Dave Avoids Being an Awkward Racist

Fourth period today, I was far afield, covering an honors physics class in J Hall; the class was full of 11th graders and I teach mainly seniors, but I recognized a couple of younger siblings-- and then one younger sibling recognized me: a tall African-American kid said that I taught his older brother Callan and we talked about him for a moment and then I got the students working on their assignment (something to do with the speed of sound and the speed of light and car antennas) and I noticed that the other African-American kid in the class not only looked like the tall kid that said I taught his brother, but he also looked like the older brother Callan . . . but I didn't say anything because I didn't want to fall into the stereotypical "they all look alike" trope . . . so I kept my mouth shut about the resemblance, but then towards the end of the period I realized that I hadn't taken attendance yet, so I read the roster aloud and checked off who was present and it turned out the that the two African-American kids in the class were identical twins . . . so not only did they look like the older black kid that I taught, but they looked exactly like each other.

Dave Does the Math

We celebrated my grandmother's 96th birthday today (we celebrated a bit early-- her actual birthday is Tuesday but she's looking good so I think she's going to make it) and she's now twice my age (I'm 48) and I won't be double my older son's age for twenty years (he's 14) and I won't double my younger son's age for 22 years (he'll be 13 in a month) and my friend Brady (who's 47) and just had a daughter won't double her age for 47 years!

Early Goals Ease a Hangover . . .

I was a little foggy this morning because Catherine and I attended a raucous dance party last night, so I was especially happy when my travel soccer team took an early 4 - 0 lead in our game . . . Ian scored two quick goals, perhaps because he has extra energy due to his grounding (caused by poor academics . . . he's got no phone, he's not allowed to hang out with friends this weekend, and he's supposed to mulch the garden-- Catherine sent him out to do so on Thursday after school, but  when she went to check on his progress, she found him taking a nap in the sun . . . as long as he keeps scoring early goals and making my life as a coach less stressful, I'm fine with him catching zzz's wherever he can).

Scott Pruitt, You Are My Nemesis

If there's one thing that you can be certain of around here, it's that I despise Scott Pruitt and the new episode of Embedded has not helped matters . . . it's a deep dive into Pruitt's personality, politics and policy tactics and now his fervent passion for rolling back environmental rules and regulations, his desire to bring back coal, and his apparent disdain for science and the mission of the EPA make perfect sense: he's a brainwashed Bible-thumping religious fundamentalist who doubts the science behind climate change and doesn't think evolution is a true thing . . . now it's perfectly legal in America to believe the Bible is literally the word of God (and it's also perfectly legal to believe the Koran is the word of God) but I do not think anyone who think these things should head up a scientific agency designed to protect the air, water, and forests of nations from externalities created by business and the government; this is an agency for the people and he's taking it back, in the name of God, he's carving out space for religion in the public square, and he's going to set things straight again and let the earth be under the dominion of man, to be reaped and raped and domineered-- just like the Bible suggests; he worries about how the radical left worships the earth and the environment, instead of an angry anthropomorphic God, and is another Republican loon racing us towards the brink of environmental disaster; so this guy is anathema, my absolute nemesis . . . weird and joyless and and fighting for the same thing that radical Islam wants-- a government reflective of an ancient book-- it’s ironic (though Pruitt seems too literal to understand irony) and he’s far more dangerous and awful than Trump himself-- because Pruitt has beliefs and principles, while (hopefully) Trump is just a showman and doesn't actually believe anything . . . so maybe he'll fire Pruitt soon enough, when all the corruption shakes out (although I could care less about that stuff-- he should be fired for dismantling an agency that is based on science) and beyond the religious stuff, which will put things into context, the podcast also details a few of the cases that Pruitt pursued: as attorney general in Oklahoma, he managed to stop a classic environmental externality case right in its tracks . . . the Illinois River and water basin in Oklahoma was getting polluted by chickenshit running downstream from Arkansas, and Pruitt did his best to delay and then essentially negate the case that Oklahoma had against Arkansas . . . the case is still pending, eight years later and (ironically . . . but again, Pruitt would be too stupid to appreciate this) Pruitt is now on the other side of the case and could force Arkansas to comply and push the case along, but that ain't gonna happen . . . anyway, the guy famous for suing the EPA and not protecting his state from polluted waterways is now the guy in charge of the EPA . . . there's plenty more to this and I suggest you do some research and then send a letter to your Congressman about this Sunday-school-teacher gone rogue (there's a nice bit in the podcast where Cory Booker takes him on) and I'm going to try to forget about all this shit, because I just ordered an outdoor ping-pong table for our backyard and I'm very excited (and while I know consumption is a problem and making this durable ping-pong table used up many valuable resources, I also think it will keep me and the kids at home in the yard for many days and nights, so we'll drive less and consume less fossil fuels).

Trump and Ryan: Two Peas in a Pod?

