Friday, December 15, 2017

VHS day

Natalie got into Yale. Hooray!

It has been a long haul. She has always been an exceptional girl, then young lady, and we knew she would do well, but because she has no patents or start-ups under her belt, something like this was no shoe-in. She did the leg work, and it happened.

So via John and Hank Green, she had turned me onto the Mountain Goats, which until then had been one of those Durham bands that I didn't have time to pay attention to. But I started listening to some of their stuff and watching the videos on YouTube, and came across this one.


And I was listening to it yesterday evening, after she had told me she got in, and I just started crying, and I think the reason is this: for me, high school was war, and Yale was victory. It was a rear-guard war, to be sure, making up for the earlier years when I had buck teeth, was scrawny as fuck and, yes, people were mean to me. I don't think I was a nasty warrior, unless you were a forward trying to bring the ball down my wing and I wasn't able to cleanly out accelerate you and take the ball when you lost control of your dribble. If I had to take you down, you knew it was war. Other than that, it was all pretty civilized.

But make no mistake, at some very basic level, it was war.

To the best of my knowledge, Natalie didn't have to put up with that much after an initial mean girl episode back in 6th grade, the moment she pivoted away from a set of girls who would go on to become "popular," when she took up with another crowd of gentler and geekier ones.

But she worked her ass off, almost always with a smile. And now, like me, she got in early, and can enjoy Christmas and consider whether she wants to apply to other schools.

For me, once the war was over, I took a couple of years of R & R, didn't necessarily utilize the institution as best I might have. Part of me was still fighting, not unlike those Japanese guys on the islands out in the Pacific. Hopefully, she won't have to do that. I don't think she will, and perhaps that is what in the end, was so moving.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The fall of the questions

Over lunch the other day, Niklaus and I were talking about the fall of the humanities, and to a lesser extent the fall of social sciences, in the hierarchy of the academy. The disciplines aren't attractive, kids don't want to study them like they used to.

There are a lot of factors leading to where we are. Partly it's a function of the apotheosization of technology and money. These are things that get people excited. It's also fear driven. First globalization, now automation have greatly complicated careers. The sands are always shifting under our feet, change is accelerating, so everyone rightly worries about our childrens' futures. How will they take care of themselves in a future we can barely imagine? So we nudge everything towards the disciplines that seem to promise money, power, and a greater ability to surf through the growing swells of history.

But we cannot escape the big problems and questions that face us?  As the world's population expands and competition for resources heats up, how do we structure ourselves locally, nationally, and internationally to provide for a balance of growth and distribution of wealth? What is due to those whose jobs get automated away, those for whom the only jobs left seem to be concentrated in low status fields (food service, logistics, health care positions other than "doctor"?). These are not simple questions, there are moral and ethical components to them as well as technical components (how to manage organizations). One thing is for certain: they will not teach the answers to them in coding bootcamps.

These are the kind of things the humanities and social sciences should helping people think about, by helping us learn to frame questions and ponder how they interact with our values, whatever they are, but these disciplines got sucked into discursive battles about who could use more arcane jargon to talk about different aspects of this or that theoretical question, much of it revolving around identity politics of one sort or another. Not that it has all been bad, important questions have been raised, some good things have happened. But the soft side of the academy needs to broaden its focus and raise its game.

Or people like Atul Gawande, a doctor who has thought deeply about what he does, his values, and how physicians add to the world, will keep eating our lunch. Not that I would not be delighted to buy him lunch. Would love to.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Xmas tree

We went and got our Christmas tree yesterday. As usual, we arrived at the tree vendor location without our stand. This time, I hustled home and got it while my beloved family stood outside in the cold and picked out a tree. They did a good job.

