Sunday, December 31, 2017

Twenty Seventeen

The sun sets golden across the Vancouver horizon, for a last time on quite a year that was, as ferries putter along the blackening False Creek 

A year that began in North Africa, ends in the Pacific Northwest.  The year saw a lot of time in North Africa, most especially Morocco but also my final international program in Tunisia and Algeria.

Much of the year was around the Mediterranean basin, with a nice stint in southern France and sojourns in Spain.  Palma mostly, but also stopovers in Barcelona and Madrid for the first time in fifteen years.

The year ends in Vancouver, just off False Creek.  It ends with a cat on my lap.  For me, this was a Year of Cats.  I had multiple stints catsitting, and lived up to my name of Abu Hurayrah while caring for North Africa's streetcats.

It was a year of transitions, and that doesn't change as the new year begins.  But 2018 promises to be new and different from the years that passed, and that is exciting in its own right.

So long 2017, so much of you won't be missed but you definitely had your charms and moments.

Hello 2018, let's see whatcha got....

RIP 2017

"Ring out the false, ring in the true."
-Alfred Lord Tennyson


Epitaph for a year of shit.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

On leadership

“Now, look, I happen to know a little about leadership. I’ve had to work with a lot of nations, for that matter, at odds with each other. And I tell you this: You do not lead by hitting people over the head. Any damn fool can do that, but it’s usually called ‘assault’ — not ‘leadership’...I’ll tell you what leadership is. It’s persuasion, and conciliation, and education, and patience. It’s long, slow, tough work. That’s the only kind of leadership I know, or believe in, or will practice.”
-Dwight Eisenhower

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Time and Money

When you have more time than money, you can spend an hour and half grocery shopping at three different stores, spend less than $10 and walk away with days of provisions. 

In a former, or future, life, I am a professional coupon cutter.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Republicans’ failure on health care is even greater than they realize

"And now Republicans have created the worst of all possible worlds, at least from where they sit. They’ve only made Americans more insecure about their health care, they’ve pushed the Democratic Party to the left, and they’ve brought the arrival of a universal system based on government insurance closer than it ever was."
-Paul Waldman, "Republicans’ failure on health care is even greater than they realize"

I Want 2017 to Be Over. I Never Want to See Anything Like It Again

"Which brings us to the end of the year. And the possibility – borne out by polls, by desperation, and by what may be a resurgence of activism, organization, and voting by the center and left - that, for both men, their worst enemy will turn out to be 2018.

At some point, even the worst nightmares do end.

At some point, people do wake up."
-Bradley Burston, "I Want 2017 to Be Over. I Never Want to See Anything Like It Again"

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Vancouver Traditional Jewish Xmas festivities

Mixing it up a lil on the traditional Jewish Christmas fair: incredible Dim Sum for breakfast at a spot called Western Lake.  It is known to be the best dim sum in Vancouver, which is quite a worthy title.

So instead of the traditional Chinese food for dinner, I will be having Mexican food at a friend's place.  Possibly birria if I am lucky.

Get America Covered

'These numbers debunk that theory that people don’t want it, that it’s not a good product,' said Emily Barson, a senior adviser with the national group Get America Covered."
-From The Atlantic's "Signing Up for Obamacare After Trump Proclaims It 'Dead'"

From the "Not-All-Heroes-Wear-Capes" files, a huge shout-out and congrats to Emily Barson for her work getting America covered in the face of obstruction by the Trump administration.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Short Vancouver days

The sun basically just set at 4:10pm. 

It rose at 8:07 am. 

Roughly 8 hours of daylight.

But unexpected sunlight, so I am pleased.

The task of a rabbi

In his book, "To Heal a Fractured World," Rabbi Jonathan Sacks notes that when the great Rabbi Hayyim of Brisk was asked by his disciples to define the task of a rabbi:

"To redress the grievances of those who are abandoned and alone, to protect the dignity of the poor, and to save the oppressed from the hands of his oppressor."

All the rest is just commentary.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Age of Betrayal

"Dec. 20, 2017, will live on as a day of disgrace and dishonor.

It will be remembered as the day when a government of, by and for the people became a government of, by and for wealthy campaign donors — and of, by and for wealthy Republican politicians themselves.

We thought the corruption, self-dealing and social indifference of the Gilded Age were long behind us. But we underestimated the raw nerve of President Trump, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

This Triumvirate of Privilege has returned us to the “age of betrayal,” as writer Jack Beatty called the years of the robber barons. The goal has always been to roll back the social advances that the country has made since the Progressive Era. On Wednesday, the demolition crews in the House and Senate struck a devastating blow.

The tax law loots the federal treasury on behalf of major corporations and the richest people in America. It sharply shifts the nation’s tax burden onto wage and salary earners whom Trump, Ryan and McConnell treat as serfs expected to bow before the wielders of capital, including real estate titans such as the president himself. It also creates an utterly unstable tax code. So many new opportunities for evasion were stuffed into this monstrosity that not a single person who voted for it can fully know what its effects will be.

This lobbyists’ wish list was passed with unconscionably reckless haste because those who confected it didn’t want mere citizens to grasp what they were doing. In this, they failed. The polls make clear that citizens, including many Republicans and many Trump supporters, know exactly whom this bill will benefit, and whom it will hurt. No tax cut in recent memory has been so unpopular."
-EJ Dionne, "The Age of Betrayal is Back"

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Exploits of Don Quixote

On a snowy Vancouver day, two things I love: Don Quixote and old vinyl records:

For over three centuries readers in all countries have been delighted by the adventures of this absurd gentleman and his squire Sancho Panza.  The reason for Quixote's popularity cannot be merely that he is ridiculous, or that he makes a nuisance of himself and gets into trouble wherever he goes. Quixote is the embodiment, even though he is also the exaggeration, of a great idea.  This idea is that there is more in life than the humdrum routine of everyday affairs; that true greatness is to be found only in the spirit of service to an ideal.  That the ideal is, with Quixote, only an illusion does not detract from its fascination, though it does make him a pathetic figure.  To attempt the impossible for the sake of honor--to add to the store of human greatness by risking everything without the hope of material reward--to endure danger and hardship because endurance is noble: this is the quixotic ideal, and the world would be poorer without it.  That is the secret of Don Quixote's universal appeal. We may, indeed we mus, laugh at his absurdity; yet if there is anything of chivalry or generosity in us, we cannot help being on his side, however innocent his victims. We know he cannot win, but his misguided valour excites our pity with our laughter.

Grass Roots

“I remember right before the polls closed, I sat down and I felt good because the one thing I did know was that we left it all out there,” Thompson told me. Woke Vote, the collection of students and church-going activists and voter organizers she founded, had been working to bolster black turnout long before the Senate race gained national attention. As the results she’d hoped for materialized, she said, it took her back to the euphoria in black communities after the election of Barack Obama in 2008. “I started to get somewhat emotional because it was a similar feeling.”

