Dave Should Be a Future Leader (According to Obama)

I was pleased to learn that Hillary Clinton agreed with me on the importance of Robert D. Putnam's new book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, but President Obama trumps her with his reading list for future leaders . . . I've read four of the ten:

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert;

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman;

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo;

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari;

and these were definitely some of the best books of the past decade (read my reviews if you're in need of some hyperbole) and so Obama either really loves to read, or he reads my blog and respects my reviews, or perhaps he's got really good reading advisers-- it's probably a combination of the three-- and I realize that this is a political "signal" to release this list, as it indicates that the President values high quality non-fiction, just as Donald Trump could never admit that reading books is necessary, as it would alienate his constituency and mark him as an elitist intellectual communist, which is why he gets his information from "the shows."

Diving Header > Brain Damage

My son Ian scored his first header goal yesterday-- he launched himself into the air to connect with a line drive corner kick, headed the ball just inside the far post, and landed on his stomach . . . the goal was a big one-- it allowed us to tie a much better team 1-1, and judging by the celebratory jig that Ian did after he got back onto his feet, it was well worth the loss of brain cells.

A Solemn Vow

I hereby declare that next year I will NOT participate in fantasy football, which is not fantastic at all and actually wallows in its mundanity-- the tenderness of Dez Bryant's knee and the merits of Coby Fleener and the injury status of Eric Ebron-- and so I will NOT let these minor thoughts aggravate my valuable and limited consciousness, and, instead, during the time I would have spent shuffling my digital line-up around, I will brush up on my Spanish or learn to play the xylophone or train my dog to skateboard or even simply take a nap, but next fall, I will be doing something slightly more fantastic than fantasy football . . . you hear this Alec?

Dave Loves the Gas Tax (and So Do Economists)

Planet Money Episode 387: The No-Brainer Economic Platform may be four years old, but it's more relevant today than ever-- the show presents a "six plank" platform on which economists from across the political spectrum agree, but the problem is that no presidential candidate will ever espouse these things, as they are political poison; here they are, no particular (or political) order, and I've paraphrased the arguments from Planet Money and added some of my own:

1) get rid of the mortgage interest deduction . . . readers of this blog, who I am guessing are mainly educated, middle class homeowners, will NOT want to hear this one at all, but it's true-- the interest deduction distorts housing prices, it subsidizes mansions and second homes, it encourages people to take risky loans, it doesn't help renters (who are vital when there is a recession because they can move and adjust to changing job markets) and it's generally unfair in its distribution of wealth;

2) reform the tax code . . . eliminate all the loopholes and deductions and, like Thoreau said, simplify, simplify, simplify . . .  this  would put all the accounting firms out of business, but allow the government to do a much better and more equitable job of collecting taxes;

3) eliminate taxes on corporations  . . . progressives hate this one, but it behooves the country to allow corporations to reinvest tax free income into things such as hiring more employees, improving product lines and R&D, instead of hiding it overseas or distributing it as dividends to rich people;

4) decriminalize drugs . . . it's extremely expensive to fight the war on drugs, and it's even more expensive to let underground criminal syndicates collect all the drug revenues . . . plus, it's costly on many levels to keep people in jail for nonviolent drug offenses;

5) stop subsidizing health care . . . health care is not taxed as income for the user, nor is the provider taxed . . . so people who are given health care by their job are incentivized to use as much of it as possible (I have NOT been taking advantage of this, stupidly-- I should be getting acupuncture, going to the podiatrist, getting check-ups and physicals, and generally spending this money that is part of my salary) when there should be various plans, some more expensive, some less expensive, some with higher co-pays;

6) we should stop taxing good things and start taxing things we want to discourage . . . so end the payroll tax and income tax-- because creating jobs and working is good-- and increase taxes on cigarettes and pollution and carbon emissions . . . which is why I'm totally in favor of New Jersey's gas tax increase-- cheers!-- because it might discourage driving, and should help with infrastructure;

sadly, the only candidate who supports several of these measures is Gary Johnson, but he's not into taxing carbon emissions and he doesn't know what's going on in Aleppo . . . and I have an inordinate fondness for Aleppo . . . so I'm not voting for him; anyway, listen to the episode, it's fantastic, especially the fake presidential speeches introducing all these wonderful new reforms, and remember: no one actually wants to fix anything, they just want to act sanctimonious when their candidate trounces the opposition.

