Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Scottish independence

"Declaring that the UK was holding its breath as the people of Scotland make up their minds, Cameron said that voters should understand that their decision will be irreversible."
--The Guardian


Hey, I'm just a damn Yank, and it's none of my business whether the United Kingdom remains "united," or separates into four units -- England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland -- or even into all its constituent counties.  My love of novelty makes me kind of excited about the concept of Scottish independence.  (And maybe Scottish customs officials would be less rude than their present British counterparts?)  But my love of British history would also make me upset at such a break-up.

In the same way, I hated colonialism, but I also hated to see the Empire break up.  Such are the contradictions of the human heart.  Or at least of Rainier96's heart.

But back to the prime minister.  Is he really saying that Scottish independence would be absolutely irreversible, even if the Scots came to London, hat in hand, and asked to be re-joined?  The way a split atom of uranium 235 can't be tacked back together again?  Even though Mr. Cameron is now pleading with the Scots not to break his heart and go their own way?

 I care hugely about this extraordinary country, this United Kingdom that we have built together. I would be heartbroken if this family of nations we have put together – and we have done such amazing things – was torn apart.

So he says with one breath.  "But," he seems to be saying with the next, personifying Professor Henry Higgins,

I shall NEVER take her back! If she were crawling on her KNEES!
Let her promise to atone,
let her shiver, let her moan,
I'll slam the door and let the hellcat FREEZE!

No currency union with England!  No, sir!  We won't even allow the Scots to use the pound sterling!  No representation in Brussels (I assume).  Will England even vote against Scotland joining the United Nations? 

The British -- certainly the English -- have a worldwide reputation for equanimity.  I suspect they never mean "never" -- even when they say they do.  I hope the United Kingdom remains united.  If not, I hope the Scots thrive as an independent nation, within the Commonwealth and retaining their allegiance to the Queen. 

But if they don't thrive, and if their future leaders should walk quietly into Parliament at Westminster and seek reconciliation, I suspect that -- after an appropriate amount of sputtering and muttering and "I told you so"s -- the English would gladly welcome them back (as did Professor Higgins with Eliza), and re-unite with Scotland.

And they'd all live happily ever after.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Return to Laos

In 2007 -- the year I began writing this blog -- my nephew and I joined a group of about ten travelers for a visit to Laos and Cambodia.  Oddly enough -- as it now seems -- I never posted my post-trip impressions in my newly minted blog.  I did, however, post a number of photos -- and a photo may indeed be worth a thousand words.

We crossed the Mekong river by ferry from Thailand into Laos.  From that point, we visited the usual tourist destinations -- Luang Prabang and Vientiane in Laos; Phnom Penh, Angkor Wat, and  Lake Tonle Sap in Cambodia. We also hiked and bicycled through rural areas, visiting many small villages, shops and schools -- all in a setting of great scenic beauty.

Luang Prabang is the ancient royal capital of Laos.  It was a beautiful city, studded with temples and surrounded by forests and waterfalls and hiking trails.  We rented bikes and pedaled out of town to one of the waterfalls, and to a bear reserve.  At the time, I assumed that this was the first and last time I'd ever be in Luang Prabang.  I was wrong.

Next month, I'll be staying in Luang Prabang for ten days, visiting the partner of the same nephew I traveled with in 2007, together with my great niece Maury (who will be celebrating her fifth birthday while I'm there).  Maury's mom, after working for a number of years in Sonoma, has taken on an interesting job in Luang Prabang, working for an organization that promotes local handicrafts, especially textiles.  My nephew, at present taking post-grad classes in California to pick up his teaching credential, will join them at the end of the academic year.

In addition to seeing my relatives in their new environment, I'm looking forward to spending enough time in their beautiful city to pick up a feeling for its lay-out and tempo and daily life, a visit that will contrast with our rushed -- but certainly enjoyable -- visit to its major tourist attractions seven years ago.  Readers can anticipate hearing more about my visit in future posts.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Students playing ball

Over the weekend, two major universities -- Stanford and USC -- vied on national television to determine which could make the most costly errors and hand a football victory to its opponent.  It was close, but Stanford threw the final and determining interception.  The game, and my resulting disgust, are immaterial to the post that follows.  Only my mood has been affected.

The current issue of the Stanford alumni magazine contains a lengthy article entitled "Game Changer?"1  The writers discuss college sports from a number of angles. The article results most directly from the recent ruling by an NLRB regional director that the granting of university scholarships to Northwestern University athletes causes them to be "employees" of the university, entitled to unionization and to collective bargaining for employee benefits.  The ruling has been hailed by many as striking a blow against "exploitation" of college athletes for the financial gain of their school. 

The implications for college sports -- and especially for smaller schools and for the financial ability of colleges to support minor sports at all levels -- could be profound.  The hearing examiner's ruling is under appeal to the full NLRB, and probably will end up in the federal courts.  Athletes at other schools have brought lawsuits directly against their schools that are pending in various federal courts.  (In August, for example, a federal judge ruled in O'Bannon v. NCAA that certain NCAA rules prohibiting compensation to former student athletes for a school's use of their images constitute an anti-trust violation.)

The Stanford Magazine article discusses many of these implications.   The article also discusses a question that has long bothered me -- the relationship between a university and its athletic program.  I have suggested on occasion, more or less facetiously, that colleges should go the logical next step -- contract with professional teams and license their use of the university name and colors.  Alumni could then continue to cheer for their schools -- with the concomitant urge to make annual donations -- and the school could focus on educating its students.  Obviously, Stanford's administration has similar concerns.

Stanford's president, John Hennessy, notes that Stanford sympathizes with the problems faced by many student athletes.  But calling them "employees" is not the solution.

Hennessy says such a result would destroy much of what Stanford values about athletics.  Rather than fielding teams of students who represent fellow students and the university, sports like football would essentially become mercenary enterprises -- a professional minor league.  In that event, he asks, "Why become involved in it?"

My question, exactly.

Stanford has been "going along to get along" with the Pac-12 and the NCAA.  It has accepted compromises -- like adding a twelfth game to the schedule, and adding games on week nights -- with which it feels uncomfortable.  But the school has been walking uncomfortably close to a line it doesn't want to cross.  It sees itself in serious danger of being forced by future events over that line.  Failure to keep athletics subservient to a school's academic program

would likely rupture the currently warm relationship between students who are athletes and those who are not.  "Here we are, Nerd Nation," Hennessy says.  "But not if we're paying the players."

