Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Reading, a little.

You might think that because I'm retired now, I would have a lot of time to read these days.  Somehow the days go by and although I'm busy around the house, I haven't made much time to read.  I blame it on two things this past year; my double hernia surgery last summer which took me longer to fully from, and the shock of November 9th when it became fully apparent that the Russians had pulled off a stunning coup and our world had changed for the rest of our lives.  I read fourteen books, however, and discarding the two short, sketched-in-outline-of-the-conflict on WWI and WWII by the same cruising historian, here are the best half dozen in descending order, roughly.

Oswald's Tale by Norman Mailer.  Mailer was a great writer and this book was every bit as good as his Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Executioner's Song.  This book on Lee Harvey Oswald, a still-mysterious figure that, perhaps lone wolf style, changed US history forever with his assassination of President Kennedy.  (Think Vietnam, the Great Society, RMN, Watergate).  The book details Oswald's dreary and closely monitored (by the Russkies) time in the Soviet Union after he defected, and when he came back married to perhaps a KGB operative.  In short order this secretive, querulous lazy-bones drifter committed the most improbable crime of century.  It was an interesting book, Mailer came to no conclusion as to whether Oswald acted alone, he said--Maybe.  Mailer did, however, convince me in seven pages at the end of this tome that Jack Ruby probably acted on behalf of the mob to rub out Oswald.

Silas Mariner by George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans).  This short novel about a reclusive gold-hearted tailor is classic literature and tugs at your heart as all comes out right in the end.  It's depressing to think that in the nineteenth century women authors had to write under male names to get their books published, reviewed seriously and read.

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller.  This classic play introduced Willie Lomax to American lexicon, a prototypical loser, destroyed at the end, and full of closely guarded secrets as are several of his family members also.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  My reading of Victorian novels by female authors continues, they are all worthwhile and I wasn't exposed to them in my educational upbringing at an all-boys high school.  I read Dickens and my sisters read Bronte.  I loved Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (published under the pseudonym Ellis Bell) , which I read in 2015, and this was a good book too, especially the first half.  The incredible, improbable plot-driven coincidences piled up too high by the end for me to think this book is superior to her sister's stunning novel but it did give us the notion of the crazy relative in the attic.  Watch the 1943 movie starring Orson Wells and read the book and you'll be richly rewarded.

True Grit by Charles Portis.  A little known western novel that is totally engrossing.  Most people are familiar with the two cinematic adaptations, starring John Wayne or Jeff Bridges, both interesting in their own right, but this book will absorb you and is full of homilies and life truisms.

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte.  The least known of the Bronte sisters' novels, interesting and convoluted.  From hard beginnings, this governess persevered and prospered because of the wholeness of her staid character.  Is there a common theme running through the Bronte novels, do you suppose?  I just wish Emily had lived past age 30 and written at least a second novel.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017


Visitors came to town over the weekend to attend a wedding last Saturday, and I spent an enjoyable few hours on Sunday wandering on the Mall with my nephew John while his girlfriend, Gudrun, went to a brunch with the happy couple after she had met me at a restaurant.  It's been rumored to me that I'll be seeing these two again next summer in Chicago.  (In from Chicago.)

Me and John took a Lyft cab (are they called cabs?) to the eastern end of the Mall so I could show him the Library of Congress with its underground tunnel to the Visitor Center at the Capitol.  That was the first time I ever took a Lyft, or an Uber (is that how you term it?), so progress is being made on my part as I claw my way into the 21st century.  (Garfield statue at the base of Capital Hill.)

Since it was Sunday, both buildings were closed, so we ambled down Capital Hill to the National Museum of Art.  There my visitor showed me something that I didn't know was there, the 15 foot blue rooster on its roof.  Cool!  (But is it art?)

I know art when I see it.  We saw Monets, Van Goghs and beautiful statues in there.  (Walkin' the dog.)

We walked through my favorite little garden on the Mall, which I call the Pocket Park but is actually the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden, which had Allium 'Pinball Wizard' Flowering Onions in bloom.  I love these globular flowers that appear for only a fortnight each year.  (It's a Pinball Wizard, got such supple wrists.)

