Category Archives: Reviews

Why I Hate the Snow

We had fair warning even though my two weather apps had drastically different predictions of how the second snow of the year would play out. Until the snow had already exceeded predictions, both said it would amount to little, somewhere between a dusting and three inches. Not that big a deal. And anyone who has lived a while or read books about weather will know that predictions are highly uncertain. Fine, as far as that goes.

My tale.

My wife is flying back to Washington DC from California, scheduled to land at National Airport (DCA to we cognoscenti) at 4:53 pm, a few hours after the snow was expected to start but given the predictions, we should have no issues. I drive a Ford Escape Hybrid that, in addition to extraordinary gas mileage, has front-wheel drive. It’s really a computer on wheels, with multiple sensors around the perimeter (aside: on road trips it will often suggest, by flashed dashboard message, that I am tired and should take a “rest”).

I set out from our apartment in the West End of DC at 4:30, plenty of time given that my wife checked her bag on the return flight. I am monitoring the flight’s progress on a cell phone app that, it will later appear, provides way more information than anyone could need, making the key information very hard to read while also trying to stay on the road whose lane markers have long ago disappeared.

Indeed, traffic is very light, although it’s apparent immediately that the car in front of me has no business being out in this weather. I carefully navigate Washington Circle, one of the cruel gifts of the original French designer of the city’s layout, and proceed down the hill to the Memorial Circle (site of the iconic Lincoln Memorial) and cross the Memorial Bridge to the George Washington (yes, that one) Parkway leading to the airport. Road conditions are not great but I’m moving right along and arrive at the Roaches Run Waterfowl Sanctuary parking lot, a short hop from DCA. I join a handful of other cars hopefully waiting to proceed to the airport where the cellphone “waiting” area is very small and the other places to stop and wait are patrolled regularly by police with guns.

[Aside No 2: According to the Washington Post, Roaches Run is named that because “The stream that feeds the lagoon is named for the family of James Roach, who ran a nearby brickworks and owned a mansion, since torn down, called Prospect Hill.” https://wapo.st/3KhGU3R Do not read that article because you will then be tempted to read the Comments where you will find yet another unnecessary war of words between two readers set off by an allegedly “off topic” comment and followed by “you’re one – no you are – no you…”]

After a while, I glance at my phone and see that the flight arrival is being pushed back. Not surprising considering the weather, runway clearing, etc. My weather app now changes as well – we’re now looking at 3 to 6 inches. No problem. Even had I known that before departure, my plan would not have changed. After all, I drive a Ford Escape ….

I wait. I look at the phone again and BOOM, I now see that the flight has been DIVERTED to Dulles International Airport (IAD to we cognoscenti) which is about 27 miles away and road conditions are deteriorating fast.

I depart Roaches Run, drive into DCA, and go around by the arrivals terminal so I’m now driving north on the GW. There are a few options for routes to IAD, but I choose to stay on the GW Parkway. I know the road well and traffic is sparse though road conditions are deteriorating fast. Several of the cars that also chose this route for whatever reasons are regretting the error as they slide around and, in some cases, get stuck in the mounting snow/ice/slush.

Undeterred, and in any case irrevocably committed to my chosen route, I forge ahead. I believe I am racing against a jet airplane that could be in final approach. Road conditions are deteriorating fast, but it could be worse. Only one driver does something really stupid, forcing me to brake suddenly to avoid him. I do. It’s all good.

I reach the Capital Beltway (the ring road around DC known to cognoscenti as 495), which is the link to the Dulles No-Toll superhighway that takes you straight to IAD. Traffic is much heavier on 495. Why? Is it really necessary for all these people to be driving on a Sunday night in a snowstorm when road conditions ….? Dumb question.

Still, I’m making good progress until the exit for the Dulles No-Toll Road. Here the snow has apparently melted near the pavement, the plows have missed the area and several cars are having that uh-oh moment of realization that they are now spinning in one place. Even my chariot is having a lot of trouble maintaining forward momentum.

