Inflation Subverts Sticky Prices

The Planet Money podcast recommended everything written by Tim Harford, and I love Planet Money, so I went to the library and took out The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run-- or Ruin-- an Economy and the guys at Planet Money were right; this is a highly entertaining look at macroeconomics and some of the problems and solutions to keeping an economy chugging along . . . most of ideas are a bit counterintuitive . . . the best time to trim spending, pay off debt and deregulate is during a boom-- and while most countries do these things during a recession, the best thing to do during a recession is dust off huge government projects and allow the government to employ lots of people and create value and worth . . . but again, these are the things that usually happen during a booming economy; I also learned that inflation is the only way to defeat sticky prices and sticky wages-- it's really hard to cut people's pay and to mark down the value of goods and services once a  fair price is established, but if you have a bit of inflation every year, then you can still give people raises, they are just less than the rate of inflation, so-- in effect-- they are taking a pay cut, and this works the same way with devaluing a house or something that is difficult to part with for less money than you paid for it (even if it's truly worth less money-- countries with higher home ownership also have higher unemployment, because it's harder to move where the jobs are because housing markets are slow and sticky and efficient); Harford ends the book addressing inequality of income and what that really means around the world, within countries and between them, and he believes the course of action to understanding large-scale economics is that the models need to incorporate more on human behavior, because we don't behave like perfectly rational future prediction machines, we are at the whims of our "animal spirits" and when these exacerbate an economy on a large scale, it's extremely hard to predict what is going to happen.

The Test 38: One for the Sporting Fanatics

In honor of Stephen Curry's magical performance last night,  I humbly present the newest episode of The Test, which is dedicated to the wonderful pastime which is sports; while Stacey designed this quiz to torture Cunningham-- which it did-- the questions had the opposite effect on me, and made me wax profoundly on the value and significance of all things athletic . . . so give it a shot, see if you can beat me, see if anyone is funnier than Cunningham, and try not to get choked up when Stacey does her send-up up of The Locker Room Speech.

One for the Birders

After some internet research, I realized that I misspoke: the hawk that perched in the maple in our backyard yesterday was a red-shouldered hawk, not a red-tailed hawk . . . sometimes I'm such an idiot.

This Can't Be the Answer . . . Could It?

I'm going to give it a try-- and I've gotten endorsements from many knowledgeable people-- but I can't believe that the cure for my aching knee is a single velcro band (otherwise known as a Jumper's Knee Strap).

Dave Pitches a Great Idea for a TV Show

So here it is, my pitch for The Super Bachelor of Dave . . . instead of the typical fluff on the current show, the contestants will undergo a sequence of events detailed below-- so that the bachelor can estimate the genetic robustness of all the candidates and make an educated choice on who he wants to bear his young; each week the bachelor will give one or more of his 23 chromosomes to the ladies he wants to stay, and he'll give a prophylactic to those he wants a to go . . . indicating that he would not want to procreate with them (but does not dismiss them from a purely sexual tryst . . . no hard feelings) and I think this format could work for a bachelorette as well, and might even be more important . . . here are some possibilities for events:

1) a soccer match, of course-- there's no faster way to check out how athletic someone is than to watch them play soccer . . . teamwork, speed, spatial skills, and strategic inclinations are  all immediately apparent;

2) pick-up basketball . . . same as above;

3) tennis tournament . . . not as indicative as basketball and soccer, but I love those outfits;

4) a standardized test . . . SAT, ACT, whatever;

5) orienteering . . . it's nice to marry someone with a good sense of direction;

6) driving test . . . you don't want to be cringing when you're in the passenger seat;

7) flu exposure . . . this episode will be ugly, with lots of vomiting, fever, defecation and shivering, but you want a spouse with a hardy immune system and this is the only way to tell;

8) squats . . . curls are for the girls and bench isn't all that important, but it's good to know someone can put up some weight and has sturdy thighs and quads;

9) chili cook-off;

10) a financial assessment . . . you don't want to marry anyone carrying a huge credit card debt or with an outstanding lien on their property . . . and if they have money in the family, that's a big plus, even if they can't put up big numbers on the squat rack.

