Posts Tagged ‘Downton Abbey’

Letter From New York 05 07 2016 Thoughts from yesterday…

May 7, 2016

The town of Fort McMurray, in the heart of Canada’s oil patch, is burning to the ground as I write.  88,000 people are being evacuated.  One who has remained to assist in fueling emergency workers described the city, according to Vice, as a “f**king ghost town.”  Reports are calling the situation barely managed chaos. Convoys are transporting people out of town and 8,000 have been airlifted out.

The Prime Minister of Turkey has resigned after a fight with President Erdogan.  As I understand it, in Turkey it’s the PM who is supposed to have the power while the President does the meeting and the greeting.  Erdogan doesn’t see it that way and has been keeping hold on the reins of power.  This resignation makes it easier for Erdogan to consolidate power.  Turkey is troubled, fighting a Kurdish insurgency, IS, wrestling with refugees and a population that is growing antagonistic to Erdogan.

I still would like to go back to the “Turquoise Coast” of that country, sun dappled and bucolic.

Not bucolic is the state of American politics.  Trump continues to rise and has no opposition on his march to the nomination.  Cruz and Kasich are gone. The Presidents Bush, number 41 and 43, have signaled they will not endorse him. Paul Ryan is “not ready” at this time to endorse Trump.  The Trump campaign approached over a hundred Republican politicos to say something good about Trump.  Only twenty responded; the others were “too busy.”

As I gave my last lecture, the students were commenting on how exhausted they were of the political season and the near certainty that Trump will be the Republican nominee has only heightened their distaste for politics; all suspect an ugly, brutal slugfest between the two candidates, neither of whom they admire, assuming Hillary is nominated, as it looks she will. The aspirational nature of politics has slipped away from us.

And before it is done, something like $4 billion will be spent on this election, twice what was spent in 2012.

President Obama implored reporters to focus on issues and not “the spectacle and circus” that has marked coverage so far of the 2016 Presidential race.  After all, being President of the United States is “not a reality show.”  Amen…

A Fort Valley State University student, in central Georgia, was stabbed to death as he came to aid three women who were being harassed and groped near the school cafeteria.  Rest in peace, Donnell Phelps, all of nineteen.

Two are dead and two are wounded in shootings is suburban Maryland, three at Montgomery Mall, where I have shopped and one at a grocery store nine miles away.  One man is believed responsible.  If it is the man police suspect, he killed his wife last night when she was at school, picking up their children.  He was under court order to stay away from her.

It is a grey afternoon as I write this, in a stretch of chill, grey days and news like the above deepens the pall of the day.

If you are feeling grey because “Downton Abbey” has slipped into the past, its creator, Julian Fellowes, took Trollope’s novel, “Doctor Thorne” and brought it to life.  Amazon has purchased it and will stream it beginning May 20.  Fill a hole in your viewing heart.

In my heart, I want a new iPhone and I am probably going to wait until the fall when Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, tells us that the iPhone 7 will give us features we can’t live without.  What they are, I don’t know.  I am writing this on a train going north and can’t stream on Amtrak’s wifi.

Speaking of Amtrak, I booked a trip from New York to Minneapolis on the train for July 20th to visit my brother and his family.  I am taking a train to DC, the Capital Limited out of there to Chicago and the Empire Builder from Chicago to Minneapolis.  I hope it will be good fun.

Fun seems to be what we need these days.  Our politics are not fun.  The constant barrage of shootings is not fun, not remotely.  The economy, while growing, isn’t growing fast enough which is not fun.

What will be fun is that Lionel and Pierre are going to be at their home across the street from me this weekend and I will get to see them.

Letter From New York 03 09 2016 Sequestered with my thoughts in the cottage…

March 10, 2016

The day we all lived through here in Columbia County was physically the most exquisite day of the year and it may hold that crown all year; it’s hard to imagine a day that will be more splendid than this one.  The sky was blue, the air was warm — after I finished teaching it was scratching at hot.

My students had presentations to make today and they pleaded with me to let them do it outside and I was game but one of my students was allergic to the sun [as was I as a child] and had been outside for her last class and was feeling the effects.  So I let them go ten minutes early and stayed after talking with several students about the graded presentation they were going to be making after spring break.