But I ease around the floundering cars, leaving them in my dust (very figuratively speaking) and make it onto the No-Toll road. I could take the Toll Road that parallels (literally right next to) the No-Toll Road but why pay when you can drive for free (the Devil whispers in my ear)? I think I will make it to IAD in plenty of time because the government usually keeps the No-Toll Road pretty clear, and traffic remains light. I am maintaining a nice steady 20 mph on a road designed for 55 and often driven at 65 to 70 by many (other people).

Once clear of other cars and with open (figuratively speaking) road ahead, I glance at my phone for a time check. WHAT???? The flight has been RE-DIVERTED back to DCA!!!!

Now, for those who don’t know, the thing about the No-Toll Road is that, because it’s free and might be abused by commuters who want to escape the frequent congestion on the parallel Toll Road, once you’re on the No-Toll Road you may not exit until you reach the airport. Aaarghhh!!!

There are, of course, a few “Official Vehicles Only” exits with dire warnings about high penalties, gates, red lights, and other reasons not to use those exits. Once entering one of those lanes, you might not be able to get out and the police are around trying to help motorists when the can.

Soooo, I chicken out and keep driving – allllll the way out to IAD where I circle through the airport. My computer-on-wheels is now flashing all manner of dashboard warnings to the effect that the sensors that tell you when you’re about to crash and burn are blocked. I am a bit concerned that the computers may simply shut the engine off, so I stop in a no-stopping zone at the end of the terminal, exit the car and try, unsuccessfully, to remove the ice caked all around the lower perimeter of the car (where, naturalement, the sensors are located).

To hell with it. I get back in the car and head back onto the No-Toll Road back toward DCA, still 27 miles from where I just came. I can’t be sure, but it appears that my wife’s fight is still circling DCA so I’m still good on arrival time.

Indeed, the snow is turning to rain/sleet (a miracle?) and while it’s cold as hell (world class mixed metaphor), the rain is clearing the road of snow much better than the snowplows could. I am traveling 40 mph at times. I stay on the No-Toll Road until it merges with I-66 (known to cognoscenti as The Road Where Cars Go to Run Out of Gas While Idling in Traffic) and miraculously arrive in Crystal City (don’t ask if you don’t know). The phone rings — my wife is in the terminal with a large group of people awaiting delivery of their luggage, running back and forth from one carousel to another (Guess Which Carousel If You Can – a favorite game of the baggage handlers at DCA). I slow down, arrive in the “road” that serves as the airport pick-up zone for arriving passengers, acquire my wife plus luggage and head back to DC.

She is starving because she believed that having been served a meal traveling west, she would also get one coming east. She had, after all, paid for an upgrade to Premium Economy. In reality, enroute from LAX (Los Angeles for cognoscenti on a flight that exceed five hours, she was served a … cookie. Meanwhile, my total driving time was almost as long as her flight, so there’s that.

All’s well that ends well, of course, and the ride from DCA was uneventful, I didn’t get a ticket for the U-turn I didn’t make on Pennsylvania Avenue to acquire carry-out at the local Thai place, and we settle in to watch a blood-soaked movie starring an aging Pierce Brosnan who, miraculously, fought like a twenty-something.  There is hope.

 

 

Steaming at Blues Alley

‘Twas a wet and blustery night

With cold descending on the town,

But the smoke was pouring hot

From the best jazz club around.

It was Saturday night and Kenny Garrett’s sextet was playing at Blues Alley, the premier Washington jazz club in the heart of Georgetown. The club is really located in an alley, which adds somehow to its charm. Inside, it’s the real deal. Tightly packed tables seating 140, surrounding a compact stage that is crowded on a night like this because the sextet has a lot of instruments.

We booked late, a bit unsure about attending such an event indoors, but we had seen Garrett several times before and the attraction of live jazz again, just a few blocks from our apartment, was too much to resist. Very wisely, the club has a firm policy: proof of vaccination to enter and masks-on when not eating or drinking. Even Garrett wore a mask before starting to play. All the audience seats appeared to be occupied as a few late walk-ins arrived to take the few remaining.

