“Art can soothe, it can inspire, but it also stirs heated passions and outright protest. Why does that happen, and why in some cases but not others? That’s the subject of the new book, ‘Not Here, Not Now, Not That! Protest Over Art and Culture in America.'”

For a PBS transcript of that topic, or even a video clip, you can read Conversation: Why Do Americans Protest Art?

I was immediately struck by a parallel question of my own. In Pakistan, why do they stone the rape victim?

It seemed obvious to me that overzealous righteousness has everything to do with it: the god-given notion that we have the right to define what offends us personally as an offense to the very universe, and that we somehow then acquire the divine right to mete out retribution of our own choosing without benefit of judge, jury, trial or verdict.

They are in this country illegally; they deserve whatever we can do to them. If an official suspects a person of wrongdoing, it should be OK to detain them indefinitely without charges or a hearing. My neighbor is voting Republican; he must be a very bad person. The Jones are voting Democratic; see how they have renounced the American Way.

When we think about The Crusades, the Holocaust, Little Rock, Matthew Shepard, the Jihads or the Salem witch trials, there looms a very real sense in which the greatest evils of mankind come not from unguarded sin, but from unbridled righteousness.

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The Little Old Lady and the Dog – a Modern Parable

I have one or two friends who are fond of forwarding “loaded” jokes of the variety that, on one level, seem to be straightforward humor or truism, but with a second layer of gratuitous and purely political invective grafted on. Somehow, these unfailingly parrot the far end of the “right-wing” political party line, with which I find myself currently and profoundly disaffected. After receiving one more of those from a friend with just such a penchant for politically-hijacked “jokes,” I wrote this up and almost did a “reply-all” to chain letter and all its recipients with my own composition below attached. But, proving a point, by embarrassing my friend in front of all his other friends, is just not worth ending a 55-year friendship — even though it’s true enough that I am always in the right, whereas he is always 100% in the wrong and never has a leg to stand on. So I will just share this with you as food for thought, Dear Readers, and let it go at that.

The Little Old Lady and the Dog

There was this little old lady Gladys who went for a walk with her Yorkshire terrier. Along the way, she met her old friend Mrs. Gunderson, who said, “Why hello Gladys, how good to see you again, how are you?”

Gladys said, “I am fine, I am very glad to see you, and I do so want to tell you about my new little dog Herriot! But I must say how very upset I am about how all these Liberals are trying to wreck the country with equal this and equal that and tax the rich and spend spend spend. Land sakes, there they go again, trying force all these illegals down our throats and expecting us to like it, can you imagine? Next thing you know they’ll be wanting to marry. They’re just awful! Now just look at how they’ve ruined our school system: why, kids can’t even count change properly like we could when we were their age, not of course that I would stoop to count change out to some … some commoner! Everything we did in the day was superior to anything they’re doing today. You didn’t catch US spending all day texting and surfing the internet! And, when we wanted to make money, we’d go out out and earn it the tried-and-proven hard way, honest money every penny of it, devoting lifetimes of sheer hard work and loyal drudgery to a single at-will employer … if, of course, we didn’t marry into the right circles soon enough – my dear, how is that husband of yours doing in what, that clerical position of his? You do look a little harried today! No no, you didn’t catch any of us growing so-called “startups,” they call them now, peddling IPO’s while still in their teen years, and retiring as billionaires in their mid-twenties! And they’re all these damn Nancy Pelosi Liberals, you know, every single last one of them, who will try to twist the conversation around into the Environment when all we’re discussing is how to make a $20 profit on a truckload of old-growth redwood. They’ll take a simple innocent declarative sentence like this one and embroider and embellish it until it sounds like Al Gore’s Sermon on the Mount! Who the blazes do they think they are? They act like they’re so high-falutin’ SUPERIOR when in fact you or I have more superiority in our little fingers than they have in their amply fat Burger King rear ends, my dear! And, let me tell you another thing, they complain like crazy when we try to tell our side, the real truth of the story, and they LAUGH at us like we’re demented old coots when we try to warn them of the many evils of their godless ways. If there’s one thing I just don’t like, it’s their little smug, defamatory, self-righteously hostile attitudes. If the misbegotten little shits can’t be forced to listen to reason, why don’t they all go back where they came from?”