This was just as well. The afternoon had been passed in other quasi family-friendly activities like assembling this credenza that Mary had ordered from CB2. The evil geniuses at IKEA have apparently influenced furniture retailing in many unfortunate ways, first and foremost that many places now ship furrniture in flat packs to be put together at home. I got Graham to help me on this, thinking it would be a good "son-father activity" (his phrase, not mine). In principle, this was true, and it gave me the opportunity to train him on following directions.

That part more or less went fine. The problem is that real pieces of furniture are now designed to be idiot-proof in assembly, using nothing more than a Phillips-head screwdriver. Great. Problem is, the furniture doesn't really come together very well, it feels like it's going to come apart. There was some cursing involved.

Then Graham and I walked all the way around the lake and I explained some of the basics of finance to him, how much money people really need to retire, etc. How much money people in our neighborhood have, and/or need to have. He asked really good questions, it all flowed rather naturally.

By now, I have digressed more than I meant to, and time is getting short. Back to the main point.

So we get the tree home, eat dinner, and then it was time to decorate it. I am all-too conscious of the fact that this is Natalie's last Christmas at home, and I'm not going to pretend I'm happy about it. Far from it. I am sad. I am happy she is doing so well, and know that she will go on to excellent things in life, but I am not excited about her leaving.

After dinner she goes back to her room to work on her essay for Cornell, which we had been discussing over dinner. We get the tree vertical in the stand, put the lights on, all the time telling her it's time to come out and start putting on ornaments.

In recent years, it is true, the kids have shown incrementally less enthusiasm for decorating the tree, I get that. But this year is different. Natalie's refusal to come out was making me grumpy and cranky.

Finally, she came out, cheery, and helped us put the ornaments on. Then she got her laptop and sat on the couch and looked at it. I settled in to the other side of the couch and started reading something, then was sleepy. It was 10 pm already, after all.  All was well, for now at least.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Grey day

It is grey and wet. And Saturday. I continue to try to sell the Subaru. Robert passed on it, as seemingly, will Bobby, but Rob is interested. If he passes, I should probably figure out someone named Bob to call, because I am seeing a pattern. Or perhaps and need an Ulrich or Bartholomew. But this puppy is gonna sell, I know that for sure, because she runs sweet and smooth, with all the money I've put into her. Scroll down for deets.

Mary and I started watching the Netflix documentary about Jim Carrey getting deep into character as Andy Kaufman from back when they made Man on the Moon in '98 or so. It is very funny, pretty intense. But the conceit is pretty wierd. Carrey basically embodies the character for the duration of the filming, and becomes just as wierd as Kaufman was (and, we will note, Andy is one of the three Kaufmans who serves as inspiration for the Grouse). But he's a pretty disruptive force, and he's up there on the set with some pretty solid talent, first and foremost Danny DeVito. What he does is basically unprofessional. If you had actors roaming around Hollywood sets refusing to come out of character, playing pranks all the time, you'd basically never get anything done. We'd have no movies. So, in the end, it is very much about Jim Carrey being a primadonna. We only watched the first half. They may get around to discussing this point by the second half of the movie.

OK. Time to hustle downstairs and get Graham out the door to martial arts.


Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Pre-judging

I was at an AA meeting recently, and this younger white guy was speaking/leading the group. Heavily muscled, lots of tattoos, crewcut.  I naturally assumed, first and foremost "Trump voter." Then he started talking. He grew up in a rough neighborhood up north, one of "16 or 17 brothers and sisters." That's right, if I heard him correctly, he wasn't sure how many siblings he had. Their grandfather had sexually abused lots of them. Of course there was lots of drinking. If he got in a fight and came home and hadn't one, he got his ass kicked again. Eventually he goes into the military, had a horrific injury, spends a lot time convalescing, drinks, gets in fights....

The details don't really matter that much (for the purposes of this blog that is). And I need to preserve the guy's anonymity. The point is he had gone through an incredible amount of fucked up shit, he went to the military because it was his best path out, then sacrificed a lot on my behalf (even if I don't necessarily believe in the rationale for the war he was in. His story was powerful, he was another human being trying to move forward. His politics didn't matter in that context. It would be interesting to know where he stands, but in there I can't care, and I have to recognize it's all on a continuum.

