Monday, February 29, 2016

leaping back into the groove

Last evening brought us back into the reality of where we live and away from a carefree European vacation..... It also brought the televised Academy Awards into millions of homes, including ours, which means my self-imposed pressure to see nominated films is over for another ten months or so.

And, thinking about the Oscar voters' usual tendencies, I shouldn't have been surprised that Spotlight won Best Picture over The Revenant, which is a much more ambitious and accomplished film:  They love giving the Best Picture Oscar to a "message" film instead of a  movie that relies on what some would see as excessive brutality and violence.

The Oscar telecast in general?  They just aren't as much fun as they used to be.  Chris Rock as host was just sort of "meh".  Leonardo DiCaprio's acceptance speech was probably the highlight.

So we settle back into that once-every-four-years extra day of February, of which I have little to say this year.  I'd like to have extra days in every month's calendar, let's stretch them all out.

I decided to look back at my Leap Year blog post four years ago today, which ironically leads back to my blog post eight years ago today.  Here's the link:

So, if you are reading this today, 29 February 2016, Happy Leap Day!  If you are reading this sometime after today, Happy Whatever Day It Is!

Sunday, February 28, 2016


Jerry and I are, as I write this, enjoying a cheesesteak during a layover in Philly before we board our flight home following what is destined to be a memorable trip with Mary and Rebecca to the UK and Ireland.  We accomplished a lot in ten days and covered a lot of ground and a variety of experiences. While it was still fresh in our minds, I had each of us, as we sat at the Dublin Airport, write down our favorite five things from the trip (in no particular order).  Here's what we individually came up with:

Mary (my sister):  1). An overnight in a castle (Thornbury Castle in Thornbury, England);  2). Abbey Road (the crosswalk where the Beatles crossed on their album cover) in London;  3). Buckingham Palace, London;  4). Harrods Department Store, London;  5). Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, London.

Rebecca (my niece):  1). The Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff, Wales;  2). The gin and tonic at the Six Bells Inn in Colerne, England;  3).  Abbey Road; 4). The Camden Town neighborhood of London;  5). The Tower of London.

Jerry (my other half):  1). The pot stickers at a corner shop in Chinatown, London;  2). Riding "The Tube" (London's subway system);  3). Thornbury Castle;  4). Camden Town, London;  5). Meeting the owner and chef at the Six Bells Inn in Colerne.

Howard (that's me):  1). Abbey Road;  2). The Tom Dixon Cafe at Harrods Department Store;  3).  The Temple Bar in Dublin;  4). Seeing "The Book of Mormon" in London;  5). The Tower of London.

So ends a great trip and my little travelogue about it -- except for maybe some photos I might add once I get back to my laptop.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

the Dublin vibe

No, I hadn't ever been to Dublin -- or anywhere in Ireland, for that matter -- but, based on who-knows-what, I had pictured Dublin as a place of escape someday to write "my book".  Maybe it's the history of writers coming from here -- James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, etc. -- or maybe it was the city's image of unprentiousness, leaving the imagination to explore and just be focused on LIFE.  And, if a person is going through a writer's block, take a break down at the corner pub and be reinvigorated while having a Guinness with friendly mates.

Dublin, as it turns out, feels good, a place where I could hang out for a long time.  There's the history, the grittiness, the friendliness.  Maybe I'm connecting to the Irish blood in me -- and I don't know for sure what that percentage is, but it's fairly substantial.

Unlike London, which is much bigger than Dublin and could keep you busy for weeks just seeing the "must-sees", this is a fairly compact city without a lot of tourist distractions. Take one of those "hop-on, hop-off" bus tours to get an overview of the city, figure out where you want to be, and walk the streets, taking in the Dublin vibe.

Our apartment is in the Temple Bar District, which is a vibrant fun area, named for the centuries-old Temple Bar, a sprawling pub that might be my favorite place in the city so far.

I for sure could stay in Dublin for an extended period and maybe even be inspired...

... but we go home tomorrow.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Howard ranks the Oscar nominees

Reporting direct from Dublin, Ireland --

And taking a break from my half-assed British Isles travelogue --

It's time for my annual rankings -- not predictions -- of this year's Oscar nominees, from my "most deserving of an Oscar" to  "what the heck is this movie doing on this list?".  I make it a point to see all Best Picture nominees, of which this year there are eight, and rate them from my slightly twisted and unscientific point of  view (but who cares, it's MY blog).  It usually means doing a binge in January and February, because I don't go the movies nearly as often as I used to.

