Normally I hate TV shows about lawyers. In the typical American TV show about lawyers, I just can’t get beyond the unreality of the plots and the outlandish depictions of our legal procedures and activities. But I’ll make an exception for shows about British lawyers, or in the case of Rake, Australian lawyers. I figure that any legal settings where barristers are wearing horsehair wigs and gowns is so far outside my experience I can’t really object to the reality, or unreality, of any of the storylines or contrived courtroom drama.
And in fairness, Rake ends up not really being a show about law at all. Sure, Cleaver Greene–the “rake” of the title who is deftly played by Richard Roxburgh–has gone to law school and does his share of work in the courtroom, but the show is mostly about his train wreck of a life. We witness his countless bad decisions, his ego-centric interactions with his ex-wife, his ex-mistress, his son who has inherited some of Cleave’s tendencies, his friends, his steadfast paralegal/assistant, and his ever-changing dalliances, and we get to hear his often hilarious observations about life in general, all set against the backdrop of an Australian political and legal system that is amazingly corrupt and inept.
And if it sounds like the show is a slam on Australia, it doesn’t come off that way. Instead, Australia is presented as a kind of charming, friendly, out-of-the-way place where everyone knows everybody else and nobody takes anything too seriously. I’d like to pay a visit to Cleaver Greene’s Australia. It’s a place where a character whose life is going to hell can say, with perfect deadpan delivery, that everything is “tickety-boo” and you know exactly what he means even if you’ve never heard that phrase before. (“Tickety-boo” dates from the days of the British occupation of India and basically means “in good order.”)
As for the arc of the show, it becomes increasingly surreal as the seasons roll on. If you’re looking for realistic courtroom drama, even of the horsehair wig variety, you really should look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for a show that will give you an interesting taste of the Land Down Under, a show that introduces you to Australian language and culture, a show that delivers some laugh out loud moments, and a show that recognizes it’s just a lighthearted frolic, you might enjoy watching Rake. We certainly did.
The last year has seen a lot of changes for everyone. We’ve rolled with the changes and adjusted as necessary—there’s really no alternative to that, is there?—but it’s also nice when we learn that something hasn’t changed, and probably won’t change.
That’s why I was glad to see the Stonington mailboat docked and at the ready when I took my first early morning walk through town and past the harbor earlier this week. That’s it there at the right of the photograph above, prepared to toot its horn, head out to the islands in the Bay and deliver mail, packages, and passengers, just as it has for years.
In the ever-changing world, the mailboat is a constant. I like that.
I admit it: I’m a space geek. I avidly followed the space program when I was a kid and watched all of the launches and landings, I joined The Planetary Society when I was a college student and got some great photos of planets taken by exploratory spacecraft of the ’70s that I tacked up on the wall around my desk, and I’ve been hooked on space and planets and the technological advances made in our exploration efforts ever since. That’s why I think what we’re doing now on Mars is pretty darned thrilling.
The photo above is a picture of the latest Mars rover, Perseverance, taken by Ingenuity, the helicopter/drone that has been taking short flights over the surface of Mars. It’s not the greatest photograph from a technical standpoint, of course, but the amazing thing is that it is a picture of human technology taken by another item of human technology on the surface of a distant, alien planet. The picture was snapped on Sunday on Ingenuity‘s third, and longest, flight over old Mars, when Ingenuity was about 16 feet above the Martian landscape and about a football field away from Perseverance.
We keep making significant advances in the space arena, whether it is developing reusable capsules and rockets, sending drones to Mars, or seeing more entrepreneurs entering the space technology and exploration business. It makes me believe that the next few years are going to see some real landmarks established: space tourism, permanent bases on the Moon, and even human landings on Mars. But for now, a blurry, grainy photo of Perseverance is still a pretty cool thing.
I’ve always been an early riser. Grandma Neal liked to say that I got up at “the crack of dawn.” This morning’s stunning sunrise reminded me of that favorite phrase, because it looked like a crack in the sky, with light beaming in through the break and spreading over the sleepy town and boats at anchor in the harbor.
Sunrises like this are best enjoyed with a cup of hot coffee, and make getting up at the crack of dawn worth every lost minute of sleep.
We’re getting close to the spring planting season in Stonington, and I’m working on a strategy to try to deal with the marauding deer population that decimated the flowers in the lower, unfenced part of our yard last year.
On a walk over the weekend, I ran into a fellow gardener who was out working in her yard and asked if she had any recommendations for non-chemical, non-fenced—yet effective—ways of keeping deer away from those tasty flowers. She recommended garlic, and lots of it. She said you crush the cloves to increase the smell and place them around the perimeter of the area you want to protect. The deer apparently hate the odor and supposedly avoid the garlic aroma area.
Garlic: it’s not just for vampires any more!