The article warns of possible changes to come, should changes in the balance between schools and their athletics programs continue in their current direction.

It might mean leaving the Pac-12 and throwing in with like-minded schools, probably other highly selective privates.  (Imagine a conference made up of, say, Stanford, Rice, Vanderbilt, Duke, Notre Dame and Northwestern.)  Or the Cardinal could simply play at the Division III level, where athletic scholarships aren't allowed.

Leaving the Pac-12, which in its various mutations has been the Cardinal's conference since the school's earliest days, would be a sad change for its students and alumni, as would the school's decreased ability to compete with Cal in the Big Game. 

But I, for one, would support some such move rather than have Stanford accept a view of the  "student-athlete" (already a euphemism) as a professional, a view that is already increasingly covertly accepted by other large schools across the country. 
1Antonucci & Cool, "Game Changer," Stanford Magazine, Sept.-Oct. 2014.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

When the surfing was good

"The 'eighties'," he sighed.  "Hawaii was Hawaii then.  Unspoiled, a land of opera bouffe, with old Kalakaua sitting on his golden throne."  ...  "It's been ruined," he complained sadly.

It is mandatory for anyone who has visited Hawaii more than once to tell everyone within earshot, "It was so much nicer [or "uncrowded" or "romantic" or "authentically Hawaiian"] last time I was here!"

You won't be cured of such comments -- for of such is human nature -- but you may gain a little perspective from reading Earl Derr Biggers's 1925 detective novel, The House without a Key.  The novel, ostensibly about the solving of a Honolulu murder, is interesting to us today primarily for its extensive description of the physical and social world of Honolulu in the 1920s. 

Parenthetically, the novel also introduced to the world that master detective for the Honolulu Police Department, Mr. Charlie Chan.  Detective Chan's role in the novel (and in the following year's movie) was somewhat minimal, but his character spawned a series of five more Charlie Chan novels, a large number of Hollywood films, radio series on four different radio networks, a television series in 1956-57, and several series of comic books.  A cultural icon, obviously, but one largely forgotten today.

Biggers wrote his novel at the Halekulani Hotel on the beach at Waikiki.  The hotel's famous indoor-outdoor restaurant and bar has been named for many years the "House without a Key."  I haven't been able to determine whether it was named after the book -- a best-seller in its day -- or vice versa.  The murder and much of the plot takes place in the Waikiki mansion of a Honolulu businessman, an estate that seems to be located at or near the present location of the Halekulani.  The novel makes a point of the fact that the house -- like almost all Hawaiian houses at the time -- was never locked.

The novel reminds us that the 1920s were an era untouched by today's mass tourism.  Honolulu was reached by a week-long voyage by ship from San Francisco.  Everyone knew the arrival times of the next ship. 

Waikiki was a romantic stretch of beach, occupied by only a few hotels catering to the upper crust of American society -- primarily, in this book, at least, New England society.  Waikiki -- today merely a district of Honolulu -- was separated from the city proper by about three miles of rice paddies and other farmland.  A streetcar connected the two areas, and is frequently used in the book, even by the wealthy who owned their own cars. 

The hero -- John Quincy Winterslip, an impossibly young, strait-laced, and naïve thirty-year-old Boston banker -- has come to the islands to visit his Aunt Minerva, a middle-aged woman who the family fears has stayed too long in Hawaii and has succumbed to its lotus-eating charms.

Her mind strayed back to the Honolulu she had known in Kalakaua's day, to the era when the Islands were so naive, so colorful -- unspoiled.  Ruined now, Dan had said, ruined by a damned mechanical civilization.

Her wistfulness is a theme that runs throughout the book, a longing for a lost Hawaii, a longing that seems so strange to us now, living in an over-crowded era when Honolulu in the 1920s itself represents a long-lost paradise. 

A reporter covering the murder investigation sounds the same theme, discussing the harbor:

"As far as I'm concerned, the harbor of Honolulu has lost its romance.  Once this was the most picturesque water-front in the world, my boy.  And now look a at the damned thing!"  The reporter relighted his pipe.  "Charlie can tell you -- he remembers.  The old ramshackle, low-lying wharves.  Old Naval Row with its sailing ships.  The wooden-hulled steamers with a mast or two -- not too proud to use God's good winds occasionally.  The bright little row-boats, the Aloha, the Manu, the Emma.  Eh, Chan?  ...  oh, well, those days are gone for ever now.  Just like Galveston or Seattle.  Yes, sir, this harbor of Honolulu has lost its romance."

This is a book you can read and enjoy for its atmosphere, and for its sense of history.  You can ignore the rather dull and formulaic "mystery," as well as the controversy over the "racist" portrayal of Charlie Chan's smiling, outward appearance of passivity and his "ah so!" use of the English language.  Enjoy it for its atmosphere, and also for its striking reminder that the golden age always exists a generation or so earlier. 

To Biggers's characters of the 1920s, the golden age of Hawaii was that of the 1880s, just as the golden age for the young hero in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris was that of the 1920s.  And as a character in that film reminds us:

Nostalgia is denial - denial of the painful present... the name for this denial is golden age thinking - the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one's living in.

We know this to be true, as did Earl Derr Biggers in 1925.  But we don't care, because nostalgia for a golden age is so bitter-sweetly satisfying and fulfills so  well an apparent human need to believe that a better world is not only possible but was once, "for one brief shining moment," actually achieved.

Indulge yourself.  Remind yourself of a forgotten Hawaii.  It's a fast read.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Maui no ka 'oi

Watching sun set over Moloka'i
from our front deck

Hawaii.  February or August, Christmas or Memorial Day.  What's not to like?

For a couple of decades, my family -- under the benign matriarchy of my mother -- spent a week every couple of years at the same small condominium at Napili Bay on Maui.  Napili is a small bay north of the mammoth resort at Ka'anapali, and the first bay south of what is now a more restrained,  upscale golf resort at Kapalua.  Napili Bay is 7.5 miles directly across the sea from Moloka'i, the island behind which we watch the tropical sun set each night.  Lana'i is clearly visible just to the left of Moloka'i, as we look out to sea from the decks of our units.

