So, 2016 has been a particularly shitty year in politics, not just in the US, but around the world. North Carolina has obviously been ground zero for some of the worst of what we've seen stateside since the election.
The Republicans have effectively cut the new Democratic team off at the knees and hamstrung (forgive the use of mixed leg metaphors, it's a work day, and it's just a blog) its ability to be effective through normal, administrative means. Which means that 2017 and subsequent years will be challenging (duh).
But if we flip the situation around a bit, we can see that the year ahead, in particular in the run-up to NC's special legislative election in fall 2017, what has been handed to the Democratic leadership team: Roy Cooper, Josh Stein, Elaine Marshall, Graig Meyer, Floyd McIssick, Steve Rao etc., is an opportunity for leadership of historic proportions. An opportunity to figure out how to define a new agenda and connect it with the people and voters of NC. It is an opportunity they, and we, cannot fail to grasp, an opportunity of historic proportions.
Grasp it we must.
Friday, December 30, 2016
So, 2016 has been a particularly shitty year in politics, not just in the US, but around the world. North Carolina has obviously been ground zero for some of the worst of what we've seen stateside since the election.
Sunday, December 25, 2016
The Trump people and everyone on Fox News has been so triumphalist about the "War on Christmas" being won, at long last, that it reminded me anew of how silly it is. Natalie said she had heard about a last, scrappy group of Christian resisters, who are huddled round a Christmas shrub in someone's basement. God bless them every one.
Was just out running here in Larchmont, where there's a non-trivial Jewish population and a bunch of other people too, maybe. Actually, given how rich a town it is, it's probably pretty much goys, shiksas, and Jews, with a small smattering of Asians of indeterminate religious leanings. So, particularly since it's Hanukkah too this year, I was more careful than ever to not say "Merry Christmas" when I was out. Except when I was passed by a blonde woman with three blonde daughters who looked as if they had stepped from Martha Stewart central casting. I said "Merry Christmas" to them.
It is nice that all the kids are older. There is less pressure to hustle directly to the opening of presents. We were even able to have a civilized breakfast before going in by the tree to rip up wrapping paper.
Right now Beth took all the kids to see their uncle George, who is in a rest home here in Larchmont because of some health issues he's having at the moment. So it is rather quiet here in the household. Honestly, by sitting here writing, i am wasting perfectly good reading time when I could be in the sun room, potentially even descending towards a nap. Off I go.
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Yesterday just before dinner it turned out Natalie didn't like what Mary had made, so she was gonna cook herself some eggs. She put the top back on the pot Mary was cooking in in a really loud way, and both Mary and I jumped on her about it. Then, for some reason, I made fun of Natalie not once but twice, after which she had a rare tantrum, slamming things around, bursting into tears, saying I had been really mean to her, and stomping back to her room. I pretty much ruined family dinner.
In truth, she was right. I don't know where that came from. When I am catty or worse to Mary, I understand the underlying issues at work, even if I don't blog about them much because I value my marriage to Berridge (just had to roll with the rhyme, which I had somehow never made) too highly. But with Natalie, I don't know. I am not often mean to her like that, so it was odd.
At least it is rare, and has been noted.
Sunday, December 18, 2016
It has become increasingly apparent to me over time that I must write in the mornings, before the world has begun to claw away at me. On Sundays there are first pancakes to be made and eaten, newspaper to be read, sometimes tennis to be played and/or and AA meeting to be attended, and by the time all that's done it's already noon and the mindset to write has passed. Which is why my hit rate is better on Saturdays than Sundays.
Even today, on the way to my desk I had to fend off myriad chores, piles of laundry to be laundered, bed to be made, stacks of magazines to be weeded through, etc. At the very least I did not look at Facebook or email.
For the blog is, for me, by now, quite clearly my interface to the ages, the mediation between the present, the past, and the future, when I can come back and view this stuff.
This will be another interesting Christmas. Various family members have varying health and other challenges. I won't go into them here, out of respect for their privacy. Us, when you get right down to it, we are fine. What are our challenges now? I will catalog them only for the sake of posterity.
After her bus was insanely late and she and her friend arrived at school right when testing was started, so she was stressed out and crying, Natalie got a disappointing score on her PSAT and won't be a National Merit Semifinalist. Had they taken her SAT scores from sophomore year, she totally would have been, so we were pretty confident that she would be. It's not a big deal, but is only emblematic of the fact that we are entering into the crunch time of the college application process and we on the one hand want the absolute best for her, but on the other are trying to minimize our participation in the national psychosis around where you go to college. And it's hard with us having gone to pretty fancy places. We want her to do well without losing sleep or joy. And knowing that she has our love always, no matter what. She continues to do debate and mock trial and generally works her ass off while rarely getting cranky. We don't worry about her doing drugs or alcohol. What's not to like? I do wish more boys would show appreciation for how pretty she is, but I have seen from others from my high school days that there appears to be little correlation between being "popular" in high school and happiness later in life.
Graham is playing ultimate frisbee, which is awesome, he just hasn't figured out how to integrate himself into offense. Which I totally get. Offense can be profoundly confusing because you have to think ahead of the other team on your feet and be creative. I think I probably gravitated towards defense for this reason, it is more or less rules-based. You learn what you are supposed to do and do it. Also, his room is an absolute wreck and has teen boy smell, but at least it's less bad in the winter. I have mentioned his comb and you know where we are in Star Trek, so you're up to date there.
Mary over the last week has gotten more active politically, having spent a couple of days up in Raleigh protesting the Republicans "special sessions" during which they went out of their way to cut the legs off of Governor-elect Roy Cooper. Fuckers. She seems energized by this, which is all good.
She continues to push us further in the direction of a plant-based diet. Sometimes it sucks. Not rarely I eat some lentils for dinner and then drift off to sleep thinking that maybe I'll get myself a biscuit from Sunrise the next day.... I almost never do. In the end, I know that she is doing the right thing both environmentally and from a health perspective, and that every time I eat a plant-based meal I cultivate an appreciation for it.
Me, I keep plugging away at building my business, having switched firms in the middle of the year, right around our big trip over the pond. That was stressful, and building a business is not easy. Managing other people's money is also not easy. I obsess a little. But I have been sleeping fine, partly because I keep exercising. I've been playing more tennis recently.
OK. I've been blogging long enough, time to get ready for Granny and David to come over later. There is much tidying to be done, and it's better if I am proactive about it rather than waiting for Mary to come ask me.
Saturday, December 17, 2016
Graham and I are approaching the end of Star Trek: Next Generation, to wit, we're in the middle of season 7 of 7. Of late it had seemed as if the old plot-generating algorithm was running thin, spitting out junk, but yesterday we watched an episode that kicked it into gear again. A whole new set of characters were introduced, four young officers, all hoping for promotion. Friends but rivals. In one episode it began to build real characters out of them, and then at the end there was a surprise which brought me to tears. It was all character-, not plot-driven. I realized how deeply I have been drawn into this cast of characters, and how much I will miss them.
I hope Deep Space 9 will be as good. That's where we're headed next.
Twice this week, I got a chance to drive Graham and a friend home from ultimate frisbee games. The first time, the two of them argued about the relative merits of the first Captain America movie and Captain America: Winter Soldier. They got into a lot of technical detail about the intensity of fight scenes, etc. This is important stuff for 13-year old boys. I realized that it was one of the first times I had ever driven Graham around with a chatty friend. It was so exciting to me that, at one red light, I was distracted and pulled forward when the green turned on for the left turn lanes. I was going straight. I stopped myself quickly and inched back, but it was still rather embarassing.
Then, when I got to the boy's house, I overshot and went to the next house. It was, admittedly, very dark there, and I wasn't used to approaching their house by car from that direction (I run past it all the time), and their house looks a lot like their neighbor's. But still.
I was hoping nobody noticed this stuff but me, but when I dropped him off on Wednesday he said, as he was getting out of the car: "You didn't run any red lights and you didn't miss my house." I hope he didn't tell his parents. I am pretty sure, at least, that they don't read my blog.
