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La France

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader has been thinking a lot about France recently. You may believe that his ruminations on France began with the terrorist attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and on the kosher grocery store in Paris. But you’d be wrong. Your Maximum Leader was thinking about France over the Christmas holiday. He’s been listening to a very good podcast on the French Revolution – as well as taking time to glance through some of the (sadly too few) books on French history he owns.

Part of what your Maximum Leader has been thinking about is how to work out his own feelings towards the French Republic…

As anyone who has spent any time with your Maximum Leader (or any time on this blog over the years) knows, he is not what one would call a Francophile. But, he’s not a Francophobe either. He’s viewed his own feelings towards France with mixed emotions over his life. Your Maximum Leader has not traveled to France, so will likely have some bearing on his feelings at some point but he should list off a few items for your consideration. Your Maximum Leader appreciates and loves many elements of French culture. He would be a liar if he didn’t say he loves French food (both “high” French and “Provençal” and “low” French food. He loves a lot of French art. (Like anyone, he likes some movements and not others.) And he loves the idea of the French lifestyle that is mostly stereotypically imagined by Americans and exists to a lesser extent every year in France. (You know what he’s talking about here. Going to the bakery for bread every day. Sitting and having an afternoon break at a café. Leisurely early evening meals, home cooked, around a big table with family.) Frankly, any your Maximum Leader might be an exception here, he’s never met and interacted with a French citizen that he didn’t like. (As an aside, your Maximum Leader doesn’t have many regrets about his college years; but one minor regret his has is not asking a French exchange student who attended his college out on a date. Long story, if you’re interested write him and he’ll tell you all about it…)

At the same time that your Maximum Leader has all of this good will built up on behalf of France, he also has some ill will. Or if not ill will, certainly less than positive will. Your Maximum Leader has mocked the French as “cheese eating surrender monkeys.” Of course that appellation isn’t completely fair, even in the context of World War II, if one understands the times in which France was surrendering… And he’s been annoyed by French foreign policy more times than he can remember. (The first one he can recall was Francois Mitterand refusing to let US bombers over-fly France to go after Quaddaffi in Libya back in the Reagan years… That is the first of many…) Your Maximum Leader thinks that institutions dedicated to the preservation of “true” French culture and language are sort of silly. (He’s looking at you Academie Francaise.)

So basically, your Maximum Leader loves “the French” but doesn’t always love “France.” He’s sure that many Frenchmen would say the same (or much the same) about “the United States of America” and “Americans.”

Then your Maximum Leader had an epiphany. A true a ha moment.

France is our beloved first cousin who always annoys the crap out of us.

Yup. That is it. Your Maximum Leader’s “France is the USA’s first cousin” political theory.

Hear him out on this.

Are you close with your first cousins? Your Maximum Leader means really close. Like you grew up in the same town. You see each other all the time, not just at the holidays. You go over to their house. They come to yours. You go on vacation together. You are always there with them. But, their upbringing isn’t quite the same. Though in the same town, you go to different schools. You get involved in different activities. Perhaps you go to different churches (or no church at all).

You are very similar, but in some very important ways very dissimilar. You might be a good kid and a conformer, but that cousin of yours just wants to buck the system when they can. You are a loyal boyfriend (or girlfriend) and your cousin is something of a playboy (Playgirl? “Playa?”) You do your homework all the time and get good grades, and your cousin is something of a slacker. You are serious, and your cousin is a clown. You love your cousin, you both get along and like to be together. But there are things your cousin does that are just a part of who they are – things they can’t change and don’t want to change; things that just annoy the shit out of you.

That is the Franco-American relationship.

Both nations are born of the Judeo-Christian Western tradition. Both were born in revolution. Both are constitutional republics that value liberty. And we both annoy the shit out of each other.

It annoys your Maximum Leader that the French want to be part of Europe, and part of NATO, and leaders in the world; but they have to do everything their way. Their way is one that often seems contrarian for the sake of being contrarian.

Your Maximum Leader has come to realize that the US needs France, and the world needs France. Your Maximum Leader would like nations to see the US as the ultimate leader on the side of history and civilization that favors individual liberty, individual rights and responsibilities, and equality for all under commonly determined law. But the world is not a simple place and many of the actors on the world scene, for some mad reason, don’t trust the US to be a fair actor. Perhaps this is a consequence of a cold war where everyone had to pick a side and stick to their side. During the Cold War, France did its best to present herself as a western alternative to both the US and USSR.

The more your Maximum Leader thinks on it, that Cold War role and how it has developed in the post-Cold War world is an important one. France is an important “pole” in the modern multi-polar world. If France gets on your Maximum Leader’s nerves from time to time, it is because they need to.

Anyhow… Those are some thoughts on France…

Carry on.

Follow your Maximum Leader on Twitter: @maximumleader

Musings on Scottish Independence

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader has, for a while now, been thinking about Scottish Independence. If you didn’t know, in just over a fortnight Scots (and some expat Scots) will get to vote on a straightforward question, “Should Scotland be and independent country?”

Your Maximum Leader is deeply conflicted on this question.

For those who don’t know, your Maximum Leader’s ancestry is Anglo-Scottish. It is a little heavier on the “Scottish” side than the “Anglo” side - but it is a nearly even mix. (For what it is worth, there is some Welsh, Irish and German in that mix too. So that makes your Maximum Leader a pretty good American mongrel as it were.)

Like many Americans, some generations removed and of a certain cultural background, your Maximum Leader has an affinity, perhaps even a love, of the “mother country.” Of course, he realizes that his love of Scotland, a nation in which he’s never lived and he hasn’t visited in decades, is a love of an idealized nation. He knows more Scottish history than most Americans. He (casually) follows Scottish politics. But he is an American, not a Scot. So at some level his opinions on this whole matter are worth just about nothing…

Here are your Maximum Leader’s musings on Scottish Independence.

As an American, he wants to see people who feel they ought to be a “free and independent” become “free and independent.” This belief is tempered by knowledge of history and his own experience which tells him that though some people want to be free and independent; they aren’t ready or able to be free and independent nation-states. The Scots are certainly ready and able to be a free and independent nation-state; but should they be? They are half of the most successful union of two nation-states in the history of mankind. The Act of Union of 1707 created Great Britain and thus created the most influential nation-state in the world for nearly two hundred years. It isn’t a stretch to say that the ascendancy of British model flowed from Britain herself to the US as British power declined in the wake of WWI. Why mess that up? The United Kingdom (of Great Britain & Northern Ireland) still “punches above her weight” in the world. Scotland is an important component of the UK and the UK’s success on the world stage.

