Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Home again

Today completed a successful move of my office back from Carrboro to the new study in the freshly renovated crib. I'm surprised at how whole I feel to have all of my books and the comfortable armchair that I use all too infrequently under one roof, together with this trusty library table we snagged in '98 back in Somerville, NJ. I should post a picture but am, in truth, too lazy to go downstairs and get my phone.  Maybe tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Beach Ball

After Graham had a good time playing volleyball with the Girl Scouts at their spring gathering last week, Mary picked up a cheap plastic ball at the drug store yesterday so that we'd have something to play volleyball with out by the lake.  So yesterday afternoon Graham and I took the ball and a frisbee and headed out by the lake. But first, we had to take a detour to the blackberry bush where Graham and Sam had discovered some ripe berries the week before. Graham pointed out that there were some more ripe and tasty ones, and I sampled a couple, which were in fact a little sour. I drifted off over to the tetherball court where I played a little soccer tetherball, but Graham remained focused on harvesting all of the blackberries he could find, and he stood there with the ball tucked under his arm doing so.  Maybe 10 minutes later, when the bush was picked clean, he came down to where I was,  with a slowly deflating ball under his arm. Whether by the force of his arm, or by being punctured by a briar or something, the ball was now dead, which I had to point out to Graham, so deeply had he been in the berry-harvesting groove. At least he wasn't upset by the ball's demise.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Atul Gawande

I think I blogged earlier about trying to read The Checklist Manifesto and being put off by the blood and gore and other medical detail.  I have continued to push through the book, to great results.  I was a little frustrated by Gawande's seemingly lengthy digression into the methods of commercial builders, but now that I've seen how he loops his learnings there back into his own work on harm mitigation in surgery, I'm getting it. When Gawande is on task (and, it turns out, he pretty much always is, it's just not always as apparent), his writing shines with the light of what could be called true religion, but what the Hungarian guy Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called "flow."  He is deeply engaged with what he's trying to do and it's catching.  I'm looking forward to the rest of the book.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Power Broker

I have been looking through the used book stores around here recently for a copy of Robert Caro's The Power Broker, about Robert Moses. It's a book I've thought about in the past, but the recent slew of publicity about the release of the fourth volume of his biography of LBJ recently made it clear that I need to read that book. I mean, it's not every day that Bill Clinton writes a book review. Caro sounds as one of a kind as was Moses himself, though in a good rather than bad way, and I might as well start with the book that made him what he is.  I could order it from Amazon, but that's kind of cheating, and who wants to pay postage on a book that 800 or so pages long.

Friday, May 25, 2012


I was just at the Mediterranean Deli and talked to Tony King, who told me of the recent passing of Reggie Junebug Burnette.  This is sad news. Junebug was a good guy.  I could tell some stories, but I'll save them for another day.

Lives of the Novelists

Just read a review of John Sutherland's Lives of the Novelists.  While the review was mixed, it did convey Sutherland's enthusiasm for his subject, and gave me a couple of ideas for my Amazon.list. Certainly Sutherland sounds like someone I'd love to sit next to at a dinner party or, better yet, a cook out.

Much to do to day, so must fly.  Good days are ones in which the things to do appear as opportunities rather than burdens.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Graham on "embarassment"

Graham brought a picture of a couple of air-brushed models in the NY Times magazine over to me and Mary at the dining room table the other day.  The woman in the picture was in a bathing suit, the guy was in some underwear.  Graham said that he found the picture "embarassing."  When Mary asked him what he meant ("because the guy is in his underwear?" she suggested, somewhat plausibly), he said it was because their skin was so shiny.  He has had some trouble grasping the concept of embarassment. Which is OK?

He did point out that the guy in the picture had "six-pack abs", unlike dad. Sigh.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Leaves of Grass

I've been reading Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass recently, usually a couple of pages when I put Graham to bed. Both of my precociously smart-assed kids have pointed out that the title doesn't make sense. They are more lawyers than poets at this stage.

But it's quite a breath of fresh air to read Whitman. I was initially inspired by recalling the line "I embrace multitudes," which it turns out comes from him, and indeed he does. Whitman invokes the whole of America that was known to him at the time, from sea to shining sea, from head to toe, from peak to vale, from club to gutter. I am reminded of the comparisons that were made between Whitman and Mayakovsky a quarter century ago when I was writing about the latter.

The most important thing I find in reading Whitman, and perhaps I need to move to this strategy for all poetry, is to just read the words that are written there and keep going, to not continually loop back and go over it again and try to read into it and suss it out.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

LIke Magic, but differently

(Was about to title the post "Like magic", then saw that that was the title of my April 12 post)

In the NY Times today, Harvey Araton writes of Magic Johnson that "At 52... Johnson may be the closest American celebrity of color to reach a true postracial eminence."  Hmmm.  I guess he's pretty much a sportswriter through and through. I would have thought that Oprah, Morgan Freeman, J Lo, Bill Cosby, and probably a bunch of others had kind of made it there. To say nothing of Obama. It just goes to show you that is that, in newspapers, as in blogs and elsewhere throughout the world of "influencers", pithy statements and superlatives sell.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

On the hunt for voles

Mary has been slaving away in the garden now for over a month, and has made immense progress getting many holes in the ground and filling them with plants. And, praise God, they are growing.

But now comes a critical time, as we wait to see how the various measures to counter the rapacious vole population take effect.  To date we have taken delivery of a huge load of gravel, which David helped Mary till into the soil, so as to cut into the skin of those pesky little fuckers and they tunnel their way towards the roots of our fresh plantings. Our cat Rascal has been on the prowl constantly, and has killed many a vole, as well as mice and chipmunks.  Mary has secured a supply of pigs' blood, which she sprinkles round the bases of the little plantings to ward off the wee furred demons.