Monday, December 12, 2016
For many years I was the only person who could cut Graham's hair, we couldn't get him to go to a professional to save his life. Not that it was at risk. Mary put this down to his sensory integration disorder, which is a fellow-traveler of autism. Fine. For me it was quality time with Graham, an instance of our special relationship, though I never got particularly good at it.
Somewhere in there we got him to go to a barber. Not frequently, mind you. He still prefers to let it grow. I can get him to cut it now and again, usually in prep for some sort of big event, a distant cousin's wedding or something.
Washing it is also a struggle, because he only likes to do it right before bedtime so he can get in his jammies and under blankets and be warm, which I get. But given that his hair is not short, he wakes up with it really messy.
Not long ago, his friend Ben suggested he get a comb. Surprisingly, this recommendation stuck, and Graham project-managed us to make sure that we got him one, and we did. Today his hair looked messy, him having washed it just before getting into bed, so I took him in the bathroom and began instructing him in the use of the comb: how to put a little water on the comb and/or your hair, how to go gently through the tangles, etc.
His hair still looked pretty messy, because, honestly, he needs a cut, but I'm not going to press that too hard. One thing at a time.
This is why we live, folks.
Saturday, December 10, 2016
On my way back from my meeting this morning, I chanced to look up the hill on Tadley. Halfway up, I saw a guy in black spandex, with an orange t-shirt, wearing a floppy hat, presumably to keep the sun off of his face. He was squatting, like they do in Russia and Asia and other places where there aren't enough public dollars to pay for benches at places where people wait for public transportation, and in the manner that fitness gurus like Ido Portal suggest.
I think this was the same guy who once told me that the pieces of plastic on the ropes strung between the stumps in his front yard, put there to stop people from parking, spelled something in morse code. Upon inspection, I found that they spelled "Iborg", which is presumably a reference to a Star Trek episode (I think it must be in Deep Space 9, certainly Graham and I haven't gotten there yet).
Our hills attract a number of fitness eccentrics. Such as:
- The sept- or octagenarian who walks backwards, up and down the hills
- The quasi-anorexic woman who walks up and down Tadley in all seasons shifting what is probably a 3-pound plastic ball between her hands, surely for upper-body work
- The guy who always reads a book while walking (actually, he is mostly on North Lake Shore)
- The guy with a healthy belly who walks with a big camera with a telephoto lens who shoots birds. Once Mary stopped and talked to him, and he offered her a card with the URL of his bird pix, saying to her something like "I assume you can secret this on your person" (i.e. the card)
- The guy who we call Sal, because of his resemblance to Sal from Dog Day Afternoon. One time I ran past that guy when he was walking with a young woman, presumably his daughter. They were speaking Russian. I never spoke to him in Russian, being shy and ashamed of my deteriorating language skills. Haven't seen him for a while. Seems like he may have moved away, malhereusement.
Friday, December 09, 2016
I had breakfast at a place in RTP this morning with a woman I had met at some networking event. I had a very nice western omelet with some grits and rye toast but, because we were talking about business and doing that little dance, I was unable to finish all of it. Now I am mourning its loss.
Thursday, December 08, 2016
It has been some time since I had the discipline to write daily. Back in the early days of the blog, I used to. When I went on vacation one time in upstate New York where there was no internet access (remember when that was possible!), I even sent some posts to John out in San Francisco so he could post them as if I were still at my desk. Amazing to think of it.
Not no mo. I have gotten slack in my dotage, and all too easily sucked into the maelstrom of Facebook, the eternal joys of watching soccer highlight videos on YouTube, or, as I have mentioned, just playing the guitar. All in all, pretty good living.
This evening I got home not too crazy late after a happy hour out at the Frontier, where I befriended a retired radiologist from Montreal who had lived in rural Virginia for a long time before settling in the Triangle in his retirement. Interesting, smart guy. Back at the crib, I stuffed some food down my gullet, and then Graham and I took in an episode of Next Generation, of which there are precious few remaining.
At lunch I snuck out to an Al Anon meeting at a church in the park. As I was leaving, I pulled out in front of an older Buick. I probably should have let the guy go before I pulled out, because he wanted to pull out and pass me on a two-lane road with a double yellow line pretty close to RTP, so not out in the country at all. In the end, the guy thought better of it.
Saturday, December 03, 2016
Trying not to get sucked down into the endless maelstrom of post-election dread and fear, of late I have been playing the guitar more and more. After years of hands softened by playing my old classical guitar (which I wrote about now north of a decade ago here), I have taken up with the Gibson sunburst guitar that Mary's brother George left for me in the attic in Larchmont. The neck is narrower, the frets closer together, so it feels tight on my stubby hands, but I'm getting there. They key thing has been to put the classical guitar in its case so that I am not tempted to pick it up.
Also, the strings are steel (or some kind of metal) rather than mostly nylon, so it's harder on my hands, so I am developing callouses on my fingertips, which is good but wierd after all these years of soft hands.
I've been learning more songs too. For a long time, my repertoire has been fairly limited. One thing that's been helpful is finding resources on the so-called interweb which have all the lyrics and chord progressions in the songs. Makes things damned easy. Another boon granted my by Al Gore's mighty creation is guitar dudes on YouTube showing licks and ways of holding one's hands in non-obvious (at least to me) ways to facilitate moving between chords. That has meant unlearning many decades of muscle memory, not a quick and easy thing to do, especially with the limited time I can/do make available for playing.
My repertoire has been expanding to include John Prine, Neutral Milk Hotel, Sharon Van Etten, etc. One important thing I've tried to do is write down songs that I've learned. I did that, but I forgot where I wrote it down. Sigh. I know Google docs would be a good place, but keeping track of all one's Google docs is a chore in itself.
In general, the challenge of multiple file management constructs is a whole nuther kettle of worms, worthy of a blog post of its own.
Now to take Graham to martial arts and read Buffett's 1990 Letter to Shareholders.
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
The other night I was hoping to watch Next Generation with Graham, but he said he didn't feel like it. I was a little upset, and he came over and gave me a hug and apologized. Mary suggested that we watch Dave Chappelle's segments from his hosting of SNL, and I reacted negatively at first, thinking that it would surely be election-related and therefore stress-inducing, which was precisely what I was trying to get away from.
But we went ahead and watched it. We sat down on the couch with her laptop and pulled up Chappelle and leaned against one another, and I calmed down. As always, he was transgressive, wise, funny. We watched all the sketches he was in, and while they weren't as good as Season 1 of his show from the Comedy Channel, what is? That is an extraordinarily high bar for anyone.
Mostly I got what I needed. I sat on a couch with a family member and shared a narrative while touching their body, which is all I really needed to get out of myself.
Admittedly, when Graham and I watch Next Gen (or when Natalie and I watch The Crown, for that matter), we have the additional element of some very serious couch-slouching and a blanket, but this was with Mary, who will not be leaving me within a few short years to go to college. So in that sense it was even better. It is hard to get her to sit on a couch and watch things with me.
Monday, November 28, 2016
Was just reading the reading reviews/recommendations at the end of Nick Murray's monthly newsletter for advisors. He is always primarily positive and hortatory in his reviews, and he reads broadly -- if in a right-leaning sort of way. It always makes me want to read more. The effect is not unlike that of Buffett praising all of the wonderful managers of the portfolio companies of Berkshire Hathaway. It just makes you want to keep going.
Saturday, November 26, 2016
Thanksgiving is almost over, which means that I am emerging from a tunnel of activity into a couple of weeks of relative calm, Christmas notwithstanding. In the last month I have had: the election and canvassing, the death of my uncle Marty, going to a conference of Russian Studies people in DC last weekend, my old field, where I felt like I was very much on the outside looking in, and now the holidays themselves. On top of just doing my job.
Also my lake-owning HOA's annual general membership meeting, where I, as a member of the Board, faced a little bit of challenge from frisky members of the general population who have issues with some of the things the Board does. Which I get. I shield you from most of this stuff, gentle reader, because it is boring and deeply provincial, but contentious at times. Older people worried about money, liability, erosion, blah blah blah. If I could step back from it with sufficient distance -- as I will in future years once I am able to rotate off, it could be interesting. For today, let's just call it a distraction.
