First World Problem # 745

We were on the road this morning before 5 AM (4:54 AM to be precise) but we still hit standstill traffic at the Bourne Bridge.

Open Sesame, Mind

Two podcasts that opened my mind and altered my thoughts on political issues:

1) The Daily: Justice Kennedy's Last Decison . . . I assumed that the 5-4 vote in Janus vs. Federation of State, a case years in the making by conservative lobbying groups and their wealthy donors, we a real blow to workers-- as now people who enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining by their union do not necessarily have to pay the fees associated with these costs-- if you don't join the union, you don't have to pay anything to them, even if they are doing services for you-- but maybe not being able to automatically collect dues will end some union complacency and make the unions cater to what the workers want-- or else there will be "wildcat" strikes (such a great term, teachers bucked the union in West Virginia and went on a wildcat strike) so perhaps greater transparency in union fees and membership will galvanize supporters and lead to a better deal for workers;

2) This American Life: It's My Party and I'll Try If I Want To . . . I used to think single payer healthcare-- Medicare for All-- was impractical and impossible, a figment of Bernie Sanders' imagination, and that no real politicians were considering this . . . but I might be a victim of a political system captured by wealthy donors and their benefactors; this podcast tells the story of Jeff Beals, a progressive Democrat trying to win New York's congressional district 19; Beals has visions of trying to fix a rigged economy and truly believes that Medicare for All is an achievable goal . . . but the wealthy donors would rather he talk about LGBT rights and gun control and abortion and stay away from the economy . . . the donors who control who runs and how much money they get tend to be moderate and pro-business, and this is causing a rift in the Democratic Party . . . you can't change won't you don't discuss and that very well might be why Clinton, who outspent Trump, lost to him-- instead of making speeches to Goldman, she should have addressed the elephant in the room.

Dramaturgy How To, Ready Break!

The film Ladybird is sweet and touching and funny and true (and apparently quite emotional if you're a woman and you were mean to your mom when you were a teenager) but the thing I'll take away from the film is this scene, which is exactly how I will teach blocking in Shakespeare class for the rest of my career.

It's Already 6 PM? Yikes! How Did That Happen? What Are We Going to Do About Dinner?

Most educated people are dimly aware that time is relative-- clocks run slower when gravity is stronger and movement, confounded by the speed of light, makes time go faster as objects diminish in size-- but these ideas are generally categorized as impractical abstractions, necessary to our understanding of the medium-sized Newtonian physical world which we inhabit; however, James Holt brings up a more mundane example in his essay "Time-- the Grand Illusion?" (which is included in the entertaining and excellent essay collection When Einstein Walked with Gödel: Excursions to the Edge of Thought) when he points out that research indicates that people in their twenties, when asked to estimate three minutes of time, are quite accurate, but people in their sixties, when asked to do the same task, miss the the mark by an average of forty seconds-- their internal clocks are running relatively slower in comparison to the young folks-- and so three minutes and forty seconds feels like three minutes of clock time . . . the older you get, the more prevalent this phenomenon is, which is why really old people drive so slowly-- anything over 22 MPH and they're in a subjective Indy 500-- and it's why when you are young, a summer can feel like eternity . . . Holt makes the (rather depressing) claim that by the age of eight, "one has subjectively lived two-thirds of one's life" and so that whole "I'm 48 years young" euphemism is complete bullshit . . . I'm 48 years old and that's incredibly old, in the scope of my subjective life, and even though it is summer, time is hurtling by for me, while my kids are experiencing each day in a more accurate sense-- they are 13 and 14-- and in a much less epic sense than when they were 6 and 7 . . . but, of course, there is no accurate sense-- everyone's time is relative to their age and metabolism and internal clock, so Einstein's theories aren't so far out and abstract, after all.

