Drinking and Tossing

Playing cornhole without beer feels a bit childish-- especially if you're playing with other adults-- you quickly realize that you're just tossing around beanbags in public (we learned this lesson at the Stress Factory, the local comedy club . . . they have cornhole outside and you can play while you wait to get in, and while the hostess insisted we'd be able to get beer out there while we waited, that was patently false . . . cornhole was fun at first, but then, without beer, the realization dawned on us what we were doing; at least with horseshoes, if you don't pay attention, you can get a concussion).

The Intrepid Adventures of Dave's Headphone Wire

I was about to go for a run, wearing my headphones, the cord dangling-- I hadn't attached the headphone jack to my phone yet-- when I realized needed to change my underwear from boxers to boxer-briefs, to avoid chafing, and during the underwear exchange, while I was pulling them up, the headphone cord fell into the briefs, and then-- propelled upward by the new underwear-- ended up threaded between my thigh and right testicle, the final six inches of the cord looping back upwards and wedged right between the crack in my ass . . . so my only option was to pull the cord back to daylight, flossing my nether regions, hoping the metal jack didn't lodge itself anywhere sensitive, and while everything worked out fine and the cord didn't sustain any permanent olfactory damage-- I checked-- I'll be a little more careful the next time it's hanging loose, now that I know the potential hazards.

Inside Out is a Great Movie But . . .

Lisa Feldman Barrett's new book How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain is psychologically groundbreaking-- it upends intuition, debunks, assumptions, and overturns the classic way psychologists and laypeople alike view emotions-- you should read it, but if you don't feel like wading through (and I had trouble, I often had to read paragraphs over and over again) here are a few highlights:

1) your brain makes a model of the world through prediction and correction, and if things don't work then the brain tries to construct a new prediction to resolve errors;

2) therefore you don't have set emotional circuitry, that you share with all other people . . . so Inside Out isn't all that accurate;

3) your upbringing, your culture, your genetics, all your experiences and stimulus and all sorts of other things influence these models and predictions, so no emotion is the same;

4) some cultures and people lack emotions that other cultures and people possess . . . and knowledge of these emotions and granular analysis of common emotions can cause people to experience emotions differently . . . just knowing the word for a particular emotion, such as schadenfreude, can cause someone to have that emotion;

5) emotions aren't triggered, they are constructed;

6) there is no battle between the logical, conscious brain and the emotional "side" of the brain-- the brain isn't cerebral rationality wrapped around primitive emotional response circuitry;

7) we are neither blank slates nor hardwired circuitry, though this is the caricature of each position;

8) our "body budget" has a profound impact on how we view the world, so sometimes emotions are the result of lack of sleep, lack of food, or lack of exercise;

9) your memories are "highly vulnerable to reshaping by your current circumstances";

10) mental inferences about emotion are often wrong, and facial expressions are not hard-wired or indicative of much . . . behaviorism is not a great predictor of emotion;

11) at the core we feel valence and affect . . . we feel aroused or calm, and we feel pleasant or unpleasant . . . the rest can be determined by a number of factors;

12) we have more control over our emotions that previously thought-- which appeals to the conservatives: you are responsible for your actions, but-- and this appeals to the liberals-- culture and experience literally create our prediction models, so emotions are more relative than universal;

13) "the dividing line between culture and biology is porous";

14) this revision from essentialist emotions to a more interoceptive model will probably be considered equally primitive in 100 years;

anyway, if you read this book and The Nurture Assumption by Judith Harris, you'll have a whole new view of psychology, which might make you feel liberated or ignorant or empowered or pedantic or-- if you're reading this stuff on a couch in a supine position-- sleepy.

Professor Truck!

I've decided to award myself an honorary doctorate for my new song "Circumscribed," because if Bill Cosby can have one then so can I . . . for the details, head over to Gheorghe:The Blog . . . and please refer to me as Professor Truck from this day forward.