Sometimes You Need a Moon Safari

For once Google Play Music recommended exactly what I desired-- though I had no clue that I desired this thing-- an album by the French electronica band Air called Moon Safari; I especially love the first track: "la femme d'argent" . . . and while there doesn't seem to be any straightforward way to translate this song title from French (it seems to mean "silver woman" or "woman of silver" or a "gold digger" or perhaps something less insidious) but since I don't know French, I'm going to pretend the song is eponymous with the album, because this song took me on a moon safari: I was walking the dog in the park and the next thing I knew, I was on the moon, wearing a pith helmet, which is just what I needed, because I couldn't listen to any more election podcast shit . . . and usually Google Play Music just recommends some ersatz band in place of the last thing you listened to, e.g. you like Lemon Jelly . . . so why don't you listen to Mr. Scruff (this is an actual example, and I did NOT take Google Play Music up on the offer to listen to Mr. Scruff) and perhaps the algorithm is slowly learning my taste more and more, and there will be excellent recommendation in my future (unless my wife and kids get on it and sabotage all my carefully cultivated selections).

Ira Glass, Futility, and Politics

The new episode of This American Life preaches to the choir, and will definitely not be heard by people that need to hear it (like the people who live behind me-- they are proudly displaying a Trump/Pence sign on their lawn, the only one I've seen in Highland Park) but the candid sincerity in which Ira Glass investigates the lies propagated by the Trump campaign and sad, almost futile conclusions he arrives at will make you wonder what happened to facts, the truth, and the general knowledge of your average American; the show starts with Trump's claim that Hillary Clinton started the birther movement and he ended it, which is so patently ridiculous that it seems to belie further exploration-- aside from the fact that now 1/3 of Americans believe this "fact"-- and worse than this is Trump's assertion that NAFTA was the worst trade agreement in the history of the universe, because before Trump both Democrats and Republicans believed that trade agreements were good for the economy, created new markets, put money in everyone's pockets (because of lower priced goods) and strengthened diplomatic relations between countries . . . but now, despite the fact that 95% of economists (polled by the University of Chicago) believe that NAFTA is good for our economy and 5% are undecided and zero point zero percent of economists believe that NAFTA is bad for our economy, despite this, Clinton has backpedaled on trade agreements and has entertained the idea that manufacturing jobs might actually return to the U.S. (and I'm sure this is just a public position for debating Trump, but it's still disturbing that he could have that much influence over a policy discussion that anyone with any expertise regards as a no-brainer . . . certainly trade agreements cause some specific economic pain, but it's actually far cheaper to pay-off and retrain the people who lost their jobs than it is to punish the entire economy) and so now you've got both major parties taking a contrary position on trade agreements, when that was usually only a radical maneuver-- remember the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle? . . . anyway, the episode doesn't even get into the email "scandal" and the fact that the Bush administration lost five million emails (or 22 million . . . it doesn't make it right, but politicians get rid of emails and politicians use private emails to communicate to avoid the public records act, so unless you're going toss George Bush and Dick Cheney and Colin Powell and lots of other people in jail, Hillary Clinton does not belong in jail) and the episode also didn't discuss the thing that out-trumps all the other Trump stuff, his anti-vaccine stance: this indicates a complete disbelief in the scientific method, peer reviewed experimentation, and logic in general . . . and while disbelief in global warming is typical right wing silliness (Dan Levin just said that there is NO proof whatsoever that there is global warming . . . pretty bold and incredibly dumb, but who cares) not vaccinating children is extremely dangerous and a possible return to plague times is as good a reason as any not to vote for Trump; I'm considering voting for Jill Stein, despite the fact that the Green Platform is against trade agreements, but that's for environmental reasons-- which just might be the right reason to be against trade agreements (despite the fact that trade agreements help foreign countries, though they often use environmentally unsound methods of manufacture, and while helping foreign economies doesn't make America great,  that doesn't mean it's an awful thing) but then I heard that Jill Stein is an anti-vaxxer, but it seems the accusations that she's against vaccines were taken out of context so she's still a viable choice for me . . . I don't think I'm going to decide until I get behind the curtain, but the super sad thing, the thing that made Ira Glass so depressed in this episode (especially when he's talking to his Uncle Lenny, an 81 year old plastic surgeon who has consumed a whole host of right wing conspiracies and lies about President Obama and thus will vote for Trump) is that even if Trump is crushed in this election, it isn't going to help the cause for truth, logic, the scientific method, and the facts . . . social media and niche journalism have made it so people on the left and the right (and everywhere in between) can find exactly what they want to hear and then believe it.

Late Adopter

Sometimes, when I'm bopping around, I get really happy and think: "My phone plays music!"

