Sunday, January 29, 2017


The other day I met with a couple of prospects who had been referred to me by not one, but two clients, independently.  A nice thing.  We sat and talked for an hour or so, and I walked away from the conversation with about half a page of notes about them.

Which is not really enough. The problem was, of course, that I had been talking more than I had been listening and asking questions, which is really my job. I need to know who they are and what they value so I can offer them good counsel.

I realized that quickly, then thought about it in my meeting yesterday morning. After the meeting, a few of the guys and I repaired to the chilly Starbucks in the foyer of the Harris Teeter by the mall, as we do sometimes. I decided to resist the temptation to talk and to just ask questions and listen to the other guys.  I lasted about 15 minutes, before I started holding forth about something.

This is a facet of the problem of Protuberance (as already documented in these posts).  I.e. the need for the fragile male ego, to wit, my own, to assert itself to establish dominance in the domain for which it is best suited.

It is hard right now to sit back and listen to anything quietly, as Trump and his crew seem hell-bent on wreaking as much destruction as possible as quickly as they can.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A girl and her cat

This morning Natalie started singing one of her more recent songs about our more social cat, Rascal.

Rascal has four paws,
Rascal has four paws,
Rascal has four paws,
And Bingo was its name-o

Earlier tunes include

Rascal cat, is wearing a hat (sung to the tune of "Jesse's mom" (has got it goin on)).

Other highlights of this girl/cat relationship include Rascal sitting on Natalie's lap at the island in the morning when she is having her cereal, and at her desk in the evenings (and daytime) when Natalie is doing her homework.

Natalie also likes to raise Rascal in the air over her head, look up at her, and cry out "Simba!", in the manner of The Lion King. Rascal does not object.

We are not the only ones who will miss her when she is gone, all too soon.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The open kimono and alignment

I just read through an interesting article on the use of body cams by police in the New York Times Magazine that Graham had been saving for me on the floor of his bedroom. Basically, the article revolved around the experience in Seattle, where some hacker kid used freedom of information laws to compel the police department (SPD) to release all of its body cam videos.

Of course, the first problem is the sheer quantity of data, which is huge. Then there's the issue of confidentiality for the citizens in the videos. And there are lots of other issues too, nothing is simple in this life.

The hacker kid eventually ended up working with the SPD to develop automated methodologies to redact video to protect confidentiality and manage the huge volume of requests, and then, having an aggrandized conception of himself as a "change agent" and low social IQ for working within large organizations (really not an easy thing to do, certainly not my forte), he ended up pissing off the team that ran the 911 unit and got himself banned from SPD HQ.

So he went back to being a complete pain in the ass and writing automated scripts to put in innumerable freedom of information requests for other stuff, crippling the SPD again.

Fundamentally, our whole paranoia about police overreach is a problem of alignment. People don't trust their motives, so want to micromanage them, but really don't have the disposition or skillset to do so, but the problem starts with poor lines of communication between PDs and the populations they serve. Again, the fragmentation of the media universe is a big part of the problem. Time was, all there was to watch was local news and then Cronkite, Brokaw, etc. So people watched that. And when the chief of police came on and discussed a big case, they were able to communicate out effectively.

But maybe we also didn't hear about many Eric Garners, Alton Sterlings, Freddy Grays,....

OK.  By now I have been writing too long and my discourse is falling victim to the blog form, which is to say, the need to oversimplify to get on with my day.

Let me say this. I ordered some firewood a few weeks back and it turned out the guy I was talking to was somebody who went to high school with me, a good guy who had had a career on the local police force and then had gotten injured on the job, discharged as disabled, and totally screwed by the police pension plan because he didn't quite make 20 years. Our views are very different on gun control and perhaps on many things, but he teaches courses on gun safety and is a 100% excellent human being. He told many stories of being on the job, being in danger, trying to help people of color, and I think he is entirely earnest, and certainly took much more risk than I ever have and has served the public nobly and honorably. I look forward to talking to him more as life moves on.  It was, frankly, one of the highlights of recent months. I probably already blogged about it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Do rag on the floor

On Friday at a Vietnamese place on Miami Boulevard, there was an African-American guy wearing a do rag with some piercings who waited on us. Really he was more in a backwaiter/bussing role, but still he was on the floor.

This is a very rare thing for an establishment not specifically serving a black population, particularly with the head gear, and speaks volumes about the tightness of labor markets here in the Triangle right now. Populations that used to be outside the labor market are being drawn into it, and in new roles. Let us hope this continues.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Barack and Michelle move on

What with it being Martin Luther King Jr. Day -- I hope you all enjoy the holiday! -- and with everyone in the world weighing in on reflections on the Obama years, I will join in a little while my brain is still in writerly mode, before it has been overly sullied by the manifold claims on my time and attention that pile up over the course of any and every day.

First off, I will confess to bias. I basically love Barack and Michelle. They strike me as fine, public-spirited people who have done incredible things, and who I think have long and admirable lives in front of them. As others have noted, they've gone through 8 years without a hint of anything scandalizing, in distinction to the Clintons.

