Words for Beyond Words

I finally finished Carl Safina's book Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel and it's one of the most powerful and moving things I've read in a long time-- I actually had ambitious plans to summarize numerous portions, but the book is over four hundred pages and dense with details, so you're going to have to trust me, this is a really good one; here are a few things to whet your appetite:

1) Lyell Watson's description of an old lonely matriarch elephant standing beside the ocean enjoying the ultrasound rumble of a blue whale and possibly communicating back with her own deep voice: "the blue whale was on the surface again, pointed inshore, resting, her blowhole clearly visible . . . the largest animal in the ocean and the largest living land animal were no more than a hundred yards apart, . . . commiserating over the back fence of this rocky Cape shore";

2) the cruelty of the ivory trade, both to human-slaves and to elephants . . . as late as 1882, slavers chained humans together and had them carry the heavy tusks from the Upper Congo to port-- a 1000 mile slog-- and, as protocol had it, if you got sick, you were killed (to prevent malingering) and if you grew to weak to carry your tusk and your child, then your child was killed, because, as the headman logically explained: "We cannot leave valuable ivory on the road . . . we spear the child and make her burden lighter . . . ivory first";

3) the descriptions of wolves in Yellowstone, their infinitely complex personalities and hierarchies and forays and betrayals . . . the touching moment when Wolf Twenty-one, at the tail end of his years, watched his pack hunt an elk and then headed in the opposite direction, to the top of Druid Peak-- his favorite family rendezvous point-- where he lay down in the shade of a big tree and died . . . on his own terms;

4) the tool use of various animals, including apes, chimps, elephants, insects, dolphins;

5) the self-awareness and theory of other minds that dogs, dolphins, killer whales and primates possess;

6) the variety of killer whale types-- fish eaters, whale eaters, dolphin eaters, seal eaters-- and the various strategies that different tribes of whales use to hunt;

7) the intelligence and creativity of dolphins . . . you can train dolphins to "do something new" for a treat . . . and they will synchronize this creativity with another dolphin . . . my students have trouble with that task;

8) the vast intelligence, empathy, and abstract thinking ability of killer whales . . . and the many injustices done to them in the wild and in marine parks;

9) a lot of other stuff . . . this book is groundbreaking and belongs on the same shelf with two other recent great books about nature: The Sixth Extinction and Wild Ones . . . read all three before you die!

Read This in the Voice of Stephen Wright

I finally sprung for a vanity license plate, but I don't want people to know how vain I am, so I got 58T * CA3.

Open Letter to Tyreese

It's the zombie apocalypse and you're trudging through Georgia and the anti-theft tags at Kohls aren't going to trigger any alarms and you can help yourself to the stuff in anyone's closet, so go ahead and trade your sweat-stained long-sleeved shirt for something lighter and maybe put on some shorts as well . . . it's the end of the world and you never have to do wash again (and I'm not even going to inquire if you've been changing your underwear).

Dogs and (Sleeping) Kids . . . You've Gotta Love'em

Each morning, just before I leave for work, I go upstairs and give each of my children a kiss on the forehead-- they're always sound asleep and they look so peaceful and they never even stir-- and I realized yesterday, that when I head up the stairs to do this, the dog tags along, and he gets into the beanbag chair beside Ian's bed and pretends to go back to sleep and he waits for his farewell pat on the head . . . and he doesn't have to do this, because I've already walked him and my wife is downstairs and he's totally ready for the day, but he must like this ritual as much as I do.

Keep On Chewing

Every season, The Walking Dead ramps up the gore a little more, but my wife and I are unfazed: sixty -plus episodes of zombie apocalypse have desensitized us to the point where we can eat dinner while watching the most horrific blood and guts, and even worse: we had no problem eating chicken while Gareth and the cannibals simultaneously dined on Bob's leg, while Bob was fully conscious . . . our chewing was synchronized with their chewing and it didn't bother us at all . . . and I definitely remember at the start of the show, when the zombies ate a horse, I nearly lost it and decided I could never eat while watching, but I've overcome my squeamishness and so has Catherine (during the first episode of the fifth season, a zombie killed a human by biting his face off and Catherine nonchalantly took a bite of pizza and then turned to me and said, "That's a new one.")

