Wednesday, August 31, 2016

I'm Only 20% Responsible for this Post

Summer Dave hasn't produced much on G:TB for the past few months: travelling, podcasting, keeping up with my own sentence-long rants and reviews, and coaching/managing two soccer teams has eaten up my time. But I'm going to get one Summer Dave style post in under the wire, just before it's time to start "educating" the youth again.

Summertime gives me time to think, and more and more, when I allow myself to think philosophical thoughts (which is not that often) I come to the conclusion that:

"there but for the Grace of God go I."

I generally use a steady stream of podcasts, music and books to avoid this kind of summertime thinking (thanks Podkicker and Google Play, for staving off anxiety and depression!) although I will have no choice but to delve into the abyss of profundity soon enough-- twice a day, in fact-- because I teach two sections of Philosophy class this coming semester. But once class is over, it's over . . . because if you think to hard about this stuff, it makes you crazy.

I'm not religious, so the only way I can rationalize the state of my life is by providence, fortune, and luck, and I often wonder-- in the vein of David Byrne-- how I ended up in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife, with two well-maintained cars (that have working cupholders) and two healthy kids and a fantastic dog . . . and when I think deeply about this, I come to the conclusion that I'm responsible for none of it. I'm entitled to none of it.

None of it was my doing and to think otherwise would be quixotic and foolish.

The current crisis in Aleppo locomoted my brain along this train of thought, and a few other examples immediately came to mind. I am going to exorcise them here, and then never think about them again. 

1) When my wife and I lived in Damascus, we associated Aleppo with good times and good food. The medieval citadel, the Ottoman architecture, the Beit Sissi. We stayed at the Baron (where Agatha Christie began her mystery novel Murder on the Orient Express) and explored the Byzantine era olive-oil cities on the outskirts of town, we climbed to where the stylites fasted, and then stuffed ourselves on kebabs.

The Beit Sissi has burned and the people of Aleppo are under siege from various forces. Two million people are without running water, and the future of the city is exemplified by this picture of this wounded five year old boy:

When I read and see this stuff, I can't help but think if it wasn't for my passport and the luck of where I was born, I could be one of those dehydrated Syrians trying to eke out an existence in the ruins of what is likely the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. So much for civilization.

2) During our stint overseas, one of our favorite places to visit was Thailand. We went there several times and travelled all over the country. Christmas of 2003, we found ourselves camping in a little tent on one of the Similan Islands. The Similan Archipelago National Park is known for incredible snorkeling and scuba-diving. By day, we'd get on a boat and ride to a spot between the islands, the boat would stop, and the Thai guide would yell,"You are snorkerring!" We'd jump off the boat and observe sea turtles, sea snakes, groupers, and all sorts of reef activity. At night we slept in our little tent by the beach.

Exactly a year later, December 26th, an earthquake in the Indian Ocean caused a giant tsunami, which devastated the island. There were bodies in the trees. Southwest Thailand reported 5,400 deaths and 3,100 people missing. Our other favorite tourist spot, Khao Lak, was completely destroyed.

We were back home in New Jersey, starting a family. Good timing. Pure luck.

3) When I was nineteen, I met up with a couple buddies in North Haledon, New Jersey for some Memorial Day Partying. My friend went to William and Patterson (and earned a zero point zero) but he lived off campus, in a fairly sketchy neighborhood.

We got hammered on schnapps and then made a foray out of doors. We were too young to get into a bar, drunk, and had no particular plan. We stole a baby-pool. We ran through some backyards. I climbed into a boat parked in someone's driveway and tried to start the outboard engine. 

Then there were lights. And police.

We did the only rational thing: we booked (it was 1989, so you could still book).

The police chased us. We hid in the bushes. They flushed us out, guns pointed at us. They cuffed us and took us to jail. My friend Rob wasn't wearing shoes. 

Apparently, there had been a spate of robberies in the neighborhood, and the police were doing a stake-out. They were really really pissed at us. They told us to never, ever run from the police in North Haledon. They told us we could have been killed. Now I realize what they meant. If we were black, they would have shot us

Once again, pure luck. The color of our skin saved us. They still cuffed us, tossed us over a chain-link fence (while we were cuffed . . . ouch) and made us spend the night in jail. We attempted to use our PBA cards, but the officer on duty said, "Too late for that." We still had to deal with some serious charges (especially eluding the police) but my dad-- Director of Corrections at the time-- was able to get them dropped to something lesser . . . professional courtesy. It was chalked up to silly college hijinks, underaged inebriation, and general teenage stupidity. 

But if we were black, it might not have ended that way. Again, pure luck.

Those are a few personal examples, but if you start to think this way, you won't be able to stop noticing others that fit the theme . . .

Try listening to the new Radiolab episode:  The Girl Who Doesn't Exist. It's about a girl who doesn't exist. Her parents were weird Texas religious nutballs who had nine children off the grid.Their children don't have birth certificates or Social Security numbers or baptism documents or school records or anything to prove their citizenship in the United States. She finally escaped (with the aid of her grandparents) but she couldn't get a job or go to school or get a driver's license or even get a judge to acknowledge her existence in America. As she says in her video, "I didn't pick this situation for myself."

