Friday, November 30, 2012

Because The Night

Patti Smith in Boston on Monday night.  One of the greatest singles in rock history.  Co-written with Bruce Springsteen and released in 1978.  Patti is now 67.  This song still gets to me.
Found via Maggie's Farm.

Let's Hope So

. . . Regarding both possibilities raised in the last paragraph below (I am trying to be optimistic).

From Arnold Kling's askblog:

The Left’s Post-Election Self-Examination?

Brad DeLong writes,
Massachusetts has been walking down this exchange-and-public-program-expansion road for six years now, since Mitt Romney signed RomneyCare. Massachusetts has been vacuuming up doctors and nurses from Costa Rica and elsewhere and still has been finding that the cost of treating your state population is higher when 97% are insured than it was when 88% were insured. And there aren’t enough loose doctors and nurses in the rest of the world for the ACA to vacuum up enough of them to meet the needs of not 1 state but 50 states.
…What is your guess as to what will happen if the ACA works for access, works for quality, works for coverage–but the extra health-care workforce needed isn’t there, and the lines start to get longer?
Pointer from Tyler Cowen.

Until the election, this sort of question had only been asked by conservative economists.
Perhaps this is an early example of the pattern of self-examination that I thought might take place after the election. When it comes to their policy portfolios, the Republicans will be second-guessing themselves in terms of political positioning. Meanwhile, the Democrats may be second-guessing themselves in terms of feasibility.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Where Is The Real Mona Lisa?

If you thought it's in the Louvre in Paris, think again.  DaVinci's masterpiece is really in a private home in Queens, New York.  It's true - I saw it in a movie - The Freshman, a 1990 film starring Marlon Brando and Matthew Broderick, directed by Andrew Bergman who wrote the original screenplay for Blazing Saddles.

Matthew Broderick plays a kid from Vermont who has just arrived in New York to start his first year of college at NYU.  Marlon Brando plays - well, just watch the trailer for the movie and I think you can tell who he's playing, except that in this film they call him Carmine Sabatini and he plays the role impeccably.
Also in the cast are Penelope Ann Miller as Carmine's daughter, "the lovely Tina", Bruno Kirby, and Maximilian Schell as Larry London, the operator of a very unusual gourmet eating experience.  Also featured is Paul Benedict as Professor Fleeber, a teacher of film history who is fixated on (what else?) The Godfather.

A very funny and eccentric movie with a star turn by a Komodo Dragon.

And here's a little more Brando from the film.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Boogie Fever

We're going to go backwards in time to explore the boogie.

First up is Chris Isaak with Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing from 1995.  The production is top-notch.  The bass plus Isaak's voice and then the rockabilly guitar kicking in make it something special.  And it certainly does sound bad, whatever that thing was, which you can confirm by watching the MTV video.

Next is LaGrange by the boys from ZZ Top (1973) who are still rocking in this more recent clip.  And you can't beat that sophisticated lyricism:
Rumour spreadin' a-'round in that Texas town
'bout that shack outside La Grange
And you know what I'm talkin' about.
Just let me know if you wanna go
To that home out on the range.
They gotta lotta nice girls ah.

This is John Lee Hooker with Boom Boom from the early 1960s on British TV.  You can hear where ZZ Top got its vocal stylings.  I saw Hooker play at a club in Worcester, Massachusetts in the 1970s.  The man had a groove. And now you can hear where ZZ Top and Chris Isaak got the beat.  This is John Lee Hooker again doing Boogie Chillen - it's a 1992 live version.  The circle is unbroken!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Master And Commander

Their first encounter was on a warm evening in 1800 in the music-room of the Governor's House at Port Mahon, Minorca in the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain where both had gone to hear a performance of Locatelli's C major quartet.

That first meeting between Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin did not go well.  Maturin chastised Aubrey for beating time with his hand upon his knee leaving Jack with "the strongest inclination to snatch up his little gilt chair and beat the white-faced man down with it; but he gave way with a tolerable show of civility".

Shortly thereafter circumstances draw them together and it is the start of, as Humphrey Bogart said to Claude Rains, "a beautiful friendship".

It is also the start of the twenty volume Aubrey-Maturin series written by the English novelist Patrick O'Brian (1914-2000), a series referred to by a New York Times reviewer as "the best historical novels ever written".  In this instance I am very happy to find myself in agreement with the Times.

O'Brian was a modestly successful (and very secretive) writer who finally found broader success with the publication of the first novel in the series, Master And Commander, in 1970 with the last volume being published around the time of his death.  I first heard of the books in the late 1980s, around the time they began to be published in the United States, and was immediately drawn into their world.

The novels are set in the world of the British navy during the Napoleonic Wars but they are much more than an account of battles.  They tell one long, coherent story and can be viewed as early 19th century "novels of manners" set mostly at sea (though a couple of the books are set entirely on land without any naval engagements).  