Lots of farm stuff going on now in Congress-- The Indicator covers the labor drought . . . this is probably my favorite thing that Trump has (inadvertently) done; his tough stance on immigration and work visas has made it so American farms can't find workers (though they've raised wages) and so some American farmers are moving their farms to Mexico because it's easier to find labor there-- this affects local American economies negatively, of course, because we're not selling fertilizer and chemicals and tractors locally, but perhaps this farmland will remain as open space, perhaps we won't use as much water, perhaps Mexico will benefit from the jobs, and perhaps we'll be more inexplicably tied in a global economy, which will help destroy borders, nations, loyalty to flags, xenophobia, and lots of other awful things that our on the rise . . . so The Donald doesn't know what he's doing, but maybe he's undermining the very thing he stands for, which makes me happy; the folks on The Weeds are not very happy about the new work requirements attached to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program . . . food stamps) because it's going to arbitrarily kick a bunch of people off the program-- but this seems to be Paul Ryan's dream, to deny poor people benefits (even if it costs more in bureaucracy execute his policy than the actual dispersal of said benefits) and the bill does nothing to change the ridiculous nature of farm subsidies . . . and that's the real nutritional problem in our country, poor people have access to plenty of calories (and are actually more likely to be obese than starving, but healthy food is expensive and mainly unsubsidized) -- if you want an overview of that situation, read this article, but for those of you who want the Cliffnotes, here is Marion Nestle:

"If you were to create a MyPlate meal that matched where the government historically aimed its subsidies, you’d get a lecture from your doctor. More than three-quarters of your plate would be taken up by a massive corn fritter (80 percent of benefits go to corn, grains and soy oil). You’d have a Dixie cup of milk (dairy gets 3 percent), a hamburger the size of a half dollar (livestock: 2 percent), two peas (fruits and vegetables: 0.45 percent) and an after-dinner cigarette (tobacco: 2 percent). Oh, and a really big linen napkin (cotton: 13 percent) to dab your lips."

Lost and Foundering



Take a look at the picture above and see if you can find the bag of Kirkland brand ground coffee . . . and now imagine that you are me: I took a look at that tableau on Saturday morning, could not find the coffee, proceeded to search the house high and low for a bag of caffeinated coffee-- the pantry, the downstairs shelves, the lazy susan in the lower cupboard, etc.-- and then surmised that we had no more coffee (and I wasn't going to wake my wife up to ask if we did) and so I angrily went to the grocery store to buy some . . . when my wife woke up and she heard my tale of woe, she immediately pointed to the blue bag of Kirkland brand ground coffee, and this threw my brain into a cognitive fit, until I rationalized and realized that I was standing to the right of the coffeemaker when I looked at the counter and rashly decided we were out of coffee, so the big bag of ground coffee was behind the coffeemaker . . . and it's impossible to see something if it's behind something else, or so I convinced myself; after I drank my coffee, I went to Home Depot and bought a tree, three bags of topsoil and a canister of deer repellent granules, and it was really windy, which made it difficult to push my orange flatbed cart through the parking lot, because the tree kept falling over, but I finally made it to the car, loaded the tree in the back on top of the bags of soil and then drove away, only to have my path blocked by a large white canister, rolling along across the pavement, blown by the strong wind-- so I got out of the car to move this random obstruction and it turned out to be the deer repellent I had purchased-- I had not noticed it had fallen off my cart-- the wind was obviously the culprit-- and I had apparently forgotten all about my purchase in the three minutes between the check-out line and the loading of the car . . . so I considered myself lucky, because the canister was for my wife, and if I came home with it unaccounted for-- when I had obviously purchased it (it was on the receipt) after the whole coffee fiasco, she might have wondered about my ability to live a fruitful and independent life without her support.

I Feel Fine . . .

I had a salad for lunch today, but it was more exciting than usual because while I was ingesting aforementioned greens, my colleagues informed me that the romaine lettuce was most likely infected with E. coli.

Laura Roslin and Walter White: Separated at Birth?



We just finished watching Breaking Bad as a family and then we hyper-jumped right into Battlestar Galactica . . . these are two of my favorite shows and it's really fun to rewatch them with the kids, especially because they notice things that I missed (and the first time Catherine and I watched these shows, we were sleep deprived and logy because of these very same kids) and while I will claim responsibility for the juxtapostion of these two platinum era masterpieces, Ian is the one who first noticed that Walter White and Laura Roslin are two sides of the same coin, and I'd like to add my two cents as to why:

1) at the outset of each story, both characters are diagnosed with cancer;

2) they are both involved in education and both seem to have greater aspirations;

3) they are both thrown into positions of power far beyond their purview and they both adapt and become calculating and effective leaders;

4) the looming threat of imminent death from cancer makes them assume a different kind of logic when assessing problems-- because they know how to take themselves out of the picture;

5) both shows hinge on a yin-and-yang duality-- the Walter White/Jesse Pinkman rollercoaster relationship and the Laura Roslin/ Commander Adama philosophical and tactical discussions.



The Test 109: Girls, They Want to Have Guns



This week on The Test, I barrage the ladies with a battery of questions and assault them with a slew of incendiary statistics and they stand their ground . . . Cunningham and Stacey may not be much with numbers, but they sure as shit know their guns.

SoD Celebrates SOD!

Sentence of Dave (affectionately known as SoD) would like to take a moment on this lovely spring Saturday to applaud that lowly chunk of dirt and grass known as "sod" . . . we had a tree removed from the front lawn last year and the tree removal guys left a big hole filled with stump grindings, and this morning I fixed up our wheelbarrow, illegally dumped some stump grindings over the cliff at the park (thus clearing the hole a bit) and went to Home Depot to buy some topsoil and grass seed, but when I was at Home Depot, I noticed they had a big pile of sod slices ($4.48 a slice) and so I bought two of them and after I put some top soil down, I tossed two slices of sod atop the soil, and voila . . . instant grass!-- so though archetypal Western villain Liberty Valance uses the term "sodbuster" in vitriolic and derogatory manner, that's because he's the kind of guy that lives "wherever he hangs his hat," and obviously has never maintained a lawn . . . sod, Liberty, is the horticultural miracle that could keep you from pushing daisies at such a young age, sod.

