Friday, October 20, 2017

Empathy engines

Claire Messud was recently quoted in The Guardian as saying:  "Maybe in 50 years there won't be novels." Coming from someone like her, who has devoted her professional life to the form, and admirably and successfully, that's a sad admission, a, d hopefully more of a call to arms.

I drove to Charlotte last Thursday evening with Natalie and Susannah to see John and Hank Green on tour, in support of the release of John's most recent novel Turtles All the Way Down. If you don't know who John and Hank Green are, Google them. Amazing, inspiring, positive nerds. John wrote The Fault in Our Stars. John's new book is about a teenage girl with OCD. Somewhere in his presentation last Thursday, he talked about how the essential function of narrative art was to inspire empathy for others.

I like it. I studied a bunch of highfalutin theory in college and some in grad school, and while not all of it was bullshit, I think that the fundamental project of theory became in a sense one of conquest and power: to create an all-embracing theory that offered its exponent a corner of reality. To stake a claim. And that got tiring.

Good novels (movies, stories, novellas, even documentaries and non-fiction, etc) do their jobs to the extent that they offer insight into others' thinking and feeling, how they process the raw material of their lives, and help us live our own. They help us slow down and get out of ourselves. To do so is not chopped liver. It's a tough thing to do.

I'm reading Messud's The Burning Girl now. It's her sixth book, closer to a novella than a novel, as if you freaking care. I have been drawn in and am flowing along with it, so it is doing it's job nicely.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Garbage Day

The town picks up the recycling on Mondays, the garbage on Tuesdays. Graham, being the young male in the family, has inherited the traditional male chore of taking these things out to the street. Why we have somehow settled into this traditional gender-based division of labor I can't tell you, but we have.

In any case when he takes out the bottles and stuff from the recycling drawer on Mondays, he on most weeks takes out the plastic bag from the indoors recycling can and emptys it into the corresponding receptacle outside, and then puts the plastic bag back into the can inside. That's how cheap and green we are. We do that till it starts smelling.

But on Tuesdays he's supposed to take the bag out and put it in the garbage can, full of trash. Last night I noticed that he was putting the plastic bag back into the garbage can, having emptied it out in the driveway. Mary is a bit of a stickler for this kind of stuff ("It's supposed to be in a bag!")

So when I pointed this out to him last night, I'm sure with a touch but not a heaping spoonful of reproach in my voice, he hunched forward his shoulder, expelled a breath, and looked at me with a bit of fear, as if I was going to let him have it. I just told him to give me the bag and went outside. I saw there was no hope for getting any of the garbage back in the bag, so I just threw the bag in there with the rest of the stuff.

This is a little bit odd, because, although I might get a little animated about this or that, one thing I am proud of is that I have never struck a child or Mary, and I think generally have managed to keep temper tantrums to pretty dull roars. Of course, my point of reference was my dad who, without being the world's most violent dad, did on occasion employ a little physical violence, and certainly had a major temper that he was not afraid of letting fly verbally, or, say, by peeling out of our driveway dramatically, flinging gravel back into the bushes.

If there's one thing I feel I can be proud of, I've pretty much steered clear of the worst excesses of anger. I think.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Defined benefits

There was a piece in the Journal yesterday about the daunting overhang of retirement health and pension benefits in Connecticut and New Jersey. Basically, the two states are pretty screwed financially because they can't fund benefits. This is a big problem not just there, but in many places. The "funding ratio" has undoubtedly gotten better this year as asset prices worldwide have risen together, but the issue is not resolved. Democrats try to ignore it, Republicans sometimes fixate on it in a downright mean-spirited way, but it doesn't really go away.

I have also seen stories about how, when police departments try to jigger their retirement benefits downward, that it becomes harder to recruit new cops. I have also heard, right here in Chapel Hill, of a cop who had to retire after 18 years after an on the job injury hauling somebody out of his car after an accident, or subduing a suspect, and got screwed because he wasn't vested.

None of this shit is simple.

In any case, I was reminded of conversations I had not long ago at a wedding with some white people from a small town in North Carolina. I didn't talk politics with them, but it is reasonable to assume by virtue of their general cultural proclivities (strong church, football, baseball, recently purchased power boat) that they vote Republican. The dad in the family started working in the school system relatively late in life, but was very clear on his timeline to vesting in the state pension and retiree health benefits. The mom had taught until had maxed out her retirement, as had her mother before her. Her dad had worked for the Federal government his whole career. He, at least, was for certain a pretty strongly expressed racist.

But they were all government employees, through and through. On the one hand, they are to be thanked for their service. On the other, they are ill-placed to systematically criticize government overreach, or dependency of this population or that on the government.

It would be very interesting to see a thorough analysis of rural counties, not just for their dependence on explicit wealth-transfer programs, but to see how much of their overall economies ultimately flowed out from federal, state, or local coffers in the form of payroll. I suspect it might be much quicker, cheaper, and easier to just look at their economies in total, tot up private sector investment and receipts from outside the county, and then subtract.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

An Ant Moves its Leg in China

I posted this under my legal name elsewhere, might as well share it hear too, for my truly faithful readers.

I was astounded to read, a couple of weeks back, that a Chinese money market fund associated with Ant Financial, was offering investors returns in excess of 4%. Ant Financial, for those of you who haven’t been following, spun out from Alibaba, the e-commerce juggernaut founded by Jack Ma, China’s analog to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. This “money market fund” manages $200 billion, making it the world’s largest.

By comparison, US money market funds earn almost nothing these days.  Money market funds typically inv/est in highly-rated debt securities which mature in less than one year, so they are highly liquid, which means one can expect to sell them with no loss of value, even if interest rates rise.  At present, US 30-year bonds pay only 2.87%, but are exposed to considerable interest rate risk. 

“How can this be?”, you may well ask.  How can Chinese get 4% interest with no risk to principle, while in the US even very long-term debt offers considerably lower yield?  Great question, and the answer falls squarely into the bucket of “don’t ask.” It defies logic, and constitutes a systemic risk in China to which we would not expose ourselves, even if we could. But here’s the good news:  China’s regulators realize that there is a systemic risk, and it was recently reported that they are putting in place measures to reduce the returns available to money market funds and restore them to their original function of low risk and high liquidity. If all goes well, yields available to Chinese investors will be brought down in an orderly fashion, and risks will be squeezed out of the system.

But here’s the real question:  “Why should I, as an American, care about Chinese money market funds?”  The reason is that the Chinese capital markets are maturing, regulators are imposing order, and they are gradually opening to and integrating with the rest of the world’s markets. The two mainland Chinese stock exchanges, in Shanghai and Shenzhen, together have about $8 trillion in total market capitalization, out of about $77 trillion worldwide. But it is very difficult for foreign investors to invest directly in these markets, and they were only recently integrated into the most popular emerging markets index, and at a disproportionately low level.

Again you ask:  “Why should I care?”  And here’s the real reason: the more China opens, and the more tightly integrated are its markets with those of the rest of the world, the more aligned are its interests to our own. We come to be increasingly in business together. Perhaps the most haunting book of 2017 is Graham Allison’s Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap. Basically, Allison’s thesis is that, most of the time in history, when a rising power (China) comes into conflict with an existing power (the USA), there is most often war. War with China would be ugly, and would be unlikely to be just us against them. Allies would be dragged in, things would escalate... Even if we won, we would lose.


So this is why we care, and this is why we pay attention to these things. Although there are many skeptics these days about the benefits of markets, overall they have been forces for good in the world last century. Markets help capital connect with opportunities, and regulators make sure that this happens in an orderly fashion. As this great swarm of ants in China is brought under control, we all stand to benefit.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

College essay

Natalie wrote her free hand main essay for the Common Application on the Fourth Amendment -- to wit, for those of us who need a refresher course, the one that protects us against unreasonable search and seizure. It's about 90% ready for the UNC application. Mary and I have reviewed it, as has Kristin Hiemstra, the professional we are working with (since we are just amateurs, after all), and it's pretty much there.

Mary and I both read it and felt that the question "why?" wasn't really perfectly answered. Why does a 17-year old care so much about search and seizure? Part of me wants to have her dig deep into it and reflect on its attraction to her, but I look back at where I was when I was her age, and even older, and think about the things I did with hair, clothes, facial hair, music, just to "define myself" or whatever, and I think "if she wants the Fourth Amendment to be her thing, that's cool."

Then again, if I had to guess why search and seizure seems so close to home for her, I'd say this: she is a little private, and can get pissy when we tell her to clean her room. She won't fly off the handle, but she pushes back. And that's the worst form of rebelliousness she has yet shown to us. OK, that and sometimes going for that extra cookie of french fry, but that is behavior she has pretty much learned from me, so who am I to criticize? In short, marking off her room as her own clearly delimited space is her primary form of teenage rebellion. It's a whole lot better than pot, cigarettes, drinking, other forms of self-destructive behavior.

Therefore, she can have the Fourth Amendment. We may yet nudge her to articulate its attraction better in her essay, but overall, whatevs.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Decompression

Graham has no martial arts today, which means I didn't have to hustle out to the park, so my schedule is blown wide open. No soccer game till 2.

