Encroachment, Both Avian and Feminine

Tuesday morning, I got to the East Brunswick Library at 9:40 AM and it wasn't open yet, though the website claimed they opened at 9 AM, but the sign on the door said 10 AM -- summer hours?-- and so I grabbed my book and walked across the parking lot to a bench by the little pond and sat down and started reading; two minutes later a heavyset woman with crazy hair pushing a stroller with a toddler in it sat down on the same bench as me . . . there were other benches available but this was the closest one to the library and, I quickly surmised that she too thought the library opened at 9 AM and I surmised this not because I possess a highly attuned sixth sense that enables me to read people's thoughts-- in fact, I was trying my best to ignore this woman (and her thoughts) but not only was she encroaching on my physical space, she was also encroaching on my auditory space: divulging all her innermost thoughts via a running monologue . . . or I suppose it was a one-sided dialogue with the non-verbal toddler, an apostrophic vomit of words: we thought the library was open, but it wasn't open was it? so we just have to wait here a few minutes . . . maybe awe can have a snack? okay but we're going to stay in the stroller, we'll stay put and eat a snack . . . not that, here you go, and look . . . there are the ducks, those are ducks, and those are the geese, no we're not going to go by the geese, we're going to stay in the stroller and have a snack while we wait for the library to open, we thought it was open but it's not open yet . . . and this prompted me to get up and move, but then I decided that not only would that look rude, but this was my bench and I was obviously trying to quietly read and I was in the right-- she should have taken a look at the context and found another bench-- so I wasn't going to move and i wasn't going to chat with her about how the website claimed the library opened at 9 AM but it actually didn't open until 10 AM, so I buried my head into my book, which was not easy reading (Authority by Jeff VanderMeer, book two in the Southern Reach trilogy) and tried my best to concentrate and then a dozen geese starting walking out of the pond, up the bank towards our bench, and she said, "We're out of here" and got up and pushed the stroller away and I celebrated (internally) because I wasn't afraid of a bunch of geese, in fact, these geese were my saviors . . . and so I settled back into my reading, certain that I would be able to focus now that the woman and the toddler were gone, but the geese kept coming, closer and closer, and eventually the geese got so close to me-- people must feed them-- that I couldn't concentrate on my book and so I had to get up and let the universe have it's way . . . because (ironically) the universe obviously didn't want me to kill the time waiting for the library to open reading a book, though that would have made perfect sense . . . and the universe told me this with three uniquely annoying and encroaching entities-- harbingers always come in sets of three: a rambling mom, a hungry toddler, and a rather aggressive flock of geese.

They Maced Me! I Cried! And You'd Cry Too!

Someday, I will tell the story of Pip and the Mace (it's set in Daytona, circa 1991 . . . a classic) but while today's post is about tears, it's not about Pip's tears in a portable cell at the tail end of a wild night in a sleazy spring break beach town, it's about my tears and how I had to stop reading a book at the dentist to avoid looking like a fool; the book is W. Bruce Cameron's A Dog's Purpose, which my son Ian chose for our family-book-club, and he finished it weeks ago . . . on the beach . . . this is the only book my son has ever read while at the beach, my wife said it was bizarre-- he actually couldn't put it down (my wife loved it as well) but when I started reading, it seemed to me like a creative writing assignment gone bad: it's the story of a unique canine consciousness searching for its purpose-- but the dog lives through multiple lives, reincarnating after each death . . . the synopsis is utterly ridiculous and childish and silly, and the book feels that way for the first five pages but then -- especially if you're a dog owner-- the story becomes riveting and also makes you contemplate the philosophy of the whole animal consciousness thing (which apparently is far more sophisticated than people once believed, read this book for the latest research) and then there's the crying . . . I cried multiple times while powering through the book yesterday, our new dog Lola napping at my feet, the ghost of my old dog Sirius roaming through my house and my memory and I only had twenty pages left when I took my son to the dentist today, and so I brought the book-- but I also brought a back-up book, something dry (Mark Kurlanky's Salt: A World History . . . pun intended) in case I started blubbering in the waiting room . . . and when I started reading, I could feel the tears coming (my son Ian, a tough kid, said, "If you don't cry at the end of this book, you have no soul") and so I switched over to Kurlansky's take on the divinity and wonder and significance of sodium chloride, and avoided clouding up my own eyes with brine and finished the book in the privacy of my home, my trusty dog nearby.

The Test 114: You Need This For That


This week on The Test, Cunningham forces Stacey and me to ponder how this leads to that . . . or how some things (or people) are instrumental to other things . . . like eggs are instrumental to baking a cake (or maybe not) and as a bonus, Stacey makes a pun.

Land Ho! Two Five Star Recommendations!

Summer is waning fast, but if you still have time left to binge some quality stuff, I have two superlative recommendations for you; both are concerned with man's relationship to the land, but one is British and the other as American-as-fuck-all so they have very, very different takes . . . one piece is an incredible piece of deep dive journalism that-- if you're a liberal-- will make you scared and angry and freaked out and contemplative, and if you're a moderate conservative, will make you wonder where the hell the fringe of your party wants to go (and if Donald Trump actually wants to lead them there) and if you are willing to follow; and if you're a right-wing-gun-nut-ultra-patriotic-endangered-species-hating-militia-member-antifederalist then you'll be pleased that your story is getting some press (even if there's a liberal media bias to the reporting)

and the other piece is a droll, charming comedy that will make you forget all the troubles I formerly mentioned . . . without further ado:

1) Bundyville . . . a journalistic tour-de-force consists of seven podcasts and four articles on Longreads that details how Cliven Bundy and his family and allies have fought the federal government about grazing rights on federal land, starting with the Bundy Ranch Standoff in 2014, which attracted anti-federalist right wing militants from around the country, and leading to the forty day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon . . . along the way, Leah Sottile touches on religious fundamentalism--God speaks to Bundy-- and the environmental movement (which the Bundy's believe should be labeled as a cult-like religion), radical interpretations of the constitution, the rights of states versus the rights of the federal government, David Koresh and Timothy McVeigh, race (if people of color tried to do the stuff the these white nationalists do, they'd be shot and killed) and government overreach, and-- in the end-- what it means to be an American and the relationship Americans should have with our land and our government . . . compelling and essential, so good I'm going to teach it this year;