But there's more to be done.  Voles love to nest in stone walls and in fields of rocks, so we are undertaking a non-trivial stone abatement program. Your blogger has, truth be told, lugged many plastic planters full of rocks down to the bottom of the ravine in our yard, where we couldn't possibly ever seek to grow anything, where I have strewn them around in a way entirely in keeping with town ordinances seeking to prevent erosion around stream beds (I think the term the bureaucrats use is "riparian buffers" or something like that) to control algae blooms down in Jordan Lake. This is backbreaking and probably foolhardy labor, sort of an inversion of Sisyphus's chore, but in essence probably just as effective, given how many rocks we have in our yard. But it draws me closer to the land in some primordial sense, and is likely good for my core, and certainly a boon to my marriage.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Skills-based giving for alumni associations

My illustrious alma mater is trying to get a local chapter back up and running, and this year for its annual "day of service" alumni gathered together to pick up trash around a nature trail or something like that that would be of profound value to affluent white people just like us.  Afterwards, the plan was to go for lunch and chardonnay.

I did not attend. I don't see that kind of thing as particularly impactful giving, and opted instead to hang out with my children. I was thinking it would be better to take the skills of these highly educated folx and somehow make them available to organizations in the community that could use them.

Last week I had breakfast in NYC with a friend from grad school who's in the corporate learning and development world, and we got to talking about trends in non-profits, and she mentioned that "skills-based giving" is all the rage. So now I have a buzzword to glom onto and see if it has been applied in the alumni context.

Most likely it has or, indeed, the skills-based trend will outrun and supercede the whole idea of giving based on institutional affiliation.  Why should I worry that any giving I do should redound to the glory of some place I went to college? If it can be channeled through something like and be really beneficial somewhere, that's fine and dandy.  6 or 7 years ago my college put together a proto-social network that allowed alumni to see where each other lived, what they were doing, etc, and contact one another..  Then came LinkedIn and Facebook and that whole construct was blown away, and now all the in-house social network is presumably just sitting there gathering dust.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I'm not Chris

I was out running today in Carrboro near Bolin Creek when a guy passed me on the street. He looked awfully like one Chris B., master impresario of running socks, so I said to him, not too loud "Hey Chris." I was pretty sure it was Chris, so after a few seconds, thinking he might not have heard me for some reason, I repeated, louder this time: "Chris."  At which point in time he turned back to me and said "I'm not Chris," in an annoyed tone of voice. At that point in time I quite politely said something like:  "I'm terribly sorry, you look an awful lot like him, yatta yatta yatta..." and the guy kept running, saying nothing more.

I'll confess, I was annoyed.  I had gone out of my way to be polite and acknowledged my error, but this guy really couldn't budget more than 3 syllables out of his busy day. And I wanted to say to him, "Hey buddy, this may be Carrboro, but we're still in the South here and people make a little bit more of an effort to work on manners with one another here.

In the end, I let it go, and I suppose that I really shouldn't get too worked up about controlling the behavior of complete strangers. Even when they are assholes.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Wilson Library

I went to a noon meeting on campus today and afterwards, went and checked out Wilson Library, where I had gotten my first library card when I was 13 or so.  Soon after that, I handed in a paper to my 7th grade biology paper on the influence of radiation on cell membranes.... and was promptly and rightly dinged for plagiarism, and grounded for some weeks.  That's precisely the kind of lesson that middle school is for.

I was thinking that Wilson had become an administrative building, but it is in fact the home of various special collections, and the grand old reading room is still open for "quiet study."  I may well make my way back there in upcoming weeks.  I peeked my head into the rooms of some of the special collections, and was struck by all the empty shelves on the walls around them. Dunno what's up with that. Library shelves should not be empty. It looked rather sad, in fact.

In other book news, somebody on Facebook today invited me to join "Goodreads," some kinda book social network.  I spent 20 minutes rating a bunch of books I had read to see if the thing could suggest anything I might like:  not really.  The suggestions are really facile and mechanical, a grade below what Netflix or Pandora can do for you, and well below Amazon's engine. Save your precious time and watch Sportscenter or something.

Friday, May 11, 2012

In the city

Walking west towards the High Line Monday afternoon, I was passed by a couple of young women out running. As they hit 9th avenue, some guy in a grey suit blazed past on a bicycle.  One of  them called out to the guy, pretty loud: "whoa!! You are attractive!" Well, I wasn't going to take that lying down, so when I pulled even with them as they waited for the light to change, I told her that i was shocked and offended to hear a fellow male objectified and denigrated like that.  To which she responded, laughing, "but I was right, wasn't I?"

Saturday, May 05, 2012

More things the kids say

One evening in bed with Graham, a day or so after I had told the kids I had left my current job and would be finding a better one, he looked over at me and asked:  "So if you've left your job, what will be our primary source of income?"

I'm as sure about the first half of that sentence, but the part in italics were the actual words of our little 8-year old.

I assured him that we were OK.

Friday, May 04, 2012


I was putting a load of laundry in the washer, and I found a very smooth sea shell in the pocket of one of Natalie's pairs of shorts. Being a good dad, I took it back to her. "I found this nice shell in the pocket of your shorts", I told her.

"Actually, there were very pretty shells in the pockets of two pairs of shorts," she replied, and went and rummaged in the dryer for the other one, but couldn't find it.

I found it at the bottom of the hamper.