My Modules Think, Therefore My Modules Are (Some Sort of Non-reductionist Emergent System)

Michael S, Gazzaniga is one of our most celebrated neuroscientists and his new book certainly demonstrates this; The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind tackles the hardest problem in the universe: where are all these thoughts coming from? do they exist? are they a product of my neurons or are my neurons influenced by my thoughts? is there a spook in the machine? is there a machine at all? and on and on and on . . . Gazzaniga first gives a quick history of the evolution of thought on consciousness, from Descartes to William James to Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker, and then gets you up to date with the modular, non-dualist, non-reductionist ideas that are floating around now . . . his ideas about modularity remind me of the seminal AI book Society of the Mind by Marvin Minsky-- this is a book you should read-- and his use of brain-damaged patients as case studies to explain the pervasive modularity of consciousness remind me of one of the best books I have ever read-- Phantoms of the Brain by V.S. Ramachandran-- but Gazzaniga tackles bigger fish than these books, he works through protocols all the way down to quantum physics, and notes that the brain is not a machine, the human brain is something that allowed us to build machines, and then we made a metaphor between machines (and computers) and brains, but they are not all that similar-- the machine is built, while the brain evolved, many modules in concert, and the brain builds itself, with RNA and DNA and phylogenetic and ontogenetic processes -- with operations all the way down to the quantum level, immeasurable without subjectivity (because what tool could you use to measure atomic particles, except a measurement device made of atomic particles, which influences the very particles it is trying to measure) and so there is a metaphysical inspirational epiphany at the end of the book . . . we don't have to worry about strong AI because computers are in no way like our brains, in the same way that inert matter is nothing like life, because life evolved at the atomic level-- binary ones and zeroes will never approximate this-- and consciousness is an emergent property of an immensely complex modular system, symbols bubbling up and influencing other symbols, and this is reflected on so many physical levels that it boggles our capacity to think . . . luckily, Gazzaniga writes clearly enough about these topics and he intersperses entertaining moments throughout, my favorite is a cameo from Neil Young, who perfectly describes the unique subjectivity of personal consciousness and the desire to recapture personal experience; Young says, "I still try to be that way but, you know, I am not twenty-one or twenty-two . . . I am not sure that I could re-create that feeling, it has to do with how old I was, what was happening in the world, what I had just done, what I wanted to do next, who I was living with, who my friends were, what the weather was."

That Dog Thinks It's a Car!

Our new dog is learning to run alongside me while I bike (she's attached to the bike by a bungie cord) and while she trots along at a pretty good clip, I think the dog I saw today from my car window would be an even better biking partner: this dog had no back legs and instead of them, she had a cart with two wheels which the rear portion of her body rested upon . . . so if she were attached to the bike, she could just pull up her front legs and basically become a sidecar.

The Test 110: Abracadabra (This Test Will Reach Out and Grab Ya)

The Test is back and better than ever (or maybe exactly the same as ever) and for the start of this new season, I take one for the team, throw away all artistic sensibility, and administer a quiz on something the ladies love-- something silly, absurd and cheesy . . . that's right, we're talking magic; I'll admit that in the end, I enjoyed learning a bit about this subject, and while I don't believe in magic (like Cuningham) nor do I care all that much that people can learn to do tricks (which inspires Stacey) I do enjoy giving the ladies some "bonus lectures" on what magic is all about, so give this one a listen before it disappears.

Imagine How Tired I Would Be If I Actually Played

I'm too exhausted from the Germany/Sweden game to write anything decent.

Dave Gets It (Slowly But Surely)

When I first got my Father's Day T-Shirt, I was confused-- Tantalum? Cobalt? What?-- but then I noticed that the abbreviations-- "Ta" and "Co"-- spelled out the word "TaCo," and I love tacos, so that made perfect sense . . . and then the day after Father's Day, I held up my Father's Day T-Shirt and said, "This reminds me of the credits on Breaking Bad," and my wife and kids looked at me like "Duh" and I said, "And I love Breaking Bad . . . this is a great t-shirt!"

Once More unto the Breach, Teach

Teaching is a weird job-- sometimes it feels like it's all introductions and conclusions-- and when the year ends and you wave good-bye to the seniors, you're not thinking about the fact that you're going to do it all over again next year . . . but you are (we were especially cognizant of this today because after sending the seniors off to graduation, we went out in New Brunswick to watch the demise of Messi and we saw some students that graduated last year wandering up Easton and they seemed so old, so far removed, though they were only a year out) and the only memories that might differentiate this year from all the others are the annual hand-drawn mural of all the department happenings and a fantastic picture of your doppelgänger for a day.