I will note that this meeting was the week after the election, so that people were still generally pretty freaked out. Which was entirely appropriate. Even now, coming up on three weeks later, it is so hard to figure out how to react to the rise of Trump. Does he represent a general Existential Threat to Democracy and Civil Society As We Know It, or has he just been fucking with us and he's going to pull back and become pragmatic now. Certainly empowering a guy who seems that psychopathic and putting the nuclear football in his hands is scary.
And then there's the Supreme Court.
I will try not to let this devolve into another election-related screed. I already tried that, with limited efficacy, and that is a genre in which all too many in the chattering class have indulged ourselves, all of us seeking to sum up what happened in the Most Profound Manner. Clearly what is needed is greater listening and focus on forward-looking action.
And there you have it, unawares, the election has interjected itself back into a reflection which I had not intended to focus on it. Sigh. Meanwhile, my task list overfloweth.
Monday, November 21, 2016
Our old neighbor Gideon mentioned on Facebook that he was taking a break from social media and was going to read novels and walk his dog for a while. That sounded fairly prudent for me, though it is tough for me to do so, and I have cats.
In any case, I thought he was right about reading a novel, so I went for one that I've had on my shelf for a while -- Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake. Mary and I had seen the movie when it came out, and rightly so, as it's good viewing, so I needed for the film to fade in memory to make the book worth reading.
For the first two-thirds of the book, it was difficult to separate the book in my mind from the Trump election, first the focus on coming to America and assimilating (a frequent theme of Lahiri's, which she handles well), and then the protagonist's path and mine began to intersect: college at Yale, then living in New York City, having girlfriends who expose you to the rarefied aesthetic of the cultured Manhattan elite. It all read like an elegy for a time and place that whose face has been ripped off by the election.
But now that the main character's dad has died and he is processing that loss, it has become emotionally real and proximate, something else the author is good at, at her best. So I read on.
Sunday, November 20, 2016
Trying to resist the temptation to offer endless reflections on America after the election and what it means. But I was just up in DC and it was pretty surreal. I'll leave it at that for now.
We've been trying to integrate Graham into more and more household chores, especially carrying stuff, to help make in grow sturdier. Amongst the stuff that we have taken into our household since granny and David moved into their retirement community is a "rebounder," or mini-trampoline, which was in the rec room. But we already had one. I figured it's not bad to have a second one, because history has shown that after lots of bouncing from the kids (Natalie enjoys it too from time to time), they do wear out. So I wanted to put it in the attic. After stalling for a while due to personal idiocy, I finally figured out that it wasn't that hard to take it apart enough to get it upstairs.
Thus I had Graham help me get it up to the attic, the new attic up above our master suite (the old one having been blown out to get us the cathedral ceilings in the "nave" of the house). Once we were up there, I realized that Graham had never been up in the attic before, so we hung out up there for a few minutes. I could tell he was into it. I discussed the insulation and the HVAC unit and anything else I could think of. Attics and basements are special kinds of places, occupying unique niches in the imagination. But you have to go up in them to get that groove.
Monday, November 14, 2016
Yesterday in the rec room I made time to work on a chore that I had been putting off for a month or so, so I turned on the TV in the hopes that there might be a soccer game on. There wasn't. Instead, there was coverage of communities digging out from the continuing effects of Hurricane Matthew, and another show with some attorneys talking about what people with flood damage needed to do to assure they got paid by their flood insurance.
This brought a couple of things to mind. First and foremost, that while many of us are focused on the fallout from the election, there are others who are digging out from even more immediate things.
Secondly, on a different level, I thought that while those who were first responders to Hurricane Matthew were perhaps more likely to have voted for Trump, that it is Democrats who are committed to working on one of the key long-term causes of the tragedy, to wit, global warming.
A Trump voter on Facebook challenged me on my removal from the lives of those most devastated by the new economy, saying that I lived in a bubble, which is a charge that has been levelled at many Democrats living in highly educated areas on the coasts and in population centers, and I and we have to admit that there is a lot of truth to this. But, at the same time, it must be owned that this is part of the nature of a global supply chain. That doesn't just mean that widgets are made in Dongzhu and screens in Taipei and garments in Lahore and complex engines in Spartanburg. It means that climate change scientists, neurophysiologists, and product and project managers are found in Cambridge, Copenhagen and Chapel Hill, and that to get and keep those jobs they have to focus and work their asses off. They don't just hand those jobs out. A listening tour of Youngstown doesn't help them solve the problems they need to address to stay employed.
Overall, lets be honest: the global elite works its ass off. Yes, their lives look glamorous and sounds exciting: flying here and there, eating dinners, taking meetings in tall buildings in capitals. But it is stressful as fuck and people are away from their families, they stay up late at night and work on weekends. It is not as fancy or stable as it looks on Facebook. Hotels suck, airports suck -- and getting up at 4 in the morning to get to them sucks even worse, being away from your family sucks.
Sure, people do it for their families and it's nice to have the validation that comes from earning money and competing at a high level, and there is a sense of achievement and challenge, but it ain't all fun by any stretch of the imagination.
I know I know, cry me a river. Blech. I thought this post was going to integrate better to a bigger theme. I guess my point was is that everyone is occupying fine niches within a global supply chain of ideas, with a goal of producing more and better stuff and services for everyone, and/or addressing big issues that impact people globally. And then resting and trying to see their kids.
Good thing this is just a blog.
Monday, November 07, 2016
Graham got lost this evening after pick up from ultimate, which is to say I couldn't find him. It was getting dark, and cold, and I ran everywhere looking for him, from Phillips over to Estes where the car was, back to Phillips, then I thought maybe he had walked home, so I drove home, but he wasn't there. I was panicked. Finally I got a call from the office at Estes. By the time I finally I wanted to hit him, which is something I have never done. A remember having the same feeling when Natalie crossed highway 1 somewhere north of Santa Cruz where there were a ton of windsurfers around. She was distracted and almost got herself killed, and I yelled at the top of my lungs. Then I wanted to hit her.
And I wonder, is this natural desire, primal fear for your child which morphs into anger when danger is passed, or learned? There was an occasion when I walked in front of a car in a breezeway at a motel at Myrtle Beach sometime in the 70s, I guess I was hit by it and dad was furious and I guess he hit me. Leslie remembers it much better than I do.
So I do have an emotional precedent which I can't quite untangle.
Anyhow, I calmed down, Graham and I went home, and later we watched the first episode of the last season of Next Generation, which makes me a little wistful. But we still have all of Deep Space 9 and the Voyager in front of us. Plus probably more that I've never heard of.
By now, it's bedtime, and tomorrow it's back out in the streets for the Democrats.
Sunday, November 06, 2016
Yesterday morning, in hotel by the Neuse River in New Bern for Marty's funeral, I awoke from a dream in which I had suddenly come into possession of a number of nifty old sports cars. Two of them were similar English cars from the 60s of some make I couldn't remember, two of them were similar vintage Maserati convertibles, and then there was a Porsche or something thrown in for good measure. They weren't in all that great shape, somehow they weren't that valuable, and I knew I didn't need that many sports cars and didn't want to take care of them, so in my dream I was trying to figure out the best way to get rid of them from a tax perspective.
What a pathetic version of a mid-life crisis dream. I should have been out tooling around in those bad boys, letting the wind blow through my hair. I didn't even envision Mary in them, because I know she doesn't like wind messing up her hair while driving.
Then this morning, I had, for the second time I believe, a dream in which I lost a tooth. Not all the way down to the root, mind you, and there was no pain. It was just like one of these big fillings a dentist jammed in there sometime had crumbled.
I think that my subconscious has a decidedly glass-half-empty view of the aging process right now. It would probably be better if I had been able to make it out to the soccer field this weekend, where I am able to connect with the youthful mojo. Even though even there younger peeps are getting by me more. Which argues for playing in the 40 and over or even, dare I say it, 50 and over league. But I'm still loving Rainbow and our team in particular.
Saturday, November 05, 2016
Posted this in Facebook already. Might as well stick it here for archival purposes.