Mrs. Gunderson said, “Why my dear Gladys, this is all well and fine, I’m sure! But what about your darling little Yorkie?”

Gladys said, “Oh, Mrs. Gunderson, my goodness, he’s not important; he’s just along for the walk — don’t you see, dear? The important thing is for us to be ready to take any conversation, situation or scenario and turn it into a venue for righteous political agenda.

©Alexander Forbes and www.summitlake.com December 7, 2011
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Letter to a Cousin

I’ve lately been corresponding with a long-lost cousin, and we’ve been doing the catch-up thing on families, family trees and personal notes. She’s a happily married mathematician and educator in the northwest. As many Summitlake.com readers know, I’m a sixty-something retired gay man who lost a life partner to cancer in 2005, and a Vietnam vet. So, my cousin wrote me today commenting, among other things, on the recent end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. She also remarked “I am very discouraged about politics.”

“Nickie” is my late brother who came out as gay in the military in 1964. He was a blazing meteor who extinguished his own life soon thereafter as he slammed face-first into the world of that era.

I’m not much for sharing private correspondence. It still occurred to me I had written some encouraging words for my cousin which might serve as a heartening reminder to all of us: while the pace of change often seems maddeningly slow, it’s happening all around us faster than we can usually appreciate. Following is an excerpt from my letter:

It’s not whether we’re as good with words as we might wish, it’s whether we take the chance to express them. As far as I’m concerned your thoughts were well stated and heartfelt – and isn’t that more substantive than the clever TelePrompTer turns of phrase we hear on TV? Thanks for everything you said … it’s one thing to read supporting viewpoints in the media from strangers you don’t even know, but another to hear it from friends and relatives who may not necessarily be personally invested in the issues, but choose to be anyway!

Oddly, my reaction to the end of Don’t ask Don’t Tell seemed almost anticlimactic, but I’m sure that’s only because I waited so long for it, and was never sure I’d actually see it. What the President and Joint Chiefs did was courageous. It was a remarkable “right thing” in an age of expediency.

Nickie had a flair for reducing complex social issues to a single insight, and I often wonder how he would have handled issues of today. Remembering that when WE were young Rock ‘n Roll music was just being born, Nickie’s comment on Elvis and the whole youth music phenomenon was: “Rock ‘n Roll: bubble gum cartoons for the ears.” Nickie liked classical music, particularly the harpsichord music of Bach, Couperin, Vivaldi and others. Although he showed no discernable interest in math, he never seemed to struggle with it as I did, and his music indicates he had the mind of a mathematician or scientist at any rate!

Your comment “I am very discouraged about politics” was touching to me although it seems much of our country is united if only in that one sentiment, which I share. But I must admit that I stop and look back at all that has happened in the world since I was a little kid, back in the days I’d sit on our yard swing wondering how the world would turn out. We have to admit there must be room for cautious optimism if not outright enthusiasm:

Men on the moon, the collapse of the Soviet Regime and rebirth of modern Russia, the end of the Cold War and nuclear holocaust threat we all grew up under, the Civil Rights Act and movements, women’s lib and equality in the workplace, the communications and information explosion, secrets of the cosmos …

… Arab Spring, for showing that social media nullifies government propaganda once and for all, for showing that people worldwide want the same things, and for dramatizing the great gulf between governments and the governed …

And now gays in the military, which Nickie should have been alive to see. We are very fortunate to have witnessed these things in our time. I have this odd feeling Nickie would have been very proud of us, even though nations, like older brothers, sometimes seem to take so very long …



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April Nights

It’s 8:00PM and 80 outside tonight in Phoenix. But it’s still April. It’ll be down to the low sixties by midnight. A perfect evening to open the windows and let in all that free air conditioning.

