Medium Apostrophe

Sometimes I complain that there are too many good TV shows and it's impossible to keep up with everyone's recommendations, but that's not a complaint, it's actually the opposite of a complaint, it's a compliment . . . so great job TV, you've become so excellent you've completely overwhelmed me, to the point where i don't watch you at all.

Dave Gets Smart

I have finally entered the world of the smartphone, and it's awesome-- I did it on the cheap: I purchased an older model Samsung Galaxy and put a 64GB memory chip inside it, and I'm using Ting as my service provider and not using any data-- I only download stuff when I'm using wifi-- so the bill is 12 dollars a month (six dollars for the device, three for calling, and three for texting . . . if you want to sign up, refer me and I get some credit) and I'm paying for Google Play music, so I can download anything I want to the phone . . . here's what I have on there so far:

1) Underworld 1992 - 2012;

2) The Black Album Jay-Z;

3) Natasha Leggero Coke Money;

4) Pavement  Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain;

5) Gorillaz Demon Days;

6) The Minutemen Double Nickels on the Dime;

7) Underworld Dubnobasswithmyheadman;

8) Lewis Black The End of the Universe;

9) Wu- Tang Clan  Enter the Wu-Tang 36 Chambers;

10) The Crusaders  Free as the Wind;

11) John Scofield  A Go Go;

12) Kendrick Lamar  good kid, m.A.A.d city;

13) Grant Green  Green is Beautiful;

14) Deerhunter  Halcyon Digest;

15) Squarepusher  Hello Everything;

16) Maria Bamford  How to Win;

17) Nas  Illmatic;

18) Wilco  Kicking Television Live;

19) Radiohead  Kid A;

20) Spoon  Kill the Moonlight;

21) The Pharcyde Labcabincalifornia;

22) Kanye West  Late Registration;

23) Kanye West  The Life of Pablo;

24) Future Sounds of London Lifeforms;

25) Natasha Leggero Live at Bimbos;

26) Toddy Barry  Medium Energy;

27) Massive Attack  Mezzanine;

28) Depeche Mode  Music for the Masses;

29)  John McLaughlin  My Goal's Beyond;

30) John Mulaney  New in Town;

31) Iggy Pop  Raw Power;

32) Jesus and Mary Chain  Psychocandy;

33) The Flaming Lips  The Soft Bulletin;

34) Run the Jewels;

35) Dave Attell  Skanks for the Memories;

36) LCD Soundsystem  Sounds of Silence;

and a bunch more stuff-- I'm getting sick of listing all this, but the list is heavy on female comics because I'm looking for bits when I teach Ibsen's A Doll's House and it's heavy on hip-hop because I can't listen to that stuff in the house . . . anyway, I'm in audio-overload mode, and I haven't even listed all the podcasts I've subscribed to on Podkicker!

Sears Catalog = internet

I have a friend who sells things on eBay, and not just old stuff-- she'll actually bargain-shop and buy new stuff and then flip it on eBay for profit . . . and while this is a savvy use of markets and technology, it's actually nothing new, just an incremental increase in the accuracy of the "fair market value" of goods for sale in the United States . . . and, according to Robert J. Gordon, in his fantastic and comprehensive new book The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War, the great leap forward in fair pricing and markets happened in the early 1900's-- as did many of the other impossible to reproduce leaps forward in technology-- when the Sears catalog become readily available (and free shipping on the items therein) because then these consumers were armed with pricing information from the catalog, and no longer beholden to the often unfair prices given at general stores-- so the Sears catalog was essentially the internet of its time, an incredibly informative piece of technology, and the concurrent adoption of the car (especially the affordable Model T) allowed people to roam far and wide, in search of fair prices for what they were buying and selling . . . so while my friend is in a sense a "fair market price hero," making the price of goods of services across our country more accurate, allowing someone in backwoods Arkansas to enjoy the low prices of a surplus of goods at a TJ Maxx in densely populated central New Jersey, we're only talking about a slight adjustment (and the convenience of shopping at home) and-- which is the thesis of Gordon's book-- there will never be a leap forward in market information as great as the one created by the innovative, earth-shattering inventions of the early twentieth century-- catalogs, cars, and even city department stores . . . but not having to get in the car to buy stuff is still pretty amazing, whether by internet or Sears catalog.