Some Stuff on Creativity

I did an assignment in Creative Writing called "Where Do Good Ideas Come From?" and my students had four reading/listening options; I'll list them here, but since you're not taking my class, I'll also give you the thesis of each-- they are fascinating if you're into this kind of thing:

1) "Groupthink" by Jonah Lehrer: a New Yorker article on how traditional brainstorming does NOT work, and how good ideas are usually  formed through debate, criticism, and the random collaboration of the right kinds of people;

2) Slowing Down: TED Radio Hour, especially the segment "Can Slowing Down Make You More Creative" by Adam Grant: this podcast examines the links between procrastination and creativity, and the problems and pitfalls with efficiency and getting things done early;

3) Song Exploder: Weezer . . . Rivers Cuomo reveals his songwriting process and it is nothing like you'd imagine, especially for the front man of an emo band-- definitely worth listening to, whether you're a fan of Weezer or not;

4) Flash Forward: The Witch Who Came From Mars . . . an investigation on the future of creativity, and how collaboration with computers might boost our creative powers and send our writing process hurtling into unknown domains.

The Test 65: Peppered

I'm going to go out on a limb here: this is the best episode of The Test  we've ever done . . . it contains the most brilliant question ever written in the history of quizzes, a culmination of everything we've learned on this podcast (the question quite possibly ties everything in the entire universe together, an enormous version of Lebowski's rug) and not only that, but we cooperatively solve a pepper-related mystery AND the ladies fall into my cunningly laid pepper-related trap-- and refuse to be extricated--this one is funny, informative, and bizarre: you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll shoot mucous from your nose, and if you're not careful, you might actually learn something (pepper-related).

Which is Scarier: President Trump or a Creepy Clown?

While reality has been scary enough recently: I just learned that Trump is an anti-vaxxer, which is more disturbing than the racism, the sexism, the "grab them by the pussy" and the "nasty woman" and the "Mexican rapists" because it indicates outright ignorance and poses a far greater threat to our country then generally gauche and classless behavior-- the possible resurgence of plagues and epidemics . . . but despite the combined looming threat of President Trump and killer clowns,  the English teachers still got together last night for our Seventh Annual Scary Story Contest, and I think we are actually getting better and better at writing these things (which would make sense) as all of this year's stories were terrifying and consistently well-written; the prompt was "The Cellar" and the stories were various in plot and theme: giant worms, uxoricide (by use of giant worms), a changeling baby with a man-sized nose, a Nazi surgeon/wine connoisseur, a grand Gatsby-esque gala, a haunted house and a complicit landlord, an indigenous tribal ghost payback, and much suffering by children, who were drained, dragged to hell, possibility molested, shoved into an oven and a dryer, burned in fires and generally tortured and neglected; Stacey and I took second, which made us quite proud-- it was a tough field-- and Liz K, always the bridesmaid and never the bride, finally took first place . . . Stacey and I were also pleased that for the second year in a row, our story was deemed the most horrific, and we now know that our combined voice is the only one that is easily identifiable: Cunningham described it as "sort of fucked up and funny."

Use Your Allusions?

Tuesday, a student played a song by Twenty One Pilots in class for a presentation, and this was the first time I heard the band and I told the students that Twenty One Pilots sounded a lot like Neutral Milk Hotel and the class said, "What?" and I had to explain to them about Neutral Milk Hotel and Jeff Mangum, and the next day one of the students, in preparation for "improv night," was dressed all in white: white shirt, white socks, white shorts, white tennis sneakers and a white headband and I told him he looked ready for Wimbledon and, once again, the class said "What?" and I had to explain to them about Wimbledon: the grass courts, the strawberries and cream, the fact that it's a tennis tournament . . . and I think I'm going to stop alluding to things in class, because it's too exhausting.

Dave Commands the Weather Gods to Ameliorate His Foul Disposition

I've got nothing to offer today, I'm still recovering from yesterday's unseasonably warm weather-- which, combined with proctoring the PSAT in a hot classroom to a bunch of angry 12th graders who were being made to retake the test for graduation requirements; a meeting with thirty English teachers in an even hotter classroom, and an un-airconditioned bus ride with a bunch of middle school soccer players, has put me in a sour mood, which will not dissipate until the weather becomes seasonable again . . . so listen closely, weather gods, you need to get your act together and change summer to fall, or I'm going to lose my shit (and take everyone down with me).

Dave = Man?

