Sergeant Powell Gets Back in the Saddle Again

We watched Die Hard the other night with the kids, and while the movie totally holds up-- it's perfectly plotted and everything detail is important: the foot exercises, the tipped photo, the Rolex watch-- there's a celebratory moment at the end that indicates just how much times have changed; Hans Gruber's henchman Karl (who seemed to expire when John Mclane wrapped a chain around his neck and threw him over a railing) emerges from the building with an automatic rifle, and just as he is setting his sights on McLane, Sergeant Powell-- the African-American cop who trusted and believed McClane-- pulls out his gun and shoots Karl before he can fire a round . . . and we're supposed to be especially ecstatic that Powell kills Karl not just because he saves McClane, but also because Powell has been hiding behind a desk for years, as he lost his mojo when he accidentally shot a thirteen year old kid who was carrying a toy ray-gun . . . and this quick draw and execution of Karl indicates that he's back on the horse, once again confident with the gun and ready for unbridled street action.

This Makes More Sense Than the Whole Dipping A Baby in the River Styx Theory

Last week, I was discussing heel pain with my friend Greek friend Argiris-- we were both lamenting the fact that we couldn't play Friday morning basketball due to foot pain-- and he came up with an interesting theory: perhaps Achilles legendary heel wasn't metaphysical at all, perhaps he simply had plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis, this would explain why he did all that melancholic brooding in his tent during the siege of Troy . . . I can certainly attest to the fact that heel pain leads to brooding, as I played indoor soccer yesterday and aggravated my plantar fasciitis and I've been depressed and brooding since then, as you can't do anything with any kind of alacrity or good spirits when every step you take hurts; as a bonus, both of these ailments are due to tightness in the calf and Achilles tendon . . . so maybe the legend about the bum heel that laid a great hero low was a simple (and very common, especially if you're wearing footwear without support . . . sandals!)  physical ailment which gained mythical status after many years had passed.

The Test 104: Vitamin D+

This week on The Test you'll get your daily dose of Vitamin Cunningham . . . and though she's a little short on information, she makes up for it with attitude; bonuses: a much-needed cameo from God, Stacey cleans up dog vomit, and Dave uses the plural of the word "piranha."

People: Obstacles to Obesity

The new episode of Plant Money delves into the Beige Book-- the Federal Reserve's treasure trove of economic anecdotes that offer a more human report on current economic conditions-- and one snippet of information from Cleveland is that when people ordered fast food at an electronic kiosk, rather than from a human cashier, they ordered (on average) more food . . . so perhaps when people are ordering on a screen, they are less embarrassed to supersize their meal, or order three bags of fries, or add bacon, because they don't have to confess their gluttony to an actual person . . . nearly twenty years ago-- long before automated kiosks-- my friend Whitney solved this problem; after a late night at the Corner Tavern, we were waiting in line at Giovanelli's and Whitney-- a native of Virginia-- couldn't decide which Jersey specialty in which to indulge, the cheesesteak-with-egg or the fatcat, and so when he got to the front of the line, he said, "We'll have the cheesesteak and egg and the fatcat," a brilliant maneuver to disguise his decadent order . . . unfortunately, the next person in line was our friend Rob, who caught his use of the "royal we" as a tactic to order two sandwiches without the shame and publicly called him out on it: "We? Who the fuck is we? You! You are having two sandwiches . . . there's no we."

Duh Dad . . .

I was unloading the dishwasher and listening to Conversations with Tyler, a podcast where brilliant libertarian/conservative economist Tyler Cowen asks very smart guests profoundly long, allusion laden questions and then actually gives these very smart guests time to answer, without interrupting or interjecting very much at all-- if your upset about Trump and the Republicans and all that, it's a good reminder that not all conservatives are insane . . . and my son Alex came into the kitchen while I was listening and he asked me what I was listening to and I gave him the previous explanation, pretty much word for word and this was his reply:

"That sounds interesting,"

and I said, "It is interesting,"

and he said, "I was being sarcastic, dad,"

and so I told him I recognized that he was being sarcastic (and then I won't transcribe the rest of what I said to him, in case DYFS reads this blog).