I notice our Summitlake.com Home Page hit counter crept up over one million today. Holy cow, how did that happen? We’ve only been open for business here (so to speak) since 1995. So, even though I’ve been working on my BIO and haven’t posted a lot in the last month, folks are still coming to Summitlake.com. I hope you liked my recent ramble, “Golden Age of Rail.”

My BIO is coming along fine. All the autobiographical content is there. Editing my own writing is a lot harder than editing someone else’s, but I get far fewer complaints.

Nothing on TV tonight, which is good, actually. All my magazine subscriptions come to Phoenix now, and I’ve almost caught up on my reading. That’s good too, because I brought along a book I want to read when I have a nice chunk of uninterruptible time.

I caught one of those introspective pieces The New Yorker is so fond of publishing. I can rarely quite get into that genre. You know: the author looking at his life qua author, him writing about him writing it, comparing himself and his fears and aspirations to those of other authors living and dead, and re-living the trials and exaltation of writing about it as one’s own critic and obituary writer, all wrapped up into one long drawn-out cackling echo of angst and self-doubt. “Spiegel im Spiegel” sums it up: a beautiful musical piece by Arvo Part whose title means “mirrors in mirror” in reference to what you see, looking at yourself with parallel mirrors positioned both front and back. It’s two sides of the same picture, but you get extra thumbnail prints.

The article itself isn’t really the item here, but it’s “Farther Away” by Jonathan Franzen, in the April 18 New Yorker. In fairness, it’s exceptionally well written; as you can tell I just couldn’t quite get into this bit of Byronic self-eulogy.

The one phrase that caught my eye was: “the California woman I live with …”

Okay girls, I bet I know what you’re thinking. Is she so unimportant she doesn’t even rate a name? Everybody else in the story has a name, dead or alive. Is this a throwback to my own parents’ generation when we still heard “the little women” and “the missus” a lot? This is a SURPRISING slip for an author. This author doesn’t give away his age, but Franzen’s somewhat younger than I am based on what he describes of his youth. I’m 67. Is this an anomaly, perhaps just a decent gesture of privacy for this unnamed woman in California he says he yearns to be with? Are we basing harsh judgement on the only one instance where he fails to supply a name, or on the dozens of other instances where he does?

In the last century we would frequently hear married men refer to their spouses as “my wife”, which doesn’t raise any flags until you finally realize they never mention their wives’ names at all. It was a consistent pattern with some men, though never with others, who would always be heard to say “Mary” to the point where you’d pick up who “Mary” was just by context. “My wife” wasn’t an age thing either. I had one married friend ten years my junior who always said “my wife”, and I would tease him about that in earshot of his wife, and the mannerism still remained a complete compulsion with him.

In the case of The New Yorker author Franzen, we may never know for sure, but I’m betting he should have just written “the California woman I used to live with …”

No, still no TV tonight, but I do have the FM radio on, and that’s always tuned my favorite classical station, KBAQ 89.5.  I rarely go to any theater performance, and I am not normally a fan of critics’ reviews. I do have to make an exception for one Chris Curcio, KBAQ’s Theater Critic. I heard the following this afternoon.

You owe it to yourself to check out the KBAQ link to the audio review below. Chris Curcio has an unusually well modulated speaking voice and remarkably succinct and to-the-point commentary, backed up with ample examples of exactly what he’s asserting. Everything about his reviews (normally a very boring event for most of us) is fascinating to listen to. He doesn’t beat around the bush. He awarded this play below zero points out of five, and his review is without doubt the funniest review I have ever heard or read in my life, besides being one of the best-articulated.

Circle Mirror Transformation“, audio file review by Chris Curcio (audio broadcast, April 25)



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Golden Age of Rail

Is the Golden Age of Rail really over for good? If the air passenger industry doesn’t reinvent itself soon, might rail again be the next really big thing?

I saw one of those grand old railroad nostalgia specials on PBS earlier this week. This one was America and the Passenger Train (Producer: Richard W. Luckin):

“This program traces the development of America’s passenger trains from 1830 to 2008 through interviews and vintage footage. Many leading experts from the railroad industry and railroad museums are interviewed – along with people who rode the 20th Century Limited, Super Chief, California Zephyr and the Daylight. Hosted by Tia Marier.”