All the "resorts" on Napili Bay are two-story condos, very low key.  The resorts at each headland are considerably larger, and more spread out over acreage, than the ones in between.  The living units in all the condominiums, from one end of the bay to the other, are quite similar, however.  On the north headland is the Sea House, a casual restaurant/bar, with both indoor and outdoor seating -- a short and frequent walk along the sand from our condo, which was located about midway in the curve of the bay's shoreline.

So much for the very pleasant lay-out of Napili Bay -- a lay-out that almost certainly will remain the same for years to come because of restrictive zoning.

My sister, her husband, and I did a reconaissance of Maui in 1978, a day excursion from Waikiki, where the entire family was ensconced at the old Halekulani.  Two years later, the entire family chose Maui over Waikiki -- never to return as a family, because of the Halekulani's "renovation" and "modernization" beyond all recognition.

Nephew Doug (9) and me on Waikiki in 1975

Looking at photos from past Napili vacations is to watch the family grow up.  Our first time there, my nephews and niece were ages 14, 7 and 3, and our daily routines were overseen by "The Bigs" -- my parents and my aunt and uncle.  

This time, earlier this month, the two nephews and niece were working their way into middle age, albeit a quite youngish middle age.  I had a third nephew who was rooming with me, and two new great nieces, now at an age to fully enjoy the beach.  "The Bigs" were no longer with us physically, although their shades haunted our memories and commemorative photos of their past visits adorned our condo walls.

Virtually the entire family -- 14 of us -- swarmed over to Maui on August 2, from up and down the West Coast. We returned, of course, to Napili Bay -- changeless in its charm and splendor.

It had been eleven years since my mother and her twin sister, our aunt, had passed away.  For eleven years, we couldn't bring ourselves to return to the bay where we had spent so many happy days together.  Until this year.  We realized we were now responsible for a new generation.  We wanted them to enjoy the beach we had enjoyed for so many years.  And we wanted to enjoy ourselves their enjoyment.

I suppose folks on the East Coast with a little cabin on Cape Cod or a home on Martha's Vineyard feel the same:  Returning to the same place, year after year, gives a strong awareness of the passage of time, of growth, and of death.  Our feelings were 95 percent positive, however, and even the memories of our departed elders were happy memories.

We missed you, Napili, during those years of our absence.  We'll make it up to you, however.  We'll be back soon!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Rockin' and rollin'

Nature has blessed the Northwest Corner with three major earthquakes during my years here. 

The first one struck during lunch hour in third grade.  For reasons unknown, I somehow had my hands wrapped around a classmate's throat and was shaking her, when suddenly the shaking went out of control.  I recall running mindlessly and uncomprehendingly down the stairs, as hunks of plaster fell about me.

The second one began when I was in graduate school, living off-campus in the shadow of a newly constructed freeway.  I heard a large truck coming down the pike, a sound that grew louder and louder until it dawned on me that this was no truck.  It was  Earthquake 2.0 of my lifetime.  I tried to climb under my bed, which was awkward, because the bed was only about six inches off the floor.

The third earthquake, the so-called Nisqually quake of 2001, occurred during the morning while I was sitting in my office, fifteen floors above Fifth Avenue.  I felt suddenly queasy, a queasiness that increased as I watched the Medical-Dental Building across the street pass back and forth across my field of vision.  I spent most of the quake huddled under my desk.  In times of stress, my reactions  as a senior attorney were no more dignified than they had been as a third-grader.

In the years since 2001, scientists have reminded us repeatedly that the traumatic Quake of '01, although a 6.8 tremor, was a subduction earthquake, caused by small movements of tectonic plates some 32 miles below the surface -- as were the two earlier quakes.  We still await the "Big One" --  a sudden release of energy caused by "stuck" portions of the plates when they suddenly rupture and slide.  These ruptures occur in our area on an average of every 480 years (our last was in 1700), with the upper plate moving horizontally 10 to 30 yards in seconds, and built-up pressure on the upper crust being suddenly released, causing the land to sink.

Such a "tremor" could be a 9.2 in magnitude, lasting up to six minutes, with a loss of life of over 10,000.  The odds of such a disaster occurring in the next 50 years is "only" 10 to 15 percent.  But still.    

My predilection is to worry about problems rather than do anything about them.  Therefore, for at least a decade, I've occasionally awakened at 3 a.m. and worried about my house sliding off its foundation and becoming not only worthless, but a costly liability that the city would undoubtedly force me to clean up and remove.

Finally, however, as part of a general spiffing up of my property, I hired a seismic expert to come in and earthquake-proof my house.  (He refuses to use the word "earthquake-proof" -- there are no guarantees, he reminds me.)  After a day and a half of incredible noise in the basement, my foundation has been equipped with a large amount of snazzy-looking hardware, designed to hold the house on its concrete foundation, as well as some mundane-looking plywood designed to reinforce the "cripple wall" at the front of the house.

I feel much better.  The house may still fall apart.  I may still die of a heart attack from fright.  But at least the house will stay put on its damn foundation.  I'm mentally at rest.  I feel smug, in fact, eager to see my less prudent neighbors' houses fall apart should the Big One occur within my remaining years.

The work was completed Friday.  This morning, at about 3 a.m., California suffered a fairly significant earthquake (about 6.1), centered not far from Sonoma, where many of my family members live.  No reports of any damage from any of my relatives, but -- in my anthropomorphic way -- I assume that the Earthquake Gods -- infuriated by my attempts to frustrate them in Seattle -- are taking out their vengeance on my family elsewhere.

It's a nice, sunny day in Seattle.  Enjoy your summer.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Music in the park

Classical music of all kinds nowadays is supposedly elitest.  But chamber music is the elite of the elite, often shunned even by those who may enjoy a Beethoven symphony or a Strauss tone poem.

The Seattle Chamber Music Society performs both a summer and a winter season for those who enjoy "that sort of thing."  Its summer season, concluding this week, consists of twelve chamber concerts, performed over a four week period in the Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall.  Tickets are $48, considerably more than a movie or a baseball game or other form of entertainment.  Even so, most or all performances are sold out.