Would Scotland continue to “punch above her weight” without being part of the UK/Great Britain? Your Maximum Leader doubts it. The foundations of the Scottish independence movement all involve suppositions that don’t seem to be supported by facts. The proponents of Scottish independence believe they will get to keep the British Pound and a say in how it is managed. That isn’t going to happen. They believe they are going to get all the North Sea Oil. They very well may get a significant portion of North Sea Oil (as it is mostly in Scottish waters); but England will get some and that resource is finite. It isn’t wise to bet future financial stability on an openly traded commodity with a limited life span. They assume they will assume a fairly small portion of the national debt of the UK. The assumption is they will assume debt based on the population of Scotland relative to England/Wales/Northern Ireland. Why wouldn’t they be burdened with a portion of debt relative to the amount of the debt for which they are actually responsible - this is to say debt that was incurred for payments in Scotland? They believe that they can quickly join the European Union. Frankly, your Maximum Leader thinks that Scotland’s chances of EU membership are slim to none. (He believes that Spain & Italy, among others, will aggressively block adding Scotland to the EU. Allowing Scotland in would set a bad precedent if you are trying to keep places like Catalonia and the Veneto in modern Spain and Italy respectively.) Your Maximum Leader can go on; but further examples all fall into the same pattern. Pro-independence supporters promote a rosy suppositions with no guarantee of future outcomes.

This is what gets at your Maximum Leader. It goes against his native conservative instincts. To paraphrase Michael Oakeshott, your Maximum Leader prefers the known to the unknown, the tried to the untried, and fact to mystery. Scots have a workable political system that is known, tried, and has done well by Scots for over 200 years. The future is a place of mystery and uncertain outcomes. Your Maximum Leader isn’t sure why one would voluntarily overthrow a system that is working (and working well) in favor of a system about which nothing is certain or known.

Well… Your Maximum Leader does understand the impulse to change. It is the impulse at work throughout the world all the time. It is the hope that things could be better. Scotland could be better if they had control of their own foreign policy. Scotland could be better if they had full control of their own resources. It is the promise of things that could be better that makes people want to try their hand at independence. When one is dealing with desires, aspirations, and a complex national identity; one can understand why there is appeal to change. But in most cases, the pitfalls that arise from monumental decisions fall largely into the “unforeseen consequences” area. In the case of Scotland, many of the consequences are being foreseen and are being dismissed with a blythe “we can work it out.” Sadly, it is in the “working out” of problems that true and unrepairable consequences of action are discovered.

At some wistful level your Maximum Leader would like to see Scotland reclaim her independence. But that level is one formed from a view of an idealized future based on a long-gone and idealized history. When your Maximum Leader steps back and looks at the issue of independence in a more reasoned and unemotional way, he sees too many questions that have no answer. That should give Scots pause.

Carry on.

Follow your Maximum Leader on Twitter: @maximumleader

Middle East Diatribing

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader has been paying a lot of attention to the news of late. There is so much going on it is hard to get it all into a single post. He will try to get some highlights of his thoughts together in this post as his thoughts relate to the Middle East.

Let your Maximum Leader begin with the easiest part of the Middle East. That part is Israel. Your Maximum Leader isn’t saying that the whole Arab-Israeli conflict is the “easy” part of the Middle East. It isn’t. For your Maximum Leader, Israel is the easiest place to start his discussion. Allow him to start thusly. Israel is the only country in the Middle East that is fully deserving of full and robust US support. Frankly it is the only country in the region worthy of the support of any rational person who supports Western Civilization in any meaningful sense. Israel is a fully functioning Western Democracy, born of the Western Tradition, with civil society and political institutions that would be familiar to any American. They are a rational actor in an irrational region.

This is not to say that Israel is perfect, or blameless, in how it conducts its affairs. It is not. But a rational and reasonable person can understand why Israel reacts the way it does and should be able to support Israel.

Has Israel treated the people of Gaza badly? Yes. Do the Gazans (of all factions, Hamas, PLS, Hezbollah, etc) have a legitimate beef with the heavy-handed Israeli blockade of Gaza that has gone on for years? Yes, they actually do. But on the other hand (the hand that your Maximum Leader puts more weight on right now to be clear), the Gazans are committed to the destruction of Israel. The Gazans are not good neighbors. The Gazans have consistently shown that they are unwilling to govern themselves in a civilized manner and show that they are undeserving of an independent state.

Hamas, a faction that has enjoyed wide and deep support among Gazans for a long time, wants to revert the area that is now Gaza, Israel, the West Bank and other territories to a single political entity in which Jews can be eradicated (and probably Christians too after Jews are gone). They are not looking to establish a tolerant, or moderate state. They are looking to create exactly what exists in the territories controlled by ISIS.

Frankly, when Hamas started launching rockets at Israel, your Maximum Leader thought Israel started off by being very restrained. They didn’t march in right away. They didn’t start retaliating right away. Frankly your Maximum Leader would have. He knows it’s a tired cliche, but if Canada started launching rockets from Toronto to Buffalo (or Vancouver to Seattle or Windsor to Detroit - yes even Detroit) or Mexico started launching rockets from Tijuana to San Diego or even if Minneapolis started launching rockets at St Paul; your Maximum Leader would be calling up reserves and bombing the crap out of the aggressor.

Your Maximum Leader will speculate on a few items here. 1) Does the perception of “disproportionally” offend some in the US and the West and make those offended people anti-Israel? This is to say that because the losses are so much higher on the Gazan side there is some perception of “unfairness” and these people can’t abide the perception of “unfairness?” This is a serious thought. Are some people turned off at seeing that there are thousands of dead Gazans for a few tens of dead Israelis they they just think Israel needs to be stopped? Your Maximum Leader thinks this does describe a number of those who are anti-Israel. 2) Is being anti-Israel or anti-Zionist just veiled anti-Semitism? Your Maximum Leader thinks that this is the case among many Europeans and a fair number of Americans. 3) Do some people project their own national guilt onto Israel and want to roll back time to assuage the guilt? This is a uniquely American position. Your Maximum Leader wonders if some Americans think that the creation of Israel is actually the root cause of the problem and if Israel were “uncreated” everything would be okay. The sublimated national guilt here is the “we took America from the Indians” guilt. People who feel guilt at the taking of America from the natives don’t want to uncreate the USA and displace themselves but would feel a whole lot better if they could uncreate another country and displace some others who shouldn’t be there anyway.

