Category Archives: Reviews

Return to New York City—Jazz and More

That reads like the title of a novel, but it was just us finally getting back to the Great City for a visit, the first since moving to Washington on December 1, 2020. We stayed in the Loew’s Regency on Park Avenue, a nicely updated hotel with a surprisingly large room and, except for the bathroom, well designed.

We had planned this trip for some time and near the departure date learned that Birdland, one of New York’s legendary jazz clubs, would be re-opening for live performances just before our arrival. So, of course, we booked ourselves in there for Saturday night to see a group we had not known before – the Emmet Cohen Trio. The owner of the club opened the music part of the evening with a special welcome back to a packed and enthusiastic crowd, everyone excited to hear live jazz again. Then Cohen led the band in an opening medley of well-known jazz standards. Everyone was moved by the first piece—the classic Lullaby of Birdland made famous by George Shearing back in the day. An emotional and perfect way to start the evening.

Emmet Cohen proved an adept pianist in the jazz genre, moving easily among classical forms and more contemporary vibes. He and his musical mates, Russell Hall on bass (details about him here: http://www.russellhallbass.com/bio)  and Kyle Poole on drums (details about him here: http://www.kylepooledrums.com/about-1)  were perfectly matched and clearly had a great time entertaining the crowd.

The food at Birdland was decent and the service excellent, especially considering they had just reopened two nights before. Interesting to us that there were so many young people in the audience. Here are photos of the line waiting to get in for the second show:

When we emerged after the show, we saw this:

a moving reminder of the scene just out of our apartment window during our three-year sojourn in the big city.

Sadly, we have lost the Jazz Standard to the pandemic, but the Village Vanguard and Smoke will hopefully reopen soon, and jazz will once again resound through the streets of New York.

On Sunday we lunched with a New York friend at Tavern on the Green, another great nostalgic return. That night, we dined at The Leopard at Des Artistes on West 67th. Our guest was my wife’s ballet instructor, Finis Jhung, New York City’s renowned ballet master. He danced with Joffrey Ballet, had his own company at one point and has trained some of the world’s greatest ballet dancers and Broadway stars. A very interesting person with whom to chat.

On Monday my New Jersey-resident daughter and family, my two grandsons in tow, joined us for lunch at Rosa Mexicano near Lincoln Center, which is just up the avenue from our old apartment. After lunch, we walked to Josie Robertson Plaza, the center element of the Center with its Revson Fountain running again. The Plaza has been completely covered in AstroTurf, with seats and other features (food stall, reading area) and is perfect for lounging around on a lazy day, which is just what we encountered:

Finally, when in NYC, one should always look up. In addition to surprising art and architectural features, there is the sheer magnitude and daring of buildings like these:

If you don’t look up from time to time, you miss it.

Flight of the Valkyries

Having looked at the photo above, were you reminded of Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YOYlgvI1uE

Now maybe? That’s what comes to mind for me, but you may be more familiar with the song popularized by the late John Denver, The Eagle And The Hawk. It begins with “I am the eagle, I live in high country in rocky cathedrals that reach to the sky,” and ends with “And reach for the heavens and hope for the future and all that we can be, and not what we are.” It’s a short song but, for me, quite moving, a naturalist’s prayer perhaps.

The American eagle (technically, the Bald Eagle) is the quintessential iconic symbol of the United States, serving as our national bird and often presented as a representation of American power and strength, especially military power. However, Americans historically have been among the world’s great consumers, rapaciously taking everything that was available and often leaving nothing to continue delivering the seemingly endless cornucopia of plenty to which most Americans have become accustomed.

So it is that the history of the national bird is fraught with slaughter, although other factors contributed to the decline in North America from 300,000 to 500,000 estimated population in the early 18th century to only 412 nesting pairs in the 1950s. According to Wikipedia, factors in the decimation included habitat destruction, shooting (legal and otherwise), power-line electrocution, collisions in flight, oil/lead/mercury/pesticide pollution, and by human and predator intrusion at nests. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bald_eagle Perhaps fittingly, a Yahoo or Google search for “American eagle” takes you to shopping websites.

The good news is that once DDT was banned and bald eagles were legally protected, the  population of these spectacular creatures recovered. Today they may be found throughout the United States and Canada. Alaska, in particular, has a robust population of bald eagles and tourists there are always excited to see them. So it was when we took my two grandsons on an Alaska Inside Passage cruise in 2017. One of the highlights of that extraordinary experience was a tour on a fishing boat that stopped at an island owned, we were told, by Native Americans and whose eagle population was thriving. The mates on the boat had some fish to share with the eagles who were most responsive to the bounty thrown into the water. Here is a small sample of what we saw.

