First, I admonish my child for spending an insanely long time in the shower, and then -- when he finally gets out of the shower -- I notice that his hair isn't wet and, despite efforts to the contrary, I lose my shit.
Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football, by Nicholas Dawidoff, is so well written and so full of vivid and insightful detail, that I don't even mind that it's about the Jets; the narrative runs from the extremely familiar -- Rex Ryan rents a giant house in the Outer Banks and he extends "an open invitation to the other Jets coaches and their families to come for a stay, play games like corn-hole toss and washers . . . all he asked was that each family choose one night to prepare dinner for everyone" to things you'd never know from watching football on Sunday: in the 2010 playoff game when the Jets beat the Patriots, it appeared that the Jets were porous against the run, but that was actually "intentional . . . allowing New England a reasonably effective series of runs that distracted the Patriots from what they did best: pass" and the multifarious mysteries of a sport where eleven players are doing eleven different things . . . the 2009 Jets gave up only eight passing touchdowns, but in 2010, when they had two great cornerbacks (Revis and Cromartie) they gave up three times as many . . . was it lack of pass rush? had paired-man coverage become too predictable? was Cromartie jealous of Revis? . . . answers are hard to come by, but the coaches put in 120 hour weeks trying to figure it out, and that's what this book is about -- what goes on during all those hours at the facility, in one sense, the book is barely about the players at all.
We looked at several apocalypse tropes in my Creative Writing class last week -- an excerpt from Chuck Pahahniuk's Fight Club; the first pages of a fantastic book about the earth's orbit slowing (The Age of Miracles) and the David Bowie song "Five Years", which is a really long time to think about an impending apocalypse (what would you do? five minutes or five hours is easy, but five years?) and the morning after I did this lesson, I happened to listen to an episode of 99% Invisible called "Game Over" which got me all choked up -- and this was while I was walking the dog at 6:00 AM and shortly after my weeping in the dark, I ran into this big African American dude that I play basketball with (he's a garbageman and was reporting to the public works building, which is next to the dog park) and he'll always talk your ear off -- so I went from picking up dog poop to nearly bawling to removing my headphones and chatting in the dark about his back injury in the span of seven minutes, which is a lot of stimulus for me in the morning and my brain nearly suffered an apocalyptic apoplexy, but I recovered and then played the podcast for my students that day -- the show describes the end of a utopian digital world (The Sims Online) that had a cult following of very dedicated "players" that were really just hanging out and socializing, and there is a wonderful tape of the "DJ," a real human that spun music on a Sims radio station, in the final moments of the game, bidding his online buddies a tearful farewell as the Sim people freeze up, the houses and trees gradually blink out of existence, and finally, a server error message replaces the thriving little digital universe -- and this has made me have a rather selfish thought, that rather than die alone as most of us will, of a stroke or cancer or heart disease or falling down a well, instead I'd rather go out in a major cataclysm: an asteroid, a plague, man-eating ticks from space, whatever . . . because then at least everyone will be in it together (and I'd love to listen to the radio while it's all going down).
I know I'm a bit behind the times, but I finally finished the first season of the acclaimed TV series 24, and I've computed the exact percentages of all the major tropes and themes . . . here they are:
16% suspenseful drama;
11% gratuitous Elisha Cuthbert footage;
10% amnesia . . . seriously, amnesia;
0% Commedia dell'arte.
I often have to remind myself that I have clever children -- they read lots of books and can do math -- but when we are in the car, and they can't answer simple "trivia" questions such as "Which month starts the New Year?" and "What day is Christmas?" it gets a bit frustrating . . . but they did know the answer to one question: "What did the Indians tell the Pilgrims to bury with their corn seed?" and the answer is dead fish, of course, and my kids said that they remembered this fact because I told them when we were burying their pet fish in the backyard, after the fish committed suicide by jumping out of the tank and asphyxiating (and I would like to point out that I spelled "asphyxiate" right on the first try, even though I felt like I was just typing a random jumble of consonants).
Christmas Shoes (and the Holidays) Cause Me to Behave Badly . . . But I Can't Remove These Things From Our Society
I'm not sure how I avoided it, but I never heard the song "Christmas Shoes" until last week -- the song was a topic of conversation in the English office, because apparently my friend Eric threatens to sing the song to his classes if they don't donate money for the toy and clothing drive . . . and this threat works -- and so some of the women in the office (including Krystina, the fundraising queen) made me listen to the song so that I would become more motivated to raise money for poor children (this was not logical in the least, and I'm pretty sure they knew how I was going to react, but I think they take perverse pleasure in yelling at me) as my students were chastising me for not "trying hard enough" or "offering enough incentives to donate" to which I replied: "If I have to promise to give you brownies so you'll donate some money for impoverished children, then you are all horrible people," and -- predictably -- the song made me angry and deranged, instead of jolly, though I must give the song credit, as it's an amazingly bad piece of art, the kind of thing you couldn't write as satire if you wanted to, and it has sent me full tilt into un-godly materialist consumer culture Xmas ranting season, though I really wanted to scale that whole side of my personality down and try to focus on the nearly non-existent "chillaxing" side of my personality, which perhaps with some nurturing can become more prevalent at this supposedly "wonderful time of the year..
