Perks of my Job

Teaching is fairly predictable: once you've taught a topic a few times, you know what questions the kids will ask and you know what issues will raise interesting discussions, but there are occasional super-excellent unpredictable moments along the way (such as this one) that are spontaneous and priceless, and something in that vein happened yesterday afternoon; I was giving the kids some background on Shakespeare, as we were about to begin Hamlet and I told them: "Chaucer was before Shakespeare, he wrote the Canterbury Tales in the late 1300's and he wrote them in Middle English-- which is really hard to read . . . but Shakespeare wrote in a more modern kind of English, which is much easier to read, it was named after the ruler of the time . . . anyone know what kind of English it was called, Shakespeare's English?" and a lovely girl-- an intelligent girl, I should add, so you don't get the wrong impression from this one particular response, a response given late in the day in the midst of a dark and snowy February afternoon, while I was lecturing about iambic pentameter and the Globe Theatre -- anyway, this wonderful girl sitting in the front left gamely took a shot at my question about the kind of English spoken during Shakespeare's time, a kind of English named after the ruler of the time; she said, "Metric English?" and her answer didn't really register in my brain, and I said, "No . . . Elizabethan English" and then there was a beat, and then the entire class realized why she said "Metric English" and we all laughed and laughed (even though the official adoption of meter sticks in the UK wasn't until far after Shakespeare's death).

Dreams Deferred, Destroyed, Depressed, Disintegrated, and Damaged

The boys and I just finished watching the epic documentary Hoop Dreams-- it streams on Netflix-- and if you haven't seen it, it's something you have to watch . . . but beware: the film keeps it very real, and the various dreams of the characters in the film are often deferred or shattered . . . and if you're a real glutton for punishment, check out where the main figures in the story are now . . . there are a few bright spots, but also plenty of tragedy; if you're still in the mood for even more depressingly frank anti-dream reality after watching Hoop Dreams, then go see The Big Short-- it has a documentary feel, and documentary-like moments, though it's not documentary, and Christian Bale and Steve Carell do a fantastic job playing real people (Michael Burry and Mark Bain) . . . but be prepared to confront the destruction of the American Dream (and you're also going to need to prepare a bit so you understand the vocabulary and the main concepts, you could either read a bunch of books and watch an actual documentary, or you could read my sentences about them . . . here are my suggestions: The Big Short, House of Cards, The Black Swan, After the Music Stops, Unintended Consequences, Griftopia and Inside Job).

Your Dog is Your Best Friend, But That Doesn't Make Him Smart

My dog thinks motorcycles are a species of wild animal that require barking and chasing (he also feels the same way about garbage trucks . . . it must be the low rumble of the engine . . . and I often wonder how he perceives these things; in his consciousness, the garbage truck must resemble a woolly mammoth and the motorcycle an elk or moose . . . and while this poses an imminent and obvious danger to him, it must be exciting to live in a world where those kinds of beasts still roam).

Philosophy and Dog Jokes

At this point in my life, I am resigned to the fact that I am a dilettante; I move from one thing to another, get very excited about it, make some progress, and then switch-- and while this methodology has it's obvious flaws, it's always exciting when the middle of the semester rolls around and I start teaching Philosophy Class again . . . I am seriously under-qualified to teach this course, and once it's over I generally forget that it's even on my schedule, but when it starts I'm always a ball of fire; this year, to prepare, I've been listening to a very informative (albeit nerdy) podcast called Philosophize This! and I'm reading a book called The Physicist & The Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time . . . and I'm going to be candid here, because Socrates taught us that the first step to wisdom is realizing that you are not very wise and that you know far less than you think: before I read this book, I had no idea who Henri Bergson was-- his story arc is similar to Humboldt's, in that he was extraordinarily famous in his time, and then fell out of favor-- and I had no idea that Bergson and Einstein had an "explosive debate" that "transformed our understanding of time and drove a rift between science and the humanities that persists today," but now I'm starting to understand this, and I even read a Bergson excerpt from his essay "Laughter: An Essay on the meaning of Comic" . . . which got me thinking philosophically: do any animals ever laugh or make jokes or find things funny?

