The Test 74: These Are People That Died

This week on The Test, the premise is relatively simple: I describe a death and you identify the person that died in this manner . . . but Cunningham and Stacey still figure out a way to steer the show off the rails and into the void; join us for spoonerisms, Marlon Brando impersonations, exploding Stacey, the reason Cunningham wants to kill off multiple endangered species and much much more.

Alex and Ian: The Usual Suspects

Once a week, I've been forcing my kids to watch an oldish movie that I unilaterally select and while they always initially complain, ultimately they end up loving it: we did Pan's Labyrinth (awesome but creepy and violent) and Little Miss Sunshine (funny and mildly inappropriate in a sweet way) and The Usual Suspects (which Alex loved, especially the twist at the end . . . but I still suspect, as I did the first time I saw it, that it's not a particularly good movie, that there's no way to unravel the mystery or the plot, and that it's a something of a one trick pony) and we've got Juno  on tap for tonight, but I'm worried that we're not going to watch it because the boys are involved in some kind of bizarre epic battle that's going to result in both of them being sent to their respective rooms without dinner; Ian put away a pair of pajamas in the pajama drawer, which is in Alex's room and he left a pant-leg hanging out of the drawer and Alex told him to fix it because the hanging pant-leg was bothering him and Ian refused to put the pant leg all the way into the drawer, just to piss Alex off, and Alex sprayed water from the lizard-tank spray bottle onto Ian's bed and unless they can resolve this, they're not going to learn about teen pregnancy.

Litmus Test For Trump: Black Lungs or Clear Water

The Obama administration scrambled to finish the Stream Protection Act, a set of rules that detail how to enforce environmental protection laws already on the books-- the rules are 1200 pages long and fifteen years in the making (for more detail on the story, listen to the new Planet Money) and so now the question is whether Trump will utilize the rarely used Congressional Review Act to repeal the rules; the last time this was used, President Bush repealed Clinton's Workplace Injury rules and the backlash was fairly ugly . . . so keep an eye on this, as it will be a real litmus test as to just what kind of asshole Trump is going to be . . . and remember, there are two kinds of assholes: people who divide folks into two kinds of assholes and people who don't.

Betsy DeVos Is So Dumb She Should Be in a Sci-Fi Sitcom!

Readers of this blog are probably familiar the TV show Battlestar Galactica and the story of Laura Roslin, Secretary of Education of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol: she was 43rd in line for the presidency, but when the Cylons attack, everyone ahead of her on the presidential succession chart dies and she becomes the de facto leader of a ragtag band of FTL (faster than light) spaceships adrift in a hostile galaxy . . . and it turns out-- as these things usually do-- that the Secretary of Education is smart and savvy and principled and becomes a fantastic leader; I would like to pitch the converse version of this show (which would be a sitcom, of course) where the earth is destroyed by aliens that resemble giant grizzly bears and Betsy DeVos (who is undeniably very very dumb) ends up leading a ragtag band of spaceships into a hostile universe, but she allows the ships to do whatever they would like, without regulation, and encourages people to move from ship to ship if they don't like how they are treated-- while she basks in her ignorance and the luxury of her first class accommodations-- and her blissful idiocy is punctuated by occasional alien grizzly attacks but luckily, DeVos has a shitload of guns . . . and there are wacky subplot adventures on the different ships, but DeVos is unaware of anything that's going on, happily smiling in her well-tended bubble, praying to an anthropomorphic God and hoping that he will sort things out (but God turns out to be an alien grizzly bear, and eventually, when her ship travels through a wormhole, she meets Him and He eats her and then shits her out and she returns to the fleet to preach the Truth, because she has been eaten and defecated by the Divine Grizzly, but no one believes her and this just adds to the madness).

Dialing It In (Full of Pins)

I'm too tired to write anything coherent . . . which is odd because instead of exercising this afternoon, I went to the acupuncturist . . . which means I took a nap under a lightweight foil sheet, my body stuck full of pins (and I'm going back tomorrow, so expect more of the same . . . also-- note to self: apparently, I tried acupuncture four years ago, enjoyed some success with it and then promptly forgot that it's covered under my health insurance . . . but I won't forget again, because this lady told me that she does acupuncture on her dog and he loves it-- he even fetches the box of disposable needles and brings it to her-- and if it's good enough for a dog, it's good enough for Dave).

