The Positive Manifold is Annoying

Scott Barry Kaufman, an accomplished cognitive scientist who began his academic career as a special ed student relegated to the resource room, explains in his book Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, The Truth About Talent, Practice, Creativity, and the Many Paths to Greatness that smart people (typical smart people, not savants or people higher on the autism spectrum) tend to be smart in all subjects, and do well on an entire battery of cognitive tests-- there is a positive correlation between succeeding in French class and being able to do Calculus, between discerning musical pitch and mentally rotating objects . . . and this seems unfair, that the intellectually rich get richer, but what pioneering cognitive psychologist Charles Spearman called "the indifference of the indicator" has now become a psychological law . . . the positive manifold always correlates and though you'd expect "that the more time a student puts into one area of study, the more performance in another suffers" this isn't the case; students who do well in one particular subject tend to perform well in other subjects (and this does not preclude them from being athletic, as kinesthetic sense also positively correlates, so you might not be able to beat them up to punish them for their superior academic performance).

Don't Know Much About History

Greg Grandin's book Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism is giving me a headache-- the Drug War stuff I read revealed the tip of another iceberg, American intervention and meddling in Latin America, and I never learned any of this stuff history class but I feel like I should know the basics; Grandin does lay out some simple cause and effect at the start of the book: "it was in Central America where the Republican Party first combined the three elements that give today's imperialism its moral force: punitive idealism, free-market absolutism, and right-wing Christian mobilization" but then things get complicated, for example "it was Carter, not Reagan who began to increase the military budget at the expense of social services" and it was Jimmy Carter who created the Rapid Deployment Force, to be used "pre-emptively" in trouble spots around the world (he supported the mujahideen six months before the Russians invaded Afghanistan) and it was Carter who vowed to protect the Persian Gulf region "by any means necessary" and, believe it or not, it was Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney who blindsided Henry Kissinger and his Realpolitik, and the two of them pushed for a "morality plank" in American diplomacy and a world political view based on "a belief in the rights of man, the rule of law, and guidance by the hand of God" instead of secrecy, coercion, and undue concessions . . . which makes the whole Abu Ghraib thing quite ironic.

Let's Enter the Mind of My Child

So I'm at the Chinese restaurant with my dad and my brother and the waiter brings us little plates for our dumplings, and my little plate is a bit damp (and if I thought about this for a moment, I would surmise that it's damp from being washed, but I don't like to think about things until after I do them) and so I wipe the water droplets off the plate with my shirt, the dirty, sweat soaked shirt I've been wearing all morning at soccer camp so now the plate is dry but filth-encrusted, and I'm totally happy.

The (Slightly Insane) Case of the Missing Teeth

My nine year old son Ian had a rough time at the dentist on Monday; he had two teeth pulled-- or, as his pediatric dentist euphemistically put it, "wiggled out"--  and though he was brave during the procedure, by the time he got home he was crying from the pain, clutching the little orange container which held his two extracted teeth . . . but once he recovered, he realized that he was definitely going to receive some sympathy in the form of pecuniary renumeration . . . i.e. the tooth fairy, and he asked his brother for some advice on whether he should put one tooth under his pillow per night, or stick them both under at the same time, but Alex didn't know what to tell him, and so he asked me . . . though he knows full well that I know that he knows that mom is the tooth-fairy and that teeth aren't fungible currency, and so I told him he'd have to make that decision on his own, and he was laboring over it, because he has an acquisitive nature and couldn't help speculating on which strategy would net him the greater gain . . . but then when it finally came time for bed, it turned out that he misplaced his little orange container full of teeth-- the container he desperately needed in order to get in the money-- and so I helped him look for a few minutes because I wanted to get him to get to bed so that I could watch The Guild, but we couldn't find it, and so I told him not to worry about it and go to bed, that the tooth fairy would still come-- but now he was concerned that he needed to leave something else under his pillow (once he drew a tooth on a sheet of paper and exchanged that for cash, because he wanted to keep his tooth) and then my wife got involved in the search-- she started stomping around the house, angrily looking for Ian's teeth, complaining that he couldn't be trusted with anything of value-- and I was smart enough not to remind her that the teeth actually had no value on any modern commodity or currency market, because she was in some kind of mood and she was using the teeth as a metaphor for all the things that my kids lose on a daily basis (and I don't think that my wife reads this blog very often, so I'll be frank here . . . the whole incident seemed kind of insane to me, especially when she told me that it was "nice to be you, since you don't give a shit" which was totally true, I was fine with giving Ian some coin, even if he didn't have the teeth, as there was plenty of evidence that he lost them: there were two holes in his gums, I saw the teeth earlier in the day, and there were several credible witnesses to the dental procedure) and by the time Catherine finally gave up on the search for the teeth, she was so annoyed that she didn't even want to watch The Guild because she said she "wouldn't enjoy it" and so she just went to bed (and part of this had to do with me not cleaning up any of my mess from dinner, which I meant to do, but I got really engrossed in my book about U.S. interventions in Latin America, so I may have been part of the reason that my wife was annoyed about irresponsible men in our household) and then early the next morning, I found the orange container of teeth amidst some Lego vehicles on the counter in the basement, leading to a paradoxical ending to this mystery; Ian received cash money for the teeth, or for the idea of the teeth, without actually exchanging the teeth, but now the teeth are back in play-- though they have no value in our household-- so Ian's best bet to parlay this into an even greater financial windfall is to sell them to a friend on the black market.

