Thursday, April 26, 2018

Reunion

I made it to Columbia, Missouri, safe and sound and was greeted by Al, a charming and enthusiastic grad student of theatre, who brought me to the hotel, showed me around campus, took me to a great place for lunch, and generally made me feel very welcome.  I even met his adorable boxer pup Argos.

I was reunited with my dear friend Jackson Bryer, whom I’ve known from the Inge Festival since I started going.  He’s one of those people who you know instantly will be a constant friend, and that’s how he’s been since 1991.  He also does not age.  To quote a line from “Fifth of July” by Lanford Wilson, the man whose life and work we’re honoring this week, “Somewhere there’s a picture of him going to hell.”

The conference starts today with more reunions and a performance tonight of “The Rimers of Eldritch.”  I don’t know how to explain the play, having only read it several times in order to grasp it.  Maybe after tonight I’ll be able to say something about it.

Anyway, here I am.  It was drizzling all day, but the forecast calls for better weather the rest of the week.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Birdwatching

One of the many things I liked doing with my dad when I was a kid was birdwatching.  We had bird feeders in the yard when I was growing up and I still have my travel-scarred and dog-chewed1962 edition of Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds.  I also keep a life list of birds spotted for the first time.  It got a lot longer when I moved to Florida and got to add such exotics as ibises, egrets, and anhingas.

Dad can’t get out much anymore, so the bird feeders are strategically located so he can see them from his easy chair, and yesterday when I was at the house I caught up with the birds, including goldfinches, juncos, and woodpeckers.  When it gets warm they’ll put out the bottles with sugar water and feed the hummingbirds.

 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Getting Here

The flight was late leaving Miami due to weather somewhere else, and the flight was overbooked.  By the time they were boarding us, the gate agents were offering a $1,000 voucher and all sorts of goodies, including hotel vouchers and first-class upgrades, to any takers.  If I didn’t have just two days with my parents, I would have snapped it up.

Enterprise upgraded my bare-bones reserved car to a Nissan Rogue, which is a station wagon wannabe with more bells and whistles than a carnival organ.  The Red Roof Inn had trouble with the router in my wing so this is my first access to WiFi.  Oh, the horror.

Anyway, I’m here with Mom and Dad, catching up and offering a hand where I can.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

On The Road Again

Heading out this evening for a trip to see my folks for a couple of days, then off to the Missouri Self-Taught: Lanford Wilson and the American Drama conference at the University of Missouri.  I’ll present a paper on Mr. Wilson and compare his life and work to that of William Inge.  I’ll be doing it in front of friends and family of Mr. Wilson and the subject of my dissertation, so, no pressure.

Lanford Wilson 1937-2011

Actually it should be fun.  I’ll be reconnecting with friends and getting to look through the Wilson archives and learn more about him and his life and work.

I’m also looking forward to spending time with my mom and dad.

I’ll post about what I learn; maybe even some pictures.

Sunday Reading

First Contact — Charles Q. Choi in the Washington Post looks at the possibility that there were other civilizations here on Earth long before we came along.

Reptilian menaces called Silurians evolved on Earth before humankind — at least in the “Doctor Who” rendition of the universe. But, science fiction aside, how would we know if some advanced civilization existed on our home planet millions of years before brainy humans showed up?

This is a serious question, and serious scientists are speculating about what traces these potential predecessors might have left behind. And they’re calling this possibility the Silurian hypothesis.

When it comes to the hunt for advanced extraterrestrial civilizations that might exist across the cosmos, one must reckon with the knowledge that the universe is about 13.8 billion years old. In contrast, complex life has existed on Earth’s surface for only about 400 million years, and humans have developed industrial civilizations in only the past 300 years. This raises the possibility that industrial civilizations might have been around long before human ones ever existed — not just around other stars, but even on Earth itself.

“Now, I don’t believe an industrial civilization existed on Earth before our own — I don’t think there was a dinosaur civilization or a giant tree sloth civilization,” said Adam Frank, an astrophysicist at the University of Rochester and a co-author of a new study on the topic. “But the question of what one would look like if it did [exist] is important. How do you know there hasn’t been one? The whole point of science is to ask a question and see where it leads. That’s the essence of what makes science so exciting.”

Artifacts of human or other industrial civilizations are unlikely to be found on a planet’s surface after about 4 million years, wrote Frank and study co-author Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. For instance, they noted that urban areas currently take up less than 1 percent of Earth’s surface and that complex items, even from early human technology, are very rarely found. A machine as complex as the Antikythera mechanism — used by the ancient Greeks, it is considered the world’s first computer — remained unknown when elaborate clocks were being developed in Renaissance Europe.

