Luck Be a Lady Tonight...

August 2005

I know... I'm writing more than can be read by most people. What can I say -- I'm unemployed!
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Last year, when I visited Louise in Bournemouth, we rented Moulin Rouge . We had never seen it. We loved it. And I made lots of comments about how awesome it would be to see Ewan McGregor live on stage in a musical, because, obviously, he had the chops. A few months later, I saw Down With LOVE for the first time, and I LOVED it. And I had that thought about Ewan McGregor live on stage again. And THEN, I found out that he actually would be live on stage, in a production of Guys and Dolls , on London's West End. Louise took care of getting the tickets. And at the end of July this year, just before I went to DC, off we went.

While Guys and Dolls is not, in my opinion, a great show, on the same timeless, classic level as, say, Chicago (I don't think its songs are that great and I think it's woefully dated), we had a WONDERFUL time at our Saturday matinee watching this very solid production. Ewan McGregor just ooooooooozes charm, with every step, with every look, with every note... His voice is great, he can DANCE, he looks at every audience member while he's singing in that classic old school musical theater delivery style (I swear, there were times when I felt like he was looking right at me -- and ofcourse he wasn't, but that's how you SHOULD feel at a West End or Broadway show!), he did a great stage-stylized 1920s American "gangster" accent, and he was totally immersed as a member of the company, disappearing into the chorus when the focus wasn't supposed to be on him and interacting with the others such that, were he not the star, you wouldn't have known he was who you wanted to continually stare at. He looked like he was having an absolute BALL. Goodness knows we were! Louise and I kept hitting each other -- we needed an emotional outlet because, otherwise, we would have had to scream through the whole show. During one particularly-provocative dance move, I was really glad a woman squealed in the stalls, because then you couldn't here the "Woo!" I made up in the balcony. At one point, the guys do a hands stand over the women -- yes, Ewan did it too -- and every woman in that theater made a noise, I swear. I gave him another audible Southern "Woo" at the end of "Luck Be a Lady Tonight", when he hit that high note.

But it wasn't just him: this woman who used to be on "Allie McBeal", Jane Krawkowski, who I don't know, because I never watched that show, played one of the four leads, and she was PERFECT. It's the female "comic relief" role, and she really was absolutely perfect in every way -- great set of lungs, great legs and the talent to show them off, and a sense of comic timing I haven't seen on stage in a long, long time. The main female lead was also very good -- it's a rather blah role, and she did the best one could with such -- very classic Broadway voice and delivery, which is amazing, since she's British. The other male lead, who played Nathan Detroit, just wasn't up to the standards of the others -- his accent was wrong (he couldn't shake his British accent), his timing wasn't sharp, he didn't have much stage presence... everyone else sparkled, even people in the chorus, and it was like he was trying to just keep up.

I also got to experience something I have *never* actually experienced: a show stopper. I've seen a lot of musical theater -- a LOT -- and I've seen some amazing performances and many wonderful shows that have left me on cloud 9, but I have never actually seen a *show stopper*, that number that is so fantastic that the show has to stop for many, many minutes because the audience just simply cannot shut up. I've seen numbers that were supposed to be the show stopper, and audience members trying to act like they had just experienced a show stopper, and maybe I liked the numbers very much -- but I never felt like, hey, stop this show, I gotta clap and cheer and clap and cheer and get totally insane for a long stretch of time before you continue. But I've finally had that experience. And Ewan McGregor wasn't even on stage! It was for a semi-famous number called "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat", and it's sung by a very minor character, with most of the cast backing up. By the end, the place erupted. I was yelling, "BRAVO!! BRAVO!!", and then people around me started yelling, and the cast just stood there, frozen, and after a while, they started looking at each other like, um, are they ever going to stop?

At the end of the show, for the curtain call, Louise said that she saw the lead woman tell Ewan McGregor, "I think they are happy!", meaning us, the audience. We were, indeed, an awesome audience. This was the best musical theater experience I've ever had -- even though there were some awkward staging moments, and I'm still not crazy about the play itself. I've seen "straight" theater that were "total" experiences where I relished every moment (Grapes of Wrath with Gary Sinese, M. Butterfly with B.D. Wong and John Lithgow, Les Liaisons Dangerous at the RSC -- even without Alan Rickman -- and too many shows at Hartford Stage to name. But this was the first "total" musical theater experience, where I sat drinking in every moment, my eyes absolutely glued to the stage, and wishing desperately it wouldn't ever end. I loved Les Miserables 18 years ago, and I still think it's a much better show than Guys and Dolls , but this experience topped that one for me.