The traditional tools of the jazz trade jammed the stage: piano (baby grand, I think), drum kit (everything you can imagine), full-size bass, many microphones and, in this case, a full set of bongos, sound devices whose names I can’t guess and, in the center, a small electronic keyboard. In the hands of musical masters, these instruments enable the creation of the magical place a jazz club can be when a master of the art accompanied by others of surpassing talent are at the top of their game.

The people attending this event were primed for some top-level stimulation and they got it. Garrett’s sextet included: Vernell Brown Jr.: piano; Corcoran Holt: bass; Ronald Bruner Jr.: drums; Rudy Bird: percussion, snare; and Melvis Santa: vocals and keyboard, among other things. Those folks can play. For me, the drummer stood out, driving the music forward with powerful strokes and extraordinary energy. Few people can play like that for so long. But in truth the whole ensemble was a unit in an exceptional display of jazz at its most powerful.

At the end, Garrett called on the audience, already fully tuned up by the propulsive sound, to rise up and “work it out” to the closing number … and they did. I have never seen anything quite like that after attending many jazz performances over the years. Dancing in the aisles, even where there were no aisles.

Garrett’s style may not be for everyone (the first number lasted probably 15 or 20 minutes) but the crowd Saturday night was totally into it, as were all audiences in prior shows we saw. Typically, his entire body rocks back and forth to repeated riffs of sound. Maybe it’s how he keeps time. Doesn’t matter. The man can blow. He never seems to tire. His saxophone dominates the music, but the other instruments have their time as well when the tunes go from post-modern bop to Latin, Cuban, Afro something something, who knows. It’s all great.

At the end, Garrett dismissed each performer by name. The crowd erupted in appreciation and one-by-one the musicians exited. Garrett departed next-to-last, leaving the drummer, playing, for him, sedately. Then, he stopped and just walked off. It was all over but the vibrations. The steam subsided … until the next set.

Tickets are still available for tonight’s shows at 8 and 10.

The 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction–My Nomination

The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is awarded each year (usually) for books published the previous year. Thus, the 2021 Pulitzer went for a book published in 2020.

I am, therefore, in time to make my sole nomination for the Prize this year. I have never done this before.

My nomination is Late City by Robert Olen Butler. Butler already has a Pulitzer for the remarkable, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain. But that was way back in 1993. With Late City, I believe Butler should be considered for the rarified club of double winners occupied by my favorite author, John Updike plus Booth Tarkington, William Faulkner and Colson Whitehead.

I cannot improve upon the dustjacket’s description:

A visionary and poignant novel centered around former newspaperman Sam Cunningham as he prepares to die, Late City covers much of the early twentieth century, unfurling as a conversation between the dying man and a surprising God. As the two review Sam’s life, from his childhood in the American South and his time in the French trenches during World War I to his fledgling newspaper career in Chicago in the Roaring Twenties and the decades that follow, snippets of history are brought sharply into focus, moments that resonate profoundly forward even into our own century.

Given that story line, I was surprised at the deep impression the book made. Butler’s prose is remarkable, and his storytelling has few equals. This book is cleverly constructed and brilliantly written. Part history, part memoir and more. I give you three short examples with little context.

Sam is often beaten by his father. At age twelve, he reads a report of the 62 lynchings of Negroes that year. Sam asks aloud “What’s wrong with us?” and more. Sam’s father prods him with his foot and says, “Stand up.” Sam knows what is coming “But I understand this blow is different. It’s the first one for an idea. An idea that feels like my own.” His father speaks,

“You will not indict America for this, he says. “You will not even indict the misguided white men who did this. These men are your people. They were hasty. They acted unlawfully. But they have grievances. They rely on you for understanding, not censure. Is that clear?”

Elsewhere, in another context entirely, Butler’s gift for prose shines in phrases like “the chaste seemliness of the age, which we have inevitably assimilated.” In another scene, “… our thighs tightly and unwaveringly aligned, ardent but chaste, as our shoulders square around to each other and our lips speak wordlessly of what we have become.”