That last one is a little far out, but some conversations your Maximum Leader’s had recently do make him think that it could be plausible.

So… Let your Maximum Leader take up a point he made a moment ago and do a little segue. The Gazans have shown themselves incapable of being an independent state. Do you know who else has shown themselves to be incapable of being - or at least running - and independent state? Just about every nation in the region that was part of the “Arab Spring.”

Can we name the nations where the Arab Spring has turned out okay? Hummmm… Algeria…

Okay. That is it. Algeria. (And Morocco to a lesser extent in that the Arab Spring promoted constitutional reforms in the existing framework of the government.)

Where have “liberation movements” in the Arab world failed? Egypt. Libya. Lebanon. Syria.

You know. Back in the day when rational, intelligent, and grown-up behaving people “ran” the world there was a way of distinguishing “your bastard” from “the other guys bastard” from “a pack of murderous rabble.” Your Maximum Leader is thinking back to places like Chile under Pinochet. Yes, Chile could be a very unpleasant, dangerous and deadly place for people who didn’t support the Pinochet dictatorship. But the Pinochet dictatorship provided security and a free economy. Also, Chile was on “our” side in the Cold War. Pinochet was our bastard, so to speak. Sure many liberals didn’t like that the US supported Pinochet for all those years, but in the end, Pinochet was eased out. Chile became free politically. And there was no bloody civil war resultant from that changeover.

(NB: BTW, isn’t it funny how many liberal/progressive people who couldn’t stand the Pinochet regime are more than pleased with China. Isn’t China effectively the same type of nation? Political dictatorship with a secure and stable society with a reasonably free economy. Interesting…)

Anyhooo… Your Maximum Leader will posit to you all that we were better off - and frankly the citizens of many of the nations where the Arab Spring has failed were better off - with the dictators. Quadaffi was an evil murderous bastard - but is Libya better off now without him? Egypt’s military pulled the plug on their experiment with reform. Your Maximum Leader is glad they have. He actually had high hopes for Egypt. He thought that the moderate educated Egyptians who seemed to be the major protest force would somehow couple with the Army and create a secular moderate Arab Republic. Too bad they had to decide to rely on a democratic process that put Hamas in charge.

Syria is still fighting it out.

Let us think of Syria for a while here. Is there a sane human being out there that believes that Syria will be better off completely throwing off the yoke of Assad?

Okay. Let your Maximum Leader say it. He doesn’t. He is, at this point, hoping that Assad pulls this out and GOES BACK TO BEING THE BRUTAL DICTATOR HE WAS IN THE PAST. The key here is going back to the way he was. If he does win and crush the various rebelling factions assailing him and then decided to be a different kind of brutal dictator then we have a different problem. The whole House of Assad are evil men who do terrible things. But they are (or at least have been in the past) secular and rational. They act in their own self-interest, which is known and can be dealt with. They are not the (largely religious) crazies that are running Hamas, Hezbollah and ISIS among others.

So… Now we get to ISIS. Or the Islamic State. Or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Or whatever they are called. Your Maximum Leader will go with ISIS for now (although it offends me because he doesn’t see why he would want to besmirch the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis in any way).

ISIS is what you get when you mix religion, organization and civil unrest. Your Maximum Leader was surprised when they appeared out of nowhere and suddenly controlled a territory larger than most US states. He was even more surprised when they were able to beat the pants off the Iraqi Army. He is now not surprised by anything ISIS is doing. They are a motivated, organized, dedicated and now well-equipped force. As much as it is repulsive to your Maximum Leader, the “state” ISIS is creating is more of a functioning state than either Syria or Iraq have been for a few years.

Your Maximum Leader can see how ISIS could take root in Syria. But he thought that Iraq would put up more of a fight. That Iraq is not able to defend itself or possibly even remain a viable state itself is due to the United States. To channel Colin Powell… We broke it. We broke Iraq. The good ole US of A. Your Maximum Leader was in favor of breaking Iraq. Let him be honest. He was for it. He wasn’t for it in exactly the way the Bush Administration was; but he wanted to see Saddam Hussein gone and he wanted to “shake up” the region.

Guess what. That was a monumentally stupid fucking call.

Your Maximum Leader, would take a completely different approach now. This is, of course, only with the benefit of hindsight. Seeing what is becoming of the area. Seeing how the Arab Spring has turned out. Seeing how unrest in the region leads directly to what can only be called Islamic theocracies with a murderous and expansionist bent. He would be happy to continue to contain Saddam Hussein and let the miserable bastard stay on.

But we didn’t and now we are paying the price.

So… What to do? Well… If you are President Obama you don’t have a lot of options. He can’t go back into Iraq because his whole foreign policy was to get us out of Iraq. He doesn’t have lots of tricks to use except airpower and arming groups to fight ISIS. Your Maximum Leader is all for arming the Kurds and letting them declare their own state. Sure it will piss off everyone else in the region; but at this point the options are all bad, we’re only trying to find the least bad options out there. Letting the Kurds fight for their own nation makes some sense. One supposes that we will do as much as we can from the air to support the rump Iraq. Perhaps in supporting a rump Iraq we might wind up getting a little closer to Iran - who one suspects will help the Shias in southern Iraq.

Again… There aren’t lots of options out there. And the ones that are there, all of them are bad. Your Maximum Leader is open to being educated to options he doesn’t see. But there is a whole lot of blame and criticizing and not a lot of presenting options out there. All your Maximum Leader has he’s put out here. Here it is again in case you missed it: Support Israel. Support the Egyptian military government. Don’t stand in the way of Assad taking back control in Syria. Arm the Kurds. Airstrike the crap out of ISIS. Hope a rump Iraq can make it.

That is pretty much it. And it sucks quite frankly…

All this, and your Maximum Leader hasn’t even touched on Russia, Europe and Ukraine… Or Ebola. Or healthcare. Or the impending US elections.

Ugh.

Carry on.

