A Vacation Highlight

After a day at Jamestown, a day at Yorktown, and several days in Colonial Williamsburg (we definitely witnessed 10-12 hours of historical reenactment) I am fairly confident that my kids know we fought the British in the Revolutionary War (although I'm not sure they know that the British are English) and I must admit that the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has done an impressive job at re-creating these places, but my favorite part of our vacation was our hike through York River State Park-- we collected numerous fossils from the river bank-- and I lifted rotting log and saw a small snake I've never seen before: after some research, my best guess is that it is either an Eastern Worm Snake or an Eastern Smooth Earth Snake and it looked like the snake in the picture above.

One of These Pictures Has Nothing To Do With Brisket

So I learned some valuable gastronomical information on our family vacation at Colonial Williamsburg; a colonial farmer on The Palace Green (or a guy pretending to be a colonial farmer on the pretend Palace Green) was grazing a large colonial cow (or perhaps it was a guy pretending to be a colonial cow) and this large, shaggy colonial cow had a giant, football shaped goiter-like sack hanging in a pouch of loose skin  below its neck, and this bulbous mass was so large and disgusting that I felt compelled to ask the colonial farmer about it, and he told me "That's the brisket," so if you like brisket and eat it often, then I suggest you take a look at the picture of the actual cow below the post (and not the sanitized graphic of a cow pictured above) so you have an idea of what you are really chewing on.

Several Monumental Firsts

Catherine told me she "didn't like me very much" the night before we left for Spring Break, for an odd reason . . . because I did something I rarely do: I put something away where it belonged . . . she claimed this was "the first time I ever put anything away in my life" which is hyperbole if I ever heard it, although I did admit to her that I made a mistake-- the portable sump pump was on the floor in the study (the portable sump pump we put in the basement shower when there is torrential rain) and it was right in the middle of the room and I nearly tripped over it which is probably why I acted the way I did-- despite the fact that it was raining buckets-- I put the pump away in the storage area under the house, which is only  accessible from a small door on the outside of the house, not thinking that my mother-in-law would want to set it up in the basement because of the storm-- so Catherine was pretty angry when she had to walk out into the rain to retrieve it (I was already in bed) and, also due to the storm, this was also the first time that I packed the car in the dark at 4:30 AM on Saturday morning, instead of getting things set up the night before, and so I put the kids' bikes on top of the car in one of those big latch-on sacks and I put our bikes on the back of the car on a latch-on bike rack and I remind you that I did this all in the dark and so it's no surprise that I was only 50% successful . . . a few miles down the Turnpike a woman drove up alongside of our car and made a repeated pointing motion at our roof . . . we stopped to investigate and realized that I never actually latched the sack with the bikes to the roof, I skipped that step and just tied the belts loosely around the roof rack (which I do at the end so they don't make that annoying flapping sound) so it was lucky that woman noticed the sack coming loose or in a few miles some unlucky driver would have gotten hit in the windshield with a sack of bikes.

Those Chauvinist Pixar Bastards

My creative writing students were naming kids movies and then suggesting appropriate morals for each film-- practicing their inductive reasoning-- and a student said the moral of Up is this: You can't have a real adventure until your wife dies (he admitted that he didn't create this moral himself-- he read it on-line-- but it is still an excellent use of an on-line resource in the classroom).

George R.R. Martin: Fantasy Without Whimsy

For the second time in as many months, I took on a novel with two things I despise-- a map and an appendix-- but George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones was so highly recommended by everyone who read it that I had to give it a shot, and unlike Dune, which I couldn't quite finish, I read all 676 pages of Martin's first volume of his epic Song of Fire and Ice series (and even referred to the map and the appendix several times!) and though I felt a bit childish at the start . . . I'm forty-one years old and usually reading books like this, not sword and sorcery stories . . . I very well may read the next volume (A Clash of Kings) and I will definitely check out the big-budget HBO series inspired by the first book; I will admit that I started the book trying to find reasons to hate it, but the form drew me in: short, exciting and strategic chapters, each told from a different character's point of view,  following Elmore Leonard's philosophy of "leaving out all the parts that people skip," with the pacing of a J.K. Rowling book, but sophisticated and very adult content (thus the need for the appendix) and far more entertaining and action-packed than the slow paced but similar Tolkien books and with one other extremely important improvement: no elves (I hate elves and anything else that smacks of whimsy, and a A Game of Thrones is definitely the least whimsical of fantasy novels).

