It’s Hoopfest, Man

What keeps a 43-year-old playing competitive basketball?

New York City, September 18, 2017

★★ A few nearly unnoticeable drops of drizzle became a soaking mist in the course of the brief wait in the schoolyard for the teachers to arrive. Then came plain gray and damp. The very top of the Freedom Tower’s spike was lost in the sky. Even after the ground had dried out, it was uncertain whether the clouds might start leaking again. The air in the office progressed from too hot to much too cold. Faint colors emerged in the sky on its way to darkening.

Dicks Drawn

One joke in particular highlights the strength and weakness of this mockumentary. To check one witness’s reliability, Peter and Sam must establish whether or not this witness got a handjob at summer camp. As they review the details surrounding the alleged handjob, the documentary cuts to a CGI reenactment of one nondescript figure giving another a handjob, including a nondescript cylinder standing in for the teenager’s penis. The visual gag is very funny each time they return to it, but it also is considerably advanced work for a documentary allegedly produced by teenagers. It hearkens back a bit to The Office’s ninth-season presentation of Threat Level Midnight. While funny and satisfying, it was hard to shake the question: When did Michael Scott get so good at cinematography?

This isn’t spoiling anything really except one of the better dick jokes on television since the “Mean Jerk Time” calculation on “Silicon Valley.” Hurry up and finish your work so you can go home and watch it, because it is a fun little satire of all the true crime shows we love to argue about, and what better plans do you have? Then tell me tomorrow who did the dicks!!

"Ancient Aliens" Is Everything That's Wrong With America

I don’t know if you knew, but the Hebrews didn’t spend forty years in the Sinai after the Exodus because they’d incurred the wrath of God. And they didn’t leave that desert because the offending generation had died off. The chosen people were forced into the Promised Land because the algae-based-protein-bar machine that dispensed the “manna from heaven” they’d been eating finally broke down.

“Of course, [the machine] needed energy, for cultivating the algae, and this was produced, we postulate, by a small nuclear reactor,” says Rodney Dale, a wild-eyed madman.

This is the History Channel, circa 2009. “But,” asks the narrator, “If the Israelites’ survival depended upon the manna machine, where did they get it? Some believe they had stolen it from the Egyptians prior to their exodus. Other suspect extraterrestrials gave it to them as a humanitarian gesture to prevent their starvation in the desert.” The show is “Ancient Aliens,” and it’s everything that’s wrong in America.

What I mean is that when it debuted in 2009, “Ancient Aliens” put to work certain attitudes and argumentative techniques that have, in the age of Trump, come to dominate our discourse. “Ancient Aliens” is a more popular show than you might think, but I doubt it’s got much influence on the zeitgeist, and I know that it didn’t invent what it’s doing. Richard Hofstadter taught us a half-century ago that things like anti-intellectualism and the ‘paranoid style’ have been with us since at least 1776. “Ancient Aliens” was just the canary in the mine this time around.

Cars Bad

Image: Bernard Spragg via Flickr

As a technology, the motor vehicle is bad at preserving human life. According to the World Health Organization, the hurtling metal machines that provide our basic transportational freedom kill about a million people every year. Another downside to these things is that, even if the market for automobiles that don’t light a tremendous volume of petroleum-based liquids on fire is rapidly expanding (especially in China), the version that still features the internal combustion engine treats our earth very badly. Nevertheless, because of our structural dependence on these contrivances, any blanket “cars are bad” position comes off as shortsighted. In much of America, you “need a car.” People who live in rural or suburban areas can’t hop on their Schwinns to go pick up their CSA basket on the way back from their conveniently located WeWork space.

But there is one part of driving that even a coal-rolling asshole would have trouble defending: commuting in traffic. The process of getting to work in general is bad enough, as evidenced by well-known study of Texas women who ranked the morning commute as the least satisfying activity in their day—even below actual work. As Tom Vanderbilt, the author of Traffic—an exhaustive romp through the bizarre, mostly dehumanized world of driving—points out, we’ve also been shown to prefer short commutes to none at all, so our general feelings about the very act of commuting are bit complicated; still, in terms of public health, the physical and psychological effects of long, congested trips to work are quite bad. This, from another oft-cited study of commuting, by researchers at the University of Zurich, sums up the effects of slumping over in a wheeled stress pod, for over an hour, five days per week:

The strain of commuting is associated with raised blood pressure, musculoskeletal disorders, lowered frustration tolerance and increased anxiety and hostility, being in a bad mood when arriving at work in the morning and coming home in the evening, increased lateness, absenteeism and turnover at work, as well as adverse effects on cognitive performance.