I was born in the suburbs and my biggest concern was rabid squirrels.

The Netflix original that Mark recommended, Last Chance U, also explores this theme. How do you overcome growing up in rural Mississippi, both parents killed in a wild murder/suicide when you were five? 

How do you escape Aleppo? Or a bizarre cult-like family upbringing? Can you ever leave these places behind, even if you do escape? I think not (although I still enjoy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt). 

I wake up each morning in a house with clean running water, air-conditioning, and internet. I live in a nice, safe neighborhood, in a walking town. My children roam the streets and parks from dawn to dusk. Yesterday, my kids joined a dozen of their friends and played "Nerf War" on a quiet street next to mine. They were running through other people's backyards and driveways, wielding menacing Nerf weapons, shooting the fuck out of each other. No one complained. No one shot them.

I don't think I've done anything particularly out of the ordinary to deserve this good fortune. I was just born in the right place, at the right time, with the right color skin, and the right genes. As Woody Allen said, "80 percent of life is showing up." 

So maybe I'm twenty percent responsible for this post, but it was the easy twenty percent . . . the twenty percent that was fun to execute. The rest was just good fortune. I'll try to remember this as the new school year starts and I have to go back to work, and-- horror beyond all horrors-- eschew my daily afternoon nap.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Legitimately Massive News: Also, Holy Shit

If I asked you to quickly name a hypothetical event that would be simultaneously the most incredible
and most globally impactful story possible, you might first posit news of Tupac living in Boise and working as a ranch hand. But it wouldn't take you long before you got to the discovery of alien intelligence in our galaxy.

Get ready to have your mind blown, boys and girls.

Scientists from the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project have been tracking a powerful signal from the constellation Hercules since May 2015, and many are convinced that it originates from a society that's significantly more technologically advanced than ours.

I'll give you a minute. Maybe this video of cats being assholes will help you calm yourself down.

Hercules is about 95 light years away from Earth, nearly our next-door neighbor as these things go. Last May, a team of scientists at the Russian Academy of Science busted out their RUTAN-600 megascope and found evidence of "a strong signal in the direction of HD164595".

HD164595, as it turns out, is a star with properties very similar to those of our own sun. The signal in question is both strong and steady. It gets better. Let me give you some rapping Muppets before I spring the kicker.

According to legendary Soviet astronomer Nikolai Kardeshev, who postulated multiple levels of technical sophistication among extraterrestrial societies, a signal like the one investigated by the SETI researchers would only be possible from a Type II civilization, capable of harnessing all of the power of its home star.

We can barely use our home star to tan ourselves and power a portable refrigerator, and these bug-eyed motherfuckers are using theirs to direct a signal at a solar system 95 light years away. We're either in for an amazing experience, or we're completely fucked. On the bright side, the Large Hadron Collider is totally jealous.

Have a great day, everybody!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Tragic, Hip

I'd heard of The Tragically Hip, but didn't know much about the band until last week other than the fact that they had an amusing name. That changed last Saturday.

I was dicking around on Twitter while enjoying a couple of beers, as I'm wont to do, when my timeline filled up with #thehip. Apparently I follow a lot of Canadians. The tweets were unusual in their emotional rawness and cultural connection.

Intrigued, I started clicking around on the Ghooghles to see what the fuss was about. And, man, it's a hell of a story.

The Hip are a uniquely Canadian thing, perhaps our Northern neighbor's most beloved musical act. (Bryan Adams and Anne Murray notwithstanding). Nine of their 14 albums have topped the Canadian charts. Their songs tell the stories of Canada's cultural heritage - from small prairie towns to hockey to the indigenous First Nation people. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said recently that The Hip has "been writing the Canada's soundtrack for more than 30 years."

Unlike acts with similarly fervent local followings like Midnight Oil, The Hip never broke out beyond the borders of their homeland. But based on the past few months, maybe being a nation's band is more than enough.

In May, The Hip's frontman, Gord Downie, announced that he had untreatable and terminal glioblastoma - an aggressive brain cancer. Despite ongoing chemotherapy, Downie and the band decided to tour one more time.

Their final show was last Saturday in their hometown of Kingston. The Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) showed the concert in its entirety, a marker of the country's connection to the band. After seeing the outpouring of feels and joy on Twitter, I tuned in for the final 30 minutes or so. I knew fuck all about the band, but even I was moved by the moment, Downie's connection with the crowd, with his bandmates, and with his circumstance. At times, he seemed alternately inspired and deeply sad. As an example, go to the 1:50 mark of the video below, the band's performance of Grace, Too. If seeing that and knowing the reality behind it doesn't move you, then you're made of stone.

Here's the entire show, if you've got a couple of hours to burn. The Hip closed out its touring career with Ahead by a Century, their most popular single. You can see it starting at about 2:32 in the video below.