This is, I believe, a genuine masterwork. Maybe it will surprise, delight and move you as it did me.

Artists Speak in Tongues

I often don’t understand. I recently had this experience again at DC’s Hirshhorn Museum https://hirshhorn.si.edu/about-us/ when we visited the huge Laurie Anderson exhibit, https://hirshhorn.si.edu/exhibitions/laurie-anderson-the-weather/ that will be displayed until July 31, 2022.

The museum describes Anderson as a “groundbreaking multimedia artist, performer, musician, and writer.” While I’m not qualified to judge, the description seems accurate. She’s going to be performing live at the museum next year, at times yet to be published, and, to my surprise, I think I want to see her. This woman has designed new musical instruments! Hirshhorn describes her thus:

As a Grammy Award-winning musician, performer, writer, and artist, Anderson has an international reputation as an artist who combines the traditions of the avant-garde with popular culture. Anderson’s theatrical works combine a variety of media, including performance, music, poetry, sculpture, opera, anthropological investigations, and linguistic games, to elicit emotional reactions. As a visual artist, Anderson has been shown at the Guggenheim Museum, SoHo, and extensively in Europe, including the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. She has also released seven albums for Warner Brothers, including Big Science, featuring the song “O Superman,” which rose to No. 2 on the British pop charts. She is currently Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University.

Her particular style/mode of artistic expression is not one to which I have been drawn in the past, but the two expressions below got my attention and I am something of a convert:

These photos are but a tiny portion of the full exhibit that includes many forms of multi-media, including video of Anderson dancing with electronic devices strapped to her body that make drum sounds when slapped.

You probably should read this before visiting the exhibit, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/06/magazine/laurie-anderson.html, but visit you should. I am still thinking about what I saw. Such stimulation of a distracted mind (you know, the destruction of our democracy) must mean something important is going on. Note that when the Hirshhorn first proposed a retrospective on Anderson’s long career (74 now), she refused and proposed an all-new show.

What Freedom Really Looks like

Many people are refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Some of them have adopted a mantra that they will not be vaccinated because complying with government directives or even guidelines somehow compromises their “freedom.” It’s sometimes expressed as “I’m an American and no one tells me what to do.” Even if it’s for their own good and the good of their fellow Americans. Freedom first, they say.

These people are becoming increasingly marginalized because American businesses are recognizing, slowly but surely, that the best hope we as a whole people have to return to normalcy rests with achieving a high percentage of vaccinated citizens. The federal government recognizes this as well and is requiring vaccination for federal employees.

I’m not here to argue about that. You know where I stand on vaccination. No, I’m here to talk about what true “freedom” looks and feels like.

True freedom was the ability this past Saturday night to attend the Paul Taylor Dance Company performances at the Kennedy Center. Everyone entering had to show a vaccination record, ID and then received a wrist band (see the photo above). Everyone had to remain masked in the theater. What did this mean?

First and foremost, it meant the freedom, for the first time since early 2020, to watch remarkable talented performers live on stage right in front of us. We can’t do what they do but we soared with them in another way. I wanted to jump up and shout but I restrained myself.

It meant that my wife had the freedom to chat with the man seated next to her about his having seen the first set of dances ten years ago. He clearly felt the freedom too, that deep sense of relief that we can live again. Live dancers – no Zoom! The real thing.

The audience was a good mixture of older people and many younger ones as well. Some of the latter group looked like dancers and I have no doubt they were as excited to see the Paul Taylor company as we were.

The performances were amazing. The first set was devoted to music from the late 1930’s and 1940’s sung by the Andrews Sisters, tunes like Pennsylvania Polka, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and Rum & Coca Cola. The boogie woogie vibe of that era was fully realized in the choreography and high energy of the dancers. The dancers were clearly having a good time, and the audience was extremely responsive to the skills and enthusiasm of those remarkable people.