But the Society also performs an occasional, free outdoor performance.  Tonight was such a night, and a beautifully warm and balmy night it was.  The concert took place in the outdoor theater area of Volunteer Park.  The area was crowded with viewers -- often barefoot and in shorts, sitting on blankets and camp chairs, sometimes eating picnics while they listened.  They didn't find themselves patronized by small orchestral versions of the William Tell Overture or the Nutcracker Suite.  Two distinct quintets of performers played meatier stuff -- Mozart's Clarinet Quintet and Beethoven's String Quartet in C major.

Because the performance was outdoors, amplification was necessary.  Obviously the sound lacks the quality of an indoor performance in a hall with excellent acoustics.  But the sound quality was quite good under the circumstances.

The crowd was hushed and attentive, even rapt.  Some of the younger children were running around the fringes of the audience, but no one talked, no one laughed, no one (so far as I could tell) texted or emailed, no one even chewed loudly.  It was an excellent audience for two excellent, well-received performances.

So much for "elitism."  Chamber music may not be to everyone's taste, but given the opportunity many will willingly listen and enjoy it, especially in an informal setting.  Thanks to the SCMS for giving us this opportunity.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Looking back

Thomas Cole: "Voyage of Life"

I've held seven American passports in my life.  That's not quite as bad as it sounds; passports used to be valid for shorter periods than they are now.  Still, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since my first passport at the age of 20.

Some author -- I wish I remember who -- wrote that few things are so depressing to an older person as to examine and compare each of his passport photos, studying them in chronological order.  Yup -- been there, done that.  It ain't pretty.

I was reminded of my passport photos -- although as documentation of the process of growing up, rather than breaking down -- when I saw Richard Linklater's film Boyhood this past weekend.  With amazing persistence, he filmed his movie over a twelve year period, while his star, Ellar Coltrane, aged from 6 to 18.  The boy's aging is seamless.  As one scene moves to the next, Ellar gradually grows older.  All his life, Ellar will have that movie as the ultimate in home movies of his childhood -- a more sophisticated evidence of the aging process than is my succession of passport photos.

And -- totally unrelated causally to my viewing of Boyhood on Friday -- I've spent this weekend reviewing decades of my photographic slides, posting representative samples on Facebook.  A week ago, I ordered a scanner to digitalize slides, and it arrived on Friday.  Having a new toy has filled my life with new purpose, you betcha!  At least until I get bored playing with it.

In any event, posting slides taken over the decades -- but mostly during my twenties, thirties and forties -- has given me another form of the Boyhood "passage of years" experience.  Fortunately for my viewers, most of the photos aren't of me.  Many are of friends with whom I've traveled and hiked.  Many also are of relatives as small children, relatives who have since grown up into parents who have their own pages on Facebook.  Many of the photos, sadly, are of relatives who are no longer with us. 

Regardless of each photo's subject matter, the swift passage of time is an obvious, if unintended, subtext to my Facebook gallery.

But I'm not depressed.  I enjoy reviewing my photos, sharing them on Facebook, and reading the comments they elicit.  Other people often see different things in photos from those you, the photographer, see.  And even if the changes to myself and to my friends aren't always encouraging (or flattering), they're certainly always interesting.  If time is a rapidly flowing river, which we navigate as we head for the open sea, it would be a waste to lock ourselves in our stateroom, refusing to observe how the scenery changes as we pass through it.

As any traveler recognizes as he mulls over his travels -- there's no such thing as a "bad trip," even when the destination is disappointing.  All travel is fascinating.  And especially, the great voyage of life itself.

Friday, July 25, 2014

"Horrendous brutality"

The State of Arizona took nearly two hours to kill convicted murderer Joseph Wood by a combination of drugs that were never intended as agents for human extermination.  The "botched" execution, if that's how it can be described, most probably marks but one more step along the path to eventual abolition of the death penalty.

Alex Kozinski, the conservative chief judge of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a well-publicized dissenting opinion to an order denying a procedural motion, ignored the specific legal issue before the court and delivered a philosophical dissertation on the nature of the death penalty itself:

Using drugs meant for individuals with medical needs to carry out executions is a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and peaceful—like something any one of us might experience in our final moments.  [citations omitted]  But executions are, in fact, nothing like that.
They are brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality.  Nor should it.  If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf.
If some states and the federal government wish to continue carrying out the death penalty, they must turn away from this misguided path and return to more primitive—and foolproof—methods of execution.  The guillotine is probably best but seems inconsistent with our national ethos.  And the electric chair, hanging and the gas chamber are each subject to occasional mishaps.  The firing squad strikes me as the most promising.  Eight or ten large-caliber rifle bullets fired at close range can inflict massive damage, causing instant death every time.  There are plenty of people employed by the state who can pull the trigger and have the training to aim true.  The weapons and ammunition are bought by the state in massive quantities for law enforcement purposes, so it would be impossible to interdict the supply.  And nobody can argue that the weapons are put to a purpose for which they were not intended: firearms have no purpose other than destroying their targets.  Sure, firing squads can be messy, but if we are willing to carry out executions, we should not shield ourselves from the reality that we are shedding human blood.  If we, as a society, cannot stomach the splatter from an execution carried out by firing squad, then we shouldn’t be carrying out executions at all.

Judge Kozinski states eloquently the mental processes of those supporting the death penalty. 

The traditional reasons given for criminal punishment, including the death penalty, are:
1.  Retribution
2.  Deterrence
3.  Incapacitation
4.  Rehabilitation
Studies have shown that the death penalty doesn't deter.  It obviously can't rehabilitate.  It certainly does incapacitate, but so does life imprisonment without possibility of parole.  This leaves retribution as the sole objective.

Judge Kozinski may (or may not) be hoping that his vivid description of legal killings -- "the splatter from an execution carried out by firing squad" -- will crystalize in the public mind exactly what executions do, and thus lead to public revulsion.

Maybe.  But every time someone is arrested for murder, or even for much lesser offenses, I see an outpouring of on-line sentiment for punishments far more exciting and gruesome than death by firing squad.  "Death is too good for him/her," is the predominant theme.  If the accused is a young male, one commentator after another rejoices over the possibility that the accused will be subjected to repeated rapes once he's inside prison walls.  For sexual offenses, castrations in novel and blood-curdling fashions are strenuously and lovingly recommended.