The "red line" moment with Syria may have been his biggest blunder. He presented something that sounded very much like an ultimatum, and then he didn't back it up. There are certainly cogent analyses arguing against this, like this article on Politico, but in this case perception is more or less reality: after his vacillation Syria got much much worse. Overall, those on the Right who lay chaos in the Middle East at Obama's feet conveniently forget the fact that it was Wolfowitz's vision for the region that really accelerated the decline under W.

I sometimes wonder if Obama hasn't to some extent informalized the office of the Presidency excessively. All this hanging out with Jimmy Fallon, coffee with Jerry Seinfeld, sitting between two ferns with Zach Galifianakis, it made him seem cool and hip to a certain portion of the populace and electorate, but mystified others and made him more distant. Yes, a man of the people, but of only one set of people. I know it's hard for a sitting President to go to tractor pulls, etc. Maybe if he had gone onstage with the redneck comics like Jeff Foxworthy etc. I dunno, maybe they were shooting bile at him. Certainly it paved the way for Hillary going on "Between Two Ferns" during the campaign, which was certainly not her best moment. If I was Steve Bannon, I would have pushed that out hard across my platform to demonstrate how distant she was from middle America. I mean, I know she was going for Bernie voters with that stunt, but still.

One small thing. I've read about how, after dinner -- which he tried to do at home as much as he could to provide a stable atmosphere for his girls to grow up in, which is awesome -- Obama liked to retreat into his office and read, think, and watch Sportszone at 11. I think this image of the philosopher-President is appealing, it's a nice way to live life and certainly he is an exceptionally well-informed and cerebral human being. In retrospect, he might have been well-served by spending more time with Republicans to understand their issues better and figure out how to move his agenda forward. The drinks Reagan often shared with Tip O'Neal are often cited as a model. He could have done more of that.

In the end, it appears that he had a difficult time getting as much done as he would have liked through legislative channels because Republicans dug in their heels and opposed him from day 1. McConnell said as much, as did others. Thinly veiled or out and out racism, a brilliant ground game by the Koch brothers and their allies at the state level, and a steady stream of vitriol from Fox News and its social media spawn made this not just a no risk strategy by the  Republicans, but a winning one. In the business sphere, there was an element of a capital strike, in which businesses chose to do stock buybacks rather than take risks to invest in R&D, CapEx, or hiring. Everybody else was doing it, why not?  As a theme, "capital strike" flowered the most in 2011-2012, but as a phenomenon it never really went away.

OK. By now I'm just rambling. There is so much more to say, for the most part, others are saying it, and I'm sure others have said these things too.

For now, we move forward. We have a new Citizen in Chief who has great promise as a leader in whatever he does, so long as he doesn't get sucked too far towards the flame of wealth and privilege. And Michelle can change the world too.  I think they just need to be careful not to suck up too much oxygen and camera-time to help Democrats find a new, electable President, cuz Barack can't be elected again, and Michelle doesn't want the job.  And who can blame her?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Zhou Youguang

Amazing obit of Zhou Youguang in the Times today. Had never heard of the guy.

He died at 111, having invented pinyin, the standard system of transliterating Chinese into roman characters. Before the system was adopted in 1958, roughly 85% of the population was illiterate. Now that's down to about 5%. That's a massive shift, numerically much bigger than what Gutenberg, the King James Bible, public schools, and the development of a mass press did in the West.

Late in life he became a critic of the regime, and here's one great quote:  "Chinese people becoming rich isn't important. Human progress is ultimately progress towards democracy."

Though he is new to me, I miss him already.

Now I gotta go play tennis.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Moment of clarity

In the morning, around the time my caffeine infusion has peaked for the day and I've read the first few articles, there is a period of maximum syncretism, where everything (sometimes) gels in my brain and I am just about ready to solve world hunger blah blah blah. Problem is, most often I then need to do something like either get to work or go play tennis or otherwise engage with the world, and so my thoughts get clouded and distracted and whatever brilliance I had flowing through my brain is dissipated into this, that, or -- on occasion -- the other.

Today I had to do a workshop in Durham, but I had some time to walk around 9th Street before so doing, which was excellent. Sadly, though, I passed by what I'm pretty sure was the old Nice Price bookstore, which now seems to be a Papa Johns. What a downgrade. Which reminds me of the upcoming closure of the Bookshop on Franklin Street, a topic to which I cannot begin to do justice right now. There will be at least one novel-length post on that sad subject.

Was also surprised that Monuts had taken over the old Magnolia Grill space, and actually has a bar. Not something we think of as combining naturally with donuts. But this is Durham, after all. Portlandia East.

Later, I went for a run in the woods at Carolina North, up behind the old nabe. For most of my run I wound around in the woods between the main Pumpkin Loop road and the airport, an area which is 95% pines, calm and majestic. I didn't realize the extent to which the greenery up at the top and the soft carpet of pine needles below impart a special quality to those woods at this time of year, until I crossed over the road towards the railroad tracks and Seawell School Road, where all of a sudden I was in hardwood land, where the path was hard and rocky and the trees, bereft of leaves, offered no shade, so the light was pretty harsh.  I'll be headed back to the piney woods at this time of year.