Dave Kills It At Book Club

This afternoon I attended my first English department book club and it was all that I imagined and more; I got to share my literary opinions with the many beautiful ladies of our department and at first it was like a dream: they were absolutely smitten with my analysis of Fredrik Backman's Swedish hockey novel Beartown . . . I was the only man in the room and I'm very manly: I know a lot about coaching sports and the secret ways of men-- the ladies were properly fascinated with my perspicacity:


















then-- in honor of my first book club ever-- I performed some prop comedy-- when we were about to start our discussion in earnest, I said I had to go out to my car because I had forgotten my notes and when I returned, I was holding a manila folder thick with notes and Post-its, a palimpsest of papers that looked like they were written by a crazy person (think Carrie in Homeland) and Stacey said, "You have a folder of notes?" and I said, "Of course" and I started arranging all the notes and charts and post-its on the floor, while mumbling things like "Holy cow, I have so much to say about this book . . . what should I start with?" and after a minute of paper shuffling and manspreading of my notes, someone surmised that this was my version of a book-club-joke and we all laughed (I laughed the most) and I told them that I had my students create all the crazy notes and charts and post-its . . .  I put the names of the people in the book on the board, told them a few themes, suggested that they emulate my handwriting, and let them go to town . . . it was a lot of preparation for a two minute bit, but it was well worth it;


then we actually got into the meat of the discussion and it was a lot of fun but also a bit heated-- I determined that the novel was a well-crafted story about factions, groups, and their effect on the community but I thought the hockey stuff was heavy-handed and not particularly enlightening (Art of Fielding is a much better literary sports novel . . . the tone of Beartown reminds me of Any Given Sunday, which is a good movie, but not a good football movie) but then we got into a loud and vociferous debate about the resolution, which Backman left ambiguous on purpose-- which makes me think he is sort of douchey and annoying . . . and I wondered if this was a meta-book, designed to get people riled up at book club, which sent me to the place I did not want to go-- loud and didactic and refractory . . . and the ladies reacted accordingly:




but we worked it out in the end, and while I can't recommend this book wholeheartedly (I think it's a little contrived and manipulative, and it feels like it's written by someone who has researched a bit about hockey but has never played the sport-- which the end notes confirm) I will wholeheartedly recommend book club, it was fun and intellectually exhausting, and dialogue like this is the only way that we can avoid what Beartown is really about . . . the fact that it's easier to choose a side in a conflict and stick to that side no matter what . . . but book club makes you deal with the difficulty-- which is hard-- the difficulty of listening to other people's opinions and really considering them-- it would be easier to read the book in solitude "because that's easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time" and it would be easier to "seek out facts that conform to what we want to believe" but when you're at book club with a bunch of beautiful ladies, it's hard to "dehumanize our enemy" because they are so charming and lovely (and you work with them) and you have to really reconsider what your thoughts . . . so I can't wait for the next one (and I'm going to come up with another prop comedy bit to get a quick laugh . . . if anyone has an idea, send it to me in secret).

Noam Says It's Okay to be Anti-American

I've been chewing and chomping on Chomsky lately, and while his writings are spicy and might give you mental indigestion, they are also very very tasty; I just finished Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth and Power, and in typical Chomsky fashion, he makes you reevaluate the established hierarchies and hegemonies and truly makes you wonder if we need to dismantle every structure of power before we can actually have a working democracy . . . here are a few of his thoughts on how the powers that be are keeping the electorate in line and preventing too much democracy, which would be a threat to richest and most politically connected constituency:

1) if someone in Italy criticizes the government or policy or Berlusconi, they're not considered anti-Italian, but if you criticize corporate power and/or state/corporate capture/capitalist politics, then you're against the society and you are "anti-American," which is a highly unusual term for a democratic country . . . usually terms like this are used in totalitarian regimes . . . anti-Soviet, for example;

2) Alan Greenspan has praised "worker insecurity" in keeping the economy humming, because insecure workers don't unionize or negotiate or ask for raises and benefits, and American salaries have been stagnant for a LONG time, despite the fact that corporations have tons of liquid assets; this insecurity can result in more and more borrowing . . . which is certainly a feature, not a bug, for the financial industries;

3) Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were the original instigators of this global plutonomy, they were really good at enriching the very wealthy and letting everyone else suffer . . . those two leaders were much less concerned with looking out for American and British middle-class consumers and much more concerned with financialization rules (and lack thereof) that would allow the richest sector of the global economy to profit;

4) rich people make a lot of money through dividends and capital gains, the rest of the society does not...  and tax law has been written to favor making money through dividends and capital gains (and the estate tax has been revised to favor the wealthy as well . . .. more fodder for Chomsky)

5) joblessness is a far more devastating problem than any economic indicator or stock index, and workers have lost the ability to negotiate, form unions, and collectively bargain-- many many people in our country work in a job without benefits or security or a union . . . thank God I'm a teacher;

6) Reagan started this whole business of too big to fail and too big to jail-- he increased the size of the federal deficit by subsidizing and bailing out the banking and savings and loan industries after several financial crashes caused by deregulation-- if big business knows it will be bailed out by a business- friendly government, than it will take extra risks, of course, and taxpayers will foot the bill;

7) for every dollar spent by labor union lobbyists, corporations spend $34 . . . business lobbying is ubiquitous and has caused cronyism and undemocratic policy that even a conservative thinker can recognize;

8) Citizens United and corporate personhood give more rights to corporations in Mexico than it does to undocumented aliens that do work in the United States . . . the Supreme Court justices "are put in by reactionary presidents, who get in there because they're funded by business";