I don’t want to use any kind of chemical spray, which will just wash down into the harbor, and I don’t want to put up any wires or fencing, which would ruin the rustic look of the down yard. I’m therefore going to try the garlic approach this year, and combine it with another tip I got from a gardening neighbor. He said that when he planted marigolds last year he was surprised to see that the deer not only didn’t eat the marigold flowers, they avoided the marigold area of his garden entirely because they find that smell unpleasant, too. Some other locals also endorse the marigold approach.
So, this year I’ll be crushing and placing garlic cloves around the down yard, and planting marigolds as a kind of protective barrier for other flowers. If garlic and marigolds work alone, imagine their impact in combination! And I hope this technique works, because this morning I saw a huge herd of deer at the end of our road—and they looked hungry.
The cereal makers keep pushing the envelope and blurring the lines between cereal and dessert—as well as messing with our holiday traditions. I’m not sure that Kellogg’s Peeps cereal can ever be topped, but I saw two new strong entrants in the cereal advances category on a recent trip to the grocery store: Kellogg’s Elf On The Shelf Sugar Cookie Cereal With Marshmallows (really, that’s what it says on the box) right next to Post’s Dunkin’ Mocha Latte Cereal made with Dunkin’ coffee that the box discloses is both naturally and artificially favored. (No kidding!)
I can’t figure out what’s weirder—Christmas-themed cereal in April, or wanting to buy a cereal that tastes just like the sugary flavored coffee that you are drinking with your cereal. I guess as between the two I would have to pick the Elf On A Shelf cereal, both because it threatens complete sugar overload and because kids deserve a break from thinking that creepy bug-eyed elves are spying on them and monitoring their behavior all year ‘round.
So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Germany would be leading the way in inventing new words to deal with the COVID-19 world. In fact, the Leibniz Institute for the German Language did an analysis and determined that some 1,200 new words have been created during this pandemic period. One of the professors involved in the process of collecting the words concludes that the word creation process helps the German to deal with pandemic anxiety, which is captured by one of the new words: Coronaangst.
Some of the 1,200 words are pretty useful, and I’m going to try to incorporate them into my daily vocabulary. For example:
Impfneid — vaccination envy
Hamsterkauf — panic buying and stockpiling food like a hamster (This one is bound to be used in the post-pandemic world, whenever a hurricane or some other hazardous impending event is forecast.)
Coronafrisur — corona hairstyle (Who doesn’t know at least one person who hasn’t grown a special coronafrisur? I’ll be using this one the next time I talk to the Red Sox Fan, who has grown a remarkable mane during the shutdown period.)
Alltagsmaske — everyday mask
Abstandsbier — distance beer
Maskentrottel — literally, “mask idiot,” to refer to someone who wears a face covering leaving the nose exposed
When you consider the choice words the Germans have come up with, I’m afraid we Americans are losing the Words Race. About the only new phrase I can think of is “social distancing”–which I think gets absolutely blown out of the water by hamsterkauf.
The people of Columbus must really like riding scooters. Or, at least, that must be true of people hanging out in German Village. Schiller Park, in particular, is a magnet for scooters. Every morning on my walk around the park I see scooters at every point of the compass—some neatly arranged in appealing groups, like the ones above, some scattered willy-nilly, and some casually discarded and lying on their sides , like scooter litter.
By my count, there are at least four companies vying for the business of Cbus scooter users. And it must be a rule that scooter companies have four letters in their names—no more, no less—because that’s true of every Columbus competitor. We’ve got Bird, Link, Spin, and Lime.
What’s next? Sync, maybe? Given the ‘tude of the scooter riders, I’m surprised that Cool and Pose haven’t been used already.
According to the BBC story, the individual “worked” at a hospital in the Italian town of Catanzaro. He stopped showing up in 2005, and nevertheless received full pay for the next 15 years and was reportedly paid more than 500,000 Euros during that period. His case came to light as part of a police investigation into rampant absenteeism and payroll fraud in the Italian public sector. Six managers at the hospital also are subjects of the investigation.
So, how did this happen, exactly? It’s not entirely clear, but the BBC article indicates that the employee was going to be the subject of a disciplinary charge by his manager when he threatened the manager. She didn’t file the report and then retired, and her successor, and the hospital’s HR staff, never noticed the employee’s absence. In the meantime, he kept getting his paychecks.
This impressive goldbricking feat sounds like an episode from Seinfeld or The Sopranos, or the plot for Office Space II. One thing the BBC story doesn’t disclose is what, exactly, the employee’s job was supposed to be. The reader is left to wonder: what paying position could be deemed necessary to create in the first place, but could be so inconsequential that no one would notice it wasn’t being done?