I'd Rather an Oscar

This afternoon my acupuncturist happily awarded me the "point" of the week, which means when she stuck a needle into the anterior ligament on the inside of my left foot, I jumped, my foot jumped and she jumped . . . because my foot reacted so strongly to the stimulus . . . I accepted this honor as graciously as I could (not very . ..  it hurt, but my foot feels a lot better now).

A Miracle of Biblical (and Logical) Proportions

I gave it the ol' college try (actually more like the ol' middle school try) but Pulitzer prize winner Frances Fitgerald's book The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America is just too comprehensive and detailed for a dilettante like me-- she really gets into the weeds about the fundamentalist-modern conflict in religion . . . I made it about 100 pages in and I certainly learned a lot; the main lesson, which always astounds me, is that people seem to wholeheartedly and sincerely believe in God and the Bible and Jesus, not in an abstract "this is a good way to live and prosper" kind of way, but as a serious discipline, to be debated and and delineated, point-by-point, in a logical matter, which strikes me as absolutely insane . . . the best example of this in the book (from the pages I read) is a piece of impenetrably brilliant specious logic conceived by the Princeton scholars in the late 1800s: they determined that "the doctrine of inerrancy" in the Bible refers only to the original autograph-- the "manuscripts that came from the hands of the prophets were infallible" but since those original documents don't exist, there may be errors in translation . . . so while this hypothetical primary source Bible is the Word of God, since it has been translated, there are certainly errors . . . this is a genius strategic move because then you get to have your Eucharist and eat it too, as you can claim the Bible might be fundamental and infallible but if someone does point out a contradiction or logical conundrum, then you can blame the human translators for that particular bit.

Robinsons Crusoe: The Ocean is Half Full

I was inspired to read Daniel Defoe's early novel Robinson Crusoe by the stubbornly lovable steward from The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins . . . and while I recognize that it is odd to get literary recommendations from a fictitious narrator, I'm glad I read the book; Crusoe is the eternal optimist, he's happy with his original station in life-- the middle state, or what "might be called the upper station of low life"-- but he's not so content that he stays at home, instead he disobeys his father and goes adventuring at sea; he makes the best of things when he is captured into slavery; he does even better for himself on his deserted island, which he tames with his patient capability in all the skills of survival, agriculture, husbandry, and good living and where he realizes that "the fear of danger is ten thousand times more terrifying than danger itself" and ends up befriending the ex-cannibal Friday and that's where I thought the story would end, but then there are a surprising number of action-packed adventures after Crusoe is rescued from the island, in Brazil and Northern Spain, involving guns, powder, explosions, cannibals, bears and wolves and when Crusoe finally returns to England most everyone he knew is dead, he is rewarded financially by various investments and could possibly live out the rest of his days in peace and tranquility, but instead-- in a move reminiscent of when Huck Finn decides he's going to light out for the territories-- Crusoe blithely mentions the death of his wife as the reason he goes back to sea with his nephew and revisits his island in order to see the progress the natives have made since he was gone.

This Sentence Indicates That I Am Old

On the way to the nursing home (to visit my 95-year-old grandmother) my son Ian explained the complexity of the new dice system in the Star Wars RPG game they were playing later in the day-- the dice are 8 and 12 sided and have odd symbols on them; during the course of the discussion, I asked him if he knew the percentage of a side coming up on an eight-sided die and a twelve-sided die, respectively, and while he knew how to figure this out and eventually arrived at the correct answers, his mental math was fairly slow and shoddy, and then later in the day (after I took a nap) I went to the hipster coffee joint up the street and pulled out my gift certificate, an envelope sized piece of cardboard with a ledger on the back, and I bought a medium coffee for $2.94 . . . there was $11.26 left on the certificate and the barista-- a college dude-- was struggling to do the math so I quickly did it for him and said, "$8.32" and he said, "Ok . . . but let me make sure" and he took out a calculator and checked my work, pronounced it correct and then laughed and said, "the crazy thing is . . . I'm a math major" and so I told him I was giving my own kid a hard time about mental math earlier in the day and then he told me that while he couldn't subtract in his head, he could do proofs and could program a computer to do math, which I admitted was pretty impressive . . . certainly more impressive than subtracting three dollars from $11.26 and then adding the six cents back, which is what I did . . . and knowing how to do that is like knowing how to program a VCR or recall a friend's phone number and dial it on a pay phone or play Dragon's Lair, a skill that has lost its value and only indicates that you are from a previous generation.