Most historical fiction, even the best, contains some element of a modern-day worldview or consciousness in its writing.  O'Brian's novels are written as though he is living in 1805.  Perhaps it helped that from 1949 until his death, he and his wife lived in a small, isolated Catalan village in southern France.  There is not a breath of modernity or 20th century irony in these books.  They are truly of their time. Because of this the reader is enveloped in O'Brian's world and develops a deep affection for the characters and the HMS Surprise.

Jack Aubrey, the ambitious captain we meet in the first book has the sensibility of his time while Stephen Maturin, the Irish-Catalan surgeon and naturalist (and spy for the British Admiralty) is a character who could simply not exist in today's world. 

Full of arcana about 19th century sailing and warships, food and nature the books spawned a cottage industry of ancillary publications.  There are books explaining its lexicon (A Sea Of Words), a cookbook based on its recipes, studies of the British navy (Jack Aubrey Commands) and biographies on the characters upon which Aubrey is based.

The series also inspired one of the finest film adaptations of a historical novel, Master And Commander, released in 2003 and starring Russell Crowe as Jack Aubrey, which was nominated for ten Academy Awards.  Despite being named for the first book in the series, it is actually a combination of parts of the stories from three of the novels.  This YouTube video by a fan of the series captures the spirit of the film.
In Peter Weir, the film had a director who matched the sensibilities of the novel.  Like O'Brian he builds an entirely self-contained 19th century world.  Weir is an Australian director who started in the late 1970s making "new wave" Aussie films such as Picnic At Hanging Rock and Gallipoli (with Mel Gibson).  In 1983 he made The Year Of Living Dangerously with Gibson and Sigourney Weaver which is set in 1965 Indonesia during the run up to the revolt that overthrew President Sukarno (definitely worth seeing).  In the U.S. his first big hit was Witness with Harrison Ford

Russell Crowe is perfect as Jack Aubrey.  I bet that if you took a poll of O'Brian fans before the casting of the film, Crowe would have been the overwhelming pick for Aubrey.  He looks and acts as we all imagined Aubrey.  Aubrey is a natural leader and Crowe makes you understand whyPaul Bettany on the other hand is not a physical match for Maturin.  Maturin is described as small and dark (Bettany is tall and fair) and as an Irish-Catalan does not speak with an upper class English accent (which Bettany does).  However, Bettany captures well the spirit of Maturin, including his coldly rational outlook on much of life combined with a passionate streak of contrariness and instinctive resistance to authority and his interplay with Crowe is as intimate as in the books as you can see in this clip:
Weir recreates life on a British warship with all its cramped quarters, class distinctions, discipline and superstitions and even the smaller roles are well-cast.  David Threlfall, as Preserved Killick, Aubrey's steward is as cranky as in the books and James D'Arcy as young Lt. Tom Pullings is as if he jumped out of one of the novels.

The other actor of note is young Max Pirkis who plays Midshipman William Blakeney.  The British navy often had boys between nine and twelve years old serving on its ships and Blakeney and his compatriots are major characters.  From today's perspective it is shocking to see how they are deployed at such a young age but the movie just plays it as a natural thing and we see how they mature in these conditions.

Whether it is day to day life on ship, the intimacy of the officers' dinner, battles with their French nemesis, the Archeron, plunging through stormy, wintry seas or a quieter sojourn in the Galapagos, the film conveys a sense of realism about its time rarely found in such movies and it bears repeated viewing.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Why Don't You Do Right

Peggy Lee with Benny Goodman on clarinet along with his orchestra.  This was Peggy's breakout hit in 1942, reaching #4 on the charts and selling over one million copies.  Composed by Kansas Joe McCoy.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Masters Of Conventional Wisdom

Established pundits often write things that reflect the conventional wisdom - the stuff they say to each other over and over again in the circles in which they hang out.  After awhile they no longer think about it even if it no longer makes any sense.  Occasionally I'm going to feature examples of this phenomenon.

My first example is from Fareed Zakaria, who has rocketed to prominence in print and TV (he currently has a show on CNN that is, I believe, called "Fareed Zakaria: Look How Smart I Am").
Zakaria had a recent opinion piece in the Washington Post entitled Israel Dominates The New Middle East.  Most of the essay is about the dominant position of Israel's conventional military power and I agree with the analysis - though he neatly avoids any discussion of Iran's nuclear program and its profound implications for this balance.

It's in his last paragraph that he goes completely off the rails by thoughtlessly spouting the conventional wisdom.  What makes this a great example is you can see the logical flaw within the actual sentences of the paragraph. See if you can spot it:

"These are the realities of the Middle East today. Israel’s astonishing economic growth, its technological prowess, its military preparedness and its tight relationship with the United States have set it a league apart from its Arab adversaries. Peace between the Palestinians and Israelis will come only when Israel decides that it wants to make peace. Wise Israeli politicians, from Ariel Sharon to Ehud Olmert to Ehud Barak, have wanted to take risks to make that peace because they have worried about Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state. This is what is in danger, not Israel’s existence."
Answer: It's in the second and third sentences.

