly.

Recent events remind me to attend to and cherish these little things.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Why Dinosaur Jr. still matters, or, talking to your children about distortion

 Every once in a while I go back and listen to classic Dinosaur Jr, and rightly so.  Today I was listening to Your Living All Over Me while taking Graham to JiuJitsu class, and at the end of "Tarpit", he asked me "what was that?"

So I tried to explain to him the concept of distortion and why it makes sense. As I think I've said before, Dinosaur Jr. is a landmark to me because, after many years where punk and post-punk really focused on the public, the political, the place of the young and the angry in the world, Jay Mascis all of a sudden turned it around and made it lyrical again. He sang about himself, and the pain of unrequited love, and loneliness, and he played guitar solos too, to make it sing.

And it hit home, it gave shape to the confusion and angst I was feeling at that point in time in my life, the what-the-fuck-am-I-up-to and why-doesn't-she-love-me of it all. And sometimes I think when I listen to it now that I'm just revisiting those times as an emotional tourist in my past.

In some course he taught about the European realist novel around 1995, Robert Belknap made a very profound point about the concept of the piece bien faite, or the "well-made play," a dramatic form in which everything gets wrapped up nice and tidily at the end, which tells the audience that there is order in the universe and that they can go home and sleep comfortably. I had never really thought about form like that. The same can actually be said of meter and rhyme in poetry, or harmony and melody in music. If it all sounds nice and neat, it's telling you that's how the world is.

And distortion is the opposite.  Dissonance too, and that's why Adorno riffed endlessly about how dissonance in Schoenberg exposed all the contradictions in capitalism.

But distortion and dissonance needn't necessarily be relentlessly negative. In the end, Dinosaur Jr. is a very hopeful band, it just reminds me that it ain't always easy, that shit is messy before it fertilizes.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Breaking the silence

I have been quiet for a while as I've been caught up in other matters in life:  personal, professional, political.

Today, with Obama reelected, I can move on. Not that I did enough to materially support his election, and I've felt guilt about that, but I've learned enough in recent months to know that it's not about me.

North Carolina is moving in the wrong direction politically. Oh well, we'll have to fix that.

Working with my mom up in Roxboro has been showing me how extremely complicated it all is. On the one hand, there are restrictive new ordinances put in place to protect lake watersheds from run-off (good) and to support the extension of water and sewer out into the county to facilitate development (good, but the same end could have been facilitated earlier by political leadership with greater foresight) that add to the cost of development. This makes it harder to get jobs into an area that is economically challenged and needs jobs.  Part of me thinks that argues for looser regulation.  Certainly the higher costs raise the barriers to entry for developers, which will in time lead to greater concentration of wealth.

On the other hand, I was surprised to learn that Person County (where Roxboro is located) is rated by the EPA as one of the 10% most polluted counties in the United States, because of emissions from Progress (now Duke??) power plants up on Lakes Hyco and Mayo. This indicates to me that there hasn't been enough regulation (new regs came online to help in 2009), and that the real costs of energy haven't been adequately priced in.  They have, instead, been externalized and passed on to a lower income population.

I could go on and on, but must get back to work. The point is that the situation and life are extremely complicated, and there are no easy answers. Fact is, even the stuff I'm talking about above, I have only the most thumbnail comprehension of.

Reelecting Obama won't solve any or all of this, but I'm glad he's in office. If the Republicans can be moved away from Grover Norquist, we may be able to get on with our lives.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Parking ticket

Parked on the street during lunch today.  Got back to my car and saw there was a ticket on my winshield. Great, I'm thinking.  So I go and take it off.  And it says, more or less, very politely: "You're supposed to have fed a meter. The town of Chapel Hill has instituted an amnesty program for first-time parking violations. Thank you for visiting, and next time pay attention and feed the meter."

At a time when most municipalities are scratching as much incremental revenue as they can out of each potential source, I've got to say that this went down smooth. I'll visit again!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sharon van Etten at the Cradle

SVE came to Carrboro last night, the second time this year, this time at least I was up on it and was there. Good show.

About her. The striking thing was the contrast between her singing/voice and persona and her speaking/bandleading one. She sings with great range, great deep tones and tremendous resonance, laying it all out there. When she speaks, she's a somewhat gawkish young lady, almost a little girl voice. She's not used to commanding the stage, being a rock star, hasn't mastered the patter with the audience so she spends a fair amount of time saying how happy she is to be here, how she loves NC, etc. Not that I'm faulting her, I think building the persona that can fake rapport with a big room of people you don't know is hard. I had always liked the way she makes a lot of eye contact with Heather Broderick when she sings, thinking that it added depth. After watching the show, I think what it's really about is that she's shy and that Heather, and her other bandmates, are people she knows and is comfortable with. In fact, I think that's one reason why people in all bands look at each other. I kinda remember that from Unity Rockers days.

Overall, she sounded great, I'm very happy I went, but I would've loved to have heard more of the acoustic stuff. I think the bass was too far out front in the mix, sometimes drowning out her voice and her interplay with Heather which is, for me, the heart of the matter. The drummer was surprisingly good and entertaining, more front and center than I would have suspected, and it was cool that he's a North Carolinian and a Cradle alum. I think they didn't need to do a big distortion fest at the end of one song, but hey, I'm 46, that wasn't for me.

At the end she said she'd be at the merch table if people wanted to stop by.  Part of me wanted to go over there and meet her and Heather, but then I really didn't need to go and be basically flirting with younger women on whom I have slight crushes, given that I'm married. If she wants to know how I feel about her, she can read my blog.

More importantly, I was right at the end of my book and wanted to get home and finish it, and then get in bed at a reasonable hour.

It will be interesting to see where she goes from here. The one new song she played didn't mine new material. Her strength is not just her voice, but her willingness to plumb the depths of the psychic pain of what is absolutely normal young adult romantic stuff. She's doing the autobiographical art that everybody thinks about doing, it's just she's figured out how. If she roams the world doing the same material and going back to the same psychic place, she will probably get stale, which would be a shame. I suspect she'll need to move on to a new life phase to find new challenges. So if it takes some years for another record, that's probably good. But she's gotta ride the wave now to get paid, as she should.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

They take a string...

So mom and I were uptown in her hometown, and we stopped in to a little women's fashion shop -- one of non-pharmacies in town selling new products -- as opposed to "antiques."  This was one of my grandmom's favorite places in the world, and I remember going there fondly, though they had nada for boys. There mom kibbutzed with a couple of old classmates of hers.

One of them had lost her husband not too far back, and was talking about how, at a recent high school reunion, some old flame of hers who lived out west had proposed that he stay at her house.  Well, she was having none of that. "I'm a choir director," she let us know "and my neighbors are very talkative. If someone as much as turns around in my driveway it sets them to gossiping. They'll take a string, and by morning they've turned it into a blanket."

You can't make this stuff up.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

New risks of hybrids (plus a little soteriology)

So we recently got a Prius. Did I mention that?

I am convinced that these cars present all new risks for drivers and insurers.  First and foremost, there's the potential for massive road rage as the people behind Prius drivers like me, who are obsessed with the video-game like sensation of trying to coax higher mpgs out of their little vehicles, and who therefore tap and coast and accelerate with the vigor of a duck-billed platypus.

And then there's the simple fact of all those little graphics up there on the dashboard. Trying to read that shit has got to be as bad as texting. I suppose that, as I get used to the thing, I will become increasingly at one with it, and will therefore look less at the dash, but still, all the data it offers the driver is simply bewitching.

