Friday, July 6, 2018

Friday Grab Bag: Three Brits and an automobile

It's Friday, so it's Grab Bag Day.

James Corden and Sir Paul McCartney sang some old Beatles songs together while rolling through the streets of Liverpool in a Range Rover. Penny Lane is in their ears and in their eyes. It's almost heartbreaking to watch.

As is Corden's tour with singer Adele, driving around London. Hers, what a beautiful voice, even in a car.

Finally, let's all take a moment for Scott Pruitt, one of our finest public servants ever. Ever. Who will write his requiem, that is what I want to know.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Our Declaration of Independence

So simply put, so historically consequential. Thomas Jefferson births a new nation with a list of particulars against King George III ripped from today's headlines.

Thank you National Public Radio for reminding us what brought us here. Clearly your editors were surprised last year when listeners called up to complain about this broadcast. It was quickly apparent that the audience mistook our 18th century founding document for a modern-day NPR screed against our president. That fact alone pretty much says it all -- about our president and about the voters who put him there.

A reading of the Declaration of Independence

And by way of comparison to the cesspool Donald Trump has us all swimming in today, here's a reminder of what it sounds like to hear an honorable American speak about this country on our day of independence.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Montreal photos, F1 weekend 2018

I went up to Montreal for the F1 weekend this year, and of course I brought my camera. Here are some photos I took of the city while I was there. Wonderful place, Montreal.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday Grab Bag: 1968 yet again; Warren G. Harding

It's Friday, so it's Grab Bag Day.

Here's what 1968 looked like from the pages of the Harvard Crimson:

Here's what Warren Gamaliel Harding looked like through the eyes of William McAdoo, Woodrow Wilson's Secretary of the Treasury:

His speeches left the impression of an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea;  sometimes these meandering words would actually capture a straggling thought and bear it triumphantly as a prisoner in their midst, until it died of servitude and overwork.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Vettel claims 50th F1 victory, never challenged in Montreal

Sebastian Vettel dominated Sunday's Montreal Grand Prix from start to checkered flag, giving Ferrari its first Canadian victory since the great Michael Schumacher claimed the prize in 2004, and giving Vettel his 50th F1 victory in his storied career.

Seb Vettel was a blur all race long in his very quick Ferrari

While Vettel's performance left his second place rival Valtteri Bottas chasing him all day in the Mercedes, the overall results spell a larger problem for Formula 1. Just as transpired in Monaco two weeks ago, the car in pole position won the race. More troubling than that, starting positions one through three finished one through three in both races. This is what Sam on the YouTube channel Seen Through Glass calls "processional Formula 1," the cars form up in a line and then process all the way through to the finish line in exactly that order. While there is always inherent drama in watching human beings race, whether they are on foot, driving a car or riding on horseback, it nevertheless represents a big problem when the starting position gives a very good indication of the finishing position. I doubt the efforts of the Formula One's governing body will change this. Races will remain techno-fests, pitting team strategists and their crews against each other while wringing happenstance and chance largely out of the sport. The old world attraction of motorsport, the daredevilry of the drivers combined with the ferocity of the machines, fades from view, replaced by computer simulations and spreadsheets.

Perfect conditions for a Formula 1 event

Montreal as a venue gets a mixed review. The city is a wonderful blend of North American and French, with beautiful architecture in the old city and a vibrant and multicultural street life throughout. The track however leaves much to be desired. Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is undergoing renovations long overdue. Located on an island in the St. Lawrence river and the location for 1976 Summer Olympics, Parc Jean-Drapeau felt worn and neglected when I visited a few years ago. Like many North American cities, Montreal is reclaiming its waterfront and has committed a large investment in redoing the park. Because work is still underway, fans at this year's event were herded like cattle onto paths that could not handle the capacity. The end result -- it took over one hour to walk the half mile from the track back to the Metro stop to get back into the city. I shudder to think what would have happened if there had been an incident of any kind, terrorist or otherwise. The results would have been very dire indeed. As it was, the wait was insufferable. Race fans began to scream at police to open up the other half of the bridge that had been restricted for auto use, leading many to wonder if we were about to witness a second French Revolution. This is an odd case where the race organizers may have overorganized. Regardless, they have to get a better handle on this next time, or as one Montrealer told me, "the city deserves to lose it," meaning Montreal would no longer host. I wouldn't go that far, but the gent had a point.

