Tuesday, January 31, 2017

London Life #5: Bath Time!

I've got lots of pictures this week! The week started off with the ICLC trip to Bath. It was a whirlwind couple of days, starting with a slightly painful wake up at 5:15AM for breakfast and a tube ride to catch the coach by 7am.

Our first stop was at Avebury (rhymes with "pave"). I'd never heard of it before. It is an ancient stone monument, bearing some similarities to Stonehenge. It dates to about 4500 years ago. The area spans a great amount of land, so we walked all around the stones for over an hour. Unlike Stonehenge, you can walk right up, touch the stones and get a visceral connection to our neolithic ancestors.

Bone and stone tools, the types that were used in its construction.
Our next stop was at the Glastonbury Abbey, the ruins of a monastery from the 7th century. It was suppressed in the 1500s and plundered for its valuables by the kingdom of Henry VIII, and subsequently fell apart.

Legend has it that King Arthur was buried in this very spot.

The town of Glastonbury was a cute place to have lunch. We also enjoyed spotting pieces of stone carvings, pilfered from the destroyed abbey hundreds of years ago, were used to build and decorate some of the buildings in the town.

In spite of Max's now ubiquitous "derp" face, we really enjoyed our lunch at the Lazy Gecko Cafe

"Rolls Like Clockwork" -- artwork hanging in the Lazy Gecko Cafe. I found this little guy very appealing.

One of the stone carvings pilfered from the abbey hundreds of years ago, used to decorate the buildings in the town
We then travelled to the massive Wells Cathedral, where we did a self-guided tour. In terms of sheer size, it reminded us of St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York City. I don't think my little pictures do it justice. And by this point in the day, what was starting to sink in was the quantity of English history that dates back to before the USA even existed as a country.

Max was getting tired (and maybe a little cranky) but perked up when we spotted the cathedral's resident cat. A very nice, young red-robed clergyman told us the cat was named Pangur. It wasn't just Max who enjoyed Pangur -- it was clear that many of the Ithaca students were equally starved of much-needed cat petting time.

The clergyman also pointed out some very cool features of the church we'd initially overlooked, like this 24-hour clock. It took a moment to realize that midnight is at the bottom. The clock had been broken for many years, fixed only about 6 or 7 years ago. It's probably too hard to make out in the photo, but the hands of the clock are little suns, looking almost like asterisks. When it chimes, every 15 minutes, the horsemen at the top spin for a little joust.

Our final location for the day was in Bath, where everyone was free to do as they choose. We joined Thorunn, Hannah and Orla at the Old Green Tree pub for a pint of their eponymous brew. Max had lemonade, which is different than in the States; it's carbonated here.

After drinks, we went over to a restaurant/music venue called the Green Park Brasserie for dinner, where we had received advance word that a jazz group would be playing. The guys in the trio were very nice, letting both Catherine and me sit in for a few tunes after we'd finished our dinner. The whole place seemed pleasantly surprised but quite enthusiastic to have us contributing. The wait staff was particularly friendly, as were our tour's bus drivers who were seated next to us at the restaurant.

Vitor and Bosco, our tour drivers. Wonderful guys and music fans!

That was all in one day. Whew!  Saturday morning we started off with a tour of the Roman Baths. The baths are truly one of the worlds great archeological discoveries, originally built thousands of years ago by the Celts, and rebuilt several times throughout its history. They are built atop a natural hot spring, and contain an incredible network of stone plumbing. More recently, the museum has been built around it to both protect it and allow for visitors to "drink it all in" up close.

Oh no -- Max is about to fall in!

You can see the bubbles coming up from the spring.

Visitors cannot touch the water in the baths themselves, but at the end of the tour you can take a drink of the water coming directly from the hot spring. Legend has it that this water contains mystical healing qualities. The sulphur smell is not quite as intense as the American hot springs I've been to, but drinking it is definitely a unique experience from drinking filtered tap water.

Catherine is a big fan of Jane Austen, and knew that the writer had lived in Bath for some portions of her life, so after the Roman Baths tour, we walked up to the Jane Austin Center. They told us one of her residences had been at house #25, just up the street from the center. Now it's a dentist office.