Then, on Sunday, I was taking Graham to Wal-Mart, I saw a white guy driving a big white truck. Immediately my mind ran to "Trump voter." Then I saw that he had an African-American woman in the seat next to him. The plot thickened.

It ain't simple.


Saturday, December 02, 2017

Another day at the office

The Republicans have passed their tax bill, and Michael Flynn has pled guilty and seems likely to flip even further.  On the one hand, there is lots of teeth gnashing and hair pulling on Democrats' part.  On the other, schadenfreude.

Neither is helpful nor what we need. The tax bill is incremental in its changes, and can be reversed. Its just another piece of legislation. If anything, it gives Democrats something very concrete to campaign on beyond just "we hate Trump."

Re Flynn, we have to be careful with our "I told you so"ism, because the Republicans and alt-right have developed a finely-honed game of "whataboutism."

Instead, we need to recognize where we have failed to substantively connect with a broad swathe of voters, and more importantly, be honest about what has not worked in our policies. The latter is, admittedly, difficult, because much of what has been imperfect in our policies (public schools, welfare and other wealth transfer mechanisms, affirmative action) can be legitimately put down to deep seated resistance and not-so-far from the surface racism, sexism, etc.

The arc of history is long and bends mysteriously. We have to admit that we are imperfect and recognize the wishes of the other side, even as we are utterly befuddled by their having voted for that vile jackass. They saw something in him that made all of his faults tolerable, if we fail to recognize that and try to channel it, we are lost.

Remember the exit polls. It was not just white males. 32% of latino men and 25% of latino women voted for Trump. 52% of white women. It blows our minds, but it is so.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Return from the dead

Tomorrow I will return to work, after almost a week of staying at the house, more or less, first with a cold, then with a holiday, then more or less pretending to have a cold.

Things have been piling up. A lead I thought was dead has come back to life. I need to sell a car (to wit, a 2008 Subaru Outback with 96k miles, a new

  1. clutch [yes -- a stick shift]
  2. head gasket
  3. timing belt, and 
  4. front brakes).
    Tell all your friends!
With the possibility of a tax bill passing looming ever closer, there are things that some clients should do between now and the end of the year to protect themselves.

There are leaves on the roof, and in the yard.

Graham and I need to go out and procure tacky Christmas sweater for a themed party we plan to attend in a couple of weeks.

And then we head North. Come to think of it, I need to call Princeton to make sure our plans for stopping in fit with theirs.

In short, many things I have been deferring are piling up and need to be dealt with, which doesn't really excite me. For some reason, I have rather enjoyed lounging about on the couch, reading a mystery novel (Sebastien Japrisot's A Rather Long Engagement), even if, truth be told, I am also ready for this novel to come to a close.

Alright, enough whining. It is almost noon, time to embrace the day.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Fighting off the demons of reading material

To my left, an article, almost completed. On an adjacent tab, another. Books on the bedstead behind me. Stacks of New Yorkers to be combed through and discarded on my chest of drawers. Along with other books. The need to read is a constant treadmill for me. Everywhere I turn, something to read.  And yet, I have a blog to feed and tend, becuase ain't nobody gonna write it for me.

I have been fighting off a cold all week leading up to Thanksgiving, and it seems to be 80-90% gone away by now. Which I guess means that I will have to go exercise later. But I have been lying on the couch reading a novel for much of it, and it's a good thing too, because the most vibrant colors of the season are dropping from the trees as we speak. Soon, the trees will be bare, but it has been a great week to spend on the couch looking out at the trees and the lake.

