The Test 34: Elitist Stuff

This week on The TestI quiz the ladies on some "highbrow stuff" and we all perform admirably-- Stacey invents a jazz musician, Cunningham corrects me on (of all things) a sporting quotation, I try "taking some stuff from my head" and fail miserably, and we all learn many valuable pieces of information from the Voice of God . . . give it shot, keep score, and see if you know any "elitist stuff."

Advice for Husbands

You can't just own the cell-phone, you also have to charge the cell-phone and carry the cell-phone on your person (if you want your wife to be able to contact you when something comes up).

Two Kinds of Rock Bands?

I can hear Zman's voice in my head as I write this-- and so: Yes Zman, I know . . . there are two kinds of people, people who divide people into two kinds of people and people who don't-- but it's rare that any pub night discussions stay in my brain through the night until the next morning, and this one did; my friend Alec and I determined that there are two kinds of rock bands-- and I did my research and watched some concert footage to confirm this-- and here they are:

1) bands where everyone stays in the same spot on the stage-- The Grateful Dead and Yes come to mind . . . this may be due to the fact that the music they are playing is progressive and difficult (Yes) or it might be  simply because everyone is so whacked out on drugs  that getting near another human would totally freak them out (The Grateful Dead) or they might be introverted weirdos (Neutral Milk Hotel, Greasetruck)

2) then there are bands like Van Halen and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, where there's lots of running around and interaction and singing into the same microphone . . . and while I know this is hypocritical of me, considering I don't know where my toothbrush has been, I still find this unhygienic and a little goofy . . . what if someone in the band has a cold-- you don't need that stuff all over the microphone-- nor do I need anyone in my space while I'm playing a guitar solo . . . I think the Talking Heads are a nice middle ground between these two styles, they are fairly animated, especially David Byrnes, but don't stray too far from their spots on stage, and I guess there are also bands where one person is all over the place (Jimi Hendrix) while the rest of the crew stay in their spot . . . I certainly haven't thought this theory through completely, but perhaps Zman will give me some other categories to add to the rather restrictive dichotomy with which I began.

Humboldt: More Than a Big Squid

Alexander von Humboldt is largely forgotten (aside from the Humboldt Current and the Humboldt Squid) but he was the most intrepid and famous man of his age, and his influences on our perception of nature and the environment were monumental; Andrea Wulf's book The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World is everything you could ever want to know about Humboldt, and also features wonderful chapters on the folks that he influenced and inspired; every time I thought I had enough Humboldt, she described another inspired adventure, or how he met up with and influenced another notable person, and Wulf even writes wonderful mini-biographies of some of the people who were most indebted to Humboldt's writing and discoveries . . . here are a few of the many memorable things Wulf describes:

1) Humboldt was buddies with Goethe and was the inspiration for his most famous character Dr. Faustus, who made a pact with the devil in "exchange for infinite knowledge,"

2) Humboldt never married and the exact nature of his sexuality was ambiguous . . . but he certainly enjoyed the company of men, one of his most celebrated bromances was with his travelling and writing partner, Aime Bonpland . . . Wulf describes them as a "great team" because they were exact opposite: "Humboldt spread frantic activity" while Bonpland "carried an air of calmness and docility,"

3) when Humboldt and Bonpland were in South America, they had an especially fruitful time experimenting with electric eels . . . they drove horses into the water where the eels were and watched the "gruesome spectacle" and for "four hours they conducted an array of dangerous tests including holding an eel with two hands, touching an eel with one hand and a bit of metal with the other, or Humboldt touching an eel while holding Bonpland's hand (with Bonpland feeling the jolt)"

4) In Views of Nature he explained the "correlation between the external world and our mood"

5) Humboldt spend quite a bit of time with Thomas Jefferson, and inspired Jefferson to look for megafauna in North America (to show up French Naturalist Georges-Louis Buffon, who claimed that everything in the New World was feeble compared to its European version)

6) Charles Darwin was inspired by Humboldt and he "modelled his own writing on Humboldt's, fusing scientific writing with poetic description"

7) Hector Berlioz, the great romantic composer of Symphony Fantastique, loved Humboldt's book Cosmos and claimed that it was incredibly popular among musicians;

8) Edgar Allan Poe's last work, the 130 page prose poem Eureka, was "dedicated to Humboldt and was a direct response to Cosmos"

9) Humboldt advised Simon Bolivar, annoyed Napoleon, inspired Thoreau to write Walden, influenced John Muir and the entire conservation movement, and had loads of other far-reaching implications with his prodigious correspondence, his travels (to South America and Siberia in particular), his copious experiments and measurements, his many publications, and his cult of personality . . . this book is so dense with detail that I can barely keep one-tenth of it straight, but one thing will remain in my brain years and years from now, Humboldt is more than the guy who discovered a really scary predatory six foot long, one hundred pound squid (although that's a great accomplishment in itself).