The second set was quite different: danced to Bach’s Violin Concerto in E Major and Double Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor (Largo & Allegro). If you aren’t familiar with those somewhat obscure titles, treat yourself here: https://yhoo.it/3lwXQc1 and here https://yhoo.it/3Bzy0tJ

While the set began with what seemed, to me at least, some pointless running around, it didn’t take too long for the choreographer’s vision to take hold with spectacular acrobatic leaps, rolls and more. Amazing athleticism. Amazing grace. Freedom!

Two days later we were still talking about the performance and the feelings it inspired.

Obviously, there are other more profound and, in a broader sense, more important aspects of freedom, but I’ll take this for now. We could breathe again, stop being afraid and just rejoice in the passion of the moment. Because everyone in the theater was vaccinated and wearing a mask. Everyone was respecting everyone else. The truth is I hate the mask. But it’s a small thing to do for my own and everyone else’s safety. And, not surprisingly, during the performances I forgot entirely that I was wearing a mask.

I read now that the Delta variant of COVID is in “remission” and that cases and deaths are once again declining. That’s good news, but we’ve been here before. Instead of declaring victory, do the smart thing: get vaccinated immediately. Demand that friends, family and co-workers do the same. That’s the only way we’re going to emerge from this nightmare. If you live in states where leadership is resisting vaccination mandates, replace those people. They don’t care about you.

If you want true freedom again, the fastest, best and only road there runs through the vaccination program. Do it now.

Places to Go, Things to See

The weekend looms. A good opportunity to review some of the places we’ve visited recently for relief from the continuing gloom of a city not yet recovered from COVID’s shutdown of the economy.

Over a span of a few months we have been on the road quite a bit. A very brief sample of some of the available delights follows, starting with the most distant from Washington:

Savage River Lodge

This place is located at the end of a 1.5 mile gravel road in upper northwest Maryland, best attempted only if you have at least a front-wheel drive vehicle and (in winter) 4-wheel drive. The lodge has a restaurant with outdoor seating and a collection of cabins and yurts for rent. The site is remote and hilly but abounds in natural beauty. It is an easy drive to Grantsville, MD and close to Frostburg.

In one day we saw about a dozen deer, a personal record. The Casselman Bridge in the last photo is in Grantsville whose principal attraction is the Hill Top Fruit Market which is mainly a candy store, lined with bins of all manner of sweet stuff, including many you haven’t seen since childhood. You can also buy fresh fruits and vegetables there. The Fernwood Soap shop and the flowers are in the Spruce Forest Artisan Village, adjacent to the Penn Alps Restaurant & Craft Shop.

Be advised that for a more accessible but still interesting “remote” experience, the cabins in New Germany State Park are very hospitable and inexpensive. They are a fun place to use as a base for exploring the area, maybe doing a little fishing, rafting and such.

Skyline Drive

This, of course, is the 105-mile mountain-top ride in Shenandoah National Park in the magnificent Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Don’t  think about driving the full length of the Drive unless you plan to stay overnight at some of the few on-site lodges. The speed limit is low and the road curves, rises and falls incessantly so fast driving is not in the cards. Besides, you’ll miss the scenery.

Great Falls Park After Hurricane Ida

One of the interesting aspects of Great Falls Park is that it is radically affected by upstream rainfall, which is evident in this small sample of photos showing the impact of Hurricane Ida having dropped massive water upstream. The water is high and brown. Impressive but you wouldn’t want to fall in.

Dyke Marsh

This little gem, about two miles roundtrip, flat as a pancake, can surprise you with unexpected visual delights. In the right season, red-wing blackbirds make the adjoining vegetation their nesting grounds. The Potomac River runs alongside. There are usually a few walkers along the way but even on weekends, we have found Dyke Marsh trail uncrowded and pleasant for a short easy walk. My wife’s uncanny ability to spot creatures in the wild accounts for the grasshoppers and Blue-tailed Skinks that I would have missed entirely.

Sadly, there is always evidence that humans have been here before us, seemingly the unavoidable consequence of so much nature so close to so many people who just don’t understand:

Tregaron

Finally, even closer to [our] home is Tregaron Conservancy, entered most conveniently from either Macomb Street NW or Klingle Road NW. It is situated between the Cleveland Park and Woodley Park neighborhoods just west of Rock Creek Park. The park is small but considering it’s in the middle of a city neighborhood, it has some interesting features, the best of which, for us, was the Lily Pond, small but full of life.

