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.