The Dorito Effect: A Good Book You Probably Don't Want to Read

Mark  Schatzker's The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor is a quick and easy read, but while the science is presented simply and effectively, the ideas themselves are not easy to digest . . . especially for a chip lover like me; here are some of the ideas (sans science, if you want that, read the book) in a proverbial nutshell:

1) much of our food has become bland, because we breed for the highest yield, the most pest-resistance and the best supermarket appearance . . . this as true for chicken as it is for broccoli and tomatoes . . . and the stuff in the book on chicken is pretty horrific . . . the chickens we are eating are abnormal genetically altered infants that grow at such a rapid rate that if you put it in human terms a two month human infant would weight 660 pounds . . . because of this the meat lacks flavor and nutrition, the flesh is watery and doesn't contain any of the good fats that more mature meat contains;

2) chicken used to be loaded with flavor-- especially older birds-- and there were varieties of chicken-- some for frying, some for broiling, some for stew-- but now all chicken is flavorless and has to be flavored post-slaughter, marinated and rubbed and coated and spiced;

3) we desire flavor because flavor indicates nutrition, but artificial and added flavors trick our brain into thinking we are getting a variety of food when we are not;

4) our body will keep eating these junk foods because our gut is waiting for the secondary compounds-- the fiber and vitamins and minerals and antioxidants-- which signal that we've had enough . . . you can eat enough McDonalds or potato chips to make yourself sick, but you can't do this with radicchio;

5) there is hope: people are trying to breed heirloom tomatoes for higher yield; it's possible to get a real chicken if you try hard enough; and kale and arugula have become very popular . . . Schatzker's advice is to try new natural foods, even if it's just a nibble of kale or mackerel; seek flavorful real foods; eat meat from pastured animals; avoid synthetic flavor technology; organic doesn't always equal good; use herbs and spices to complement food, not to cover up the blandness; don't pop vitamins; eat dark chocolate, drink wine and craft beer; find amazing fruit and give it to your kids; and demand better tasting chicken, strawberries, broccoli, carrots, potatoes, beef, etcetera . . . if you demand flavor, it will come, and with good flavor comes micronutrients and all kinds of other good things . . . and if you take one thing away from this post, it should be this: the lemon/lime flavoring in Sprite will NOT cure scurvy.

The Test 73: Holy Days, Holidays, and Appliance Shopping

'Tis the season . . . or 'twas the season, and it's never too late to learn something about all the holidays that everyone just celebrated . . . so join us on The Test for some good times-- Stacey provides the questions, and Cunningham and I bumble our way through religious traditions, holiday customs,  and related materialism, touching on topics as diverse as Petra, sneak-pooping, and when the gods believe it's appropriate to shop for an appliance.

Acupuncture and Miracles

I tried to play soccer this morning and I was foiled again-- my left calf and my right upper glute are both knotted up, and it's affecting my hip and I'm a trainwreck . . . but enough about me and my problems, on to the miracle: so I get home from soccer, limping and angry, my body in complete rebellion, my soul descending into the darkness that is midlife for an athlete, and after hearing my lamentations, my wife tells me to make an appointment with her acupuncturist, and I'm at the end of my rope so I actually follow her advice, look up the number, and call the acupuncturist, and after a bit of chatting, she's comfortable enough with me to share a weird revelation . . . apparently when I called her, she was sending a text and a photo-- a text thanking someone for recommending a local soccer program and a photo of her little daughter playing some soccer . . . and she was sending this text/photo to my wife and she said when my call came, her hair stood on end and she wondered if the person calling her could be related to the person she was sending the text/photo . . . and I am!

The Lizard Has Landed!

We finally finished setting up our bioactive vivarium and purchased a crested gecko-- half price at Petco this week!-- which my children named Bossk (after a lizard-like Star Wars character: a male Trandoshan bounty hunter, the son of Cradossk, who was known for hunting Wookies) and Bossk seems to be adapting nicely to his tank . . . if you look closely, you can see him here perched on his cork round.