There were, of course, many more frogs and dragon flies, as well as a small armada of goldfish. The frogs are quite bold, as these photos attest.

Frogs have featured in Japanese haiku for centuries and somehow capture the essence:

The old pond

A frog leaps in.

Sound of the water.

What else is there to say?

Conclusion

We continue to be pleasantly surprised at the natural resources available around the Washington area and are often surprised by the wildlife that thrives in our midst. Walking slowly and observing quietly usually pays off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Day, Another Park

Since a certain group of people continue to prevent the country from escaping the pandemic, we remain in partial shutdown and, if you regard your health seriously, limited to where we can eat and otherwise do “normally.” The road ahead seems long and unpleasant.

Thus, desperate for escape, needy of stimulation and just to get some air, we visited yet another “local” park last weekend. Two actually, though one barely counts, as you will see.

Our destination was Neabsco Regional Park in Woodbridge, VA, billed as “300 acres of natural, recreational, and historic amenities including the Rippon Lodge Historic Site, Rippon Landing, the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail Neabsco Creek Boardwalk, Julie J. Metz Neabsco Creek Wetlands Preserve, and portions of historic Kings Highway.” https://bit.ly/2VS0oYt We opted for the Boardwalk. You can see an aerial photo of the Boardwalk on the website.

The upside of the Boardwalk is that it’s a … boardwalk. You stay above the muck, mud and other “things” while having a broad view of the natural scene. The downside of the Boardwalk is that it enables bicyclists, strollers and large groups to move easily along and disrupt, in a minor way, your tranquility.

This is part of the Boardwalk that is surprisingly long:

The other outstanding feature of Neabsco is that the bog/swamp area is surprisingly uniform. For an area this large there appears to be relatively little biodiversity.

Nevertheless, the observant observer can see plenty of interesting activity in  and above the bush. In addition to the turtle “hotel”

we saw some beautiful flowers, though, curiously, they mostly were single blossoms poking through the surrounding greenery:

though, as always, there were brilliant exceptions:

But, of course, the real “juice” at a place like this is the wildlife and we had several delightful surprises. At ground level, there was this amazing  heron whose neck contortions in his slow hunt for food were astonishing to see up close:

By the way, the crawfish (we think) in his bill in the last picture escaped at the least moment! The heron took it in stride and resumed his stalking through the bog.

The thing is that in a place like this your attention is naturally drawn downward, but it’s important not to focus too much on what’s right in front of you. My wife’s vision for spotting animals in the wild is remarkable. and she detected these bald eagles quietly hunting and the osprey in a tree  probably a hundred yards away:

Largely sated by these experiences, we departed for Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where we limited ourselves to what is billed as the Wildlife Drive. Mistake. If you want to see what this Refuge has to offer, you’ll have to do it on foot. The Wildlife Drive looks like a narrow gravel road running among bushes and trees for it’s entire distance. Nothing to see. There are foot trails; check the map carefully to find them. The oddest thing was that these signs appeared throughout the drive:

We still haven’t figured out what you would dig for but it must be a real problem because there were a lot of signs. We were pretty disappointed in this experience, but it did not detract from the cool stuff in Neabsco. And, yes, the featured image at the top of this post, butterfly on flower, was taken there.

An Uncensored View of Facebook “Censorship”

I have no problem with a social media platform that, having given the multitudes free rein to publish their views for others to see, has finally decided to address the use of the platform for promoting false information about, among other things, public health, politics, public policy issues (guns, for example). The attempt to prevent the use of these generally free platforms to spread disinformation is not subject to “free speech” principles under the First Amendment that only relates to government action. In fact, and in law, attempts to have the government interfere with the content-control policies of private platforms are themselves, in most cases, in conflict with the First Amendment.

