Falling Down When No One is Looking

A few weeks ago we did an "evaluating technology" unit in Composition Class, and I stumbled upon a This American Life  excerpt about how time travel is the most coveted future technology-- Pew Research polled 1001 Americans and nine percent want to travel through time; and I was so excited to ask this same question to my classes-- what future technology do you desire the most?-- that I got ahead of myself and tried to spin, sit down, and type at the same time, which resulted in me kicking my rolling chair out from under me as I tried to sit in it, and so I hit the floor pretty hard . . . but no one saw this happen-- everyone from the previous class had exited the room and no one was in the hallway . . . but though there were no witnesses, I ended up creating some, because I reenacted the scene for my next two periods (and also told them the story of this magnificent failure to sit in a chair and consequently reenacted that humiliating pratfall for them, so by the end of the day I was pretty sore) and then I asked them the question that caused my excitement: "What exciting new technology would you like to see happen in the near future?" and in both classes, time travel was the winner . . . and, during This American Life, when they interviewed people as to why they wanted to travel through time, most people wanted to either kill Hitler or just fix embarrassing stuff that happened to them in the past, or see dinosaurs, and while I don't think humans could ever possibly handle a technology as powerful as time travel (we can't handle the combination of cell phones and cars) I can see the allure of seeing a dinosaur, or just fixing some of the awkward moments that make up much of the content of this blog (but I wouldn't have much to write about).

Rebus and Bosch . . . A Fitting End to a Great Year of Crime Fiction

Though I didn't plan it, the last two books I read in 2015 were a Harry Bosch mystery (Trunk Music) and a John Rebus mystery (Hide & Seek) and in both novels, these rather similar detectives plunge into respective Chandler-esque labyrinths of corruption, and while they suffer some hard knocks, because they both have a code of conduct, they are able to wiggle free from their mazes, whether in L.A. or Edinburgh, and breath fresh air at the end of each story . . . once again, thanks to Joyce Carol Oates for introducing me to Michael Connelly and Ian Rankin as "masters of the genre" . . . I've only been reading about these guys for a year, but-- like the great Shakespeare characters-- I feel like I've known Harry Bosch and John Rebus all of my life.

The Bright Side of Elimination

Our first full day in Vermont was a wet one, foggy and cloudy and damp and rainy, but we braved the weather (it was fairly warm) and took a hike to Prospect Rock, and while the hike wasn't too slick, and there was a nice waterfall, when we got to the top, we certainly weren't rewarded views of the valley below, in fact, all we could see was a wall of fog, and then once we got back to the rental, it rained harder and harder-- the kind of day where you want to go to bed early, but I was determined to stay up and watch the Giants game, until I learned that they were eliminated from play-off contention (because the Redskins beat the Eagles) and so I don't have to watch them again until next season . . . happy days!

A Disembodied Voice Gives Dave Good Advice

The first night of our balmy Vermont vacation, I walked from our rental to Manchester Discount Beverage to stock up on local beer, and I immediately grabbed a six pack of the new stubby Switchback Ale bottles (normally Switchback only comes in 22 oz. bottles) and then I couldn't make up my mind on another six pack-- I kept pulling open the cooler doors and perusing all the beers they don't stock in New Jersey, and every time I opened a different door, bursts of profanity poured from behind the beer, as the two dudes stocking the shelves were chatting away, swearing profusely as they did, and-- finally-- after the fifth time I opened a cooler door, a voice from behind the beer said, "You just can't make up your mind, can you?" and I said, "No, I'm from New Jersey," to explain how baffled I was by the selection and he said, "You're all from New Jersey" which was accurate, because it was a beautiful Saturday and Manchester was packed with tourists, eating, drinking, and shopping at the outlets (there were quite a few New Yorkers roaming around as well) and then he said,"What do you like?" and by this time I had found his face through a crack between the six packs of beer, he was wearing a hat and had crooked teeth, but-- from what I could see of it-- a friendly enough face, and I told him "I've got a six pack of Switchback" and he said "Switchback is boring" which is one hundred percent accurate (it's also  easy drinking and delicious) and then, after a brief interrogation, he convinced to buy some Descender IPA, which he claimed could only be purchased in Oregon and Vermont, and while I don't know about the accuracy of that statement, I will say this: it's delicious, a little bit hoppy, a little bit malty, a little bit floral, and it tastes exactly like the voice from behind the beer said it would taste (he also instructed me to twirl my Switchback in a figure eight for ten seconds before drinking it, to "rouse" the yeast and make the flavor more consistent . . . which is a great tip, because I usually just pour out the bottom of the bottle, because it's so thick with yeast).