It was a sweet day.  As I drove around the county on errands, bits and pieces of the news filtered in over the radio. 

Bernie had won Michigan, either stunning the Clinton camp or, according to some reports, they were just shrugging it off.  He is capturing something she isn’t.  In Michigan, it was largely, I understood, about his trade positions.

Tonight they are facing off against each other in Miami.  I may look at some of it but then again may not.  We still have months of this in front of us.

Trump continues his romp, causing, I’m sure, many Republicans to pull their hair and mimic Munch’s “The Scream.”  Carly Fiorna has come out for Ted Cruz.

It’s a quiet night, sequestered in the cottage, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald are singing their classics, a martini is nearby and the lights are illuminating the creek.  For this minute, the world is my oyster and I’m savoring it.

As we probably all know, “Downton Abbey” has finished its six year run, all the plots and subplots neatly tied up by Lord Fellowes, the creator who rose to the aristocracy himself during the program’s run.  Not just knighted but made a Baron.  Good job! There is now talk of a “Downton Abbey” movie.  I am sure it will come together.  Both sides of the Atlantic are mad for the Crawley family and their servants.

Either critically wounded or dead is a man known as Omar the Chechen, a lead military figure for IS.  Interestingly, when he was fighting the Russians in his homeland he received training from American Special Forces and was a star pupil.  Later he became the “Minister of War” for IS and was largely responsible for the push that took them within a hundred miles of Baghdad.

A captured IS official seems to be spilling the beans about IS’s efforts in chemical warfare.  They seem to be centered on the use of mustard gas, used by the Germans in World War I to devastating effect.

A former American soldier has been convicted of attempting to join IS and faces 35 years in prison.   He had left a note for his wife telling her he wanted to die a martyr.

Mourners are paying respects to Nancy Reagan, who lies in review at the Reagan Library where she will be buried next to her Ronnie.

And I love — sort of  — the story of a Floridian mother who had bragged about her four year old son getting really “racked up” to go practice shooting with her.  Hours later, he shot her in the back.  They were out for a drive when it happened. WHAT?!

Kathyrn Popper died today at 100.  She was the last surviving cast member of “Citizen Kane,” the movie named by the AFI in 1997 as the greatest film ever made.  She was also Orson Welles’ longtime assistant.

Kim Kardashian has been posting nude selfies.  Outrage has broken out in some circles.  In other circles, people are posting their own naked selfies in support of her, including Sharon Osbourne, reality star, talk show host and wife of Ozzy Osbourne.  I am NOT going to search it out.  No.  No, thank you…

Lastly, Sir George Martin passed away today at the age of 90.  Longtime producer of the Beatles, he helped shape their sound and redefined the role of music producer. 

The evening is rich.  There is no sound quite like Louis Armstrong married with Ella Fitzgerald. The cottage is more than cozy.  Friends are arriving from Nashville for the weekend and it will be good to share with them my home.

Letter From New York 03 05 2016 From Churchill to Yemen…

March 6, 2016

Winston Churchill used to say he was chased by the “black dog,” depression.  It chased him his whole life and he ran, mostly successfully, from it his whole life. Sometimes, when the “black dog” felt particularly close, Winston would sometimes go off to Morocco and paint, drink and think and probably write.  He wrote more than Dickens and Shakespeare combined.

He may well have been a manic-depressive.  During the war he was followed around by his personal physician, Lord Moran, who prescribed upper and downers to manage the moods of the great man.

He was black dogged by depression and I was thinking about that last night as I rode home on the train, black dogged myself.  I had gone down to the city yesterday, had a full day of appointments and when I stepped on the train last night I was exhausted and felt the old black dog nipping at my heels.

When I got home, I went to bed almost immediately and fell asleep early watching an episode of “Doc Martin,” about an English doctor only marginally more cranky than I was last night.

When the morning broke, I was my usual sunny self and, while sipping tea, worked on next week’s lectures.  The day was spent on that and the Saturday chores.  Young Nick was here and we did things that needed to be done, mounting a light fixture, cleaning, sorting, rearranging, bringing in wood and dealing with the trash.  The things we do on Saturday.

Going down to the Dot, I welcomed Alana back from three weeks in Costa Rica and then, after an omelet and a Bloody Mary, came home to write my letter, which often is one of the most pleasurable times in the day. 

