‘Mahagonny’ (1980), a film by Harry Smith

Here’s my cranky old man’s take on the second film Ann and I ever walked out of, but don’t judge the film too harshly by it. I’m sure it’s better than I make it out to be. While watching it, I kept glancing at Ann, and thinking about Alvy Singer dragging Annie Hall into numerous screenings of ‘The Sorrow and the Pity’ (1969-4hrs.25min).

There’s a proper review of this art house magnum opus from 2003 in the New York Times, and here, too, an interview from this past week with Rani Singh, director of the Harry Smith Archives in NYC which aired on WFAE, Charlotte Public Radio. Less helpful is the IMDB page.

Anyway, my review emerged in an early morning conversation with my daughter Ellen. Enjoy…

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By the way it’s worth mentioning that the first film Ann and I bailed out of years ago was ‘On Golden Pond’, which won Academy Awards for both Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn. So don’t listen to me!

Pigs, Sheep, and Wolves…

(Reading time: ~2 minutes)

Here’s some clarity for you this morning: Fervor has utterly displaced Mellow in these United States.

Remember when you’d hear the complaint, “Hey, Dude! You’re harshing my vibe! Yo, chill!” Maybe mostly on tv, and perhaps only ironically over a beer in a backyard, but the thing was this: In general, back then we valued relaxation.

And, we could indulge in it!

Fast forward to today: No matter which side you’re on, it’s all Urgency. It’s all Crisis. The Right cries out, “Defend Our Freedom!” Everyone else shouts, “Defend Democracy!” The underlying passions are feeding a stridency and tension that may reach a flash point.

Don’t mistake my reflections here as a call to calm down. I am anything but complacent these days about the dangers I’ve seen coming, and, yes, arriving in America.

We are confronted by a small but powerful faction that has built its strength by playing on and magnifying people’s fears and hatreds. The fear and hatred is irrational and tribal. It’s curated to be so by those that generate it because frightened people are easy to manipulate, and also easy to stampede!

There was a guy some time back accused me of being a “sheep” for telling him to calm down. “What’re you so angry about?,” I challenged him.

“You’re one of the SHEEPLE!”, he shouted.

And I closed my eyes and pictured the mob stampeding the Capitol.

Those who would lead you to smash things aren’t thinking about you. The one swinging the sledge isn’t thinking about the hammer. He’s thinking about the target of the blow, and what he might do with the empty space left after destruction. The burning of the Reichstag didn’t liberate Germany.

Those who would lead you to reverse an election in these United States- (they tried on January 6th, and they’re trying again in 2024) ..Those are the ones who pursued only three missions when they held control: increase the wealth of the richest, seize factional control of the courts to shape society to their view, and build a “show-piece” wall to perpetuate fear of the “other”.

Paul Simon wrote a song called ‘Pigs, Sheep, and Wolves’. It’s a simple little story tune; an allegory riffing along axes of culture, politics, and human psychology. If you see what I’ve been saying here, you might enjoy it too. Chill out with it for a bit.

And after that ask yourself who are the sheep, who are the wolves, and what do the pigs really want.

The Republican Problem (Updated)

(Reading time: ~1 minute)

Today saw Mike Johnson (R-La), anointed as the new House Speaker. He managed to command the votes necessary to accomplish what three other far-right members could not. This followed shortly on the heels of Donald Trump skewering the bid of Tom Emmer, the Republican Majority Whip, who was named Speaker Designate for about 90 minutes late Monday night. To appearances this has mended the fractures in Trump’s party. But has it?

Ask yourself this: Is the Republican Party a single party anymore? I ask myself what number of them are posturing as Trump supporters? How many wish he would withdraw from public life? Which would secretly wish him convicted and in jail? How many despair of the nightmare Trump’s cult has visited on their life in public service? They are fair questions.

Oh, there are certainly many, many true believers. Even so, there’s mutual grievance, distrust, and anger in their ranks. Their caucus is still fractured. Behind the smiling celebratory faces following Johnson’s being seated, there’s considerable grievance, distrust, and anger in their ranks. All the moderate Republicans are lying low, as the far-right, grandstanding extremists dance to Trump’s tune.

The Republican Party seems unable to mend itself. Trump’s putsch at the Capital has driven a wedge into his party, with factions and fractures roiling beneath the surface. As evidence, behold the chaos in the House over the past month. The extremists in its ranks are clearly disinterested in governing, preferring instead to prop up their gilded graven leader, and harken to his whims.

How many republican members whisper to themselves, “Maybe the courts will save us!” Frightened, mired in futility, this feckless circle of the hopelessly self-interested are a spectacle to behold.

( Enjoy this brief video of Johnson supporters booing down a question about his stand on election denial: https://wapo.st/3tJhloC )

This Old House

(Reading time: ~1 minute)

Yesterday the ultra-right firebrand, Jim Jordan, lost his bid to be third in line to the president. He was set aside by 25 republican members who, despite considerable bullying, found their spines and refused to seat him as house speaker. I enjoyed watching the vote happen, sipping Earl Grey Tea.