It was a manly day: I bullied my friend Rob for tweeting this silliness, ran a morning soccer practice, then I took the dog for a bike ride-- without wearing a helmet-- and when I got home, though I was tired, I installed a ceiling fan-- alone and with much profanity-- and I didn't use a grounding wire, after a short nap, I made chili, and then drank some beers and watched some football and ate that chili, and topped it all off by watching the Keith Hernandez Seinfeld episode with the kids . . . in the annals of machismo, this day would have have gone down as an eleven out of ten on the masculine meter . . . had I not pulled a stomach muscle because I was overly vigorous using my new hula hoop.

Rest in Peace, Robert Peace

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs is true story of grit, determination, and social class, and -- oddly-- one of the most interesting plot twists occurs within the narration, but I won't spoil that, just promise me you'll read the book . . . it's a gripping account of why you can take the boy out of Newark, but you still might not be able to take the Newark out of the boy, and while you can obviously enjoy this if you're not from New Jersey-- The New York Times, Amazon, and Entertainment Weekly named it book of the year-- but familiarity with Newark, Sharpe James and Cory Booker will make you appreciate the milieu even more; this is a story for the ages, epic in scope, picaresque in a Tom Jones/Breaking Bad fashion, and a revision of the American Dream that Fitzgerald would have appreciated . . . ten Sour Diesels out of ten.

My Wife Has No Respect For My Cup Holder

I was driving my car, learning about the architecture of the human brain (apparently the difference between the human brain and a desktop computer is that the hardware and software of a desktop computer are separate and discrete, while in the human brain, the hardware is the software, that tangled collection of networked synaptic wires is the whole shebang, nothing is writ large controlling it, the brain simply is itself, hardware and software combined) and while I was thinking these deep thoughts, I tried to put my coffee back in the cupholder, and if anyone appreciates the cup holder, it is I . . . but this time there was something amiss, there was something wrong when put my cup back in the holder, the cup wouldn't go all the way in, and it sat lopsided, leaning precariously, full of hot coffee; so I lifted the cup up and out, put it in the cup holder next door, and then blindly reached down to find the culprit, the thing that was making my driver-side cup holder malfunction, but I kept my eyes on the road, of course, and so when I felt something slimy, I was quite surprised-- I thought I might find a quarter or a miniature golf pencil, not something slimy . . . that was something I should not have felt, and when I lifted this surprisingly slimy thing up for closer inspection, I recognized it as a half of a strawberry, someone had eaten the good part and left the bit with the leaves . . . yuck . . . not only do I detest slimy things, but I also don't really like strawberries all that much, and so I wrapped the offensive parcel in a napkin and drove on, wondering how it got there-- at first I assumed it was one of the children, because they like strawberries and they often leave strawberry halves around the house, but this half-strawberry was in the front left cup holder, which was odd spot for one of the kids to leave trash, unless they were driving the minivan without permission or one of them tossed the half strawberry up from the back seat, which would have drawn attention from my wife, so I decided that she was the most likely suspect, and accused her by phone and she texted back "Can't I blame one of the kids?" which was quite fishy, and she later admitted, under interrogation, that after she had gone to Costco, she dropped a package of strawberries, and they spilled out onto the floor of the van, so she pulled over to clean them up, but she was so hungry that she ate one of them (five second rule, she claimed, which is insane-- I wouldn't eat anything that even grazed the floor of my minivan) and then she tossed the leafy half into my cup holder, knowing that it would not only turn to a mushy pulp, but also make it impossible to place a cup properly into the holder.