From The Atlantic's "How Grassroots Organizers Got Black Voters to the Polls in Alabama"

Monday, December 18, 2017

Billy Wylder

Glad to back this project, please consider doing the same.


"Republicans aren’t idiots. They recognize just how unlikely this victory was and they know it won’t repeat itself. Demographic trends won’t slow down and midterm elections always go against the party in power anyway. They’re probably going to lose unified control of the government in 2018, and even if they hang on they won’t make it past 2020. This is their last chance to control the levers of power, quite possibly for a decade or two."
-Kevin Drum, on why the Republicans are doing what they are doing.

The Historic Blame Game

"The historic blame game that is the current rage. Our new national sport. Today’s blameless generation versus your guilty one. Who will atone for our fathers’ sins, even if they weren’t sins at the time?"
 -John Le Carré, "A Legacy of Spies"

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Tax Bill That Inequality Created

"Most Americans know that the Republican tax bill will widen economic inequality by lavishing breaks on corporations and the wealthy while taking benefits away from the poor and the middle class. What many may not realize is that growing inequality helped create the bill in the first place.

As a smaller and smaller group of people cornered an ever-larger share of the nation’s wealth, so too did they gain an ever-larger share of political power. They became, in effect, kingmakers; the tax bill is a natural consequence of their long effort to bend American politics to serve their interests.

As things stand now, the top 1 percent of the population by wealth — the group that would primarily benefit from the tax bill — controls nearly 40 percent of the country’s wealth. The bottom 90 percent has just 27 percent, according to the economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman. Just three decades ago these numbers were almost exactly the reverse: The bottom 90 percent owned nearly 40 percent of all wealth. To find a time when such a tiny minority was so dominant, you have to go back to the Great Depression."
-NY Times Editorial Board, "The Tax Bill that Inequality Created"

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The more they stay the same

“When will the people be educated? When they have enough bread to eat, when the rich and the government stop bribing treacherous pens and tongues to deceive them…. When will this be? Never.”‬ ‪-Maximilian Robespierre ‬

And now the Republicans will have us walk a gilded plank.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Tintin et Le Lotus Bleu

I am proud to have completed translating my third comic book, and second edition of Tintin: Le Lotus Bleu.  I especially got a good chuckle when Tintin was referred to as le petite Don Quichotte.

Up next: Le Petite Prince.  This will be my first attempt at translating a book.

The Closing of the Republican Mind

"But there is a more straightforward reason why not a single Democrat backed the legislation: The GOP not only entirely excluded Democrats from the process of drafting the bills, but the party punished Democratic constituencies—from residents of high-tax states to graduate students—in the bills’ substance. The tax plans represent a political closed circle: bills written solely by Republicans and passed solely by Republican votes that shower their greatest benefits on Republican constituencies. Meanwhile, the biggest losers in the plans are the constituencies of the Democrats who universally opposed them. It’s not just redistribution: The tax bills are also grounded in retribution.

In that way, the tax debate offers the clearest measure of how powerfully the Republican Party in the Trump era is folding inward. Neither Trump nor GOP congressional leaders are even pretending to represent the entire country—or to consider perspectives beyond those of their core coalition. Instead the party has shown that as long as it can maintain internal unity over its direction, it will ignore objections from virtually any outside source—not just Democrats, but also independent experts, affected interest groups, and traditional allies abroad."
-Ronald Brownstein, "The Closing of the Republican Mind"

And a good PS from David Brooks, on why the GOP is rotting:

"Starting with Sarah Palin and the spread of Fox News, the G.O.P. traded an ethos of excellence for an ethos of hucksterism.

The Republican Party I grew up with admired excellence. It admired intellectual excellence (Milton Friedman, William F. Buckley), moral excellence (John Paul II, Natan Sharansky) and excellent leaders (James Baker, Jeane Kirkpatrick). Populism abandoned all that — and had to by its very nature. Excellence is hierarchical. Excellence requires work, time, experience and talent. Populism doesn’t believe in hierarchy. Populism doesn’t demand the effort required to understand the best that has been thought and said. Populism celebrates the quick slogan, the impulsive slash, the easy ignorant assertion. Populism is blind to mastery and embraces mediocrity.

Compare the tax cuts of the supply-side era with the tax cuts of today. There were three big cuts in the earlier era: the 1978 capital gains tax cut, the Kemp-Roth tax cut of 1981, and the 1986 tax reform. They were passed with bipartisan support, after a lengthy legislative process. All of them responded to the dominant problem of the moment, which was the stagflation and economic sclerosis. All rested on a body of serious intellectual work.

Liberals now associate supply-side economics with the Laffer Curve, but that was peripheral. Supply-side was based on Say’s Law, that supply creates its own demand. It was based on the idea that if you rearrange incentives for small entrepreneurs you are more likely to get start-ups and more innovation. Those cuts were embraced by Nobel Prize winners and represented an entire social vision, favoring the dispersed entrepreneurs over the concentrated corporate fat cats. [Editor's note, I am still calling bullshit! -PR]

Today’s tax cuts have no bipartisan support. They have no intellectual grounding, no body of supporting evidence. They do not respond to the central crisis of our time. They have no vision of the common good, except that Republican donors should get more money and Democratic donors should have less.

The rot afflicting the G.O.P. is comprehensive — moral, intellectual, political and reputational. More and more former Republicans wake up every day and realize: 'I’m homeless. I’m politically homeless.'"

Monday, December 04, 2017

Vancouver City Dreams

I arrived to Vancouver in the rain, and in the rain I expect it to be.  But today, I woke up early and looked out across the skies and saw golden yellow yolk in the sky.  I quickly decided I was going out riding.  I found the bike left for me, with the "one less car" sticker attached.   A racing bike can be different but can fly in a whole different fashion.

I found the trail just at the park outside the apartment, and I turned left.  I passed some auspicious words wrapping around a corner:

“As the moon circles the earth the oceans responds with the rhythm of the tide.”

I hugged the False Creek bike lane in the golden sunlight.  It cast long rays across the cityscape.

I was drawn out towards the mountains, and up by the Science Museum.  The Fullerscape greeted me.  Above the orange circus tents the mountain was covered in white snow dust.  On the mountain top there was a giant windmill welcoming me to Vancouver.

I headed out along the Seaside trail as I hugged the coast on the two-wheel racer.  The mountains shimmered behind me as white snowcaps off the cityscape.

On my path, I found some sage words on Vancouver:

"Vancouver is famous for its rain. It can rain here for weeks on end, but it does not usually bother me. However, several years ago I found myself coming close to being thoroughly disgusted by the rain.
I walked home from work one evening in the pouring rain, mumbling under my breath the whole way that this weather was only suited to ducks. The building I lived in was large and square, and it surrounded a brick courtyard. I came around the corner into the courtyard and there, to my amazement was a beautiful Peking duck in a huge puddle in the middle of the courtyard, quacking and splashing with obvious delight. I had to smile, glad that such joy could be found in the gray wetness of such a day.
I have often thought that we do not have nearly enough words for rain, especially as this was once a rainforest. There is booming rain, whispery rain, rain that lulls you to sleep, and rain on the leaves which sings you awake; there is soft rain, hard rain, sideways rain, rain that makes you instantly wet, and rain that leaves soft kisses on your cheek, like the wings of a butterfly.
Rain brings us all the shades of gray, but it also brings us the wonderful greenery that surrounds us and blesses us all."
These words come via Regan D'Andrade, and were carved on a rock in the path.

