2017 Book List

I just finished my 46th book of 2017 this afternoon and it's a fitting one for the end of the year; Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millenials by Malcolm Harris is an intelligent, analytical and provocative book written by a millennial about the millennial generation that might just change your mind about millennials in general . . . from my perspective, this book is about the end of my era, Generation X, and any slackerly influence it might have had upon the world: kids these days are more prone to anxiety, work harder, do less drugs (drug overdoses seem to be following the Baby Boomer cohort), have less sex, do more homework, get surveilled more-- for a scary take on this, watch Episode 2 of season 4 of Black Mirror-- take out giant student loans which fund ever expanding building projects on college campuses, intern more, get paid less, compete more in an organized fashion, train for this organized competition in areas that are supposed to be fun and healthy-- sports, music, the science fair, dance; are trained by their cell phones to be more available and productive than any work force in history, and don't have much of a shot at the wealth in our nation, which has increasingly been hoarded by the old and the 1% . . . Harris backs this up with plenty of data-- beware: there are charts in this book-- but it is slender and if you have kids or teach or coach or work with kids in any capacity, then you should read this book; the conclusion is not very hopeful . . . I worry about my own children and this book is making me take a step back in my expectations for them and for myself as a parent; the book is also making me enjoy my stable and noncompetitive union job, as the millennial generation will experience job precarity as a matter of course; anyway, this ties in nicely with my New Year's Resolution, which is to try to live more in the slow, meditative, and profound world of great books, and avoid the twitchiness of the internet as much as possible . . . I did a pretty good job of it in 2017, especially because we cut the cable and I stopped watching football (and playing fantasy football, which is another one of those productivity training devices that "prepares" people for 24/7 availability and efficiency) and while I didn't quite reach my goal of a book a week, I was close . . . anyway, here is the list--  I discussed my seven favorites on Gheorghe: The Blog-- and wrote reviews of all of them here on Sentence of Dave . . . my favorite book of the year is The Power by Naomi Alderman: if you're going to read one book in 2018, that should be the one . . . and you should try to read at least one book a year, just to avoid being part of the American 26% that reads zero books each year; these are just the books I finished, I started plenty of others and bailed, so anything on this list is pretty good:

1) Selection Day by Aravind Adiga

2) Bill Bryson: One Summer: America, 1927

3) Mark Schatzker's The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor

4) Whiplash: How to Survive Our Fast Future by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe

5) The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

6) The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis

7) Steven Johnson: Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World

8) Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty

9) Normal by Warren Ellis

10) Jonah Berger: Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Behavior

11) Where It Hurts by Reed Farrel Coleman

12) The Not-Quite States of America by Doug Mack

13) Tyler Cowen: The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream

14) Ill Will by Dan Chaon

15) Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by Tom Bissell

16) Love Me Do! The Beatles Progress by Michael Braun

17) The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley

18) Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

19) Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty

20) Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific by Robert Kaplan

21) Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

22) Why the West Rules-- for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future by Ian Morris

23) How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett

24) Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

25) Seven Bad Ideas: How Mainstream Economists Have Damaged America and the World by Jeff Madrick

26) Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut

27) 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam by Mark Bowden Hue

28) Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

29) Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov

30) The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie

31) A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane

32) Every Secret Thing by Laura Lippman

33) The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer

34) David Foster Wallace: Consider the Lobster and Other Essays

35) Michael Connelly: Nine Dragons

36) Gar Anthony Haywood's Cemetery Road

37) Time Travel: A History by James Gleick

38) Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

39) Nancy Isenberg's White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America

40) How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

41) Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly by Adrian McKinty

42) Roddy Doyle's Smile

43) The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

44) Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

45) The Power by Naomi Alderman

46) Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of the Millenials by Malcolm Harris.

The Looming Time

The end of winter break is rearing its ugly head; to prepare, I woke up early this morning, did some school work, went to the gym, recorded some music, shoveled snow, took the dog for a hike in the park, watched Trading Places with the wife and kids, and then-- I am sad to report-- I was so amped up from all my productivity that I couldn't manage to take a nap (unlike my son Ian, who is still crashed out) and if you're looking for something weird and melancholy to listen to, during this looming time, I recommend The OOZ by King Krule.

What I Learned Over Winter Break

When my schedule is unobstructed by work, sports, and chores-- no matter how late I've slept or how many hours of sleep I had the night previous-- I will take a two-hour nap.

Dave's Head: Too Big for our Government

Apparently, my head is too big for me to the leave the country . . . or that's what the lady at the passport office told me: according to the maximum-head-size-ring on her plastic transparency, my Costco passport photo did not pass muster: the circumference of my head exceeded the allowable . . . the woman who took the discount passport photo at Costco should have taken a step or two (or three or seven) back in order to shrink my head the government-prescribed size-- the rest of my family appear to have normal sized heads, as they all fit within the ring (although she was a bit leery of Alex's photo because his hair was covering one eyebrow) but because of my big head, I had to pay for a new photo, at double the price of Costco, which the woman in the passport office snapped herself (and the ring on the passport lady's transparency reminded me of the ring that the clam warden uses to determine if clams are of a legal size to keep and eat-- but in the reverse, of course, if a clam can't fit through the ring, you can eat it but if your head can't fit through the ring then you can't go to Costa Rica).

