Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Highlight of the week

It was a day off from school (if not from the CFP curriculum), and in the afternoon I played frisbee with the kids on Monday.  Both of them.  I play pretty often with Graham, and as Natalie is between field hockey and ultimate season, I was able to coax her out to prep for the latter.

Graham was a little excited to have his sister out playing for him, so he started demonstrating some of his silly throws, like when he throws overhand and then does a backwards roll. And Natalie started laughing.  Really laughing.  Laughing in a way that it was really clear that she is fond of her little brother, actually loves him.

Now, as those of you who have more than one kid know, or who have siblings, kids aren't always that demonstrative towards one another.  And Natalie, who, prior to Graham's arrival on the scene a decade ago, had been the first grandchild on Mary's side of the family, the little golden-curled sweetheart and center of attention, was dislodged from her position at the center of a pretty large universe at Graham's birth.  And then he had some special needs, which made him an attention vortex at times.  So she has in particular not always been so lovey-dovey with Graham.

So Monday was particularly nice.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Input/Output, or, return to Protuberance

I woke my computer up this morning with the full intention of writing.  I have the most energy relatively early in the morning -- though certainly not first thing, not these pre-autumn time change days when we rise well before the sun -- and often it is "squandered" in reading and musing, or, worse, worrying and kvetching. I consider writing to be a "strategic" activity for myself and therefore should really devote some time to it, if only the measly 15 minutes I try to squeeze it into.

But today, when my computer finally deigned to show its screen, I was hijacked by a lot of activity on Facebook.  What's going on over there?  I thought.  I had sent out an invite last night, a post or two, and somehow had to see what had bounced back.

All too often this is the case, Facebook draws me in, and it cuts into my writing.  And is this a bad thing, necessarily?  Here I am on my own, asserting my ego, as it were, laying myself out. Over there, at its best, I am participating in a conversation with many, a flow of ideas, sometimes global.  Right now I have friends around the US, and in Spain, Russia, Italy, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Japan, Germany, Sweden, France, and probably other places too, if I stop to think about it.  There's a lot going on. There is flow.
Gay people are being beaten in the streets, and friends' kids are doing silly stuff and winning volleyball games.

So what is more important, in the long run, to push myself out, or to participate in flow?

We are right back to the question which I deemed "Protuberance" some years back, to Ramsay at the dinner table in To the Lighthouse running his mouth but all the time saying "I, I, I, I....."

(Commenters, please begin)

Friday, October 25, 2013


Mary has been in the habit of picking out multi-vitamins for me, and I trust her, absolutely.  So when, a year or two back, she came back from the drug store with a multi that said "Men's Senior" on it, I didn't take offense, even though on the face of it it seemed a couple of decades premature.  I figured she had done some sort of research that had told her that was the one for me.

But when she brought back a bottle that said "Men's Mature" on it yesterday, I had to wonder:  what's the difference. So I figured I would look on the labels to see what the difference was.

Alas, the print size is too small for me to read it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Breakin the law

Was listening to NPR on the way to the Central West Planning meeting last night and they were interviewing those two people who just published a book about Lance Armstrong and doping. They were talking about how over the top and outrageous the drug abuse was on the US Postal Service team, and I found myself ranting in my own mind about how absurd the culture of cheating was in sports and business and how it's absolutely correct that Armstrong should have every possible book thrown at him and his wealth confiscated, and Stevie Cohen too, and Barry Bonds.... and how necessary it was for our children to see that rule-breaking has consequences and how important it is to play fair...

And then, I remembered how, not two hours before, when a blonde field hockey player for Culbreth had a breakaway and was threatening to score (Phillips was up 4-1, with maybe 8 minutes left), and I found myself advocating to the other parents standing there that our defender should, in that situation, take the Culbreth player down, foul her intentionally to stop the breakaway.  Which is, tactically, the correct thing to do when there's a real threat of a goal in a low-scoring sport.

But, though it is tactically correct, it's not really rule compliant.  It is, in fact, the type of consequence-weighing behavior we all engage in all the time:  I'll break a rule if the legal recourse is not onerous and/or the probability of getting caught is low.  So, drive 67 in a 55 but not 74.

We do this all the time.  Armstrong was just gambling at a higher level, and in such a global way that it called into question the integrity of his sport.