It's All How You Look At Things

At first, when I realized someone had stolen my snow shovel off my front porch on Saturday afternoon, during the height of the blizzard, I was indignant, but I've chosen to change my perspective on this, and instead think of the loss of the shovel as a charitable donation to a small business, to encourage entrepreneurship . . . because it was certainly stolen by one of the roving bands of shoveling opportunists, who come into town whenever there is a big storm, in order to make some cash . . . and while I doubt these folks are of the demographic that read my blog, just in case, I'd like to address you directly, the stealer-of-my-shovel, and suggest that:

1) we could turn this donation into a micro-loan . . . now that the weather has turned warm, you could simply toss my shovel back onto my porch now that you're done with it (and if you could also return my neighbor's shovels, which were also stolen, and which you probably had a hand in, that would be fantastic) but if not . . .

2) I hope you make good use of the shovels, and we get lots of snow, so you can parlay your theft into a major windfall, and I hope someday, when you own and operate a large plowing conglomerate, you remember your humble beginnings and thank me (and I'd also like to point out that our dog did his job, and barked at you, but I was napping and Cat was in the kitchen and figured it was just one of the kids throwing a sled on the front porch, not a shovel stealer, so you'd better watch out the next time you try this, because my dog is onto you).

Farewell Four Letter Friends . . .

In December my audio streaming service, Rdio, bit the dust . . . according to the company's design lead, Wilson Miner, the service was made for "snobby album purists," and I guess that's why it didn't thrive (the company filed for bankruptcy and Pandora bought what was left) and I guess that's also why I loved it and was willing to pay $4.99 a month for it-- I read Miner's quip in an article by Kevin Nguyen called "Burying Rdio, the Music App for Annoying Men" . . . and several days ago, while I was still in the process of mourning Rdio, I received a text message from PTel, my cheap mobile phone provider, and it's curtains for them as well . . . and this makes me quite sad, because they always provided Platinum level telecommunications (aside from the lack of service in Manchester, Vermont and the fact that I had to hold my phone out the window in my classroom in order to send a text message) and while this is serious stuff-- I've lost two pillars of my digital universe in less than a month's time-- I'll take solace in the fact that Netflix still works, and I'll encourage you to use Netflix to watch the funniest single episode of a sitcom ever made, "Charlie Work," which is the fourth episode of the tenth season of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia . . . and you may be thinking: How can Dave claim he knows the funniest episode of any sitcom ever . . . how can I trust his opinion, when he can't even pick a good cell-phone company or a good music streaming service? and while I admit this is reasonable logic, I will humbly ask you to watch "Charlie Work," which has an insanely high rating on IMDB, and then if you can provide a single episode of a sitcom that you believe is funnier, and I will pit them head to head, and using my patented situation comedy arbitration method, I will determine an unbiased victor.

Giant Reptile Wades Through Snowy Wasteland

Friday night, my wife was driving down Route 1 and she did double take when she read the big electronic variable message sign . . . she was already nervous about Winter Storm Jonas, and this sounded even worse . . . the message on the sign read: LIZARD WARNING.

Dave Defeats His Wife in a Battle of Logic!

It's a rare occurrence, but I always relish when my wife screws up-- in fact, it's the topic of the very first Sentence of Dave-- and so it was with great pleasure, when my wife came down the stairs and into the kitchen yesterday morning, that I asked her-- facetiously-- if she had heard the weather report the night before, you know . . . the weather report about Winter Storm Jonas, the mighty blizzard that had dominated the news for the latter half of the week . . . and though she knew I was up to something, she admitted to having knowledge of the storm, and this admission buried her, because my next question was: "then why did you leave two six packs of beer on our back porch?" and at first she tried to maneuver her way out of it-- she said she didn't think that they would have been buried and she pointed out that I occasionally put beer in the snow, but she finally confessed that it was an absurd move, and that if I hadn't seen the bottle caps, just above the blanket of snow (and wondered if some fruity beer fairy had come in the night and left a six pack Illusive Traveler Grapefruit Shandy and a six pack of Leinenkugel Berry Weiss as some sort of blizzard survival kit) then the beer would have been buried in a snow drift until spring, the bottles shattered, and-- more importantly-- my wife would have been beerless for the duration of the blizzard.