I grew up right at the tilting-point of those great railroad days. The elegant 1920’s dining-car experiences you can watch on “Poirot” had already mostly disappeared. American rail still offered a luxury service for the well-heeled traveler right up to about 1970. And I was never “well-heeled” anyway.

But by 1970, the automobile and commercial air travel had cut so heavily into rail passenger revenues that many railroads just tossed in the towel. Some railroads hung in there for a while, feeling that even as a “loss leader” the elegance and leisure of rail travel was a great public relations boon.

It was, but it wasn’t enough. The glamor and excitement of air travel, coupled with half-day coast-to-coast travel, spelled doom for long-distance rail travel. People no longer had time to travel by train. Today, it’s theoretically possible for an executive to jet from San Francisco to New York, attend a short conference or board meeting, and jet home to San Francisco in time for dinner.

Theoretically possible, but dehumanizing. There are new barriers and obstacle courses for air travel that didn’t exist two decades ago. Add an extra hour of wait time at each airport, security checks, baggage delays, penurious overhead luggage storage, hidden extra fees for pillows, blankets, soft drinks and suitcases, a generally indifferent and sometimes hostile airline service bureaucracy, and unscheduled flight delays and cancellations. What you have is a disenchanted public and a formula for the next great revolution in travel, whatever that may be.

There’s no question airlines are feeling the pinch of fuel costs. We all are, But the industry’s troubles started way back when oil was well below $60 a barrel, not $100+ as it is today. “The economy” or not, airlines manufactured most of their own problems.

I shuttled back and forth from my Bay Area to Phoenix for over two decades. Apart from infrequent “frequent flyer” upgrades to First Class, I traveled in Steerage, or whatever euphemism they were currently applying to the cattle-car section of the main cabin. I’m only 5’8″ and 150 pounds, yet economy air seats were uncomfortably cramped even for me. I found the last several years of this to be really quite dreadful. One thing all we passengers loved to talk about was the deterioration of air service.

My long-distance rail travel was limited to an aged troop train during the Cuban Crisis, hardly illustrative of the Golden Age of rail travel. But I used and liked “light rail” a lot in the 1990’s; the SF Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) was a generally delightful experience. What I liked about it: you got on your train, traveled to your destination, and got off the train again. It’s that simple.

And who, desiring to hop BART from Oakland to San Francisco, has ever had to shop Travelocity to get the best price for a ticket? If you look at USAir quotes for a no-frills flight to Phoenix over the period of a few weeks, you’ll see what a shell game the ticket pricing racket really is. And we’re their “marks.”

Air travel has something in common with CostCo, apart from the difference that CostCo employees are polite. Sure, you can save money at a CostCo, particularly if you spend a lot there, but there’s one thing you cannot claim. No one has ever parked at a CostCo, dashed in to buy an item, and dashed back out again. That huge warehouse selection means endless corridors in a vast enclosed space, pushing carts for miles and miles “just looking” for your shopping list, and long lines at the check-outs. Airports are designed for compartmentalized efficiency. Think of a REALLY huge warehouse containing a Home Depot, CostCo, Safeway, and a Fry’s Electronics, and you have an idea of what the modern airport is really about. It is NOT designed for passenger convenience.

Call me disenchanted, disaffected, or disgruntled. For my money, the commercial airline industry can abandon interstate air passenger traffic – something it hasn’t been very good at for over 20 years – leaving it free to concentrate on air freight, the more lucrative and uncomplaining cash cow.

This is exactly what the railroads had to do half a century ago, though for different reasons. Is it too much to hope we’ve come full circle?

Would the next big thing be high-speed rail? At 220-360 mph, a bullet train will never beat a 600 mph jetliner to the destination, but when you factor in terminal delays and flight cancellations, it comes close. There are more security options, too, including disconnecting the locomotive entirely. A terrorist can’t just hijack a railroad train and crash it into a World Trade Center. If someone pulls the emergency cord, all the passengers can just get off: what are terrorists supposed to do about that? “Take me to Cuba”: not spoken on the rail lines.