9) people should spend ten minutes thinking about presidential elections and decide which candidate's policy benefits them more and then vote accordingly- there should be no two-year media bonanza-- and then people should get back to what works: community programs, local programs and active dedicated popular movements;

10) running for office in the U.S. is "fabulously expensive" so only political positioned that can draw finance can be presented to voters . . . so much of the most important political discussion is ignored;

11) organized labor is the one force that can fight corporate and government tyranny, and the anti-labor and anti-union sentiment in America is strong, so the rich and powerful should have no trouble keeping the rabble in line;

12) one of the best ways to control people is by "fabricating consumers" and making sure everyone feels like they need something new . . . whether it's getting women to smoke in the 1930s or making you think you need a new phone, fabricating these wants is a great way to keep people from worrying about democracy and policy;

13) his last principle of how to concentrate wealth and power and destroy democracy is the scariest: marginalize the population-- he cites a Martin Gilens study that shows that policy is uncorrelated with public attitudes and that 70 percent of the population has no influence on policy and government . . . they might as well live in another country . . .

so it's hard to read this logic and be pro-American . . . but the one thing that we are tops at is freedom of speech, so maybe people need to start thinking that being anti-American is more American than being pro-American.





Will Dave Remain a Hero Once Dinner is Served?

I'd like to note for posterity that I've been fairly heroic on the homefront the past couple of days: today I planted my second apple tree, so not only am I saving the environment in that matter (trees are carbon sinks and help with particulate matter and global warming) but in three or four years time, I'll be abrogating the supply chain and eating local apples; in addition, last night I went grocery shopping and bought the ingredients for a recipe that Catherine once made that I really liked (Turkey Kofte with Apple Raita and Spinach)  and I'm in the middle of making it right now (sort of . . . I'm taking a well-deserved beer break) and I'm really cruising along (although I did screw up last night, I bought shitty spinach, so Catherine has to stop at the store today to buy good spinach, but to make up for that, I just mushed up the spices and oil and garlic and tomato paste and parsley with ground turkey in a big bowl with my bare hands, which is very heroic of me, because I don't like to get my hands moist) and all these chores are filler, because my most epic deed happened yesterday, when I broke the malevolent dish cycle that had us in it's evil suffocating taloned grip-- day after day, there were so many dirty dishes in our sink that even when we ran the dishwasher in the afternoon, there was still a sinkful of filthy, slimy dishes in the morning, and these morning dishes persevered until the next afternoon . . . so yesterday after school, the kids and I emptied and ran the dishwasher twice (and I cleaned some pots and pans) and this Herculean effort was enough to clean the stables, as they said in ancient Greece, and while I'm feeling quite proud about all this, I'm also considering the fact that this delicious recipe is going to be one of those meals that my kids try and then one of them is going to cavalierly say, "I don't really like it" and because I've done all this good stuff, I'm going to get all indignant and righteous and lose my shit and beat that child with my clogs (and the other child, seeing this violence, will eat the food, of course . . . but will he eat it because he likes it, or because he doesn't want to get beaten with a clog?)

Three Cheers for Tax Day? Not With This EPA

Noam Chomsky thinks our attitude about tax day is analogous to our attitude about our democracy; if we had a democracy that was in any way representative of what the general population wanted, then tax day would be celebratory, a day where we knew we were funding programs and activities that we generally agreed were going to make our country a better place-- but instead it is a "day of mourning" when an "alien power" steals your hard-earned money and uses it to further the interests of richest constituency; one of my favorite podcasts, The Indicator, falls right in line with this attitude . . . and I share this general anger-- I don't think we need to increase military spending and build more nuclear warheads-- and, like the vast majority of Americans (74%) I think the country should "do whatever it takes" to protect the environment, but the EPA, an agency that protects all Americans with its policies-- rich, poor, middle class-- is being dismantled and defunded; I know I sound like General Ripper in Dr. Strangelove, but this is the only air and water w ehave, and I don't want my precious bodily fluids polluted (I also don't want to start a shooting war, so I'm not exactly like General Ripper) and if you want to get angry about where are tax dollars are not going, then listen to this episode of The Daily  . . . Scott Pruitt and Trump are doing their best to aggressively roll back emissions standards (so much so that even the automakers are worried because it may make them need to make different, cleaner cars for California, which has strict emissions standards . . . even though, ironically, it was automakers that wanted less regulation on emissions and lobbied this administration to do so, despite the fact that we bailed the automakers out with our tax dollars and so own these industries as a country but have no say in how they proceed) and so you've got a real lack of democracy-- the majority of the people want clean air, but a small minority (businesses that pollute) want less regulations and the ability to pollute with impunity, and our tax dollars are going to the latter, to enrich a tiny segment while the externalities affect the masses . . . all you can do is vote for taxes on gas (hooray New Jersey!) and push for state emissions legislation like California, while we wait out this absurd EPA agenda (and plant trees).

The Birds and the Trees

I forgot to put up yesterday's post, which details all the tools I used to plant an apple tree in my front yard (I had to remove a weeping cherry first) and-- because of the monsoon-like rainstorm today-- I was a bit nervous at school that I would arrive home to find my tree floating in a neighbor's yard, but apparently I did a good job with my hole and my soil and my mulching, and the tree was still standing straight and tall; I did a little research and learned that I need to plant another apple tree in my front yard (I've got a spot picked out) and it will cross-pollinate with my Braeburn tree--  Fuji or Gala or Honeycrisp are compatible cross-pollinators, I went on some sort of Match.com for apple trees site-- and then under the cover of night, the trees will pull their roots from the ground and slowly walk towards each other and engage in sexual intercourse . . . with any luck, I should be eating front-yard apples in three or four years: I will keep you posted.