Turning on the floodlights so the creek is illuminated, I sorted through the last couple of days.

The rise of Trump has been a constant cause for conversation though as I returned home, I discovered Ted Cruz had won the Kansas caucuses and he is at least as frightening to me as Trump.  Both of them seem to me to be wack-a-doodles from some other dimension.  This earns me no points with my conservative friends but it’s true; it’s how I feel.

Caitlin Jenner wants to be Ted Cruz’s “trans ambassador.”  I am not sure he’s interested in having one.

Popular comedian Louis CK has implored his fans not to vote for Trump, likening him to Hitler.  Trump, not necessarily looking to support Louis CK’s view of him, announced he would increase the use of torture if he were President.

“Downtown Abbey” ends tomorrow night.  I have already seen the last episode as I subscribed to the feed through iTunes.  Let’s tip a hat to Alistair Bruce, who was in charge of making sure it was historically accurate.  He did a magnificent job.

A fire is burning in the stove; I’ve rearranged some lights in the house.  I like the effect as I sit here at the dining room table, the creek lit in front of me, jazz playing and my thoughts running.

Four nuns and twelve others were killed in Yemen during an attack.  Gunmen entered the building, handcuffed the victims and then shot them.  It’s not yet clear who carried out the attack.  The Pope has decried it; the nuns were members of the order founded by Mother Theresa.

Boko Haram, the scourge of Nigeria, is suffering from a food crisis.  With all the people who have fled them, no is left to grow crops or herd animals and they are beginning to starve.  Hungry and desperate, they are ruthlessly raiding which, I suspect, will only increase the cycle they have created.

And in my cycle, I am going to sign off for tonight.  I need to be up in the morning, work on my lectures and then to church.  I signed up to do coffee hour on Easter Sunday, not quite realizing that it was a major, major thing and I am now expected to come up with something quite spectacular.  Cookbooks are out.  Recipes are being reconnoitered. 

I have a meeting about this tomorrow at 12:30.  I think I may have over stretched and I will rise to the challenge.

Letter From New York 03 12 15 Some charming and some not so charming things…

March 12, 2015

The sun has been out brilliantly all day and the temperature has been around fifty degrees. Though it has been a bright and cheery day, I have only enjoyed it by sitting at my dining room table while working on the speech I will be giving at the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, on March 29th. Since this morning I have been attempting to find a through thread for my remarks. I am speaking at a conference that seems to be largely about robotics and applying engineering and technology to social problems. I suppose that out of all this I can find things to say and to hope the students will ask a lot of questions.

All in all, I’m looking forward to it. As usual, I started the day with coffee and The NY Times. It is a pleasant way to ease myself into the day.

I woke with regret that shut down abruptly this week. It was the other site I posted my blog on, other than WordPress and I consistently got more views there. Now it’s gone. Minutes after I posted my last blog there, I received an e-mail saying: good-bye, we’re done. Good-bye.

Nobody is saying good-bye to the open letter written by the 47 Republican Senators to the leaders of Iran. The normally conservative New York Daily News blasted them as “traitors.” The Ayatollah has slammed them back while continuing to support the Iranian team that is negotiating but he thinks, after the letter, that we are “deceitful and backbiting.” Somewhere between 165,000 and 225,000 people have signed petitions asking they be tried for treason. Germany has piled on, too, more than irked by the Letter of 47.

Nor is anyone saying good-bye to the Clinton email fiasco though it seems quieter out there today. Notable is that not many Democrats are piling on her for the ruckus she has caused and that may be because no one is really contesting her run for the Presidential nomination.

In Ferguson, MO two police officers were shot outside police headquarters, throwing kerosene on the fire that still burns there. Thankfully, while seriously hurt, their lives are not in danger. As resignations from city officials were beginning to tamper down the heat, this only makes it worse.

In Moscow, the rumor mills are spinning wildly as Putin has been visibly absent for the last week, skipping some important dates in his diary. He will not be making a speech this year to the FSB, successor the KGB, as he usually does. He has cancelled trips. All unusual for the macho man, Putin. The rumors run from him being ill to staying put to contain an internal Kremlin power struggle. Shades of the Soviet past.

Boko Haram seems to be in retreat in Nigeria. IS seems to be in retreat in Tikrit.