From there we walked through the nearby Enid A. Haupt Garden, which I know as Katie's Park.  I used to run through there with a friend named Katie, who subsequently moved away, whose favorite route to the Mall was through there, just like my favorite route to the Mall is through the Pocket Park.  The entrance to the African Museum is off Katie's Park and we toured the museum, filled with beautiful nailless woodwork and carved ivory, a mostly subterranean venue I had never been in before.  (A fifteenth century hunting horn.)

We walked from there past the Washington Monument, viewing the kites flying overhead there and ended up at the World War II memorial.  John noticed my favorite part of of that monument, the "Kilroy Was Here" :> graffiti.  I explained to John from whence the slogan came and why it was inscribed on that monument.  (Kite chasing kite.)

Then it was time to go and I started giving John detailed directions on how to return directly to his hotel so he could check out on time.  He stopped me, telling me it was a "generational" thing, but whenever he heard directions from anyone he zoned out and as soon as the directions were over, he just switched on his I-phone to its GPS app.  I smacked my head, saying "Duh."

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Silver Bullet and The Lone Ranger

Nate Silver at Five ThirtyEight has spoken--FBI Director James Comey gave us President Trump.  I don't think either side of the political aisle likes Comey, who roams the corridors of power in Washington unilaterally intervening whenever he sees problems that only he can discern, and then dispenses resolutions that sometimes fly directly in the face of long-established norms but no matter, he consults sagely before acting with--himself.

Neither side trusts this hifalutin Lone Ranger who wields greater independent power than the infamous J. Edgar Hoover did at the height of nearly four decades of criminal chicanery.

Comey destroyed our democratic process last October with his infamous "private" letter to Congressional leaders (Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz won the race to publicize it, within minutes) about initiating another (baseless) investigation into Hillary Clinton's missing e-mails rather than see (in his mind) the independence of the FBI "destroyed."  If finding those emails is so important, perhaps the president can ask his handler Putin for them.

Remember Rose Mary Woods and the missing 18 1/2-minutes?  We somehow survived that gap and we'll survive this one, and I also seriously doubt those missing emails would provide the scienter necessary to prosecute Hillary Clinton (I know, Lock Her Up!).  If there was criminal intent in those emails, the president's comrade would have already released them from his treasure-trove of hacked content.


#/:~/)  "Am I doing ok?  I'm president.  Hey, I'm president!  Can you believe it, right?"

Monday, April 24, 2017

Cherry Blossoms on Haines Point

I don't like running around Haines Point; it's too long and lonely and windy, and there are too many memories of hard ten-milers, half marathons and marathons there.  But it is beautiful when the cherry blossoms bloom.  (National Airport.)

This year was no different.  The blossoms were more full and hence more spectacular on Haines Point this year than around the Tidal Basin.  (Fort McNair.)

When I run at noon on the Mall with my friends, I park on Haines Point because parking is free for three hours, there's always parking available, and it's only 3/4 of a mile away from where I meet my friends, so that's my warmup.  I had plenty of opportunity this year to see the trees on Haines Point.  (The long, lonely road.)

Although the cherry blossoms in the District were impacted negatively this year because of the freakish winter weather, they still were a sight to see.  DC is a great place to run.  (The channel side.)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Cherry Blossom Run

Last month I got together with a couple of running buddies from my former workplace and we did a noontime Cherry Blossom run around the Tidal Basin to view the flowering trees at their full splendor.  It had been a rough year for the blooms as the weather had been unnaturally warm for so long in February and early March that they started to bloom early but then they got hit with a spell of extended freezing weather which threatened to knock them off of their bloom.

But, hardy souls, they came out anyway, although muted somewhat compared to other years.  Still, a spectacular show as usual.

Pink pinks, white whites, the colors were there, it's just that the petals were less robust than normal.  Usually the flowering blooms are so frothy and numerous that they form a floating circle six or eight feet wide of downed petals along the walls of the Tidal Basin sea wall, but this year that effect was way off.