Tetris to Impress

For the second time in my life, I have impressed my children: I completed the most difficult level (9.5) on Gameboy Tetris so the boys could witness the victory song of the "five fiddlers" and the Congratulatory Space Shuttle Launch; Alex was so moved by my performance that he said we should "write it on my gravestone when I die."

Nuts Sparring By The Fire

The charming Hotel Vienna of Windham, New York boasts a lovely breakfast room where they serve fresh baked cheese and raspberry danishes and croissants for you to eat before you ski, and they have large family style tables and even a fireplace, and I felt serene and relaxed while eating aforementioned danishes, contemplating a day of snowboarding with the family, while the other families around us did the same, and once our children finished their breakfast they asked if they could sit in front of the fire, and I said, "Of course," happy to be able to finish my coffee and Alex sat in the Adirondack style chair right in front of the fire and Ian sat just to his right and within minutes they were in a fist-fight over the chair that was right in front of the fire and I had to break them up and I couldn't beat them both senseless because there were these other peaceful families eating yogurt and granola and drinking tea surrounding us and observing us, and so I calmly and logically talked it out with them, and we agreed that they could take turns in the seat directly in front of the fire but that didn't work so well either because once Ian got his turn the good seat, he bonked his chair over and nudged Alex further away and tried to control both armrests and they got into another fight and I had to remove them from the quaint breakfast room and drag them back to the hotel room, where we proceeded to get dressed so we could enjoy a relaxing day on Windham Mountain.

How Smooth Is Smoov?

On the walk home from a very late night out, which began at the Stress Factory in New Brunswick, where we watched JB Smoov of Larry David fame do his especially bawdy form of minimalist prop comedy (he "birthed" himself through a white t-shirt, had sexual intercourse with a chair for a LONG time, and used a microphone and the cord as phallus and ejaculate) we got into a debate on how much he would tailor his material if he was playing to A) an all white crowd or B) an all African American crowd . . . and this was precipitated by this observation: the Stress Factory employees seated all the African Americans up front, and JB Smoov worked his rapport with them more often than with the other folks in the crowd-- now we don't know if this was intentional or just a coincidence, but it was apparent . . . and if anyone has seen JB in hypothetical crowd situation A or B, please leave a description of his act in the comments.

This Could Be The Idea That Allows You To Retire in Style

This weird hair discussion at G:TB reminds me of an idea a friend and I had about making a documentary where we interviewed people about the strange and rapid growth of unsightly body hair-- that crazy white hair that sprouts in the middle of your forehead or the curly gray hair that grows in your ear in the span of a nap-- and the "money shot" would be a time lapse segment of one of these hairs actually sprouting during the night, it would take thousands of hour of film to capture this, and it would be analogous to getting footage of the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot . . . so does anyone have some venture capital they want to invest?

Small Pleasures

There's a certain joy in kicking a ball-- it's a similar pleasure to throwing something and hitting the thing you wanted-- but there's the added satisfaction that you did it with your foot . . . and my five year old son Ian understands this: the other day he spent a great deal of time and concentration trying to punt a soccer ball over the tennis court fence, which is an impressive feat for a forty pound child, and then once he accomplished it, he tried to do it again and again . . . and this reminds me of one of my favorite kicks of all time; it took place in our fraternity "pit," a carpeted area with benches and a television-- I was putzing around with a soccer ball-- and Kenny Bloom borrowed Brian Fogg's motorcycle helmet, sat on the bench, put on the helmet, and said to me, "Kick it at my head!" and I complied and I hit it hard and clean and perfect and it hit the helmet and snapped Kenny's head back and knocked the helmet clean off his head, and he looked at me, stunned, and said, "Remind me never to do that again."