The Power is a Shocker

I've frequently opined upon science-fiction up in this house, and my usual point is this: to qualify as real science-fiction, the setting/world of the story needs to be the main character-- this doesn't occlude fine characterization, but that can't be the main thrust of the plot . . . so Bladerunner 2049 qualifies but The Last Jedi does NOT . . . the two best recent examples of the genre are The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker and The Power by Naomi Alderman; I just finished The Power and despite the fact that it has Team Woman absolutely ravaging my team, The Team of Men, it's still one of my favorite books of the year . . . the premise is simple: teenage girls acquire the powers of an electric eel (much magnified) because of a chemically induced genetic mutation-- the gradual acquisition and development of this power by all women inverts the power structure of gender-- women become strong and warlike and men become weak and sexualized . . . the fun of the book-- despite the atrocities done to men-- is just how far Alderman takes the premise . . . while the characters are well-drawn and geographically various, the real star of the book is the timeline; she shows you everything that might happen if this conceit were true (and the book will resonate with you once you've finished . . . I annoyed my wife in the car this afternoon and I for a moment I thought that she might shock my testicles to put me in line, but then I remembered that Donald Trump is our President and I have nothing to worry about).

Irony vs. Coincidence: The Definitive (and Miraculous) Explanation

On Christmas Eve, my wife was preparing some spicy nuts for the big party when the doorbell rang; it was our neighbor Ira with a present for the kids and a treat for us-- some sweet and spicy walnuts!-- and my wife claimed this was "ironic," the fact that Ira brought over some spiced nuts while she was in the midst of prepping her own spiced nuts, but, after some discussion, we concluded that this was actually a coincidence-- an interesting juxtaposition of similar events-- and that irony requires a surprising reversal of expectations . . . and while sorting out irony and coincidence has always been a bit tricky, I was blessed today with a miracle beyond miracles-- in a very short span of time, the universe provided me with perfect examples of BOTH irony and coincidence . . . and I am assuming the universe did this so that I could share these examples with you:

1) I will begin with the coincidence . . . the kids slept at my parents' place last night and I went to pick them up this morning-- my parents now live in an over-55 community in Monroe, and so before we left, we took a swim in the indoor pool, which was wonderful: the pool was warm and the glass-encased atrium that houses the pool was warmer . . . then we got into the van to drive back to Highland Park and I started playing Big Fish Theory and we were talking hip-hop and I realized that they had never heard the greatest hip-hop album of all time: Paul's Boutique . . . so I pulled over and put it on and drove for a bit, enjoying the Dust Brothers magical samples and the Beastie Boys clever rhymes-- I hadn't listened to the album in years and it sounded better than ever-- and when I asked Alex how he liked it, I received no answer, so I turned to look at him and he was sleeping-- and then I looked over to the passenger seat and Ian was passed out as well, they must have been tired out from all the Christmas fun, the pool, and the pull-ups (Catherine got us a pull-up bar for Christmas-- the gift that keeps giving . . . you hernias) and then a bit later in the day, I got a call from my podiatrist-- my orthotic inserts were ready-- but I had to come to the office and see Doctor Kates briefly, to make sure they fit, so I got in the van-- my sneakers untied because I knew I would have to remove them soon-- and headed to Milltown and I was in a rush so I didn't bother to hook my phone up, instead I did something I rarely do-- I listened to the radio-- and the story on NPR was crap so I turned to the Princeton station, 103.3, and -- miracle beyond miracles-- I heard:

Now here we go dropping science, dropping it all over
Like bumping around the town like when you're driving a Range Rover

which are the opening lyrics to "Sounds of Science," one of the best tracks on Paul's Boutique . . . and this is not something that you don't hear on the radio very often (in fact, I've never heard this track on the radio) and so I celebrated this wonderful coincidence-- an odd juxtaposition of similar events-- with much glee and gaiety . . . I hadn't heard "Sounds of Science" in years and then I heard it twice in one day;