IS has accepted the allegiance of Boko Haram, they announced today in an audiotape, saying their “Caliphate” had now grown to include the territory held by Boko Haram.

In a new twist to the Nigerian situation, South African mercenaries are fighting alongside Nigerian soldiers. Apparently they have been around now for a while and have had a positive influence in turning the tide though the South African government has said they will be arrested on their return.

Not returned are the three British girls who crossed through Turkey to join IS. It is now being reported that a spy working for one of the coalition countries fighting IS, helped them across the border and is now in Turkish custody.

In much brighter news about something British, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, visited the set of Downton Abbey today, shooting its sixth season at Ealing Studios. She apparently charmed everyone.

Charming, too, is the day I’ve had and now I am prepping to go off to Coyote Flaco to have their fajitas, I think. Then home to sleep and off to the city tomorrow for a few meetings.

Letter From New York 03 02 15 It pays to be polite…

March 2, 2015

It is mid-day and I am at the Acela Lounge in Penn Station, where I have been doing emails and catching up on the Season Finale of Downton Abbey, which I missed last night. It was cold this morning when I left the cottage but the predicted six inches of snow failed to materialize but my understanding is that more is set to come. My morning train was filled with folks bemoaning the length of this winter as well as the depth of its cold.

The world outside the Acela Lounge is more chaotic than it is in here.

Netanyahu seems to be striking a more conciliatory tone now that he is on American soil. Speaking this morning at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual policy conference he stated that similarities between the US and Israel are greater than their differences and that we would “weather the current disagreement.” He is also making a point of saying he means no disrespect to Obama.

It appears, according to reports from CNN that a growing number of Americans disapprove of the speech and of Speaker Boehner’s invitation. I am going to be fascinated to watch this play out.

In the meantime, Iran is being slow to cooperate with the UN’s nuclear watchdog.

In the Mideast, the attack on Tikrit has begun and there are reports that Iraqi forces are making some headway. What is interesting is that one of the leaders of the military operation appears to be an Iranian General. This is not the first attempt to re-take Tikrit. The others were rapidly aborted.

IS has also taken to social media to denounce Twitter Co-Founder Jack Dorsey and to encourage jihadi to kill him and Twitter employees in the San Francisco area. They are upset that Twitter has taken down accounts that have been traced to them.

IS wannabes, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, have beheaded two men they accused of spying.

In Cairo and Aswan, two bombs exploded, killing two and injuring nearly a dozen.

In better news out of Africa, President Pohamba of Namibia has been awarded the $5,000,000 Mo Ibrahim Foundation prize for good governance. It is the first time the Award has been given since 2011 and only the fifth time in its history. Good governance in Africa is hard to find.

Eyes in America are turned toward the 2016 Presidential Election. Senator Marco Rubio is apparently about to announce he is throwing his hat into the ring, after calling Hillary Clinton so “yesterday.” He has also joined the illustrious list of Americans who have been declared by Venezuela asa “terrorists.”

Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, once a frontrunner for the nomination, keeps slipping further and further behind in the race. Weighing him down this week is a New Jersey judge’s decision that it was illegal for him to withhold payments to a retirement fund.

The Bill O’Reilly saga continues. Today it is about his claim that he was just outside the door when George de Mohrenschildt, a figure in Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories, blasted himself to kingdom come with a shotgun. There apparently exists a recording of O’Reilly calling in on the day of the suicide from Dallas, saying he would head down the next day.

If true, it still won’t hurt him at Fox News.

There was a break while writing today’s blog. I went out to see my doctor and get my shots, vaccines and drugs for India. I have a slightly sore left arm and pills in my knapsack. The typhoid vaccine comes in pill form these days and I start it tonight, every other day for eight days and I have Cipro in case I get a case of Delhi belly. I received a call, a text and an email from the visa service telling me I could come in and pick up my passport with visa. I didn’t have too much trouble after all; it only took three tries to fill out the forms correctly.

Let me end with my favorite story from this week’s The Week.

A Londoner, late for a job interview, pushed, shoved and cursed the man in front of him as he was exiting “the tube.” He arrived in time for the interview only to find that his interviewer was the man he had pushed, shoved and cursed.

He did not get the job.

