Well, I was half right in my Breaking Bad prediction; I'm fine with that.

Yesterday marked seven years since I started this blog. It's hard to believe that much time has passed. (We moved into this apartment and got our dog earlier that same year.) I still enjoy doing this, and I keep coming up with stuff to write about, though I will admit there are days when I feel pressure to say something clever, or anything at all.

As always, thanks to everyone who visits, reads, or comments.

(Car stuff will be back tomorrow.)

To Infinity and Beyond

While teaching is a fulfilling and generally entertaining job, there are scary moments of repetition that remind me of Matthew Broderick in Election -- at the start of the movie, there is a time-lapse montage of him running round and round the school track, and then he monotonously reviews the executive, the legislative, and the judicial branches of our government . . . year after year, class after class; I had one of these moments last Friday, as I walked down the math hallway: I heard two teachers repeat the exact same phrase, in perfect chronological juxtaposition, and their words certainly reflected today's theme: "all real numbers are represented, from negative infinity to infinity" . . . I could almost hear the word "infinity" echoing down the hallway, forever (and while teaching English is a bit more dynamic than math, there are certain jokes and phrases that I use year after year after year, because they work . . . but the price of practicality may be my conscious soul).

This Week in Awesome (9/28/13)

All right, here's my Breaking Bad prediction: Walt rescues Jesse, but Jesse kills Walt anyway.

Here's a K-Tel collection you probably won't see on sale anytime soon. (Nerdcore via Laughing Squid)

This video plays a clever visual trick on viewers. (Vimeo via Gizmodo)

The New York Times asked hundreds of teens to submit photos of where they live, and collected some of the best in an online gallery. (Lens blog via The Hairpin)

And finally this week, normally I wouldn't give a moment's thought or any attention to the subject of this because I find him insufferable, but as usual Jimmy Kimmel found a way to skewer his overinflated ego. Watch this first, then this. (TV Tattle)

Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood, and I Took the One With Traffic

While I am driving, I see a lot of folks running alongside major roads -- roads with heavy traffic and no sidewalks -- and usually these roads are adjacent to suburban developments: neighborhoods riddled with winding, low volume 25 mph. streets that would be perfectly safe and pleasant to jog on, and I always wonder why people choose to run on the highway instead of the alternative . . . and so if you are one of these people who run on the shoulder of a busy road, instead of opting for something more serene, can you please explain why?

Twitter is a Bad Idea

I don't use Twitter, because I think the length limitation is a bad idea. It is one reason that the media has made note of a very small number of college professors. Confined to just a sentence or two, these men resort to primitive emotional rhetoric that wounds. One does not wish to wound with words, but rather to woo or at least promote understanding. Of all people, a college professor should understand that. I find it hard to believe that some of these Twitter feeds came from educated men. I believe those college professors that have posted horrible things must suffer from Asperger's Syndrome. They do not understand how to make other people understand, a severe limitation for an educator.

Being a college professor is a very privileged position indeed, coveted by many, but requires a delicate balancing act. One is an educator, but also an entertainer and a politician as well. If a college professor suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, then he should not use Twitter, and if he uses the Internet in other ways, he should be careful and take reasonable precautions that his words will not come back to haunt him.

I do not know whether a college professor should be fired for posting something on Twitter. The highly educated man that has limited social intelligence is to be pitied, because his is a life of hard work and little recognition. How many friends does such a man have? People will use his work, indeed they may steal his work, but he will not be remembered. Only those with social intelligence are remembered. If an apology is tendered, perhaps the administrators should allow the possibility that the educator can be further educated. Surely there are worse offences than posting a line of text that is in poor taste.

But of course, Twitter is a bad idea for everybody. Why should one wish to post little quips which then get recorded until the end of time for all posterity? Is it always so easy to express oneself in just a few sentences?

I think the desire for attention is pernicious. The only thing about celebrity that is remotely desirable is wealth.

The Fire This Time

I'm very happy that Tina Fey is hosting the season premiere of Saturday Night Live tomorrow tonight, but I'm even happier that the musical guest is Arcade Fire. Their new album Reflektor will be released in about a month, so I guess this is the first of their promotional appearances.

UPDATE: After SNL, NBC will broadcast a 30-minute Arcade Fire concert special. Adjust your DVRs accordingly.

There's a video for the single, also called "Reflektor."

The giant paper-mache heads are weird, but I found that opening it in a separate tab and listening to it without looking at the video helped me get into the song more. If you preorder the album directly through them, you get early access to concert ticket sales.

Also of note re: their SNL appearance: David Bowie sings background vocals on this song, and I'm totally speculating here, but he does live in New York so it's not out of the question that he'd show up for the live performance.

Good Answer! Good Answer! Survey Says: Stupid!

Last weekend, I walked into New Brunswick with my wife and kids to get some dinner, and we stopped at the Wells Fargo ATM, and my son asked me, "Why is there a headphone jack on the money machine?" which was a feature I never noticed -- but he was right -- there was a 1/8 inch headphone jack next to the little screen, and so I told him the first thing that came into my head: "Well, Alex, maybe if someone is hard of hearing, if they can't hear that well, then they could plug in earphones and hear better" and then continued getting my money, but when I looked up, I saw my wife saw staring at me, with that sad look in her eyes that said: How could I be married to such an idiot? and she said to my son: "Alex, the earphone jack is for people that are blind . . . . people who are deaf can READ the screen, but people who are blind need to HEAR the instructions."

Reflections on Patrick O'Brian

I was struck today by how Patrick O'Brian focuses upon things in his writing--things, not people. Stephen Maturin dwells more upon his drugs--laudanum and coca leaf--and his hobbies--insects, reptiles, mammals, and plants--than his wife, the love of his life. Captain Jack Aubrey is much the same, more concerned with his ship than with anyone else, even his wife and children. I guess that is why I feel O'Brian is essentially a masculine writer, because he puts things above people, whereas a feminine writer like Jane Austen is more concerned with people and their relationships with one another and much less with things. O'Brian, like his characters, has an in-depth mastery of things, ships and animals and plants, but I feel his characters' relationships are a bit sketchy, not quite compelling enough. Almost all the characters are cardboard except for the two main ones, Aubrey and Maturin. At the moment, I'm reading O'Brian's "The Wine-Dark Sea," and I have found my attention stray as Stephen Maturin rides a llama along the Peruvian Highlands chewing on coca leaf and suffering frostbite. I've put the book down about a dozen times, which tells me that it isn't as compelling as other O'Brian novels, that it lacks a certain force. Definitely the earlier Aubrey/Maturin novels are the better ones.

About Jesus

I read an interesting article today concerning five myths about Jesus. I have to admit I believed some of the myths. For instance, although I've heard the title "Jesus of Nazareth," I assumed he was born in Bethlehem. The author underlines one of the greatest problems with the Gospels, accuracy. If the Gospels cannot be trusted as to which town Jesus was born in or the manner of his burial, then transforming water into wine is very much in doubt.

Soccer > Volleyball, Swimming and Musical Theater

In the first days of school, I make a point to learn the names of my high school students and I also try to learn a thing or two about them -- if they play a sport or musical instrument, like to read a certain genre of literature, belong to a particular club or like a certain kind of music -- this comes in handy as a mnemonic to remember their names and faces, and it's also useful when I create hypothetical writing examples, as I tend to use the students and their likes and dislikes . . . but I also end up expressing a lot of my own opinions about their activities and passions, and this year some of my students are volleyball players and swimmers, and though it's not even the end of September, I think I've really given them a hard time about their avocations . . . I've told the volleyball players in my senior English class -- two very sweet, tall athletic girls -- that "volleyball is Fascist" and I don't want to interlock my arms and rotate on command and stand in the same spot and move like  a robot, and that volleyball "stifles the creative spirit" and that if I had time I would write a long essay about how much more expressive and athletic and wonderful soccer is than volleyball, and then I told my swimmers that they might be clinically insane to wake up that early just to splash around in a damp room and that "there is no joy in any sport without a ball" and I'm not sure if the students think this ranting and raving is part of the curriculum or what, but I'm going to try my best to have an open mind about what my students spend their time doing (unless it's participating in musical theater, because nothing is more fun than satirizing musical theater while teaching class).

Panda Rustler?