First, he writes:

Peace between the Palestinians and Israelis will come only when Israel decides that it wants to make peace. 

In other words, peace is entirely in the Israeli's court, there is no obligation for the Palestinians.  This does reflect much of world opinion today and as well as elite American and European foreign policy opinion.

But then, he accidentally lets the cat out of the bag with his the next sentence:

Wise Israeli politicians, from Ariel Sharon to Ehud Olmert to Ehud Barak, have wanted to take risks to make that peace because they have worried about Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.

So, according to Zakaria, three Israeli politicians from three different political parties over the course of a decade have wanted to take risks to make that peace.

Let's review those risks they took and what they got back in return.   Barak unilaterally withdrew from southern Lebanon and at Camp David (2000) and Taba (2001) offered a two state solution which was rejected without any attempt by the Palestinians for further negotiation.  In return, Israel got the Second Intifada, a series of horrific terror bombings and a Hezobollah terror state in southern Lebanon which launched a 2006 attack on Israel.  As an extra added bonus, Israel also learned that according to the Palestinians there never was a Jewish temple in Jerusalem.

Sharon unilaterally withdrew from Gaza and forceably removed thousands of Israeli settlers   In return Israel had thousands of rockets shot into its territory and a government in Gaza whose charter attacks the very existence of Israel and specifically denounces Jews everywhere.

In 2008, Olmert essentially reproposed the two state solution from Camp David and Taba.  He was simply ignored.

Since then, the Palestinian Authority has refused repeated offers by Israel to reopen negotiations.

Do you think that it's possible that perhaps it may actually take two parties to make a peace?

Did Zakaria actually read what he wrote?  If he read it, he certainly did not think about it.


We saw the new James Bond movie and had mixed feelings about it.

When Daniel Craig reinvigorated the Bond franchise with Casino Royale it was exciting.  Casino Royale was the first Bond movie I'd seen in a theater in more than 25 years (I still remember seeing my first Bond, Dr No, at the Darien Playhouse in the early 60s) and it was exhilarating from the first incredible action scene right to its close.  I looked forward to the future films.

I missed Quantum Of Solace in the theaters and each time I've started to watch it on cable I've turned it off after a few minutes.  Nothing in it grabbed me.

Skyfall falls between Casino and Quantum.  The cast continues to be very strong anchored by Craig and Judy Dench, who gets more screen time than usual.  They've also retooled and restored a couple of the classic characters in a very good way - Ben Whishaw as the new and very young Q and Naomie Harris as Moneypenny (I first saw her in the nerve-rattling 28 Days Later). Javier Bardem plays the villain and he's suitably bizarre, though slightly less monstrous and a little more  animated than he was in the bad guy role in No Country For Old Men.  And Albert Finney is terrific in a small, but important, role.
Ben Whishaw as Q
Naomie Harris as Moneypenny

Parts of the plot and the settings are engaging but therein lies part of the problem.  You get the feeling throughout that Skyfall strains to be a more introspective Bond film that has a deeper meaning.  James Bond, introspection and deeper meaning don't go together.

You can have a ridiculous Bond plot in a ridiculous Bond movie and it can work.  Skyfall has some ridiculous and nonsensical plot points but at the same time the movie is also trying to convey a degree of "realism" unusual in a Bond film and it makes for an odd mixture.  While some of the dialogue has the expected Bond movie wit, much of it is very pedestrian.

Maybe it was because Casino Royale was so terrific but by comparison the action scenes in Skyfall seem a beat off - they just don't have the same crispness and sparkle.

Despite these reservations we enjoyed it, but were left thinking it could have been much better.

Friday, November 23, 2012

How To Be A Beatle

Step 1:

Learn how to play off-beat chords, starting with the opening chord of A Hard Day's Night.  Follow the instructions below from Randy Bachman, formerly of Bachman-Turner Overdrive (Takin' Care of Business/You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet) and The Guess Who (American Woman/No Time)

Step 2:

Learn how to sing Beatles harmonies from two guys in a coffee bar in Bologna, Italy.

Step 3:

Top Of The Pops!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

"As God is my witness I thought turkeys could fly".

Thanksgiving Advice

If you are thinking of deep-frying a turkey read this first.  From Popular Science.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Showtime's Agitprop

 Definition of AGITPROP

: propaganda; especially : political propaganda promulgated chiefly in literature, drama, music, or art
agitprop adjective

Origin of AGITPROP

Russian, ultimately from agitatsiya agitation + propaganda
First Known Use: 1935
 - From Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

 Rather than the often repeated adage that the victors write the history of an event, the story of anything is actually determined by the unswerving adoption of one version of it, and the telling of that version by a determined cadre of writers.  In time, the version with the most persistent adherents becomes the "truth".
- David & Jeanne Heidler in Henry Clay: The Essential American (2010)
A couple of days ago I happened to tune into Showtime and caught some of "Oliver Stone's Untold History Of The United States".  I was originally going to make this part of the Misremembering History Series but Stone's series isn't misremembering, it is deliberately designed agitprop in the service of making Americans misremember their own history.