Fuck John Wooden

Beloved UCLA coach John Wooden famously said: "The true test of a man's character is what he does when no one is watching," but what if you think no one is watching? . . . or-- more precisely-- what if you think no one is listening? because we've got to have some time off from all this good behavior-- it's not like we can maintain perfect character every waking moment-- so I was minding my own business, extricating a bike one of my children had cavalierly chucked into our bike shed, so that I could get my own bike out, and both bikes fell over . . . and my bike shed (custom built by yours truly) is under our porch, so it's a bit cramped in there and so when both bikes fell over, I let out a stream of expletives that would have made a teamster blush-- which was the only way to express my frustration with the state of the shed, the state of my aging body, the carelessness of my children, and my general annoyance with how tangled up bikes can get with one another . . . but, of course, I thought this was fine because I was sequestered away in a safe spot where I was certain no one was listening, but I forgot that my neighbor's porch happens to be rather close to the shed-- two Leyland cypress block the line of site, but they did not block or censor my profanity, and -- of course-- he happened to be on his porch and heard my puerile tirade and so he sincerely and sympathetically asked me if I was okay-- he assumed that I had been gravely injured, but I sheepishly told him I was fine, just frustrated, and if John Wooden hadn't died seven years ago, I would love to give him a serious chewing out, as I'm tired of this surveillance state Panopticon and ready to retire to the deep woods, where a man can reflect on a tangled nest of bikes in any manner he chooses.

Spoiler: It's Better to Watch the Love Grow

There have been a number of academic studies indicating that people enjoy stories more when they are provided with spoilers, and I've got some empirical evidence to support this argument: a student in my Creative Writing class (a rambunctious little senior named Haley) told me that she always checks with Reality Steve to find out who wins The Bachelor before she begins watching, and when I asked why she would want to ruin the drama she gave me an incredibly fulfilling explanation: "then you can sit back and watch the love grow."

If You Have a Brain, Don't Read This . . .

A foreboding contrast in style and logic:

1) President Obama's interview about healthcare on The Weeds: Obama is clear, knowledgeable, logical, and totally candid; he offers a challenge to Republicans-- he would love to endorse a transparent healthcare plan that does things better than the Affordable Care Act; Obama comports himself with intelligence, grace, and style and shows comprehensive understanding of the healthcare system, healthcare markets and economics, and the science of medicine . . .


2) Donald Trump's muddled conspiratorial medical gobbledygook-- he's asked anti-vaxxer Robert Kennedy Jr. to head a commission on vaccine safety . . . despite the fact that all links between vaccines and autism have been debunked (Jenny McCarthy aside) but Trump also brilliantly avoids looking like a total lunatic, as he has vaccinated his children-- just on his own schedule, a slower, very "conservative" schedule . . . thus claiming his own bizarre, unfounded (but appealing to a certain sort of maverick renegade Trump supporter) middle ground . . .

and these two polemically opposed rhetorical methods illustrate the same lesson as Marshall Curry's excellent political documentary Street Fight . . . disenfranchised folks don't want statistics and numbers and policy debate, they want a compelling narrative that explains why forces beyond their control have conspired against them, and a roguish hero, with the same imperfections they possess, who is willing to fight the forces of academic logic and intellectual elitism, using any means necessary . .  . though he's a Democrat, Sharpe James would be a welcome addition to Trumpland!

Dave Might Be a Wordist!

In the newest Hidden Brain podcast, linguist John McWhorter argues that it is the nature of language to change, and it is the nature of old people to argue that the changes are indicative of degradation and decay . . . but living languages always change-- words, context, diction, usage, style-- there's no stopping the changes because the changes are inevitable, and while it might irk and irritate older people, or people educated a certain way, McWhorter believes that once a critical mass of people are using a certain word or phrase or context, you can't claim that that usage is "wrong," and he thinks that the last vestiges of socially approved prejudice are for language usage-- in civilized society, you can't stereotype people for race, gender, religion, or sexuality-- but you can still make broad judgements based on language usage . . . and he's convinced me; I've always told my students that "language is a river," yet I paradoxically correct people when they use "lay" when they mean "lie" . . . and I used to correct people when they said "nauseous" when they meant "nauseated" . . . I gave up the latter because I recognized that a critical mass had shifted the usage, and I'm going to quit the "lie" and "lay" business as well . . . because I don't want to be a wordist (or an anti-dentite!)