Downie's an incredible showman, renowned for his connection with audiences. His emotion, his passion, his mortality, and The Hip's unique relationship with their homeland made this show unforgettable. I'm glad I stumbled on it, and I wish I'd stumbled on the band long ago.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Last Day of Summer Music Joint

School starts in my neck of the woods tomorrow. My kids have mixed emotions, in the sense that the little one is very excited to kick off 7th grade, and the older one claims to hate school (which is likely her way of expressing a bit of nervousness about her first year in high school).

They've also got increasingly mixed musical tastes (which is likely my way of expressing the need to segue to a the topic of this blog post - I'm sure you'll agree that it was a smooth transition). My high-schooler has been listening to a ton of Childish Gambino and Frank Ocean of late, while her sister is squarely in a Twenty One Pilots/Panic at the Disco phase.

Me, I've been trying to bridge the gap. And Banks and Steelz is a perfect solution. The collaboration between Interpol frontman Paul Banks and RZA dropped a single in May (which featured GTB fave Ghostface Killah), and released a studio album on Friday. The record had been in the works since 2013.

The first single, 'Giant', is, to put it simply, badass.

I'm looking forward to digging into the whole record. And uniting the warring factions in my household.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Good Grief

Somewhere, Charlie Brown is smoking a cigarette, the Little Red-Haired Girl's head nestled against his shoulder as they lay in the afterglow of beautiful cartoon lovemaking. Lucy's sitting outside wondering how the hell he kicked that ball so far. -- Misery Loves Company, October 28, 2004

I wrote that the day after the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series. It remains one of my favorite pieces of prose, self-written category.

Somewhere today, Charlie Brown's world is just a little sadder, as news came from Minnesota that the little red-haired girl died last week.

Donna Wold was the one that got away for Charles Schulz, a girl he met while in art school who chose another man. Judging by her obituary, she lived a long and happy life, raising four kids with the guy that beat Charlie Brown out.

Charlie did okay for himself, too, as it happened.

Monday, August 22, 2016

zTravelogue: Roots and Culture

I didn't just consume a bunch of western media on my trip to Japan, I consumed a lot of culture, albeit not as much as I wanted to. I missed my connecting flight from San Francisco to Osaka and had to spend the night in San Francisco. As a result, my jetlag acclimation/cultural exposure day was mostly consumed by my flight the next day. I never had a big block of free time to travel around the prefecture, so I mostly made brief field trips around my hotel. This limited my cultural exposure to shopping centers and train stations, but I think I developed a fair understanding of day-to-day life in the Kansei region based on what stores stock and thus what people buy. Here are my favorite mundane aspects of southern Japanese culture.

It's perfectly acceptable to carry, and use, a washcloth in public

Osaka is really fucking hot and humid in the summer. So much so that even people from India travel to Osaka and step outside from the airport into the Osaka air for the first time they say "Oh hell no, this shit is way too hot and humid." At least that's what my cabbie said.

It's so hot that everyone sweats their asses off constantly, even inside. Women carry fans and parasols. Men carry washcloths, sometimes even bar towels, everywhere including the office. It's remarkably common to be in a meeting with ten other sweaty dudes, all wiping their faces with small hunks of terrycloth. Aside from Jerry Tarkanian, John Thompson and Ford Prefect, you just don't see towels in the workplace.

After sitting in two days of meetings like this I went to the mall across from my hotel and got myself one of these washcloths. They're technically considered a handkerchief--one side of the washcloth has this gauzy cotton material called tenugui sewn onto it, but it's still a washcloth. Here's mine.

Yes, those are bears. Yes, one of those bears has "ZZZ" next to him indicating that he's asleep--I guess the bear doesn't speak Japanese because he doesn't snore in katakana symbols. And yes, another of those bears is wearing a small green fedora. All my other choices were more preposterous, this is what you get for ¥400.

Anyway, I can't say enough good things about these super-absorbant handkerchiefs and being in a place where it's socially acceptable to constantly mop your forehead with one.

Everything is connected by underground tunnels

Because it's so stupidly hot in Osaka in the summer, they built a series of tunnels to connect just about every important location. Sort of like how places like Montreal and Rochester have tunnels to avoid the winter wind and snow, Osaka has tunnels to avoid the summer humidity sun. Now, navigating these tunnels is no bargain. Here's an example.

The main tributaries mercifully have English signage and my iPhone worked everywhere (thank god for Google maps), so I was able to avoid the scorching sun without getting hideously lost. Unfortunately the tunnels are not air conditioned so I still had to constantly wipe my face with my bear washcloth. Nevertheless, being able to get around completely underground is a source of pride among Osakans, and when I told one of my friends that I traveled to a venue over a mile away and back using only the tunnels, he smiled and said he was proud of me. He then fed me some ridiculous food and drink, which I'll describe another time.

They still have record stores

There was a Tower Records 50 feet from my hotel! And it sold actual records! And it had a whole section dedicated to A Tribe Called Quest!

