’23 skidoo

The era of social media is on the wane, and here’s the proof: I wrote far fewer Facebook (and other) posts and comments than in years past, and instead of spending the last few days of 2023 recapping them like I usually do, I felt no urgency to, and did other stuff instead.

Gone daddy

In the mid 1990’s I had recently moved from Pittsburgh to California, and my dad, a lifelong New Yorker, was nearing his sixtieth birthday. More distance separated us now than ever before. He frequently exhorted me to visit, morbidly emphasizing that he didn’t know how many more times we’d get to see each other.

Many, as it turned out; about twice a year for the next quarter century, sometimes here and sometimes there (and occasionally elsewhere) — long enough to welcome two grandchildren, and frequently enough to be very present and beloved in their childhoods. He watched with pleasure and pride as they grew into accomplished young men.

Those same young men were with me in New York today, along with my sister — our dad’s complete genetic legacy — as he drew his final breaths after a long decline.

His body may have died today, but much of him lives on in me. Every time I take pleasure in a job well done, that’s my dad. Every time I keep my word, that’s him too. When I muster my self-confidence, when I deliver a firm handshake, when I plan ahead or stand up for myself and others, that’s him. The joy I derive from my loving family — that is one hundred percent my dad.

He equipped me with the tools I needed for building a good life, and for enjoying it. Thank you Dad, and goodbye.

Third term’s the charm!

With both boys now away at college the time finally came to purge two decades’ worth of clutter that accumulated while childraising left us no bandwidth to spare.

We’ve been making all sorts of discoveries among our long-forgotten belongings, including this: an outline that I wrote in early 2006 for a story about presidential politics.

  • August 2006, Crawford, Texas: George W. Bush summons campaign advisors to his ranch. There is speculation that he is making succession plans and may appoint his brother Jeb VP. (But Jeb’s circle is not in attendance.)
  • Right after Labor Day, word leaks: Bush may campaign again.
  • White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan is evasive. “The Constitution does prohibit getting elected to more than two terms — but it doesn’t prohibit campaigning for a third term.”
  • Democrats’ heads exploding. Negativity starts to erase gains going into the November congressional elections. The GOP retains a congressional majority.
  • Republicans say the two-term limit is “our rule” in response to FDR, and is now “outmoded,” adding that the GOP deserves a three-term presidency because the Democrats had one.
  • The GOP launches an effort to amend the Constitution.
  • Bill Clinton promptly announces he’ll run for a third term.
  • The GOP amends its amendment effort: only three consecutive terms are OK.
  • The press attacks Clinton.
  • Democrats attack the press.
  • Hillary is pissed. This was supposed to be her turn.
  • Numerous GOP challengers emerge, but self-destruct. (E.g., Giuliani over the Kerik affair.) Bush is the party’s best candidate going into the primaries.
  • In the Democratic primaries it’s Bill vs. Hillary. They cancel each other out.
  • Bush wins the election (amid questions over the vote).
  • The Supreme Court rules the Constitution’s term limit rule is moot in this case, because enforcing it would undermine the will of the majority.

It’s a measure of how far the Trump presidency moved the Overton Window on constitutional abuses that this now reads as quaint satire. At the time I wrote it this would have been an all-too-plausible pulse-quickening nightmare.

High fifteen

In 2016 I took a memorable trip to New York City with my colleagues from Chain. Nasdaq and Chain cohosted a conference to educate finance nerds about blockchain technology.

We spent the weekend before the conference doing fun New York things, together and separately. On Saturday morning we got a wonderful docent-led tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A highlight of that tour was the Temple of Dendur, a three-thousand-year-old Egyptian structure donated to the U.S. in the 1960’s. It is exhibited in a special gallery at the north end of the museum, whose north face is a canted glass wall. Our tour guide asked if any of us could guess why. I speculated that a wealthy patron wanted to be able to see it from their nearby Fifth Avenue penthouse. I was exactly right, and got a high-five from the guide. Jacqueline Kennedy was instrumental in securing the temple for the Met, beating out the Smithsonian and other sites, and got to gaze down at it for years afterward. (Her passion for it derived from the efforts she and JFK made during his presidency to rescue Egyptian antiquities from destruction due to the Aswan Dam. The gift of the temple from Egypt was in gratitude for that.)