I am almost overflowing with things to do:

  • Clean desk
  • Clean mud room
  • Wash windows
  • Read books (this one, that one, or the other one?)
  • Read Natalie's college essays (UNC is due October 15, does that lock the Common App?)
  • Learn more Leonard Cohen (or Jason Isbell, or...) songs on guitar
Meanwhile, I hear Natalie downstairs in the kitchen. That is a rarety, a desert bloom. Probably should go take advantage of that.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Repetition

I was about to write about how much I love whistling the theme music to Star Trek: Deep Space 9 and annoying Graham, then I did a keyword search of the blog and see that I have already done so thrice. It reminds me of the old rule of thumb from the asshole school of comedian: "a joke just gets funnier the more times you tell it."

Oh, the eternal joys.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Again on inflation

nb. With regard to inflation, I recently saw photos and stories on Facebook of empty shelves on grocery stores in Brooklyn. This is more evidence of hidden inflation, our collective failure to appropriately price labor, or rather, or reluctance after years of low prices to accept the actual cost of labor. The stores should be paying people more to stock shelves, and these higher costs should be reflected in the prices paid.

I'm sure, in fact, that that is what is happening. People are getting the things they need from stores, but instead of paying higher prices at a given distribution point, say, Trader Joe's, they are going to another store and buying it, spending more time shopping, perhaps paying more.

Or maybe they will buy more  from Amazon.

The cultural poetics and business logic of funerals

It is reflective of where I am in life that I have gone to a lot of funerals over the last few years, and I've been to them in different types of congregations:  Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Baptist, Quaker, Catholic and one at an African-American church. I am surprised in fact that there haven't been any Jewish ceremonies mixed in there. There is a lot of variety in how people are sent off.

Most notably, one Episcopalian Church, the nice one up on Franklin St next to the planetarium, insists upon a pretty rigorous minimalism and uniformity. Short testimonials, always the same readings from scripture. I spoke to a guy involved in the congregation, and there's a clear purpose to this: supporting the idea that we are all the same before God.

I have spoken at a number of them, a couple in Episcopalian churches, one Presbyterian. In at least one of them we were given pretty rigid time-boxes by the minister, part of the understanding that this is, after all, both their business (so they have to manage their hours) and a pretty standardized show where they understand generically what their audience wants and can tolerate. What plays in Peoria, as it were. I get that.

Last Sunday I went to a Baptist funeral. This was downtown Chapel Hill, so not quite your garden variety Baptist funeral, but it was distinct certainly from the "mainline" protestant (Episcopalian, Presbyterian) funerals I get more of. The people spoke for longer. As long as they wanted to. They told however many stories about their loved one as they wanted to. It was lovely. The preacher spoke for longer, and it really felt like he knew the family very well.  The widow asked him, and him personally, to sing "Amazing Grace," so he sat down at the piano and sang it, in front of 500-600 people, and then had the congregation join in at the end. It was very moving. I learned a lot about the guy and his family that I had never known, but that is pretty standard, and that's why I go, in the end.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

More thoughts on inflation and labor markets

I went to the dentist on a couple of weeks back, what I can't help but to think of as "spa day," because I get to recline in a comfortable chair while women minister to me. My dentist even gives me a mouth and jaw massage at the end of the exam while checking for cancer! Awesome.

 There was a new hygienist, as there often is. That is not reflective on the quality of the dentist I go to (she is the best), but rather the state of the labor market for hygienists. There just aren't enough. So they can go where they want to and can always get more money.

This one used to work at the UNC dental school, where she liked participating in the mission of preparing new generations, but her advisory case load and hours were excessive, made it hard to get home to see kids. Basically, the university treated her as captive. So she left.

Her husband has been driving for UPS for a long time. They want to kick him upstairs too, but he likes the fixed schedule and is fine with the money and doesn't want the additional burden associated with managing other people.

Recently moved from Hillsborough to Chatham County so they could get a bigger piece of land. They are perfectly happy with their lifestyle.

This may be a little known piece of the inflation puzzle -- a lack of productivity growth leeds larger employers to expect higher hours at more responsible position as employees mature -- but people push back against it by not progressing. After all, the research on the "hedonic treadmill," which states that peoples' sense of overall happiness and wellbeing plateaus at incomes above $75k -- has been pretty broadly disseminated. People just have to resist the blandishments of consumer society.

I think that the fact is that, in geographic regions where there is affluence, it is perfectly easy for people to earn a living, so long as people (and their employers) are willing to abide by basic social norms -- employees accept roles within teams, get to work on time, be courteous, etc. This is easy enough to do for people with decent educations and decent role models in their households and communities.

Unfortunately, we aren't doing that well at facilitating these things for a lot of our population. Government owns some of it, individuals own some of it.

We had a chair delivered from a home design chain recently. It was delivered by a couple of guys, one of them straight up African-American, the other might have been Hispanic/African-American (he stayed in the house very briefly, which is why I can't remember). In any case, they drove up from a warehouse near Charlotte. The black guy said that he was from Maryland and that when he lived there he "mostly never worked," but since he had come down here he had been working steadily for 7 years. He was proud of it.

I think the idea that African-American males don't want to work is purest bullshit. Sure, some don't. I think many are just frustrated and stymied, and are hamstrung by nonsense misdemeanors on their records for shit that would never have stuck to a middle class white kid. Where the cops might have driven a kid home and talked to his parents, have made an effort to keep their record clean so as not to "mess up their lives." I have been getting to know a guy from Durham for whom this is absolutely true.

But now I am rambling.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A quotable boy

So the mom of a friend of Graham's was walking by with her husband and said that her son was going to an Episcopalian Youth group on Sundays. So we are not big churchgoers, and in that regard I consider us typical Episcopalians, but any opportunity to get Graham together with friends is OK by me, and she said we didn't need to be active members of the congregation. So I went back inside to tell Mary about it before I forgot it.

Graham was in the kitchen emptying the dishwasher at the time. I told them, then hurried off to go running. Mary tells me that he looked at her and said: "Would this be an appropriate time for me to say the I know what that is and I'm not interested?"

That's my boy.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

A Tragedy

There's a story in today's Wall Street Journal about a couple of twin boys from a small town in Texas. It is in the vein of the blue/red nation split that has been a major theme leading up to and following the most recent election. It is meant to somehow encapsulate the experience of "a generation of rural youths who enlisted after 9/11 and shouldered the greatest burden for the nation's defense." A legitimate point, no doubt.

It starts with one of the brothers looking at his twin in his casket. OK, obviously we are meant to feel sad, and rightly so, clearly the guy has made the ultimate sacrifice, and has earned our respect.

I keep reading. "Chris was a born fighter from Red Oak Texas, a Marine commando with six tours of duty. In combat, he could orchestrate from the chaos a lethal strike by jet fighters, helicopters, mortar, and artillery, raining hot metal on enemies a few hundred yards away." (Italics mine) By this point I can only think "what the fuck?" This is not the language of journalism, but a lyrical aggrandizing of war, like the heavy metal Go Pro videos of choppers and dudes running with guns and explosions that the military runs to make war look cool.

I keep reading. Mike and Chris are the kids of a truck driver and a nurse, who tried to raise them right, but they were rambunctious and got into trouble anyway. They got into fights, did and sold drugs, one got shipped off to a relative, one went into rehab and got a schizophrenia diagnosis. Frankly, given their rap sheets, they would probably still be behind bars if they were black.

Instead, they found a path into the military. One of them enlisted on 9/12/01, the other soon thereafter. The military was good for them, until they saw too many bodies explode. More mental illness and drugs. Eventually one of them kills himself. Not so very long after that, the other one kills himself too. They are buried together.

It is indeed sad, tragic even. But I can't help but to go back to "raining hot metal." Bullshit.

In fact, my mind goes straight back to Ron Suskind's The Price of Loyalty, about Paul O'Neill's brief tenure as Treasury Secretary in the W administration in 2001-2002. When Bush came into office, before 9/11, Cheney and Rumsfelt were already chomping at the bit to get back into Iraq. 9/11 provided a watertight pretext to go back in.

I have said it before, I'll say it again: 9/11 was the fork in the road, the great lost opportunity for the United States. We had the goodwill of the world, and we squandered it. The Axis of Evil speech and the revanchist military adventurism upon which we embarked under the flag of "hitting back" have led us needlessly into a world of hurt. If we had instead earmarked $50 billion towards public health initiatives in the developing -- and especially the developing Islamic -- world, the arc of history might be bending in very different ways.

We didn't. That is the tragedy. Mike and Chris led challenged lives, and were unquestionably brave. In peacetime, the military could have been the best thing that ever happened to them. In the end, they were sacrificed on an altar of raining metal.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Loyalty, Brexit, Choice

There was an article in the Times today about how American owners are messing up British soccer. I wasn't aware there were so many American owners, but I totally get it. Sports teams and their relationships to their fan bases are a special team, as we Tar Heels know. And, as I think I've shared over the years, my own relationship to UNC has been frayed in recent years, as I realize that it is as much if not more to the institution of Dean Smith and Bill Friday as it is to a succession of guys who can run, jump and shoot.

When Fox Soccer started showing lots of Premier League soccer round about 2006-7, or when I first noticed it, they showed the big clubs the most:  Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, etc. But probably United most of all, so I got to know them.

And it did seem that United had a special culture under Alex Ferguson, longer tenures, greater continuity. Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney, there seemed to be a more stable core there than at other clubs.

