Half a Plan

We are going fishing in the Pine Barrens and our goal is to catch a pickerel . . . but once we catch it, then what do we do?

How Many Serial Killers Are There In London Right This Instant?

Luther is a very dark but excellent British police show on Netflix; Idris Elba (who infamously played Stringer Bell in The Wire) is a detective with a checkered past that constantly haunts him, and he inhabits what appears to be a gritty version of modern East London, but is actually a parallel universe where every third person is some kind of sociopathic serial killer (it took me a few episodes to get over this absurdity, but it makes the show run at a rapid clip, unlike the world of The Wire, where it could take an entire episode to get a search warrant).

Irony Embodied

One month ago, I took a day off to take my kids snowboarding -- and I believed I had earned this day off, as I hadn't taken a sick day all year, and so this was my reward for being so healthy . . . and after I drove home from the snowboarding trip, I felt so vigorous and energetic that I went to my Wednesday night basketball game, thinking to myself: though I'm forty-four, I feel invincible . . . I can snowboard all day, and still play basketball at night, I'm made of iron, I'm unbreakable . . . and then five days later I came down with the flu, which led to severe bronchitis, and now, though I'm a bit better, I'm still mired in mucous and have a lingering cough, and though I know in my brain that there's no connection between my boastful thoughts and the virus that brought me down, my heart thinks differently.

What Kind of Burrito Do You Dream About?

Cinco de Mayo in New Brunswick may look like a bit of a dive, but they make my ultimate dream burrito . . .  and it's on the menu, so I don't even have to struggle with Spanish to order; it is called the "El Mexicano," and -- like the elusive Syrian chucker -- it is two great things at once: half of the burrito is smothered in mole sauce, and the other half is smothered in verde sauce . . . and you get to choose what they put inside (I had chorizo) and it is very, very big . . . big enough that when I first saw it, I told Catherine that I would take half home (but, of course, I ate every bite).

Heroin and Hookers . . . but no Heroine

Robert Stone's Dog Soldiers is the bleak and sordid account of a heroin deal gone sour, and it is set against the backdrop of two decaying place: South Vietnam and Southern California . . . the Summer of Love is long gone, the optimism of the hippies has faded into junkie fatalism, and Vietnam is headed towards implosion; the style is a mix of Elmore Leonard, George V. Higgins, and Hunter S. Thompson, and the plot moves from philosophical to incendiary . . . you can see whay it's on Time Magazine's Top 100 Novels List . . . Stone admits that some of the fictitious adventures in the book were based on the reality of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, and that the survivalist Hicks is based on the infamous Neal Cassady, but for anyone younger than those folks, reading this is like looking back at an alien culture that once inhabited our land and then flew back into space.

It's Got Something to do with Pigs

Shane Carruth, writer and director of the nearly indecipherable time travel flick Primer, has now done himself one better and made a completely indecipherable film: Upstream Color . . . I got vibes of Wrath of Khan, Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker, and Kaufman's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation . . . though I can't promise you are going to love it, I will say this, though it's a purposefully obtuse story, it's rather easy on the eyes and ears, and it's not terribly long, so give it a shot (and then you can read this insanely long New yorker analysis of what probably happened, and how it might be inspired by both Thoreau and toxoplasmosis gondii).

Some More Parenting Advice

If you're sick and your wife is working on a twenty page graduate school research paper, and you just need your two boys to go upstairs, take their showers, brush their teeth, and get into bed without incident, then one boy will probably race into the other boy's room -- naked -- and pee on his floor (which almost struck me as funny, except that I was sick and my wife was hard at work on her paper . . . my children never choose the right time or audience for their humor . . . they have no timing).

Some Good Reads, If You're On Your Deathbed

During my extended illness (which has transformed from the flu to a wicked cough, laryngitis, and finally -- as diagnosed yesterday-- some severe bronchitis) I plowed through a lot of books: Tim Cahill's ode to Yellowstone National Park (Lost in My Own Backyard . . . apparently, when we visit the park this summer, my family likely to be eaten by a bear . . . or at least bitten by a horsefly) and Duane Swierczynski's psychedelic Philadelphia time travel mystery Expiration Date (as usual, when you go back in time to solve a problem, you're probably going to create a bigger one) and David J. Hand's fairly fun book on statistics and probability, The Improbability Principle and I finally finished Alan S. Blinder's account of the financial crash, After the Music Stopped and followed up the mayhem with Michael Lewis's fast-paced non-fictional financial tech thriller Flash Boys, then I read the later chapters of Jennifer Senior's wise, well-researched, and nonjudgmental All Joy and No Fun :The Paradox of Modern Parenthood . . . I didn't need to read the early chapters because my wife and I have survived those years, but it sounds like the teen years can be quite a strain on marriage, and now I'm in the middle of Robert Stone's novel Dog Soldiers, a bleak and trippy '70's crime novel about a heroin deal gone bad . . . I'd like to thank these books for getting me through some sleepless nights and feverish days, and though I doubt I remember much of them, I'm still going to give them all a big thumbs up (and a big thumbs up to the Kindle, which is a great resource when you're too sick or hopped up on codeine syrup to drive to the library).