We spent some little more time walking around Bath and saw the famous Circus and Royal Crescent

Our final destination of the tour was Stonehenge. In spite of the fact that you cannot walk right up and touch the stones anymore, seeing them in person is still quite impressive. I struggle to wrap my head around the depth of passion and amount of collective problem solving skills possessed by these prehistoric people needed to move and assemble stones this large, without the aid of anything like metal tools, let alone modern powered technology. No wonder it's all still a mystery how they did it.

After such an active weekend, we kept things relatively quiet for the next few days, but we did return to the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels. We were not permitted to take photos of the jewels, but we lucked out -- the moment we arrived, the jewel's guards were doing some type of inspection. I imagine it's not entirely unlike the larger and more famous Changing of the Guard ceremony (which we haven't checked out yet), so of course we filmed it!

I can't believe we've really only scratched the surface of what there is to see here. More soon-


Sunday, January 29, 2017

Who Would Profit From the Wall?

On January 26th, The NYTimes reported that Steve Bannon, chief strategist to president Trump, said the media should "keep its mouth shut."  This chilling and unconstitutional warning issued by the executive branch of our government should remind us of the real importance of our first amendment right to freedom of the press. We need the news media to be aggressive and vigilant, now more than ever.

I would like to articulate just one of the many reasons why this is so. Donald Trump has refused to divest himself from his businesses, release his taxes, or to make any meaningful efforts towards even acknowledging -- let alone resolving -- any conflicts of interest, in spite of the fact that he promised to do so during the campaign, now citing the disinterest of the American people, adding that the election itself had "litigated" this question. And now he has just signed an executive order promising to build a border wall with Mexico that would conservatively cost the American taxpayers $25,000,000,000. That is twenty five billion dollars. Billion. With a B.

Looking past the point that the wall would be ineffective and counter-productive, pundits are arguing over who would pay for construction of the wall -- the U.S. or the Mexicans. That's a critical question, because I don't want to pay for it. But the government pays for all sorts of things I don't like, and I still pay my taxes.

So, my next concern is this: Who would profit from the building and maintenance of this wall?

The federal government does not perform all of its duties with full-time government employees. It contracts with hundreds or thousands of private businesses and contractors. A project of this magnitude would require hiring and contracting with thousands of construction workers, managers, architects, and transportation companies, and certainly many would come from private enterprise.

Trump has a stake in or owns over five hundred for-profit businesses. The Democratic Coalition Against Trump published an app with a list of organizations that do business with Trump. But international businesses are massive, complex organisms. There are shell companies, holding companies and money stashed abroad that we don't know anything about. And because he is a pathological liar and lifelong con artist, we can't believe anything he says without verifiable proof.

The constitution already contains the emoluments clause, intended to keep our president from being influenced by foreign governments. The litigation surrounding his conflicts on that front has already begun. But how can the American people have confidence that the money being spent on this wall won't end up running through Trump's own companies?  Is it possible that the entire project has nothing to do with protecting American interests but was drummed up entirely in order to line his pockets and those of his children?

Even if Trump's impetus for building the wall is not entirely selfish, it would be entirely reasonable to believe that some portion of the $25,000,000,000 spent on this wall project would ultimately flow through one of the businesses in his international conglomerate. Without full and complete disclosure, I have no way of knowing the whole story of whether any of our taxes would be going to Trump. If even one single dollar did end up in his pocket -- whether that money originated from Mexico or the American taxpayers -- that profiteering would be a criminal impropriety.  

Because he has not allowed the American people to know any of the details of his business interests and where his profits come from, we have no way of knowing of any actual improprieties arising from these conflicts.

I am not a journalist. I do not have the experience or expertise needed to investigate these issues, but I think the stability and well-being of our democracy demands that the conflicts need to be admitted, addressed and resolved. Newspapers like the New York Times and other reputable news organizations with a strong staff of experienced investigative journalists could and should work to expose this corruption. I am happy to pay my subscription fees for this.

The first amendment to our hard-fought constitution does not say that the press should have freedom except for the pesky stuff the president doesn't like. In fact, they have an ethical obligation to report the corrupt practices that elected officials want to keep secret. The news media definitely should not keep their mouths shut.

