In Appreciation of Google Maps


I use Google Maps nearly every single day. Some days it’s for productive reasons, some days it’s for entertainment. If someone mentions a place I’ve never heard of, I explore it on Maps. Traveling? I browse Maps looking for places to eat, landmarks, unique shops, etc. Need to measure the distance between one place and another? Maps. Need to count the blades on the cooling tower fan behind the power plant I help manage? Maps. Need help surveying open areas or where utilities may be able to be constructed? You guessed it.

I haven’t even mentioned Google Street View. James Lileks calls it the “greatest documentary project of the 21st century.” I think that might be underselling it. I can spend countless hours virtually traveling the world, through distance and time.

What a powerful tool Maps is. I wonder how much economic benefit the economy has gained from this service. It has to be immense.

Biden’s Favorability Plunges to New Lows, Approval Among Independents Falls to 28%


Just nine months ago today, President Joe Biden solemnly swore to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Since that fateful day, his administration has worked systematically to shred the Constitution. And, apparently, the American people are paying attention.

Two new national polls put Biden’s job approval at 37%, the lowest level of his presidency.

On Tuesday, Quinnipiac released results from a survey of 1,342 adults conducted between Oct. 15 – 18 that shows Biden’s approval at 37% and disapproval at 52%, a 15% negative gap. Among the registered voters in this group (1,168), Biden’s approval was 40% and his disapproval 51%, a slight improvement.

Perhaps the most significant results are those from registered independents. Among this group, 28% approve of his job performance and 56% do not, a 28% negative gap.

Independents decide elections.

As one would expect, 95% of Republicans disapprove of Biden’s handling of the country while only 3% approve. The numbers are reversed for the Democrats, with 80% approving of his performance and 11% who do not.

A second national poll of 915 adults from Grinnell College, conducted by pollster Ann Selzer (best known for the Des Moines, Iowa, polls) between Oct. 13-17, showed Biden’s approval at 37% and his disapproval at 50%.

These dismal results have dragged the RealClearPolitics average of Biden approval polls down to 42.3%. With average disapproval at 51.2%, the president is now underwater by 8.9 points.

That number has doubled over the past two weeks.

Biden’s numbers began to crater in the days leading up to the fall of Kabul. Democrats expected his approval to bounce back after the initial shock of his disastrous handling of the Afghanistan crisis had blown over. The rebound failed to materialize, and though there have been some minor fluctuations, the general direction has been down.

Political analyst Byron York writes in his daily newsletter that “as president, Biden is hemorrhaging clout. With every drop in his approval rating comes a drop in his influence on Capitol Hill, on his ability to push, cajole, and threaten members of Congress to do what he wants.”

York also points out the correlation between a president’s job-approval rating to his party’s fortunes in the 2022 midterm elections. “Unless Biden can reverse the current direction of his polls, he will be a drag on his party, which already faces a struggle to keep its exceedingly tenuous grip on power on Capitol Hill.”

Recently, Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, was heard on a hot mic saying that the president’s unpopularity presented a head wind for his campaign.

God knows we’re sorry.

Happy as I am to see Biden’s favorability cratering because it will act as a brake on the most drastic items on his agenda, his missteps have clearly reduced America’s standing in the world and made it a more dangerous place.

On the bright side, the fact that Biden’s margins of disapproval continue to widen tells us that as time goes on, more and more Americans are paying attention. Although it may seem incomprehensible to those of us who follow politics on a daily basis, most Americans ignore politics.

The fiasco in Afghanistan, followed by the vaccine mandate, certainly captured their attention. But I imagine it was Attorney General Merrick Garland’s mobilization of the FBI against concerned parents that had the greatest impact. That struck a nerve.

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An Ambitious Fiction: We Hold These Truths …


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

More beautiful words were never written. But if the gentlemen who penned our Declaration of Independence intended that “We” to refer to the nascent America as a whole, rather than to themselves only, then it’s largely fiction.

I am agnostic and lacking in faith but, paradoxically, the only portion of that glorious sentence above that rings true to me is the “Creator” part. Because I do believe that, throughout human history, men have believed the reality of a creator to be self-evident. I think evolution has wired us that way, to seek an explanation for our existence and our purpose and, if necessary, to invent one.

But is man’s equality self-evident? Does anything about human history teach us that something in nature or nature’s God suggests to men that every other man is in any essential sense his equal? I don’t think so. I believe we are created equal, but I don’t believe that is self-evident.

I’m not talking here about the superficial inequalities of physiology and circumstance but rather of the equality the founders meant: equality of value and worth and, yes, of rights as a fellow human being. These are the aspects of equality that make our rights intrinsic and fundamental to, and inseverable from, each of us: that makes them, in a word, unalienable. That is the equality that has, for most of our history, been far from self-evident — that in fact is still not embraced by much of the world’s population.

This post was inspired by Stina’s post “Where Rights Originate,” which asks a deep, important, and ultimately unresolvable question. She inspired an interesting discussion, and you should go read it.

My purpose here is much more modest and practical. I want to make the simple point that, wherever rights come from, and regardless of what we believe about where rights come from, nothing that we cherish about our rights or our equality is really self-evident. Rather, it must be taught, and it must be taught early: The torch of freedom has to be passed on to each child long before he or she becomes an adult.