The other day I was characterizing somebody’s action that was pretty darned brazen. The phrase that immediately popped into my mind was “it takes crust,” so that is what I used. To my surprise and disappointment, the other party to the discussion had never heard that phrase before and had no idea what I was saying.
I can identify the source of this particular phrase with precision. It was one of Grandma Webner’s favorites, and always said with a look of abject disgust. It meant that the person in question was acting with unmitigated gall, impertinence, recklessness, and a complete lack of regard for social mores and Grandma’s accepted rules of behavior. Usually there was a certain element of hypocrisy in the mix, too. For example, if somebody with a well-earned reputation for sketchy and dubious behavior insisted that another person be held to the highest standards of conduct in their personal affairs, Grandma would get that look and say “it takes crust for so-and-so to do such-and-such.” And everyone who heard her knew exactly what she meant.
It’s a great little bit of American slang that apparently was much more commonly used in the early 1900s, although it seems to have fallen out of favor recently–as the bewildered reaction to my use of the phrase indicated. I’ve always thought that the phrase must draw from the meaning of “crust” as a kind of protective coating, and reflects that the impertinent actor must be hardened or oblivious to how polite society will react to their conduct. But “crust” is just too good a word to fall out of slang usage entirely, and according to the Urban Dictionary it is now used to described a particular kind of fast and garbled punk music, and it can also refer to a thing or person that is unappealing.
I like Grandma’s sense of the word better, and I’ll continue to use it, explain it when necessary, and do my part to ensure that “it takes crust” doesn’t fall completely out of usage.
Much as I hate the idea of snow on the ground on April 21–and more snow falling, even now–I have to admit that the snow gave a pretty new look to Schiller Park during my walk this morning. You could still see some of the color of the flowering trees beneath the layer of snow, and the heavy, wet snow on the leaves brought many of the limbs of the trees over the sidewalks down low, requiring you to duck and steer between low-hanging branches as you walked. And snow bombs, with clumps of snow being shaken off the trees and falling on we pedestrians below, were a constant hazard.
As I walked, I thought the park looked different in this snowfall than it does during the winter months. It took me a while to figure it out, until the bright green, grassy circles that surrounded every leafed-out tree clued me in. The canopies of leaves were shielding the grass from the snow and holding it above. Unlike their skeletal look after a winter snowfall, the trees looked full and bright, almost as if the snow were flowering buds. That thought almost made the falling snow and the cold tolerable.
The temperature started to plummet last night, the clouds rolled in, and this morning we woke up to a fresh—and utterly unwelcome—springtime snowfall, as shown in this picture from our screened porch taken a few minutes ago.. The temperature is right at 32 degrees Fahrenheit now and is supposed to rise gradually, but it’s not going to get above the low 40s today.
In short, it’s not exactly an ideal spring day.
That’s Midwestern weather for you. It defines unpredictability. April 20 and 21 is pretty late for snow, but the folk wisdom in these parts tells us that late snows and freezing temperatures at the end of April or even early May aren’t unprecedented. The prevailing view is that you shouldn’t plant flowers until Mother’s Day, in order to avoid a belated hard freeze that kills or cripples your new plantings. That little nugget of local gardening doctrine, which Mom repeated on an annual basis, obviously is based on years of harsh experience.
And this year, the folk wisdom has been affirmed once again. I’m glad I haven’t done anything in the planting arena before now. I’ll also be glad when the snow melts and we get back to a reasonable approximation of spring.
Today I turn 64. It’s a memorable birthday, thanks to a Beatles song from the Sgt. Pepper album. Ever since I first heard it, When I’m 64 has established a kind of old-age milestone–one that I’ve now reached.
As other people of this age have recently remarked to me, when Paul McCartney and John Lennon wrote When I’m 64 that age was viewed as pretty darned old. It was not only “many years from now,” the character in the song speaks of needing to be fed. I haven’t quite reached that point, fortunately. (At the same time, the character in the song is somehow able to stay out until a quarter to three–long past my bedtime–so he is both feeble and capable of partying into the wee hours, which is a pretty impressive combination.)
I’m not much for birthdays, but thanks to the Beatles, 64 is one I’ll remember. It therefore joins my 10th birthday, when my parents threw a fun “bowling birthday party” for me and my friends at Riviera Lanes in Akron, Ohio, and my 30th birthday, when Kish and I had a big party at the Grandview Cafe, as memorable birthdays. I don’t have any distinct memories of the big “milestone” birthdays, like 13, or 18, or 21, or any of the decade-marking birthdays.
Does anyone know of any songs about turning 65, or 70?
Our friends John and Monica do their part to make sure that people remember that heroic ride on the eve of the Revolutionary War. Every year, they send out t-shirts to remind people to “keep the ride alive.” To assist in their effort to keep the ride alive in our hearts and minds, I offer this post, with the famous poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that some of us learned in our school days.