The Test . . . Snow Day Edition

There's nothing better on a snowy day, just after you've shoveled out the mouth of your driveway (and then the plow comes by again and undoes all your hard work) than sitting back with a cup of hot chocolate and listening to the newest episode of The Test . . . and this one is hot off the press, with real time blizzard allusions from The Voice of God . . . check it out, play along at home, and see if you can beat me (you'll definitely beat Cunningham on this one).

Some Advice For Dog Owners During the Winter Months

Open the poop bag when you are in the house, before you venture out in the the cold with your dog, because it's very difficult to pry open one of those little bags when your fingers are numb (and I would have said pre-open the bag before you walk the dog, except that George Carlin would roll over in his grave if I used the prefix "pre" in that manner).

Toothbrushes Part I

When we were young and wild, my wife and I shared a toothbrush-- and this went on for over a decade; now that we're mature, we have our separate brushes (which made my students very happy . . . they were quite disgusted by the fact that we shared one brush for that many years) but I'm loath to admit that I'm not sure which brush is mine, so I use whichever one I grab first (there are four brushes in the cup, two purple and two blue) and so I'm going to check with my wife and see if she thinks that a particular brush is "hers" and report back to you . . . we might still be sharing a toothbrush afterall.

Dave Uses Evidence and Jazz Hands to Argue His Point

Back in November, I took some flak in the comments for calling jazz vocalization "unbearable," and so I'd like to present Exhibit A, Tom Lellis singing "For Better Days Ahead," a song I heard on WBGO on my way to work; I'd also like to point out that these days I primarily listen to jazz, more than any other genre, so this isn't some off-the-cuff generalization . . . jazz singing almost always ruins the music; if you can sincerely listen to "For Better Days" and tell me that you enjoy the singing-- that it makes the song better-- then you can smack me across the face with your jazz hands . . . it's the same deal with classical music-- which I love-- versus opera, which annoys me (the song also features a flute solo, which is invariably the kiss of death).

Making Us Sleepy

The Netflix documentary Making a Murderer is sometimes compelling, sometimes boring, sometimes biased and sometimes soporific . . . my wife and I took turns snoozing during the course of the ten episodes, and while I will go out on a limb and say that Len Kachinsky is the worst lawyer ever (in Jeff Albertson's voice) and it seems that the series has exposed some corruption and malpractice and misrepresentation in the two cases, and that Brendan Dassey's constitutional rights were violated, there is still no theory as to who else could have committed the crime-- there's no way the entire thing was a police frame-up and it doesn't seem likely that some super-genius criminal killed Theresa Holbach and then set up Stephen Avery . . . and this Slate article points out some interesting facts that the documentary left out and suggests that the perspective of the filmmakers might be very biased . . . so while the case and the surrounding procedures do point to some systemic failures of the American justice system, I'm just not sure how outraged to be over this one particular case, where I think the police and prosecution (and even Len Kachinsky) knew they had guilty parties and just wanted to make sure they were convicted, and crossed some ethical lines in order to do this.

Epic Adventures in Parenting

A banner week: two epic journeys, one for each child;

1) after a packed Sunday of sporting events-- I played indoor soccer and coached my younger son's basketball team, and my older son attended basketball practice (where they installed a new offense) and then played in a basketball game, where he took several hard charges and an elbow to the windpipe, and then he went directly from the basketball game to a futsal game at Piscataway High School, and we arrived as the game started, and in he went . . . so by the end of the game, he was exhausted, and I was wiped too-- indoor soccer kills my knees-- and just after we left the building, we realized that he forgot his water bottle, so we went back in, looked for it, and couldn't find it, then we exited the building a different way, realized we didn't know where we were, and couldn't get back in, so we circumnavigated the building, in the dark and the wind, both of us barely able to walk and close to tears, with no clue as to where the car was (and Piscataway High School is huge) and when we finally found the car, there was a water bottle in the front seat, and I checked the backpack and the other water bottle was inside-- so he must have given it to me right after the game and I forgot, so the mishap was entirely my fault;

2) I got home after a faculty meeting and my younger son should have been home already, but he wasn't, so I went to Ben's house, but he wasn't there (and Ben didn't know where he was) and I went to Micah's house and he wasn't there (and Micah hadn't seen him) and while the logical part of my brain knew he was fine, the creative section was designing open wells for him to fall in and white vans to abduct him-- and by this time he was "missing" for a good forty-five minutes, so I walked over to the school to see if they had any information, and the secretary in the main office said I should check the library, because they were having a "Game Day" and I remembered that he had a form about this, but that kids got selected by a lottery system, and I never heard anything about it, but when I went to the library, Ian was there, playing checkers with his buddy and I was very relieved, and on the way out I told the secretary I found him, and I must have looked pretty distraught because she asked me if I wanted to sit down for a moment and have a piece of candy (which was very sweet of her, but I had to refuse because the dog was tied up just outside the door . . . he accompanied me on this absurd journey) .