Punishment by the state was originally designed as a substitute for private "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" reprisals by the victim's family. These reprisals often led to lengthy blood feuds that interfered with the king's desire for a stable civil society.  The only legitimate justification for preserving the death penalty, in my mind, would be an analogous attempt to satisfy the overwhelming desire for revenge represented by these disembodied internet voices, voices that howl for ever more blood and pain and long, lingering deaths.

But I suspect that these internet voices represent a small but noisy subset of the entire population.  I hope so.  I would be nervous if I felt I were rubbing shoulders daily with the shuffling zombies from which these voices seem to emanate.

The death penalty serves no legitimate purpose in a civilized society.  Few countries that we consider "developed" still feel a need for capital punishment.  Even in America, it is only in certain states -- states whose identity you can predict without much thought -- that the death penalty remains popular and frequently used.  We don't need to submit to the peculiar -- in every sense of the word -- tastes of those elements of society.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"With Aspect Stern and Gloomy Stride"

On Friday, a friend and I attended the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society's production of The Mikado.  The Society has produced a G&S comic opera each year since 1955.  Of the seventeen operas, The Mikado has been the most produced; this year's was their tenth production.

This year's production was perhaps the best and most enjoyable I've ever seen done -- of The Mikado or of any of the other works in the G&S canon.  The singing was excellent, the acting hysterically funny, and the staging beautiful and imaginative.  The cast, director, and orchestra received a standing ovation.  Everyone left smiling and talking happily.

But not "everyone," apparently.  On Monday, the Seattle Times carried a lead article by Sharon Pian Chan on its Opinion page.  The article was entitled "Yellowface in your face."

Ms. Chan compares the opera's use of white players to play ridiculous Japanese characters with allowing a white actor to portray a black character  "with shoe polish smeared all over his face."  She objects to black wigs and white face powder, bowing and shuffling, and fans a-fluttering.

"The Mikado" opens old wounds and resurrects pejorative stereotypes.

The caricature of Japanese people as strange and barbarous was used to justify the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

With all due respect to Ms. Chan's sensitivities, and with due respect for the painful fact that Japanese-Americans living in  the Seattle area were major victims of the World War II internment -- someone needs to get a grip.  And a sense of humor, which is another way of saying "a sense of proportion."

As the column writer herself observes, W. S. Gilbert's libretto was intended as a pointed satire of political and social foibles in Victorian England.  Mr. Gilbert had never visited Japan.  Both he and his audience would have considered any claim that The Mikado was an effort to present an accurate portrayal of tyranny in then-contemporary Japan to be every bit as absurd as a claim that Shakespeare's The Tempest was an attempt to illustrate the difficulties facing poor souls shipwrecked on Bermuda.

Gilbert's Japan was a fairytale setting, just as fanciful as the Black Forest settings in the Grimm's fairy tales.  The faux-Japanese setting looks like a fairy tale world, and is received by the audience as a fairy tale world.  This production even incorporates a line in the traditionally improvised patter, "I've Got a Little List," that observes the absurdity of American actors with fake British accents, pretending they are Japanese.

Asian-Americans may still face problems in America, but those problems have nothing to do with a perception that they are "strange and barbarous."  A more serious problem may be one once shared by American Jews -- a concern by universities that they are being offered a greatly disproportionate percentage of freshman admissions.  This is a fairly "high class" problem, one not shared by "strange and barbarous" peoples.

As one re-reads the entire Chan article, one begins to suspect that alleged slander of the Japanese isn't her real concern.  She suggests that the Society work with local Asian-American theater groups to "re-interpret" and -- presumably -- supply the cast for The Mikado.

We are beyond the point, I like to feel, where blacks and Asians are unable to perform white parts.  I recall, as just one example, that young boys of all races have performed the title role in the Broadway production of Billy Elliot -- the story of a Geordie-accented boy in County Durham.  It's a little late in the day to be upset by white actors portraying Asian characters -- or who use makeup in so doing.

Go see The Mikado for yourselves.  Enjoy it and don't feel guilty.  You aren't being racists in so doing.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Once was enough

So many bright, young, hopeful faces! 

As I walked across campus this morning -- one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation -- I luxuriated in the relatively calm and relaxed ambiance of the summer quarter.  Plenty of summer college students, but in nowhere near the numbers seen during the normal academic year.

More noticeable than enrolled students were their even younger peers, kids gathered in groups, or walking with parents, or out on their own -- singly or in pairs.  They're recognizable, even apart from their obvious youth, by the excitement and curiosity on their faces. 

Who are they, I wonder?  Most, perhaps, are newly admitted students, already visiting the U Dub to get oriented for fall quarter.  Some may be the happy beneficiaries of "thick envelopes" from several colleges -- doing a little comparison shopping before making a decision.  Many are still younger -- high school or even middle school students -- brought by parents or as part of school groups.

Do I envy them?  Of course.  I envy them the way I envy a traveler I see setting out on a new journey.  So many experiences lie ahead; so many interesting things to learn.  And, of course, I envy their unthinking confidence that a nearly infinite number of days and years lie ahead of them, time to accomplish all their dreams, time to waste if they choose, with infinite time still to spare.

Would I trade places with them?  A difficult question, because I recognize how their apparent bliss can deceive.  Recall what it was like to be 18 years old.  Or 22.  Yes, you had the entire world open before you, and seemingly limitless time to work your will upon that world.  But what was it you wanted to do?  And how did you go about doing it?

I struggled with these questions longer than most, but they are questions most of us struggled with to some extent.  The curse of having heard teachers, year after year, speak of your "great potential."  But potential to do what?  How does an 18-year-old assert the self-control necessary to focus on a single objective, when he can't decide whether the objective is worth the effort required to attain it.  Or whether he, whatever his perceived "great potential," has the actual ability to attain it.

Especially, now that he finds himself in college and surrounded by clever classmates, most of  whom also have "great potential."

My fear -- and I suspect most of my classmates' fear -- was that I would totally fail to live up to that "great potential" -- in the eyes of others or, even worse, in my own eyes.  I was haunted by the words of Holden Caulfield's teacher, in Catcher in the Rye:

“I have a feeling that you're riding for some kind of a terrible, terrible fall. But I don't honestly know what kind. . . Are you listening to me?"


You could tell he was trying to concentrate and all.

"It may be the kind where, at the age of thirty, you sit in some bar hating everybody who comes in looking as if he might have played football in college. Then again, you may pick up just enough education to hate people who say, 'It's a secret between he and I.' Or you may end up in some business office, throwing paper clips at the nearest stenographer. I just don't know. But do you know what I'm driving at, at all?”