Sisyphus Blues Contains No Profanity

Just finished a new song, Sisyphus Blues . . . it's smooth and easy listening the whole family can enjoy.

The Test 103: New Year, Same Cunningham

The Test is back on the air . . . Stacey finally moved house and we have a recording space once again; this episode in a nutshell: I baffle the ladies with a 2017 wrap-up quiz, Stacey confesses why she can't join the gym, and Cunningham tells everyone exactly where they can put their New Year's Resolutions.

Breaking (Peanut Butter) News!

After my friend and podcasting partner Stacey read my candid peanut butter based confession, she went and checked her cupboard and she found five open containers of peanut butter-- check out the photo-- and although only one jar was completely empty (in comparison to the three jars I had emptied) she attributes that to the fact that she does the grocery shopping and when she thinks some of the jars are getting low, then she simply buys a fresh one . . . she cites the same reason as me for this irresponsible and wasteful behavior: she doesn't like to scrape out the jar because you inevitably get peanut butter on your hands . . . it's so much more fun to take a scoop from the smooth buttery surface of a freshly opened jar; after some discussion, we decided we're not horrible people (though our respective spouses might think otherwise) and there either needs to be a tool that can efficiently scrape a peanut-butter jar or-- and this would be even better-- peanut butter should be sold in squat truncated-cone shaped containers, which would be much easier to scrape with standard cutlery (perhaps this is a big peanut butter conspiracy, and the containers are shaped this way so people buy far more jars than they need . . . because so much peanut butter is in an "overhang" state in nearly empty jars, cached in cupboards across the nation).

One Is Obnoxious But Three Makes It Funny

My wife called me into the kitchen and presented me with exhibits A, B, and C . . .

three jars of peanut butter, in a line, on the counter;

she said, "I wanted to have an apple with peanut butter and this is what I found"

I replied "Hmm" because I wasn't sure what was going on and I didn't want to commit to a position;

she said, "open them"

and so I opened the first one--

it was empty;

I opened the second jar,

and it was empty as well;

so was the third . . .

I had put three empty jars of peanut butter back in the cabinet:

I don't like scraping peanut butter out of the jar-- you always end up getting peanut butter on your hands-- and so I'll often open a new jar . . . it's fun and easy to take those first scoops;

obviously, I did this a few times . . .

but I was saved by the fact that three empty jars goes so far beyond the pale of bad etiquette that it's hysterically funny (or at least I thought so).

Which Child is Smarter?

My entrepreneurial (and acquisitive) twelve year old son Ian and his buddy Ben went out after the storm last week to earn some cash shoveling snow, but my thirteen year old son Alex stayed home; when I asked him why he didn't go with Ian and Ben, he said, "I don't need any money, you guys pay for everything . . . I'm going upstairs to read a comic book."

The 200 Million Dollar Name?

Glenn Straub claims he sold his hip ultra-modern Atlantic City casino "Revel" to Bruce Deifik because of excessive regulatory requirements and New Jersey's anti-business climate . . . and Deifik was obviously so exhausted by these rules and regulations that he had nothing left in the tank when it came time to rename the joint, so he went with the most exceedingly literal, excruciatingly generic, and extremely mundane moniker you could imagine: Ocean Resort Casino.