The issues are complex, obviously. To some of us, there are some “opinions” that simply are based on false ideas and platforms do not have to serve as passive instruments for the spreading of such information. Examples abound but certainly include the QAnon conspiracy theory, the claim that the 2020 election was rife with fraud and the claim that the January 6 attack on the Capitol was not actually Trump supporters but was BLM and other left-wing groups pretending to be Trump supporters.

On that latter issue, I cannot fail to note the “reasoning” behind the Trumpers’ argument that the winners of the election, disguised as Trump supporters, tried to stop the certification of the Biden victory and install the person those left-wing groups despise the most as president and dictator. As one Twitter meme notes, to believe that takes a special kind of stupid.  Nevertheless, it appears that many Americans have convinced themselves that the claim is true. Facebook, in my view, has no obligation to allow the propagation of such nonsense by permitting postings containing that claim.

Now, considering what I’m about to tell you, you may chuckle to yourself and think, “well, wise guy, you got hoisted by your own petard,” because Facebook has “censored” one of your posts. Ha ha ha.

It is true that Facebook “unpublished” one of my posts. It was this one: Time for Strong Action Against Unruly Air Travelers, https://bit.ly/38m76Zb Facebook said the post violated its Community Standards because it was “spam.” Facebook defines “spam” this way:

We don’t allow people to get likes, follows, shares or video views in a way that’s misleading to others.

We define spam as things like:

·      Repeating the same comment

·      Getting fake likes, follows, shares or video views

·      Coordinating likes and shares to mislead others about the popularity of something

At that point in the Facebook process, you are given two choices: Back or Continue. Choose Continue and you get this gem:

You disagreed with the decision

We usually offer the chance to request a review, and follow up if we got decisions wrong

We have fewer reviewers available right now because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. We’re trying hard to prioritize reviewing content with the most potential for harm.

This means we may not be able to follow up with you, though your feedback helps us do better in the future.

Thank you for understanding.

Here you have one “choice:” Close.

So, Facebook has blocked the post but has no process by which to question that action. But, hey, thanks for understanding.

There are many aspects to this. First, the post was placed on my blog on May 25 and was placed on Facebook manually by me that same day per my usual practice. The notice from Facebook announcing my “violation” arrived August 26. I have no idea when the public’s view of the post was blocked. Facebook doesn’t know, doesn’t care.

Second, there is no plausible way that Facebook’s “system” could rationally conclude that the post in question was a repeat comment (I post each blog post manually on Facebook in two distinct places – my timeline and, if and only if relevant to the purposes of the group, to a private group of which I am a member; I have done this dozens of times and never been challenged by Facebook for duplicate postings).

Third, the post in question was simply placed on Facebook by inserting the link to it. No rational inference could be drawn that doing so was for the purpose of “Getting fake likes, follows, shares or video views,” whatever that means.

Fourth, there is no evidence, because it did not happen, that I tried “coordinating likes and shares to mislead others about the popularity of something.” I would have no idea how to do that even if I wanted to. And I don’t. The item was posted to be read by those interested.

It is a fact, however, that the post about unruly air passengers is the third most-read post since I started the blog. The explanation for that is simple: air travel is a popular subject, many of my followers are in the travel industry and … never mind, it’s just too obvious.

So, what are we left with as the explanation for Facebook’s delayed “decision” to “unpublish” my post is one thing: INCOMPETENCE. The so-called artificial intelligence that manages the Facebook censorship process is simply unable to do its job properly.

Is this better or worse than the purposes attributed to Facebook by many on the political right and the political left who claim every day that Facebook is engaged in some pernicious politically motivated campaign to stifle the views of the [insert ‘right’ or ‘left’ here]? I don’t know.

It’s dangerous, of course, to generalize from a single experience, but the Facebook action to bury my post seems blatantly unreasonable and downright stupid. It would be silly to think that Facebook’s algorithms were written to promote dangerous behavior on airplanes. Not even the most dedicated QAnon believer would …. well, those people might believe it but no one else would.