The Test 47: Opening Lines

This week on The Test, Cunningham quizzes us on the opening lines of seven famous literary works . . . and there's also sitcom nostalgia, ukulele aspirations, and plenty of zombies . . . so give it a shot and see how you do.


I wish I spoke fluent Spanish, but I don't want to take the time to learn . . . is there a Spanish word for that?

Proportionality Bias

I learned the term Proportionality Bias while listening to Benjamen Walker's The Theory of Everything podcast . . . this logical fallacy explains the reason why there are so many conspiracy theories about the JFK assassination: our brain naturally believes that humongous world-shaking events need large, complex causes, and so it couldn't have simply been a lone gunman . . . while John Hinckley's unsuccessful assassination attempt of Ronald Reagan didn't cause as much turmoil-- because Reagan survived and made a prompt recovery-- and so it makes perfect sense that this was the work of a Jody-Foster-obsessed-wack-job . . . logically, we know that a tiny, random event can set a cascading sequence of actions and reactions that could conceivably set an entire city on fire . . . Mrs. Oleary's cow may have kicked over a lantern and started the Great Chicago Fire (or maybe not . . . it may have been started by a meteor shower . . . but either way, I think it proves the point) and the fact of the matter is that a cunning poltergeist did not inhabit your house in the night and wedge your car keys under the sofa, just to watch you scream and howl in the morning because you're going to be late to work . . . but it's much more fun to believe this than the boring, mundane truth.

Every Anxious Wave

If you dig alternative 90's music-- especially The Melvins-- and also enjoy the paradoxes of time travel, then check out Mo Daviau's novel Every Anxious Wave . . . Karl Bender, who was in a popular indie band back in the day, discovers a time-traveling wormhole in his closet, but-- in typical understated ironic hipster fashion-- he will only use the the wormhole to take certain select people back to certain select rock shows . . . we're talking bands like Beat Happening and The Smiths and Frank Zappa and The Magnetic Fields and REM . . . you get the idea . . . but things change when he strands his friend in 980 AD (instead of 1980) and enlists the aid of a cute, obnoxious, chubby astrophysicist to get him back; my favorite trope is that Karl somehow receives text messages from his friend in 980 and emails full of advice from his future self, who is living in a post-apocalyptic version of Seattle . . .  and then there's his Indian landlord, a wealthy slumlord married to a beautiful woman, who is actually a closeted homosexual who just wants to get it on with Freddie Mercury in 1982 . . . while this book isn't quite as good as Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, it's certainly in the same ballpark (and it's a lot more fun than Primer).

Serial Season 2: You Should Listen to It (and write an essay about it)

This review is a bit late-- but I loved Serial Season 2, and while I recognize that Serial Season 1 was incredibly compelling because of the solve-it-yourself-mystery and the constant interaction between Sarah Koenig and Adnan, Season 2 is more in my wheelhouse-- Middle Eastern politics, military strategy, assessment of government bureaucracy and hierarchy, the conflict of vision between liberals and conservative, and-- most significantly-- a guy who was indignant because he couldn't wear shorts when it was really hot (same deal where I work, no AC and no relaxation of the dress code when it's 93 degrees in the classroom . . . don't get me started) and, ultimately, a main character who appears one way on the surface: a selfish deserter who-- according to Donald Trump-- deserves to be shot, but when you dig deeper into the story, systemic problems and existential questions reveal themselves . . . anyway, my students wrote synthesis essays about Serial Season 2, Hamlet and Inside Out and they were excellent-- all three works revolve around the question "Who's there?" and they all feature introverted main characters navigating the world without a solid social framework of friends and family . . . and all three characters decide to run away in order to solve their problems; just in case you want to write the essay for your own personal erudition, I've included the prompt AND a sample paragraph I wrote . . . at the very least this will give you an idea of how much high school has changed in the past decade . . . I wish when I went to school that I had the chance to connect a Shakespeare play to a popular podcast and a Pixar film: these damned kids don't know how good they have it.