The Internet Is NOT For Porn, It's For Building a Vivarium

Although the broadway puppet comedy Avenue Q proclaims that "The Internet is For Porn," the lyrics are very wrong-- the internet isn't for porn, it's for nerds, and so when Saturday's unexpected winter storm aborted our plan to go lizard shopping, and I started browsing around on the internet, I ended up learning how to build a self-cleaning bioactive small lizard vivarium-- and so now Ian's Xmas lizard has morphed into a much more fascinating project: we ordered lots of weird stuff on Amazon, such as Hydroballs (lightweight expanded clay terrarium substrate) and substrate mesh and New Zealand moss and a magnetic shelf feeding bowl and a UVB bulb and several other layers of substrate and a thermometer and a cork round and I researched the proper plants to put in the vivarium and we're going to eventually add springtails and isopods, which will eat the lizard feces . . . so what I initially thought was going to be a little jail cell for a lizard is now going to be a deluxe crib . . . and all because of those folks willing to nerd it up on the internet . . . check out the above video for some terrarium porn!

The Test 72: Happy Apocalyptic New Year!

This week on The Test, hunker down with the gang and get ready for the inevitable . . . the end of days are near, but this eschatological primer (provided by Cunningham, in the true spirit of the theme, without any technology) will prepare you for what's coming . . . and there is no doubt that we've got our bases covered: Stacey brings the guns, Cunningham purveys the spiritual nonsense, and I provide the useless information.

Ronald Reagan = Ronald McDonald

If you're looking for more reasons to hate Ronald Reagan and Ronald McDonald, here they are: in the late 70s, the Federal Trade Commission put out a report that ran over 6,000 pages, with undeniable testimony from experts that children could not understand the difference between content and advertising and thus warranted special protection in this regard-- many countries banned advertising to children entirely (Norway and Quebec) and in most other countries severely restricted it . . . but not the United States:

"When Reagan appointed Mark S. Fowler as commissioner of the FCC on May 18, 1981, children's television would change dramatically . . . Fowler championed market forces as the determinant of broadcasting content, and thus oversaw the abolition of every advertising regulation that had served as a guide for broadcasters . . . in Fowler's estimation, the question of whether children had the ability to discriminate between the ads and the entertainment was a moot point; the free market, and not organizations such as ACT would decide the matter . . ."

and after the US deregulated, Ronald McDonald and his evil minions took over the airwaves-- it became impossible to discern between the show and the commercial (He-Man, G.I. Joe, My Little Pony, Transformers, etc) which led to some fairly awful animated art, as the show was beholden to the tie-in merchandise . . . and the rest of the advertising to kids was for sugary cereals, candy, and fast food . . . with plenty of pester power . . . you've got to catch 'em all . . . and then Ronald Reagan was given a second chance to save the children at the end of his presidency, in 1988 . . . a second chance to differentiate himself from a crazy burger-pushing clown, but he declined; a new bill to limit advertising to children sailed through the Senate and passed in the House 328-78, and was even approved by the National Association of Broadcasters, but Reagan vetoed it-- he actually "pocket vetoed" it-- claiming the bill was unconstitutional and violated freedom of speech, and that businesses could purvey whatever wares to children they wanted, in any shape or form, on our public airwaves, despite the fact that it was fairly despicable in practice (and also a contributor to childhood obesity) and because we live in America, if there's not a law, then it's a free-for-all (unlike some of the countries that regulate themselves in this department, such as Great Britain) and so Reagan cemented his legacy as another Ronald who is willing to sacrifice our children to the Greater Gods of Corporate America.

Lizard Music

We are headed to NJ Exotic Pets in Lodi tomorrow, to buy a lizard . . . but we aren't sure what kind; Ian keeps calling the store and asking if they have certain obscure lizards in stock, and while I'm a little nervous about our actual visit to the pet store-- I don't know much about lizard pricing and care-- but I truly enjoy his phone calls to the store and could listen to them all day long . . . they go something like this:

"Hello . . . I was wondering if you have any forest armadillo lizards in stock?


Are you getting some soon?


Okay . . .

(pause for some internet research)

Hello . . . I was wondering if you have any fire skinks in stock?


Are you getting some soon?