Rooney was at the center of it all. You could tell he had issues, he was brash, I occasionally heard a story about him sleeping with somebody else's girlfriend. But he always seemed genuinely excited when he scored, he really enjoyed the game, he took it very personally in a good way. He was invested in his team.

But like all of us, he aged, and over time became less of a superstar. He did not have Giggs' preternatural longevity. So this summer, when I heard that he had spurned offers to go to America or China to cash in big and had chosen instead to return to Everton, I was impressed. I view this as like Lebron going back to Cleveland, though of course he is not at the same level as Lebron, and there is no hope whatsoever of his sparking a miracle there.

So it turns out, according to the Google, that Rooney returns to Old Trafford today. It also turns out that there was a lot of criticism of his self-centeredness and money-grubbing through his years at MU. Guess I missed that. Certainly I don't have time to read English gossip columns. I basically like the guy. So shoot me.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Letting go

There is so much to do, so many responsibities. This morning I went to my meeting, had to take some stuff to the dump, in the middle of it Natalie texts me because she doesn't know where to go for her college counseling session. Should she text the woman she was meeting with, she asks me. I was about to call the woman myself, but then I realized: no, my daughter has a "smart phone," and she needs to learn how to use it. Which means dialing somebody up and calling them.

Then I get home. Mary is in the middle of taking some light fixture out of the ceiling and having problems, a task I wasn't expecting to fall on my lap. Natalie needs to print her transcript/resume. The college counselor needs to be briefed on where we are in the process. Marvin shows up to do some painting. Graham needs to go to martial arts.

And this is all going during what is supposed to be blogging time, people. It is hard for me to let go of shit and let it flow. I know I cain't do all of this, but sometimes it is just so hard to coordinate and facilitate and breathe.

My shoulder is still hurting, I know that I should not play soccer today, much as it kills me.

In the background of all of this, we've still got to get the house prepped for Graham's birthday party tomorrow.

Why you should want to read about all of this, I can't tell you. Perhaps it is by way of excusing the lack of thoughtful blog posts.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Mountain Road

We were off at a family wedding in Rome, Georgia over the weekend. A few reflections:

  • The south is not dying everywhere. On a walk we visited a cemetery up on a hill over the local river. At the top was a memorial to the confederate soldier, of whom 300 were buried there. Nothing was defaced. Down at the bottom we saw there was a big statue in honor of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate bigwig and an early leader of the Klan. 
  • On the way back, we took back roads through the North Carolina mountains rather than staying on the interstate. It worked out well. The roads were much prettier, though the most remarkable thing was how hard it is to have a business even on what should have been pretty key tourist thoroughfares. There were of course the familiar bunches of failed and mouldering motels, some transformed into long-term low-cost housing for itinerant workers and/or people with otherwise unstable life situations. But we stopped at a place with a beautiful overlook along a ridge near the Nantahala Valley. There was a nice outdoor eating space, but the bar/restaurant was defunct, and its sitting space was served by a taco truck, which itself was only just opening up when we got there around 1 (maybe they were watching from across the road and nobody had stopped, and didn't want to waste fuel?). In any case, the tacos were perfectly delicious.  I should have tipped more.
  • But it was hard to concentrate on the scenery, because we were focusing on listening to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a very good and insightful book.  It was just long enough to occupy us the whole way there and back. I will have to comment on it in another post, the work day beckons.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Hidden inflation

Central banks, the Fed in particular, have been concerned in recent years about their inability to push inflation above 2%, which would let them raise rates and provide them with ammo for the next recession. This evening, at Nantucket Grill, I saw numerous signs of hidden inflation.

For starters, on Tuesday, cake night, you now need to order a $13 entree to get free cake. Used to be $10. So lower discounting, or greater pricing power.

At check out, they tacked on a 20% mandatory tip for our group of 7. 18% used to be standard.

Most importantly, service was slow, and in particular they had a hard time getting bread to our table. This reflects super tight labor markets and high demand.

All told, it took us 2 hours for what should and could have been a 90 minute meal. Which is a pretty big hidden cost.

Also, they put a bunch of squash in my pasta dish. I don't know what the fuck was up with that.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

I/O Ratios writ large

I have written about input/output ratios before at the micro level, but a post on Facebook brought me back to the theme at the macro level.

A friend of mine said that he was spending sometimes 5-6 hours a day watching CNN or MSNBC and that he knew it was bad and felt he was addicted to outrage. In the wake of the election, this is a trap many of us have fallen into, to varying extents. There is so much going on that it is impossible to stay on top of it all. It has felt often like a Bannon-led blitzkrieg, to push liberal buttons as hard as possible to keep us trapped in front of our television sets, while who knows what the fuck else is going on. In some regards, the answer to that may be as little as possible, as the Trump administration has sought to lay siege to the deep state by what can only be termed "malign neglect." As Exhibit A, I offer this Michael Lewis article on the current status of the Department of Energy.

But look at that, there I go advocating more input. The key thing now is that there is a limit to how much we can take in, and how we should be taking it in. I kind of feel that any data that can be consumed within the walls of one's own house, car, or office should be limited. There is inherent value in going out and talking to other people, particularly people who are different from you, by virtue of whatever, political inclination, race, class, you name it. Often the conversations are frustrating. Often engaging in them is an art in self-restraint.

OK. Having said this, I have a call scheduled now with a young woman who used to be my next door neighbor in Princeton, whose dad went to high school with Mary, so I can recommend her for a job with the CTO of the New York Times, who I went to Yale with. These are all people I love, members of my tribe. I'll talk to some different people later.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

What to do

As Hurricane Harvey begins to abate, a tension wells up within me about appropriate responses. Even as the floodwaters have risen, there are a host of voices focusing on the climate-change and other political themes around the storm, including: to what extent did climate change exacerbate the storms impact? To what extent is the damage a function of poor urban planning?  Will willingness to fund relief follow a political path (i.e. will Republicans who balked at funding relief for Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast change their tune for a Texas-focused storm?)  Are inland people inappropriately subsidizing those who live close to coasts?

These are all valid questions.  Is it the time to be asking them now, or do they just distract from a proper focus on supporting first responders?  Do they need to be asked now just because media cycles turn so quickly, and if we are focused next week on North Korea or Russia or some other left-right violent incident?

None of these are easy questions.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Re-entry

I went with Natalie to her high school to do an administrative chore to get her a parking place.  I wasn't prepared for how emotional it would be, between the fact that she -- my little girl -- is a senior in high school, the level of stress and anticipation in the students themselves (or was I just projecting?), and me just settling back into my own groove and getting things back in gear. And just being tired from a long weekend of the Be Loud! concerts.

At the high school, they were serving food near the entrance. I am guessing that that is part of a government program to make sure that lower income students have something in their belly before school starts, an unquestionable good thing. But I found myself kind of wishing it wasn't happening right there at the front door, as if to begin the big status sort (as if class weren't already visible enough) just a few steps inside the school. There was an African-American kid eating his food near us while Natalie and I were waiting for an administrator to arrive at work and let us do our business (we were early, to be sure). He was hunched over his bowl and I could sort of feel his mild shame. Or, again, I could have projected it, and just have that on my mind after reading Hillbilly Elegy as well as this excellent story in the Times about an unexpected incident of grace.

In any case, I was overall proud to be in America this morning, I was given some hope.

Though my freaking shoulder is intermittently killing me from that tumble I took this weekend on the soccer field. By now it is pretty clear that we aren't talking about muscles here, Konanc's reassurances notwithstanding. It is most likely tendons. Crabill is gonna rib me mercilessly about it.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Dip in

I usually avoid the City when we come to the New York area in August, too hot, nobody's home. Yesterday evening I made an exception to see my friend Eric who was in town from Italy. His dad is pretty sick, will probably not be long amongst us. A great great guy, it will be very sad to see him go.

So I popped in after dinner, listening to the new Jason Isbell live shows that George had ripped for me from wherever it is on the interweb that he gets music. Great great stuff. And it was a beautiful night for a drive, the air cooling. I will confess that I feel like I know the roads a little less like the back of my hand as the time of my Northern residence recedes further into the rearview.

I got off the West Side Highway at 125th Street, mesmerized by the new Columbia science building where the McDonald's used to be. Much has changed. But I was very happy to see that La Floridita, the Dominican place just North of the McDonalds (and KFC?) where I used to get 1/4 chicken with rice and beans for $2.95, had found a new, somewhat swankier home just west of the gleaming newe tower.

As I pulled up to a light, I was reminded of an incident 30ish years ago when I pulled up to 6th Ave and Central Park South. I was used to the "stop and go" style of handling red lights in the suburbs, in which we suburban boys, whose time was so valuable we needed to rush. Would pull up to a red light, stop instantaneously, and then invoke the right on red priviledge to get around the corner before the pedestrians on the sidewalk started across the street. So I tried that right there at 59th and 6th with a bunch of people on the sidewalk, but pedestrians had already started into the crosswalk. I slammed on the breaks. Hilary screamed at the top of her lungs: "You fucking idiot what the hell are you doing?!" The pedestrians cursed me and a couple hit my car with fists. No one was hurt.

And thus I learned that there is no right on red in New York City.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Brands, paralysis and value

Behavioral economists have done a lot of research on decision-making, and one of the themes they have isolated is that having too many choices makes it harder for people to make decisions. I've seen the most work on this theme around investment decisions, specifically the number of investment options that should be made available to retirement plans. Fewer is better, and some 401ks now have as few as 5 options, plus target date funds.