But it was a display not to be missed, as usual.  I love running in DC with friends at any time.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Flower Library

There's a flower library on the Mall, over by the Tidal Basin, near the Washington Monument.  Every spring it bursts forth with tulips shortly after the cherry blossom bloom.

This year the library bloomed spectacularly, as usual.  My sometimes-noontime running group ran by it earlier this month.

My running buddy likes to seek out the different flower amidst a group of similar flowers.  She calls them outliers.

There's always something to go see on the Mall.  DC is a great running town.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Get it while you can, if you can

The greatest bargain for anyone 62 or older is a National Parks Pass allowing its recipient and a guest or guests into any National Park for free for life, for a one-time purchase price of $10.  For instance, purchase one at the C&O Canal Towpath parking lodgment for the Billy Goat Trail in MD and you will be able to pre-pay for the parking fee and individual entrance (both free thereafter) for the $10 card, which will save you money for that trip on the spot.

I received a card at my retirement party when I was retired from my agency last year after a quarter-center of service.  I value the card more highly than I do the small statue I received of the agency's distinctive statue outside its entrance, which I also like for memory's sake.

This card has a lot of utility.  Visit the second most spectacular site in the US that I have seen, Crater Lake in OR, for free.

Or visit the most spectacular site in the US that I have seen, the Grand Canyon, with the card.  But the price for the bargain is going up eight-fold soon, so act now if you are eligible.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

So how exactly did you get this?

Here's something you might not know.  When you reach a certain age in your sixties, you can apply for a special smart card in the DC Metro system and ride at a greatly reduced rate forever, I suppose.  I didn't know anything about this program until a friend of mine who is older than me told me about it, describing it as a half-off card.

I inquired at the West Falls Church station, which I sometimes use, and the station manager confirmed the program and told me where the "commuter store" was where I could go to purchase the card, for $2, and informed me of the store's hours.  The next day I undertook a run of four miles to that store and bought the special card and loaded it to the max ($300).

I handed over my OL to the clerk in her fishbowl booth and said, "Check the age and you'll know what I want."  Without a word she smiled, glanced at my license and started filling out a form.  She said most people are ignorant of the program but still, she sells about half a dozen such cards a day.

The card is bright yellow, in contrast to the pale green and blue color of the regular metro smart cards.  I guess its distinctiveness shouts out to onlookers, Senior, Senior, as in old.  But who am I kidding, I don't need to flash the fare card for persons to realize that there are seats in the cars set out especially for me and my ilk.

Having run to the commuter store at the Ballston station on the flat W&OD Trail and hilly Custis Trail from the East Falls Church station because I didn't want to pay full fare to get there when I could ride for half-fare back, I entered the metro system for my return trip and carefully checked the posted fare.  $1.75.  Upon exiting the system one stop later, I was disappointed to see that my cost was $1.05, not $0.88.

I asked the station manager if he could explain something about my brand-new fare card to me and handed it to him.  I said that it should have provided me with a half-off fare, but that my fare was more than half of the normal fare.  He gave me the familiar dodge about higher than expected fares and said it depended upon the distance traveled and the time of day.

I said that it was a senior card which is supposed to provide for half-fares, not something higher.  He was quick on his feet and said it was a discount card, not a half-fare card.  It was apparent that neither of us really knew how the program actually works, so I'll have to monitor my fares for awhile or try find its particulars on-line, but his answer was acceptable to me.

And then, his face hardening and his voice rising authoritatively, he asked, "And just how did you come into possession of this card?"  He was staring at me and holding my card, and I looked at him in stunned disbelief.  Suddenly I burst into laughter and pointed knowingly at him.  His eyes twinkling, he handed my card back and gave me a slight chuck on my shoulder.  Friends for life.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


I spent a nice birthday earlier having lunch with a friend and then hiking along the C&O Canal Towpath.  It gave me an opportunity to practice with my new camera.

I have run through the little 8-page set-up guide that came with the Canon, so next I have to print off the 180 page manual and refer to it.  My friends say to just refer to it on line, but, well, it's not written that well and to refer to it and apply whatever it says to the camera, I have to have the instructions  open in front of me.