I biked my way out to the Pacific Spirit Park, a lovely national treasure just outside the city.

I hiked along the cold stony beach, watching the waves lap against the stony shore.

At a perilous river crossing, a young man told me of two eagles in the trees.  I thanked him for this heads-up, and continued along the empty beach.  A little further up, I heard a crack, and saw a giant eagle fly off with branches in his talons as he set off for his nest.  He flew off in majestic glory.

I found my driftwood throne to sit on, and listen to the waves lap their rhythm against the stony shore.  Ever the Prince of Tides.

Vancouver is an incredible abode of peace.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Ancient Vancouvorian riddles

If I am on the 15th floor of a building in Vancouver, what is my actual floor?  It isn't fifteen.

American Plunder

"When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it."
- Frederic Bastiat

Friday, December 01, 2017

Oh Canada

"My wife and I signed our 2016 tax returns about a month ago. In total, we gave up about 42 percent of our income to the federal government and to the province of Ontario. Add in property taxes, gas taxes, and sales taxes, and the figure goes up to about 46 percent. By my rough calculation, a similarly situated couple living in an equivalent part of the United States—I picked Chicago, which sometimes is described as a sort of sister city to Toronto, where I now live—that number would be about 10 points lower, at 36 percent.

What does that 10 percent premium buy for my family? Aside from universal health care, there’s world-class public schools, a social safety net that keeps income inequality at rates well below America’s, and an ambitious infrastructure program that will help Canada keep pace with its swelling ranks of educated, well-integrated immigrants. Oh, and I also get that new bridge. Naturally, it will have a bike lane, and be named after the hockey legend Gordie Howe.

Canadians tend not to talk about making their country great again. Canada never was particularly great—at least not in the sense that Trump uses the word. Unlike Americans, Canadians haven’t been conditioned to see history in epic, revolutionary terms. For them, it’s more transactional: You pay your taxes, you get your government. That might not be chanted at any political rallies or printed on any baseball hats. But it works for Canada. And it’d work for America too."
-Jonathan Kay, "Why Canada Is Able to Do Things Better"

Oh Canada, you are a welcome refuge.  As I head on to Vancouver amid this bullshit tax robbery vote and ongoing American circus, I just shake my head.

Sunday, November 26, 2017


This room,
                 the circled wind
Straight air of dawn
                                   low noon
The darkness. Not within
The mound of these
Is anything
To fit the prying of your lips,
Or feed their wide bright flowering.

And yet will movement so exactly fit
Your limbs —
                    As snow
Fills the vague intricacies of the day, unlit
Before; so will your arms
                                                    Fall in the space
Assigned to gesture

                 (In the momentless air,
                 The distant adventurous snow)
-George Oppen, "II"

Monday, November 20, 2017

Why Migrant

"I long to run back
To the warm embrace of my homeland…
I want to return to the embrace
of what is my own
Golden mangoes ripe in the garden
Heady fragrance of jackfruit in the afternoon air…
My life, my youth are held hostage
And yet I long to love.”
-Bikas Nath, "Why Migrant"

The Analog Revolution

The Analog Revolution is upon us. Hasta la victoria, siempre! You have nothing to lose but your digital chains!
The Luddites

H/T Abba

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Amsterdam Vignette

A blueberry blue morning.
Crisp and cold in fair Amsterdam.
The late-morning light warms the
autumn colors of the tree-lined canal.

The Sunday morning church bells ring
across Centraal Station.

I found a free ferry
across to
North Amsterdam.

Lost in Amsterdam autumn blossom
forests shimmering in yellow
and light green.

A fairy ferry and a double rainbow.
A stellar colored crescent
across Amsterdam's
northern visage.

Because Amsterdam.

Blueberry yumsum
all across the
sun-kissed canals.

An afternoon artist's view
of the city:
towering red brick church
with light-blue cupola spires
ringing the afternoon chimes.

The gilded red brick
Centraal Station
is refulgent
in the afternoon light
and white cloud backdrop.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Can My Children Be Friends with White People?

"As against our gauzy national hopes, I will teach my boys to have profound doubts that friendship with white people is possible. When they ask, I will teach my sons that their beautiful hue is a fault line. Spare me platitudes of how we are all the same on the inside. I first have to keep my boys safe, and so I will teach them before the world shows them this particular brand of rending, violent, often fatal betrayal.

Let me assure you that my heartbreak dwarfs my anger. I grew up in a classic Midwestern college town. With all its American faults, it was a diverse and happy-childhood kind of place, slightly dull in the way that parents wish for their children. If race showed in class lines, school cliques and being pulled over more often, our little Americana lacked the deep racial tension and mistrust that seem so hard to escape now."
-Prof. Ekow N. Yankah, "Can My Children Be Friends with White People?"

H/t Yael

Wither Benghazi?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

What it is all about....

In the end, this is what it is all about in the Middle East: 'We'll be in the Middle East for the next 100 years,' Boeing senior exec says.

President Dwight Eisenhower was right: "Beware the Military-Industrial Complex."

Meanwhile, I am shocked, shocked to learn that Facebook finally admits that Russia tampered with the Brexit Vote.  I had been waiting for this shoe to drop for a while.

And a very good piece by the New Yorker's Dana Priest, one of the best journalists on intel reporting, on why Russian election meddling was another U.S. intelligence failure.

Finally, Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine ask a good question: why does Trump talk about Putin like Putin's his boss?

Monday, November 13, 2017

Asian-American Cuisine’s Rise, and Triumph

"This, though, is the new American palate. As a nation we were once beholden to the Old World traditions of early settlers; we now crave ingredients from farther shores. The briny rush of soy; ginger’s low burn; pickled cabbage with that heady funk so close to rot. Vinegar applied to everything. Fish sauce like the underbelly of the sea. Palm sugar, velvet to cane sugar’s silk. Coconut milk slowing the tongue. Smoky black cardamom with its menthol aftermath. Sichuan peppercorns that paralyze the lips and turn speech to a burr, and Thai bird chilies that immolate everything they touch. Fat rice grains that cling, that you can scoop up with your hands. (As a child raised in a Filipino-American household, I was bewildered by commercials for Uncle Ben’s rice that promised grains that were “separate, not sticky,” as if that were a good thing.)

These are American ingredients now, part of a movement in cooking that often gets filed under the melting-pot, free-for-all category of New American cuisine. But it’s more specific than that: This is food borne of a particular diaspora, made by chefs who are “third culture kids,” heirs to both their parents’ culture and the one they were raised in, and thus forced to create their own.