If we are going to restore our nation, we will have to reclaim our children. Home school, private schools, and church schools offer an alternative to public schools and their increasingly sinister and tyrannical administrations. But confronting the public schools is essential, which brings us back to the need to assert our right to free speech and free assembly.

The current efforts of the Brandon administration to silence parents, to caricature them as terrorists for challenging the authority of school boards, suggests that the public education establishment understands how unpopular its policies are and how vulnerable those policies are to pushback from outraged parents.

Push back. Keep pushing back. And make sure that your children are learning those truths that, unfortunately, aren’t really self-evident: that we’re all created equal, and that our rights are integral and essential — despite whatever they may be learning in school.

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Dorian Abbot discusses MIT canceling his lecture. Apparently a “Twitter Outrage Mob” wanted him gone before he arrived, so “gone” he was. Here is his reaction: “I have been a professor in the Department of the Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago for the past 10 years. I work on topics ranging from climate […]

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That’s how far I drove during the Bourbon Trail Meetup, and it was well worth it! Neutral Observer and I rolled into our driveway about 1:30 PM this afternoon, after having a wonderful time with old friends we haven’t seen in a while, and new friends who blew us away with how awesome they are […]

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Quote of the Day: The Tragedy of Liberty


There are those who assert that revolution has swept the United States. That is not true. But there are some who are trying to bring it about. At least they are following the vocal technique which has led elsewhere to the tragedy of Liberty. Their slogans; their promise of Utopia; their denunciation of individual wickednesses as if these were the wards of Liberty; their misrepresentation  of deep-seated causes; their will to destruction of confidence and consequent disorganization in order to justify action; their stirring of class feeling and hatred; their will to clip and atrophy the legislative arm; their resentment of critic; their chatter of boycott, of threat and of force—all are typical enough of the methods of more violent action.

— Herbert Hoover, “The Challenge to Liberty”

In 1935, Herbert Hoover’s book was published with this prescient comment. I was unnerved to read how accurately it described the current state of our country as we watch the “tragedy of Liberty” unfold. Mostly I was disturbed at how little we seem to learn from the disruptions in our society — that is, the right hasn’t learned how fragile liberty is, how it needs to be tended to, defended, and celebrated, or doesn’t seem to care about the obvious lessons; the left has learned apparently that all it needs to do is persist, and except for occasional setbacks, it continues to “progress.”

With the election of President Joe Biden, however, the left may have overplayed its hand. One after another, disasters in policy, action (or lack of action), confusion, authoritarian mandates, and other missteps have ensured that the left may not be successful. But the right can’t be complacent, hoping present circumstances will fade away and a better future will appear. If we don’t take advantage of the disorganization and mistakes of the left, this time could be our last opportunity to resurrect liberty.

Hat tip to @philo for recommending this wise and educational book.

Vaccine Mandates, Abortion, and ‘Send More Cops’


I’ve been reliably informed by many thoughtful, “principled conservatives” that where employer prerogatives and individual rights are in conflict, the former should prevail. If an employer mandates employees to be vaccinated under penalty of termination, then the employer is exercising its prerogative, and the employee must choose between jab or job.

So, what happens when an employer orders an employee to have an abortion? This is not a hypothetical.

“When I was 18-years-old as a police cadet, I was told I had to have an abortion or be fired from the MPD cadet program,” Dickerson said. “Wow. My choice to have a baby was personal and it should’ve been mine alone and not for an employer ultimatum.”

Principled conservatives like David French have already weighed in on whether an employer can require an employee to be vaccinated with a firm “Yes.” Likewise, the Bulwark calls employer vaccine mandates “gutsy” and says “if there was ever a time to push the boundaries of federal authority and let the courts sort it out, it’s this pandemic.” (Shades of that honored conservative principle “Never let a crisis go to waste.”) Never Trumper Max Boot has effusively praised the Biden administration’s authoritarian vaccine mandates for employers. Just as Twitter and Facebook have the right to censor or ban you for not conforming to their political agenda.

Corporations, as Mitt Romney famously proclaimed, are people, with the exact same constitutional rights as individuals. It doesn’t matter to this case that the employer was a government bureaucracy. The principle that an employer ought to be able to order an employee to undergo a medical procedure as a condition of employment remains the same. So, to be intellectually consistent, those who espouse the principle that an employer has the right to order an employee to take a vaccine must also support an employer’s right to order an employee to have an abortion. (As a matter of legality, not morality.)


On a tangential note, since a third of Chicago police have not complied with the city’s demand that they vaccinate, the city is begging the suburbs to “send more cops” to pick up the slack. Oh, yeah, I can imagine how many suburban doughnut consumers from Kankakee and Elk Grove are eager to march into the urban warzone where the mayor and the city council have already painted targets on their backs, where gangs can shoot each other in broad daylight without consequences, where every interaction with a suspect is overshadowed by the knowledge that the mayor, the city council, the prosecutor’s office, and the governor are all on the side of the criminal.

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Jeez Liz.    I really wish I knew that.   It would be a comfort.   It really would.   But I don’t know that.   Neither do you.   No one does.   Once the “mail-‘em-to-everybody” paper ballots were returned, opened, and separated from their signed envelopes there is no way to tell the […]

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That’s Not How It Was Supposed to Happen. Group Writing: Surprise!