Alex Does His Impression of David Dunn

When you're napping on the couch on a beautiful fall afternoon, but you want to get motivated, so you can enjoy the day, one of the fastest ways to get upright is to hear your wife say: "Alex got hit by a car . . . he's okay . . . but he got hit by a car"; I went from sleeping to very very awake in a matter of seconds, and I'll spare you any of the anxiety we suffered in the short drive up 5th Avenue to the intersection with Benner Street and assure you that Alex is okay, and lucky for it; anyway, we arrived at the scene and there were police and a crowd of kids-- he was at a birthday party at a friend's house and they were taking  a walk to town-- and Alex was sitting upright on the curb, being questioned by an EMT, and the car that hit him was still there, a gray Honda Civic, and it was the typical story: Alex wanted to catch up with his friends and he took a cursory glance in either direction on Benner, but didn't see a car turning from 5th (there's a tall set of bushes that obstructs the view) and he darted across and this guy turned right, so luckily the car was moving fairly slowly, and even more luckily, it was a small car with a rounded hood and not an SUV, so Alex got hit on the right hip, bounced off the hood and fell on his left side, he scraped up his left hip, abdomen and both his wrists-- but he didn't hit his head-- and after a couple hours in the emergency room, Dr. Pepper pronounced him good to go (I'm sure they placed Dr. Pepper in pediatric emergency because his name is a surefire way to cheer up nervous parents) . . . no broken bones, no blood in his urine, and no head, neck, or spine trauma . . . while they were checking him over, Dr. Pepper asked my son about this particular wound and that particular wound, trying to ascertain what he sustained when he got hit by the car, and Alex had to explain that some of the abrasions were from when he recently was attacked by a swarm of yellowjackets, as he had picked at some of the scabs, and a cut on his hand was from when he fell on a sharp pencil at school, and his ankle hurt from the accident but also when he got cleated at soccer, and I realized that he's taken a real beating this school year, practically auditioning for the Bruce Willis role in Unbreakable . . . and that kids can be really tough, much tougher than their parents-- because I had nightmares last night and didn't sleep very well, but Alex took some ibuprofen and is still sleeping like a baby as I post this . . . the doctor said he'll probably be a bit sore today, especially his hips, and he'll probably skip his soccer game, and I hope he'll look both ways twice now before he crosses the street (and I think the group of his friends who witnessed this will also be a bit more cautious) but in the end, he was excited to have a great story for school on Monday -- I got hit by a car!-- and maybe when he's older, I'll have him listen to The Modern Moloch and try to explain to him how lucky he was, but for now I'll just have to believe that he learned his lesson, and will take his time crossing in the future (and we had plenty of time to think about this and discuss it in the emergency room, because things move fairly slow there, and this also made me realize that we spent the bulk of this beautiful fall day waiting around, because that morning I took the kids to the ski shop for their seasonal ski and snowboard rentals, which is a long and boring process, and the thought certainly crossed my mind in the emergency room that renting snowboards and skis could very well be setting up future visits to emergency room and future discussion about making good decisions and taking your time when you're doing something dangerous . . . but what are you going to do: keep your kids inside all the time?)

Ian Following Instructions . . . With Alacrity

My son Ian may not do a lot of things that we tell him-- e.g. brush his teeth, pick up his shoes, do his homework, practice his trombone-- and oftentimes, even when he does do what we tell him, he doesn't do it with alacrity, he does it SLOWLY, with the intent to passive-aggressively drive us crazy, but I will say this, there is one thing that he always does of which I am an annoyingly repetitive proponent: he runs through the ball on the soccer field, and now whenever I'm annoyed with him for not doing any of the things my wife and I tell him, at least I can look at these beautiful photos of Ian running through the ball, on the way to scoring a big goal (shot by South Amboy photographer Gerry Poland and kindly sent to me . . . thanks!) and I will remember that he does do one thing that I tell him (with alacrity) and that my advice often pans out for him.

If You Measure It, It Will Come

This SNL Skit is not nearly as funny (and not nearly as infuriating) as the real story behind Wells Fargo's fraudulent account scandal . . . Planet Money offers a synopsis that will not only make you indignant, but also make you laugh at the absurdity of Wells Fargo corporate culture, and be prepared for reality to nearly triple hyperbole-- the Wells Fargo huckster in the SNL skit tries to get everyone to sign up for three accounts, but the actual slogan pushed by the executives was "eight is great," and so the bank burned through its young employees, forcing them to call everyone they knew: friends, family, acquaintances, in order to create as many accounts per person as possible--and demonstrate to the shareholders that Wells Fargo was robust and growing-- and I've often mentioned Campbell's Law here, which insured that these underpaid, harried employees eventually started cheating to make their quotas-- and then, of course, the executives labeled them as "bad apples" instead of apologizing for the culture they created . . . there's a lovely moment in the podcast when a district manager urges the young bankers to continue cold calling customers during a botched bank robbery, even while the cops are swarming the lobby and place reeks of shit because the robber crapped his pants . . . and, of course, I'd be negligent to mention the fact that the same thing is going on in schools right now-- we're all "accountable" because we administer common assessments that must correspond to Student Growth Objectives (SGO) and if we don't make the SGP number (Student Growth Percentage), then we get a low score on our summary evaluation, which is in complete disregard for Campbell's Law and the Law of Large Numbers . . . if you want to learn how kids are doing, you don't take tiny samples and attach them to individual evaluations and then upload them to some expensive software-- which is exactly what Wells Fargo did, because they wanted a certain result, and so they learned that if you measure something in that way, then the results will come-- by hook or by crook-- and while Wells Fargo didn't care how it happened because they wanted to encourage fraudulent behavior in order to bolster stock and portfolio values, you'd think that educators would be smarter, and realize the way to look at student success is to measure large and meaningful numbers, like the entire student body, and make the results completely detached from teacher performance, so that experiments with curriculum and implementation could be attempted and assessed . . . anyway, I'm going to switch banks in order to punish Wells Fargo for their misdeeds, and I encourage you to do the same.