You can also electrify rail lines and run them on clean renewable energy. Air traffic consumes tanker-loads of fossil fuels. Aviation will be the last  sector of the energy economy to be switched over, if ever.

Think about rail. There is just something really dangerously attractive about getting on, traveling to your destination, and just getting off again.

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It’s The Little Things, 2011


  • The little 9.5 ounce glass-bottled Starbucks Frappuccino bottles. Not a bad little designer dessert. The real item: they look like miniature milk bottles from the 1950’s. Do you realize how rare any kind of glass bottle has become?
  • Using sunlight and exhaust fan heat from the PC’s to warm rooms while cutting down on the winter utility bills.
  • House Republicans, for on January 6 reading the entire U.S. Constitution on the floor, except for unsavory parts previously amended, such as the three-fifths of a person slave census, fugitive slave laws, and exclusion of ordinary citizens from directly voting for their Senator. This selflessly noble grandstanding demonstrated once and for all a firm dedication to securing a just and rightful exclusive copyright monopoly on Liberty, while proving resolute commitment to lead, by example, the nuts and bolts exercise of real statesmanship and legislative productivity.


  • The e-mail etiquette of acquaintances who flood your in-box with jokes and “you’ll appreciate this” forwarded email attachments, but who never write;
  • The e-mail etiquette of acquaintances who send you an email, and then phone up for an hour, to tell you they just sent you an email;
  • The e-mail etiquette of acquaintances who receive a note or inquiry from you, read it, say “oh that’s nice, look, I have mail”, and then respond by flooding your in-box with jokes and “you’ll appreciate this” forwarded email attachments.
  • Classical radio stations that can’t decide which is the better and really timeless classical icon, Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, or the theme song from Harry Potter.

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Fw: Three Presidents did it

A lot of emotional emails are circulating right now about illegal immigration and the deportation of Mexican nationals. I recently received one. It pointed out that presidents Hoover, Truman, and Eisenhower all deported hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals. “The program was called ‘Operation Wetback’. It was done so WWII and Korean Veterans would have a better chance at jobs.”

That reminded me that there’s an extra element to this picture the emails weren’t telling us. I should know, because I experienced it first-hand. I turned that email around with the following anecdote.

Here’s something else very interesting that very few people know. It’s also a true story. It’s also about giving Americans a better chance for jobs.

After the Bracero program ended in 1964, a citrus growers association made a concerted effort to recruit college students to help with the summer fruit harvests in Southern California. At San Jose State College in 1966, I was one of many students who visited the recruitment booth to ask what kinds of summer jobs were available.

We were told frankly that the work was picking citrus, and pickers were paid by the basket. It was hard work, yes, but certainly nothing that physically fit young college students like us couldn’t handle. Why, even some much older workers were earning upwards of $50 a day (a lot of money for a student, in those days). And we were promised dormitories, hot meals and hot showers, evenings to ourselves, and free time to make interesting social connections after hours.

With no other job prospects in sight, I signed up. So did my friends Rich and Mike. We reported to old barracks near a lemon orchard in Oxnard, California. The work was so hard we had hardly energy to eat, shower and go to sleep after work, let alone socialize. The regular farm workers were willing to talk with us because they were curious why we would come to this place. We never saw any college students during our stay. The pay was 50 cents per bushel basket.

Basket tallies in the following daily summaries are approximate.

  • Day 1: Alex picks about 5 baskets, Rich 3, Mike about 2
  • Day 2: Alex picks 7 baskets, Rich 4. Mike stops trying, but hangs around in the orchard, just picking the single biggest lemon out of each tree.

“Hey, Meester!
“How many baskets you pick today?”
“Hey, Meester!
“You know you gonna starve!”

  • Day 3: Rich stops trying. Everybody waits for Alex to cave in. He picks 10 baskets, but is too tired to eat dinner.
  • Day 4: Alex quits 1st thing in the AM. We all go to the powers that be to resign. Our paychecks don’t even cover the bus fare back home.

