Ireland #5

Friday, March 23

We spend our last full day in Ireland in Northern Ireland. It felt different from the Republic of Ireland. Different accents. A feeling of greater wealth. More modern accommodations. Better roads. Suburban shopping malls.

And speed limits in MPH instead of KPH. Which was the first sign we had crossed the border – there was no sign welcoming us to the United Kingdom.

We stayed two nights, Thursday and Friday, at the Titanic Hotel in Belfast.  It was set in the building that once housed the offices of Harland and Wolff, the company that built the Titanic.  We got a tour on Thursday night from a bellboy of the offices.  It was terrific.

(Oh, the hotel rating: Joe: 5.)

The decor in the rooms was Titanic retro – very cool.

The next morning, we did the museum tour.  The museum is a wonderful depiction of the life of the Titanic, from building to sinking to its rediscovery on the ocean floor.  Most excellent.  (Joe: 5)

And hoo boy, was it geeky.  They had short and long benches arranged around the museum to spell out the last morse code messages sent by the Titanic.

That afternoon, we visited the Giant’s Causeway on the northern coast of the island.  (Joe: 4.  Maybe 4.5.)

And that night, after dinner, Joe wandered out to see the museum again.  It’s next to the slipways where they built the Titanic, and the boundaries of the ship are marked out, with some deck plans.  The museum itself is the height of the Titanic up to the promenade deck.  Add it all up and it was easy to imagine the ship sitting there as it was built.  Haunting.

And that was our Ireland trip!

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Ireland #4

Wednesday, March 21

  • We visit the waterfall again. Julie digs out the bag of Lucky Charms she carried all over Ireland.  Really.  She really did that. She never did eat them.  She doesn’t even like them.  (Joe: still 5)

  • We drive the Ring of Kerry.  Part of it, anyway. (Joe: 2)
  • We visit an iron age stone fort. (Joe: 4)

  • We dip our toes in the sea.  Well, Joe does, anyway. (Joe: 2)

  • We go to Limerick Castle. (Joe: 4)

They’ve got a great high-tech visitors center.  And weird murals.

  • We go to the Medieval Feast at Bunratty Castle.  The music is sublime, the rest, not so much.  (Joe: 3. 4 for the music.)

Thursday, March 22

  • We go to the Cliffs of Moher.  That’s pronounced “More.”  Because we just had to see MORE! (Joe: 2, 3 if the weather were nicer)

It’s windy.  And rainy.  Really windy and rainy.

  • We go to the Burren.  (Joe: 3.  But 4 in past visits when the weather was nicer.)

  • Another random monastery! (Joe: 3)

  • A random castle – Athlone Castle.  Nice castle, amazing displays. (Joe: 3.  4 for the displays.)

  • A random art place and church across the street from the castle. (Joe: 2)
  • Roscommon Castle, a ruined castle.  (Joe: 3)

  • And that night we stay at… well, leave that for the next post.
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Ireland #3

Tuesday, March 20

  • Cahir Castle.  (Joe: 3)

Julie feeds some geese – she feeds a lot of birds this trip.  They charge!

  • Blarney Castle.  Joe kisses the Blarney Stone.  Julie has too much sense.  Joe catches a cold.  It turns out that lining up in a crowd of hundreds and kissing the same stone they all kiss isn’t the best idea in the world.  At least we get to pay a lot for the privilege.  Really, whoever came up with that idea is full of the blarney!  (Joe: 2)

Julie feeds more birds.  This time better-behaved ones – large crows.  There’s lots of large crows in Ireland.

Killarney National Park.

We do a lot of things here.

  • We take a carriage ride through the park. (Joe: 4)

  • We visit lovely gardens. (Joe: 3)

  • We visit a magical valley with a waterfall.  It feels like fairies should live there. (Joe: 5)

  • We visit a ruined monastery.  In the cloister, a large yew tree grows.  Another magical place.  (Joe: 5)

  • We watch the sunset over the mountains. (Joe: 3)

Really, this place was amazing – one of our favorite stops.

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Ireland #2

Sunday, March 18

We’re done with Dublin, and we hit the road!  There’s snow on it!

