New Year Surprise

Cabo San Lucas from Medano Beach

Cabo San Lucas from Medano Beach

Next week, Martine and I will be flying down to Mexico’s Cabo San Lucas for a few days on sun and relaxation—before tax season begins in grim earnest. Around Thanksgiving, I found a good combined airfare/hotel rate from Tripadvisor that will save us several hundred dollars while giving us four nights in a beachfront suite at the Playa Grande hotel.

Neither of us have been to Mexico since 1992, and that was to Yucatán, where Martine encountered the predacious Caribbean mosquito. This time, we are going to visit the Southern tip of Baja California, which is all mountains and deserts swept clean by Westerly winds.

It appears that Martine’s traveling muscular aches are less of a problem which she is exposed to sun, of which there is plenty at the Capes. I will get a little sunshine myself, as well as reading even more books.

During that time, I may or may not post to this blog depending on the availability of computer resources as well as free time.


2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Man from Martinique

Caribbean Painter Ernest Breleur (b. 1945)

Caribbean Painter Ernest Breleur (b. 1945)

I do not usually like modern art, but I make exceptions from time to time. Yesterday, I read Milan Kundera’s book of essays entitled Encounter in which he wrote about three artists from Martinique. There were two writers, Patrick Chamoiseau (whose novel Texaco I read and loved) and Aimé Césaire, and the painter Ernest Breleur.

When I think of Martinique, what comes to mind are the first Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall film, To Have and Have Not (1944) directed by Howard Hawks, as well as a horrendous double volcanic eruption of Mont Peleé in 1902 that killed over twenty thousand people. Then I read Patrick Leigh Fermor’s only novel, The Violins of Saint Jacques (1953), which was later turned into an opera by Malcolm Williamson.

Then Kundera added the names of Breleur and Césaire to my list. Thanks to Google image, it was easy to find some of Breleur’s work:




Breleur has something going with his dark blues, and his tortured human and animal figures. I’ll have to look for more of his work, and I’ll also have to search out Aimé Césaire.

Next on the list—I think you could see this coming couldn’t you?—I want to visit Martinique. I think I could talk Martine into it, even with her back pain. The sun seems to help her in some way. And, for me, Martinique is a growing nexus of interests, from the most powerful volcano in the Caribbean to the French culture to an interesting local culture.


This Does Not Look Like Standard English

This Does Not Look Like Standard English, Does It?

Rick Steves refers to them as “little doo-hickeys over some letters that affect pronunciation.” I call them diacritical marks, a sure sign that you are dealing with a foreign language. Sometimes you find them in English in words such as rôle, coöperate, or façade.Then you might think, “Gosh but this is old-fashioned!”

More than just doohickeys, diacritical marks are extensions of other countries’ alphabets. A couple weeks ago, I wrote a posting entitled “Dysinventions”, mostly of my dislike of touchscreen keyboards. In the post, I wrote:

I feel bad enough that there are some Eastern European diacritical marks I can’t use, such as an anacrusis or the Hungarian double-acute-accent over the “o” and “u” to indicate an extended vowel sound. In time, I will figure this out. But not on one of those touchscreen keyboards. I can imagine it would be gruelling just to type an average paragraph shifting between upper and lower case letters and numbers, let alone diacritical marks.

If I can’t make it look as if it were typeset, I would just as soon forget the whole thing. It just wouldn’t be me.

Well, I finally did figure it out. There is a great Internet resource called Typeit.Org which enables me to quote directly from twenty-six different character sets, including: Currencies, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Esperanto, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Icelandic, thye International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) for English, the full IPA, Italian, Maori, Math, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Symbols, Swedish, Turkish, and finally Welsh.

Now there is nothing I cannot type with my keyboard in any of the above configurations. Just so that I can control the type font, there is one additional step: I paste the text into Microsoft’s Notebook, which strips out Typeit’s default font information, and then copy and paste the result into WordPress.

At long last, I feel confident that I can print in Hungarian without misspelling such passages as:

Bár külön beállítási opció nincsen rá, egy egyszerű szintaxis használatával lehetséges a régi szótárból ismert teljes egyezésre, bármilyen egyezésre, vagy akár szó végére is keresni.

Note in particular that word egyszerű with its doubly accented “u”.