The action could not be the product of conscious thought by a rational person or “reviewer” as Facebook calls them. The post related to a public policy problem – a growing number of air travelers refusing to comply with flight crew instructions and airline policies regarding, among other things, wearing of masks to combat the spread of COVID. The passengers in question have engaged in various acts of violence that have, among other things, threatened the safety of aircraft in flight. Serious stuff. Some of them are being visited by huge fines for their misconduct. My argument was that the government should crack down even harder on that behavior. I proposed several additional policy actions that could help.

For some inexplicable reason, Facebook rates that as “spam.”

The most disturbing aspect of this, beyond the plain stupidity of it, is that Facebook has essentially said, “we’re too short-handed here to review your objection to our action, so… get lost. Thanks for understanding.” Not a chance.

Facebook’s financial statements for 2020 show more than $85 billion in Gross Revenue, an increase of 22 percent over 2019; Income from Operations up 36%; Operating Margin of 38%; Net Income up 58% and Provision for Income Taxes -58%. That’s right. Taxes down 58% with income up 58%.

If it chose to do so, Facebook can afford to hire more reviewers so that it’s “decisions” to block content are not merely arbitrary and capricious, yet it chooses to say, “so sorry, we’re short-handed so drop dead.” This strategy may work in the short term – it is in fact working now – but I question whether it’s viable in the long-term. On the other hand, this approach to business has worked for many giant companies in the past for extended periods. See Climate Change. Until, usually, competition did them in or forced major changes in how they do business. See American Automobile Companies. Time will tell about Facebook.

Meanwhile, yes, I am posting this post on Facebook. We’ll see what happens.

Mason Neck “State” Park

One of our former regular go-to outdoor places is Mason Neck State Park [https://bit.ly/3m3qFh8] which is technically in Lorton, VA, but for us is just a drive out Route 1 (Richmond Highway) and Gunston Road – total distance from our place is about an hour’s drive (40 minutes, in theory, for high risk drivers using I-395). “State” is in quotes because the Park is also the Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, which means my National Parks Lifetime Senior Pass is accepted for entry.

We returned there a couple of weekends ago. We chose to walk the one-mile Bayview Trail this time and had a remarkable experience, spying a number of forest creatures and some interesting trees as well. We encountered one of the rangers near the end of our walk and had an interesting discussion with her about the natural inhabitants of the park.

Here is a sample from our short walk.

A final word about the tree with carved initials. PLEASE don’t desecrate the forest this  way. You could kill a tree by exposing its inner systems to disease and insect attacks. If you see someone doing this to a tree, anywhere, take their picture if you can and report them to the appropriate authorities. Let’s keep our natural places as natural as possible so that everyone can enjoy them.

 

A Walk in the Park

 

Having barely survived the restraints of the pandemic in New York City before returning to Washington, we crave the outdoors, subject, of course, to the constraints of the insufferable heat and humidity. Fortunately, the area writ large has much to offer. One of our favorites has been Huntley Meadows in Alexandria. We returned there a couple of times in recent weeks, following an earlier visit when the plants were still dormant and it was cold, very cold. If you go in winter, wear warm clothes.

The recent trips were a cornucopia of delights, some of which are revealed by these photos, a small sample. The lead-in from the parking lot is a nice flat stroll on a fine-gravel path winding through tall trees and swamp-like undergrowth, in which you may see an occasional bird, but the goods lie ahead — when you enter the boardwalk.

You must pay attention to the near and the far to catch some of the remarkable sights.

More on the beaver in a moment. The turtles that inhabit Huntley Meadows can grow to surprising size but are hard to spot among the dense vegetation that surrounds the boardwalk. So too are the frogs whose relentless chorus you may hear, especially near evening:

The entire acreage of Huntley Meadows is covered with Swamp Roses that resemble hibiscus:

There are, however, many other beautiful flowers, sometimes hidden among the more prominent species:

The biggest treat for us are the foraging birds, who grow to shocking sizes, and the beaver on the special occasions when they fearlessly go about their business:

We’ve never had a boring visit to Huntley Meadows. Highly recommended. Best to go early or late because the parking lot can get crowded. And please leave a dollar or two in the box provided. Keep the beauty going.