  • Newgrange.  Alas, the site itself is closed by snow, so this is as close as we get. (Joe: 2, 3 if you get to the site)

  • Battle of the Boyne.  Closed for snow.  (Joe: 1)
  • Some random monastery that we stumble across.  (Joe: 3)

  • Another random monastery, this one with a circular tower. Ireland has a lot of random monasteries.  And circular towers.  And castles.  And ruins of one sort or other. (Joe: 2)

  • The Hills of Tara, homes of the ancient Irish High King.  Irish kings apparently liked being in high, cold, windy places. (Joe: 5)

Some kids were sledding there – right where the High King hung out.  Neat!

  • Another random monastery.  (Joe: 3)

  • Trim Castle, closed for the weather, wonderful from the outside. (Joe: 3, 4 when its open)

More sledding kids, these ones using plastic bags as sled.  (They don’t get much snow in Ireland.  Well, other than this year – this was their second big snow in two weeks.)

Monday, March 19

We leave Dublin and hit the road for points south.

  • The beautiful lakes of Glendalough.  Not all that beautiful covered in snow.  The drive through snow-covered mountains is nice, though.  (Joe: 2, 3 for the drive)

  • Kilkenny for some shopping, and a chance to beat on a giant drum.  (Joe: 2, 3 for the drum)

  • The Rock of Cashel, perhaps the most dramatic site in Ireland.  Ruined cathedral on top of a cold windy hill.  Very cold and windy – so they used to have an Irish king who lived there. (Joe: 5)

  • That night, we stay at Waterford Castle, which turns out to require us to take a ferry.  (Joe: 4 for the hotel, 3 for the ferry ride)

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Ireland #1

Julie and I went to Ireland, from March 12-24, 2018.  I haven’t had time to give detailed blog posts, but here we go with the quick version of events.

Monday, March 12

We land in Dublin at around 6:00 AM.  We go to the hotel and get a little sleep.  Then it’s off to visit sites in Dublin.  We visited, with ratings by Joe on a scale of 1-5:

  • The Little Museum, which covered the history of Dublin from 1915 to present and included a 1960’s fashion exhibit.  (Joe: 2)

  • Trinity College and the Book of Kells, including an amazing library – very Hogwarts. (Joe: 3, 4 for the library)

  • The Oscar Wilde monument, a favorite of mine. (Joe: 4)

  • The National Gallery of Art, which had an amazing exhibit of the work of the artist Emil Nolde, a German artist who we lated discovered was a wannabe Nazi, but Hitler didn’t like abstract expressionists, so no Nazi party for him. (Joe: 3, 5 for the Nolde exhibition)

And that was Monday.

Tuesday, March 13 – Thursday, March 15

I had to work.  Julie spent most of the time in the hotel working on stuff, but did get out to the National Gallery again one day.

Friday, March 16

Work is done!  We do Dublin!

  • St Patrick’s Cathedral. (Joe: 3)

  • Christ Church Cathedral.  (Joe: 2)

  • Dublinia Museum of Dublin, very cheesy.  (Joe: 3)

  • Dublin Castle.  (Joe: 2)

  • An exhibition of art inspired by the Potato Famine. (Joe: 4)

  • The Dublin Museum of Modern Art. (Joe: 2)

  • Kilmainham Gaol, where they shot the Easter Uprising leaders in 1916, strangely reminiscent of the Workhouse (former jail where political prisoners made a stand and were horribly treated).  (Joe: 4)

Only one person in that cell?  Palatial!


They even had an exhibit on force feedings!

Saturday, March 17: St Patrick’s Day in Dublin!

Of course we go to the parade! (Joe: 4)

The spectators are mostly tourists in cheesy Irish outfits.

There are marching bugs:


Bicycling suffragettes:

And pretty girls, dressed in way too little for such a cold day.

We didn’t make that mistake!

We finished the day by seeing “Thriller Live,” a stage show based on the works of Michael Jackson.  Very entertaining.  (Joe: 4 – and surprised he liked it so much)

More to come…


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Welcome to the Culture Wars

It amuses me to see the praise heaped on Lady Gaga for being non-political in her Super Bowl show. That performance was as political as anything I’ve ever seen. She started with a song written by a Jewish immigrant, continued with “This Land is Your Land,” as radical a vision of America as has ever been written, and moved into her own “I Was Born This Way,” an anthem of the LGBT movement. It was a patriotic performance, to be sure, but the America being celebrated was a far cry from Donald Trump’s America.