Game of Tools

I used five different tools for my gardening projects this weekend-- five!-- I wanted to remove an anemic weeping cherry tree from the ground and plant something new, and I wanted to transplant a fargesia clumping bamboo plant from one spot to another . . . here is my list of tools:

1) hedge clippers on the weeping cherry (because I couldn't get close enough to the tree to dig around it, so I had to clip off all the branches)

2) a pick-ax (to try to break up the soil and roots around the tree)

3) three different shovels . . . because I broke two of them trying to pry the bamboo plant out of the ground;

4) an ax . . . I couldn't cut through the weeping cherry roots with a shovel blade;

5) and the fifth tool, of course, is me!


The Test 108: Game of Names


This week on The Test, Stacey begins with some crystal clear instructions on how to play her name-game- mash-up, but Cunningham and I don't really follow  . . . until (ever so slowly) we figure it out; ultimately, in a brilliant reversal, I hijack the test . . . odd puppet!

Let's Continue What Henry Ford Started

Is there anyone who still thinks working five days in a row is a good idea?

Dave is Foiled Again (by Computers and a Woman)

At our school, we have a number of chromebook carts-- they are incredibly cumbersome and heavy computer carts that house and charge 30 chromebooks-- and the etiquette is that the last person to have the cart needs to make sure all the chromebooks are in their proper slots and plugged in; this is a nightmare because high school students are animals, they just chuck them in any slot-- even if there's already a chromebook residing there-- and they rarely plug them in (and some teachers are vigilant about making the students sign out a particular chromebook and then monitoring that number, but I'm too lazy to deal with that kind of clerical work, so I just end up calling my students uncivilized animals and then I deal with the aftermath . . . in some ways it's easier and more fun than being vigilant) and almost all of the chromebook carts have been impressed into service for PARCC testing but I still have my special cart for the College Writing class, and my friend and colleague Stacey asked to borrow the cart this afternoon and I graciously agreed to bring it up to her room once my Creative Writing class was finished with the chromebooks; my students did their typical crappy job putting the chromebooks back in the cart, but I figured it didn't matter because I was bringing the cart up to Stacey and her students would have to get it organized at the end of the day; I was very proud of this clever ruse but at the end of period 10, when one of Stacey's students brought the cart back to my room, it was a total mess-- chromebooks unplugged, a couple of slots left empty, a couple of slots doubled up, cords all over the place . . . so I publicly shamed Stacey on a group text we had going and said she was "so rude" for not following the chromebook cart etiquette . . . but she retaliated by saying she ended up not using the chromebooks and simply returned the cart in the same state as when I had brought it to her . . . so in a cunning reversal, I ended up publicly shaming myself . . . but I still wonder about this case, which was a bit like a game of hot potato . . . because while she didn't technically use the chromebooks, the cart was in her possession last; I think this is one of those situations where the letter of the law and the spirit of the law don't quite jibe (and I'm pretty sure everyone else in the department is on Stacey's side in this instance, especially because I had malicious intent).

Juxtapostion That Foreshadows Something Bad



The literary term "juxtaposition" is a favorite of sophomores the world over, mainly because it applies to nearly any two things placed side-by-side that elicit some sort of irony or contrast . . . it's easy to identify, sounds smart, and-- along with foreshadowing-- it's the most popular term thrown about by wannabe high school literary scholars . . . but sometimes things are hackneyed and cliche for good reason, and a really excellent ironic juxtaposition is a wonderful thing: my wife and I are watching Breaking Bad with the kids and we finally got to season 5 and my two favorite episodes: "Dead Freight" and "Buyout"; during "Dead Freight," Walter, Mike, Pinkman and Todd engineer a methylamine train heist-- a heist that will occur unbeknowst to the train conductor-- and despite a few hiccups and a lot of stressful moments, they pull it off with great success-- until the last moments of the episode, when the gang pays a very heavy price for their actions . . . the next episode deals with the aftermath, and features the greatest dinner scene in TV history, the first time that Pinkman, Skyler and Walt really sit down together and interact-- the tension is so unbearable it's funny-- Pinkman tries to make small talk in an absolutely untenable situation . . . even if you've never seen Breaking Bad and don't want to commit to five seasons, you can watch these two episodes as a stand-alone unit, they are magical, awkward, and capture everything great about the show.

I Have to Stop Yelling at Republicans

At the high school, English teachers tend to be liberal and history teachers tend to be Republicans-- and once in a while a history teacher will come up to the English Office to take our pulse on the current political situation and I always end up ranting and raving about voodoo economics and Republican induced financial meltdowns and deficits and unprecedented spending and tax cuts for the Constituency and all that and today was one of those days and this time we got on the topic of is Trump behaving like a banana-republic dictator and everyone entrenched themselves-- the history teachers have the perspective that Trump isn't nearly as bad as people (liberals) thought it would be and he's really getting some great stuff done and the English teachers-- myself included-- think we're living under the regime of a madman, who likes to flaunt his nuclear capabilities, is https://player.fm/series/voxs-the-weeds/the-imprudent-scott-pruitt-- looking for ways to add lead in our environment, pollutants to our lakes streams, CO2 to our atmosphere, coal dust to our lungs and racing us to the precipice in regards to climate change-- and that our commander-in-chief changes his opinion in regards to his staff and policy daily . . . if you want more ammunition for the latter perspective, listen to the new episode of This American Life . . . it's the story of how Republican Senator Jeff Flake tries to get a popular DACA bill passed in an absolutely insane White House, or you could listen to the folks on The Weeds explain how Sinclair broadcasting is forcing local newscasters to spout right wing propaganda . . . the problem with this stuff is it's relatively boring, like Trump and Pruitt's attempt to repeal the Clean Water Act, but it's happening and obviously some folks either are unaware of it or think this is the stuff that makes America great, and some folks-- myself included-- are angry and annoyed; I remember feeling this way during the Bush administration too-- he was another enemy to the existential environmental threats that our species is facing-- but at least he was more of a bumbling knob, as opposed to our current windbag of Presidential flatulence.