Now it's no secret if you know anything about Oliver Stone that he's a buddy of totalitarian rulers as long as they are hostile to the United States - see, for instance, Castro, Chavez and the AyatollahsNonetheless, I was appalled and shocked at the portion of the show I saw about the origins of WWII.  It was nothing less than an apologia for Josef Stalin using the same propaganda that the Communist Party used in the 1930s to justify the Soviet Union's acts.  This isn't hyperbole - I'm familiar enough with the Communist tropes of this period to know Stone is using precisely the same "talking points" used by the party to excuse Stalin's pact with Adolf Hitler, his occupation of part of Poland and his extinguishing of the independence of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

Now that I've read the publicity material on the series I realize it is all in support of its thesis blaming the Cold War entirely on the United States and an interpretation of American history using a bizarre mix of Marxist and Post-Modernist theory.  The American "hero"of the series is Henry Wallace, FDR's VP during his third term, who after WWII became a Communist dupe and advocated the abandonment of the people of Berlin during the Soviet blockade of 1948-9.

This is the regime Stone defends - see Life And Fate; Best History Songs; Tear Down This Wall.  He actually does not care about the tens of millions of lives lost or damaged as long as he can use them as a tool to damage America (or should I say Amerikkka?).

This, among other recent events, makes me wonder whether we are losing our own history.   History is subject to different intepretations.  There is no one way to look at it but what is going on with Stone and others is an attempt to permeate the culture with one view of incredible shallowness.  We need to be prepared to fight for our history rather than lose it to people like Stone.

Some other recent examples spring to mind.  A couple of years ago, The History Channel presented a homage to the late Howard Zinn, author of A People's History Of The United States, a book described by a liberal historian as "cynicism masquerading as history".  It was hosted by Matt Damon and several other Hollywood stars (which probably gave it the cachet to prompt The History Channel to show it).  Damon is a fine actor but also an acolyte of Noam Chomsky in addition to being a Zinn worshipper.

I watched one show and it was a great example of how the agitprop technique is deployed.  It was about the "heroic" Dalton Trumbo and featured a reading from his book, Johnny Got His Gun.  It had everything going for it, Trumbo was a blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter who wrote a powerful anti-war book (made into a really bad movie during the Vietnam War).  
Dalton Trumbo
Ah, but what was left out?  Trumbo was a secret member of the Communist party, which meant he was under party discipline and following direct orders from the Soviet Union.  He wrote his anti-war book after the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, in accordance with the Party's directive to discourage the US from supporting Great Britain and from intervening in the war since Stalin was now an ally of Hitler.  Once the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, people like Trumbo began agitating for immediate US entry into the war.  Trumbo had his publisher withdraw the book from further publication and when he received letters inquirying about its availability he turned them over to the FBI!

More recently, the October 2012 edition of Connecticut Magazine, contained an article entitled "The Last Communist".  Connecticut Magazine is usually a pretty bland magazine - the other two featured stories that month were "Connecticut Home & Garden" and "Drinking It In"(about the best Connecticut produced wines).  The Last Communist is an admiring profile of the Coordinator of the New Haven People's Center, a member of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), and in the center of controversy since a state grant to the Center was rescinded after more people became aware it was run by a Communist.

There is a legitimate public policy discussion you can have about the grant.  That wasn't what bothered me.  It was the complete lack of context about the history of Communism and of the CPUSA and the labeling of all opposition as "McCarthyite".  The McCarthy trope is one of the commonest techniques used by today's left to misremember history.  It's designed to cut off all discussion and also as an easy counterpoint any time a murderer of millions is attacked.  Don't like Stalin - hey, what about McCarthy?  Don't like Mao - hey, what about McCarthy?  Don't like Fidel - hey, what about McCarthy?  Joe McCarthy was a repulsive character, but the CPUSA was an organization under the direct control of Moscow (as revealed by documents from the Soviet archives that became available in the 1990s) and fiercely opposed by Democratic Socialists (led by Norman Thomas) and liberals (who founded the Americans For Democratic Action to fight them) as well as conservatives. 

It's clear to me that it was not ignorance of this history by the writer, Alan Bisbort, that led to the admiring portrayal of communism in the article.  A quick google search reveals Bisbort to be a committed leftist who knew exactly what he was doing, just as Stone and Matt Damon know what they are doing.  They have a clear ideological agenda and the ability to further it through accommodating media channels.

Will we sit by and let more of America "misremember"?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What Condition My Condition Was In

(I Just Dropped In) To See What My Condition My Condition Was In.  A  Top Ten 1968 hit by The First Edition, featuring lead singer Kenny Rogers!