And then hanging with the family. In fact, even as I type, I realize I need to call up Leslie quick and try to make a plan to get together before she and her crew head to the airport, especially because Graham would really like to play chess with his cousin Daniel before they head out. It has been a fine few days of traditional cousin activities: puzzles, card games, meals, silly YouTube videos, hiding behind trees on the family's traditional walk in the woods behind the UNC Botanical Gardens, etc. Just a few hours left. Daniel is a true trooper for hanging with Graham as much as he does. Thankfully, as they age, they are getting closer in age on a relative, if not absolute basis.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving rambles

I had a bunch of frequent flyer miles that I needed to use up for something before they timed out, so they were pushing magazines on me, which are presumably prized still as advertising delivery media to desirable demographics. We ended up getting Inc, Fast Company, and some cooking mag for Mary that hasn't come yet. The first two just started coming yesterday.

I started pawing through Fast Company, and immediately all this stuff from the YouTube and other social media/tech universe was flashing before my eyes (esp. "What's Inside" on YouTube, a big hit), things and dynamics I was entirely unaware of. Then I fired up my phone, and I had a friend request from some "woman in Nebraska" with whom I had one common friend (who appears not to have checked her out). The woman from Nebraska appears suspiciously to look like a spoofed feed of a teenagish guy from Mali with a penchant for taking pictures of himself in front of luxury cars making some sign with his hand which is probably the Malian way of saying "I'm cool."  All of his friends give him likes and commend him with comments like "Cest tres coooooool, mon frere," with various words in African languages interspersed. I won't try to spoof them.

There were also quotes from the Koran on "her" page in Arabic, and links to "Candidates of Paradise of Firdawsi", which appears to be an Islamic propaganda/proselytizing feed. Nothing explicitly terrorist, mind you. But there was an interesting post on there about how there is no airport in Mecca, and how birds and airplanes cannot fly above the Kaaba, because it is the gravitational and magnetic center of the universe, and therefore nothing can fly above it, even if it wanted to. And somebody commented on that, in French, saying how it was idiocy and made muslims look stupid. And then people argued with the commenter, saying of course the Kaaba was the center of the universe....

It is astonishing how much is going on in the world, how impossible it is to take it all in, and adjudicate it all and figure out what's what. William James, I think, was the first to coin the term "the pluriverse." Ultimately we must all recur to some sort of core, bedrock faith in some sort of principles to help us sort it all out.

The fragmentation of the media landscape via social media does not help. It underscores the need for leadership at the very highest level. Blah blah blah

Despite a lingeriing cold, it is time to get organized to go out for the traditional Thanksgiving activities, including walking over by Morgan Creek and the traditional eating.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Flashback

We were married in '97. We were headed to Italy for our honeymoon, but had to fly through London and spend the night there. I don't know why, but we did. It was the early days of the internet, before Google Maps or really any good maps, so I called up a travel agent to book at hotel near the airport in London, and she booked me a room. So far, so good.

Or so I thought. When we landed in London, we got in a cab to go to our hotel, and the cabbie hauls off. We go like 10-15 minutes, I'm watching the meter, we're on a big highway, and I ask the guy:  "Isn't this hotel close to the airport?" He responds, "No, not at all, it's downtown."  Now, mind you, I had like 10 pounds or something -- and it was before credit cards were accepted in all cabs -- and I just went ballistic. I broke out all the big words: "Rackem, frackem, b#*!#t" and then some, and the cabby gets really mad at me "Now sir, there's no reason to use foul language here in my cab!"  He was from somewhere in Asia, and was apparently a good deal more religious than I was.

In any case, I calmed down. He hung a uey, took us back towards the airport to another hotel from the same chain where at first they said they didn't have a room and then they somehow figured out that they did. The cabby accepted some combination of pounds and dollars, and my apology.

After Mary went to bed, I went downstairs to have a cigarette, and I noticed that the sign, while using recognizably English words, was barely comprehensible. Something about no parking or something.

The honeymoon was on.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Checking in

It has been an uncharacteristically long time since my last post. In the interim, what has been going on?