I Am Put In My Place

For a Friday diversion, I like to create a "Life Quiz" for my students: ten general knowledge questions that I think they should know (my last quiz consisted of these questions-- 1) What was the first permanent English settlement in North America? 2) How many strings do the cello, violin, and bass guitar all have? 3) What is the vernal equinox? 4) Who said, "In the future, everyone will have fifteen minutes of fame? 5)What does a seismograph measure? 6) What does a Geiger Counter measure? 7) To what country is the platypus indigenous? 8) In Greek mythology, who was mesmerized by his own image in the pond? 9) What planet is Superman from? 10) Who holds the record in Major League Baseball for most consecutive games with at least one hit?) and, for some reason, the students find this fun-- perhaps because it isn't graded and I encourage them to challenge someone each time we have a quiz . . . and I find the quizzes fun as well because I make them up from my head to insure that they are "common knowledge" and I get to reveal all the answers and feel smart as I explain them, and I try the quizzes out on the other teachers, who often do quite well, but rarely go ten for ten, and then I feel smart because I knew all the answers-- but last Friday, after I tested the teachers, another teacher pulled out her fun Friday activity, a logic puzzle in this vein, that included an incomprehensible little chart to "help" you with the information and aid you in getting a solution, and she started in on the puzzle and Stacy did as well, and before long they were filling in the chart and making insane statements like "You know the Fuentes can't be Munoz because there is no appointment before 5 PM, so that only leaves California because we eliminated Michigan because Lukas isn't until 6 PM" and while I tried my best to join in, I was essentially just copying off them and not understanding one bit of the method, even when I did fill in the chart, and it wasn't fun for me at all and really lowered my self-esteem and it makes me feel bad for the kids who don't get any answers correct on the "Life Quizzes," but I guess you can't be good at everything (unless you're Einstein) and maybe I need to start with something simpler, like an easy Sodoku and work my way up to full blown logical thinking, which was certainly never my strong point, and why I was known as "The Poor Man's Galileo" in college.

Zombie Priorities

 If you haven't seen the AMC series The Walking Dead, then by all means do so-- it's not just about zombies, in fact, the zombie gore is secondary to the human drama (despite the fact that the zombies eat a horse in the second episode) and the true theme is not supernatural at all, but more about how humans respond and adapt to a new and stressful situation, but before you watch the series, you should get your priorities straight and read the comic books first: Robert Kirkman has taken Rick and his son Carl to such a dark place that I don't think the television series can follow, and-- I assure you-- reading the comics doesn't spoil the plot of the series: in fact, if you read the comics first then it is more stressful to watch the series because you'll be constantly expecting things to happen and they won't . . . and though there are differences in plot, the theme of both works are the same-- both rely on the fact that they are an open ended series of episodes, not a graphic novel or a movie, or even a series like Lost, where the apocalypse will be solved and resolved, instead, the only resolution will be death, but they question how people might live along the way, in a world irrevocably destroyed, a world where there is no solution to the problem . . . the zombies will not be vanquished . . . and judging by the end of season one of the AMC series, they understand this and are going to stay true to the comic books in this regard . . . but what do I know?

You Learn Something New Every Day

So I always assumed that everyone who has seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail finds the film at least moderately funny, but this is not true, and, in fact, there's a sort of reverse-Dane Cook Effect going on here . . . some people consider the film horribly unfunny . . . and think it is for nerds and hipsters to share with one another; I learned this in class the other day, when some of my students and the neighboring teacher banded together against the Python fans in a pointless debate (because it is impossible to convince someone that something is funny . . . you see it's funny because he is no longer a newt . . . you see it's funny because they forgot to hide inside the Trojan Rabbit . . . you see it's funny  because he forgot to say "three" and "four") but I can assure you that when I was watching the movie repeatedly with my dirt-bag high school friends, we were certainly not cool enough to be hip or smart enough to be nerdy . . . and so-- as a rare fan of both Dane Cook and Monty Python-- I urge you not to make hasty generalizations about taste in comedy and character.