2) and now for the irony . . . the podiatrist's office is a sharp turn off Main Street in Milltown and the claustrophobic little parking lot was full, so I had to jam the minivan along the fence; I got out of the car, sneakers untied because I knew I would have to remove them immediately to try out the orthotics, opened the door to enter the waiting room, and walked into an old man; I couldn't get in, not only was there was an old guy blocking the door, there was also an older guy with a walker in the tiny vestibule, making his way out, so I waited patiently out in the cold until this crew egressed and then made my way in . . . and the waiting room was just packed, full of old people (and one attractive blonde woman) and I had to stand next to the counter, with my back to the office door-- the door they open to call people in to see the doctor-- and every time they opened the door it hit me in the back-- and I would trip on my untied laces (but it was too tight for me to bend over and tie them) and the main irony here is that it was standing room only in the podiatrist's office . . . my foot hurt and I was coming to get my new inserts and but I didn't wear my old inserts because I was going to get new inserts and I never imagined I'd be standing for a long period of time in the podiatrist's office . . . and even when a seat opened up, I couldn't take it-- despite the pain in my left heel-- because the average age in the waiting room was 70+ and they just kept coming in-- at one point there were four more people than there were chairs-- and these old people were complaining constantly and loudly, they were complaining about the long wait and they were complaining about the small parking lot and they were especially angry about lack of spaces in the parking lot and the gray minivan parked along the fence-- my gray minivan-- that was making it just impossible to pull out . . . but I kept my mouth shut because it was possible to get out, it was just a little tight, and there were actually faint lines painted on the blacktop, the barest suggestion of a parking spot, but enough that I knew this was a legitimate place to park (and what choice did I have?) and there was no way I was going to admit that it was my van because this was a tough crowd (and many of the geezers were sporting weapons, canes and such) but while I stood there in the waiting room-- for thirty-five minutes, balancing on my good foot-- I realized why fate had presented me with a miraculous Paul's Boutique coincidence and this bitter and painful podiatry irony: so that I could offer the definitive explanation of these two terms . . . a Boxing Day miracle!

Enjoy the Gifts, Prodigal Sons

Merry Christmas, to all those participating in the materialist-consumptionist complex.

Abracadabra . . . Dave Will Vanish at the End of this Sentence

No time to write-- we're having forty people over tonight and I have a chore list to accomplish . . . I wouldn't be so pressed for time if I didn't watch The Prestige with the boys, another great movie that is streaming on Netflix . . . this is definitely a good one to rewatch, my boys had fun speculating about all the twists and turns, and I could only vaguely remember them from my first viewing . . . enough of this, I have to cut up ten pounds of sausage.

Comparison is the Thief of Joy?

My kids and I watched the new Star Wars movie Thursday afternoon, and it's tolerable-- the fight scenes are decent, there's a fun chase on a filthy-rich-casino-planet-full-of-arms-dealers where the good guys escape by riding giant horse-dog-cat-lions to freedom . . . and then they free the giant horse-dog-cat-lions, and the brain-bond between Kylo Ren and Rey is a dark version of the brain-bond between E.T. and Elliott . . . that would make a great YouTube mash-up-- but there are also plenty of plot-holes and logical problems (Poe's outright mutiny barely gets him a slap on the wrist; if the kamikaze hyperjump inside another ship was always possible, then that should happen all the time, the force is becoming more Harry Potter magic than sci-fi, and the fact that this culture has invented spaceships that can traverse the galaxy and intelligent robots but they haven't figured out the technology for autopilot (or the possibility of using a droid as a pilot) is utterly ridiculous . . . so the moment when Laura Dern has to stay behind and sacrifice herself to "drive" the ship is just silly) but we erased the bad cinematic damage tonight; the boys and I watched City of God, which is streaming on Netflix, and though I hadn't seen it in fifteen years, I didn't forget a scene: it's the perfect blend of Pulp Fiction and Goodfellas, Brazilian-style . . . if you missed it, check it out before it disappears off Netflix . . . my kids complained for one second when I told them they would have to read subtitles, but thirty seconds into the first scene, the chicken-chase, they both pronounced it "a good movie."

Get Your Head in the Bardo

You've probably heard that acclaimed short-story writer George Saunders won the Man Booker prize for his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, and you might have even looked up the definition of "bardo" and learned that it's a Tibetan Buddhist term referring to a purgatorial state between life and death; the amount of time you'll spend there reflects how you lived and how you died-- and I'll warn you now: if you tackle this book, you will enter the bardo . . . a meditative state between history and story, fact and fiction, tragedy and comedy, grandeur and disgust . . . and while I struggled at first, because the book is a fragmented post-modern montage of cited recollections, some apparently fictitious, some obviously historical, and many existing in an ambiguous in-between state, but the fact that three of my colleagues successfully passed through the bardo inspired me (thanks, Stacey, Kevin, and Cunningham!) and I kept at it, pondering and plugging along, quotation after quotation, until I reached some sort of enlightenment: there is no reason that death will be any less absurd than life . . . and though Abe Lincoln was mired in the worst kind of war (and he may have been more calculating than most of us learned in school) he was also a loving father and suffered deeply when his son Willie died, but after spending a period of time in awkward and inconsolable mourning, he returned to the land of the living to preside over the country . . . Saunders captures this brief moment and makes something new of it, part poem, part macabre ghost tale, part existentialist tome on the silly and transitory nature of our lives, and part untold history . . . so many people never got a chance to tell their story and become a part of history, and now Willie Lincoln and the rest of the cast have their due.

What is the Opposite of a Diamond in the Rough?

