Tuesday, October 28, 2014

In the moment

At AA the other day there was a lot of discussion of what it means to be in the moment, a worthwhile and complicated topic.  There was a lot of good and thought-provoking discussion.

Then all of a sudden a guy started sharing about having been in prison and, one night, having been awoken by the sound of some guys murdering another guy.  Then waking up the next day and nobody talked about it at all.  And how being in the moment helped him get through stuff like that.

I will confess that I was a little jarred by that. One of the great things about AA is that it provides a forum where you can be in with a bunch of people you otherwise would have little contact with.  Come to think of it, drugs and alcohol can do that too, but in a less good way.  But every once in a while something comes up in a meeting and I'm just like:  I didn't really need to hear about that, and I'm glad I don't deal with that a lot.  My sponsor pointed out that it was a pretty good argument for staying away from a drink, and I've gotta give him that.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The New Yorker and endless fascination

Over the last couple of months, I've two of three chapters in John McPhee's Encounters with the Archdruid, and I've also been making my way through Peter Hessler's Strange Stones.  McPhee is in many ways the archetypal New Yorker writer, and Hessler studied under him at Princeton, before going on to become the New Yorker's correspondent in Beijing, and now in Cairo.  Regular readers will recall my lavish praise of Hessler's three books written in China.

But reading a bunch of articles that were originally published in the New Yorker (as is the case for both of the books I'm reading now) is really dragging me back into the zone of that magazine, so everpresent around our house, but which I have largely been avoiding for some many years in favor of reading actual books.  The problem with both the McPhee, the Hessler, and with so many other articles published in the magazine, is that they really do embody the worldview so famously skewered by Saul Steinberg in his 1976 cover.  All the articles are really very similar in some fundamental way.  They tell us that "Here is this adventure, this person, this episode in history, this facet of world experience, so quirky, so fascinating.  We have laid it our for you in well-turned prose, in a readily consumable unit, that can be gotten through while riding a commuter train, or enjoying a capuccino, or perhaps a nice pinot noir.  When you have done reading it, you can go discuss it with your peers over dim sum or gaspacho or perhaps while running around the reservoir.  And then, you can stack it in a corner in the attic so your children can find it."

In the end, it's all the same, all experience is boiled down for the global New Yorker.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A fairy tale

Astonishing as it may seem, I have never blogged about this, at least as near as I can tell.

So, back in 1997, Mary and I were planning to get married in June, and one Sunday (I swear it was a Sunday).  We were trying to figure out what to do for our honeymoon.  My idea was to throw the dog in the back of the old Volvo and drive through the maritime provinces of Canada. So we were sitting around the apartment in Greenwich Village when the buzzer rang.  It was an extra super-duper special delivery from some service.  I think it was US Mail, but that seems impossible, so it must have been something else.

It was an announcement from the Dicasterere di Turismo i Cultura della Republica de San Marino -- you can probably figure enough of that out if I just remind those of you who might not know that San Marino is a microstate completely surrounded by Italy with population of 25,000.  It told us that Mary had won the Romeo Martinez International Photo Prize, which included an all expenses paid trip to San Marino for the International Photomeet there, as well as a cash prize of 5,000,000 lire (this was pre Euro days), or about $3,000.

This sort of solved our honeymoon thinking, as the Photomeet was gonna be a few weeks after our wedding.

And the really crazy thing is, there's almost no evidence anywhere on the internet that this Romeo Martinez Prize or the Photomeet actually happened.  Like maybe 10 hits on Google.  It appears to have happened maybe twice, in 1997 and again in 1998, when the prize was won by a Mexican photographer.  But, like the flower in the desert, there it was, funding our honeymoon.

Somewhere around this room we've got a catalog from the Photomeet, and I've got honeymoon pix from San Marino, which was kind of a tourist trap but a perfectly decent place to get over our jet lag before continuing on to an awesome trip.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Arroz con pollo inflation

Knowing as I did that I would not be able to go out for lunch tomorrow, as I will be occupied with a hired photographer shooting headshots of me for the company web site, I went to Jamaica Jamaica at the intersection of 54 and 55, and got myself jerk chicken with yellow rice and black beans, along with a beef patty, for lunch.  This is enough food for two meals, which makes me square for tomorrow.  The guy behind the counter asked if I wanted gravy, and of course I did.