 

Saved the best for last:

 

 

Visit to Brookside Gardens

This Sunday we drove to Brookside Gardens for a bit of outside time. https://bit.ly/3yqMwTu The 50-acre Gardens sit within the larger 556-acre Wheaton Regional Park in, where else, Wheaton, MD, which is, what else, a census-designated place in Montgomery County, MD. I suppose when Wheatonites (??) are asked where they live, they reply with “I live in a census-designated place called Wheaton which is ….” as the person asking drifts away.

It’s amazing what you can be forced to learn on a Sunday drive. A census-designated place is a statistical geographic entity representing closely settled, unincorporated communities that are locally recognized and identified by name but not legally separate. They are, in other words, statistical counterparts of incorporated places. Oh, never mind.

The Gardens are huge, with meandering, paved paths and are divided into the Aquatic Garden, Azalea Garden, Butterfly Garden, Children’s Garden, Rose Garden, Japanese Style Garden, Trial Garden, Rain Garden, and the Woodland Walk. The Formal Gardens areas include a Perennial Garden, Yew Garden, the Maple Terrace, and Fragrance Garden. There are two conservatories open year-round. Admission to the Gardens is free but the conservatories that house tropical and flowering plants require free timed tickets. Check the website cited above for more information.

Sunday was a classic spring day in the Washington area, with comfortable temperatures- humidity and little wind. As natives will tell you, that’s not going to last. Plus, we are told that any day now the cicadas are going to emerge. Anyway, it was a very pleasant experience, not too crowded so distancing was easy. Highly recommended.

The featured image at the top of this post was an unexpected surprise. The heron (more shots below) scooped up a huge goldfish as we were watching. With some effort, he was able to swallow it whole. Fortunate to catch the action.

Below you will find more photos,  a sample of what we saw.

We also saw some interesting animals:

Has the Washington Post Gone Over to the Dark Side?

I was astonished and disturbed that the Washington Post would give a member of the January 6 insurrection streaming time on the Washington Post Live, but that’s exactly what it did with Senator John Hawley on May 4. The full transcript may be read here: https://wapo.st/3eT235C

I am doubly disturbed about this now that I am aware that it was the Washington Post that invited Donald Trump to sit at its table at the 2011 White House Correspondents Association Dinner at which then-President Barack Obama mercilessly and deservedly chided Trump for Trump’s role in the birther conspiracy regarding Obama’s birthplace. Trump was clearly very unhappy at being the butt of President Obama’s humiliating jokes. I’ll have more to say about that when I review Obama’s magnificent memoir, A Promised Land.

The interview at hand was conducted by Cat Zakrzewski, identified as a tech policy reporter and author of The Technology 202 newsletter. She was chosen, perhaps, because the program was billed as “The Missouri senator discusses breaking up big tech, antitrust reform and the post-Trump era for the Republican Party,” but it did not go well, in part because Zakrzewski opened the interview by testing Hawley on other subjects for which she was, it seemed, ill-prepared to cope with his aggressive style.

Zakrzewski opened the discussion by asking the open-ended question, “what responsibility do you feel for the cascading events that resulted on January 6th?” This presented Hawley with the perfect opening to gaslight, both-sides and what-about the country regarding his role. And he did. Hawley claimed that what he did was nothing compared to Democrats who had lodged objections to three past presidential elections.

True, as far it goes. But there are a few critical differences Hawley conveniently failed to mention. They are set out in detail at https://bit.ly/33kU7ES Suffice to say that in 2000, after the Supreme Court’s 5-4 extremely questionable decision to stop the Florida recount, it was Al Gore, the losing Democrat, who, serving as Senate President, enforced the rules to stop the objections. In 2004, overwhelming bipartisan votes rejected the objections lodged by just one member from each house. In 2016, it was again a Democratic Vice President who insisted that the rules be followed in the final certification and, absent any support in the Senate for objections, the tally in Trump’s favor was approved.

In 2020, on the other hand, Republicans brought, and lost, more than 60 legal challenges to multiple swing state outcomes. They never produced evidence of voter fraud on which the claim of “The Big Steal” was based. The entire claim was nonsense and Hawley knew it. His disassociation from facts mirrors the subordination of the entire Republican Party to the Big Lie by Donald Trump that the election was stolen.

Hawley then ran away with the interview in a late-in-coming exegesis on his disapproval of the January 6 mob attack on the Capitol, the same attack he encouraged with the fist pump that was photographed and seen by millions. And, again, Hawley attempted to minimize the attack by deflective references to other acts of violence to which he also objected, returning at the end to refer to the non-existent issue of “election integrity” that he insists was at the root of his objections to the Electoral College certification.

…in terms of having a debate about election integrity, I promised my constituents I would. I did, and I don’t regret that at all. That’s me doing my job.

