Tuesday, February 21, 2017

London Life #7: Much Ado About Something

Greetings from the slightly-less-rainy-and-cold Britain!

This week starts with a very enjoyable theatre experience. As I reported last time, we watched the DVD of "Much Ado About Nothing" with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson to prepare ourselves. The live play was really fun. Max clearly loved the physical gags, especially those by the lead actor, Edward Bennett, who played Benedick. I think this production was particularly effective for Max because he already knew the story (While Benedick hides, the other men are trying to set him up with Beatrice, and are pretending not to know he's there listening!) I agree, Mr. Bennett was very funny in the role.

We were sitting near a bunch of IC students attending the play for their Shakespeare class, and apparently the topic of Max came up in their next class conversation. According to one of my students who is also in the Shakespeare class, someone mentioned a "nearby kid who was laughing like crazy" in their discussion about the production's humour.

Because this week was a break for the local London schools, we took a trip to Hampton Court to learn a bit about Henry VIII and some of the other royalty who lived there. On the bus ride over there, Max spotted a stop that shares a name with a teacher back home -- Spencer Hill! Mr. Spence wrote back, saying he appreciated seeing the photo we emailed him.

Because of the break week, Hampton Court was offering some little educational things geared towards kids. Even Max, not yet a fan of spending long stretches of time looking at artwork, appreciated the quality and sheer size of the royal tapestries.

I know it sounds like all we do is have fun (I suppose we are having quite a good time), but I still have to teach my class, and I discovered that one of the music shows booked for my class turned out to be an 18+ event, so Catherine and I got a sitter got to have a night out. The venue was near King's Cross station, so of course we had to seek out Platform 9 3/4.

I suppose it's been a little while since either of us had gotten our hands stamped at a club to hear some rock bands. The chosen venue was The Lexington. The first act was called "Stats," who opened for band called "Park Hotel." Stats was pretty fun. They had a bit of a Talking Heads vibe. At one point the lead singer/guitar guy sang to a plant.

The next day we headed over to Greenwich, where the Royal Observatory is located. If you're wondering, yes, that is the home of Greenwich Mean Time, and we made sure to take photos with one foot in each hemisphere. The museum there houses some amazing clocks and telescopes, along with a lot of history about how the clocks and navigation systems were developed and used for shipping.

A few days ago, Max and I realized we hadn't gone swimming in months, so he and I gave Catherine the morning off, and we trekked over to the pool at the Wimbledon Recreation Centre. I had almost forgotten how challenging it is to throw a 10-year old around, even in buoyant water. After all that activity, we needed some lunch fast, so we found a fun coffee house in Wimbledon. Max has become quite a fan of croissants.

Catherine and I had another night out, joining my students at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club to hear a 20-something pianist named Justin Kauflin. If you don't know Justin's backstory, he is the one of the subjects of a truly amazing documentary called "Keep On Keepin' On." The primary subject of the film is legendary 90-something jazz trumpeter Clark Terry (now deceased, unfortunately), and the film tells the story of how he and Justin bonded over jazz and being blind (Justin early in life; Clark late). Towards the end of the film, Justin meets Quincy Jones, who had popped in to see Clark, and he hears of Clark's enthusiasm for Justin and his playing. It turns out that Q has been supporting Justin ever since, and he produced this show at Ronnie Scott's. Last week, I showed the students the film, and I they were clearly amazed to see Justin playing live. I found it beautiful as well, and I was glad to shake his hand and convey an invite to come to Ithaca sometime in the future.

That's all for now! More soon...


Sunday, February 12, 2017

London Life #6: The Mousetrap


We were slowed a bit this week by colds and sniffles, but we've still done some fun things.

Last time I reported in, we'd just seen the Crown Jewels and a guard ceremony at the Tower of London. This week we started by accompanying my students to the Victoria and Albert Museum to see their exhibit "You Say You Want a Revolution." It is quite amazing. You wear headphones through the exhibit, and the audio alternates between music and soundtracks from the various video screens. On display are lot of musical artifacts from the late 60s, such as handwritten lyrics to Beatles songs on pages penned by John, Paul and George themselves, instruments played by the greats, and even a purple coat worn by Jimi Hendrix on stage. While the exhibit is framed by music, it is really about the culture, protests, politics and style of the era. Fits perfectly with my class!

Museum-goers were not supposed to take pictures, but I couldn't help myself when I saw actual working-condition Apple I computer, the predecessor to the Apple II. I've seen photos, but don't think I've ever seen one in person (although I suppose it's possible that I did lay eyes on one when I was a kid, accompanying my dad to Apple shows and users' group meetings back in the 70s).

The section of the exhibit on activism, printed posters and their effectiveness, inspired me to create my own politically-minded poster.

On Thursday we decided to catch our first non-musical play, Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, in part because Catherine is a lifelong fan of the mystery writer. After we bought tickets at TKTS, Max spotted the Lego store in Leicester Square, so of course we had to poke our heads in for a quick visit. Just like the NYC store in Rockefeller Center, this one has massive Lego sculptures, but here they're mostly London-themed.



Even with stops at Lego and for dinner, we did ultimately make it to The Mousetrap on time. Max loved it. By the intermission, he was convinced he'd narrowed the whodunnit list down to two possible suspects. I would tell you more, but I shouldn't give it away! Even though St. Martin's Theatre is relatively small, I was quite impressed that the actors used no microphones, and even in the balcony we could hear every word.