Aug. 15, 1981.

I’m waiting at the front of the church for her to walk down the aisle for our wedding. But I only met her 20 months ago. And for all but seven of those months, we were a thousand miles apart. That’s not how it was supposed to happen. I always knew that I would need to know a girl for several years (I figured about five years ought to suffice) to be sure she was the one to marry. Surprise! Met Dec. 26, 1979. Engaged September 1980. Marrying Aug. 15, 1981. Isn’t that too fast for me?

I am very methodical. I think linearly, as is probably apparent from the pedantic style of most of my writing. I have a degree in electrical engineering. Algebra made a lot of sense to me. Solid linear processes to get to a solution. Geometry did not make sense to me. Too much spatial visualization that eluded me. At the time of this surprise, I was in the middle of law school. Law is the methodical application of precedents to new circumstances. So of course I was going to be slow and methodical about deciding whom to marry. God (or fate or just circumstances if you prefer) said otherwise.

We met because neither of us skied, yet we were on a ski trip organized by my home church for young adults between Christmas and New Year’s. She belonged to a different church but had come on this trip as a favor to accompany a friend. I was one of the group’s van drivers.* Between my shuttle runs to the ski slopes, while most of the group was skiing, she and I were among the few hanging out at the church facility at which the group was staying. My mother had come on the trip as chief cook for our group of about 50, and she was intrigued watching us. After the trip, we had exactly one date before I had to return to school 1,000 miles away. Daily letters were our communication for spring semester 1980 and the 1980-81 academic year. We each wrote about 250 letters over those three semesters, many of which we still have. (For you kids, at that time telephone calls were very expensive, and there was no email, no phone texting, no Facebook. So letter writing it was.)

Our families got along with each other. They got together even while I was away at school. She passed my father’s interrogations with flying colors. My mother threatened to disown me and adopt her if I didn’t ask her to marry me. My brother told me I needed to marry her. A [female] lifelong friend of mine (we were infants in adjacent cribs in the church nursery, and during our teenage years, she unsuccessfully tried to explain girls to me) told me she was the girl I should marry. My doubts, “We’ve only known each other for a few months,” were met with “But we who know you and love you have seen enough to know that she is right for you.” Finally, one evening in late summer 1980, instead of our planned dinner date and walk on the beach, she was hanging on my mother’s garage door (as was my mother) to provide leverage so I could attach new springs to replace the one that had broken that morning. If she could put up with that, maybe we could make a lifetime together work. It took me another six weeks to work up the courage to actually ask the question during a sudden very brief trip home from school to do some work for my father.

More months were spent apart while I finished my last year of law school. More letters. I did splurge on a telephone call most Sunday afternoons, when phone rates were the cheapest. But strictly limited the time to 60 minutes. I was a student on a budget.

Marriage only 20 months after meeting was not the way it was supposed to happen for methodical, pedantic me. Surprise! And the time would likely have been even shorter were we not separated by 1,000 miles for most of that time. So much for my expectations. We celebrated 40 years of marriage on Aug. 15, 2021.

*There’s a separate fun story about the first time we actually “met,” which was along the shoulder of US Highway 395 between Big Pine and Bishop (California), on the trip from Orange County to the Lake Tahoe area. The van I was driving (which was full of people and was pulling the luggage trailer) ran out of gas. She was in the van following me, and next to her was the only empty seat for me to ride in to take me to a gas station. I was too embarrassed to even introduce myself at that moment.

[Not all surprises are “October” surprises. (: This is what you get when @she  mentions “getting to know you” in connection with encouraging write-ups.]

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Border patrol agents apprehended 1.7 MM aliens illegally entering the US in fiscal year 2021 which ended September 30.  My question is what is the real number?  Hidden trail cams show a constant stream of illegal aliens entering the US, presumably without being apprehended. Is the number double or triple 1.7MM?  This is an invasion […]

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McAuliffe Abruptly Ends Interview, Says Reporter Should Have Asked Better Questions


Clearly annoyed that WJLA-TV 7News reporter Nick Minock had the temerity to question him about real issues, Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe abruptly ended the interview.

Rising from his chair, he said, “Alright, we’re over! That’s it. That’s it. Hey, I gave you extra time. C’mon man.”

“You should have asked better questions early on. You should have asked questions your viewers care about,” the former governor said.

On Tuesday evening, WJLA anchor Jonathan Elias made clear to viewers why they had spent only 11 minutes speaking with McAuliffe.

“So if you watch those entire interviews on our website, we do want to point out that the Terry McAuliffe interview is shorter than our interview with [Republican candidate] Glenn Youngkin. That was not by our doing,” he explained.

Elias continued, “Nick offered both candidates 20 minutes exactly to be fair for the interviews. McAuliffe abruptly ended 7News’ interview after just 10 minutes and told Nick that he should have asked better questions and that Nick should have asked questions 7News viewers care about. That’s what he said.”

This race was once McAuliffe’s to lose. Until recently, he had maintained a comfortable lead over his Republican challenger. The dynamics of the race changed, however, following a serious gaffe during a September debate. McAuliffe said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

He has also denied that critical race theory is being taught in Virginia public schools, which is clearly false. This hot-button issue has the potential to change the outcome of the election.