My attention has been so drawn in to the election in recent weeks that I have found it hard to focus on other things. Today I am hip deep in Trump country in New Bern. My uncle Marty, my mother's sister's husband, passed away, and I was asked to be a pall bearer in his funeral. I was a bit surprised at the request, because I hadn't seen him in many years until a month and change ago, when we stopped in on the way back from the beach to see Faith, my mom's sister, for her birthday.
In life Marty was, shall we say, a strong-willed fellow, a not atypical southern man of his generation. He believed strongly that all people should learn to stand on their own two feet. This was instilled deeply in him by many decades of being a Federal employee. Say no more.
Today at breakfast we were talking about the lake and mom reminded me of the time when, not long after we had moved home to NC, Graham fell off of the dock and into the lake. This before he had learned to swim. It was in the Fall, so it was a little chilly already. Luckily it was in a shallow spot. Mom and Mary were terrified, but Graham was somehow proud of having survived, of some aspect of the experience.
Saturday, October 29, 2016
So much to do, so many commitments, I am exhausted just thinking about it all. Graham's martial arts, then a soccer game, then a Halloween party out by the lake.
Plus I have a client situation to take care of, have to get money to somebody in Europe so he can rent an apartment. Overall, it leaves no mental bandwidth for the reflection it takes to write a good blog post.
In fact, I should make a call right now.
I have to keep telling myself I am living the dream, because in a sense I am. Certainly it will be an excellent day to be outside.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Graham and I are well into season 6 of Star Trek: Next Generation by now. The plot-generating algorithms for the show, once so fertile, are seeming to wear down a bit, but the fundamental appeal of the characters remains. Picard and Data especially.
One of the highlights for me is when, during the opening credits, when the theme song plays. I whistle along with it, and it drives Graham crazy and he kicks me and squirms and says "stop it Dad, stop it," laughing the whole time. I laugh too, which makes it hard to whistle. It is almost as enjoyable as singing along to the theme music at the beginning of Parks and Rec with Natalie, but not quite.
Yesterday there was an episode in which Picard becomes enamored of a red-headed space cartographer who is also a very accomplished pianist. There is a lot of very meaningful eye contact and even a fair amount of smooching as these two fall in love and, dare I say it, consummate. This all made Graham rather uncomfortable, and he pulled the blanket up over his head and turned away from the TV screen. Ah yes, the joys of early pubescence.
Saturday, October 22, 2016
I have blogged before about the difficulty I have remembering names sometimes. This is primarily, I think, a function of needing to to meet lots of people all the time, to have a broad "funnel" (as we say in sales) in one's "pipeline," though I worry at times that it is early onset Alzheimer's (which killed my maternal grandmother).
I use the frameworks I have (lists, notes, stacks of business cards, CRM, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) to keep track of people as best I can, but it is hard, and there are natural limits. First and foremost there is the Dunbar number, about which Gladwell has written, and I think he and it are right: most people can handle a network of about 150 people, and of course they don't "know all of them well." Second there is the tendency about which Gawande writes in Being Mortal, that people, as they age, typically don't want to meet more and more people, they want to focus on being close to family and longtime friends, the people who have been important to them in the past. I feel that, that rings true.
And yet, professionally, it is my job to expand the tent of people to whom I am providing service and adding value as best I can. And one needs to have a broad "funnel" to get clients. At the same time, I have to keep honing my ability to help people. Thankfully, at least, the process of meeting people, talking to them, and listening to them typically exposes me either to new problems or to ones I have learned about but my recollection of the specific approaches to and rules around fixing them might be fuzzy, and/or know nothing about. So I learn more about my job, even if holding on to the specifics of each person I meet can be challenging.
Then again, nobody said it was gonna be easy.
Time to take Graham to martial arts. Will read Buffett.
Friday, October 21, 2016
A week and change ago a couple of stories were juxtaposed on the pages of the Wall Street Journal which spoke volumes about what we value as a society. On one side was yet another chapter in the continuing clusterfuck of a story around Theranos, the poster child unicorn with a Steve Jobs clone/wannabe founder, the transformational value proposition ("all your blood testing from a finger prick") the gold-plated board and advisory team (Henry Kissinger, Bill Frist, Richard Kovacevich, David Boies, Sam Nunn, George Schultz), and the most ignominious crash and burn since Enron and Arthur Anderson fell to earth at once. Theranos is the Lance Armstrong of corporations, and, as such, calls to question the general ethos of hero-worship to which we have devolved as a society, the extent to which we are dependent on larger than life figures (Obama, Elon Musk, Warren Buffett) to help us figure out how to do the right thing.
On the other page, a story about the seeming success of grid hardening, lots of money being spent over years of gruelling, slow, thankless process improvement and project management to reduce the amount of power outages caused by weather events and other disruptions. As someone who was first in Manhattan on 9/11, and then in Albany -- hundreds of miles away from an 8-month pregnant Mary -- when the power went out up and down the East Coast in August of 2003 (and yes, we all thought it was terrorism at the time), I appreciate the effort of all the slide-rule and pocket-protector types who made this happen, and totally applauded this story. It is difficult to pay attention to this kind of work, but it is big, and we all benefit from it, and the government is the only stakeholder that can begin to make it happen.
So let's just keep this in mind, and to hell with all the charismatic shysters like Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos. It don't always happen like that.
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
I have recently read stories about how Russia's farming economy has recovered and made Russia a leading exporter of grains. After all the nastiness that has come out of Russia in recent years -- aggression in the Crimea and Ukraine, violent homophobia, corruption, the assassination of Nemtsov and the repressions of others -- it has become easy to root against Russia on all fronts, even for those of us with a long historical engagement with the region. But I find myself somehow heartened by the idea that Russia might actually have an economic 3rd act that is not related to extractive industries and general petrokleptocracy.
The fact is, Russians are not all bad, and in general people don't understand the sacrifices that the nation made in WWII. Estimates run as high as 26 million Russians dead in the war. This out of a population of about 200 million at the beginning of the war. Estimates run as high as 1.3 million of Russians born during the war who died before 1945. Ponder that.
These are big numbers, much bigger than any other nation in absolute terms (I'm not sure how it nets out on a percentage basis). Gotta hop.
Saturday, October 15, 2016
Just came to the end of volume 5 of Knausgaard's My Struggle. Surprised though I am, I eagerly await the finishing of the translation of and then publication of volume 6. Somewhere in there I thought I had gotten sick of it, but then was miraculously refreshed by the narrative's return to relevance.
So over the course of this year I've now spent something like 2500 pages with Karl Ove, and have gone through most of the phases of his life with him, from the early days to the death of his father, with which began the "novel," and to which we have returned at the end of this tome. I clearly strongly identify with his simultaneous attraction to and repulsion from his alcoholic father, though in his case his dad was clearly "irredeemable," to quote one of Hillary's more ridiculous statements from the campaign trail (if she can survive that, it's pretty amazing). The guy pretty literally drank himself to death, and the hints of violence around his death are never fully resolved. Might his mom have clocked him with a frying pan? It's not inconceivable, though it's never explicitly suggested either.
The important thing in riding shotgun with Karl Ove is seeing how he reacts. Let's recount some of the highlights of the last volume.
- His dad can't be bothered to show up at his wedding
- He gets jealous of his brother having a lively conversation with his soon-to-be bride at a bar, so, getting progressively drunker as the evening winds on, he goes in the bathroom and repeatedly cuts into his face with a shard of glass, but his brother and fiance don't notice till later
- His dad dies
- Just then, his first novel is published, after years of excruciating self-doubt, writer's block, and self-destructive blackout drinking. It wins a big Norwegian Critics Prize. He still kind of thinks it's a piece of shit
- He descends into writer's block/alcoholic stupor again for a couple of years, and somewhere in there, wasted, he has a one-night stand which later comes out, not good for his marriage, but not (yet) fatal to it
Anyhoo, time to get ready for soccer.
Sunday, October 09, 2016
This morning there is an article in the Wall Street Journal about the science of standing in line. I read it, thinking that it was going to give me some useful answers to that question. Instead, it provided the most basic, thumbnail-level introduction to the thinking behind, history or, and multiple applications of queuing theory, a discipline I had never heard of, presumably a subset of operations research. Really interesting stuff.