The Test 32: Stretchy Horses and Twisty Mustaches (Salvador Dali)

There's no need for The Voice of God this week on The Test, because Cunningham provides everything you wanted to know about Salvador Dali (but were afraid to ask) and while Stacey and I do a serviceable job answering the questions (and making jokes) there is also a bonus conflict where I call Stacey a "menace to audio" and Cunningham jumps right on the bandwagon . . . give it a shot, keep score, and see if you can beat the pros (after 32 episodes, I think we have the right to call ourselves professional test-takers).

Freaks and Geeks: One Season Is Enough

I'm not sure if you can spoil a show that's sixteen years old, but if you've never seen Freaks and Geeks, you need to watch it immediately-- before you read this sentence, because there are spoilers ahead-- and if you've never watched because you don't want to get so emotionally attached to a show that's only one season long, I can understand that, but it's worth watching for the music alone and if you're afraid it will end with you wanting more, you couldn't be more wrong-- in fact, it's probably better off that the show got cancelled, because the last several episodes are (serendipitously or not) cumulatively one of the best endings to any show ever made (maybe because they didn't know the show was to be cancelled, so there were no expectations) and each character gets the ending they deserve:

1) Ken overcomes his inhibitions about his once hermaphroditic girlfriend;

2) Nick uses his rhythmic abilities and gawkiness to conquer the disco dance floor . . . although he can't defeat a disco-magician;

3) Neal comes to terms with his dad's philandering and his brother and mother's acceptance of this;

4) Bill comes to terms with his mom dating Coach Fredericks;

5) Sam realizes that dating Cindy is far less wonderful than he imagined, and breaks it off;

6) Daniel (played brilliantly by James Franco) plays Advanced D&D with the geeks, turning the high school social on its head;

7) Lindsey ditches the summer academy in Ann Arbor in order to follow the dead in a VW bus with her freak friend Kim . . .

and there is no coming back from this . . . it's like the final two episodes of The Shield (except funny and poignant instead of disturbing and tortured).

Hey Waldo, You Should Have Read Your Humboldt

Ralph Waldo Emerson espoused the transcendental notions that "nature always wears the colors of the spirit" and "there is a kind of contempt of the landscape felt by him who has just lost by death a dear friend," but I think we all know that the opposite is more often true-- if it's a beautiful sunny day at the shore, low humidity and a crisp breeze, then you can't help enjoying the weather, even if a half dozen of your dearest friends were just eaten by a school of rampant hammerhead sharks . . . and we know in the bleak winter months that some of us get the blues (scientifically known as seasonal affective disorder) and drink and eat way too much, and while Emerson got the cause and effect wrong, it appears that his predecessor, Alexander Humboldt, got it right; Andrea Wulf, in her fantastic book The Invention of Nature: Alexander Humboldt's New World, explains that "Humboldt showed how nature could have an influence on people's imagination . . . what we might take for granted today-- that there is a correlation between the external world and our mood -- was a revelation to Humboldt's readers."

Weird Al's Next Project?

God knows why, but my son has chosen the "diorama" option for a school project, and while I hate dioramas-- and question their pedagogical necessity-- I would really like it if Weird Al did a parody of "Panorama" by The Cars, and made the lyrics all about having to do a school project . . . the song writes itself, really . . . I just want to be in your diooooramaaa.

Chronological Dyslexia

I have two reasons for this brief moment of chronological dyslexia:

1) I never use chapstick;

2) it was early in the morning;

and I would also like to point out that I immediately realized that I should have asked the question first, and then committed the action based on the answer to the question, but I didn't do it like that . . . instead, I did it like this: I picked up a generic plastic and pink tube off the desk in the kitchen, removed the top, applied some of the waxy substance to my lips, and then asked my wife: "This is chapstick, right, not a glue stick?"

Dave Wins (Inadvertently Funny) Comment of the Year!

My friend and colleague Stacey was so amused by this comment thread in response to this sentence that she printed it out and taped it to the whiteboard in the office . . . I missed the word "downtown" in my friend's comment, making the implications of my rejoinder rather perverse.

Dave Confesses to a Crime of Passion

Yesterday after school, I stopped at Wawa for coffee, and-- while I was waiting in line-- I was tempted by the big cookies on display by the register; once I decided I was going to get a big cookie, I decided I was going to get the biggest cookie, and while I was comparing them-- handling all the cookies, trying to find the absolute biggest cookie with the most chocolate chips, one of the big cookies slipped out of the cellophane and fell onto the floor . . . so I kicked it under the low ledge of the counter, grabbed the second biggest cookie from the rack, paid, and made a clean getaway . . . and if I do ever get brought to the bar for this crime, I will blame poor packaging (and not the true culprit: gluttony).