The camera has a 40X zoom which brings things incredibly close but it's tricky to use because it's hard to find the subject in the field as the initial blurriness of the focus clears, and then hold the camera steady enough to get a clear picture at that magnification.  The slightest tremor or most minor tremble throws off the field or blurs the picture, so I have to practice this feature.

But I am pleased with the new camera and it takes pictures with close detail and vivid colors.  I spent an enjoyable birthday.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The World War One run

Last week a friend and I did a noontime run on the Mall in commemoration of the 100th year anniversary of America's entrance into WWI on April 6, 1917.  We started by chatting up another friend of mine outside my former workplace, who related to us the interesting story that he had a great-grandfather who won an Iron Cross as a German soldier in the Great War, and whose country showed its appreciation for his sacrifices by killing him and his family at a concentration camp during the next war due to his religion.  (Black Jack)

We ran by the Capitol where President Woodrow Wilson asked for and received from Congress a declaration of war against Germany, mere months after he won re-election largely on the slogan, He Kept Us Out of The War.  We stopped in at the Navy Memorial where I pulled up from its database the entry of my grandfather, a sailor in the Great War.  (An engine of the Great War)

We ran through Pershing Park downtown and stopped at General Pershing's statue there, depicting him at the Western Front as leader of the American Expeditionary Force.  Then we ran to the Ellipse, where we viewed the memorial honoring the 2d Division's service in the war, its men participating in the 3d Battle of the Aisne, Belleau Wood, the Chateau-Thierry campaign, St. Mihiel, the Meuse-Argonne offensive, the Aisne-Marne offensive and the occupation of the Rhine.  (The Indianhead Division)

Running past the World War II Memorial, we gave it a nod as that worldwide cataclysm was a direct result of the harsh peace imposed at the Treaty of Versailles which ended the War To End All Wars, with its unsustainable war reparations and its festering War Guilt clause imposed by the victors upon the vanquished.  Finally we ended our four-mile jaunt at the World War I Memorial on the Mall, honoring the District residents who served in World War One.  (Over There)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Another fine lunch

When I was retired last year, my friends at my former workplace gave me a great send-off by giving me a gift card for my favorite pizzeria.  A gift that keeps giving, I had lunch there on Easter Sunday, using some of the credit.

I perambulated around the restaurant before my pizza arrived but I didn't recognize anyone there.  But there are people I know that I haven't seen nor heard from in ten years so who knows if I'd recognize them now.

I enjoyed my pie when it arrived, the Italian Pie, a meat-stuffed pizza replete with ham and Genoa salami.  Relishing it, I had my fill and left behind a symbolic slice and a swallow of beer.

Having kids like mine, plus an in-law in the mix now, is also a gift that keeps giving.  Maybe Memorial Day, eh, JJD&L?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Thanks so much for your thoughtfulness

I received a new camera from a friend for my birthday, a Canon SX720.  I immediately loved it as soon as I took it out of the box, and ran outside and snapped a picture of my house with it.

I sent the picture to the friend who gave me the present, who replied, "Great picture, great detail, now mow your lawn!"  The Canon shows great detail in the pictures it takes compared to my trusty Pentax Adventure camera, which is waterproof and shockproof and has served me faithfully for the past three and a half years during which I have carried it on almost all of my runs, through drenching rain bursts and hard falls on cement.

Contrast the image of the the beauty of a tulip, above, taken with the less advanced Pentax, and the image of the beauty of a tulip, below, taken with the more advanced Canon.  Going forward they'll both serve their functions, as the Pentax is rugged and will still accompany me on almost all my runs, whereas the Canon will perform as my artiste camera and will undoubtedly come along in a padded case on certain runs that promise to be safe enough in terms of conditions and terrain.

I've already had the Canon out on such a run, one that I undertook earlier this month with another friend to commemorate the 100 years since the entry of America into the Great War on April 6, 1917, during which we stopped at several of the WWI  memorials in the District such as the District's World War One Memorial on the National Mall.  On another note, with Easter hard upon us, I hope to see one or more of you for lunch on Sunday, JJ&D, and now Laura, and who knows who else?