When Zakrzewski challenged Hawley, noting that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had dismissed challenges to the Pennsylvania count, Hawley rejected the Court’s decision, claiming it was not on the merits, was partisan,  that the court “also interfered with the count itself,” and was “in violation of their own precedent.” In other words, Hawley rejected the action of the highest court in Pennsylvania because he disagreed with it and proceeded to demand the overturning of the election in that state. So much for Republican devotion to “law and order.” Zakrzewski barely got a word in.

On the subject of a national 9/11 style commission to investigate the January 6 attack, Hawley, being the loyal Trumpist, objected to focusing on the attack and argued that the commission should instead address the security failures that allowed the attack to take place. Those issues, however, have already been investigated and Hawley has no explanation, other than deflecting from the core issues of the attack and its inspiration by Trump, for expanding the commission’s scope to other issues. It doesn’t take much imagination to foresee how a commission with a multiple-element mandate would be derailed by Republicans who clearly intend to protect Trump from accountability for his role in directing the assault. Just watch any hearing in which Rep. Jim Jordan participates and you’ll understand.

When again asked about the attacks on Capitol Police, Hawley again deflected to other incidents, mentioning for the second time the Nation of Islam. No objection from Zakrzewski. When asked about the fist-pump incident, Hawley, for the third time brought up BLM protests and riots.

The interview then shifted to other subjects related to the power of tech companies and Hawley’s proposal to break them up. Hawley was able to talk over Zakrzewski on every issue. It brought to mind the first Biden-Trump debate in which Trump simply ran over the moderator throughout the program. After each Hawley monologue, Zakrzewski just moved on to the next topic. But when she tried to explore the effects of the Big Lie about the stolen election, Hawley just continued his rant about political censorship by tech companies. She let him get away with it and turned to the then-pending plan to remove Liz Cheney from leadership to which Hawley demurred (she’s in the House so their problem).

The “interview” ended with Zakrzewski asking “would you support former President Trump running again for office in 2024?” Hawley again deflected, saying Trump’s decision was his to make, Hawley would never give him advice, etc. In short, no answer. Interview over.

Other than providing Hawley a platform from which to practice his both-sides deflection routines, what did the Washington Post accomplish by giving this supporter of January 6 this exposure? Whatever it was, it didn’t work. Instead, Hawley was given the opportunity to promote himself and his  “oh, no, it wasn’t me. I’m opposed to violent protest in all forms. Did I mention Portland? I was just doing what my constituents wanted me to do. Oh, yeah, I’m just a humble servant of the people of Missouri, though I reserve the right to reject the rulings of the highest courts in states like Pennsylvania and vote to overturn elections whose outcomes I don’t like. Did I mention antifa? Riots? Yeah, I’m for law and order unless it means following the decisions of the highest courts in a state whose election result I don’t like.”

If the Post is fooled by Hawley’s professed devotion to protecting free speech and the First Amendment, we are in even more serious trouble than I have thought. The Post should know by now that it cannot escape the fascist propensities of the rightwing politicians who shout at every opportunity, “fake news, enemy of the people” about the mainstream media. I fully accept that the Post should report genuine news – the Capitol attack on January 6 was news – but it should stay out of the business of creating news by giving platforms to the very people who would destroy the free press in a heartbeat if given the power. @WashingtonPost, do better. Before it’s too late.

Great Falls Park

A few weeks back we decided to escape the city for a brief outdoor experience at Great Falls Park on the Virginia side, where the Potomac River plunges through Mather Gorge. We’d last visited the park in the Before Times with my grandsons more than three years ago. It’s always awe inspiring. In peak season it was so crowded that cars lined up on the road leading into the park with very long waits to get in if you had the patience.

This day was cool and cloudy, but a surprisingly large number of visitors were there when we arrived. Nevertheless, staying distanced was quite easy and we enjoyed a leisurely walk along the trail north beside the raging river. The following photos reveal what we saw there. Sightings of eagles and ospreys have grown more common and the power of the water is remarkable.We don’t know what the water temperature was but surely it was near freezing. Not cold enough to deter the kayakers though.

If you decide to visit, be careful and stay well back from the water’s edge. Every year people underestimate the power of moving water and pay dearly for the mistake. View it all from above and appreciate the majesty of such remarkable site so close to the Capitol.

Me & My Manuals

Subtitle: More Than You Want to Know About My Technology Skills

Subtitle: Why We Are Doomed

Modern life is complicated. Much more so than when I was growing up (some people say I was never actually young – not so, but I won’t argue). I am, however, astounded that anything actually works any more.

Growing up, I was a tinkerer/investigator. I would skulk around the neighborhood and remove broken radios/lamps/vacuums, anything electrical, from neighbors’ trash  to disassemble and study how they were built and what made them work. I didn’t learn much but it was something to do.