Then went to Flyleaf Books and got a copy of Michael Lewis's new book on Kahneman and Tversky. The great thing about Lewis is that, when he's in his groove, whatever he's writing on is like candy. Back to that.

Friday, January 13, 2017

this is just to say

got her

seems to be
sprouting a

Is nothing

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

big deal

The Journal ran a piece today about how Chinese insurance companies are selling risky products to retail investors to invest in risky business opportunities. For example, Anbang Life Insurance bought the Waldorf-Astoria in New York for about $2 billion:

One of its funding sources is 28-year-old Dai Yiyun, an executive assistant in Shanghai who decided to plow $22,500 into a three-year interest-bearing deal that also includes a small amount of life insurance. When Ms. Dai checks Anbang’s app, she says she is monitoring the rate of return and has no idea how much insurance the product includes. She adds that Anbang’s high-profile investments give her a thrill. “I feel I am part of the process, part of the deal,” she says.

This deal mentality amongst average citizens is probably not a good thing. The idea that we are going to become wealthy by buying and selling things -- or participating in the buying and selling of them by others, is pretty silly. It may end up in tears, and having a President who proclaims himself the master of the deal will probably not help.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Quiet days, not without adventure

For much of the last two snowy days, we were without land line and, much more importantly, internet. It was rather awesome. Nobody isolated in their rooms with their devices. Natalie went over to her friend's house, where they lunched and watched a stupid movie. Graham read with me in the living room, then we went out and sledded. Mary cleaned up a bunch of crap that had been accumulating on the island in the kitchen and around her desk. I made a ton of headway on a Wallander novel. Last night we all hung out around the fire in the living room and read. Except when people interrupted me with their stupid talking.

No but seriously, it was enough to make me think about turning off the router for a certain number of hours per weekend or even evening.

Not that it was without adventures. For example:

  • After lunch on Friday, I went back to the office to get my computer, then headed home. When I sat down in my car, I felt a sharp pain near my left hamstring. "What the hell?" I thought. It turned out to be a toothpick which was somehow sticking out of my seat and stuck into my leg, like maybe an inch deep. I had to pull the mofo out of there, and it hurt like hell. On top of having fallen on my right butt cheek on the tennis court Wednesday night (though I won the point), this makes me a little gimpy.
  • Early that evening, I put down some salt on the steps leading from our driveway to our side door. At around 7:45 on Friday evening, as frozen precip of some sort was just starting to come down in earnest, Mary discovered we were out of cat food. I had to run out to Pet Smart on the Boulevard to get this ridiculous prescription food. When I got back, there were a bunch of deer hanging out by the steps, licking up my precious salt. The bastards. I honked at them pretty good.
  • Yesterday Graham and I were out sledding by the lake. I use this rather minimalist, Zen roll up sled kind of thing. Just a sheet of plastic, really, but it slides rather well. It was pretty windy, and as I made my way back up the hill, the wind blew it up and it hit me in my chin, breaking the skin and drawing little blood. Later a crew from the local CBS affiliate was interviewing people about the sledding, and I shared a few trenchant insights with them, garnering some portion of my proverbial 15 minutes of fame. Not long after that, I was hanging out with Chris Senior talking about this and that, and he looks at me and goes "It looks like you've got some of your lunch on your face." He helped me clear it up. Thankfully, this hadn't shown up on TV.
  • The night of the snow, I had a dream. I had recently been to the barber, but he hadn't cut my hair as short as I like it. It was a bummer.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Beginning again

We have been to the Northeast and back, repeating the rhythms of the season, which go something like this: drive north (Subway for lunch, Starbucks mid-afternoon), arrive Larchmont (lasagna from Mercurio's in Mamaroneck). Christmas (Turducken), open presents. Joy! Stay for a while. Drive home, stop in Princeton for a night or two, hang out with friends (take-out from Ricky's Thai in Skilllman -- Duck Noodles!!). Drive home (Subway, Starbucks).

OK.  I am boring even myself with this simple enumeration. One of the high points this year was taking Natalie into the city and walking around NYU, the East Village, and then Columbia. I did my best to show her what I know of the city, though at some points in time it devolved into what Natalie termed:  "a tour of your life in the city." But she was OK with it.

This year it was noteworthy that on Christmas morning there was no mad crush to open presents, all the kids were satisfied with their stocking-stuffers so we even got to have breakfast before the great rending of paper and saving of bows for next year.

Several nights in a row I fell asleep early on the couch in the sun room, the best of which was with Beth's dog Jenny warming my feet and even snoring for good measure.

One downside of our drives is that, since everybody has a profusion of electronic devices now, we spend too much time with our eyes and ears glued to them in the car. That's something we need to work on.

It has been a short holiday season, thanks to this darned calendar, and today it is grey and rainy here in Chapel Hill. Ah well. Back to life, back to reality.