2) Detectorists . . . a fantastically weird show about friendship . . . and metal detectors; Mackenzie Crook (best known for playing Gareth in The Office) and Toby Jones roam the British countryside looking for bits of ancient history (in a nation where you have the right to roam on private land . . . while you may have to ask permission to look for treasure, if you are British, there is a much more communal feeling about "private" property, and you're not going to get to keep the Saxon hoard you turned up anyway, you have to report it to the "coroner" and it is regarded as national treasure) but meanwhile, in the present, the two buddies aren't exactly killing it . . . so is the metal-detecting a healthy escape from the mundane or a barmy obsession that's going to destroy their relationships and life-goals; I thought this would be it, but the show introduces some rival detectorists (that look like Simon and Garfunkel) and an attractive female and you've got way more plot then I anticipated, plus extremely well-written dialogue, understated and pitch-perfect acting, and lots and lots of laughs . . . I convinced my wife and kids to watch and despite the utterly weird and slow start-- two dudes roaming a field with contraptions-- they fell in love with the show and we're racing through (I know some of you only take my reviews seriously if my wife is onboard) and I will also admit that as we slog through these final hot, humid, mosquito-and-tick-ridden days of central Jersey summer, I am longing for a cool place where you can hike wherever you wish, without the fear of getting gunned down by a semi-automatic-weapon-wielding-anti-federalist landowner.

The Red Bulls Game Was the LEAST Exciting Part of the Night (or Hostage Situation at the Carpark)

Last night, Catherine, Alex, Ian and I went to Red Bull Arena to watch Wayne Rooney and DC United take on the Red Bulls; Rooney put in an understated performance, playing a number of great one touch passes (and demonstrating that his vision and decision-making is miles ahead of the MLS players) but he never took on the defense in full Shrek-rugby-fashion (and he had a perfect opportunity at the six and cranked it over the crossbar) and the Red Bulls combined well, generally controlled the ball, moved forward with purpose, should have scored three or four goals, and made do with a one-zero victory . . . we thoroughly enjoyed the game, but the problem with watching the Red Bulls is the transportation situation: you can't park in Harrison, where the stadium is, because it's a traffic nightmare, so you can either take the train to Newark and then the PATH, or drive to Newark, park in a lot, and then do a rather treacherous walk along the (very polluted) Passaic River, then cross into Harrison over the Frank E Rodgers bridge . . . we elected to do the latter, because if you hustle out of the stadium and walk fast, you can beat all the traffic; we took off right as the injury time ended, and I warned the kids to take it easy and be careful because it was dark and this was not a well-marked or evenly paved stroll; despite my warning, Ian bit it hard when he tried to jog up to Catherine to ask her something-- he caught his toe on the stand of a portable traffic sign that happened to be on the sidewalk, he fell hard (and nearly into traffic on Raymond Blvd) and scraped up his knees, hands and elbows . . . he was bleeding and crying and had some glass bits in his rapidly swelling elbow, but he got up and we hobbled on towards the Edison ParkFast on Market Street . . . when we arrived, there was only one person working and a number of people waiting for their cars, and you had to pay at a machine and then give the guy the ticket, then he would get your key and drive your car around to the front of the building-- it was fairly disorganized and difficult to determine the line or what was going on, but Catherine fed our ticket into the machine, ran her credit card, was charged $20, and out popped TWO tickets . . . so she handed the guy both tickets-- and he immediately took one of the tickets and ran it over to a car that he had already pulled around and handed it to the driver and then he went back to getting cars so I told Catherine that we might have given him the wrong ticket and he wasn't getting our keys and when she explained this to him and how the machine gave us TWO tickets, he said that the machine couldn't take two tickets and that we had to pay and we explained that we HAD paid and that the machine DID spit out two tickets and he said this was not possible and then ran off to pull around another car and this is when I realized that we were going to have trouble resolving this issue-- it was an issue with the machine and the attendant had no clue how to solve it; Catherine tried to explain again-- she said that maybe we paid for the other person's ticket or something, or the tickets got jammed, but that we had paid but the attendant turned a deaf ear and continued serving people who had come after us because he didn't understand the situation-- and while all this waiting is going on, Ian is bleeding from his knees and elbows-- and the guy, who, judging by the accent, might have hailed from Trinidad, was not getting it and Catherine was getting pissed off that he kept ignoring her and he was getting pissed off that we were interrupting his work; things got more and more heated, and a random guy stepped in, took out a twenty, handed it to the attendant, and said, "Will this resolve the situation?" and the attendant said, "Yes" but Catherine was having none of that-- she took the money and handed it back to the guy and said, "We're not paying $40 for parking" and, while I admire her principles, I would have paid twenty bucks at that point to get the hell out of Newark, but Catherine tried another tactic-- she pulled up her Wells Fargo account and showed the guy that we had paid $20 at the Edison ParkFast at 9:27 PM but he wouldn't even look at the phone and ran off to pull more cars for people who had got there after us, and then Alex got vocal with him and he said, "I don't talk with children" and this pissed me off, so I told the guy the kids were people too and he was putting them out as well as Catherine and I and he said he would deal with this problem later because he was busy so Catherine laid it on the line and said, "Are you giving us our keys? Or do we have to call the police?" and the guy-- getting very defensive-- said, "Call the police" and so Catherine did-- and then another random guy made an excellent suggestion; he said, "Run the ticket again on your credit card and then call the credit card company tomorrow and say you were double charged," and that is exactly what we will do next time this happens (God forbid) but at this point Catherine was angry and determined and she saw a cop car across the lot and so she walked over to it, meanwhile, Alex got a complimentary bottle of water and we cleaned out Ian's wounds . . . right in front of the attendant's little booth, and perhaps this moved him, or the fact that the police were coming, but he gave me the ticket and said, "Write an explanation of what happened on it and your phone number" and I did so-- then Catherine got back and told me to put a fake phone number on it and the police were on their way-- but at this point, the guy had caved, he realized that we weren't going away and that he was holding a bleeding child hostage in his lot, and so he took the ticket-- with my hastily scrawled explanation on it-- and pulled out car around; that was when an officer showed up, and we told him that we had finally resolved the situation and thanked him for coming to lend a hand . . . all told we were at the lot trying to get our car for over an hour, but there is a happy ending to the story; we crated Lola before we left, she still isn't great about being left alone, and we were worried that with the delay, she might have peed in her crate, but she was fine and dry and happy to see us.