Could we call it Asian-American cuisine? The term is problematic, subsuming countries across a vast region with no shared language or single unifying religion. It elides numerous divides: city and countryside, aristocrats and laborers, colonizers and colonized — “fancy Asian” and “jungle Asian,” as the comedian Ali Wong puts it. (She’s speaking specifically of East and Southeast Asians, who followed similar patterns of immigration to the U.S. and who are the primary focus of this piece.) As a yoke of two origins, it can also be read as an impugning of loyalties and as a code for “less than fully American.” When I asked American chefs of Asian heritage whether their cooking could be considered Asian-American cuisine, there was always a pause, and sometimes a sigh."
-Ligaya Mishan, "Asian-American Cuisine’s Rise, and Triumph"

One of those delicious food/identity pieces but looks a bit broader than most-- at culinary trends, history and present examples. 

Amelie Quixote

Telle Don Quichotte, elle avait résolu de s'attaquer a l'implacable moulin de toutes les détresses humaines combat perdu d'avance, qui consuma prématurément sa vie.

Like Don Quixote, she was determined to grapple the unforgiving grinder of all the human sorrows, an impossible fight that consumed her life prematurely...

Nothing better than a rainy monday to sip tea and watch Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain. In French with Spanish subtitles to practice both--albeit preferring to have French subtitles that are not available.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sunday Round-up

-Britain unmoored: "Many Britons see their country as a brave galleon, banners waving, cannons firing, trumpets blaring. That is how the country’s voluble foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, likes to describe it. But Britain is now but a modest-size ship on the global ocean.

Having voted to leave the European Union, it is unmoored, heading to nowhere, while on deck, fire has broken out and the captain — poor Theresa May — is lashed to the mast, without the authority to decide whether to turn to port or to starboard, let alone do what one imagines she knows would be best, which is to turn around and head back to shore.

-A Conservative sucker born every minute: Why conservatives are more susceptible to believing lies

-How the myth of artistic genius excuses the abuse of women: "These men stand accused of using their creative positions to offend — turning film sets into hunting grounds; grooming young victims in acting classes; and luring female colleagues close on the pretext of networking, only to trap them in uninvited sexual situations. The performances we watch onscreen have been shaped by those actions. And their offenses have affected the paths of other artists, determining which rise to prominence and which are harassed or shamed out of work. In turn, the critical acclaim and economic clout afforded their projects have worked to insulate them from the consequences of their behavior."

Trump tell us he believes Putin, who is very insulted. Trump also tells the Japanese emperor that mass-shootings can happen anywhere.  Except Japan, which has never had one.

-Speaking of, Gun Violence in U.S. Cities Compared to the Deadliest Nations in the World: Los Angeles is to the Philippines what Detroit is to El Salvador what Miami to Colombia.

-Gerrymandering continues to save Republicans from drubbings. This, from Virginia, is what gerrymandering does to elections:  "Democrats also swamped the GOP in the state’s House of Delegates races, winning the aggregate vote in those contests by a similar 9-point margin. Most news outlets spun that House of Delegates margin as a Democratic triumph—a “tsunami election” that swept away what had been seen as an ironclad Republican majority. Yet pending a handful of recounts, Democrats seem poised to take just 50 of the chamber’s 100 seats. This 50–50 deadlock may prevent the party from securing the advances it campaigned on, particularly the state’s long-delayed expansion of Medicaid. Democrats rode an electoral wave to a legislative impasse."

-Some good stories on Morocco and the Jews:
(1): Marrakesh
(2) Essouira

-It's fine to spend all your money on travel, says Science....

-And finally....

Charlie's Journey, cont.

One of the most epic travelers I have ever encountered in my own journeys is Charlie Walker. He biked literally across Europe, Asia and Africa.  Some 43,000km on a bike.

I ran into him in Samarkand, in the middle of Uzbekistan when he was just starting to make his way back to the UK via the Central and South Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

He is doing a Kickstarter for a book on the journey, please consider supporting his efforts.

I wrote an article on his journey here.

And you can see his most recent, ridiculous continental trek "Following the Line" (a 5,600KM triathlon) here. 

'These Are Not The Actions of an Innocent Man'

"So, to put it bluntly: At this point in the proceedings, there can be no innocent explanation for Donald Trump’s rejection of the truth about Russian meddling in last year’s elections. Earlier, it may have been suggested, sympathetically, that the case had not yet been proven. That Trump’s vanity blocked him from acknowledging embarrassing facts. Or—more hopefully—that he was inspired by some Kissingerian grand design for a diplomatic breakthrough. Or that he was lazy. Or stubborn. Or uninformed. Or something, anything, other than … complicit. Not anymore....

'Beyond a reasonable doubt' is the standard for criminal justice. It’s not the standard for counter-intelligence determinations. The preponderance of the evidence ever-more clearly indicates: In ways we cannot yet fully reckon—but can no longer safely deny—the man in the Oval Office has a guilty connection to the Russian government. That connection would bar him from literally any other job in national security except that of head of the executive branch and commander- in-chief of the armed forces of the United States."
-David Frum, 'These Are Not The Actions of an Innocent Man'

Friday, November 10, 2017

Lovecraft and Moore

“A reservoir of darkness, black
As witches’ cauldrons are, when fill’d
With moon-drugs in th’ eclipse distill’d.
Leaning to look if foot might pass
Down thro’ that chasm, I saw, beneath,
As far as vision could explore,
The jetty sides as smooth as glass,
Looking as if just varnish’d o’er
With that dark pitch the Seat of Death
Throws out upon its slimy shore.”
-Moore, Thomas not Roy

A Party Unmoored

"It is, of course, true that GOP leaders do not want to be tainted by association with a child predator, and would sing sweet relief if Moore voluntarily stepped aside and allowed another Republican to run in his place.

But most will make no firm demand that he bow out, let alone endorse his Democratic opponent.

If Moore presses ahead, this will be the reason. If he becomes senator despite the new revelations, he will have accomplished no more than Donald Trump did when he sailed to the presidency in the slipstream of GOP indifference to corruption, authoritarianism, and sex crimes. Even if Moore bails out of the race or loses, more Roy Moores will keep crawling out from under rocks and into Republican politics, until Republicans stop showing bottomless tolerance for lowlives, bigots, and crooks, so long as the lowlives, bigots, and crooks can win elections. They can not stem this tide until they reckon with the moral rot they embraced when they made their peace with the current president."
-Brian Beutler, "A Party Unmoored"

Thursday, November 09, 2017

This is the Middle East in a nutshell

"Israel possesses far greater ability to inflict pain, but Hezbollah possesses far greater capacity to absorb it..."
-Robert Malley, "The Middle East is nearing an explosion

Shake the family tree

Something to make your day seem insignificant: your oldest cousins were found in Morocco, some 300,000 years old. Revising the family tree by hundreds of thousands of years. That is a lot of genealogy to recalculate.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017


My Aunt Phyllis died yesterday.

Not quite the opening from The Stranger, but being so far away I was having a hard time processing the grief.