Now You Know

Apparently, not everyone on earth knows that the easiest way to remove a piece of eggshell that has fallen into your egg is to use the empty half of the cracked eggshell as a scooper-- the jagged edge pierces the egg membrane and the bit of shell is magically attracted to the large scooper-shell . . . I don't know who taught me this (probably the same person who taught me to detach my windshield wipers from my windshield and let them stick straight up the night before a snowstorm) but I've run into a surprising number of people who have never heard of this extremely effective technique . . . and this makes me wonder about all the amazing stuff that no one bothered to explain to me.

It Must Be February

My wife and kids are sick, and my knees are shot from playing basketball and indoor soccer.

Agent to the Stars

I needed a break from literature about the American Southwest (on deck . . . Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire) so I read John Scalzi's sci-fi novel Agent to the Stars; the plot sounds absurd-- aesthetically unappealing, smelly (but friendly) aliens travel across the universe to investigate and embrace the intelligent life on earth, but then drag their feet about first contact, because they've seen all of our movies and television and know how we generally treat gross alien creatures . . . so they seek representation and leave it to a Hollywood agent to figure out how to best introduce them to the planet-- but the novel is more serious than you might imagine from the synopsis . . . the characters are well drawn, the insight into the Hollywood agency is vivid and meticulous, the writing is sharp, and the plot really moves . . . the book is more than a satire of sci-fi and the film industry (although it is that as well) and dog-lovers, film-lovers and dog-film lovers will especially appreciate the story.

The Test 37: Black (and White) History

This week on The Test,  I administer a series of questions inspired by Black History Month and, I must admit that the ladies perform admirably-- in fact, they are deemed "not racist"-- but then, in order to be fair, I ask them a multi-part question about white people (that requires me to do several impersonations) and they do NOT perform admirably on this section . . . the questions might be more geared to folks of my generation . . . anyway, give this one a shot, and see if you are more racist, less racist, or exactly the same amount of racist as the gang.

If You Pee on a Tree in the Forest, and No One Sees You . . .

After some very poor scientific research in the English Office-- mainly based on anecdotal evidence, with occasional specious references to "studies" and "articles"-- we determined two things about asparagus consumption: 

1) when some people eat asparagus, their pee smells weird;

2) when other people eat asparagus, their pee does NOT smell weird;

and Stacey and I were proud of the "fact" that our pee did not smell weird after eating asparagus, but after a bit of reading I learned that our research and consequent hypotheses were patently stupid-- what did you expect from a bunch of English teachers?-- and the fact of the matter is that everyone's pee contains asparagusic acid after asparagus is eaten, but not everyone can smell the substance; some people have a specific smell-blindness (scientifically known as a specific anosmia) to the asparagus-pee-smell . . . which leads to a philosophical question: if asparagus pee falls into a toilet, and you can't smell it, does it smell like asparagus?

That Was Close

It's a good thing the sun came out yesterday, because one more day of cloudy weather and my bones would have turned to jelly (and my brain too, I was having trouble staying awake, I couldn't think straight, and all I wanted to do was eat chocolate and drink coffee . . . I don't know how people in the Pacific Northwest accomplish anything).

In Twenty Years, I'll Get to Say "I Told You So"

I tried to articulate my feelings on smartphones over on Gheorghe:The Blog, but the short and sweet versions is this:

1) I hate them;

2) I've completely banned them in my class and told my students I'm treating them like cigarettes, if I lay eyes on a smartphone, I'm confiscating it;

3) my school has embraced them, and now has a BYOD policy . . . Bring Your Own Device . . . which means students can use them in the hallways and at lunch, and can utilize them in class if the teacher allows it;

4) I think BYOD is lunacy, as do many other teachers, because it's hard enough to focus on chemistry without having a gaming system, social-networking conduit, camera, audio recorder, app center, and general panacea for all boredom in your immediate possession;

5) there's plenty of research citing the fact that test scores go up (6 percent on average and double that for lower achieving students) when smartphones are banned . . . and that writing notes down on paper is a powerful cognitive tool that aids in processing ideas and higher level thinking;

6) I believe people in the future will view our obsession with smartphones and their ubiquity with the same nostalgic horror that we view the "good old days" when people could smoke cigarettes on airplanes . . . and I believe that there are similarities between cigarettes and smartphones-- they are both portable addictive dopamine dispensers-- and folks in the future will laugh and laugh when they read descriptions of how we sent our youngsters to school and out driving (in human controlled cars!) with these incredibly distracting devices; they will view this period as a bout of temporary insanity, akin to when you could light up your cigarette or cigar any damn place you pleased.