Sadly, we couldn't wait by the stage door for an autograph -- because of the bombings, no production was allowing such, and there were police everywhere to keep you from trying.

And, no, we did NOT steal a "Guys and Dolls" poster from a nearby pub after the show and a couple of beers, and I just can't believe you would even think of accusing us of such.

I also went to the New Forest Country Fair, which is one of the few traditional rural exhibitions left in England. But unlike a county or state fair in the USA, ain't nuthin' workin' class 'bout this -- this is for the aristocrats . Everyone was in their expensive Wellington boots and equally expensive hiking pants or riding pants -- except for the fair representatives, who were in their Wellington boots, pin striped suits and black bowler hats. This was a very, very high class affair, even amid the knee-deep mud and show horses and show sheep and pure-bred hunting dogs and fly-casting demonstrations. Instead of a tractor pull, they had displays for Bentleys and other luxury cars -- and you could make your purchase right then and there. I felt like I was in an alternative universe. The contrast to, say, the county fair back home in Kentucky was rather huge.

While in England this trip, I had take out Indian food (chicken, veggies, rice...), sit down Moroccan food (perfectly-seasoned chicken, garbanzo beans, hummus, salad), home cooked curry chicken and rice (by Louise), pub fish & chips (actually, scampi and fries), and... KFC (I can't get it here!).

One night, we watched five episodes of the new "Dr. Who" -- and I'm a bit hooked, but not enough to buy the DVDs to see the rest -- even used ones. I'll see if I can rent them here. We also watched The Italian Job , which I had never seen except for one scene: the end! How in the world have I managed to see only the end to that movie?

Another night, we went to visit a friend of Louise's who is way into Star Wars (I know, I know, how weird, what kind of person would be so into... oh, wait...). You ring his house bell and Darth Vadar's theme plays. For the second time on this trip, I found out how hard it is to breathe in a storm trooper helmet. We drank too much wine and watched several Star Wars fan films which were hilarious -- one of which gave Lou and I our line for the rest of my visit: "I'm a freakin' JEDI!" And her friend gave Louise and me a movie trivia quiz, and I tanked. I'm just not the girl I used to be...

Hotel recommendation: in London, we stayed over on a Saturday night at the Bayswater Inn Hotel (Tel: 02077278621). Lou booked it through londonnights.com, and we paid just 49.00 for the BOTH of us, continental breakfast (bread, coffee and juice) included. We had two double beds, a small TV with cable, and a nice-sized bathroom. IMO, for London, in such a nice part of town, it was a steal. It was in West London, near Notting Hill and Hyde Park, in the heart of what is or was the Eastern Orthodox neighborhood of West London. Great pubs everywhere.

One of my favorite moments amid Ewan and the country fair: when I told Louise the topic of my final paper, instead of the reaction I've gotten from most people ("Why are you doing that? Why aren't you doing something relating to the Internet?"), she said, "Oh, yeah, ofcourse, given all your theater background, that's a perfect topic for you."

Hurrah hurrah for long-time friends...

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I went to Washington, DC for a week at the start of August. While living here in Europe, I have decided not to blog about my travels in the USA, but I'm going to break that rule to make a few comments:

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As some of you know, I got my O.W.L.S... um, I mean my results from my initial level exam in the "Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjera" (DELE). The diplomas are recognized internationally and are considered sufficient accreditation of knowledge of Spanish for professional activities or education in Spain. And the results.... I PASSED!!!:

Why the perfect score in oral expression? Several reasons: The exercise for such was just 10 minutes long. I had to converse with the examiner about myself, and then describe a cartoon scene she gave me -- and I totally lucked out and the cartoon scene was of a man and a woman at the movies. RINGER!!! I even worked into the conversation that Alan Rickman was my favorite actor. I had the examiner and the observers rolling -- ofcourse, I didn't know if they were laughing at me or, well, AT me, at the time...

