Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Coming in 2016 ... Men in tuxedoes, Women in ballgowns ... but with a twist!

In 2016, we're reinventing the wheel.

Here's the idea ... it's a Brit period piece par excellence, worthy of Masterpiece Theater, as familiar to you as an old pair of shoes. But WITH A TWIST ...

It's going to be called ...


And it's going to have all the hard-core drama you've ever wanted, but with a grittier, more urban feel to it.

Tell us who you think should be starring in this blockbuster new series.

Who plays him ...?

Who plays them ...!?

Who plays them ...?

Who plays him ...?

You know the characters, you know the plot, now help us come up with the twist.  In DownTOWN ABBEY, this scene will look exactly the same, only different ...

Send your suggestions today!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Art Review - Class Distinctions: The MFA takes on Dutch painting and scores a knock-out!

Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer will be on display at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston until January 18, 2016, and it is worth the visit.

While the title might suggest a preponderance of either Rembrandts or Vermeers to view, you'd be mistaken.  There are a few, but they are further between. No matter, the show is an opportunity to spend time among some of the artists who did not travel as famously through the centuries. In fact, the real strength of the collection comes from the many painters whom you haven't seen before who nevertheless played an important part in the 17th century scene in the Netherlands, artists who captured both a style of expression and a moment in history, combining to retell a chapter in the evolution of Western art and the time and place in which they operated.

There are majestic landscapes like the View of the Plain of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds by Jacob van Ruisdael, a grand vision depicted on a small canvas with excruciating detail. And there is the more intimate scene captured in Street Musicians at the Door by Jacob Ochtervelt in which a complex mix of artistic and social conventions work delicately together to say a lot about the world in which the artist painted. 

Not that you won't see the genius of Vermeer and his unique insight about the meaning of external light in his world-renowned The Astronomer, nor will you miss Rembrandt, especially in a very good commentary about his brush stroke genius from an otherwise unremarkable portrait, courtesy of the museum's worthwhile audio guide.

But it is the Ochtervelt painting that lends its image to the MFA's promotional materials about the show, and for good reason. The painting's gentle play between light and dark, inside and outside, wealth and poverty, stasis and itinerancy, capture so succinctly what the museum is trying to explore: How do art and society intermingle? Sometimes their approach is a little thick in the thumbs but the curators get it right often enough, and regardless, they provoke thought.

What answer would I give to their question? Surely not in exact proximity or slavish representation, I maintain, but through ways intended and unintended, artists holding up mirrors to their times, to their worlds, to themselves.

I do recommend making your way to the MFA to come up with your own answers, or your own questions. It's worth the journey.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Nissan Leaf Test Drive w Ethan

The other day, my friend Ethan and I took his Nissan Leaf out for a test drive ... on a very rainy day in Cambridge.

Here's the video of that wonderful day! Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

I have lived in the world with my eyes open

Verily, I say unto thee, here are two quotes for Christmas ...

The first comes from the Mahatma himself, as reported in Joe Lelyveld's book Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India.

I deny being a visionary. I do not accept the claim of saintliness. I am of the earth, earthy ... I am prone to as many weaknesses as you are. But I have seen the world. I have lived in the world with my eyes open. (1920) 
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi 1869-1948

"I have lived in the world with my eyes open." Those are words to live by. That could be a creed for a whole religion unto itself.

The second comes from Reinhold Niebuhr, from his lovely book Leaves From the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic, his reflections on being a young preacher at Bethel Evangelical Church in Detroit.

Nevertheless the academic life has its allurements. It is really simpler than the ministry. As a teacher your only task is to discover the truth. As a preacher you must conserve other interests besides the truth. It is your business to deal circumspectly with the whole religious inheritance lest the virtues which are involved in the older traditions perish through your iconoclasm. That is a formidable task and a harassing one; for one can never be quite sure where pedagogical caution ends and dishonesty begins. 
What is particularly disquieting to a young man in the ministry is the fact that some of his fine old colleagues make such a virtue of their ignorance. They are sure that there is no Second Isaiah and have never heard that Deuteronomy represents a later development in the law.... Every profession has its traditions and its traditionalists. But the traditionalists in the pulpit are much more certain than the others that the Lord is on their side. (1916)
Reinhold Niebuhr 1892-1971

The chafings of a young man looking upon his life and his work with an intelligent, critical eye and a clear, articulate voice. "Every profession has its traditions and its traditionalists." Somehow, that rang true for me.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A fact I wish weren't a fact

On Tuesday, Generation Citizen held its annual Civics Day on Beacon Hill, a time when middle school and high school students from around the greater Boston region get the chance to present their strategies of how to make the world a better place.

