No Such Yuck

A bird shit on my driver-side car door handle last night, but instead of wiping it off, I gingerly opened the door-- gripping the handle with two fingers, thus avoiding the poop-- and I figured that the rain would wash it away by morning, but no such luck . . . apparently bird shit is water-resistant (and I still haven't wiped it off . . . today the rain is supposed to be torrential, so I'm hoping for the best).

This Underground Railroad is Actually Underground

I was pleasantly surprised (and pleasantly horrified) by Colson Whitehead's novel The Underground Railroad . . . I assumed that because of all the critical praise the book received (and because of the content) that reading it would be like eating fiber, good for you but no fun, but I was very wrong; Whitehead starts with the childhood conceit that the underground railroad is actually an underground railroad, and in the spirit of the magical realists, he makes you buy his fantasy . . . and in between the dream-like underground journeys on the train, the main character Cora-- a runaway slave-- who suffered abominably on the plantation and witnessed things even worse than she endured, finds herself in a fragmented variegated mainly hostile country; each stop on her journey is insidiously evil in it's own unique way; there are scenes reminiscent of the Tuskegee experiment, Anne Frank's captivity, Flannery O'Connor's Gothic South, and the stereotypical Southern plantation . . . and the common thread that unites this ugly patchwork of loosely connected territories of racism and abuse, is the slave-hunter Ridgeway and his odd companion/slave Homer, an educated and erudite miniature lackey on a bizarre epic journey far from his African-American roots, making his way in the only way that he can, betraying his people in order to thrive and survive; the book certainly evokes the state of our country today: fragmented, unsympathetic and divisive, and the theme is ominous-- perhaps only a civil war and the consequent reconstruction can mend the rips and tears in the fabric of our nation . . . but despite this heaviness, the novel is a damned good read . . . horrific, hallucinatory, compelling, and epic by turns, and just when you think you can't take it any longer, when you've entered the broken mind of the slave and see no escape from the shackles and chains, then the plot takes off and you're on the train, underground, excited to poke your head above ground in some new place, with some new tone and tenor, possibly better than what came before.

This Sentence Is Not About A Bench

Early Sunday morning at the dog park, behind the bench, in the shadow of the bench, there was a white bench-shaped outline of rime-frost on the dark soil . . . the sun had melted the frost everywhere else, except within the shadow of the bench; forty-six years on this planet, and this was the most beautiful (and first) bench-shaped rime-frost outline I had ever seen.

The Test 68: The Key Piece

This is the episode of The Test we recorded the day after the election-- we decided we wanted to capture some audio as close to the incident as possible-- and you can certainly hear the depression and shock in our voices, but despite this ugly subtext, there's a good test buried amidst the maudlin political ramblings; dig in, give it a shot, and see if you can identify the key piece.

Trump Sez the Chinese Curse is a Hoax

The Chinese Curse is devastatingly simple: may you live in interesting times, and-- unless the Chinese Curse is a Chinese Hoax-- there is no question that we have entered The American Era of the Chinese Curse . . . and I've exhausted myself thinking about the implications of this, and I've been trying to process and digest everything I've seen, read, heard, and thought before I posted on the election, but now that I've heard Trump's pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, things have hit close enough to home and I need to vent about it all . . . and so here are some of my thoughts:

1) Betsy DeVos is a union-busting proponent of charter schools and vouchers, and she'd like nothing better than to privatize the most venerable community democratic institution in America, the public school . . . this causes me a great deal of anxiety, both for my job and the future of funding for the public school my children attend . . . and DeVos has ties to Amway . . . yuck;

2) I live in a wonderful liberal enclave where the kids walk to school, play in the streets (and occasionally get hit by cars) and enjoy a fairly safe, often wonderful, multi-cultural, friendly community . . . in my town, the vote tally was 3900 for Clinton and 1100 for Trump, and most of the Trump support seems to have come from the Orthodox Jewish population, who held a Trump rally at a synagogue, and who were probably voting for Trump for the reasons outlined in number one-- they pay Highland Park taxes, but they send their kids to private schools, and Trump would be their best bet on saving some money in this regard;

3) I was excited by Trump's infrastructure promises because I thought I might get air-conditioning in my classroom, but since Trump's infrastructure plan is to incentivize private companies to do infrastructure work and he'd like to appoint someone who wants to dismantle the public education system, I'm not going to hold my breath;

4) Clinton didn't get people out to vote the way Obama did-- perhaps because she was an establishment candidate in an anti-establishment campaign, and the Ohio and Pennsylvania counties that flipped are the ones plagued by heroin and opioid epidemics, so while I thought America was Pretty Great and Addressing Some Issues So It Might Get Greater, the people in these towns really think America Sucks-- they are uneducated, jobless, angry, and addicted to drugs or surrounded by people addicted to drugs, or working a crappy job, or working a decent job but surrounded by people working crappy jobs and addicted to drugs and watching their town go to shit-- and so while I liked some of the policy tweaks Clinton was proposing . . . maybe they would make college cheaper, or provide more pre-K and childcare, or help working mothers, maybe she would strengthen Dodd-Frank, etcetera-- and while she wasn't overtly proposing things I really care about-- she wasn't promoting unionization and radical environmental protection and carbon taxation, at least she wasn't completely opposed to them . . . but my life is generally great, and so while I fear massive change from the status quo, a bunch of people that I don't know or live near were really angry and wanted any kind of change, especially one that would make things worse for immigrants and minorities and terrorists and women, because if you can't find a way to improve your life, the best way to feel better about yourself, is to make someone else's life worse;

5) the best best case scenario of Trump's term (which will probably be eight years, unless he does something really really egregious, because he'll be able to create some short-term-- but very costly-- windfalls in the economy in order to get elected again) is that he fosters some diplomatic ties with Russia, remains a bit isolationist and doesn't get involved in some awful militaristic adventure, doesn't go too nuts with the wall and immigrant thing, and doesn't dismantle too much of the Clean Air and Water Act and other environmental regulations, figures out a way to revise Obamacare without making 22 million people lose healthcare, and basically doesn't get much done . . . but the more typical scenario is that moderate Republicans like John McCain reign him in a bit and we just have a typically terrible Republican term . . . so you can expect tax cuts that will drive up the national deficit, cuts in government programs, a stupid purposeless expensive adventure in the Middle East, a weakening of organized labor, a super-conservative Supreme Court, the return of torture, environmental deregulation and devastation, but a bit of a windfall from tearing all the coal from the mountains and fracking all the gas out of the earth and drilling for oil everywhere, financial deregulation followed by a financial bubble followed by a recession . . . for more on this, just read about the eight years under George W. Bush . . . yuck;