It also had a very very deep selection of hiphop CDs. Here's just a snapshot from the K's:

KMD, Kool G Rap, Kool Keith, Kool Moe Dee and Kurtis Blow!?! I don't know if there's a record store in Brooklyn that has a CD in stock for all of these artists. I was impressed.

The 69 bus is everywhere

Or so it felt. I saw these bus stops all over the place.

The bathrooms are fantastic and the toilets are divine

Japan is spotless. No litter, no gum on the sidewalk, no dog shit on the curb. Immaculate. This includes all the bathrooms, including public bathrooms at the train station. I have suffered through circumstances requiring me to move my bowels at the old Yankee Stadium, an Amtrak Northeast Corridor train, and the worst gas station bathroom in Cape Cod (even Ryan Lochte wouldn't shit there--filthy, no light, the door had no knob mechanism so it wouldn't close, and no toilet paper (which I discovered after I had shat my emergency shit, so I had to wipe with the discarded Marlboro Reds box I found on the floor--had Marlin been there I would've used my underpants but it didn't occur to me at the time).

By contrast, defecating in Japan is a pleasure. Think of the nicest bathroom you've ever used. That's what they're all like. But better. The toilets all have features to make shitting better. They have a fan that sucks away shitty smells and a noisemaker that covers your shitty noises. They have heated seats. And most importantly, they have a washlet, a faucet that pops out of the seat and washes your bung with warm water. It's like taking a shower after every shit, and it's divine. The toilets also have fans to blow you dry after the washlet does its thing, but the fans are often too weak to really dry you so you still need some TP to finish up.

We're redoing zbathroom soon and I'm getting one of these toilets. That's how life-changing they are (and who knew we'd use the "toto asswash" label again?). Anyone who lives without a Toto toilet is a filthy animal.

They love the Simpsons

I don't know if that's true, but I saw these socks at a department store that carried stuff from Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, and all those other fancy brands you see at high-end US malls.

They love sneakers

This wasn't a surprise. Tons of cool kicks. Here's a small sampling.

I should've bought those Takumi Sen joints but I didn't.

They love tchotchkes

Not Chochkie's, tchotchkes. Many stores have these things that look like bubblegum machines, but instead of bubblegum they dispense tchotchkes. For example, are you into Minions? They have a tchotchke machine for that:

Note that Dave, Tom, Jerry, Tim and Stuart (well, Stewart) are also the names of several of our brothers.

Are cats in beanies or babushkas more your thing? Japan has you covered:

It's a great way to get rid of your pocket change before you leave the country.

The greatest regret of my trip, and perhaps the past 10 years of my life, is that I used my last ¥100 coins buying Minions for zson and pink raccoons for zdaughter (they love Minions and raccoons, respectively) only to turn the corner (they have rows and rows of these things at Yodobashi Camera, which is a batshit crazy store deserving of its own post) to find this:

Sorry rob. Next time I'll get you some fingertip-sized flying squirrel tchotchkes.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Kenny Schrader and the New American Hero

I have a die-cast replica of a NASCAR car with an Alabama Crimson Tide-themed paint job in my office. It was given to me by the late, legendary Evan Lloyd, because he knew I was a Bama fan, not necessarily a stock car junkie. It's one of my favorite possessions.

Now I think I need another die-cast.

Regan Smith, a generally average driver in the Sprint Cup, will drive the 88 car in the next three Xfinity Series races. The Xfinity events are NASCAR's minor leagues. Some of you may remember them as the Nationwide Series, or another of the dizzying parade of major sponsors that I've completely forgotten. Smith's turn behind the wheel is unremarkable, but his major sponsor is not.

Smith will be running the Dale's Pale Ale Chevy Camaro. In fact, he already did, taking the car to an 11th place finish on Friday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Longtime G:TB readers will be well aware of our affinity for Oskar Blues' flagship brand, the first craft beer to be packaged in cans. It's heartening to know that Dale's is successful enough to be able to afford national exposure.

And it's only a matter of time before the pioneering brewery meets its namesake on the track. Dale Earnhardt, Dale's Pale Ale. Match made in heaven. Or at least in North Carolina.

zTravelogue: Media Reviews

I recently spent over 40 hours traveling to and from Japan. During this time I consumed a bunch of food and even more media--three movies and three books. I will attempt to channel Dave and provide pithy insightful reviews of each.

The Revenant

You've probably already seen this. I had not because I have two little kids who absolutely abuse babysitters so I've seen one movie in the theater in the past 5+ years, and by the time we put them to bed zwoman is too tired to watch more than an hour of TV so we only watch TV shows.

Anyway, it won three Oscars (actor, director, cinematography) so I had huge expectations. The movie was good but not great. To me it's just a standard revenge story, Grizzly Adams crossed with Gladiator or Kill Bill or Unforgiven. Like Gladiator it starts with an intense battle scene. And like all three, the protagonist and someone he loves go through a brutal experience that kill s the loved one(s). The protagonist is left for dead only to survive and come back and kill the people who wronged him and the person he loves in a remarkably violent climax.

To be fair, "brutal experience" doesn't do justice to what happens to Leonoardo DiCaprio.