Where Are the Children? The Medium Children?

From a distance, it looked purposeful and malevolent-- so many tennis balls hurtling over the fence-- but upon closer inspection, it turned out that the kids in Period 4 PE class were absolutely terrible at tennis, and the multitude of balls flying over the fence were mishits and botched serves . . . the irony is that East Brunswick often wins the county at tennis, and always has some players that are top in the state, but I think this is a consequence of the fact that young people are never medium at stuff anymore, they've either been trained since birth, taken the right lessons with the best teachers, and devoted many hours a day to their passion-- whether it be tennis or dance or violin or robotics-- or they're so daunted by the talented experts, kids their own age but with a skillset so advanced that it makes starting as a novice seem futile, and so they never try at all, resulting in a bunch of high school kids that can't hit a decent wheelhouse forehand, let alone a backhand, a serve, or an overhead smash.

The Test 64: Tattoo You, Me and Everyone Else

This week on The Test, Stacey opens a crazy can of worms and we take a journey through time, space, and permanent body art . . . as a bonus, Cunningham reveals where they've got Jesus, and technology provides us with a real-time crisis that leads to a dramatic ending . . . so tune in, keep score, and if you're not careful, you just might get roofied and end up with a bad tattoo.

Overreaction, Underreaction, or Just Right?

Last week on our day off, Ian and I went for sushi, and when we entered the restaurant we saw a photographer set up at the window table in the front nook of the restaurant, and then while we were waiting for our food, we saw a plate go by, on the way to the photographer, who then placed the plate on the sunlit table, in between a couple of white screens, and took a photo . . . and then I noticed that one of our rolls went for a trip up to the photographer's little studio and then returned, to be placed on our plate, and then they took our Dragon roll up there, on the actual serving plate, and the photographer handled our plate and then the waiter brought it to our table, so I said to the host guy, "Hey you shouldn't really do that with our food" and he said, "Oh, sorry, I'm so sorry . . . we'll make you new food, we didn't want to waste it" and I said, "You don't have to make us new food, but you really shouldn't take someone's plate to a different location, that's kind of weird" and he agreed and gave us ten percent off the check . . . and I'm not sure if my reaction was appropriate because I never had this happen to my food before, but it kind of weirded me out (despite the fact that when I waited tables, I had no problem eating food off plates that had been bused back to the kitchen).

Brangelina: Fair and Balanced?

While it might be difficult to find fair and balanced reporting on last night's debate-- when it comes to Trump and Clinton it's hard for anyone, including the media, to remain unbiased-- but that doesn't mean that it's impossible to find multiple perspectives in mainstream publications; in fact, I was pleased to discover that my local Rite Aid is offering a fair and balanced impulse-buy-register-display on Brad and Angelina's divorce . . . although if you read from left to right, top to bottom (as I did while I was waiting in line) then you can see that the employee who put the magazines on the rack clearly favors Angelina, and allowed her to end with a rhetorical flourish about saving her children.

It Will Be Harder (But Not Impossible) to Read About Zombies During the Zombie Apocalypse

When the zombie apocalypse comes, one of the many things I will miss is the convenience of Hoopla, a free digital media platform which runs through the library, and allows me to download the newest issues of The Walking Dead on our iPad . . . you can download five books a month, so if you like the show, see if your library has this feature and read the comics-- they're darker and more expansive than the show, and as far as graphic novels go, they're easy to consume: you could real all twenty-six in six months, using Hoopla; I also recently read Ghosts, which is written and illustrated by Reina Telgemeier, and despite my vehement skepticism towards the spirit world, I enjoyed this graphic novel as well (and it's perfectly appropriate for kids, unlike The Walking Dead series, which is appropriate for no one).