The Test 35: Stacey's Songs #4

This week on The Test, Stacey confounds special guest MJ and me with her fourth clever song quiz . . . but don't get scared off, we eventually figure out the answer; see if you can beat us to the punch: identify the artist and title of each clip, and then string the clues together to come up with the overarching theme . . . good luck!

Teach Your Children (Fairly) Well Part II

I am the parent and my children are the children, and if I want to make an arbitrary rule, such as: if you're going to watch TV on a school night, then it has to be a documentary, then they need to abide by the rule and embrace the rule and not give me a bunch of shit about the rule . . . which is why, last week, when we were two minutes into Hoop Dreams, my son Alex said he wanted to go upstairs and read instead of watching and I did something unprecedented in the history of parenting--

I forced my child to watch TV instead of allowing him to read a book

but I had good reason for this . . . Roger Ebert lists Hoop Dreams as the number one movie of the 1990's and my son was being totally close-minded because he was angry about my "documentaries on school nights" rule . . . a rule which my wife and children should realize is never going to last, and if they could simply humor me for a bit and allow me to reign like a lunatic dictator over my tiny realm . . . and Alex ended up liking the film-- you can't not like it, it's great (though not as fast paced and violent and entertaining as Arrow, a show to which my kids are addicted).

Teach Your Children (Fairly) Well

I think I'm as good as any parent about feigning excitement about a perfect score on a social studies quiz (nice job with the triangular trade route!) or a school project (nice diorama!) but now that my boys have seen some actual excitement over a school accomplishment, they may realize what's what; to explain, Ian's PE teacher (who I know from coaching soccer) texted me on Tuesday, in the middle of the day, to tell me that my son Ian (a fifth grader) had toppled the school record for the PACER (Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run) and that the record he beat had stood for four years, so he wanted to commend Ian on an impressive effort . . . and I was even more impressed than the PE teacher by his accomplishment because Ian had really exhausted himself the night before-- we had an away Rec basketball game in South River (away rec basketball games?) and a lot of kids on my team bailed (because it's rec basketball) so we only had five people (three of which I drove to the game) and the other team was full of sixth graders and our team is all fourth and fifth graders and most of the kids on the team can't handle the ball, so Ian had to play every minute at point guard, and though he's small, he had to go down to the low post because he's willing to foul kids . . . anyway, I was very proud of him and told him so, and now I'm going to have to step up my acting when he gets a good grade in math or draws something nice . . . why is it so much easier to get excited about athletic achievement?

Dave vs. The Fuzzy Green Ball

Everything seems epic when you're sick, and so yesterday, during my drive to the MedExpress while running a fever (turned out to be bronchitis)-- I fought an epic battle against a worn out tennis ball; the ball kept rolling under my feet while I was driving down Route 18, and I was worried that it would become lodged under the gas or brake pedal, and so I repeatedly bent down and grabbed the ball from under my feet-- temporarily obscuring my view of the road-- and then tossed the ball to the back of the van . . . and moments later it would come rolling back up again, like it had a mind of its own, and so-- finally-- and, as I said earlier, I was running a fever and my mind was cloudy, I thought to put it in one of the many cupholders my Toyota van possesses, and this was a perfect fit-- the ball will stay lodged in there until my kids decide to remove it, so they can play catch in the car (and it is possible that this fairly obvious idea didn't dawn on me for so long because my old car, a Jeep Cherokee, had no cupholders and so I had to use the sneaker which resided in the passenger seat . . . there were rarely passengers brave enough to ride in the "deathbox," and I'm too sick to do any research-- so I'll leave this work to Sentence of Dave fanatics-- but I wonder how many automobile accidents are caused by unrestricted rolling tennis balls . . . I'm guessing this is at least as dangerous as trying to clip your dog's nails as a stoplight.