Mr. Bannon should shut his.

Mike Titlebaum
January 29, 2017


The corrupt, pathological liar Donald Trump was elected president because of early and unwavering support by people such as the unethical opportunist Tom Reed (R-NY 23rd district). I believe we voters should do everything in our power to ensure Tom Reed is unseated in the 2018 election.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

London Life #4

I'll get this slightly embarrassing thing out of the way first. It was such a bonehead move. One day I came home with some thick black and yellow goo covering the the bottom of my shoe. I was able to scrape it off but still couldn't figure out what it was.

Catherine figured it out right away -- "It's got to be yellow road paint." Sure enough, Max was even able to spot the dad-sized footprint in the exact place I stepped in it, just down the block from the house.

But they didn't even have it roped off!

For our Saturday activity, Max declared he wanted to see the film "Monster Trucks" so we took the bus up to our closest cinema, the Wimbledon Odeon, for a morning showing. I found myself recalling a recent Facebook post by my buddy Jason Robert Brown describing the experience of taking his daughters to see "Sing." He reported that film was "adorable and seemingly genetically engineered to appeal to my daughters on every level." Catherine and I enjoyed "Monster Trucks" too, but observing Max sitting next to us, I believe this film was similarly "genetically engineered" for 10 year old boys like him.

By Monday morning we realized we hadn't actually gone to hear any music yet, so we found something that sounded appealing -- a duo with pianist/singer Ian Shaw and jazz singer Claire Martin. It was at a jazz club / pizza place called PizzaExpress Live. Perhaps a better description would be a pizza place that also holds a jazz club. PizzaExpress is a major chain here in London, and their jazz club in Soho been a reliable venue for jazz in London for many years.

When I called the club to ask if it would be OK for a kid to come, the woman taking my reservation initially said it was fine. She did pause for a moment to put down the phone, came back about 30 seconds later and warned me that Ian Shaw tended to use "salty language." Well, she was right about that. Max has always enjoyed words, and this show provided many moments of fascinating "word usage." I suspect that some of it went over his head, but he was certainly paying attention. Generally I think he liked it, particularly digging the bit when they both paused mid-song to declare that it was "the guitar solo." And the dough balls were certainly his cup of tea. I enjoyed the show quite a bit, too.

Walking back to the tube, Max spotted this fancy-looking Lamborghini parked and was compelled to stop for pictures. I think these cars are more expensive than my house.

Tuesday we went to the London Transport Museum to check out the historic trams, buses, and trains, and learn about the history of the whole tube system. Man, it was really fun.

On Wednesday, my students turned in their first assignment, where they had to do some research on venues and concerts. We talked through their ideas, and we'll be buying tickets for several shows. More on that before too long...

On Thursday we saw an article in the NY Times travel section on Tooting, where Sadiq Khan, London's popular new mayor, was born and still lives. Tooting just-so-happens to be the next town over from Colliers Wood (where we're living), so we took the brisk 20-minute walk over there today. From a coffee shop we had a great view of the very same road sign pictured in the Times piece.

Tooting has a few interesting covered markets. We decided we'd need to go back when we had more time. The Times also referred to a bingo parlor that used to be an art deco theater, so we walked in and looked at the cool chandelier.

Friday morning (that's omorrow -- oy) we're going to get up bright 'n' early at 5:30 to meet up with students and staff over at the ICLC for an overnight journey to Bath and Stonehenge. I'm sure I'll post a bunch of pictures next week, along with some requisite "This Is Spinal Tap" jokes.



Sunday, January 22, 2017

Could I Run For Office?

​I have never run for public office, but I've thought about it periodically. This past weekend, while watching millions of amazing women, men and families march in solidarity in Washington, Boston, London, and in literally hundreds of other cities and towns all over the world, I was inspired to think through what really irks me about elected officials. But at the same time I've also been thinking about what it is about the idea of serving in public office that is appealing to me.

I live in Ithaca, within New York's 23rd congressional district, also encompassing Corning, Jamestown and Elmira. We are the home to wonderful colleges and universities such as Ithaca College, Cornell University, and Hobart and William Smith, companies like Corning, and fantastic restaurants, wineries, breweries and inns. It's a wonderful place.