The Test 17: Financial Literacy (and Idiocy)

This week's episode of The Test is quick and painless (unlike last week's epic) and special guest Scott and I perform admirably on Stacey's quiz about financial awareness, plus we all collaborate on a new (and disgusting) theory of consciousness . . . and-- as a special bonus-- Stacey remembers a number association from a previous episode!

Woe For the Modern Man

In 2012, Anne-Mare Slaughter explained "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" and though she took some flak for her hypothesis-- that in order to achieve the same things as men, women need to be either superhuman, self-employed, or well-off-- I think her sincerity really resonated with women trying to be super-moms and super-employees and also have some kind of social life and maintain a house . . . but enough about women . . . if you listen to Hanna Rosin, then women are doing fine and it's the men we need to worry about, so-- in order to balance the scales-- I'll offer a lament for them, because in today's litigious circumscribed world, where anything you do might be recorded and put on the internet, and where any misstep might result in a lawsuit, men can't have it all either: you can't bring your kids to the pub on Sundays, you can't let them ride bikes without a helmet . . . in fact, you've got to keep track of your kid's whereabouts on a daily basis . . . it's very taxing and stressful, and it's difficult to relieve this stress because due to the ubiquity of digital cameras, it's tough to maintain a mistress with any degree of secrecy and it's even tougher to take a trip to the local brothel (especially for men of the cloth, video surveillance has made their vow of chastity far more literal than it used to be) and you don't want to tell an off-color joke in public, because it might be recorded for posterity, or even rant in your own home-- you might be banned from the NBA for life-- and you can't drink liquor at work, like Don Draper in Mad Men . . . or take a nap on the couch in your office (like Don Draper in Mad Men) or light fires on the beach without a permit or smoke cigars indoors or get in a fistfight at school (without being considered for a psychological evaluation) or any number of "manly" things . . . so if you want to maintain your status as a family man and keep your job, then certainly men can't have it all either . . . unless-- which Slaughter points out-- you're rich . . . then all this need not apply, and you can use a term that was probably created by a man: f#$@ you money. 

Would Gandhi Curb Stomp a Bully?

On Friday, during the morning announcements, the principal reminded us that it is National Bullying Prevention Month-- and this is certainly a good thing, as bullying is gradually going the way of the dinosaur (or at least meat-world bullying . . . cyber-bullying is another issue entirely) but then he told us National Bullying Prevention Month is sponsored by the leading national anti-bullying organization in the United States . . . STOMP Out Bullying . . . and my homeroom class and I found this name to be a bit oxymoronic, harkening back to the old days, when the only way to defeat a bully was to punch him in the face . . . so either we're not getting the irony (but I doubt a national anti-bullying organization would have an ironic name) or STOMP is an acronym for something a bit less violent . . . but I can't find anything about an acronym in their mission statement, so I'm guessing the tone is intentional and sincere and I'm wondering why they don't go all the way and add the word "CURB" to the front end.

Sitcoms and Everything Else: Now and Then

The difference between watching a sitcom in the 1980's and watching a sitcom in 2015 is this: back then, you were never quite sure what you were going to get . . . you'd be settling in for WKRP in Cincinnati, hoping for some humorous hijinks with Dr. Johnny Fever and Venus Flytrap (and some dueling cleavage between Bailey and Jennifer) and suddenly you're thrust into a "very special episode" about people being trampled at a Who concert . . . but today, because of the fragmentation of media, everything is much more genre-based and tone specific . . . there's very little straying from a show's particular formula-- I'm not sure if this is a good thing . . . the fact that we can control the tone of everything we consume, whether it be music, TV, or political commentary-- while we get what we want, there are less surprises: imagine a "very special episode" of 30 Rock, where one of Tracy Jordan's children gets seduced and creepily molested by "the bicycle man."

Pathetic Fallacy

According to weather.com, the Northeast is in "the cone of uncertainty" as far as Hurricane Joaquin is concerned . . . but really, aren't we all living in our own personal "cone of uncertainty," though we sometimes forget this is the case?

The Ultimate Wish: Combine These

I wish I were European, so I could wear a Speedo to my pool without irony . . . and not for the comfort (no chafing!) or the speed I'd gain while swimming my laps, but just because I can't imagine what my brain would feel like if I didn't mind walking around in one of those things (I also wish I could dance without feeling self-conscious and spastic).