Oh, Holden knew what he was driving at, all right, and so did I.  He was attempting to draw a picture of the secular hell of wasted lives, the hell to which young guys who didn't live up to their "great potential" were presumably assigned.

I know better now.  That hell exists, all right, but a little indecision and fumbling around at the age of 20 doesn't suffice for perdition.  There are second acts in American lives -- sometimes third and fourth acts, as well -- despite what F. Scott Fitzgerald tells us.  You can explain that to a college-aged student, and he may understand you, and he may even agree.  But he agrees with you theoretically; he agrees with you insofar as what you say applies to others.  For himself, if he is the worried sort I seem to have been, he foresees only a One Act Play, one chance to get it right.  He may grant himself an extra year or two beyond 22, but if his career isn't well on its way by the age of 25 -- he sees himself flipping paper clips across an office at best, or more likely living unemployed in his parents' basement -- or in a cardboard box.

So, no.  I've been there once.  That was enough.  When we say we wish we were 20 again, we mean we wish we had young bodies and many years lying ahead.  But we assume that we would know then, in that second childhood, everything that we know now.  That we would know we were about to make the right decisions and enjoy reasonably successful careers and lives.  You give me all that, and sure, I'd go back and do it again. 

I wouldn't dread the hours of study, the writing of long term papers, the studying for tests, the tolerance of intolerable roommates.  Those were the easy costs; now they sound almost fun.  But it's the psychological stresses resulting from an almost existential fear and uncertainty and self-doubt that I'm not willing to experience again.  When I consider those particular stresses, I agree with singer Maurice Chevalier when he sings:  "I'm so glad I'm not young anymore."

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Tiny soaps

I guess it was those bars of soap that first alerted me.

I buy packages of bath soap, maybe ten bars to a package.  I won't tell you the brand, except that it's a four-letter word beginning with "D," and that I'm glad I use it and wish everybody did. 

A couple of years ago, I noted that the bars had begun presenting a more esthetic, scupted appearance.  But then I also noticed that the sculpting was actually a concave excavation.  The soap company had shaped the bars so that there was less soap in each bar, although the overall dimensions, as seen in the outer wrappings, appeared no different from before.

How odd, I thought, that a soap company would save a little bit of soap on each bar, just so they could, presumably, not raise the price.  Of course, most people don't use a bar of soap down to the last cubic centimeter -- they toss it and open a new bar.  So the company not only saves costs on each bar, but induces buyers to throw out a greater proportion of the soap they purchase than they would otherwise.

A bit cheezy, but I shrugged it aside and bought more soap.

Then came the toilet paper issue.  This month, I've noticed that toilet paper now comes in smaller rolls.  Not smaller in size per square, thank God, but smaller in diameter per roll.  Again, another apparent attempt to hold down the price of product per unit by decreasing the amount of product per unit.

Where will it all end?  Salespersons with straight faces selling face cloths to us as "bath towels"?  Cologne and shaving lotion in perfume bottles?  Children's paper scissors advertised as home barbering scissors?  A pint of beer with only 14 ounces? (Oops, they do that already.)

Toothpaste comes in varying sized tubes, so it's difficult to know whether they have been reducing those sizes.  So far as I've noticed -- not that I'm all that observant when it comes to tubes of tooth paste -- they haven't.  But, as tooth paste manufacturers cast envious eyes on recent doings in the soap and toilet paper market, surely the temptation will exist?

You know those little "travel size" tubes that meet TSA airline regulations for carry-on bags?  Will those eventually be described as "jumbo size"?  Sort of like olives, where "large" means small, and "jumbo" means medium?  Or, inversely to women's clothing sizes, where a size 12 steadily grows larger to meet ever larger women.  (As Wikipedia warns, in giving dimensions of women's sizes:  "These charts are significantly smaller than many current US clothing companies.")  But dress sizes face different consumer hopes and fears -- an American woman's  hope is to buy less goods per dress unit, not more. 

In general, the trend, even as we grow larger and larger in body size, is to provide less and less per unit for products to wash, dry, and otherwise pamper those plump bodies.  Like many others, I suppose I'll gradually just stop my comparison shopping, my studying the "price per ounce" information provided by the supermarkets.  I'll just throw stuff on the counter, swipe my Visa card, and close my eyes when my purchases are totaled.

It's better that way.  When you know you're playing a game that's fixed, you ultimately lose interest in the details of how your loss has been accomplished. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Maltese Falcon

Between 3:30 and 5:00 a.m. this morning, I read the final chapters of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon. 

I'd seen the 1941 movie a couple times in the distant past, but I doubt I would ever have read the book if the Sunday New York Times travel section hadn't carried a first page article entitled "San Francisco Noir."  The article led the reader around and about the not-so-noir streets of the modern city, seeking out the locales that Hammett identified so carefully by street and address in his book.  The article was profusely illustrated -- some photographs atmospherically noir-ish, others not so much.

I learned to love San Francisco before I ever really knew it, from reading Herb Caen's books (e.g., Baghdad by the Bay) as a teenager.  Then came years of college in the Bay Area, and later a short period as a member of the working classes, living on Sutter Street near Gough.  If I weren't loyal to the Northwest Corner today, I'd be living in "The City."  Assuming I could  afford it.

The Maltese Falcon, published in 1929, dealt (as did Caen's later newspaper columns to some extent) with an earlier San Francisco -- darker, more mysterious, and definitely non-techie in a world where "Silicon Valley" was meaningless.  (Wasn't sand made of silicon?  Did the phrase mean a "sandy valley"?)

The story -- a detective story, for those incomprehensively unfamiliar with even the plot of  the movie -- is complex, entertaining, and unnecessary to describe here.  What fascinates me is the language of the novel, the descriptions of 1920s San Francisco, and the atmosphere of foggy darkness, both physical and moral, that the author constructs.

Hammett tells the novel from the point of view of Sam Spade, the detective, but he tells it from an observer's vantage point.  In other words, we learn every word spoken by Spade, as well as his most minute gestures.  But we learn nothing of what goes on inside his head aside from what we learn or can infer from those objectively described words and deeds.  Spade responds almost instantly to new events with clever improvisations.  Have these responses been simmering in his brain over a period of time, or are they truly spontaneous?  We have no way of knowing. 