6) Myron Ebell, the climate change contrarian leading Trump's EPA transition team, is a scary motherfucker . . . while the education stuff hits close to home, nothing scares me more about Trump than his belief in conspiracy and hokum, and his lack of understanding of the scientific method . . . he's an anti-vaxxer, for Christ's sake;

7) if you're a guy like me, and just can't understand why anyone would vote for Trump, and would consider him a populist here, then you need to read this great post my friend John sent me . . . it's written by a guy who grew up in a white Jesus-fearing red community, and he says stop trying to understand the rural Christian voters because they don't understand themselves-- they are angry and brand loyal and would never let any "facts" or "critical thinking" or argument or logic sway them otherwise . . . Clinton is a socialist crooked politician and God is a white guy with a  beard who controls the weather and the best news source is the post that makes you happiest on Facebook-- whether it's fake or alt-right propaganda  and white people are superior and no elitist coastal bastard is going to tell you otherwise . . . and these people have been voting against their best interests for quite a while, Thomas Frank fully explains it in his masterpiece What's the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America . . . it's a moral choice that's about brand loyalty, not critical thinking or policy, and if you're brand occasionally talks about grabbing women by the pussy, well, you can put up with that;

8) even if Trump said the things he said purely in order to win the election, the hate and vitriol he spewed against women, Mexicans, immigrants, and Hillary Clinton should never be forgotten and the pussy grabbing remark should be mentioned at every press conference . . . despite blind conservative brand loyalty, I'm surprised that any father with a daughter or any woman at all voted for this crass idiot, and I am ashamed for them . . . and I know that these people who voted for Trump hate me because I pity them for their ignorance and provincialism, it's an ugly dynamic;

9) worst case Trump scenarios are really scary: he's capable of bullying, intimidating, and coercing the press; he might really screw up banking regulations and trade deals; he might hurt the U.S. diplomatically for many years to come; he might start a nuclear war; he might intern all Muslims; the First and Second Amendment will be under attack; he might spend tons and tons of money building a wall; he's angry, petty, and he's been the butt of the joke for decades and now, in the ugliest and weirdest "underdog" victory ever, the butt of the joke-- the Ugliest American-- has become the most powerful man in the free world . . . it's best not to think about these situations and just concentrate on the stuff he will definitely fuck up, and scrutinize him constantly;

10) the press really dropped the ball-- they were vetting Clinton as if she won, and not doing story after story about Trump's crazy conspiracy theories, his lack of core principles, his corrupt business practices, his lack of tax information, his insane business conflicts, and the very real possibility that he might end up running an autocratic kleptocracy . . . he won't be doing political favors for people, he'll be directly enriching himself with his policy moves . . . this one is too depressing to continue;

11) I was trying to explain to my wife why we still have the electoral college, and I was really having trouble-- I know the Founding Fathers wanted to give rural states enough power to have some say and they wanted to promote a more stable two-party system, and the electoral votes make this possible, but it's gotten to the point where there are two Americas . . . and there are a lot more of us progressive city folk, who would like parks and good schools and clean air and water and green energy and multicultural tolerance and more Northern European style policy such as single payer healthcare and better family leave and help with college education and a progressive Supreme Court, and then there are these smaller states that are holding us hostage, and I'm not sure what they want-- and I don't think they know what they want either-- and I don't want to be stereotypical, so I'll refrain from speculating, but if there are any red state Trump supporters who read this blog (not a shot in hell) then please explain in the comments what policy you expected from Trump . . . anyway, we're getting to the point where we should be two separate economic entities, which would be nice, because the blue states are far less reliant on the federal government, and would do much better without the baggage of the red states-- who are incredibly thankless for the money we send to subsidize them;

12) some folks voted for Trump because he'd be tough on terrorism and ISIS, but I can't understand why people in rural America-- the least likely place for a terrorist attack-- are far more fearful of Muslims than the folks on the coasts, and some people voted for Trump because they see him as a bastion of law and order, a voice of reasonable justice wearing "the mantle of anger" amidst the gun violence, flood of immigrants, city riots and kowtowing to minority groups like Black Lives Matter . . . and while I don't agree with any of this, and think these people received their information from fake news on Facebook, at least it's a reason;

13) I'm not saying Trump is like Hitler . . .  that would be hyperbolic, plus Hitler was organized, a compelling speaker, and Hitler actually had a plan of action-- joke stolen from David Cross-- but Hitler promised jobs, Hitler promised revenge for the deals that Germany had made with the world (The Treaty of Versailles) and Hitler was an intimidating bully who hated immigrants and promised to make Germany great again . . . those are just some interesting parallels, but I'm not comparing the two leaders because I don't want to get put on leave, like this teacher;

14) and so that's what it's come down to . . . the majority of the country, myself, included, can't believe what has happened, and many of us would have no problem leaving the red states to fend for themselves-- I would gladly vote to secede from the crap that's going to happen in the next 4-8 years . . . the red states can pollute themselves to hell, cut all the government services, privatize everything, dismantle the schools, ban gay marriage, make kids study Creationism, do lots of heroin, carry semi-automatic weapons everywhere, refuse to vaccinate, insult women and the disabled, deport immigrants, build walls and do whatever insane shit they want to do, with a spray-tanned game-show host as their beloved daddy-leader . . . just don't touch my America, because my America is Pretty Great . . . it could use improvements, but it's certainly never been better than this . . . so all I can hope for is that the political forces in my town and state can keep the political forces of Donald Trump and his ilk at bay, and maybe that's why we have the electoral college and why we are a loose federation of states . . . and readers who voted for Trump, perhaps you could explain yourselves in the comments, because you folks are an angry apocalyptic cipher to me . . . I still haven't gotten to have an actual conversation with a real Trump supporter, which makes me pretty sheltered-- I guess I live behind my own wall of elitist coastal intellectualism, which I've erected out of brain cells and books, but maybe someday soon some folks from Trump's America will make their way over my wall and explain things to me.