Apparently there's a panda-smuggling ring operating in the area; I spotted this culprit making off with one today at Wellington:
Someone should inform PETA, I guess.

More Basking and Awesomeness

Some things are more awesome and miraculous than others -- and while this may not be quite as awesome and miraculous as my perfect punt, I think it might be slightly more awesome and miraculous than my ability to update my computer software and pickle peppers simultaneously; for the past two weeks, the JV ball bag has been missing its drawstring, with predictable results . . . balls rolling around on the floor of the bus, balls getting loose in the back of my van, and players having trouble carrying the bag to and from the field without losing a few balls . . . and so I mentioned this to the varsity coach while we were riding home from South River, and he produced the missing drawstring from his bag and, against all odds, I managed to thread that entire drawstring through the mesh channel around the edge of the bag -- no mean feat -- while the bus lurched down Route 18 in rush hour traffic, finishing the task moments before we arrived back in Highland Park, and while I received no high-fives or rousing cheers for my accomplishment, in the end, I know that I made as great a contribution to the Highland Park soccer program as anyone on that bus.

Finding the Right Monk Straps

I've never cared for the menswear-blogger favorite, the double monk strap shoe, but the appeal of the more traditional single-monk style has grown on me in recent years. It's a dressy shoe but with more flair than a standard lace-up. I started thinking about getting a pair of monk straps about two years ago, and as I started looking at the offerings from various brands, I noticed a few things that helped me find the right shoes for me.

First, a lot of shoes have straps that look too dainty for a man's shoe. Part of this depends on the width of the strap, and part of it depends on the buckle. A narrower strap and a buckle that's too rounded at the corners give the shoe a softer look overall, that I'd probably describe as more "continental." That's fine, but it's not for me.

I also noticed that some shoes had a leather loop or keeper for the strap to pass through after it gets buckled (like on a belt), and others had the strap passing through the other side of the buckle. So now I knew I wanted shoes with a wider strap, a squared-off buckle, and a keeper loop. And the buckles had to be silver-colored, since I don't care for brass belt buckles or any other yellow metal.

Toe shape is always an issue for me; a shoe that's too tapered causes cramps and other issues for me, so I looked for shoes with a more rounded shape. Then I noticed differences in how the parts of the shoe were cut. I was seeing quarters cut on an arc, like a traditional blucher or derby shoe. This pair from Cole Haan is a good example:
It's a detail I might not have noticed had I not seen a shoe that did it differently. The first such shoe I saw was one from Allen Edmonds called the Norwich, and the front edge of its quarter pieces doesn't have that arc, but angles back just slightly down to the sole, like this:
I think this blends in much better with the overall aesthetic of the shoe, giving it a more distinctive look. Like almost all AE shoes, the Norwich is made in USA and normally retails for $345. I saw these details replicated a short time later on a shoe that Ralph Lauren was offering last year. It was also made in USA and retailed for nearly $500.

Without regular income, buying a shoe like this would be an unnecessary luxury. But I got some money for my most recent birthday, and I had some extra set aside before that, so I decided I was going to buy myself the AE shoes as a birthday present. Knowing the annual Allen Edmonds sale would be starting soon, I went to one of their stores to try on shoes and figure out which size would fit me best.

I thought I was a 10.5 E, but it turned out that the 11 E was a better fit. Earlier that day I'd happened to find a pair of the same style on eBay in 11 E for $100, while buying them new would be almost $300 even with the sale discount, so I decided to save some of the money for something else and bought the shoes that were on eBay (that's them above).

I probably wouldn't choose these for daytime business dress if I was in a situation where I had to wear suits regularly, unless I was an art director or something like that. But we are attending an event next weekend for which I'll be dressing up, and it will be a good opportunity to wear these.

Let's Continue to Bask in Dave's Awesomeness

My incredible punt last week has propelled me to new levels of confidence and motivation, and so on Saturday I tackled two rather involved tasks at the same time . . . and it wasn't until after I completed both tasks that I recognized the post-modern absurdity of doing these two very different things simultaneously: down in my little music studio, I finally got around to updating my operating system from Vista to Windows 7, and then, of course, I also had to update all the drivers and recording software -- this took hours and required constant monitoring -- and while I was doing this, I was also pickling a bunch of peppers from Catherine's garden -- so I was boiling vinegar and doing lots of chopping . . . and my hands hurt from the hot pepper oil, and there were clouds of vinegary steam floating through the kitchen, prompting my children to hold their noses, but I got the job done -- I pickled a dozen jars of peppers, and each jar has some onion, garlic, dill, and ginger in it as well, so I think they are going to be very delicious (but, according to pickling experts, for peppers to reach the zenith of their pickled flavor, you should wait three to six months before you open the jar, which seems a bit extreme) and so I spent five hours on Saturday racing back and forth between the kitchen and a computer monitor, one task as ancient and primitive as they come -- preserving food -- and the other strange and digital . . . and I think I might have succeeded at both (although I won't know for sure until I eat some of the peppers and don't contract botulism).


A quick reminder: this is Banned Books Week. Celebrate the freedom to read.

Let's Bask in Dave's Awesomeness

For those of you that visit here solely because you relish Dave's awkwardness, failures, pedantry, and bombast, you might want to stop reading today's post right now . . . because today's post is a tale of success, timing, and perfection; last Thursday, I was running my son's travel team practice at the high school turf field, and there was a lot going on: my other son had practice on the far side of the field, and some high school kids were playing a game of touch football in the middle of the field -- which would have been fine, except that every time they punted the ball it came flying end-over-end into our scrimmage by the goal, and after the third time this happened, I had one of my players bring me the ball -- and then --in the typically grouchy and hyperbolic fashion that I adopt after several hours of coaching-- I yelled to them: "You need to stop punting, because you're not good at it, and you're going to kill one of my players!" and then I held the ball out with both hands, tilted slightly downward and to the left, and launched a picturesque high-arcing fifty yard punt, on a perfect spiral, into the arms of the farthest kid (and I know it was a fifty yard, punt because I was at the goal line and he was at the fifty) and though I was probably a bit over-the-top and obnoxious in my tone with them, because of the  beauty of my punt, they apologized profusely (and later on, I gave them a quick lesson on how to punt a spiral).

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #5

(In case you're wondering, there was no TWiA this weekend due to a lack of suitable material.)

The parking lot of our local Ocean State Job Lot has turned out to be a pretty good source for car-spotting. (Several years ago I saw two old Dodges parked next to each other, but the pictures I took have been lost over years of switching phones and memory cards.)

I took this picture three or four months ago, before I realized that I should be getting shots from multiple angles when possible, so this side view will have to do.
This is an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme sedan from the mid-1980s. The Cutlass nameplate originated as the sportier top trim level on Olds's "premium compact" F-85, which arrived for the 1961 model year. For 1964 the F-85 and Cutlass evolved into a midsize car that shared General Motors corporate DNA with the Chevrolet Chevelle, Pontiac Tempest, and Buick Special. This "platform," known as the GM A-body, was produced until the late 1980s, so this car represents the final years of that line. But for much of the later 1970s and early '80s, the Cutlass Supreme coupe was the most popular car sold in the US.

This basic design arrived for 1978 as part of GM's downsizing program, but with a rather homely slanted-back roofline (called "aeroback" by GM) that went completely against the grain of the general design themes common at the time, which had been so successful for Olds. Also questionable: the windows in the rear doors did not roll down. It also came as a two-door model, and there were Buick versions of these as well.

Disliked by the public, sales of the aeroback models slipped significantly and GM rethought the decision; for 1980 they introduced a revised design with the upright roofline you see here. The windows in the rear doors were still fixed, but the narrow flip-out window was added for a meager amount of ventilation.

The tail lights and other minor trim details identify this car as being anywhere from an '84 to an '87. For 1982 GM had shifted the A designation to a new range of midsize cars with front-wheel-drive, but kept the older models, now called G-bodies, in production for several more years. This is a common practice among automakers, because after a few years in production, the main costs of developing a vehicle have been recovered and continued sales yield mostly profits.

These days it's surprising to come across a car that's still in somewhat regular use in this area after nearly three decades, but this Cutlass Supreme is soldiering on.