Friday, April 7, 2017

World War One

A hundred years ago yesterday, the U.S. declared war on the Kaiser's Germany and entered the Great War, later known as World War I, which had already raged for three bloody years.  German U-boats had unleashed unrestricted warfare on worldwide commercial shipping bound for the war zone, in a final desperate effort to starve England out of the war, and this violated one of President Wilson's grand Fourteen Points, Freedom of the Seas.  (Over There.)

The best account I have read of the confusing and senseless lengthy run-up to WWI is The Long Fuse by Laurence  Lafore.  The reverberations of the war lasted well into the last century, detailed well in Paul Fussell's book The Great War and Modern Memory; for instance think of the phrase going "over the top" (of your own trench in an assault).  (British troops go over the top at the Somme in 1916.)

WWI begat World War II twenty years after the Versailles Treaty, with its "war guilt" clause and its unsustainable, savage reparation payments requirements, that ended the Great War.  Nobody won that peace, as the follow-up war dwarfed the horrific casualties and devastation of the earlier war.  (A doughboy.)

My favorite novel of the war is One of Ours by Willa Cather, and the best popular history of the initiation of the war is The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman, both of which won Pulitzer prizes.  As American missiles rain down on Syria, possibly striking some Russian or Iranian personnel, following a grisly gas attack by Syria on helpless civilians, I leave you with the close of the most popular novel of WWI, the ironically titled All Quiet On The Western Front by Erich Remarque:

"He died in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front.

He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long: his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come." (A soldier from the war, my grandfather.)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Still Bursting Forth

It was an unbelievably mild winter this year, with many 60 degree days in February, usually our coldest, snowiest month, and early March.  It was the warmest winter on record and the springtime blooms started to come out early this year.

But then there was a sustained cold snap in mid-March, with practically the only snowfall of the winter, and freezing temperatures for a three-day period.  It was feared that 90% of the nationally-renowned cherry blossoms would be suppressed this year by the quixotic winter weather, since the pink-hued blooms had already started to blossom early, shortly before the cold snap.  (2015.)

Usually late March and early April is a time of riotous spring colors, allowing milling throngs of crowds on the Mall and around the Tidal Basin to enjoy the seasonal explosion of soft-hued colors.  Nature is hardy, of course, and there was a blossoming forth, to a subdued degree, of the diminished colors this past weekend.

I hiked around the Tidal Basin on Saturday, enjoying the muted springtime splendor, walking six miles, 12,003 steps, according to the Fitbit in our midst.  The admiring crowds were ever-present as usual and the colors, although not brilliant and bursting-forth as usual, were present in a sparser quality and worthy of their world renown.  (2017.)

Monday, March 27, 2017

No title.

The crowning achievement in your life.


Don't forget to sign up for medicare.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Maybe next year

Jimmy, Johnny and Danny are my three sons.  All of them have birthdays during the first two months of the year.  (Here's to you, John.)

Twelve, fourteen and fourteen years is how long it's been since I knowingly laid eyes on any one of them.  The last knowing communication I had from any of them was ten years ago.  (Here's to you, Jim Rogers.)

Their mother stonily refuses to tell me a single thing about them, even to say whether they are alive or not.  That's a person with a stone-cold heart, and she raised, from their adolescence on, our children to have similarly hard hearts.  (And here's to you, Dan (and Laura).)

On each one's birthday (and all Federal and religious holidays) I go to the same restaurant at noon for lunch near where they lived nearby as they became young men under her tutelage, when they learned how easy it was to circumvent court orders governing visitation and custody by merely becoming scofflaws.  What was the remedy for the shut-out parent supposed to be, to try to get the other parent (or them) thrown into jail for contempt of court?  (Good times from 2001, just before the parental alienation began in earnest (PAS).)

So that's my routine whenever I'm in town (which is almost always) those days, to try to keep alive some potential channel of communication and rapprochement.  As these three now-fully mature men climb into their thirties, I'll keep up the routine for as long as I can and maybe someday… .  😉