Follow your Maximum Leader on Twitter: @maximumleader

A quickie

Greetings, loyal minions. You Maximum Leader says something about a rebirth of his blog, and then takes a month off. What a lousy bastard your Maximum Leader can be…

Anyhoo…

Some quick thoughts for those of you who might be stopping in…

As some of you know, this is the year when your Maximum Leader’s home state, the great Commonwealth of Virginia, holds elections for statewide office. In all the years since he’s been eligible to vote, your Maximum Leader has generally been pleased enough (or even downright excited) by the quality of candidates for statewide office. He’s said it here before, all in all, he’s pleased with his state government. Well… The past few years his level of pleasure at his state government has decreased somewhat. But this year he must say without equivocation, the choices he has for statewide office are just terrible. Let him even go further. (Cover your eyes ye of low tolerance for bad language!) The choices he’s got for Governor suck big donkey dicks. Terry McAulliffe, the Democrat and former Clinton hack, is a miserable piece of shit. Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican and current Attorney General of VA, is a strident warrior in the culture wars who is a bit too strident for your Maximum Leader. Basically, your Maximum Leader can’t think of a pleasant thing to say about either man running for the chief executive office of his great Commonwealth. So as it is, he’ll be voting for Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian candidate for Governor. In the Lt Governor’s race your Maximum Leader will vote for Ralph Northam, a Democratic state senator and doctor, over Earl Jackson, a Republican and minister. Northam is a fairly liberal Democrat with whom your Maximum Leader doesn’t share many political views. Jackson is cut from a similar cloth as Ken Cuccinelli. Your Maximum Leader just can’t vote for him… And then there is the Attorney General’s race. Your Maximum Leader will vote, gladly, for Mark Obenshain, a Republican state senator and scion of a prominent Virginia political family, over Mark Herring, a Democratic state senator. Further down the ticket your Maximum Leader will continue to vote for (as he has in elections past) Bill Howell and Richard Stuart. Both are Republicans who represent your Maximum Leader. Howell is also Speaker of the House of Delegates and a very influential man in state government. Both Howell and Stuart are good people, which helps when casting a ballot. Further down the ticket… Your Maximum Leader isn’t sure for whom he’ll be voting for Supervisor and School Board member. He is leaning towards Meg Bohmke for Supervisor as she has been endorsed by many friends and acquaintances of your Maximum Leader. But endorsements aside, Bohmke has been on the School Board and hasn’t seemed to do too much in that role. So, there is trepidation in your Maximum Leader’s mind on this one. Your Maximum Leader will also vote for Scott Hirons for School Board. Mrs Villain taught the Hirons kids in school and thinks very highly of Scott.

So there it is… All your Maximum Leader’s endorsements for voting in Virginia this year… As if you all care…

In other news…

How about this Government shutdown? Well… A pox on all the Houses (and Senate and President). All share some level of blame for what is a bad situation. Your Maximum Leader firmly believes that there is a proper role for government. He also believes that government is a necessity for civilized society. The primary role of the government is to function and execute it’s role. Now your Maximum Leader takes a view towards very limited government at the federal level. He does believe that Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, or whatever the hell you want to call it is a bad idea, is poorly executed, and doesn’t make a lot of economic sense. But really… The law was passed. A few elections have occurred since passage. And the Supreme Court of the US has made initial pronouncements in favor of the law as enacted. Basically, that is a lot of “upholding” and not a lot “repealing.” The Tea Party faction of the Republican Caucus needs to get together and think of some other tactic on addressing this law. Shutting down the government isn’t the answer. Failing to raise the debt ceiling is not the answer. Your Maximum Leader doesn’t have high expectations for Congress. Indeed, they are very very low. But he does expect them to do ONE (and precisely 1) thing every year. That is to pass a budget. Even if the budget is “okay we’re just passing last year’s budget again without changes.” It is hard work, but it can be done. If you want a longer screed on this, send your Maximum Leader an email or tweet him (@maximumleader)

In more news…

At Professor Mondo’s suggestion your Maximum Leader has listened to a few episodes of Welcome to Night Vale. Your Maximum Leader can’t decide if he likes it or not. It is clever. But there is a quality to the narrator’s voice that puts off your Maximum Leader… He’ll probably keep listening for a while.

Like Robbo, your Maximum Leader didn’t blog much about his beloved Washington Nationals this year. He had high hopes for the team and did think they would make the playoffs. As we know that didn’t happen. Your Maximum Leader holds out high hopes for next year. He only wants his team to find a good manager and start winning. There is a lot of scuttlebutt about Cal Ripken Jr. being interested in the Nationals manager job. Your Maximum Leader pretty much agrees with Bos on Ripken for Nats manager.

Then there are the Washington Capitals… Your Maximum Leader’s hockey team are going to have a tough row to hoe to get to the playoffs in a newly minted “Metropolitan” Division in the Eastern Conference. He hopes it happens, but he wonders if the core of the team is getting a little old and the competition being a little too tough. He’ll be following closely how the season goes…

And finally… Your Maximum Leader would like to see the Los Angeles Dodger and the Boston Red Sox in the World Series… Then, being a National League guy, he would like to see the Dodgers win. But those Sox will be hard (VERY HARD in fact) to stop…

Carry on.

Follow your Maximum Leader on Twitter: @maximumleader

So what’s been happening?

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader is sure that you are out there wondering exactly what he’s been up to since he doesn’t seem to be posting much any more….

Well… This has been a rather fun summer.

Your Maximum Leader was able to spend some time with family and take some nice day trips out to various Civil War battlefields and other National Parks around Virginia. He’s spent time trying to educate his family (by lecture and visit) about the US Civil War. He is doing this mostly because of the 150th anniversary of the conflict; not out of a great love of the period. Indeed, your Maximum Leader finds the Civil War one of the least interesting things about US history. The conflict was started to defend a bad institution. It’s outcome was a foregone conclusion; and anyone who says otherwise is wrong. Indeed, the most interesting thing about the war was that it lasted as long as it did. More competent generalship by the Union would have ended the war sooner.

Anyhoo…

Your Maximum Leader and his family did get up to Massachusetts and Rhode Island this summer as well. We visited family and various historical sites in both states. He did a lot of sight-seeing in Boston and Newport. Also, while in Rhode Island he had the somewhat sad task of burying his loving wife’s grandmother. As you might recall, “great nannie” died earlier this year at the age of 105. We arranged for a good time for as many of the family to get together to celebrate her life and to bury her in the family burying ground.

There is something comforting about the very phrase “family burying ground.” Great nannie is the latest of many generations to be laid to rest in a good-sized plot in Warwick, Rhode Island. Who knows, perhaps one day Mrs Villain and your Maximum Leader will end up there?

NB: What is interesting is that a few yards away from Mrs. Villain’s family burial plot is the plot of a number of people who share your Maximum Leader’s family name. That name is not a common one, so it was a little shocking to see so many gathered together in death in one place. Your Maximum Leader is unaware of a family connection between these people in Rhode Island and his own family (who hail from Pennsylvania actually); but there may be one. (He was asked at the funeral if he was related to the people buried there, to which he can only answer that he doesn’t know.) Also vaguely interesting is the fact that one of his maternal cousins is doing some genealogical research on that side of the family and is discovering what, for the 19th Century, seems to be a disproportionate number of college professors and murderers in the family. It seems that the men were either educated pillars of their communities, or desperate killers fleeing the law and responsibility.