I think the principal holds true in life in general: faced with too many options, we get overwhelmed. My mind races to the stories of people leaving the Soviet Union for the first time back in the 80s and 90s, coming into western stores, especially in the United States, and freaking out over the surfeit of options for everything. We all have a little bit of that, and the internet makes it worse. So we revert to the tried and true, and that means brands, first and foremost. Be streamlining decision-making processes, brands help us save our most precious commodity: time, and allocate it to higher-value-add functions such as exercise, strategizing and talking to people,

This is particularly true of cheap little things, like razors. Last night Rob was showing me some Korean razors that he thinks are better than the brand I use (I'm not gonna plug here), but why should I bother looking into it, particularly since our pharmacist Steve has talked me into doubling or tripling the life of each razor cartridge by just using it longer?

Because of this, brands actually add huge value to our days by not letting us get distracted by stupid little crap. Small wonder that, when you look at world corporations, there has been an evolution from a time when the majority of their value was explained by tangible, physical assets to now, when most of the value is tied up in intangible assets like goodwill and humam capital.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Short day

What with the eclipse coming up and all, then we head up to Uncle George's in the evening.

Spent the weekend reading JD Vance's Hillbilly Elegy. The advance press was warranted on this one, it is worth reading. There may be some who resist the idea of crying for lower-income white people, on the theory that they are, after all, white, and particularly the males amongst them therefore have a couple of things going for them, however they may whine about affirmative action stacking the cards against them. I get that.

However, here's a fact: despite all the talk of the fragmentation of the media and cultural landscape, the rural and post-industrial white people have a pretty consistent cultural footprint. Fox News dominatres the ratings for news, and a lot of them watch football and baseball and like the military and flags and church. So they are pretty reachable in a way that the left is not. So it is in fact worth taking the time to understand where they are coming from.

But I shouldn't reduce the reading of Vance to merely a political exercise. This is a brave and thoughtful book, and he is clearly a pretty remarkable guy. Most importantly, he really keeps his eye on the ball, and concentrates the book on what he thinks are the most important issues in his life, and how they refract the bigger picture of America.

I remember making it halfway through Sonia Sotomayor's memoir, which has many common threads with Vance's. Then about halfway through she gets distracted talking about what a good cook she has become, as if trying to impress the reader. I think what turned me off was a little bit of vanity, which would obviously annoy me, the most humble and virtuous person on the planet. Vance does not fall into this trap.

I hope he runs for office. Anyone who calls out Mitch Daniels as his favorite politican can't be all bad. I won't promise that I would vote for him, but it would be good to keep hearing his voice.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Working vacation

It is of course a contradiction in terms.  I come up here to the Northeast in August with a few goals. First and foremost, to see family. All of Mary's people are here, and after 23 years or so they are my people too. The kids are used to seeing uncles, aunt, cousin, grandma, the sound, a play in the city. It is part of the rhythm of our life.

But, I already took a couple of weeks vacation in July. My practice is still not entirely at cruising altitude. Thankfully I don't have pressing and immediate client issues, except for figuring out how best to service my non-standard clients. But there is tons to do.

And I wake up first most mornings, and the air is cool, and I'm looking out over the water in a pretty chill locale, and days are shortened by the need to do family things in the evening... And we're having pizza tonight, so I should really exercise.

This is all layered on top of the general conflict within me of trying to figure out how best to allocate my time, feeling like I need to make good use of myself. And it is all within the context of operating within an extremely rarefied cohort in an atmosphere of extreme white privilege. So there is guilt.

Trump is 15 miles away to the south. This weekend there will be an attempt at a "March on Google" in New York. It will be interesting to see who turns out. Should I go?

Probably not. My instinct is that direct engagement with, or acknowledgement of, the extreme right is right now playing into Bannon's hands, giving Breitbart et al fodder to rile people up. This weekend, it is better to ignore them.

Or keep reading JD Vance,'s  Hillbilly Lament which I started last night. Pretty easy reading.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Finding coffee

I have written of the extent to which we, as a family, are held hostage by the tradition of afternoon coffee. It is really a little pathetic, but it's true.

Last summer we were in Normandy and, it being France, you would think that each village has a perfect little sidewalk cafe where one could get a cafe au lait and a flaky pain au chocolat while seated in the shade. But that is complete bullshit, it turns out.

Tourist bullshit. There were days when we found ourselves driving around for like 45 minutes to find something vaguely resembling this ideal. In many small villages, there is maybe a pizza place and a smelly Bar/Tabac, which would have worked for me, but not the kids. Sometimes there's not even that.

There is also no Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, etc. Just as many small American towns may just have a Pizza Hut or perhaps just Hunt Brothers pizza available at a convenience store (actually not horrible pizza, better than Papa John's or Domino's, and a pretty good business).

In so many ways, we constantly forget how good we have it.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Leaving it on the court

Played tennis last night, doubles, didn't play well. Last week I had played singles and had played well.

I know I know, why should you care? The point is, dear reader, that tennis has always been and continues to be an object lesson for the Grouse in self-control. I feel crappy when I play poorly, and it becomes hard to distinguish between performance and self-esteem, it gets hard to remember that having played poorly doesn't reflect badly on me as a person. In fact, upon reflection, I can see that letting it get to me reflects slightly badly on me as an adult, whereas the actual playing does not, except to the extent that it is impacted by my poor self management.

The key thing is getting some exercise, meeting and hanging with some folx, and so on. I get that as soon as I get home and nestle into the couch for some family viewing. (Right now "Stranger Things" on NetFlix, a production of some Durham boys and a woman I went to college with, oddly enough)

In the end, all I can really say is praise allah that I don't play golf. That would be a mess. Especially for you readers.



Tuesday, August 08, 2017

More on Ferrante

There is a temptation to call the Neapolitan novels a Bildungsroman, a narrative of personal formation and growth, and to an extent it is true. But in some sense it is the tale of the de-formation of personhood, the excessive and lifelong interdependency of two persons, namely Lenu (our narrator) and Lina, her best friend, rival, and other half.

The question that naturally arises is: how much is this norm, how much exception?  I.e. are we all like that, or is this a little extreme. As so many questions, I think the answer is probably: both. That is, the Lenu/Lina relationship is over the top, but in so being it digs into the heart of many human relationships, that many of us skate on the edge of excessive "enmeshment" (a term a counsellor friend I was talking with yesterday suggested) as we go through life, ever charting our own courses and being pulled back into the orbits of our key partners in life, our parents, spouses, friends, children, etc.

This is before we even begin to discuss Lenu and Lina as "types" representative of historical courses, Lenu, like a leftist/literary Forrest Gump, travels out and everywhere, becomes through her spouse and kids a global citizen, Lina never goes anywhere, but delves deep into the historical roots and bowels of Naples, all the while becoming ever more complex, deeper and richer. Or not.

It is a big burgeoning troth of food for thought. Them belly full but me hungry.

Monday, August 07, 2017

The Neapolitan Novels

I'm not sure when I started them, not all that long ago, it's kind of a blur, but I pushed through to the end of volume 4 of Elena Ferrante's quartet yesterday.

It is a remarkable series of books. To fully encapsulate it, I have to resort to Tolstoy's perhaps apocryphal rejoinder when someone asked him what Anna Karenina was about. He started to recite the book from the beginning. And Tolstoy is, in the end, the best analogy to Ferrante, though her project is closer to War and Peace than it is to Anna Karenina in the sheer breadth of its scope and ambition. It is closer to Faulkner, though, in the intensity of its focus on place, in this case Naples.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing is that, although it is told from the first person, Ferrante resists the temptation to have what Forster calls "flat" characters. Instead, the characters are all more or less "round," complex, with multidimensional motivations for their paths in life. While there's no doubt that some are more fully-fleshed than others, there's at least an attempt at some depth wherever possible, which is not chopped liver, as far as novel-writing goes.

And for this reason, having finished it, I am ever so slightly tempted to go back and read it again. Not that that's gonna happen, it's kindred to the urge to have another baby long after you've really sworn it off and can see the finish line of emptynesterdom.

But I will read more Ferrante in time, to be sure.

For now, Deep Space 9 beckons.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

The vanishing of labor, continued

Building on this theme from a few weeks back.

The whole idea that all jobs can be automated away and that therefore there will be no work in the future is predicated on the idea that the only work worth doing is the jobs that are being done. So, if groceries can be rung up, or assets allocated, or loans underwritten by bots, then everybody should be sitting around.

Meanwhile, climate change continues apace, there is food insecurity in Africa and food deserts in lower income neighborhoods, obesity is on the rise everywhere, everybody feels like they need a gun because everybody else has one, especially those bad people over there. There is horrific inequality all over the place, health care cannot be equitably provided, etc. etc. Globally, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and Palestine, amongst others, present seemingly insoluble challenges.

I am reminded of Giuliani's sneering branding of Obama as a "community organizer." It seems to me that community organizing is the thing we need most, only we need it at a much higher level than Obama was doing it in Chicago. In 2008, he seemed like he might have raised his game to do it at a global level, but that proved to be too great of a challenge even for him. The Nobel Committee fell flat on its face fawning before him, even as McConnell and the Tea Party threw up a wall of white resentment. Boehner may have represented a bridge not taken.