Mission Accomplished?

In the spirit of George W. Bush's infamous "Mission Accomplished" proclamation, I'm claiming victory in my goal to improve my under-the-porch bike shed . . . it's not perfect and will probably require some tweaking, but I'm tired and I did some stuff:  I laid down plenty of tar paper-- which should keep the cave crickets out-- and I built new slots on plywood for each of the bikes; it was much easier to build the slots on pieces of plywood outside the bike shed, and then insert the floor into the shed with the slots already built, a lesson that makes me recall George H.W. Bush and the first Iraq War: if I would have done things right the first time, I would have never needed to go back in and do all this labor a second time.

Vacation is Over (Cue the Cave Crickets)

No time for abstractions and bombast today, I'm back from vacation and battling a horde of cave crickets inside my beautifully designed but ill maintained bike shed . . . I've been flushing them out with our leaf blower and I now I've got a fan running int here so they won't return; I just got back from Home Depot with a big sheet of plywood for a new floor, tar paper to seal things up, pressure treated four by fours so there's no need for kickstands, and a waning supply of determination.

New York was an Oyster Town (and may be again)

Mark Kurlansky's book The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell is the perfect beach read if you are at the Jersey Shore (which I am) and you don't want to escape and instead want to ponder just what has happened to our water-- especially the water and estuaries around New York City and New Jersey-- and the creatures that inhabit this water; Kurlansky writes a chronological and comprehensive history of New York City through the lens of the oyster, starting with the Dutch and the Lenape's interaction in New Amsterdam in the 1600's; then detailing Revolutionary Era Manhattan-- "a city of pirates, entrepreneurs, and the struggling poor,"; then Kurlansky focuses on New York in the 19th century, which was the golden age of oyster eating, oyster harvesting, oyster shipping and oyster bars; and finally, he ends with the inevitable: rapacious overharvesting, pollution, sewage, the end of edible oysters around the city and recognition that something needs to be done . . . it gets weird to read the word "oyster" so many times, but New York really was an oyster town-- the shellfish was abundant, delicious, cheap, and cooked in a variety of ways; the rich and the poor both ate oysters in vast quantities, and Kurlansky provides the recipes to prove this; the beds were everywhere: the East River, Jamaica Bay, the Gowanus, the Battery, City Island, Rockaway, way up the Hudson and the Long Island Sound and in Jersey as well, the Raritan Bay, Keyport, Newark Bay, etc . . . the processing plants and markets and barges and boats and harbors and seeding and tonging operations were all big business, fueling "oystermania" in the 1800's; it's hard to imagine, but the waters around New York City were incredibly rich in sea life: blue claw crabs and menhaden and shrimp and anchovies, mackerel, bluefish, enormous sea drum, stripers, sharks and sturgeon . . . and up the Hudson there were also freshwater species such as carp, pike, perch, bass and pickerel . . . and then it all came crashing down; first, it was the sewage and typhoid-- and by 1927 the oyster beds around New York were all considered inoperable, incredibly polluted, dangerous, and disgusting . . . and then things got even worse-- for the next fifty years or so, factories poured industrial waste-- heavy metals, dioxins, DDT, etc-- on top of the sewage sludge and silt that had already decimated the bays, rivers, and estuaries . . . and while the Clean Air and Water Act helped to change things, it will be a long long time before we can eat the oysters from around NYC again; environmental programs have started growing oysters in various locations (though not the Gowanus, it still doesn't have enough oxygen) and hopefully, despite the Trump EPA's plan to roll back standards, there is enough momentum to get oyster populations on the rise-- because even if you can't eat them, they filter the water-- and there has been a return of many fish species (but not the drum, because they eat oysters, or the sharks-- which live out past Sandy Hook and can still smell something wrong with the bay) and after doing all this reading about the state of oysters, I had to eat some, so last night at Mike's Dock, I ordered a dozen Cape May Salts, which I ate on the half-shell-- which means they were still living when I bit into them-- and they were absolutely delicious and typhoid free . . . anyway, there probably won't be edible oysters out of the East River in our lifetime, but if they do get established, they may filter the water enough to change things for our children . . . and the descriptions in the book of the golden age of oysters, when rich and poor, pirates and prostitutes, all congregated in basements to drink beer and consume massive quantities of oysters, is worth the price of admission, whether you're a fan of the bivalve or not.

They Accepted the Challenge!




Last night, the LED placard on the side of the Springfield Inn advertised three special events:

1) $3 COORS LIGHT  4 PM to Close

2) $3 TWISTED TEA 4 PM to Close

3) TODAY ON THE DECK . . . CHALLENGE ACCEPTED;

and I imagine the band meeting where the guys (had to be guys, right?) decided on that moniker went something like this:

Dude #1: Dude, we should name ourselves the stupidest thing possible and see if we can still get gigs!

Dude# 2: Challenge Accepted!

Trump: What, Me Worry?

If you found some solace in the Manafort verdict and Cohen guilty plea, and you think now Trump and his followers are feeling the pressure, you're very wrong: Trump and his folks don't feel any pressure because they don't know, comprehend and/or acknowledge that anything out of the ordinary has even happened . . . Trump's carefully curated right-wing news feed is reflective of what a large part of the country sees and consumes as "news" and none of it has to do with the consequences and repercussions of yesterday's events . . . for Trump this is just another day of the left-wing rigged witch hunt that he fights "as a way of life!"