Democrats never dreamed they’d have a fight on their hands in this race. But President Joe Biden’s plummeting approval numbers and the emergence of critical race theory as a flashpoint have altered the playing field. Additionally, McAuliffe is not a great candidate.

Politicos are watching this off-year race closely, and Youngkin now stands a decent chance of winning. Throughout the summer, McAuliffe led his rival by 5-6.7 points. The gap has narrowed significantly in the home stretch. As of Oct. 19, the RealClearPolitics average of polls stands at 2.2%.

Leave it to Fox News to be the outlier. The network’s most recent poll of 1,004 registered voters released on Oct. 14 shows McAuliffe ahead by 5 points. (Most of the polls included in the RCP average survey likely voters.)

The Trafalgar Group released survey results on Oct. 15 that showed Youngkin with a 1-point lead. Although Trafalgar is a right-leaning pollster, it was among the most accurate in forecasting the November 2020 election. (As of Wednesday morning, this poll is not yet reflected in the RCP average, which still displays Trafalgar’s Oct. 14 results — showing the candidates tied.)

Shortly before the November election, Robert Trafalgar, the group’s founder, was discussing Trump’s chances of winning Pennsylvania in an interview with conservative commentator Dan Bongino. He said that Trump would have to prevail by at least 2 to 3 points to win the state. This cushion was necessary, he explained, to make up for the cheating he knew Democrats were planning.

Unfortunately, Republicans would be wise to scrutinize the vote-counting and the integrity of the ballots themselves in this contest.

Finally, Republican strategist Karl Rove appeared on Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” on Tuesday to discuss the state of this race. He pointed out that Democrats have an “enthusiasm gap.”

According to Rove:

As of Sunday night, 408,770 people had voted. That is only 30 percent of how many people had voted at this point in the November 2020 election. The Democrats need to have the turnout be in the early voting roughly 52, 53, 54 percent of what it was in November 2020 and instead, it’s running at about 30 percent.

Think about this. They brought in the big guns. They sent Stacey Abrams to Norfolk. This was the first Sunday in Norfolk in which you were allowed to vote early on Sundays, so you’re gonna have the souls to the polls effort led by Stacey Abrams, rock star at the top of the Democratic ticket. And in the four early vote locations in Norfolk, 396 showed up that day. So, the Democratic enthusiasm here is really, really problematic.

Although one wouldn’t expect turnout in an off year to mirror turnout for a presidential election, that’s a pretty wide gap for such a closely watched race. Let’s hope Rove is right.

With less than two weeks to go, we’ll find out soon.

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To avoid completely hijacking the famous person you’ve met thread, I’m going to take up the suggestion of @westernchauvinist that we put up a tea thread. I drink only strong black tea. None of that fruity wimpy herbal stuff. Favorite – Assam Golden Tip from Mighty Leaf (part of the Peet’s company). But it’s only available […]

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A Catholic MP Dies in a Church Without the Last Rites in Post-Christian Britain



Last Friday, David Amess, a member of Parliament (equivalent of a U.S. congressman) for the U.K. parliamentary seat of Southend West, was brutally murdered when he was attending his local constituency ‘s surgery (meeting with local voters) in a Methodist church. His suspected murderer, a likely Islamist Britain, was arrested at the scene and is right now awaiting charges.

Amess was an MP of many traits: 69 years of age, a well-liked member of Parliament by members of all political views, married, a father of five, a Conservative, and a Roman Catholic.

What’s interesting about Amess was that he wasn’t a Catholic politician in the vein of Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden but a committed conservative Catholic with views well known against abortion and gay marriage. He was nevertheless well liked even by members who had converse views to this. He also broke with the Conservative Party when he believed it acted against social teaching against the poor and on animals. Amess was no poser though. Unlike many MPs or politicians of all kinds, he sought only to work for his local constituents, not power. He was widely admired by many in Westminster (where Parliament sits), not just by politicians but by many of the advisers, guards, cleaners, cooks, clerks, and parliamentary aides (the little people) who he always treated as an equal. It’s not for nothing that U.K. politicians have been in a state of shock all week.

When I heard the news on Friday and Saturday, I was deeply shocked. Many MPs are well known in Ireland, and British politics is followed here regularly, myself included in this watching. Many of our version of MPs (called here TDs) were shocked. Particularly the fact that this is the second murder of an MP in the U.K. within five years. Many Irish TDs work in a similar way to MPs, and so it shook many here. But as soon as I realised it was a likely Islamist murder, I must say this shock fell away. Europe has, shall we say, gotten used to this.

But my shock returned on Saturday when I realized the above image story occurred. Essentially, in the minutes after Amess was stabbed, the local parish priest, a friend of Amess, was called by concerned friends. He arrived at the Methodist church and asked the police to allow him to enter so he could say last rites for Amess. For those unaware, this is a sacrament that prepares the dying or the sick for the next life with God. It also can be a time to confess sins. The police on the scene radioed their commanders. He was denied.

As such, Amess died within reach of a Catholic priest. He was denied the last sacraments by either someone profoundly ignorant of the Christian and Catholic faith or someone just plain ignorant. Alas, as the priest said prayers, Amess passed onto his eternal reward. God have mercy on his soul.