Thinking It vs. Communicating It

I'd like to thank my dedicated readers for pointing out yesterday's gaffe; I thought the word "tone" to myself while writing yesterday's sentence, but I didn't actually type the word "tone" and instead wrote this objectless phrase: "the anthemic and triumphant of a Bruce Springsteen song," and while there's no excuse for not proofreading, I think I actually re-read this sentence and imagined that the word was there . . . I also have this trouble when I speak to my wife-- I think a bunch of thoughts and I think that I said some of the thoughts as a preface to my actual spoken statement, but really I uttered some cryptic, out-of-context gibberish.

Same County/Parallel Universe

The setting of Drown, Juno Diaz's collection of short stories about Dominican immigrants making their way in America in the 1980's and 90's, is the same county I grew up in and now live-- Middlesex County, New Jersey; there are references to Old Bridge, Sayreville, Perth Amboy, New Brunswick, South River, Spotswood, etc. -- but I was able to experience the grittiness of 80's New Jersey from a position of stability, while the world Diaz writes about is one of lost jobs, fractured relationships, transitory and multiple families, and the constant pull of the Island, of the Dominican Republic homeland . . . it's a side of New Jersey worth exploring, but be forewarned, the book doesn't have the anthemic and triumphant tone of a Bruce Springsteen song.

Better Luck Next Year? Not If It's a Quadrennial Event

If you want to thoroughly wallow in the fact that the U.S. didn't qualify for this World Cup, spend your time in between games listening to American Fiasco-- Roger Bennett (of Men in Blazers fame) narrates the compelling story of the rise and fall of the U.S. Men's National team from 1994 to 1998 in a 10 part podcast.

Dads of the World Rejoice

Three world cup games and Father's Day are a good combination (I think there's a some local golf tournament going on as well).

Activities > Socializing

Yesterday I did 6 AM basketball and then played in a corn-hole tournament at our end of year party, and today is a block party on the street over from us and we are wheeling up our ping-pong table and bringing corn-hole . . . socializing is so much better when there are competitive activities.

Time . . . Best Not to Think About It

Despite all the physics and quantum science, the final message of Carlo Rovelli's The Order of Time is that our perception of time and its passage is a "great collective delirium of ours" which has worked reasonably well to get us to this point, but is in no way indicative of what time is and how it actually works . . . and that is fine; near the end of the book he calls upon the Indian epic the Mahabharata to illustrate this: the oldest and wisest god, Yudhistira, explains the greatest mystery of the universe: "Every day countless people die, and yet those who remain live as if they were immortals" . . . so you can mull that over while I head to our staff party to drink beer, play some cornhole, and splash around in a pool.

Breaking News: Dave is 6' 1"

It's weird . . .the older and grouchier I get, the more the students like me-- and while I'm honored and flattered for the recogntion (especially since The Test has swept the "Favorite teacher" superlative this year) what I really love about this photo is that I look taller than Stacey, who is definitely six feet tall . . . so I am now billing myself as 6'1" (6"9" with the afro).

Mom Always Figures It Out (Except for the Stolen Bike)

Yesterday was my son Alex's class trip to Dorney Park and my wife suggested that he not bring his cell-phone because he would surely lose and/or damage it and when Alex and Ian were walking out the door together, she saw he had complied with this-- the phone was on his desk, charging . . . and the two boys left, together-- which was odd-- and then Ian ran back inside and up the stairs and told her she was right and that it was too hot for pants and he changed into shorts and then he went into Alex's room for a moment and she asked him where his bookbag was and he said, "Alex is holding it for me," which was odd-- they normally bicker over civilized favors such as waiting for each other or helping each other in any way-- and then Ian was gone, before Catherine could process what had happened (she was getting ready for school as well) but then it struck her-- Alex had paid Ian to go back into the house and smuggle his cell phone out-- and when she went into Alex's room, sure enough, the phone was gone . . . so later in the day she texted Alex this message, "To whoever stole Alex's phone, please return it" and then on the ride to the soccer game, Ian confirmed that he had smuggled the phone out of the house for his brother and he asked my wife if they had made a deal, did Alex still have to hold up his end, even though they got caught, and she said, "Of course he does, you got the phone for him" and Ian revealed that Alex had promised to pay him a dollar if he got the phone and then we got home from the game and Alex was a sunburned mess because he had taken his shirt off, and my wife hadn't sunblocked his chest, and he said that they needed their phones so they could check in with their chaperones-- why he didn't communicate this to my wife and instead hatched a furtive and deceitful plan to liberate his phone is beyond me . . . but the moral here is we should always be wary when the boys are behaving cooperatively.