I had, even prior to getting the Prius, become convinced that I suffer the curse of extreme numeracy.  Given all the numbers one has to measure onesself by, it's easy to get caught up in it.  Think about it: blog stats, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, miles run, gas mileage, hours billed, to say nothing of all the money shit, there's a temptation to assign moral value to these. According to Max Weber, protestants became obsessed with this shit precisely because the doctrine of predestination meant that you could never know if you were heaven- or hell-bound, but you had to guess somehow, nonetheless.

But, in fact, ain't none of it going on your gravestone.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Getting to know Cary

The town of Cary has grown by leaps and bounds, and I've never gotten to know it far off of I-40. Over the last few weeks, including today, I've dived deeper into the depths of Cary, trundling along its shiny new roads, which were surprisingly empty. And I found... very little. Subdivisions, soccer fields, new shopping centers. Had lunch today in a restaurant that featured a "Tar Heel Burger" which has brie on it???  Brie? Where's the chili, slaw, onions, mustard? Don't get it.

I don't know if I feel a need to go back looking for more.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Invasive species as carbon sinks

Spent some time ripping out Japanese bamboo grass with Mary today.  Not as much time as she did, but a little bit. I had never heard of the stuff until a couple of months ago, when I noticed it flourishing in our back yard. Once I had been introduced to it, I couldn't help but to notice how well it grows everywhere along road sides and in woods around here.

Which made me ponder. If species like that and, say, Kudzu, grow so abundantly, does that make them particularly good processors of carbon dioxide and other things plants like and therefore beneficial from the carbon sink perspective, i.e. for soaking up emissions?  I must say I'm curious. But, then again, too lazy to Google, only querulous enough to noodle.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

9-year olds and the deficit

Graham said there are two kids in his class who are for Romney, and one of them was talking about how big the deficit is. Ridiculous. As if he understands a thing about it.


As I turn the corner into the last fourth of Ford's The Lay of the Land, I'm making an effort to read more of it during the day, rather than just as I go to sleep. This helps me get better into the groove of the book, and appreciate more of just how good it is, despite its occasional quasi-Joycean density. Or maybe the fact is that many books have something good in them, and that when my head is in the right place I am better able to distill and appreciate what that is...

As the most wise author of Stuff White People Like has noted, one thing that unites all of us white and would-be white people is the allure of Living By the Water.  Since we now live up the hill from a lake, we can check that box. Fact is, when there are leaves on the trees, when I'm anywhere in our now forcibly open-planned house we can see the lake down there, but not all that much of it.  Most of the time, it occupies not more than 10% of my visual field. But it draws the eye, and it suffices. Just a bit of that movement, the rippling, the shimmering, is enough to do its work and serve as a constant reminder of the continuity within flux which is the permanent condition. Combined with the wind blowing the leaves and branches around, we're pretty much good to go, or, rather, stay.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Hello Lonesome

I was prepared to be underwhelmed by this movie, it sounded like just some run of the mill indie movie. But, in the end, both Mary and I were won over by it. Only one of the characters (Bill, the voiceover guy) was anything but flat, but still somehow they drew you in and were real. Go ahead and rent it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Trip to FLOTUS

As I said, yesterday Natalie and I played VIP at the Michelle Obama event. I dressed up nice, because for some reason I thought I might be rubbing shoulders with UNC muckety-mucks and should be in position to wow them with some smooth patter.  I needn't have worried. There were a ton of "VIPS" with the special red tickets, and we ended up sitting in amongst lots of students on the bleachers.  Which was cool in its own way, though there were no seat backs, which was, like, so totally uncool.

And we had to quickly wolf down our sandwiches and chuck out most of our just-purchased Diet Coke, because no outside food was allowed. But we endured that as well.

And we sat and waited. And read our books (Natalie was by now at page 133 of the Goblet of Fire) And when I went to the bathroom, I ran into Sara Summers, who goes back to Seawell School, 1972, with me, and I dubbed her a VIP too and annointed her with the coveted red ticket. And on the way to our bleachers we passed the true VIPS, Jim Hunt, Holden Thorpe, and other white people in suits and dresses. Sara got Natalie stoked about ultimate frisbee, which she coaches.

And Jim Hunt and others spoke, and Delta Blue played, and as these totally white kids did some simple polyrhythmic drumming and otherwise did some soul riffs I wondered if the black people in the audience would feel ripped off, but most of them didn't, and got into it.

And then Michelle came on, and she spoke well and movingly, and got everybody fired up. And Natalie praised in particular her dress, which was indeed nice. Then Natalie and I walked back to Jane and Adam's house and went to have coffee and a little treat. At the end of the day, Natalie and I went out and played frisbee, and I gave her some throws on which to practice running catches, while she just plain ran me around.

Monday, October 15, 2012

FLOTUS, Harry, and tea

Natalie and I are all hopped up to go and see Michelle Obama speak tomorrow at Carmichael Auditorium (they call it an arena now), but we know better. Thanks to our main man Josh, we've got VIP tickets, so hopefully we'll have some serious hobnobbing going on in there.

This evening, after taking a shower without even being prodded by mom (a shocker), Natalie emerged and informed us that she was going to read all of the Harry Potter books again, in order, from the Goblet of Fire right through the Ghastly Hollows.  She decided this called for a cup of tea.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

DSK, skirt-chasing, greatness, and death

The article about Dominic Strauss-Kahn and his whoring ways in the NY Times got me to thinking. First off, it took me back to the classic scene in Moonstruck where Olympia Dukakis (Rose) is out to dinner with the older guy who's courting her, while her husband is out to dinner with his floozie.

Rose: Why do men chase women?
Perry: Well, there’s a Bible story… God… God took a rib from Adam and made Eve. Now maybe men chase women to get the rib back. When God took the rib, he left a big hole there, where there used to be something. And the women have that. Now maybe, just maybe, a man isn’t complete as a man without a woman.
Rose: [frustrated] But why would a man need more than one woman?
Perry: I don’t know. Maybe because he fears death.
[Rose looks up, eyes wide, suspicions confirmed]
Rose: That’s it! That’s the reason!

This rings truer than most scenes in movies.  So it follows that "great men", from DSK to JFK to MLKJ to slick Willie to Tiger Woods, can't keep their dicks in their pants for exactly the same reasons that drive them to be "great":  they fear death in a big way, and are compelled to overcome it by projecting their egos onto both beacoup des femmes but also the great canvas of history.

The key to keeping your libido under control and your marriage intact, then, is to get over the fear of death. That would, in fact, be helpful in a lot of contexts.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The writerly approach to this problem is, I think, better.  Here's Pushkin, who in turn riffs on Horace.  Dunno if this is the best translation. Gotta get the kids to the library, and thence to Flyfleaf Books, for which Natalie has a gift certificate burning a hole in her pocket.

I have erected a monument to myself
Not built by hands; the track of it, though trodden
By the people, shall not become overgrown,
And it stands higher than Alexander’s column.

I shall not wholly die. In my sacred lyre
My soul shall outlive my dust and escape corruption–
And I shall be famed so long as underneath
The moon a single poet remains alive.

I shall be noised abroad through all great Russia,
Her innumerable tongues shall speak my name:
The tongue of the Slavs’ proud grandson, the Finn, and now
The wild Tungus and Kalmyk, the steppes’ friend.