The Test 29: Let Freedom Rev (Art History)

In this episode of The Test, I describe famous works of art and the ladies try to identify them-- but things get a bit weird along the way: Stacey shows off a rather odd work of art that she acquired in a rather odd way; Cunningham shows off her vast knowledge of Salvador Dali . . . sort of; I forget my middle name; and then things descend into the surreal . . . so give this one a shot, keep score, and watch out for spiders.

Bread and Circuses Defeat Dave's Grouchiness

I wish I could write something more angry and intellectual today-- one of my typical Christmas rants about materialism, environmental devastation, the frivolity of wrapping paper, etc. etc-- but I'm all wrapped up in creating an avatar for our brand new Wii U video game system . . . so, ironically, "bread and circuses" have mollified my usual holiday stance (and we haven't even played Super Smash Bros. yet) or perhaps the applicable maxim here is: if you can't beat'em, join'em . . . and I must admit, I am pretty excited, as I haven't played a video game since I completed every course on the Sega game Road Rash (and was horribly disappointed by how the game just petered out in a weird level full of police, once you were inevitably caught the ending was simply a blocky pixelated error screen).

Serial Acronyms

While season two of Serial is fantastic, and swinging for the fences as far as big journalism goes, it's also a bit more difficult than the first season; this is partly caused by acronym overload, so here's a key to ten of them:

1. DUSTWUN . . . duty status whereabouts unknown;

2. OP . . . observation post;

3. FOB . . . forward operating base;

4. TCP . . . traffic control point;

5. IED . . . improvised explosive device;

6. GI . . . gastrointestinal;

7. MRE . . . meals ready to eat;

8. MRAP . . . mine resistant, ambush protected vehicle;

9. CIA . . . Central Intelligence Agency;

10. PL . . . platoon leader;

and so while you're listening, you have to be prepared for dialogue like this: Bergdahl wanted to get from OP Mest to FOB Sharana, while causing a DUSTWUN, so that his PL would have to contact the FOB, but some of his fellow soldiers, who were already dazed from suffering GI infections because they couldn't wash their hands properly before eating the MRE, thought that he might have been a mole in the CIA, but Bergdahl was hardly that, and though he had a plan to pinpoint where Taliban had planted an IED near the TCP, so that the specialists could drive an MRAP and defuse the IED, he actually just caused a huge SNAFU.


In Michael Connelly's novel Trunk Music, Detective Harry Bosch is in trouble with Internal Affairs (again!) and he is interrogated by a particularly righteous IAD officer, John Chastain, who tells him "I take pride in what I do because I represent the public, and if there is no one to police the police then there is no one to keep the abuse of their wide powers in check," and Harry replies to this with a hall of mirrors type question: "But let me ask you this, Chastain . . . who polices the police who police the police?"

Winter Solstice Miracle!