After reading the article, it occurred to me that it is much better to have been exposed to a new discipline than to have been provided with answers to a specific problem, because it opens my brain to a new way of thinking about something and gives me a greater appreciation for the overall concept of division of labor, and the value of a well-articulated division of labor across global society as a whole.
Which is to say, to the extent that we can surmount problems of time, distance and -- in non-physical or intellectual disciplines -- siloing, which is the notional equivalent of time and space, we benefit from the presence of extreme specialization.
The trick is to facilitate idea flow across disciplines, to have enough of and the right types generalists and cross-fertilizers -- to bring the ideas of specialists to bear on new problems. This is one of the quintessential problems of management per se, to facilitate idea flow and achieve a proper balance of generalists and specialists.
Saturday, October 08, 2016
At an Al Anon meeting recently, someone shared about how his or her child (gotta keep this anonymous) of 23 had recently had a "diagnosis" which had really challenged the parent to maintain his/her composure and serenity. That's all the detail that was shared, and that's all I need to share.
Sitting there listening, I felt a little teased, the part of me that wants to rush in and fix everything, the part that thinks that -- for some odd reason, that's what I'm supposed and expected to do -- really wanted to know what the diagnosis was for. Cancer? An affective disorder? I don't know why I think it matters, but I was sitting there, yearning within me for the answer, which never came.
Which was a valuable lesson for me. Because this person didn't need for me to race in and save the day, (s)he just needed to share, to speak, to release, and move on. Stepping further back and looking at my reaction, I think it reasonable to say that my fix-it instinct derives from a deep-seeded belief that if I don't try to do something, to fix almost anything (global warming, inequality of wealth distribution, a client's lack of savings), I am somehow worth less, if not worthless.
Wednesday, October 05, 2016
Just before I woke up this morning I had one of those dreams. I had spent some outlandish amount of money, I think it was $5400, fixing something stupid, and I had basically been ripped off and was very ashamed of the mistake I had made. But it was just a dream.
Tuesday, October 04, 2016
After grabbing lunch at Whole Foods, I stopped in to get my shoes shined. The guy had closed up shop for lunch, but I promised to buy him lunch in five minutes, and he took me up on it. So I went in, took off my shoes, handed them over, and sat down.
Sunday, October 02, 2016
Just got the family up to Hillsborough to walk the River Walk, which is a nice thing, though I will confess and advise my readers that the part east of downtown, by Ayr Mount, is really the prettier part, and we had to turn around before we could really take it in, sadly. It was good to get the family out, as we honestly have all too few full group excursions, something we need to work on.
Saturday, October 01, 2016
At Al Anon this morning, which I had missed for weeks because of soccer game conflicts and then going to the beach, I found my mind drifting to the situation with Deutsche Bank, and other financial stuff, I don't recall what it was, none of it particularly troubling, mind you, just the waxing and waning of things. This despite or perhaps because a client of mine was leading the meeting, and was in tears sharing about recent very serious health crises that have befallen her husband, also a client. So often this Saturday meeting is a safe space where my mind runs free and slowly processes things that I have been watching during the week, and/or bounces off its own walls. Much like church used to be, a place where I can do nothing but sit there quietly and try to listen and learn and relate but allow myself to drift.
I thought of how another client up in New York had posted something on Facebook last week from a Buddhist priest about the problem of monkey brain, the mind scrambling around desperately from one thing to another. What he said was this: "so long as you can focus on your breathing, inhaling, exhaling, monkey brain is fine. Just keep coming back to your breathing." That makes sense.
Now must take Graham to martial arts. Will try to get back to reading Buffett's annual shareholder letters, a project that has fallen off a little over the last couple of months.
Summer is over, praise the Lord.
Monday, September 26, 2016
Saturday, September 24, 2016
It had been a long time since we had been here. The Beach, generically. Wrightsville Beach is a place where I had never spent any time before, a fine place, somewhat less forelorn than Atlantic Beach seemed when we were up there a couple of years ago for Father's Day. Fewer derelict motels that have tried but largely failed to convert into condo complexes. Everything pretty upbeat here. Sunny, but not too sunny at the end of September (ask me about that again when I come back from the run I should have taken first thing in the morning, like those toned tri people). But in the end it is first and foremost, a beach, and, as such, a subset of The Beach.
Which Mary generally fears because of sun, her being rather fair, the children having gotten her skin rather than mine. Plus the sand, all the seafood, the heat.
But we are here, nonetheless. and here in the afternoon, after a near nap, in the cool Airbnb house with the period paneling and retro couches (Mary approves highly of the styling), looking out at the inland waterway, it is rather nice. David is napping, mom is kind of napping, protesting that she never naps, and Mary is photographing her. The kids are kind of doing homework, maybe, lying in bed under there respective blankets, with their devices.
All is good.
Monday, September 19, 2016
I just pushed through Siddhartha Mukherjee's "The Emperor of All Maladies." As my readers may have observed, although I am not afraid of attacking thick tomes, I am not by nature engaged to tackle the fatties devoted to hard science topics. But since my new office is at the NC BioTech Center, and we are circulating amongst lots of entrepreneurs who are developing drugs and the like, I figured it behooved me to educate myself about this kinda stuff.
I was inspired in particular by a conversation with the CFO of a small, speculative firm that works in the drug discovery space, who has a platform to help other companies facilitate the development of molecules (yes, you read that correctly). He was also not native to the drug world, and allowed that transitioning into it had been a particularly steep learning curve.
So I read this book. It was not light reading. Cancer kills lots of people, and has been doing so for a long time. (Just this morning I was texting with a client whose husband was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer which had metastasized some. He was in the hospital for chemo). The "war on cancer" has been fought on many fronts for centuries, and while there has been a lot of progress on some fronts, on others there's been much less forward motion.
Let's be honest, it was an excruciatingly difficult book for someone like myself, being averse to medical detail. Particularly the chapters about super-aggressive radical mastectomies, of which I will spare you the details. It was rough reading. And the lack of forward motion along many research vectors was disheartening as we moved into pages 300-350.
And then, finally, some really effective drugs targeting breast cancer, lymphoma, and some specific types of leukemia! Ahh, it is beautiful.
Mostly, I must say, the book reminded me, as if I needed reminded, of the vastness of what I don't know, and the number of workaholic geniuses out there trying to solve problems. And the complexity of funding research for diseases that occur rarely. What do you do when you need $100 million to attach a cancer of which maybe 100 a year pop up? It's a tough sale.
So, in the end, it was a fine book. One I'm glad to be done with.
Sunday, September 18, 2016
Yesterday ended up being a great day, in an odd way, if extraordinarily bustly (140 miles in toto, after driving to a soccer game in the AM then to Raleigh and back twice in the late afternoon and evening).
Graham's birthday party came off well. Four boys showed up, one of whom is new in Graham's orbit, and the email hadn't gone through to his dad, so Graham hand-delivered the party deets on Friday, and he showed! Then another boy, whose parents are freaking space cadets and had forgotten about Graham's party in prior years, came after I called his house and his dad said: "Oh, it wasn't on the calendar and Jenny (not her real name) is out of town." Plus the DVD of Monty Python's Holy Grail was scratched, but we managed through it and they saw maybe 80% of the movie anyway.
Then, in the afternoon, I was working on my presentation for today, and my computer crashed and then couldn't find a boot volume when restarting. I knew my data was backed up to the cloud, so was concerned primarily with what machine I would take to do the presentation. So I ran some diagnostics -- which kept looking bad -- then I rebooted a couple of times and, sure enough, in true Dell fashion, the computer eventually realized it wasn't actually dead. To quote Monty Python: "I'm not quite dead yet!"
Finally, come evening time, we were out at a small party, and my phone started acting dead. Would not come back to life. This being a 13 month old Samsung Galaxy 5, so a perfectly decent phone, which had had decent battery charge before I went into the party. I didn't freak out or fret too much (as I am at times wont to do). I just plugged it in when I got back in the car, saw some signs of life, then rebooted when I got home.