We got into a discussion the other day somewhere in the comments on Gheorghe:TheBlog about the worst songs on the best albums, and this topic moved me so much that I decided to take action: on my Google Play Music account, I gave a thumbs up to every song on Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti except for one . . . "Kashmir" received a big thumbs down . . . and then I went through the Dire Straits album Making Movies and gave all the tracks a thumbs up except for "Les Boys," which I gave a decisive thumbs down; I'm not sure how this will affect my suggestions algorithm, but it made me very happy to express my opinion in this manner (although if you play the album, the song with the thumbs down is still played-- to construct the album without the "thumbs down" song, I guess I'd have to make a playlist . . . and I might start doing this-- removing a song or two from albums that I think are otherwise perfect and keeping the "Dave" version in my playlists, we've got all this wonderful digital technology, I might as well use it).

I've Got Other Plans . . . Personal Plans

I wish I could be as tight-lipped about my business as Tom Doniphon in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance . . . but part of the fun of taking a personal day-- my first of the year, by the way-- is gloating about the great things you did while everyone else was at work; anyway, the boys played hooky from school, I bought some cheap lift tickets on Liftopia for Jack Frost (when the lift tickets are cheap, the lousy conditions aren't as annoying) and we headed to the Poconos for some early-season skiing and boarding; the conditions were typical-- fast, chunky, and a little dangerous-- but the sun came out in the afternoon and things softened up a bit, and there were only two mishaps:

1) when we packed our equipment last night, I couldn't find Ian's ski boots anywhere . . . and then we surmised that Pelican had never given us his boots, so we had to rush down Route 18 during rush hour to the ski shop and get his boots;

2) today was "college day" at Jack Frost and while the mountain was damn near empty, most of the people who were there were college students and a particularly inexperienced college student, hurtling down the mountain in "pizza pie position" on his rental skis, ran into my son Alex and banged him up  bit . . . but not so much that he couldn't do a few more runs, he was bruised but not broken . . .

and then when we got home, we noticed that the temperature was fifteen degrees warmer than on the mountain, and so Ian and I went out and played some tennis (at our park, you press a button and the lights come on) which makes this some kind of banner day, because I don't think we've ever gone skiing and played tennis (outdoors) in the same day . . . and the next time I take a personal day, I'm going to try to be a better, person, take after John Wayne, and keep it to myself.

You Need Both

When you pick up the skis, make sure you also pick up the boots.

The Whirligig of Time Brings in His Revenges

This Monday morning-- the darkest of all Monday mornings, the Monday morning closest to the winter solstice, the Monday morning when your alarm yanks you from the deep warm womb of sleep, despite the fact that the stars and moon are still lambently effulgent . . . not that I'm making excuses, but I would just like to point out, for the record, that I was certainly groggy-- anyway, this morning I made my usual left turn from Cranbury Road into my school but the traffic was backed up and the officer manning the light shortchanged me on my left arrow time and so I became that person . . . that person that is stuck in the intersection blocking traffic, that idiot, that grid-locker: cars were weaving around me, drivers were giving me hateful stares, there was some beeping and, once I realized I was NOT going to execute the left turn, I had to do some tentative backing up, a lame attempt to get out of the way; once I finally made the turn, I convinced myself that I was not to blame, I rationalized that it was all the traffic officer's fault-- he was asleep at the wheel, not me (and all my sympathies were with him, as it was the darkest Monday of the year) but unfortunately my friend Kevin was behind me at the light and he snapped a picture of my vehicular gaffe and sent it to me, with the terse but accurate caption "Moron" underneath . . . and then he added a deserved addendum: "That's the guy who gives his wife a hard time about filling up the gas tank."

Gas Tank = Toilet Paper Roll

So apparently there are two types of people:

1) people who fill their gas tank as soon as it gets a bit low;

2) people who drive around on fumes as a matter of course;