O Lord, Dad Needs a Dog

I've been through the valley of the shadow of death and all I can say is that it was no fun-- but I'm starting to get over the loss of our family dog Sirius (and if anyone else is grieving over the loss of a pet, this movie will be more helpful than this awful poem . . . I can see why the author would want to remain anonymous) and I'm starting to recognize that I need a new loyal canine companion, so I don't drive my family batshit; case in point, when we were on vacation in Vermont last week, after we had gotten home from lunch-- which was a twenty minute car ride-- I unilaterally encouraged my family to take a constitutional stroll up the road to the waterfall, and I met some resistance from my two sons, but I told them this wasn't a choice-- everyone in the family was going for a walk and-- more important-- they were going to like it . . . Catherine gave me a look that said, "You are insane," but-- and I really respect her for this-- she didn't undermine my plan and she told the kids to listen to their father and get walking and then I reminded the little ingrates that taking a walk with the family was not a punishment and they'd better not refer to it as such and they should take pride and joy in the fact that they had ambulatory parents that could still hike up a mountain road and they were lucky we weren't crippled and in an old age home and then we took our walk-- Alex came around and enjoyed himself, but Ian shuffled sullenly sixty yards behind us the entire way (and never got to see the waterfall) and the consensus after this forced march was: Dad needs a dog . . . so we are browsing the rescue sites and maybe soon enough I'll have someone in the house that appreciates a communal stroll or a quick bike ride around the park, someone who doesn't mind going for a short car ride to run an errand, someone loyal and happy who might be a pain-in-the-ass to take care of but will earn it back with good attitude (we're thinking maybe a German shorthaired pointer . . . I don't want a dog that looks like Sirius because that would freak me out).

Some Chomsky to Chew On

I haven't read a Noam Chomsky book since we lived in Syria but I stumbled on a new one at the library and finished it in three days; Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy is a fast read, though profoundly disturbing, and Chomsky hammers home his usual points with detail and precision;

1) America is a rogue state that has used its hegemonic military power to break countries and then does nothing to help fix them-- we don't take in the refugees caused by our policy; we continue sanctions and military occupations willy-nilly, without regard for the citizens of the countries we ruin; we support evil regimes in places like Saudi Arabia and Turkey and (once upon a time) in Iraq and Central America; we harbor ancient grievances against some countries, like Iran and Cuba; we use drones, proxy wars, arms-dealing, and oil to influence the neoliberal market driven power structures;

2) the book is oddly prescient about a couple of current events; Chomsky could have been writing about the migrant caravan that Donald Trump is so worried about when he said, "when people flee from Central America-- from the three countries that were devastated by Reagan atrocities-- El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras-- we expect Mexico to stop them from reaching our borders . . . that's their job" and he delineates the terrible problems in Syria and Lebanon-- fabricated countries drawn up by Western forces after WWI-- which could only lead to atrocities like the recent chemical attacks in Douma;

3) Chomsky doesn't give Obama or Bill Clinton a pass-- they are both part of the problem, both expanding state power for the neoliberal agenda; Obama increased drone attacks and continued to build our nuclear arsenal and Clinton worshipped the market and knew how to keep the rabble in line;

4) but the Republicans are much much worse . . . while attention is focused on the latest Trump tweets and his "latest mad doings, the Ryan gang and the executive branch are ramming through legislation and orders that undermine worker's rights, cripple consumer protections, and severely harm rural communities . . . they seek to devastate health programs, revoking taxes that pay for them in order to enrich their Constituency, and to eviscerate the Dodd-Frank Act which imposed some much-needed constraints on the predatory financial system that grew during the neoliberal period"

5) if you're getting used to the Sam Harris type liberals, who are logical but still very entrenched in the neoliberal techno-optimist dream, you need to read some Chomsky and refresh yourself with radical left ideas-- Chomsky is an anarcho-syndicalist and he thinks every power structure-- including our national government-- should be examined and probably dismantled; he sees the worship of the state and capitalist markets as far more dangerous than religion, and he believes the only power worth exploring and supporting is that of the community, small groups, activism, workers running and owning factories, communities under community control, institutions under direct control from galvanized voters that could enact immediate recall of their representatives, and this would lead to a fading of national boundaries-- as has started to happen in Europe-- and a global system based on mutual aid and support, with production for use rather than profit, and a concern for species survival;

6) while this is wild stuff, and I lean a little more towards a market-based economy with more incentives and rules than we have now (especially some things to stop this no health-care/benefits gig economy in its tracks, before my own children have to participate in it) but Chomsky's big takeaway in this book is that we are not discussing the two most important things, the two things that should be the ONLY things on the agenda-- climate change/environmental destruction and increased militarization and nuclear arsenals . . . it's like those problems are so huge that we're just sticking our head in the sand . . . Trump pulled us from the Paris climate accord and he's happily racing us to the brink of disaster, lowering mileage standards, bringing back coal, and denying that any of this is a problem; Trump is also flaunting our military and nuclear power like it's something to be proud of, when it really does contribute to us behaving very badly around the world . . . so if you've got your head in the sand about our weird and wonderful country, it's worth reading a little Chomsky as a wake-up call . . . I'd love to have the time and tenacity to read all his sources, but that's not going to happen, and I probably won't read another Chomsky book for a while-- it's too depressing-- but I still recommend you read something he's written, just so you can see things from a totally fresh perspective . . . plus, his name is really fun to say: Chomsky . . . Chomsky . . . Chomsky.