Literature classes recognize the concept of the "unreliable narrator."  Here, the narrator appears totally reliable.  But he is reporting the assertions of Sam Spade, whose words are almost always intended to deceive and who -- for us as well as for his antagonists -- is thus totally unreliable.

Herb Caen first showed me San Francisco as a city of mystery.  I remember especially his tales of  Chinatown -- the narrow streets, the only half-assimilated Chinese residents, the sounds and smells of a port city, a little Singapore or Hong Kong.  I was disappointed when I first visited Chinatown as a teenager  to discover that -- so far as I could observe -- it was merely a small tourist area selling souvenir t-shirts and faux Chinese works of art. 

Hammett deals with an earlier era, an era to which, I like to believe, Caen was hearkening back -- an era when reality still approximated the exotic image.  A town of seedy detective agencies, borderline-corrupt cops, dark alleys, complicit hotel detectives.  An active port city with ships arriving almost daily from Seattle, San Pedro, New York, Hong Kong and Singapore; a port city that attracted active smuggling, and whose connections with the rest of the world were close commercially but distant in time.

One phrase from the novel itself haunts me with nostalgia:

After a leisurely breakfast at the Palace, during which he read both morning papers, ....

San Francisco today has one embarrassingly poor daily newspaper.  Imagine a time when it had two papers in the morning alone.  Spade's favorite paper was the Call.  That fact excites my own recollections of days when the city had, besides the morning Examiner and the evening Chonicle, a third, albeit second-rate, newspaper, the Call-Bulletin -- an obvious product of a merger that itself later merged into the Examiner, now itself defunct as print journalism.

And then there is the matter of noir, a term describing literature that emphasizes "tough, cynical characters and bleak settings."  Hammett's novel is an early example of the genre.  Spade is a tough dude, displaying few signs of emotion that the dispassionate narrator can report.  As the book begins, he is involved in an affair with his partner's wife, and shows shockingly little distress when the partner is dispatched during the first chapters.  He beds women simply to keep them happy and under his control.  He lies to virtually everyone as a matter of policy.  He scorns the cops.  He uses his fists without hesitation.  He is blandly homophobic, perhaps merely reflecting his times.  He violates his client's confidences, and induces attorneys and medical workers to violate their own.  He has no moral code, seemingly, except survival and the making of money.

And yet ... we regard him at the end as a somehow decent fellow at heart.

The bleak settings entertain me, perhaps, more than the cynical characters.  As beautiful and gentrified -- as comfortable, both physically and psychologically -- as San Francisco is today, something in me longs for the mysterious and dangerous city of my teenage imaginings.  The Maltese Falcon gives me that city, by chapter and verse, street name and building description.  It's all there to be reconstructed in our minds, at our leisure, in our own time.

Finally, a warning.  Once you've seen the movie, however long ago, you can't read Hammett's description of Spade without picturing Humphrey Bogart -- or of Joe Cairo without seeing Peter Lorre.  And similarly with the characters played by Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet.  Hammett was fortunate to have a movie that interpreted his novel so faithfully and well.  For us today, the book is a supplement to the movie, as well as the movie's being a supplement to the book.  A synergy between the two produces an enriched experience.

Thanks to the NY Times for leading me to the book -- even though I was forced  to turn on the lights at 3:30 finish it off, to see the story to the ending I already knew and expected..

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Soccer (sorry, football!)

Germany 1; USA 0.

Hooray -- success for the USA!  Huh?

Yes, I realize that the United States today backed into the next round of the World Cup by relying on Portugal's win over Ghana, and on Portugal's less impressive history of goal scoring during these play-offs.  Still, the somewhat puzzling question of how today's loss can be celebrated as a victory symbolizes in a sense my overall confusion concerning the world's most popular sport.

I really like the World Cup games.  I like the fact that, unlike Olympic team sports such as hockey and basketball, almost every country has a shot at doing well.  A former champion, like Spain, can lose in the first round four years later.  It isn't exactly "parity," but World Cup teams are closer to parity than are sports such as, say, Olympic basketball (USA) and ice hockey (Canada).

I like the pageantry.  I like the good-natured nationalism.   I like the enthusiasm.  I like following the scores in the newspapers. 

I wish I could like watching the games.  A new generation of Americans has come of age, whose members played soccer as kids and who follow the fortunes of favorite European teams like Arsenal FC, Barcelona, Bayern Munich.  They know the great international players, and they know the tactics of each team.  Soccer literacy has come to them as easily as baseball statistics did to earlier generations of American kids.

I, of course, understand the general rules of the game.  What I don't understand are the tactics and strategies of the teams.  Basketball is my least favorite American team sport, and perhaps for the same reasons as I'm left baffled by soccer.  Basketball players run up and down the court, shooting baskets, and the most baskets win.  But I've never played the game or followed it closely enough to understand with any depth how the players are interacting as a team (when they do!) so as to generate those baskets. 

Basketball at least produces a lot of baskets and showy slam dunks.  A soccer game, like today's match with Germany, consists of watching players running up and down the field for 90 minutes, kicking at the ball and trying to get it under control.  Almost randomly, it seems, an occasional ball goes through the goal.  And just that one goal can be decisive, as it was today.

I tried today to focus on the play and to appreciate the literate, British accented commentary.  My mind wandered and, eventually, so did my feet.  I did happen to be watching when Germany scored its one goal.  It was exciting, I guess, but why did it happen?  Why didn't the USA do the same?  Beats me.

I never scoff at -- in fact, I am totally sympathetic with -- Europeans who can't grasp the excitement of American football.  (Although football, to me, has the great advantage of giving you time between plays to let your mind regroup, and prepare for what needs to be done next.)  But I suspect you need to have grown up playing touch football in a neighborhood empty lot, and watching your classmates play in high school and college, to really appreciate the game. 

Soccer today already is booming in the United States at the school level, and is becoming increasingly popular with the general population --  nowhere more so than here in the Northwest Corner where the Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver fans are highly vocal and at each other's throats throughout the season.  Soccer will soon become a major sport throughout America at the professional level, and our teams will eventually become World Cup contenders.