Worst Song Ever

I'm pretty sure my friend and colleague Kevin is losing his mind; he forced me to watch the Miley Cyrus video for her song "Wrecking Ball," which he claimed is "a great pop song" and, apparently, he finds the video titillating as well . . . but I didn't find it sexy at all, it her attitude seems awkward and feigned -- and those white undies are matronly -- and, more importantly, I couldn't remember the melody of the tune two hours later (or any of the lyrics except "wrecking ball") and it's not like I'm immune to pop ear-worms, as I had that Kelly Clarkson song "Stronger" song stuck in my head for days.

The Most Annoying Thing I've Ever Said

 Before the words left my mouth, I knew I was crossing into shallow and pedantic territory . . . but I said it anyway; my colleague Stacey was describing the house she is attempting to purchase, and she mentioned that when it rains, water runs toward the house and collects near the foundation; as an experienced homeowner, I was required to say the obvious -- which is annoying enough -- but then I went beyond the pale . . . I told her: "Stacey, you know that water is the ultimate enemy of any house, but -- ironically -- humans need it to survive."

Antibiotics to be Replaced by T-cells

Antibiotics are a primitive remedy for infection, because they kill indiscriminately and foster the evolution of resistance in germs. I have not accepted an antibiotic prescription in over twenty years. If a doctor prescribes an antibiotic for a mild or moderate condition, one that is not persistent or life-threatening, he is in error. The remedy does more harm than good. Most often, antibiotics do not have the intended effect. They destroy bacteria within the body, but the specific variety of bacteria or the viruses that caused the illness remain unscathed. Humans require certain microbes in order to live well.

In the future, if there is a future, that is, if humans don't destroy their civilization through neglect or anger, antibiotics will be replaced by T-cell therapy. T-cells with the body's own signature will be induced to grow in the laboratory or within the body to target the specific illness and no other. This will eliminate the ravages of sickness and disease without the disadvantages of antibiotics.

Another Shortcoming of Mine

No matter how many times I say it to myself (Shut the hose off when you leave! Make sure to shut the hose off! Don't leave the water on! Walk past the hose, so you'll remember to shut it off!) when I turn the hose on and leave it at the base of my newly planted arbor vitae, I never  remember to shut the water off . . . my wife caught me Tuesday night, and I felt like I got away with one, because she said, "Please don't tell me it's been on since six this morning?" and I could honestly say "No" because I turned it on after soccer practice (a mere four hours) but she doesn't know the half of it (or maybe she does).

Retro Video Unit (9/20/13)

Today I'm going back to my college years for a song for which I never even realized there was a video. Yaz, known as Yazoo at home in England (there was a band in the US already using the name Yazoo at the time), was a synth-pop duo started by Vince Clarke, an original member of Depeche Mode who left early on to do his own thing.

He teamed up with vocalist Alison Moyet for a brief but influential period in the early 1980s; they only released two albums, Upstairs at Eric's and You and Me Both, before deciding to go their separate ways. Moyet pursued a solo career while Clarke formed the long-running duo Erasure with Andy Bell, a singer who sounded uncannily like Moyet.

This song, "Situation," is from the first album and is almost certainly the first song by them I heard. It's bouncy and upbeat, and would probably be good on a workout playlist.

It's Time You Knew

Maybe you heard earlier this week that AMC is splitting the final season of Mad Men and holding back the second half for a year, like they've done with Breaking Bad. That means viewers won't get to see the end of Mad Men until the spring of 2015.

You might also have expected me to have something to say about it here, as I have with many bits of Mad Men and other TV-related news. You also may have noticed that that sort of material hasn't been appearing in this space for a while. (Or you may not have noticed these things; that's okay too.)

Fact is, I've had a different outlet for my TV writing for about six months now. It's a Boston-based site called The Longfellow Bridge that started up in April, and I've been contributing there since the beginning. Those of you who know me personally know that I've been doing this, but if you only know me through what I write here, you wouldn't necessarily have any reason to make the connection.

I decided it's time to make my efforts known, and encourage you to visit The LFB, not just for my writing but for the efforts of everyone else who contributes there, in part because I feel a responsibility to promote the site in an effort to build its audience.

I do a weekly roundup of suggestions of things to watch that is posted every Monday, plus feature articles that include reviews, opinion and criticism, and stuff about the TV and media business as well. It's been a very satisfying experience and a new challenge for me, and I hope it will continue for some time.

And since I started out by bringing up this Mad Men development, here's what I had to say about it.

Someone, Somewhere Is Doing the Counting

My children asked me to officiate a race in which they ran across the yard (and back) while simultaneously hula-hooping -- but when I announced that Alex was the winner, my son Ian cited Alex for an infraction of the rules (what rules?) and said that Alex's victory "didn't count."

Where Are You, Past Dave?

Our boss discovered a treasure trove of old photos in the English office; they were from 1999 and they were comprehensive in content: shots of us teaching, drinking at the bar, participating in the charity fashion show, an amazing tableau of the entire department in grungy teenage clothes at the smoker's gate, some photos of me fishing and smoking a cigar, etc. etc. -- and Stacey took a look at the 1999 version of Dave, skinny with a full head of hair -- and she said, "Things might have been different if I was around Dave back then" and our boss said, "Are you hitting on Dave?" and Stacey said, "No, I'm hitting on Past Dave," and I'm not sure whether to consider this a temporally contingent compliment or a barely veiled insult about Present Dave, but whatever it is, it doesn't make me all that happy about what the passage of time has done to the concept of Dave (of course, Past Dave had other problems, which we won't go into, but -- nostalgically speaking -- it's fun to envision Present Dave's brain under Past Dave's full head of hair).

Thinking About Fall: Shoes

Tuesday really felt like fall, didn't it? Had to close all the windows Monday night, had to wear long pants. Of course it's getting warm again at the end of this week, but Tuesday was fall sending the message: I'll be there soon.

When fall arrives, I always start thinking about clothes and shoes. I don't need anything, but I think about it anyway. I think it's a leftover instinct from childhood back-to-school shopping. For now I'm just browsing, but I have seen a few things that are appealing.

The L.L. Bean "blucher moc" is a great basic casual shoe; I wear mine almost year-round, except for when it's really cold and wet because they offer no protection from the elements, and the soles are thin so as soon as the ground gets cold, you feel it. Recently there have been variations on this style in suede, which makes perfect sense. Last year I picked up a pair of Eastlands from Urban Outfitters in a sort of honey color, and while I like them a lot, I've found that the color makes them a little trickier to work into the shoe rotation.

Bean had a suede version of its blucher moc in tan last year in its Signature line, and also in navy and loden green. This year they have it in "amber," which is darker than either the tan or the honey, and a really nice deep olive. That's the one that really appeals to me. People might think, "Green shoes? Really?" The loden ones were kind of an odd hue, but these are dark enough to not stand out in a bad way, and the color will blend nicely with other fall colors and fabrics.

LLBS also offers a leather version of the shoe in a brown that's darker than the "saddle" version in the regular line, but with a tan sole instead of the original's black. Some people might prefer the shoe in this colorway, so it's nice to know it's there. And for even more variety, there are ankle-boot versions of both the suede and leather styles, called "ranger mocs."

It's True! (Sort of)

When my wife and I taught in Syria, we occasionally found it easier to claim we hailed from Canada, rather than the United States, especially once George W. Bush invaded Iraq . . . though I occasionally tried to be patriotic and explain U.S. policy, sometimes it was just more convenient to avoid the controversy generated by mentioning America . . . and, of course, mentioning Canada was always safe, because Canada doesn't symbolize anything except back-bacon, tuques, Pamela Anderson, poutine, John Candy, and Celine Dion -- none of which is hated enough to incite violence, and the best thing about saying I was from Canada, was that I could follow this lie with the following technically true (but specious) piece of information: "Yes . . . I grew up just outside of New Brunswick."

Nostalgia For Stupidity

My kids love to play twenty questions, despite the fact that they are rather poor at it, and whenever we play -- especially if they are doing an awful job at narrowing down the topic . . . does it live in the water? no . . . is it a shark? no! . . . is it an eel? NO!!! then one of them will laugh and ask "Is it a bunny?" -- and this refers to the time when we showed up way too early to our pool, and had to kill time until it opened, and so we played the same round of twenty questions (or Two Million Questions, as they re-named it) for nearly two hours, even though the animal I was thinking of hopped across our path moments before the game started; my children truly relish the memory of this marathon of stupidity, and it makes me wonder if they'll ever get accepted to college (and if they do, they are certainly going to join a fraternity).