Required Reading (Especially for the NJDOE)

Cathy O'Neil's new book Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy is a must read for anyone living in our digital age; she's uniquely qualified to write this book, as she's an academic mathematician who earned her Ph.D from Harvard, worked for a hedge fund on Wall Street, analyzed big data for marketing start-ups and then became a political activist because she realized that a number of dangerous discriminatory algorithms are opaque, affect enormous numbers of people, and do unseen damage . . . she nicknames these WMDs . . . Weapons of Math Destruction, and she explains how these black box formulas evaluate creditworthiness, college rankings, our employability, our Facebook and Twitter feeds, and-- most significant to me-- teacher evaluations . . . and she spends a good portion of the book on just how irrational, absurd, and insanely unsound the models are that assess teacher performance-- the formulas might work if teachers taught ten thousand kids at a time, but for a class of 30 students, measuring how a kid did on a standardized test from one year to the next is essentially random (all the teachers know this, of course, even those of us who do not possess a math Phd. from Harvard, but it's nice to hear an expert explain the logic of why this is so) but apparently the NJDOE hasn't figured this out, and at the start of this school year, they increased the weight of standardized test scores in the evaluation model from 10% to 30% . . . so now, if a teacher works in a tested grade-- such as my wife-- one third of a teacher's numerical assessment is random . . . even if she teaches math and and can point out the many problems with the algorithm (a sociologist would cite Campbell's Law, of course, and also present a valid argument for why this change is absolutely inane) and I can't explain (without long strings of profanity) how incensed this makes me-- how utterly stupid the people at the NJDOE must all be, to enact this increase-- but I'm hoping that this book indicates a sea change in how we view these algorithms and formulas, and that people will learn enough math to understand how screwed up this is . . . and if the NJDOE changes the algorithm and writes a personal apology to me, confessing that they were totally ignorant of all math and logic, then I'm willing to forgive them, because even Bill Gates got it wrong with his charter school funding, he ignored the Law of Large Numbers and came to the conclusion that small schools were better than large schools, when the fact of the matter is that small schools have more statistical variance than large schools, because they have less students in them . . . so more of them will be better and more of them will be worse . . . but, of course, people may learn the truth and still not do anything about it-- we know that a later start time will improve test scores in high school, but the bus schedule prohibits this, and so kids show up at 7 AM, in a building without AC, ready to learn AP Physics . . . everyone knows this is not the best way to teach kids, but no one does anything about it, instead we purchase new software platforms so we can upload all the spurious data and crunch the numbers-- and there may be enough people in the NJDOE and other administrative capacities who love this idea so much, the idea that we're generating loads of numbers from standardized tests and evaluation algorithms, and they don't care that all the numbers are bullshit, because it's fun to have loads of "evidence" to evaluate and all this data perpetuates the idea that we need to pay people to look at it . . . anyway, I could go on and on, but read the book, it's revelatory . . . and if you don't feel like reading it, you can listen to her discussing it on Slate Money.

The Allusion of the Year!

My children celebrated Rosh Hashanah by inviting a bunch of kids (mainly Gentiles) over to play a two day marathon of "Star Wars Dungeons & Dragons," an exponentially nerdy D&D milieu that my son Alex created; Alex is also the dungeon-master and this drives his younger brother Ian crazy, and so-- as usual-- Ian  was simultaneously causing trouble both in the gameworld and the real world: Ian claimed that Alex was discriminating against him, but Alex countered that Ian was "blowing random stuff up" and "pouring random liquids on people" in the game, and Ian also poured actual real juice on his friend Tibby's character sheet and also pushed his actual brother down the actual basement stairs; after a time-out, Ian returned to the game and immediately went rogue attacked the Death Star, alone, and then attempted to kill the Emperor, without any help from the other players, and he got himself killed for his moronic bravado . . . and so I was recounting this silliness at work and my buddy Mike said: "Nice . . . he pulled a Leeroy Jenkins" and though it's a bit premature, his reference was so apropos that I've decided to award him with the coveted SOD Allusion of the Year Award.

Fantasy Coach of the Year

I finally got a win this week in my fantasy football league, and I attribute this victory to the bulk email I recently sent to all the players on my team:

"Congratulations . . . you have the privilege to be playing for the South Side Locusts fantasy football team this season, and if you perform well enough statistically and I designate you the team MVP, then you'll be rewarded with ten percent of my winnings . . . somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty dollars . . . which I know is a rather small percentage of your actual NFL salary, but still, every little bit helps, especially because you're  probably not going to play competitive football for very long, due to concussions and injuries, and, realistically speaking, it's not as if playing for the South Side Locusts and playing for your NFL franchise are mutually exclusive: padding your stats can certainly help when contract time rolls around, and so when you're debating whether to run out of bounds or go for that extra yard, just remember, there might be fifty dollars in it for you . . . but don't act like an idiot either, because if you get injured, you're really going to let both of your teams down."

I Need to Find Cooler Friends Part 2

In the English Office, my friend Terry was lamenting the state of being married with children, and he said, "I used to get it all the time," and we were excited to hear a vivid description of it . . . we all hoped it was something very salacious, but then he finished his sentence . . . "you know, silent time home alone without the kids."