  • Fundraisers for Graig Meyer, Floyd McKissick, and the SKJAJA fund
  • A going-away party for Lindsay Graham (no, not that one) of Car Pal and Saxapahaw fame
  • Big Data and Life Sciences event at NC BioTech Center
  • Lake Forest Association annual meeting (it passed bloodlessly)
  • Tennis with Z (no comment on outcome)
  • Several client reviews
Through all of this, Graham and I have maintained our steady diet of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 episodes. I looked at my timeline on the most famous of social networks, which shall remain nameless here, and saw that we wrapped up our viewing of Star Trek: Next Generation on January 20.  We have now watched six seasons of DS 9, so 156 episodes over ten months, so one every other day or thereabouts. We have achieved this momentous accomplishment despite deaths in the family, business and pleasure travel, work, school, all manner of impediments. This shows what one can do if one sets one's priorities correctly and keeps one's eye on the ball.

Much of this has been accomplished on our new couch. Recently, Mary put this very soft brown striped alpaca blanket that we bought in support of our neighbor Chadd's non-profit Teachers 2 Teachers International. They do very good work setting up peer-to-peer partnerships between US educators and those in the developing world. You should check them out.

More importantly, the blanket is exceptionally cozy. Graham sits under a grey fleece blanket, and I use the alpaca one, because he is too tall now for us to share one blanket. Often, I start dozing off during the episode, but I still hear the dialog. Also, after Graham leaves, the accumulated warmth on the couch persists, and sometimes I hang out and snooze a little.

Even Natalie, climbing in under Graham's blanket to watch an episode of Stranger Things with me and mom, recognized the exceptional coziness of Graham's set up. This is good livin.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The big stall

Listening to Ben Sasse's book on the way to a conference this morning, began pondering the much-ballyhooed stalling of median incomes since the early 70s. Began to ponder: is this in some sense reflective of an aggregate, homeostatic lack of desire for higher incomes? I.e. if one gets on the "hedonic treadmill" north of ~$75k of income, are we really dealing with broad problem of abundance, not scarcity?

As a society, in the West at least, we generate enough wealth to give everybody a decent life. But we don't know how to balance wealth generation and wealth distribution. People are geared to want more, more, more, both status and wealth. Deciding when you have enough and when to slow down is hard. And then what do you do with yourself? The cultural model tells us to eat better, live more fancily, travel more, but people don't get happier by doing these things, beyond a point. And we haven't discovered effective mechanisms for redistributing wealth via the public sector. Or at least we don't promote them well enough.

Again, we get back to the question of values and leadership. If more public-spirited behavior was validated more broadly and more convincingly, people would do more of it. But these values don't sell stuff.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Flat and round modalities

There is a lot of hue and cry these days about the dangers that social networks pose to the fabric of society. We're all aware that they have positive and negative sides. It is great to see people's kids, learn what they're up to, crowdsource wisdom about need x, y, or z, etc. And hear their reflections on the topics of the day.

The problem is that people only have so much time to put themselves out there. Or, if they really devote time (say, blogging), they sacrifice other aspects of their lives. To have recourse again to E.M. Forster's categories of flat and round characters, everybody is always more or less flat on Facebook or Twitter, certainly in any given post they are. You could take the time to study them over time, and maybe they get more round.

Social networks are of course only one context in which this happens. Anybody who is out in the world interacting with others one a more or less regular basis is alway truncating and trimming their self-presentation to play a professional or societal role: salesperson, politician, project manager, teacher, etc.

And we are all limited in the number of deeper, rounder relationships we can have. You just can't have more than a handful or truly best friends, we each get one mother and father. Maintaining all these relationships takes time.

But social media exacerbate all of these general tendencies.  Even, dare I say it, traditional blogs like this one. There's only so much time, and I gotta hop.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Dominance in the Hierarchy of Needs

These days I sometimes feel like I can't leave the house without tripping over Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which is invoked as a framework supporting just about anything.  According to Maslow, people have basically five kinds of needs: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization, arrayed in a pyramid. Take care of one level, and you can move on to the next.

