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.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Robert Francis Kennedy, 1925-1968

For Robert Kennedy 1925-68
Robert Lowell

Here in my study, in its listlessness
of Vacancy, like the old townhouse we shut for summer,
airtight and sheeted from the sun and smog,
far from the hornet yatter of his gang--
is loneliness, a thin smoke thread of vital
air. But what will anyone teach you now?
Doom was woven in your nerves, your shirt,
woven in the great clan; they too were loyal,
and you too were loyal to them, to death.
For them like a prince, you daily left your tower
to walk through dirt in your best cloth. Untouched,
alone in my Plutarchan bubble, I miss
you, you out of Plutarch, made by hand--
forever approaching your maturity.

Robert Kennedy
Frederick Seidel

I turn from Yeats to sleep, and dream of Robert Kennedy,
Assassinated ten years ago tomorrow.
Ten years ago he was alive --
Asleep and dreaming at this hour, dreaming
His wish-fulfilling dreams.
He reaches from the grave.

Shirtsleeves rolled up, a boy's brown hair, ice eyes
Softened by the suffering of others, and doomed;
Younger brother of a murdered president,
Senator and candidate for president;
Shy, compassionate and fierce
Like a figure out of Yeats;
The only politician I have loved says You're dreaming and says
The gun is mightier than the word.

NPR StoryCorps: The busboy who cradled a dying RFK recalls those final moments

Robert Kennedy ... in his own words

On Extremism
What is objectionable, what is dangerous about extremists is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant. The evil is not what they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents.

On Vietnam

It may be that the effort [in Vietnam] was doomed from the start, that it was never really possible to bring all the people of South Vietnam under the rule of the successive governments we supported -- governments, one after another, riddled with corruption, inefficiency, and greed; governments which did not and could not successfully capture and energize the national feeling of their people. If that is the case, and it well may be, then I am willing to bear my share of the responsibility, before my fellow-citizens. But past error is no excuse of its perpetuation. Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live. Now as ever, we do ourselves best justice when we measure ourselves again ancient tests, as in the Antigone of Sophocles: "All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only sin is pride."

On Freedom
Social progress and social justice, in my judgment, are not something apart from freedom; they are the fulfillment of freedom. 

On Change
Every man must have his own vision of things to come. But many Americans, I believe, share broad and deep hopes for the world -- the hope of a world without war -- of a world where peoples now suffering in poverty and oppression can win a better life for themselves and their children -- of a world where the imagination and energy of mankind are dedicated, not to destruction, but to building a generous and spacious future. 

On the Democratic Party
I run for the Presidency because I want the Democratic Party and the United States of America to stand for hope instead of despair, for reconciliation of men instead of the growing risk of world war ...

On the Assassination of Dr. King
Let us dedicate ourself to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of men and make gentle the life of the world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.  

Edward M. Kennedy remembering his brother ... on June 8, 1968 at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York
Your eminences, your excellencies, Mr. President. On behalf of Mrs. Kennedy, her children, the parents and sisters of Robert Kennedy, I want to express what we feel to those who mourn with us today in this cathedral and around the world.
We loved him as a brother and as a father and as a son. From his parents and from his older brothers and sisters, Joe and Kathleen and Jack, he received an inspiration which he passed on to all of us. 
He gave us strength in time of trouble, wisdom in time of uncertainty and sharing in time of happiness. He will always be by our side. 
Love is not an easy feeling to put into words. Nor is loyalty or trust or joy. But he was all of these. He loved life completely and he lived it intensely ... 
My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life. He should be remembered simply as a good and decent man who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. 
Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today pray that what he was to us, and what he wished for others, will someday come to pass for all the world.
As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: "Some men see things as they are and say, why. I dream things that never were and say, why not."

Monday, June 4, 2018

Jonah Goldberg says it best ...

Conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg gets the prize for The Best Description of Donald Trump (June edition) for comments he made on this morning's Morning Edition on NPR.

In describing Trump's lawyers' reluctance to have the president sit for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller, Goldberg said: "They act as if he's an escaped monkey from a cocaine study ...."

An escaped monkey from a cocaine study. Come to think of it, that would explain a lot.

Click HERE to hear the whole interview.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Sunday, April 8, 2018

NY Int'l Auto Show: It's 2018, and it's all about the electrics

The New York International Auto Show closed today after a week of showing Gotham City audiences what's on the minds of automakers for this upcoming model year. With such a large capital-intensive industry, very rarely do we see revolution. It's almost always evolution.

Nevertheless, there is a slow motion revolt happening in the auto industry right now with the arrival of more electric-powered cars every year, which include both hybrids and pure electric models. At NYIAS, a brochure touted 40 different automobiles that qualify for the federal tax credit. They range alphabetically from the Audi A3 E-Tron (which gets 83 MPGe) to the Volvo XC90 T8 at 62 MPGe.

This important shift in offerings from major manufacturers spells trouble for the company that really invented the modern electric car. As Tesla continues to have troubles bringing its new Model 3 to market, their cars will now have to compete with Audis, BMWs, Mercedes and Porsches. The most impressive of these may be the Jaguar I-Pace, which is a full electric with quality interiors and a sense of luxury that will make it a direct rival for the Model S. This should keep Elon Musk awake at night.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

April 4th, 50 years on

My only interaction with Martin Luther King Jr. yesterday was walking past the offices of Cambridge Community Television on Massachusetts Avenue and hearing his voice piped out over their sound system onto the street. So rumbly. So rich. So biblical. Later that day, I thought of him again when I realized that 50 years ago last night, the nation's cities were on fire.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Theater Review: Guards at the Taj

I saw Guards at the Taj last night at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge. An ambitious two-person play by Rajiv Joseph set around the time of the completion of the Taj Mahal, two guards stand watch musing about the beautiful new palace just completed, a kind of Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern of India. They are unlikely as guards, too foolish, too much like young boys than stern soldiers -- which may mean that they are exactly like guards. Their careless talk makes them worry that, if overheard, they will be charged with blasphemy. Actually, their fate is much worse. The emperor has decreed that all the workmen who built the Taj will have their hands cut off to prevent anyone from every building anything so beautiful again. It falls to our two baffoonish pair to carry out this awful task.

An absolutely ghoulish scene follows, in which our two protagonists move baskets filled with hands and pouring blood. It's almost absurd in its horror, which is a valid question to pose. We enter otherworldly dreams, or should we call them nightmares, of men trapped in hell because they are small, powerless, not smart enough to know otherwise. The play delivers, but just barely. While the actors shout their lines from the stage, those same lines would have had much greater power if delivered in a softer voice. The loudness seemed collegiate, if not sophomoric. And their fundamental dilemma isn't wholly spelled out, though their dystopian descent into inferno is well played.

So much for the play. I will write about other things at some other time, now that I'm blogging again.