Let's try to remember that the lesson of this post is that Dave is a Super-Genius (not an idiot) and that The Subconscious of Dave is constantly working to make brilliant connections, however they might manifest themselves; so it was very dark yesterday morning, as we are very close to the Winter Solstice, the moment when the sun is at its most southern declination, resulting in the day with the least amount of sunlight (technically, I think it happened last night, but who cares-- dark is dark, and Monday morning was very dark) and so I was barely able to crawl out of bed when my alarm went off at 5:30 AM . . . and I turned on the light on in the bathroom, cracked the door, and got dressed in that faint sliver of light (so as not to wake my wife) and drove to school in the dark, and then began teaching first period in the dark because first period starts at 7:26; I was teaching Season 2 of Serial-- which is investigating the Bowe Bergdahl desertion and captivity case-- and we were reviewing how a good story promises you certain things, and then hopefully makes good on those promises . . . and one of the main things this season of Serial promises us is a glimpse into Bergdahl's brain, the reason why he ran away from his post into Taliban territory . . . but before I brought up Serial, I talked about the Pixar film Inside Out, which many of the students had seen-- and asked what this film promised . . . which is something very similar to Serial Season 2 . . . Inside Out is very, very ambitious-- as it promises to explain to us how the brain works and why we do certain things, from the inside out (and the film succeeds-- it made me cry . . . poor Bing Bong) and it wasn't until fourth period that I realized what a brilliant connection this was, because not only do Serial Season 2 and Inside Out promise the same thing, they promise it about the exact same kind of decision, as the little girl -- Riley Andersen-- also runs away from where she is supposed to be, and the film illustrates the development and emotional underpinnings of the exact same kind of radical, angry idea, AND HERE'S THE MIRACLE . . . when I thought of this, during first period, I was wearing my gray golf shirt INSIDE OUT . . . it was so dark when I got dressed, and I was so logy, that I put it on with the tag sticking out on the back collar, the buttons on the inside, another tag sticking off the side seam, and I didn't notice, and while no one said anything to me until the period was over-- they said they were too embarrassed to tell me during class, someone must have muttered the words "inside out," as in "our teacher is an idiot, he's wearing his shirt inside out" and that must have led to the wild firing of neurons that me think of the movie and then the astoundingly brilliant Subconscious of Dave went to work, and now I've got this awesome hook to get kids into the new season (and I wore the shirt inside-out for two periods of teaching . . . best Winter Solstice ever!)

Happy Gheorghemas! Your Gift = Seven Books

I've got a really annoying post up at Gheorghe:The Blog today in celebration of The Twelve Days of Gheorghemas . . . I have selected my seven favorite books from the thirty-three books I completed this year-- and that number seems to be par for the course . . . thirty-three books falls right in between my 2013 and 2014 totals, as I read 23 and 46 books in those years, respectively . . . I think if I really put my mind to it in 2016, and choose absolute trash to read (which isn't easy, it's hard to find really compelling trash) then I could possibly finish 50 books in one year . . . or maybe I'll just eat more tacos.

The Test 28: Common Threads?

Another weird and wonderful episode of The Test this week: Stacey administers a menacing word association quiz she calls Common Thread, and Cunningham defeats me-- but her victory is tainted, as she spirals into a morass of self-examination and self-reflective anxiety; other highlights include Stacey's number trouble, a short intervention, God invoking Cliff Clavin, a "speed round," and an ambiguous ending . . . this is a great one to play at home, see if you can do better than me, and if you're really clever, you'll defeat Cunningham as well . . . good luck!

Something to Look Forward To

In the olden days, old people aspired to be wise-- they were the keepers of history, knowledge, and sagacity-- but now, with the rapid pace of technological innovation and change, the best old people can do is keep up, and more often than not, I am certain that they feel defunct, obsolete, and alienated . . . I'm on the cusp of this in my job . . . I'm keeping up with all the new technology-- but just barely-- but I can see how in a few years I'm just going to give up on it all and say "enough is enough" and do things the way I've always done them . . . so here's to the future!

Batteries Included

Here's a little something from Greasetruck Studios to get you in the mood for purchasing Christmas electronics . . . true story (and autobiographical).

Yours For the Taking

While I generally appreciate leftover beer from a party, someone left two bottles of Traveler Jack-O Pumpkin Shandy in my refrigerator and I am never going to drink them-- in fact, I hate the flavor of pumpkin so much that I don't even think I would cook with this stuff, especially because it is also a "seasonal wheat ale brewed with lemon peel," and I can't stand lemon peel in my beer and wheat ales give me a stomachache; in some ways, I view this beer with awe and admiration, as it is a combination of everything I don't like in a beer in one bottle (maybe I should drink one, if it doesn't kill me, it will certainly make me stronger . . . this beer is literally my taste nemesis) and so I'd just like to put it out there: if anyone wants these, swing by and they're all yours, you can even use one of my chilled pint glasses to quaff them down.