Featured during the Gutterballs dream sequence of The Big Lebowski, which is the only thing that makes this song listenable.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gettysburg Address

Today is the 149th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's speech at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. (Only photo of Lincoln at Gettysburg via Wikipedia)  We don't have a recording of his speech but we do have Charles Laughton's recitation from the 1935 film, Ruggles Of Red Gap.

Of course, our society has advanced since the 1930s and we are now blessed with the ability to create a powerpoint version of the Gettysburg Address - what better way to demonstrate the superior capabilities of the 21st century!  I'm sure Lincoln's speech would have been much more effective with a little visual assistance.  Perhaps it could have livened it up enough for Lincoln to be invited to give a TED TALK.  Of course, he would have to adopt that sparkly and ironic tone used by most TED talkers if he really wanted to connect with the audience.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Villas Of Ravello

As promised this is the next tranche of Ravello photos showing the town's best known villas.  While the buildings are quite nice what makes the villas memorable are the grounds and settings.

Villa Cimbrone is one of our favorite places in the world.  It's about a ten minute walk from the central plaza of the town. Perched on an outcrop about 1000 feet above the coast it features gardens, walking paths and a feature called "The Belvedere of Infinity" at the point of the outcrop.  The Villa has existed in one form or another since the 13th century but it's current look is attributable to an initial restoration by Lord Grimthorpe who purchased it in 1904 and then to the work of the Vuilleumier family which has owned it since the 1950s.  There is a hotel on the ground.

Entrance to the villa   The grounds.

The paths.

The Belvedere

Let's look down from the Belvedere:


Villa Rufolo is located right off the central plaza of Ravello and its origins also go back to the 13th century.  The restoration of the buildings and gardens began in the early 20th century.  During the summer season, chamber music concerts are staged in the garden area below.

Time for an expresso break!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Engine Of Economic Growth

This is just the type of innovative product development we need to recharge our economy - a machine to automatically sort Skittles by color!  Probably thousands of jobs created (or saved) by all the new factories we'll need to make this doohicky.  I believe it was funded by DOE.

Via Laughing Squid.

Jean-Paul Sartre, Blogger

From The New Yorker, some existentialist blogging.   I'm a little worried because it reads like my posts during the recent cable blackout!

It also reminds me of the 1977 Saturday Night Live sketch, Jean-Paul Sartresky & Hutch which unfortunately is not available in video.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Princess ESPN

How many references to The Princess Bride can you find in this ESPN segment?And here is my favorite scene from the movie:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lewis & Clark

By Tommy Emmanuel.  Listen to this song and you can see and hear Lewis & Clark exploring a new world with a spirit of optimism and wonder.   Amazing what he can evoke with just the sound of a guitar.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Lesson In Rhetoric

On this date in 1940, Winston Churchill delivered a eulogy for Neville Chamberlain who had died three days before.  During the 1930s, Chamberlain and Churchill had been political enemies but beyond that Chamberlain treated Churchill shabbily on a personal level and in the crisis of May 1940 desperately tried to prevent him from becoming Prime Minister (see Churchill Ascends).

In light of this, Churchill's eulogy is remarkable.  He does not shy away from past events yet he is magnanimous about Chamberlain and he does so in a way that reminds us all to be humble about what we think of today's controversies and how to maintain our bearings while surrounded by the uncertainties of life.

If you have time for nothing else, please read the first three paragraphs of the eulogy.

House of Commons
November 12, 1940

Since we last met, the House has suffered a very grievous loss in the death of one of its most distinguished Members, and of a statesman and public servant who, during the best part of three memorable years, was first Minister of the Crown.

The fierce and bitter controversies which hung around him in recent times were hushed by the news of his illness and are silenced by his death. In paying a tribute of respect and of regard to an eminent man who has been taken from us, no one is obliged to alter the opinions which he has formed or expressed upon issues which have become a part of history; but at the Lychgate we may all pass our own conduct and our own judgments under a searching review. It is not given to human beings, happily for them, for otherwise life would be intolerable, to foresee or to predict to any large extent the unfolding course of events. In one phase men seem to have been right, in another they seem to have been wrong. Then again, a few years later, when the perspective of time has lengthened, all stands in a different setting. There is a new proportion. There is another scale of values. History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days. What is the worth of all this? The only guide to a man is his conscience; the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions. It is very imprudent to walk through life without this shield, because we are so often mocked by the failure of our hopes and the upsetting of our calculations; but with this shield, however the fates may play, we march always in the ranks of honour.

It fell to Neville Chamberlain in one of the supreme crises of the world to be contradicted by events, to be disappointed in his hopes, and to be deceived and cheated by a wicked man. But what were these hopes in which he was disappointed? What were these wishes in which he was frustrated? What was that faith that was abused? They were surely among the most noble and benevolent instincts of the human heart--the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace, even at great peril, and certainly to the utter disdain of popularity or clamour. Whatever else history may or may not say about these terrible, tremendous years, we can be sure that Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity according to his lights and strove to the utmost of his capacity and authority, which were powerful, to save the world from the awful, devastating struggle in which we are now engaged. This alone will stand him in good stead as far as what is called the verdict of history is concerned.