Paul Revere’s Ride
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
LISTEN, my children, and you shall hear Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five; Hardly a man is now alive Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, “If the British march By land or sea from the town to-night, Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch Of the North Church tower as a signal light, — One, if by land, and two, if by sea; And I on the opposite shore will be, Ready to ride and spread the alarm Through every Middlesex village and farm, For the country folk to be up and to arm.”
Then he said, “Good night!” and with muffled oar Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore, Just as the moon rose over the bay, Where swinging wide at her moorings lay The Somerset, British man-of-war; A phantom ship, with each mast and spar Across the moon like a prison bar, And a huge black hulk, that was magnified By its own reflection in the tide.
Meanwhile, his friend, through alley and street, Wanders and watches with eager ears, Till in the silence around him he hears The muster of men at the barrack door, The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet, And the measured tread of the grenadiers, Marching down to their boats on the shore.
Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church, By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread, To the belfry-chamber overhead, And startled the pigeons from their perch On the sombre rafters, that round him made Masses and moving shapes of shade, — By the trembling ladder, steep and tall, To the highest window in the wall, Where he paused to listen and look down A moment on the roofs of the town, And the moonlight flowing over all.
Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead, In their night-encampment on the hill, Wrapped in silence so deep and still That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread, The watchful night-wind, as it went Creeping along from tent to tent, And seeming to whisper, “All is well!” A moment only he feels the spell Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread Of the lonely belfry and the dead; For suddenly all his thoughts are bent On a shadowy something far away, Where the river widens to meet the bay, — A line of black that bends and floats On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.
Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride, Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere. Now he patted his horse’s side, Now gazed at the landscape far and near, Then, impetuous, stamped the earth, And turned and tightened his saddle-girth; But mostly he watched with eager search The belfry-tower of the Old North Church, As it rose above the graves on the hill, Lonely and spectral and sombre and still. And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height A glimmer, and then a gleam of light! He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns, But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight A second lamp in the belfry burns!
A hurry of hoofs in a village street, A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark, And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet: That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light, The fate of a nation was riding that night; And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight, Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep, And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep, Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides; And under the alders that skirt its edge, Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge, Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.
It was twelve by the village clock, When he crossed the bridge into Medford town. He heard the crowing of the cock, And the barking of the farmer’s dog, And felt the damp of the river fog, That rises after the sun goes down.
It was one by the village clock, When he galloped into Lexington. He saw the gilded weathercock Swim in the moonlight as he passed, And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare, Gaze at him with a spectral glare, As if they already stood aghast At the bloody work they would look upon.
It was two by the village clock, When he came to the bridge in Concord town. He heard the bleating of the flock, And the twitter of birds among the trees, And felt the breath of the morning breeze Blowing over the meadows brown. And one was safe and asleep in his bed Who at the bridge would be first to fall, Who that day would be lying dead, Pierced by a British musket-ball.
You know the rest. In the books you have read, How the British Regulars fired and fled, — How the farmers gave them ball for ball, From behind each fence and farm-yard wall, Chasing the red-coats down the lane, Then crossing the fields to emerge again Under the trees at the turn of the road, And only pausing to fire and load.
So through the night rode Paul Revere; And so through the night went his cry of alarm To every Middlesex village and farm, — A cry of defiance and not of fear, A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door, And a word that shall echo forevermore! For, borne on the night-wind of the Past, Through all our history, to the last, In the hour of darkness and peril and need, The people will waken and listen to hear The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed, And the midnight message of Paul Revere.
I don’t know which airlines–if any–are still blocking off the middle seats of flights. We flew American to and from Arizona on our recent visit, and on our flights every seat, including the middle seat, was filed. The airlines not only take the position that the science cited by the CDC is “limited,” but also point out that the airline industry took a huge hit in the early days of COVID, when most people avoided travel, and they need to sell those middle seats to recover economically and become profitable again.
It’s a class example of the tug-of-war between public health and profitability. I’m convinced that, if the CDC had its druthers, they’d rather every American stayed in their homes and avoided any risks whatsoever. And when it comes to air travel, they’d rather people are more spaced out (cramped passengers wouldn’t mind that, either), everyone wears masks, no food is served, and aircraft are designed so that all potential disease transmission vectors are avoided. Of course, if the airlines followed all of the CDC’s guidance, the cost of air travel would inevitably increase, some airlines would go out of business, and people wouldn’t be happy about it.
I’m guessing the airlines will come out on top in the middle-seat muddle and will continue to fill those middle seats, unless the FAA or Congress actually mandates that middle seats be left vacant. But you can bet that the airlines won’t object to the public health requirements that don’t affect their bottom line–like requiring passengers to wear masks at all times, regardless of their vaccination status or COVID case data. I think air travelers are going to be masked for the foreseeable future–and maybe permanently.