I Need to Find Cooler Friends

My friend Kevin-- the one who's obsessed with Hamilton-- plays in a Strat-O-Matic hockey league.

The Test 63: Singing the Dogs

This week on The Test, Cunningham presents a quiz on canines, I give a tutorial on how to euthanize a groundhog, and Stacey sings the dogs . . . a weird, wonderful, occasionally informative episode with an ending that is not to be missed . . . if you're into animals that can talk.

Two Kinds of Compliments

There are two kinds of people, and there are two kinds of compliments . . . and I'm dismissing backhanded compliments and sarcastic compliments and fake compliments you give to your kids after they've performed in an elementary school play . . . I'm talking about actual, sincere compliments:

1) it's certainly nice to receive the first kind of compliment, but what designates it as a category one compliment is that it is in a domain with which you have experience and practice, and so it's more expected-- when I compliment my wife on a great meal, she appreciates the positive feedback, but she's a good cook, so it's no surprise . . .

2) the second kind of compliment is more exciting, because it's for something that you're not known for . . . something that you don't have experience with . . . such as: wow, you really euthanised that groundhog perfectly . . . and you can congratulate me now, because while I certainly did NOT euthanize that groundhog perfectly, I did receive a category two compliment this week . . . the bell rang, signalling the end of Creative Writing class, and moments later there was a commotion in the hall in front of my room, and I heard "Fight! Fight!" so I went to investigate, and one girl had another girl by the hair, and she had pulled the victim's hair in front of her face, and she was swinging her back and forth, and the girl with the masses of curly black hair in front of her face-- one of my students-- was going to get tossed into a locker . . . by her hair . . . but I was able to get in between the two combatants and grab the arm puller by the wrists and extricate her hands from the other girl's hair, and once I had accomplished that task-- it's not easy to get someone to let go of a pile of hair-- they took a few more swats at each other, but I was able to keep them apart and none of the blows landed-- and while this was happening, another teacher blew the whistle we were provided last year for such altercations-- and the security guards hustled over and escorted the ladies to the office . . . the next day the head security guard complimented me on a job well-done, the principal and the security team had watched the video, and he said I did a textbook job of breaking up the fight: I kept calm, I didn't use too much force, I didn't throw anyone around, and I kept them from hurting each other . . . and I felt better about this compliment than I would if someone told me I had taught a good lesson about Shakespeare, and so if you really want to make someone feel good, tell them they did a great job at something they don't do every day, such as: wow, you inflated all of your tires in the allotted three minutes, without having to pay an extra 75 cents . . . I bet Usain Bolt couldn't do that!

Schoolhouse Hip-hop = $$$$$$$

I should immediately point out that I am a seriously biased reviewer: I loathe Broadway musicals . . . I don't even like things that satirize Broadway musicals (such as Avenue Q and Spamalot) because the music still sounds like a Broadway musical, even if the lyrics are funny . . . but lately my good friend and colleague Kevin has been obsessed with the show Hamilton, and it seems everyone else on earth has either seen Hamilton or wants to see Hamilton, and all these folks are willing to pay an inordinate amount of money to do this . . . so I decided I would give it a shot and listen to the soundtrack (that's all I could muster, I would never pay money and make plans nine months in the future for musical theater) and I was sorely disappointed; I thought that the music in Hamilton was going to shatter the chains that constrict and restrain the music of a typical Broadway musical . . . I thought it was going to have a real urban, edgy, hip-hop feel to it, but it's actually just a better-produced version of Schoolhouse Rock, didactic and preachy, with plenty of actual Broadway cheese and a tame, enunciated version of rap and R&B music that sounds like a mix between DJ Jazzy Jeff and Oklahoma . . . and it's hard not to laugh at moments that are supposed to be dramatic and powerful-- delivered in a full hip-hop style-- that end up just being silly and anecdotal . . . my favorite is in "Non-Stop":

"the plan was to write a total of twenty-five essays, the work divided by three men . . . in the end they wrote eighty-five essays, in the span of six months . . . John Jay got sick after writing five, James Madison wrote twenty-nine, Hamilton wrote the other fifty-one!"

and I fully admit this negative review might be fueled by jealousy, because Lin-Manuel Miranda actually got his historical rap-musical written and produced, while my masterpiece "Bring Da Sense," a hip-hop biopic about Thomas "Bring Da" Paine and his controversial pamphlet is still unfinished (and Method Man doesn't seem all that interested in playing the role of Paine, which is a major sticking point).
A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.