This morning, we woke up and found out that the cat had puked again. I'm not thinking about that for a little while. Gotta prep for this afternoon.
Friday, September 16, 2016
And so, Graham's birthday weekend is upon us, and with it another frenzied cleansing of the house in anticipation of a small number of adults visiting the house at drop-off and pick-up. I mean, I guess it is worthwhile to clean the house a couple of times a year, just for good measure. But in the end it is shame-driven.
This after at work today, one of the partners in my firm was encouraging me to get upgrade from my Prius to a Tesla for appearances sake: "you should reward yourself, it is consistent with who you are, clients like it." But it costs a bunch of money, too.
Anyway, off to bed now. Soccer game at 9.
Monday, September 12, 2016
I was thinking yesterday that I'm not 100% certain what it is that I'm never forgetting. I mean, no, I will never forget standing on 5th Avenue watching the Twin Towers burn and realizing that I couldn't stand there and watch because if I did I would start smoking again. That I didn't need to watch. We didn't know, couldn't imagine that they would collapse. When I heard it had happened I really didn't quite process it.
I will never forget the craziness of that day, or the unity of sentiment in the days following it.
Nor will I forget the opportunism and alacrity with which the Bush administration latched hold of the "Axis of Evil" construct to justify wars on multiple fronts, and the way we squandered the good will of the world just when we had an opportunity to slipstream off of it by undertaking a war for hearts and minds that might have done us some good.
Or a bunch of other stuff. Basically, September 11 was a great opportunity squandered in an orgy of revanchist and neo-authoritarian bloodlust.
Saturday, September 10, 2016
There is a marked enthusiasm deficit around Hillary Clinton. We find her difficult to like, so it is hard to get behind her with passion, though we all know that we hate the Donald.
What's up with that? Undoubtedly she is held to a higher standard than men, and if she projected the kind of things that we like about women her age, grandmothers, we wouldn't find them electable. So in a sense she is in a can't win situation.
There are few women in politics who were her age and "likeable." Really only Ann Richards of Texas springs to mind, and she was a good deal younger than Hillary is when she rose to prominence in national politics. It is a shame that she passed away a decade ago. The interweb informs me that Richards drank and smoked a lot, and indeed passed away of esophageal cancer at a relatively young age. I'm willing to bet that trait, that she drank and partied with powerful men, taught her behavioral tricks that allowed her to cross over to likeability: a sense of humor on the rostrum, of knowing how to work a crowd and a room.
But she would probably have been undercut and hacked to death by a thousand paper cuts too had she run for President.
RBG pulls it off these days, though she has to be careful.
Sunday, September 04, 2016
Saturday, September 03, 2016
It has been a busy week. The Volvo started having electrical issues -- just when I was about to put some money into fixing the interior, our cat Leon continued to puke all over stuff and had to be taken to the vet, who for $400 gave us some drugs and told us he wasn't eating, a friend of Mary's found out that -- if it wasn't bad enough that brain cancer was killing her slowly, that stage 4 lung cancer would be killing her more quickly even, thank you very much. One client got fired/laid off, another found out she was getting audited.
Meanwhile, I have been having some lower back pain, partially tracing back to standing on the concrete floor of the Cradle all last weekend, partially from my crappy -- if stylish -- desk chair. Must get up to Carrboro to pick up my hand me down from the company that mom just shut down.
I realize I am beginning to sound all too much like Andy Rooney. I'm just saying.
Mary just came in and told me the vet might call and tell us that Leon has pancreatitis and that "we may have to make a decision quickly," and that pretty much takes the wind out of my zen sail. Waves keep washing over me, at once cooling me and making me deucedly salty. Now must take Graham to martial arts.
Saturday, August 27, 2016
A long day stretches before me: Graham to martial arts, soccer game at noon, MC a little at the Be Loud! afternoon show, home to rest, back to the Cradle for the evening show. In the middle of all this laundry must get done so I'll have a clean Be Loud! t-shirt for the evening.
Tomorrow an alumni function Durham Bulls game. I sometimes wonder how I let myself get dragged into joining that board.
Last night at the show I had a number of instances of people recognizing me and saying we had met, and/or me getting peoples' names wrong. God how I hate that, but it is so hard to keep peoples' names straight. I think I have said this before, but this is what CRM software, social networks, and friends are for, to help you fill these gaps. Of course I know that the people didn't walk away shocked that I had forgotten their names, they are not blogging about it this morning, but still. I suppose it rankles in particular as I am watching my mom and others age and display memory issues, and the memory of my maternal grandmother's protracted battle with Alzheimer's and my dad's struggle with oncoming dementia in the months and years leading up to his death scare me a little.
Particularly for someone like myself. I view myself as living by my wits and intellect. Increasingly, I think I need to transition to living less by brains, more by spirit. If I can just try to do the right thing at each moment of the day, and accept that even that is a hard thing to do, that will have to be good enough.
Even in that regard, it may be a question of limiting scope. I need to try to do the right thing, but equally endeavor not to take too much on. I know darned good and well that I cannot predict interest rates, so I try not to make decisions based too much on expectations of their direction. Though I have to take them into account.
In any case, right now I need to brief myself for this afternoon's MCing and pack water bottles and sunscreen, cuz it's gonna be a hot one.
Thursday, August 25, 2016
Long day yesterday, from at breakfast in the park sponsored by Ernst & Young looking at BioTech capital markets over last few years and expectations going forward, including a very interesting presentation by CEO of Patheon, to an evening event for NC's Secretary of State (both events featured "free" food, by the way), followed by a board meeting at our house.
In the middle, we discovered that Mary's Mac is having significant issues (had to call up Paul Rosenberg, guitarist extraordinaire of CHHS '84 and computer guru). Then in the morning we awoke to cat puke on the sofa. Ughh.
Overall, rather tired going into a weekend of Be Loud! Sophie concert fun, with first soccer game of the season at noon on an August Saturday, capped by an alumni event, then back to school next Monday.
Amidst the hustle and bustle of it all, it is easily for me to be knocked off-kilter and for me to lose sight of how incredibly blessed I am to have what I have and do what I do. Right now I am honestly just trying to marshall my energies and focus on doing the most important tasks over the next 72-96 hours.
Sunday, August 21, 2016
Early this morning David and I played tennis for the second day in a row, raising my total of tennis playing sessions for 2016 to a grand total of three. Once more I heard the chorus of voices in my head: "Oh I am feeling old and creaky... I should really get out and play more... I should go to a coach and work on my serve... I really need to get some instruction in the gym to build core strength... I should take up yoga." At length I was able to wrestle these voices to the mat and get to a worthwhile observation: my footwork is lazy on my forehand side, so I end up hitting with my weight going backwards all too often, resulting in looping shots. In essence, I am lazy on the forehand because I know I can usually get it back over the net and deep enough to make it not easy to return aggressively, because I exert so much mental effort getting my feed in position on my backhand, where I know I can't be so casual. So my brain is tired out for forehands.
Thursday, August 18, 2016
I have been listening to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience in the car recently, and it is a pretty good listen. One point he makes is that often people seem fixated on one aspect of experience or another: food, or exercise, or music, or whatever, and they may tend to talk about this incessantly. Csikszentmihalyi notes that, while such monomania may become boring (I won't argue with him on that), the ability to appreciate various aspects of experience (say, all of the ones listed above and more) and express appreciation for them does seem correlated with a good life, and makes for pleasant conversation. I buy that. Seems like a pretty simple observation, but I've never thought about it just like that.
That's all I got for now. Back to the coal mine.
Sunday, August 14, 2016
It's rather hot here in Larchmont. For the most part, we are holed up in the back of the house, in the four rooms coolable by window units. It is not unlike being on a small boat, indeed, there are conspicuous similarities, given the predilection for nautical motifs of these historically boat-loving Berridges, and the view of the Long Island Sound through the kitchen window.
I nonetheless braved the elements this morning and went for a run. For the first time ever, I saw deer in Larchmont Manor. Baby dear. I mean, I have long since stopped being impressed by seeing deer on the East Coast, but this is a pretty dense, semi-urban place, this neighborhood, less than 1 mile between US 1 and the Long Island Sound. That was a surprise.