Later in the day we were talking about the musical Hamilton, which was then a brand-new and unprecedented sensation. Only our CEO Adam had seen it, on a New York trip a few months before, but it captivated him and he brought it up often. A line from one of its songs — “In the face of ignorance and resistance I wrote financial systems into existence” — appeared at the bottom of our company stationery, since it is what we imagined we ourselves were doing. I mentioned that I’d pieced together some things I’d read about the show’s creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, to conclude not only that he’d attended my old high school, but that he’d developed his performing and playwriting skills as part of The Brick Prison Playhouse, the repertory group that my friends and I created there in the early 80’s. (I had only recently become aware that The Brick Prison Playhouse still exists.) My colleague Boyma gave me a high-five on hearing that news.

At dinner the topic of childraising came up. Almost all of my colleagues were young and childless; I was the old man of the group. Thanks to nieces and nephews, godsons and -daughters, babysitting gigs and the like, everyone had some child-caregiving experience to share. Uncommonly kind and positive as this group was, their stories nevertheless tended toward the kids-are-frustrating-and-exhausting end of the spectrum. So I chimed in: everything worthwhile takes energy and effort; the rewards vastly outweigh the challenges; and as my mom told me when I first became a parent, it just keeps getting better. My colleague Oleg — the one other parent of the group — loved this sentiment so much he high-fived me.

To be clear, my usual number of unsolicited high-fives in a day is zero. April 9th, 2016 was a significant outlier.

Postscript. At the successful conclusion of the conference at Nasdaq’s headquarters, Adam marched us three blocks uptown to the Richard Rodgers theater for a group viewing of Hamilton. It blew our minds — the show itself, of course, but also that Adam was even able to do this for all of us. Those were the hottest tickets in town, and the scarcest, and the priciest. To this day I have no idea how he did it.

Toodle-oo, ’22

Not bad, 2022, not bad. Military aggressors and self-important blowhards pwning themselves; wrongdoers held to account; monopolies declining; voting rights, climate solutions, and labor on the rise. 2023 are you paying attention? (Previously.)

  • [Friend comments, “Fuck this shit” when Betty White dies right at the end of 2021.]

    I like how another FB friend put it: “History will align the end of this dark period with the passing of Betty White. She sacrificed herself to usher in a new era of health, joy, and kindness.”

  • Continue reading “Toodle-oo, ’22”

Santa Claus sta venendo al villaggio

A beloved (possibly only by me) tradition continues! (Previously.)

Earlier this year I completed the Duolingo course in Italian. Let’s see how well I can translate “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” into Italian! Herewith, the translation back into English by Google Translate of my attempt.

Better look around
Better not cry
Better not be sad
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to the village

He’s making a list
And looking at it twice
He will know who is bad and who is good
Santa Claus is coming to the village

He sees you when you are sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
Then be good for being good

Better look around
Better not cry
Better not be sad
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to the village

Disco-ball Earth

Too bad we can’t convert the infrared getting trapped by the greenhouse effect back into ultraviolet that can escape. Or… can we?

[This is another in my occasional series of half-baked ideas for saving the world. If you can actually make this idea work, it is all yours, and a grateful planet will thank you.]

As you probably know, the climate crisis is due to the greenhouse effect, in which the Earth absorbs more energy from the sun than it is able to shed back into space, causing the planet gradually to grow warmer and warmer. This is a change from the past, when the Earth’s “energy budget” — the amounts of arriving and departing energy — was more or less in balance.

The problem is that a lot of solar radiation reaching the Earth is in the form of ultraviolet light, which is easily able to pass through the atmosphere and reach the surface, where it heats things up. Hot things emit infrared light, and if enough of that can escape back into space to offset the incoming ultraviolet, all is well.

But carbon in the atmosphere blocks infrared from escaping — while doing nothing to reduce the amount of ultraviolet getting in. All substances absorb some wavelengths of light and not others; that’s simply “color.” (Ultraviolet and infrared are just colors our eyes can’t perceive.) When it comes to the gases in the atmosphere, the color hand we’ve been dealt is: let in UV, trap IR. It seems unfair, but chemistry doesn’t care about your feelings.