In centuries to come I shall be loved by the people
For having awakened noble thoughts with my lyre,
For having glorified freedom in my harsh age
And called for mercy towards the fallen.

Be attentive, Muse, to the commandments of God;
Fearing no insult, asking for no crown,
Receive with indifference both flattery and slander,
And do not argue with a fool.

Natalie on Europe

Mary and Natalie were looking at a picture of something in Europe.  There was graffiti.  Natalie said "I thought Europe was supposed to be all clean and perfect.  Except for Hitler."

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Cutting through the lethargy

Just went out to buy a frisbee (after the orange one went suspiciously AWOL) and a needle to pump up the basket- and soccer balls that had become, well, frankly, flaccid from disuse. Now to corral the kids away from their books out into the fresh air.  Never an easy task with my poindexterish kids. But it's a lovely fall day, and, with Mary hard at work out in the garden, it falls to dad to get em going.

Off into the fresh blue hither.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The meaning of the humanities

Heard a very interesting lecture from Alan Liu of UC Santa Barbara yesterday at the Franklin Institute for the Humanities at Duke. Liu reflected on the state of the "Digital Humanities", a discipline/meme which has emerged since I left academe.

Much of his talk bounced off of and commented on a piece that recently came out of Stanford's Literary Lab by two guys named Ryan Heuser and Long Le-Khac, in which the authors do some sophisticated cluster analysis of the word cohorts used in 2958 novels published in Great Britain in the 19th century.  All of this grows out of work Franco Moretti started doing in the 90s when I was at Columbia, and I chanced to work on a project he did counting and categorizing novels published all over the world. It's very cool, very interesting stuff.

Heuser and Le-Khac distill out some big trends in words used in the novels, from which they draw inferences about how society changed over the course of the century. None of what they say is great news, but it's super interesting how they do it, and raises lots of great questions.

Liu is also involved in advocating for the humanities, and is part of an initiative callled 4Humanities housed up in Alberta. All good.

Here's a core problem, it seems to me. Epistemologically, methodologically, yattayattalogically the quantitative orientation of humanistic scholarship is both fascinating and a "value-add," as we say. It points to use value for marketing people etc.

But people want to believe their individual lives matter, and telling them that they are but pieces of data in the grand machine doesn't do that, any more than telling them that they who they are is determined by their race, gender, sexual orientation, class, and so on. They like it about as much as they like thinking that Google, Facebook, and other crunchers of big data can predict their every whim, or that their mortgage was sold to Fannie or Freddy, then bundled several times into a CDO that got lost in MERS. Telling people they don't matter is a hard way to sell something that's intrinsically hard to sell in the first place.

Back to me and the book I'm reading. I continue to slog through Richard Ford's The Lay of the Land because I "identify" with our narrator, Frank Bascombe, and with the other characters in the book, while I recognize that I am not them and am entertained the details and stories therein. This simultaneous identification and recognition of difference helps me both ponder myself as an individual and as a participant in the grander swoop of history.

Again, the one and the many. I keep coming back to Nicolas of Cusa's interesting phrase, "on the not-other."  You gotta have both.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Register dog

Bought a cushion for the intersection of my wooden desk chair and my increasingly bony ass today at BBB, then stopped over to PetSmart to get some salmon cat treats (for the cats, not me). There was a blonde woman at the register with what I took to be her two dogs. Then she walked away. One dog remained. Turned out it was the dog of the guy behind the register. A mellow pup, one of those totally mainstream breeds whose names I can never remember.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Used car salesman

So we just bought a 2010 Prius. It is a nice silver little sipper.

We only shopped for three actual days of driving cars, after some non-trivial web research and conferring with our peeps.

I was expecting the car salespeople to be hyper aggressive, trying to sucker us, etc. In actual fact, only one of them really conformed to the stereotype. What they all generally shared was, well, that they liked to share. They were very liberal with their life stories. One of them had recently learned that he, like his dad, would have Huntington's disease. His mom, I'll have you know, was a preacher's daughter, but didn't go to church herself. Another had recently returned to selling cars after some time away working the gun show circuit selling leather holsters. That kept him away from home 3 or 4 days a week, weekends, mostly, but man did it pay well. For some reason his wife, when she got pregnant, wanted to get him off the road. Another guy had owned a bar out in the country somewhere, then went bankrupt, then flipped houses for a while.

In general, they were all very chatty.  I assume the idea was that if you talk the customer's ears off, they're unable to focus on the item at hand (evaluating the car and thinking of what questions they should be asking).

The last guy, the guy who actually sold us a car, was pretty quiet. Mostly talked about cars and the relative merits of this one or that one. Of course, he thought the Prius was great.  The car of the future, he said. Another of the guys had mentioned that Priuses tended to be driven by really smart people, "professors, doctors, engineers, lawyers...." I loved that. "I wanna be like them." I thought.

Anyhow, we're outta there. Our car passed muster with our mechanic. Hopefully it won't get all busted up real quick.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Garfield movie

Graham and I just finished watching the Garfield movie A Tale of Two Kitties.  Awesome, in its own imbecilic way. I ate lasagna.

8 years of Grousing

I got busy last week and somehow neglected to pause and reflect upon an accomplishment: as of last Friday, the Grouse has been grousing for eight years. Over that time I've published in excess of 2000 posts and garnered more than 48,000 hits, if my statcounter is to be trusted (and if it ain't, whatever). In the grand scheme of web traffic, the grouse is but a minnow, but in the grand scheme of things, so am I, and that's fine.

As the years have rolled on, my feelings towards the blog have changed. At the beginning it was like I had all this pent-up thought, all this would be genius that was being squelched by the world. It was also a great place to write about my life at home, the things the kids did, so that it would be there for me in the future. As I look back at it over time, I care less about the first part, more about the latter, and much about the feedback I've gotten from my few dedicated readers over the years. A small group of you have kept coming back and asking for more, and I like totally appreciate it, for sure.

And so, eight more years? We shall see.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Faceless Killers

I was all geared up to hate this novel.  For the first 200-odd pages, it just kept dragging. Wallander (the detective) has silly and implausible exploits, makes some somewhat astute guesses and expects to get a medal for it, is mad at his father, and drinks liquor and coffee.  Unlike Kalle Blomqvist of the Girl with the blah blah blah novels, he does not even think to complement his bottomless cups of joe with equally endless generic sandwiches.

But by the end, the author wraps things up nicely and twists things around in an interesting way. (plot spoiler coming) Because the farmer who's the victim of the novel's initial murder made a bunch of secret money back during WWII doing some profiteering, the reader is teed up to expect that the deep repressed sins of the past have revisited him and gotten him killed. This and other red herrings confuse the police team from Ystad quite considerably, but in the end the solution to the puzzle is much more mundane. Wallander impresses by being dogged and sticking to it long enough to figure it out, and the fact that he pulls out of a post-marital breakup slide into drink, burgers, stubble, and stench and sleeps with the hot though married pinch-hit prosecutor even as his colleague gets prostate cancer and his dad works through a touch of dementia somehow works.  Life goes on. Cops solve mysteries. Scandinavians sleep around.

So it's OK, even technically accomplished in a way, but not compelling.  I'll probably read another one, but not soon.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Cars on the brain

Our Subaru died. We have been car shopping.