Scott Pruitt Wants to Bring Back Wilding

Trump's egregiously biased EPA appointee Scott Pruitt is determined to roll back as many regulations as possible-- and while some regulations certainly inhibit business, at times regulation is a good thing-- regulations can incentivize behavior that will help the country and the economy as a whole, and regulations can limit externalities that are paid for by society at large; the real cost of leaded gasoline was probably an unprecedented crime wave that culminated in the early '90's, when the young brains affected by lead-- a potent neurotoxin-- came of age . . . Reagan and his version of the EPA attempted to relax or even eliminate the lead phase-out, but apparently public outcry and Doonesbury came to the rescue . . . anyway, that's a lot to digest-- it's far more fun to read some Trump tweets and wonder why the President hates Amazon and loves Sinclair news-- but it's all happening again, Pruitt wants to roll back lead paint regulations-- why?-- and he wants to lower mileage standards for cars, because climate change is a hoax and the United States loves Saudi Arabia-- despite the terrorists and the religious rule and the civil rights abuses, they are compliant, sell us oil, and buy our weapons-- so we might as well make giants cars that guzzle up their gasoline . . . and this is an issue where you can make a difference as an individual: drive less, buy a smaller car, and keep an eye out on what's going on in your area, it seems Pruitt and his staff are doing a shoddy job and a lot of his anti-regulatory attempts are getting mired in court . . . anyway, beware of externalities, because with Trump and Pruitt in charge, the externalities are coming for you (and your children and your grandchildren).

Real News and Fake Vacations


I took this picture with my phone a couple days ago when we were at the top of Okemo Mountain-- it was snowing and the conditions were beautiful-- and then I pressed a button and my phone sent it over to my blog, and let's be honest, the reason I did all this hard work was to contribute to your depression, because your spring break probably wasn't as glamorous and awesome as my spring break and now you're going to see this picture and feel really bad . . . of course, you could strike back with an even better picture of even cuter kids in an even more glamorous locale and then I'd feel depressed and we could go back and forth like this ad nauseum until we started creating "fake vacations," which appears to be easy enough to do (if you've got photoshop skills).

Let's Get Political, Political . . . Let Me Hear Your Party Talk

Since the topic has generated some interesting commentary, here are some final thoughts on Jonathan Haidt's book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion:

1) while there are more than two kinds of people, our political system breaks us down that way-- unfortunately, there should be room for libertarians (who give even less of a shit about things than liberals do, but really care about liberty/oppression and have even less empathy than conservatives)

2) you can tell someone's political beliefs by the kind of dog breed they prefer: gentle and independent versus loyal, protective and wary of strangers;

3) Haidt admits that liberals go too far sometimes in their reflexive anti-business stance, and they could endorse the wonders of the free market to solve problems-- he makes a great analogy with food and the silliness of having food insurance, instead of knowing the prices for items and shopping around and buying what works, versus health insurance, where we have no clue what anything costs and so want to be insured for everything-- he brings up the case of lasix, which went on the free market and the price adjusted accordingly  . . . we've gone so far in the care/harm department with health care that the spending is utterly bonkers;

4) on the other hand, regulation can also have benefits-- the regulation of leaded gasoline in the late 70's and early 80's, despite Ronald Reagan's attempt to cripple the EPA and its ability to make that change (sound familiar, Scott Pruitt, bringer of asthma and global warming) was ill-founded . . . as are Trump's trade tariffs (it's Smoot-Hawley all over again . . . Smoot-Hawley! anyone? Bueller?)

5) the tug of war between these two groups is significant and important-- the debate between those that are primarily concerned with care/harm and making the world fair and free for as many people as possible-- and those that are concerned with groups and loyalty and liberty and authority and sanctity, as well as the former principles . . . and that's the most important thing that many liberals need to understand, that conservatives es still care about care/harm and fairness, just in slightly different ways;

6) Haidt's final advice is that if you want to truly understand another perspective, follow the sacredness-- I've had conservatives tell me that I don't actually care about endangered species and the environment, because they can't believe that someone would be sincere about that-- and I have trouble truly believing that people are sincere about religion or truly care if gay people get married . . . but we have to try to see why people believe these things, which all make sense in the context of what is sacred . . . and we have to remember that though there are more than two types of people, "once people join a political team, they get ensnared in its moral matrix" and follow the grand narrative of that party . . . but liberals are conservatives are yin and yang and both necessary for the health of a political system;

7) he ends by saying that libertarians and conservatives certainly provide a valuable counterweight to "liberal reform movements" but he sees two liberal points which are profoundly important to the health of society:

"governments can and should restrain corporate superorganisms"

and

"some big problems CAN be solved by regulation"

and I think these are the two points that we need to all come together about, we are rapidly destroying our environment and our resources, and we are rapidly being consumed by larger and larger corporate entities, which have captured the government, making all this tug-of-war and debating utterly useless, if the people no longer have any say in what happens to our country.