Weird and Weirder

If you're not looking for a big commitment and you need something to stream on Netflix and you're in the mood for something kind of weird, then try Episode 7 of Black Mirror-- it's called "White Christmas" and it stars Jon Hamm; Black Mirror is a British update of The Twilight Zone . . . but the episodes center around the perils of technological innovation, and "White Christmas" is really fun and strange and features lots of surprises and a plot that circles right around to the beginning and makes perfect sense . . . if you're still in the mood for something short and self-contained and weird, watch Punch Drunk Love, it was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, stars Adam Sandler, and features a cameo by Philip Seymour Hoffman . . . I always had fond memories of this movie, but hadn't watched it since 2002, when it came out-- it holds up really well, and is even more bizarre than I remembered.

A Great Novel (with a not so great title)

The Milagro Beanfield War, by John Nichols, is quite a novel . . . it details a water-rights squabble in New Mexico, between the poor chicanos and the wealthy developers, and it is full of salt-of-the-earth characters, mock-epic hilarity, beautiful descriptions of the mountains and high desert plains, special agents, magical realism, guns, an incorrigible pig, local politics and astute social commentary . . . and it's got a page-turning plot to boot . . . the tone occasionally reminds me of One Hundred Years of Solitude, and while I admit Marquez came up with a much better title, you should really give The Milagro Beanfield War a try . . . I'm trying to read a shitload of books about the American Southwest in preparation for our family road trip this summer, and this one has given me an unusual and memorable perspective on northern New Mexico.

You Can't Undo a First Impression

When I receive a new class of students, I generally try to make a good first impression; I try to come across as fun and easygoing, but remind the students that my class will be challenging and I will reward diligence; unfortunately, this doesn't always happen . . . for a fantastically awkward pair of back-to-back examples of my worst start to a class ever, read this . . . and something similar happened two weeks ago; I had bronchitis and I missed two day of school . . . including the first day of my new Creative Writing class, so, as sub work, I gave them a fairly long New Yorker article about brainstorming to read: it's a fantastic article,  and while the first few paragraphs explain some of the history behind traditional brainstorming and how much everyone loves it, the thrust of the essay is that brainstorming doesn't work at all, and in fact, is worse than working alone; there's been a battery of psychological tests, and the research indicates that people produce the best ideas when there is healthy debate and criticism, and not a system that embraces blind acceptance of any idea at all . . . but I wasn't in school and so my students-- who had never met me and didn't know that if I give you something to read, you'd better read it-- perfunctorily read a few paragraphs of the article and then wrote a bunch of unfounded BS about how much everyone loves brainstorming, and so when I returned to school on Friday, still ailing and weak, but in school because it was a delayed opening because of snow and I didn't want to waste a sick day on a truncated schedule, and I read the pile of papers that got the thesis of the article completely wrong, I got very indignant, and-- because of the wackiness of the schedule-- I didn't have lunch at the proper time, so I brought a steaming bowl of soup to class, told the kids that they did a terrible job with the article and I was really angry because they made me read a pile of unfounded BS, gave them the article again, commanded them to reread it and do the assignment again and to type it up over the weekend and then explained to them that they had made a horrible first impression on me, and then, while they silently read the article, I slurped my soup and glowered at them . . . occasionally I stopped slurping my soup and enjoyed a phlegmy cough, and then I went back to slurping, while they read in silence . . . it was a really awkward first impression, and while we've reconciled since then (aside from the one girl who dropped the class . . . she probably thought she was dealing with a lunatic) I don't think they'll ever quite forget it or get over it.