I Can See Why People Are Pissed But . . .

Ha Joon Chang, in his book 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism, explains how in a quest to curb inflation, the free market package known neo-liberal policy, emphasizes greater capital mobility (rich people can move large amounts of money quickly so they can make a killing on arbitrage and investment without penalty) and greater labor market flexibility (the ability to outsource, avoid unions and labor regulations, and essentially make jobs insecure) and these policies are wonderful for those who hold large liquid financial assets and like to move them quickly to avoid having them degraded by inflation and this also allows for large companies to be restructured quickly, but it doesn't help if you own a house or don't have loads of liquid assets or a large business, and the threat of some inflation essentially pales in comparison to job losses and foreclosures and economic instability, especially when people are stuck in houses they can't sell, so they can't take advantage of the greater flexibility companies have in moving jobs (my cousin who works at Pfizer says this is the "new normal," you can be laid off at any time) and because of this instability in the job market, people are pissed at teachers, cops, and firemen because we have a union and collectively bargain for our salaries and benefits (although legislation in New Jersey is trying to abrogate these rights) . . . essentially we have old time jobs that are stable . . . the kind of jobs most people in America don't have any longer . . . but instead of being pissed at us, why not be pissed at the neo-liberal policies that made this happen?

Overwhelmed By Sand

After a recommendation from a friend, I started in on a novel that has the four elements that I generally can't stomach: 1) a map 2) an appendix 3) a glossary 4) lots of made up words with apostrophes . . . I'm talking about "Science Fiction's Supreme Masterpiece" . . . yes, that's what it says on the cover, and like everything else in this book, it is said without irony . . . this is the blurb for Frank Herbert's Dune and, surprisingly, I made it through 400 pages of sand, the highly addictive life lengthening spice-drug melange, imperial plots for the aforementioned spice drug, wild religious prophesy among the Fremen, water reclaiming stillsuits, Sardaukaur, the coming of Muad'Dib, a ride on the maker (a sand worm), crys-knife fights, treachery, desert ecology, and all the rest . . . but I finally skimmed the last hundred pages or so, because-- despite the complexity of the world, the fantastic development of the characters . . . both in mind and lineage . . . and the well-paced and multifarious plot-- after four hundred pages of reading you deserve a joke or two, something funny or at least ironic, but like in the Bible and Lord of the Rings, the tone of Dune is epic, and during this epic and very dry time on Arrakis, nothing remotely humorous happens, nor should it I guess . . . this is a place so desiccated that when you die, they render your body for its water, and the pages and pages of sand finally wore me out (and from what I've heard, the movie is not so much fun to watch either).

I Had My Reasons (They Just Don't Make Sense)

I was nervous all day Tuesday, my mind turning over the possibility that my 1993 Jeep Cherokee would not pass inspection and I would finally have to spring for a new car, and so on the way to the inspection station, I alternately drove really fast, in order to blow out the catalytic converter, and very slow-- to test the brakes-- which might be a bit suspect, and I occasionally beeped my horn, which has been known to stick, and only beeps if you punch the upper lip of the device-- and I'm sure I was an odd sight, accelerating and braking down Fresh Ponds Road, occasionally tooting my horn, but luckily I didn't pass any police, and then when I got to the inspection station I learned that-- possibly due to budget cuts-- they don't employ very many people there . . . it's a ghost town and the only thing they inspect now are emissions (most cars have a chip, so they just plug a cord into the chip, but my car is so old that they had to hook up all these EKG monitor type devices to the outside and inside of the engine) and the gas cap for leaking fumes . . . they don't test the brakes or the doors or the blinkers and they don't even beep the horn,  and so the positive thing is that I can legally drive the Jeep until 2013 but the negative thing is that I can legally drive the Jeep until 2013 (and God knows what other barely serviceable vehicles are passing inspection with flying colors, so be careful out there!)

