Saturday, June 25, 2016

At the Calais Terminal

We were picking up our car from Europecar at Calais, and they were having some trouble setting us up with a GPS. The one inside our car (which the woman kept saying was an Audi, but was in fact an Infiniti) would only speak to us in German.

As I was standing by the car and the Europecar woman was trying to jigger the controls to make it right, two guys came by hauling a ginormous luggage cart towards a bus.  One younger guy was pulling, visibly straining, while an older guy, wearing a uniform and dress shoes, was pushing.  It was straight out of Tati. The younger guy looks at me and says:  "Koennen sie uns hilfen?" ("Can you help us?")  So I helped them push the luggage cart to the bus. It was absurd.  2016. Western Europe. Go figure.

Eventually they got us another GPS. The woman was like "this one is in English." The text was in English, yes, but it was speaking to us in Croatian.  At least I speak a little Croatian, so I could make out the main points of what it was saying. Eventually I made it speak English to me.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Social externalities

Was just reading The Economist's survey of the future of agriculture, in which it looks at a wide variety of new technologies impacting how food is grown, and I found myself thinking of how, in this field too, the economics are now tending towards providing disproportionate rewards to those who can intellectualize and in turn automate the fundamental processes of production.  The technology being thrown at farming is nothing short of amazing.

And so, even as locovorism for the elite and a back to the land ethos push a small number of people back into farming and provide a means of livelihood for some traditional farmers who can adapt themselves to a new supply chain, wealth in food production as in so much else will continue to concentrate itself in the hands of a corporate few.

This is something we are seeing in so many fields. Technology is eating everything, simple jobs are disappearing, honorable ways of earning livings for people of few intellectual and social privileges are slinking and sliding into the dustbin of history.  It all seems inexorable.

On the other side of this same coin, we see deep anomie, populations falling further into disarray as their paths toward betterment seem foreclosed.  Just in the USA we see declining mortality due to mental health issues and substance dependency, specifically opioids; afro-separatism expressed in generations of naming conventions (witness NBA players Dontae' Jones and Dahntay Jones, for one small example); racist hatemongering from Duck Dynasty to its logical heir, Donald Trump, and on and on and on.  In Europe we see neo-Nazism in lots of places, from Le Pinism to the Leave movement in the UK....

In the Islamic world, there's been plenty of analysis of how the fundamental inability of authoritarian petrokleptocracies to keep up with the West economically has created a class of young people -- and males in particular -- with no future who are ripe ground for terrorist recruiters.

Fundamentally, so much of this seems to be a response to an economic pie that is shrinking due to a worldwide dependency ratio that becomes increasingly unfavorable as populations age, and technology that appropriates a lion's share of what economic bounty there is to those who can dream up technologies to streamline production and distribution.

Which pisses people off and makes them sad.  And, in turn, violent and nasty towards one another.

What if all of this can be classed as an externality, in the same way that CO2 emissions are unpriced externalities of fossil-fuel burning?  Which is to say, what if the rolling up of profits to technologists messes up society and peoples' lives so badly that its repercussions should be classed as real costs?

In which case the real economic value is not provided by your Bill Gates / Sergei and Larry / Jeff Bezos types but by those who can figure out how to sort out the damage that they cause. In some sense, nobody would disagree that King, Gandhi, and in our day maybe Pope Francis or Temple Grandin are bigger, more important figures than your big technologists.  But it is hard to price and compensate them, particularly as they aren't the sort who really prize money.

In the abstract, this all sounds plausible. The difficulty is in pricing it all and administering it.  If Amazon or WalMart or Cargill/Monsanto etc. displace a bunch of people and make their lives utterly miserable, how do you quantify it?  By contrast, formulating and setting up a Carbon Tax is child's play.

Graham and Mary are now up and having breakfast.  Time to get ready to go out and see London!


We got here, yesterday, bleary with jet lag after flying through Boston and Reykjavik to save a couple of grand on airfare.  Somehow we managed to stay up till 10:30, which allowed us to more or less get synched up on time (ask me again at the end of the day about this).

So I was just sitting here poring over the maps of London and the Tube and the Overground train, trying to figure out how it all fits together, but it occurs to me that this is a perfect instance of where I need to just let go and let things happen.  I by nature am perfectly cool with stepping outside, hopping on any old bus, and going with the flow.  I guess I am concerned with Graham's energy level over the course of the day, that he will flag and get whiny as the day rolls on.

Fact is, over a few days I will get the hang of this place, and I suppose looking at the map for a while will let the city kind of gel for me. But is it worth the time it takes to do it?

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Griswolds take Europe

Once more, life imitates great art, and we are some five hours and change away from setting sail for the other side of the pond. Natalie and Joan are, of course, already there, having been in Spain for a week and change, biking and living the high life despite some brutal heat down there in Andalucia.