I Knew There Was Something Weird About My Left Shoe

Stepping in dog poop no fun unless you don't notice until you've walked all the way across the house.

Wheels in Your Mind Keep on Turning

Friday, Ian rode his bike from school to the Friday Farm Market, locked his bike to a tree, bought two servings of pad thai at the pad thai stand (he wanted a second serving for dinner) and then he met his friend Ben and then went to some wall and played some kind of wall ball and then he walked home with Ben and his giant styrofoam container of pad thai and he totally forgot about his bike, still chained to a tree near Main Street, and this morning, when he remembered about his bike and went to retrieve it, it was gone-- stolen-- but the lock was still there, wrapped around the tree, locked, and he swears that he did actually lock his bike to the tree and that he did actually scramble the combination . . . but there's something weird about the story-- perhaps someone picked the lock?-- but then why would they reattach the lock to the tree?-- and I think we're going to have to chalk this up to the fallibility of human memory . . . that's the theme of the newest Revisionist History podcast, "Free Brian Williams," a fascinating story about how easily human memories get distorted-- and while I must warn you that Malcolm Gladwell is at his most annoying in this episode, I will also admit that it's a fascinating and compelling story and I'm glad I finished listening to it right before I heard my son Ian's story, because it made me a bit more empathetic to his tale of woe (also, we're in the market for a used bike).

We Put the Man in Manhattan

Here are a few shots of the intrepid crew that circumnavigated Manhattan on Saturday, it was a long haul and backtracking was anathema . . . so when a macadam bike path in Inwood Park turned into a weedy foot trail and then finally petered out, there was no way we were turning back-- we had to get south to Fort Washington Park-- right under the George Washington Bridge (pic below) and there was a hole in the fence that led to the train tracks, so we ducked under and walked the tracks, hobo style, until we could finally duck back into the forest . . . we made it down without having to evade a train and we didn't run into any local police, but next time I suppose we won't try to stick so close to the shore of the Hudson River.


Dave Gets His Steps in (For the Week)

I just got home from a 20+ mile hike from the top of Manhattan (207th St) down the western side of the island to Battery Park . . . epic and scenic and my feet hurt.

Eyebrows Off Fleek

One of my student's Twitter account went viral this week with this quick clip of a girl taking off her fake-eyelashes at prom (to her date's surprise) and the video became so popular so quickly that NBC phone-interviewed her about how it feels to ride the fifteen-minute wave of exponential internet popularity . . . while this couldn't have happened to a nicer girl, I would like to point out that I teach this student in Shakespeare class, and that Shakespeare's complex, character-driven five act masterpieces of comedy, history and tragedy-- which may be the ultimate expression of human emotion and motivation in dramatic form-- are probably a better indicator of the artistic capabilities of humankind than a 4 second clip shot on a cell-phone at prom on a whim . . . but you can't argue with the internet.

Dave Keeps the Barbarians at Bay

This morning I pulled into the high school parking lot, got out of the car and went around to the passenger side, opened the door and grabbed my lunch cooler, and then noticed that I did a terrible job parking the van-- not only was I too far over on the right side of the spot, my wheels on the painted line, but I also hadn't pulled all the way in, so my rear bumper was sticking way out into the lot . . . normally, I look at a parking job like this and think to myself Wow, I'm awful at parking and then blithely head into the building, but I'm proud to say today was different-- I got back into my car and revised my parking-- and this time I did it right-- and if that's not the height of civilization, I don't know what is.