One For the Ladies . . . or Should I Say, Thirteen for the Ladies and One for the Boys

My wife has thirteen different bottles of hair care and body wash and skin cleansing products in the shower, while the boys only have one all-purpose bottle of Dial Kids No Tears Body and Hair Wash . . . and I think this is an egregious imbalance of power in this region of the house and it needs to be rectified soon or the region is going to erupt in about of asymmetrical warfare.

The Test 31: Colors (It's Not Easy Being Green)

This week on The Test, I administer a quiz specifically tailored to our special guest-- her name is Gabby Green and so the questions revolve around colors; Stacey is not particularly impressed by this very literal connection, but-- despite this-- a good time is had by all (there's even an extemporaneous test within the test, thanks to some quick thinking by Stacey) and, at the end, God saves the integrity of the show with a well placed BEEP.

The Wit of the Parking Lot?

One of the best things about Manchester, Vermont is the Equinox Preserve, a beautiful piece of land with a number of well marked hiking trails criss-crossing Equinox Mountain and circumnavigating Equinox Pond; I took the dog there one afternoon after a morning of snowboarding-- Cat and the kids didn't want to go, and I was looking forward to a serene walk on a snowy trail, Sirius leading the way; there were quite a few cars parked along the road approaching the trailhead (it was New Year's Day, so I guess everyone had the same idea) but I saw that there were three spots open in the dirt parking lot at the end of the road, and so I pulled in and as I was pulling into the middle spot (which was the deepest parking spot-- the spots were delineated by piles of snow, clearly marked where the plow had pushed the pile, and I wanted the van to be as unobtrusive as possible in the lot) I heard a loud BEEP . . . unbeknownst to me, there was a car right behind me-- which was shocking enough (I think I was in my own world, out in the woods, without wife or kids to distract me) and then when I got out of the car, the woman in the car that BEEPED at me starting giving me shit about where I parked, but she was a Vermonter, so instead of cursing me out, Jersey style, she kept starting and stopping sentences, which was even more annoying: "I don't like the way you parked your . . . it's hard to get in there . . . there's not room for other . . . you should have . . ." and I was so taken aback by this that instead of telling her that I had parked in the deepest spot because my van was big, or simply telling here to fuck off, instead I just stared at her like she had three heads-- I often get awkward when I'm in a brand-new situation, and that's how I felt-- but now I realize that she was simple annoyed that SHE had to pull in between two cars, she wanted me to park all the way over, so that she would have an easier time parking and getting out of her BMW SUV; I got the dog out of my car and was starting to walk towards the trail as she parked her car, and then she got out and continued giving me shit in her mealy-mouthed manner, and I finally was able to process this brand-new situation, and I said, "There's three spots, you can see by the plow marks," and then I backed up behind the cars and made a point to melodramatically eyeball my parking job and I said, "I nailed it, I'm right in the middle, I couldn't have done a better job" and as I walked out of the lot to the trail, some other people who had witnessed the scene smiled at me, a smile that said That lady was NUTS and I nodded knowingly at them, and as I walked through the woods, I thought what I really should have done was pace off my parking job on each side, to show here that I was right exactly in the middle, but it was hard enough for me to think of anything to say at all, it was such an odd scene, and it polluted the serenity of my hike (but I felt righteously vindicated when I got back to the lot, and there were cars parked comfortably on either side of my van, illustrating that I had indeed "nailed it" and parked right in the center of the three spots).

Serial Season Two vs. Dave's Brain!

Last year, I taught Serial Season 1 to my high school seniors-- I couched the podcast within a process analysis unit, and the kids really enjoyed it; Serial Season 2 is a bit harder to get a grip on, but I like it even better than Season 1, perhaps because it reminds me of all the things I learned when I lived in Syria, and-- despite the difficulties, I am teaching to my seniors and (with the threat of constant quizzing) they are doing a fantastic job with a dense and difficult story . . . this time I've embedded the podcast in a compare/contrast unit, because that seems to be the main structural trope that ties the story together . . . here are some of the topics that the podcast invites you to compare and contrast:

1) the liberal interpretation of Bergdahl's story vs. the conservative perspective . . . Katy Waldman (on  the Slate's Serial Spoiler) calls the tone of the podcast "radical empathy" while many of Bergdahl's fellow soldiers consider him a deserter and a traitor;

2) Bergdahl and Jason Bourne;