On Saturday we walked over to an interesting historic spot near our house, Merton Abbey Mills, the site of an old fabric mill and a still-working water wheel generator, and some little shops housed in the buildings on the premises.

After I taught my class this week, walking towards the museums to meet the fam, Catherine texted me with two words -- "Fire tuba." I thought this was a some kind of strange auto-correct, but no, there was a tubist with balls of fire coming from his bell.

Thursday I accompanied my class to hear the Southbank Symphonia play Salieri, Mozart and Schubert in a free rush-hour concert. I wonder if American classical music would get more attention if US orchestras gave free glasses of wine at the beginning of their concerts! They're quite a fine orchestra, and I talked to a few of the players, including the bassists for whom I now convey greetings to my colleague ISB president-elect Nicholas Walker.

Friday we travelled to Cambridge with the ICLC, and toured the huge Kings College chapel.

Whaddya think -- is this graffiti I found in the chapel really from a disgruntled student in 1661?


We climbed the tower of the Church of Great St. Mary, and heard the bells chime each 15 minutes. The famous tune associated with Big Ben's chimes at parliament actually originated here! The view of Kings College from the tower was quite lovely as well.

We heard about the famous Chelsea Buns at Fitzbillies, so we had to pick up a few (but no, we didn't buy the whole tray).


Our final stop in Cambridge was The Eagle pub where DNA researchers Francis Crick and James Watson first announced they had discovered the "secret of life." We had some snackies and ale at their famous RAF bar, where WWII pilots drank and put their marks in graffiti on the ceiling.

Lastly, we caught another play, the Royal Shakespeare Company's Love's Labour's Lost. We enjoyed the production and the staging, but it was a bit challenging to follow for those of us not so familiar with Shakespeare's use of language. We have tickets for next week to see Much Ado about Nothing, so we watched the very enjoyable Kenneth Brannagh/Emma Thompson film version on DVD to prep ourselves in advance of that (and spent some time pausing to discuss some of the particularly funny bits). So next time, I'll report on how we enjoyed the play!



Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Reed/Trump Con Game

We have been duped, hoodwinked, bamboozled. We have fallen victim to a well-orchestrated con game the scope of which has never been seen before.

Who is perpetrating this colossal con on us? Guess what -- it is not Donald Trump and Steve Bannon. Our con artist is our member of Congress, Tom Reed (R-NY 23rd district), and his swindling of the people is not over; it has only just begun. 

Tom Reed
To be sure, Trump and Bannon are criminally corrupt, but they have done exactly what they promised to do in the campaign. In the brief period since their inauguration, the new administration has violated the U.S. constitution on multiple fronts, fulfilling campaign promises such as:
  • Imposing a religious litmus test for entry for immigrants and refugees.
  • Threatening the first amendment freedom of news organizations.
  • Putting a political operative above military leaders in the security council.
While Trump, Bannon and the rest of his inner circle are directly to blame for their acts of treason and the impending constitutional crisis they are instigating, the responsibility for allowing Trump to enact this agenda sits right at the feet of Tom Reed.

Let's explore just one specific example of Reed's con. Reed was an early an ardent supporter of the corrupt billionaire's campaign, sidling up to candidate Trump in an effort to gain entry into his good graces. As Trump made one anti-American campaign promise after another, Reed wholeheartedly stuck with his man, and the con worked. He landed a position in Trump's team. Reed unabashedly supported Trump and everything he promised to do as candidate, including repealing the Affordable Care Act. Don’t worry, he told us, we have a plan to fix heath care. A great plan. A really great, great plan.

But Reed does not have the faintest clue how to improve access to affordable, reliable health care. When President Obama was in office, Reed voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act dozens of times, hiding behind the fact that Obama would reliably veto such an effort. Now that Reed's president is in power and is fulfilling his promise to abandon the ACA by executive order, Reed acknowledges that perhaps some aspects of the ACA are a bit "popular." Y'know, pesky little features like being able to stay on your parents plan until you're 26, and providing coverage for pre-existing conditions. 

In a recent press phone call, Reed meekly asked his constituents for some "ideas" on how to help. Oh, really -- in 2017, Mr. Reed asks for ideas? Only now, after Trump has taken office does Reed acknowledge that the ACA helps people. He wonders if perhaps Medicaid "block grants" -- his preferred code phrase for spending cuts -- could help. "There is a lot of anxiety" he concedes. Apparently, this brazen opportunism is what passes for leadership in the Congress these days. I await the upcoming display of "leadership" when he will blame Obama after the ACA is totally repealed, when 2,700,000 people in New York State lose their health care, 60,000 in our district alone. 

No, Mr. Reed, their loss would be your fault. 

Like the office of the president, members of Congress take an oath swearing to protect and defend our constitution. But Reed has entirely abandoned the constitution. Reed sold us out to Trump, simultaneously selling his own soul, aligning perfectly with Trump's indefensible moves against the people. Every word he speaks, every hand he shakes, and every vote he makes in congress betrays Reed's ethical vacancy. 

What other votes has he made that betray the people? Just recently, Reed has voted:
And now this: the corrupt Tom Reed has voted to make it easier for the mentally ill to buy assault weapons. Other than gun lobbyists, I do not believe any rational argument can be made that is a good idea. That is payback for the NRA, pure and simple.

He's not working to help the people. He's helping himself to the perks of office.

Reed says "We have to do better." Yes, we certainly do. That means getting rid of the outright corruption being foisted on the people by Trump/Reed. The time has come oust the ethically bankrupt Tom Reed from our Congress and stop this con game once and for all.


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.