Dave's Scarf-Technique Atrophies Due to Warm Winter

It's been a relatively mild winter, and so I haven't had much practice with my scarf-technique . . . I had it mastered last winter, but my skills have atrophied (and I forgot that I need to wear a hooded sweatshirt in order to make a scarf operate flawlessly) and it was very very cold and windy last night, but my parents took the kids overnight, so Catherine and I-- in honor of Valentine's Day-- decided to make a go of it and walk across the bridge into New Brunswick to eat at the delicious Ethiopian place (Desta) but my scarf was hanging low and my cheeks got so cold that I almost puked and I tried to convince her to turn back when we were halfway over the bridge, but she pressed on and I glumly followed . . .  we finally made it to the restaurant, warmed up, drank our ice cold beer from the cooler-- ice cold beer that felt warm to our frozen hands-- and had a delicious meal, and then I really piled my scarf high for the walk home, and while this protected my face, I learned another lesson: you can't wear glasses when you have a scarf piled high on your face or they steam up and freeze, so you can't see where you're going (which admittedly, is better than getting frostbite, but still not a pleasant way to walk around in the bitter cold).

The Test 36: TV Themes and Beatboxing

The gang reunites this week on The Test for Cunningham's perpetually astounding, perplexingly astounding TV Theme Song quiz (I've been channelling Walt "Clyde" Frazier lately) and-- warning-- Stacey and I have some serious cognitive difficulties with this one . . . Stacey gets philosophical about her malfunctioning brain and says something very poetic: "I can't even remember my memories," and I get frustrated and angry and claim I have Alzheimer's, and then I attribute my intellectual failures to the fact that it was Friday afternoon after a long week of teaching, which is ridiculous . . . anyway, we finish strong, with an amazing display of vocal prestidigitation; so take a shot, keep score, see how you do, and don't be stingy with the points . . . also, if you like it, give us a rating on iTunes and/or Stitcher . . . thanks!

You Can Clip Your Nails, and You Can Clip a Receiver, But Can You Clip a Receiver's Nails?

In the winter, when I clip my fingernails, even if I'm doing it over the sink or the toilet, the nail clippings fly all over the place and there's no finding/retrieving them . . . I think it's because my nails are less pliable in the winter (because of the cold weather) and while I still pretend I care about where the nail fragments are going-- and I still do the clipping over the toilet or the sink, I have to be candid and admit that literally zero percent of the nail clippings end up where I want them . . . so should I stop pretending and just clip my nails while I walk around the house, letting them fly willy-nilly where the dog might eat them, or should I keep up this faux-hygienic charade?

Perks of my Job

Teaching is fairly predictable: once you've taught a topic a few times, you know what questions the kids will ask and you know what issues will raise interesting discussions, but there are occasional super-excellent unpredictable moments along the way (such as this one) that are spontaneous and priceless, and something in that vein happened yesterday afternoon; I was giving the kids some background on Shakespeare, as we were about to begin Hamlet and I told them: "Chaucer was before Shakespeare, he wrote the Canterbury Tales in the late 1300's and he wrote them in Middle English-- which is really hard to read . . . but Shakespeare wrote in a more modern kind of English, which is much easier to read, it was named after the ruler of the time . . . anyone know what kind of English it was called, Shakespeare's English?" and a lovely girl-- an intelligent girl, I should add, so you don't get the wrong impression from this one particular response, a response given late in the day in the midst of a dark and snowy February afternoon, while I was lecturing about iambic pentameter and the Globe Theatre -- anyway, this wonderful girl sitting in the front left gamely took a shot at my question about the kind of English spoken during Shakespeare's time, a kind of English named after the ruler of the time; she said, "Metric English?" and her answer didn't really register in my brain, and I said, "No . . . Elizabethan English" and then there was a beat, and then the entire class realized why she said "Metric English" and we all laughed and laughed (even though the official adoption of meter sticks in the UK wasn't until far after Shakespeare's death).