3) Bergdahl and a "golden chicken";

4) Bergdahl and a "ready made loaf";

5) Bergdahl and and a "free-floating astronaut" with no tether;

6) the American Army and a "lumbering machine" and an AT-AT;

7) the Taliban as a mouse running beneath the machine's legs;

8) Pakistan as "home base," the mousehole in the wall in Tom & Jerry;

9) the rumors about Bergdahl vs. the reality of his captivity;

10) The Haqqani Network and the Sopranos;

11) Bergdahl's imprisonment and treatment vs. the imprisonment and treatment of Muslim detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Bagram, and Abu Ghraib;

12) the feelings about infidels of moderate Muslims vs. radical Muslims;

13) the code of conduct required for POW videos vs. actual military expectations for POW videos;

14) the sovereign state of Pakistan and the tribal area of North Waziristan;

15) the captivity of Bergdahl and the captivity of David Rohde . . . Rohde was kidnapped and held for three months by the Haqqani network in the same area as Bergdahl at nearly the same time, he is a civilian journalist and not a soldier, and he wasn't blindfolded and isolated as much as Bergdahl, but his story is still very helpful in understanding what happened to Bergdahl;

16) the entire story and the children's book Zoom;

and these are the issues that I think will surface in the future-- I'm speculating, of course, but that's necessary when you're teaching a piece that's not finished yet . . . it's like teaching a book that hasn't been finished, it's exhilarating and exhausting, but also really fun; I can teach Hamlet and Henry IV in my sleep because I know what happens, while doing this is really keeping me on my toes, and this is where I imagine the story is going:

17) there will be comparisons drawn Bergdahl's endurance in captivity and the hero's journey . . . the fact that Mark Boal was interested in interviewing him for a movie and the fact that he is the longest held captive since the Vietnam War and the fact that they are viewing him with such empathy in the podcast leads me to believe it will head in this direction;

18) good leaders vs. toxic leaders . . . if Bergdahl is going to be portrayed as heroic, Serial is going to have to provide a reasonable story of why he deserted his post, and I think they are saving that portion of the narrative and I also think that it is going to open a whole crazy can of worms about the military and it's purpose;

19) the motivation behind Bergdahl's decision and the Pixar film Inside Out . . . which I have promised to show to my students if they survive the podcast;

20) the reaction you should have when you think about how long Bergdahl spent in captivity and the following clip from Grosse Pointe Blank (and while I realize that it doesn't connect exactly in a mathematical sense, the tone is perfect).

Is This Gross?

In a brand spanking new recurring segment that probably won't recur any time soon, Dave asks himself:

1) is this gross?

2) how gross is it?

so let's give it a whirl with two recent scenarios:

a) three times this week, on my eight minute commute home, I got so hungry that I stopped at QuickChek and each time I bought a bag of Dill Pickle flavored potato chips;

b) during snack time in the English Office, after eating two "crunchy rice rollers," I sneezed-- and while I directed my sneeze away from the other two ladies in the room, I wasn't able to direct my sneeze into the crook of my elbow (which is now regarded as the hygienic method of sneezing) because it was a wildly violent sneeze, not caused by sickness, but instead caused by the "crunchy rice rollers" and so I sprayed mucous-coated dried rice particles all over the chair next to me (and some of the mucous coated dried rice particles certainly shot straight through the open door and into my boss's office . . . and she's very pregnant) and then-- as if to show me up-- moments later Krystina sneezed perfectly into the crook of her elbow, and even though she was eating an apple, she didn't spray anything anywhere;

so . . . after much deliberation, I have decided that neither of these actions were gross; dill pickles are delicious and crisp and salty-- they fulfill the same craving as a potato chip-- and so therefore, a dill flavored chip is perfectly acceptable (it's definitely not as gross as Greektown Gyro or New York Reuben flavored chips) and, as far as the sneeze . . . I've decided that there's nothing you can do when dried rice tickles the back of your throat-- it's not like you can hold back a sneeze, because if you do, your brain shoots out your ears and there's no way to direct that kind of violence into the crook of your elbow.

The Breathtaking Beauty of America's Backroads and Byways . . .

Yesterday, as I drove through Milltown, New Jersey, I had the privilege to ride behind a monster pick-up truck with the words "Sinister Ride" written in evil calligraphy on the rear window; the truck also sported chrome dual exhaust stacks, a couple more stencilled phrases-- "The Boss" and "Mud Nugget Racing," and-- most significantly-- a huge pair of rubber testicles hanging under the trailer hitch . . . these "bumper nuts," as they are known, were realistically colored and textured (i.e wrinkly), and each nut was the size of a pineapple; as the truck rolled along, they dangled and bounced, and I must admit, they were grotesquely mesmerizing, and while I won't deign to speculate on the sort of person who would drive such a vehicle, I must admit that he's certainly got balls.