The Revenant Bear Scene from Alamin Abadin on Vimeo.

Additional brutality befalls Leo--he seeks vengeance on a human, not the bear's cubs.

This was a fine way to pass 156 minutes, I'm just surprised that this was one of the best movies of 2015. I'm also surprised that DiCaprio finally won an Oscar for this performance--the role required very little range. All he had to do was act like he was fucked up by a bear, then act angry and fuck up a human. Did you see The Departed or Gangs of New York or even What's Eating Gilbert Grape? This seems like a lesser performance. But good for him on finally getting on Oscar.

Rating: 4 out of 5 airsickness bags.

Everybody Wants Some!!

This was positioned as a spiritual successor to Dazed and Confused, which I first saw in the DoG Street Theater and then saw at least 69 more times on VHS in FOG:TB Derek's room. Which is to say Dazed and Confused is one of my all-time favorite movies. It's perfect in so many thematic ways: paddles, whaleshit, "fry like bacon you little freshman piggies!" And then there's stuff like this with little gems sparkling up at you every time you watch:

Like Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some takes place in Texas and involves students on summer break. Other similarities include a baseball montage and a protagonist who is a freshman guy who meets a girl and rapidly woos her during and after a party. And both were directed by Richard Linklater. Unlike Dazed and Confused, the students are college kids and they are enjoying the last 2 or 3 days of their summer vacation before classes start. And unlike Dazed and Confused, some of the camaraderie between the characters feels forced, the cinematography isn't as interesting, and I ultimately didn't care what happened to the characters.

But like the Revenant, it was a fine way to spend 117 minutes hurtling across the Pacific Ocean. I don't plan on watching it again and again though.

Rating: 3 out of 5 airsickness bags.

In the Heart of the Sea

Speaking of hurtling across, the Pacific OceanI previously opined that "In the heart of the sea is a great book, Moby Dick inspirations notwithstanding, but I don't see how it translates into a 90 minute movie." Director Ron Howard likely read my comment and took it to heart, drawing the film out for 122 minutes instead of 90. Unfortunately the book still didn't translate into a good movie.

In order to make the movie feel like a typical Hollywood story, Howard created beef between the captain (Pollard) and his first mate (Chase) right from the start. In the movie, Pollard got the captain job that Chase thought he deserved, the two men didn't know each other, Pollard didn't know how to sail and was a prick, and thus Chase resented/hated Pollard. But in the book they had previously sailed together and seemed to get along until they were months at sea and couldn't find any whales.

Chase is played by Chris Hemsworth who seems way too big to effectively move around on a rocking whaleship. Hemsworth affects an accent that is completely unrecognizable. I have no idea what he was going for but he ultimately sounds like a deaf truck driver from Long Island trying to impersonate Crocodile Dundee. All of this is to say that Hemsworth does not help the film.

Howard also cuts out a lot of the text on the art of whaling as well as a lot of the story. For example, there's no mention of eating tortoises, setting islands on fire, or visiting the Galapagos Islands. Howard somehow managed to take an incredibly compelling true story and make it feel like contrite Hollywood fiction. Not a good job by Opie Cunningham. At least it's better than this effort:

I don't regret watching this movie but I can't really encourage you to watch it either.

Rating: 2 out of 5 airsickness bags


This is an old book that I've been meaning to read for years but never got around to it until I was stuck at the Raleigh-Durham airport and saw it in the used bookstore. I started it then and finished it on my trip to Japan.

Mark Kurlansky likes to write about food and fishing, and cod is about both and more--Kurlansky writes at length about cod biology; baked cod; broiled cod; roasted cod; cod chowder; cod croquettes; cod stomp and go; cod bacalaitos; cod feroce; cod bouillabaisse; all the different varieties of salt cod; cod behavior; cod habitats; cod population growth and decline; cod fishing methods from antiquity through today; Cape Cod; New Englander's affection for cod; Englishmen's love of eating cod beyond all other flaky white fish; the Basque's penchant for catching cod; Iceland's economic dependence on cod; Spaniard's love of salt cod; how to clean cod; myriad ways to prepare cod roe; myriad ways to prepare cod tongue; myriad ways to prepare cod cheeks; how Clarence Birdseye invented frozen cod; how industrial cod fishing changed the world's economy; and all manner of other cod-related stuff.

I told you I would channel my inner Dave! All this fishy goodness is packed into about 230 pages, so it's a quick and pleasant read. That said, fans of natural history and oddball facts will enjoy this more than your average normal person. It's a book for Dave.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 airsickness bags (unless you're Dave, then 4.5 out of 5)

When We Were Orphans

Kazuo Ishiguro wrote Remains of the Day, which I read and greatly enjoyed in Prof. Heacox's Contemporary Literature class. His later novel When We Were Orphans is not as good. In theory it's a detective novel--the main character is a detective who spends 3/4 of his life looking for his parents. Throughout the story he claims to solve all sorts of crimes, but the story never provides even a shred of detail regarding the crimes or how he solves them. He just talks about the fact that he solves crimes, ad nauseum, while pining away for some woman whom he says looks like a bird of prey. It's weird.