Overall, I'm not excited or blown away by any of the nominated films, but tradition is tradition, so here goes:

1.  THE REVENANT.  This might be the first time I am picking the actual winner, although my blessing might be a jinx.  I didn't want to even see this movie because I knew there were some gory, bloody scenes -- definitely not my thing -- but I ended up being thoroughly engrossed and impressed by the overall picture:  the story, the acting, the cinematography.... Pretty amazing.  Oh yeah, I know -- "How did the guy not die from hypothermia ?"
2.  BROOKLYN.  This film is sort of the opposite of The Revenant -- quiet and sensitive.  Set in the early 1950s, it's the story of a young Irish woman who moves to the US to find opportunity and has to figure out where "home" really is.  Saoirse Ronan is terrific.  Beautifully filmed.
3.  THE MARTIAN.  Can you believe I ranked this mass-appeal outer space movie so high?  The story is crazy and far fetched , but Matt Damon and the disco music are great.
4.  SPOTLIGHT.  OK, back to a serious film.  It's the behind-the-scenes-at-the-Boston-Globe intriguing story about the reporting of the priest/children sex abuse.  A good topic well done, to me just not outstanding filmmaking.
5.  BRIDGE OF SPIES.  I was thinking, oh here we go -- another Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks movie, but it's not bad.  Set in Cold War 1957, it's about the attorney trying to obtain the release of Francis Gary Powers, the US spy pilot shot down over the USSR.  The scenes set in "East Berlin" felt especially well-done and suspenseful.
6.  ROOM.  A small but good film.  The first half of the film is especially small since it takes place all in one room, a mother and young son.  Very well done.  The second half of the film is more like a Lifetime Movie of the Week.  Still, it's very worth seeing.
7.  THE BIG SHORT.  This is the story of the people who figured out the housing bubble of 2007.  I'm not a stupid, uneducated person, but much of the dialogue was incomprehensible to me since it had so much Wall Street insider lingo.  HBO could have done this one -- maybe better.
8.  MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.  So how the heck did this post-apocalyptic special effects car chase thing get nominated for Best Picture (Are they cars, or what?).  Since this is on On Demand now, I even sat through it a second time and still haven't quite figured out who the good guys are.  But the special effects and film editing are great.

Some picks in the other categories:
BEST ACTOR:  Leonardo DiCaprio for THE REVENANT.  He will finally get an Oscar.
BEST ACTRESS:  Saoirse Ronan for BROOKLYN.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:  Rooney Mara for CAROL (A film that should have been at least nominated for Best Picture).
BEST DIRECTING:  The guy with the unpronounceable, unspellable name, director of THE REVENANT.

Whew, that's it for another year.  The Oscars will be on television this Sunday night.


Tomorrow, I give my impressions of DUBLIN.  What a great city!

Thursday, February 25, 2016


The Wifi is working for the moment, so I'll sneak in a quick post.

In a few minutes, we leave Thornbury Castle, where we spent the night, and head over the river to Wales.  We're spending most of the day in the city of Cardiff, where Rebecca wants to go to "The Doctor Who Experience" (Who is Doctor Who, you ask?).  Then tonight we return our rental car and fly from Cardiff to Dublin, Ireland, where we will spend the next three nights.

It's been an awesome trip so far, and I'm hoping to love Dublin..  You'll hear from me if I do or don't.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

what, no text??

OK, here's the deal.  We are doing an overnight in the gatehouse of a very old castle -- Thornsbury Castle near Bristol, England, almost to Wales -- and the Wifi is on the fritz, so I can't use the iPad, which needs Wifi, so I am attempting to write this post on my iPhone, which is maddening, so if I drop off in mid-sentence, it's because I gave up and threw the phone out the window.  Speaking of sentences, wasn't that last one a doozy?  Don't you just love the English language?

If I had patience and stamina, I'd write something about our day today at Windsor Castle and Stonehenge and the beautiful English countryside and charming villages but

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

what, no photos??

What a fool I was, not bringing my laptop!  I mean, I know lugging a laptop around through airports and city streets is a drag, but, if you happen to be one of those no-life people  who reads my blog posts every day, I'm sure you're thinking, "Why does this dude drone on through his lame British travelogue without posting any pictures?"

Hence, the issue!  I just have my iPad, and I can't for the life of me get my photos to transfer over to my posts on it.  And now you're thinking, "Oh, you pathetic dork!  All you have to do is push this button or that button..."  Well, I've tried all those buttons and they don't work!  So I'll post my photos -- today that being Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, London Eye, Tower of London, etc. -- when I get back to my trusty laptop!

Or maybe I blame Blogger.  I knew I should have used Wordpress!  😢

Tomorrow I regret that we are leaving London -- I sure hope I get back here someday before I'm dead -- and heading by car in the direction of Wales.  Tonight will be our London theater night -- THE BOOK OF MORMON -- which I've seen once before and loved, but Mary and Becky haven't seen. I hope they can handle it!!