This is not Obama's fault. It is our fault, and our problem, and our path out.

It is not that work is vanishing, but that there is so so very much work to be done, and the very best work. We just need to figure out how to do it. Melinda Gates is doing a pretty good job showing white Americans an ideal of how it might be done. She is the new Princess Diana.

Time to swim.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Thank you, Jesus

I went to a pig picking out west of Yanceyville yesterday, and was guided in my way there by the ever faithful Sergei and Larry, appearing in the guise of Google Maps. They took me down many a country road that I ne'er had seen. I was intrigued by many things, but first and foremost by the "thank you Jesus" signs that I saw in many yards. They were so uniform, I assumed that they must have been distributed in a top-down fashion, and that it couldn't have come from just one church. I assumed as well that, if WalMart or some other retailer was selling them, there would be more than one variety.  And since there was punctuation absent, to wit, a comma that should have been there, I assumed that it must have come from somewhere within the Trump organization. It seemed like Bannon's work, most likely.

But when I got home later and had sufficient bandwidth, I put the question to Sergei and Larry directly, and they informed me that it was in fact a bottom up effort, founded by a kid from nearby Asheboro who has founded a movement to put these in many yards.


So I guess my suspicions were unfounded.

However, given that they appeared to be perched in the yards of many presumed Trump voters, I still don't get it. It would be good to have more discussions with rural Christians to understand how they square Trump with the savior.  I just don't get it.

Today, at RiteAid, I took my blood pressure from the little machine there. When I was done, it said something to me and I was like: "what?"  I thought it had said "Praise God." Then I reflected, and decided it must have said "Great job." I guess I am a little jumpy on the question of Christian theocracy these days. But who could blame me?

Clearly, this week's events show that the Mooch, if no one else, walks in the footsteps of Jesus.

Discussing rugs

I have been encouraging Mary to make a decision about a rug for the rec room for some time. Just now she called me in there to help her look at some options, and there were many variables to consider, culled from design web sites she had looked at and imagined scenarios of guests in the home that happen infrequently.  Also perceived budgetary constraints, she thinking that she needs to spend little money because many months ago I suggested that we should have a budget for the overall project of redoing the rec room.  In my mind, having a budget doesn't mean doing everything as cheaply as possible, it just means having some sort of framework in place for the overall spend. I like spreadsheets.

She makes me crazy with some of this shit, and I don't necessarily articulate my craziness well. I think the root issue is that I have my own loopy cogitations I am continually trying to sort through, so that being dragged into her overthinking just adds insult to my own already bad enough injury.

Also, she wants everything to be perfect because she's afraid she'll be locked in forever, whereas I want to have it good enough so we can move forward and achieve the ultimate aim -- having it look good enough so we can host more.

All in all, it's just marriage, as complex an evolutionary process as one is likely to find.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Levanter

I read through this 1972 Eric Ambler novel between volumes 3 and 4 of Ferrante. A palate-cleanser, as it were.

At first it seemed sort of slow to get going, kind of quaint in the degree of technical detail into which it delved around various matters concerning the manufacture of this or that (the Levanter in the title is an industrial exec with an engineering background), and in the scale of evil contemplated by the neerdowells he runs into and must foil, as of course he must.

But Ambler was one of Hitchcock's core writers, and not for nothing. From improbable material, by 2017 standards, he was able to weave an impressive set of conflicts and plot. Relative to the hyperactive and explosive plots we are used to from novels and movies today, it is slow, but worthy reading. This is one of his best.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Quick fix

I have been kvetching about the interior of our old Volvo off and on for about two years now, judging by the blog (I see entries from November 2015 mentioning it). A couple of times I have been on the point of plowing money into it, then held back for this or that reason.

Just yesterday, Natalie went and got her "after 9s" license, meaning she is now just as adult a driver as I am, in the eyes of the law. To celebrate, she went out to a movie and then hung out with her friend's Dora and Susanna.  So she merits a car, according to the law of the suburbs.

The other evening I was looking at places where the header (interior fabric) of the Volvo was hanging down by the front and rear windshields, and I thought:  I wonder if a stapler could help with that?  So I went inside and got a stapler, and I'll be damned if it didn't do a good job addressing the basic problem.

The main thing that had been bothering me in the interior had been the fabric hanging down from the sunroof, which just looked crappy and filled me with a little shame. I thought:  "There's no way the stapler will work here." But I tried it anyway and, though it doesn't look good if you look right at it, it does hold the fabric up.

Which just goes to show you that people, me in particular, should not overthink and overfeel things.

And, with the money I saved, I was able to make a small contribution to the website tracking Susanna's dad's battle against leukemia, or, rather, informing the community around him. Not that I actively thought about it that way, but that's what I did.

Moving on now.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Reality check

Headed to lunch today, was right on time, which means I wasn't 5 minutes early, which in business circles is optimal. So I was rushing, and I was thinking the place I needed to pull in was 100 yards down the way, when in fact it was right there. I could have just gone further down and pulled in to the other end of the parking lot, but I didn't.  I had accelerated needlessly, and I veered into the parking lot and slammed on the brakes.

The people at the Subaru dealership had recommended that I go ahead and get new brakes, while the people at AutoLogic said I had another 7500 miles before I did. At that moment, it felt like the people at the dealership were right.

The moral to the story, if you hadn't gotten there, was that I should have left earlier. I have, in fact, been taking silly risks to carve 15-30 seconds off of things, like being one lane to the right of where I need to be 300 yards down the road, making it necessary to beat the car to my left off the line. This is not a hard thing to do if I focus on the light and utilize the newfound advantages of my stick shift. But it is still stupid. Bad for gas mileage, bad for the car, and it makes me focus on beating somebody off the line, which is an idiotic waste of attention.

Note to self. Leave earlier.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Back from the hills

Our flight got in at around midnight last night, so I am in the wierd time warp of West-East jet lag during daylight savings. If feels like it's about 10:30 to me now, but it is past noon.  Hopefully by the time evening rolls around, I will be better synched up.

There are times when I wonder whether I would be better off with a more thematically-focused blog, and am a little envious of peers who do have more unified online presence, Anne Applebaum, say. They can freely promote themselves under their own name and build a "brand", not even as it were, for realsies. But they lack the freedom to go offroad and just wing it, which I have preserved. Sort of.

My friend Steve, a rather practical fellow, once said that he always read the Economist from the front: upon receiving it, he would read the four to five leader articles in one sitting. The Grouse, ever the contrarian, decided it made sense to read it from the back, always beginning with the weekly obituary, because this is the best way to keep things in their ultimate perspective and consider the long view of what is a life well-lived. Last week (I am two weeks behind) featured a consideration of the life of Heathcote Williams, a British poet of whom I had never heard.

In a poem called "Autogeddon," Williams referred to car travel as the "TV of travel." After almost two weeks and maybe 700 miles in the car over the last couple of weeks, I hear that. We blew in air-conditioned comfort (often not needed, given that the temp outside was 65ish much of the way) through a lot of landscape, some of it glossy, much of it less so. But I'm not gonna sit around and flagellate myself. We saw a lot of America that few people see. Flying over is even worse. Riding a bike is better from the perspective of engaging with one's surroundings, but few are those who have the time to do long bike rides, particularly when accompanied by 79- and 13-year olds. That ain't happening.

We saw some places well off the beaten path. The day before yesterday we drove from Mendocino to Sacramento to fly out, and our trip took us on Rte 20 along the northern shore of Clear Lake, California, through towns with aspirational Euro-monikers like "Lucerne" and "Nice." Clear Lake is, to be clear, a big lake, and it's pretty, but fancy it ain't. Rte 20 hugs the northern shore, skirting through communities of small houses, mobile homes, and modest eateries and hotels. Rooms at the Lake Marina Inn in Clearlake Oaks, with spectacular views across the lake at what we would consider mountains back east, can be had for $69 a night.  On the internet they look clean.

It's reminiscent of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, and a reminder that there is much beauty and comfort to be had for the American middle class, if it can just figure out how to keep a job that will let it schedule vacation time. And stave off obesity and opioid dependency and death by 300 million firearms. No mean feat.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

In the hills

We have now made our way down the Pacific Coast from central Oregon to Little River, CA, right near Mendocino. Between the two we have gone through some of the most starkly beautiful, and at the same time intensely isolated, places in the lower 48. Many's the time I'd gaze through the windshield and think:  "man, it would be cool to live out in these hills, away from the pushes and pulls of civilization, yatta yatta yatta".

Thing is, I am apparently not alone in this thought.  Thing is, it would appear that these wilds up here attract all kinds of eccentrics. There were lots of dirty, bearded hitchhikers (an objective description, mind you), and other wild-eyed types walking on the sides of roadways off in the middle of nowhere. Lots of hardscrabble mobile home communities.

Up near Eugene, CA, we stayed in a Hampton Inn out near the highway (a mistake, by the way, the old town was cure and there were some groovy looking inns that were probably cheaper. I just didn't have the energy to research cool lodgings for every night). Between our hotel and the breakfast place we hit, maybe 150 yards away, we passed 4 homeless people. And another guy sitting alone in a pickup truck with a covered back with a bunch of crumpled up Bud tall boys thrown back there.

