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.