Please don’t worry that I’ll go crazy with this new tool. After all, nem akarom, hogy ellenátkok. (“I don’t want to befuddle you.”)



Boxing Day at the Hart

The William S. Hart House in Newhall, CA

The William S. Hart Ranch House and Museum in Newhall, CA

In the United Kingdom, the day after Christmas is celebrated as Boxing Day. It has nothing whatever to do with pugilism; rather, it commemorates the day that servants and tradesmen received a “Christmas Box”—fortunately, not on their ears—from their employers, by way of a gift.

As today was not a working day for me, Martine and I decided to visit the William S. Hart Ranch and Museum in Newhall. On the way, we decided to try Brett’s Deli in North Hills, but the place was so mobbed at we just wrinkled our noses and shook our heads, proceeding instead to Maria’s Italian Deli in Newhall, where we had a good lunch.

Why do I keep returning to the Hart Ranch? This must easily have been our seventh or eighth visit. Each time, we take the quarter mile trail up the hill for free tour of the house given by a docent. On the way down, we look at the herd of bison donated by the Walt Disney Company to the ranch in 1962. I guess there was something about the silent cowboy star that appeals to me. I still watch his movies. Today, in the old ranch house at the foot of La Loma de los Vientos, the Hill of the Winds, the name of Hart’s property, I viewed the last half of Hell’s Hinges (1916), in which the cowboy star wreaks horrible vengeance on an evil town which kills the preacher with whose sister Hart has fallen in love. Hart was the first big cowboy star.

During the 1980s, I was personally acquainted with the actor’s son, William S. Hart, Jr. He taught real estate at Cal State Northridge (CSUN), and he invited me several times to give a guest lecture on my specialty, the use of census and other government data for site research. (At one time, I was an expert on the subject.)

It was a cold and windy day at La Loma de los Vientos, but not unseasonable. Newhall is near the canyons attached to the transverse mountain ranges that have been the epicenter for so many earthquakes in recent years. They are also a racecourse of the winds originating in the Mojave Desert and blowing the smog out to sea.



A Christmas Card from Iceland

The Jökullsárlón Glacial Lagoon

The Jökullsárlón Glacial Lagoon

Ever since I first went to Iceland in 2001, I’ve loved The Iceland Review. This year, their talented photographer/editor Páll Stefansson and their ace writer Benedikt Johannesson came up with a holiday slide show accompanied by original music. I thought I would like to share it with you.

As we say in Hungary, Boldog Karácsony!


The Grand Old Man Himself Drinking a Coke

The Grand Old Man Himself, Here Drinking a Coke

Christmas does not play a large part in my life. The reason goes all the way back to my childhood. We were poor when growing up, so every Christmas Eve, we drove out to Novelty, Ohio to visit my Uncle Emil (my father’s identical twin brother) and his family. From my uncle, I usually got a twenty dollar bill, which I appreciated. From everyone else, I got … yechhhh! … clothes—mostly middle-aged people’s notions of the then current fashion. Sensible things. We ate the usual chicken dinner prepared by my Aunt Annabelle (I hate chicken!) and then repaired to the living room for the gift exchange. By this time, the dander from my cousins’ pets was starting to get in my lung and eyes, and I was trying to keep myself together without a family argument on from what side of the family my many allergies came.

Aside from the money, the only presents I liked came from my Mom’s friend Edith Antal. She had actually asked me what I wanted. When I told her I preferred comic books, her eyes lit up. All well and good, no expensive clothes for this boy! So every Christmas, I got fifty cents worth of comics, which I treasured until my mother threw them out.

To be completely honest with myself, I do not really care for Christmas. Come to think of it, I don’t care for holidays. Other than getting some time off from work, there are no real attractions for me. I try to do a few Christmassy things with Martine, but it is from no real love of the season.

The only exception is that I try to get nice things for my brother’s children and the children of my best friend. Since I cannot have children myself, I use Christmas to show my appreciation for the role they play in my life.

Also, with all sincerity, I wish all of you a Merry Christmas or whatever religious equivalent is appropriate. Life is hard, and it is good for the soul to kick back and celebrate once in a while.