It's Got to be the Water

Yesterday, I bought my first ever "growler" of beer, from a local brewery a couple miles from my house; Cypress Brewing Company is located down a bosky side street in an industrial park in Edison, New Jersey, amidst auto body shops and computer firms, near the community college, and while I didn't ask, I'm fairly sure that the brewers use the flavorful and pungent waters from the Lower Raritan Watershed . . . despite this hurdle, several prominent beer drinkers (Ashley, Connell and Alec) agreed that the beer is delicious-- the Knobbed Whelk Amber Ale specifically-- and I will definitely visit this diamond-in-the industrial-park soon to refill my growler (four dollars to buy the 64 oz growler and twelve dollars to fill it with beer).

The Test 90: Consume This

This week on The Test, I quiz the ladies (including special guest Little Allie Hogan) on all the various things we consume; the numbers are weird, wild, and wonderful, and -- if you're a modern American-- a little embarrassing . . . there's also an erotic reading and a cannibalistic interlude (and the audio quality is fantastic . . . no more sounding like this guy!)

Dave Fixes His Car! With Tape!


If you've been following my life lately (which you should) then you know that I tore a hole in the side panel of my Toyota Sienna; I caught the lip of a guardrail while trying to squeeze out of a tiny parking lot adjacent to the Landing Lane Bridge (and I was in this lot for good reason: I was going for a run with the dog on the towpath, and this lot has the quickest access to the path . . . if you park in the lot on the other side of the bridge, in Johnson Park, then you have to walk across the bridge and the bridge walkway is covered with glass shards, so I was worried about my dog's paws) but I got some Auto Body Repair Tape (eleven dollars on Amazon) and my van is as good as new.


Probably Not

Is Heavy Meta a good name for a band?

On the Nature Front, Tough Losses, Strange Gains

Sadly, the baby dove that my two sons were trying to resuscitate back to life died yesterday-- they were hand-feeding it, Brooks-style, and kept it alive for a couple weeks before it succumbed to the anti-stork, but despite the end result, I was proud of their efforts, they cooperated in a noble fashion-- one holding the bird and gently opening the beak, the other squeezing a concoction of minced chicken baby food (feeding chicken to a dove, yuck) and baby cereal out of the corner of a plastic bag . . . and today while walking the dog, Ian found a new addition to the family-- not exactly a replacement for the bird, but another nature project . . . it seems he found a small meteorite at the park, and it has passed a few of the internet litmus tests-- it made the right color streak, it's very heavy, it looks like a meteorite, and it's attracted to magnets-- but we'll have to take it to a real geologist to be certain of the origin.

This Happened? In America? Less Than 100 Years Ago? Yikes

David Grann's book Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI is a tough story in more ways than one; it's a detailed account of two dozen (or possibly more) murders of Osage Indians, who relocated from the Cherokee territory in south Kansas (the ending point for many tribes after enduring the Trail of Tears) to a hardscrabble land of rocks and hills in Oklahoma because they thought the white man would never bother them in such lonely wicked country . . . but once oil was discovered under the Osage land, the white man came in droves, the Osage got filthy rich with headrights to the Osage Mineral Estate, and the atrocities followed one after another-- many of the murders masterminded by William King Hale-- who took advantage of the fact that some of the Osage married outside the family . . . it's impossible to summarize the rest, as the book has a huge cast of characters and also delves into the birth of the FBI, the methods of J. Edgar Hoover, and the storied biography of Tom White, who eventually ran Leavenworth Prison, and while the plot might be a bit byzantine for beach reading, the images of the richest Indians in America-- riding in chauffeured limousines to pow-wows, flying private planes to campfires, and sending their children to the finest European boarding schools, while still being under the corrupt auspice of government guardians and managers-- and these same Indians falling prey to a compromised criminal justice system, while being fleeced and often killed by number of greedy and conniving white men, with the lure of black gold looming in the Oklahoma hills, this all makes for an epic and embarrassing story from recent American history, and there's some new findings at the end, that Grann uncovered in his copious research-- so while this book isn't as fun as The Lost City of Z, it's much more significant, and in the end you will agree that-- as God told Cain-- "the blood cries out from the ground."