Awkward Dave and the Cheesesteak

Last weekend, we took a road trip to my brother-in-law's new place just outside of Harrisburg, and I wasn't terribly excited about making the trip: the weather was beautiful and I didn't want to spend two and half hours in the car-- and we were driving up Saturday, staying the night, and then driving back Sunday-- and I am loath to admit that I was treating these five hours in the car as an ordeal and my poisonous attitude was driving my wife crazy-- and while I admit my behavior was childish and immature, it was a very long drive-- and then, to add salt to the wound-- we couldn't find a spot to get lunch; fans of Awkward Dave know that I don't operate well in social situations when I'm hungry (I don't operate well in social situations to begin with, but add hunger and things get really ugly) and by the time we finally found a cheesesteak place, waited thirty minutes for them to complete our order, and finished the drive to Eddie and Lisa's place, I was grouchy and ravenous and so when we arrived, I immediately sat down and dug into my cheesesteak, which my brother-in-law completely understood because he knows me, but then Catherine's Aunt approached me-- she was visiting as well-- and I guess she was expecting some kind of formal greeting-- a hug or a kiss or something-- and I vaguely understood this expectation because of the way she was standing there, looming over me, and I started to wipe my hands off, but they were all covered in ketchup and melted cheese, and so I made an executive decision, greeted her verbally and kept eating . . . and then a few minutes later, when I was outside,I noticed that her little dog had escaped the house-- and it was my son's fault-- so I yelled (in a panic) to my son "go tell the owner her dog is loose!" and Catherine's Aunt heard this and apparently she was already offended that I didn't give her a hug when I was eating the cheesesteak, and then was doubly offended that I called her "the owner" instead of her name . . . but things were happening rapidly and I was hungry and tired and nervous that the little dog would get run over by a car, and so things were awkward between us for the rest of the day and she brought it up later in the evening, when everyone had drank a fair bit, and wanted to "clear the air" and we had to hug and then she had the nerve to criticize my hug-- I guess it wasn't emotional enough-- but my brother-in-law reminded her that I "wasn't much of a hugger" and I don't think either of us learned anything from the incident, so in that sense it was very much like a Seinfeld episode. 

This Might Be the Deal

I highly recommend Dan Carlin's podcast "Common Sense"-- he's logical and knowledgeable, has a great voice, and makes political discourse engaging and relevant; his newest episode-- The War on Bad Thoughts-- made me think very deeply about our right and our Constitution, and the recent terrorist attacks and mass shootings plaguing our nation; and I've come to these (tenuous) conclusions:

1) if we are going to have a country with the right to bear arms and freedom of religion . . . or more generally, freedom to think however you like, whether it is orthodox, radical, or beyond-- in other words, if we are going to discern between thought and action-- then we are going to have to tolerate mass shootings and other violent attacks, whether they are motivated by political rage, lunacy, or religious radicalism . . . whether they are attacks like the recent Islamic extremist massacre that occurred in San Bernardino or the Planned Parenthood shooting that happened in Colorado Springs . . . unless we are going to try to eradicate what Dan Carlin terms "bad thoughts," which seems like a horrible road to pursue, a path that will eliminate our rights to religion, free speech, and all other expression-- then we are going to have to live with the fact that this combination-- the right to have weapons and the right to have radical ideas-- whether they are political or associated with religion, or some combination of both-- is going to occasionally foster tragic incidents where people act on these thoughts and it is going to be hard to predict who will do this or when, and to make ourselves completely safe from such events would also strip our privacy, our free will and our consciousness;

2) this analogous to many things in American society-- the combination that comes to my mind is this: if we are going to have freedom to live where we want, and the freedom to operate motor vehicles, and if we are willing to design our society around these vehicles instead of around pedestrians-- road systems and subsidized fuel and infrastructure that encourages suburban and exurban living-- which is what happened in America (listen to this podcast if you want to know how it happened) then we are going to have to tolerate motor vehicle casualties as a matter of course . . . I've lost my youngest brother to this combination and a number of other friends and relatives, but there's no way around it-- we've set up a system where there's going to be a large number of automobile fatalities, but to change this wholesale you would have to literally change the brains of most Americans-- people want to go places, for work and for recreation, and they want to use their cars to get there, and to curtail this from the top down would be frightening . . . again, you'd have to strip people of the right to live where they want, work where they want, and curtail when and how people operated cars-- you'd have to rebuild the system, and in the end it wouldn't look like America;