Tim Wu Tang Claim Part II

Once in the English Office, our old boss once pronounced her love of email, because it saved her so much time, but my sagacious friend Mike reminded her that it didn't save as much time as not using email at all . . . and if you're my age and you still remember a work environment without email, things worked just fine-- I occasionally have faint recollections of how much less stressful and anxiety free those days were: I'd see you when I saw you, and if you didn't see me, you could tell me the information next month at the meeting.

The Wu Tang Claim Helps Dave Understand the Election and More

I'd like to assure Zman that yes I am working on a post about the election results, but I'm taking my time and trying to process and digest everything before I  put it on wax, and-- oddly-- one of the things that's helping me think about what happened is Tim Wu's new book The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads . . . the book is ostensibly a history of advertising in America, from snake-oil salesmen pitching addictive spurious cure alls to the first fake news stories created purely to garner attention (my favorite is a report in the New York Sun that Sir John Herschel had discovered four foot tall hairy bat men on the moon . . . people were surprisingly willing to accept this as fact) to Lucky Strike's brilliant campaign proposing that the secret ingredient in their brand of cigarette protected your throat from cough and irritation (It's TOASTED!) and then Wu moves on to things more recent and familiar: radio advertising, product placements, TV commercials for the masses, TV commercials for the unique individual, email, Oprah, clickbait, data harvesting, Google Adwords, Twitter, Facebook, ad-blockers, etcetera . . . as advertising gets more modern, more data-driven, more insidious, and more fragmented, Wu gets more severe in his warnings-- he frames the epic battle to get our attention as a series of technological leaps, which the advertisers soon harness for their own purposes, followed by a revolt of the masses against that particular kind of advertising . . . but we may have reached the end of the road: Wu sees Buzzfeed, essentially clickbait on "the fourth screen," and social media sites like Facebook as the purveyor of "news" as particularly egregious forms of media and while there is hope once more-- for those willing to find it, Netflix and HBO offer some of the best ad free content ever created-- but you've got to pay for it . . . and if you want to learn about it, you can find something of quality on Youtube or in the podcast universe . . . if you're willing to do some research; now I'd like to bring this back to the election and make my Tim Wu Tang Claim: that the media-- driven by clicks and views-- totally dropped the ball with their coverage . . . they focused on speculative poll clickbait instead of doing on the ground journalism-- talking to Trump supporters and doing in depth coverage of the policy and issues that these supporters desired and imagined could Trump deliver, and contrasting this with Clinton policy promises . . . but instead they focused on scandals and silliness; of course, there is a better alternative to mainstream media: I'm quite proud of how I analyzed the race and what I learned about the issues; I avoided internet clickbait for the most part and listened to high-quality long form podcasts like The Weeds, Slate Money, Waking Up With Sam Harris, Radiolab, Common Sense, This American Life, and Planet Money, and I even did my due diligence and listened to Dan Levin and Rush Limbaugh (who were both repetitive blowhards pushing the mainstream media to be less about policy discussion and more about clickbait scandal) and I became something of an expert on the major issues and policies: healthcare and jobs and trade agreements and immigration (and even the spurious email "scandal") and if you like, you can find media that is not fragmented and not totally driven by clicks and views-- there is an alternative to the Facebook/Twitter style news platform, which propagated fake news and bite-sized weirdness (and while some would argue that the podcasts I've listed have a left-leaning slant, if you listened to the many many episodes about the election, they took a much more empathetic and sincere analytical look at the Trump phenomenon than anything on the right di with Hillary Clinton . . . Dan Levin simply chanted "crooked Hillary" and "lock her up" on his show . . . so the mainstream media went right along with this internet model, casting the election as a horse race, with this scandal or that scandal affecting the polls, someone is up, someone is down-- the kind of reporting that could be done without getting out of bed-- and there was no discussion of global warming-- an existential threat-- or the actual implications of repealing NAFTA, or the pros and cons of allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, or how unionization might help the jobs we still have in America or anything of substance) and Wu ends with a quotation from William James, who believed that "our life experience would ultimately amount to whatever we paid attention to" and I believe this too, which is why I make my students park their cell-phones at the door and pay attention to me . . . because I truly believe I'm paying attention to and what I'm making them pay attention to is better  than the things the vast majority of the American people pay attention to, and that might be elitist and judgmental, but it's also true . . . I spend my attention reading books written by people smarter than me and listening to long, intelligent podcasts presented by experts in various fields; Wu also reminds us of this by quoting the ironically named James Williams: "Your time is scarce, and your technologies know it," and I think the ultimate lesson here is that we all need to remember this (myself included, while I generally use my attention for critical thinking and creative enlightenment, I still occasionally get sucked in to my stupid fantasy football team, which is great on paper and finally peaking, but it's too late . . . I'm 2 - 9 and I could have spent that time reading or practicing the guitar, instead of shuffling players around an imaginary line-up).

Dave Learns What Women Really Want . . . And It's Sick

After suffering a wicked twenty-four hour stomach virus, I returned to work yesterday, tired but noticeably lighter, and no less than three people-- all women-- expressed their jealousy and wished that they could suffer a twenty-four hour bout of feverish and violent intestinal evacuation, in order to strip off a few pounds before all the holiday gluttony; I told them they were crazy, and this was not a good way to lose weight, but despite my description of the general awfulness of the condition, one woman still insisted that I should have kissed her good-bye on Friday, on the lips, because then she would have lost weight over the weekend.