Proud Parent

So Ian is taking art lessons from an artist up the street, and she's been quite impressed with his work-- he's the opposite of his older brother who would rather talk about his artistic visions, but can never work up the gumption and patience to render them well-- Ian is quiet and patient and methodical when he works, and he's willing to revise a line several times until he gets it exactly right; he also has the ability to look at a picture of something and draw it and capture it's essence-- when he draws a penguin, you know it's a penguin (and the same with a dolphin or a scorpion or whatever) and this makes me very Proud as a Parent, that my young son has some Talent, and maybe, if I am very lucky, he will go to a good Art School and really learn to draw and paint and also make abstract steel sculptures-- for the low, low price of 30 grand a year-- and become an Artist and live at home until he's thirty (or maybe forever, like Emily Dickinson).

The Exception

As a rule, I never lick anything that been sitting in my shed (mice live in there) but, if a soccer ball or basketball needs air, I don't think twice before inserting the pump needle into my mouth, no matter where the pump has been-- nestled among mouse droppings, on a shelf in a filthy garage, among the detritus on the floor of my car-- simply because of the instructions: "Moisten needle before inflating."

Just A Hypothesis

We all know the idea of a gateway drug-- some habit forming substance that might possibly lead to addiction to a harder drug-- but I pose this question: is coffee a gateway drug to speed? or is drinking coffee a "prophylactic drug," as opposed to a gateway drug, because your coffee addiction prevents you from needing speed . . . and I think you could use this logic for other substances as well, especially if the assumption is that reality is so screwy that most humans will need some sort of controlled substance to deal with it, and that there's very little possibility of zero drug usage (note the abject failure of various prohibitions on controlled substances) and so we shouldn't be worrying about the danger of "gateway drugs" and instead we should be trying to foster controlled and responsible usage of the least addictive and harmful of these substances.

The World Will Never Know

I wonder what kinds of fantastic and creative ideas I would come up with if my consciousness was not constantly being interrupted by my children (mainly my son Alex, who is apparently scared of silence and feels the need to constantly fill it with his half-baked thoughts, which isn't so far off from the premise of this blog, so I can't really chastise him for the habit, except when he says, "Daddy? Daddy? Daddy? Daddy?" even though I am looking at him-- eyebrows raised-- waiting for him to finish the thought, but he keeps repeating my name until I say, "Yes Alex?" and by that time he has usually forgotten what it was he wanted to say and I have forgotten about whatever I was thinking as well).

For Once In My Life, I'd Love To Be On The Inside

The first half of Charles Ferguson's documentary Inside Job  is a clear review of the causes of the 2008 global financial crisis-- the film explains collateral debt obligations, synthetic mortgage backed securities, credit default swaps, highly leveraged banking, banking deregulation, the merging of investment and traditional banking, and sub-prime mortgages . . . if you haven't done your reading, it's a good primer on these subjects, and there is some excellent footage of Iceland as well-- but the second half of the film spirals into less focused frustration and anger (despite some inspirational and slightly cheesy narration by Matt Damon) and the big players either refuse to be interviewed (Henry Paulson, Ben Bernanke) or hem and haw under aggressive questioning, which is satisfying in one sense, but really doesn't help to explain anything, and then the film explores high salaries and bonuses for Wall Street traders and the culture of excess-- there's some rather pointless gossipy chat with a high-end escort who serviced numerous Wall Street employees . . . but, honestly, as long as the system gets fixed, I could care less how the traders spend their money; despite these flaws, the movie is certainly a must see and I'm going to teach it to my students during the business ethics unit (I'll use it instead of the Enron documentary-- The Smartest Guys in the Room-- which, though it's a bit dated, has better music and a more insular and resolved story . . . though it also gets a bit off topic when it rather gratuitously explores Enron exec Lou Pi's fascination with strippers . . . I guess when you've got a documentary with a lot of numbers, you need to throw in some T&A) and another advantage of Inside Job is that it is relatively non-partisan: the film also criticizes the Obama administration for appointing the usual suspects to fix the problem (Tim Geithner and Lawrence Summers) and the film claims that Obama's new banking regulations lack teeth, and as far as I know the facts are fairly accurate . . . or as accurate as you can be when you try to make a movie about something as complicated as this. 