3) to change combinations like this would be to change America, to change our Constitution, and to change our idea of freedom . . . I'm not sure if this is actually happening now, but certainly people like Donald Trump are considering it, so it is in the realm of possibility, but I don't think it's a good idea, despite the death toll-- there's a part of me that would like to ban automobiles for everyday use, rewild the suburbs, move everyone to cities and towns, build lots of bike lanes and public transportation, etc. etc. but to do this would require a fascist dictatorship . . . the end is appealing to me, but I realize the means to get there would require stripping all citizens of the choices and rights; Dan Carlin quotes Robert Oppenheimer in the recent podcast, Oppenheimer said " it is perfectly obvious that the whole world is going to hell . . . the only possible chance that it might not is that we do not attempt to prevent it from doing so" and while it's hard to do nothing in the face of such violence and tragedy, and there is political impetus to do something . . . anything-- and Donald Trump exemplifies this, with his idea to ban all Muslims from entering our country-- but it's difficult to admit that the proper course might be to do nothing at all (if we are going to maintain our First Amendment rights to freedom of religion) and realize that if you want a particular system, then you are going to have to tolerate certain outcomes-- tragic though they may be-- as a consequence.

Bonus: Happy Gheorghemas!

While not quite as involved as Festivus, we are celebrating Gheorghemas over at Gheorghe: The Blog, so head over and enjoy "Five Podcasts for Listening" by yours truly . . . it's multiple sentences!

The Test 27: Alcohol (the cause of-- and solution to-- all of life's problems)

I'll use any chance to whip out my favorite Simpson's quotation of all time, and this episode of The Test is no exception-- while these questions are fairly easy for imbibers and rather difficult for teetotallers, there's also plenty of bonus material-- Stacey has some trouble comprehending English, Cunningham reveals something astounding and disturbing (and disgusting) and then tries to unreveal it, and I play the judgemental villain (as usual) . . . so crack a cold one, keep score, and see how you fare on this one . . . and as long as you're not a Mormon, you should do fine.

Is There Something Wrong With Us?

The Pew Research Center did a survey on "U.S. View of Technology and the Future" and one of the questions asked was what futuristic technology Americans would want to own . . . and while some of the answers are typical: 6% want a flying car or bike and 3% have a yearning for a teleportation device, the chart-topper is time travel-- despite the paradoxical, monumental, and wildly unpredictable philosophical ramifications, a whopping nine percent of Americans want to travel through time whenever they see fit-- and so when we finished a unit in my Comp classes on evaluating technology, I asked my students the same question . . . and got the same result-- the survey was anonymous and these are high school seniors, so I got a few requests for robot sex-slaves, some interest in instant food machines, very little desire for improved health, and-- just like the Pew survey-- time travel was the leader of the pack . . . which led to a discussion of why we desire technology that is inherently dangerous, and will eventually destroy us . . . there's a good This American Life segment on this theme called The Leap (they discuss the survey, interview people on why they want to travel through time-- mainly to rectify embarrassing situations and kill Hitler, and why older Americans don't want to travel through time).

Benjamen Walker's Theories About Uber

I have been listening to Benjamen Walker's Theory of Everything podcast . . . it's the first podcast on a list of favorites by Roman Mars (99% Invisible) and it is weird and hip and technological; my favorites so far are Instaserfs and the similarly themed Enchanting By Numbers . . . in both we get unique perspectives on the sharing economy; a caveat: if you listen to them, you might never use Uber again.

I Hope My Kids Don't Read My Blog

I broke down and bought a Wii U for my kids for Christmas (along with Super Smash Bros) and while this is ostensibly because they are doing well in school and band and all their various endeavors, it is actually because I wanted to avoid buying Ian a hoverboard and Alex another drone-- because I know exactly what happens with drones and I have no idea what happens with hoverboards.