and I am one of those people who fills their tank as soon as it gets low-- it's bad for the car to drive with very little gas in the tank: you could burn out the fuel pump and you could kick up sediment (and, of course, you could actually run out of gas and have to freeze your ass off walking to the nearest station) but my wife is one of those people who is always driving around on empty (or even below empty) and while that's normally her business (sort of, because her car is the second most expensive item we own, after our house) sometimes it impinges on my life; Friday, we planned on swapping cars so that she could drop the van at the shop, which is right by her school, so they could put on the snow tires-- and my wife would get a ride to school (the shop is less than a mile from her school) and I would drive her car to my place of work; we made this plan last week, and so on Wednesday, I prepared the van for the swap-- I took out all the soccer equipment and stowed it in the shed-- and then I took the snow tires out from the crawl space (always a difficulty for me because you have to crouch down-- I often hit my head-- but I must point out that I did this chore without my wife's assistance) and I rolled the tires from the backyard to the driveway and put them in the back of the van so we were all prepared for the car swap and Friday morning I got up early, got ready for school, spent some time with my wife in the kitchen discussing the consequences of the FCC's rash and partisan decision on the future of net neutrality, and then hopped in the car-- the correct car, my wife's car-- to execute the final portion of the car swap, the actual swapping, but as I was driving out of town, I noticed that the gas meter was below empty . . . and I was running a little late because of our discussion about net neutrality so I didn't have time to stop for gas-- so I got pretty irate, mainly because my wife has a short commute, so she must have been running low on gas all week, but didn't prepare as considerately for the car swap as I had done and also because it's bad for the engine to run on empty, which I know she does-- she's an incorrigble low gas driver-- and also because I almost got stuck in a massive traffic jam, there was a helicopter hovering over Route 1 and the entire road was shut down and some of the overflow traffic was spilling on to Route 18 (and if I had taken Ryders Lane, I certainly would have run out of gas) and so I called home-- this is the danger of cell-phones, everything happens in real time before you have a chance to cool off, and got Ian to put Catherine on the phone and then I expressed my views on leaving someone a car with no gas in it for a car swap and then when I got to school, I did some research and sent a text describing just what could happen to the engine when you drive on empty and then I conducted an impromptu seven hour poll: I asked all my classes and every teacher I encountered if they ever drove on empty, and I'm happy to say that the results were slightly different than I thought: I began with a rather sexist hypothesis that this was a woman thing, and that women didn't understand the mechanics of an engine, but found that the split was fairly even-- wive's complained about their husbands, women admitted that they were risk-takers, men confided that they were on empty right this very moment, a woman whose father was a mechanic brought up the possibility of burning out the fuel pump, some people said they just hate getting gas and want to do it as little as possible, some people wanted to see just how much it cost to fill the entire tank . . . people were vehemently one side or the other-- people who didn't drive on empty thought that it was insane to do so-- that's my camp and my metaphor is toilet paper, there's very few things in life that you can directly gauge-- your gas tank is one of them and the amount of toilet paper left on the roll is another . . . when the roll gets low, you get more rolls of toilet paper and put them in the bathroom, you don't wait until there's one square left-- that's a disaster waiting to happen and it's a situation that's easy enough to assess and remedy . . .anyway, I don't think there's any way to change people on this issue and I'm not going to try (but I will check my wife's car the night before we do a car swap and if it's on empty, I will just go and get gas, and try not to lecture her about fuel pumps and sediment and frost bite).

Farewell, Interlocking Plastic Bricks

Today marked the end of an era, as we packed all the Legos in the basement into two giant green plastic containers and put them in the crawl space under the house-- they provided my kids many good times, were the subject of some absolutely awful home-made stop-motion movies, and nothing could compare to the peace and quiet they provided when the kids got busy with a new set, following those precise pictorial instructions . . . hopefully they will get pulled from beneath the house someday (one of the perks of Legos is they never decay) for a young cousin or grandkid or neighbor . . . or perhaps even a school project-- but until then, farewell interlocking plastic bricks, you provided our house with many productive and creative hours . . . we'd all be general contractors if everything were as easy to assemble as a set of Legos.

7 Books For Reading

I did my work over at Gheorghe: the Blog today: my seven favorite books I read this year.

Smelling Some Smells

Yesterday, in a free moment before my second period class entered the room, I did some stretching (you should properly loosen up your muscles before you teach Philosophy class) and I smelled perfume-- I was standing near the computer and the windows weren't open, so this puzzled me, until I realized I was actually smelling my own smells . . . earlier that morning, while I was rushing around in the bathroom, I used my wife's deodorant instead of my own . . . and apparently her stuff is strong enough to make my underarms smell like roses.

Nice Work Wilkie!

I just finished The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins and though it was published in 1868 and the story is told by an extensive epistolary spiral of narrators, the prose is surprisingly straightforward and compelling and plot is surprising and byzantine-- this work is considered the archetypal English detective story and for good reason it's got all the classic tropes: the superb but oddly touched detective (Sergeant Cuff) and the ominous historical overtones (the British colonization of India) and a butler (spoiler: he didn't do it) and a spooky setting (moors and tidal quicksand) . . . but it's also got themes and elements that would fit right into a modern thriller: opioid addiction, Orientalism, secularism (for Gabriel Betteredge, Robinson Crusoe operates as both the I Ching and the Bible) and-- most significantly-- what might be the first instance of a state dependent and context dependent memory encoding and retrieval experiment in literature . . . I won't spoil the how and why of this, but read the novel-- it's excellent and it's free on the Kindle.

Hologram Elvis: Champion of the Impoverished Masses

The perfunctory nature of this blog limits me from doing any real research or deep thinking about the random crap I post, so while I'm just "putting this out there," I think a mind more insightful and better trained in economics could find an interesting causation between the rise of concert ticket prices (and the lucrative world of second market ticket brokers) and America's growing income inequality . . . you can't blame the scalpers for the price increase, second-market ticket brokers are not causing the fact that people will pay insane amounts to see "Hamilton,  they are reacting to an inefficiency in the market: thus, there must be greater demand than supply and the fact of the matter is that there are more people out there with disposable willing to (repeatedly) pay far more for a ticket to a premium event than most people in the bottom sector of the income hierarchy can financially tolerate . . . this may be a grim indicator of something more ominous, the rich depleting other resources to the point where they are unaffordable for the majority of the people, or there may be a technological fix on the horizon (such as the hologram Elvis in Blade Runner 2049).