In general, it has been a pretty lazy Sunday, capped off a few minutes back by frittering away some time watching Olympic ping pong. Those are some hard core geek athletes. Gotta love it.
Now must go make progress on my new book, Siddhartha Mukherjee's The Emperor of Maladies. Not light reading. I just polished off Kate Atkinson's Case Histories, a very solid book dressed up as a mystery novel, which I had felicitously snatched up for a buck at the PTA Thrift Store a few weeks back after hearing of it for the first time on NPR not an hour previously. Good karma.
Wednesday, August 10, 2016
It was that rarest of things, a fine day driving up 85 and 95 to New York. We left at 9:30, arrived 7ish to Larchmont. Natalie drove the first leg to the VA border, mostly without incident (in which I was as at fault as she was -- overreacting a little as she drifted off the road while learning to change lanes).
From there it was pretty much smooth sailing, a little traffic on the Balt-Wash Parkway (as the Google Maps lady is so fond of calling it), a little on the approach to the GWB -- though we used 46 to cut a chunk of that off, this time with good guidance from our eternal friends Sergei and Larry.
There was, however, mildly less family togetherness than on prior rides, as each of us was, in turn, sucked into our devices. Even Graham spent most of the ride listening to the soundtrack to Hamilton on his ancient iPod, which continues to suffice for him. On the ride south, we must concentrate more on shared media, more podcasts from Dear Hank and John, or even the ebook about a container of rubber duckies that fell into the sea in the Seattle bay and helped scientists learn a lot about currents and much else (the book is fully 15 hours long, so there must be much there) I downloaded from the other somewhat evil empire.
Sunday, August 07, 2016
I was taking Natalie over to mom's house to do some moving-related stuff today, and she mentioned she had a good idea for keeping the kids occupied while sitting around grandma's house: "We could read parts from the new Harry Potter screenplay/play thing" (whatever it is).
Of course that seemed like a fine idea, and she continued "the adults could join in too." So I asked which character she thought I would be best suited to play. "Mmmm. Probably Ron Weasley, he's a stay-at-home dad." Part of me wanted to be Harry, so I said "Not Harry." And she was like, "Nahh, he's all tortured and tormented."
I was actually touched and flattered by that, that she perceives me as a stable presence rather than tormented, whereas, as regular readers of the blog (and Mary!) can attest, I am at times a little tormented by the big questions of life, touched by a wee dram of the Hamletism. I will not rush to disabuse her of this perception.
Saturday, August 06, 2016
Apparently inspired by the story of Anne Frank, it really doesn't matter. What shines through is the intense level of commitment of Jeff Mangum, the front man, to his vision of whatever universe the album occupies. They're from the south, so I always thought it was kind of Faulkneresque, with all the wombs, rattlesnakies, sweaty bodies, semen and dreams, sounded like trailer society to me, but what do I know. Mangum's voice isn't that pretty, but it is intensely expressive and he fully inhabits the songs, and part of it is that, as you teach yourself the songs on guitar and start singing them, it becomes clear that he doesn't breathe much as he sings them, and he stretches his lungs, and there is something to the sheer physical demands of the songs that is compelling.
As with the Shins, there is a huge subculture of particularly teens alone in their bedrooms playing these songs that is discoverable on YouTube. Maybe this is true of lots of artists these days, not just the ones I get intrigued by. Whatever. It strikes me that great songwriters create new dimensions of soul, which others step in to inhabit with covers.
Friday, August 05, 2016
Tuesday, August 02, 2016
The other day I went back to the barber shop near Whole Foods, which is staffed by guys who are a little more country than the dominant local population. I have talked politics with them before, so I figured I'd see where they were at with the upcoming election.
The guy who was cutting my hair, a fortyish guy, said that it looked like we were damned either way we voted. I.e. Hillary's just as bad as Trump. I didn't press, figured it was good enough that they weren't pulling for Trump. "Eight more years of the same thing we been having." I paused for a bit, and then asked what concretely had been so bad about Obama. "Well, I just never liked him much." I tried to draw them out a bit, mentioned how I knew businesspeople who felt that the expense and regulatory burden of Obamacare was something they didn't like, and he said, "Yeah, Obamacare, that's one thing." I didn't bother to actually ask how it had hurt him.
I tried to nudge the conversation around to Hillary concretely and one of the customers, an older white guy, started making jokes about "Billary." At least they didn't call her crooked.
Then my haircut was done. I gave the guy a decent tip and left. Basically, it seemed pretty clear that they weren't comfortable having a black guy or a woman in the White House.
Saturday, July 30, 2016
Over the years I have written a lot about the themes of entropy, flux and contigency, and particularly how they relate to and/or are made manifest in yard care and/or house care. Basically, the idea that we trim and rake and cut and clean and dust to inculcate order into our surroundings and exert control over nature and the external, forces that seem to beset us at every turn. When I started reflecting on this, I viewed it somewhat ironically and at a distance, in the abstract terms of the slightly warmed over humanities scholar.
By now, I know it is personal, or at least it has become so for me. The desire to impose order on the world is all about aging.
I feel it in particular with regard to my house, and my car... I look at signs of overgrowth of plants, on the one hand, or mold or worn paint, on the other, and I feel a need to battle them, but not the energy. I really should outsource more of it.
I just did a quick search and found that I have already written much the same post, back in November. Here it is.
So let me shift gears slightly. Last weekend I decided it was finally time to wash the Volvo, which looked pretty disgusting. So I took it to the car wash on the road formerly known as Airport. I was pulling in to the drive through one there, which I like because you get to let go inside the car and take a little nap while the sound of swooshy swoosh washes over you, but this older Caribbean gentleman who worked there looks at my car and points back to the self-service area, where you spray your car yourself and says: "if it were my car, I'd take it there, driving through this thing isn't gonna hardly do anything." Then he said something and "high-pressure rinse" so I said "OK" and drove over where he had pointed.
So I put like ten bucks in the thing and went through all the steps and felt like I had done a pretty decent job. Sure, some of the much didn't come off, but it looked much better to me. And I pulled through to the vacuuming area. The older guy comes along and looks at it, shakes his head a little and says "How much money did you put in there?" So I told him. And he goes "back it up into there and let me work on it a little." Then he goes and gets a card that lets him get free time using the machines, and spends about 15 more minutes on it. Really working it. He used "tire wash" on the whole car because it was, as he said, the strongest soap.
In the end, the car came out looking great, and he reluctantly accepted a nice tip. And I learned how to wash a car as filthy as that.
I too felt great, having pushed back the craggy fingers of death a little further away from our fine old car. And that car wash -- whose owner played baseball in high school 60 years ago with my departed uncle Heywood -- cemented a customer for life through excellent customer service.
Friday, July 29, 2016
As I drove off today, Graham and I passed Natalie as she was walking to her friend's house. "Why is Graham in the front seat?", she asked. I slowed down and said that it was for the same reason that I had her sit in the front seat, so that we could have good conversations. "I didn't sit in the front seat until I was older," she said.
It is all too easy to fetishize the equal treatment of children. My mom was very assiduous in this practice, going so far as to count the Hershey's kisses that went into our Christmas stockings to make sure that we got exactly the same. In general, we try to do this in our household, if not to the same degree of granularity as that.
But this can obviously be a double-edged sword, as in Natalie's comment this morning. She perceives unequal treatment in the matter of the front seat, Graham got their earlier than she did. The fact is that Mary, with her strong safety inclination and risk aversion, espoused keeping the kids in the back seat for longer, maybe didn't even think of moving them there as a sign of promotion towards adulthood and relationship progression (i.e. I view it as putting the kids on more nearly equal footing with us).
For me, getting Graham up there maybe a little earlier than Natalie got there is an effect of having learned from parenting Natalie that the front seat was a good idea as a way of changing the conversation. But now I need to talk to her about it. The good news is that, because she is so mature and well-adjusted, I think she will be OK with it when I explain it.
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
At lunch with a friend the other day conversation turned to a common friend from high school, an African-American guy, who my friend said had been in trouble with the law sometime back. I said well, so have I a little, and imagine how many times I could have been arrested for possession of marijuana. Lets just say several.