It turned out we three were apparently the only college students the Association ever signed up for their program. I read a newspaper blurb some time later that they abandoned the college recruitment program. It was a total failure. They were never able to find American citizens willing and able to do this kind of work.

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The New York Times Crosswords

New York Times crosswordThis is about crossword puzzles and people who do them.

Maybe you hate crosswords but do them anyway. Might be,  you don’t even fit the crosswords profile. You’d be lucky.

Still, you’d be voluntarily depriving yourself of the vicarious companionship of crossword-fan celebrities like Bill Clinton, Ken Burns and Jon Stewart.

Maybe you don’t care for a little adult language. This whole article may not be your cup of tea. Disclaimer: it’s about crosswords, fergawdsakes. Listen, there are actually some good articles on this site, or, you could just change the channel.

While we’re waiting for the room to clear, you two folks could move up here to the front row seats, and I won’t have to shout.

On September 1, PBS ran “Wordplay”, an “Independent Lens” TV special on crossword addicts – and the New York Times crossword puzzle in particular. We met the legendary Will Shortz, New York Times Crossword Editor, and Merl Reagle, one of the most distinguished of many notable crossword “constructors”.
Continue reading

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Notes From All Over – or Not

I was reading a New Yorker article about Afghanistan. A successful independent radio and TV network there was said to receive grants from foreign governments and N.G.O.’s. All right, I’ve seen the abbreviation before, but could only guess it meant “non-government organization”. So I was goaded into looking it up on Wikipedia:

A non-governmental organization (NGO) is a legally constituted organization created by natural or legal persons that operates independently from any

There you go. Too bad we can’t Google magazine pages directly. No, I am not getting an iPad.

Getting to “or Not”, I’m always on the lookout for new gas stations on my road trips. I like to get in and out fast, so am willing to try stations a bit to the left of “off the beaten track”. That means making some mistakes, too.

NOT: Shell station, Lebec, California (I-5, on the grade up to Gorman). They boast two stations, a Shell and a Chevron. I tried Shell first. Red flags on all the credit card scanners: “Out of Order. Please prepay at cashier’s.” You know what that means: underpay, and you resume your trip with less than a full tank. Overpay, and you get to make another trip inside, stand in line again, and watch them figure out how to give you your change or modify a debit or charge. SO: I crossed the road to the other station.

NOT: Chevron station, Lebec, California. This one was cleaner and friendlier, but the pump LCD displays were absolutely illegible. I couldn’t get the pump to dispense. I had to go in and see the clerk. This is kind of rare, because I’ve been doing this for over forty years. She asked me if I hit the CANCEL button on my debit transaction when I couldn’t get the gas to pump. No. I had never had to do that before. She asked me if I lifted up the lever under the nozzle handle. Sheepishly: No. The newer pumps do this automatically, and I had gotten out of that habit.

The nozzle still didn’t pump well. I had to milk the handle trigger to get something approximating a full tank. The clerk had been very polite, but it’s not likely I’ll stop in Lebec again.

NOT: Lamont, California (about 10 miles north of Lebec, June trip). This town has one gas station that I could find. All I remember about it (or want to) was that the parking was practically non-existent, and you have to get a key to use the one tiny restroom. I think they were charging about $3.89 a gallon, too. Far be it from me to inconvenience them again.

NOT: Blythe, California (1st offramp).  It seems that I had been to BB Travel Center before, but something had changed, and it was in the air that you breath (or not), not the air in your tires. There are better stations in Blythe for those who can wait the extra few minutes to take the second or third offramp (or just drive across the Colorado River into Arizona and save over 20 cents a gallon). But I had to, well, I was anxious to make a stop as soon as possible. Something wasn’t right about this place. As soon as I opened the door to the “Travel Center”, I was hit with a heavy whiff of the problem. I surmised a pipe must have broken, specifically the one that empties into the sewer system or septic tank.  To my immense relief, it wasn’t in the restroom. There was an old gent eating lunch at a table near the door. The smell was still enough to gag a maggot. The old gent appeared not to notice. That doesn’t speak too highly for the quality of the food fare.