A Game of Political Chicken

The new episode of This American Life, "Our Town," takes an in depth look at a classic political conundrum:

which came first . . . the low wages at the poultry processing factory or the undocumented workers that the poultry processing plants happily employed?

and the answer is more complicated than anyone-- including Jeff Sessions-- cares to contemplate: a causality that would break Jimmy Hoffa's heart.

Voodoo Lady, Doing That Stuff That You Do . . . Knocking Me Out With Your Voodoo

Today's session at the acupuncturist really concentrated the "puncture" portion of the treatment; I became a pincushion, a human voodoo doll-- representing myself in living effigy-- the needles revealing some unconscious hidden curse that was coursing through my veins . . . until Dana explained that it was just lactic acid.

Anti-natalist Chickens

During the latest episode of Waking Up With Sam Harris, David Benatar discusses his philosophical stance "anti-natalism," and how he believes it is sinful to bring new lives into a world dominated by suffering . . . in essence, he believes that it is better to not be born at all rather than to exist, and that once we exist, we attach a sentimental bias to our existence (unless it is so painful and awful that suicide is the only recourse) and so we go on existing even though not existing would have been better in the first place-- he likens this to attending a movie which is pretty awful, but not so awful that you would walk out, but certainly awful enough that you would have not gone to see it if you knew how bad it was (in my mind this movie is The Accountant, which "stars" Ben Affleck as an autistic action hero number cruncher . . . so dumb, but just barely entertaining enough that we didn't leave) and this is the metaphor for life, it is a movie that you would have chosen not to see if you knew how bad it was going to be, but once you've paid for a ticket, you generally decide to see it through . . . but Benatar believes you should definitely not drag anyone else to see the movie, thus you should not procreate and bring children into this awful world-show . . . I tend to disagree (especially since I just got back from circumnavigating the park in the snow, my dog bounding ahead of me from snow pile to snow pile, which-- despite my plantar fasciitis-- is a big check mark on the pro side of existing in the universe) but I still enjoyed employing the term "anti-natalist" in Philosophy class on Friday, when we were discussing Peter Singer and animal rights . . . more specifically, we were discussing the Douglas Adams bit in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe about the cow that wants to be eaten (and can express this desire eloquently) and the ethics of breeding animals that either desire to be eaten or-- even better-- are decerebrated vegetables with no consciousness at all (or perhaps even growing meat in chemical vats) and this leads to the question of whether being delicious and stupid and plump (and essentially of no nutritional value) is a good thing for chicken-kind or a bad thing for chicken-kind; numerically, the chicken species is doing fantastic-- couldn't be better-- as there are zillions of them, but fitness-wise and experience-wise they are doing atrociously . . . and so I think as far as chickens go, I'm an "anti-natalist," because the life of a modern chicken is so chock full of suffering that it's certainly better to have never been born (hatched?) in the first place rather than to have to endure living in a tiny box with fatty legs that can't support your obese chicken body while you're force-fed a disgusting diet full of hormones so that you grow at an exponential rate into a giant infantile avian ripe for slaughter . . . anyway, that's the word of the day over here: anti-natalism.

Passive Aggressive Punning

Once again, Stacey was repeatedly spritzing her lunch with her bright yellow bottle of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter brand spray butter, and-- once again-- I was complaining about her repeated spraying-- because if there's one thing I can't stand, it's the sound of butter substitute being sprayed . . . and if there's one thing Stacey loves, it's dousing her food with multiple iterations of moist and oily butter substitute (we even had an intervention about this habit on The Test) and while I've resigned myself to the fact that Stacey and I share a lunch period this year and the spray butter fetish is the only truly annoying thing about Stacey and it's also her right, as a red-blooded American citizen, to apply as much butter substitute to her lunch as she pleases and so I'd best just get used to it and live and let live (plus, I tend to chew too loudly and with my mouth agape so who am I to talk?) and so I was quite proud today when-- after four spray butter sequences-- I didn't freak out and rant and rave . . . instead I tried to lighten things up (while still conveying my disgust at the sound of her aqueous condiment) and so I said to her, "Okay, enough butter already . . . let's call it a spray."

Putting It On Wax (Museum)

Over the course of my life, I have  purchased, with sincerity, three audio formats: vinyl records, cassettes, and CDs-- in fact, in 1989 I was so forward thinking that I bought the Cult album Sonic Temple in CD format before I even owned a CD player . . . I sensed the demise of the cassette format and I knew I was going to have to purchase a CD player, so in order to listen to this album, I had to visit other rooms on my freshman dorm and impress these stereo systems in the name of Ian Astbury (and it's a good thing I purchased the album on CD, because there were a few songs-- notably "Wake Up Time For Freedom"-- that were absolutely horrible and the CD format made it easy to skip over them) but, for whatever reason, I never bought any 8-Track cartridges, despite the fact that the gray two door 1985 Buick Skylark I drove during high school had a working 8 Track cassette player . . . instead I bought an 8 Track to compact cassette converter, in order to keep up with the times; I'm not sure what the point of this sentence is, other than I wish I was forward thinking enough to sell all my CDs before that format became defunct, and also how reflecting on these formats allows me to actually understand the hipster mentality of purchasing vinyl albums-- despite the irony and the environmental waste-- because it is nice to have an object associated with something as resonant and emotional and abstract as music . . . I don't think kids today have as much attachment to albums as those of us that grew up before the digital revolution, nor do I think kids wrap their identity so closely with bands and musical artists and this may have something to do with the fact that they haven't had to buy their music in a particular tangible format (or perhaps it's because of Snapchat and YouTube and Facebook, youngsters-- and perhaps all of us-- have become more image based, as opposed to auditory).