Dave is Never Too Old to Learn Stuff (but He'll Never Have a Nice Car)

I went for a run with the dog this morning on the towpath (the narrow park between the Raritan River and the Delaware and Raritan Canal) and I learned several valuable lessons:

1) if you are several miles out on the towpath, and your dog poops, and you bag the poop and then put a plastic bag filled with poop in your pocket (because the canal is a watershed, so you don't want to leave poop near it) and you then run several miles, you'll forget you have poop in your pocket (it cools down) and you'll eventually stick your hand in your pocket to see what's in there-- luckily I tied the bag shut, so I didn't end up with a hand full of poop (although I did smell the bag, in the name of science, and despite the fact that the poop is sequestered inside plastic, it still smells like poop);

2) it's not worth parking in the tiny Landing Lane lot, right next to the towpath, because it's an extremely sharp turn out of the lot and there is always traffic on the other side of the road . . . I cut it a little too sharp and caught the lip of the guard rail and tore a hole in my van . . . I'm going to attempt to fix this hole with some auto body repair tape-- ten bucks on Amazon-- which leads us to lesson number three . . .

3) I am a terrible car owner-- fans of this blog know the stories of my infamous Jeep Cherokee, and I am doling out the same kind of abuse to my Toyota Sienna . . . when it comes to cars, I just can't have nice things.

The Test 89: Music From the Past (for the Future)

Another clever thematic music quiz from Stacey this week on The Test . . . so listen to the song clips, identify the artists, contemplate the lyrics, compile the clues, and then-- in the timeless style of Archimedes-- jump out of the tub, shout "Eureka!" and run through the streets, buck-naked and dripping wet, proclaiming your answer . . . only to find it is wrong (and you are without clothing, in public).

Barrett vs Tolstoy

Lisa Feldman Barrett begs to differ with the opening premise of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," as she believes that happiness-- like every emotion-- defies categorization and is much more variegated and complex in form (and much simpler than was once thought in content, controlled by two factors: valence and affect) and she points out that "you can smile in happiness, sob in happiness, scream in happiness, raise your arms in happiness, clench your fists in happiness, jump up and down doling high fives in happiness, or even be stunned motionless in happiness . . . your eyes might be wide or narrowed, your breathing rapid or slow . . . you can have the heart-pounding exciting happiness of winning the lottery or the calm relaxed happiness of lying on a picnic blanket with your lover" and this idea connects to Barrett's central thesis, that emotions aren't set pieces waiting to be triggered, they are created on the fly, thus the title of her book: How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain . . . and if don't feel like wading through the text, you can listen to Invisibilia "Emotions Part One."

Ode to Talcum

I've just finished showering the dirt and grit and sweat and talcum powder off my body, accumulated from hiking twenty plus miles-- the exact distance is still being computed; our intrepid gang of ten dads hauled our asses through through Montclair, Glenridge, Verona, West Orange, Eagle Rock Reservation, Mills Reservation, Montclair State Campus and a bunch of places I can't remember, on an urban/suburban/dirt trail adventure, we walked from 9 AM to 6:00 PM-- and I walked over a mile to the train station at 7:00 AM; we saw a fox and Yogi Berra's mansion and the top of Eagle Rock and Thomas Edison's lab; in the middle of the day, we got soaked in the downpour, but we finally made it back to Montclair, had a delicious meal at Le Salbuen, took an Uber home, and-- because of an emergency baby powder purchase mid-hike and very liberal application of said powder, in many public locales-- including along busy roads-- I am happy to report that there was no chafing.

Old Dog = New Tricks

Not only did I eat at a pizza place that I had never tried before (Pasquales . . . delicious, thin chewy crust and they put a bit of pesto sauce on the grandma slice) but I took a shortcut that I never used before to get there (Stratford!) and I attribute my two new tricks (for an old dog) to my students, who advised me both on the pizza place and how to get there as quickly as possible (I had to monitor two exams in a row, so I was really hungry).