Anyhoo… How about your Maximum Leader share some photos of his trip…

Lobstah Roll
A lobstah roll your Maximum Leader had upon arriving in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This is about 2-3 bites in.

Graves of British Soldiers at Concord
This is the grave of the British soldiers killed at the Old North Bridge in Concord, MA.

The Old North Bridge in Concord MA
Here is the Old North Bridge itself. Site of the “Shot Heard ’round the World.”

The Minuteman
Here is the statue of the Minuteman at the Old North Bridge.

Your Maximum Leader also spent some good time in Boston. Sadly, many of the photos there capture your Maximum Leader’s family - and in keeping with his long-standing tradition of not showing the members of his family… Most will not be shown here. But here are some others…

Boston from Fenway
Here is the Boston Skyline viewed from Fenway Park before batting practice.

Zen garden at Boston Museum of Fine Arts
The zen garden at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Santarpio’s pizza
A photo of some of the best pizza on the planet. It can be found at Santarpio’s in East Boston. Damn that stuff is good.

First Public School in US
If you walk the “Freedom Trail” you come upon this marker commemorating the location of the first public school in the nation. As your Maximum Leader believes that education is the only hope for civilization and democracy (and Mrs Villain is a teacher) this was a big deal for us to see.

Old Mass State House
Your Maximum Leader loves the contrast between old and new in this shot of the Old Massachusetts State House.

Old North Church
One if by land. Two if by sea. (And if you don’t know what your Maximum Leader is talking about, please stop now and google it.)

Old Ironsides
Old Ironsides. The oldest commissioned warship afloat. (NB: Your Maximum Leader will note that HMS Victory is the oldest commissioned warship in the world. Sadly, Nelson’s flagship is in drydock and not afloat…)

Now skipping on to Rhode Island…

Riverpoint Congregational Church, W Warwick RIThis is the Riverpoint Congregationalist Church in W. Warwick, Rhode Island. Mrs. Villain’s great-great-grandfather helped to found this church after the Civil War. It is where her Grandmother’s memorial service was held.

After the memorial service the whole family went to Point Judith and the town of Galliee. There we ate at George’s. George’s has been an institution since the ’40s and we always make it a point of going when we are anywhere nearby… Here are more gratuitous food shots…

George’s of Galliee, RI
Here is George’s…

Stuffed Lobstah
Here is the stuffed lobstah your Maximum Leader had for dinner. It is stuffed with shrimp and scallops and slathered in lobster bisque.

Maximum Leader eating
Here is your Maximum Leader stuffing his fat face with all of the stuffed lobstah. If you happen to go to George’s in the near future; you might see this photo on the wall as you go in.

Mrs. Villain & Wee Villain
Violating his rule (somewhat) here is a nice image of Mrs. Villain and the Wee Villain enjoying the sunset at Point Judith, RI and watching the Block Island Ferry head off from the port.

Marble House
While in Newport, RI, your Maximum Leader visited Marble House…

The Breakers
He also visited The Breakers…

And the last thing he did before heading back to Ole Virginny… Was to buy lobsters to steam at home off of one of these lobster boats…
Lobster Boats

Well… That is about it… Your Maximum Leader might blog more in the next few months. He says this because he’ll be spending more time in front of his computer at home… He’ll explain why in another post… Until then…

Carry on.

You are welcome Hollywood.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader did something over the past weekend that he hasn’t done in decades. What you ask! What did he do? Did he pardon dwarves? Did he start construction of a huge solar shade? No… Neither of those.

He went to the cinema. Not once… But twice in one weekend.

You may suppress your audible gasps now.

Your Maximum Leader can’t recall a time since he was in college that he saw two movies, in theaters, in the same weekend.

For your information, the two films were “The Avengers” and “Dark Shadows.”

So there you go Hollywood… You should thank your Maximum Leader for shelling out his cash to see two films.

Reviews? Reviews? What did your Maximum Leader think of the films you ask.

Well… To begin with the film he saw first, Dark Shadows.

Your Maximum Leader must admit that, on the whole, he likes Tim Burton’s works. He likes the quirkiness and sometimes off-beat work. So, your Maximum Leader expected the film to be a little quirky. All in all, your Maximum Leader was a disappointed in Dark Shadows. If you’ve seen a trailer for it, you got the feeling that the film was going to be gothic humor. Sadly, if you saw the trailers, you saw most of the really funny bits. So if it wasn’t a comedy, you might think they would go for campy gothic horror (like the TV show the film is based upon). Again, sadly, this wasn’t the case either. The film couldn’t decide if it was campy gothic horror or campy gothic humor. It was just sort of campy. Your Maximum Leader, in retrospect, should have waited for the film on HBO.

The second film was The Avengers.

Your Maximum Leader should say that with the exception of Batman and Superman, he is not a big comic book action hero fan. He does believe that “The Dark Knight” is the greatest superhero move EVAH! (And it is among the best in the action movie genre.) The Avengers is the second best superhero movie evan, and a really good action movie as well. Your Maximum Leader will not have to go into great detail (because if you wanted a plot summary or serious critical review you would have looked elsewhere, like Pajiba) but he will say that people of all ages will enjoy the film. The cost of admission is money well spent.

So, there you go… Two movies, two opinions for you.

You’re welcome Hollywood. Your Maximum Leader coughed up some dough to see some films.

Carry on.

For lovers of Ice & Fire & Mother Goose

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader has been writing, but not yet publishing, some political blog posts. They will likely be a letdown to those of you who care once they appear here; but that will have to be what it is when it is.

Anyhoo…

For lovers of George RR Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” books (courtesy of Pajiba) here is the man himself reading some of your favorite Mother Goose nursery rhymes:

Your Maximum Leader is going to have to go back and re-read all these books… He is afraid that in his rush to “catch up” with Martin’s publications he might have missed a lot of good stuff.

Carry on.

Bonjour

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maxmum Leader thinks that he’ll be writing a political tract for this space sometime this week. It looks like he might have some time to blog in the evenings this week. That is unless he is overtaken by events and has to change plans.