Do you think I’m overthinking this? Listen to me as an emissary from the land of the geeky creatives, the tribe that I share with Lady Gaga. Overthinking is what we do. And we particularly overthink when it comes to creating our art. I assure you Lady Gaga knew what she was doing when she put together that performance – knowing what she’s saying is one of the hallmarks of a great artist.

And I assure you that whoever made all those commercials was aware of what they were doing. Maybe all the weasel-wording coming out of Lumber 84’s corporate office is true and the company didn’t mean to support illegal immigration. But the smart geeky creatives at the ad agency were aware. Knowing what we say is what we geeky creatives do, and don’t think that we don’t know what we’re creating better than the audience knows.

So get ready, red-state America. Because the battle has been joined, and it’s going to play out in your entertainments for the next four years. You aren’t going to be able to listen to a song or go to a play or watch a TV show without hearing our message. You won’t even be able to turn on a football game without seeing us coming at you from the halftime shows and commercials.

Heck, even on the field you will see our side taking a knee, or keeping the games out of states oozing with bigotry. And don’t look to the stores to make you feel better: 60% of America’s economy voted for Hillary Clinton, and corporate America pays attention.

Welcome to the culture wars, America. And don’t forget that the big guns are all on one side.

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Why America will never have a third party

It’s election season in America, and once again lots of people who are dissatisfied with their choices are calling for the creation of a third party.  But I’m sorry to say that will never happen – at least not without major changes to the Constitution.

America has never had a third party that had any major impact at the presidential level that has lasted for more than one election cycle.  There have been times when one of the two parties came undone and another rose to replace it (when the Federalists died, to eventually be replaced by Whigs, or when the Whigs died and the Republicans were born).  But when a third party did well at the presidential level (never winning, but having an impact – 1912 and the Bull Moose Party, 1968 and the Dixiecrats, 1992 and whatever Ross Perot called himself), the party did not survive beyond an election cycle or two.

I thought about that the other day.  There seems to be something about our system that keeps a third party from getting big.  And I think I’ve figured it out.

(Note: I feel confident that political scientists have already figured this out.  I don’t claim a unique genius.  But it made for some interesting thoughts, so I figure I’ll write up my explanation.  And next time online I have to tell someone that we won’t have a third party, I can just link to this.)

In the American system, for the most part, our elections are winner-take-all.  Further, they are first-past-the-post – whichever candidate gets the most votes, even if it’s less than a majority, wins the election.  There are no run-offs, and coming in second doesn’t gain you anything.

The implication is that if you have a large number of people who can work together within one party, they benefit from doing so.  Let’s look at an example.

Suppose we have two parties: the Cat Party and the Dog Party.  The Cat Party controls 60% of the electorate while the Dog Party has the other 40%.  So the Cat Party will win the election.  Would it make sense for the Cat Party to break into two other parties – say, the Siamese Party and the Persian Party?

Suppose the Siamese and Persian wings each control half of the Cat Party.  So they could break away and form their own parties, with each ending up with 30% of the electorate.  But in that case, both would lose the election to the Dog Party and it’s 40% support.

So there’s a strong incentive for the Siamese and Persian wings to stay together.  After all, while each would prefer its own candidate to win, each would also prefer any Cat candidate to a Dog.

If there were a way for Siamese and Persians to form a post-election coalition to put the coalition candidate in office, as happens in parliamentary systems, it would make sense for them to stay distinct parties.  But as long as the person who gets the most votes in the election gets the office, there’s a strong disincentive to have multiple parties.  And  making such changes would require changes to the Constitution.

(I’ll note that our system does have this in common with parliamentary systems: both encourage coalitions.  It’s just that parliamentary coalitions tend to be between parties and form after the election, while in our system the coalitions forms within the parties and unite to contest the election.)

But it goes further than that.  In American history, the two parties tend to be of roughly equal strength.  And I think that’s also built into the system.

Look again at the Cat and Dog parties.  In the real world, parties are not just cats and dogs.  They are coalitions of groups, each of which has its own set of priorities.

Suppose, for example, that a piece of the Cat Party cares most about having milk with dinner.  Suppose the Milk Coalition consists of 8% of the total electorate.

Non-milk Cats might say hey – we can win without the Milk Coalition.  So let’s not bother supporting milk policies – they just use up resources that we’d rather apply to other things.  We don’t need them, so why bother?

But the Dogs need more voters to have a chance at winning.  And they don’t really care all that much either way about milk.  So why not start supporting milk in order to get all those Milk Coalition voters into the Dog Party?