I think it not implausible to guess that many come up hear for the promise of an independent, living off the land lifestyle, and end up having economic difficulties. Mary thinks I am overgeneralizing, but I think I have some experience at the intersection of substance abuse and mental illness.

In Garberville, CA, in the heart of Humboldt County -- an area much-mythologized in my younger days -- we had lunch at a little deli. Sitting there waiting for our sandwiches, we saw every stereotype of a pothead ever dreamed up by Hollywood central casting. Getting gas after lunch, I remarked to my mom what I joy of a sight I must have been when I came home from college back in the day, and she had a good laugh. Moving on.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

On the coast, with a novel

We are here at Waldport, Oregon, in a beach house that looks like it is right out of the Brady Bunch, looking out at the ocean in the distance, down the bluff.  It is a perfect beach house, Mary did miraculously well to find it.

I am making my way to the end of the third volume of Ferrante's neapolitan novels. Although I have resisted the temptation to try to learn about the author, out of respect for her desired anonymity, I am understanding the urge to look into it. In so many ways, these books are the perfect bookend to Knausgaard. He of the north, she of the south. He purportedly autobiographical and true to life, narrator and author entirely fused as one, but so often stretching credulity, in the sense that it seems impossible that one could remember so much detail, so we often find ourselves asking: could that really be true?

Ferrante, on the other hand, is the opposite.  It is all supposed to be fiction, but it seems so real that the question that constantly pops into my head is: "could this be anything but autobiographical?" And yet I feel as if it is only right to let the question hand in the air, and just keep going.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Theme music

As Graham and I have made our way through the various serieses within the Star Trek universe, or whatever you want to call it. One thing that has remained consistent is how enjoyable it is to whistle the theme music, particularly because Graham doesn't like it at all when I do it. Or even when I sing along. Recently, he has taken to climbing on top of me and trying to hold my mouth shut and otherwise squash my head in a mostly vain attempt to stop me from joining in the theme to Deep Space 9. So much so that I have learned to prophylactically remove my glasses and put them on the little end table/bookshelf, lest they fall victim to Graham's aggressions.

Natalie, by way of contrast, very much enjoys singing along to theme music with me, a tradition which we kicked off back when we were watching Parks and Rec together, and which has continued on as we make our way through Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Let me just say that season 3 of Kimmy has them reaching fairly hard with the old plot generation algorithms, though the last one (episode 11) was nothing short of genius, primarily due to a tremendous guest performance by Rachel Dratch plus Tina Fey too.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Moving things out

No martial arts for Graham today.  There has been a lot of crap piling up around our rec room and mud room for months. I often look at it and think "why doesn't Mary get this shit out of here?" The fact is, by so doing, I am really ignoring the hard facts of sedimented gender roles in our household: it is 99% a male function to carry things out of the house. It just is. Trash, compost, stuff headed to the thrift store, even bags when we head out on family trips. It is mostly the job of me and, to the extent I can draw him into it, Graham.

Mary does much of the carrying things in, specifically groceries, and to a lesser extent mail.

If I let this bother me, and am just letting myself get foolishly sucked into a mental and psychic battle that does me no good at all.

So my Subaru is now jam-packed with stuff and I just need to figure out which lucky thrift store will be the winner. Mary saw a nice little informal jacket for me at the Goodwill on Weaverdairy just the other day. Why she didn't snap it up, I can't tell you. I must coach her to trust her instincts more.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Flowers in the crevasses

On the front page of the Journal today there is a story about Nike and Amazon. Basically, Nike hadn't let Amazon sell its branded products directly because it didn't want to give up control of its branding and also wanted to maintain higher margins, but lots of 3rd party resellers had been selling Nike on the Amazon platform anyway. What is interesting is where they got their products. Many of them apparently scour discounters like TJ Maxx, Walmart, even Nike's own website, hoover up stuff, and then sell it on Amazon.  Really small players, like one person with two or three helpers.

It is truly astounding how markets work, how people can be disciplined about pricing, see opportunities, and dive in their and make things work. In aggregate, the third-party resellers were in effect eroding Nike's power over the presentation of its own brand, which in turn pressured, if you will, Phil Knight to toodle up from Beaverton, Oregon and do a deal with Mr. Bezos up in Seattle.

The economy will continue to change. As AirBnb, Uber, and Lyft change lodging and transportation, new niches will appear. Already the question of little amenities in AirBnbs arises. If shared soap and shampoo is not attractive, who will scale up the delivery of miniatures to AirBnb owners? (thinking for just a second: Amazon) What about new kinds of hostels for Uber and Lyft drivers who spend 4 days a week in higher rent locations like the Bay area then retreat to where they live? (Probably someone on AirBnb) I'm pretty sure this is happening. Uber and Lyft should be gathering data (or someone should) to help drivers shift between metro areas in response to shifts in volume, perhaps for events, or for seasons. If, for example, there are parking constraints around beaches in summer, and a lack of public transportation, we should see Uber/Lyft van services arise that can provide fluid, variable capacity between places on, say, Long Island, and Jones Beach, for example. I just read that institutional buyers have been buying houses and apartments in choice neighborhoods and turning them into AirBnbs, which has in turn impacted the availability of housing in some markets. And has riled neighbors.

On the other hand, friends in Princeton just built a spare room on the back of their house and are clearing $3k a month from it. I stayed there in March (for free, thank you). It was nice.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

No NPR in the car

Driving Graham to chess camp in the mornings this week. Although NPR is often a constant companion for our family in the car, I have been leaving it off this week, to foster conversation.  I have to start most of it, which is fine.

Things we hit today:

  • There are apparently no attractive girls in the 7th grade at Phillips. I find that surprising. There were a bunch when I was there. We discussed my first girlfriend, also named Mary.
  • Graham didn't really understand that I went to both AA and Al Anon, doesn't know the difference between them.  We will continue this discussion, maybe tomorrow.
  • Graham is not ready to learn to shave the little bit of peach fuzz off his top lip. I didn't expect that he would be. We left it that he will tell me when he wants to. I will try to come back to it in a few months if I don't hear from him (I doubt I will). 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The bubble in hand held devices

No, not those.

What I mean is the ones containing, meat, cheese, and the like.

At the airport in DC I had breakfast bao, steamed Chinese buns like the roast pork buns available at Chinese bakeries.  I used to snag them for breakfast near Penn Station back in the day, ones with traditional Chinese fillings, and they were good. These airport ones had bacon, egg and cheese, egg and spicy sausage, etc. They were fine but not exceptional. Not as good as the traditional Chinese versions, nor as good as bacon, egg and cheese on a hard roll or biscuit. Admittedly, the portion size was not excessive and, in the combo of two with a perfectly decent cup of coffee, they offered reasonable value.

Then yesterday I went to Makus, a new empanada place out where 54 hits Garrett Road and 751. The empanadas were passable and looked cute, but were nothing special from a taste perspective. The rice and beans side was probably from enormous cans of beans. But basically they were nothing to write home about, much less blog...

If I didn't have a bigger point to make, that is. The food truck bubble has long since passed its apogee. Food is not better because it comes in a truck. The movement is basically a cost and regulatory arbitrage deal: you don't have to pay rent, AC, plumbing, all these costs that a brick and mortar restaurant would. The workers suffer in the heat of the truck, sweating profusely into their goatees and multiple piercings.

I think the same thing is happening with the street food scene. Empanadas can be great, as can burrito-like things from many cultures (we had good Asian quasi-burritos in New Haven in March, and the Chinese burger I had in Oxford last year was delish). But they have to be done well and distinctively. If you just wrap meat, cheese, veggies in a different shape of bread product and denote it with a foreign word, it doesn't become better ipso facto.

There will be a shake out, these places will fail if they don't get better.



nb. This is not to say that all food trucks or hand helds are bad, many are products of diligent and creative foodies. But they don't win just cuz.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Self management

In DC this morning, stayed in a very lovely AirBnB in Mt Pleasant, then had to make for Reagan National Airport, so conveniently well-served by the yellow line. Left at 7:30 to walk to Metro, but the heat was rising already so I was sweaty by the time I got to the station.  I will spare you the details about my minor technical issues with the Metro save to say that, when I bought a day pass for the Metro the day before, I asked and was told that the pass worked on both Metro and buses.  THIS IS NOT TRUE. It messed me up and cost me a little money. Nuffsaid on that.

Anyhoo, I was sweaty when I got to the Columbia Heights station, but I had built in a pretty good margin for error for my flight. Or so I thought...

Actually, I had, but managing the uncertainty of whether or not that was the case is always challenging.  On the train platform there was a mob and the train was standing there empty. Medical emergency. The train moved soon enough.

I got to the airport an hour and 40 minutes before my flight, and walked down to the gate and saw there was no line whatsoever at security. Great. Except that the woman who was letting people into the line said:  "No, you've got to go down to the other concourse, your flight's down there."  So I turned around and walked the 200 yards or so down the way. And as I did, I looked, and in the distance I saw lots of bodies in silhouette down the way and had a moment's "oh no!" flash through my brain. Not a freak out, just a little warning.

And I recognized what was happening, and just kept walking at a reasonable pace till I got down there and saw that the lines weren't really long.

I wasn't really worried about missing my plane by now, mind you.  It was more about getting food and coffee.