Two Signs of the Impending Apocalypse

It is no secret that I am past my prime-- on the bell curve of life, I am on the other side of the peak, every day I slide a bit more towards the bottom of the curve, towards senility, dementia, ineptitude, befuddlement, disease, fragility, and decay; on the other hand, my children are on the groovy side of that inevitably morbid roller-coaster ride, and here are two recent anecdotes that illustrate my theme:

1) we played tennis Saturday morning, and Alex and Ian beat me in a game of mixed doubles, and I was trying to win; then Ian played me one-on-one and he beat me to five and decided to continue playing to eleven, for the pound of good chocolate (the running bet is that if Alex or Ian can beat me at ping-pong or tennis in a game to eleven, I'll buy them a pound of chocolate from the good chocolate store in town) and I had to play my ass off to beat him 11-9 . . . I generally I hit the ball hard when I play Ian-- he's good-- but I try to get it back near him so he has a chance to hit it, but he was killing me-- he hit three perfect backhand lobs and was whistling his forehands down the lines, despite the fact that I was running him side to side; I finally got him at the net and put the game away, but this doesn't bode well for the future . . . though right now we play without serving, instead we rally three times to begin the point, so once we start playing with serves, I should enjoy a brief bump in tennis prowess . . . and I think I'm safe for a while with ping-pong, as it doesn't require as much running;

2) Alex was very excited about a National Geographic special on Mars, but the show was on Monday nights at 9 PM, which is past his bedtime (and my bedtime) and so I told him he could read in bed until 9 PM and then, if he was able to stay awake, he could go downstairs and watch the show . . . and he succeeded both times, and though the rest of the house was fast asleep (Ian tried to stay awake as well, but fell asleep reading and Catherine-- who stays up a bit later than me-- was on the school camping trip) and so I've reached the point when my child can and will stay up later than me, and I've given him permission to do so . . . the rest is all downhill.

Dave Successfully Eats Honey-Drizzled Toast . . . Yes!

The honey-drizzled toast I ate twenty minutes ago seems to be content inside my body, unlike all the other food I consumed in the past twenty-four hours  . . . that non-honey-drizzled-toast food kept me up all night, as it couldn't get away from the virus in my stomach fast enough.

The Test 67: One for the Slacktivists

Despite her bronchial infection, Stacey presents a smart and topical quiz on political terms and issues . . . this one is short and sweet-- Terry's dream-- but, amidst the political jargon and the juvenile and canine intrusions, we still manage to cram in a few laughs . . . so give it a shot, keep score, and if you're not careful, you just might learn something (even if you're a slacktivist . . . or a cracktivist or a hacktivist).

Dave Falls Prey to the Sequential Contrast Effect

The new episode of Freakonomics Radio: How to Make a Bad Decision is a lesson in how subjective we are in all our judgements; major league umpires fall prey to the "gambler's fallacy" and are more likely to call a "ball" on a close pitch after they've called two previous close pitches "strike" . . . this is the same psychological effect that makes many people think that tails is more likely to come up on a fair coin toss after someone has tossed ten heads in a row-- they think a tails is due to happen, despite the fact that every toss is an independent 50/50 event; I don't think the gambler's logical fallacy affects me when I'm grading essays, but the episode also details the perils of the "sequential contrast effect," and I know this can influence my evaluation of an essay-- so much so that I've often told the class, after we've heard an especially excellent piece of writing by a student, "Wow . . . you don't want to be next in the pile after I read that one," and while I was kidding, of course, there's no question that reading something really amazing (or really awful) resets the grading bar a bit higher or a bit lower . . . the solution is to take frequent breaks when grading (or doing any task where the previous work can influence the current decision-- like approving loan applications or determining asylum or parole) and recalibrate your internal judgement meter: remind yourself exactly what criteria you are looking for . . . this is easier said than done, of course, especially when you're umpiring a baseball game in real time.

The Apple Ruins Everything

As a parent, it's wonderful when you see a trait in your child that you possess yourself, especially if it's something you consider essential to your character . . . one of those "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree" moments; Wednesday night my son Alex introduced me to a show called Adam Ruins Everything-- and he revealed that he's watched nearly every episode . . . I'm not sure exactly when and where he's done this-- his friend Gary, who is super-smart, recommended it and I think he consumed most of them when he was at my parents' house, but I'm not going to investigate exactly how he binge-watched the program, because if this is the kind of thing he's binge-watching on the sly, then I'm all for it, as this is exactly the kind of thing I'd want him to binge-watch; the show scientifically debunks commonly held misconceptions, and individual episodes have titles like "Why Weddings Are a Total Rip-Off" and "The Awful Truth About Salmon" and the best thing of all is that Adam is essentially a more annoying version of me-- and Alex thinks Adam is really funny and smart, which made me happy-- and I knew my assessment of Adam's character was accurate when my wife said, "It's an interesting show, but I don't like that it's so negative."

Dave Votes For Burnt Up Bugs

Yesterday morning at school, I noticed that the hallways and cafeteria smelled weird (and if I noticed it smelled weird, then it really did smell weird-- because I have no sense of smell) and though I noticed the weird smell, instead of alerting the authorities, I went around and asked random students if they thought it smelled weird . . . and they all agreed that it did indeed smell weird (one kid insightfully and precisely described the smell as "inside a hair salon") and then, right when I had settled in at my duty in the weird smelling cafeteria, the fire alarm went off and we all evacuated the building and the fire department came and inspected things-- at first people suspected a gas leak, but I also heard someone say that it might be dead animals, and my favorite theory, which was presented as definitive by a teacher who shall remain nameless (because I don't know her name) was that the odor was caused by "burnt up bugs in the radiators," which was patently false, but incredibly evocative nonetheless-- something right out of Snowpiercer-- but the truth turned out to be fairly mundane: a battery was left on a charger for too long, and started to burn up (the only mildly interesting thing I heard about the cause of the smell-- and this is hearsay-- was that the battery was for a Harley Davidson).

Dave Wins a Presidential Debate!

I am not a great debater . . . I tend to forget what want to say mid-argument, I am easily confused and side-tracked, I'm capricious and change positions when confronted with new evidence, and I'm always willing to go meta, but I am pleased to announce that Monday afternoon in the English Office I ended a dispute with resounding finality-- I actually said the thing I needed to say exactly when I needed to say it, not forty-five minutes later, to myself, in the car; so here is the situation: we were in the English Office, chewing the fat before our faculty meeting, and I was prognosticating about Trump and how he was going to reenact the same terrible things that happened during the George W. Bush administration: environmental deregulation and devastation, military misadventures, the use of torture, profligate defense spending, tax cuts for the rich and a resulting massive deficit, deregulation of banking and economic policy and the inevitable bubble and recession-- but Stacey and Cunningham barely remembered this, and they said that George W. was "so cute," because he's been doing portraits of wounded warriors and I told them they were nuts, and Stacey said, "How bad could he be? He's a painter" and I triumphantly slapped the table and I said, "So was Hitler!" and they conceded my authoritative victory, and we went down to the meeting.