LeCompt Grants Us Two Wishes (But Not Without a Price)

Earlier in the summer, when I was on vacation with my family and my cousins, Catherine and I only made it through one set of LeCompt-- the band was great, of course-- but the song selection was kind of lame . . . they had already played a show in the afternoon and I think they were tired; this Sunday was a different story, however: it was the last show for long-time lead guitarist Jimmy Marchiano and the band wanted to send him off in style (Marchiano will now be devoting his time to Led Zeppelin cover band Get the Led Out) and this was a lucky coincidence, because we brought a couple of LeCompt newbies (Ann and Craig) and the band had a lot to live up to (according to us) and Ann is a big Prince fan (which is always the catalyst for an eternal debate because my feelings about Prince are: okay, he was very talented . . . but what was he doing for the thirty years after he released "Rasberry Beret"?) and so Connell and I buttonholed LeCompt before the show and I told him the deal and asked him if he could play a Prince song for Ann and he thought for a moment and then said, "Yeah . . . we can fake one, we can definitely fake one," and then-- as he was walking away and took a look at us and thought about our request-- he made an old-school comment about our sexuality that's not PC these days but was de riguer back in the 80's and we all laughed because it was the perfect comment for the situation . . . so then the band played two astounding sets (and thanks to Dom for taking notes on his phone so we have a complete list) and after set number two we found LeCompt at the outdoor bar and told him the band was killing it and then he told us he was going to do the Prince song and we said thanks and then Connell made another request-- we were pushing it-- and asked if he could do "Born to Run" and let me sing the 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 part after the bridge and LeCompt said sure and then we went back in and sat at the bar and as the band was plugging in-- and they play inside the oval bar-- so if you're at the bar, your a couple feet away from the band, LeCompt starting taunting Connell and I, getting meta about it, mouthing the words, "one two three four" but forgetting numbers or slowing down or questioning which number came next and then the band launched into "Born to Run" and, despite the taunting, I screamed "One Two Three Four" into the microphone at the appropriate moment in the appropriate Bruce voice and afterward LeCompt gave me a shout out and said I had been doing that bit for a long time and I looked back on the blog and I have been doing it for a long time, since 2010 . . . so that's pretty weird, and then they played "Little Red Corvette," thus granting all our requests-- but not without some appropriate taunting along the way; as a bonus, I crushed Ann's toenail with my Chaco sandal, those things are way too dense for small spaces-- I have to remember to wear sneakers to bar shows-- and we didn't get to sleep until 3 AM . . . yikes; here is the setlist:

Pinball Wizard
Bargain 
Hey Hey What Can I Do (Led Zeppelin)
Reason to Believe (Rod Stewart)
You're in My Heart
You are so Beautiful
Come Sail Away 
Changes  
Levon 
Love Reign Over Me

Thunder Road 
If I Fell (The Beatles)
You're So Vain
Forever Young 
War Pigs
The Boys Are Back in Town (Thin Lizzy)
Band on the Run
Elton John New York City
Baba O'Riley
 
Born to Run
Little Red Corvette 
Sweet Child O' Mine
Heroes
Maggie May
Go Your Own Way 
Chain of Fools (Aretha Franklin)
Squeezebox 
Can’t Buy Me Love 
Hey Jude.

Living in the Aftermath . . . Fun To Read, Not So Much To Live

I often have a sinking sensation--  when I am stuck in traffic or taking a hot shower on a cold day or eating take-out food with disposable cutlery-- that this modern life of convenience and technological wonder is not sustainable . . . we just can't keep living this way, it's all going to come to an end and the people in the future will look back upon us with awe and envy; Jeff Vandermeer explores this premise with great relish in his new novel Borne, which is set in a dystopian future where biotech has gone wrong: biotech-- which was supposed to be the answer to food, disease, clean air and water, mental illness-- turns out to be catalyst for the collapse of civilization; Rachel and Wick scavenge among the ruins of a city devastated by the experiments of a biotech company (which still exists in some sort of skeletal form) and Rachel discovers and "raises" a piece of biotech which attempts to become a person but is actually something else entirely . . . the book centers on the complex relationship between Rachel, her lover Wick and the sentient biotech creature Borne, and all this takes place in a surreal and vividly rendered survivalist nightmare . . . a good pick if you're looking for some sci-fi written with literary flair.

I Was Cold Today!

Best day of vacation ever: cold, windy and cloudy at the beach . . . I had to wear a sweatshirt for the first time in months.

Second Hand News to Me

Fleetwood Mac is good music to listen to while driving to the beach, so I played "Rumours" for my kids earlier in the summer and then I played some of the songs on my guitar and I'm loath to admit that I recently learned that the lyrics to "I Don't Want Know"  are not "I don't want to know the reason why you love me" . . . they are the more inscrutable " I don't want to know the reasons why/ Love keeps right on walking on down the line" and now that I know, I can hear it but for the past thirty-five years, I've been singing it wrong (and I just asked my buddy Dom to sing the song and he got it wrong as well . . . so I told him the actual lyrics and we both decided that the internet is amazing).

The Test 113: Who Brings the Bacon?


This week on The Test, match wits and financial acumen with the ladies as I test them on the net worth of various wealthy (and not so wealthy) individuals; this is a good one, the sound quality is excellent, the format is compelling, and Cunningham explains just how much she should be compensated for her tug-of-war prowess.

Who is Culpable? The Fates? Or Dave?

Tuesday night just before soccer practice began, Carl-- our visitor from the Bronx (through the Fresh Air Fund)-- fell and skinned his knee, so my wife came and picked him up and brought him home and administered some first aid, and then thirty minutes later, Ian got stepped on, and-- unfortunately-- it was right on the toenail he had half-ripped earlier in the day when he stubbed his toe (because he was wearing slides on concrete) and so my wife had to come back to soccer practice and take him home, so when I was leaving practice at 8:30 PM, I was responsible for no children and decided to jump in a pick-up game with some former players and some other young men-- which I would never had done normally-- and a few minutes into the game, I caught a hard shot on the tip of my outstretched toe, but my ankle was loose and awkward and the ball turned my ankle a weird direction and now it's all swollen and sprained and this never would have happened if both the boys didn't get hurt . . . dammit.

