Tender Are the Nether Regions

I'm not going to go into too much detail here, but I discovered this morning that the outdoor shower at our beach house has detachable head; at first, I didn't think I would bother to detach the head, and just stood, meditatively, letting the water sluice down my body and wash away the sand and salt, but then I realized, in a eureka moment reminiscent of Archimedes, that detaching the head after taking an early morning run and swim is essential, if you value the skin on your testicles.

The Test 96: Mount Whatmore?

Everyone agrees that Mount Rushmore is pretty lame, so this week on The Test, Stacey forces the gang to do seven different makeovers; play along at home and be sure to bring your dynamite and chisel, because whatever you decide will be set in stone.

Man's Second Best Friend?

Summer reading is more fun when accompanied by a lizard.

Indy Strips Away the Rhetoric

Hate groups . . . I hate these guys.

This is Your Brain on North Korea

It's ethically gross and difficult to stomach, but the most strategic way to prevent disaster with North Korea is direct contact and diplomacy-- we've got to treat Kim Jong-un like a real world leader, or at least pretend to do so-- because the possession of nuclear weapons commands this treatment, whether we like it or not . . . the possession of a nuclear weapon breaks down whatever ethical system you're using to solve the problem (aside from utilitarianistic realpolitik) because problems at the end of the spectrum nearly always break down categorical principles . . . very few people get hung up on whether a human or an amoeba possess more civil rights, but when you get to the fringe and compare the consciousness of a healthy chimpanzee and the consciousness of 97 year old man on life-support, things get more difficult . . . no one wants to abort and kill an eight month old baby, but the consequence of using a morning after pill is something more difficult to define . . . torture is most definitely wrong, but if you need a piece of information to avert nuclear war, then things that might be normally considered morally repugnant might be heroic . . . it's these places, moral quandaries at the edges, where ethical systems break down; there's nothing that feels morally right, and you just need to figure out things on a case by case basis; North Korea is one of these problems-- threats are useless because the ball is literally in their court-- we're the good guys and we don't use nuclear weapons cavalierly, sanctions don't work when the leadership of country doesn't care what suffering their citizens endure, and brinksmanship is too risky because it could cause a nuclear disaster, or a breakdown of the regime, in which nuclear weapons could get into random hands or disappear or worse . . . so it's time to suck it up and do what's right, even though it feels very wrong, because it's existential crisis and we've only got one earth, there's no control group, no A/B testing, and we can't risk it (unless, of course, you're some kind of religious nut, who truly believes in the afterlife . . . then you can pursue your principles without fear, punish the wicked as a matter of recourse, and know that all things will be sorted out during the rapture).

Evil Minds and Thrilling Lines

I've finished my last thriller of the summer (perhaps . . . it is summer, and I can read what I damn well please) and this one is malevolent and compelling: Laura Lippman's Every Secret Thing . . . I won't say much about it except that it's about race and baby-killing in Baltimore, it was written in 2003 and-- as seems to be par for the course in the high-quality suspense genre-- it is very evocative of place (if you're a fan of Serial Season 1, then you'll enjoy the fact that Leakin Park is a significant character in the novel) and now I'm back into intellectual non-fiction, the kind of books that make you fall asleep, not finish in three days . . . if you want to get a grip on the Charlottesville tragedy, I highly recommend Eric Hoffer's The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements . . . Hoffer, the dock-worker philosopher, has a unique understanding of populism and zealotry, and his book is chock full of lines like this:

1) faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves;

2) the less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready is he to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race, or his holy cause;

3) the present-day workingman in the Western world feels unemployment as a degradation . . . he sees himself disinherited and injured by an unjust order of things, and is willing to listen to those who call for a new deal;

4) the fanatic is perpetually incomplete and insecure;

5) though they seem to be at opposite poles, fanatics of all kinds are actually crowded together at one end . . . it is the fanatic and the moderate who are poles apart and never meet;

6) it is doubtful whether the fanatic who deserts his holy cause or is suddenly left without one can ever adjust himself to autonomous individual existence;

7) hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents.