Dreams Deferred, Destroyed, Depressed, Disintegrated, and Damaged

The boys and I just finished watching the epic documentary Hoop Dreams-- it streams on Netflix-- and if you haven't seen it, it's something you have to watch . . . but beware: the film keeps it very real, and the various dreams of the characters in the film are often deferred or shattered . . . and if you're a real glutton for punishment, check out where the main figures in the story are now . . . there are a few bright spots, but also plenty of tragedy; if you're still in the mood for even more depressingly frank anti-dream reality after watching Hoop Dreams, then go see The Big Short-- it has a documentary feel, and documentary-like moments, though it's not documentary, and Christian Bale and Steve Carell do a fantastic job playing real people (Michael Burry and Mark Bain) . . . but be prepared to confront the destruction of the American Dream (and you're also going to need to prepare a bit so you understand the vocabulary and the main concepts, you could either read a bunch of books and watch an actual documentary, or you could read my sentences about them . . . here are my suggestions: The Big Short, House of Cards, The Black Swan, After the Music Stops, Unintended Consequences, Griftopia and Inside Job).

Your Dog is Your Best Friend, But That Doesn't Make Him Smart

My dog thinks motorcycles are a species of wild animal that require barking and chasing (he also feels the same way about garbage trucks . . . it must be the low rumble of the engine . . . and I often wonder how he perceives these things; in his consciousness, the garbage truck must resemble a woolly mammoth and the motorcycle an elk or moose . . . and while this poses an imminent and obvious danger to him, it must be exciting to live in a world where those kinds of beasts still roam).

Philosophy and Dog Jokes

At this point in my life, I am resigned to the fact that I am a dilettante; I move from one thing to another, get very excited about it, make some progress, and then switch-- and while this methodology has it's obvious flaws, it's always exciting when the middle of the semester rolls around and I start teaching Philosophy Class again . . . I am seriously under-qualified to teach this course, and once it's over I generally forget that it's even on my schedule, but when it starts I'm always a ball of fire; this year, to prepare, I've been listening to a very informative (albeit nerdy) podcast called Philosophize This! and I'm reading a book called The Physicist & The Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time . . . and I'm going to be candid here, because Socrates taught us that the first step to wisdom is realizing that you are not very wise and that you know far less than you think: before I read this book, I had no idea who Henri Bergson was-- his story arc is similar to Humboldt's, in that he was extraordinarily famous in his time, and then fell out of favor-- and I had no idea that Bergson and Einstein had an "explosive debate" that "transformed our understanding of time and drove a rift between science and the humanities that persists today," but now I'm starting to understand this, and I even read a Bergson excerpt from his essay "Laughter: An Essay on the meaning of Comic" . . . which got me thinking philosophically: do any animals ever laugh or make jokes or find things funny?

The Test 35: Stacey's Songs #4

This week on The Test, Stacey confounds special guest MJ and me with her fourth clever song quiz . . . but don't get scared off, we eventually figure out the answer; see if you can beat us to the punch: identify the artist and title of each clip, and then string the clues together to come up with the overarching theme . . . good luck!

Teach Your Children (Fairly) Well Part II

I am the parent and my children are the children, and if I want to make an arbitrary rule, such as: if you're going to watch TV on a school night, then it has to be a documentary, then they need to abide by the rule and embrace the rule and not give me a bunch of shit about the rule . . . which is why, last week, when we were two minutes into Hoop Dreams, my son Alex said he wanted to go upstairs and read instead of watching and I did something unprecedented in the history of parenting--

I forced my child to watch TV instead of allowing him to read a book

but I had good reason for this . . . Roger Ebert lists Hoop Dreams as the number one movie of the 1990's and my son was being totally close-minded because he was angry about my "documentaries on school nights" rule . . . a rule which my wife and children should realize is never going to last, and if they could simply humor me for a bit and allow me to reign like a lunatic dictator over my tiny realm . . . and Alex ended up liking the film-- you can't not like it, it's great (though not as fast paced and violent and entertaining as Arrow, a show to which my kids are addicted).