Stuff With Manasquan in the Name

The Manasquan Dog Beach (Fisherman's Cove) is a bit smaller than I expected (and you're supposed to keep your dog on a leash, although no one does) and fairly underwhelming, but Manasquan Reservoir is WAY bigger than I expected: I thought we could walk the 5.1 mile perimeter trail in a little over an hour, but apparently-- according to the map-- it takes "twenty minutes to walk a mile on the trail, traveling at a brisk pace," which was about right-- it took us over two hours and we were NOT traveling at a brisk pace . . . if we would have seen the time caveat on the map sooner, we would have either walked at a much brisker pace or not walked around the entire perimeter; so we started at a leisurely pace, we stopped and investigated an eerie beach studded with numerous blackened and protruding dead trees, the kids climbed on the rock levy, and then we decided to start covering some ground, until Alex got a blister and had to take his boots off and walk in his socks, and Ian's legs got tired-- he had run himself out at soccer the night before-- so the three of us (Ian, the dog and I) lagged far behind (Ian did catch a snake, however, which was fun-- although it pooped on him) and by the time we finally got back to the parking lot, everyone was ravenous (I left the snacks in the car because I thought it would be a much shorter walk) and we drove to Pete and Elda's for some thin crust pizza, but the place was packed because veterans get 30% off their bill on Veteran's Day (but the service was still fast and we inhaled our thin crust pizza in record time).

The Test 66: TV Theme Song Escapism

Despite our collective election hangover, Stacey, Cunningham and I got together on Wednesday, November 9th in order to record three episodes of The Test . . . and while we were a bit less chipper than usual, Cunningham did her best to cheer us up with a brand new, totally mindless, completely entertaining TV Theme Song quiz--which the ladies oddly refer to as a TV Theme Show quiz-- so if you're sick of pondering the future, chill out and see if you can identify the seven clips (with the added bonus that you just might learn something . . . and no one will try to grab your pussy).

Desert Truffles

During our three year stint in Damascus, my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed a short period of time in the spring-- just after the desert rains-- when the Bedouins would come into town with sacks of white truffles; they were dirt cheap, as far as truffles go-- four dollars a kilo (and that was the price for a white guy who spoke rudimentary Arabic and was a notoriously bad haggler) and a recent episode of Planet Money: A Trunk Full of Truffles inspired me to do some research about these "desert truffles," which are called "kimmay" in Syria . . . they are not nearly as expensive as Italian truffles (which can cost up to $2200 per kilogram) but white and brown desert truffles do fetch much higher prices than we paid on the streets of Damascus . . . anywhere from $80 to $270 per kilogram; I should point out that truffles are not very dense, and so a kilogram of truffles is a LOT of truffles: we baked them like potatoes, sauteed them like onions, and sliced them thin and put them in salads . . . this is not how you're going to eat truffles in the States, as they are very expensive and the market for them is quite strange-- I highly recommend this episode of Planet Money, as you'll learn about truffle smuggling, truffle depreciation, and why people like the smell of old socks.

Leeroy Jenkins Edges Out Crazy Eddie Antar

If the Bourne Identity series and Good Will Hunting had a child, it would be The Accountant-- a fairly absurd (but also fairly entertaining) thriller about an autistic tax expert who not only has super-numerical abilities, but can also kick some serious ass (thanks to his overbearing, rather hokily insane dad) and while I'm not going to seriously analyze the plot and characters of this convoluted, highly improbable story, I will give the film credit for having the runner-up to the coveted SOD Allusion of the Year . . . Ben Affleck's character Christian Wolff has an epiphany about the bad guys, inspired by his memory of Crazy Eddie Antar's insane attempts at stock manipulation.

Dear President Elect Trump: If You Really Want to Build That Wall, Here's How To Do It . . .

Here's a fun possibility in Trumperica:

Trump scraps NAFTA, the peso tumbles even lower, causing a terrible recession in Mexico, and illegal immigrants actually start flooding across the border to America (despite Trump's baldfaced lies, there's been a net loss of immigration from Mexico in the past few years, but Trump could self-fulfill his own prophecy) and this massive influx of illegal immigrants gets so bad that we actually have to build a wall to curtail the human deluge; I'm sure someone smarter than me has thought of this possibility already, just as the Simpsons imagined that Trump would become president (and bankrupt our country) sixteen years ago . . . but if not, someone should pass this sentence along to the oval office once Trump takes over (and perhaps I'll obtain a cabinet position for my good work).

Bill Bryson Makes Me Nostalgic For Britain

Bill Bryson's new book The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain has dislodged some memories from my own brain . . . sometime after Catherine and I lived in Syria (which is well documented in a series of rambling email updates) and before I started writing this blog, in the sleep-deprived haze of having a new child, I went to England with some English teachers (in lieu of the teacher workshop days that were being held at school, this was back when those sorts of things were permissible) and stayed in the "charming old wool merchant's town" of Chipping Campden, which is located in the heart of the Cotswolds-- an especially scenic part of Britain that has thatched houses, honey colored limestone buildings, and wonderful walking paths; my memory is shit, which is why I now write this blog, but I do vaguely recall a few things from the trip, besides the endless pints of beer at The Volunteer Inn;

1) on the ride from the airport, everyone was tired from the flight except me-- I had taken dramamine,  and used a neck pillow, earplugs, and a blindfold to block out all stimuli, and I slept like a baby, and so I bravely volunteered to drive the rental car from Heathrow to our cottage-- I assured the crew that I had some experience driving on the left, which was technically true, but I did not tell them that my experience consisted of driving a motor-scooter in Thailand, and I did a poor job at that (and I have enough trouble driving a car on the right in America) and so when we were driving through a roundabout under construction in Oxford, and I got distracted by some licorice, I ripped the passenger side mirror off the car . . . I can't remember how this was resolved in the end, it might have cost Allie a few bucks at the rental car place;