So far, no horror stories, just the never-ending process of driving, comparing, web surfing, seeking for referrals, scheming, dreaming, and pondering. I know that, in the end, it is just a car we're talking about.  But still.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A perfect fall day

By all accounts, the Carrboro Music Festival was lovely, and the weather was perfect for it.  Unfortunately, the weather was equally nice at our house, and we neglected to make it up there. Got a lot of stuff taken care of around here, and Natalie and I shared a nice coffee at the mall while waiting for Graham to pick out library books. This has become a weekend habit for us, and an excellent one at that.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Update from the front

So I went with Henning Mankell, then fell asleep and overslept going to pick Natalie up from Susannah's bday party.  Woke up not sure where I was. I'm fairly certain I've seen the BBC version of this book on Masterpiece Mystery, and am in any case bothered by the fact that I clearly see Kenneth Branagh in the role of whatever his name is, the detective guy.

Later, Mary put on Fleetwood Mac, and started dancing around like a nerdy mom.  Graham, not to be outdone, displayed some of his breakdancing moves.

Being Frank Bascombe, or not

I'm about halfway through Richard Ford's The Lay of the Land, the third novel in his trilogy about Frank Bascombe.  So far, maybe 12 hours have passed. On the one hand, not a ton has happened, on the other, it's been a pretty eventful 12 hours. But still. It's dragging on.  The guy has seems to have never met a doorknob he didn't know from earlier in his life, and which reminds him of something.

It's raining outside, and I might have to take a break to read a mystery novel. I kind of wish I had one about someplace sunny, though I think what I have in my to be read stack is Henning Mankell, Josephine Tey, and Alan Furst, all of whom are kind of North Atlantic and brooding. Hmmm.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Those cray cray kids

Natalie is in a phase where she and her friends in school are coining phrases fast and furiously, or are perhaps watching iCarly on the sly or somesuch and picking up slang.  For example, "totally" is "totes" (now I know that's in broad circulation), which has mutated into "totes m'goats".

Today she was saying "cray cray" instead of crazy.

Gotta love it.

Her new glasses are also making it easier for her to read the whiteboard from the back of science class, also awesome.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A few quick notes

  • Had a good support experience with Mozy yesterday.  Mary's computer hadn't backed up for months, exposing a lot of photos to risk of technical outage or computer theft, either of which could have been my ass. I got chat support from a certain "Tommy J", uninstalled and reinstalled, and now we're backing up.
  • Pulling out of the parking lot near Whole Foods and the thrift shop where I had picked up shirts from the cleaner, I saw a Ferrari couple pulling in. Made a mental note, "don't see so many of those around here."  Right behind it was a Maserati 4-door, which had a bewitching purr. Not that I'm into cars, or anything.
  • Apparently this "Call Me Maybe" song is a big hit, I had never heard it.  The teachers at Natalie's school (also my middle school, but there were different teachers then) made this video and stuck it on YouTube.  Natalie was really into it. I must say I think it's really cool that the teachers did this, it really puts them on the same page as the students. It's literally heartwarming.

  • For the record, even Graham was into Gangnam Style.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Book list

A couple of people have either asked for book recommendations or cited the blog as a source of reading ideas recently, so I'm gonna share a list of recent reading (last year or so) I drew up the other day when prepping for a question from a humanist regarding a job at UNC (the question, malheureusement, never came).

Peter Hessler, River Town, Oracle Bones, Country Driving (all 3 are great, the middle is the best, read in order)

Ron Susskind, The Price of Loyalty (awesome), Confidence Men (stopped 80 pages in, too much rehash of crisis)

Tom Friedman, That Used to Be Us (utterly unreadable)

Alice Schroeder, The Snowball (on Warren Buffett -- good book, a little too gushing and gawkish maybe)

Howard Bryant, The Last Hero:  A Life of Henry Aaron (very good, slows down in the middle, but solid detail on both the man and race relations in our lifetime)

Michael Lewis, Liar's Poker (re-read it, still good), Boomerang (good, but he's coasting)

Books by people I know
Wade Graham, Jesus is My Gardener (A Kindle Single, very good), American Eden: from Monticello to Central Park to Our Backyards, (A very ambitious book.  I'm stalled about 70 pages in, maybe because it's too academic, or maybe I just don't care enough about gardening to push on through)

Frank Ryle, Keeping Score: Project Management for the Pros (on the nature of project management, allegorized to golf.  In the vein of 7 Dysfunctions of a Team. Not the best book in the world, but still as readable as you're going to get and still learn something about project management.)

Jay Leutze, Stand Up that Mountain (both an infectious paean to nature, a tale of life lived otherwise, and a solid procedural on what could be the most boring stuff in the world -- how state and federal regulation work -- but it works here)

Olen Steinhauer, The Confession (mystery novel set in cold War Slovakia or something like that. Builds slowly, but in the end it's really good)

Alan Furst, I don't know which one of his novels I read. They are all similar, and similarly good.

PD James, Original Sin (I read it because Ruth Rendell said it was the greatest mystery ever. I don't know about that, but it's pretty good)

John Lanchester Capital (A good novel, aspires perhaps to be The Novel of The Financial Crisis. Doesn't quite get there, but is nonetheless worth reading. He creates characters you can care about, which is saying something).

Business books
Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto (an important and useful book. Gawande has a brain, a heart, and the ability to write)

Vivek Ranadive, The Two-Second Advantage (he really wants to be Malcom Gladwell and sell Tibco's software at the same time.  Somewhat convincing, lightweight)

Eric Ries, The Lean Start-Up (good, solid, well thought out book bringing process and discipline to the wooliest of domains)

Ellen Schutz, Retirement Heist:  How Companies and Plunder and Profit from the Nest Eggs of American Workers (an important book written, sadly, by a journalist without enough editorial help to turn it into a good book.  I am 60 pages in and should finish it, though it's just so boring)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The end of civilization

After I got done with my run and had cooled off, I went in the rec room where Graham was sitting amongst the bootie from his birthday party. I saw that he had been crying.  "What's wrong?" I asked.  "I don't like that 39 Clues book at all, I read the first five sentences and they were horrible."  So I read it and it didn't seem too bad, it seemed like we were getting set up for a pretty good mystery.

"What's the problem?" I asked again.  He said he didn't like it that, when the old lady who's dying changes her will, the book says that it "threatens civilization as we know it." That idea freaked him out. I assured him that it was a dramatic overstatement, that civilization wasn't going to end, and that it was just make believe anyway. But he wasn't consoled.

I remember when I was his age or so there was some movie made by the CTW in which Kermit and the Sesame Street gang get somehow involved in a tragic love story. I must have had to stay up very late to watch it, because the ending was very foggy for me even way back then. But I know it was tragic, and that the impression of overwhelming melancholy stuck with me for a while, though I couldn't remember exactly why.  Hell, I obviously still remember it.

But back to Graham, we must bear in mind that this is a kid who watches all manner of WWII shit on the Military and History Channels, and that I've walked into the room to see scenes of bulldozers pushing emaciated Holocaust victim corpses into pits, and he sits there unphased (though that's admittedly not his favorite part of the war). Yes, I know, we're bad parents for letting him watch it at all.

Later, Mary and I watched Stephen Soderbergh's Contagion, in which civilization does nearly end.  We won't tell Graham about that one.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Are crawlers creepy?