Who's there?
Use Hamlet, Inside Out, and Serial Season 2 to frame an argument about one or more of the following topics: character, motivation, consciousness, art, aesthetic purpose, ethics, grief, perspective, layers in art, running away, introversion, morals, human nature, action, inaction, family, friendship, political intentions or anything else that applies to these works. These are dense pieces of art that connect to many themes-- so you should be choosing something YOU want to write about.
Use evidence from these works of art to bolster your argument. Do NOT simply summarize and compare/contrast the works, use them to help make your own point. This will require minimal amounts of summary, some logical analysis, transitions and connections, and-- most importantly-- a clear thesis as to what YOU are saying and clear topic sentences that connect to YOUR argument. Your introduction should get across this idea that you are going to explore, explain, and support.
Use at least two quotations from Hamlet, two quotations from Serial, and one quotation from Inside Out. You may mention one of more of the works in the introduction if they connect to your main idea-- but you do not have to mention all the sources in the introduction, you could just blend them into the body paragraphs. Be sure to properly cite all your quotations.

Topic sentence 1: The world does not always conform to idealized rules, and if a person does not learn how to adapt to this concept, he may suffer tragic consequences.
 Hamlet believes that his mother and father's marriage was ideal; he cannot endure his mother's betrayal, so much so that he wishes his flesh would "melt" so he that he won't have to deal with the "unweeded garden" (I. ii. 133-139) that his world has become. It takes him too long to accept that his world is messy and ugly, and that he will have to adjust his morals, actions, and attitude to this new normal. Because of this, his life ends tragically. While he finally comes to the conclusion that "the readiness is all" (V. ii. 238) and accepts his fate as an angry and vengeful son, he realizes this too late. Bowe Bergdahl suffers a similar fate. Like Hamlet, he keeps his romanticized ideals intact into his young adulthood. This philosophy does not mesh well with life in the military.  In Episode 1 of Serial (DUSTWUN) Bowe likens himself to "Jason Bourne." His interviewer, Mark Boal, describes Bergdahl's aspirations to be a super-soldier. The reality of Bergdahl's military experience is far different than what he imagined. OP MEST was a godforsaken shithole (literally) and the army mission there was ambiguous at best. Bergdahl could not reconcile what he thought the military should be with his actual experience, and this led him to make a rash decision.
Topic Sentence 2: People who learn how to cope with with the instability of the world when they are young are much more likely to be mentally resilient. 

Angels Flight is a Funicular Railway and a Harry Bosch Novel

My apologies in advance, as I love the word "funicular" and will use it as many times as possible in this book review; Angels Flight is a two-car-narrow-gauge-funicular-railway in Los Angeles and it connects Hill Street and California Plaza; the funicular-railway is both a tourist attraction and a means for workers to get back and forth between the Downtown Historic Core and Bunker Hill . . . and it is also the title of a particularly dark Michael Connelly novel; the story begins at the funicular-railway, which is the scene of a grisly double murder: a woman and a high profile African American lawyer that specializes in racism and police brutality cases . . . this is a very sensitive investigation and Internal Affairs and the FBI work in conjunction with Bosch's team to solve the case, as many people believe that a police officer committed the crime-- as Howard Elias, the lawyer, was hated and vilified by the force-- this is in the wake of the Rodney King trial, and the city is beginning to boil over again . . . throw in a pedophile ring, a murdered twelve year old girl, complicit parents, violent interrogation tactics and indignant anger in the media, the police force, and the black community, and it sets up an ugly portrait of 1999 that is as topical today as it was then . . . and it all starts on the funicular railway.

The Test 46: What's That Thing Called?

This week on The Test, you've seen it . . . you've used it . . . you even know what it's for . . . but what is it called?