The Treachery of Dave

This sentence is not a pipe (nor is it a spoon . . . because there is no spoon).

Dog Lovers Should (Not) Read This

After some intense discussion in Philosophy class, we decided that it would probably be more utilitarian if dog owners decided at the outset-- and broadcast this to all involved-- that after ten years with their loyal companions, they would celebrate the pet/owner relationship by slaughtering and eating the animal, in order to avoid the melancholy doldrums of canine senescence and to bite into the exorbitant American consumption of factory farmed flesh . . . I can't imagine serving my own dog several years down the line at a morbid barbeque but I think if I understood this finality from the get go, then I could stomach it (obviously this is how things went not so long ago, when many of us lived on the farm: you hand fed your adorable piglet or lamb, knowing full well it was slated for the table and you digested the cognitive dissonance along with the seared flesh of your innocent dependent).

Note to Self: Buy Granola

Basmati rice in a brown zip-lock style bag has a similar heft as a bag of granola, and it also has a simlar feel and sound when it is poured-- which is why I poured a lot of uncooked Basmati rice into my bowl of Greek yogurt this morning before I noticed that it was rice pouring out of the bag and not granola (so much rice that I had to toss the whole mess into the trash . . . the rice grains were inextricable from the yogurt).

Spreading Some News About NYC

Yesterday, for my wife's birthday, we went on a West Village food tour that transmogrified into a West Village bar crawl; here is the itinerary, in case you want to replicate it without a guide (and without all the historical anecdotes about the neighborhood, which our tour guide provided; they were quite fascinating: astronomical real estate prices, gay pride landmarks, the site of Operation Midnight Climax, the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, the Friends apartment, and lots of 18th and 19th century landmark building) so to begin, we took the 8:48 AM train with two other couples (Mel/Ed and Ann/Craig) and took the subway down to Christopher Street and met our tour guide (Ian) and then we ate rice balls and soppressata at Faicco's Italian Specialties (super delicious) wandered the neighborhood a bit and then had some sensational empanadas and plantain chips and a very expensive mojito at Havana Alma de Cuba, next was Hudson Bagel for an everything bagel with cream cheese, which seemed silly to us, but the other folks on the tour, who hailed from Mississippi, were very impressed and said they were much better than the bagels at Kroger; then we took a detour through Washington Square Park, listened to some outdoor piano, and saw the new Ai Weiwei sculpture under the arch; then falafel and lamb shawarma at the original Mamoun's Falafel-- a place we are familiar with because there is a franchise in New Brunswick -- and the main thing to remember about Mamoun's is do not  eat the hot sauce, it's very very hot . . . of course, I always break this rule, in honor of manliness, and yesterday was no exception, and I will say that the falafel at the original location did taste a bit better than the stuff they offer in New Brunswick, at this stage Cat went rogue and ran next door and bought some Belgian pomme frites for the group to share, and this made everyone very happy (and quite full) but we had to stuff in a sliver of artichoke pizza from the eponymously named Artichoke Basille's Pizza (which we all agreed was tasty but very rich, a sliver was more than enough) and a cupcake from Molly's Cupcakes; we all agreed the food tour was a lot of fun, and we also agreed that it was really strange to see just how many food and walking tours were ambling through the Village (with aspiring actors as guides) and it made us realize that though the city is only a fourteen dollar train ride away and we totally take it for granted and mainly complain about the crowds and the prices, it's a place that people from all over the world come to visit; the strangest moment on the food tour was when the young woman from the Mississippi crew showed us a weird picture of what looked like an S&M dungeon and explained how it was her favorite bar in New Orleans because some horrific murders had taken place there in the 18th century; she went into great detail about this, and it would have been creepy, except that she described the place in a wonderfully serene Deep Southern drawl-- cognitive dissonance-- anyway, after that we went to a number of bars: Fat Cat, which was a weird and grungy underground space with live jazz, pool, shuffleboard, and ping-pong; then the Duplex, a flamboyant lounge with 80's music videos and excellent cocktails, then we ate more food (Tacombi . . . delicious fish and chorizo tacos) and finished the night at The Garret, a packed speakeasy style joint that you have to enter by walking through the Five Guys (turn left by the fryer) and by the time we left, fairly soused from all the Norse Whisperers and Full Brazilans, there was a long line to get in, which ran parallel to the line for burgers-- weird-- and on the way home we found out that Ann had gone to highschool with one of my fraternity brothers-- my little brother, in fact-- so that fact provided us with much amusement until we got back to New Brunswick and mustered strenght for the walk across the bridge and up the hill . . . I was a little groggy today and a lot poorer-- alcoholic beverages cost an arm and a leg in these areas-- but it was a great reminder of all the things packed into a small space in New York (next time we go to that area, we're going to drag the kids along and make them go to the Tenement Museum, so they can see a historically accurate sweatshop and get inspired to attend college).