In a surreal fashion, from France I managed to break the news to my parents who were located just outside the hospital.

Early the following morning I arose early in the darkness to leave Nice.  I bade a sad goodbye to the dear butterscotch feline named Phenix.  I will miss that dear cat.

And I was out the door for a place that somehow manages to be one of the longest sojourns I have had in a while.  It's amazing how much a place can become home in just a few short weeks.

I caught the tram to Place Massena, then took the bus out through the pastel Genovese-Belle Epoque Nizza.

The Nice-Cote D'Azur Airport passed without issue, and I took off on the first leg of my voyage north towards Zurich.  The flight out of Nice was spectacular.  The flight took off along the jetty island protruding into the Bay of Angels and then headed straight parallel across the belle Nice cityscape.

For the last month, I had sat on the promenade facing the other direction, watching these same planes take off over the Riviera sky space, while I did my French homework or translated Tintin.

We continued north for a flight over the snowy rugged Alps.  The white-covered cliffs of the mountain chain were awe-inspiring.  

Earlier in the week, I had rented a nice bike and biked some 50km back-and-forth to Antibes.  It was a beautiful ride along the Riviera's coast beach line. I went to Antibes to visit the Picasso museum there.  The museum features Picasso work from his sojourn in the Cote D'Azur.  All sorts of picassoed fruits-de-mer among other reduced images and dreams.  I find that whenever visiting a Picasso installation, I start perceiving faces differently--in more angular dimensions.  I see the cubism in the quotidian.  And on a flight to and through Switzerland, the angles of faces became even more profound.  I picassofy people's triangular noses, circled ears and angular jaws as I try to imagine how Picasso saw the world.

The best thing about flying Swiss Airlines is that they give you real Swiss chocolates.  That made my day.

I changed planes in Zurich, and killed time in the Zurich Airport and its very Zurich dimensions.  The Zurich Airport has some very interesting pockets of beautiful space.

With a quick breath of Swiss autumn cold, I changed planes to Palma.  We flew back down France and passed over some of the area I had just traversed--flying right over Avignon, that other Rome. 

Somewhere over the beauty of the Mediterranean, I stared out over the white-capped swell of the sea's waves.  The book I was reading, Carl Sagan's Contact triggered something deep in me:

"She had spent her career attempting to make contact with the most remote and alien of strangers, while in her own life she had made contact with hardly anyone at all. She had been fierce in debunking the creation myths of others, and oblivious to the lie at the core of her own. She had studied the universe all her life, but had overlooked its clearest message: For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love."

And I started to cry.  Tears streaming down as I looked out over the vastness of white-capped waves.  The sea stretched on in the horizon into infinity.

Warm, wet tears streaming down my face as I stared out into the vast beauty of the white-capped seas that stretched on.

I wept for my aunt, whom I would never see again.  I wept for her memories, that were now even more precious to me.

There is a sliver of immortality that rests in the memory of others.  

Perhaps the Speaker for the Dead would agree with such sentiments.

I dryed my eyes and felt a bit of the emotional weight off my weary shoulders.

We continued our flight over rocky rigid Baelric islands, circling over the green mountain plenispheres of Mallorca and Menorca.

We landed over Palma's splendor, and I grabbed my bag and hopped the bus through town.

My journey ended when I spied the windmill in front of me.  My journey ends, and least for the next few days, ensconced between two windmills.   

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

On plunder

"When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it."
 -Frederic Bastiat

Monday, October 30, 2017

Matzah balls for the Revolution

Matzah balls for the revolution--the story of the Kosher restaurant collective in the DC area. Bubeleh, consider contributing a lil gelt to get the film made....

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Sunday Round-up

“The paradox is that on one hand, members of this generation don’t want to be ruled by the company. They want to have a life,” said Carolyn Cartwright, senior vice president of human resources for SunTrust Bank. “On the other hand, they’re impatient waiting for job promotions and want all the perks associated with ‘paying one’s dues.'”
-Funny how the language that is used on Millennials us the exact same that was used regarding GenX:

-Forks over knives: the recent history of the semi-recent invention, the fork.

"Netanyahu wants the right to speak as the representative of all Jews. But in America and Europe, he's abandoned all pretense of solidarity with them"
-How Bibi betrayed the Jews

-Morocco is working with the U.S. Holocaust Museum on Holocaust education.

-Why the Republicans secretly yearn for a Hillary presidency.

-A great perspective on privilege in a very tangible manner. 

-How to explain to your kids what is going on in Trump America, Soviet-style.

-On racial profiling at the airport.  Can't wait to come back for Thanksgiving with my beard....

The best; the worst

To riff on something Carl Sagan once wrote: Obama brought out the worst in racists and the best in everyone else; Trump does just the opposite.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

It's Mueller Time!

"I think it means this will be a rolling investigation. Rather than conduct his entire investigation and then wrap things up with indictments and possibly a report at the end, he is doing it in stages, the way the Justice Department might attack a drug cartel or a mafia family."
-Matt Miller, former Obama Justice Dept. official in Axios

Looks like Mueller might be bringing the house against the Trump admin.  One can imagine he had a grand old time following the money.

And the F.B.I. is planning on getting a special order of tiny handcuffs...

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Les Témoins de Jéhovah

I found the best language partners to practice my French: the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Les Témoins de Jéhovah are out in various parks and promenades, and they love to share La Bonne Nouvelle; I am always looking for people with whom I can practice.

It is a match made in heaven.

Now I just need to find some Mormons... 

on perception

"The desire of monks and mystics is not unlike that of artists: to perceive the extraordinary within the ordinary by changing not the world but the eyes that look… To form the intention of new awareness is already to transform and be transformed."
-Jane Hirshfield

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Religious Right's Golden Calf

"There is no group in the United States less attached to its own ideals or more eager for its own exploitation than religious conservatives. Forget Augustine and Aquinas, Wilberforce and Shaftesbury. For many years, leaders of the religious right exactly conformed Christian social teaching to the contours of Fox News evening programming. Now, according to Bannon, “economic nationalism” is the “centerpiece of value voters.” I had thought the centerpiece was a vision of human dignity rooted in faith. But never mind. Evidently the Christian approach to social justice is miraculously identical to 1930s Republican protectionism, isolationism and nativism.

Do religious right leaders have any clue how foolish they appear? Rather than confidently and persistently representing a set of distinctive beliefs, they pant and beg to be a part of someone else’s movement. In this case, it is a movement that takes advantage of racial and ethnic divisions and dehumanizes Muslims, migrants and refugees. A movement that has cultivated ties to alt-right leaders and flirted with white identity politics. A movement that will eventually soil and discredit all who are associated with it."
-Michael Gerson, "The religious right carries its Golden Calf into Bannon's battles"

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sunday Round-up

"The embarrassing decision to leave UNESCO was made at the same time the agency elected its new director general, Audrey Azoulay. France’s former culture minister, she is the daughter of Andre Azoulay, adviser to the king of Morocco, a most impressive and noble statesman, a Moroccan Jew who fought all his life for a just peace in the Middle East, a true friend of Israel. He is ten times more concerned about Israel’s fate than Trump and Haley together. We may presume that the new UNESCO director-general has absorbed her father’s values. Now she will head the agency without the United States and Israel, who are isolating themselves to bits."
-Gideon Levy, "America and Israel against the World"

-The Roots made a re-make of Schoolhouse Rocks:

-How to fix gerrymandering via proportional representation.