A Book to Help Liberals Understand Conservatives

If you're reading this blog, then you are probably a secular liberal like me (and you're most definitely WEIRD like me: Western and educated, from an industrialized, rich, democratic nation) and you probably need to read Jonathan Haidt's book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion . . . I've written about Haidt's basic ideas here in previous posts, but his book goes into much greater detail and also describes the experiments and readings that helped him to understand the different moral matrices that liberals and conservatives use to understand the world; essentially, conservatives care about more stuff than liberals-- while liberals tend to base their morality on the principles of fairness and harm, conservatives-- who do care about those values-- are also concerned with authority, purity and loyalty . . . so conservatives tend to understand how liberals view things better than liberals understand how conservatives view things; most of these moral characteristics are due to deep-seated personality traits, which are mainly genetic-- things like being open to new experiences and agreeable and neurotic, so there seem to be differences in liberals and conservatives at the most basic level; the book really enlightened me about the benefits of religion-- I wish I were religious, but like a typical liberal, I consider it a bunch of supernatural mumbo-jumbo that wastes your time and money-- but while religion may have started because we have a natural proclivity to see agency everywhere, whether it's a face in the tree or gods behind the thunder-- it has become a valuable asset for members, who experience happiness and social capital, give more to charity, belong to an in group, and have costly rules of purity and sanctity which bond them to other members of the group . . . while it will never work for me, I can see how groups of humans that had religion could have outcompeted groups that did not have religion (and Haidt presents an argument against the principles of the Sam Harris/Richard Dawkins new-atheist crowd, who see religion as a parasite that takes over human brain and eventually leads to things like suicide bombers-- Haidt makes a compelling argument that suicide bombers, who might need insipration from an in-group, are historically only in response to boots on the ground appression and more of a military tactic from a tribe than a radical response based on belief) anyway, the WEIRDER you are the more you see the world as individual objects and not groups until you might eventually try to boil everything down to one set of utilitarian rules, as Jeremy Bentham did . . . Haidt speculates that Bentham might have been autistic, a high-functioning systemizer with very little empathy that made morality into a formulaic algorithm which computes the greater good but does not think about the individual moral emotions within the context of the decision-- while this method might be a decent way to formulate policy, it's often political suicide (economists know that immigrants lead to a net gain in the economy, but apparently many conservatives don't care-- they are more considered with the rule of law and the sanctity of our borders) and it took a long trip to India for Haidt to recognize that other people and cultures place a much greater value on group morality, while everyone cares about liberty/oppression and fairness/cheating and care/harm, only conservatives truly care about loyalty/betrayal and authority/subversion and sanctity/degradation . . . and these are all more important to the group . . . at first, Haidt had a typical WEIRD view of India-- it had rigid social classes and gender roles, it was a sexist society that had limited mobility and a lot of unnecessary rules about eating and prayer, but then he saw that though things weren't as fair as in the West, the connections and order between groups was strong and that was what was valued . . . it's really hard, as a liberal, to put yourself into a conservative's shoes . . . it's hard to feel sanctity towards a religious text or a symbol or an institution that you think is silly, it's hard to find a love for authority when your deepest desire is to see authority subverted, and it's hard to value loyalty when you think it leads to racism and oppression, but if the liberals in our country don't come to understand this, then they are going to destroy their chances of making utilitarian policy changes that can lead to the greater good and instead will remain mired in partisan ugliness . . . Trump is easily explained in this context-- he wants to make America pure and great again, and return us to rule of law, he's an authoritarian figure, totally loyal to our country and nothing else . . . Haidt gives liberals a tool to understand that conservatives are not all insane racist lunatics, and are quite sincere in the things that they care about, things which often do increase social capital, especially in groups . . . it's not my cup of tea, but at least I understand things a bit more after reading this book and can empathize with the conservative point of view . . . and I can see the roots of my genetics in my children, who are open to experience and care about fairness and harm, but couldn't give two shits about loyalty, sanctity, and authority . . . even though my wife and I sort of try to value these virtues, as most parents do, even at the basic level of don't cheat, respect your teachers, and stop picking your nose . . . but none of it is working with them and they're going to end up as WEIRD secular liberals just like their mom and dad.

Broken and Bad Memories

Catherine and I are rewatching Breaking Bad with the kids and we've made it to Season 5; we are recognizing that the odd nostalgia we had for Walter White was unwarranted, distorted by time, and probably caused by our fondness for Hal on Malcolm in the Middle.

Where the Beer Really Flows Like Wine

The slopes were a little choppy today and Alex and I did one run too many . . . luckily this barn apartment has a hot tub down on the lower level-- the three of us took a soak after banging around the mountain all morning and then we all fell asleep and now I'm drinking a Lost Nation Mosaic IPA, which a reviewer on BeerAdvocate describes as having a "crackery malt base" and "earthy berry notes" to go with its "lemony citrus" notes . . . best Spring Break ever (aside from the lack of dog) because in Vermont, the beer actually does flow like wine (and people describe it as such).

Tamiflu + Beer = The Inevitable

Last night's beer drinking didn't go so well-- apparently, Tamiflu and Hermit Thrush Po Tweet sour pale ale do NOT mix well . . . my stomach turned into a bubbling cauldron for thirty minutes or so, until the inevitable happened . . . but I felt better today so I didn't take any sort of medicine and we had a great day on the Jackson Gore side of the mountain, now both my kids are navigating black diamond slopes, so I'm going to have to up my skills to stay with them; my wife and I also took a lovely hike to Buttermilk Falls-- the stupid ingrate children didn't want to go and this made me really miss the dog . . . he would go anywhere with me, happily, and he never gave me any lip-- anyway, I'm off the meds and successfully drinking two of the best beers I've ever tasted:

Foley Brothers Prospect

Lost Nation Lost Galaxy IPA

if you're real nice to me, when I get back to Jersey, I might let you try some.


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