So where does dominance or conquest fit into all of this? Somewhere around the esteem level, I would reckon, having never actually read the book. But, I would argue, on the macro scale, it is hugely important.

This was brought to mind by an article in the Times this morning about smuggling baby chimps and other primates, which is apparently big business. Rich people and provincial Asian zoos apparently gotta have them, and many chimps are trained to smoke cigarettes and drink beer because, of course, that's just adorbs.

Which is, honestly, one of the reasons why sports can be so great. People get to enact their need for dominance in a forum which is, when managed properly, relatively painless. When fans get too worked up about it, it gets silly, for sure. That's why it would be great if China could get good at soccer quickly. It is fine for them to have awesome divers and table tennis players, but if they could come to have success on the biggest of world athletic stages, it would probably go a long way towards letting them get their macro rocks off. Just sayin.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Purpose

A friend and client was visiting from out of town last week, and before I put her on a plane she started asking me about what I wanted to do with my life. Did I want to go into politics? Write a book? A few weeks back Marvin was around helping us with some painting and he gently prodded me about me letting my musical talents wither. I have, admittedly, been playing more guitar, though it bothers Natalie when she is trying to work.

All of this takes me back to some very early ur-conversation I had with my mom where she cited the Parable of Talents from the Bible, which basically says (as I recall, getting late now, no time to Google, must hasten to work) that we all need to make use of our talents. Sometimes this thought drives me a little crazy, as I am reasonably talented at a range of things and a pretty hard worker, but I know I can't be good at everything given the old 24/7 constraint.

The thing about politics is particularly interesting. I had never even thought about going into politics until maybe 2010, when somebody first suggested it. More people have in recent years. This year somebody even tried to recruit me to run for Town Council, but I felt like I needed to focus on growing my business and being available at home, esp. with Natalie working on college apps. And it being her last year here in the house 😡.

But people keep saying they think I'd be good at it. I wonder at times if I am receptive to it in the back of my mind because it offers another arena in which I could compete with Josh. But Lord knows I am a few decades behind on that one, and really have little hope of competing effectively.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Neither bright-eyed nor bushy-tailed

I awake on Mondays not always refreshed and raring to go.  Part of it is the lack of separation between work and home. Given that my work is holistic and bound up with lots of people I know and love, and also not narrowly circumscribed into discrete functional areas, that makes it hard to walk away from. There are always things to read that are related to my work, and then there are social things that always offer the promise of meeting more people, some of whom might eventually become clients.

It is unseemly for me to complain about this. Nobody pushed me into it. But it is a feature, if not a bug, of my life.

Then there's the fact that we never go anywhere. Partially it's a function of being busy and having great things to do here. Plus we are averse to burning carbon gratuitously. On top of that, where we are is so spectacularly beautiful that we are less motivated than others to leave.

So I am always immersed in my life, which is more or less the same as my work.

Last night Mary came in announcing that Graham's grades were slipping a little. He is getting some Bs, alongside mostly As. On the one hand, we might not want to sweat that.  On the other hand, mostly it's reflective of him having poor work habits and organization. Which means we need to help him improve. This, after all, is what middle school is for. To develop better work habits so that kids are ready for high school.

The problem is that -- given his autism -- it is hard to break him out of patterns. We are used to doing exactly the same things week after week: martial arts, Star Trek. And Lord knows I live to watch Star Trek with the boy. The big conversations about growing up, work habits, etc., are better had outside the context of normal, ritual activities, and certainly outside the context of breaking in on him doing homework, or not doing homework, as the case may be. When we break in on him then, he gets testy. Which I get.

I think I need to take him out to lunch next weekend.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Muttering soul

At the AA meeting this morning I sat next to a person (no need for more detail) who sipped coffee loudly and whispered aloud between sips and was making some sort of clicking sound in the back of his/her throat. It was a little annoying and made it difficult to concentrate on what was being said.