Today is a somewhat bittersweet day. Your Maximum Leader’s friend, Frank, who has been in a stroke-induced coma since December 23 is going to be transported today. Frank was in a hospital in Arlington, VA from the time of his stroke on. Today his parents (who reside in California) have managed to have him transported by air ambulance from DC to the Bay Area. The day is bittersweet because it means that he will be further away and hard to visit; but at the same time his care will be easier to manage for his parents. He remains in a coma with stable vital signs. Your Maximum Leader and Mrs Villain visited Frank on Saturday to wish him safe travels. Your Maximum Leader and Mrs Villain may, depending on time and finances, travel to California this summer to visit Frank and his family. We hope for a recovery of some sort, although signs continue to not be promising.

Did you watch the Super Bowl? Your Maximum Leader did. Indeed your Maximum Leader tried to get a Twitter meme going about #falsesuperbowlfacts. It didn’t catch on. By the way, you can follow your Maximum Leader on Twitter: @maximumleader. Your Maximum Leader thought the game was boring until the thrilling ending. And the crop of ads wasn’t all that. In fact there were only two ads that he’d not seen before and remembered. The first was this ad that made him want to run out and buy a Fiat:

In addition to making him want to buy a Fiat, the ad also illustrated the continued coarsining of American society… The second ad was the Clint Eastwood ad for Chrysler.

This ad, as great as it was, doesn’t make him want to buy a Chrysler. Perhaps it is the dearth of hot Italian women dripping foam on their decolage.

And on a final note, the article that gives this post its title. From the Wall Street Journal, “Why French Parents are Superior.” A great (and very important) quotation:

[Yet] the French have managed to be involved with their families without becoming obsessive. They assume that even good parents aren’t at the constant service of their children, and that there is no need to feel guilty about this. “For me, the evenings are for the parents,” one Parisian mother told me. “My daughter can be with us if she wants, but it’s adult time.” French parents want their kids to be stimulated, but not all the time. While some American toddlers are getting Mandarin tutors and preliteracy training, French kids are—by design—toddling around by themselves.

Your Maximum Leader believes he and Mrs Villain have done a pretty good job with our kids. They behave well in public and we’ve never had a problem taking them anywhere. They also are well behaved in the company of others. They act out at home and in private - which one would imagine is a universal condition. But the key idea of the whole article is that parents are at the “constant service of their children.” That is a concept with which many American parents seem unfamiliar.

Carry on.

Lovely Lola and the Big Apple

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader, as readers might know, recently noted that he’d bought tickets to see the Carnegie Hall debut of the lovely and eminently talented Lola Astanova. The purchase of these tickets was the impluse that developed into your Maximum Leader taking his lovely (and talented) daughter, Villainette #2 to New York City two weeks ago. He started on this post shortly after his return, but has been working on it in dribs and drabs since and finally decided to just hit the friggin publish button… This ain’t high art…

Villainette #2 (aged 12) has been after your Maximum Leader to take her to New York for quite a while now. Indeed the hectoring began a few years ago when we were walking past the Chinatown bus. (NB to readers: There is a bus that will take you from Chinatown in DC to Chinatown in NYC for a mere $20. This bus leaves DC from the alley next to Tony Cheng’s Restaurant in Chinatown DC. Tony Cheng’s is a favorite dining spot of your Maximum Leader’s.) It did not occur to your Maximum Leader to take Villainette #2 with him to NYC for the Lola Astanova concert. Indeed, the first (and only) person he thought of was Mrs Villain. But when he told Mrs Villain the plan, she demured. It was during the week… She had a lot going on… Who would watch the kids… etc… etc…

Then Mrs Villain suggested that your Maximum Leader take Villainette #2 to the show and make it a little overnight trip to the Big Apple. Your Maximum Leader suggested this to Villainette #2 and she immediately got pretty excited. She would get to miss two days of school and hang out in NYC.

So, your Maximum Leader and Villainette #2 set out at about 5:30am on the morning of Thursday, January 19 to go to NYC. Now you might be thinking, “Did he leave that early to drive to NYC?” No. Your Maximum Leader doesn’t drive to NYC (or NYC) if he can avoid it. He got a killer deal on a pair of round trip tickets for himself and Villainette #2 on Amtrak from Union Station. (He could have left from Fredericksburg, VA; but the fare would have jumped nearly $100. Parking was only $40, so it made sense to drive up to DC for the train.) Your Maximum Leader and Villainette #2 were on the train at 7:25 and on the way to NYC on time.

The train ride was uneventful. While passing through north Jersey Villainette #2 caught her first glances of NYC. It was at this point that she started to get a bit excited.

We arrived at Penn Station and your Maximum Leader gave his daughter one piece of advice, “Keep up.” The only fear your Maximum Leader had during the whole trip was one of separation. (An irrational parental fear he knows, but it did pop up from time to time…) Villainette #2 was not impressed with Penn Station per se. (Since the demolition in the 60’s of the glorious Pennsylvania Station there hasn’t been much to be impressed with there.) But she was impressed with the hustle and bustle and mass of humanity on the move. We came up on the Madison Square Garden side and went to the taxi queue. The queue was long and Villainette #2 was worried that we were going to “waste time standing around in line.” She was assured that the line was long but moved fast because there were lots of cabs in the city. It was at this point that your Maximum Leader realized that none of his children have ever ridden in a cab or other hired car. So… In a trip of firsts for Villainette #2, this was another little first. It took about 5 mins to make it to the head of the line and before you knew it we were on our way to the hotel to drop off our bags.

We headed uptown to the Helmsley Park Lane, which would be our base for the trip. The Helmsley Park Lane was the winner for a number of reasons. It was walking distance close to Carnegie Hall and Rockefeller Center (two predecided destinations in the city), it wasn’t sleazy, and your Maximum Leader got a tremendous deal on Hotels.com for a room.

(NB to astute readers: Your Maximum Leader knows that he paid extra for the cab ride to the hotel by not walking a block to get a cab headed uptown instead of downtown… But he wasn’t going to bother with it… Also, your Maximum Leader did spend $230 for the night in the Helmsley - including all the taxes - which are legion. If you know NYC prices, that isn’t bad for a high-end hotel - which the Helmsley is.)

It was your Maximum Leader’s plan to drop our bag with the concierge and then return later nearer to check-in time (since it was only 11:15am); but fate dealt him a pleasant surprise. Upon arrival at the Helmsley, our room was ready for us. We were on the 35th floor with a city view room. On the ride up the elevator when we passed the 20th floor your Maximum Leader mentioned that the Helmsley had become the tallest building that Villainette #2 had ever been up in (surpassing the Old Post Office observation deck in DC). She thought that was pretty exciting.