It's heartening to be reminded that the responsibility of an individual in society is to be a citizen, an active participant in questions of public importance, and not simply a passive recipient of decisions made elsewhere by other people. This is especially true in the United States, where we all originally came from someplace else and our citizenship is grounded in a set of ideas and ideals. 

The eighth grade students from Josiah Quincy School in Boston's Chinatown focused their project on curbing gun violence. They identified the federal Tiahrt Amendment as a big impediment to safer gun laws.  They have a point. According to Wikipedia, the Tiahrt Amendment prohibits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms "from releasing information from its firearms trace database to anyone other than a law enforcement agency or prosecutor in connection with a criminal investigation. This precludes gun trace data from being used in academic research of gun use in crime. Additionally, the law blocks any data legally released from being admissible in civil lawsuits against gun sellers or manufacturers."

That was the substance of their efforts, to get this amendment modified or repealed. But our group discussion focused on their arguments and the presentation of their thinking.

How could they tell a better story, to convince and persuade? Well, a few good examples are often an effective a way of drawing your audience in. Did any of the eighth graders have any experience with gun violence? A girl on my right started to speak. Without hesitating, she listed three people she knew who had been shot -- friends, and friends of her family. This from a 13-year old girl.

With some reluctance, I asked the others in the group if they all had similar stories of gun violence. They all nodded in agreement. 

It's hard not to conclude that we adults have failed these children. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The British are witty, exemplar automobilium ...

As we all know, a lot of humor resides in hitting the slightly off-key note. Wow, that sounded flat!

There’s a young guy in London named Sam. He’s got his own YouTube channel called Seen Through Glass where he indulges a car addiction.

There’s a (reputable) British car magazine named EVO that also posts car videos on YouTube. Every December, EVO does a year-end review of their favorites which they call EVO Car Of The Year, or ECOTY for short.

Here’s Sam’s recent video send up of EVO Car Of The Year ... 

Of course, the joke makes more sense if you've seen the ECOTY video, so I'll post it below. Because of the limitations of Blogger, I can only post one video at a time, so I'll post a text link instead, but it will get you there just the same.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Restaurant Review - Bastille Kitchen

Last night, I had the opportunity to eat at Bastille Kitchen, a restaurant on Melcher Street in Boston. It had gotten good word-of-mouth reviews from friends, and was very much on my list of places to try.

Bastille Kitchen
49 Melcher Street, Boston
nearest T stop - South Station

The decor, the location in the old warehouse district across Fort Point Channel and the layout of the interior space all work very well.  Attractively remodeled to highlight hints of the building’s industrial past, the exposed brick walls and the high ceilings are comfortably lit to provide both a sense of space and intimacy.  The restaurant has two main areas, an upstairs bar and dinner seating area, and a downstairs lounge area.  My group sat upstairs, and I was only able to glimpse the downstairs.  

The food was tasty, but I would describe it as conventional French and formulaic.  I chose steak frites which is always a very reliable choice, and certainly not an place where a chef can show off any skills. Others at the table had short ribs Wellington, a very rich and deliciously tasty fare, scallops, and a grilled sole. Each dish was flavorful and enjoyable, but entirely predictable, and something you’ve eaten before. This is food that is supposed to satisfy, not surprise, and that’s exactly what it did. In that sense, it’s a middle of the road experience, reliable but exceedingly familiar. Unchallenging.

The wine list was not extensive but had a reasonable mix of offerings, almost all of them French, that complemented well items elsewhere on the menu. 