Set in Shanghai in the 1930's, during the Sino-Japanese War, an overly protracted portion of the book involves the main character slogging his way through bombed out rubble while bombs and bullets fly around him. So preposterous is this scene, and his motivation for the slog, that I began to believe the whole thing was a child's dream (the book starts in the main character's childhood). It isn't a dream. It's just weird.

And the conclusion is weird. I don't want to say that it was a let-down, but it kind of made me wonder why Ishiguro bothered to write the story in the first place. Immediately upon finishing the book, I quoted Ryan Lochte and said "Whatever."

But it kept me entertained for five straight hours and some of the writing is damn good. You could do worse. But if you're into stories set in Shanghai during the Sino-Japanese War, watch Empire of the Sun.

Rating: 3 out of 5 airsickness bags

In a Dark, Dark Wood

I was desperate for something to read and grabbed this at the tiny Hudson News next to my gate at SFO. I hadn't heard of it, and my other options were some tripe I'd heard of or some tripe I'd already read. This book is tripe too.

It's a mystery novel with no plot twist, no surprise, no ... mystery. The cover quotes Reese Witherspoon's assertion to "Prepare to be scared ... really scared!" but nothing scary happened. Just a bunch of British people in a house in a dark wood. A dark, dark wood, one might say.

It gave me something to do between San Francisco and Newark, but that's about it.

Rating: 2 out of 5 airsickness bags

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

All Growns Up

Speaking as someone who didn't and doesn't have the personal discipline to complete a graduate degree while working a full-time job and trying to be a good husband, I'm beyond impressed by our boy Teejay's graduation from Georgetown University with a Masters Degree in Public Relations and Corporate Communications.

We'll give the man a few days to celebrate before we expect him to resume his filler-filling duties. Which should now be performed at a Master level.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Test 58: Can You?

Can you? Will you? Would you, at the very least, give it a try? Stacey breaks format this week and puts Cunningham and me on the spot. We occasionally perform admirably, but mainly humiliate ourselves.

There is also some serious debate about mnemonic devices.

Give it a shot, and see if you can.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Get Your Fix

If you're like me, you're eagerly anticipating the return of football in your life. While I appreciate football in nearly all it's forms (Sorry, Canada), no version of the sport is as near or dear to me as College Football. Yes, I know it's an exercise in the traveshamockery of amateur athletics and that it's rife with corruption, hypocrisy and can feel outright sleazy at times but I don't really care. Okay, I care. Just not enough to turn against the sport. Fall Saturdays have long been my favorite aspect of the greater sporting calendar. What can I say? I'm a product of my environment. I came of age as a sports fan (junior high/high school) at a time when my home state boasted three of the sport's most dominant and entertaining CFB programs. Whether you loved or hated them, it's tough to say that Miami, Florida and FSU weren't among the nation's most highly entertaining and talented programs during the 1990s. On top of that, my two older sisters attended FSU so I spent 4-5 Saturdays each fall watching games at Doak Campbell Stadium. As if that weren't enough, I then chose to attend the University of Florida. I never had a chance. If you love sports like I (and most of us at G:TB) do, the atmosphere I grew up in virtually guaranteed that I'd love College Football.

Why am I saying all of this? Well, because while College Football is getting close (and holy shit look at the slate of games on Labor Day weekend), it's still a few weeks away and, damn it, I can't wait anymore. I need my fix. So, being the generous fellow that I am I figured I'd share how I'm getting that fix while I await the return (one last time) of my beloved Uncle Verne.

I'll start with the Showtime reality series that followed Notre Dame last year. Full disclosure: I watched this show in real time as last season progressed. I'm not opposed to watching it again though. And if you haven't watched, I highly encourage you to do so. Despite being of Irish descent and raised Catholic, I do not like Notre Dame. In fact, I actively dislike Notre Dame. But even with that going against it, I loved this show. They gave you an inside look at the week to week lives of Fighting Irish players and coaches. And the game/sideline footage was as good as you'll see on any football docu-series. Each episode is only a half hour. You can blow through it in an afternoon if you've got that kind of time. It's so well done that I even found myself (kind of) rooting for some of the Notre Dame players by season's end. By the way, Showtime is bringing the series back this season and they're following FSU this time around. No chance they'll get me to root for FSU players though.

Second on my hit list for you is the new Netflix series "Last Chance U". Netflix dropped this on us about three weeks ago and it does not disappoint. The series follows the 2015 season of Eastern Mississippi Community College which, if you don't know, is currently the most dominant JUCO football program in America. Boasting recent graduates like Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly and Alabama DT Jarran Reed among many others. Set in rural (to say the least) Scooba, MS this series follows the on and off field struggles of a group of young football players who ended up in the middle of nowhere due to either academic indifference and/or general knuckleheadedness, among other things. I won't spoil the show for you but I will implore you to watch it. It's only 6 hours total and it's incredibly watchable. My wife not only doesn't care for sports, she dislikes most if not all sports (I swear we have some things in common) and even she couldn't help but get sucked in to "Last Chance U" as she sat on the couch while I watched episode after episode. Oh yeah, they also use a dope Copywrite song for one of the training/practice montages.