Our current member of the U.S. House of Representatives is Tom Reed. He has been a complete and utter failure at representing our district. This failure begins with his decision to vigorously promote and support the racist misogynist authoritarian Donald Trump in his quest to be the President of the United States. Reed was one of the earliest politicians to endorse Trump, and he has continued to support Trump in order to bolster his own political ambitions and earn a spot in Trump's team, while timidly acknowledging Trump's utter lack of ethics. This is the epitomy of being entrenched deep in the swamp.

But Tom Reed's failures do not end with his support of Donald Trump; they only begin there. Trump's very first move as president was to sign an executive order seeking the reduction or denial of affordable health coverage, dismantling the Affordable Care Act. Reed himself voted to repeal the ACA dozens of times. Trump's executive order and all the other disastrous decisions that Trump will make in the future can be traced back directly to Tom Reed. 

Like all member of congress, Tom Reed is paid the handsome salary of $174,000 per year for his work. And just like the rest of congress, Reed spends an unethical amount of his time -- time that belongs to the public -- raising funds for his next election. A recent 60 Minutes piece reported that members of congress spend half their time trolling for money, making them nothing but professional fundraisers. It's not legal for them to make these calls from their offices on the hill, so they slyly skirt this law by crossing the street to private "call centers" where they can legally grovel for money from PACs, lobbyists and corporations to whom they then owe their allegiance and votes. It's an entirely corrupt system. The "career politicians" in the house and senate are not working for you or me. Reed is one of the most entrenched residents of the very swamp Trump vowed to drain while campaigning, but to which he now owes his political future, and vice-versa. The breadth and depth of the corruption is staggering.

Thomas Jefferson never intended for politicians to stay in Washington for decades. These "careers" consist of getting rich from lobbyists, Super PACs and billionaire donors, while pretending they are acting in the public's best interest. The only interests being served in this system are their own and those of the mega-rich donors they represent.

In thinking through if I were to run for the U.S. Congress, here is how I would conduct my campaign and subsequently my legislative agenda:
  1. I would run for precisely one two-year term, after which I will gladly support and endorse the next candidate who vows to do the same. Afterwards, I will happily leave office and return to my life as a teacher.
  2. I would only accept individual donations. I would not accept any money from corporations, PACs, super PACs or special interests.
  3. Because I would not run for another term, I would spend not one second of my time in Washington raising money. All of my time and efforts would be spent fighting for the needs of my constituents and the country, meeting with them and going to bat on their behalf.
  4. I would web stream every meeting, lunch, and work phone call I am involved inand subsequently archive them and make them free to the public, with the only exception being times when classified information pertinent to our national security is being discussed. I would not meet or talk with anyone who requested that a meeting be off the record. This is how the people would always know that I was truly representing their best interests.
  5. I would fight for all members our community with conscious effort to support people from groups whose lives, families, and livelihoods are most often threatened -- women, the LGBTQ community, the black community, the Hispanic community, immigrants, veterans, and everybody else who has been oppressed because of their race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
  6. I would collaborate with any member from any party who was working to bolster the economy, protect the environment, support the military and veterans, ensure health care for all, provide affordable housing, child care, family leave, and secure equal rights for everyone.
Now, that's not so hard, right? Shouldn't they all do it? Couldn't anyone do it?


The corrupt, pathological liar Donald Trump was elected president because of early and unwavering support by people such as the unethical opportunist Tom Reed (R-NY 23rd district). I believe we voters should do everything in our power to ensure Tom Reed is unseated in the 2018 election.

Friday, January 20, 2017

London Life #3

Look Gromit, it's Wensleydale cheese!

OK, I didn't actually buy this one. It's got apricots. But I enjoyed the fact that I could have bought it. I'll have to pick up some other variety of Wensleydale soon.

Anyhow, this week began with a tour of Parliament. Tours are possible on most Saturdays, so we bought tickets and waited in the security line. It was like getting on a plane, going through metal detectors and all that. The tour starts in the historic Westminster Hall, built at the end of the 11th century. It is a ridiculously large space, and one of the few portions that still remain from the original construction.

The tour continues into St. Stephens Hall, which is incredibly beautiful. Sculptures and paintings are all around.