Dave Pleads His Case About Being Overwhelmed

I finished Brigid Schulte's book Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No one Has the Time in the perfect setting: at jury duty, just after I had to plead with the judge to excuse me from a ten day straight asbestos trial-- she didn't care that I was a teacher who taught three different preps (who would teach Henry IV part I?) but I finally convinced her when I explained that I was the primary child-care person after school . . . but she didn't buy this right away, and grilled me about it-- I'm wondering if I were a woman, if she would have let me go easier; I told her the trial schedule was giving me an anxiety attack and that I was responsible for not only watching my kids after school, but getting them organized and to their various activities . . . and while I constantly fight against over scheduling, my kids have somehow become very involved in a lot of stuff-- orchestra, jazz band, basketball, soccer, piano lessons, art class, alternate art school auditions, etc. etc.-- and Ian and I have been trying to play tennis every day in the balmy weather (not that the judge would care about this) and there's a very active dog in the mix (would the judge care about this?) and while I told her I was happy to do a trial in the summer-- although it's hard to catch me then-- or a short trial, like a day or two, that there was no way I could manage ten days in a row, and she kept asking me if there was someone who could watch my kids for that time and I told her I would have to hire a sitter, and that was a red flag-- they can't make you do that, and once I told her I'd have to leave my ten year old alone quite a bit, she turned snotty and said, "Well, you shouldn't have to leave a ten year old alone" and I was like: that's what I've been talking about here! but I also didn't want to tell her that my ten year old was often alone, navigating the mean streets of our town, on his way from orchestra to art class, dragging his giant trombone-- or walking home from school and getting there before his brother . . . but now I know that child-care duty trumps jury duty and I'll write that to them when I get the next notice . . . my brother works in the courthouse and he later talked to the judge, who apparently knew who I was and told my brother I was "nervous" when i said my piece and I was like no shit I was nervous! how the hell do you schedule a ten day break from your life?  and when do you need to do this in front of a judge, four lawyers, and the other fifty random people who are waiting to do the same-- staring daggers at you, especially if you get to leave the room and go back downstairs, while a white noise generator creates a sound barrier so they can't hear exactly what you said to get you excused; Schulte's book addresses this, she covers the wild and variegated history of parenting . . . from less sentimentality to more, from hired help to permissiveness to "Donna Reed" style self-sacrificing and indulgent 1950's moms to the "benign neglect of the 1960s to the denigration of marriage in the 1970s because it was an "institution of oppressive patriarchy" to the intensive mothering of today . . . and then there's the inevitable comparison to the Danes, who work less hour than us, consume less, own less material possessions, spend more family time, have better child care and family leave, have more liberated women and working moms, more dads that cook and take care of the kids, better educational systems, less of an income gap, a low unemployment rate, six weeks of paid vacation,  great public transportation, and a host of other wonderful things . . . but they are a much smaller, much more homogenous country than the United States (which doesn't excuse our lack of quality childcare and downright pathetic family leave programs) and the final lesson of the book is to embrace the now and make the most of your time, to try not to allow it to become corrupted and fragmented, and I'm a big fan of this-- which is probably how I get this blog done each day and still manage to edit the podcast and make some time for recording music and playing sports . . . there was also one piece of research that made me very happy-- not only do we sleep in 90 minute cycles, but we work that way too, so it's much better to work in short bursts, which is how I do it-- not more hours, but less hours in more frenetic bursts-- and not only that, but top workers "rested more . . . they slept longer at night and they napped more in the day" and if there's one thing I'm all about, it's more sleep and more naps.

Will the Benefits of Global Warming Last through the Winter?

Usually once fall soccer season ends, that's it for outdoor sports-- aside from snowboarding and sledding-- but this year my son Ian and I have had a chance to play tennis nearly every day . . . he's hit more tennis balls in the past few weeks than he previously hit in his entire (rather short) career, and because of all this practice, Ian is really nailing both his forehand and backhand, he's hitting crosscourt and down the line shots, he can serve a bit, and he's coming to the net . . . not only that, but I've developed a brand new top-spin two handed backhand that i can hit with power and accuracy . . . so the question is: will our well-honed strokes last through the winter snow, or will they melt away with the spring thaw?