I, too, laughed as Mike Kelly (R-Pa) voted, instead, for John Boehner. Boehner, who dubbed Jordan “a legislative terrorist”, and used to razz Jordan by button-holing him to ask, “What do you plan to f-ck up today?” That was before the far-right Freedom Caucus drove Boehner from the speakership and into retirement.

As thankful as I am for this unexpected courage from those 25 republican members, it bears reflecting that on the dark and stormy night of January 6th, after the sacking of Congress, not one of that 25 voted to confirm the rightful election of Joe Biden, but instead supported The Big Lie. In all, 147 republican house members voted against confirmation.

Good governance requires both a vision concerning real policies and works; Not just some vague notions that “taxes are too high”, and “regulations are bad”. And, too, a willingness to work with your opposition in honesty and compromise is essential. A commitment to constitutional democracy wouldn’t hurt as an added extra.

The present house majority lacks all those, almost absolutely.

Google Domains is gone! Now what?!

WordPress vs. DNSExit vs. Cloudflare for DNS Management:

The recent move by Google to abandon their web domains division, selling their clients away to Squarespace without so much as a “by your leave, m’lord”, led to a decision to move my domain registry over to WordPress.

Why WordPress, and not Squarespace?

Well, I just didn’t like the way that deal happened. And I found the Squarespace site confounding to parse, and nail down pricing for services.

At WordPress, they made a generous offer for a free year’s hosting, and their rate matched the Goog’s $12/year per domain thereafter. They even rolled over my remaining paid months from Google, so I don’t owe them anything until summer of 2025! Nice!

But for all that economy, the migration was annoying on a number of counts.

So, what’s wrong with WordPress DNS?

First, the management of DNS at WordPress proved frustrating for a couple of reasons. I discovered that lengthy TXT records, like the 2048 bit DKIM record couldn’t be used there because of a Record limit of 255 characters. Really?! So I wasted an hour recomposing down to a 1024 bit DKIM record.

Wasted because I discovered that WordPress DNS had no means to accommodate Dynamic DNS updates. This was a total deal-breaker! All my effort at migrating DNS was a loss. I’d do better watching reruns of ‘Between Two Ferns’. I can’t imagine a DNS management host not covering that need!

The bottom line: WordPress is a good domain registry. And while very good at web hosting and support for their open-source content management tools… Well, they kind of suck at domain hosting and DNS tools.

DNSExit and Cloudflare:

For almost 15 years prior to moving my domain registry to Google, I managed DNS at DNSEXIT.com. And I’ve got to say, they were pretty fine in all respects. They have always offered a free DDNS api capable of updating an IP change, and email spooling to provide coverage for a downed email server.

I’ve also looked into and tried Cloudflare’s DNS hosting, and was impressed at the features they offer. Beyond their DDNS api, they permit crafting custom api’s for other needs. They also provide data caching to reduce your server loads, and proxied A, AAAA, and CNAME records, which allows Cloudflare to cache and guard requests to your site, and interdict DDoS attacks.

Both DNSExit and Cloudflare have free basic plans for DNS management. DNSExit is, if you ask me, the simpler and more intuitive to use, but then I did manage DNS with them for a very long time. They excel at email backup and related services. Cloudflare is more advanced at the scope of DNS services they offer, and hence has a steeper learning curve to implement them, but is well worth the effort.

Both are good choices moving forward if, like me, you’ve been expelled from the Goog’s domain!

Coffee with Lemurs

October 1, 2023 (reading time: 1 minute)

It’s a fully caffeinated morning for me. Unusual, that, as I’m trying to control my blood pressure without a statin (this with my doctor’s encouragement). I’m at my elder daughter’s home, a compact bungalow tucked away in a forest with lemurs. There’s a giant sequoia seedling in a pot on their deck. I love that everything here, from the garden to the rafters is mildly and pleasantly disheveled, but beautifully, like an unmade bed with colorful pillows and a sumptuous tangled quilt.

I sleep well here. There were neither sirens nor car alarms in the night, and no trains howling at crossings. They run the fans all the time to keep the air moving, and this makes the house sound and feel like it is breathing quietly, a gentle shushing in the background. It’s relaxing here.

The only task I have today is to decide what to do next. I’m at liberty to travel or hold still, and travel is an option that won’t always be available. Seize the day sometimes translates to seize the reins. So be it.

(Cue Neil Young:) ….well, I’ve been to a forest with lemurs, (how insane!)…


Prosecco Dream Notes, with ‘My Cousin Vinny’

September 30, 2023 (reading time 2 minutes)

After sharing a bottle of good prosecco with Ann last night, I dreamt of a place, a resort and hotel, with a pneumatic ski lift; giant tubes that could lift one with hair standing straight up, shooop!, straight to the top of the mountain. Sans skis, as I supposed they would get stuck in the tube.