Some Parenting Advice

If you tell your kids one place NOT to play, and they've been gone for over an hour, and you need them home, then you go directly to that forbidden place, and chances are that they will be there (because there's no better place to pay than the polluted and muddy morass at the edge of the river).

Funny Thing About Darts . . .

I recently hung a dart board in my basement, and I've gotten into the habit of shooting a few innings whenever boredom strikes . . . and the main lesson here is that it's a lot easier to shoot darts at the pub, after downing a few pints of beer, and I'm not sure if there's any other sport in which a moderate amount of alcohol actually improves performance.

The Hold Steady Holds Steady

I like The Hold Steady and I hope you like The Hold Steady, but their new album Teeth Dreams sounds like one giant super-long Hold Steady song . . . can a band sound too much like itself?

The Spiraling Blue Orb and the Misty Red Fog Will Form an Alliance Soon Enough, Resulting in More Chaos Than Order (From Some Perspectives)

David J. Hand's book The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day is an entertaining tour through the logic of statistics and the laws and behavior of large numbers, and it also gives some great advice if you want to be a prophet:

1) use signs no one else can understand ;

2) make all your predictions ambiguous; 

3) make as many predictions as you possible can.

Goldman Sachs . . . Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker?

Goldman Sachs emerges as both a villain and an unlikely hero in Michael Lewis's new book Flash Boys . . . what Goldman did to computer coder Serge Aleynikov was mean-spirited, unnecessary, and illogical, but in the end, the company helps bolster the use of the new IEX market that Brad Katsuyama and a select group of Wall Street rebels create, in order to protect regular traders and investors from the predatory practices of high-frequency traders and "dark pools" . . . the story is just as exciting as The Blind Side, although a bit more technical, and you'll be astounded at how the modern stock market really works: think Mahwah instead of Manhattan.

Are You Reading It Yet?

I'm sure, due to all my hyperbole and ultimatums,  you are well into Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction, but if you haven't finished, don't get discouraged, as the book has a slightly upbeat ending-- though the evidence is nearly incontrovertible that not only are we inadvertently killing off species at a unprecedentedly rapid rate -- with climate change, ocean acidification, and a reshuffling of native and invasive species -- but there was probably no time in the Anthropocene when humanity was "one with nature,"as the "pulse" of colonization of primitive people's across the globe went hand in hand with a devastating loss of super-awesome mega-fauna -- nothing makes more more melancholy than the list of animals early North American natives hunted to to extinction (glyptodonts, cave bears, dire wolves, wooly mammoths and rhinoceros, giants beavers, giant sloths, giant camels and llamas, American lions, American cheetahs, etc. etc.) . . . and not only that but we also wiped out our main humanoid competition, the neanderthals, but due to the "leaky-replacement hypothesis" and some very adventurous swinging souls, the good news is that present day homo sapiens posses 1-4 % neanderthal genes -- so the neanderthals aren't totally extinct, they survive inside of us . . . and while there may be no way to stop this sixth extinction, Kolbert admires the folks that are trying, as these are the kind of people who will "give a Hawaiian crow a hand-job," stick their arm up a Sumatran rhinos anus, and cryogenically freeze and preserve the genes of many species just in case we can resurrect them in the future . . . but it all may be too little, too late, but perhaps next time around, in a few million years when creatures have had a chance to evolve diversely once again -- if we are still in the picture-- we will do a better job of it.

Khan Academy . . . Shhhh?

I'm probably not supposed to tell you this but Khan Academy is a really effective, addictive and organized tool to get your kids to learn some extra math -- and it's especially attractive to boys because of the video game type features: points, badges, and unlocking levels . . . but I'm assuming parents are keeping it a secret, in the hopes that their son or daughter will be the only child to reap the benefits, and so here on Sentence of Dave, I'm officially busting the curve (and this is thanks to a fellow soccer parent, who graciously mentioned the site to me . . . if he wouldn't have said something, I still wouldn't know about it).

I Didn't Realize Ira Glass Might Be Insane

I love dogs and I love the radio program "This American Life" and I greatly admire Ira Glass for the depth, detail, and creativity of his reporting, but now I also have to consider that he is a very crazy person who is married to an even crazier person -- Ira Glass is a very busy man, but he essentially spends all of his free time taking care of a troubled dog that attacks people, is allergic to nearly every kind of food, and lunges at Ira when his wife is sleeping . . . this is a man at the pinnacle of his radio career and he can't have anyone over to his apartment because Piney will attack them (he's bitten six people) and while the dog is now eight years old, and has calmed down a bit (sometimes a stranger can look him in the eye and he won't bite him) he still has to move from food source to food source when he develops an allergy (tuna, bison, rabbit, kangaroo, etc.) and so if you are at all a fan of "This American Life" then you've got to listen to this table-turning interview; it's compelling and weird and what Ira and his wife have sacrificed for this dog defies all logic and reason, which makes their behavior either saintly and magical, or completely lunatic . . . and don't just judge by this fairly sweet Newsweek piece, listen to the actual interview with Ira Glass, it's in Act Three of the "Animal Sacrifice" episode.