Teach Your Children (Fairly) Well

I think I'm as good as any parent about feigning excitement about a perfect score on a social studies quiz (nice job with the triangular trade route!) or a school project (nice diorama!) but now that my boys have seen some actual excitement over a school accomplishment, they may realize what's what; to explain, Ian's PE teacher (who I know from coaching soccer) texted me on Tuesday, in the middle of the day, to tell me that my son Ian (a fifth grader) had toppled the school record for the PACER (Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run) and that the record he beat had stood for four years, so he wanted to commend Ian on an impressive effort . . . and I was even more impressed than the PE teacher by his accomplishment because Ian had really exhausted himself the night before-- we had an away Rec basketball game in South River (away rec basketball games?) and a lot of kids on my team bailed (because it's rec basketball) so we only had five people (three of which I drove to the game) and the other team was full of sixth graders and our team is all fourth and fifth graders and most of the kids on the team can't handle the ball, so Ian had to play every minute at point guard, and though he's small, he had to go down to the low post because he's willing to foul kids . . . anyway, I was very proud of him and told him so, and now I'm going to have to step up my acting when he gets a good grade in math or draws something nice . . . why is it so much easier to get excited about athletic achievement?

Dave vs. The Fuzzy Green Ball

Everything seems epic when you're sick, and so yesterday, during my drive to the MedExpress while running a fever (turned out to be bronchitis)-- I fought an epic battle against a worn out tennis ball; the ball kept rolling under my feet while I was driving down Route 18, and I was worried that it would become lodged under the gas or brake pedal, and so I repeatedly bent down and grabbed the ball from under my feet-- temporarily obscuring my view of the road-- and then tossed the ball to the back of the van . . . and moments later it would come rolling back up again, like it had a mind of its own, and so-- finally-- and, as I said earlier, I was running a fever and my mind was cloudy, I thought to put it in one of the many cupholders my Toyota van possesses, and this was a perfect fit-- the ball will stay lodged in there until my kids decide to remove it, so they can play catch in the car (and it is possible that this fairly obvious idea didn't dawn on me for so long because my old car, a Jeep Cherokee, had no cupholders and so I had to use the sneaker which resided in the passenger seat . . . there were rarely passengers brave enough to ride in the "deathbox," and I'm too sick to do any research-- so I'll leave this work to Sentence of Dave fanatics-- but I wonder how many automobile accidents are caused by unrestricted rolling tennis balls . . . I'm guessing this is at least as dangerous as trying to clip your dog's nails as a stoplight.

Dave Expounds Upon The Bachelor

It astonishes me how popular The Bachelor is-- I can't imagine why modern educated women would want to watch a bunch of ditsy bimbos humiliate themselves in order to win the favor of a good-looking guy-- but my wife likes it and so do the women at work, and I've watched ten minutes of the current season, in two rather disappointing five minute sessions, and this copious "research" has led me to a couple of conclusions:

1) the format of the show is demeaning enough, but at least most of the women have respectable title descriptions . . . Jubilee is a "war veteran" and Leah is an "event planner" and there is a "chiropractic assistant" and a "bartender" and a "news anchor," and Rachel has the guts to call herself "unemployed" and Tiara has a sense of humor and claims to be a "chicken enthusiast" . . . or maybe she actually is a chicken enthusiast-- who knows?-- but when I watched a bit on Monday night, I noticed that Emily's footer read "twin," and that's not a career or a title or even much of a description  . . . it's just a genetic coincidence-- it would be like if someone's title was "Huntington's Disease Carrier" or "Sickle Cell Candidate"-- you can check out the list if you want to see for yourself;

2) the first time I got sucked in was earlier in the season, when the girls had to play a soccer game in order to get some face-time with Ben . . . this excited me, as the girls are cute and fit, and I was really interested in who was the best soccer player-- these are traits you'd want in a wife, someone sporty and athletic and competitive and coordinated .. . and I assumed many of the girls would be moderately athletic, but apparently they just starve themselves to keep their figures, because they were terrible soccer players and the game was just embarrassing (and ABC did an awful job filming the match, you couldn't see how any of the play developed) and if I had my druthers and were doing a program like this, it would be all athletic contests and fitness tests, interspersed with a few cognitive exams, so that I could choose a woman who would produce the smartest, most athletic offspring . . . coming next fall: The Bachelor (of Eugenics).