2) on one of our hikes-- Broadway Tower, Stow-on-the-World . . . I can't remember-- I got us very lost and off-the-map, and I nearly killed Linda, one of the teachers accompanying us, as she's a diabetic-- it was getting dark and we couldn't find out way out of the woods, but the funny thing-- in retrospect-- is that I thought she was in desperate need of insulin, and that I would be brought up on manslaughter charges, because I deprived a diabetic of her insulin due to my poor orienteering skills, but she actually needed food, to increase her blood-sugar . . . and as she was about to lapse into a coma, just as we were finally approaching the end of the hike, I comprehended this and told said: "Food? I've got plenty of food, right here in my bag . . . I always carry lots of snacks and bars and chips when I'm on a hike" and if she wasn't so weak from diabetic shock, then she would have punched me;

3) we confidently participated in Trivia Night at the local pub, assuming five English teachers would crush all comers . . . but we were completely unprepared for the depth of English trivia, and couldn't answer any of the questions-- except one about Iron Maiden . . . I think we also may have resorted to cheating, and getting some answers from one of our local pub friends;

4) we visited Oxford, Bath, Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare's house, and . . . Cropredy . . . the oldest teacher in the group, John, insisted we go to the Cropredy because it hosts the Fairport Convention, a folk festival that he loves . . . and the town was lovely;

5) we ate lunch at pubs and dinner in our stone cottage-- this was long before Brexit and the pound was very strong-- everything cost twice as much as in the States;

6) we made many local pub friends-- the town plumber and the town carpenter and lots of other blue collar types, and they were fun and informative and out at the bar every night-- we learned that only honors students read Shakespeare in England, and we also learned that the pub owner's daughter-- a barmaid-- had married an American man, moved to North Carolina, and then returned to England once she learned that his business trips weren't for business at all, they were to meet a male lover . . . he was gay; Sean and I learned this from the pub owner one night, but his accent was very thick, so it took us a while to comprehend what he was telling us;

7) despite the accents, I found it astounding that we were in a foreign country and people spoke English-- remember, Catherine and I had just gotten back from three years in Syria and so met with daily struggles trying to speak a very difficult language-- and so I talked to everyone about anything, on one of our hikes I asked a pretty British lass directions, occasionally gawking at her and the horse next to her, but mainly looking at my laminated fold-out map of the region, and I thought she was blowing me off a bit and the rest of the group was awkwardly laughing . . . apparently I had interrupted her while she was shoeing this large beast and she was trying to concentrate on affixing the shoe to the horse without being kicked and not on how to give directions to the stupid inconsiderate American;

anyway, enough about me-- the new Bryson book is nearly four hundred pages of rambling anecdotes like this, as Bryson traverses Britain from the southern tip to Cape Wrath, the northernmost point in Scotland, and there is history and description, accounts of beauty and anger at modern development, plenty of getting lost and of difficult travel-- I never knew there were so many places in England, especially so many seaside resorts (in varying states of grandeur and decay) and there is plenty of grouchiness and fairly frequent use of the f-word, much drinking of pints and eating of spicy food (with the usual consequences) and a general appreciation of the small things that make life wonderful and the big things trying to destroy this . . . he mainly basks in the wonder of Britain, it's astounding mass of history and historical sites, all situated in on a small island : "there isn't a landscape in the world that is more artfully worked, more lovely to behold, more comfortable to be in than the countryside of Great Britain . . . it is the world's largest park, its most perfect accidental garden" but-- and he is a man of my own mind, as I like nothing more than getting up early, taking a hike, having a beer, and then going to bed and doing it again the next day-- and so he describes his vision, which is so appropriate after yesterday's election results, as I concur so completely with this, that I am reproducing here-- with periods!-- while conceding that if any American politician said this, they'd be labeled a radical communist:

May I tell you what I'd like to see? I would like to see a government that said "We're going to stop this preposterous obsession with economic growth at the cost of all else. Great economic success doesn't produce national happiness, it produces Republicans and Switzerland. So we're going to concentrate on just being lovely and pleasant and civilized. We're going to have the best schools and hospitals, the most comfortable public transportation, the liveliest arts, the most useful and well-stocked libraries, the grandest parks, the cleanest streets, the most enlightened social policies. In short, we're going to be like Sweden, but with less herring and better jokes."

and Bryson admits that this will never happen, and he's mainly happy with the parts of Britain that are like this . . . I will do the same in America, and enjoy the pleasant parks, good schools, and enlightened people of my town (and enact my vacation dollar ban on all the states that voted for environmental devastation and Trump . . . that leaves plenty of coast, New Mexico and Colorado as western outposts, and Vermont for snowboarding . . . plenty of wonderful places, I just hope they don't get destroyed in the oncoming storm of deregulation).

Alec Baldwin Wins!

My sources tell me that Alec Baldwin is incredibly thankful to the American people, for providing him four more years to lampoon a self-professed presidential pussy-grabbing anti-vaxxer on SNL . . . Tina Fey is also hopeful, as she believes Trump is just the right kind of stupid to resurrect Sarah Palin's political career, and nobody is easier to ridicule than Sarah Palin: Joseph de Maistre said "every nation gets the government it deserves" and this election has proved that true, but let's look on the bright side . . . we're also going to get the comedy we deserve and it will be very very funny . . . here's to four years of absurd satire, plenty of sentence material for Dave, and a big beautiful Pink Floydian wall!

Last Ditch Effort

This will be my last political post about the presidential election (unless have a Bush/Gore situation) and I already did my best to summarize the policy positions of each candidate, and now I must concede that if you are one of four kinds of people-- listed below-- then you should stop reading this and just vote Trump, but if you are NOT one of those four kinds of people, and you are still on the fence and might vote for Hillary Clinton, but feel some trepidation because of the email "scandal," then please take the time to listen to the new This American Life: "Master of Her Domain . . . Name"  or, if you're feeling more ambitious and want something more nonpartisan and much more comprehensive, then go ahead and read "What the FBI Files Reveal About Hillary Clinton's Email Server" in the magazine Politico . . . Garrett Graff read 247 pages of interview summaries of the FBI investigations about Clinton, and while there is some incompetence and some technological bumbling, there is absolutely nothing scandalous in the entire narrative . . . I've decided that Clinton's policies are in line with things I want in our country, and so I'm not going to throw my vote away and support Jill Stein (although my heart is with the Green Party) and so this is it, my sad last ditch effort to convince all you swing voters . . . as I stated earlier, disregard this you are one of the following four types of people, as nothing is going to change your (narrow) mind:

you should vote for Trump, if . . .