That's a Nice Paper You've Got There . . .

This year at East Brunswick, I am teaching three sections of the notorious Rutgers Expos class to high school seniors; last summer, several English teachers met with one of the professors who runs the program and we designed the course, and the deal is that if the students pass then they can get college credit for the class and thus not have to to take it at Rutgers (or they can transfer the credits to wherever they are going) and this has been a compelling intellectual experience for the three of us creating the course and a wild ride for the students taking it: the kids read five long, dense non-fiction piece of writing and write a sequence of five 5 page synthesis essays using these texts in a very logical and academic manner-- it's more of a reading comprehension course than anything else-- and while we're giving them good high school grades for just doing everything correctly, passing their reading quizzes and writing the essays in the right format and creating outlines and taking notes-- they are also being given a Rutgers grade, on the Rutgers rubric . . . and the Rutgers rubric is tough-- the kids agree that a C on the Rutgers rubric is equivalent to a B+ essay in high school and at the bottom end, the Rutgers rubric has a built in cliff, it falls from C to NP (Not Passing) without stopping along the way in the C- and D zone, which are two of my favorite grades for kids that sort of did the work but didn't really succeed-- I especially like the most sarcastic of all the grades, the D+ . . . there's a certain kind of majestic piece of crap that deserves it, but now those low-but-not-failing-gift grades are off the table and so the majority of students have gotten an NP on the first two essays; the grade is so prevalent that we've nicknamed it Nice Paper, because the essay is decent in appearance; it's typed and cited and five pages and it's got paragraphs and plenty of quotations, but for whatever reason-- poor reading comprehension, lack of independent thought, overuse of summary, incoherent logic, privileging the student opinion over the text, no attempt at synthesis-- it doesn't pass, and so grading them has been absolutely grueling: I've conferenced with every student about each essay-- 120 conferences, the bulk of them about NP essays-- and while I don't think it's quite as difficult as when a doctor has to deliver the bad news to someone who is terminally ill, it's certainly in the ballpark of George Clooney's job in Up in the Air, the film where he flies around the country and lays people off-- like Clooney, I'm trying to keep the conferences positive and candid, especially since the papers are not averaged together for the Rutgers grade, you only have to pass two of them to pass the course, but despite this, there have been plenty of emotional moments and some crying-- these are good students used to succeeding in their efforts, so this is a real wake-up call for them; I've found that it helps if I use my usual tactic and make the conferences more about me than them-- this is going to hurt me more than it's going to hurt you!-- and so I put a chart on the board about how I feel grading each type of essay, so they could see the process through my eyes and empathize with me about how hard my job is and stop thinking about their own failing grade;

total trainwreck NP . . . fun and easy . . . because the errors are so significant and egregious that I can just chastise the student for their lousy effort and we can all move on with our lives;

NP bordering on a C . . . sad and painful  . . . the student was so close and I was looking for a way to pass the essay but couldn't find it;

C . . . hopeful and irate . . . the essay has some promise but completely falls apart in spots;

C+  . . . reflective . . . I'm actually thinking about the argument and the logic;

B and B+ . . . suggestive . . . there's only been two B essays and I haven't read a B+ yet, but with the two B essays I just had a couple of ideas for how to improve the structure and logic and a couple of details they could have added . . . totally pleasant experience

 . . . awesome experience . . . there's only been one A essay, and it was in my friend Kevin's class-- four teachers read it and all agreed that it was an A, it was sensational: total comprehension of the really difficult ideas in the text (emergent intelligence, self-organizing systems, evolutionary characteristics and pattern amplification) and a brilliant application of these ideas to the other text we were working with . . . but I don't expect to see too many of these (and you'd think the other students would have been happy that someone wrote an A essay but they weren't . . . they were annoyed).

This One is No Fun

So I found out yesterday that an old student of mine (Emily Fredricks, graduated in 2011) was riding her bike to work in Philly and got hit and killed by a garbage truck; there have been protests, uproar, and extended media coverage about the accident, because she was in a Center City bike lane when she was struck . . . and right after I heard the news, I got in my car and turned on a new episode of Reply All, which presented another podcast (Heavyweight) and a transcendent story about a dude named Jesse who was riding his bike and got hit by a car and spent 17 days in a coma-- so a weird and disturbing coincidence that made me meditate on the costs of a society built around the automobile (and tomorrow is the 12 year mark of my brother's death by a car crash, and he's just one of many that I know that died in this manner . . . for a morbid but compelling take on the evolution of our automotive culture, listen to "The Modern Moloch").
A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.