Overheard in D.C.

Finally, after more than 45 minutes of my eavesdropping on their conversation by myself, Mr. Cobb picked up the check and announced to Mr. Dowd, “All right, boss, I got to roll back to my little hole. I’ve got like a seven and a half foot ceiling … Wilt Chamberlain couldn’t stand up in it.”

Ty Cobb sounds like a character written by Luke Mazur.

Suzanne Kraft, "Nordsee"


This is really good, and most days there’s not a lot else you can say that about. Most days there’s not anything else you can say that about. Or anything at all, let alone else. Take what you can get is what I’m saying, and also be aware that you’re not likely to get a lot. Anyway, enjoy.

New York City, September 17, 2017

★★ The dull gray in the sky extended down to make a dull gray nothingness where New Jersey would be. A few ripples of blue, with unclear edges, emerged. On stepping outside into the soggy air, there was a brief moment of chill in the dimness, and then the clouds thinned and parted, so that hot sun could fall on the expected offerings of the street fair. By the afternoon walk to the playground, the light had grown clearer and the heat had become radiant and directed. Everything was going on at once: a tiny child in a bathing suit ran a scooter into someone’s soccer ball and pushed it along for a ways; a baseball sailed out of the handball court and landed on the basketball half-court; a boy in a numbered t-shirt and baseball pants and socks hit a tennis ball with the bat and was thrown out at first base. The five-year-old was wild-eyed and sweaty.

Don't Talk To Aliens

Image: Acid Pix via Flickr

“I know humans are trying to communicate with aliens. And aliens are trying to communicate with us! Do you think we’ll discover the existence of aliens in our lifetimes?” —Spacy Tracey

Aliens have been reaching out to us for sure. But we’re not entirely sure how to take their calls. And next year we’ll start broadcasting towards them, probably sports podcasts for starters. It’s hard to know what would make aliens like us. It’s like a really tough blind date to go on. They may be juggalos.

Imagine that. Insane Clown Posse being the biggest band in the universe. After their march on Washington this weekend, I do have newfound respect for juggalo culture, certainly. They do have the ability to organize and protest peaceably. Very impressive. I do not understand their affection for Faygo drinks. I am more of a Moxie soda guy. But respect, juggalos, respect. If the universe is filled with juggalos, we could do worse. Like Foo Fighters fans.

If aliens were going to visit Earth, now would not be a great time. 2017 isn’t an Olympic Year. There isn’t a new Beyoncé album out (yet). And this Trump guy would go on the mother of all tweetstorms if they suddenly showed up. We always imagine that aliens will someday come and destroy Earth. But they’ve done a pretty good job avoiding us so far. They may be helping us exist for all we know. Those comets that would hit Earth right on the button? Maybe they’re shooting lasers at them for us.

What You've Learned

Image: M.Kemal via Flickr

Last week, I asked you to share something you’ve learned recently.

These responses are some of my favorites ever—thank you to everyone who wrote in—so make sure to check out all of them. Here are a few random selections:

It’s ok to be alone. —AD

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I’m smarter and more powerful than I believe I am. After living with depression and anxiety for a decade, my self-esteem is shot, but last week, in an interview for my dream job, I heard myself talking, and thought “Wow, I know what I’m doing. I deserve this job.” Reader, I got it. —Hannah W. (Ed note: Congrats!!)

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People will struggle to keep their public facade intact regardless of their personal turmoil and trouble. If they confide in you it’s for a good reason and you need to pay attention. Simple acknowledgement will do wonders. Compassion sometimes is letting people live their lives and being witness to their struggle, not trying to fix to ease your own distress. —Conrad R.

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I am my #1 advocate.

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Chain rule in calculus. It’s h(x)= f(g(x)) then h'(x)=f'(g(x))*(g'(x)). —AD

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I recently learned that the funny shape of a running track (and also Wheetabix cereal) is called a discorectangle. A DISCORECTANGLE. —Harriet W.

Moods And What They Mean