Many Catholics in the U.K. and Ireland were outraged at this story as it came out on Saturday. Soon many non-Catholics, Protestants, and even nonbelievers joined in. The absolute disgrace of this was said by many. Many Catholics in Britain were particularly outraged and made their notice of it clear online. I was outraged with it here in Ireland; oddly I was far more outraged with this than the murder for some minutes. Murderers are murderers. Cruelty is what they do. Yet here was a U.K. institution adding to it, with blissful ignorance the likely beast.

Britain is a very secular country, even though it is often said to be a Protestant constitutional monarchy. The reality is that it is a country where Christians are a minority, and knowledge of all religions (except Islam) is very low. That is why the police did what they did in Southend. That is also why the fact Amess was murdered in a church has got so little play. Churches are just other buildings to a secular population, nothing special. God help them. This is the end result of practical atheism mixed with the failure of the Christian churches in the U.K. to preach the good news. God isn’t dead, but his traditions and beliefs are being forgotten.

It remains to be seen when a religious revival occurs in Europe or will it occur. But for now, we have to live with this reality: the very idea a man could be denied his religious freedoms in death because someone said so. This is the present in Europe. It’s coming to America too. For now, it’s present so readily in the U.K. Not just shocking, but terribly sad.

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Headline this morning in the New York Post: Richard Levine Becomes First ‘Transgender’ Four-Star Admiral Here is a photo of this new “Admiral” , Richard, or is it Rachel, or is it possibly just summed up in the popular acronym WT_? For a little (heart-rending) perspective, here is what a REAL Admiral looked like: From Fleet […]

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Remembering Lot’s Wife with Every Offering


Sodom is being destroyed. Lot and his family are fleeing, and they have been strictly instructed to not look back. But Lot’s wife, for one reason or another, cannot control herself, and she is famously turned into a pillar of salt.

It sounds like a tragic but odd, and perhaps even irrelevant, story. After all, what can we learn from this vignette?

Quite a lot, it seems. Much later in the Torah, G-d instructs:

 עַ֥ל כׇּל־קׇרְבָּנְךָ֖ תַּקְרִ֥יב מֶֽלַח׃ {ס}         with all your offerings you must bring salt.

Why salt? With every single offering? What possible meaning is there in it?

The story of Lot’s wife gives us the answer: she looked back. And therein is our answer, because every sacrifice is always about finding a way to move forward – whether in thanksgiving or in atonement or for any of the other reasons we bring sacrifices. The G-d of the Torah is always interested in the future, and commands us to do similarly: it is one reason, for example, we are barred from marking mark ourselves for the dead.

We can only grow if we are able to put the past behind us, focus on doing better, and keeping our eyes focused on the goal. And to do that, we have salt present at every offering, to remind us of what happens when we decide to copy Lot’s wife by looking back at where we come from, instead of staying focused on where we need to go.

Remember, of course, that sacrifices are not for G-d  – they are for us. To G-d, sacrifices are mere gestures, symbols of what we are feeling. The purpose of a sacrifice is to be able to grow from the past, to build a relationship going forward. And for that, we need to be reminded to keep our eyes on the future. We have salt present at each offering to help us remember that when we instead choose to live in the past, we are choosing what is ultimately a dead end.


[an @iwe and @blessedblacksmith work]

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Yesterday Colin Powell died. Powell was a four star general. Today Dr. Rachel Levine became a four start admiral, which is the equivalent rank.  I do not know to what extent, if any, Powell benefited from affirmative-action, but it did take decades of devoted service for him to get his fourth star. Levine’s appointment was […]

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Filming on Location, 1971


Why are those people in this crowded photo staring at you so intently? There’s a camera, so it’s a film shoot. For clues, look at the general surroundings. It’s an industrial area of New York. The styles of the cars, haircuts and clothes suggest the very early ‘70s. The man pointing a light meter at you is Gordon Willis. The anxious-looking man with the bushy beard is Francis Coppola. It’s the spring of 1971, fifty years ago, and you’re an actor in “The Godfather”. You have no idea what audiences will think of the finished film. In truth, neither do Gordy or Francis.

Acting is always tougher than it looks, and doing it in the streets, with crowds behind barricades, is often the toughest of all. On a sound stage, or on Broadway, you don’t have to outshout jets landing at La Guardia, sanitation men filling garbage trucks, sirens, dogs, or drunks yelling, “Where’s Brando?” When that camera rolls, you’re supposed to shut out all that you see and hear in front of you, and inhabit the mind of a mafia don’s son in December 1945.

One of the biggest challenges of film acting is filming “out of continuity”—out of the actual order of scenes in the story. This happens even in Hollywood, but when almost the whole picture is filmed on the lot, the production is usually free to put up sets and rehearse the actors in the same order as the screenplay. Everyone likes working this way, when it’s possible. On location it’s rarely possible. Access to locations is often time limited, sometimes severely. There are only so many hours when New York will close off the streets around Rockefeller Center to film in front of Radio City Music Hall, so you’d better be ready to get everything you need as fast as you can. Art takes a back seat to the clock.