Hooray for Child Labor!

The boys and I were in a rush to get to a barbeque on Saturday (mainly because we were held up at the Rutgers/Kansas game, which was intolerably slow, due to a preponderance of penalties and TV timeouts) and we had to procure both beer and Klondike bars (which they do not sell at the same store in New Jersey) but then -- miracle of miracles-- I had an idea: I dropped the boys off at Stop and Shop, and they went in and bought the ice cream, while I drove across the street to the beer store and bought beer, and then I whipped around and-- perfect timing-- picked them up in front of the grocery store . . . this made me very happy, and I will exploiting them like this more in the future.

She's Back and Less Fun Than Ever . . .

Our most popular episode of The Test is "Dating Cunningham"-- in it she reveals the secret topics and knowledge that will make an excellent first impression on her-- but the second date is not as fun and breezy as the first, in fact, things get quite heavy (and not very hot) although Stacey and I attempt to crack as many jokes as we can in between answering the deep and weighty questions that she poses . . . not for the faint of heart, but worth it in the end, especially if you want to continue this "virtual courtship" with her; good luck, play at home, and see how you score (pun intended).

Dave Has a Revelation!

For the past ten years, I have used the same system to hang my clothes in my rather small closet in the corner of our bedroom-- I pile the clothes on the bed, grab a hanger from the closet, put my shirt or pair of pants on the hanger, shove some stuff aside in the closet, hang the item on the appropriate rack and then grab another hanger and repeat until I am angry, bored, and frustrated . . . but yesterday, I had a revelation to end all revelations . . . a eureka moment that has been fermenting in my brain for ten years and finally burst forth, as Athena sprang from the forehead of Zeus, fully formed and ready for action; I counted the number of pants and shirts that needed to be hung in my closet and took the corresponding number of hangers at the start of the process and then I put all the pants on hangers, made sure the hanger-hooks were all facing in the same directions, shoved some clothes to the side, and hung all the pants at the same time and then I repeated the process for my shirts . . . and I'm sharing this revelation with you free-of-charge so you can improve your clothes-hanging process (and if you already knew to do this, and didn't tell me, then you are now my sworn enemy for life).

Small Town Life and Trampolines

I was walking the dog last week and I saw two guys rolling a giant trampoline down my street-- and this was something I had never seen before, so I didn't have anything particularly witty to say to them, but it seemed like such a good opportunity to say something . . . because when you see some people rolling a trampoline down your street, you should have some base level of curiosity, or you're not really a human, and so I took a shot and came up with "good thing that thing is round!" and while I'll admit that this comment is not my best work, it was good enough to break the ice, and then-- miracle of small-town miracles-- it turned out that I knew one of the guys rolling the trampoline, he was a fellow over-30 basketball player who I had covered many times and a fellow dad and an all around good guy and we chatted for a moment about the logistics of the trampoline transportation, they were moving the big bouncer from my neighbor's backyard to his down the street . . . and I'm not sure what the moral of the story is, but I will say that I love living in a small town where these sort of things happen and the next time someone is rolling a trampoline down my street I'm going to say something much funnier, like: "Don't let any kids use that thing if their parents are lawyers!"

Sitcoms of Dave

I know we're a bit behind the times in my family (my Shakespeare students were astounded that I didn't know that Anne Hathaway is also a famous modern actress, and not solely Shakespeare's wife) but we finally finished watching Parks and Rec and we're quite broken up that it's over-- there hasn't been a sitcom gang that endearing since Cheers (maybe the the study group from Community) but I am pleased that my son Alex has decided on this year's Halloween costume, and it's as meta as it gets; he's going to wear a fake mustache and a purple suit jacket and carry around his saxophone and do his best to impersonate Ron Swanson's alter ego Duke Silver.

The People Are All the Same?