We’ve seen over the past fifty years a number of such shifts.  As one example, the GOP has become the party of strong national security, so those Democrats who care most about strong military and foreign intervention have shifted over to the GOP as the Neo-Conservatives.  In this and other cases when one party came to dominate, things eventually balanced out and the parties ended up at rough parity.

So to those who want a third party in this country, I’m afraid you’re out of luck.  Unless, of course, you find a way to change the way our elections work.  And I don’t see that happening.

And to those who want their party to become a permanent majority, you’re equally out of luck.  By the nature of things, while you might get short-term dominance, things will balance out over time.

Note: I’ve just discovered that this phenomenon has a name.  It’s called Duverger’s Law, and it even has its own Wikipedia page.


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Visiting the cliff dwellings

Ever since I’ve heard of them, I’ve found the native American cliff-dwellings fascinating.  So while Julie did her class today, I visited one – the Puye Cliff Dwellings.  They did not disappoint.

They are less than an hour from Santa Fe.  But the drive, which goes through several Indian reservations, is remote and beautiful.  The last six miles go across empty scrublands.  At the end, you find the cliffs.

To do the tour, you climb up steep staircases, ladders, and even steeper rock stairs.

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The view from the cliffs is spectacular.

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The dwellings a long line of caves that once had structures built out of them.

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I loved them.

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At the top of the mesa, we were met with a rain and hail squall that did nothing to dampen my spirits.

There were several adobe buildings.

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There was a kiva, an Indian holy place.  It’s a chamber dug into the ground with a roof that you enter through a ladder.  The Pueblo Indians used an underground chamber because they believed people emerged from the earth.  So when you emerge from under the earth to the surface, it is like being reborn.

We entered the kiva, but were not allowed to take pictures.  Here’s a photo of the outside.

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This was a marvelous trip.

I followed it up by visiting nearby Los Alamos.  All in all, it was a bit disappointing.  There really isn’t much there to see – one small history museum, another museum describing the science work done there for the Manhattan Project and now.  The one thing that gave me pause was full-scale models of the Little Boy and Fat Man atom bombs used to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  These included detailed descriptions of the design aspects of the bombs.  Rather chilling.

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Then I picked up Julie and we took a Ghosts of Santa Fe tour.  Much fun, though I was the skeptic of the bunch.  But while I don’t believe in ghosts, I certainly believe in ghost stories.  And the tour had many wonderful ones.

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A good day!


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Santa Fe and art

Santa Fe has more art galleries than any other city I’ve seen.  They have several sections of the city devoted to galleries.  And many of the galleries have art decorating their outside.

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Our gallery attendance is limited by Julie’s class.  But we did walk down Canyon Road, where many of the galleries are.  And there were late-night hours at the Railway gallery section on Friday, so we got to visit those.  I particularly liked some videos by Mary Reid Kelley (link to here site here) which come weird visuals, odd humor, and history geeking – three of my favorite things.  I found her work inspiring – I wouldn’t be surprised to see her influence cropping up in some of my future films.

There’s also several native American artists with work for sale.  They line the Santa Fe Governor’s Palace.

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We bought some gifts there, but I shall not share details, thus avoiding spoiling some surprises.

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New Mexico!

Julie is taking an encaustic print-making class in Santa Fe.  (Yeah, I’m not sure what that means either.)  Which sounds like an excellent excuse for us to do some travel.

We’re here now.  Our first day, we left on an appallingly early plane.  But that gave us most of a day in Santa Fe, a day in which we visited six art museums.  Saw some nice stuff too, though no photos were allowed for the best stuff.  But here’s one of me with a statue at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.

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The second day, Julie went to class.  I worked in our B&B.  Got a fair amount done.  But when I picked her up, there was still time for a hike through mountain trails.  And lovely trails they were.

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I also find myself greatly enjoying the strange plants of the southwest.

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Day three: Julie in class again.  I worked half a day, then spent sometime museum hopping in downtown Santa Fe.  I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the New Mexico History Museum, both the exhibits on New Mexico history and special exhibits on the Harvey Girls (waitresses imported to the west, largely from Kansas City, to work at high quality restaurants built as the railroads moved into the west), pinhole cameras, and artistic representations of Mary done by artists from the Americas.  Here’s a rather disturbing “Lady of Sorrows,” including a wig made with human hair.

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More to come…

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