Seasons also control scheduling. “Godfather” started filming in March, when NYC days are still dark and rainy, so it shot most of its interiors first, as well as night scenes. Then, with better weather and longer daylight hours later in the spring, they filmed the beginning of the movie, Connie Corleone’s wedding, as well as scenes near the end, in churches, cemeteries, and on the steps of Wall Street. This scattered scheduling is tough on actors trying to maintain a consistent character arc. “Okay, remind me, at this point, how cold and ruthless am I supposed to be by now? 20%? 50%? 90%?”

Cover sets are a bane of acting in movies, and they can’t be avoided. A cover set is just a backup to cover a change in schedule, generally because the weather is no good. If you’ve spent all weekend memorizing five pages of dialog and working up your confidence for an important scene, it’s understandably disappointing to have a last-minute shift over to a substitute scene that neither you, the other actors, or the director had focused on yet. That’s why the backup scene is usually chosen to be something simple you’d have to film sometime soon anyway, like an office discussion or one side of a telephone conversation. Cue cards are made up to replace the memorization that couldn’t take place. Actors understand the practical need for it, but it doesn’t happen on a studio lot, or on a Broadway stage.

Controlling the streets and crowds is always a compromise. Filming permits are precise right down to the general direction the cameras will be pointed. But as much space as the permits clear for filming, most casts and crews also require as much or more space behind the cameras, for their fleets of trucks. People are often astonished how many vehicles are needed to make a movie, each one driven by burly Teamsters. At the least, you need a camera services truck, and “Godfather” had one of the first, a walk-in studio camera department called a Cinemobile. Fouad Said, the Egyptian-born cinematographer of TV’s “I Spy”, invented and marketed the Cinemobile to deal with the many locations of that globe-trotting show, revolutionizing the camera production side of going on location.

You’ll need a generator truck to support the colossal number of lights, and probably a production office in a motorhome or trailer. On big productions with lots of bit players and extras, the costume and make-up departments each get their own trailers. All this stuff needs to be guarded. All these people have to be fed. Rest rooms must be provided. On the perimeter there needs to be a mobile command post for NYPD, and parking space for nervous studio executives, agents of the stars, assistants, and (at least in the time of “The Godfather”, and for thirty years thereafter) messengers carrying cans of film to the lab. While all this is going on, advance crews are preparing the next location before the whole caravan moves to it, and yet-more junior advance crews are preparing the ones after that.

Fifty years ago, filming anywhere but on a Los Angeles studio lot was treated as “on location”. To some degree, it still is. The term TMZ refers to an arbitrary “thirty mile zone”, a map radius drawn from a spot near Wilshire Boulevard. Anything beyond it is treated as on location, triggering contract clauses requiring special rates of pay, and rules regarding meals and lodging.

New York was always a special case. Silent films were made in New York for years before cameras ever rolled on the west coast. When sound arrived, there was a brief rush to quickly and cheaply throw together sound stages in New York, in the mistaken belief that Broadway actors would be needed for the talkies. Once that 1928-’31 fad died out, those primitive, bare-bones facilities would be all the city’s film businesses could offer. To the major studios, NYC was where their corporate headquarters were, not where films were made. With rare exceptions, Hollywood filmmaking teams made short visits to the streets of Manhattan only when they needed a specific outdoor city scene for films like “On the Town”, “North by Northwest” or “West Side Story”. The indoor scenes were filmed in Los Angeles, which had, and still has, the best movie-making equipment, facilities, and technical personnel in the world.

New York’s “native” film crews made do with a handful of TV shows, a few low budget independent films, and from about 1950 on, lots of TV commercials. They were familiar with problems like limited room, congested streets, fickle weather, and sidewalk onlookers. They knew how to navigate the bureaucracy to get filming permits. Without the resources of the west coast crews, cameramen like Boris Kaufman, Owen Roizman and Gerald Hirschfeld made up for it with a gritty urban look.

A couple of things made filming “The Godfather” on location a particular challenge. “The Godfather” was made with a predominantly east coast, local crew, but Coppola didn’t want that hard, bright, realistic east coast look. He was aiming for something statelier and solemn, something hard to create with a gigantic cast and crew in the streets of 1971. Unlike “The French Connection”, then the most recent big-time crime picture to film in New York, this was going to be a period piece, set from 1945 to ’55. A lot of the outdoors was going to have to be modified to fit that era, or excluded from the camera image. 

For another thing, more than 12 million people had already read the book. Unlike, say, “Star Wars”, it wouldn’t be a film that came out of nowhere. The film crews weren’t going to be able to sneak up on the city. Readers already knew what the big scenes were. Casting Marlon Brando was controversial; everyone wanted to see what he looked like as the Don, but Life Magazine had been promised an exclusive on pictures of him. Few people knew who Al Pacino was. Crowd control would be a bigger than usual problem.

New York City is full of Italian-Americans, all of whom seemed to have read the novel, and there were strong mixed feelings. A lot of people were excited about the film. But a time when Black groups demanded respect and an end to insulting stereotypes, many white ethnics were in no mood to accept insults themselves.