The other reason I got a perfect score in oral expression is because I love to talk in ANY language...

Everyone owes me "cervezas", por favor...

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Apparently, someone forgot to pay a web address registration fee, or a web hosting fee, because ALL of the web sites for every school in my home county back in Kentucky are gone -- and have been for months. Kentucky gets criticized a lot for how it doesn't really value education and, well, it should.

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I forgot to note last time that we went to see REM at Museumsmeile in Bonn. Unfortunately, I didn't really see them -- a few stolen glimpses of Peter Buck between the sea of people, and I jumped up a few times and saw Mike Mills, but otherwise, I just heard them. They sounded great, indeed. Even played an oldie that no one in the crowd knew but me. But that's it for me going to Museumsmeile for a concert, until they make the stage a HECK of a lot taller.

Note to bands -- when you are playing a venue any bigger than, say 300 people, remember that there will be many, many people who can NOT see you unless YOU make an effort to be seen by them. And we probably paid the same price as the people who have no problem seeing you. We'd like our money's worth as well.

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SILLY EMAIL OF THE MONTH

In a past blog entry, I wrote about how sad it was that two of the three Irish bars in Bonn no longer served Guinness -- they now offer only what I find to be a particularly bland brew called "Beamish." Here is an email I got from the pubs' owner, who must have been googling his bar names recently:

Thank you for the mention but I have gone to considerable effort to import Beamish to Bonn, Cork is my home city and the brewer Harry Cribbs personally supervises the brewing, so instead of making uniformed statements check it out first, Guinness has successfully convinced the general pub public that there is only one stout, wrong there are only two brewed in Ireland if you tell what county Guinness is brewed you will receive 3 Pints of Beamish Free
And here is my response:
I've drank Beamish. I hate it. You can't change my taste buds. Having drank Beamish (two different kinds of its brew, actually), having not liked it, how am I making an "uninformed statement"?

I have every right to note on my web site that I don't like it. I don't like Beamish. It's bland. It's not as good as Guinness for millions of people. And you can't *reason* someone into liking a different drink. I also like Coke more than Pepsi -- you can't convince me Pepsi tastes better with words.

3 pints of Beamish Free? For what? To drown the slugs in my garden?

You are a silly, silly man. Why not give people a CHOICE?

I wonder if he would also try to convince me that olives are really delicious and I'm "uninformed" because I don't like them?

Guess I'm banned from Fiddler's now. Which is fine, as I don't go anymore... I do miss the karoke there though.

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I stayed far away from Cologne during "World Youth Day", venturing only as close as Bonn. But those Catholic Youth were everywhere, even south of Bonn. I went to a party one night and was on a trainload of them on their way to Cologne; they had made the train late, which was actually good for me, because I was late for it. It was cool to hear all of the different languages all over the place -- the Star Wars cantina on railroad tracks. I gave up my seat so that a group of young teen-aged Italian backpacking Catholics could all sit together, and they were oh-so-grateful. And another group, from the Philipines, needed directions at the train station and were so happy I spoke English. None of the kids were obnoxious -- they were all just as sweet as they could be. They were all very hippy-ish, actually.

Poor things. Wish I could force them into a class that reviews the historical roots of the Roman Catholic Church. And give them each a small pack of condoms -- the hormones were raging all around, lemme tell ya...

In honor of them, I watched Dogma yet again.

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DOG UPDATE

I am trying to figure out why Albi has started to be all timid and cowering on certain occasions. If I call her to me inside the house or outside on the porch, she cowers as though she is in trouble. Albi has only been in trouble about three times since I got her two years ago -- the three times she attacked Buster. And the last time was many months ago. Plus, I never call my dogs to me when they are in trouble -- I send them to their beds. Dogs are only called for loving or treats. We just can't figure out where this timidness is coming from. Is someone coming over when we aren't here and beating our dog? Otherwise, she's just unbelievably well-behaved and sweet. She's happy or ambivalent to meet other dogs, and she's very fond of chasing black birds or rushing the chickens at the TierGarten in Bad Bodendorf (they are behind chicken wire -- don't worry). I would really like to take her on a weekend trip with us, so she could run around in the forest. She loves to run in a new place. Who was the idiot who gave this dog up?!