Car Stuff: Weird Wheels

This car belongs to a neighbor, so I see it pretty much every day, and every time I see it, I think about what a strange choice the owner made with these wheels:
If you are going to spend the money and make the effort to put aftermarket wheels on your car, these seem like a very unlikely choice. Corollas are inherently boring, but this color manages to make the car look just a tiny bit more interesting. A wheel with such thin spokes reads as nearly black from a distance, and takes away whatever tiny measure of pizzazz the color gives it. A set of polished wheels, or at least matte-finish chrome, with slightly wider spokes would brighten the lower part of the car and make it stand out in a more positive way.

Also, the design is symmetrical, which reminds me unfavorably of a wagon wheel in the old West. There's a reason why the "mag" wheels that became popular in the 1960s had five spokes or slots: an odd number of openings in the surface of a wheel reads as much more visually interesting than one with an even number. And while I'm no fan of the oversized wheels and rubber-band tires that so many car owners seem to favor, these seem too small for this car by at least an inch, maybe two. (I suspect the owner wanted to use the stock tires to keep the expense down.)

Tolkien's Inspiration for The Silmarillion

Tolkien found inspiration for The Silmarillion in the Bible, mythology, legend and lore, but also in the Dialogues of Plato, where Socrates discusses the soul at great length, comparing it to harmony, which to this Tolkien reader brings to mind the harmony created by Eru (the One God in Tolkien's theology) and his Ainur (archangels) before the making of the world. In The Silmarillion, Tolkien writes of this harmony forming both Middle Earth and foretelling the deeds thereupon, which is why prophecies are always fulfilled. The discordant notes introduced by the lone dissenting Ainur, Melkor (Tolkien's spin on Satan) do not succeed in destroying the harmony, but only alter the musical composition to create even more powerful music in the end.

In contrast to the silence of the Bible, Tolkien tackles head-on the one really essential question for a monotheist, "Why is there evil in the world?" The reason is art and beauty. That may not be a satisfying answer to most human beings, but why should a god view the world in the same way as a human being? Eru merely wants to create great music, perhaps due to pride, vanity or a delight in beauty. Tolkien explains evil as the black that offers contrast and greater poignancy to the white. The great god, Eru, is an artist first and a moralist second. Eru is concerned with creating great music, great art. He values beauty above righteousness or possibly equates the two. In Tolkien's works, the beautiful are good, and the evil are ugly, with few exceptions, one of them being Sauron when he lived among men. Eru is forever concerned about the endurance of his creation, Middle Earth, and its beauty and power. He is not as concerned with the fate of individuals or even of nations, although a handful of heroes have managed to catch his attention, or rather the attention of his lieutenants, on very rare occasions.

When reading the Old Testament, "Yahweh" seems to me a neglectful, vengeful father-figure, who allows temptations to arise and does nothing to reduce their influence. Nevertheless, he expects rather arbitrary rules to be obeyed precisely at all times, and when they aren't, exacts group punishment on all, the good, the bad and the innocent alike, and his punishments are cruel, like a tyrant's. In "The Silmarillion," Eru has far fewer rules, and no expectation of worship or devotion, not being a vain god. Therefore, I like Eru better than the classical god. However, with both Eru and Yahweh, one gets the sense of mankind being mere playthings, toys from which the greater being derives amusement or a sense of purpose. Men and elves are called "The Children of Eru," yet they are treated less like children than like toys. One protects children, but toys may be discarded or allowed to be damaged or destroyed at a whim, and Eru extends little protection from either Melkor or the ravages of nature and time. Yahweh, for his part, does not protect mankind from Satan, a shadowy figure that appears seldom in the Bible, I believe only in Genesis, when tempting Jesus in the desert, and in Revelations.

As a theology, "The Silmarillion" is far more satisfying than those derived from the Bible. I liked how Tolkien fleshed out the precise relationship between the central god and his opponent and explained most of what happens to people after they die. People have a strong desire to know what happens after death, but the Bible is silent on that issue other than to say one will be with God, whatever that means, and that could mean anything at all, and the nature of God is not clear either. The nature of Eru and his personality is much clearer and likeable, a more modern-thinking god, where Yahweh was a bloody tyrant that bashed people over the head when they did not agree with him. In "The Silmarillion," the archangels are all named and described, and the reasons for Melkor's dispute with them is better understood. The Bible leaves much room for speculation due to its ambiguities, with disastrous consequences for the Church, which attempted for centuries to eliminate "heresies" by violence. In Middle Earth, there is no room for any other religion, because Eru has made himself known through his lieutenants by direct intervention. There are living beings that have seen and dined with the archangels, and miracles happen in Middle Earth. The existence of Eru is never in dispute. Would that modern religions could make a similar claim! I think the absence of God and of miracles argues against the existence of either.

The most compelling connection between Plato's Dialogues and The Silmarillion can be found in Phaedo, my favorite portion of the Dialogues, where Socrates tells a charming tale to Simmias of the Earth, its geography, and of a special land where men live much longer than ordinary and possess supernatural powers of perception and endurance, and where gems are far more beautiful, and where the gods dwell in temples and let their wishes be known to men.

I'd Pay to Hear the Rest

I'm walking to New Brunswick, and I hear one of those snippets of conversation that I desperately want to hear more of . . . a fifty year old woman to a twenty eight year old guy: "So how does your brother deal with his hypochondria?"

This Week in Awesome (9/14/13)

For some reason I thought I had done this yesterday...

Style "don'ts" from tech geeks, to which I would add: a man does not need a black suit, and in fact should not have one. Just step away... (BuzzFeed)

Great works of art, simplified. (BuzzFeed)

This week's time-lapse video is one I've been waiting for: the construction of One World Trade Center. (Village Voice)

And finally this week, Friday was the 20th anniversary of the debut of Late Night With Conan O'Brien, so Vulture asked him about some of the show's early recurring bits.

Building Character (and Breaking Child Labor Laws)

I coached my first Highland Park J.V. soccer game of the season last Wednesday, and it was unseasonably hot and humid and, unfortunately, we only had two subs -- and I didn't my subs wearing themselves out running balls up and down the sideline, but it is the home team's responsibility to provide ball runners -- so I got my children out of school a little early, dragged them to the game and impressed them into service (and they did have some help from a couple of friends, so it wasn't totally cruel) and while my son Alex and his buddy Alex did a fantastic job, despite the heat, Ian and his friend Ben were atrocious -- they kept playing soccer with the game ball, getting so hot and tired that they couldn't retrieve any of the balls that were kicked out of bounds, but it was hard for me to complain since I wasn't paying them and the heat index was 170 degrees . . . and then, coincidentally (miraculously!) when I met up with the varsity coach the next day (the fields are split) I found out that he forced his two daughters to do the same thing -- despite the fact that they told him they "just wanted to stay inside and do their homework" he made them run the balls for the varsity game, which was on the turf, where the heat index was 197 degrees.

I Loath to Sell Low, and I Loathe Buying High

While the themes of this blog are often tangential and desultory, there is one thing that I get right: the difference between "loath" and "loathe," and Justin Fox does as well, making excellent use of the verb "loath" in his book The Myth of the Rational Market: a history of risk, reward, and delusion on Wall Street; he is describing Charles Dow's famous and absurdly obvious stock strategy -- buy during upward movement (bull markets) and sell during downward ones (bear markets)-- but Fox explains that "Dow himself was loath to declare when that direction had changed" . . . "aye, there's the rub."

Vampire Dream

Today was Friday the Thirteenth, after all.

The night before, I went to bed late, around 0500, and had a nightmare that derived from "True Blood." Vampires were stalking my friends and I, and we were hiding out in different houses to escape, but somehow they would find us. I don't remember blood-drinking, a vampire-myth that I always found implausible, but they drained our life-force by painful touch. Each vampire had marked one of us for his own. In our absence, each vampire would starve, because they could only feed upon us and no one else. Starvation caused the vampire to lose their looks and become hideous, monstrous, savage-looking, which made them scarier. When they fed upon us, they recovered their looks. I remember the dreadful knocking on the door and then the door being opened and the monster coming in to find his prey and feed.