So now you've got something to watch over the next week or so besides boring baseball or a million Olympic sports that you don't even really like. You're welcome.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Tractor Beam, Sucked Me Right In

Anna Kendrick, as you might imagine, checks just about all the boxes for me. Diminutive, cute, a little bit goofy - if I weren't happily married, she'd be in trouble. I guess that's what restraining orders are for.

But news today moved the star of the Pitch Perfect movies up even higher in my estimation. Kendrick, it seems, wants to be Squirrel Girl.

Once an obscure side character in the expansive Marvel universe, Squirrel Girl has seen a resurgence of sorts after she became part of the New Avengers cast. As the nanny for Luke Cage and Jessica Jones' child, the college-aged alter ego of mild-mannered Doreen Green possesses the ability to chew through wood, and proportional squirrel agility and strength. Not coincidentally, so does your friendly neighborhood blogger.

With all manner of Marvel heroes getting their own feature roles lately, speculation has begun in earnest about an eventual Squirrel Girl vehicle. And that's where Anna Kendrick comes in. The elfin (or, shall we say, squirrel-like) actress has reportedly expressed an interest in starring in the title role. As may be obvious, I find that an inspired choice.

Marvel has yet to announce plans for a Squirrel Girl feature, but that seems to me to be just a matter of time. From my clearly unbiased perspective, it would almost certainly break every box office record in existence. They gave us Ant Man (and Howard the Duck). Squirrel Girl is a no-brainer.

And Anna Kendrick wants to be Squirrel Girl. She an 's away from perfection.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Test 57: Love Me Some Elevators

This week on The Test, I learn what Cunningham and Stacey have in common with Aerosmith: an inordinate passion for vertical people movers. Who knew?

No politics in this one, but there is some elevator-related religious discussion, and a frenetic cameo by my good friend and colleague Coach Brady. Whitney might remember him from a Spotswood girls varsity soccer game back in the '90's.  Brady was the head coach, I was his assistant, and Whitney was in town so we drafted him into service and dubbed him the "the crying coach" . . . because sometimes girls cry during soccer games and need someone to talk to . . . and for those of you who think you're too tough to cry, remember: if they took your smokes and maced you, you'd cry too.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Virginia is For Lovers, Not Drivers

Driving on the highways of the northern Virginia/Washington DC area is like participating in a NASCAR event. Everyone drives really fast and really close, passing on either side and eschewing turn signals, driving etiquette, and any regard for the safety of others. Take these same Virginia drivers from the highway to a parking lot and, remarkably, they become timid. It is not uncommon to see, for example, a car bomb across your path from the left lane of Route 66 so that it can tear onto Spout Run Parkway and later fishtail into the Italian Store parking lot only to drop its speed to about 5 MPH and require a three-point-turn to simply pull into a parking spot.

And parallel parking is entirely out of the question. Seriously--here's a video from a cars-and-coffee event in Great Falls this past weekend.

DER BNZ!! Almost as bad as BR JEEP. What's up with Virginians and personalized plates?

I love the fact that the parallel parker doesn't realize what she's done until the 48 second mark. For the record, the car she parked on is a Ferrari 458 Speciale. The 458 is pretty speciale in general, but the Speciale limited edition makes 597 horsepower, sprints from naught to 60 in under three seconds, tops out at over 200 MPH, costs about $400,000 once fully configured ... and isn't immune to parking lot idiots.

So watch out for parallel parkers the next time you're at Katie's Cars and Coffee (which you ought to check out if you're local).

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The Curious Case of the Bloody Sock(puppet)

According to Wikipedia, a sockpuppet is "an online identity used for purposes of deception". Usually such identities are made from whole cloth, and used to promote ideologies or positions of the person or people behind the identities. Donald Trump's use of 'John Barron' as pseudo-identity/spokesman in the 1980s is an early example, but online forums all over the internet are rife with sockpuppetry.

While most sockpuppets use fake names and identities to advance positions or feign the existence of broad support for policies, the crack research team at GTB has found a recent example where a prominent persona has been co-opted in the name of radical loonbattery.

Once upon a time, Curt Schilling was an outspoken professional baseball player, an interesting mix of technophile gamer, student of history, jock, and conventional conservative. Since his retirement from baseball and the controversial failure of his gaming company, Schilling's identify was taken over by a caricature of a right-wing nutjob. This new 'Curt Schilling' has descended further and further into the fever swamps of the Breitbart/Infowars insane right wing. 'He' routinely retweets the most thinly sourced conspiracy theories as fact, propagates offensively sexist and racist memes, and insults 'libtards' on the regular.

After getting suspended by ESPN for a Facebook post that unfavorably compared Muslims with Nazis, the WWL finally suspended pseudo-Curt for his consistent assholery. Or, for promoting an anti-trans meme. But mostly for being an unrepentantly unprofessional asshole.