-Mayim Bialik on being a feminist in Harvey Weinstein's world

-How Big Pharma spiked DEA enforcement in the Opiod Crisis

Friday, October 13, 2017

Adam Smith & Harvey Weinstein

"'More established actresses were fearful of speaking out because they had work; less established ones were scared because they did not.'

In virtually every oppressive workplace regime—and other types of oppressive regimes—you see the same phenomenon. Outsiders, from the comfort and ease of their position, wonder why no one inside the regime speak ups and walks out; insiders know it’s not so easy. Everyone inside the regime—even its victims, especially its victims—has a very good reason to keep silent. Everyone has a very good reason to think that it’s the job of someone else to speak out.

Those at the bottom of the regime, these less established actresses who need the most, look up and wonder why those above them, those more established actresses who need less, don’t speak out against an injustice: The more established have power, why don’t they use it, what are they afraid of?

Those higher up the ladder, those more established actresses, look down on those at the very bottom and wonder why they don’t speak out against that injustice: They’ve got nothing to lose, what are they afraid of?

Neither is wrong; they’re both accurately reflecting and acting upon their objective situations and interests. This is one of the reasons why collective action against injustice and oppression is so difficult. It’s Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand at work (in both senses), without the happy ending: everyone pursues their individual interests as individuals; the result is a social catastrophe."
-Corey Robin, "Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand At Work: The Harvey Weinstein Story"

Westeros Manga

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


"When Henri Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is."
-Pablo Picasso

I spent the afternoon at the vibrant Musee Chagall.  As Chagall knew, color affects emotion.

Giant canvasses of Moses in golden yellow receiving the divine gift.

A fiery red Abraham binding his son in hues of green and yellow on the pyre-- as blue and white angels step in to rest his hand.

Dreams of dark blues and violets as Jacob wrestled with his angel.

Giant canvasses of biblical lore, exploding with color from their frames against the backdrop of stark clean white walls.  It was vibrant and glorious.

And Chagall's poetry moved me as well:

Là où se pressent des maisons courbées
Là où monte le chemin du cimetière
Là où coule un fleuve élargi
Là j'ai rêvé ma vie
La nuit, il vole un ange dans le ciel
Un éclair blanc sur les toits
Il me prédit une longue, longue route
Il lancera mon nom au-dessus des maisons
Mon peuple, c'est pour toi que j'ai chanté
Qui sait si ce chant te plaît
Une voix sort de mes poumons
Toute chagrin et fatigue
C'est d'après toi que je peins
Fleurs, forêts, gens et maisons
Comme un barbare je colore ta face
Nuit et jour je te bénis

The Calm Before the Storm

Eminem rips Trump in a BET cypher. H/T BD.


What's cooking in The Rock's office?

The Rock Test on how to avoid accusations of sexual harassment at the workplace. 

H/t Hairball. 

La belle vie

La belle vie is the French Riviera, slowly meandering down the Promenade des Anglais with a cornet de rhum raisin. 

The Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels) is shimmering in the afternoon Côte d'Azur sun.

Manu Chao and Tonino Carotone sing in my ears: "En la Gran Feria de la Mentira, tu eres el rey." Ever the vagabond on the margins of the lap of luxury.

My nerd paradise is conjugating French subjonctif verbs, sitting on a bench with my feet propped up against the rails of the promenade. Homework should always be so nice.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Sunday Round-Up

-How computers turned gerrymandering into a science.

-Some history and iconoclasm of Babe Ruth's famous "Called Shot."

-Why AP courses are a scam.  Having taken a couple AP courses (US History, European History), and plenty of college courses, I would agree that they are not remotely equivalent.

-An interesting article on how KFC is targeting Africa, Ghana in specific in this article and it is increasing obesity in the continent. And apparently USAID and the Gates Foundation helped this development.

-My old friend Emily Barson, who served in HHS as external director for outreach for Obamacare during the Obama administration, was on Weekend Edition this morning to discuss the Trump administration's sabotage of outreach efforts and what her organization Get America Covered is doing to get the word out for Obamacare enrollment.

-And finally, the "We Love Lamb" commercial that is either heavenly or sinful depending on your sense of faith

Saturday, October 07, 2017

A Gritty French Levantine San Francisco

I left Aix in the morning to Marseille, hopping a bus for 45 minutes to the Mediterranean seaport.  Marseille is France's second largest city and the one of busiest port on the Mediterranean.  Its history dates back to Greek sailors from Phocea arriving in 600BC to found Masillia.  Lots of interesting history on the wikipedia page I linked above.  Anyway, I arrived to the bus/train station Gare St. Charles and found my way out of the station.  From outside the palatial train station, I was greeted with a stunning view of the city and Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde on high.  I liked the city immediately.

After a slight bit of wandering, I found the Hostel Vertigo, a charming spot not far from the train station or the city center.  I dropped my stuff in the luggage room, since it was too early for check-in.  Then I went off wandering down to the city center. 

I loved the city immediately.  As the title of this blog suggests, the city reminded me of a lot of places including San Fran, Paris and Algiers all wrapped up into one.  I wandered down the wide Hausmannian boulevard to the Vieux Port, whose history dates back to the original Greek settlement.  Down by the port, the brackish air wafted alternately smells of fish, sea and cigar smoke. 

I wandered around the port before heading along the corniche to grab a picnic lunch near the Plage des Catalans overlooking the sea.  I followed the corniche down until I spied the Chateau d'If, Marseille's version of Alcatraz prison--made famous by its guest the Count of Monte Cristo.

I followed the corniche back into town and checked into my room.  After a little rest, I went back out through the city, admiring the Hausmann architecture amid the changing autumn leaves.  I passed cafes filled with fellows drinking afternoon coffee or pastis.  I made my way to the beautiful Palais Longchamp, with its giant fountains and colonnaded walkway.  I sat in the park for a bit, admiring the beauty of the leaves and the sun beginning to set across the city from the fountains on high.

I spent the evening at the hostel, chatting with fellow guests; some of the other guests had been to the market and prepared dinner and they were kind enough to include us.

I got up early the next morning and made my way to the MuCem.  I climbed up the Fort Saint-Jean, but I arrived too early and the museum was not open yet.  I killed some time in a nearby cafe over a croissant.  I returned shortly to the fascinating MuCem (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations).  In the Templar-built Fort Saint-Jean, there was an interesting film on the history of the fort and its environs.  From there, I crossed the foot bridge to the J4, a fascinating building of intricate lattice-like shell of fibre-reinforced concrete.  Inside the museum, there was a fascinating exhibits on seafaring through the centuries.  There was another interesting exhibit on the staples of the Mediterranean diet: olives, grapes and cereals.