Our room was nicer than your Maximum Leader would have imagined. It had a nice view downtown and it was pretty big. Your Maximum Leader has stayed in a number of hotels in NYC and he’s always managed to get rooms that seemed just a touch small. This room was not small. It was roomy and had two closets, a large open bathroom and room to easily walk around the beds. If you need a hotel recommendation, you will get one for the Helmsley Park Lane. The staff were great and the room was very nice.

So, after laying out our clothes for the concert, Villainette #2 announced that she was hungry and that it would be a good time for lunch. We trekked over to 7th Avenue and walked a few blocks down to the world famous (and only slightly touristy) Carnegie Deli. Okay… He knows that there are better deli’s in NYC. But he also knows that this one is a landmark and famous in its own right for being a backdrop in film and TV. We split a pastrami sandwich and some pickles (sour and half sour) and some onion rings (as Villainette #2 didn’t want fries or chips). We ate our fill and then departed for other touristy sites.

First touristy site on the agenda… Rockefeller Center. We signed on for the “Top of the Rock” observation deck and the NBC Studio tour. Your Maximum Leader had been to the top of Rockefeller Center before and has felt that it is a better experience than the iconic Empire State Building. Villainette #2 was just excited to go up in such a tall building and see the view. It was a nice clear day and we soaked in the view. It wasn’t too crowded and we had a very nice time. Then we went back down to ground level and noticed a crowd and some TV lights on the plaza in front of the building. Closer examination showed this to be a shoot for the show 30 Rock. We watched for a little bit (and even saw Jane Krakowski arrive for the shoot). After a time we decided to mosey on to the NBC Studios tour.

The two NBC pages (Tess and Grant) who took us on the tour were great. Lots of energy and personality. We also lucked out with a small group (only 10 people - what? Thursday afternoons in January aren’t high tourist times?). Our first studio visit was to the Dr Oz studio. Your Maximum Leader must admit that he’s heard the name “Dr Oz” but he doesn’t know the man from Adam and couldn’t tell you the first thing about him. The most interesting thing about the Dr Oz studio was learning that many moons ago it was the “Late Night with David Letterman” studio. The next studio we visited was the “Football Night in America” studio. That studio was pretty interesting. First off, all the lights were on and the monitors were active. So, it looked like you would expect it to from watching on TV. The lighting was amazing. Your Maximum Leader really had no concept of how much light was needed to make HD broadcasts look good. (NB: your Maximum Leader has worked once under TV studio lights - when he represented his high school on a local TV quiz show. The lights back then were nothing like they are today.) The other interesting thing to learn on this visit was how the floor works. The floor of the studio is essentially a “green screen” (or Chroma Key as Tess told us) and is always changed to look like the flooring you see on TV (they have used mahogany floors, grass, etc). (BTW, the floor is blue not green.) After the Football studio it was off to the Saturday Night Live studio. It was surprisingly small. Your Maximum Leader thought being in the studio might elicit more of a response than it did. He felt that it was cool, but sort of small. Being there did make him want to watch the show on Saturday night. After the SNL studio, we saw some of the SNL makeup department (which was sort of cool, but doesn’t lend itself to easy description). And we concluded the tour with a stop to see the national broadcast center. (Which wasn’t too interesting because most of the country was in “affliate” time where the network isn’t broadcasting…)

After NBC, Villainette #2 and your Maximum Leader went back to the hotel to prepare for dinner and the concert.

It might sound very cliched (and it is) but, we went to have dinner at the Russian Tea Room. We lucked out in that it was Restaurant Week in NYC and they had a real deal on a three course meal for $35/person. Villainette #2 had a salad, Chicken a la King on spaetzel and finished off the meal with a chocolate mousse pyramid. Your Maximum Leader had the Goat Cheese and Wild Mushroom Blinchik, Variniki (a vegetable ravioli) and cheesecake. Your Maximum Leader also indulged in a three course vodka tasting. Service was impeccible and everything was delicious. The food was prepared perfectly and was of good quality, but in the grand scheme the most memorable thing about the meal was how happy it made Villainette #2 to eat at a “fancy” restaurant.

After dinner wrapped up, we walked next door for the main event, Lola Astanova’s Carnegie Hall debut.

Your Maximum Leader ordered his tickets early out of fear it would sell out quickly. The show did sell out, but not quickly. There were tickets available on the Monday before the performance, but it was a full house on Thursday night.

If you Maximum Leader might indulge himself (on his blog) with a few observations. The first one is that the last time he’d been to Carnegie Hall was either in high school or one summer early in college. It was smaller than he remembered. He also recalled that everyone was dressed to go to a classical music concert during his last visit. He’s not talking that it was black tie, but men wore suits and women were dressed in suits or dresses. There were a number of people in jeans and sweatshirts (he didn’t see a hoodie but he’d bet there were some around…). The two lovely young women (Columbia graduate students) sitting next to us were wearing turtlenecks and khakis. He middle aged Israeli man behind us was wearing khakis and a button-down shirt without a tie. When did it happen that you could dress down to go to Carnegie Hall? Was it the Clinton Administration? Your Maximum Leader wants to know. He is happy that people of all ages, races and classes were there for the performance; but there is enough of a snob in your Maximum Leader to believe that all should try to dress up to go to Carnegie Hall.

The program began with the speeches. The East Coast Chairman of the American Cancer Society opened up the show. (The program was to benefit the American Cancer Society - you can donate here if you like.) He was followed by the Performance Sponsor and Chairman - The Donald. Yup. Donald Trump. Trump’s remarks were snappy and quickly over. Trump then introduced the event hostess, (Dame) Julie Andrews. She was charming, witty, thoughtful and delightful as she discussed her work, her dedication to fighting cancer and her love of her fans. Her remarks were lovely and well received. Then Dame Julie and The Donald received some awards from the ACS. That part of the program concluded there was a brief choral performance by the Stonewall Chorale. The Stonewall Chorale is, as your Maximum Leader understands it, the nation’s oldest gay and lesbian choral group. They did a wonderful rendition of “Climb E’vry Mountain” among other pieces (the names of which your Maximum Leader has to admit he doesn’t know).

Then it was time for the main event. Lola Astanova emerged to begin her performance… Let your Maximum Leader get the silly stuff that always seems to make it into show reviews done with first. Miss Astanova shimmered in her couture dress and Tiffany jewels. The New York Post apparently made a big deal about her borrowing $850,000 worth of jewelry from Tiffany & Co for the show. Since many people in the audience along with many writers and critics feel it is necessary to mention this, your Maximum Leader will join the chorus. Your Maximum Leader does feel he needs to comment on one element of Lola’s attire. Her shoes. They were spikey high heels and your Maximum Leader wasn’t sure how she would be able to operate the pedals of the piano with them. The geometry of it seemed improbable. Rest assured that her pedal work seemed fine.