The Pope and the Politicians

May God Protect You from the Evil Politicians

May God Protect You from the Evil Politicians

The Catholic Church has always had this problem with Papal bureaucrats. Yesterday, Pope Francis lit into them at a Christmas gathering and nailed them on fifteen counts, including the “sickness” of considering themselves immortal, immune, or indispensable as well as “spiritual Alzheimer’s Disease.” These clerical politicians have needed to be taken down a peg—for at least two thousand years or so.

I admire Pope Francis and sincerely hope that he watches lest one of these cassock-wearing baddies slips rat poison into his hot chocolate. They are probably saying to themselves, “Yes, Pope Francis is a saint. And the sooner we send him to heaven, the better!”

During my lifetime, their have been two popes I’ve liked, John XXIII and John Paul II—both of whom have recently been elevated to sainthood. I hope Francis can somehow reform the Vatican bureaucracy while he is still walking among us. I may still have numerous disagreements with the Catholic Church, but spiritual leaders like Francis keep me from severing all connections.

He is a man of the people, whereas his targets are men of power. Kind of like corporation executives.


Couldn’t They at Least Get Crimea in Exchange?

Russian Yakovlev Yak-3 Fighter from World War Two

Russian Yakovlev Yak-3 Fighter from World War Two

If you’ve seen the above photograph, it was in February 2013 when I wrote a posting about the Museum of Flying in Santa Monica. At the time, I was impressed by the Yakovlev Yak 3 fighter. When Martine and I looked for it today, we were told that the museum gave it as a gift to the Russian people. Did the Russian people give anything in exchange? Not really, but the Russian Consulate in San Francisco did send a Christmas card.

According to one aviation website:

Design began at the end of 1941 of a single-seat fighter using the new VK-107 engine, requiring the least-possible drag, smallest dimensions and weight consistent with a manoeuvrable and tough machine. Due to delays with the new engine and pressure to build the maximum number of aircraft already on the production lines, this new Yak-3 programme was shelved. A new small wing was developed and tested along with other changes on a Yak-1M in late 1942, and the first Yak-3 prototype was flown in late 1943. Although evaluation aircraft flew in combat, the first series Yak-3s did not enter operation with the 91st IAP until July 1944. The Yak-3 was found to be an exceptional dogfighter at altitudes up to 4000m. Its improved performance was remarkable, particularly as the initial non-availability of the VK-107 engine forced reliance to be placed on the VK-105PF-2 that had powered earlier Yaks. Built to a total of 4,848, the Yak-3 achieved fame and a very high score rate against German aircraft in 1944-45. The Yak-3 equipped the famous Free French ‘Normandie-Niemen’ unit, and achieved its peak of perfection when the VK-107A engine of 1268kW became available in limited numbers from August 1944, the type’s maximum speed then improving to 720km/h at 6000m.

Russian fighter pilots and ground crews actually preferred the Yak 3s to the P-51s and Spitfires being sent via Lend Lease. Could it be because the instructions were in Russian?



Don’t Toque to Me About Chefs!

Making a $25.00 Tower of Exotic Foodstuffs

Making a $45.00 Tower of Exotic Foodstuffs

The problem with American restaurants is that there are too many chefs and not enough cooks. Ever since the Food Network went on the air, people started paying too much attention to people with large white toques who like to mess around with food, forming little towers of quinoa with raspberry sauce and maybe a small amount of meat or fish. The less the foods appear to go together, the more renown the chef is likely to earn for his or her daring.

It’s become an epidemic. The tutsi-fruitsie is king. The ice tea is contaminated with passion fruit or other petrochemical waste. Side dishes avoid the usual rice or potatoes and provide instead broccolini with mashed yeast and ground Murano glass and Galena lead pellets.

Whenever I see some Culinary Institute of America (CIA) chef wearing a towering white toque, I know I’m in for a pretentious soaking. On the other hand, when I see what Hungarians call a szakács or szakácsnő (cook, masculine or feminine gender respectively), I know I am likely to have an excellent meal. There must be no toque or other sartorial trimmings. I want a good, honest cook who knows how to prepare food. And no little towers!

As for the Food Network, I hope they switch over to running “Antiques Roadshow” or “Pawn Stars.” Or maybe they can talk about Kim Kardashian or some other celebrity twinkie. They certainly have not done anything to improve the quality of food in this country.