I can't help but to think back to Luis Suarez reaching up with his hands to block the shot that the Ghanaians had headed over the goal line in the dying seconds of the World Cup quarterfinal in 2010 in South Africa. Ghana had done an incredible thing, had brought honor upon Africa, and what Suarez did seemed so dirty. And then the regal Asamoah Gyan stepped up and missed the penalty off the crossbar, and Uruguay won in a shoot out.  And, in retrospect, Suarez did the absolute right thing.  He did the only thing he could do, and he got a red card, but Uruguay advanced.  And that's how it is.  Perhaps the most dramatic moment I have ever seen in sports, and I hope to never see it again.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

At a Bat Mitzvah

Went to the Bat Mitzvah of Natalie's friend S yesterday.  We were able to plunk Graham over at granny's, which was a fine thing, because he offered the opinion that Bar and Bat Mitzvah's are even "drearier" (his actual word) than funerals because of all the Hebrew.  And the service was, in truth, on the long side, though sung beautifully.

But I find that there's a special freedom to religious services conducted in languages you don't know.  Sometimes I try to figure out something about the language.  I'll never forget the time that I figured out that "Baruch" means blessing, hence the 17th century philosopher Spinoza (whom I've been meaning to read for 25 odd years) is alternately referred to as Baruch and Benedict. This was at Tanya and Jamie's wedding at Bard back in '94 or 5, where the rabbi had the most lovely voice and really had the literal enthusiasm of great clergy of any faith, or none. "Barack" is etymologically linked to Baruch.Yesterday I deciphered that Melech means king.

But mostly I just let my mind wander freely and ponder things, much like I used to in church, when the sermons might as well have been in a foreign language. I thought about other stuff too, some of it deep, which I may find time to get back to, though now I think I've gotta go feed Graham lunch.

What I will say is that there was a girl sitting right in front of us who was continually futzing with her hair.  She kept trying to braid it in one way or another, but it wouldn't stay back, and she was totally doing it obsessively the whole time.  I must say that I found this annoying, as it was interfering with my piece of mind and my ability to think extremely profound thoughts, the processing and recording of which is of the utmost importance to humanity.

Then, lunch was delicious.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Soccer dad

So, because I can, I have been going to as many of Natalie's field hockey games as I can, because I can.  And they haven't been winning.  Quite the contrary.

The big problem is that the other teams are, you see, better.  There are relatively few experienced players at Phillips, and only a few who are really dogged in wanting the ball and contesting for it.  Natalie is not one of them. She is largely content to be in the area where the ball is, close enough to the action to not feel guilty about shirking, but not actively interjecting herself into the flow.  The problem is, I believe, reaching back through the years to my own early and uncertain times playing sports, that she doesn't believe she can influence the play, or, that if she does, it will be in the wrong way. So why run the risk of messing up if you can be close enough where you appear to be trying?

And, honestly, it's no biggie, because she's having fun and maintains a really good attitude. Making the high school team will probably be difficult, this may be her last year at this sport, and that's OK, because at this level, and not on turf, it's frustrating sport to watch. Ultimate is so much better.

But sitting there on the bench, watching the team underperform, watching the few aggressive girls play their hearts out, is challenging for me. I keep my yelling entirely positive, but under my breath, in my skull, it's difficult to do.  In my mind, I am the soccer dad of parodies, yelling out, correcting the coach (though not berating the ref). And I get it. I know I am playing out insecurities of my youth in there.  I just try to keep it there.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Long day

Was in Greensboro bright and early for the income tax planning exam of the CFP.  In the bag!  Box checked.

After a traditional Carolina burger at a NC Diner (vaguely an oxymoron?) I planned to make my way home via back roads, to with, what is known in Chapel Hill as Old Greensboro Highway.

Then I talked to my mom, who told me my uncle Ballard had passed away over the weekend.  Ballard was my dad's older brother, about whom I really need to write a little more, I see, having looked through the archives quickly.  But, as I was west of town, I stopped in to see his sister Frances on my way back, who lives out that way. Was greeted at my car by no fewer than 7 dogs, one of whom (Duncan), weighs about 135 pounds.  But, once they saw that I was kin, they all simmered down and begged to be pet.

In any case, would love to write more, but may not get back to it today.  My friend who's helping with some home repair stuff has gotten here, gotta go confer with him.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Cease to cherish opinions

Saw a great quote today: "Do not search for the truth; only cease to cherish opinions."

Turns out it is from a certain Hsin-hsin-ming, or so the Almighty Interweb tells me.

I may have blogged before on the subject of the fragment.  In western culture, the fragment has been a very fruitful form from Heraclitus forward, and one I have always been partial to.  There is a certain appropriate humility to the short form, an absence of overreaching and self-aggrandizement.  Plus it's impossible for the individual mind to try to hold the totality of something like the Critique of Pure Reason in mind, or the Bible or whatever grand text seems to be the big one for you.

Similarly, there's a certain justice in the fact that Alice Munro just won the Nobel for Literature, the first pure short-story writer to ever do so.  Certainly the short story is denigrated relative to the totalizing pretensions of the novel.