I awoke and found it most curious that I was dreaming about vampires, but then again, I had spent much of the night before playing Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, and my player-character happens to be a Demonspawn Necromancer that had mastered a spell known as Vampiric Draining. I achieved final victory with this character in "The Pits" scenario of Sprint.

Later in the day, I found myself alone in a big empty building that is supposedly haunted by a noisy ghost. My friends have sworn that they have seen and heard this ghost. Of course I am skeptical, but I kept my skepticism to myself, because I have learned that people who believe in ghosts do not like to hear the opinions of those that do not. It is the same with religion. No believer really wants to hear the opinions of an atheist, especially not in person. In social settings, my object is to get along with people, not to persuade them of my beliefs. This blog is like the vault for my private opinions and philosophy.

I was asked if I felt scared to be working in the haunted building all alone, and I replied I was not. I thought to myself that if I saw a ghost, it would be a very good thing, because it would serve as a refutation of my opinions, and I would welcome the evidence. I would not say that a ghost is proof of the afterlife, because it could be many other things, but I would like very much to see one, even if I would feel frightened. I am willing to feel frightened if the reward is seeing something far out of the ordinary that will give me new knowledge. There was a time in my life when I called upon deities and certain supernatural beings to reveal themselves to me in any fashion whatsoever, but they did not choose to trifle with me. A supernatural event might have led me to belief, but such did not come.

I did not hurry and was not timid when I worked tonight. But I did not see or hear a ghost nor anything out of the ordinary. I believe the human brain is very creative and imaginative, and sometimes I wonder about ghosts, and I am willing to meet one, but I never have, and so I do not believe in ghosts.


I have a video for you today, but it's something a bit different.

The Mrs. started a new job this week with several days of mandatory orientation sessions. These included information about benefits, training specific to her field, and the obligatory information about sexual harassment.

On the very first day of orientation her group was shown this video, which aims to dramatize potential harassment situations using stuffed animals.

She found this quite funny, not because of the content (as someone who is making a career out of helping others, she would never make light of such a situation) but because of the way it's presented.

Grob is Over

I used to play the Grob (1. g4) often, when I was studying it, and was able to achieve many wins against higher-rated players with it, but I perceive that the opening has been over-analyzed. Too often do players have a ready response against it, and that I think makes a difficult opening nigh impossible.

I actually have achieved better results with the obscure and universally scorned Barne's Defense (1. f3) than with the Grob. A number of players waste time during the game pondering a sortie with their Queen against my kingside or actually performing it with dismal results.

While I appreciate that the Grob is difficult to play, it receives what seems to me fanatical and unreasoning hatred from some quarters. I have read "refutations" of the Grob many times that failed to persuade me. I maintain the opening is sound and cannot be refuted. As with other unpopular openings, a draw can be achieved if both players play precise moves. I have seen 1. g4 d5 2. h3 e5 3. Bg2 Nc6 set forth as being better for Black. I would counter with 4. c4 Be6 5. cxd5 Bxd5 6. Bxd5 Qxd5 7. Nf3 and now the position seems to me by a slight degree to favor White, which stands to gain a tempo with Nc3, unless Black opts to trade a bishop for a knight (recapture with dxc3, and Black gains a tempo via O-O-O, but White's King has a good post at c2, and I like White's chances).

Vince Lombardi Would Not Approve

No sport is more abstract than soccer, and at the high school level there seems to be a preponderance of English teachers coaching it (at least in my neck of the woods and the movie Dead Poet's Society) so you end up with comments like the one my friend and colleague Terry recently gave to The Star Ledger, in trying to explain how his team could completely dominate play, but only score two goals . . . Terry said: "They say it is easier to destroy than create" and while this statement pushes the limits of absurd profundity and bombast in the name of athletics, at least he restrained himself and didn't drop allusions to Shiva and Brahma in the rest of his game analysis.

Patrick O'Brian & Gore Vidal

I was amused to find a reference to Gore Vidal in O'Brian's "The Wine-Dark Sea" on p.157. A midshipman or petty officer named Vidal is described as chapelist, democratic or even republican in his views, in other words a left-winger, that is, for early 19th century England. There the resemblance begins and, perhaps, ends. This Vidal conspires to free an imprisoned Frenchman by the name of Dutourd, who seems to be a pacifist that wants to start a democratic, money-optional commune on a deserted island. The reference may pass unnoticed by anyone that hasn't read Gore Vidal. At first I wondered whether O'Brian intended a mild rebuke of Gore Vidal's political views, but upon reflection I think the author just meant to tip his cap to a fellow historical novelist. I can't assume that O'Brian's views were that much different than Gore Vidal's, other than on the subject of homosexuality, where O'Brian had difficulty.

Gore Vidal's literary criticism is remarkable in its profound silence upon O'Brian. I only found one sentence indicating Gore Vidal was even aware of O'Brian. I think Gore may have found O'Brian too abundant with minute facts and technical details, too objective, and lacking that strong point of view which Gore always invested in his own work. Gore had a profound distaste for war and did not like to read or write portrayals of war. By contrast, O'Brian's books drip with blood and gore.

This is a really long sentence for a dumb joke

Geoffrey Canada's memoir and call to action Fist Stick Knife Gun is a vivid and intelligent account of life on the streets in the South Bronx by an African American man who grew up there in the '50 and '60s and then, after attending Bowdoin and Harvard, went back to try to curb the violence; much of the book is anecdotal, he explains the rules of the streets, and there is some game theory as well ... Canada explains that when he was a kid, you had to fight, but because of the absence of guns, there were some natural checks on violence -- once the pecking order was established, you knew who you could fight and who you couldn't fight . . . who was too big or too tough, who had friends that would come after you or a badass big brother . . . but the influx of guns changed all that, as "kids with guns see no limits on their power" and often only experience the limits of  firearms when they are dying . . . when Canada was a kid, you only pulled a weapon on kids from outside of the neighborhood . . . and it was serious business to brandish a knife, a broken bottle, or a car antennae, but the culture Canada is trying to change now, with his Harlem Children's Zone program, is one where "America is not number one or even in the top fifteen when it comes, to reading, math, and English . . . we're number one in locking up children" and the streets aren't safer, as a result of this, because we're also number one in possessing guns -- and, Canada points out, the gun industry realized in the 1980's that they could expand the handgun market "beyond white males" by making weapons with names that young people find "enticing, like Viper, and to appeal to their belief that bigger was better" and while this book was eye-opening and frightening, it was a far cry from my suburban youth, almost like a description of a different planet, so I am going to write my memoir of the mean cul-de-sacs of North Brunswick in the 1970s, but I can't come up with a properly dramatic title like Fist Stick Knife Gun . . . all I've got so far is Fish Sticks Nikes Gum.

Spelling It Out

I am reasonably comfortable and conversant with technology, but part of that comes from making efforts to keep things as simple as possible. I've been using Apple computers for over 20 years, while my limited knowledge of how to do certain things in Windows has faded away. I've had TiVo DVRs for about eight years now, and part of the reason I stick with them is because they are so simple to use. (One time when I was visiting my mother she asked me a question about how to do something on her DVR; 45 minutes later I hadn't been able to figure it out, and never did.)

In the final half-season of Breaking Bad currently airing, there has been a lot of whispering. We had to turn up the volume really loud in several scenes, and then of course when the music comes up it blasts us out of our seats (plus our living room is directly under our upstairs neighbor's bedroom, and we try to be considerate about such things). At one point we were forced to turn off the air conditioner in order to hear the whispered dialogue.

So the Mrs. asked me if I knew how to turn on the closed-captioning. I thought I did, but couldn't find anything obvious on the remote. A couple of days later she started working her way through all the TiVo's on-screen menus; I was busy in the next room, but some time later she let out a yell of delight. She had figured out how to activate the CC function. It seems to have been there in the on-screen program info display all along, and we just hadn't ever noticed it.

I was under the impression that we could use it only while watching shows live, but it turned out that the CC data is embedded in the program recordings and can be viewed during later playback. The quality of the transcriptions seems to vary from show to show and even from episode to episode of the same show, but it's there.

As a bonus, being able to access the closed captioning makes it easier for us to enjoy British crime dramas like Luther and Broadchurch, which have a variety of accents with varying degrees of aural decipherability.