I was a “technology leader” in my profession. While still a young associate back in the 1970s, I introduced my law firm to its first electronic calculator. It cost me $125, grudgingly reimbursed by the partnership that saw it as wasteful and pointless, an enormous sum at the time for a lowly associate lawyer. It had only four functions. It was the junior model to the first Bowmar breakthrough product, as reported at www.bowmarllc.com:

One of the company’s biggest defining moments came in 1971 when it produced the world’s first hand-held calculator. The Bowmar Brain sold for $240 and ushered in a new frontier of global technological advances. However, since its inception, Bowmar’s primary market has remained aerospace and defense.

While I couldn’t afford a Bowmar Brain, I bought the next best thing and thus it was Bowmar and me on the frontier of technological innovation. The firm resisted but I persisted and soon the partners were secreting the device in their desks to prevent others from secreting it in their desks.

Leaping from Memory Lane to almost-today, I once again faced the technological frontier.

I had owned two inexpensive, limited-function devices to work with my high-powered iMac computer. One was a flat-bed scanner that scanned documents and photos one page at a time. Like an old bike, reliable but slow.  As time passed, the controlling software became somewhat squirrelly (details spared—thank me later).

The other “device” (device, that’s what we call them now) was a simple printer. It did both black/white and color and had a limited but functional sheet feeder. The company that produced this inexpensive marvel decided it was a good idea to modify the software in some fashion that caused the printer to … die. Since the device was far out-of-warranty, multiple tries to download/update the software failed and there was apparently no one home at Hewlett-Packard anyway, I made a command decision: give the scanner to a friend who could use its limited functions and trash (recycle) the moribund printer, replacing both with a more modern, all-purpose single box that would do everything I needed: copy, print and scan. Fantastic. What could go wrong?

My extensive online research led me to what turned out to be a very large, incredibly heavy (circa 50 pounds) All-in-One (AiO) machine from a well-known brand not Hewlett-Packard (some affronts cannot be forgiven). Algorithms at American Express, acting on their own, “decided” that the company identified in the purchase order was “suspect,” and rejected my charge. Stunned at this development, I called Amex which promptly said, “oh, ok, no problem.” So, no problem.

Reasonably believing the algorithmic rejection of the charge had invalidated the first purchase, I returned to the source website and purchased the item again. I also bought a service contract with a firm that claimed to offer turnkey setup and technical advice for years. Little did I know that algorithms in the seller’s website had kept the first transaction “alive” following the credit rejection, so now I had unwittingly ordered two of the devices, each of which was half the size of a Volkswagen beetle.

These particular devices would not connect to my wi-fi system for reasons never understood. The algorithms did not like my network, I suppose. The service contract also turned out to be useless, as, after multiple excruciating waits “on hold,” the “technical experts” at the service company simply told me to call the manufacturer for advice on set-up. They had no idea what to do and really weren’t much interested.

So, I returned the devices. Both of them. Fortunately for me, the seller had a UPS pick-up system so all I had to do was get the devices, in their original boxes with all wrappings, wires, etc., down to the concierge desk. Done and done, sore back and all.

The search for a viable machine resumed. I located another AiO, from a different well-known brand, sold by Best Buy. Well-known brand. Free shipping. What could go wrong? Chastened by my earlier experience, I paid for another service contract with the “famous” Best Buy Geek Squad that claimed to include 24-7 installation/setup advice, guaranteed. I’m on a roll now. Stand back and stand by.

The device was delivered promptly enough but, and this is a big but, this device also was unable to connect to my wi-fi system and thus could not, for example, print documents that resided on my computer. It was the  algorithms, I’m sure. I spent more than two hours on the phone with various “representatives” from the Geek Squad, mostly on hold, none of whom had any helpful advice on the rare occasions when I was able to actually speak with someone. And, Best Buy, it turns out, does not pay or arrange for returns.

Since by this time we had moved from New York City to Washington DC, but had no car, we paid an Uber fee to return the machine to the nearest Best Buy. The staff there was singularly uninterested in why we were returning it: “just drop it over there.” But, without argument, they did refund both the purchase price and the cost of the utterly useless Geek Squad service agreement. [Note to self: don’t forget to send Best Buy a bill for the Uber fees].

Sooo, the search resumed yet again, eventually settling on an older, smaller AiO from Epson with more limited features (e.g., a smaller sheet feeder) available at Amazon, where, in my experience, returns were usually pretty straightforward. Now, my prime criterion for buying anything was whether it was easy to return the item when, most likely, it didn’t work. Ben Franklin said “experience keeps a dear school but a fool will learn in no other.” That is what we have come to. I declined to buy the service contract this time. It was me and my manual or bust.