Last Time I Listen to Him . . .

My son Alex told me a few weeks ago-- after a debacle with a used Chinese cell-phone-- that I should not offer him any options, I should just tell him the right thing to do and he promised he would listen to me; now I did warn him about buying a used cell-phone from China and I suggested he just purchase one from our provider (Cricket) but I didn't forbid him from buying a phone from China-- I thought it might be an interesting experiment and it was a good deal on a cool phone-- but the phone didn't work properly and though the seller issued a refund, it still cost us a bunch to ship the broken phone back to China (because of this crazy secretive system) but I told Alex that I couldn't just tell him the right thing to do because most of the time I had no clue what was right, so all I could do was offer suggestions . . . which drives him crazy; anyway, nearly a month ago we returned from our first summer trip to Sea Isle City and when we arrived back in Highland Park, Alex suggested that we just leave the car packed and drive it like that for a month so we wouldn't have to pack for our second trip down to the beach; while this wasn't feasible for the entire car, I did take his advice as far as the giant bag on top of the car was concerned: I left it up there, packed full of umbrellas and beach chairs and the beach cart and buckets and nets, but a few days ago I started wondering just what was happening inside that rubber sack-- especially since it rained pretty much every day since our last vacation, and when it wasn't raining, it was humid as all fuck . . . so today-- the first sunny day in weeks-- I got up there and unzipped the sack and I'm sorry to say that it was gross, lots of water, and the beach chairs were moldy and the beach cart smelled and the standing water was putrid and gross, so I took everything out and dried it in the sun so that it's ready for our ensuing beach vacation and that's the last time I'm going to take advice from someone who buys a used phone from China on Ebay.

Beauty Happens . . . It Really Does

The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World -- An Us by Richard O. Prum is one of those books like Guns, Germs, and Steel . . . it's so well argued and supported and compelling and significant that it might change everyone's brain; I'm not an evolutionary biologist, so it was easy enough for me to buy Prum's theory-- but apparently there are some old school hold-outs that aren't done with their holding out (I guess if you die while still holding out, you never have to acknowledge you were wrong) but basically Prum argues that Darwin theorized about two kinds of selection and one of them has been tragically long neglected and ignored:

1) everyone knows about natural selection . . . the grinding statistical journey that a species embarks on in order to survive in an ecosystem . . . if you've read The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins then you know how this works: the goal isn't necessarily to be "red in tooth and claw" but simply to do anything as an organism that makes your genes get to the next generation-- you can be a shark or a lichen or an ant or human, cooperate or kill, hide or clone yourself, become parasitic or symbiotic, whatever works;

2) then there is sexual selection . . . and Prum argues that-- for various reasons, some cultural, some intellectual, some political, some uglier-- sexual selection has been conflated with natural selection, and hard-core natural selection advocates argue that mate choice is always connected to fitness, but Prum-- an renowned ornithologist-- sees it differently (or more like Darwin) and argues that sexual selection is often aesthetic and totally disconnected from a species fitness, and the ornamental physical features and mating displays (of which the peacock's tail is the most famous) are the result of a runaway feedback loop of sexual selection and can be contrary or detached from the fitness of the species to survive;

the old way to interpret this is the handicap system-- if a male peacock can support a big crazy tail and survive then "wow!" this bird must be really really fit and females are choosing the big tail based on that criteria but this handicap idea just doesn't hold up-- creatures would then have costlier and costlier ornaments, that would cancel out fitness-- he uses the "With a Name Like Flucker's, It's Got to Be Good" SNL skit to illustrate the logical problem with the handicap system of selection . . . but you could also imagine that a trait like acne would then be sexually attractive in humans, because it does indicate hormonal fitness to mate and it is a handicap but it's not selected for sexually-- the peacock's tail is on a separate loop from fitness, and it is based on female choice-- which was the big political problem with Darwin's theory of sexual selection-- it gives females autonomy and a decent amount of control in how a species evolves . . . folks were able to swallow one part of Darwin's idea-- male vs. male mating rituals . . . because when a couple of elk butt heads you can imagine that they are demonstrating physical fitness, a trait that could be significant to survival, but when a female bowerbird peruses the male's blue bedecked bower and decides that it seems safe to investigate, that's giving the female too much power in an aesthetic pathway that is rather arbitrary and not linked precisely to genetic fitness . . . many many years ago I made a terrible choice for a presentation topic at a job interview-- the evolution of the wing-- this always fascinated me: what good is half a wing? but the theories that were prevalent in the early 90's said that each step of the way the wing was naturally selected-- there were heat collecting benefits to half a wing and gliding potential and the possibility of looking bigger than you were . . . but now there is evidence that feathers preceded the wing on the evolutionary timescale and that they might have been selected for-- as happens with the Argus pheasant--