And yet, I am mindful of what Franco Moretti once said, somewhat sotto voce, about a certain globe-trotting rock star theorist in his department.  "(S)he has never written a book, only collections of articles."  I get that.  For personal development, for saying what you believe in and trying to bring threads together, there does seem to be a drive to write a book which hangs together and presents a unified argument.  Or is this also but a chimera?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Tax code

Studying Income Tax Planning module for the CFP course given by CFFP.  This is not more exciting then it sounds.

Some notes.  On the one hand, I can see how deucedly complex is US tax code.  It is layer upon layer of inducements, put on their year after year as the IRS caught up with those who would willfully dosey-doe with it and/or to incent or disincent behaviors at moments of economic stress.  So I get simplifying it.

Then again, it's equally hard to imagine actually doing it, because at any different moment, a million taxpayers might be planning, over the course of years, to take advantage of one provision or the other.

In time, thought, something will give. Simplification will need to happen.  The cost of complying with the Code is manifestly unproductive, and consumers a non-trivial chunk of GDP.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Reason I Jump from subject to subject

I just read The Reason I Jump, by Naoki Higashida.  The author is a Japanese kid who wrote the book when he was 13, and he is, by most measures, apparently somewhere around the middle of the functioning range of the autism spectrum, I guess. I'm hedging because, although he apparently doesn't speak much, it's really an amazing book.  Through an arduous process of spelling out words using a special grid, he's given the reader fairly astounding access to the inner realms of his thinking, which is by no means simple for a 13-year old.  It is articulate and well-considered.  I really recommend the book to anyone, but particularly to others who have kids or other relatives on the spectrum.  It is more direct and human than anything else I've read, including John Elder Robeson and Temple Grandin.

There's a final story in it which doesn't address any specific questions of autism, but is incredibly sweet, so don't skip it.

And, having been schooled in literary criticism during the heyday of high literary theory, or maybe soon after it, I gotta tell you this throws a big brick through the window of any theory that calls into question the representational power of language.  I mean, it ain't perfect, but it's pretty damned good, and a hell of a lot better than nothing.

Theory is/was one of those intensely seductive things.  It takes so much work, and when you're enveloped in it it feels like it gives you so much power, but then you go to talk to somebody who's not bought into it and they're looking at you like:  "what the fuck are you talking about?"  In many ways, those most seduced and caught up in theory are not unlike the Tea Party, trapped in their own little self-referential self-reinforcing world.

Which isn't to say it's all bad.  It just must be leavened and tempered with an open mind.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Russia and the intelligentsia

When Boyzu and I went swimming the other day he was asking me about Russia.  To wit:  "What's up with Russia?  Why are they so angry and reactionary."

In the moment, all I could think of was to say that many of them were thugs, which is a gross oversimplification, to be sure.  Only slightly less crassly, I think it's fair to say that Russians have lived for a long time in a harsh environment which periodically becomes harsher for reasons both external (invaders like Napoleon and Stalin) and internal (tyrants like Stalin and the at times rather harsh autocracy of Tsars, to say nothing of Serfdom).  So Russians have learned to do what they need to to survive.

They are also naturally pissed off at having felt like they were a world power, and then to have been brought low and ground in the mire after the end of the Cold War. So the Russian Man, writ large, doesn't feel too good about himself.  Right now, to survive in his mind as a "man", he perceives that has to have somebody to kick around.  He's been kicking around the "black" people of the Caucasus and Central Asia for sometimes, the colonies they brought to heel from the 17th century forward that have now said "uh uh".  And they've had nasty wars and major incidents of terrorism blow back on them from that.

Women are already pretty much under control, and, in the absence of a bunch of Jews, many of whom have left for Israel or the US, homosexuals make an easy target.  They aren't likely to launch coordinated attacks on theaters full of adults or schools full of children.  Get drunk, bash some homos, what could be easier in terms of feeling like a man, and a righteous man at that?  The Klan used to love this, still does in some parts.

So what's the attraction of Russia for me?  The intelligentsia.  This is a special group.  From the 19th century forward, around the time of Pushkin, a group of Russians figured out that the way they could pull themselves out of the Ghetto of Being was through study and trying to live true to their principles learned thereby.  And the tradition has pretty much held up. They are people, yes, so prone to foibles, but it's a pretty extraordinary group of folx, very pure in their own way.

Anyway, I thought this post was gonna be more about them but I kept blathering about the mass of Russians, so more later.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Vanishing of the Agora

There's a story in the NYTimes this morning about new ways retailers and payment companies are dreaming up zipless shopping:  read an ad, point, click, and one of those hunky brownshirts will show up at your door with it.  Or meet you in a parking lot at a precisely appointed time.