One may also find it difficult to unearth fossils of any beings who might have lived in industrial civilizations, the scientists added. The fraction of life that gets fossilized is always extremely small: Of all the many dinosaurs that ever lived, for example, only a few thousand nearly complete fossil specimens have been discovered. Given that the oldest known fossils of Homo sapiens are only about 300,000 years old, there is no certainty that our species might even appear in the fossil record in the long run, they added.

Instead, the researchers suggested looking for more-subtle evidence of industrial civilizations in the geological records of Earth or other planets. The scientists focused on looking at the signs of civilization that humans might create during the Anthropocene, the geological age of today, characterized by humans’ influence on the planet.

“After a few million years, any physical reminder of your civilization may be gone, so you have to look for sedimentary anomalies, things like different chemical balances that just look wacky,” Frank said.

One sign of industrial civilization may have to do with isotopes of elements such as carbon.

For instance, humans living in industrial civilizations have burned an extraordinary amount of fossil fuels, releasing more than 500 billion tons of carbon from coal, oil and natural gas into the atmosphere. Fossil fuels ultimately derive from plant life, which preferentially absorb more of the lighter isotope carbon-12 than the heavier isotope carbon-13. When fossil fuels get burned, they alter the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-13 normally found in the atmosphere, ocean and soils — an effect that could later be detected in sediments as hints of an industrial civilization.

In addition, industrial civilizations have discovered ways to artificially “fix” nitrogen — that is, to break the powerful chemical bonds that hold nitrogen atoms together in pairs in the atmosphere, using the resulting single nitrogen atoms to create biologically useful molecules. The large-scale application of nitrogenous fertilizers generated via nitrogen fixing is already detectable in sediments remote from civilization, the scientists noted.

The Anthropocene is also triggering a mass extinction of a wide variety of species that is probably visible in the fossil record. Human industrial activity may also prove to be visible in the geological record in the form of long-lived synthetic molecules from plastics and other products, or radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons.

One wild idea the Silurian hypothesis raises is that the end of one civilization could sow the seeds for another. Industrial civilizations may trigger dead zones in oceans, causing the burial of organic material (from the corpses of organisms in the zones) that could, down the line, become fossil fuels that could support a new industrial civilization. “You could end up seeing these cycles in the geological record,” Frank said.

All in all, thinking about the impact that a previous civilization has on Earth “could help us think about what effects one might see on other planets, or about what is happening now on Earth,” Frank said.

 Doonesbury — Forgive me, Father…

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Friday, April 20, 2018

Happy Friday

Hey, we made it to the end of the week and we’re still here.

I see that Trump has hired Rudy Giuliani to handle his legal problems and “negotiate an end” to the Mueller probe.  Is he talking about a plea bargain?  Getting a nickel at Sing Sing?

In other news, former FBI director James Comey was on Rachel Maddow last night and didn’t reveal a whole lot other than to comment on the heavily-redacted memos he kept on his contacts with Trump and others.  Some of the notes are unintentionally funny, including one where Trump was worried about his then-national security advisor Michael Flynn: “The guy has serious judgment issues.”  Oh really.

Meanwhile, the summit between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jung-un may be a logistic nightmare because there isn’t a plane in the North Korean fleet that can make the trip.

If you’ve been following the continuing saga of EPA chief Scott Pruitt and his spendthrift ways, the latest bit is that like Webster’s dictionary, he was Morocco-bound (thank you, Hope and Crosby) last December and not necessarily on EPA business.  In fact, he was lobbying for U.S. natural gas exports, which isn’t something the EPA does, and he and his crew spent upwards of $40,000 including hotels and meals in Paris.  And yet he can’t get fired, probably because he’s basically emulating his boss.

Oh, you want some Friday Catblogging?  Okay.  This one’s about me packing for my own road trip next week.

I’m heading for Ohio, then Missouri and catching up with old friends and dissertation subjects.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

It Takes A While

I’ve been so busy with work and getting ready for next week’s trip that I’ve been a little behind in catching up on the news; I’ve barely had a chance to do more than just glance at it.  So I’m grateful to Booman for encapsulating what’s been going on.

To put it bluntly, the president is completely screwed six ways to Sunday, and all that’s left is to wait for this to play out and get our goblets ready to drink the tears. Anyone who knows anything about Michael Cohen understands this already, and the rest of the people will eventually catch up.