Technology: The Cause of (and Solution to) All of Life's Problems Part Two

While the technological inconvenience of the PARCC test is annoying, and corporate globalization of education is scary, neither of these things is tragic . . . a local event put things into very grim perspective; the beloved school superintendent of a nearby town was struck and killed by a 17 year old high school student . . . he was out for an early morning jog with his dog (also killed) and she was trying to catch a bus for a school trip; the superintendent lives in the town (Robinsville) and his children attend the same school system; the town closed the schools and brought in grief counselors, and the event had a sobering effect on high school students in my district as well . . . there are rumors that the girl may have been texting while she was driving, but these rumors aren't confirmed, and I haven't found a complete account of the accident, but it still opened a great deal of discussion about distracted driving . . . we give our teenagers cars and cell-phones and expect them to be able to responsibly use them, when the technology might be too much for anyone-- teen or adult-- to handle; Leon Neyfakh explains some of the research on this dilemma in an excellent article, and I think the only solution to this nightmare is a technological one: cars that drive themselves, cellphones that sense when you're driving and shut down, and the realization that for most of us, the romance of the open road is a thing of the past and that our cars and phones-- two of the technologies that people use the most-- need to be designed so they operate together, safely and intelligently.

Technology: The Cause of (and Solution to) All of Life's Problems: Part One

New Jersey schools are conducting the PARCC test, and so far it has been a logistical nightmare-- there was a statewide technical breakdown earlier in the week, forcing all schools to postpone an entire day of testing; and the test has made my high school schedule a complete trainwreck, I see the same kids (first and second period) for hours and hours every day, but barely see my other classes . . . I am hoping the frustration and anger over this year's session is the death knell for this test, and that New Jersey severs its relationship with Pearson, the giant multinational company that provides the test . . . this seems to be the trend, as the consortium of states using the PARCC is down to seven; if you want to learn a bit more about Pearson, there's a great article in Wired magazine by Anya Kamentz on this topic; the piece is mainly about Pearson's ambitions to open low-cost private schools around the world, with curriculum based on their Common Core Standards, and while there may be some benefits for developing nations in allowing this-- as it relieves them of the burden of needing to set up an efficient government subsidized free education program-- there are also some Orwellian overtones when a giant profit hungry company hoping to access the 5.5 trillion dollars in global education budgetary money asserts itself . . . here are a few things from the article to think about:

1) last year in New Jersey, Pearson "monitored the social media accounts of students taking its Common Core tests and had state officials call district superintendents to have students disciplined for talking about the exam";

2) outsourcing education to a company like Pearson, who wants to open low-cost schools in small buildings, often without play areas, libraries, or any other typical school amenities (other than computers) may result in making teaching a "low-paid, transient occupation requiring little training" as just about any trained monkey could read the Pearson approved script about the Pearson approved curriculum to the students and then get them workign on their screens, while the computers collect data on their progress;

3) and then-- even scarier-- the only check on student progress "will be the tests that Pearson itself creates" . . . yikes . . . Diane Ravitch has been a proponent of the school as being one of the bastions of local democracy, but if Pearson monopolizes the curriculum, the core standards, and the tests and essentially inserts "itself into the provision of a basic human service, Pearson is subject to neither open democratic decisionmaking nor open market competition" . . .

but I assume people smarter than me are reading the writing on the wall, and I'm sure the Wired article was timed to come out during the testing period and make people aware of some of these big-picture problems (because teachers and students and parents tend to focus on the details, all the little picture stuff: the test makes students lose instructional time, it doesn't need to be on a computer, it's harder to read on a screen, it's difficult to schedule a test where everyone needs to use a computer, kids do enough testing during the course of a year, I was with the same kids for three hours Friday, then my break was cut to ten minutes, then I had a bunch of short classes and no lunch . . . I was so bewildered that I actually forgot to eat my lunch, which has never happened in my twenty years of teaching . . . etcetera) and the fact of the matter is that even if we solve all this little logistical details, and I remember to eat my lunch, it's still very scary to entrust the standards, the curriculum, and the measurement of progress to a large corporation that's not under direction from the local school board and town . . . I think most parents will agree that we can't accurately measure what is important in education-- teachers and curriculum and schools that inspire curiosity, sensitivity, social skills, passion, diligence, and perseverance-- so we make what we can measure important . . . or we let Pearson dictate what is important and then we let Pearson design instruments to measure this: yuck.