Well, and here I reach the point at last, the substantive portion of the user’s guide for my device is only available online and is 350 pages long! That’s in the upper end of the range for New York Times Best-Seller Non-Fiction books, since the list began. I don’t know what the significance of that is, but it seems important.

Suffice to say that the manual was pretty much useless. Recalling my early successes in the law firm back in the golden era of the 1970s, I succeeded on my own in enabling “print from computer” and “copy from on a roll using my wi-fi network to connect the devices.

BUT, not so fast. The scanning function would not work! The Epson device in scan mode would not “recognize” my printer sitting just a foot away. “Recognize?” Don’t you love how we’ve anthropomorphized computers? We think they’re like people but, of course, people can do things. Algorithms just say no.

After multiple hours on hold with Epson Support, lengthy discussions with multiple technical reps, including several “Level II” senior advisors, several dropped calls after being put on hold “for just a minute while I check something,” I suggested that maybe a direct connection between the printer and the computer with a USB cable might solve the problem. “Oh, for sure, that will do it,” the Epson guy said, as if this obvious solution had been under discussion all along.

I bought a cable, Amazon delivered it the same day (a miracle right there) and then a fellow named “Albert” [uh huh] walked me through a software uninstall/ reinstall of two of the dozen software programs involved in running my device and voila! I was able to scan while using the “buttons” on the front of device, which had been my simple goal all along. It was a victory worthy of Game of Thrones.

Of course, no one at Epson thought it might be a good idea to offer to pay for the USB cable as partial compensation for the staggering time I had spent while setting up the device, not to mention that it was I who came up with the solution.

Now, standing alone, this story has little meaning in the grand scheme, whatever that it. BUT, as I mentioned earlier, we just moved to Washington from New York City, thereby necessitating the purchase of a car. After extensive research, we decided to buy a Ford Escape Hybrid similar, but much more fuel efficient, to the one we owned three years ago before decamping to NYC from Alexandria and giving up our cars. But, no, not so fast.

There are no Ford dealers in the District of Columbia! None. Mon Dieu!

We ultimately settled on two options in the near Virginia suburbs, based on distance from our apartment and the late-season availability of the car type/color, etc. we wanted (relevant but probably ineffectual).

Suffice to say, the salesmen at both dealers knew next to nothing about the cars they were selling nor about how they are taxed or financed. Actually, not next to nothing. Just plain nothing. But, OK, cars have only been around a short while and young guys no longer tinker with them, so nobody knows a damn thing about anything. So be it. I can always look things up. Right?

And that, my reader (if you’re still here) is where the gist of the gist is found. The car manual is an actual book. And when I say “book,” I mean “book.” The manual is 550 pages long! Not only does the inside of the car resemble an airplane cockpit, but you need a degree in aeronautical engineering to understand how to operate it.

Lest you think I exaggerate, something I never do, permit me an example or two. At p. 54 of said manual, one encounters “Keys and Remote Controls.” The first subheading is “General Information for Radio Frequencies.” Radio Frequencies!?! Why do I need to know about radio frequencies to drive my car????

Following three bolded “Notes,” there is a subheading for “Intelligent Access (if equipped).” Parenthetically, I don’t know whether that is a reference to a car feature or to the possibility that the owner may not be intelligent. Maybe it’s just a linguistic oversight because no one knows anything anymore.

Returning to Keys & Remote Controls,” there are three ways to unlock your car door (details unimportant) UNLESSexcessive radio frequency interference is present in the area,” which I take to mean you are parked under a military radar installation (in which case you are about to have other problems). Anyway, if your car won’t unlock electronically, you can always do it with the “mechanical key blade” hidden in your “intelligent access key” as to which “see Remote Control (page 54),” which is, as it happens, immediately below and unsurprisingly reads “REMOTE CONROL” followed by “Integrated Keyhead Transmitter” and another paragraph of instructions. Finally, all of this is on page 54. All of it. Who, then, thought it was useful to direct you to Remote Control on page 54 when you’re already on page 54? Is proofreading now a completely dead occupation?

The above information is followed by pages of information about keys and their uses, including 11 “photos” of various keys and functions most of which do not resemble my keys.

Thereafter, it gets … worse. There are, for example, seven pages devoted to Starting and Stopping the Engine and another seven on Unique Driving Characteristics, which seems likely to be important. Someday I will read about it.

Well, I have to go now. If we’re ever going to actually use our new car before the warranty expires, I have to study up to be sure I don’t accidentally activate the passenger automatic ejection seat (we did not get the moon roof option) while trying to turn on the ten position/six speed variable/fixed windshield wiper/cruise control. Wish me luck. And remember, this is why nothing works any more. You read it here.

Baseball in the Pandemic– Fix It!