From the Museum, I wandered on to the Villa Mediterranee--the white structure in the picture above.  I took in the view before heading on.

I returned to the hostel to start getting ready for Yom Kippur.  I had planned to get a nice dinner before starting my Yom K Fast but mismanaged my time, and was forced to have a kebab as my final meal.  But I arrived on time to the synagogue and ended up being honored with holding a torah around the synagogue during the Kol Nidre service.  It was kinda funny, I had a tiny little torah in my arms.  But thanks to the honor, I got to stand next to the rabbi as he sang the Kol Nidre service--and he had a beautiful rich voice.  It was both an honor and treat.

I returned the next day to the Yom Kippur service and stayed until the Musaf service before returning to the hostel to rest for my fast.  I had made my plans poorly, and was traveling that day to Nice.  So I was fasting in transit, which was no fun.  But after some rest, I made my way to the train station, where some ladies were playing festive tunes on the piano in the trainstation and with a tambourine.  Yes, almost all French train stations have pianos that are free to play.  Anyway, I caught my train from Marseille along the coast of the French Riviera past Cannes and Antibes until I reached my home (for October) in Nice.

Thus ending my Toulouse-LaTrek across southern France.  Toulouse to Montpellier to Avignon to Aix to Marseille to the final stop in Nice.  It was a lovely little two week adventure.  I love southern France, it is a beautiful and charming part of France.  It was even more beautiful in the Autumn foliage.  The weather was much better than Paris or Central France, and I liked the more tranquil vide coming off the Mediterranean. I would happily live in a place like Toulouse or Montpellier or Marseille if I could figure out a good reason to put down some roots there.

Friday, October 06, 2017

No More Shootings that Follow the Rules

"On Monday morning, Matt Bevin, governor of Kentucky, said that “you can’t regulate evil” and encouraged people not to be opportunists, seizing on tragedy for more gun laws. That is nonsense.

We can regulate the weapons that terrorists and criminals use to commit acts of evil. This is a country where we regulate almost everything for the sake of the greater good. We regulate the speed limit to protect motorists and pedestrians. We regulate access to pharmaceuticals to protect people from addiction and the consequences thereof. We regulate food preparation, alcohol and tobacco, how crops and animals are raised, medical practices, pet adoption. At the airport, we perform elaborate acts of security theater including removing our shoes because just once a terrorist tried to hide a bomb in his shoe.

Regulation does not guarantee safety. But with regulation, we are far better off than if we did not govern ourselves with a modicum of common sense and responsibility. We need to better regulate guns and who has access to them. We need to decide, once and for all, that the Second Amendment matters but it does not mean that ordinary people should potentially have access to automatic weapons or devices that allow semiautomatic weapons to fire more rapidly. We need to take the stand that the police and the military are the only people who need that kind of firepower."
-Roxanne Gay, "No More Shootings That Follow the Rules"

Monday, October 02, 2017

And the Heartbreakers

"Oh, my, my, Oh, hell yes Honey, put on that party dress Buy me a drink, sing me a song Take me as I come cause I can't stay long"

Fare thee well, Tom Petty.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Mapping Europa

I know, I know

I know, I know
If you could go back you
would walk with Jesus
You would march with King
Maybe assassinate Hitler
At least hide Jews in your basement
It would all be clear to you
But people then, just like you
were baffled, had bills
to pay and children they didn’t
understand and they too
were so desperate for normalcy
they made anything normal
Even turning everything inside out
Even killing, and killing, and it’s easy
for turning the other cheek
to be looking the other way, for walking
to be talking, and they hid
in their houses
and watched it on television, when they had television,
and wrung their hands
or didn’t, and your hands
are just like theirs. Lined, permeable,
small, and you
would follow Caesar, and quote McCarthy, and Hoover, and you would want
to make Germany great again
Because you are afraid, and your
parents are sick, and your
job pays shit and where’s your
dignity? Just a little dignity and those kids sitting down in the highway,
and chaining themselves to
buildings, what’s their f*cking problem? And that kid
That’s King. And this is Selma. And Berlin. And Jerusalem. And now
is when they need you to be brave.
is when we need you to go back
and forget everything you know
and give up the things you’re chained to
and make it look so easy in your
grandkids’ history books (they should still have them, kinehora)
is when it will all be clear to them.
—Danny Bryck

Sunday Round-up

-Apparently hummingbirds are little gods of war, and the mantis shrimp of the skies....

-The magic of "untranslatable" words like frisson or treppenwitz

-Don't get lost in the Trump Fog Machine....

-Apparently, the best source of creating equality is devastation and destruction. So maybe we should follow the ends of climate change deniers as a means to creating more equality in society? Wouldn't that be a kicker--we flood the world due to climate change and in the end make it more equal.

-Interestingly, Libertarians and the alt/right have a lot in common.

-Why Corporate America is much worse than it used to be.

-How we would cover the situation in Puerto Rico if it were in another place.  And a primer on PR in the first place.

-When Della met Gnawi: a magical OneBeat collab featuring Della Mae's Courtney Hartman and Mehdi Qamoum from Morocco

Friday, September 29, 2017

Kippur America

Today begins Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. As such, we Jews fast for our sins from the year prior.

If you have more issue with a black man taking a knee during the anthem than a white man waving a Nazi or Confederate flag, then you should probably also be fasting for your sin of racism.

Aix marks the spot

I left the lovely Avignon for the absolutely-charming Aix-en-Provence. I ended up taking the TGV train there, which was amazing. I had to take a brief train from the Avignon station to the Avignon TGV station, which was 10 minutes outside of town.

 At the station, I ran into a fellow from the Avignon hostel named Daniel. Daniel was from jolly ol' but had lived in Oz and all over. He was busking around Europe with a guitar and amp. We chatted about various spots, and I think I convinced him to head south to Morocco. The TGV train came and we flew from Avignon to Aix in just 20 minutes, it was a veritable bullet.  It depresses me so much that we have nothing comparable in the US, and that we are falling so far behind in infrastructure. This is what happens when you squander billions (trillions) on foreign military adventures while never investing in infrastructure at home....but I digress....anyway, we whizzed to the Aix TGV station, and Daniel and I caught a bus into the Aix city centre, which took as long as my trip from Avignon.

Daniel was a bit under-the-weather and staying outside of town, so we parted company and I trudged my way through the main Aix thoroughfare, the lovely tree-lined Cours Mirabeau and into the old quarter of the city. 

There were not any hostels in town so I rented a little studio on AirBNB.  I grabbed the keys where they had been left at a pizza shop and headed to the little flat.  It was in a great location, just off the city hall square.  I settled in and did some bucket laundry--hanging my clothes to dry out the window in the afternoon sun. 