Oblomov = Russia, Lehane = Boston

Plotwise, Ivan Goncharov's novel Oblomov and Dennis Lehane's novel A Drink Before the War couldn't be more different: Oblomov is plodding account of the ennui of the Russian landed gentry- the main character is melancholically charming, but by the end you're rooting for a proletarian revolution to get things moving, on the other hand, Lehane's tale is an ultra-violent thrill-minute joy ride through the racially divided underworld of Boston . . . it's set in the early '90's, before gentrification, before there racial harmony was even a thought in the poor gang-ridden neighborhoods of Roxbury and Dorchester . . . however, the books are the same in one very significant way: they are both more about setting than anything else, . . . the structure of Oblomov and the title character (Ilya Ilych Oblomov) exist to describe social class in 19th century Russia, and Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro serve as hard-boiled noir-guides to the gang-infested, impoverished, and drug addled pre-Gentrification neighborhoods of Boston.

Dad, Alex and Malcolm Gladwell Trump Mom

After my son and I listened to Malcolm Gladwell's "Blame Game," I decided it was time to take logical and necessary action-- the podcast dissects the Toyota "uncontrollable acceleration" scandal of 2009 and Gladwell places the blame squarely on the humans operating the vehicles, not the vehicles themselves-- and so I told my thirteen year old son it was time he got some practice behind the wheel of an automobile, so he could familiarize himself with the controls as soon as possible and avoid the tragic situations described in the podcast . . . Alex was very excited about this, but my wife did not think it was a good idea-- but she also knew there was no persuading us-- the podcast is a very powerful piece of journalism-- and so she simply requested that we not tell her about our plans (and not use her car) and we tried to honor that request as best we could, and yesterday morning at 6 AM (my son set his alarm!) I drove to the large parking lot behind the Sears on Route 1 and Alex pulled the seat all the way forward, turned the ignition key, and navigated his way around several parked cars, between two parking lot islands, and avoided all the light poles-- I didn't realize there were so many obstacles in an empty lot . . . flashes of Tina learning to drive ran through my head-- but he was a good listener and did a great job on his first time around, then parked the car by a big tarp with a bunch of junk heaped under it, and learned to reverse, use his mirrors, and turn the car around from the reversed position, did one more lap without incident, and then I drove home . . . my wife did hear us come in and we told her the news and while she didn't want to hear the details, she was happy that we didn't use her car.

The Test 95: Eye of the Tigger

This week on The Test, Cunningham tests our ability to survive-- whether you're stranded in the wilderness or just left alone with a couple of children, this is the information you need . . . and while Stacey will probably make it out alive, I certainly won't.

Enterprises of Great Pith and Moment . . .

As the summer wears on, my enterprises of great pith and moment start to lose the name of action . . . at the outset of summer break, I bulled my way through some dense tomes covering recent history, fairly recent history, macro-political-historical synthesis, and psychology and I ambitiously queued up another stack of erudite works, but I didn't get very far in these:

1) Nick Bostrom's Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies . . . a book which details the approaching age of artificial superintelligence and how we should tackle this . . . I read fifty pages and I might read more, or I might just wait twenty years and see what happens;

2) The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer, which is a lot of fun if you're not a fanatic as it implies that fanatics have nothing going on upstairs, not much self-esteem, and are psychologically incomplete and thus "find themselves" in whatever mass movement they join . . . I'm halfway through and I think I've got the main idea;

3) Fernand Braudel's The Structures of Everyday Life: Civilization and Capitalism 15th - 18th Century Vol 1 . . . this book is more entertaining than it sounds and I'd really like to have read it, but I doubt I'll actually read it;

4) The Paranoid Style in American Politics by Richard Hofstadter . . . I probably don't need to read this one because we're all living it;

5) The American Language by H.L. Mencken . . . this is free on the Kindle and for good reason, it's mainly a list of words that are American as opposed to British, and some fun assessment of the American character . . . we Americans, we'll steal any word we want, use it any way we want, and we'll spell it however we damn please . . .

meanwhile, realizing that my ambition was fading, I checked out a bunch of mysteries and thrillers from the library, so I had some books I would actually finish, and I whipped through Agatha Christie's The A.B.C Murders . . . Hercule Poirot is a lazy French douchebag, but he comes through in the end and solves an utterly ridiculous case . . . everything had me fooled and I learned absolutely nothing about anything (except that you can trick people into confessing if you pretend to find their fingerprints in a compromising location) and now I'm getting into a gritty Boston-area Dennis Lehane thriller.