Undefeated (and a turtle) defeat The Affair

My wife and I put the nix on the first season of The Affair-- despite the good acting, the show is SLOW-- so after seven rather repetitive episodes, we mailed it back to Netflix and instead watched the documentary Undefeated (Netflix streaming) which tells the story of the Manassas Tigers-- an inner city football team with typical inner city struggles . . . single parents, jail, gangs, violence, poverty, lack of funding, and general apathy towards school-- and the volunteer coach Bill Courtney and his volunteer assistants-- white men from the rich suburbs of Memphis-- and how they build relationships with these predominantly African-American kids and eventually cobble together an excellent team that goes to the play-offs . . . it's just as cliche and inspirational and tear-inducing as Friday Night Lights and Remember the Titans and Rudy and The Blind Side, but there's a much stronger dose of reality (as there should be, as it's a documentary) and there's also an undersized lineman named Money talking about his pet tortoise, which he pulls from a large metal bucket in the yard of his tiny house; his description of the turtle is poetic and metaphorical: "just look at the texture of him . . . on the outside everybody wants to be hard and show their strength, but on the inside it's like they're all flimsy, you know, skin and bones" and that's a lesson that he not only understands, but has to literally endure . . . you'll have to watch the film to find out how, and it's certainly a universal lesson that all football players grapple with, but despite the possibility of injury, letdown, and worse, this story makes a solid case for why we should keep playing football in America.

The Test 26: The Moral of the Story (No Napping on the Job)

You can either rest on your laurels or get off your ass and listen to this week's episode of The Test . . .  and you certainly can't study for this one: instead you have to think about the big picture-- the moral of the story-- in order to score points; so check it out, play at home, see how you fare, and enjoy our special guest (Whitney) and his comprehensive knowledge of The Princess Bride.

Let's Get Ready to Coddle!!!!!!!!!!

The Atlantic article "The Coddling of the American Mind" by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt is an excellent and comprehensive overview of how many Americans are starting to view the world-- especially college students; the article's subtitle is "in the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don't like . . . here's why that's disastrous for education-- and mental health" but the article covers more than college campuses-- it connects social media, politics, and society as a whole to the thesis; the article is insanely long, and while I suggest you read it in its entirety, I will offer a summary here for those of you who like to be coddled:

1) social media makes it "extraordinarily easy to join crusades, express solidarity and outrage, and shun traitors" so we've entered a new age of polarization, where it's easy to "like" a point-of-view skip the dialogue, debate, discussion, and negotiation that comes with actually listening to someone else's perspective;

2) the youth of America have grown up in a completely politically polarized environment-- surveys from the 1970s show that Republican and Democrat antipathy was "surprisingly mild" but the negative feelings of each party toward the other have grown steadily, a process called "affective partisan polarization," which is a serious problem for a country that considers itself a democracy;

3) hypersensitive college students have created a new term called "microagression," which can apply to any phrase or action that might be construed offensive-- whether it was overt, subtextual, or accidental-- and this led to the whole "shrieking girl" incident on the Yale campus protesting the hypothetical possibility of unregulated Halloween costumes;

4) hypersensitive college students are now demanding "trigger warnings" from teachers if they are about to encounter something uncomfortable in a text, so that they are not traumatized by something shocking or unexpected . . . even though this goes against all psychological logic, as this system will keep students in a state of anxiety about these issues-- racism, terrorism, abuse, etc.-- instead of the time-tested use of "exposure therapy," which rewires your brain to be able to deal with the difficult topic;

5) emotional reasoning has become the dominant mode of discourse on college campuses, with a subjective definition of offense-- if it offends you then it is offensive-- and this has bled into workplace harassment policies, where the same language is cropping up: there is no objective definition of harassment, it is simply if the person being harassed takes umbrage, then it is harassment;

6) cognitive therapy is a technique that probably needs to be taught on college campuses; "the goal is to minimize distorted thinking and see the world more accurately" and this is done by learning the most common cognitive distortions that people fall prey to-- overgeneralizing, dichotomous thinking, blaming, emotional reasoning . . . all twelve are listed at the end of the article and I am going to use them in class during my logical fallacies unit . . . this is one of my favorite things to teach in Composition class, though I warn the students that they may get in hot water when they start pointing out these "cognitive distortions" . . . especially when a parent or teacher employs one.