Having tried to watch my team, the World Champion Washington Nationals, in their opening “season” games against the New York Yankees, I am experiencing serious withdrawal symptoms. It’s not just that it’s early in the season – this year there is no “early” because the entire regular season is only 60 games long. The problem for me is that there are no fans. Piped in sound or, as I saw in a West Coast game the other day, human cutouts in the stands behind home plate, are no substitute for the real thing.

I expressed that sentiment during the season opener, and my wife came up immediately with an inspired idea: why not let the active military (maybe all veterans), first responders, and healthcare workers attend the games at no charge? Even a few hundred or more fans would add a lot of energy to these vacant ballpark situations while providing a reward to people who without doubt deserve one. MLB ballparks are plenty spacious to permit this concept with plenty of social distancing and mandatory masking. There would, of course, be some limited costs involved but surely MLB can afford them. There may be some logistics challenges but, viewed from a distance, they don’t seem insurmountable.

I tweeted the idea to the Washington Nationals but, of course, received no response. I can’t think of a sound reason not to do this. With a committed effort, a workable process could be developed in under a week and initiated soon enough to add some much needed “reality” to the nation’s pastime.

Did I mention that my team, the Washington Nationals, won the World Series last year?

Know Her Name

I readily confess that on multiple occasions reading Chanel Miller’s memoir, Know My Name, I alternated between fury and choking up. It is not an easy read, but a story that needed telling. Miller tells it brilliantly. While there are passages that I thought were a bit overwritten, it is not hard to understand why her way of expressing her pain, and resilience in the face of so much power stacked against her, was necessary to get the whole story out. Not just the story of what happened to her, which was hard enough to take, but the story of the struggle to escape the emotional binding that the sexual assault, the rape, imposed on her and her family. Spoiler Alert: I am going to tell you some key things about the plot, but you should read on. The eventual outcome has been widely reported. Miller leaves everything in the open, so proceed with empathy and compassion.

This is a book that every young male should read. Word for painful word. The world we live in has many and diverse perils, especially for young women. The source of many of those perils, though surely not all of them (see, e.g., Weinstein, Epstein, Nassar, etc. etc.), are young men.

As Miller so compellingly writes, the young man who raped her while she was unconscious should have known better. Everything about his privileged life, except perhaps the core privilege itself, should have made clear to him that what he was doing was wrong. There can be no argument about this, no way of seeing this otherwise.

But, of course, there was an argument. Faced with the consequences of conduct that he apparently had not thought about, the perpetrator, with the help/prodding/direction of his well-to-do parents, decided to fight Miller’s claim that she had not consented to his assault. He was ultimately convicted on all three felony counts and ultimately his appeal was denied. Her statement to the court, directed at the perpetrator, quickly went viral, bringing unprecedented attention to her case. The judge whose minimal sentence of six months plus three years’ probation for the rapist (he was released three months early) led to his eventual recall, the loss of his job as directed by the voters, by the community expressing its collective rejection of victim-blaming and of unbalanced visions of who was responsible for what behavior. I don’t have words for what was wrong with the sentence, but Miller does.

As I said, this was a hard read. It’s hard even to write this brief recommendation that you read the book. Not hard in any way comparable or equivalent to what Miller went through. Her book provides a deep and passionate picture of the toll that sexual assault takes of its victim and of the victim’s friends and family. It makes clear there is only one victim. The perpetrator is not a victim of anything but his own self-regard and indifference to the physical and emotional integrity of others. Miller shows remarkable, almost super-human capacity for empathy toward her attacker, but in the end, he denies her even the comfort of knowing that she reached him, that he finally understood what he had done to her.

Read this book. Everyone, man, woman, young, old, can learn from it.

Murdering “Cats”

The critics have apparently done it again. Sneering snidely, they have likely sunk any chance of success for the movie Cats, the film version of the long-running Broadway musical. Having seen and enjoyed the musical a few times, we decided to ignore the critics and went to the movies. After battling our way through throngs of people there for the twenty-third running of the Star Wars quintology (not a real word but it fits), also slammed by some critics, we sat in a nearly empty theater as the opening scene appeared.

To be clear, the movie version of Cats has some serious flaws; I about to tell you what they are. But to say that the movie is a “disaster,” etc. as some critics have exclaimed, is, I think ridiculous.

First, one must recognize that the Cats story is a fantasy intended to entertain. It is not a serious thing, except perhaps in one way I’ll come to. It was, after all, a musical based on some poems about cats. If you want to taste the kind of over-analyzed attempts to give some profound meaning to the story, you have many choices but a good one is https://screenrant.com/cats-movie-ending-explained-grizabella-heaviside-layer/ It’s a spoiler in many ways, however, so you may want to avoid it and the others if you’re considering watching the movie (it likely will be “free” on some Internet service soon since it’s being massacred at the box office). I am, frankly, tired of critics condemning works of art because they don’t fit some pre-conceived narrative of what “should” have been done.