Churchill then continues:

But it is also a help to our country and to our whole Empire, and to our decent faithful way of living that, however long the struggle may last, or however dark may be the clouds which overhang our path, no future generation of English-speaking folks--for that is the tribunal to which we appeal--will doubt that, even at a great cost to ourselves in technical preparation, we were guiltless of the bloodshed, terror and misery which have engulfed so many lands and peoples, and yet seek new victims still. Herr Hitler protests with frantic words and gestures that he has only desired peace. What do these ravings and outpourings count before the silence of Neville Chamberlain's tomb? Long, hard, and hazardous years lie before us, but at least we entered upon them united and with clean hearts.

I do not propose to give an appreciation of Neville Chamberlain's life and character, but there were certain qualities always admired in these Islands which he possessed in an altogether exceptional degree. He had a physical and moral toughness of fibre which enabled him all through his varied career to endure misfortune and disappointment without being unduly discouraged or wearied. He had a precision of mind and an aptitude for business which raised him far above the ordinary levels of our generation. He had a firmness of spirit which was not often elated by success, seldom downcast by failure, and never swayed by panic. When, contrary to all his hopes, beliefs and exertions, the war came upon him, and when, as he himself said, all that he had worked for was shattered, there was no man more resolved to pursue the unsought quarrel to the death. The same qualities which made him one of the last to enter the war, made him one of the last who would quit it before the full victory of a righteous cause was won.  

I had the singular experience of passing in a day from being one of his most prominent opponents and critics to being one of his principal lieutenants, and on another day of passing from serving under him to become the head of a Government of which, with perfect loyalty, he was content to be a member. Such relationships are unusual in our public life. I have before told the House how on the morrow of the Debate which in the early days of May challenged his position, he declared to me and a few other friends that only a National Government could face the storm about to break upon us, and that if he were an obstacle to the formation of such a Government, he would instantly retire. Thereafter, he acted with that singleness of purpose and simplicity of conduct which at all times, and especially in great times, ought to be the ideal of us all.

When he returned to duty a few weeks after a most severe operation, the bombardment of London and of the seat of Government had begun. I was a witness during that fortnight of his fortitude under the most grievous and painful bodily afflictions, and I can testify that, although physically only the wreck of a man, his nerve was unshaken and his remarkable mental faculties unimpaired.

After he left the Government he refused all honours. He would die like his father, plain Mr. Chamberlain. I sought permission of the King, however, to have him supplied with the Cabinet papers, and until a few days of his death he followed our affairs with keenness, interest and tenacity. He met the approach of death with a steady eye. If he grieved at all, it was that he could not be a spectator of our victory; but I think he died with the comfort of knowing that his country had, at least, turned the corner.

At this time our thoughts must pass to the gracious and charming lady who shared his days of triumph and adversity with a courage and quality the equal of his own. He was, like his father and his brother Austen before him, a famous Member of the House of Commons, and we here assembled this morning, Members of all parties, without a single exception, feel that we do ourselves and our country honour in saluting the memory of one whom Disraeli would have called an "English worthy."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Joy To The World

We are back online!  A few hours ago two guys in a small Optimum truck showed up at the downed wires and we now have nice, new, thick wires hanging from the poles.  I don't know if the email I sent yesterday afternoon to Cablevision's CEO, James Dolan (parent company of Optimum) and to the Attorney General of the State of Connecticut had any impact on accelerating the 5-7 day timetable but, whatever the reason is, we're pretty happy.

And, best of all Dear Readers, you will not be subjected to any more painful lamentations.

Regular THC programming resumes tomorrow.

No Exit

Day 13.  The downed wires remain peaceful and undisturbed on their bed of leaves, dappled by the remnants of the recent snow, comfortable in the knowledge that they can enjoy their quiet repose for  another five to seven days according to the folklore of the simple, yet hard-working, villagers of the hamlet of Optimum.

Dogs roam the streets.  I aimlessly wander the halls and rooms of our home.  I peer through a window at the dull bark and empty branches of trees bereft of their leaves and I wonder - should we attempt to flee or is there no exit?

Over the hills and down the valleys
Soaring aloft and far below
Lying on stony ground the fragments
Truth is the seed we tried to sow

Tongue tied with threads of conversation
Weighing the words one tries to use
Nevertheless communication
This is the gift you must not lose

Could it be evil thoughts become me
Some things are better left unsaid
Magical moment
The spell it is breaking
There is no light here
Is there no key?
- From Strictly Confidential by Roxy Music, composed by Bryan Ferry

Saturday, November 10, 2012

No Hope, No Change

Day 12 and I sink further into the pit of existential despair.  Alas, from its gloomy depths, I must inform you, Dear Readers, that I was under a misapprehension when I wrote several days ago that Optimum had successfully completed the task of scheduling a repair on our neighborhood outage.