I am rewatching Cheers on Netflix . . . I started with the pilot and I've made it to episode ten, "Endless Slumper"; the one when Sammy loans out his good luck charm, a bottle cap that keeps him from hitting the bottle, and consequently has a streak of bad luck; it's an especially moving episode with a dramatic conclusion-- it appears that Sam is going to start drinking again, but instead he simply produces a new good luck charm, and I vividly remember watching this episode  33 years ago (when I was twelve) and it was equally moving back then, but I had such a different view of the show: I thought Sam was the best, Norm and Coach were hysterical, Carla both scared me and grossed me out, I thought Cliff was a total nerd (the irony!) and I was annoyed by Diane's pretentiousness . . . but now I realize that Diane is both the funniest person in the bar and the funniest person on the show, Norm is a sad clown, Cliff actually knows quite a bit, Sam is incredibly cheesy . . . the only one I understood was Carla . . . she really is scary and gross.

It's Delicious . . . Enough Said

Stone Delicious IPA lives up to its name-- it's tasty, but not overwhelmingly hoppy, and at 7.7 percent alcohol, it packs quite a punch; the words that come to mind when I drink this beer are:

1) crisp;

2) beer-like;

3) good;

and now for the words that did not come to my mind when I drank this beer-- and I have culled these words from the reviews on Beeradvocate-- so these words really and truly came to someone's mind when they drank this beer:

1) herbaceous;

2) sweet lemon grassy;

3) bready;

4) sweet lemon candy;

5) piney;

6) resinous;

7) not abrasive;

8) fluffy sponge;

9) pungent;

10) orange rind;

11) burlap;

12) burlap?

13) grapefruit pith;

14) black pepper;

15) mellow booze;

16) dirty brass;

17) blurry;

18) parching and numbing;

19) yeast cake;

20) lemon zest;

21) tropicalness;

22) tropicalness?

23) minty touch;

24) antique white head;

25) bold drippings;

26) frothy ice-cream;

27) funky yeast;

28) funky hoppy note;

29) very floral;

30) faint jasmine;

and the contrast between these lists leads me to wonder if my palate exists on the same plane as these poetic, aesthetic and rather prolix folks who write the reviews on Beeradvocate . . . I do appreciate a good beer and I am voluble guy with a prodigious vocabulary, but I am loathe to admit it: very few adjectives come to mind when I drink a beer-- I don't know if this is a skill I can foster, or an attribute I don't possess-- but the next time I have a beer in a relaxing setting . . . after a long day of teaching and coaching, I like to drink a glass of beer while I spray water on my wife's garden, and this might be the perfect venue to find some new and creative flavors and capture them with precision . . . but I have a feeling I'm still going to come up with words like "cold" and "refreshing" and "unlike the bitterness of red wine."

If You're Going to Be Impressed, It Should Be By Captain Dacres

I am still plowing through Walter R. Borneman's 1812: The War That Forged a Nation, and while I'm not digesting all the names and dates, I do get the big picture: warfare was a different thing two hundred years ago, a gentleman's pursuit; after an epic sea-battle between the USS Constitution and the British HMS Guerriere, Captain Hull boarded the ruined British ship and said, "Captain Hull presents his compliments, sir, and wishes to know if you have struck your flag?" and Dacres said yes, he would like to surrender, but he no longer had any masts upon which to strike the flag, and Hull then refused to take Dacres sword because he fought so valiantly-- and later in the day, when the British ship was searched and the crew and prisoners transferred, Hull found ten impressed American soldiers aboard, which was "a graphic example of one of the war's causes" but . . . and I find this a really nice gesture: Dacres "graciously permitted the Americans to go belowdecks rather than to fight against their countrymen."

Slow Carb Diet Nearly Gets Me Fired

I've lost a few pounds in the past month, mainly due to to a "slow carb" diet-- instead of rice and tortillas and bread, I've been eating more lentils and beans-- and so last Thursday on Back-to-School-Night, I was feeling slim, so slim-- in fact-- that when I walked down the stairs to my room, I realized that my pants were falling down, and I didn't have a belt . . . I tried to write a few things on the whiteboard, but there were already some parents in the room and I didn't want to moon them, so I grabbed a ball of yarn off the filing cabinet (there was some kind of life skills class in my room last year) and made an awkward getaway to the English Office; I was going to try to make a yarn belt but my friend Allie showed me a neat trick, instead of making an entire belt, she simply looped some yarn around two adjacent belt loops and then cinched the loop, effectively making my pant's waist size a few inches smaller . . . and this trick saved the day, I was able to entertain the parents in the appropriate manner (with my pants on).
A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.