Dave Expounds Upon The Bachelor

It astonishes me how popular The Bachelor is-- I can't imagine why modern educated women would want to watch a bunch of ditsy bimbos humiliate themselves in order to win the favor of a good-looking guy-- but my wife likes it and so do the women at work, and I've watched ten minutes of the current season, in two rather disappointing five minute sessions, and this copious "research" has led me to a couple of conclusions:

1) the format of the show is demeaning enough, but at least most of the women have respectable title descriptions . . . Jubilee is a "war veteran" and Leah is an "event planner" and there is a "chiropractic assistant" and a "bartender" and a "news anchor," and Rachel has the guts to call herself "unemployed" and Tiara has a sense of humor and claims to be a "chicken enthusiast" . . . or maybe she actually is a chicken enthusiast-- who knows?-- but when I watched a bit on Monday night, I noticed that Emily's footer read "twin," and that's not a career or a title or even much of a description  . . . it's just a genetic coincidence-- it would be like if someone's title was "Huntington's Disease Carrier" or "Sickle Cell Candidate"-- you can check out the list if you want to see for yourself;

2) the first time I got sucked in was earlier in the season, when the girls had to play a soccer game in order to get some face-time with Ben . . . this excited me, as the girls are cute and fit, and I was really interested in who was the best soccer player-- these are traits you'd want in a wife, someone sporty and athletic and competitive and coordinated .. . and I assumed many of the girls would be moderately athletic, but apparently they just starve themselves to keep their figures, because they were terrible soccer players and the game was just embarrassing (and ABC did an awful job filming the match, you couldn't see how any of the play developed) and if I had my druthers and were doing a program like this, it would be all athletic contests and fitness tests, interspersed with a few cognitive exams, so that I could choose a woman who would produce the smartest, most athletic offspring . . . coming next fall: The Bachelor (of Eugenics).

The Deepest of All Questions

I'm not going to do any research on this topic-- too disgusting-- and my experience with the subject is purely anecdotal, but I'm fairly certain that the phenomenon is real; some weeks, my toenails grow faster than normal (and require clipping) and some weeks they don't seem to grow at all . . . so why is toenail growth variable and what causes this?

You Should Read Death Comes to the Archbishop (before you read Moby Dick)

In preparation for our trip to the American Southwest this summer, I am reading some of the classic literature set in that region; I started by re-reading Death Comes to the Archbishop, a nearly plotless collection of vignettes by Willa Cather, based on the lives of two French Catholic religious men-- a bishop and a priest-- who leave civilized Europe in the mid-1800's and travel to the wilds of the New Mexico Territory-- newly acquired by the United States after the Mexican-American War-- in order to establish an organized diocese amidst the corruption of the Spanish, the poverty of the Mexicans, and the traditions and mysticism of the Native Americans; I admit that's a mouthful for a synopsis, and that hardly does justice to what happens in the book, but I regard this as one of the best American novels ever written-- while I love Moby Dick, Cather's masterpiece is probably a more worthwhile read and it certainly addresses much more modern issues-- race, class, religion, mysticism, greed, politics, assimilation, and borders . . . it is an absolute refutation Crevecoeur's outdated "melting pot" metaphor . . . the book was published in 1927 and it is utterly modern, like a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, it is a collection of climactic scenes and anecdotes (think There Will Be Blood or Magnolia) without much transition-- Elmore Leonard codified this into his mantra: "try to leave out all the parts people skip"; Cather's language is as rugged and sharply defined as the terrain she writes about . . . here are some of the passages I highlighted:

1) he seemed to be wandering in some geometrical nightmare;

2) he saw a flat white outline on the grey surface-- a white square made up of white squares . . . that his guide said, was the pueblo of Acoma;

3) one could not believe the number of square miles a man is able to sweep with the eye there could be so many uniform red hills . . . he had been riding among them since early morning, and the look of the country had no more changed than if he had stood still;