YES: I’m a fan of the PBS’s Poirot series, originally dramatized in Agatha Christie’s mystery novels, which I have never read, but now surely intend to. The PBS TV series stars David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. Suchet does such a delightful job in this unique role, and I never miss a showing if I can possibly help it. Tonight Suchet did a one-hour PBS “Masterpiece” special as himself, not as Poirot: David Suchet on the Orient Express. The Orient Express has been in service for about a hundred years, and ran for most of those years from Paris to Istanbul. Service was extended from the UK after completion of the “chunnel”. It rode for the last time in 2009. The TV show explained how the elegantly restored old railcars corresponded exactly to the passenger seating and sleeping compartments on Agatha Christie’s actual train trip. She got the details down exactly for the famous thriller novel. And David Suchet was as refined and personable as the Poirot character he plays, if not more so. A perfect TV special for train buffs, Christie fans, history hounds and anyone looking for one hour of very solid and informative entertainment.

YES: In that vein, I also enjoy Martin Clunes in Doc Martin, and he did a one hour special last month, in which we again get to be introduced to the actor as a person. Clunes toured countryside and oceanside  settings of England and Scotland, offering a thoroughly delightful hour of personality and travelogue. If you know the TV series, “Doc Martin” is a brilliant physician and means well, bringing to the show a monomaniacal devotion to the arts of healing and diagnostics, and a TV personality as thoroughly and insensitively abrasive as you might have the good fortune, in real life, to be exposed to only once in a lifetime. One desperately wants to like Doc Martin, but his embarrassing behavior is suspiciously like Asperger’s syndrome as one character in the show finally suggested. Somehow, he always gets past that to do the right thing, which is why I like the show. Martin Clunes (actor as a person) is winningly likable and personable. Like Suchet, it makes one appreciate how much real acting skill has been required to deliver to the audience such convincingly eccentric yet brilliant roles.

THE WEATHER here in Phoenix, officially 106F today, “about average” for this day and month. I arrived yesterday afternoon. The shock of walking from the air conditioned car into a 100-degree house is just wilting. A dip in the pool helped, but I felt like I was in shock for most of the evening. What you do, down here, is turn on the AC and let it cool down to 78-84 (78 the first day, to get used to it, and gradually adjust it up during the course of the week). If you shoot for much more than a 25 degree indoor/outdoor differential, the AC will run pretty much continuously, and you’ll pay for that in the utility bill, if not a huge repair bill. What I still can’t wrap my mind around: I can afford to cool the house down to about 80, in the summer, which is warmer than I can afford to heat the northern California apartment up to, in the winter.

Monsoon season is almost here. 10% chance of T-showers this weekend. Yippee!

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  • Site Outage Reminder: our web host provider is taking our site offline for a four-hour outage, sometime Sunday evening or the early hours of Monday morning.
  • Gasoline Taxes: according to the American Petroleum Institute, Californians pay the highest gasoline tax per gallon of any state in the nation, above even Hawaii and New York. In cents per gallon (selected states):  CA- 48.6, HI-45.1, ME-31.0, MA-23.5, AZ-19.0, MO-17.3, WYO-14.0.
  • Due Diligence: There’s a reason why professional pollsters don’t hire drunks in internet chat rooms to conduct their polls. The next time you receive an e-mail poll, petition or “statement”, you can certainly chuck it into the junk mail or trash. But what if you think you approve? Unless you make a habit of doing everything others tell you to do, don’t just “SEND THIS ON TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW”. Research it yourself. Are the claims true? To debunk urban myths,  www.snopes.com is a good place to start. Don’t embarrass yourself by unwittingly forwarding internet trash mail!
  • Dark matter: Yep, astrophysicists think the Hubble Space Telescope has photographed it, and they think they know what it may be. You’ve seen photos of those squiggly lines in “bubble chambers” – the impact area of high energy particle colliders, cyclotrons and atom-smashers? This high-energy shower of subatomic sparks doesn’t just evaporate. Accumulated over the 13.7 billion year lifespan of our universe, from all of the collisions and supernovas that ever existed, we may have found the “smoking gun” responsible for an expanding universe.

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