Juggling isn't Just for Clowns

Our varsity soccer coach made us juggle the ball at nearly every practice, despite our complaints-- you never juggle the ball in the game! no one ever juggles down the field and then scores!-- but he was ahead of his time and a fantastic coach (and recognized as such by North Brunswick star Tim Howard) and I've managed to convince my own children how important juggling the ball is and this has finally paid off-- because when kids first start juggling the ball, it's pretty ugly, they don't have much success and the ball goes flying all over the place . . . so we do it off the bounce a lot at practice; my older son Alex is twelve and he's finally mastered the two footed juggle . . . two weeks ago his high score was 25 touches in a row without letting the ball hit the ground, but now he's up to 97 and he's making it look easy because he can use both his feet with equal facility; now that he's achieved some success, he's getting slightly obsessed with it and practicing every day (and this may be in the genes, I used to juggle the ball a lot for relaxation and exercise . . . I once did 13 soccer fields without dropping the ball and another time I made it a mile around the track without letting the ball hit the rubber . . . after that I stopped juggling so incessantly because it was getting a bit weird, but I wish someone stressed earlier than high school how important juggling the ball is to develop balance and first touch).

Cooperation vs. Competition

While I love competition, I love it in particular forums (darts, cornhole, basketball, soccer, pedantry, stealing rocks from the park, miracles) and I readily acknowledge that the bulk of human interaction is cooperative-- in fact, nearly everything I do in the course of a day is a cooperative venture: driving on the highway, walking in a crowded space, holding a discussion in class, coming up with a new lesson plan, having a laugh in the office, running soccer practice, cooking dinner, dealing with the kids, and even watching TV (I only watch TV with other people, and I make a lot of comments and ask a lot of questions) and this makes me wonder about the actual benefits of competition-- while it's certainly fun, I'm not sure if it's all that significant for our species, as we are at the core, social animals; conservatives claim to love the unfettered competition in capitalism because they insist that it produces excellent results, but I wonder how many of these folks that espouse this philosophy have ever played competitive sports . . . because anyone who is competitive and has participated in competitive sports knows that the referees and umpires and officials and rules and regulations are VERY important because people tend to act fairly berserk when they are competing, which leads me to believe that competition is NOT our natural state (which is why we need yellow cards and personal fouls and the penalty box and the Geneva Conventions) and also leads me to believe that we either need to adopt a different metaphor for our economic system (and a different culture to go along with that new metaphor) or we need regulations in capitalism that allow for stronger penalties and even ejection from tha game.

Far Post > Near Post

I decided that it was time to teach my players that good things happen when you shoot and cross the ball to the far post, and while this is definitely true (it's how we scored one of our goals on Sunday) I must admit that when you try to teach a bunch of ten year olds how to do this, it's not all good . . . because teaching ten year olds anything new is very, very bad for my patience.

Habits are Powerful

I highly recommend The Power of Habit:Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg-- it's Malcolm-Gladwell-meets-self-help-- and not only does he make good on his promise in the subtitle,  but he does it in an entertaining, breezy style (with graphics!) that belies the rather disturbing hypothesis: our consciousness is mainly a bundle of cues, routines, and rewards; this is the same ground that Aristotle tread a couple thousand of years ago-- the only way towards virtue is habitual action and revision of this action towards a golden mean-- and Marvin Minsky's Society of the Mind is applicable as well; anyway, the thrust of the book is that you can't quit habits cold-turkey, you need to replace the routine or the reward with something comparable, and you need to BELIEVE you can change-- because reestablishing these routines and rewards is HARD . . . people do stop drinking and smoking every day, but not without many relapses and difficulty . . . you have to figure out an adequate replacement for the routine and reward when the cue arises; it also seems there are certain keystone habits that are crucial to changing everything, habits that cascade into other habits; Paul O'Neill realized this when he took over Alcoa and so he focused on one thing: employee safety, and vigilance in that one area caused a domino effect that changed the culture of the entire company; anyway, I've been nicotine free since the summer, and this book made me realize how I did it; I only crave chewing tobacco when I'm out past my bedtime and need sleep, and so now when I want to dip, I go home and go to sleep.