Schilling was chastened by ESPN's professional rebuke, and...nah, he wasn't. He just doubled down on being a wingnut online. Most recently, he conducted a highly scientific and obviously unassailable poll on the Presidential election. As you can see below, things look bleak for the Democrats:

When various commenters pointed out the fact that Schilling's Twitter followers almost certainly represented a biased sample set, fake Curt called them tools of the liberal media, and predicted a sweeping repudiation of conventional wisdom come November. Cool.

And finally, you'll be pleased to know that just yesterday, our man Curt (or the people that are controlling his identity) went public with his plans to run for President in 2024. Or by 2020, if Hillary Clinton 'illegally' wins in November.

I, for one, can't wait. A combination of unwavering certainty in one's position in the face of contrary facts, giant ego, disdain for people with dissenting viewpoints is both appealing and healthy. Run, 'Curt', run.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Post-OBFT Hangover Post - No Thinking Required

While this year's hangover is actually tame in comparison to recent years (a fact I attribute to drinking tons of PBR instead of choosing whiskey and high-octane IPAs), it's still best to ease into the post-OBFT week.

With that as preface, let's celebrate one of the other reasons why the hangovers might've hurt less than they used to this year.


Sunday, August 07, 2016

Sunday Filler: Action Bronson and Dan Auerbach (of Black Keys) Make Sonic Love

I'm not the hip hop aficionados some of you clowns are, but I know a fat beat when I hear it. So I was pleasantly surprised to hear the collaboration between the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, Action Bronson and producer Mark Ronson is pretty good. Check it out. It's likely better than the shit sandwich movie Suicide Squad, whose soundtrack features the tune.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

The Test 56: Politics, Naps, and Canine Mating Rituals

While the producers of The Test are certainly not as knowledgeable as Rob in the political arena, we do our best (and we could kick his pansy ass in the actual arena . . . Stacey is six foot one in flats and Cunningham is very, very sarcastic).

On this week's episode, Cunningham asks some pointed political questions, both general and germane, and Stacey and I do our civic duty (with some help from God) and participate in the ongoing discussion of who should run our country and how they should do it. We attempt to unravel how our political process works.

While we're not Tom Torlakson, we're trying (although we do get sidetracked by important issues of the day: napping, how to mate a great dane with a Boston terrier, the benefits/detriments of exercise . . . pretty much anything to avoid explaining just what the fuck a caucus is) and we hope our efforts will be helpful to the voters come November. And, remember: three more months of this shit!

Give it a whirl, keep score, and see how you fare.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Duty's Not Just a Four-Letter Word That Sounds Like a Word for Poop

Your moment in the sun, Torlakson
As a Beltway-based (ish, Clarence, ish) card-carrying member of the East Coast liberal elite, I consider myself generally well-informed about politics and the practitioners thereof. This is true both at the Federal and State levels. I know about Paul LePage's loonbattery in Maine, for example, and the quirky John Hickenlooper's unlikely rise to prominence in Colorado. (One of the headlines in the Hickenlooper link, for example: "Hickenlooper recounts the first time he smoked pot at age 16. He also writes about a nude selfie he took when high in college.") I'm hip to North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory's cartoonish bigotry and incompetence, and Andrew Cuomo's machine-style, sharp-elbowed leadership in New York.

With that as background, I confess no small measure of surprise when I learned that someone named Tom Torlakson had, in his capacity as the Governor of California, declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles and Monterey counties as a result of wildfires in the Golden State. I could've sworn Jerry Brown, the once and future Governor Moonbeam, was at the helm in Sacramento.

I wasn't exactly wrong, as it turns out.

Even in this era of constant connectedness and instant access, California law requires that executive power be exercised within the state's boundaries. So when Brown headed to Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention, succession rules dictated that the Lieutenant Governor take over. Except that Gavin Newsom, who holds that role, was also in Philly. No worries, the Senate President Pro Tem is next in line. He went to Philly, too, though. As did the Assembly Speaker, the Secretary of State, and Attorney General.

Somebody in Sacto has a sense of duty, though, and that man is State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson, American Hero.

Torlakson didn't have to do too much while the rest of the State's government officials partied on Broad Street. After carving his initials in Brown's desk and taking a dump in the Governor's private bathroom, he issued a handful of proclamations (last Tuesday quickly became Change Lives - Be a Teacher Day), ordered room service, and walked around the office naked. (Those last two might only be imagined - they're what I'll do when I become Governor of Virginia.)

He did, however, have to make a serious decision about the fires ravaging large parts of the state, and that's no little thing. Allegedly, he did so without Brown's input, as he blocked all calls from the six officials above him on the regular totem pole* - despite Brown's Bobby Valentine-esque attempts to maintain control.

* - Might not be accurate.

We salute you, Tom Torlakson. For being cool under fire (sorry), and doing your duty when those around you chose not to do theirs, we name you an honorary Gheorgie, right up until you do something to make us change our minds.