4) No priest can experience repentance and forgiveness of sin unless he himself falls into sin . . . otherwise, religion is nothing but dead logic;

5) their Padre spoke like a horse for the last time: "Comete tu cola, comete tu cola!" (Eat your tail, Martinez, eat your tail!) Almost at once he died in convulsion;

6) in his experience, white people, when they addressed Indians, always put on a false face;

7) he had the pleasure of seeing the Navajo horsemen riding free over their great plains again . . . the two Frenchmen went as far as the Canyon de Chelly to behold the strange cliff ruins; once more crops were growing at the bottom of the world between the towering sandstone walls;

and while most of the prose is impeccably lucid, Cather was also not afraid to use specific words that will make you consult a dictionary (partibus, calabozo, codicil, pyx, hogan, coruscation, turbid, jalousies) but these only crop up occasionally, otherwise it is a smooth read; in the end, it is a tale of friendship between two religious men, Bishop Latour and Father Vaillant, in a harsh, complicated, inspirational, and fascinating environment; Cather's treatment of the Native Americans is empathetic and vivid (and must have influenced Aldous Huxley when he wrote Brave New World) and while she moves from mundane politics and vanity to the holiest of mysteries, the story never loses its historical grounding, it is set amongst realpeople-- Kit Carson especially-- and real events-- the Colorado Gold Rush near Pike's Peak and the building of Santa Fe's Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis Assisi, which Jean-Baptiste Lamy-- the man Bishop Latour was based upon-- oversaw and initiated . . . anyway, I've gone on far too long and I haven't even scratched the surface of what lies inside this book, but I guarantee it is an America that they don't teach you about in school, Jamestown and the Pilgrims and the Boston Tea Party and all that, and I'm sure when I'm visiting these spots this summer, Cather's words will ring in my ears . . . so if you feel like you want to read a classic piece of literature, and you don't want to slog through The Brothers Karamazov, I recommend this-- it's short, episodic, perfectly written, and full of valuable insight on the origins of our national character.

The Test 34: Elitist Stuff

This week on The TestI quiz the ladies on some "highbrow stuff" and we all perform admirably-- Stacey invents a jazz musician, Cunningham corrects me on (of all things) a sporting quotation, I try "taking some stuff from my head" and fail miserably, and we all learn many valuable pieces of information from the Voice of God . . . give it shot, keep score, and see if you know any "elitist stuff."

Advice for Husbands

You can't just own the cell-phone, you also have to charge the cell-phone and carry the cell-phone on your person (if you want your wife to be able to contact you when something comes up).

Two Kinds of Rock Bands?

I can hear Zman's voice in my head as I write this-- and so: Yes Zman, I know . . . there are two kinds of people, people who divide people into two kinds of people and people who don't-- but it's rare that any pub night discussions stay in my brain through the night until the next morning, and this one did; my friend Alec and I determined that there are two kinds of rock bands-- and I did my research and watched some concert footage to confirm this-- and here they are:

1) bands where everyone stays in the same spot on the stage-- The Grateful Dead and Yes come to mind . . . this may be due to the fact that the music they are playing is progressive and difficult (Yes) or it might be  simply because everyone is so whacked out on drugs  that getting near another human would totally freak them out (The Grateful Dead) or they might be introverted weirdos (Neutral Milk Hotel, Greasetruck)

2) then there are bands like Van Halen and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, where there's lots of running around and interaction and singing into the same microphone . . . and while I know this is hypocritical of me, considering I don't know where my toothbrush has been, I still find this unhygienic and a little goofy . . . what if someone in the band has a cold-- you don't need that stuff all over the microphone-- nor do i need anyone in my space while I'm playing a guitar solo . . . I think the Talking Heads are a nice middle ground between these two styles, they are fairly animated, especially David Byrnes, but don't stray too far from their spots on stage, and I guess there are also bands where one person is all over the place (Jimi Hendrix) while the rest of the crew stay in their spot . . . I certainly haven't thought this theory through completely, but perhaps Zman will give me some other categories to add to the rather restrictive dichotomy with which I began.