Like the exodus out of Egypt, we marched ...

and marched

and marched.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Friday Grab Bag: F1 in Montreal; Housing for the Elderly; Kate Spade & Anthony Bourdain; shootings in the Port

It's Friday, and this is the first Grab Bag in a very long time.

First up, Montreal and Formula 1. Yes, that's right, the cars and the drivers come to the North American continent this weekend to test their skills on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in that most wonderful French-speaking city on the St. Lawrence. I'm driving up through Vermont to catch the action on Saturday and race-day Sunday. I've got my Daniel Ricciardo hat from my trip to Austin, Texas last year with my dad, but I think for this race, I'll actually be rooting for Seb Vettel. Lewis Hamilton is clearly the most talented driver out there, but like many of my friends, seeing the German auto manufacturer Mercedes dominate is always a little nerve racking. Whenever the Germans dominate anything. Both Vettel and Ricciardo stand a very good chance of winning this race, but the Prancing Horse has its inimitable attraction.

Last night, I had the chance to attend a boisterous and fun event at Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly in Brighton. The place was started in the 1960s by some philanthropists seeking to house old widows being forced out of their homes by urban renewal. It’s since grown and morphed into a campus of buildings with thousands of residents — most of them either Russian or Chinese. The quality of the space is remarkable -- think mid-range hotel -- with lots of activities for all of them, such as dancing, ping pong, exercise and a library. The average annual income of a resident: $11,000. It is such an amazing example of affordable quality housing and community for the elderly. Wait list to get a unit: 8 years. (It's such a good model that Governor Charlie Baker went there to sign the state's housing bond bill.)

The suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain are sad. That's an obvious statement. Suicides later in life ask an additional question beyond, "why this?" That second question is, "why now?" This is not a false statement: a copy of Hamlet sits on my desk with its most famous of questions in all of English literature: "To be or not to be." But it's other famous lines that draw my attention:

Oh that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter. O God, God,
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on't, ah fie, 'tis an unweeded garden
That grows to seed.

Finally, in a blazon show of disregard for life, someone fired off multiple rounds in Clement Morgan Park in Cambridge on Wednesday. This is part of a pattern of shootings this year that may represent dangerous posturing in a turf war. Blessedly, no one has been hurt. Yet. It is June. The terrible truth is, this may spin out of control quickly as we get into the hot summer months. There is no obvious strategy for the police to employ in what may become an escalating tragedy of tit for tat.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Theater Review: Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Les Liaisons Dangereuses opened at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge this week, with a twist. The all-male cast plays all the parts male and female, meaning that you'll see a scene in which a man playing a woman lies legs-wide on a couch about to be seduced by another man.

It's hard to tell if the all-male casting is political, we want you to see men cavorting together, or sociological, we want to challenge traditional gender assignments, or merely titillating, we want to infuse an old story with our unique flavor. Maybe its a combination of all of the above, but writer Christopher Hampton and director Lee Mikeska Gardner have left us with a production describing the superficiality, deceptions and sexual conquests of Paris in the 1780s that itself feels at times a bit superficial, like a party trick without much of a point.

In that way, maybe it's all very Cambridge. I've seen three plays at the Central Square Theater this season: Guards at the Taj, Women Who Mapped the Stars, and this one. Upon reflection, taken together they all feel like a walk down the political alleyways of today's progressive Left, shadowed by a woman swinging a didactic cudgel. Race, ethnicity, and most of all gender lurk behind every corner, with someone always waiting there to "improve" you in ways neither subtle nor terribly insightful should you fail to get the point. For a play that runs two and a half hours curtain up to curtain down, Liaisons  offers its fair share of "improvement."

Nevertheless, there is an authenticity [there's that heinous word again] to theater that only conveys in the live performance. Our lives are otherwise saturated in screens, screens that amuse us and drug us just like Marx's religion did to his masses. I'm told that the John Malkovich/Glenn Close film of Liaisons is fabulous, but that's on a screen, and besides which, I don't like either of them as actors. Perhaps my cynicism shouldn't dissuade me from the two of them playing Pierre Choderlos de Laclos' two main protagonists: a male Vicomte de Valmont and a female Marquise de Merteuil. It might distract me less than the stage version, revealing in even starker contrast the pure human treachery going on before my eyes.