Dave Does NOT Bring the Hammer Down

This year, I'm teaching my students very differently than I have in years previous and this is mainly because our college writing class is now based on the notorious Rutgers Expos model; students read five long, dense and difficult non-fiction texts and write synthesis essays connecting these texts; the goal for the student is independent logical thought supported by textual evidence and the goal for the teacher is to provide activities and a framework for the students to investigate the texts; write, think, and peer-edit; and collaboratively comprehend a set of difficult ideas . . . and most importantly, the goal for the teacher is not to perform the traditional, top-down, goal oriented, template-style teaching that makes for good clean lessons, neat closure, and competent performance on tests and papers . . . instead, I've learned to pull back and let kids make a mess of things, as they actually learn to think on their own, without my meddling guidance, my schema activation, and a "big reveal" at the end of class . . . I just finished a book which exemplifies this educational spirit, and it's an easy read that might affect you profoundly; it's called The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children by Alison Gopnik, and, as you might guess, the gardening and carpentry metaphor applies to different methods of teaching; the carpentry model is where you build the kid to an exacting specification-- and there is a great deal of pressure to parent in this manner in the United States . . . to make sure your kid "turns out right," but Gopnik deconstructs the actual task "to parent" and provides plenty of psychological support to her thesis: kids learn better when they are given freedom to flourish in an environment where they can explore, grow, and play . . . and while the results may be more the way a garden grows, slow, messy, and unpredictable . . . which is exactly the way human children grow up-- while we've all heard why babies are born so helpless (it's hard to get such a big head through such a small opening, so infants have mushy skulls) we also have an extended period of middle childhood and adolescence . . . time to explore and grow (unless you're under duress from standardized tests . . . one of the scariest tidbits in the book is the natural experiment with high stakes testing and ADHD . . . districts that put high stakes testing in effect earlier had more ADHD diagnoses and more students on attention-deficit disorder drugs than districts that did not put the policies into place) and teachers and parents are responsible for creating garden-like environments where kids can think on their own; there's an especially powerful experiment with a toy (described here and in this podcast) that drives the point home; the end of the book is solution-based, Gopnik first points out that we're doing all of our children a grave injustice: the children of the middle-class are over-organized, over-trained, over-tested, and feel the pull of top-down dictates . . . so their learning is often carpentry-style and static, and the poor-- because of lack of money, infrastructure, and public space-- deal more with chaos and a lack of a good place to flourish . . . and she points out that we're never going back to the anomaly of the classic 50's "nuclear family" where the father worked and the mother minded the kids; this "traditional" model of the family was actually a rare consequence of the beginning of industrialization; through most of history, both men and women worked, whether on farms or in workshops or hunting and gathering or in careers, as we do now and because you now have to make the choice of keeping a parent at home and taking major pay-cut or having both parents work and then paying people to take care of yoru kids, child-care is a very low-paid profession-- though it requires incredible skill, love, and decision-making . . . carpentry-style "preschool" and rigorous top-down training seems more productive and outcome based, but it's actually an awful way to take care of kids, and to teach kids; so I'm trying my best with my own kids and with my students to let them explore, play, and often fail . . . and I'm trying to set-up rewarding activities and experiences where they have the locus of control and I'm not suggesting how to solve the problem . . . because we're not going to be around forever and if I've learned one thing in my life it's this: when I was a kid, if an adult told me to do something, then I was going to do the opposite (or worse).

O Brave New World That Has Such (Savage) People In It

While I may have recently learned how to mop, that doesn't bely the fact that I have come a long way in terms of savagery, hygiene and cleanliness; four incidents come to mind, all from when I was twenty-one and living in the Outer Banks, in a shack across the street from the beach with a bunch of dudes . . .

1) my friend Rob put down a half-eaten roast beef sandwich on our filthy, garbage-strewn living room table and got up to go do something and I took a look at the sandwich and thought: This is going to be trouble down the line . . . but I didn't actually do anything about the sandwich, which was soon obscured by a section of the newspaper and two weeks later, when someone picked up that section of the newspaper, looking for the crossword, we saw the remains of the sandwich-- it was now a moldy bun and the roast beef was gone, replaced by a mass of writhing white maggots;

2) the bathroom floor was so filthy that we decided it was a lost cause, but instead of even attempting to clean it, we threw down a pair of wooden pallets so that we didn't have to walk on the filth;

3) Hightower suggested that after you use a dish, you should then wash it, but my friend John made a rebuttal, which became house policy: if you're so high class that you need cutlery and flatware, fish it out of the sink and clean it . . . once we dirtied all the dishes, we never washed them and made do with our hands;

4) a friend stayed for a few days with his mangy cat and a week later, while I was waiting tables, I noticed that my scalp was really itchy . . . it turned out that I had fleas (there's a shampoo that gets rid of them).

Today's Sentence Is Cancelled Due to Inclement Weather . . . or is it?

An ideal snow day for a misanthropic grouch like me: the conditions on the sled hill next to our house are perfect, my kids and their friends are there, and the weather and roads are bad enough that all those yahoos from Edison can't drive over here, crowd up the slope, park all over the neighborhood, and ignore the stop signs.
A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.