According to James Surowiecki in this week's New Yorker, the miracle drug Sovaldi will cure hepatitis C, but a single dose costs one thousand dollars, and the full treatment costs eighty grand . . . and your average hepatitis C patient makes 23,000 dollars a year, and 3.2 million Americans have hepatitis C . . . and because the people taking the drugs aren't really paying much of the cost, and insurers are obligated to cover a drug that doctors deem necessary (but insurers have "virtually zero" ability to negotiate price when a drug has no equivalent) a very strange economy has been created (and by very strange, I mean that taxpayers are going to foot the bill for our half-assed hybrid sort-of-subsidized health care situation . . . although, to play devil's advocate, perhaps eighty grand is a bargain, if it means you won't have to treat a person for a lifetime of complications for hepatitis C).
Jennifer Senior's book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood is entertaining, engaging, and well-researched, but I have to warn you, the book does get down to brass tacks; it asks the biggest and most existential of parental questions: why the hell are we doing this? and reminds us that the modern goal of parenting -- to raise happy, creative, well-adjusted children that can achieve anything they wish-- is rather elusive, compared to "the concrete aims of parenting in the past: creating competent children in certain kinds of work; and creating morally responsible citizens who will fulfill a prescribed set of community obligations," in other words, teaching your kid the family business and the community religion, and hoping it works out for them . . . but those days are long gone, and in the words of Viviana Zelizer, children have become "economically worthless but emotionally priceless."
Terri Frana-- a forty-four year old Florida mom who was mauled by a black bear while getting bikes out of the garage for her kids-- needs to get in touch with Troy Hurtubrise, who has devoted a great deal of his life to building "grizzly-proof" home-made armor . . . I learned about Hurtubrise's exploits in a Stuff to Blow Your mind podcast called "The War on Creativity," an episode that reminds us that most great thinkers are ignored or ridiculed while they are alive, but if Hurtubrise's suit could hold off a grizzly, then it should have no problem with a measly black bear (and I'm going to watch the documentary on the subject-- Project Grizzly-- so I can see just how effective the suit is, but judging from the tests in the above video, it's bear-proof).
Sassy New York Post reporter Susannah Cahalan tackles the most difficult story of her young career (even more difficult then when she went undercover as a stripper to procure illegal butt implants) in her memoir Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness . . . as best she can, she reconstructs her battle with anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis, a wild and malevolent disease that runs her through psychosis, delusions, seizures, convulsions, hallucinations -- bedbugs in particular -- obsessions, lethargy, comatose behavior, loss of verbal ability and social graces, and requires much research to diagnose and a fairly long recovery filled with drugs that bloat her body and slow her mind . . . but she is one of the lucky ones who does recover -- some remain afflicted and some die-- and so she wants to tell her story so that others can benefit, because this swelling of the brain is often misdiagnosed as mental illness, though it stems from a physical swelling of the right side of the brain . . . the book is one of those "there by the Grace of God go I" stories, as the disease has no known cause, and for me (and several of my readers) it has an added dose of reality, as Cahalan recovers at her mother's house in Summit, New Jersey, and visits her boyfriend's sister in nearby Chatham, New Jersey, so while the disease seems to be something out of The Exorcist, the fact that Cahalan has to undergo the scrutiny of "Summit moms" while trying to recover her wits lends the story a suburban surrealism.
Jean Hanff Korelitz's new novel You Should Have Known is taut, claustrophobic and gripping: a marriage unravels, a mystery unfolds, and the book within the book -- an advice book about choosing the right husband with the eponymous title "You Should Have Known"-- takes on an epically ironic role, which might seem heavy-handed if it wasn't so much fun . . . the marriage counselor married a psychopath!
Two fish are swimming along in a school of their brethren and a shark appears and opens its toothy jaws, as if to engulf them all, and the one fish says to his buddy, "Hey, do you want out of this?" and the other fish says, "Of course! What should we do?" and the first fish says, "Close your eyes and follow me" and with that he swims right into the shark's mouth, and his buddy-- eyes closed but using his lateral line sense-- blindly follows into the maw of the beast . . . and then opens his eyes, and as he starts to feel the shark's stomach acid melting his scales he says, "I thought you could get us out of this?" and the first fish says, "I did, I did . . . by "this" I meant a frantic and anxious life filled with anxiety and peril."
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).
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.
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).
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.
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).
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).
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).
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).
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 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.
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 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.
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.