On my way out the door to go hear John Elder Robison at Duke, I paused to inhale a drum stick and a nibble of rice.  As I did so, I realized that this was very much like the quarter chicken with rice and beans that I used to get for $3.49 at La Floridita at Broadway and 125th, a fine little establishment which -- like so much -- has sadly yielded to Columbia's imperial march northward into Harlem, spurred ever onwards by Lee Bollinger, that deft combination of Chuck Norris and Napoleon Bonaparte.  But I digress.

And indeed, today's container or rice, beans, and chicken was very much like the one from back in the day.  The pricing is a little different.  According to this handy US inflation calculator,  $3.49 inflated from 1995 to 2014 balloons up only to $5.45, whereas I think my lunch today costed $7.50 or $7.99, something like that.  Admittedly, there was more chicken, and the spicing was much tastier.

I don't think it's a question of rent.  I think what this mostly likely reflects is a combination of food inflation outpacing inflation more generally, and the relative availability of meals.  There were multiple Dominican places close to 125th, to the chicken and rice at Floridita was kind of a loss leader, and the assumption was a fair amount of beer would be sold with it, along with more expensive plates.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Post-Modernism and Ebola

The Wall Street Journal had a good piece this weekend on how our attitudes towards medicine and epidemiology are tripping us up in our response to Ebola.  In short, it argues that in generations past, heroic advances were made in the control of infectious diseases in part because we trusted the medical research and public health apparatus to do its job, and believed it could be done.  Most convincingly, it cites how 2 million live American children were used to study Jonas Salk's polio vaccine, and recounts how Dwight Eisenhower held back tears in personally thanking Salk.

Many things have happened in intervening years which have eroded the trust we have in medicine and science. The article notes that the heroic conquests of the past have slowed as the great threats of the time (smallpox, polio, chicken pox, mumps, etc.) were neutralized.  Certainly we still struggle mightily with cancer, but even AIDS has been largely wrestled to the mat if not quite pinned.

The at times unholy alliance of pharma and medicine with profit in what -- to echo Eisenhower himself -- we might term the "medico-pharmacological complex," has not helped, nor has the perceived drifting of medicine as career from a "calling" to a way of maxing out income and securing for onesself ever larger cars, houses, and more prestigious club memberships.

The continual flipping and flopping of thinking about this that or the other nutritional point ("Eat margarine... no eat butter") hasn't done much to raise trust in science and doctors.

And certainly, for those of us who like to think of ourselves as being at the top of the intellectual food chain, post-modernism hasn't added value either.  The skepticism towards science and enlightenment values found in Thomas Kuhn, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Paul Feyerabend, and a host of others raised up a whole host of cynics.... blah blah blah

Anyhow, when all's said and done, western medicine has saved my butt on a number of occasions, I'm inclined to cut it some slack.  At this very instant, for example, science is telling me that I have been blogging too long (I thought I had a succinct point to make earlier) and I need to go running on this beautiful autumn day before I get too hungry to do so before lunch.

More later!

Monday, October 13, 2014

A little jig

As I rounded the bend on the way home, I saw a 14-year old girl who walks her dog around there, we shall call her Jennifer, and she was doing a little dance step while she perceived she was alone.  When she saw me, she stopped.  My initial instinct was to roll down my window and say something encouraging, but then I thought "48-year old guy saying something to 14-year old girl while driving by.  There's really no upside here."  So I passed by in silence.

But it was cute.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Caro back in stride

Started back into Master of the Senate the day before last, and today I read Caro's masterful 16 pages about how Richard Russell of Georgia defuses the constitutional crisis caused by the triumphal return of MacArthur from Korea after Truman dismissed him.  This compared very favorably to the 100 pages the author had spent digging into every detail of LBJ's struggle with Leland Olds.  Sometimes Caro gets mired in the details, but when he can maintain a sense of proportion, he is without equal.

Later, I took Natalie to the Walk for Education fair at Lincoln, where she and her ultimate teammates played frisbee in pouring rain, which was beautiful.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Alienation and differentiation

I read this article last night off of a friend's feed on Facebook about how rich people and others who have extraordinary experiences (travel, for instance) are made not happier for having done so, but more miserable, because they have a difficult time sharing with others how awesome the experience was.  They, in effect, isolate themselves.