Humboldt: More Than a Big Squid

Alexander von Humboldt is largely forgotten (aside from the Humboldt Current and the Humboldt Squid) but he was the most intrepid and famous man of his age, and his influences on our perception of nature and the environment were monumental; Andrea Wulf's book The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World is everything you could ever want to know about Humboldt, and also features wonderful chapters on the folks that he influenced and inspired; every time I thought I had enough Humboldt, she described another inspired adventure, or how he met up with and influenced another notable person, and Wulf even writes wonderful mini-biographies of some of the people who were most indebted to Humboldt's writing and discoveries . . . here are a few of the many memorable things Wulf describes:

1) Humboldt was buddies with Goethe and was the inspiration for his most famous character Dr. Faustus, who made a pact with the devil in "exchange for infinite knowledge,"

2) Humboldt never married and the exact nature of his sexuality was ambiguous . . . but he certainly enjoyed the company of men, one of his most celebrated bromances was with his travelling and writing partner, Aime Bonpland . . . Wulf describes them as a "great team" because they were exact opposite: "Humboldt spread frantic activity" while Bonpland "carried an air of calmness and docility,"

3) when Humboldt and Bonpland were in South America, they had an especially fruitful time experimenting with electric eels . . . they drove horses into the water where the eels were and watched the "gruesome spectacle" and for "four hours they conducted an array of dangerous tests including holding an eel with two hands, touching an eel with one hand and a bit of metal with the other, or Humboldt touching an eel while holding Bonpland's hand (with Bonpland feeling the jolt)"

4) In Views of Nature he explained the "correlation between the external world and our mood"

5) Humboldt spend quite a bit of time with Thomas Jefferson, and inspired Jefferson to look for megafauna in North America (to show up French Naturalist Georges-Louis Buffon, who claimed that everything in the New World was feeble compared to its European version)

6) Charles Darwin was inspired by Humboldt and he "modelled his own writing on Humboldt's, fusing scientific writing with poetic description"

7) Hector Berlioz, the great romantic composer of Symphony Fantastique, loved Humboldt's book Cosmos and claimed that it was incredibly popular among musicians;

8) Edgar Allan Poe's last work, the 130 page prose poem Eureka, was "dedicated to Humboldt and was a direct response to Cosmos"

9) Humboldt advised Simon Bolivar, annoyed Napoleon, inspired Thoreau to write Walden, influenced John Muir and the entire conservation movement, and had loads of other far-reaching implications with his prodigious correspondence, his travels (to South America and Siberia in particular), his copious experiments and measurements, his many publications, and his cult of personality . . . this book is so dense with detail that I can barely keep one-tenth of it straight, but one thing will remain in my brain years and years from now, Humboldt is more than the guy who discovered a really scary predatory six foot long, one hundred pound squid (although that's a great accomplishment in itself).

It's All How You Look At Things

At first, when I realized someone had stolen my snow shovel off my front porch on Saturday afternoon, during the height of the blizzard, I was indignant, but I've chosen to change my perspective on this, and instead think of the loss of the shovel as a charitable donation to a small business, to encourage entrepreneurship . . . because it was certainly stolen by one of the roving bands of shoveling opportunists, who come into town whenever there is a big storm, in order to make some cash . . . and while I doubt these folks are of the demographic that read my blog, just in case, I'd like to address you directly, the stealer-of-my-shovel, and suggest that:

1) we could turn this donation into a micro-loan . . . now that the weather has turned warm, you could simply toss my shovel back onto my porch now that you're done with it (and if you could also return my neighbor's shovels, which were also stolen, and which you probably had a hand in, that would be fantastic) but if not . . .

2) I hope you make good use of the shovels, and we get lots of snow, so you can parlay your theft into a major windfall, and I hope someday, when you own and operate a large plowing conglomerate, you remember your humble beginnings and thank me (and I'd also like to point out that our dog did his job, and barked at you, but I was napping and Cat was in the kitchen and figured it was just one of the kids throwing a sled on the front porch, not a shovel stealer, so you'd better watch out the next time you try this, because my dog is onto you).