It's only fair that I make a full and candid declaration of my "media bias" to my readers, so they can have some perspective on my opinions -- and so I took an incredibly boring 40 question quiz created by "media bias expert" Dr. Tim Groseclose, who believes that mainstream media is slanted to the left and that this slant is having a major impact on the American mind (though I believe that the mainstream media, like any other corporation, is giving the people the stories they want -- and so therefore a reflection of the American mind . . . because if you want conservative news, you know where to get it) and my PQ Survey results (83.2) indicate that I'm fairly liberal -- somewhere between Joe Biden (80.5) and Hillary Clinton (87.6) -- but the quiz seems very one dimensional; if I were to guess, I think I would be a libertarian in respect to people's rights, somewhat conservative in market economics, radical in terms of environmentalism -- though hypocritical about it -- and socially liberal . . . but now I have no idea what I am (aside from an 83.2) but one thing the quiz does point out is how divided our government is . . . though the questions aren't terribly nuanced or exciting, the voting statistics are interesting in themselves (and I also took this quiz, and it labelled me a Working Class Warrior . . . which is absurd, since I'm an elitist pedantic bastard).
Though antique furniture is not my "bailiwick" and though Donna Tartt's picaresque novel occasionally "maunders" along in the metaphysical voice of the narrator (Theo Decker, a.k.a "Potter" according to his Russian buddy Boris, a nickname that is highly apropos) the book is mainly a Dickensian roller-coaster ride through disaster, friendship, a terrorist attack on the Met, art theft, the seedy underside of Vegas, drug addiction, alcoholism, furniture restoration, coincidence, and unrequited love . . . it is ambitious, well-written, and plotted to keep you turning pages, or in my case, increasing the font size of my Kindle so I could finish the book in an insane marathon session (it is nearly 800 pages long and it is worth the commitment).
My family has outstripped Monopoly . . . the house we rent in Vermont has the German board game Settlers of Catan, and while last spring when we didn't have the fortitude to figure out the rules (despite the fact that I had only heard rave reviews about the game) this time the boys and I were determined, and we attacked the game with blitzkrieg furor, and learned as we went, and we all decided that it may be the best game ever (and we even taught mom!) and Catan certainly rivals RISK (while being more cooperative, fun, strategic, random and tactical than the "game" of world domination) and now my kids want it for Christmas, and I want it too . . . but I am wondering if this will send them down a scary path of cardboard chits, lead figurines, multi-sided dice, and larping conventions.
I spent two days in Vermont snowboarding without securing the back of my bindings -- and my excuse is that they are rather new, I bought them at the very end of last season and only used them once, and they are a different type of binding (they are Gnu "fast entry" bindings and have a lever you have to initiate on the back to lock them) and I forgot that part of the entry -- so I rode Stratton from top to bottom without being strapped in, and it didn't bother me all that much (aside from the bottom of my right foot hurting from a lot of pronating . . . but then I noticed the lever and remembered what I was supposed to do with it (although the top of one was snapped off, probably because it was hanging loose and got clipped) and so I will leave it to you to determine if you respect me for my exceptional balance or wish to denigrate me for my absolute lack of understanding of my own equipment (and my wife had to help me figure out the lace system in my boots, which I've had for two years, and could remove for the life of me, resulting in some rather loud and embarrassing profanity in a family friendly ski lodge).
Black Friday uses a positive connotation of the color black -- this is the day when retailers go from "being in the red" to turning a profit -- but Black Monday and Black Tuesday refer to infamous market crashes and use black to refer to the darkness accompanying the event . . . and then, of course, you can be back in black, the man in black, or none more black . . . it's a very versatile color, or lack thereof.
We braved the storm Wednesday afternoon and motored up Route 87 to our favorite spot in Vermont, and when I took the dog out Thursday morning for a Thanksgiving romp in the snow, he enjoyed a delectable vacation treat: he flushed a mole out of a snow-covered pile of hay, chased it down, and gobbled it up (despite my best efforts to get him to spit it out) and while I was a bit worried that it might make him sick, he suffered no ill effects from eating this shovel-footed rodent, which was certainly fresh, and now I know that we don't need a cat to keep our house free of mice.