Dave's Take on East Coast Comicon

If you've never been to Comicon, I can save you the trouble: imagine the Route 1 Flea Market (the one in Kevin Smith's movie Mallrats) inside a warehouse--but remove the delicious barrel pickles and the arcade-- and now add a bunch of ersatz superheroes and a few stormtroopers; while I found this to be a bit over-stimulating, my children and their two friends loved it, and they all swear they are going to next year's event in costumes . . . and I guess if you're a kid, what's not to love: there's comic books, plastic junk, toys, weapons, posters, merch, and lots of adults dressed as Deadpool; for those of you hoping to make a pilgrimage, the Route 1 Flea Market is long gone, it was razed twenty years ago and replaced by a movie multiplex, and this multiplex often features movies about superheroes . . . but in the movies, the superheroes never seem to hang around en masse in flea markets.

The Test 45: Borderline Insanity

I don't say this often, but you must listen to this week's episode of The Test; in fact, I am giving it Dave's Coveted Platinum-Clad Guarantee of High Quality Fun and Educational Value . . . the premise is a simple one, and I won't give it away (since I introduce the concept with a musical riddle) and the ladies perform heroically, admirably, and humorously (but not knowledgeably) so give it a shot, and don't worry if you fail, because if you're listening to The Test, that means you are still alive and breathing, and that's a good thing.

Applying Things to Other Things

On Thursday in composition class, we listened to an excerpt of Freakonomics about skepticism and critical analysis (The Truth is Out There . . . Isn't It?) and in it-- 17 minutes in, if you want to listen-- a professional skeptic summarized the concept of a Type 1 Cognitive Error-- this is a false positive, and in an evolutionary sense, it's not a bad mistake to make . . . you're a hominid on the plains and you hear a rustle in the grass and even though it might be a squirrel or the wind, you err on the side of caution and head back to your cave-- because that rustle might be a saber-toothed tiger and even though it probably wasn't, by making this error, you survived to see another dawn . . . we humans are designed to make lots of these errors, because they aren't very costly (as opposed to a Type 2 Cognitive Error, where you think the reverse and decide that that rustle in the grass is probably nothing-- because it's usually nothing-- and then you get eaten . . . think about this in modern terms with an electrical socket: better to assume it's live, than actually stick a fork in it to check) and later in the day on Thursday, when I was at the high school turf for soccer practice, and I ran into a mom that I thought was someone I knew (but wasn't quite sure because she was out of context) and realized that I had possibly just sent this person an email about when I was going to pick up her son-- if it was the mom I knew-- and while I wasn't sure it was her, I instinctively knew that it was much less costly to make a Type 1 Error and say hello and tell her that I had sent her an email-- and if she turned out to be someone else, all I would suffer would be a moment of awkwardness-- but if I ignored her and she was the kid's mom, then I would come off as very rude and weird, so I addressed her and she was the person I thought she was and the interaction went as well as it could have (though I couldn't remember her name) and so I'd just like to thank the evolutionary processes that shaped my pattern seeking brain and its ability to suffer through so many Type 1 Cognitive Errors (and I'd like to apologize to all you people that I started waving at, but then-- mid-wave-- realized I didn't actually know you and so started weirdly scratching my head . . . because it's better to wave at a stranger then ignore one of your friends or acquaintances).

Caveat Chapin

The radio station should warn you before playing Harry Chapin's song "Cat's in the Cradle" -- there's are times when you don't need to be that unexpectedly reflective and maudlin (plus, I'm taking both my sons and a couple of their friends to Comicon tomorrow, so that should get me a lifetime pass from ever having to hear those lyrics again).

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