Just In Case You Thought You Had Things Under Control

Just in case you haven't read Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" lately . . . or recently watched The Matrix, here is a friendly video reminder that human perception is limited, that what you see isn't what you get, and that our brains are barely hanging on to this thin thread we refer to as reality (this is also an opportune time to wish Einstein's Theory of Relativity a happy 100th birthday).

The Music is Coming From Inside the House!

It was Thanksgiving and we were about to leave the house for the afternoon when I heard music coming from the kitchen-- so I checked the computer but it wasn't coming from there, and then I checked the laptop and it wasn't coming from there, and then I thought it might be coming from my son's Ipod touch so I checked on the shelf but I couldn't find it, and so I went toward the stairs, and the music sounded like it might be coming from upstairs, so I went up the stairs, and I could still hear it, faintly, but my son's Ipod dock wasn't on, nor were any of the clock radios, and so I went back downstairs and Catherine had finished carrying the appetizers to the car and so I asked her if she heard music and she did but she couldn't figure out where it was coming from and I listened very closely and it sounded like it was coming from the dog's food bowl, so I bent down and I could really hear it, but I knew there was no way that the dog's food bowl was pulling in radio signals, though the music was oddly clearer when I bent over and that's when I had my "eureka!" moment-- though this epiphany was a far cry from Archimedes' realization-- as I remembered that my Ipod Nano was in my pocket, and it has the ability to play music through a tiny speaker-- something that always surprises me-- and that's what it was doing, at a low volume bordering on the subliminal (it's only capable of low volume)-- so I was essentially chasing my own tail while I was looking for the music, and wherever I went, there it was.

The Host: Something to Stream on Netflix

If you're looking for a streaming movie on Netflix that is a little edgy but still fairly appropriate for the whole family (there's some violence and some Korean profanity) then I recommend Ba Joon-ho's dysfunctional family/monster flick The Host . . . the movie is tragic, funny, and intense by turns, and you're never quite sure which direction the plot and the tone will go-- it's also beautiful, even the disgusting and absurd creature (Jabberwocky/leech/amphibian mash-up) is mesmerizing-- and pace isn't like Cloverfield . . . right from the start, there are plenty of gratuitous shots of the monster, flinging itself gibbon-like from bridge strut to bridge strut, or causing near-comical chaos in crowds along the Han River . . . this is a great way to introduce kids to reading subtitles, and also to prepare them for films that aren't quite so "American," as there's a little bit of happiness at the end, but it's mixed with tragedy and melodrama, and while some of the monster/horror conventions are followed, others are discarded or toyed with . . . if you haven't seen this one yet, check it out: Nam-joo only brings home the bronze medal, but she deserves the gold.

Lesotho, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland and USA! USA! USA!

According to Brigid Schulte, in her book Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, the United States "ranks dead last on virtually every measure of family policy in the world," and it is one of only four countries without paid leave for parents-- our compatriots are Lesotho, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland . . . Saudi Arabia -- where women can't drive-- has paid leave . . . Togo and Zimbabwe have 14 weeks of paid leave . . . Mongolia has paid leave . . . and Schulte traces this back to the early '70's, when women starting working and there was overwhelming political and populist support for government subsidized child care, but conservative "firebrand" Pat Buchanan implemented a campaign equating universal child care with Communist indoctrination; Buchanan-- who never had kids-- called the Comprehensive Child Development Act a "great leap into the dark" that would destroy the fabric of America, because when he was a kid he got to go outside and run around until dark and when you came home from school "you got mom's pie or cake . . . and that's the natural way to grow up" and this complete callous disregard for how people live, this utter political detachment from reality, made me very angry, and now we're stuck with an expensive, unregulated, often impossibly inconvenient child-care system (which can often be downright incompetent and dangerous) and I just really think that our country can improve in this regard-- while we're never going to have policies like Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, we can at least aim to have child-care policy as good as Haiti.

The Test 25: Phone Smarts

This week's episode of The Test is a little different . . . Stacey created descriptions of seven hypothetical smart phones-- apps and call logs and such-- and you have to identify the literary character that owns each device; Cunningam and I did quite well, but we are English teachers . . . so take a crack at it and see how you fare . . . no pressure, although I got a 6 out of 7 and I made a pretty good case for my incorrect answer . . . good luck.
A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.