Vacationing in a Geographical Analogy

My wife surprised me and arranged a one night vacation in Asbury Park last night-- the perfect complement to my guys trip down to Nags Head-- and we were happy to see that the gentrification of the area is proceeding at an extraordinary rate . . . my mother-in-law lived in the neighboring town of Ocean Grove for many years, so we headed across Wesley Lake and wandered the narrow streets-- every tiny front yard planted with bright flowers, every house a different size and color, the tent city still in the shadow of the Great Auditorium, and we were quite shocked to look back towards Asbury and see a skyline of high-end condominiums and the Biergarten . . . quite a change from the 1990's . . . anyway, here's an analogy and a few food/drink recommendations:

1) Ocean Grove is to Asbury Park as Highland Park is to New Brunswick . . . the small and sleepy town receiving the benefits of the gentrification of the larger grittier city;

2) Barrio Costero has incredible margaritas (but go for happy hour, they're not cheap) and high end Mexican tapas . . . the tuna ceviche is essentially sushi-grade tuna on tiny homemade tortilla chips-- super-tasty-- and the al pastor and fish tacos are ridiculously good;

3) Barrio Costero's sister restaurant, Reyla, has excellent Mediterranean style tapas;

4) The Speakeatery has the ultimate hipster sandwich (and fantastic if you're trying to avoid wheat/bread/gluten) which consists of a slab of General Tso's chicken sandwiched between two sticky rice "buns" and some broccoli and slaw as condiments . . . it's delicious and totally weird;

5) The Chat and Nibble is across Main Street but worth the drive if you like chorizo with your eggs.

Memories Shade the Corners of My (Front) Yard

Long time readers of this blog might recall a detailed J. Peterman-style critique of the outfit I wore while striking a triumphant pose because I brought down a large dead limb with a rope attached to a football . . . Whitney wrote that incisive comment eight years ago, and since then, while my fashion sense may have improved (negligibly) the state of that tree did not; the limbs and main trunk continued to decay, to a state so precarious that we had to have some professionals take it down yesterday . . . and so I'd like to thank the tree, which provided much blogging and neighborhood entertainment: we'll miss you, big rotten hollow behemoth that housed squirrels and raccoons, dropped limbs on our driveway and our roof (but never our car . . . thanks!) and provided me with one of my proudest moment as a homeowner . . . I hope your dismembered and chipped parts get to mulch a beautiful garden, burn brightly in a stone hearth, and-- maybe, if you're really lucky-- smoke some home-made bacon.

Three Loony Questions

Three questions about this imminent solar eclipse, in which New Jerseyans are supposed to see 73% of the sun blocked by the moon:

1) do I have to get excited about this event?

2) is it safe to watch the eclipse through glasses my wife bought at Walmart?

3) since the eclipse is going to last for several hours and we'll be down at the beach during this time, do I only need to put 27% the required amount of sunblock on my children?

Flu in the Summertime? No Class . . .

When you've got the flu-- which I do-- watching Arrested Development is the best medicine (besides Tamiflu, which I am also using).

Southern Mysteries, Real and Fictitious

I am mired in the South . . . I just got back from Norfolk and North Carolina, just finished Tom Franklin's novel Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter-- a Mississippi mystery that takes you on a journey through time and race, with plenty of snakes and a satisfying (if predictable) conclusion-- and I just started the serial podcast Up and Vanished which reinvestigates the unsolved disappearance of Georgia teacher and beauty queen Tara Grinstead (the podcast was highly recommended by my wife and by my son Alex . . . Alex has a number of theories on whodunnit).