Second, the musical is recognized even by the critics (however grudgingly) as much-loved by audiences. According to Wikipedia, the “London production ran for 21 years and 8,949 performances, while the Broadway production ran for 18 years and 7,485 performances, making Cats the longest-running musical in both theatre districts for a number of years.” That doesn’t count the many other performances (like Washington DC where I first saw it). Not bad for a fluffy piece of fiction with a somewhat puzzling story line and no dialogue.

Third, all that notwithstanding, the movie version has some serious flaws. They detract from the heft of the music and special effects, sometimes in major ways. First, and most serious for me, is the modern practice of having the camera viewpoint constantly shifting from one vantage point to another every few seconds. Rather than letting you see a dance scene as a whole, the director, or whomever, has the camera viewpoint constantly changing.

One moment it’s on the lead dancer, Victoria, played by the stunning Francesca Hayward, who in real life is a principal dancer in the Royal Ballet at London’s Covent Garden. Then it shifts to a group of cats dancing, then back to Victoria, then to another cat doing something different, then to the entire scene from a different vantage than the first one, and so on and so on. Why, I have to ask, when you have a talent as beautiful and skilled as Francesca Hayward as a main character do you not just show her dancing as the center of attention in the larger frame? If you were watching a live ballet you likely would focus most of your attention on her. But, no, the director, or whoever makes these decisions, wants us to see everything from a constantly changing viewpoint.

This practice is commonplace in music videos I have seen (rarely to completion) but I suggest it does not belong in the staging of a musical as movie.

Fourth, there are several “episodes” in the movie version that occupy an inordinate amount of space/time seemingly to accommodate the actors chosen for the roles. These include James Corden, Rebel Wilson and Jason Derulo. I was struck that at the end of the movie, when the credits roll, Corden was given top billing. I lack the imagination to understand how that could be warranted by anything related to the movie.

Fifth, the most iconic music from the stage version is, of course, Memory. It is sung by the aged and defeated Grizabella, played in the movie by the powerful Jennifer Hudson. Unfortunately, her rendition is an over-wrought downer, over-acted and overwhelmed. I don’t fault Hudson. This had to be the director’s choice and it was a bad one.

Finally, the handling of Macavity, played, inexplicably, by Idris Elba, was a major error. In the story he is a malevolent creature with magical powers and the presentation seems discordant with the rest of the story, albeit that it contains many fantasy elements throughout.

Well, then, with all those flaws, how did the critics go wrong? The answer, I think, is in condemning the whole because of a few defects, unhappy ones, to be sure, but hardly fatal to the overall concept. In the end the story is about redemption, goodwill and generosity triumphing over evil and selfishness. It is a fantasy, a divertissement that should not be taken seriously. It is intended to amuse you and, in the end, lift you up. I thought that, flaws notwithstanding, it did that. It’s a movie, after all, not a major philosophical dissertation.

I suspect it’s too late for a “market correction” that might save this movie from the dust heap where severe criticism tends to push productions that the true critics don’t like. Too bad. Many people who would enjoy the spectacle will now miss it because self-important and self-appointed “experts” have decided that the movie is a “debacle.” Debacles do happen in Hollywood as elsewhere, but I don’t think this Cats is fairly condemned.

P.S. — I had a similar response to the critics’ treatment of Bohemian Rhapsody [see https://autumninnewyork.net/2018/11/04/bohemian-rhapsody-ignore-critics/] that, according to Wikipedia, grossed over $903 million worldwide on a production budget of about $50 million, making it the sixth-highest-grossing film of 2018 worldwide and setting the all-time box office records for the biopic and drama genres. The film earned 4 Oscars and was Best Motion Picture – Drama at the 76th Golden Globe Awards, among other awards and nominations. Just saying. Since the Bohemian Rhapsody post was in the AutumnInNewYork.net blog, I am simultaneously posting the Cats piece in both blogs.

Game of Thrones – Realpolitik

This post may not sit well with the folks who think the final episodes of Game of Thrones were a matter of great public importance, enough to warrant a million-signature petition for a final season redo. If you are one of those people, you probably should stop reading now.