Letter From New York 12/13/14 Not for another 89 years…

December 13, 2014

It is 12/13/14 if you do dates the American way. That won’t happen again until 01/02/03 in the next century, 89 years from now. I can’t even imagine what the world will be like 89 years from now. Certainly I won’t be here to see it but children born today will probably be around. Life expectancy is on the rise in most countries and in the 22nd Century, 90 may be the new sixty. Who knows?

I went to a screening of the first episode of Downton Abbey last week in New York. It was set in 1924. The Earl and Countess of Grantham are celebrating their 34th wedding anniversary. One of the characters remarked that if she got married right then, she would be celebrating her 34th wedding anniversary in 1958.

It was a jarring thought because the world of 1958 was radically different from the world of 1924. In between there had been the Great Depression and World War II, forever changing the world. The atom bomb had been dropped; half of Europe was shut up behind the Iron Curtain. Germany had been pared down and cut apart into East and West. The Soviets had pierced space with Sputnik. We were off on the race to the moon.

What a difference a few decades can make.

Lunching today at the Red Dot in Hudson, I was asked by someone if I knew where the Mimosa had come from? So I did what we all do today when faced with a question for which we don’t have an immediate answer – I googled it. The Mimosa apparently was the invention of the bartender Frank Meier at the Ritz Hotel in Paris in 1925. Thank you, Google. Thank you, Wikipedia.

As I was finishing my omelet, I decided that I would serve asparagus soup tomorrow for dinner. Not knowing what was needed, I googled asparagus soup, found a recipe that I liked and then made a list of ingredients on the notes section of my iPhone and went off to the Price Chopper for the ingredients.

Amazing. Having been the first boy on my block to have a car phone and one of the first to have a cell phone and one of the first to upgrade to a smart phone, I am dazzled by how far we have come since that big black box was installed in the trunk of my car.

I don’t take it completely for granted but I am sure anyone under twenty can’t imagine a world before these devices. If they really thought about it, I am sure I would seem quaint, an antique from another world. Could someone actually have lived at a time when you couldn’t put the world in your pocket?

There’s far more computing power in my little iPhone than there was on the first space shuttle. It’s boggling for me to think about.

And that’s only in thirty years, it having been early 1984 when I got both my first Mac and my car phone. It’ll be interesting to see what the next thirty years will bring, not to mention the next 89 when, if we’re still using the American style of dating, it will be 01/02/03.

Letter From New York Dec 10, 2014 Beacon on the hill?

December 10, 2014

Writing this, I am headed back north after having spent the evening in the city, going to the Downton Abbey event and then having a late night dinner with my friend Robert. While I was riding down into the city yesterday, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California was unveiling the Senate Report on the CIA’s use of torture in the years following 9/11. By the time I arrived at the Acela Club at Penn Station to wait until it was time to go to the event, the airwaves were alight with the reactions to the Executive Summary of the Report, which runs in itself 525 pages. The actual Report, which remains top secret, is over 6,000 pages. Even Tolstoy would be amazed.

There are varied reactions to the Report, mostly down party lines. Republican Senator John McCain came out with a thoughtful, I thought, statement on the facts as outlined by the Senate Committee. As I read his statement, he said he understands the reasons that caused the use of these methods and that the folks both approving and performing the acts outlined in the Report thought they were doing what was necessary, he disputes the methods and that “we are always Americans, and different, and stronger, and better than those who would destroy us.”

The “acts” outlined in the Report were harsh and brutal and, according to the Report, both unnecessary and not fruitful. They included waterboarding; sleep deprivation, and something called “rectal rehydration,” which sounds pretty disgusting.

While waiting for the Downton event, I went online from my phone and absorbed what I could about the news breaking around the Report. As I was going to sleep, I thought about it and when I woke this morning and was having my morning coffee, I felt sobered.

It is one thing to suspect something has happened and it is another to be forced to confront the reality of it. As far as I can tell, no one is denying that things happened. What is being debated is the efficacy of the acts. The Senate Committee Report says they weren’t effective and the CIA is saying, yes, they were.

It is a debate that is raging and one that we should have. There are those who think the Report should never have been made public and there are those who are hailing its release as a sign that though we make mistakes [and even the CIA says “mistakes” were made], we can, as a country, admit those mistakes and work to ensure they never happen again.