The Silly Sisters

The Silly Sisters released two musical gems in "The Lass of Loch Royal" and "Geordie," both so excellent that I can't decide which is better. Sometimes I favor one, sometimes the other. For now, I prefer "Geordie." Everything about the two songs is superb. It is very strange that the songs and their performers are not better known.

How to Merge in Jersey

According to game theorists, the most efficient way to play "chicken" is to ostentatiously throw your steering wheel out the window, so that your opponent sees that you have no method of avoiding the imminent collision -- you have to prove that you are crazier than the person you are battling . . . and the most efficient way to merge into traffic in New Jersey, is to not look at the other car . . . you have to pretend the car isn't there, and so when the other driver looks at you, he sees that you are not even acknowledging his vehicle and he is forced to slow down . . . and this works at a four-way Stop as well: no eye-contact, just go . . . the only problem with this tactic is the possibility that the other driver might be using the same strategy, but the twenty seconds you save on your errand is well worth the risk of collision.

Very Pinteresting

Dear Abby: I often catch my wife looking at salaciously gratuitous images like this one on Pinterest . . . should I be worried?

Car Stuff: Family History #2

(This post was delayed due to technical issues: our printer has become extremely temperamental about scanning things, so I was forced to take pictures of this picture with my phone.)
This was my family's 1970 Plymouth Sport Suburban, which my parents acquired early in 1972, when this picture was taken. It was our "family truckster" for a number of years at a time when full-size station wagons were at roughly the height of their popularity.

Prior to getting this car, we'd had two Chevrolet wagons, a 1965 Bel Air in "Artesian turquoise" (which was closer to aqua) and a 1966 Caprice in white with wood siding (very much like this, but with a blue interior). The Plymouth also had the distinction of being the newest car my parents had owned up to that point.

Although this was Plymouth's top of the line wagon for 1970, it was not equipped with lots of the stuff we take for granted as standard on our cars today. It didn't have air conditioning, the radio was AM only, the windows were manual (except for the one in the tailgate); such luxuries were still optional on most cars at that time. Since it was a used car, my parents did not have the choice of whether or not to get the third seat; this car didn't have one. It was not strictly necessary, as we were perfectly content to ride in the "way back" sitting on the hard floor, but I'm sure if it had had the third seat, we would have made use of it.

I remember being pretty excited about it when we got it; about the only thing that I thought was cooler at the time was the new 1972 version, which I'd seen an example of either in the showroom at the dealership or on the lot, plus in the brochures I enthusiastically took home; even though I knew our budget would not allow for the purchase of a new car, I guess my young brain wanted to imagine the possibility of a quick trade of this car for an even newer one.

In hindsight the '70 was much better looking than the '72 (see for yourself). With the passage of so many years, it's become my favorite car of all the ones we had while I was growing up. That's partly because I like how it looks and partly because we went so many places in it: Disney World, Cape Cod, Lake Winnipesaukee. There's one other picture I was able to scan, from our Florida vacation:
That's my grandmother, who accompanied us on our voyage. This was taken at a rest stop/welcome center just over the border when coming into the state from Georgia on route 95. Taking family trips by car is one of those things that it seems people don't do as much anymore, but when I was growing up it was much more common than traveling by air, at least for average families like mine. (I did not travel on an airplane until I was nearly 21.)

So Real It Hurts

At first glance, Adelle Waldman's novel The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. seems as if it's going to tread over some very common meta-ground -- a novel about writers and writing -- but it's actually closer to a modern version of Pride and Prejudice . . . told from the male point-of-view, with a dash of the HBO comedy Girls, and I couldn't put it down . . . from the first pages, when Nate runs into a girl he dated briefly, until a prophylactic malfunction led to an awkward decision, where Nate "had done everything that could have been expected of him . . . even though he had less money than she did, he paid for the abortion," right through all the literary references -- including some authors I've heard of but never read . . . Lermontov, Italo Svevo, and Thomas Bernhard" and then Nate's painful narcissism, detachment, and superficiality with other girls; Adelle Waldman nails the male mind, and walks the tightrope between satire and empathy . . . good fun for boys and girls alike.

This Week in Awesome (9/7/13)

It's not very often that the Red Sox and Patriots play games at the exact same time, so get your channel-flipping thumbs limbered up...

Another TV mashup brings together two of my favorite shows. (Uproxx via Basket of Kisses)

This week's time-lapse: building the new span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. (Laughing Squid)

This one's a bit long, but definitely worth it for movie fans. I've never seen the movie in question, but it's now conveniently available on Netflix streaming, so I'm going to remedy that soon. (BuzzFeed via The Hairpin)

Is it worth 20 minutes of your time to watch bloopers from season 5 of Parks and Recreation? If you're a fan of the show, definitely. (Uproxx via Videogum)

And finally this week, a bit of a deep dive into local infrastructure, specifically a highway that did not get built. Ever wondered about the mural on the back of Micro Center in Cambridge? This will explain it. It is interesting (though not necessarily in a positive way) to think about what our area would be like if these projects had been completed. (Cambridge Historical Society via Universal Hub; if you really want to get lost for a couple of hours, the original UH post that led me to the CHS site is here)

Old Men Are Good at Something (Just Not Anything Anyone Cares About)

Another Labor Day, another ugly scrum at the family pool for the greased watermelon -- except this year the old folks played against the youngsters, and we trounced them three to nil . . . though they were leaner, better looking, better swimmers, and had more hair, we had an unbeatable strategy which took years and years to prepare . . . we out-massed them: our superior weight made us an unstoppable flailing juggernaut, and our high body-fat to muscle ratio made us far more buoyant than our young opponents . . . and the way things are going, I think we're just going to get better and better.

Dennis Rodman

Rodman is a lightning rod, now that he's gone to North Korea and declared he's BFF's with the North Korean tyrant. As a target, he is too easy, and for a while I declined to blog about the issue, but it bothers me. I used to watch Braves baseball and used to root for Dennis Rodman when he was part of their team.

That the tyrant uses Rodman at certain moments as a distraction is clear. Recently, the tyrant murdered his ex-girlfriend and her friends, out of mere pique, and sent their families to prison camps. Just a few days after that story broke in the media, Rodman was invited to North Korea, and of course he accepted.

Rodman, for his part, seeks to use the tyrant to promote various business deals. Looking at his picture in the media, wearing a silver hat and sunglasses and sucking on a cigar, I am reminded of the "thug lifestyle" espoused by so many rappers, an ideology devoid of ethics or loyalty that justifies the pursuit of money and power at any price. What a boring and pointless existence to lead. I think that if I had been a fan of Rodman, I would no longer be one after he cozied up to the dictator. Such sycophancy is evil and casts a long, dark shadow over everything Rodman has ever done or ever will do. A thousand years from now, any chapter on the life of Rodman must include a section on his dealings with the bloody tyrant, the callousness shown to the tyrant's innocent victims, and the praise that Rodman lavished upon the violent dictatorship, all of which Rodman did of his own free will, even while being a millionaire and living in a free country. Rodman has marred his legacy forever.

There is a comparison to be made between Eric Snowden and Dennis Rodman, their contrasting motivations and possible outcomes, the benefits and drawbacks of wickedness versus acts of conscience. Some men do a selfless act for what they deem to be the greater good, even at considerable risk to themselves. Other men do a wicked deed for selfish gain at little or no risk to themselves. Is there an unseen advantage to selfless acts of good? Is there a God watching in the sky with a ledger, taking account of all the good deeds and evil ones and weighing them for later judgment of the soul? Perhaps that extravagant fantasy cannot hold water in the popular consciousness, but still there may be subtle and difficult to understand advantages of good. What is the purpose of life? What is the value of existence? Maybe being a catalyst for positive change is its own reward. Maybe the advantage accrues not to the individual, but to current and later generations. Good people may view themselves as expendable, and take comfort in the good works that they do and the good effects that are achieved by their sacrifices.

Do Things Happen in Threes? Do They Happen at All?

Sorry to get metaphysical, but in the last few weeks, I've lost my new hat, my bike pump, and my classic iPod . . . and it makes sense that my iPod disappeared into the same wormhole as the other items, because -- as everyone knows --  mysterious events happen in threes . . . BUT . . . when my wife went into the shed to get some gardening gloves, she found the bike pump -- exactly where I was looking for it (and I really looked) so the pump wasn't missing at all . . . which makes me feel like Dr. P. in Oliver Sacks classic book of case studies, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, and maybe my wife will find my hat and my iPod, but I don't think so, so then there has to be a third thing missing, and I think that missing something was once located in my brain.