We Can't Stop Watching the Guild

I'm not sure sure which is nerdier: actually playing a MMORPG or binge-watching a show about people who play a MMORPG.

The Guild

If you need to watch something weird and funny, and you want to consume an entire season in one sitting (and you don't require A-list actors and really good lighting) then check out Felicia Day's web-based show The Guild, which follows the rather pathetic lives of a group of massively multi-player online role playing gamers as they navigate both the virtual and actual world (and I might add that in the first two seasons, there is absolutely no LARPing . . . which may or may not entice you to watch, depending on just how annoying and absurd you think LARPing is).

Non-Fiction/Fiction/Non-fiction Drug War Sandwich

I was so enthralled by Don Winslow's brutal and intense semi-fictional account of America's war on drugs (Power of the Dog) that I decided to read some non-fiction on the subject; after a bit of research I decided to purchase the Kindle version of Ioan Grillo's El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency . . . and a few pages into it, one of the anecdotes sounded familiar, and so I checked this blog and it turns out I read Grillo's book exactly two years ago . . . but even though I felt like an idiot for purchasing a book that I once borrowed from the library, now the story makes a lot more sense -- I know which characters are real, which are fictional, and which are fictionalized versions of real people: I highly recommend both of these books, and there is one more book on this topic that I want to tackle-- because I've heard such great things about it-- a non-fiction account by Elaine Shannon called Desperados: Latin Druglords, U.S. Lawmen, and the War America Can't Win. 

You Know It's Been a Good Vacation When . . .

You're taking a shower in the outdoor stall, after a run on the beach and a swim in the ocean, and you pull a ball of seaweed out of your crack.

The Bull Revisited (But Better)

Nine years ago in Sea Isle City, the Springfield Inn had an electric bull and for five dollars you could ride as much as you liked, so we rode the thing all night -- we rode it until the operator wanted to kill us (and tried his best) and we woke up the next morning with sore legs, calloused hands, and  chafed inner thighs . . . Wednesday night history repeated itself, except the bull was at La Costa, the operator was much more pleasant, and we only rode a few times each . . . and then we realized the real purpose of the contraption: one cute woman after another mounted the thing (some of them wearing short skirts) and the operator made sure that these ladies lasted a long time atop the bull, which the crowd enjoyed enormously.

My Skin Hurts (But in a Good Way)

The weather has been so clear, crisp and sunny in Sea Isle City the past week that I'm looking forward to some rain . . . do people who live in San Diego eventually get annoyed with all the brightness and low humidity?

What Else Is in There?

While we were walking along Corson Inlet to the Strathmere Bay, to do some creature collecting on the sandbars, we saw a guy throw a dragnet into the inlet and he pulled out two puffer fish and a seahorse.

Sometimes Ignorance is Bliss

If you like your novels with extra torture, then read Don Winslow's fantastic, Ellroy-esque tale of Mexican drug cartels, DEA agents, and all the players in between them . . . The Power of the Dog will immerse you in a world you wish did not exist . . . and probably make you think legalizing drugs is a better option than what happened (or may have happened-- like James Ellroy, Winslow translates his hypotheses into prose with the verisimilitude of fact).

I've Still Got It . . .

Though it's been a three year hiatus, I've still got the remarkable ability to count to four at just the right moment in the bridge of "Born to Run" . . . I thought that era of my life was over, but after a candid discussion with LeCompt about addiction and recovery-- and I won't go into details to protect all parties involved-- Dom and Connell reminded him that I'm the guy who is especially adept at counting, and -- as usual-- after I performed my bit, I got several high fives from random folks at the bar, who were duly impressed by my special purpose.

Mix and Match Your Way to Fabulous Wealth and Riches

According to Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee's book The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, you don't always need something big and new to spur technological growth; progress often occurs because of "recombinant innovation" . . . you take the resources you have and rearrange them; e.g. Facebook and Google cars and Waze . . . so if you want to innovate, just combine current technologies in ways people haven't: a Vitamix/ drone . . . a rectal thermometer/ whip antennae . . . an iPad/ TV tray . . . see, it's easy!