Due to Extinction, There Will Be No April Fool's Post This Year

I haven't gotten much response indicating that all the people out there in the human race are obeying my command to read Elizabeth Kolbert's book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, and so I am canceling today's April Fool's sentence due to mass extinction (caused by humanity) and there will be no more April Fooling on this blog until the Anthropocene ends, the human race fades away, and the rats and cockroaches explode into all the available evolutionary niches, ushering in a new age of very gross bio-diversity that we will not be around to name (but you can enjoy previous April Fool's posts, as I'm not so hardhearted as to remove those . . . it's not like we wanted to kill all these creatures, right?)

The Flu: A Big Thumbs Down

I am giving this season's flu a big thumbs down (and so next year I'm getting the flu shot, as my wife and children -- who all got the shot -- remained perfectly healthy while I suffered) as this flu's plot was repetitively long (a week? when does the flu last a week?) and boring (fever, chills, fever, chills, ad nauseam) and there were no twists to speak of -- you'd think vomiting and diarrhea would be a bad thing, but I would have welcomed intestinal problems to break up the sweats, aches and glassy eyes, plus an embarrassing and graphic puking episode is always fun to recount here on the blog, but instead all I could do was read for very shorts stints and watch marathon amounts of Portlandia; I must admit, the illness was not a total waste of time, as I did find three things that I will use in school during my minimal reading and maximal TV watching, which I will list here so that I can reference them and add them to my lesson plans when I finally return and so you can enjoy them as well, as they are perfect examples . . .

1: the Brunch Village episode of Portlandia, which is a perfect example of a mock-epic, something we cover in Creative Writing . . .Tim Robbins has a fantastic cameo at "the end of the line,"

2: the Alexandra episode of Portlandia also works in Creative Writing, as the episode satirizes post-modern "art projects," which will connect nicely with the documentary My Kid Could Paint That,

3: and an example to go along with my "logical fallacies" unit in Composition class . . . David J. Hand's The Improbability Principle describes the "cargo cults" of the South Pacific, these tribes saw Japanese and Allied soldiers build airstrips and landing fields during World War II, observed them marching and dressing in a military manner, and then large ships from the sky would come with loads of valuable and exotic loot . . . so when the war ended, the natives "built airstrips out of straw and coconut, and control towers out of bamboo and rope, and dressed themselves to resemble the military personnel they'd encountered during the war . . . they sat wearing carved wooden headsets and duplicated the waved landing signals" but, of course, no cargo planes ever came . . . this is the most vivid example for the old statistical maxim "correlation does not imply causation" that I've ever heard.

No Quarter Needed

Snapshot of the English office over the past week; English teachers (mainly male English teachers) glued to the two computer monitors, intensely concentrating, pecking at the arrow keys . . . some folks (including yours truly) poking at a rakishly angled keyboard, slanted diagonally off the desk, others-- more spatially gifted-- slanting their brain instead . . . and if you haven't guessed, we were playing a free version of Q*Bert, but don't get all up in arms about your tax money, this was pedagogically condoned, we weren't shirking our jobs as educators, in fact, we were being productive, as several teachers were using a recent Grantland article about marathon video game playing called "The Kings of Q*Bert" in class, so this was "research" for the lesson (and during this research, I briefly held the department high score -- which was written on the white board in the office -- but then Kevin overtook me by an unattainably wide margin and so I wisely chose to stop playing . . . unlike the lunatics in the Grantland article).

Book Review with a Side of Hyperbole, Please . . .

If you're only going to read one book this year, it should be War and Peace, but if you're going to read two books this year, then the other one should be Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History; while the message is grim, the writing is clear and engaging, and Kolbert narrates her own adventures in places as far-flung and varied as the Amazon, the Andes, the Great Barrier Reef, Italy, Vermont, and a littered fossil-filled stream in an undisclosed location near a ball field in the vicinity of Princeton, New Jersey to provide a counterpoint to some shockingly depressing lessons and predictions, and while I shouldn't be doing this, because you must read this book, I will provide a thumb-nail sketch of the content . . . before humans, there were five major extinctions, and "as in Tolstoy, every extinction event appears to be unhappy-- and fatally so-- in its own way"; there was the well-documented K-Pg extinction event (formerly known as the K-T extinction event) which wiped out the dinosaurs sixty-six million years ago, when a huge asteroid hit the earth near the Yucatan Peninsula, but the four other extinction events are more mysterious . . . they may have been because of climate change, shifting continents, habitat loss, and/or ocean acidification (global warming's "equally evil twin") and Kolbert wants to welcome us to the sixth extinction event, the Anthropocene, where all of these forces -- cranked up to a much faster velocity-- are wiping out species faster than we can count them, and there is an apt comparison deep in the book, after Kolbert recounts the story of the brown tree snake, an invasive species that has voraciously eaten every indigenous bird, mammal, and reptile on the island of Guam, and she cites the great nature writer David Quammen for this analogy: "while it is easy to demonize the brown tree snake, the animal is not evil; it's just amoral and in the wrong place . . . what Boiga irregularis has done in Guam is precisely what Homo sapiens has done all over the planet: succeed extravagantly at the expense of other species."
A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.