Death and Taxes

British Museum Crystal Skull

This quartz skull is on display in the British Museum. Its past is murky and its authenticity is in doubt. Legend holds that this skull possesses special powers and is an ancient Aztec artifact. Its like was featured in the last Indiana Jones chronicle. The Smithsonian believes that it was manufactured in 19th-century Germany. Its material precludes carbon dating, but microscopic abrasion patterns indicate its machined origin.

Aztec Turquoise Mosaic Mask

This is not the only such skull. Enough of them were made so that its origin can be tracked to a particular town in Germany. Turquoise masks, like the one pictured are authentic Aztec and could have inspired these skulls. What I find interesting is the question of why George Lucas and Steven Spielberg chose an archeological hoax as the basis for their film. This iteration of the Indiana Jones franchise performed poorly, compared to its predecessors. So, choosing a hoax as its focus maybe isn’t all that remarkable, but is indicative of the now worn state of this once great series.

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In other news, I got our taxes done. We couldn’t itemize, what with the new much larger standard deduction. Still, we came out a little better than last year. We should get money back from the Feds, eventually. With another looming government shutdown, the timing on when that will occur is questionable. We owe the state. So, there is no rush with them. I got a scare when I printed out a copy of the forms. the state’s payment forms had a watermark on them that said, “Do Not FileForms Not Final”. I had just filed our taxes. Further investigation uncovered that the state was the culprit here and not me. The offending forms are scheduled to be updated next week. Like I said there is no real rush here. 

Our Eve

Overheard by Dan on the streets of NYC, “There is no holding hands in Times Square, if we get separated, we’ll meet again in heaven.” Our Eve was quieter than the one presented last night on TV, but it was also much drier. It did rain here and quite a bit, but that was well done my midnight. I know this, because we all managed to make it to the witching hour. We did see some fireworks, just not the ones pictured. Ours were of the local, neighborhood variety.

Unexpectedly, Dan stayed in for the night. I was surprised and a bit unprepared, but there was more than enough supper for the three of us. As the out-of-town impresario, Dan held the remote for the night’s entertainment. Befitting the only member of our household having his own IMDb page, he began with a series of lectures from movie dialect coach Erik Singer. Singer’s talks included voice coach analysis of famous actors speaking with an accent not their own. He also deconstructed fictional “constructed languages,” such as Klingon and Dothraki.

For the feature film, Dan chose Avengers: Infinity Wars. This Marvel superhero movie includes a cast of thousands, so I was always asking Dan, “Who’s that?” Meanwhile, Anne the biblioklept, read Dan’s book, Hope Never Dies. This non-Marvel superhero story, features two buds, two out-of-work civil servants, Joe and Barack, now chaffing at the lack of action. A suspicious death launches this dynamic duo into the role of amateur sleuths. These two parallel tales concluded at about the same time, just before the night’s big countdown got interesting. 

First Man

Apollo 11 EV Helmet

In director Damien Chazelle’s new bio-pic “First Man”, Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is headed to the moon, striving to be the first man to set foot on it. While back on earth, his wife Janet (Claire Foy) is holding down the home. He’s shooting for the stars, but she remains the heart of this film. Two stories are told, the public one we know and the private story of the costs to those involved. 

Who knew that spaceflight could be so violent and noisy, even when everything is nominal. I guess that when you strap half a kilo-ton of high explosives to your back, it is not too much to expect that there will be a whole lot of shaking going on. The movie recounts Armstrong’s three near-death experiences, first in an X-15 skipping off the atmosphere, next in a spinning out of control Gemini capsule and finally while doing desert practice moon landings in a spidery training craft that makes the real moon landing look like a walk in the park.

In-between his work the Armstrongs raise a family and cope with death. They have three children, two sons and a daughter. They attend colleagues funerals and that of their daughter’s, who dies of cancer. Janet seems most affected by the other men’s deaths and the suffering of their surviving widows and endures a there but for the grace of God go I existence. While it is his daughter’s death that most affects Neil, causing him to wall off his feelings of grief and throw himself unsparingly into his work. She finds his stoic façade maddening.

“First Man” deserves a spot in the pantheon of contemporary spaceflight film. Joining “Apollo 13”, “Gravity”, “The Martian” and “The Right Stuff”, while excluding both “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” and their more fanciful like. Even though it relates events that occurred sixty or more years in the past, it seems rooted in the present. Maybe because it tells a story that I have seen. I can still remember that sultry summer evening, huddled around a noisy B&W feed and barely hearing him say, “One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.”

Moon and Astronaut Teapot

A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Key Largo

The Colds’ Milk Farm

Saturday, after touring the art fair and then dinning in, Anne and I settled onto the couch for a night of TV watching. We first watched “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, which is on Netflix and which we Chromecasted onto our “big screen” TV. Having read all of the Douglas Adams books, we had looked forward to this movie’s screening when it first came out, but like most critics, were disappointed with it then. Maybe we have mellowed with age or maybe our memory has lowered expectations, but I rather enjoyed watching it this time. It’s a mostly harmless revue of the book and samples rather than retells the original source material. It was fun seeing members of the cast who then were relative unknowns, but who have since developed star power. The principles include Martin Freeman (Arthur Dent), Mos Def (Ford Prefect), Sam Rockwell (Zaphod Beeblebrox) and Zooey Deschanel (Trillian). We grabbed our towels and enjoyed this silly romp through space in a Doug Adams universe. Maybe time has dimmed our memories so that we didn’t miss what was left out.