For a brief recap, the show ends with:

… the Queen’s Hand has committed a blatant act of treason out of some familial loyalty to his brother who has been sleeping with his sister and has been imprisoned, pending his inevitable execution …

… the putative heroine has turned into a mass murderer, destroyer of all she surveys, women and children included;

… the Hand, assessing his difficult situation, importunes the Queen’s incestuous lover, and the true heir to the Iron Throne, to undo the Queen because, well, you know, she’s not who we thought she was …

… the Queen’s newly discovered relative, rote repeater of “she’s my Queen, she’s my Queen” right up to the point where he drives some Valerian steel into her heart, is so now “not my Queen;”

… a “council” of somebodies sits down in the shade to decide who will replace the dearly departed and one of them suggests, to much amusement, a plebiscite of “everyone” to decide who should rule the Seven Kingdoms, to which one “nobleman” in best form, suggests they let his horse vote, ahhahahaha, but …

… when it’s clear Sansa isn’t going to be chosen, she reduces the “Seven Kingdoms” to six by simply saying “not the North” and please sit down, Samwell Tarly, you idiot … and he does; thus does democracy die in the Six Kingdoms …

… and so they pick Bran whose leadership skills are … not self-evident … but perhaps he means well, though one must wonder about his first big decision to make the Queen’s former Hand his Hand so the Hand can “correct his many mistakes” in the future, a fate apparently deemed worse than death in those parts …

… and that’s a wrap … except

… the murderer of the Queen is banished back to the Black Watch and the Wall, which no longer has a purpose now that the White Walkers have been destroyed, and accepts his fate without so much as a quarrel about the inequity of it all, and …

… the one person who could upend the entire scheme is the brown-skinned guy, the slaughter-in-chief, Grey Worm, leader of the Unsullied and recently decorated as head of the Queen’s Army or something like that, due to his valor and fantastic killing skills, except there’s no Queen now and the “council” is letting the murderer off easy…

… and so Grey Worm effectively dictates the punishment, short of death, of the Queen’s murderer…

There are probably more “morals of the story” in Game of Thrones than in the typical fairy tale but for me the two principal lessons are clear:

  • power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and
  • the absence of checks and balances in a government will inevitably lead to dangerous outcomes.

The first is too obvious to need much elaboration. Daenerys Targaryen still has one full-grown dragon near the end, plus the loyalty of the miraculously surviving and bloodthirsty Dothraki and Unsullied armies. It’s hard to load more power in one person than that and Daenerys obviously relishes her position – total victory — and, as she “explains” to no one’s great surprise, there are many more battles yet to be fought as she reconstructs the “world” in the image she has in her mind. Daenerys Targaryen thus ends up as the comic book heroine and villain.

The second moral point is more important because less obvious. This principle is what makes Game of Thrones relevant to the world we live in now. In the end, with the “city” of Kings Landing in ruins, the Queen is unbounded. She is defeated only by a final act of hubris, in which she believes that Jon Snow (whom she loves at least as long as he doesn’t challenge her “right” to the Iron Throne) will not harm her, misapprehending completely the mental state of a man who has already been dead once and to all outward appearances seems dazed and uncomprehending of how things have devolved to this sorry state. Love is blind, as the saying goes.

Now the fate of the “world,” as defined by the Seven Kingdoms, is left in the hands of the “council.” The only real power in the scene is Grey Worm who, with a nod of his head, could bring the “military” to terminate the council in a heartbeat. Yet, he resists the direct and deadly use of his power, insisting, however, that Jon Snow be properly punished for his crime against the Queen.

So, ultimately, peace seems to prevail, only because the parties have inadvertently stumbled into a place where the most powerful player, the commander of force, turns out to be sensible and not interested in leveraging his position beyond seeing some form of justice done as to Jon Snow. Grey Worm turns out, then, to be perhaps the best of the men in the entire story. He stays his hand in the interest of peace when he could easily just take control.

There is no mistaking that Grey Worm is the key power player in the end. It was that “check and balance” that operated to “solve” the problem of Jon Snow and to give the “politicians” space in which to negotiate their peace with each other. As improbable as that final outcome may have been, and I’ll leave that to others to debate, the point in the end was that absent Grey Worm’s steady hand, there is no telling what could have happened as the others jockeyed for position. At the same time, we can see that if the only obstacle to the politicians dividing up the world, is the one with “force” at his command, the potential for continued instability is high. You upset Grey Worm at your peril.

That principle – checks and balances – was set up in a three-part scheme by the Framers of the U.S. Constitution. The 3-way regime has served the country pretty well until 2016 when 2/3 of the checks fell into the hands of one party, and a criminal was placed in charge of the executive branch.  The balance was somewhat restored in 2018 but the Trump administration continues to undermine the Judicial Branch by nominating and approving, through its control of the Senate, judges who are ideologues and, in some cases, plainly lacking relevant experience and demonstrated judicial temperament.

We are, therefore, at a precipice, not unlike the one that the “council” in Game of Thrones faced. The sitting president has already begun to suggest that he may not respect the outcome of the 2020 election, so we may yet be looking to the leaders of the “force” component of government to decide whether we will continue to be democracy or something else. The result may turn on a Grey Worm yet again. Our fate will then depend on his being as sensible as the “real” Grey Worm.