[…]

Republicans are beginning to have their fantasies hit up against a wall of reality on a more frequent basis now. Their efforts to repeal Obamacare met up with reality. There rhetoric about excluding whole classes of immigrants met up with reality. Now that people have seen their tax bill and it isn’t popular, their false hopes for pulling out of their political tailspin has met with reality, and this is confirmed regularly in local, state, and federal elections where they’re getting stomped in Trump country.

So it looks like the chickens are coming home to roost, the shit is about to hit the fan, and karma is running over the dogma.

Maybe it’s the advantage of having watched this for so long — I started really paying attention to politics and the outcomes fifty years ago — that I’ve learned to look at the long game and not get caught up in the little glitches, annoyances, and disappointments.  Things have a way of balancing out.  Sometimes it takes quite a while, but it does.

Fifty years ago Bobby Kennedy was running for president.  He was a late entry in the 1968 primaries after LBJ announced in March that he wasn’t running for reelection, and it looked like he had a real chance at winning both the nomination and the election.  Then he walked through the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

A lot of people lost hope and optimism after the events of 1968.  Nixon, Wallace, the “Southern Strategy,” hippies vs. hard-hats; it was all about calculation and cynicism.  And then Watergate happened and we thought we’d fixed it only to find we hadn’t, and then the Moral Majority and weaponized religion and heavenly-inspired hatred came along.  But we started to get some of the good back, and those of us who forty years before saw hope in Bobby Kennedy saw it again in Barack Obama, who would strike that chord for the old and the new.

Of course there would be a visceral reaction on the part of some people to the election of the first African-American president.  They saw equality for all as oppression of the privileged, and worse, they learned that just because you’re rich, white, and Christian, the world does not owe you anything more than the same respect that everyone else is entitled to.  So we got Trump.  But fraud and fakery masquerading as class and competence cannot last forever.  There will be a reckoning.  It may take a while, but it is coming.  Bobby Kennedy may have died in 1968, but his legacy and his goals survived in another form and did win.

My favorite movie was on TCM last night: “Casablanca.”  One of the takeaways of many in that story is that the problems of three little people don’t amount to hill of beans in this crazy world.  But human nature is such that good does win in the end because it is our natural state; doing evil and trickery requires too much energy to outlast that which is good.  As John Patrick once noted, man is by nature optimistic; otherwise we’d eat our young.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Thoughts On Rails

Miami’s traffic is legendary for being really terrible.  Every time there’s a ranking of the ten worst places for commuting, South Florida, which encompasses everything from Homestead to Palm Beach, comes out at or near the top… or the bottom.  So thanks to age and convenience, I have been riding the county’s Metro Rail system since last September.  Residents 65 and older get a free pass, and the nearest depot with covered parking ($11.25 a month) is six miles from my house.  The travel time is about the same: an hour from door to door, both directions.  It saves me about $100 a month in gas and untold stress on me and the car.

Being a creature of habit, I ride the same train every morning and I usually sit in the same place; a seat that puts me right at the exit to get off and get to the Metro Mover, the mini-train that passes by my office’s front door.  I see the same people riding the train with me, and I’ve even made a couple of friends who share the commute with me.  They’re like me; mid-level employees who like to get to work early or have a schedule that gets them out early, and we take the inevitable disruptions to the train service — the cars on Metro Rail date back to 1984 and the new ones are being rolled out slowly — in stride.

I also see a lot of blue-collar workers.  There’s a lot of construction going on in downtown Miami and the train usually has a variety of men and women dressed for labor; hard hats, heavy boots, and equipment, and they’re of all ages; ranging from their twenties up to (I’m guessing) their fifties.

At 5:00 a.m. it’s a quiet ride.  Most of us are either dozing or looking at their phones, some listening with earbuds, and the only sound is the rattle of the train and the scratchy P.A. “Green Line — Palmetto” as the doors open.

There are cracks and flaws in the system.  Metro Rail was intended to cover a lot more of the county, including a line out to Miami Beach and back.  But it was halted about half-way and plans to continue or finish it have stalled.  The only new service in the last ten years was the addition of the Orange Line out to Miami International Airport.  The funds initially set aside to expand it and improve it were spent on other things, and as I noted, the replacement cars — I’ve actually ridden one — are few and far between as they are being tested and certified.  So, as one of my fellow commuters noted the other day, we’re moving really slowly to get someplace fast.

But it beats sitting in the middle of U.S. 1 and taking an hour and a half to go seventeen miles.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018