I hope to be around when that happens.  And  I hope, by that time, to have a better intuitive grasp of the game!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Outsmarting the bears

It's ever so portant how you walk.
And it's ever so jolly to call out, "Bears,
Just watch me walking in all the squares."

--A. A. Milne

I returned last night from a four-day visit to Glacier National Park.  It was the first time I'd visited Glacier since a family vacation when I was ten.  It didn't disappoint.

Glacier is a hiker's park par excellence.  And the Many Glacier region of the park where I stayed is a center of some of the best hiking in the park.  Unfortunately, June -- especially this June -- is not the best month for hiking.  Glacier Park is at a high elevation and at a high latitude, and the snow lingers.  This year, especially, when three or four weeks of unseasonable blizzards immediately before my arrival had tied up transportation in the park. 

The Going-to-the-Sun Road -- the sole west-east traffic artery through the park -- still  has not opened to through traffic, and may not for another couple of weeks.  To reach Many Glacier -- in the northeast portion of the park -- I had to take U.S. 2, a lower altitude route which skirts the southern boundary of the park, from my airport in Missoula.

Once at my destination, and checked into the Many Glacier Hotel -- built a hundred years ago, before the park had been created, by the Great Northern Railway -- I had a number of fine hiking options open to me.  But none that went above a certain altitude, where the trails were still covered by melting but unstable snow fields. 

But the primary obstacle to successful hiking was not meteorological, but psychological.  The Park Service distributes literature raving about the beauty and quality of its hiking trails.  It also warns prominantly -- both in literature and on trail signs, about the danger of bears.

Entering Grizzly Country

You are entering a wilderness area and must accept certain inherent dangers, including snow, steep terrain, water and wildlife.  There is no guarantee of your safety. 

Bears have injured and killed visitors and may attack without warning and for no apparent reason.

(Emphasis in original)  This was by no means the most alarming of the warnings I encountered, merely the one I happened to photograph.  Hikers were strongly urged not to hike alone, and to make a considerable racket on the trail to warn bears of one's approach:  talk loudly, sing, clap one's hands, etc. 

I had arrived at the park alone, and had every intention of hiking -- if at all -- alone.  My inherent good breeding, as well as my inhibitions, precluded my behaving in the loud and uncouth manner suggested by the National Park Service.  Was I thus doomed to spend my time on the hotel deck -- basking in the warm sun, reading, gazing at the awe-inspiring scenery, and sipping yet another "Going-to-the Sun" IPA?

Certainly not.

The Park Service suggested -- as a supplement, not a replacement, to the above admonitions -- that the prudent hiker carry a cannister of "bear spray."  I don't believe I had ever heard of "bear spray," but it certainly exists and is available for purchase at local outdoors shops.  Carrying it into bear country is as reasonable as a young secretary's decision to carry a can of Mace into her dark parking garage when working late at night.  In fact, the similarities are innumerable.

Suitably armed with a $49.95 can of bear spray, capable of propelling a reassuring seven-second cloud of pain and confusion some thirty yards in front of me -- a cloud that would instantly cause a bear to lose interest in pursuing me as either prey or an object of fun and amusement -- I felt, if not invincible, at least more confident.  Spencer Tracy did not walk the lonesome streets of Black Rock without a weapon in his holster; nor would I walk into the grizzlies' lair without my cannister of bear spray hanging from my belt, armed and ready to fire. 

I now understand the hitherto seemingly peculiar psychology of the NRA's hordes of devotees.  When confronting a bear, one can purchase manhood for $49.95.

The Many Glacier Hotel sits on the southern shore of Swiftcurrent Lake, and on Friday I did a warm-up hike, 2.6 miles, on a tourist-oriented nature trail circling the lake.  The hiking was fun, and no bears -- either grizzly or the more amenable black -- threatened my life or limb.

The next day, I hiked to the western end of the lake, walked across an isthmus to neighboring Josephine, and proceeded along the northern shore of that long lake.  About half way along the shore, a side trail begins the climb to the Grinnell glacier.  The park ranger had earlier warned not to proceed beyond the point, about two miles in, where the trail was obliterated by late snow, and so far as I could tell no hikers were disregarding that warning.  From the high point on the trail, one had excellent views of the glacier and of Grinnell Lake below, the beneficiary of the melting snow and ice from the glacier -- water that cascaded down to the lake by numerous spectacular waterfalls.

Although I was disappointed -- with bear spray at the ready -- to encounter no ursine threats, I did run into (almost literally) a big-horned sheep grazing on the trail.  He obviously was more familiar with human hikers than I was with animals with curling horns; we watched each other for a while, and then squeezed past each other on the narrow trail.  I had no cause to visit fiery hell upon the calm animal, through an inappropriate blast of my precious bear spray.

Having returned to the Lake Josephine trail, I continued to the west end of the lake.  At this point, there is a dock maintained by a concessionaire who operates a boat service from the hotel.  For a mere $24, one can cruise the length of Swiftcurrent, undertake a quarter mile portage (of oneself, not the boat) to Josephine, and climb aboard a waiting vessel that takes you to this western end of the lake.  And returns you, in reverse order, to the hotel.  Most of the cruisers appeared of a certain age, and perhaps not ready even for easy lakeshore hiking.

Another mile took me to Grinnell Lake, with its view of the many waterfalls from the glacier.  I had pictured myself sprawled on a lakeshore meadow, blissfully eating my mid-day sandwich.  The last portion of the trail, however, passed through snow, and the snow continued right down to the lake's edge.  I still blissfully ate my sandwich, but necessarily used my daypack as insulation between my rear and the cold, wet ground.

The entire day's hiking covered about eleven miles.  Other than the moderate climb up the Grinnell glacier trail, the hiking was all on level lakeside trails (in a few places flooded by high lake levels, necessitating minor detours), and I returned to the hotel not really feeling as though I had covered that much distance.

The only bears I saw were tiny dots on a cliff, high above the hotel.  Every morning, tourists stood on the hotel's deck, staring at the dots.  Some claim they saw them move.  A ranger assured us they were bears. 

The very threat of the sight of my bear spray appears to have successfully kept the beasts at bay.

I took some great photos, which nevertheless hardly do justice to the beauties of the surrounding alpine mountains.  A very enjoyable long weekend, but next time I'll do it a few weeks later in the summer.
  A sample of my photos of the park can be viewed by clicking here.