But the main thing is that airport experiences give me/us opportunities to observe myself in moments of potential stress and use data to manage myself. Yesterday I checked the status of parking at RDU online and realized that I was going to need to park in an offsite lot, so I left 15 minutes earlier than normal. And probably needed no more than 10 of those 15.  Last night I asked my host about typical lines at National, and he gave me a departure recommendation, then checked to see that there weren't big delays on the Metro line.

And so, by asking lots of questions and using data, I managed through nicely. And even had time to blog. And try out some of the breakfast bao (chinese rolls) here on the concourse. OK, not great. But different, and not expensive by airport standards.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The vanishing of labor?

Some years ago, it must have been five or so because he passed away in 2013, I was sitting with my dad in Hillsborough at Weaver Street and dad said: "There's going to be a huge problem because all the jobs are going to disappear as technology takes over all the simple tasks." Of course, since dad said it, I immediately thought: "that's total bullshit" and began ruminating on why it must not be so.

Over the last few days, a couple of very smart people advanced the same argument, and indeed this way of thinking has more or less entered the mainstream. One guy I was talking to speculated that idle males would become a problem in America just like it has in the Arab world, where it is often considered a key factor in facilitating the rise of first Al-Qaeda and then, presumably, ISIS

Reading the recent survey in The Economist of the evolution of the drone really does cause me to think about how the global supply chain of services is being dramatically reshaped, and predictions about driverless trucks in the not-too-distant future also make it easy to envision a world in which there is not much of a place for quasi- to semi-educated men.

Indeed, there is a parallel thread out there around the opioid epidemic and more broadly the "deaths of despair" most convincingly brought to light by the work of Angus Deaton and Ann Case of Princeton, suggesting that people are dying because they have no place in the world. And the was indeed presaged by the declining population in what was once the Soviet Union owing to alcoholism and smoking as people were flummoxed from loss of place in the world and the failure to find a viable economic model, all of which created the opening for Putin.

I am not so jaundiced about the whole thing. Yes, plenty of jobs are going to be destroyed. And yes, plenty of people, many of them men, are going to have to figure out what the hell to do with their lives to feel decent about themselves. And yes, the easiest way to do that is to give them uniforms and guns and let them go out and shoot, beat or oppress somebody. But it doesn't have to be so. People are educable, and they are not all evil, even the white guys who voted for Trump. In some ways, the opioid epidemic is bringing them to their knees and making them recognize that there is a place for government and for new paradigms that offer a hope of life.

This piece in today's Times was inspiring in particular along these lines.

Anyhoo, it's Father's Day. Time to go downstairs and start complaining about being hungry. 5 more hours to indulge my inner slacker, who has actually been grinding through an intermittently interesting book on a chapter in the history of finance.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Me, the screen, and you

Just got back from my Saturday morning meeting, prime blogging time, to find my browser clogged with tabs: hotel booking, other peoples' portfolios, calendars, all about planning for the future, near-term and short, except the New York Times, which I had opened to try to figure out what kind of crazy shit Trump had tweeted this morning. I suppose I could use Twitter or just Google "Trump tweets." I had to close all of that stuff down to get back to this screen, to be alone with my keyboard, in preparation for the Deep Thoughts with which I have tasked myself to produce, all for you, dear reader.

Busy busy week, though it may not have looked at it to see me in my office. Talked to a former employer about taking over their largish 401k, prepped for and met with a client (an '84 Tiger who lives elsewhere), finished up all of the requirements for my CFP, took Graham to the pool and got thundered out but ate a freaking burger anyway, took mom in for a doctor's visit, swam, played tennis, went running, did due diligence on vacation... frankly, I can't remember what all I did, but I know I was busy!

Somebody is trying to recruit me to run for Town Council. On the one hand, it could be very interesting. On the other, a huge potential time suck, when I have manifold other commitments.

Ah well, right now it is Saturday, and tomorrow is Fathers' Day, and I am therefore declaring it extended Fathers' Day weekend. Graham will have a badly needed haircut along with a little lunch after martial arts, just because. Last night at dinner he said that it was funner to do many things with me than with mom, which should be a lesson to her: make things funner (what a fine word it is!).

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Memorial

I took Natalie to NC Girls' State at Catawba College in Salisbury today. On the way we stopped at the rest area at Exit 100 to do what one does in such places, while there we noticed it was the home of the North Carolina Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, which we duly checked out. It was a nice enough memorial, and will get nicer as the trees grow taller over time, but I had to wonder, "what the heck is it doing out here at a rest stop?" It's not really a destination kind of place.

I tried to take a picture, but my phone was being sketchy, I need to create some room on it, so it balked.

Then we proceeded on to Salisbury, the home of Cheerwine, to check it out and have lunch. Salisbury is a nice old town, the county seat of Rowan County, with a significant physical downtown. They are doing all the things municipalities do to bring people back downtown, but with limited success. There were a number of places open serving food, we ate at one of them (Sweet Meadows Cafe, I'm 90% sure we made the right choice). The place has tons of potential.

So if you're going to spend a couple of million dollars building a memorial, why not put it in a place where it might serve as a destination? Where you could have a little center that educates people about the war?  Where there could be some synergies with the local economy.

As it is, it just seems like a waste. The only people who benefit from the memorial, month in month out, are the landscapers who cut the grass and trim the hedges. Really, it's not particularly memorable.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Palliative care and medical costs

At a panel on life sciences venture capital and life sciences in the Triangle the other day, there was a guy from the venture arm of Blue Cross Blue Shield NC and some other Blue umbrella corporation. One thing he discussed was palliative care as a big opportunity for cost reduction in our healthcare system.

It is a hard thing to talk about, but we all know it's true. Healthcare is something like 18% of GDP in the US, and we've seen stats on end of life care and how expensive it is.  I could Google them now but don't have time to, I don't need to prove this point. As Boomers continue to retire and move through retirement towards death, the problem will get worse.

A big problem with end of life costs is people and family members failing to accept the writing on the wall, that death is nigh. It is normal and natural for any organism, humans especially included, to seek to perpetuate itself. As the curve of probability tilts progressively against any given human, it's hard to accept or define the point at which it's best to throw in the towel. If there is a 15% chance of two years' survival at the cost of $300,000 and a lot of pain, is it worth it?  People answer this question differently, based on where they are in life and where they are with loved ones.

My mom's husband David just went through this process, fighting cancer until he was out of treatments, then sustaining himself in a hopeless situation for a very short time, really until all of his family had been able to come and say goodbye and come to grips with the situation. Then he let go.

Around the time of the Obamacare debates there was a lot of discussion of "death panels" and government stepping in to make these decisions. In practice, as I understand it, "payers" (insurers) do have discretion to fund or not fund treatment based on a probabilistic assessment of whether the treatment is likely to work for a given patient. Also, health care is effectively rationed structurally: people living close to major medical centers are able to get the best care simply by virtue of having access to doctors who are closer to the center of information flow for their disciplines. On average, they get better care.  On average, these are more affluent people.

Anyway, back to the point about end of life spending. The better people are oriented towards death, the less pain and suffering they will, perhaps, choose to put themselves through as the probability charts bend against them late in life. In this regard, Atul Gawande's Being Mortal and other books that help us think about this issue are good, as is a family culture of staying in touch and talking throughout life (so there's less unfinished business), and, for that matter, religion can help too.

Ultimately, the problem will solve itself.  People won't spend 10% of GDP on weeks of misery in hospitals.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Count pointercount

Rarely do I see a pair of stories as emblematic of where we are these days on two facing pages of a newspaper as a pair in today's Wall Street Journal. On one side of the fold, a story about how deferred maintenance at old buildings at universities has grown into a huge problem:  one example was how the leaking roof of a building at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign threatens the integrity of federally-funded research going on inside the building. I should note that upkeep of existing buildings fairly typically coexists alongside the building of shiny new facilities that look good on brochures and help with marketing. I will also admit that the fetishization of oldness, tradition, and ivy in higher education in America probably results in the maintenance of many old buildings that could probably be torn down and replaced with modern ones that function better and more efficiently over time.

Back to my original contrast, however.  On the other side of the fold there is a story about artisanal balloons, which is to say, the amount of money people are willing to spend on their kids' birthday parties.

So there you have it. Long-term investment that could pay gains long-term suffers, while short-term flourishes. This need not be 100% an endorsement of high vs. low taxes. Money could make it into university buildings just as easily through endowments as through government funding mechanisms. But contributions to a university's general fund are much less easy to showcase than balloons. And, admittedly, it is less fun.


Also, I should note that I made my way to these two stories via a front page story detailing how many universities -- including if not especially flagship state universities (because only data for public universities was available for analysis) -- were failing to demonstrate an increase in their students' analytical abilities over 4 years. Less prestigious universities were showing more improvement in student critical thinking skills. Which could argue that we shouldn't spend so much money on universities at all, but I don't think so.

At any rate, I have now blogged for too long and need to go to work.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Moving on many fronts

Monkey brain is where I'm at all too much of the time. Here's what's on my mind now:

  • The kids are out taking standardized tests right now. Graham taking the SAT for the first time in case we can talk him into doing Duke TIP (presuming he qualifies), Natalie is taking subject tests. She is done with basic SAT/ACT tests, having done well enough. We naturally worry that Graham will fuck up and get disheartened, given some of his organizational issues.
    • Should I take them to sushi afterwards?  Esp. given that Natalie will have pizza at her birthday party this evening?
  • Booking summer travel:  we have dragged our feet, since we knew Granny was likely going to be solo this summer and should join us, but we didn't know when. No we are getting organized finally and hopefully won't have to stay in dumps.
  • Etc. etc.
I realized it's not really much of an escape to list all this stuff that is oppressing me out. And it's not necessarily very entertaining for you, dear reader.