The Test 30: Stacey's Songs (Continue to Have It Going On)

This week on The Test, Stacey delivers yet another clever song quiz: identify the title and artist of each track, and then -- at the end-- try to figure out the overarching theme; I struggled a bit on this one, but our special guest Whitney fared a bit better . . . warning-- there is no Cunningham, no Billy Joel, no Bon Jovi, and no Indigo Girls in this episode . . . and if you think it's going to be easy, then you've got another thing coming.

Ring in the New Year with Chick Lit

I forgot to bring my Liane Moriarty novel Three Wishes on vacation, but my wife came to the rescue and lent me her Jojo Moyes novel One Plus One, which uses a dysfunctional family road trip (think Little Miss Sunshine) as a catalyst for the most unlikely modern romance: across the great divide of social class . . . this kind of cross-class romance has become statistically rarer and rarer in modern times, as people are tending to marry people of the same educational background and the same financial bracket; in "Equality and the End of Marrying Up," Katrin Bennhold sums it up neatly: "Doctors used to marry nurses . . . now doctors marry doctors," but if you're willing to suspend your disbelief for a few hours, One Plus One will make you root for the underdog relationship, and there are plenty of plot twists and well drawn characters and wild scenarios along the way . . . one hundred and two pairs of reading spectacles out of a possible one hundred and six.

Reality vs. Mario Kart 8

This sentence is in no way indicative of the entirety of our Vermont vacation, which mainly consisted of snowy hikes with the kids and dog, browsing the giant book store in downtown Manchester, reading books we bought from the giant book store in downtown Manchester, drinking delicious Vermont beer, board games, a sledding adventure on the Equinox golf course with some friends from Highland Park, and a general reprieve from the business as usual . . . BUT there was a twenty-four hour period of chaotic wackiness that is slightly more interesting: we brought the Wii U along for the trip and by Wednesday night I thought I had gotten good enough competing with the kids at Mario Kart 8 that I could play at the fastest speed (200cc) which I did after the kids went to bed (and I certainly had drank a few of those delicious Vermont beers and playing Mario Kart alone is a whole different beast, infinitely more epic, because instead of looking at a quarter of the screen, you're hurtling into the whole thing) and because of this late night racing, I had an awful night's sleep, my head populated with vivid dreams about the game, my tricked-out buggy caroming off guardrails and slamming into walls, then hurtling through the course as a giant bullet, before being spun in circles by a red turtle shell, and then I woke up and we went to Stratton Mountain to do some snowboarding and skiing, and it was insanely crowded and there were only a couple of runs open, because of the warm weather, and riding down the mountain was exactly like Mario Kart: the conditions were variable, the course was crowded, and you might be on ice on moment and then bouncing off a slushy pile of snow the next . . . and while I have no empirical proof, I think that our Mario Kart sessions may have prepared us for this mayhem, as my kids handled it without a mishap and I didn't have an anxiety attack, despite my claustrophobia, but I have learned my lesson, I'll never play Mario Kart after eight PM again (I had the same sort of dreams when I got obsessed with Gameboy Tetris in college . . . but that's what it takes to achieve the five fiddlers and the space shuttle launch).

If You're Reading This, Then the Bad News Probably Doesn't Apply to You . . . or Does It?

Robert D. Putnam (the Harvard social scientist of Bowling Alone fame) has a new book, titled Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis , which details how the "opportunity gap" between richer kids and poorer kids has widened to a disturbing level; he begins the book with the stories of people from his high school class in Port Clinton, Ohio in 1959 and these carefully chosen anecdotes (from a wealth of research, described in the appendix) illustrate how social class didn't have that much of an impact on the future of these graduates, and then Putnam makes his way to the present, where a much different system is in place; the book is full of studies, scissor charts, statistics, and actual stories of indicative families and their children . . . and the indications are that schools are not to blame, kids are not to blame, biased tests are not to blame, and race is not to blame . . . the problem is money, and if you're a parent who can afford to live in a good school district, and you have the time and money and perseverance enroll your kid in extra-curricular activities, and you have the time to talk to them about school and homework and their lives-- to parent like a member of the upper class-- then your child is on track to achieve great things . . . but if you're not, then the news is downright awful; here are some random things that struck me . . . but I suggest you read the whole thing, even though if you've made it this far into this sentence, then you are probably on the greener side of the opportunity gap; the book is too dense to summarize, but I think it's something about which both rich and poor people should be informed:

1) we are now very likely to marry someone of the same social class, which is a change since mid-century, and this exacerbates the widening social class gap;

2) the competitive pressure in the best schools often comes from the general atmosphere created by a select group of parents and students, and pervades the school . . . some of the best schools are actually trying to put the brakes on this ultra-competitive environment, because, as Kira says, it puts kids in "robot mode" and they can't enjoy anything, but this kind of school does breed academic and extracurricular success, and these kids go on to succeed in college . . . for a fascinating example of this, read the New York Times article about a high-performing school down the road from me (West Windsor-Plainsboro) that is trying to ease the pressure on students, because they are so stressed out, but the superintendent is meeting resistance from about half the parents, mainly from the Asian community, who want school to be intense and stressful, so that they insure that their children are on the right side of the gap;

3) involvement extracurricular activities is "strongly associated with a variety of positive outcomes during the school years and beyond" and rich kids are taking part in them and poor kids are not-- for a variety of reasons, including lack of transportation, work, sibling child care, pay-to-play programs, and general inaccessibility . . . and, interestingly, "the extracurricular activity most consistently associated with high academic achievement is sports," so the stereotype of a dumb jock is absolutely incorrect . . . in fact, the only negative about participating in sports that could be found amidst a myriad of positives was that sports "is often correlated with excessive drinking (but not drug use)"

4) there is a scary statistic about test scores and social class, while-- predictably-- high-scoring rich kids graduate from college at a high rate (74%) and low scoring poor kids graduate from college at a very low rate (3%) the frightening thing is that high-scoring poor kids are less likely to get a college degree (29%) than low-scoring rich kids (30%) which is a serious blow not only to the American Dream, but to the quality of our work force . . . we're not letting a lot of potentially smart people into the pool;

5) this opportunity gap is happening just as much within racial groups as it is on the whole, which is a clear indicator that it is social class and not prejudice and racial bias that is most culpable for these results;

6) growing up in an impoverished neighborhood doesn't just make you more likely to get mugged, or be in a gang, it actually affects your ability to trust others-- something critical to succeeding in the workplace, and in college; it inhibits your ability to make weak social connections and to acquire informal mentors, which are of great necessity; and it leads to anxiety and obesity . . . perhaps due to lack of parks, inaccessibility to sports programs, and because of noise and chaos, so because our society is so segregated now by social class, kids who grow up in a poor neighborhood are disadvantaged when they come out of the womb;

7) we could be setting up a dire situation, political scientist William Kornhauser sees this disenfranchised class as the precursor to "demagogic mass movements, such as Nazism, Fascism" because there is little political involvement from poor kids-- they don't have role models, and politics isn't discussed, the government is viewed as corrupt, byzantine, and impregnable;

8) Putnam ends with a chapter called "What Is To Be Done?" and he suggests a number of ways to shrink the gap, but they will be difficult to institute . . . he believes good teachers need to be lured to bad schools, and the only way to do this is with money, he believes the poorest people need even greater tax breaks, strong anti-poverty programs, an end to pay-to-play, and more importantly, these kids need to be able to live in wealthier areas, or at least go to school in such areas-- but this isn't completely feasible and will meet with political backlash (he really doesn't mention the politics of this situation, other than to say that the wealthy participate in politics far more than the poor, and if we really believe that this is our country and these are all "our kids," then you can't responsibly ignore the problem) and he suggests long-term solutions such as trying to restore working-class wages and instituting early childhood education and better child-care centers and more support for working parents (we're ranked among the worst countries in the world with regards to child care) but, given the political climate of our country, I don't see much attention being paid to this problem in the near future, and the consequences are awful for everyone, these kids will be a drag on the economy, an expense to our health care system, have difficulty in the working world, and have very little chance to advance in social class . . . and while some people will find solace that their own kids are not among these children, what they fail to realize is that the economy and the quality of life in our country is not a zero sum game, if these kids succeed, everyone succeeds . . . neighborhoods succeed, businesses succeed, schools succeed, the real estate market succeeds, and so while the bad news might not apply directly to your kids, and they may be on the road to success, in the end those left behind are going to be everyone's problem.

2016: More of the Same . . . Plus a Little More

In 2016, I resolve to continue doing more of the same-- this worked well for me in 2015-- and in addition, as a bonus, I am resolving to do two other things:

1) play more video games . . . and I've already got a head start on this resolution, as we got a Wii U for Christmas;

2) take over for Yogi Berra, because someone has to construct baffling aphorisms, and Yogi's dead, and when dead people talk, they don't say much (besides "AVENGE MY DEATH," which is way too straightforward for Yogi Berra).
A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.