Art Doesn't Have To Make You Feel Stupid

Art doesn't have to be the way it's portrayed in the inconclusive and unsettling documentary My Kid Could Paint That . . . I just watched it again (this time with with my own kids) and the film can be pretty cynical about the values of the current art scene: there is the recurring theme that modern art may be a scam and a lie-- and then it ends ambiguously, and we still don't know the answer to the puzzle; if you don't want to tackle opaque issues like that, then just take your kids to Grounds for Sculpture, and enormous outdoor sculpture "museum" outside of Trenton, they have just installed a Seward Johnson retrospective on and around the grounds-- many of the pieces are of pop culture icons and famous paintings, and some of them are enormous . . . and while the kids had a blast exploring the park and discovering all the surprises, we had the most fun in one of the buildings, where they set up life-sized tableaus of several famous paintings, and put them on camera-- so that when you entered the tableau, you appeared inside the framed version on the wall (which was in another location in the building) and this concept took a little while to understand, but once we had it figured out, we had people stationed at paintings, others running and getting inside the tableaus, and lots of zany antics . . . if you can get there before they take this stuff down, do it.

What's In an Excellent Sounding Name?

I met a man named Bill Rainwater yesterday . . . I wish I had a cool surname like that.

This Sentence Could Be Better

This sentence would be much better if I came to the end of three trilogies-- which is entirely in the realm of possibility, because the boys and I just watched The Matrix and I've never seen The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, but I don't want to ruin the original movie and I've heard the sequels are nothing special, and so I may never complete that one; I did race to the end of two detective sagas, though, and both are well worth it: the final book in Adrian Mckinty's Troubles Trilogy (In the Morning I'll Be Gone) is the best one of the series -- IRA plots, a locked room murder, multiple intelligence agencies, and plenty of atmosphere . . . and the season three finale of the British TV series Sherlock (His Last Vow) is also worth the ride, enough twists and turns in the plot to make you queasy and -- like the Mckinty novel -- some wild violence, which seems even more so because of the intelligent build-up . . . summer is coming to a close so enjoy this stuff while you still can.

All This So Kids Can Chase a Ball?

Here is the necessary paperwork-- copied directly from the reminder e-mail-- so that my son and his friends can kick around a ball on a grassy field:
1) Player and coach passes in one pile; passes must be on the official paper; the pictures must be in the upper left corner of the pass;

 2) 3 copies of the roster

 3) All the birth certificates in its own pile. in the same order as the roster;

 4) All the medical releases in its own pile. in the same order as the roster;

 5) All the signed SAGE forms in its own pile, in the same order as the roster;

 6) All the membership forms in the same order as the roster in its own pile;

 7) Coaches licenses, SAGE forms, and concussion forms in its own pile;

 8) All checks in an envelope in the same order as the roster - please include any partial payment or scholarship information.

The End of Days

Monday was a rude awakening for me . . . a horrible wriggling thought wormed its way into my brain: summer is going to end . . . this awful thought was caused by the start of high school soccer double sessions . . . the morning training run nearly killed me (I haven't been running all summer) and then I had to go to Costco with a substantial list and my legs were so sore that once I filled the cart, I had trouble pushing it . . . and so those of you who are jealous of teachers because we get so much time off, you should also realize that after so much time off, the looming threat of actually having to work again is quite stressful-- probably more stressful than work itself (one of my educator friends reminded me that we are in the "Sunday" of the summer, which dovetails nicely with my "Year as a Week" metaphor).

Everybody Loves Creedence and Tom Petty, Right?

Books have been written on the epic Beatles vs. Stones, debate but I'm pretty sure everybody loves Creedence and Tom Petty (and although Petty's new album is nothing spectacular, I'm glad he's finally hit number one on the charts . . . his albums were my go-to driving music on our cross-country trip, and I am forever indebted to him for that . . . and also for making that van scene in The Silence of the Lambs so memorable).

The Troubles Can Be Very Entertaining

Adrian Mckinty's second book in his "Troubles Trilogy" is as good as the first-- not only does the I Hear the Sirens in the Street have a cracking good mystery (headless torso, layers of espionage, John DeLorean, hauntingly beautiful widowed Irish farm lass, etc. etc.) but the setting-- the early '80's in Northern Ireland, amidst the worst of the terrorism, bombings, mob violence, and sectarian anger-- lends an extra air of tension and futility to the typical "damaged detective" story, and the writing is top notch-- a great beach book for the end of the summer . . . and also in the way of mysteries from across the pond, the Sherlock Holmes episode "The Sign of the Three," where Watson gets married and Sherlock Holmes delivers the most fantastically awkward, moving inspirational, deductive and dramatic best man's speech in matrimonial history is a must see, and it works as a set piece, so you don't need to watch the rest of the series to understand it.

A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.