After numerous calls and emails with Optimum yesterday afternoon and evening I discovered that they had not scheduled the repair at that time and it was only on Friday, eleven days after the storm, that someone had visited the downed lines.   They did bring some repair equipment with them but a few minutes observation made it clear they needed a "bigger boat".

Our outage has now been referred to the Optimum Construction Department (I am not making this up) with a high priority.  I am reliably informed that they have placed an urgent equipment order with an Asian manufacturer known for its high quality.  Once the required equipment is fabricated, shipped and delivered to Optimum they will promptly fix the outage.  Until this happens, Optimum has assured us it will work tirelessly on our behalf 24/7 - regretfully with little impact.

I am increasingly reminded of the movie, The Cable Guy, a 1996 film starring Jim Carrey, as The Cable Guy and Matthew Broderick as "the unsuspecting prey", "the mark", aka "the customer", with Ben Stiller directing.  The movie was billed as a dark comedy but it is very, very dark without much comedy.  It is better described as an unsettling and disturbing film.

To get us in the spirit of things here is Jim Carrey's memorable version of Somebody To Love from the film.  Talk about disturbing!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Not In A Row

Day 11.  Yesterday afternoon the Optimum service rep told me that they were working on the outage in our neighborhood even as we spoke!  However, in repeated visits to observe the work in progress I saw no one there but, then again, my eyesight might be failing or perhaps I am being blinded by rage.  Maybe I should become more accepting of our fate like my good friend Henri.

Another service rep assured me that they were working 24/7 which brought to mind a Steven Wright joke:

"I went down the street to the 24-hour grocery. When I got there, the guy was locking the front door. I said, 'Hey, the sign says you're open 24 hours.' He said, 'Yes, but not in a row.'"
Here's some more Steven Wright.  My favorite line:
"The ice cream truck in my neighborhood plays Helter Skelter."

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Waiting For Cable

Day 10 without cable or internet.  While Optimum, after three days, successfully completed the scheduling task it is at this time 0% complete on the implementation task and over a day late on initiating it.  We have spent several hours on the phone with them and have heard many amusing tales.

Therefore, with apologies to Samuel Beckett (from whom 90% of this is taken verbatim), we present Waiting For Cable.


A country road.  A tree.

Downed wires.

A house.

Testosterone, sitting on a low chair, is trying to stay awake while on hold with Optimum.  He gives up exhausted.  He will try again.

Enter Estrogen.

Testosterone:  Nothing to be done.

Estrogen:  I'm beginning to come round to that opinion.  All this week, I've tried to put it from me, saying Estrogen, be reasonable, you haven't tried everything.  And I resumed the struggle.  (She broods, musing on the struggle.  Turning to T).  So there you are again.  

T:  Am I?

E:  I'm glad to see you hung up.  I thought you would be on forever.

T:  Me too.

E:  And they didn't beat you?

T:  Beat me?  Certainly they beat me.

E:  The same lot as usual?

T:  The same?  I don't know.  They tell me different names, but they all say the same things.

E:  (Gloomily)  It's too much for one man.  (Pause, Cheerfully)  On the other hand what's the good of losing heart now, that's what I say.  We should have thought of it days ago.


E:  Let's wait and see what he says.

T:  Who?

E:  The cable guy.

T:  Good idea

E:  Let's wait till we know exactly how we stand.

T:  What exactly did we ask him for?

E:  Were you not there?

T:  I can't have been listening.

E:  Oh . . . nothing very definite.

T:  A kind of prayer

E:  Precisely

T:  A vague supplication.

E:  Exactly

T:  And what did he reply?

E:  That he'd see.

T:  That he couldn't promise anything.

E:  That he'd have to think it over.

T:  In the quiet of his office.

E:  Consult his supervisors.

T:  His technicians.

E:  His schedulers.

T:  His bosses.

E:  His books

T:  His bank account.

E:  Before taking a decision.

T:  It's the normal thing.

E:  Is it not?

T:  I think it is.

E:  I think so too.



T:  (Anxious)  And we?

E:  I don't understand.

T:  Where do we come in?

E:  Come in?

T:  Take your time.

E:  Come in?  On our hands and knees.  We can still call again, if you think it would be better.

T:  It's not worthwhile now.


E:  No, it's not worthwhile now.


T:  Well, shall we go?

E:  Yes, let's go.

(They do not move away from the phone)



But What About The Children?

Yesterday, the day after the election (I am sure this was just a coincidence), the Yale University benefits office sent an email (see, below) to Yale employees, highlighting a little known provision of Obamacare.

Today about 30-35 million Americans use Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) to pay for basic medical needs not covered by insurance.  Under existing federal law there is no cap on the amount that can be placed in an FSA (though employers can set caps - Yale's is apparently $12,000 a year). Amounts placed into an FSA are not subject to Federal income tax. 