Protective leagues and anti-defamation groups sprang up. That spring, my girlfriend was living on Second Avenue and 70th Street. We watched the nightly Italian-American protest marches at the FBI’s New York offices up the block on Third. Since the storyline of “The Godfather” would involve filming in Italian neighborhoods south of Greenwich Village and on the edge of Spanish Harlem, it was necessary to establish good community relations. In the blunt, practical world of that era, that meant payoffs, and lots of them, to “neighborhood groups” that had the muscle to encourage cooperation as well as do things the cops couldn’t legally do, like scaring nervy kids off fire escapes that would be on camera. It wasn’t done by Marquis of Queensbury rules, but it worked.

Location filming has its moments of humor. When Vito Corleone was gunned down in the streets of Little Italy, all the spectators standing on the fire escapes of the non-filming side of the block cheered Marlon Brando’s elaborate fall to the ground. After the director called “cut”, Brando stood up and graciously bowed to the crowd. When the production moved uptown, way uptown to Pleasant Avenue to film Sonny Corleone’s street beat-down of his brother-in-law, James Caan was surprised that his for-the-camera brutality made him the hero, not the villain, of the noisy mob of local onlookers.

By July, a subset of the crew had moved on to Italy. By this point, Paramount was cheapening the production, lightening the load wherever it could, but Coppola was able to convince them that going forward with the Sicily shoot would add a dimension to Michael Corleone’s character that you wouldn’t necessarily get filming in the studio’s preferred location, upstate New York. With the cast and crew gone, New York’s gossipy tabloid media turned to other subjects.

That summer, Academy Award winning cinematographer, inventor, and entrepreneur Ross Lowell was testing the idea of teaching a film lighting class at New York University. Based on the success of that prototype summer course, he’d begin decades of NYU instruction on working on location with portable light fixtures, many from his own company, Lowel-Light. I was his student assistant in July-August 1971. Since it was his first time on campus, he pulled out all the stops, and we got to meet many accomplished movie cameramen (as they all were back then). One of Ross’s friends was Gordon Willis, fresh off the “Godfather” job.

He came across as an artistic risk-taker who, unusually, was plain-spoken and unpretentious. Willis talked about how to subtly light a location, without overdoing it to the point of losing the qualities that made you like it to begin with. (I’ll give him that; I doubt that a single Godfather viewer has ever said, “Why did they have to overdo it with all those glaring lights?”) Willis complimented Ross Lowell on the usefulness of his Lowel-Lights, and declared that thanks to them, he no longer carried bulky arc lights in his location equipment packages. One tenth the weight and size, less wasted heat, fewer workers to attend them. Location filmmaking had come a long way. Better film from Eastman and better lenses were also making working in less light possible.

He knew, of course, that everyone wanted to hear insider stuff, and despite a reserved manner he gave us some. He said that Coppola was “to a fault” in the habit of bringing a magazine photo or a 16mm film clip to the set, ostensibly to praise his interest in detail but with a slight suggestion of risking being too derivative of older examples.

Still, Gordy was gentlemanly, especially by Hollywood standards. He thanked Coppola for defending him to the studio. Willis knew Paramount didn’t like his dark “look” and joked that the soundman was also in the doghouse because of Brando’s sometimes indecipherable mumbling. “It was a hard shoot.” The actors, he said simply, are great; we’ll just have to see how people react to the film. Not a ringing endorsement. Nothing bad, but little that suggested code language for “In a couple of months this will be the biggest box office hit since ‘Gone With the Wind’”. Without naming names he said that he thought “the girl” (Diane Keaton) had been miscast, but he wasn’t mean about it. It was a shrug.

Willis talked about the challenges of making a film in real places that’s set roughly 25 years in the past. Ross, who’d visited the set of Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” earlier in the year, described how equally smart selection of real locations, and the era’s new lightweight camera and lighting equipment, had enabled Kubrick to film in (then) present day London yet present a credible vision of life roughly 25 years in the future.   

An aged mobster’s regal gestures to his family’s sacred honor are an inspired imitation of an older generation’s roots in rural Europe. For the writer, the director, and the actors alike, they were a distant, stirring memory of the America of their parents and grandparents. When “The Godfather” opened in 1972, critics jokingly wondered if the Mafia was so poor that they could only afford 10-watt lightbulbs. But for hundreds of millions of film viewers around the world, the dark, dignified images of “The Godfather” became the definitive look of a time and place that’s now almost beyond living witness.


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Last week, Mr. P and I had experienced a particularly busy workday and as we closed the day, Mr. P clearly wasn’t relishing the thought of the chicken and broccoli I had chilling in the fridge at home, ready to cook.  Instead, he suggested margaritas and Mexican food at the swanky Mexican restaurant downtown.  I […]

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At the North Carolina State Fair


We went to the North Carolina State Fair on Sunday. This is something we do every year, and I’ve always seen it as the official beginning of fall. Last year’s fair was canceled, so this was a welcome return to the tradition. I was delighted that the weather turned cooler just in time for our visit, so it actually felt like fall.

Attendance was down a bit, so it wasn’t terribly crowded, but it certainly wasn’t a ghost town.

As you can see from the pictures, I’d say only about 10-20 percent of the attendees were wearing masks. (Of course, you do spend a lot of time at the Fair eating things.) Either way, nobody seemed too worried about it.