Buster has taken a turn for the worse since I last wrote -- which is to be expected, at his age (16). He is on the verge of total blindness, but that's not so bad, as he navigates based on feel and smell extraordinarily well (though he's missed his ramp up the steps off the porch a few times this month). What's far worse are his hips and his back legs; he can no longer walk in a straight line, and he can't stand for more than just a bit on a smooth surface (his back legs spread apart and he falls). He must be let out to pee every four-five hours, which means I get to get up in the middle of the night. Joy. I know there are a lot of times when he's uncomfortable. But on the other hand, once a day, he's just as demanding and boisterous as ever (suppertime), comes clomping in happily from outside when it's time to eat, he still enjoys complaining about Albi being in his way, and much of the time, he's perfectly content laying on the nearest dog bed to whomever is talking. He really likes for me to put my head against his and talk to him. But I know the end is nearing. It's very hard to think about living post-Buster -- we've been together for more than 15 years...

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DEGREE UPDATE

Two more months and I'm done with my Masters! But I have oh-so-much work to do, and I don't really have two full months to do it all. But what grad student doesn't lament over a lack of time?

I did have an ugly thing happen to me this month though, because of my project, and it really threw me for a loop: I'm on an online discussion group for academics who research a particular subject that happens to be have been my area of expertise for the last 10 years. It's rather dry and often not based in any sort of reality (I really prefer practitioner discussions), but sometimes, something helpful or interesting pops up, and sometimes, I have something marginally helpful to say, so I stay on the group. In August, a guy wrote on the group asking for suggestions on how many nonprofits he might have to contact in New York City in order to get a particular number of completed surveys. And I offered some advice based on my own experience at work, and regarding my OU project (I started off with contacting 80 initiatives months ago, and I'm still not sure I'm going to get the 10 interviews I need). That was all fine and well -- even got an email from someone complimenting me on my answer. But then, some other guy went to my web site, found my survey that I'm using in my research (I've tried to be really transparent and make freely available online as much as is reasonable and appropriate about my research project), picked ONE question out of my survey, and posted it to the discussion group with a scathing critique of my research approach. His singling out of this particular survey question, as well as his criticism, had NOTHING to do with the original question posted, nor my advice. I think I would have felt very differently about the critical comments if they had come from someone I was hoping to interview, or my advisor, and sent to me directly in an email. Or if the criticism had somehow been related to the discussion at hand. But to get singled out and shot down so publicly, out-of-the-blue, for no reason other than to discredit me -- wow. I'm just flabbergasted I merit that kind of attention. Guess I should be on the lookout for www.anti-jayne.com, and be flattered at the attention.

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I should be throwing my job applying into full gear. Instead, I've applied for just three jobs -- and even then, they weren't specific jobs but, rather, applications for consideration to be included in rosters that are used to choose people for short-term assignments in the field. Until some time in 2007 or so, I want my home to be here, in Sinzig, and that, along with my lack of German language skills, puts quite a small boundary around my job search.

I'll stay busy through January, no problem: resuming my Spanish studies, completing my final project for OU, working on another research project that's come my way, working on some small consulting tasks that dropped in my lap recently, going to two more conferences, getting the travel part of my web site completely updated at long last, and preparing for and taking our big January trip to celebrate my 40th birthday and my graduation.

If I pass the next level exam in the "Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjera" (DELE) in November, then sometime after January, I'll resume German studies. But... what else? I'll need more than that to keep me busy... I'm trying to find a club to join here (it's Germany -- there's a club for everything. There's even an Elvis club in Sinzig. I don't know what they do), to give me something regular to do out of the house, but as I don't speak German...

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If you use a computer OTHER than an Apple Macintosh, I BEG you to read the following:

Most people who have computers (except Apple Macintosh users) have what is known as "spyware" and "adware" infecting their computers. That means YOU too! These programs install themselves on your computer without your knowing it, and "hijack" your computer to send spam or viruses to other machines, and/or to send out personal information that you have on your computer, and the names and addresses of everyone in your electronic address book, to the person who created the spyware program. You probably will never see any of this happening -- but your computer will be slower than it was when you bought it.

