The Bean

It was raining this morning, so instead of walking, we took a cab to the closest Metro Link station. That first mile was ten bucks. It was $4.50 on Metro Link for the next eight miles. At the Saint Louis Union Station, we boarded the Megabus. 300 miles later, we off loaded at the Chicago Union Station, for $12.25. When we arrived in Chicago, it had stopped raining, so we walked the last mile to the hotel, roller bags in tow. This part of the trip was free.

It is always an adventure, when you ride Megabus, at least that is what Anne told me, when we boarded in Saint Louis. Anne and I were easily two standard deviations away from the median age of our fellow bus riders. Mostly they were college students on spring break. Our Megabus adventure occurred just after crossing the Mississippi into Illinois. The driver pulled off and stopped on the side of the road, not once but twice. After the first time it was a complete mystery. After the second time the driver came on the PA and announced that there was nothing wrong, except that he couldn’t see out of the front window, because it was all fogged up. We were on the upper deck and the front window there was completely fogged too. He solved the problem by cranking up the heat to an almost intolerable extent, but it did defog all of the windows.

After we safely arrived in Chicago, we went to our hotel to check in. It is the Wyndham Blake. The building once housed printing presses and is situated in the heart of Printers Row, just south of the Loop. The building has been completely refurbished and our accommodations are pretty nice. After check-in, we turned it around quickly and set off into the city to have some fun.

We spotted numerous buildings sporting all sorts of architectural significance. There were too many to detail here. We made it as far as Millennium Park, which is new since the last time that we visited Chicago. The centerpiece there is a sculpture entitled “Cloud Gate”, at least by the artist. Everyone else calls it “The Bean”. What ever you call it, it is a marvel, as I hope that these photos convey. When we arrived, there was a throng already mugging for the camera.

We had dinner afterwards at Pizanos. We had Mark’s Special, a deep dish pizza featuring tomatoes, cheese  and basil. In this case Mark’s is the possessive form, but it could be because I’m so special, at least that is what Anne told me. I had a local beer, Half-Acre Daisy Cutter. Actually, I had two, so you could say that I successfully clear-cut an acre at dinner.

It was after dark, as we toddled back to the hotel. One of the denizens of the dark tried to accost us. His weapon of choice was the truth. This panhandler’s patter went like this, “I’m not going to lie to you man, I don’t need money for food. I get $200 a month in stamps, so I’m not starving, but I cannot buy alcohol or cigarettes with stamps. Could you give me some money so I can buy a pint of vodka?” I’m of the camp that the truth in such situations is not the best policy.

Seattle Sunshine

Seattle Skyline

Seattle Skyline

With the photo for this post, I’m reaching back towards a sunnier, happier day. This photograph was taken last September, near the end of a summer long drought in Seattle. It was a brilliantly sunny and warm day. Was this week in Saint Louis sunny and warm too? Not so much.

It has been grey all week-long. Occasionally, the unrelenting grey was punctuated with falling precipitation, running the gambit in form. It has been a long dull week, with only a couple of events of note to report. The first one, was a good one, I received my bonus. Our bonuses are calculated as a function of our base pay, influenced by how well the company did last year. The company had a very good year lat year. The current hub-bub about the 787 will be reckoned with next February. So, consequently bonuses were very good too. Unfortunately for me, I had already effectively flushed my money down the toilet last fall, when I had a new sewer line put in. The money did a touch-and-go today in my bank account.

The other notable event for this week is the sequester. This event has no promise of goodness, but so far, it doesn’t look like it will have any immediate negative effects. We are still hiring. My boss was in Seattle today, to greet a new employee on his first day. Also, in his stead, one of my other co-workers interviewed another prospect.

The fact that both events occurred on a Friday is an artifact of our company’s culture. We are a company composed of and ruled by engineers. But it is the bean counters, the accountants, who really rule the roost. Our work week begins on a Friday and ends on a Thursday, all so the bean counters can balance the week’s books, without having to work Saturdays. Personally, I kind of like this arrangement. It makes Thursday feel like a faux end of the work week, speeding the arrival of the approaching weekend.

I was wondering how I would wrap up this post, when Anne called out a relevent factoid. In 1900 engineers reversed the flow of the Chicago River.  Prior to its reversal, hundreds of people were dying in the City of Broad Shoulders each year. At that time, sewage from the Chicago River was flowing into Lake Michigan and contaminating the city’s drinking water. The Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal preserved the city’s water and provided a route from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River basin. The relevance of this factoid comes with our planned trip to the Windy City. Of course there is just one little downside to this engineering feat, Chicago’s waste is now sent south to us in Saint Louis.

Members of the Academy, I Thank You

Tomorrow night is Academy Awards night. The one night out of the year that Hollywood goes out of its way to self congratulate itself and bestow honor, wealth and fame on the best and the brightest among themselves. Traditionally, the night before is devoted to worst that Hollywood has had to offer. The Golden Raspberry Awards, the Razzies are held tonight. Unfortunately [for you], none of the trifecta of films that I have to offer to you, were neither good enough nor bad enough for any awards. They are comfortably mediocre, but without further ado, I give you Le Marquis’ Academy Awards contestants. So, hold your nose if you must, but then press play.