1) you are greedy rich person who wants a tax windfall . . . just make sure you're rich enough that you won't need any of the social services that will be cut to generate this handout;

2) you are an angry white racist and/or misogynist; who is also scared of immigrants and thinks we should build a wall to keep them out;

3) you are someone who truly believes Trump will bring back shitty non-unionized manufacturing jobs from China, isolate the U.S. economically and diplomatically, so that-- like North Korea-- we are forced to buy our own crappy products, and this will Make America Great . . . Just Like North Korea is Great;

4) you are a crazy conspiracy theorist who believes everything is rigged: the election, the FBI, and even the scientific method-- which is why you also don't believe in vaccines and would prefer the return of the plague rather than a society based on rational thought, logic and progress;

happy voting!

Man Juice

My wife stole some hot peppers from a unkempt plot in the community garden-- she said they were going to go to waste if no one took them-- and while I  couldn't definitively identify them-- they were wrinkly, red and pointed, possibly Devil's Tongue or Carolina Cayenne or Hot Paper Lanterns . . . but I did conduct a taste test and they were incredibly hot . . . and I like hot peppers, but these were inedible, and so I infused them in some Espolon Tequila Blanco; I cut up six of them (wearing gloves) and deseeded them, then left them in a mason jar with the tequila for two days, then strained the peppers out, funneled the tequila back into the original container and put it in the fridge (they internet said this would better preserve the vegetal component of the infusion) and then I tried some on the rocks; my lips went immediately numb, I choked, and I nearly spit the stuff out-- but once the ice melted it tasted sort of delicious (although at one point I couldn't figure out what the white strand was in my drink, until I realized it was mucous, which had dripped out of my nose) and now I know how to use this super-powered manly juice: you pour some regular tequila on the rocks, add a bit of water and/or seltzer and then just put a little bit of the infused stuff in-- it's still plenty hot and you still feel plenty manly when you drink it, but then mucous doesn't come sliding out of your nose into your drink (which isn't really a problem anyway, as the tequila sterilizes the germs in the mucous and makes it safe to consume).

Just The Policy, Ma'am

Though I know this is a stupid waste of time, because most people are voting based on what scandal has piqued their ire more-- mishandling email or pussy grabbing-- and apparently network TV has all but abandoned policy discussion . . . but for those few, very silly folks that actually care about what might happen to the country once the scandals are over and done with, I've tried to summarize Trump and Clinton's actual visions for America; I listened to The Weeds episode The Massive Policy Stakes of 2016, and though the folks at The Weeds lean liberal, they are also total policy wonk-nerds, and do a good job of discussing Trump's plans and promises as rational thought, unlike how my friends view his opinions (the random demented rants of a stupid crazy clown-haired racist/misogynist menace) and I also refer to the recent NPR interview with George Packer, who wrote The Unwinding (an incredible account of the gradual unraveling of America's political and financial systems) and now on to the main event:

1) you should vote for Trump if you are anti-immigration, worried about Syrian refugees and Mexican racists and various brown people stealing your job, he's also up your alley if you would like a libertarian deregulation of banking, business, and environmental rules inside our country, and less free trade and more regulations and tariffs for doing business outside our country, you'll probably also like Trump if you're rich, as he's proposing massive tax cuts, mainly for the rich, and a consequential scaling back of social programs for the poor, he also promises to bring back the blue collar factory and manufacturing jobs, which will make his special interest minority group (white folks without a college degree) the backbone of America again, because Trump loves "the poorly educated" and though George Packer thinks his promise to the less-educated white folks is fraudulent and impossible, he also wonders whether Clinton's promise to spend money retraining these workers would work either . . . and nobody is proposing unionization, which makes me sad;

2) if you're a dual earner family, you'll like the fact that Hillary Clinton wants to make our childcare, maternity, and family leave policies more like Northern Europe . . . because America has the worst family leave policies of any developed country, and Clinton wants to bolster our pre-K program and generally make it easier for women and families to work . . . Clinton is tougher on banking regulations than Trump-- though, ironically, she has closer connections with the big banks (I've heard speculation that Trump, who has been denied loans in the past, doesn't want this to happen in the future) and she wants to provide free state college tuition for lower middle class families; reform healthcare and provide it to more people; enact comprehensive immigration reform that provides a path for immigrants to obtain citizenship; she promises she won't raise taxes on the middle class; and she wants to invest tremendous amounts of money into infrastructure, both to create jobs and provide avenues for economic growth . . . Clinton's policies and white papers are detailed and wonky, Trump's are broad, vague, and very short, and while Trump is a typical product of our fragmented media-driven echo-chamber, a polarizing figure that George Packer views as "catastrophic," the problem with Clinton is the reverse, she's a classic backroom politician who wants to make deals and compromises between the two parties using her knowledge and connections, but the country has moved beyond any sort of good-natured diplomacy between the Republicans and the Democrats; the Republicans vow to block all Democratic legislation, deny all Democratic Supreme Court nominees, and to investigate Clinton forever, to obstruct her power-- and the Democrats, view Trump supporters as a basket of deplorables, and can't consider the perspective of this special interest group-- uneducated white blue collar voters-- a group that was once unionized, galvanized and potent, and is now marginalized and lost . . . so whatever happens on Tuesday, half the country is going to be incredibly unhappy, and the other half will be more relieved than inspired, and that's not going to change any time soon.