Not Quite the Second Coming . . . But Close

Testify and praise the good lord above, because I prayed and my prayers were answered-- that is correct: I found Jesus last night . . . he appeared to me during travel soccer tryouts, and just in time, as my team is in dire need of players (we are switching to 11 v 11 next fall) and no one born in 2005 came to the first tryout, but last night Jesus showed up-- he's born in 2005, his brother was an excellent player for the high school, and he just might be the savior (for our U13 team, not all the sinners on earth).

A Very Important Quiz

I gave my students a final quiz on Shakespeare's comedy "Much Ado About Nothing" this morning; I told them to use all the knowledge they had acquired from the play to answer this multiple choice question:

my wife was arriving at Newark International Airport from San Francisco at 2 AM last night, and she had been gone for five days . . . what method of transportation did she use to get home?

A) Uber

B) I picked her up

and the answer-- which is obvious if you've read the play-- is that I went to sleep at 7:30 PM last night, woke up at 1:00 AM, picked her up, got a little shut-eye, woke up at 5:45 AM, walked the dog, and went to work . . . because all women want is for you to do difficult stuff for them-- that's the true proof of love; in the play, as soon as Benedick professes his love for Beatrice, she immediately asks him to challenge his best friend Claudio to a duel (because he slandered her cousin Hero) thus making him choose between his friends and his lover, and he does her bidding and challenges him to a fight to the death-- thus proving his love to Beatrice-- but luckily it's a comedy and things get sorted out before it comes down to Benedick having to kill his best buddy . . . anyway, I'm very tired now but the satisfaction that I finally understand what women want outweighs my fatigue.

I Did It!

Catherine comes home from San Francisco tonight, and while the house is a bit of a mess, I think she'll be pleased that both her gardens are watered and thriving, and the children are alive, nourished, and (relatively) intact . . . Ian has some ugly bruises on his arm from "birthday punches," but other than that, both boys look the same as when she left.

How To Make a New Ultra HDTV Look Shitty (Like It Should)

We finally got a new TV . .  a 55 inch Ultra HD LG; to break it in, we watched Poltergeist and I had an odd complaint: the picture was too sharp . . . my kids didn't mind, but I felt like everything looked like a movie set (which, of course, is true . . . but you don't want to notice) and the special effects looked cheesy, the spooky tree looked plain silly-- but I learned how to fix this "problem" of too much clarity-- you have to shut off both the motion smoothing (called Trumotion on the LG) and the sharpness enhancement . . . basically, shut off the computerized algorithms that the TV uses to make things sharper than they actually are supposed to be, and Saturday night we watched Raising Arizona with the new settings in place and the film looked properly gritty, much improved by the decline in picture quality . . . the imagery should be a bit fuzzy when folks are saying dialogue like this: when there was no meat, we ate fowl, when there was no fowl, we ate crawdad, and when there was no crawdad to be found, we ate sand . . . you ate what? . . . we ate sand).

Bonus Update: Geeks > Freaks

All this scene needs is for James Franco to show up.

Like Dungeon Master Like Son

I've been really proud of my boys the past week-- it seems they've forsaken the behaviors that dominated this school year: fighting, insubordination, vandalism, candy smuggling, not looking both ways when crossing the street, getting ISS, losing all their shit (Ian lost five lunch coolers!) and forgetting to do homework . . . this week has been different; Alex has managed to organize a large Dungeons and Dragons game with a number of his friends . . . and he included his brother . . . they've been cooperating, planning, setting things up together, and Ian contributed to the game by getting a game mat and some mini-figures for his birthday and while there's been six or seven 6th and 7th grade boys in my house quite a few times lately, they've been really focused and well-behaved and they sound super-smart, they're talking probability (Ian figured out that opposite sides of the twenty sided die all add to twenty-one) and poring over arcane tomes, learning crazy vocabulary (mace, flail, druid, laying hands, melee, etc.) and speculating about very weird stuff-- can a human have sex with a dragon?-- and while there's been the occasional argument, they've been battling each other in the game more than in reality . . . the thing I like the best about the today's session is that my son Alex-- who is the dungeon master-- made a "phone bin" and forced everyone to turn off their phones off and put them in the bin, so they could focus . . . the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

This Needed to be Said

The US1 Flea Market, for those of you who have never been, was the living embodiment of Ebay.