Monday, February 22, 2016

history, old and new and yet-to-come

With so much old history and ancient structures in a city like London, I was thinking, as we visited today the crosswalk known to the world as the street the Beatles were crossing in that photo on the cover of their album, ABBEY ROAD: here we are celebrating new history..... But then I realized, Hey, ABBEY ROAD was recorded almost 50 years ago -- not so new at all.  If my legs weren't already reminding me of old age, that thought would have done it.

A big topic right now here in the UK is whether to leave the European Union.  There is a referendum on this issue scheduled for June.  Honestly, I don't know the issues, but the whole concept of European Union has seemed a bit of a fragile political/economic concept anyway.  I'll check it out.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

18,041 while surrounded by englishmen

 I walked 18,041 steps today, or so the "health"/fit-bit app on my iPhone says.  It's London.  There is a lot of ground to cover, and we've covered a bare fraction of it.  The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.  Harrods Department Store.  Interesting streets.  People-watching. Lots more to see tomorrow and Tuesday, and, even though it's not my first time in London, none of it loses appeal.  It could be a great city to live in if a person could afford to do it right.  We don't get those choices.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

greetings from london

I'm not the travelogue sort of guy normally, but here we are in London and Mary and Becky have never been here, so we'll be doing some of the usual London tourist must-sees, so what the heck.

It was a night flight from Philly to London, so we arrived mid-morning to clouds and rain (Rain in England?  Big surprise!), all of us mostly exhausted having slept hardly at all.  We checked out our rental apartment (located in Chinatown, conveniently close to Leichester and Piccadilly), then cabbed over to Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum -- a Becky request because she wanted a photo of herself with the waxed Royal Family.

Well, the Madame Tussaud experience turned out to be more than I bargained for.  There was a two-hour wait in line just to get in, mobs of people (none older than myself) inside and out, and you know I don't do those scenes.  Then it was a couple hours (or so it seemed) of wandering through mazes of waxed famous people with hardly a place anywhere to sit and have a little rest.  What I'm saying is this:  I've finally caught up with my age.

Tomorrow Buckingham Palace and Big Ben and whatever else.  Pray for my survival!

Friday, February 19, 2016


Well, today's the day we head out of the country for a few days.  It feels like a good time to go.

First, though, we fly to Philadelphia, meeting up there with my sister Mary and niece Becky, where the four of us board our seven-hour flight to the wonderful city of London, England.

See you soon, mates!

London, here we come!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

'england swings like a pendulum do'

Sorry about posting a silly country song from 1965, but the tune popped in my mind as we pack for our flight to London tomorrow.

Jerry and I, along with my sister Mary and my niece Becky, are going to hang out in London for a few days, then swing through Wales, followed by a couple days in Dublin.  I've been in England once before, but this is my first time for Wales and Ireland.  For Mary and Becky, it's the first time in each.

Excited for the trip.  I'll blog throughout!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

what 2000 taught me

The 2000 Presidential election:  Al Gore vs. George W. Bush, with Green Party candidate Ralph Nader off to the side nipping at the ankles of Al Gore for not being left enough on certain issues, implying that there was no real difference between Gore and Bush.  Ridiculous, of course, but it was his way, I guess, of getting his issues into the national discourse.

There was a time, back in the '60s and '70s when I was a huge admirer of Nader, back when he had his book Unsafe At Any Speed, exposing the deceptions of the automobile industry and then later with his work on environmental issues.  But I'll never forgive him for being a spoiler in 2000.

The election turned out to be close.  Gore won the popular vote by half a million votes but lost in the electoral college, thanks to the conservative Supreme Court deciding that Bush had won Florida.  Bush went on to be a terrible President -- starting the Iraq War, wrecking the economy, etc.  Gore might not have been perfect -- and he certainly made some mistakes in his campaign -- but Nader without a doubt took away enough votes to give the election to Bush.  In my opinion, Nader has blood on his hands, and what good did he accomplish?

I guess my point is that pragmatism usually trumps pure idealism (Sorry to use the word "trump"!).  Our country needs a President elected to be President of the whole country and not just there to cater to his or her supporters.  A unifier, not a divider.  Both parties have immovable factions that are making divisions permanent and worsening.  There are problems to be solved, and cooperation is needed and seems out of reach, and I despair for what might be coming.

Examples of what I consider to be my pragmatic bottom line at the moment:  1)  Ted Cruz, even if in some horrific scenario he became President, there is no way he would be able to implement the oppressive theocracy that he wants.  Not in this diverse country.  2)  Bernie Sanders, even if he could find a way to win a general election, would never be able to replicate here the Scandinavian socialism that he preaches.  Not in this plutocracy.