because they are beautiful and the wing evolved from there-- so it started as a sexually selected trait and then became genetically useful to the species and thus naturally selected for . . . this is a lot to think about, especially since evolutionary biology was developed in a period where Prum claims "every professional geneticist and evolutionary biologist in the United States and Europe was either an ardent proponent of eugenics, a dedicated participant in eugenic social programs, or a happy fellow traveler" but we now know that people certainly don't make their mating choices based on genetic fitness-- sturdy women with wide hips and strong ankles and wrists are what the eugenic proponents recommended-- in fact, mating choices changes with the times and the place and the context: so you can have "heroin chic" European models and nearly obese Khoisan women and both are considered incredibly attractive in their culture . . . we're not doing eugenic calculation in our brain, we simply find someone or something beautiful, and Prum believes the birds he observes operate in the same manner, and then when you've found something beautiful and you mate with it, your children will have a genetic predilection to find the same things beautiful and increase the likelihood of that trait being propagated, even if it's not the most utilitarian thing for the genetic survival of the species as a whole . . . and a few million years of this arbitrary wackiness and you've got the peacock's tail (which was so absurd that it made Darwin sick) but the same could be said about human female breast tissue-- humans are the sole animals that keep this tissue year-round-- and it drives some men wild . . . but really offers no genetic fitness, it's much more convenient to just have temporary breast tissue (as women with big boobs who play sports must know all too well) and that's how the rest of the mammals do it, but this isn't a "mistake," it's a trait that has been sexually selected for and offers nothing but attraction and beauty . . . and this theory also explains why we find art beautiful and music, because we have the capacity to find things beautiful, and so do animals, and that choice-- which is politically charged and intellectually difficult-- is what fuels this other type of selection: Prum explains that it was easier to just have one method of selection, and think about everything through that lens, but it just doesn't make sense for a lot of behaviors and traits . . . so I highly recommend this book, it's a big one and it will change how scientists view the world, there are detailed descriptions of bird mating rituals that you can skim, but it's generally an easy and compelling read and the ideas are ground-breaking.

Something Uplifting for the Young People



I've been spinning my wheels lately in my digital music studio, working on lots of projects but never quite finishing anything, but I wrote this song last week and was determined to get it done before going on vacation-- it's a motivational piece designed to inspire all the young people to achieve great things in their collective lives (before they decay into senescence and senility).

Donald Trump Needs to Clean My Toilet

The married couple from Nicaragua that cleans our house, who sought political asylum here in 2005 and have been issued yearly work permits for the last 13 years, were recently told that their permit would not be renewed this year and they must leave the country by September (despite the fact that they have three children enrolled in the New Brunswick school system and one set of in-laws that are US citizens).

Every Thundercloud Has a Silverish Lining

For the past month, the weather in Jersey has been hideous: a damp, hot subtropical mess, but I keep telling myself: wildfires are worse than humidity, wildfires are worse than humidity.

Gene Hackman Needs to Coach My Kids (on How to Enjoy Hoosiers)

We watched Hoosiers this afternoon-- my kids just completed a week of basketball camp, so I thought it would be the perfect flick . . . plus it streams free on Amazon-- but I think I waited too long to show it to them; all the things that I find moving in the film: the scrub making his free throws, the town drunk rising to the challenge, the coach's unorthodox methods, the last second heroics in every game-- my kids, jaded and ironic teenagers that they are, found these tropes cliched and hackneyed, and were constantly predicting the next beat, instead of appropriately enjoying the cheese (and while even my annoying children agreed that the basketball is shot fairly well . . . it almost looks like they let the kids play and then cherry-picked the best moments for the movie, the music is atrocious 80's synth-pop, which does not fit the 50's timeframe whatsoever).

The Subtle Art of Naming a Canine (part II)

My son Alex and his friend Jack decided they approve of dogs with human names-- so our dog Lola and Jack's dog Walter fit the bill-- but the human name should be old school and not particularly common: you can't have a dog named "Michael," for instance . . . that's weird; every time you called for the dog people would think you lost a child.

Facebook Doesn't Want You To Read This (or Does It?)

Many liberals believe we need the government to protect us from the power of corporations and corporate lobbying, and many conservatives believe we need corporations, capitalism, and competition to protect us from unchecked government power-- and, in modern America, whether you think the corporations or the government is winning this battle is often determined by your political persuasion; Republicans are desperate to repeal Obamacare and end this heinous government intrusion into our personal lives and the Trump administration has given corporations a healthy tax cut, meanwhile Democrats lament the death of the EPA and how corporations will now be able to pollute with impunity, no check on externalities such as lead, carbon emissions, toxic air pollutants such as benzene and dioxin, and the return of invasive coal mining and believe the government is the only referee who can prevent greedy business and lobbying interests from destroying our air and water . . . and obviously there is truth to both sides and-- ideally-- there will be checks and balances between the two (although conservative economist Luigi Zingales argues that big corporations and the government are one and the same in America now, especially under Trump, who is running America the same way corrupt business tycoon Silvio Berlusconi ran Italy) but Franklin Foer, in his ominously titled new book World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech believes that in the realm of technology, the scale has irrevocably tipped towards the giant corporations (referred to as GAFA in Europe . . . we all know them: Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon) and their power and consequence is unlimited and while these companies promote a utopian ideal of efficient networks and unfettered information-- and argue that monopoly is the only way to realize this-- they are actually moving us towards a drone-like existence in a hive-mind, where there is no individual genius; here are a few of his points and rhetorical methods:

1) he compares the industrialization of the internet to the industrialization of the food industry-- while the technology of convenience produced wonder and efficiency, it also contributed to obesity, diabetes, our sedentary lifestyle, and a terrible environmental toll . . . Nabisco and Kraft and such food conglomerates studied us the way Facebook and Google do now, figured out how to create processed foods that would never sate our appetite and sold them to us for next to nothing (for a great book on this subject that will totally freak you out, read The Dorito Effect) and these companies essentially created food that was not nutritious but pandered to the taste of the masses; Foer sees the content of GAFA, especially in journalism, as analogous to this and worries their dominance and monopolistic tendencies will squash diversity and create homogenization . . . think about how hard it is to buy actual free-range tasty chicken now, it's impossible . . . chicken flesh has become an industrialized homogenized hormone laced water filled nutritionless fungible commodity . . . and he is worried that the same is happening to our arts and culture;

2) he also sees hope in this metaphor . . . the counter-culture food movement, which has now pervaded much of middle-class America (or at least around here) and lauds organic, local, home-grown, slow-food and encourages people to really think about and understand what they are eating offers an alternative to the industrialized food industry . . . he hopes the same can happen with the internet;

3) he worries about the power of algorithms and the fact that "data, like victims of torture, tells its interrogator what it wants to hear"