Gore No Fount of Wisdom

After watching a documentary on Gore Vidal last night, I was reminded of my late hero's unwise traffic with Timothy McVeigh. I think Gore was a whore for attention and lacked discretion in distinguishing good attention from bad attention. I think Gore gained nothing by that traffic and gave his ideological opponents a gift that keeps on giving. Perhaps Gore had grown decrepit in his old age and lost some of his judgement or perhaps his decisions were all in character. Killing a bunch of people should not be a means to get attention for a cause, or else civilization is truly dead. The terrorist committed an act of war, and there is not much to discuss about war. War is answered by war, violence begets violence and so on.

Viewing clips of Gore through the years, I agree with others in finding him foremost an entertainer, secondly a critic, and only last a philosopher. Many things that he said do ring true, but he exaggerated for dramatic effect, as writers like to do to stave off their nemesis, the reader's boredom. I think Gore could have chosen his battles more carefully, but then would Gore have still been Gore, and would anyone have ever heard of him at all? Perhaps he reckoned on accruing occasional setbacks in seeking the greater goal of achieving notoriety and success as an entertainer. I would not make the mistake of asserting that Gore was wise however. Clever, yes, very, and cunning as well. Perhaps he was wise in the sense that his personal life seemed surprisingly neat and solid. He never wanted for money, and his relationship with his partner endured to his death. He seemed quite content and lived to a ripe old age, enjoying the admiration of a legion of fans right to the end. In reading Gore, I think it is important to perceive that he exaggerates and sometimes takes extreme positions that seem far out on a limb because he is a performer, an entertainer that is doing his best to engage an audience that he may indeed hold in some secret contempt.

Retro Video Unit (9/6/13)

In the portion of the internet's attic where old music videos are stored, there are songs that I've always liked for which there are videos that I have never seen. That's the case with today's nugget, "Fade to Grey" by Visage.

I'll admit to knowing very little about the group itself, but I've been familiar with the song for more than 30 years. The video certainly has its share of oddness, but I think it makes quite an interesting cultural artifact from the early 1980s.

Concussions Are Finally Hip

Concussion awareness has grown by leaps and bounds over the last several years . . . in order to coach youth soccer, I must complete a concussion training course and the NFL just settled with former head trauma victims for 765 million dollars . . . but I would like to point out that I was way ahead of the curve on this theme, as I sustained a number of interesting concussions when I was young, and even used one concussion incident as the subject of my college essay (this is probably not surprising to readers who often frequent this blog, as my sentences are often rambling and incoherent, but please bear with me, as Roger Goodell is not allocating any of that money to me, because of our feud) and what makes my concussions so wonderfully cool and ironic is that though I played several years of high school football, I did not sustain any concussions then, instead I knocked myself out in much more creative ways befitting the literary titan that I am: when I was very little, I had a habit of riding my tricycle under the flower boxes on my grandparent's wrap around porch and then standing up . . . my parents would find my little body splayed unconscious on the red-stained deck; in elementary school, on TWO separate occasions, I was running down the hall and the gym teacher, Mr. Weinstein, opened the heavy wood door and I collided with it -- both times I woke in the nurses office . . . Mr. Weinstein awarded me the nickname "Lumpy" for these incidents; in high school, at the state golf tournament, I wore shorts when I wasn't supposed to, and had to race back to the bus and change into a pair of my friend John's XL yellow sweatpants -- which I felt warranted a super-heroic leap out of the bus, but I misjudged the jump and nailed my head on the metal rail that the folding door runs along and knocked myself out cold-- and despite the concussion, I played eighteen lousy holes of golf in blood-soaked clothing . . . but despite my poor play, the upside was that I got a lot of press in the local paper for my courage and idiocy; and then when I was in college at a party in Connecticut, I dove into a deep section of river with the intention of then riding a cooler down the falls, but the deep section of river was actually a huge black rock submerged six inches beneath the water, and if it wasn't for the same friend that lent me the yellow sweatpants, I probably would have drowned,  but he fished me out of the water, unconscious, bloody, and limp, with a chipped incisor . . . but miracle of miracles, as far as I know, none of these head injuries has impaired my cognition in the least.

Rooftop with a View

Last Friday we were in the city with our house guest. She was taking the ferry to Hingham to see some other friends, so we walked around the waterfront for a while. After she went to board the boat we headed back across the channel via the Seaport Boulevard bridge, heading toward South Station.

As we turned onto Atlantic Avenue I remembered reading that the office building on that corner has an observatory that is open to the public, so I mentioned this and we went inside. We had to show IDs and the guard took down our names, then we were directed to take the elevator to the 14th floor.

Once there we turned a corner and saw a door leading outside. The "observatory" is just an open area of the roof, which was fine that day (though it was warm and quite humid) but would be something to keep in mind if you're thinking about visiting.

It's not nearly the tallest building in the area, but how often do you get to go on the roof of any downtown building? I did take a few photos with my phone camera.
This is the view looking roughly north over the Rose Kennedy Greenway, with the off- and on-ramps for route 93 in the foreground. The Harbor Towers buildings are in the middle, with the New England Aquarium behind them (out of view from this direction) and the Marriott Long Wharf hotel just barely visible in the background.

The view to the south is somewhat more open (for now at least):
This area certainly looks quite different than when I worked over here in the 1990s. The open spaces have been gradually filled in by development. I would imagine that the parking lots between Northern Avenue and Seaport Boulevard will eventually be replaced by buildings as well.

If you are interested in visiting this site yourself, it's open during business hours Monday to Friday. The building is at 470 Atlantic Avenue, adjacent to the Intercontinental Hotel.

Realpolitik in Syria

I can't fathom Obama's readiness to bomb Syria other than through realpolitik. Chemical weapons are nasty, but the West used them in massive quantities in World War I.

The realpolitik is that over time, Syria has become a proxy war between Iran and Hezbollah on the one hand and Israel on the other. Defeating or diminishing Assad deals a blow to Hezbollah and Iran. Isolating terrorist Hezbollah is good in principle, but unanswered is who takes Assad's place.

There are uncalculated costs to war, the opium of our leaders. They dwell upon Syria, when they should be sorting out serious problems in the U.S. Perhaps that is the real reason they allow Syria to seize their attention. It is a perfect diversion, ideal in every way. Our leaders do not really want to bother with sorting out the wretched economy and other difficult problems. War is simple. The technical aspects are farmed out to military professionals. The leaders can strut about, playing the warlord, savoring their power, and watching the drama unfold on television from the comfort of their armchairs. Corporate America likes it, because demand for expensive armaments increases with every conflict. War diverts the masses from the wretched economy, climate change and the poor implementation of health care due to Republican obstructionism. Even if the war won't make Israel safer, there is hope that it will, and that helps sell the war. There is talk about setting an example for rogue states like Iran and North Korea. Unanswered is why the U.S. has to be the policeman of the world, a policeman who draws no salary and receives no gratitude and is resented for being a policeman.

I'm skeptical of this war, but pragmatic. If the deed is done, then let us hope the outcome is more like "Libya 2" rather than "Iraq 2". I suppose it is unrealistic to expect a nation to possess such enormous and expensive military power and not to use it. And it is true a large part of the fixed costs, such as destroyers and trained soldiers, have already been paid for, and the variable costs, munitions and so forth, are small by comparison. I wonder though what kind of aid package our leaders are going to feel obligated to lavish upon Syria after the war. Again the door to our treasury opens, and out flows the money that we borrowed from China, lavished upon a foreign nation and a foreign culture that has no notion of kinship to us nor allegiance to our ideals. The debt we incur through these foreign adventures will either be repaid by our children or, more likely, defaulted.

The sniping from other media around the world aimed at the U.S., claiming we've "lost the will to lead," or that Obama is diminished somehow by a vote against war, is pure poppycock, demolished in two minutes. The other countries are all too glad to let us pay all the bills, while they reap a benefit or at least get to watch the fireworks with amusement at no cost to themselves. They need to learn about paying for the costs of security, rather than mooching off the unpaid policeman of the world. Otherwise, they can learn about fighting wars by themselves with their own means.