Great.  Last night, after being at my desk for almost the whole day -- save for a brief trip in the morning to a LabCorp phleb lab for some bloodwork where I got very pleasant service from a couple of nice young African-American women, one of them of near runway quality loveliness -- I went out to my neighborhood RiteAid to pick up some prescriptions and some dental and shaving stuff.  I could have saved my time and asked Mary to do it for me, there could have been noniminally more highly value-additive functions for me to perform at home.

Thing is:  I wanted to go to the store. To see people. And, when I got there, the eccentric guy with the funky moustache and the half gloves took good care of me, even made a joke about how many prescriptions people my age sometimes pick up.

The fact is, as more and more stuff gets delivered to our homes, we go out and rub shoulders with other people (or, as we used to say in the theory world -- The Other), less and less. Which makes us narrower and narrower as souls.

Marketers bemoan this fact. It becomes more difficult to sell things to us as we venture out less, and in more predictable ways. And this is true of politics and the marketplaces of ideas as well, as gerrymandering gets more and more extreme, it's harder and harder to communicate diversely with a diverse group, and less and less necessary to think in terms of crossing boundaries.

Do you remember when Bruce Springsteen sang about "57 Channels and Nothing On," and we all nodded our heads at the absurdity of it?  Well, how many channels are there now?

The big boxes are the great levellers.  WalMart, Target, CostCo, IKEA, each of them appeals to segments, but they are pretty broad segments.  For many reasons, I'm not a fan of WalMart, and yet the experience of going to WalMart is important, because America is there.  I think Whitman would like it.  But Bezos has it squarely in his sights.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Graham on the fall of Eike Batista

So there's a cover story on the fall of Eike Batista in Businessweek, about how he managed to lose a fortune of $34.5 billion.  And I have to admit that's a pretty good question. Graham was likewise intrigued, and I found the magazine next to his bed as we got in to read and snuggle a bit.

So I asked him if he had read the article or if I had left it there myself, and he allowed that he had read it, but still couldn't figure out how he had lost all that money.

"Did he build a cruise ship?"  he asked, because there had been some talk of Batista's lavish yacht in the article..
"Well," I said, "you couldn't really spend that much on a cruise ship."
Graham paused, and then said, "Well, if it was an intergalactic one the size of Australia...."
And I had to admit that he had me.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Shall the Twain Meet?

Saw these two pix from the Courier-Times of Person County yesterday, they kind of jumped off the page at me in the theme of two Americas. In a sense, they both speak for themselves.  The first is very sweet, except for the angry hunting duck at left. Obviously fans of Duck Dynasty, which I watched once to see what the hullabaloo was about, and it's pretty clear what the show offers: strong validation of the rebel, rural white guy who both has dominion over nature and coexists with it, with the irony that these (to the well-heeled and well-shaven corporate man) guys look scary but have real "family values," which involves kind of respecting women, especially with big hair and tight clothes.

The second picture is obviously a whole nuther kettle of fish.  This is ruling-class nostalgia distilled to a purity I see only rarely. Forget about the shoe, just look at the diction, the luggage the girl is sitting on, and her coat.  This is culled from a timeless vision of the lady setting off on the "Grand Tour" of Europe, where she will acquire all the culture and refinement she will need to make her a good wife, mother, and hostess.

In a town as small and not particularly affluent as Roxboro, I've been surprised at the healthy persistence of the gentry class. A fundraiser for the local historical society with a $50 plate cost drew 300 a couple of weeks back, and the high school girls' tennis team (a bunch of classic tanned blondes) has done quite well, thank you.

So there's a big class divide here, which is no shocker, but nonetheless pretty well leaps off the page at you. All the same, it's not inconceivable that these people go to the same church, and by and large they vote the same way, as Fox News has successfully united them against their common enemy...  And therein, I would say, lies the problem.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013


Today saw the mighty Falcons of Phillips doing battle at Cary Academy, which is quite a jernt indeed. In actual fact, it looks like a small, well-heeled, Christian college, with all the appropriate athletic facilities, including a synthetic track. Sitting next to the SAS campus, and feeling like an extension of it, I was by no means surprised to learn that Jim Goodnight of SAS is one of the founders/funders.

In any case, on the field it was the traditional battle between good(us) and evil(them). They had it all over us in terms of skill, experience, ball control, etc., but our girls showed a lot of scrappy heart and fought them to a 0-0 tie.

I was so glad that I took Natalie out to Michael's last night to buy some ribbon, since special ribbon in the hair for each game is a proud Falcon tradition. Natalie bought awesome sparkly silver ribbon, so all the girls were covered in wee glitter afterwards. What's not to like about that?