I don't know about you, but when I say, "I'm really hungry, does anyone have any food?" and a colleague says, "Oh no! I just threw a Pop Tart into the trash!" then I go into the trash and fish out that Pop Tart (which was still protected by it's foil wrapper) and eat it, because otherwise it would be eaten by rats in Edgeboro Landfill, and who wants to be defeated by a rodent?

An Analysis of My Netflix Queue

My Netflix queue has swollen to 233 films, and though I'm never going to view these films, they do reveal quite a bit about about my hopes, dreams, personality, and aspirations . . . and if you head over to Gheorghe: The Blog, you can read a Close Reading of the list.

I Am A Bad-ass

I was going to take my kids to the pet store and let them each choose a fish for our new fish tank, but they get into a fist-fight while getting into the car (they were arguing about who was going to get in and who was going to have to walk around the car and get in on the opposite side) and so I said I wasn't taking them as a consequence for fighting about something so stupid, and instead I made them pick up sticks and bark in the backyard (and the worst part is that I was looking forward to going to the pet store and getting some new fish, so I had to punish myself as well as them, but as I indicated, I am a bad-ass parent who will not back down when it comes to fish).

The Giving Ski

I was gung-ho on teaching my two boys to ski this season (for purely selfish reasons . . . I love to snowboard and this gives me an excuse to go) and after several days of ski school and some hairy trips down the mountain trying to help them while on my snowboard, I am proud to say that they can ski, and now that they've learned, there's part of me that wishes they would unlearn, because as a parent it is petrifying to see your progeny hurtle down an icy mountain, when you know that they don't make good decisions anywhere (moments before we drove from the hotel over to Windham, I watched my older son-- who is seven and should know better-- trying to stuff a rectangular Lego box into the round hole of a ruck sack, and he was jamming it in long ways and it was stuck, and he couldn't figure out to turn the box on it's side and slide it in) but I guess it's like anything else you give your children, like the ability to ride a bike, you imagine that it will create wonderful scenes of family unity, but instead they take the skill and use it to wreak havoc and chaos . . . perhaps I should have taught them to play tennis, how much havoc can you cause with a tennis ball?

Humble Buffet

I shouldn't be reading heralded economist Ha-Joon Chang's book  23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism, because I'm trying to keep my happiness index up and thinking about economics never leads to greater happiness, but it's frustrating when politicians are saying their hands are tied about budget cuts, yet they won't consider raising taxes on the rich (or even renewing a current tax on the rich!) despite the fact that the rich in America earned their money just as much because of the American system as because of their wits-- as Chang puts it: there's no such thing as a free market; every market is regulated and stipulated by its context and the rich are beholden to that system for their wealth . . . but don't listen to me, listen to Warren Buffet, who said: 'I personally think that society is responsible for a very significant percentage of what I've earned . . . if you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru or someplace, you'll find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil . . . I will be struggling thirty years later . . . I work in a market system that happens to reward what I do very well-- disproportionately well."

I May Have Given These Words of Wisdom to My Students

The difficult thing about family vacations is that you're out in public, so you can't hit your kids.

You Make The Call

The United States spends 1.1 percent of the budget on foreign aid, the lowest percentage of any wealthy country besides South Korea . . . yet in absolute terms the 39.4 billion dollars that we donate to other countries for humanitarian, economic, and security concerns is the largest absolute amount allocated by any single country-- so the question is: are we stingy or are we generous?

Olfactory Query

My five year old son Ian asked a fair question last week: "Can you smell over the phone?" and-- considering the smell of most people's breath in the morning-- it's a lucky thing that the answer is "no."

El Cambio es Bueno

Hola, mi nombre es Juan, y aquí es una frase excelente para que usted pueda disfrutar, y me gustaría dar las gracias a David por la externalización de algunos de sus trabajos para mí, y le aseguro la calidad de este blog no van a sufrir a pesar del hecho de que yo va a hacer la mayor parte de la escritura ahora.
A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.