Farewell Four Letter Friends . . .

In December my audio streaming service, Rdio, bit the dust . . . according to the company's design lead, Wilson Miner, the service was made for "snobby album purists," and I guess that's why it didn't thrive (the company filed for bankruptcy and Pandora bought what was left) and I guess that's also why I loved it and was willing to pay $4.99 a month for it-- I read Miner's quip in an article by Kevin Nguyen called "Burying Rdio, the Music App for Annoying Men" . . . and several days ago, while I was still in the process of mourning Rdio, I received a text message from PTel, my cheap mobile phone provider, and it's curtains for them as well . . . and this makes me quite sad, because they always provided Platinum level telecommunications (aside from the lack of service in Manchester, Vermont and the fact that I had to hold my phone out the window in my classroom in order to send a text message) and while this is serious stuff-- I've lost two pillars of my digital universe in less than a month's time-- I'll take solace in the fact that Netflix still works, and I'll encourage you to use Netflix to watch the funniest single episode of a sitcom ever made, "Charlie Work," which is the fourth episode of the tenth season of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia . . . and you may be thinking: How can Dave claim he knows the funniest episode of any sitcom ever . . . how can I trust his opinion, when he can't even pick a good cell-phone company or a good music streaming service? and while I admit this is reasonable logic, I will humbly ask you to watch "Charlie Work," which has an insanely high rating on IMDB, and then if you can provide a single episode of a sitcom that you believe is funnier, and I will pit them head to head, and using my patented situation comedy arbitration method, I will determine an unbiased victor.

Giant Reptile Wades Through Snowy Wasteland

Friday night, my wife was driving down Route 1 and she did double take when she read the big electronic variable message sign . . . she was already nervous about Winter Storm Jonas, and this sounded even worse . . . the message on the sign read: LIZARD WARNING.

Dave Defeats His Wife in a Battle of Logic!

It's a rare occurrence, but I always relish when my wife screws up-- in fact, it's the topic of the very first Sentence of Dave-- and so it was with great pleasure, when my wife came down the stairs and into the kitchen yesterday morning, that I asked her-- facetiously-- if she had heard the weather report the night before, you know . . . the weather report about Winter Storm Jonas, the mighty blizzard that had dominated the news for the latter half of the week . . . and though she knew I was up to something, she admitted to having knowledge of the storm, and this admission buried her, because my next question was: "then why did you leave two six packs of beer on our back porch?" and at first she tried to maneuver her way out of it-- she said she didn't think that they would have been buried and she pointed out that I occasionally put beer in the snow, but she finally confessed that it was an absurd move, and that if I hadn't seen the bottle caps, just above the blanket of snow (and wondered if some fruity beer fairy had come in the night and left a six pack Illusive Traveler Grapefruit Shandy and a six pack of Leinenkugel Berry Weiss as some sort of blizzard survival kit) then the beer would have been buried in a snow drift until spring, the bottles shattered, and-- more importantly-- my wife would have been beerless for the duration of the blizzard.

The Test . . . Snow Day Edition

There's nothing better on a snowy day, just after you've shoveled out the mouth of your driveway (and then the plow comes by again and undoes all your hard work) than sitting back with a cup of hot chocolate and listening to the newest episode of The Test . . . and this one is hot off the press, with real time blizzard allusions from The Voice of God . . . check it out, play along at home, and see if you can beat me (you'll definitely beat Cunningham on this one).

Some Advice For Dog Owners During the Winter Months

Open the poop bag when you are in the house, before you venture out in the the cold with your dog, because it's very difficult to pry open one of those little bags when your fingers are numb (and I would have said pre-open the bag before you walk the dog, except that George Carlin would roll over in his grave if I used the prefix "pre" in that manner).

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