Sunday, July 24, 2016
I bought a Lyle Lovett CD at the Thrift Store for a buck. I forget what it's called. I had never really listened to Lovett that much, but he's one of those guys that I look at and feel like I should like him. I do have pretty vivid, if most likely erroneous, memories of him in Robert Altman's The Player as Whoopi Goldberg's slightly creepy partner on the police force, especially when they chant ("one of us, one of us"). That is a movie I really need to watch again, even over and above Mary's aversion to rewatching things.
In any case, I've listened to the CD in part a couple of times now. It's not that great, yet one of the songs has gotten stuck in my head anyway and I am pleased with that because, hey, it's a perfectly nice song and addition to my internal soundtrack. And the money went to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools. What's not to like?
When I first started writing this blog, I envisioned it as a place to keep my writing muscles tuned up, and that therefore I would write in it every day, if only for 15 minutes. This discipline has slipped, and I would be surprised if I ever got back to doing it even 6 days a week, but I should try to up my rate. I find that I am most inclined to write in it in the mornings, and when I'm feeling good. The problem has been that, during my recent period of professional transition, I have felt harried and pressed in the mornings, and therefore not good most of the time. I will work on that.
Saturday, July 23, 2016
Went swimming in the lake, and for the third time in a row it appears I am getting stuffed up. It appears I may be allergic to something in there, which is kind of a bummer. I count on being able to swim in that durned thing in the summer, when it is really too hot for a sensible person to go running or do other above ground activities any time other than first thing in the morning -- which is when I like to drink coffee, thank you very much. I could go swim in the pool, yes, but that is dead boring, and there are no herons to startle there.
In the evening, we want to a party at Alan's house. A very interesting and diverse group of friends he has. Talked to a white guy who had a medical specialty of sorts early on, nice guy, but hadn't really thought very broadly about much stuff. Then I talked to a African-American guy from up near Person County who ran his own highly specialized business and had figured a bunch of shit out, and then another businessman from Senegal, who was very curious and rambling in his interests. He had not long ago gone to China and told tales of entire malls specializing in athletic shoes on the one hand, or cosmetics on the other. I had never heard about that.
It is enough to make me lament much more deeply than I already did the relative monochromism of my social and professional circles,
Monday, July 18, 2016
As we continued on, I wondered if the driver might be headed to the same AA meeting as I was, and it turned out that (s)he was (I assume it was a guy, but who knows? I've been wrong about many things in life). I parked in another lot than the car's driver, and didn't see who it was, and I'm glad about that, because sobriety and politics should not mix. I hope the person chills out in time.
Saturday, July 16, 2016
On the Messi/Ronaldo debate, I have always come down on the side of the Argentine little magician. I like his style on the pitch better, I appreciate his determination and grit, etc. etc. His story of overcoming the liability of his smallness resonates with me, and so on. Plus the issue of Ronaldo's blinding good looks, perfect physique, and seeming ego.
But in recent weeks we have heard the revelation that Messi has been sentenced to something like 21 months in jail for tax evasion, and then somebody on Facebook tapped me into the fact of Ronaldo's pretty substantial charitable inclination. He was even voted the world's most charitable sports star. And then there's the issue of his clear and indubitable deep desire to win the Euro, and his leadership off the field after injury took him out of the championship game. So maybe I've been judging a book by its cover.
(forgive the seemingly jarring transition and skeletal argument. this is a stub of what should be a bigger, professional post). I wonder if there's not something similar going on with value and growth stocks. Value stocks are supposed to win over time, it is one of the observed anomalies that undercut modern portfolio theory, or the idea that markets are perfectly rational. But up until recent weeks, growth (stocks like Amazon, Tesla, high-fliers that capitalize on observed trends but may be capital-intensive as they grow) had been leading value for a long long time. I actually just checked the numbers and value seems to have made a comeback for the time being, over time periods as long as 5 years.
Basically, the value story resonates with middle-class investors. We like the idea that prudent, soberly run businesses should win over time. It's a turtle vs. hare thing, and many active and program-driven funds and ETFs capitalize on this belief.
But what if this bias has lowered the cost of capital for firms that look like value investments, encouraging them to be less efficient and effective stewards of other people's money? I've heard this argument made about socially-responsible firms, and it kind of makes sense. If I were a CFO, I would consciously endeavor to make my firm look like a value investment.
Friday, July 15, 2016
Sam was over last night for dinner, and Graham was recounting some of the highlights of our trip to Europe. Naturally Graham's attention turned to the moment when, having visited the American cemetery at Omaha Beach in Normandy, we were returning to our car down the hill. We passed some cows grazing in a lovely meadow. One of them, bearing tag 20740 on its ear if Graham's memory serves correctly, was using the barbed wire which enclosed the pasture to scratch a couple of itchy spots on his face. A minute or two later, cow 20747 started doing the same thing and then, to compound our mirth and pleasure, pushed his head forcefully through the barbed wire and started eating grass and even pink roses on the other side. It was, it must be owned, pretty awesome.
(The pic below was taken at a distance and then blown up, hence its mild graininess. Still, you get the idea).
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
So there we were, in Luxembourg Gardens, at around 4:30 on a mild day in late June. We had enjoyed our afternoon coffee in a cafe nearby (idiot dad somehow having missed the cafe right in the park while studying a park map). We pulled up some chairs and I was ready to settle in for some chilling and people watching in one of my favorite places on the planet, a place where I had spent a lot of time in the summer of '92 when I lived in a spartan hotel room near the Sorbonne and took classes on the other side of the park at the Alliance Francaise.
I was happy. Graham, however, was not. He was tired from what had legitimately been a long day of schlepping through first a museum, then through some streets of central commercial/tourist Paris. He wanted to go home on a subway before rush hour got started, so that he would be able to sit on the train.
I think Natalie said "we can sit here for 10 minutes or so, and then move on" or something like that, and I grunted approval. Graham kept asking the time, and after 10 minutes he began to get upset, and even to cry a little.
I asked him why, and he said, in short: "When you said 10 minutes I thought you meant 10 minutes, and I find it upsetting because if I can't trust you, my own father, that means I can't trust anybody."
This was a rather remarkable thing, for him to get to the root of what was bothering him and be able to articulate it. Even for a 12-year old without autism, I think, that would have been pretty impressive.
So, pretty soon, we got up and left. We went a couple of blocks out of the way to show Natalie a corner of the Sorbonne, but pretty soon we were on the subway back to our Airbnb. Sadly, it was a pretty crowded trip home and I'm not sure Graham was able to sit the whole way. But it helped us set our general priorities for the next few days, because we knew what was important to Graham, and it's helped me think about communicating with him since then.
Monday, July 11, 2016
While driving him to chess camp this morning, I talked to Graham a little about getting on the floating docks out on the lake. In the past, Graham has ascribed his aversion to doing so in terms of the ickiness of the algae on their underside. Fair enough.
So I brought it up to him and told him that I didn't think they were so icky underneath anymore and that, in any case, the algae wasn't really going to hurt him anyway. Then he said that his concerns were not so much for the ickiness, but for the feeling of uncertainty being on the floating docks engendered in him (because they move around), and for his fears about getting off of them. He didn't like jumping off of them, and he certainly didn't like diving off of them, because he didn't like diving off of anything.
And this is where I realized that I have substantial fathering work to do on this score, the managing of uncertainty and risk-taking. I have seen Graham make real progress on this front in terms of going down hills on a bike or a sled, but in bodies of water it's another thing. One problem is his insistence on wearing goggles. I can't get him past that, and that puts a damper on diving. But I think I can get him to jump more vigorously while holding the goggles.
Obviously his autism is an issue here, I need to dig into that and figure out how and how much.
In the car I upset him a little, he cried a tad, but I assured him I just wanted to work with him to help him overcome his fears because that's what parents do. With Natalie out of town for debate camp for a couple of weeks, that offers Mary and me an opening to focus on Graham.
Then I took him into the chess center and he walked right in, found another kid, introduced himself, and invited the other kid to play a game. Which is itself huge progress.