The restaurant felt full but not crowded which made their inability to seat us at a full table for our 8:30p reservation a little perplexing. To be fair to them, we booked for 3 but showed up with four, but it seemed odd that their only option was to have us sit at a high bar table.  Perfectly comfortable, but a reservation is a reservation, and by Boston terms, 8:30p is reasonably late for a seating even on a Saturday night, all of which should have given them more options. 

Couple that with and inexperienced wait staff and a hefty ticket price, and it starts to get annoying. The overall service could use a little help. Our waitress seemed eager to get us to order food, but then would disappear for a long time after the food was ordered. There wasn’t a flow to any of it, or frankly a pleasantness, and the delicate touch of how to make customers feel their presence is both enjoyed and appreciated was lacking. It seemed as though she had been told to get her tables through and out as quickly as possible. Given the cost of the meal, that’s not a good strategy. 

Overall, I would say that I enjoyed it, but was not impressed. It underwhelmed me. Still, I can imagine that if you're one of the many young people who flock to this city for finance or tech or university, Bastille Kitchen is the right mix of ersatz fancy and entirely approachable to make for a fun night out. The lounge area keeps rocking till the wee hours, which is a bonus. But if you’re not in that crowd any longer (and I’m not), it’s a bit of a let down, only because it’s not as sophisticated as it wants to give off on first impression. No sin in any of that, but still, it ain’t inexpensive either. Go and enjoy, and you will, but wear only your middlebrow hat. That will fend off unwarranted disappointment too. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

First Impressions ... Driving the 2016 Chevy Volt

Today I test drove the 2016 Chevy Volt courtesy of Mirak Chevrolet in Arlington, Massachusetts.

It’s a car that I’ve been interested in for quite some time, and one that I’m even considering purchasing, so I was very pleased to have the chance to take it around today for a short drive.

Here are some of my first impressions of the car ...

It’s a good size for a car — not too big, not too small.  It’s a hatchback with a reasonably sized area under the hatch. The back seat folds down allowing you to haul a good amount of gear back there and the space is uncluttered and usuable.

The styling is nothing to write home about, but not unattractive. I actually liked the styling of the first version of this car, which was slightly boxy and was often described as a science project. I thought that older version was distinctive. This newer shape has more curves, is more aggressive up at the front, and is by all accounts more conventional. 

The interior is comfortable and in particular the driver’s seat is both well padded and well bolstered, making it a real improvement over my current, worn out driver’s seat in my ancient Subaru.

The cabin is well organized but feels small. The instrument displays and all the information about the car’s performance including all the dials are very well designed.

Visibility is good, but not spectacular. It is hard to gauge the front of the car because the hood slopes down too rapidly, leaving the driver with no clear sense of if he is going to scrape something. This is a poor design choice of the GM engineers.  
Contrary to what I’d thought I’d read, this electric car does make noise, in a good sense.  There is of course the road noise while driving (the car drives on Michelins, presumably with low rolling resistance). But additionally, the electric motors also make a whirring noise, which is helpful to gauge speed.

The famed torque from electric motors on acceleration is impressive though not overwhelming. The brake pedal feel is good. The suspension is good, though the car is not as buttoned down as its Chevy cousin, the Corvette. That’s not unexpected, but I guess I always want my cars to be a little sportier.  The batteries down low in the car have to be helpful in keeping this thing tight in the corners. 

My overall impressions are that this is a solid, well-constructed car with some very important innovations tucked under the hood and in the drive train. Is it worth the $40,000 sticker price (there are approximately $10,000 is federal and state rebates on this car)? That depends on how you feel about what they've managed to accomplish in the total package.  I think probably yes, and it's good to know the cars are popular. The car I drove already had a deposit on it, and the dealer says they are offering  3 to 4 test rides a week. 

Electrons for propulsion are the future, and coming from a major American manufacturer, this is undoubtedly an important car. 

My next stop is Ford, to see what they have to offer in their plug-in options. Then, I’ll make the switch away from gas-powered to a battery powered driven world.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Cars in Cambridge

A Bentley goes shopping at Trader Joe's ...