Dave Discloses His Personal Business (for the Good of Future Scientists)

I used my last personal day yesterday, and I'm going to document what I did with it, so anthropologists in the future have an example of what a middle class homeowner and family man might do with a random day off . . . it's lame stuff, by any standard, but the document might become incredibly important for this very reason, for the extraordinary mundanity, so here it is, in chronological order:

1) I walked the dog and listened to Planet Money;

2) recorded some music;

3) wrote a post for this blog about Planet Money;

4) assembled a fold-out futon . . . this took nearly three hours and the finished product is certainly imbued with this psychological fallacy;

5) did NOT remove the basement refrigerator door and straighten it because I was so tired from building the futon . . . took the dog for a bike ride instead;

6) fixed the side screen door, which wasn't fully closing, by pounding selected portions of the metal lip on the side of the door with a rubber mallet;

7) took all the cardboard packaging from the futon and mattress to the recycling dumpster;

7) tried to take a nap, but couldn't sleep because of the jackhammer . . . our neighbors are putting in a deck;

8) signed the delivery slip for our new TV-- this was the actual reason I had to take the day . . . the only window for delivery was 8 AM to 1 PM;

9) assembled and hooked up our new TV . . . it's smart;

10) ate some sushi for lunch;

11) went to Costco for wine, beer, and easy to cook food . . . Catherine is headed to San Francisco-- Amazon is flying her out there for some educational software summit-- so the boys and I are on our own for the weekend;

12) purchased two pairs of pants at Costco . . . this really worries me-- more than the fact that I went to Costco of my own volition-- because once you start purchasing clothes at Costco, it's the beginning of the end (and the worst part is they're nice pants . . . Tommy Hilfiger, and they fit perfectly . . . this indicates that soon enough I'll spending two or three days a week roaming the aisles, pushing that giant cart at a snail's pace along with all the other geriatrics, buying random bottles of vitamins and ugly walking shoes, feasting on the free samples, and wondering if I could use more razors).

Three? Why Not Four?

There's a cottage industry of journalism that operates by taking the absurd shit that Donald Trump says seriously and then spinning out the policy that could make it happen . . . the latest iteration of Pretending-Trump's-Words-Actually-Mean-Something-Journalism analyzes Trump's promise to grow the economy three percent per year (or even four percent! why not? if you're just saying completely unfounded bullshit, why not ramp it up?) and the new episode of Planet Money is a perfect place to start investigating this great great beautiful premise; here is a fast and loose summary of the some of the ways we could spur our economy to three percent growth and beyond:

1) we take in 40 million immigrants . . . essentially take in the same number of immigrants the country has absorbed in the last 80 years, but we do it in ten years  . . . more people means more workers, more stuff, more consumption . . . but Trump and his supporters would probably find this antithetical to Wall politics . . . he'd have to switch his rhetorical symbol to a giant Water Slide across the border;

2) incentivize people to work longer; America is aging-- the cohort that brought us all the growth, the Baby Boomers, are retiring and that is costly and a major impediment to economic growth-- if we could get old people to stay in the workforce longer, making money, consuming, and not taking their pensions and social security and retirement benefits, that would help . . . especially if they died before retirement!

3) make everyone work . . . zero point zero unemployment-- but this means no stay at home moms, no stay at home dads, no lazy people, no one can stay home to take care of a sick or elderly relative, and rich people and incarcerated people will have to work full time as well . . .

4) America invents something so groundbreaking and essential that everyone needs it . . . like the computer or the electrical grid  (and the appliances that go with it) or the highway system . . . but the problem is we've grabbed all that low-hanging fruit and there doesn't appear to be some groundbreaking invention on the horizon, just incremental advances in the technology we have (but one can always dream of teleportation and nano-assemblers)

5) we just pretend we have three percent growth and accuse anyone who says otherwise of being part of a liberal media conspiracy designed to bring the President down.