Our second feature of the evening was “Key Largo”, which was being broadcast by our local PBS affiliate. We visited Key Largo earlier this year and signs of last year’s hurricane season were still all about. Still, it was better to be there after the hurricane than during. We also experienced a taste of one of these storms, when the remnants of Hurricane Gordon came to town this weekend. Maybe that’s why the station had picked this movie to air. This was Bogart’s and Bacall’s fourth and final movie pairing. They are trapped in a dilapidated hotel by both an impending hurricane and Edward G. Robinson and his gangsters. Past Bogey-Bacall movies smoldered with passion. In this one tension replaces passion as the driving force. Every good movie needs a good villain and Robinson steals the show with his Al Capone inspired character, Johnny Rocco. He holds all of the cards, until they are scattered in the wind.

Just like Hollywood did, I substituted a stand-in building for the fictional hotel on Key Largo. It is Key West’s Colds’ Milk Farm. This 1850 farmhouse is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the Keys. When it was a farm it produced both milk and chicle. Chicle is the gummy sap of the sapodilla tree and became the main ingredient in the manufacturing of chewing gum. Its introduction was a big success. Chicle is where the brand name Chiclets came from. 

What to Wear to a Witchhunt

Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers

You cursed New York Times! Look what you’ve done! I’m melting! Melting! Oh, what a world! What a week! Who would have thought that a failing publication like you could destroy my beautiful and it really is beautiful, some people say that it is probably the most beautiful wickedness that has ever been. Ooh, look out! I’m going! Ooh! Ooh! 

There maybe no place like home, but it’s taken far more than three clicks of the heels to bring these ruby slippers back home. The FBI announced that a pair of the famed red-sequined slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” that were stolen 13 years ago, have been recovered this week. But this post is about way more than just a pair of pumps.

Is the Wicked Witch dead, at least politically? If so, who did it? Some people are saying I didn’t do it. Actually, a lot of people are saying this same thing now, but someone out there is thinking, I didn’t mean to do it. Really, I didn’t. It was an accident. It’s just that he was setting our country on fire, but then there were those tax cuts. Back where I come from people who do nothing all day but write op-ed pieces. They are called enenomous, enninonuss, er, yea, unknown people. Now a new hunt is on for this man. The Wicked Witch is not dead, which is why this Anonymous is now trying to lay low and stay out of his way.

Just try! I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!
Toto too?

Today, former President Obama uttered the name Donald Trump for the first time in public since his inauguration in a speech at the U of I. Kicking off his campaign for Democrats in the midterm elections, Obama’s message to the students there was simple, go vote. In this fiery speech, he asked, “What happened to the Republican Party?” and after enumerating their many failings over the last two years, he added, “That’s not how our democracy’s supposed to work.” His prescription for going forward was simple, “What’s going to fix our democracy is you.” It was a call to arms, a call to go vote. If you agree with Obama vote Democrat on November 6th and let the real witch hunting begin! 

Lizzie

[White & Purple] Mask, David Moore, 1971

Yesterday, was the 126th anniversary of Fall River’s most infamous murders, the Borden axe murders. In this case, the daughter Lizzie Borden was accused of murdering her father and stepmother with an axe. She was tried, but acquitted by the jury. But in the court of public opinion she was found guilty and immortalized in this little skip-rope ditty:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

These murders have captured the public’s imagination from their inception to today. The latest iteration is a movie due out next month called Lizzie that stars Kristen Stewart and Chloë Sevigny. Here is its YouTube trailer.

In reading a review of this movie, I also had the opportunity to read a copy of the first Boston Globe article about this case. In this article, which was written the day of the murders, Lizzie is not yet considered a suspect. Suspicion was being directed at some nameless Portuguese man. It’s distressing, to note that from Borden’s time to today people first look for a minority to blame.

Also, in this article is a description of the events in the immediate aftermath of the murders, Lizzie sent Bridget Sullivan the maid to fetch Dr. Bowen. Part of my personal connection with this case, other than being born in Fall River and having a last name of Axe, is that my grandparents lived on Bowen Street. I later met some of the Bordens.

Years ago, we were at the wedding of Peter and Evelyn, high school friends from Ann Arbor. Peter is a Borden. His middle name is Borden. Two of his aunts also attended the wedding. When I learned that they too were from Fall River, I introduced myself to them. I think that my last name was too much for them though. These two elderly women were aghast with me. Even with the intervening years, I don’t think that they were old enough then to be alive at the time of the murders, but they certainly heard about them, much too often and I must have been just one more reminder of events that they would rather forget.