No Time Like the Present

I got my seniors amped up for graduation today by reading them an excerpt from Carlo Rovelli's The Order of Time-- a book connects perfectly to both Hamlet and their own lives, as it points out that though we want the universe to be comprised of things on an orderly timeline, it is actually composed of relativistic occurrences and events, in constant fluctuation and change . . . a war is not a thing, it's a long sequence of events; a cloud is not a thing, it's a bunch of condensation in the air; even things are not things, they are only semi-permanent perturbations of quantum forces, and-- of course-- a person is not a thing, though we are under the illusion that we are a character, an entity, a static personality but we are actually a sequences of events and circumstances with some distorted memories that connect us to the past events that were experienced by a few of our molecules (but not most of them, as they are constantly regenerating) and so while Hamlet starts the play with the ultimate ambition: "The time is out of joint, O cursed spite that I was ever born to set it right" he ends the play realizing that "we defy augury" and that there is no sorting out time and the universe, because-- as Rovelli explains-- the time is always out of joint-- time is different in every location and just a construct designed to give us some idea of the constant flux and change in the universe . . . Hamlet know this by the end of the play when he says "If it be now, tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all" and that is the attitude the seniors must adopt, high school is over, all is change, flexibility is paramount, and "the readiness is all."

Can You Write Off Gummy Stuff?

It's bad enough that Ian purchased and ate Gummy Lifesavers (he has braces and was explicitly told never to eat anything gummy) but the sillier part of his dental transgression is that he left the receipt for the gummies in his book-bag, so that my wife could discover it (when I asked him why he kept the receipt he claimed he didn't want to be a litterbug).

Why Doesn't Catherine Care When I'm Limping?

I thought I broke our new dog Lola because I walked her too long the other morning-- she developed a bit of a limp-- but then we noticed the limp came and went without good reason, and she allowed me to touch every part of her right leg and there was nothing tender or injured . . . and then when she was playing with our friend's dog Sniffer, the limp disappeared, and today she was leaping with all four feet in the air onto a squeaky toy and "killing it . . . and then I learned that apparently dogs are smart enough to "fake limp" when they are nervous and want attention and sympathy and once they settle in and gain confidence, they stop.

Two New Rules (for Dave)

My wife is growing her hair long because she says she needs to do it before she turns fifty . . . according to her, women over fifty usually don't wear their hair long (I didn't know this was a rule, but now that I think about it, it seems to hold true) and the boys and I were playing HORSE in my cousin's driveway this afternoon at a christening and I took an easy shot and my son Alex said if you take a shot so easy that everyone makes it, then the original shooter gets a letter-- I've never heard of this rule either, but it strikes me as an excellent addition, because HORSE can get rather slow and boring, and this speeds things up a bit (unless people take shots so difficult that no one can make them, including the shooter . . . but that's entertaining in it's own right).

Short and Sweet

Cat and I are celebrating 18 years of marriage tonight.

How Much Would You Pay NOT to Live in 1989?

I highly recommend The Indicator, a very short podcast that tells compelling economic stories, and this recent episode (Internet a la Carte) about a white paper (Using Massive Online Choice Experiments to Measure Changes in Well-being) that attempts to measure how people value free services on the internet is typical of the show-- it's a fascinating premise: asking people how much they would pay yearly not use a particular internet service and using this data to value the services-- but it also seems that the numbers are somehow skewed; Cardiff Garcia and Stacey Vanek Smith discuss this for a moment, but then the rest of the thinking is up to you . . . there is  definitely something weird about the median values and how much time people spend on each service . . . it seems as if social media is undervalued, especially since the companies that provide these services are worth so much money, but perhaps social media is just a guilty pleasure and could easily be replaced by disco dancing, roller-blading, duck-pin bowling, gin, or latch-hook . . . anyway, these are the numbers-- they are strange but interesting, especially since if you paid for all of these services, you'd be out quite a bit of cash:

1) All Search Engines $17, 500

2) All Email  $8,5 00

3) All Maps  $3, 500

4) All Video  $1,100

5) All E-Commerce  $850

6) All Social Media  $322.

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