Put Your Bugs Where Your Mouth Is

Every spring, our house gets invaded by these tiny little ants, and while this really bugs my wife-- she does her best to eradicate them with traps-- I try to embrace the little fellas, and refer to them as "nature's cleanup crew" and so when I noticed that there were a bunch of these ants in the bristles of my toothbrush this morning, I decided that I had to roll with it, and so I rinsed them off and brushed my teeth . . . but perhaps I should have left them on the brush . . . if I could train a bird to live on my body and eat ticks, then perhaps I could also train a bunch of little ants to live in my mouth and eat all food decaying between my teeth.

The Test 88: Fear the Reaper

Despite the proximal whirling scythe of grim-visaged death, we prevail and present you with this podcast full of grim shit; special guest Mike gets the last word in (actually a number) and Cunningham breaks new ground in depression therapy . . . as a thematically related bonus, Stacey threatens to kill Dave.

The Shawshank Inspiration (for blood-sucking parasites)

I need to train a bird (like Brooks had in Shawshank) to patrol my body and eat the many ticks that end up residing on me after I run in the orchard.

Sooner = Meta-cheater

Perhaps you're a clueless on this topic as I was yesterday, but "Sooners" is a more offensive nickname than "Redskins" . . . the University of Oklahoma nickname celebrates jumping the gun in one of the most infamous land grabs in American History . . . it's bad enough that men and women were trampling, shooting, knifing, and generally denigrating their fellow man in a mad rush to be the first to one of 42,000 parcels of Indian Territory . . . this was enough of a disaster for the Cherokee, Choctaws, Cheyenne and Apache, but a "sooner" is someone who tried to sneak across the boundary line early-- so they could claim a prime parcel before anyone else-- so a "sooner" is another level of cheating, where you're trying to cheat the people who are cheating the Native Americans . . . sooners are meta-cheaters, and apparently, a few people recognize what the name signifies and are taking action, but I would have never known the meaning of the nickname "sooner" if I hadn't started reading Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, a fascinating account of Indian land rights, oil, and murder; the book is by David Graham, who also wrote The Lost City of Z, which I highly recommend.

Someone Should Have Told Me This Two Months Ago

It's so much easier to shave when you use a new razor.

Never Mind What It's Called . . . Eat This Food!

This is a bit local, but there's a great authentic Mexican restaurant right across Route 18 from East Brunswick High School, and I want it to survive . . . but it has a lot going against; it's tucked in a small strip mall that's difficult to turn into off the highway (but you can access it from the side streets) and I'm not sure what the place is called . . . it might be called La China Poblana (which probably means "the porcelain dishware from the Puebla state of Mexico," but you shouldn't have the word "china" in the title of a Mexican restaurant) or it might be called Mary's Mexican Grill or it might be called Mary's Grill Pizza . . . anyway, the food is inexpensive and delicious-- the tamales with green sauce are crumbly and light, with white meat chicken inside; the chorizo is tasty but not greasy at all; and the al pastor is loaded with spices and pineapple . . . plus they give you an excellent little black bean dip with your gratis chips and green salsa . . . so if you have a chance, pull in and try the food so that this place stays afloat until it can figure out a better name.

Dave Gets Extra About Extra!

I'm often amused by the slang words high school kids sprinkle into their lexicon; I enjoy hearing them use "swag" and "lit" and "salty" and "ratchet" in context, but I rarely use these words myself (except for comedic effect) because there's nothing sadder than an old man trying to be hip to the young folks . . . however, despite my general dictum on avoiding the vernacular of the youth, I have adopted one new term because it works so well in so many spots, and it doesn't sound particularly absurd when I say it: recently, when kids want to say something is melodramatic, they use the word "extra," as in Keanu Reeves is so extra when he fights Agent Smith in The Matrix or just because you failed the physics test doesn't mean you have to get all extra about it . . . I'm hoping this one sticks around, it's especially useful for Shakespeare, where folks like Hamlet and Iago and Don John get extra about all kinds of things.
A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.