Last night my mom and I watched Moonlight. I had no recollection that it had won best picture, I just remembered it had been nominated for something.  It was magnificent, though not light watching, and by no means easy to understand all the dialogue/dialect. But it was the fullest, richest character portrayal I have seen in a long time, rarely have I rooted for a character so hard, which probably reflects the fact that we have been subsisting on a steady diet of TV shows, if that, for some time now. Mary grew jaded on films some time ago. I don't know why, given that we have only watched maybe a thousand or so of them together in the last 22 years in the comfort of our own couch.

We have, in fact, on at least one occasion gone halfway through a movie and then realized we had seen it before. In fact, that happened to me with a Wallander novel I started reading on the flight back from Seattle last week. But I kept reading it because I had so many hours invested in it and I wasn't sure I fully remembered the ending (turned out, I pretty much did). That was downright silly.  I should have dropped that puppy like a hot potato. Such is my foolish, deeply ingrained work ethic. Even as pertaining to leisure.


Monday, May 29, 2017

I'm back

Just spent 4 excellent days out in Seattle, hanging with my boy Mark, kicking a new client relationship with another old college friend into gear, and seeing other excellent people I know from high school and grad school. But now I'm back.

I can feel my age. There is pain in my hip and, oddly, still in my groin from where I kicked too many goal kicks three weeks ago. Also in my hamstrings, and in my left hand (which I use on the fretboard, my picking hand is pain-free).

Looking out into my yard, I see two things:

1. The grass has been growing the whole time I was gone. No surprise there. Mary used to mow the lawn sometimes, but in later years has reverted to traditional gender roles, which designates this as man's work. Maybe it's time to train Graham on this. Natalie may be hard.
2. The sun is rising. On the one hand, that means the grass is drying and is probably cutable. It is also becoming a hotter chore.  It also means the lake is getting warmer by the minute, and less pleasant for swimming.

Which means it's time to get my ass in gear.  Just saw my neighbor Caroline walk by not too long ago, with her dog Pearl, a collie who is the sweetest dog in the world.  I heard a few weeks ago that Pearl had cancer, and may not be long for this neighborhood.  It will be a loss.

For now, it's time to get moving.  One thing I know is that movement eases the pain.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Magnolia

In a little patisserie in the relatively upscale Magnolia neighborhood in Seattle, having walked here from the home of my friend Mark. Despite my hosts' downplaying the relative quality of the pastries, I would have to say they are pretty good.

In fact, everything here verges on perfect, especially since it seems like I bring sunny weather to Seattle and the region generally (I've never seen it rain here, though my sample size is small). Everyone is affluent, perky, of a non-deprecated ethnicity. It is the kind of place where a young person willing to work reasonably hard, take direction, smile, and make eye contact would find it hard to fail.

And in that regard, we might as well be on another planet from Morven, NC, which I drove through a couple of weeks ago, or even my mom's hometown of Roxboro, where I canvassed last fall. We all know this. There is no simple answer.

I was at a comedy show in Chapel Hill last week where this comic, a kind of manic guy (they all were) was talking to some of the young people in the front row, high school seniors and UNC freshfolx, and he kept saying "Oh, you're from Chapel Hill, you feel safe all the time, that must be nice." It is of course hard to impart his tone here on the blog, but there's a fundamental truth to that.

And I guess I have circled back to talking about the "Bubble" we were all talking about back in the fall. I live within it. But the military mom seated across the row from me on the flight out does not. She had three kids, infant, toddler, and big girl, 5ish, who held the infant when her mom took the toddler to the bathroom. I can't imagine doing that at that age. Her husband was just being transferred from Ft. Bragg to somewhere in Alabama. I wasn't about to start talking politics with her.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

End of the season

Though hot, we closed out the season in fine form today.  Neither of our top scorers were there, including the guy that pretty much dominates for us and probably scores an absolute majority of our goals, and we still won. Despite having an average age of 45 or so on the back line, we allowed no shots on goal.

Admittedly, the other team wasn't very good. But still.

And I am in no more pain, really, than I was when we started the game. No additional injuries. Not too shabby.

Though I had no huge highlight plays, I am still playing highlight reel in my mind.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Karma

The other day I had lunch with this nice Nepalese guy I had met at an event. In paying for lunch, I forgot to use the credit card I have made, here in 2017, my business card.

Knowing that I will have a difficult time remembering this at tax time next year, I used the business card to buy my sandwich at my favorite deli (less expensive than the business lunch) today. However, I was distracted by doing so, and by the mild dishonesty baked into this maneuver, and I forgot to get my frequent eater card punched, thereby depriving myself of one-twelfth of a sandwich.

However, this lapse was made up for by Monday's lunch when, back at my favorite deli (Cheerz, at the intersection of Alexander and Miami, where they roast their own roast beef and chicken and bake their own rolls), I got the frequent eater punch of the guy in front of me, who was visiting from out of town.

And so, there is order in the universe.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Dating

So Natalie went out on a date with a boy from her high school. Her experience with the young fellas has been limited to date, owing to their clear lack of good taste and perception of what should be attractive in a young lady, which she of course exemplifies. Perhaps she is too petite for them, perhaps too clever. Who knows.

At any rate she was clearly pleased to have been asked out, and rightly so. Nothing is more validating than to be shown that you are attractive by a member of your desired gender. She had to adjust the time of their outing because her beloved cousin Caroline was in town for less than 24 hours for the memorial service, but she did it, and it was fine.

We too are happy. This is something that has been missing in her life. Of course, I do feel the territorial gene welling up from inside me, She was maybe 45 minutes late getting home from her date and Mary and I kept looking out the window. This is new territory for us. I would certainly like to lay eyes on this fella and talk to him for 90-120 seconds, but mostly out of curiosity. I think. I won't force it for a little while.

I thought about this this morning as Natalie and I were making breakfast, and I was briefly moved to tears. I turned away so nobody could see, because that would be embarassing.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Eulogy for David

Good morning, I’m C......T....., the son of Joan Ontjes, David’s wife.
                                                       
By 2004, plain old dating and Match.com had not produced the perfect -- let alone the right – guy for Mom. So when my sister Leslie and I heard that she had met this doctor fellow David Ontjes, whose kids we knew from junior high and high school, we were intrigued. That spring my wife Mary and I came down to NC for an event, bringing our newborn son Graham. We didn’t yet know that Graham was allergic to milk. So we left him with mom, David and a bottle and headed out for the evening. We got home around midnight and found that Graham had thrown up his milk all over David, who had nonetheless carried on dutifully dandling and rocking him around to keep him calm.

At that point in time, we knew he was a keeper.  But Mom and David weren’t even “going steady”. They had been on a number of dates, but David kept saying that he was “seeing other people.” Mom eventually said to him, “Well so am I and, if you don’t decide quickly, I may not be an option.”  A couple of days later, David invited her over for a glass of wine. Mom expected him to break up with her. When she got there, David asked her to stay for dinner, and she agreed. Light conversation continued. Finally, after dinner, David, a little nervous, got down to business, saying “I just can’t date two people at the same time. Would you like to date me exclusively?” She said yes, and 13 wonderful years began.

In 2006 they were married here at University Presbyterian. Because they were married late in life, David and mom knew that, according to standard protocol, they wouldn’t have as many anniversaries as they would like. So they crafted a system of 5 anniversaries
1.    First date
2.    Going steady
3.    First trip
4.    Engagement
5.    Wedding
And so they celebrated some 50-odd anniversaries together. And David, frugal though he may have been, even agreed to go to nice restaurants every time.

David and Mom did a lot of fun things together: they kayaked together, and they biked up and down the East Coast and in Europe. In fact, they were so photogenic a couple that their smiling faces graced the cover of the catalog for VBT Bicycling tours.

They performed together in a variety groups, including the choral group Voices, and the musical comedy company the Prime Time Players. Both of them really loved singing, so I know this brought a lot of joy to each of them. Check out the videos at the reception.

David was a wonderful presence in the lives of our children. He had great trips with them to places like Lake Matamuskeet and the Virginia Creeper trail. He genuinely loved to share entirely age-appropriate TV shows with them. David and Graham spent many happy hours together watching “Popeye” and David’s personal favorite, “Spongebob Squarepants.”

David was a fine presence at the table. He loved to make waffles and to grill, and was always a hearty consumer of whatever was served, especially dessert and chocolate. Leslie’s son Daniel marveled at the number of Dove chocolates he could snarf down. In dinner table conversations, he provided our typically liberal Chapel Hill family with a valuable conservative counterpoint. He was also fond of dredging up tales of yore of dubious veracity, like a fishing tale he retold several times over one weekend, in which the fish he caught grew in each retelling, from a guppy on Friday to a monstrous hundred-pounder by Sunday dinner.

The long and short of it is that, over these thirteen years, David grew to be a full-fledged member of our family, from a minnow to a scale-breaking prize winner.  We will all miss him dearly.