4) he points out that the "Victorian Internet," otherwise known as the telegraph, followed a similar pattern as today's internet; Abe Lincoln was obsessed with commanding his armies in the Civil War by telegraph-- the Union army strung 15,000 miles of wire, to the rebels paltry 1000 miles, and this proved to be an enormous tactical advantage . . . Western Union was best positioned to privatize this network and did so, swallowing "the weaker firms" and becoming an "implacable behemoth" that dominated for the next hundred years;

5) Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon want the same sort of monopoly and they are lobbying hard to do so . . . they barely pay taxes, they are monopolies, the government does not seem interested in breaking them apart, they own our data, they own the media, they produce the journalism that most people read on a daily basis, they have pushed the value of the written word down to free, they don't particularly care about intellectual property or copyright law, and their hope is to produce AI that denies us our autonomy . . . but they sure are easy to consume;

6) Foer certainly has his own axe to grind-- he witnessed the demise of print journalism first-hand, from the inside, and he laments this; he notes that the New Republic paid $150 dollars for a book review during the Great Depression, and it still pays the same amount today for the same length review for the Web Site; in 1981, the average author made 11,000 dollars a year (35,000 when adjusted for inflation) and by 2015 that amount dipped to 17,500 a year . . . and he blames the big companies that run the internet and promote small news stories written for free and push anything that is behind a pay-wall down the search list . . . who has the time for that?

7) his solutions are fairly simple and practical, though they may never happen . . . the government needs to enforce anti-trust laws again; we need a new agency to protect us from these monopolies-- we got one after the 2008 crisis (the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to protect us from rapacious banks determined to make a profit in any way possible) and while this can't happen under this administration-- for some reason, Republicans hate consumers and the rights of citizens to be protected from corporations (just look at what's happened with the EPA) but perhaps it will happen soon enough, it will just take a big enough hack, or enough foreign meddling in our news and elections, and it will have the political impetus to move forward;

8) his final solution is one I espouse-- the refuge of print on paper; Americans are still reading books-- and the Kindle has not supplanted the actual book-- and when you're reading an actual book, the big companies can't get to you . . . you are alone with your thoughts, without advertisement, distraction, and consumer agenda; he hopes that perhaps this can happen again with journalism, that Americans will find room for long-form, intelligent, paid journalism . . . with intelligent gatekeepers, lots of gatekeepers, not just four big ones, some method of vetting and editing, and some moral purpose behind the print . . . so stop reading my stupid, poorly edited blog and pick up a copy of the New York Times or a good book and sit down and think your thoughts, without the all-knowing eye of GAFA watching your thoughts . . .

9) Franklin Foer also wrote How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, which I recommend.

Meta-tears


Once again, the season finale of GLOW got me all choked up . . . which is ridiculous, considering I was watching a completely fictitious representation of a real women's wrestling league from the '80's . . . which was itself fabricated, of course . . . and so the wedding/battle royale in the final episode was not only contrived and plotted within the show but it was also plotted by the writers of the show; despite all this meta-manipulation, the underdog story still got the better of me (plus there are some amazing plot twists) and so whether it's South Korea knocking Germany out of the World Cup or (spoilers ahead) a chick in a weird leotard with a fake Russian accent and a broken leg cruising into the ring on a zip-line, it still gets me teary-eyed.

Shooting the Shit (head) at the Dog Park




One of the joys of having a dog is visiting the dog park and chatting with the weird mammals that bring their pets; a few days ago, during an early morning visit, I spoke with a nice heavyset lady with a frilly white hat, who was accompanied by her demurely dressed teenage daughter; the nice lady with the hat informed me that her dog's name was Bash-- short for Sebastian-- and she said that Sebastian was the name the shelter gave this Bassett hound but that was NOT a good name, too long, but that Bash was a good name, so they shorted it-- but I thought to myself, that's not good name . . . a good dog name has two syllables, so when you call the dog you don't sound like an idiot: Lola is fine . . . LOOOO LAAAAAA . . . but Bash doesn't work . . . BAAAAA --  AAAAASH . . . it's awkward-- and then she alluded to their original idea for a name for their hound, and she called this original idea the "bad name" and she turned to her daughter and said, "Should we tell him the bad name? No, we probably shouldn't," and I left the comment alone-- it was weird-- but the lady in the frilly hat seemed determined to perseverate on this topic of the "bad name" and though I feigned disinterest, she told me anyway; "We were going to call him Blow-Dog but we decided that wasn't very nice," and then she turned to her daughter and said, "Right? Blow-dog wouldn't be a nice name . . . but it's funny!" and I didn't know how to react-- it was 6:45 AM and this nice lady in a frilly hat was talking about fellatio in front of her daughter, so I said, "Reminds me of the name of the dog in The Jerk . . . that movie with Steve Martin?" but the allusion was lost on them so Lola and I beat a hasty retreat out the gate.

You're Welcome, David Sedaris!

The new David Sedaris memoir/essay collection Calypso is darker and perhaps more candid and sincere than anything he's written previous; it may be his best work (though not his funniest . ..  that would be Naked or Santaland Diaries or Me Talk Pretty One Day) but be forewarned-- you're going to deal with death and the afterlife and eldercare and mental illness and suicide . . . you'll still laugh and there's plenty of wry observations on mundane events (plus he feeds his benign fatty tumor to a bunch of turtles . . . though not to the exact turtle he wanted to feed his tumor too, the turtle with a tumor on his head because that turtle died before Sedaris could toss his tumor off the bridge) and I'm also pretty sure that Sedaris has either been reading my blog or stealing my thoughts, because his essay "Boo-Hooey" is about how he can't stand people talking about ghosts and dreams and how he does not believe in the significance of either topic and fans of Sentence of Dave know I've been writing about the same for many many years.

Where Is Kurt Russell When You Need Him?