It has been a hard-working couple of weeks here in NC, blocking and tackling to retain my book of business as I've transitioned to my new firm. It hasn't all gone perfectly, I've retained maybe 85% of my assets, as my boss picked off one client and a couple of others aren't sure they will stick around. But that is life.  I have been honest and upfront with them to the greatest extent possible.  I think I'll pick up half of the stragglers when I get back, and chalk up the rest to experience.

Being a nervous ninny, now that I'm in a relaxed place about my work, I had to find something else to freak out about. And the strikes in France have offered me that. Images of and stories about garbage piling up in the streets of Paris while millions of Europeans pour into the city for the European soccer championships have irked me a little overnight. Much as I'd love to see a game or two, my family could give a rats ass about sports, and mostly I just want to chill, stroll, eat pains au chocolat, and dig the city once we get there.

A woman at Al Anon who has spent lots of time in Paris assures me that it is all nothing and I shouldn't give it a second thought.

Lord knows, I'll try.

And I'll try to blog from the road too, but that gets hard sometimes.

For the flight, we will have turkey sandwiches, potato chips, and Oreos. When I showed Graham the last two items, he perked right up, whereas he had been a little mixed before about the prospect of flying. The boy loves him some potato chips.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Breakfast vignette

Every school day for some time, Rascal, the by far more social of our two cats, has joined Natalie for cereal. Natalie gets her bowl of cereal, sits at her stool at the bar, grabs whatever she is reading or watching on her phone ("How I Met Your Mother", "30 Rock", "The Office", whatevs) and settles in. Then Rascal comes and sits or stands on Natalie's lap, and Natalie pets her or rubs her belly.

Saturday, June 11, 2016


It has been one of my basic policies here on the Grouse to not blog about work or marriage, or at least to do so very little. Mostly for political reasons.  But this has the effect of, to a certain extent, sealing off the most important topics in my life.

Today I'm going to cross the line a little. On Monday I quit my job and, within an hour, began another one, doing the same thing at a different firm. This week has been a fire drill of talking to my clients, explaining the move in as general terms as possible, and trying to convince them to stay with me.  Thus far things have gone well.

But to back up a minute, just quitting my job was an important step for me. I wasn't happy where I was, and I had known that a change needed to be made.  There were scenarios which might have resolved the situation under which I wasn't going to need to do anything dramatic, but those fell through for reasons entirely beyond my control in April, reasons intimately bound up with the things that were making me unhappy. At that point in time I knew I needed to make a decision to change.

Which freaked me out a little. I have historically had difficulty leaving jobs under my own initiative. I had a great offer in DC in 2006 which would have gotten me out of another devolving work situation, but I couldn't talk Mary into moving from Princeton, and I couldn't insist on doing what I knew would have been a good thing. Instead I rode that situation out, and ended up being let go as the financial services arm of that firm got winnowed down as people left and as another line of business rose up to dominate the firm.

I also historically had problems leaving romantic relationships.  I couldn't admit to myself I was unhappy when, for example, a girlfriend and I were geographically separated and I needed more constant companionship and, lets face it, sex (this was when I was in my teens/20s). So I would cheat on girlfriends and more or less force them to dump me.

Sometime this spring, I realized that this behavior all traced back to my parents' divorce, when I saw the situation going south and I knew it was fucked up, but I couldn't do anything about it. So I stuck my head in the sand, denied it, smoked pot, drank beer, told jokes, and tried to wish the situation away. Obviously that didn't work out very well. My parents split up, which was the right thing for them to do.

So, quitting my job was the right thing to do. It has been an anxious, hard-working week, calling all my clients on the phone and trying to retain them as my boss does the same thing.  Then actually doing the administrative things that need to happen to hold on to them. Mostly it has been going well.

In the end, I know it is the right thing for me, and for my clients.  For reasons I won't delve into here, because they're really not that important in the long arc of my life, and those of my clients.

Friday, June 10, 2016


I meant to write a little something here at halftime, instead I am entirely entranced by this video of John Fahey playing a concert in 1981. He is a freak, yes, but a special one indeed. Acoustic, yet electrifying.  I will take my guitar downstairs to play during the second half commercials.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

What a drag it is getting old?

Was just out playing soccer in the heat, I thought my calves were going to cramp up a couple of times.  But they didn't.  I was drinking Gatorade, feeling pretty clever to be getting all those electrolytes into the old bod. Then I got in my car and felt life my right foot was about to freeze up, so I put on a flip flop, and I got through it fine.

Eventually, however, it caught up to me. Niklaus and I were chilling on the dock out in the lake, and I dove into the water to cool off. The act of diving caused my right calf to freeze up fully, and after I swam back to the raft, pulled myself onto it, and stood up, my left one cramped too.  Great, I thought. Here I am 50 yards from shore with two cramping calves.

In the end, I had to swim the whole way back using only my arms. It was interesting.

In any case, it was good to hang alone with my old friend out on the dock.  45-year friendships do not grow on trees. It is fine to find time to nurture and enjoy them.