I wish the politicians worked half as hard fixing the economy as they are beating the drums for war. Once again, our politicians are confused as to which nation they represent. They think they represent Syria. In reality, they are supposed to be working for America. Someone needs to remind them. The greatest threat this nation faces is the poor economy. Perhaps the politicians spend too much time in fantasy land and not enough time in the real world.

A Question That Is Making Me Lose Sleep, Hair, and Faith in the First Law of Thermodynamics

Please excuse the zeugma for such a serious matter -- but I can't imagine someone would case my house and then steal one trivial item (unless this is an elaborate practical joke, designed to drive me insane ) and the only other explanation that makes any kind of sense is that there is a wormhole in my shed -- but has anyone seen my bike pump?


I turned 50 last week. There's a lot of significance attached to that, whether we like it or not. When you turn 40 you figure that, roughly speaking, you've reached the approximate halfway point of your life. Add another decade to that and, on average, most people will be past their halfway point.

Of course there are exceptions. My paternal grandmother lived to 90 and her mother lived to her mid-90s, so genetically I have some longevity in my favor. But the odds are also much higher that one's quality of life in the "second half" will be worse than the first. It's hard not to start taking stock of one's health, and all the things that could go wrong.

I don't smoke and I drink responsibly and in moderation. My blood pressure is reasonably low, my cholesterol numbers are decent (but could be better), and I don't have arthritis or any bad joints (yet). On the other hand, I am lazy and don't exercise. I am slightly overweight, though my weight has been stable for nearly a decade. My father developed diabetes in adulthood, as did his mother, so I have to watch out for that possibility, but I don't have the greatest diet and I snack a lot.

I'm at much higher risk for skin cancer than the average person, so I have to be vigilant and see a dermatologist twice a year. (I hate heat and humidity, so not going outside isn't a problem for me.) Both my grandfathers died of lung cancer; as a child both my parents smoked and I was exposed to a lot of secondhand smoke, before anyone realized how harmful that is.

I could arrange these things on a board in pro and con fashion, to see the bigger picture. My lack of physical activity will probably end up affecting my quality of life in twenty years or so in terms of mobility, and may also put me at higher risk for heart disease. This is serious, and I know I should do something about it.

But today, right now, I feel good. I have minor issues, but overall my health is good. I know people who have had hip replacements before reaching 50, and thankfully I haven't had to deal with anything like that. It's somewhat true that age is not a number but a state of mind; there are things we can't control, and things we can.

Part of me wants to see what would happen if I just kept going the way I am, without making the effort to exercise, but it's not like I'd get a do-over. I guess it's time for me to think about taking better care of myself.

What Did People Do Before the Internet? Play Pinochle?

I'm not sure if I would have made it through David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas if it wasn't for the articulate plot summaries at EditorialEyes Book Blog . . . the book consists of six nested stories, and the main character in each story has some connection to the next narrative -- and the chronology runs from an 1850's Melvillean journal to a post-apocalyptic tale set in the far future; the stories themselves would be inventive enough on their own, but the fragmented chain structure and the inventive language in each tale makes the book both masterful and possibly mastubatory . . . it is challenging reading, but with the help of the internet, I had no trouble connecting the dots . . . and this has been the theme of my summer -- I finished Infinite Jest, but I certainly had some very necessary help from the web, and I am watching Breaking Bad in real time and I needed some information from the digital superhighway to explain what happened at the end of episode 11 (Confessions) . . . and while I have never claimed to be the most astute reader or viewer, I am wondering if this is a sea change in how we read and watch . . . I don't remember having to seek to much aid when I read things in high school, college and through my twenties, and I certainly never had to ask anyone for help in explaining Melrose Place (although I did purchase and use a guide when I read Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow) but perhaps now the mark of a profound and complex piece of art is that you need to seek other sources and perspectives to understand it . . . and just so there is no misunderstanding, I want to assure you that Sentence of Dave will never help you in that regard, in fact, you'll leave here more bewildered than when you entered.

Dogs and Shakespeare

Our family is dog-sitting for a dog that does not respond to his name -- and nothing is more embarrassing than the "master" trying to grab an evasive dog at the dog park; I felt like King Claudius in the Kenneth Branagh production of Hamlet, when he awkwardly attempts to grab the mad and strait-jacketed Ophelia -- while still maintaining his kingly demeanor -- and she eludes him (2:54 in the clip above) -- the only consolation is that my dog, sensing an opportunity to show off his good behavior, because a model pet, loyal and attentive, in order to show me that he cannot and will not be replaced by an interloper.

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #4

I've been away from the blog for a few days, as we had a house guest and a bunch of activities going on through the long weekend. Those of you who may have found your way here via Universal Hub and decided to have another look are about to find out what else I ramble about...
This is another neighborhood find, a mid-1960s Ford pickup that I pass by while walking to the grocery store. It's registered and has plates, and I know it is driven because I've seen it parked facing toward the street as well as like this.

I would venture that the paint is not an original color. It seems more like a 1950s color (I remember seeing 1950s Chevy pickups painted this shade), but you never know. The wheels could have come from the factory painted red, or these might be from a completely different vehicle.

(Edit: a google search says turquoise was available, but it's a somewhat deeper shade; this is definitely more of what I'd call aqua.)

This basic design was around for model years 1961-66, but the first three years had side sheet metal that was integrated into the cab; the gap between cab and bed identified this one as at least a '64-'66, and the side trim pegs it as specifically a '64. There was an all-new design for '67, and my father had one of those for a while, the kind with the bulging rear fenders and flat interior bed sides.

Some time after I took this picture, I passed by it again on my way to the store, and I was going to get another shot of the front, but the whole front half of the truck was covered by a tarp, so either it's being worked on or there are water leakage issues in the cab. Those old rubber window seals can dry up and turn to dust after half a century, after all. I should go investigate again and see where things are.

Plumbing the Depths of Modern America

Question for Americans: is the consistency of everyone's shower contingent upon no one else in the house simultaneously using the hot water (or flushing the toilet) or is this phenomenon only particular to my home?

The DEA's Fishing Expeditions

Here's an interesting article about how AT&T feeds the DEA information concerning their customers. Remember that old yarn about how only terrorists would be targeted for warrantless surveillance? Now the target list includes suspected drug dealers--or anyone remotely related to them. No need for a warrant in today's America. We've abandoned that right. Technology has reduced the labor cost of law enforcement fishing expeditions to such an extent that little basis is needed to justify the cost in time or money. Just as spammers can reach out to millions at no cost, so can the government. An undercover identity on Facebook may be reused millions of times. If compromised, the name and location can be changed, and all the other information reused. Email text can be recycled, with minor alterations if needed. Artificial intelligence in software programs can eliminate much of the human involvement ordinarily needed in these operations. The government stoops to using the tactics and methods of spammers. So I think that that George Orwell's prophetic work, 1984, is closer to being a reality. Government and corporations work hand-in-hand to compile massive databases about people, while concealing their methods and their motives. Who really knows who is targeted and for what reasons? Who knows what is being planned for the future? Anyone that informs the public about the massive ongoing violations of citizen's rights is pursued to the ends of the Earth and faces the severe punishment reserved for murderers.

Sentence of Dave > Facebook!

A new study by researchers from the University of Michigan shows that frequent use of Facebook leads to feelings of "envy, sadness, loneliness, and anger" and the researchers are confident that use of Facebook is causing these negative emotions, rather than the other way around . . . and the reason why this is true may be because people post an "idealized version of their lives on Facebook," and so when people visit the site it makes them feel lonely and left and out: Facebook makes them feel as if their lives can't compare to what they see on the screen . . . BUT if you visit Sentence of Dave, you feel great about your life, because you're certainly more logical, more confident, less anxious and less awkward than Dave (and you can probably write a more coherent sentence than him, as well, so make the healthy choice and stay away from Facebook . . . unless you're using it to link to Sentence of Dave).

Chinese Roulette (I Dare You To Play)

This is a game my friend Rob from Vermont claims he invented and occasionally plays: he orders take-out from a new Chinese restaurant without consulting the menu, simply by selecting several random numbers . . . so the food is a surprise (and while the Russian Roulette analogy might not be apt for most of us, it is for Rob because he's allergic to shrimp).