Why do most people have spyware/adware on their computers? Because most people don't have up-to-date software on their computers to prevent such. Even if you install software on your computer to prevent these programs, you need to keep it updated!

Below is a link to free software that the tech guy where I used to work recommends, and that Stefan has been using as well. Please, please, please download it and USE IT:

www.lavasoft.de/support/download/

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Let me explain... and I will use small sentences and words, so you will understand:

What's next? Rufuting the Law of Gravity with a 'Intelligent Falling' Theory? Yes, it's a joke... but for how long?

I read an amazing book recently, called Freethinkers: a History of American Secularism , by Susan Jacoby. This book documents and celebrates the currently-ignored secularist heritage of the USA that gave the world "the first government ever not founded on the authority of religion but on the bedrock of human reason." It restores to history the grand legacy of both secularists and liberal religious believers in the creation and growth of the USA. I learned about two people I had never heard of before -- Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Robert Green Ingersoll -- both of whom somehow have been deleted from American history books, despite the hugely important role they played in this country's development, as well as the non-church-going-history of most of America's forefathers and even Abraham Lincoln. Reading it was a revelation for me. It should be required reading of every high school senior.

And it's why I'm more disgusted than ever over the taking of science out of science classes in the USA.

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Dirty Dancing was on TV here this summer. I hate that movie... except for one scene: when the snobby waiter tries to give "Baby" a copy of The Fountainhead . And I kept flipping back to the movie while watching something else on TV, just to see that scene, even if it was in German.

Why do I love that scene?

Once upon a time, when I was a teenager, a woman I admired very much lent me her favorite book. I was (and still am) a voracious reader, and was happy to read it. I had never heard of the book nor the author. But rather than loving it, I hated it. As a result of this book, my relationship with this person was never the same. How could I admire someone who liked something so awful? The book was the dreadful, pretentious and way-too-long Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. To make sure I wasn't imagining things, I later read a couple of other books by Rand, in my early 20s, and the themes all seemed to be more or less the same, and just as awful: consider yourself righteous and perfect, and blame all that's wrong with the world and your life on others. Get ahead, no matter what, and consider those who do not as weak and shiftless. Her books, to me, reeked of hostility and exclusivity. Her books condemned altruism, collectivism and community -- three concepts that I cherish to this day. And according to her, people who embrace these concepts aren't just mistaken -- they are evil. I certainly believe in people working as hard as they can, getting rewards for their work, having self-confidence, and getting the opportunity to pursue what is important to them but may seem to others to be very selfish interests. But when people stop thinking of others, when we stop being concerned with everyone getting an opportunity to live and flourish, when we stop thinking about our communities and always redefining the meaning of community, we can kiss all the world -- and all opportunities -- goodbye, and revert back to our ape-ish ancestors, each sitting in his or her own tree and throwing rocks at each other. I'm no Christian -- but Jesus's teachings regarding altruism are deeply inspirational and ever-challenging to me. And while my successes in life are partly to my own skills and drive, they also have a heck of a lot to do with the kindness of others, and sheer luck.

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The following is an excerpt from an editorial by Georgie Anne Geyer that I found on Yahoo News:

Many of the [Iraqi] war's sponsors, though historically challenged, believed they could bring democracy to Iraq... As the primary symbol of their "goodness," they would make sure that Iraqi women (and soon, Saudi women, and Egyptian women, and Syrian women) would be equal to men. That would be the Washington war-planners' gift to the world.

And what has happened THERE?

In fact, Iraqi women's rights are about to be set back by nearly 50 years, The New York Times reported this week, "because of new family law provisions inserted into a draft of the constitution at the behest of the ruling Shiite religious parties."

Koranic law -- the harsh Sharia best known for keeping company with the Saudi Wahabis, the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Taliban in Afghanistan, where women are stoned to death for adultery -- would come to Iraq. Shiite women, even secular ones, would no longer have the right to choose their own husbands, to inherit property or to seek court protection if their husbands declare them "divorced."

But there's an odd turn here. Under Saddam Hussein, Iraqi women actually DID have total equality with men.

So, Iraq is now going to be much freer for some... but so much less free for others. Thanks, Shrub!
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Some things to check out:

If you have read this blog, PLEASE let me know. Comments are welcomed, and motivate me to keep writing.


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