The first film, “Big Night for Mini Abe” is actually related to the Academy Awards. On Monday morning, I am going to relish regaling my Republican co-workers from the great state of Illinois about this movie, because they paid for it. This movie was produced by the Illinois Bureau of Tourism.
Watch it, if you’ve ever wondered what the days leading up to Hollywood’s biggest night are like for a former president and who hasn’t? Well, you can stop wondering now. See Abe like you’ve never seen him before, unless you happen to collect articulated presidential action figures.

There’s no way to intellectualize this next movie, it is just two minutes of goats yelling like humans. [Sorry, I needed some filler.] Someone has strung together over two minutes of goats shrieking, shouting, squealing, and hollering, but never bleating! They sound just like real human beings. By way of explanation, the Spanish dude asks the goat about then President José Luis Rodríguez and the Canary Island government. I love the dog’s expression at the film’s end.

We made this final entry today. We being Anne and I. Saint Louis has likely had its big snowfall of the season and we weren’t about to miss out on it. Mecca in Saint Louis for sledding is Art Hill, so named for the art museum that sits upon it in Forest Park. There were plenty of kids and adults plying the slopes, while we were there. The snow was particularly icy and fast. Afterwards, we went over to Blueberry Hill for lunch. We found that half of the Loop has been torn up or is under construction. Apparently, Wash U. is expanding northwards into the Loop now and they are in a hurry. They were even working on Saturday.

Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty

I saw “Zero Dark Thirty” on Saturday and it has taken me this long to write about it. It’s not that I was upset about the film. Maybe I should have been, with all of the controversy that this film has stirred up about torture. No, it was more that I was perplexed. I didn’t know what to think about the movie. It is in a genre that I like, the espionage thriller and it is a well crafted product, but I was left unsatisfied.

“Zero Dark Thirty” is the story of the manhunt for Osama bin Laden. It centers on Maya(Jessica Chastain), a CIA agent. She is recruited out of high school, just before 9/11 and we watch her over a ten-year period never wavering in her quest to find bin Laden. She has the monomaniacal resolve of Captain Ahab, searching for her white whale. She has no social life. Living and working in Pakistan tends to preclude that. She alienates her coworkers and intimidates her bosses. At one point she asks for a ‘drop line’ operation. The new boss assents, but he doesn’t believe in it. He has learned that life is better when he doesn’t disagree with her.

One reviewer characterized the CIA as middle school with clearances. This analogy shows our spy agency’s Wild West approach to the Middle East post 9/11, as portrayed. The movie captures this shoot first, ask questions later and blame the other kid, when the principal asks approach. Maya is able to be the school yard bully, because she has nothing to lose and there really isn’t any adult supervision.

She is introduced to ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques by Dan (Jason Clarke), another agent. Before she goes in the first time, he suggests watching on TV instead, “There is no shame in that.” She eschews both that suggestion and her facemask. She soon transitions from passive observer, to the person in charge. The only concession to her fairer sex that she allows is the burly man beside her at the interrogation table. He throws the punches at the chained man across the table, on her command.

I don’t feel bad about the torture depicted in the film, because I have been doubly inoculated. I’ve previously commented about the dozen violent trailers that were preamble to this movie. That doesn’t begin to count the hundreds of similar films that I have watched in whole. I could try to argue that their ceaseless violence has desensitized me, but that would not be correct. A lifetime of movies and one video have taught me the difference between Hollywood and reality.

Last fall, I was a juror. As evidence, I watched a four and a half hour interrogation for a statutory rape trial. There were no ‘enhancements’ to this interrogation, still it was way harder to watch than any scene in “Zero Dark Thirty”. It was excruciating. I’m still thankful for its fuzzy video and poor sound quality and that I didn’t have to choose the shame of watching TV. The torture scenes in the film are of such short duration that they become surreal compared to what I had to watch of reality.

I do feel that torture is wrong. I just feel that the movie ineptly portrays it. I also think that the director substituted scenes of torture for scenes of painstaking investigation, because of their relative cinematic value.

The torture issue aside, this movie is really the tale of two women. The first is director, Kathryn Bigelow. She won the Academy’s best director award for her last film, “The Hurt Locker”. She was shutout at the Golden Globes on Sunday and had previously been denied a second shot at Best Director by the Academy, even though the film is up for Best Picture. Did this movie direct itself?

The other woman is the real life CIA agent on whose life this movie is based. Subsequent to the events in the movie she was passed over for a promotion that many in the Agency thought that she deserved. This prompted one wag to ask, “Who do you have to kill around here to get a raise?”

Tennessee Tree

Tennessee Tree

Tennessee Tree

To survive after severe fire damage is one of the remarkable characteristics of the sequoia. The living tissue or cambium layer of a tree lies just under its bark. So long as some of this thin, loving tissue connects the leaves above with the roots below, the tree will continue to live. If undisturbed by people, or more firs, this living layer will eventually heal the fire scars so evident here.