Then I remembered where I was, and that I had no idea where this person was in his/her process of recovery. It could have been a very fresh thing. The person could still be in withdrawal, for all I know. It's a hard fucking thing to deal with. There is high comorbidity between mental illness and substance abuse disorders, of course. And what the fuck did I sound like sitting next to people in my early days? What did I smell like?  Lord only knows.

It was, in fact, a rare privilege to be there.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The internet of us

There is a great deal of hullabaloo and fear around the influence of internet and social media on us these days, and not without reason. New regulations are proposed to let us drill down on who paid for Facebook ads and what else they paid for, blah blah blah, as if that was going to solve the fundamental problems that have caused things to go awry.

I doubt it. People will learn to game that too.

The main, underlying problem is that we aren't well grounded, don't have a shared set of values based even on a broadly founded conception of who the other is. Everybody is scared of rapid change, and we go about expressing it in different ways. Some brandish every larger guns and drive ever larger vehicles, others institute trigger warnings and safe spaces.

Everybody huddles amongst their own, when they should be out talking to others and listening. But that is the hardest thing of all to do, in our era of profoundly assortative huddling, facilitated by online communities and the home delivery of everything.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The inner game

Out on the court with Nathan today, he inquired if I had read The Inner Game of Tennis. "Maybe 30-40 pages", I admitted. "I think that's really all you need," he responded.

Actually, I think the opposite is the case. Where matters of the spirit are concerned, by which I mean anything pertaining to the struggle to control ourselves and maintain equanimity in the face of... whatever stressor threatens to unsettle us, there is a need for near constant reminders of the basic principles of being in the world.

That is why people go to church, temple, bible study, mosque, 12-step group, over and over, day after day, week after week, hearing the same basic truths intoned. There is no new wisdom, but there is an ever-refreshing need for it.

I broke Nathan's serve at love the first game, and then he mine, so the first eight points of the match went to the returner of serve.  And then, at the beginning of his second service game, he won the point, and I swear there was the faintest glimmer of fear within me that I would crumble and lose. I was able to recover and remind myself to do basic things decently, and I beat him 6-3, like I usually do.

In the end, the inner game of tennis is just remembering that each point begins the struggle for self-possesion anew. It reminds me of how Kierkegaarde, at the beginning of one of his books, maybe The Present Age, talks about how each life inaugurates once more the struggle between good and evil, and that therefore there can be no progress in ethics. Just an eternal beginning at the beginning.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

How I roll

I don't know if I have taken the time to complain about the light coming in my East-facing desk window in the morning. It gets particularly bright -- you will not be shocked to learn -- in the autumn, as the leaves come off the trees. It can be rather vexing, and I have resorted to various strategies to counter it:  draping my exterior monitor in a flannel shirt, wearing a baseball cap, putting a standing lamp behind the desk, jacked up on a plastic crate, and hanging a dark shirt from that.

But why don't you just get some curtains, Mr. Grouse, wouldn't that be logical? Indeed it would, all too logical. But I am lazy and generally hate home improvements, which take away time when I might be reading, blogging, napping, watching Star Trek with Graham, doing sports, or learning songs on the guitar. Or even working, which does happen.

I have hit on an even more ingenious solution. An old desk came free when mom's company was sold. First we stuck it in David's office, then he passed away. It was in the corner of the rec room for a while, then Mary had that repainted, and it has migrated up here to the bedroom, where it now sits and gives me a lake-facing desk. Rather nice. Particularly when combined with one of the surplus external monitors, also scavenged from mom's most recent company. All in all, good livin.

One new problem is that there are now a couple of branches that are stopping my view from being truly spectacular in all seasons.  I need to get Rick Serge and his team back over here to take them down, along with that skinny tree they forgot to take out when they were here in the Spring.

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.