Watching my traffic, it's interesting to see that Google's "crawler" -- the code that goes out across the web seeking to catalog everything that's out there -- visited my most recent post a minute and forty-one seconds after it was posted. This should come as no surprise, since Blogger/Blogspot is owned by Google. It makes sense for Sergei and Larry to have arranged a script to catalog every post that comes out as quickly as it does so, particularly as posting Google adwords on blogs is a revenue stream for them. I dunno how big these dollars are.  Probably small for Google in toto, but big in the incentive comp of the Adwords team, who may well have cut a deal with the crawler team to get such quick service.

But I don't think it's creepy.  I'll take all the traffic I can get for free.

Dr No

I keep getting approached by entrepreneurial types who Thave ideas, or I have ideas of my own. My natural tendency is to try to think of the things that could trip them up, make them fail, etc.

There is undoubtedly an inherent value to healthy skepticism in this context. The statistics around start-ups are not all that encouraging. Over the last couple of days in the Wall Street Journal I saw a story that said that something like 3 out of 4 venture-backed start-ups fail. And those are just the ones that are lucky enough to get venture money. So many start-ups are of the type that used to sleep in a shoebox on a lake bed, and wake up in the middle of the night to lick the lake bed dry with their tongues.

In any case, internal team members need to kick the shit out of the tires of any new enterprise on a continual basis to make sure they are road ready.

On the other hand, my deeply ingrained critical inclination may be informed by the fact that I'm the child of an alcoholic dreamer, someone who had business ideas all the time that were going to change the world, but brought very few of them to fruition. Even more so, I have a pretty strong bias towards believing that almost nothing is going to work out for the best. I basically am catastrophic in my thought patterns. As my sister and I have discussed, this would make us good risk managers.

However, there's a risk of this thought pattern degrading into a version of Zeno's paradoxes as described by Parmenides, back in the day. Basically the idea is that, because to traverse any distance, you must first traverse half of it, you can never get anywhere, because this is true for even the smallest increment. I.e. to go 8 meters, I must first go 4. To go 4, I must first go 2. To go 2, I must first go 1, etc.According to Parmenides, this proved that all motion was illusion. I wonder if my bones don't half agree.

I think that to play in the entrepreneurial world there is a need to suspend disbelief and just dive in, which is something I have been somewhat loath to do, perhaps because I spent so much time treading water in the pool of Russian Literature. Not that the water wasn't great.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The little black menace persists

Try as we might, we cannot seem to entirely shake the fleas from our homestead.  Or, perhaps, we have. I haven't actually seen one in several days, though I did see two in successive days up here in the splendid isolation of my elevated man-cave, though no cat has graced it for weeks.

And we've been putting out soap-laced water under a reading lamp, as instructed by friends and the mighty, all-knowing internet, and collecting seemingly no fleas but a sweet little collection of gnats and other winged things.

But the perception of flea risk lingers on longer than the little things themselves, or is it that they are so crafty, as if trained by the equally skitterish squirrels. Every time I feel a little itch on my arm or leg, I look. And, probably, I imagine itches that might not even rise to the attention of my brain, had it not been for the initial fleas. Oh when will they disappear from our minds?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

From Princeton

I recently finished Peter Hessler's River Town, which is the first of his three books on his time in China, though I read it last. In fact, I read the books in reverse order. Allow me to recommend reading them in order. They were plenty good read backwards, but I suspect the sweep of narrative would have worked better the other way. I'm sure I would have appreciated seeing the narrator grow, even as his subject shifted.

In the middle of River Town, I stopped off and re-read Michael Lewis's Liar's Poker, which I think I blogged about. For some time I've thought Lewis one of the best writers writing in English, but I now believe that Hessler is better. Lewis is more pyrotechnics, more writerly pizzazz, and more at home with the mover and the shaker. Hessler is able to sit calmly, observe, and pull narrative out of seeming nothingness, simply because he pays attention.

Of course, I'm well aware that I share much with both of them:  we're all white boys from middle America who went off to Ivy League schools and drank our fill there (I, for sure, literally, as well as figuratively), though we weren't insiders when we got there. Wikipedia tells me that Lewis was a prep school kid, which I could have guessed simply from the fact that he's from New Orleans, but Hessler is a public school kid from a university town, like me.

I think what that means is that I probably need to read something written by a non-white, non-male, non-straight and/or non-Ivy League person before I keep piling on superlatives.

However, I've started in reading Richard Ford's The Lay of the Land, which is itself set in and around Princeton (takes me back) and is all about being white, male, and middle-aged. But he's really good, I swear, or at least he knows how to push my buttons.

What all of these guys have in common with each other, and with me, is no doubt that they seek to rise up and take a really abstract, high-level view of Things In General. And that's something us white Ivy League guys want to feel good at, it's what we aspire to. Most likely because we were brought up going to church and looking at God depicted as a white guy.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Today, as I was rushing downstairs to fix one thing on Graham's birthday Evite I spilled coffee on the stairs, so I got a paper towel to clean it up. As I was cleaning, my mind was on about 30 other pressing things related to some disturbing news I got yesterday, and I got distracted. I neglected to put my lower foot down on a step, and I actually fell backwards onto the floor, just a couple of steps below. My cat Rascal was like "WTF," and as I looked in front of me I could see that my flip flop, dragging along the floor, had left a black skid mark about 18 inches long.

But luckily, I think that was about the worst of it. Years of training as an athlete/klutz have given me good falling skills, and I fell on my butt, which has some cushioning.  There may be a little bruising and soreness, but that should be it. The skid mark wiped up good.

This, I think, is what they mean by "staying in the moment." Elsewhere, you can get in trouble quickly.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Today -- as we rushed to get ready to go out and meet the bus -- I was trying to show Graham how to twist the top off of his water bottle and quickly got frustrated with my inability to do so. What is the problem?  Is it that the thing (and bottle tops in general) are optimized for a right-handed population, hard for lefties like him?  Is it that he wasn't trying hard enough (possible), because he expects that we'll do it for him in the end (moral hazard)? Or does he really lack the hand strength, as a result -- partly of his " low tone" condition, partly because he only exercises outside of school if we actually go out and do something with him (this is partly a zeitgeist thing, as all parents comment these days, but to some extent has been exacerbated by our settling in a neighborhood which has a lower density of children, partly by virtue of extended longevity amongst the educated/affluent population here, partly by virtue of the hills and largish wooded lots -- which create micro-neighborhoods cut off from one another).

At some level, then, it's kinda complicated.  One thing's for sure.  I can get frustrated with this kind of thing, and did a little today. And Graham senses my tension and surely can't sort out all the complex shit I just laid out up there. He probably assumes at a gut level I'm just mad at/frustrated with him. In a best case scenario, he's just can't figure out what's up with dad.

This crazy mind-spinning is typical Al Anon behavior, and worthy of attention if, at the end of the day, not all that big a deal, which is what I must remember in my bones.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

It's my party

and I'll cry if I want to.

Friday, September 07, 2012


Mary is in New York. It was a calm day here at my desk.

In the evening the kids and I had Thai food and sat at the dining room table, as opposed to the island.

I'll take it, after the violent drama of the rains yesterday. The lake was maybe 18-24 inches higher than it's ever been before, and the water poured over the dam in cascading torrents (man I'm tired if I can't think of better phrases than that, but whatever). The creek was a high as I've ever seen it, maybe 50 feet across, and the little islands in the middle were complete subsumed by the rush of it all.

After I told Graham how intense it was, he wanted to go down and check it out. We walked over to the dam and I showed it to him and held his hand while I talked to him about the deadly power of rushing water. I think he got the point.