At this resort, someone, not me, was prepping to take his bar exam, to become a lawyer. The test was conducted on a proprietary terminal with a time limit for completion, and our candidate had signed in and launched the exam, but stopped at question 1. Then he wandered off to admire the pneumatic ski lift.

The clock was ticking. I wanted to help him, and was pretty certain I’d noticed a paper copy of the exam somewhere nearby, not that it would necessarily help. But our examinee was unconcerned with the passage of time, and oddly confident he’d finish despite having wandered off. Such dreams annoy me, since I’m pretty sure I’m both the observer and the observed in them.

This dream was likely inspired by having recently seen ‘My Cousin Vinny’. Released in 1992, it’s a memorable film. Vinny was a New York lawyer who took six years and six attempts to pass his bar exam, and had never tried a case in court. He finds himself defending his cousin, wrongfully accused of murder in a small county seat in Alabama. Joe Pesci plays Vinny, Fred Gwynn the crusty judge, and Marisa Tomei won best supporting actress that year as Mona Lisa Vito, Vinny’s girlfriend.

It’s a film well worth revisiting.

Road Trip, Day2

September 26, 2023 (Reading time: 1 minute)

We slept in a private home last night, the way one does these days via an app on our phone, and it was just fine. We a found a few crumbs in otherwise clean sheets, and the elderly lady of the house was kind and helpful. She seemed grateful to have a bit of company passing through.

The home is one of those row houses in a modern development with fruit trees and a patio. The trophies of children now grown and departed decorate corner tables here and there in the house. I had a good night’s rest despite the jets from Dulles International climbing out overhead. We’re three miles from the Potomac River and the Maryland state line.

Ann is here in Virginia to claim free fabric and other quilting notions. A friend invited her to come fetch them and a sewing table before they were discarded. So we’re hoping for a rain-free trip back to Charlotte with this booty riding in our pickup. The table is a handsome thing, but too big, really, for Ann’s sewing room. She plans to re-gift it to another quilter down in Georgia: A journey for another day…

Road Trip!

September 25, 2023 (Reading time: 1 minute)

Ann is being gifted a sewing desk, which she will re-gift to a friend, but is very excited to be getting, as well, a bale of quilting fabric. The only catch is that we must drive something approaching a thousand miles to fully execute this retrieval.

The journey will take us up to far northeastern Virginia, which means tilting at the windmill of Washington, DC traffic. I am not looking forward to that, but it could be fun. The plan is to stay at an AirBNB, and those have always proven interesting. You meet people you’d not otherwise meet, and sometimes dogs and cats, too.

We’ll be in the vicinity of the Manassas/Bull Run civil war battlefields. If there’s anything worth seeing or doing up that way, let me know in the comments.

In browsing the morning news, tucked in with the insanity of the Republican House and the general idiocy of the Republican Presidential campaign was the happy news that the writers’ strike is close to ending. Huzzah!

So, those are this morning’s stray notes. I must needs get my act together for the journey ahead. Have a lovely day, everyone.

Journal Entry: The Gambler and the Thief

September 24, 2023 (Reading time: 2 minute)

Yesterday I was confronted by a stranger at the McDowell trolley stop. He was inclined to chat, so I indulged him, and learned he was bound for some bar to watch a college football game. His manner was the striking thing about him: He was fierce, a bit, and seemed a little angry under his skin. He was also unusually open about himself, admitting to a problem with drink and drugs, and gambling. In the course of a few minutes I’d learned this well-groomed guy had spent time in Tampa, LA, and now Charlotte, and was not presently using. I decided that maybe this underlying anger was at himself, to be headed to a bar where he shouldn’t be drinking, and watching a game he shouldn’t be betting on.

I had another striking encounter last night, in one of those dreams that persists on waking. A different stranger inserted himself into my path and task, which was to shift a vehicle and boat trailer at a sandy rustic marina. This fellow had longer, darker hair, and was taller than the angry guy, and his manner was jovial, engaging and friendly, except he was intent on talking me into handing the truck, boat and trailer over to him. He was larceny with a smile. No matter how I countered his intent, he’d smile and shake his head, refusing to get out of the truck, and reaching for the keys in the ignition. Eventually, I ran him off by summoning the boat yard guard.

Over coffee this morning it occurred to me there was some relationship between these guys, and some reason for their persistence; the focus they clearly command for me.

First, the two of them differ from me in many respects, being engaged in action challenges, while I usually pursue duty and observation. I was on a grocery shopping trip when I met Angry Guy, and was doing my job for the marina when Chuckles, the boat thief, showed up. They were, by turns, tempting personal demons of addiction, and thievery, while I sat there, a foil to their actions.

I’m glad to have met them both, if only for the opportunity to reflect on them, and try to capture them in words this morning. They are both characters, the stuff stories are made of, and their choices, however questionable, are full of life and momentum, and remind me to engage with my demons and the world too, and not merely observe.

…our word-window on the world.