Outer Banks Fishing Trip XXIV

On my ride down to Norfolk, while listening to a Malcolm Gladwell podcast, I learned that our annual fraternity get-together in Kill Devil Hills is an act of transactive memory . . . you tell the stories you know and listen to the ones you don't bother to store in your memory because you know that your friends know them better than you do . . . anyway, here's a rundown of what I remember from the trip:

1) the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk has a great collection of art, the cafe has good food (I had a crabcake) and the air-conditioning is kickin';

2) Whitney needs to adjust the feng shui of his oddly placed, unusable foosball table in his apartment;

3) Johnny and I drove down together and he told me the story of his aorta exploding and I nearly passed out;

4) Johnny and I went on a quest for cornhole beanbags and nearly paid 8 dollars a piece for them, until we found some sale bags at the second Ace hardware we visited (Chiefs and Vikings);

5) the cornhole games were so intense that Billy rightly claimed they weren't even fun anymore . . . Dave Fairbanks-- the oldest participant-- won cornhole rookie of the trip;

6) the Willie Nelson joke is a keeper.

7) Jason made the mistake of claiming he really liked a new song by Metallica . . .

8) Whitney claimed he was going to get his weight down to 230 pounds by Thanksgiving and Marston decided to bet him that he couldn't do it and then there was much debate on how much the bet should be . . . Marston wanted it to be enough that it would be fun to win the money, but not so much as to actually incentivize him to lose the weight . . . one hundred dollars was determined to be too low, Whitney would never lose the weight for that, but one thousand would be too motivational; so, appropriately, they bet 230 dollars that Whitney would be 230 by Thanksgiving . . . but then Marlin doubled-down, so that may be the factor that motivates Whit to do it . . . we're all rooting for him;

9) Spikeball made its cameo beach appearance and fun was had by all players . . . but not by the observers, who said the rallies weren't long enough (but it's still got to be more entertaining to watch than cornhole)

10) food and scenery was very good at Blue Moon;

11) Jerry and I walked to Tortuga's, as usual, forgot just how far it was (as usual) and then got soaked by a downpour and had to buy cheap t-shirts on the way . . . I still had the chills at the bar and thought it was due to wet underwear, but I was probably running a fever and though I made it through a day of drinking and beach fun, when I collapsed into bed that night, I had intermittent chills and night sweats from some kind of virus and so once we figured out the sliding picture puzzle of the twelve cars in the skinny sandy driveway and my car was extricated, I packed up and drive home, slightly dazed from the fever . . . eight and a half hours later I was back in Jersey;

12) the rain kept us from playing tennis, but we talked some tennis and watched some tennis and Zman got to illustrate his tennis acumen;

13) thanks Whit, another great trip . . . hope we can do it again next year!

That's a 20 Footer

When I was swimming in the ocean today, I inadvertently slapped a fish . . . and I think we were equally surprised.

Beach Facts and Figures

Beanbags are more expensive then you might imagine.

Pier 39 vs. The Raritan Yacht Club

Lately, my wife and I have been lucky enough to get some additional work running professional development workshops: Amazon flew my wife to San Francisco at the the start of the summer, so she could present on a math platform they've created and she uses, and they're flying her to Fort Lauderdale later this month to do several more presentations, and I got to present near a beautiful body of water as well, on three separate occasions . . . at Perth Amboy Middle School.

Monkey = Rock

I finally finished a song I've been working on for what seems like forever . . . it's about the primitive anger and frustration that's lurking just below the surface of modern life, the feeling that sometimes-- even though it's not appropriate-- you just want to throw shit around and rant and rave, for the stupidest reasons: you're behind a garbage truck and you can't pass it and it smells, or you have to put the laundry away, or it's your turn to cook dinner and you bought shrimp that haven't been deveined . . . anyway, it's called "Monkey Mind," because all the great bands have a songs with "monkey" in the title.
A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.