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.