Yesterday, we drove to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, wandered around a bit (I had a green tea donut at the Doughnut Plant) and then went on the 11:15 "Shop Life" tour in the Tenement Museum-- I highly recommend doing this, whether you have kids or not . . . the tour is immersive and fun and there's plenty of sitting . . . I especially enjoyed sitting in the replica of John and Caroline Schneider's 1870s German lager saloon-- and then we walked over to Chinatown and ate at the Nom Wah Tea Parlor, a famous dim sum place that has been operating since the 1920s and looks like a vintage Asian diner inside (the food was good and cheap for New York, but I would say you go more for the ambiance than the dumplings . . . my kids and I agreed that the food is better and more authentic at our favorite local Asian joint, Shanghai Dumpling) and then we got caught in a storm, drank some coffee and bubble tea, played Connect Four (I crushed both my kids), browsed dried sea cucumbers (too pricey) and went to Mission Escape Games and did the "Escape the Nemesis" room, which my kids thought was the greatest thing ever-- while the room can hold eight people, no one else had booked in our time slot, so it was just the four of us and there was a lot to do: we finally completed the mission, but needed a few hints-- you get three-- and an extra two minutes (thanks to the staff for that!) and it was fairly frantic and very fun . . . but while we were very proud that we came together as a family and solved all the mysteries, puzzles, and riddles inside the brig of the Nemesis, escaping from that situation was nothing compared to escaping New York City on a Friday afternoon at 4:45 PM . . . it took us an hour to drive the .6 miles from the lot on Allen Street to the Holland Tunnel and then it was fairly brutal all the way through Jersey City but the traffic broke up once we got to the Turnpike . . . and I really can't decide the best way in and out of the city: we made great time in the morning (and driving in is far cheaper than buying four train tickets) but leaving Manhattan on public transportation is kind of nice because you don't have to worry about traffic and--more significantly-- you can nap.

Put the Secret Token in the Phantom Tollbooth?

Andrew Lawler's new book on the Lost Colony of Roanoke is far more intricate than I imagined; I thought The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke would be an archaeological mystery in the vein of The Lost City of Z  and it is, complete with hoaxes, red herrings, buried treasure, amateur sleuths, cryptic maps and invisible ink but I didn't realize that the book was going to use what Lawler calls "the Elizabethan equivalent of the Apollo program" and the surrounding history and mythology surrounding Sir Walter Raleigh's venture to create a permanent settlement in America as a lens to look at America itself; at times the story is confusing, the history is far more variegated, complex and violent than the boiled down version-- there are aborted missions, Algonquian assassinations, deserted slaves, shipwrecks, Sir Francis Drake, Spaniards, disease, reconciliation, two Indians of opposite purpose (Manteo and Wanchese) and a host of other history before we get to the simple story of a bunch of colonists, left to themselves for three years while their supplier and governor (John White) was waylaid in England by war with the Spanish and when he returns, with the hopes of being reunited with his daughter and grand-daughter (Virginia Dare . . . first English person born on American soil) he finds them gone, and a secret token on a tree (Croatoan . . . which we now call Hatteras) and so I'll leave you with a few quotations from the book to whet your appetite for the layers of whirling insanity layered on top of that archetypal American story:

1) According to historian Brent Lane, "The Roanoke voyages have nothing to do with Virginia Dare and the poor lost white people-- the lost cause of the sixteenth century and all that gothic shit . . . the real story is geopolitics, colonization, the advancement of science, and development of investment"

2) The bickering of historians, professional and amateur, over the fate of the Lost Colony resembles the scene from Life of Brian about the People's Front of Judea and the Judean People's front . . . "Willard's dramatic outburst-- 'I will fucking run you over!'-- seemed to sum up the relations among the researchers . . . Lucketti and Horton were quick to criticize each other's research, while Noel Hume and the National park Service had fought to a bitter standstill about the earthwork . . . Evans's First Colony Foundation had refused to participate in a public panel that included Horton and Prentice, and organized their own symposium . . ." etc. etc . . .

3) some folks currently living in this area of North Carolina are consumed by their family trees and genetic history; Lawler describes genealogy obsessed Clyde Miller as a man "engaged in something more than a quixotic effort to trace his relations back to ancient Judea via Tudor England . . . it was as if, using his convoluted and tangled family tree, he were attempting to stitch together the black, red and white parts of his splintered past, the "mongrel" remnants that so many Americans share to some degree, a reality largely lost amid the nation's standing racial divides";

4) most historians now accept the fact that the Lost Colonists, if they survived, simply "melted" into the Native population . . . and this could have been true for the serval hundred abandoned African and Indian slaves abandoned by Sir Francis Drake, the three men abandoned by Lane in his haste to leave the area, and the fifteen men left by Grenville . . . the colonists were only "lost" to the Europeans who searched for them-- the Algonquians absorbed them (and they may not want to have been "found" by the white folks . . . it's embarrassing to be found when you've gone native, taken a native husband or wife, and are living in native ways . . . and this happened quite often in this time period-- white folks went native, but the reverse was very very rare)

5) despite the fact that the folks living in the area are a "mongrel" mix of black, Native American, and European, white supremacists and racists adopted Virginia Dare as a symbol of white unsullied American purity and turned her into a chaste and beautiful huntress who survived on her own and did not mix with the "half-naked Indian savages"

6) Lawler analogously points out that there are people "in eastern Europe who were born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, grew up in Czechoslovakia, spent their teenage years in the Third Reich, lived out middle age in the Soviet Union and died in independent Ukraine-- all without leaving their village" and the people of Roanoke are similar-- they were designated English, white, black, Native America, and they designated themselves whatever was politically or practically expeditious, without worry over the truth of the matter . . . and so no DNA test will ever untangle this knot and no story will ever make everyone happy . . . the truth will never out on this and the legends will be shaped by the context: a great read, especially if you are headed for a vacation on the Outer Banks!

The Test 112: What's in a Name?

Stacey proclaims that this is the "stupidest test ever," but I still found it very difficult (unlike Cunningham, who decided it was her favorite and awarded herself a perfect score-- seven out of seven, though there were eight questions).
 

Hot Potato

There are studies that show that female teachers with math anxiety pass that anxiety to their female students and I get that-- because right now I'm trying to teach my kids to make tacos and I'm passing my cooking anxiety unto them (we only had to call my wife once).
A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.