Then we played some frisbee, for the first time in months.  It was so wet I didn't want to run after the damned thing for fear I'd slip and my phone would fall out of my pocket. My legs got wet and covered with nasty grass cuttings and, as we're still paranoid about the fleas, I did some very diligent rinsing on the way in. All told, it was good.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Natalie thinks of Sadie, and more

Mary is headed to New York today for a few days, and will be staying with Beth, Kevin, and Sadie. In the morning, before school, Mary reminded Natalie of that, and she immediately said "oh, let me see if I have a little something I can send to Sadie." This made me very proud.

Addenda:  On the way to the airport for Mary's flight to New York for Laura Letinsky's opening and birthday (won't quote a number here), I brought up Natalie's thoughtfulness with her and Mary noted that it was very sweet of her but that, when Natalie searched her room, all she could find to send to Sadie was a small shell. This is probably because Natalie, like all tweens, keeps her room very neat and tosses away old possessions as soon as she stops playing with them regularly..... JKLMFAO!

Around dinnertime, Graham noted that Mary's birthday was coming up fast and that we had better start planning for it. That is also very sweet.

We have good kids.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Reading back

Just read some entries from 2005, straight transcriptions of things I did with the kids.  Really precious. Must get back to doing more of that.

It's late now, but must narrate the trip Graham and I took to the second raft out in the lake over the weekend. Great memories.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Self-Googling of the elite

Sometime yesterday, the name "Peter Hessler" was entered into the blog search engine Icerocket by someone whose ISP is in a suburb of Cairo. Judging by some of Hessler's recent writings at The New Yorker , he could well have been the visitor himself, as he moved there sometime last year after having spent many years in China and as a China hand, and after having won an entirely well-earned MacArthur.

I certainly like to think it might have been him stopping by, for one, because I like all visitors, and particularly those I admire, and for two, because it's nice to think that even those who've reached the highest levels of attainment in their fields are curious about what's being written about them.  Hell, that's how I got a meeting with the former CEO of the biggest and most powerful insurance company of all time, perhaps the most storied insurance exec ever.  He was googling himself or, more likely, he had one of his admins do it.  Same diff.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

The little black peril

The cats were scratching themselves a lot the other day, and Mary quite perceptively noted that it was fleas. So Saturday we were off to the races, give the cats pills, then vacuum the whole house top to bottom and wash every single piece of bedding, etc. It was hell.

Fleas are like communism. They're hard to see, crafty little buggers jumping around and all, and once you suspect they're around you try to root them out everywhere. Because you can't see them, and in particular you can't see their eggs, they insinuate themselves into your every waking thought.  Was that a tick? Is there something on my leg? 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Space and the divine

At an Al-Anon meeting last week a silver-haired lean white woman in Birkenstocks or similar sensible sandals shared about how being alone, in nature, particularly under the stars, was what put her in touch with her higher power, gave her a sense of oneness. I know what she's talking about, for sure, this is technically referred to as the "sublime" and is certainly a concept shared by a lot of people, particularly urban or once-urban and affluent ones who can afford to get out and see the sublime sometimes or often.

And then I thought about a story I had had a gander at recently about Chinese swimming pools.

These pools are huge, incredibly crowded and, not surprisingly, hard to keep clean, thus high in pee and poop content.

So what chance do these folx get to have a toodle with the sublime embodiment of the divine that so many affluent folx select as their god of choice?  And, for that matter, what opportunities do the lower-income residents of our own inner cities have? Or, even better, the 1% of our population that we like to keep behind bars as part of our "keep rural white males employed and with guns in their hands" government program that is commonly referred to as the "War on Drugs"? Not that much.

On the other hand, I'm currently in the middle of Peter Hessler's River Town, in which the author recounts a couple of years he spent in the Chinese city of Fuling in the late 90s (a great book, like all of Hessler's. Read it!)  Hessler recounts going to the tombs of a Fuling factory owner's family in more rural areas across the Yangtze from the city, and remarks that the rich guy, remembering what it was like to live in the countryside, didn't romanticize it at all and was happy to head back to his house in the city. I suspect this is pretty common, and that the urban affluent's apotheosization of rural tranquility is really just another instance of grass being greener.

But that Chinese pool still looks nasty.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Hunger Games

Over the last couple of nights we watched The Hunger Games on pay-per-view with Natalie.  The first time we had done that, though it may become common practice, since the DVDs we're getting from Netflix have been coming in consistently scratched.  Or we may have to cave in to the demands of modernity and upgrade to a modern TV connected to the so-called internet (our current one is very old school), with a Wii, even.

But I digress.  The main thing is that Natalie stayed up late and watched with us. Over the course of the summer, I had tried to get her to go see The Hunger Games with me at the theater, but stuff kept coming up, and she acted unexcited. But she was thrilled to see it, though she was continually attuned to the ways in which the book is better. Both nights, as we were preparing to watch or during bathroom breaks, she bounced up and down on the little trampoline in the rec room, doing splits and other tricks.  Last night, as Mary and I were getting dinner ready, she even offered to help us get our meal on the table so as to get to the evening's main attraction.

As we watched, she sat on the couch and giggled and glowed at the excitement of staying up late to watch with mom and dad. We need to do more of this. Some of my readers may be shocked to learn that, with her already at the age of 12, we've done so little of it. But, in the end, that's the kind of uptight hard-assed WASPs we are, despite our attempts to be alternative or whatever. I don't know who we think we're fooling.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bad thoughts

A friend of mine (James Romm, of Bard College) is working on a book about death in the time of Seneca.  Apparently, the Romans had a practice of getting rid of enemies of the state by forcing them to commit suicide. The deal was, if you killed yourself, your heirs would inherit your estate and you could be buried with honor, or something like that. Otherwise, you would be executed and none of the good stuff would happen, your heirs were left out in the cold and you were thrown to the dogs.

The centurions would show up at your door, and you had to go kill yourself while they were there. That's a horrific thought. Imagine being of the mindset to go and do that.

I started thinking about this this morning when my alarm went off an hour earlier than it should have (it was set for last Thursday). Not good.

I suppose I should regard the early alarm as an harbinger of the kids going back to school next Monday, which will be a blessing, honestly.

But I could have been spared this particular historical tidbit. I don't really know why I'm passing it along to you, fair reader, save that it's a gripping image.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Slipping, falling, and mindfulness

After taking a shower today I realized that the towel on the wall was wet from Mary's shower just before, so I had to go all the way over to the opposite wall to get a dry one. By the time I stepped back into the stall to dry off my legs, I was already distracted, and I nearly tripped on the step-up into the shower. It's easy to see how falling in showers is a big problem, especially for people as they age. Hell, not two weeks ago I slipped ever so slightly twice when stepping into the shower at Kirsten and Ted's back in Princeton. That is a particularly slippery shower, mind you.

It brought to mind a conversation I had not long ago at all with the CEO of a specialized insurance brokerage. He was telling me about earlier days in his career, when he worked at a larger carrier, and where he insured restaurants (not that specialized a risk). "What's the number 1 risk at restaurants?" he asked, and I luckily guessed it was falls.  Then he asks me how to mitigate the risk -- and thereby get lower premiums --, and I thought about not putting bathrooms downstairs. He tells me that's one thing, but on an even more basic level, that restaurants shouldn't have salad bars. And I'm thinking, yeah, spills of oil on the floor, and he says it's much simpler:  you just don't want people to get up.