FSA funds can be used to pay for out of pocket medical, dental and vision expenses.  One specific category are special needs children who can often run up substantial uninsured expenses - in fact, FSAs can be used to fund special needs education.

However, as of January 1, 2013, FSA contribution limits will be capped at $2,500 in order to raise tax revenue (an anticipated $13 billion)  to pay for Obamacare.

If, for instance, you are married and in the 25% tax bracket (which begins with taxable income above $69,000 a year) and had been spending $10,000 a year out of an FSA your taxes will increase by $1875 a year.  If you are in the 28% bracket (starting at $139,000) your taxes increase by $2100.

One other significant change is that currently you can deduct medical expenses in excess of 7.5% of your adjusted gross income - this will be changed to 10% as of January 1, 2013.  The change is expected to raised $15 billion in additional tax revenue.

Is there anyone out there who thinks it is just happenstance that these tax changes became effective only after the 2012 election?


Dear Colleagues:

We would like to make you aware of a significant federally mandated change which will impact Yale’s healthcare flexible spending account benefit. Effective January 1, 2013, as a provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the annual contribution limit will be capped at $2,500. Currently, the maximum amount of pre-tax dollars you can set aside in a healthcare flexible spending account is $12,000.

As a participant who contributed $2,500 or more in 2012, we encourage you to keep this in mind as you begin to plan for your 2013 out-of-pocket medical, dental and vision expenses. You will soon have an opportunity to re-enroll in the flexible spending account benefit plan during Annual Benefits Enrollment (December 3-17). As a reminder, you have until March 15, 2013 to incur expenses against your 2012 contributions, and until April 30, 2013 to submit claims those for reimbursement. We hope that this grace period is helpful for maximizing your flexible spending benefit for 2012.

If you have any further questions, please contact an Employee Services representative.

They'll Make Us All Beggars Cause We'll Be Easier To Please

Government Cheese.   The original version was by The Rainmakers.  This version is by Bob Walkenhorst, the lead singer and songwriter for The Rainmakers.  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Today's Reading

. . . is from the Book Of Davies, Track 1, Verse 2

(this goes out to all you kids)

I was born in a welfare state
Ruled by bureaucracy
Controlled by civil servants
And people dressed in gray

Got no privacy
Got no liberty
Cause the 20th century people
Took it all away from me

I ain't got no ambition
I'm just disillusioned
I'm a 20th century man and I don't wanna be here

- 20th Century Man by The Kinks, composed by Ray Davies

Ramblin' Man

Still no cable or internet at the house so I'm roaming between Starbucks and the library.  I am increasingly caffeinated and well-read.

The good news is that Cablevision is 100% complete on the task of scheduling a repair of the outage in our neighborhood!

Monday, November 5, 2012


We left our cold, dark house one night last week to see Argo, the new Ben Affleck directed film which is based on an incident from the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-80.  During the initial takeover of the US embassy, six Americans were able to get out and reach the Canadian ambassador's residence where they were hidden.  Three months later they were smuggled out of Iran.  At the time there was a great deal of publicity after they reached the US and their escape was credited to action by the Canadian government.  In reality, the CIA engineered the escape and how it was pulled off is what the movie is about.

Argo has the feel of an old-fashioned action thriller.  No quick cuts, no pounding music and the soundtrack is not at 120 decibels.  Affleck manages to create a lot of tension even though you know how the movie turns out.  He also stars as CIA exfiltrator Tony Mendes and does a fine job.  Who thought Ben Affleck would actually turn out to be a good director and a capable actor?  Not me, but his first two directorial turns, Gone Baby Gone and The Town were both excellent films. You can see what I mean by scrolling down halfway in This Post.

What makes Argo more than just your run of the mill suspense film is the unique method by which the Americans were able to get out - using the guise of a Canadian sci-fi film production scouting shooting locations in Iran!   It also is the vehicle for injecting some very funny scenes since the fake Hollywood movie producer is played by Alan Arkin and the make-up artist by John Goodman.

Since Misremembering History is one of my interests here's my take on the historical accuracy of Argo. It gets the basic bones of the story right though it amps up the suspense at the end by injecting a couple of invented scenes.  You also have to suffer through the brief introduction of why the Iranian revolution occurred.  If it's meant to convey how an Iranian revolutionary viewed the history of the prior thirty years it's accurate but if it is meant to be an objective overview it's overly simplified. 

If you are interested in learning more the best book on the hostage crisis is Guests Of The Ayatollah by Mark Bowden (who also wrote Black Hawk Down).  And speaking of misremembering history Bowden relates a very timely story in the book that is right on point.

All in all an enjoyable evening even if you aren't otherwise cold and bored.

Sandy Free

We got power back last night after six days.  No cable or internet yet so I'm writing this at a Starbucks.  Expect to start regular posting again in the next day or so.

At least we ate well at the outdoor kitchen!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sandy Bagged

We've had no power since Monday - I'm at our town library right now (and they have heat!) - so posting will be intermittent until the lights go back on.