One of the nice guards came over to give us a little history. He pointed out a specific the paintings and asked Max to count up the legs of the dogs in the corner. It turns out there are two heads but only five legs visible. He suggested that doing the construction and painting the art must have taken many years to finish, and quite often artists would die before they were complete.

It was kinda wild being in the actual House of Lords (the red room) and House of Commons (the green room -- y'know, the one where you see all the members of Parliament shouting questions at the prime minister).

We spent some time taking a nice long walk along the Thames. We started at the London Eye, crossed at the Westminster Bridge, then took in some of the sculpture and monuments along the way, finishing our walk at the Millennium Bridge.




After such a long walk, we had worked up an appetite, so we headed over to a restaurant Nick Weiser had suggested called Punjab for some Indian food. It turns out it's the oldest Northern Indian restaurant in the U.K. We really enjoyed it; Max always loves bread and rice.


On Tuesday, we headed back to the Science Museum. Max wanted to get the Fly 360° experience. I declined, as I knew it would make me completely nauseated, but Max and Catherine gave it a shot.


Afterwards we walked over to the ICLC to meet the rest of the faculty and have a little reception. Max is always up for a reception. As always, he always enjoys bread and cheese. What a good bunch of people!

On Wednesday afternoon, I started teaching my London Center course: Exploring Cultural Diversity in the London Music Scene. What a title, eh? The class is going to get out into London and check out the scene. Very exciting, I hope!

Catherine and Max joined me on the tube ride over to the LC, but it turned out this was to be the first time the tube was unreliable for us. After we changed trains to the Victoria line, the conductor announced there were signal problems ahead and we had to wait. The wait turned out to be very long, so after a while we decided to improvise. It's funny -- even though I'm a jazz musician who takes pride in my ability to improvise, all I could think about at that moment was one of my favourite scenes from one of my favourite movies. It's from Apollo 13, where Ed Harris instructs his flight controllers "I want you all to forget the flight plan. From this moment on, we are improvising..."

We left the station, checked Google Maps and hopped on a bus. It was actually Max's first double decker bus ride, so of course we rode up top. Eventually, we found our way to the LC, and Catherine and Max headed off to the Natural History museum. I was only 5 minutes late for class. Postscript: Heading back home after class, the Victoria line was STILL down. Glad we didn't stay on the train.

Thursday Max and I battled with Nerf guns for a few hours at the nearby park. A four-year old named Murray approached Max on his bike, and stopped to watch the action while munching on an apple. I think the orange and blue plastic of the Nerf is just too attractive for a kid to ignore, so after a few minutes he and Max started playing together and his mum walked over and struck up a conversation. She tentatively asked about the "big changes" going on in the U.S. She wasn't sure if/how to broach the topic, but I could tell she was genuinely interested in my point of view as an American. It wound up being a very interesting chat about a whole range of topics -- Brexit, the National Health Service, middle age employment prospects, and the current state of the government in her native Poland.

Friday we had a long outing, in the afternoon buying tickets for the evening show of Half a Sixpence at TKTS.  We had the whole day, so we took a bus to the Tower of London. The bus ride itself was quite exciting. We grabbed the front row of seats in the upper deck, which provides a wonderful vantage point to watch the city go by.

The Tower is of course an amazing piece of history. We got there too late to stay for a long time, so we're surely going to need to go back. Max liked this armor intended for someone just his size.

Of course, there's plenty of really creepy stuff to be seen there, too. We just scratched the surface.

We headed back towards Leicester Square and walked over to Chinatown for dinner. Before we got food, we enjoyed checking out the decorations there. Since the Chinese New Year is coming up, it was a very festive atmosphere.

This one confused me.  I actually exclaimed "Hey, look at that sculpture!" before Catherine pointed out that it was actually a living statue. Man, they totally got me!

After Chinese food, we went over to Noel Coward theater, where Half a Sixpence was playing. Wow, it was really fun. The lead, Charlie Stemp, was amazing. He could do it all -- singing, dancing, acting -- a top notch performer. Max had a total blast. He was was into it all the way to the end. It was quite an impressive production. The orchestra sounded great, too.

That's all for now. Back in a week!