A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder explains that a little disorder is often more beneficial than organization -- and while we know this to be true in many systems, from evolution to business -- for many people, it's hard to accept this in day to day life . . . we think we need to be more organized, and rarely compute the cost/ benefit analysis of getting organized, and feel guilt over our messiness . . . but sometimes, when things get to clean, we need to manufacture messiness: once cell phone technology got sophisticated enough to filter out all background noise (something engineers loved, because it enabled less transmission of information, and therefore longer battery life and greater channel capacity) the phone companies ended up having to create a mathematical technique (e.g G.711.II) to add"comfort noise" and they had to do this for three reasons 1) when background noise is removed you can hear faint voice echoes, which is unnerving 2) background noise indicates that the call is still happening, otherwise, whenever there is a pause in the conversation, it sounds as if the other person hung up 3) at an unconscious level, we desire background noise and the absence of it is disorienting . . . "our brains rebel at the unnatural neatness."
An excellent Radiolab podcast called "Cut and Run" explains why a small area in Kenya produces so many incredible long distance runners (five American high school students have run sub-four minute miles . . . ever . . . while in one class in one school in Kenya, there were four kids who did it) and the program also explains why I get so fucking hot in the summer -- Kenyans generally possess a "nylotic" body type -- tall, slender, and with very long and tapered limbs -- and this body type sheds heat well and people who live in hot and dry climates have often evolved in this manner . . . and I am neither tall nor slender, and my limbs are stubby and thick (Popeye forearms and bulging calves) and while this is good for lifting things, it is NOT good for shedding heat . . . but that's not the only reason that the Kenyans from this region are great runners: for the final piece of the puzzle, you'll have to listen to the podcast, but I will tell you that involves circumcision and a pointed stick (and American runners aren't going to catch up to the Kenyans any time soon, judging by this statistic).
I finished Nassim Nicholas Taleb's new book Antifragile, and while I can't say it was fun and delightful, like a Malcolm Gladwell, I will say that it is a book you must read -- while Taleb is no great stylist, his thinking is logical, powerful, anti-establishment, anti-intellectual and apolitical -- which is refreshing; while this book frequents some of the same financial territory as The Black Swan, Taleb also ranges far, wide, and crazy with his thesis about systems that gain from volatility versus systems that are fragile, systems that fall apart in volatile times; I love what he has to say about books and technology . . . he explains that probabilistically, they age in an opposite fashion from humans: when you see an old human, you infer that he will probably live less time than a young human, but you should think in the reverse in regards to technology and books -- the longer the item has been around, the longer it probably will be around . . . we are stuck with cars and bicycles and cups and chairs for a long time, and the same with Shakespeare and Homer and Herodotus (Taleb tries only to read books that have been around for a long long time, and he claims only to drink things that have thousands of years of trials: coffee, tea, wine and water . . . he is a wacky guy) and what his philosophy ultimately comes down to is that you can only trust opinions from people with "skin in the game" and so he hates managers and governments and large institutions and pundits (especially Thomas Friedman, who he claims helped encourage the U.S. to invade Iraq, though he himself wouldn't be put in any danger if this happened) and pretty much anyone who doesn't have their own money on the line each and every day . . . he's brash, obnoxious, smart, frustrating, and also offers some diet and weight-lifting tips along with the finance and philosophy.
I'd choose to visit Philadelphia over New York City any day of the week (and weekends) and while there, I would rather eat a roast pork sandwich with sharp provolone and long hots from DaNic's than a cheesesteak with onions from Jim's Steaks . . . so kill me.
My boss recommended this You Tube video by author John Green to inspire seniors struggling to write their college essays, and not only does it offer some great advice about how to view your life, but it also teaches you how long one million seconds are and reveals the significance of the classic Jimmy Stewart movie Harvey, which is about an affable tippler (Elwood P. Dowd) and his best buddy -- a six foot three inch invisible rabbit (which is the embodiment of a mischievous Celtic "pooka") -- and this film is one of the weirdest I have ever seen; it is oddly gripping, and my kids watched it in its entirety . . . if you like Jimmy Stewart and you're in the mood for something funny and whimsical that also makes you feel good about frequenting pubs and taverns, then this is the movie for you.
So my students were working in groups -- connecting this podcast to this article with some help from Neil Postman -- and I was reading nature essays and just finished a vivid one about a trip to Tanzania and an encounter with a hungry lion, and so I yelled over the din to the girl who wrote the piece: "You went on safari! Wow!" and she looked up from the MacBook Air she was using (we have a cart of ten MacBook Airs for classroom use) and answered "No, I'm on Google Chrome" and I yelled, "No, I mean you went on a safari!" and she said, "No, I didn't go on Safari, I'm using Google Chrome" and I yelled, "NO! You really saw lions! You went on a safari!" and then we both simultaneously realized that we were treating the class to an impromptu farce.