I was also reminded of reading somewhere of work former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill had done in his healthcare consultancy which emphasized that, at all costs, hospitals and healthcare facilities should seek to minimize falls by patients, because falls were so highly correlated with increased lengths of stays, bad outcomes, and costs.  I'll be damned if I can find a link to that.

But, anyway, around the house, falling is so closely connected to mindfulness. If one can simply be attuned to situations in which you're likely to fall, you're not gonna.

I guess most people just don't.  Until they do.

I had a feeling this wasn't the first time I had written about this topic, and indeed it's not. Here's an entry from 2009.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Old tapes

The CD player in our Volvo is broken, so for now we must focus on the radio and tapes. When leaving Princeton, in an effort to cut down on stuff and clutter, I threw away almost all of my old tapes, some of them dating back to junior high school.  I could not prevail upon Mary to do the same.

So now we are listening to her old tapes. Which is great and expands and refreshes my musical landscape. Etta James, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, things we don't have CDs of.  I took one tape called "A la vie Parisienne" and popped it in there. Some of it is great, other parts (Gerard Depardieu songs, for instance), not so great. Overall it gave me the feeling that I wished I had known and gone out with Mary when we were younger.

When I told her that, she said "I have no idea where this tape came from." Even still.

Lump of focus

Played tennis with David and Frank last week in Princeton. As always, the experiences were different. David and I had, as we have always had, great parity.  We used to play each other twice, sometimes even three times a week, and we would always be fairly even.  7-6, 6-4, those kind of sets, rarely more than one, as we had neither the fitness nor the time to batter one another for much longer.

With Frank it's different. I once won a game off of Frank.  This week he beat me 6-0, 6-0, in an hour.  For some reason he enjoyed this. I almost took a game off of him, but as we walked away he told me "I'd be damned if I was gonna let you take a game off of me." In an entirely friendly way, he just needed a goal. And it was good for me to try to play over my head like that.

Frank confessed he was surprised that neither David nor I had ever figured the other one out. I thought about it and told him that I felt it would unbalance the delicate equilibrium we had amongst ourselves, the pleasure of being well-matched.  He responded that in that case, as one of us focused and challenged the other, it would raise the other's game, so that the balance would be restored.

In recent months I've often had people challenge me to be more competitive in sports, first Mumford with the triathlon thing, then Drake wanting me to get back on the track and run races. I tend to fend it off, feeling that I have more than enough to concentrate on with the other things going on in my life and that I should focus my athletics on enjoyment, relaxation, and basic fitness But maybe that is a "lump of focus" fallacy similar to the the well-known "lump of labor" fallacy cited by economists, which states that there is a fixed amount of work to do in an economy.  Maybe being more competitive and challenging myself to do more things would improve my ability to compete in various areas, and would in particular raise my confidence.  Hmmmm.

Certainly I know that certain basic facts are true: if I raise my cardio capacity, I can exercise more..... at least up until the point where my aging body pushes back with repetitive stress injuries (this is a facet of a more developed portfolio theory of exercise, which needs to be spun out some other day).

Three things is certain:  there are only 24 hours in the day, sleep is important, and the general guidelines for this blog insist that I write only 15 minutes a day, so I must stop.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Krugman vs. Estonia: my take

Having been out of town for some weeks, I only just now got around to reading the Businessweek article about the mud-slinging between Princeton economist Paul Krugman and Estonia, esp. its President Toomas Ilves.In short, in June Krugman published a blog post saying that because Estonia's austerity program shrank the country's GDP by almost 15% and that the small Baltic nation's GDP hadn't regained its 2007 levels, that proved that austerity doesn't work and that Estonia should have adopted a Krumanite program of currency devaluation and inflation to move forward from the crisis. Estonia and austerity proponents believe that the country's quick turnaround:  2.3% GDP growth in 2010 followed by 8% or so in 2011, make it a poster child for austerity. In response to Krugman, Ilves did some Tweeting from the hip that generated a lot of discussion in both Estonia and Econoblogospheria.

Here's what I think: On balance, Estonians seems happy with what they did, and that demonstrates that the sort of GDP-obsessed economic determinism for which Krugman is a mouthpiece may not be all that it's cracked up to be. Estonians are used to hardship.  Around 25% of the population died during WWII, and the memory of the Great Patriotic War is still present there and throughout the European part of the former USSR (admittedly, I haven't been back there since '98, but I'm sure they still work it like Giuliani works 9/11).

Estonia's small size and relative ethnic homogeneity (70% Estonian, and almost everybody else is some kind of Slav) and relatively low income disparity (2009 CIA Gini coefficient 31.4 as compared to EU average 30.4 or the US's 45) makes austerity relatively palatable. When people who look like you suffer like you, and it's much less bad than it used to be in WWII or under the Soviet Union, it doesn't feel so bad. Monty Python's knight would have said "It's only a flesh wound."

It's not clear how austerity would play out in larger, more ethnically mixed places where there's always somebody who looks different and sounds funny to blame things on. I think the question gets much more complicated there, or, as is the case, here.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The turn to non-fiction

In recent years I've been reading more and more non-fiction, and, not surprisingly, less and less fiction. It seems like a lot of folks, maybe particularly guys, turn this corner as their hair turns grey.

But why, I wonder? For me, much of it seems to stem from the fading dream of and belief in the idea of the "Great Genius" as something that's desirable. The canonical fiction writers, from Balzac to Dostoevsky and Tolstoy to Joyce and Proust and those who try to be their heirs really, in the end, want to create these worlds that are reflections of or spring from themselves. The heroic authorial ego. And I would include Toni Morrison and other women too, I don't think it's just a phallic thing.

The non-fiction writer is generally more humble, recognizing that the world provides stories which need only be captured.  And yes, the distinction between fiction and non-fiction is itself just a convenient fiction, as the non-fiction narrator's point of view necessarily interjects itself and mediates between what's being described and its description, which are hard to distinguish, I get that and take it under advisement as I read, yet nonetheless the non-fiction writer's "I" somehow seems to set off from a more modest point of appreciation for the experience of others. And as a reader of non-fiction, I start from a place of greater acceptance of my own place in the great chain of being.  Maybe.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Diamonds in the rough day on the 95 corridor

10 hours to make the 470 odd miles from Princeton to Chapel Hill, though we admittedly had lovely Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwiches -- I didn't know the term earlier in the day either -- luckily Mary did) in Newark Delaware. The story of how we ended up there is key.

I have long hated the stretch of 95 between Baltimore and the Delaware Memorial Bridge.  It's one of just a few places on the East Coast 95 corridor through the heavily populated portion of the US, roughly Richmond to Boston, where 95 is the only major road, with no redundant alternate routes:  the others are between Richmond and Alexandria and between New Haven, CT and Providence, RI.  All three of these places suck for traffic, because people are just stuck on them.

But today we got caught in traffic near Newark, DE, and I could see on the traffic layer of the navigation app on my phone (Android, I understand iPhones are weaker in this regard) that the traffic extended for miles out, and the Maryland highway radio confirmed that it was on account of an accident. So I decided to get off the highway for gas and lunch.  Then I dug into my trunk for my 1995 Rand/McNally atlas, complete with duct tape on the spine, and saw that route 273 ran through rural Maryland parallel to 95, some 5-7 miles north of the road of dread. So we took it, then found the Banh Mi.  And while people on 95 sat in traffic in heat, we went 50-55 through beautiful countryside eating roast pork with spicy mayo, cucumber, and cilantro.  Killer. And as a topper we went over the Conowingo Dam over the Susquehanna River, complete with a hydroelectric plant, not an everyday site.