It is sobering to me perhaps because I was born in that time after WWII when we presented to the world and to ourselves, a vision of ourselves, of this country, as the beacon of liberty and that we did things differently than other countries.

As an adult, now, I am not sure that was true. I have, after all, lived through Viet Nam, Bhopal, Afghanistan, Iraq and other sundry events that have left me wondering about the role of the United States in international events. But I always believed – and, in fact – still do, that we, for all our many mistakes, do our best to do the right thing.

But it is still sobering, this Senate Committee Report. If true, it means we have made some serious mistakes. Good that we are admitting them and working to see them righted.

I agree with Senator McCain’s assessment. I can understand how these decisions were made but am disturbed that they were. It is my hope – and prayer – that we do our best to prevent more “mistakes” and that we continue striving to be the beacon on the hill of freedom.

Letter From New York December 9, 2014 Not unlike the folks at Downton Abbey

December 9, 2014

I am on the train, plowing south, toward the city. Outside there is an ice storm, making streets treacherous. Deciding caution was the better part of valor, I called a taxi to take me to the station. The Prius isn’t great when the roads are icy. Once I slid through the intersection at the end of the road, straight to the other side. I was lucky.

A kind man picked me up. Turns out he had been coached in football by my late neighbor, Hank Fonda. We talked about him for a while; the goodness I knew in him was underscored by what my driver told me: Hank had kept him out of a lot of trouble when he was young.

Tonight, there is an event in celebration of Downton Abbey at the Hudson Theater in New York; if it weren’t for the fact I had snagged a ticket, I wouldn’t be going into the city but would be cozying up to the Franklin Stove, listening to Christmas Carols and doing Christmas cards.

That’s a lot of what’s on my agenda for the next few days. I am mostly prepped for Christmas with only a few things left to order, mostly food baskets for those far and away.

It feels like a particularly well-organized Christmas this year, perhaps because I have more time on my hands than usual. I woke this morning feeling quite the country gentleman. Not sure why. Perhaps it was because the day could start lazily with good strong coffee and a perusal of the Times.

Once the things that needed doing were done, I showered, shaved and prepped for going down to town. To my great surprise, all the trains have been running on time. Often ice is worse than snow for them.

This brand of weather is likely to continue for the next few days with a break finally coming at the weekend. I’ll be doing a lot of homebound things I suspect tomorrow when I get back to Claverack, all the way through to the weekend. It’s not very safe on the roads and I think I’ll be living on what’s in the cupboards as opposed to making trips to the Price Chopper, which is about to get a new name, more upscale, better to position themselves against the behemoth down the road, Walmart.

Tonight at the Downton Abbey event will be Hugh Bonneville [Lord Grantham], the actresses who play Lady Edith and Mrs. Patmore as well as Robert Collier-Young, who plays the scheming Thomas. There will be highlights from Season Five, which is to premiere next month.

It is amazing the cult like following that has surrounded the show. I know folks who have Downton Abbey parties, expecting guests to show up as one of the characters. Each premiere episode results in many a bottle of champagne being uncorked. We seem to be fascinated by the doings of the very, very upper crust Crawleys and the adventures of the dozens of minions who care for them downstairs.

Julian Fellowes, the writer of Downton Abbey, every episode, is to be commended on the richness of his writing and his careful depiction of class differentiators in that time.

When Downton Abbey began it was 1912, the new season brings us up to 1924. It will be interesting to see how the Crawleys and their staff deal with the 1920’s and the social changes that are beginning to shift the landscape beneath them.

Perhaps that’s why the program resonates, we, too, feel the landscape changing under our feet. If you are not a digital native, the world in which we live seems confusing, with old ways rapidly evolving into the new and unfamiliar.

Perhaps nowhere has this been more evident than in the world of media, a world in which I have been a denizen for many a year. Just this morning I read a report in which network television viewing has declined 11% year over year and even more among Millennials. It is a shattering decline for the status quo.

At the same time, SVOD viewing is rising [Subscription Video On Demand (think Netflix and Hulu)] rapidly.

Television content providers, ad agencies, cable distribution companies, networks, everyone is scrambling to adjust and to survive in a future they can barely see.

Not unlike the Crawleys.