Let Sleeping Birds Lie

This morning, while I was walking the dog in the 6 AM winter darkness, I nearly stepped on a bird; it was sleeping soundly, hidden in a leaf pile on the edge of the sidewalk, warm and comatose, dreaming of moist soil and wriggling worms, until I disturbed it . . . and then it fluttered off, scattering leaves and scaring the shit out of me.

And You Thought 2016 Was Wild?

Bill Bryson's book One Summer: America, 1927 uses a few months to paint a portrait of an America rolling precipitously into strange, new places, even faster than the America of today: Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig invented the home run derby, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed, Al Capone reigned, eugenics and involuntary sterilization were all the rage, Hollywood pumped out 800 feature length movies a year . . . and filmed it's first big "talkie," the Jazz Singer, Dempsey fought Tunney, The Federal Reserve cut interest rates which precipitated the stock market crash, Italians were regarded as a dangerous ethnic group, Gutzon Borglum began Mount Rushmore, Calvin Coolidge did nothing, the Mississippi flooded monumentally, Herbert Hoover supervised flood management, a lunatic blew up a school in Michigan and killed forty-four children, Henry Ford stopped production on the Model T Ford and began planning Fordlandia, a doomed model city and rubber plantation in Brazil, Shipwreck Kelly sat on a flagpole in Newark for 12 days, and Charles Lindbergh was adored by zillions, a consequence of his daring solo flight across the Atlantic (this is before his child was kidnapped, before he associated himself with the Nazis, and before it was discovered that he had several secret families).

2016 Book List

Here's what I read in 2016 (and despite reading nearly a book a week, I feel dumber than ever) and if you head over to Gheorghe: The Blog, you can see my eleven favorites . . . and if you're really feeling crazy and literary, you can check out my previous lists, but if you're going to read one book on this list, I would suggest Death Comes to the Archbishop by Willa Cather . . . I've read it twice, and I'll bet I'll read it again someday . . . anyway, here they are-- it's a little scary for me when I peruse this list, because I can't remember all that much about some of the titles, but I guess that's what happens when you read too much;

1) Trunk Music (Michael Connelly)

2) Hide & Seek (Ian Rankin)

3) Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis Robert D. Putnam

4) One Plus One Jojo Moyes

5) Andrea Wulf The Invention of Nature: Alexander Humboldt's New World

6) Death Comes to the Archbishop (Willa Cather)

7) The Milagro Beanfield War (John Nichols)

8) Agent to the Stars (John Scalzi)

9) The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run-- or Ruin-- an Economy (Tim Harford)

10) Tim Harford The Undercover Economist

11) The Expatriates (Janice Y. K. Lee)

12) Tim Harford The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World

13) Dale Russakoff  The Prize: Who's In Charge of America's Schools?

14) Charlie Jane Anders All the Birds in the Sky

15) Mohamed A. El-Erian  The Only Game in Town: Central Banks, Instability, and Avoiding the Next Collapse

16) Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder (Evelyn Waugh)

17) The Power of Habit:Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

18) Angels Flight (Michael Connelly)

19) Robert J. Gordon  The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War

20) Tony Hillerman A Thief of Time

21) Peter Frankopan Silk Roads: A New History of the World

22) Tony Hillerman Hunting Badger

23) Tony Hillerman Listening Woman

24) Tony Hillerman The Wailing Wind

25) The Lost World of the Old Ones:Discoveries in the Ancient Southwest David Roberts

26) Roadside Picnic (The Strugatsky Brothers)

27) Chuck Klosterman But What If We're Wrong?: Thinking About the Present as if It Were the Past

28) White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World by Geoff Dyer

29) The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 technological forces that will Shape our future by Kevin Kelly

30) Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

31) Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) Jerome K. Jerome

32) Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

33) Truly Madly Guilty Liane Moriarty

34) Seinfeldia by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

35) Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O'Neil

36) Ghosts by Reina Telgemeier

37) The Walking Dead 23-26

38) The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark For the Ivy Leagues by Jeff Hobbs

39) The Nix by Nathan Hill

40) Bill Bryson The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain

41) Tim Wu The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads

42) Colson Whitehead The Underground Railroad

43) Nicholson Baker Substitute

44) The Ocean of Life: The Fate of Man and the Sea by Callum Roberts

45) Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance.

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