The Nix: A Big Book with a Lot of Stuff Inside (Except Leeroy Jenkins)

Nathan Hill's new novel The Nix is a tour-de-force decade defining portrayal that does for the post-recession twenty-tens what Tom Wolfe did for the '80's with Bonfire of the Vanites, the '90's with A Man in Full and the aughts with Charlotte Simmons, but it's more than hyper-realistic literary fiction-- the multiplicity of tone, from and structure pays homage to David Foster Wallace . . . and you also get plenty of John Irving-like anecdotal flashbacks to the 1968 Chicago demonstrations and riots, which is a hell-of-a-lot to do in one book and a hell-of-a-lot of story to tell, so the book checks in at over 600 pages and while it's often hysterically funny, especially the opening chapters, which detail a satirical World of Warcraft type game and the unlikely players, and an entitled and very persistent college student who has blatantly plagiarized a paper and is attempting to argue her way out of the punishment, and after that compelling and incredibly entertaining kick-off so much happens and there are so many plot strands, that the actual ending feels tacked on and too easy-- but the thing has to come to an end (or does it? War and Peace is over a thousand pages . . . maybe Nathan Hill just needed more pages to get the ending right) and while the actual plot sort of fizzles in its conclusion, the meta-ending is more compelling: a lesson gleaned from video game design . . . people are either "enemies or obstacles or traps or puzzles" and while the characters begin the novel as enemies and then often treat each other as obstacles to success or traps that lead to an existential abyss, by the end, the fictional author in the novel and the actual author realize that everyone is a puzzle, but that solving the puzzle of everyone takes many, many pages and you have to see things from many, many perspectives, from many times and places, and even then it's not enough to understand everyone's motivations and desires, and, as if to further develop this theme, after you finish the last page, if you turn to the Acknowledgments-- and after reading that many pages, I figured I could read two more-- then Nathan Hill does something wonderful to the puzzle of his novel: he lists all the books and articles and radio shows that helped him flesh out all these many many ideas-- Chicago '68 by David Farber and Folktales of Norway and "Microstructure Abnormalities in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder" by Kai Yuan and lots of others-- and so he essentially lays the puzzle of the book bare, a brave thing to do . . . although he doesn't mention being inspired by this event, which he certainly was, as it's almost as infamous as the most notorious World of Warcraft moment: Leeroy Jenkins (which Hill definitely should have alluded to, because, when you have the opportunity, you should always allude to Leeroy Jenkins).

The Groundhog Killer Can't Handle Gum

Here is what I learned about my dog today: if I snap my gum while I'm walking him, he turns into a shivering shell-shocked lump of jelly, and has to return home-- in a painfully slow manner-- so he can hide under the desk.

Sometimes Hard Boiled, Sometimes Runny . . .

It comes from a chicken, not a bunny, dummy . . . and, when I do the boiling-- or when I did the boiling-- more often than not it came out runny . . . sad to say, but until a few days ago, I could not successfully cook a hardboiled egg-- I had read this and that on the internet, but the numbers never took hold in my brain, and I often boiled the egg too long and the shell cracked, spitting white solar flares of egg-white into the bubbling water, or once I boiled the egg, when I tried to peel it under cold running water, chunks of egg came away with the shell, and the final product was a cratered, pock-marked mess, or-- what happened most often-- is that I would crack the shell and the egg would still be gelatinous and slimy and I would toss it . . . but those days are over: my wife learned a simple recipe in her cooking class, and not only does it work, but I've figured out a mnemonic device so that I can actually remember what to do, which is equally as important as the fact that the technique works . . . here it is:

1) put the egg in water;

2) boil the water;

3) once the water boils, turn off the heat and cover the pot;

4) let the egg sit in the covered pot for 12 minutes;

5) remove the egg from the water;

and this not only cooks the egg to perfection, but-- for whatever reason-- this method makes the egg very easy to peel, and it's easy to remember because when you buy eggs, they come in packs of twelve, and the number of minutes you need to leave the egg in the water is twelve . . . so as long as you're at sea level (maybe even if you're not at sea level) this is the method . . . buy a dozen eggs, boil the water, turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let the dozen eggs sit in the water for a dozen minutes.

The Miracle of Norman Who?

Those of you familiar with the life and times of Dave know that I am often at the nexus of miraculous activity (which is odd, because I'm not a spiritual person, nor do I believe in fate, mysticism, or any powers greater than my own intellect) and so, I humbly present to you The Miracle of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named-Because-No-One-Can-Remember-His-Name; for the past few years, at the end of the Philosophy unit on relative and universal ethics, I've played a short video of the acclaimed cognitive scientist Steven Pinker explaining how technology often solves seemingly impossible moral quandaries . . . and while Pinker acknowledges the value in moral crusaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., he reminds us, that in a utilitarian sense, there are far greater heroes-- and then he mentions one of these heroes in particular-- the father of The Green Revolution-- and he points out that no one knows this guy's name, and I've played this video a few times in the past, and I still can't remember the guy's name . . . but then Steven Pinker says the guy's name and I vow to remember his name from this time forward and I make the class swear to remember his name as well, and then I showed my students the lead article in Wired Magazine, which is written by President Obama and is titled "Now Is The Greatest Time to Be Alive" and I pointed out how similar Obama's piece is to Pinker's video . . . an odd coincidence, because I happened to read the article the night before doing the Pinker lesson-- but not a miraculous coincidence, just a coincidence-- but then, as we were reading through the article, which I had projected on the giant screen at the front of the class, I noticed that Obama mentioned the same guy that Pinker referenced . . . but I didn't notice this on Sunday night when I was reading the article, because-- as Steven Pinker pointed out-- no one can remember this guy's name . . . so, with no foresight or planning, in my class on Monday, both Steven Pinker and President Obama mention the Father of the Green Revolution, who--unfortunately-- doesn't have a very catchy name, but deserves to be remembered as a great savior of humanity  . . . as Obama eloquently puts it: "without Norman Borlaug's wheat, we could not feed the hungry."

This Halloween Goes to Eleven

I generally like to rant and rave about the idiocy of Halloween, but my son Ian made this year's sugar-laced festivities a bit more tolerable; we shaved his head Sunday night, so he could be Eleven from Stranger Things . . . I did have to bribe him with a small sum of cash, but it was worth it, because he really is the spitting image of Millie Bobby Brown, and I think he was just as excited to slip into the pink dress Catherine bought at the thrift store as I was to see him in it . . . and, he noted this was a one-shot opportunity: "I can only do this once because next year I'll probably have pimples and a mustache."

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