Driving in to work this morning -- with a lot of other people in unexceptional cars and most likely similarly undifferentiated office casual (Friday is jeans day here!) -- it occurred to me that this same line of thinking could be applied to much in our lives, but I was specifically thinking about cultural consumption/career paths.

So me, for example, with my PhD in Russian Literature and my youthful attempts to read and listen to and see more and wierder books and music and movies, really to demonstrate how smart I am -- because as a geeky kid that was the core of my identity, it was where I felt strong.  So the more I try to set myself off from others, the more I make myself one of a kind, the more I isolate myself.

Little wonder that I there are centrist aspects to who I am that are important for connecting to the rest of the world, to wit pizza, cheeseburgers (but a respect for aging and cholesterol), child-rearing, playing sports, AA, UNC Basketball, Talladega Nights, Moonstruck, Coming to America.... etc.  I do indeed love all that stuff.

In  the end, there's always a question of balance.  Veering to far off into differentiation can indeed get me in trouble, but I do gotta be me.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Mood swings

After work today I went to a meeting about the lake, where a number of other guys and I flat out geeked out about the lake.  We're talking scientists now, carrying on about hydrostatic pressure on the dam and non-permeable membranes and channels and flow and insiltation all manner of jibber jabber. Mostly I just nod and agree because, in all honesty, I don't really want to do this stuff, I just want it to get done. I'd rather outsource it to other geeks.

And then I had to go and feed Natalie and Graham dinner because Mary had some kind of meeting, and I got kind of glum.  Maybe I was just hungry, but partially I was a little jealous of excellent trips I see friends of mine taking by way of their photos on Facebook, and me wondering whether I'm short-changing my kids on the experience side of life while I wrestle with the demons of bringing dollars into the house and self-actualization and all off that.

So I had breakfast for dinner, which was a good start.  Then Graham and I watched Episode 3 of Young Justice, Season 2, which is proving as good as Season 1.

Next Mary came home from her meeting, and told harsh tales of other parents whose kids have substantial learning challenges and who have to provide hours of homework support in the evening.  Somehow, that got me out of my moping.

For those of you who don't like play-by-play here on the Grouse, my apologies, but sometimes that's how I just gotta roll.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Singing along with Frozen

I know I've mentioned this before, but Natalie keeps singing along with the soundtrack of Frozen.  Around Graham's bedtime, she's got the soundtrack on the little boombox she has in her room and is just belting it out "For the first time in forever, blah blah blah blah blah blah".

I must say, I just love it.  Makes me proud to be a dad, and keeps me dedicated to staying on task in this whole revenue production thing.  I wasn't into the movie at first, but even then, I seem to recall, that the climactic scene, hokey and over the top as it was, probably brought me to tears.  That's the kind of sap I am.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

10 Years of Grousing

Today marks something of a watershed for the blog.  It is now 10 years since I started it, and I have now published 2290 posts.  Which ain't bad.  Even though my pace has moderated in recent years, that's still more than 4 a week, on average.

As time has gone by, the blog has served many purposes.  At the beginning, I saw it as a place to practice writing and chronicle stuff going on around the house, and it is still that.  A couple of weeks ago, Mary asked me about when Graham started reading, and I was able to search the blog and track down where I had put that down for posterity.  Also for Natalie.  Which is awesome.

It was also, frankly, a place for me to express vestigial graduate-student-ness, a locus for expounding/blathering on the Great Truths of Being that only I, of course, was privy to.

Over the years, thanks to some loyal and dedicated readers, ChewYourGrouse has also become a venue for the raising of penis enlargement pseudo-spam to ever higher levels of creativity.  It has been a massive, throbbing honor to be the host of such powerful spurts of manly artfulness.

It has also just been a good place for me to observe crazy shit I see and hear in the world, often while commuting.  Like the time I pulled up next to a woman near Kingston, New Jersey, who was eating a bowl of cereal while driving.  You cannot make that up.  You could hallucinate it, yes, but I didn't.

By now, I see the blog as a place where I try to be honest with myself and my readers.  Which is not always easy.

For those of you who have been reading regularly through the years and who occasionally offer encouragement, I can't thank you enough.  Although, I promote the Grouse only rarely and, in the end, I'm writing for myself, the idea of being a tree falling in a forest near the north shore of Lake Baikal is not entirely what I'm looking for.  For those of you here for the first time, I thank you too.  I consider myself graced by any and all traffic. As my distant cousins the Clampetts would say, y'all come by and set a spell.