Later, in Virginia, I used route 1 to get around traffic on 95.  Some of that went well, other parts, less well.

And at the end we went to Bullock's in Durham and got even more pig.  All told, a good day.

And, in the future, I have an alternate route for 95 in Maryland, which is a great blessing indeed.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Books from Larchmont

Graham "borrowed" a couple of books from grandma's house:

  1. The Fall of Japan, a WWII book
  2. Pippi Longstockings
 You gotta love it.

Liar's Poker

I talked briefly with George about wanting to re-read Michael Lewis's Liar's Poker.  This after having decided that Lewis has grown decidedly lazy in recent years, a writer so gifted that anything he deigns to touch spins out into a nice story, a guy so smart and confident that he can master almost any material. So I saw the book on Rob's shelf and plowed through it in a few days.

All these traits and more are present in Lewis's first book. Just the fact that I went through it so quickly tells you a lot about its quality.

I was surprised, I confess, at the bit role played by John Meriwether in the book.  For some reason I had assumed he was a major player in Lewis's mindspace, but he wasn't, though he does take part in the opening anecdote from which the book takes its name. It wasn't until the '90-'91 period of Salomon's bid-rigging problems (chronicled most recently in The Snowball) that Meriwether strode onto center stage at Salomon.  I still think the guy would make the material of an engrossing biopic.

Now must pack to get the family across the Hudson to The Garden State.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Guitar hero

I was watching the first quarter of the Olympic gold medal basketball game.  The US was beating Spain, but not by much, and it occurred to me that for any given sporting event one might watch, there will always be another one, while the opportunity to exercise on any given day can easily slip away to lethargy and/or the demands of family, work, etc. So I went for a run.

It's hot here in Westchester County, so I've taken to running with my shirt off, like lots of people do in North Carolina, though nobody does it here.  I wonder at times if there's an ordinance forbidding it.  I passed a cross-street as a police cruiser went past, saw the cop step on his brakes and slow down, and figured he might be coming back to bust me for toplessness.  But he didn't.

Towards the end of my run I went past the Larchmont Yacht Club, the place of my wedding, a lovely event except for all the boats marring the view of the water.  Several sets of white women in whites were playing doubles on clay courts. Across from the gatehouse of the club, there's a very nice blue house, at one end of which there was a window open.  In there somewhere, a guy (I assume it was a guy) was playing electrical guitar, working out a rhythm guitar riff. It could have been a John Cougar Mellencamp tune, or a Tom Petty one, or even Wilco, or just something that sounded like that. Nothing earthshaking, but still it was great to hear somebody just playing the guitar, feeling it. I stood and listened and tried to figure out if the guy was actually in his teens or whether he was older and trying to just feel the freedom of his youth, but then continued on after deciding that it really didn't matter.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


On the way back from Tanya and Jamie's we drove down 9G for a while instead of going straight to the Taconic.  When we got close to Hyde Park, we saw a sign for the Eleanor Roosevelt Historic Site and drove in to check it out. It was a lovely looking place, nice house, fields, a pond, bucolic. Everything a white person could want.  Except Graham, who just wanted to get back to Grandma's house to beat her again at chess.  So we stayed in the car, kept driving.

Heading south into Poughkeepsie, things went downhill fast. At one point in time, 5 of 7 businesses we passed were shuttered:  pizza joints, delis, drycleaners, etc. All told, the city was a close to being a ghost town as I had seen in some time. Really derelict. No hope.  Nothing going on. Nice houses rotting. People lounging on front porches or insolently pushing their way through traffic at stop lights, as if to assert their humanity in whatever context offered itself, like Dostoevsky's Underground Man.

Somehow Beacon got the Dia Foundation to come in and do a lot of good. Poughkeepsie is still waiting, as, I suspect, is Peekskill.  Vassar ain't done shit.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Sharing the burden of tech support

For so many years I was alone in my household with technical problems. If something happened with a computer, a phone, a remote control, anything, it fell to me to know how to figure out how to make it work.

But now Natalie is 12, and lives with a lot of Apple products. So if something goes wrong with one of them, very often she knows how to fix it. I sometimes forget this, and bang my head against it before thinking to ask her.  This is a bad habit, and one I need to grow out of.  In any case, it is a huge relief not to be alone with all of these pesky devices.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Sprint for the train

After a very enjoyable meal with a friend on 46th Street last night, I planned to hop on a 9:40 train by slipping onto the Grand Central tracks at their north end at 47th and Madison.  However, I arrived at the door at 9:34, only to discover it had been locked at 9:30.

Which meant that I needed to haul myself down to the station itself and enter the train from its south end. Trouble was, I was wearing flip flops. I might not make the train if I kept them on, so I did the only logical thing.  I took them off and ran barefoot through the streets of midtown. I had pretty good faith in the MidTown Alliance to keep broken glass off the streets and sidewalks.

Going along the west side of Vanderbilt Avenue, in the shadow of a big JP Morgan's world headquarters, just north and across the street from the Yale Club, I couldn't help but notice a few homeless guys camped out in doorways, just as I had seen one in a doorway back on 46th. Anecdotally, it feels like the homeless population is on the rise in NYC. At least Bloomberg is protecting them from themselves by limiting their ability to buy super-sized sodas and, as of yesterday, would encourage the women amongst them to breast feed.

Thursday, August 02, 2012


Standing on a corner in Scarsdale, waiting for Dave Berck.  I don't know why the sight of 19-year olds driving $50,000 cars never ceases to amaze me, but it doesn't.  I am perhaps naive, or I've just been away for too long.

Across the way, the Westchester Band prepares to play a free concert, and an audience more advanced in years is showing up with folding chairs. Then Berck shows up.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Trusting your mechanic

Before driving north the other morning I took our Volvo S40 into the garage because the left hand tail light was out, and the left hand turn signal was clicking in double time.  The latter had been happening a couple of weeks before (when the left headlight was out), so I assumed the mechanic had somehow not fixed something.

I got there right when they opened at 7:30, because I needed to drive 540 miles that day, and Graham had told me very plainly that he didn't want to get to Grandma's house after his bedtime. I thought it was great he was so clear with me.  I described my problem, handed over my keys, and sat down to eat my breakfast biscuit from Sunrise.  I ate and read, but by 8:40 I was feeling a little nervous.  Was there something systemic that they were trying to diagnose?  So I went up and asked the guy what was up with my car, he went back, and then came out and said it was almost done, he'd ring me up.  $15.33.  They just needed to put in a bulb, which they didn't have on hand and had to have delivered from a parts store.  Turns out, the fast blinking of the turn signal is just meant to tell you that a bulb had blown out.

So here's my question:  why didn't they tell me that from the outset?  I was sitting there nervous, thinking something might be wrong and that maybe we'd need to drive north the next day, when the hold up was all about needing to get a part delivered?  So did they not tell me that because they like for you to be nervous, and then to be relieved to find out how cheap the repair was? It's not like they're making a profit on a fifteen buck repair.  If you charge that little money, it's purely a relationship management play.  You want the customer to appreciate your honesty.  So be freaking honest.  I probably wasted 15-30 minutes concerned about what might be going on. If I could have had full concentration during that time, I would have been able to read and retain more.