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And the Rest


There was a small, soft sound. It was a sound that clung to the shadows for dear life, trying to pull them round it like a curtain. Or a blanket. If tears could make a sound, this is what they would sound like – that is, if they were that special kind of tears that don’t know how to stop. Please, they seemed to say, please. I can’t do this anymore. Please, someone, anyone, please let it end. Please let it stop. I want to wake up now.

If you were looking on, it’d be round about now you’d notice the shadows – the way some of them seemed deeper somehow than natural shadows had any right to be. If you had the right kind of hearing, you might even be able to hear what they were saying. Not many people had that kind of hearing, outside of the curtain of shadows – and those inside only heard what the shadows wanted them to hear, reshaping the world around them into a colder, darker, infinitely lonelier place.

And then the shadows parted – the ones at the outer edge of wherever this was. They tried to close back in, but they seemed to recoil from the surface of the light radiating from what walked through them.

… wish it would end, the shadows called. What’s the point of anything … Never get any better … Never gets any better …

If your eyesight were as acute as your hearing, you might even notice the way the thing the shadows surrounded seemed to bleed off … light … energy … something – and the way the shadows seemed to drink it in.

And that was when something changed in the tone of the light. Like a silent sound. It seemed to get … angrier.

As you got nearer, you’d see, maybe – if you could see that far – that some of the shadows within the shadows were like ragged smoke, torn fluttering sheets of woven darkness with whispering holes in them. A few of them that weren’t too caught up in feeding sensed the different feeling in the air and started to evaporate away, willowing off into the silence.

The form of the light became more distinct, like an outline made of what light would look like if light were shadows, forming out of the air. The folds of its clothing shimmered painfully bright. The sound of its steps began to be heard. The lantern held above its head got brighter as it neared.

It thrust it into the mess of inner shadows.

Dark screams – burning away in silent flame. If a shadow could burn, it wouldn’t smell one bit as pungent as those burning shadows did, flickering like star-fire. Which is funny, because as the dark shadows began to clear, stars were what shone through the darkness that had been, twinkling on the solid void.

The lantern-bearer knelt down and moved her hand in the air over where the shadows had been. ‘Peace, lonely one.’

The hand waved over chest, over eyes, and over head – then moved as close as the bearer dared towards heart.

The lantern glowed, almost making a star of its own in the stillness. She hooked its ring over a more-solid-than-usual piece of thin air, and let it hang there. Then she settled down onto the island hanging in the void, and held his hand. ‘Let it all out. There is no shame in tears here, nor in grief, or honest feeling. Cry out, anguished heart. I am here.’

Wails of pent-up tears echoed into space. Bellows of heartache. The soft keening sound that a soul makes when it can take no more.

‘Let it all out,’ said the soft voice again, echoing with the lantern light. ‘I am with thee. It’s alright.’

‘… my fault …’ came words choked through tears, ‘all my fault …’

Shh-shhh-shh-shh …

‘… don’t know what to do … I don’t know what to do… Nothing seems to work. I’ve messed everything up … just want it to end … I just want to wake up now … Just want to …’

He was asleep. Exhausted. Eyes closed. Out like a light.

Into the silence, a whisper: ‘I’m sorry it took me so long to find you: Rest now. I’ll keep watch over you till the dawn. Rest now, warrior. Your battle is not yet, though the way has been long, and weary … You are not alone. I promise you: You are not alone …’

The voice echoed into the shadows of light, as the silent stars rolled by.

You are not alone …

Glad Someone Finally Said It


Blastfax kudos to Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) for coming out and saying what everybody knows is true but nobody wants to admit.

We are living with exactly what Democrats want.
They want higher gas prices.
They want open borders.
They want massive spending.
They want to make people dependent on government.

Yes, this is what Democrats want. All of it. And they also want the Government to monitor your bank account, the Government to tax you for every mile you drive, the Government to indoctrinate your children that white people are responsible for every injustice in the world, and the Government to label you a domestic terrorist if you speak up against any of it. (OK, to be fair, an awful lot of Republicans want open borders and massive spending, too.) They would also be perfectly happy to keep Covid restrictions in place forever, and, to those who are complaining about the scarcity and high cost of consumer goods, the Democrats and the Washington Post, have a simple message: “Stop complaining and lower your expectations, you peasants.”

For the middle and working class, “Lower your expectations.” For the political elite, “Ready the private jet, I have a Climate Conference to attend.”

It’s very important in politics to define your opponent. Democrats have convinced large numbers of people that Republicans are gay-hating racists. (Remember “Mike Pence wants to force gay kids into electroshock therapy.” Or “Mitt Romney wants to put black people in chains.” Or, “Trump said our troops were a bunch of losers.”)  Republicans have been very weak on this. They will try, mostly unsuccessfully, to define individual Democrat politicians. (“Bernie Sanders is a socialist.” “Kamala Harris can be difficult to warm up to.”) But they seem reluctant to define Democrats as a whole, probably because they think that would make it more difficult to cut deals with Democrats, should they ever win another majority.

That said, Ron Johnson is right, and more Republicans should be saying this.

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A concerned Physician Assistant, Deborah Conrad, convinced her hospital to carefully track the Covid-19 vaccination status of every patient admitted to her hospital. The result is shocking. As Ms. Conrad has detailed, her hospital serves a community in which less than 50% of the individuals were vaccinated for Covid-19 but yet, during the same time […]

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