The Deepest of All Questions

I'm not going to do any research on this topic-- too disgusting-- and my experience with the subject is purely anecdotal, but I'm fairly certain that the phenomenon is real; some weeks, my toenails grow faster than normal (and require clipping) and some weeks they don't seem to grow at all . . . so why is toenail growth variable and what causes this?

You Should Read Death Comes to the Archbishop (before you read Moby Dick)

In preparation for our trip to the American Southwest this summer, I am reading some of the classic literature set in that region; I started by re-reading Death Comes to the Archbishop, a nearly plotless collection of vignettes by Willa Cather, based on the lives of two French Catholic religious men-- a bishop and a priest-- who leave civilized Europe in the mid-1800's and travel to the wilds of the New Mexico Territory-- newly acquired by the United States after the Mexican-American War-- in order to establish an organized diocese amidst the corruption of the Spanish, the poverty of the Mexicans, and the traditions and mysticism of the Native Americans; I admit that's a mouthful for a synopsis, and that hardly does justice to what happens in the book, but I regard this as one of the best American novels ever written-- while I love Moby Dick, Cather's masterpiece is probably a more worthwhile read and it certainly addresses much more modern issues-- race, class, religion, mysticism, greed, politics, assimilation, and borders . . . it is an absolute refutation Crevecoeur's outdated "melting pot" metaphor . . . the book was published in 1927 and it is utterly modern, like a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, it is a collection of climactic scenes and anecdotes (think There Will Be Blood or Magnolia) without much transition-- Elmore Leonard codified this into his mantra: "try to leave out all the parts people skip"; Cather's language is as rugged and sharply defined as the terrain she writes about . . . here are some of the passages I highlighted:

1) he seemed to be wandering in some geometrical nightmare;

2) he saw a flat white outline on the grey surface-- a white square made up of white squares . . . that his guide said, was the pueblo of Acoma;

3) one could not believe the number of square miles a man is able to sweep with the eye there could be so many uniform red hills . . . he had been riding among them since early morning, and the look of the country had no more changed than if he had stood still;

4) No priest can experience repentance and forgiveness of sin unless he himself falls into sin . . . otherwise, religion is nothing but dead logic;

5) their Padre spoke like a horse for the last time: "Comete tu cola, comete tu cola!" (Eat your tail, Martinez, eat your tail!) Almost at once he died in convulsion;

6) in his experience, white people, when they addressed Indians, always put on a false face;

7) he had the pleasure of seeing the Navajo horsemen riding free over their great plains again . . . the two Frenchmen went as far as the Canyon de Chelly to behold the strange cliff ruins; once more crops were growing at the bottom of the world between the towering sandstone walls;

and while most of the prose is impeccably lucid, Cather was also not afraid to use specific words that will make you consult a dictionary (partibus, calabozo, codicil, pyx, hogan, coruscation, turbid, jalousies) but these only crop up occasionally, otherwise it is a smooth read; in the end, it is a tale of friendship between two religious men, Bishop Latour and Father Vaillant, in a harsh, complicated, inspirational, and fascinating environment; Cather's treatment of the Native Americans is empathetic and vivid (and must have influenced Aldous Huxley when he wrote Brave New World) and while she moves from mundane politics and vanity to the holiest of mysteries, the story never loses its historical grounding, it is set amongst realpeople-- Kit Carson especially-- and real events-- the Colorado Gold Rush near Pike's Peak and the building of Santa Fe's Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis Assisi, which Jean-Baptiste Lamy-- the man Bishop Latour was based upon-- oversaw and initiated . . . anyway, I've gone on far too long and I haven't even scratched the surface of what lies inside this book, but I guarantee it is an America that they don't teach you about in school, Jamestown and the Pilgrims and the Boston Tea Party and all that, and I'm sure when I'm visiting these spots this summer, Cather's words will ring in my ears . . . so if you feel like you want to read a classic piece of literature, and you don't want to slog through The Brothers Karamazov, I recommend this-- it's short, episodic, perfectly written, and full of valuable insight on the origins of our national character.

A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.