Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Remembering The Waving Man of Berkeley

On these cold and depressing January days, I'm reminded of Joseph Charles, the waving man of Berkeley, California.  As a university student, I would often see Mr. Charles as walked to school. His warmth and charm always made me feel better.

Every morning for 30 years (rain or shine), Mr. Charles would stand in front of his house at Oregon Street and Martin Luther King Way and wave to passing cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians. He would tell people to "have a good day" and "keep smiling." At first people thought he was crazy, but gradually, he became a Berkeley legend and local treasure. He brought a smile to everyone who saw him! He died in 2002, but his memory still brings me a warm feeling all these years later.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Maine's Winter Wonderland 2014

The last storm is over. Hallelujah! So far this season, we've had over 3 feet (1 meter) of snow. The temperatures have climbed into the 40s F (5s C), and for the moment, I can enjoy the outdoors again.

Winter is really beautiful in Maine, and despite the freezing temperatures and short days, I never miss an opportunity to cross-country ski or take long hikes. Here are some pictures of the shore at Wolf's Neck. The day we visited, there was hardly a soul. It was so quiet, you could hear the ice crack. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Talking Translator: Der Rasenmäher braucht Benzin

The Talking Translator App is one of the best app's I've come across. It's a quick and easy way to translate thousands of foreign words and phrases. The speak button also permits entries for quick translations, and the speech recognition is fantastic. Best of all, it's free. 

I've set my Talking Translator to German, but I can easily switch to French, Spanish, Thai, or Swahili. There's also a word of the day function. For example, today's word was "der Rasenmäher," as in "Der Rasenmäher braucht Benzin." (The lawnmower needs gasoline/petrol.) This will certainly come in handy the next time I'm mowing the lawn in Germany.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

2013 Year in Review

Kate Blanchett
in Blue Jasmine
Looking back over the past year it would be easy for me to be overwhelmed by events. The economy lurched to and fro, and the U.S. budget crisis confirmed our belief that the U.S. Republican Party placed politics above the public good. For many people, 2013 was not what they expected. Plans were dashed and hope was lost. It was a year that was unpredictable and unstable.

On the positive side, marriage equality moved forward as nineteen states now recognize the right of gay Americans to marry. The Affordable Care Act began enrolling people despite some technical glitches, and even gun control inched forward notwithstanding the Republican Party and the National Rife Association. 

As for movies, it was a lack luster year. My favorite movie was Blue Jasmine. Woody Allen has done it again. Allen's fictional tale a la Bernard Madoff and Blanche DuBois is a tragic portrait of a woman's slow descent into madness. Kate Blanchett's performance is near perfection. She makes a really unlikable character sympathetic.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Seven Dials Mystery: "It's a Rotten Job, but Somebody's Got to Do It."

Agatha Christie Challenge: Book 9

I read most of The Seven Dials Mystery during my recent trip to Australia. Moving from hotel to hotel every three to four days made it difficult to follow the tread of the story; and while I may have missed some important clues, I wasn't disappointed with the book or its surprise ending. 

The Seven Dials Mystery takes us back to Chimneys, the setting of Christie's 1925 novel, The Secret of Chimneys. Seven Dials has all the ingredients of the classic Christie thriller: secret plans, evil foreigners, threats from Germany and Russia, house parties, suave men, secret societies, and plucky young women. But this book isn't so much a thriller as a parody. In fact, Christie seems to poke fun at the mystery genre itself. Christie starts out predictably: murder, poison, and plenty of suspects. It's cliche, even boring; yet, she's setting us up, playing with our expectations to fool us again. 

The Seven Dials Mystery is also funny. Christie takes special care to mock the English class system and the superficiality of money. For example, the egotistical Lord Caterham is comically lampooned and his landed gentry friends are shown to be shallow, dim-witted, and frivolous. Christie also teases the nouveau riche in the guise of Sir Oswald and Lady Coote, an overly ambitious pair, who fail to see how little title and material success have brought them. There's more to Christie than mystery. Here, we see her comic genius.

Rating: B+

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Australia's Record Heat Takes a Toll on Bats

Heat-Stressed Baby Bats Ready
to be Feed at the
Australia Bat Clinic in Gold Coast,

While much of the USA is experiencing record low temperatures this winter, Australia is having its warmest summer on record. While I was there, people kept telling me that the heat was unusual. Now, the evidence proves it.

The record setting heat is making life difficult for humans, but it's deadly for animals. Bats, kangaroos, and dingoes are dying by the thousands. At the Australia Bat Clinic, scores of orphaned bats are being feed by volunteers. It's a drop in bucket, but at least these bats may have a chance. Climate change is real. It's not a hoax as some American politicians would have you believe. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

News Flash: Velveeta Shortage!

Velveeta, America's favorite "cheese" is running low, and consumers may be unable to find the iconic product on shop shelves. Kraft Foods, the producer of the famed "cheese," did not name the cause of the shortage, and only said it is due to the "nature of manufacturing." This potential Velveeta shortage is particularly troubling since it comes at a time when many Americans are planning for their Super Bowl parties. Velveeta, a favorite Super Bowl appetizer, is central to many dishes served on Super Bowl Sunday. It's like cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving dinner. 

For those of you unfamiliar with Velveeta, it's a processed cheese product that doesn't taste like cheese. It has a soft gummy texture with a slight chemical aroma.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Humanity in a Sea of Inhumanity

Factory farming is an evil that has no place in a civilized society.