After a light lunch, I wandered about the charming Viel Aix (old Aix) with its narrow passage ways, and back down the Cours Mirabeau with its tree-lined boulevard adorned in autumn foliage and bubbling fountains in the center.  Aix is just charming beyond compare, and I took it in over coffee in the square and Amorino gelato. As the gelato-artisan decorated my pistrachio-chocolate-cafe gelato rose of an ice cream cone, I told her about how I once biked 25km from Tours to Amboise just for Amorino.  She declared I was quite the gourmandise.  

I spent the afternoon taking in the lovely alleyways, little bubbling fountains and charming squares filled with farmers' markets.  Aix is just lovely.

For dinner, I decided to treat myself to some Provencal cuisine at a nice restaurant called Jacquou Le Croquant.  Having been called a gourmand earlier in the day, I went for the gourmand menu, a three-course tour-de-force.  The appetizer was a delicious salad with thin sliced smoked duck, curried chicken, legumes and prunes.  That deliciousness was followed by grilled aigulletes de canard (duck filet) in a prune sauce with all sorts of provincial sides.  The piece-de-resistance was the dessert, which was a chocolate fondant.  The waitress said it is was between a mousse and a cake.  It was between the 6th and 7th layer of heaven.  It was a soft but firm hunk of perfect chocolate with some chantilly cream and vanilla sauce on the side.  In total, the meal plus a glass of wine came to 30 euros (about $36).  Not bad and well worth the price.

The following day, I woke up early and wandered a bit through the quiet streets.  I made my way down to Cours Mirabeau towards the Musee Granet but I arrived a little too early for its autumn hours.  I returned after lunch to the excellent museum with some stellar Cezannes (he was a local to Aix) and other fine works. 

More importantly, there was a second wing of the Musee Granet in an old chapel that was housing the Planque collection.  Named for Jaque Planque, who was a very important art dealer in the 20th century, the exhibit showed his collection and detailed his relationship with the likes of Picasso among others.  His collection was exquisite.  All sorts of wonderful Picassos (they had been friends) and other legends of modern art.  The collection was stellar and the stories about his collecting were quite interesting.  In addition, he was quite a talented painter and I was impressed with some of his works.  It was one of the best, most-interesting exhibits I have seen in a long while.  My grandparents would have truly loved it.

I had a quiet night back at the studio, cooking dinner and watching movies. 

I definitely could have stayed longer in Aix, it was charming beyond compare.  C'est la vie, so it goes for my life on the road.

Thursday, September 28, 2017


Marseille is like a gritty French Levantine San Francisco with heavy helpings of North and West Africa thrown into the bouillabaisse. In short, I am charmed.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

On Taxes

"Obviously, there’s nobody who wouldn’t enjoy the extra spending or saving that a tax cut would bring, but as the researchers at Pew found in April, what Americans would like even better is for government to spend more to educate their children, rebuild infrastructure, and provide health care and an income safety net for the elderly, veterans and the deserving poor. Despite years of politicians railing against “big government,” Pew found that as many Americans today wanted government to be bigger as to be smaller.

Like the campaign to repeal and replace Obamacare, the middle-class tax cut is a solution looking for a problem. It’s nothing more than a political totem, an expensive exercise in political pandering."
-Steven Pearlstein, "The Middle Class Doesn't Want a Tax Cut, It Wants Better Government"

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

How many roads

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, 'n' how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, 'n' how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, 'n' how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

How many years can a mountain exist
Before it's washed to the sea?
Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Yes, 'n' how many times can a man turn his head,
Pretending he just doesn't see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.
-Bob Dylan

The Other Rome

After a lovely stay in Montpellier, I hopped a cheap Ouibus ride to Avignon.  The 1.15 hour ride only cost 5 euros, and the bus was comfy and had wifi.  The only drama was from a group of German students whose compatriot was running late to the bus.  His tram was moving painfully slowly and they were pleading with the driver to wait just a few more minutes.  The lucky fellow made it, probably thanks in part to having cute female friends.

The bus ride through the bucolic French countryside was a delight.  Fields of vineyards and rolling hills in the provincial Provence landscape.

We arrived just outside the walls of Avignon, and the bus dropped me off.  I hoofed my way in through the city walls into the quaint city of Avignon.  I found my hostel, a fun place called Pop' Hostel, which was funky, modern and affordable (17 euros a night for a hostel).  I dropped my stuff and I had a nice lunch on a crepe filled with Emmental (swiss) and tomato pesto for a reasonable 2.5 euros. After I went wandering through the narrow lanes of Avignon and through its quiet, closed Sunday alleys.

I woke up early the next morning and grabbed a delicious pain au chocolate and espresso at the bakery next door before heading on to see the main reason I had come to Avignon: the Palais des Papes (The Papal Palace).

 For any of you history buffs out there, Avignon played host to the Popes for some 70 years during the 14th century.  The Avignon Captivity was a period of time where the city was the center of the Roman Catholic world.  From 1309-1377, a total of 7 French popes ruled over the Catholic world from Avignon rather than Rome.  Then even better, after the papacy returned to Rome there was a schism and Avignon continued to crown popes.  For a period there were 2 popes, one in Avignon (an antipope) and one in Rome.  Fascinating stuff, I swear--go read some of the links here and you will see all sorts of drama and intrigue around the Game of Papal Thrones.

Anyway, I went to visit the Palais des Papes, the enormous Gothic fortress and palace that housed the Avignon papacy.  I did an audioguided tour of the giant place to get a better context to all the history that took place in the palace.  It was fascinating.  All sorts of tidbits of history about the construction of the immense palace, its daily working  and the goings-on in the Papal Palace.  I wandered through the arched Grand Chapel where the Popes used to worship, and the immense dining halls and kitchens, as well as the vaults where the riches of Christendom were stored.  There were some beautiful chapels in the palace, and some fascinating murals in the Pope's quarters.

As mentioned, the Palais des Papes was home to 7 French popes until 1377, and a few antipopes after. The city itself was under control of the Kingdom of Naples until Queen Giovanni was short on cash and sold it to the Papacy for 80,000 florins in 1348.  It remained under Papal control, with various legates living in the palace until the French Revolution, when it officially came under control of France.  After the French Revolution, the French turned it into an army barracks.

Now it the place is being restored, and is a UNESCO monument.

I made my way to the top of the Palace and stared out over the city and Rhone River flowing just beyond the city walls and ramparts.

After my tour through the palace, I made my way into the Place Pie to grab lunch.  I found a little bakery with immaculate pizza fresh out of the oven.  France gets underlooked for its pizza, but is actually a great pizza spot--which makes sense given its superb breads and stellar cheeses.

I futzed around a bit in the afternoon, doing a little work over a delicious brownie and cafe from the bakery next door.  I wandered a bit more through the city to the Rue des Teintures, a fascinating alley off a small river flowing through the city where dyers, washers and other used to work.  There were a number of bars and cafes along the small river, and I stopped to read with a demi-pinte under some autumn trees dropping dessicated leaves on me.

I spent the rest of the afternoon roaming around the Rhone, on the turgid river's banks.  I had a quiet night over a glass of red wine and Lord of the Rings as the rains slightly drizzled down.

Off to Aix!