The politics of our age make it doubtful we can rebalance the energy budget by meaningfully reducing the amount of carbon in the air in a useful timeframe. Too bad we can’t convert the infrared getting trapped back into ultraviolet that can escape, as an alternative.

Or… can we?

Much of what the sun heats up is ocean — naturally, since that’s most of the Earth’s surface. The warming of the oceans is associated with more-intense storms, acidification and coral bleaching, imperiling the Gulf Stream, and a host of other ills.

Most of the warming of the oceans is confined to the upper few hundred feet of depth. Below that in most places is a thermocline — an abrupt temperature drop, with much cooler water below, mostly isolated from the warming effects above.

The thermoelectric effect is a physical phenomenon that can convert a difference in temperature into an electric current.

Putting all of the above together, here’s the idea: build a buoy that floats on the ocean. Beneath the buoy, a long wire extends down past the thermocline. The difference between the surface temperature and the temperature at depth creates a current in the wire — small, but continuous. The current is used to power an ultraviolet laser in the buoy, aimed at the sky. It shines weakly, but continuously, steadily drawing heat from the ocean and beaming it into space.

With enough of these simple, inexpensive units built and deployed, we should be able to offset the greenhouse effect. Doing the math on how many that would be is left as an exercise for the reader. Undoubtedly it would take thousands, perhaps millions, of UV-laser buoys floating in oceans all around the world.

One thing is for sure, though: if this solution works, saving the world wouldn’t be the only cool thing about it. An alien looking at the Earth from space, with eyes that can perceive ultraviolet rays, would see a spinning celestial disco ball.

What is easy about pie?

Several months ago it briefly looked like the University of Chicago might be on the list of schools to which Archer, our high-school senior, might apply. In the end he did not, but he got far enough to learn the application requirements, which include writing an essay on one of several creatively chosen topics, including, “What if the moon were made of cheese?” and “It’s said that history repeats itself, but what about other disciplines?”

I liked the sound of one prompt so much that I immediately sat down and wrote my own essay on the topic: “What is so easy about pie?” I didn’t show it to him until after college-application season was over, not wanting to unduly influence him.

What is easy about pie?

Nothing! It is a simpleminded lie — the pie lie! — meant, perhaps, to give comfort in a cruel and indifferent world. “Easy as pie!” “Santa Claus!” “American exceptionalism!”

I turn to no less an authority than the great Carl Sagan, who said:

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

Does that sound easy to you?

Even granting the existence of the universe — the gravity crushing hydrogen into helium in the heart of the sun, and binding the Earth to its orbit; the vast web of interdependent organisms deriving their life energy, ultimately, from that nuclear fusion; the evolved apes with the means to harvest that life for flour, sugar, cinnamon, butter, and apples — even granting all of that (and that’s a lot to grant), it’s still not easy, as the columnist Megan McArdle pointed out in a recent essay for the Washington Post, “Can America save its national dish?”:

In 2019, more than 50 million Americans used frozen pie crusts, and more than 40 million used the refrigerated kind. Even though store-bought crust is terrible.

Yet commercial bakeries don’t do much better.

Why would we Americans use terrible store-bought pie crust if pie is easy? Why can’t even commercial bakeries get it right if pie is easy? Easy: pie is not easy.

Take special note of McArdle’s title, and now consider Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, which states: “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.” If pie were at all easy, wouldn’t Americans save it? Of course they would; but Betteridge, McArdle, and Sagan say they will not.

Pie is not easy. But then, nothing worthwhile ever is.


When the year fails to acquit itself well, it is my self-appointed duty to compensate with witticisms and clever observations. (Previously.)

  • Not everything in 2020 was bad.

    Not everything in 2021 will be good.

    Also, it's foolishness to assign credit or blame for events to the calendar.

    Still happy to have 2020 behind us. Happy new year!

  • Continue reading “2021-and-done”

The Santa Corps

You better not pout
You better not cry
You better not shout
I’m telling you why:
The Santa Corps is coming to town

It’s made up of moms
And also of dads
Uncles, aunts, siblings
Students and grads
The Santa Corps is coming to town

It numbers in the billions
With no centralized control
Its geographic center
Is of course at the North Pole

No toy-making elves
No reindeer-drawn sleigh
There’s no need for magic
It just seems that way
The Santa Corps is coming to town