Deal with the realities of what can be done and what can't be done in the here and now.  Don't waste your energy and your votes.

No politics tomorrow.  I promise.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

what 1968 taught me

Don't get nervous.  Not all of my posts are going to be political.  Give me this one and maybe one more, then I'll go on to another topic.  It's just that it won't be too many more months until I'm starting my eighth decade, and I have all this elderly-statesman wisdom to impart!

Picture it:  April 1968.  I get drafted into the Army at the height of the Vietnam War.  LBJ had just announced that he would not run for re-election so that he could theoretically concentrate on ending the war, a war that he had botched big time and that now most people (including me, of course) were against.  One of the main reasons I even let myself be drafted was because Bobby Kennedy was running for the Democratic nomination on a platform against the war and had an excellent chance of winning the general election in November, so the end of the war seemed to be in sight.

Early June 1968:  While I'm still struggling through Basic Training, Bobby Kennedy is assassinated in Los Angeles, throwing me and millions of other Americans into panic and grief.

June through November 1968:  Eugene McCarthy and, to a lesser extent, George McGovern step in to carry the anti-war banner and challenge the presumed mainstream candidate, Hubert Humphrey, an amazing public servant with experience second to none, who just happened to be in the awkward spot of being LBJ's Vice President at a time when Johnson's approval ratings were in the toilet.  The Party split, there were riots at the Democratic Convention, Humphrey was picketed by the McCarthy people throughout the campaign, and he lost to Richard Nixon by a small margin in November.

Hubert Humphrey, I have no doubt, would have made a great President.  Instead we got Nixon, ironically campaigning on a pledge to end the war, and he and his fellow criminal Henry Kissinger kept the Vietnam War going another six years or so, at the same time ruining Cambodia for at least a generation.

As much as I liked Gene McCarthy, did he and his we're-not-going-to-take-No-for-an-answer followers, by doing much harm to the Democratic nominee, help give the election to Nixon, thereby harming their own cause?  You tell me.

Monday, February 15, 2016

what 1964 taught me

I'm sort of amused (but not really) that Hillary Clinton is being attacked because she was a "Goldwater Girl" during the 1964 Presidential election between Senator Barry Goldwater and President Lyndon Johnson.  Her father was some sort of hotshot Republican, and at some time or other Hillary was photographed wearing a Goldwater campaign hat.  She was 17 at the time and didn't become a Democrat until several years later (This desperate attack comes from her opponent for the Democratic nomination, who ironically isn't a Democrat even now).

Why this is amusing for me is that I, at age 17 also, in my juvenile naivete, was an avid Goldwater fan, perhaps because he was plain-spoken and direct and perhaps because I didn't care for LBJ.  Goldwater was very right-wing (although not nearly as what the 2016 Republican Party has become) and split the moderate segment of the party.  His conservative purism led to a disastrous defeat in November.  Extremism in a two-party system rarely prevails.

By the time I was old enough to vote (age 21 back then), I had seen the light and had matured into a constantly-evolving Democrat, so I did no damage in the voting booth, at least.  I would say that "when I became a man, I put away childish things" (I Corinthians 13:11), but, to tell the truth, there are some childish things that I still like.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

does anybody blog anymore?

If I tell you that I am hereby reviving my blog, it's perfectly understandable if you say "How very 2009 of you!"  Blogging was a thing, then faded when along came Twitter, which is basically idiotic, and Facebook, where the only way to not piss off a friend is to just post photos of kids and dogs.

But I started this humble little blog in 2007, was fast and furious at it for a while, even posting 856 days straight from August 11, 2010, to January 2, 2013, and it has mostly suffered from benign neglect since then.

All it took was hearing a couple of people last week say that they missed my blog, and I look and see that the site has had more than 100,000 page views, some views still every single day, and I realize I need to get with it.  Besides that, there is a bunch of stuff I need to spout off about, and this is an outlet for some of that.  I realize that blogs can be pretty lame -- the whole reverse-chronology thing -- but, if you want to follow me, I'll try to be at least marginally entertaining, probably offensive at times.

I own the domain

and, if you go to that site in your browser, it will automatically forward you here to my blog,  It's just easier to remember.

Other reasons that I am getting back to blogging:
--  I need to rant about our embarrassing political system, religious extremism, and various other aggravations in our current world;
--  I have more spare time than I did in '13, '14 and '15;
--  I'm going to London next week and might want to post pictures;
--  Life is short -- every day is important -- and we need to celebrate even the small everyday pleasures;
--  Occasionally I might want to post pictures of kids and dogs!
--  I'm in the process of starting my book -- my "manifesto" -- and I need constant inspiration, and blogging helps me stay on track, even if nobody ever reads a single post.

But someone will.