Miss Astanova played a number of nice pieces from the romantic school. They included Chopin’s Nocturne OP. 62, No1; Etude Op. 25, No 5; and 4 movements of his Sonata No 2. Also by Chopin she played Etude Op 25, No 12 and Scherzo No 2, Op 3. She also played two preludes by Rachmaninoff (Op 32, No 10 and Op 3 No 2) and his Moment Musicaux. She also did two studies by Alexander Scriabin.

If you can fault Miss Astanova for anything it is only youth. By this your Maximum Leader means that her performance is technically wonderful. Her stage presence is tremendous. She dominates the piano and uses every part of her body to make herself as much part of the music as possible. It is obvious that the pieces she played move her. She is emotionally connected to them and it shows; to the benefit of the audience. But the fault is that she doesn’t have a tremendous scope to her performance. She loves the romantics, and that is what she plays. Your Maximum Leader has read interviews with her, and watched her You Tube clips, and she is very open about how she plays pieces she feels strongly about. Your Maximum Leader believes that her star in the world of classical music performance will rise faster and farther if she would broaden her horizons and expand her repetoire.

That said, your Maximum Leader was dazzled and impressed. The whole show was tremendous. He would recommend to anyone who had an opportunity to see Lola Astanova perform that they take advantage of the opportunity. Villainette #2 and your Maximum Leader had a wonderful time.

After the performance ended your Maximum Leader and Villainette #2 walked back to the hotel. We were exhausted from such a long day and quickly fell asleep. The next morning (like clockwork) your Maximum Leader was up early and wasn’t sure what to do with himself until it was time to wake Villainette #2 and get some breakfast.

Villainette #2 was roused and we went to breakfast at the wonderful Sarabeth’s. Your Maximum Leader, on previous trips to NYC, had eaten at Sarabeth’s. He’s also eaten at Sarabeth’s in Key West, Fl (their only non-NYC location). So he knew it was going to be excellent. It was. Both your Maximum Leader and Villainette #2 had eggs benedict. (A dish that your Maximum Leader cooks regularly enough at home that Villainette #2 thinks it is a “normal” breakfast food.) For those of you who may not know, Sarabeth’s is quite well known for their preserves and baked goods. (You can buy them here if you like.) It isn’t often that your Maximum Leader would say this but, the english muffin upon which the rest of the eggs benedict rested was actually the highlight of the dish. (We’ll revisit this theme in a few paragraphs.) Sarabeth’s gets your Maximum Leader’s unreserved recommendation if you need a meal recommendation in NYC.

Fortified by breakfast, we trudged through Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met is, of course, a world-class museum. (BTW, it is listed on the right sidebar of this blog along with other world-class museums around the world as part of the “Villainous Culture” topic.) Villainette #2 wanted to see the Egyptian Wing and the Arms & Armor exhibits. Your Maximum Leader wanted to see the Asian Art wing and the special exhibits on Renaissance Portraiture and Art from Renaissance Venice (1400-1515). We spent the most time in the Egyptian wing and the Arms & Armor wing. Villainette #2 was very attentive and interested in both of those areas. She was also interested in the Asian art wing. But as we made our way to the Renaissance Portraiture exhibit her interest started to wane. Sadly, your Maximum Leader took the hint that he was losing his daughter and decided to ask what would you like to do now? She responded that it was getting on time to eat lunch (it was nearly noon) and then she wanted to do other stuff - like see Macy’s and Times Square.

So we hitched a cab to the hotel (Villainette #2 was complaining about all the walking already - and she’d left her gloves and hat at the hotel.) We checked out of our room and asked the concierge to hold our bags until we were ready to catch the train. Then we went to the gastronomic high point of the whole visit…

Your Maximum Leader hadn’t expected to make lunch the main meal of the trip. Indeed, his original plan had been to get street food for lunch as we walked the city. But when he was checking out restaurants near the hotel he noticed a branch of one of his favorite restaurants in the whole world.

Now your Maximum Leader is, has been, and likely will forever be a huge (HUGE!) fan of Masaharu Morimoto. But right after Morimoto, he is a big fan of Nobu Matsuhisa. So imagine his excitment when he learned that a short walk from his hotel was the new Nobu 57. Your Maximum Leader has eaten at Nobu in Tribeca before. He’s also eaten at Nobu in Las Vegas. So he figured he’d try Nobu 57.

Now… Nobu is known for their “Black Cod and Miso.” Surprisingly, your Maximum Leader has never had it. Never before last Friday that is. Normally your Maximum Leader sticks to the sushi at Nobu (because it is outstanding). But he took the waitress’ suggestion of a cold dish, a hot dish and then sushi. Villainette #2 thought that sounded like a good idea. So that is what we did. We got the “signature” dishes of “Yellowtail tuna sashimi with Jalepenos”, then the aforementioned cod, then we got an assortment of sushi rolls at the chef’s descretion.

Allow your Maximum Leader to go on the record and state that he’s been an idiot for not having the Black Cod & Miso prior to this visit. It is one of the best fish dishes he’s ever eaten. It is sweet. It is savory. The crust has flavor that accents the tender fish without overpowering it. It is as close to a perfect piece of fish as you are likely ever to eat. If you are near a Nobu and can afford it, get some. Your Maximum Leader will never go to Nobu again without getting it.

So we finished a very memorable lunch and took the subway down to Herald Square to satisfy Villainette #2’s desires to see Macy’s and Times Square. Your Maximum Leader doesn’t know what there is to say about either Macy’s or Times Square. They are iconic places in NYC. The most interesting thing about visiting Macy’s is riding the old escalators. (Which pretty much summarizes our visit. We rode up 8 floors and then down 8 floors stopping only to buy a hot chocolate and browse for about 5 mins the girls department to see if there were any jeans that Villainette #2 liked.) We walked up to Times Square and poked around in the various stores there that interested Villainette #2. That meant a stop in the Toys R Us (in which Villainette #2 bought a small remote-controlled helicopter) and the M & M Store (in which your Maximum Leader bought a mixed bag of M & Ms in colors he doesn’t believe he’s seen anywhere else - including electric green, purple, teal, silver, magenta, marroon and a sort of burnt orange).

After Times Square, Villainette #2 decided that the lure of the Empire State Building was too great to resist. So up to the top we went. Your Maximum Leader feels that the visit was something of a letdown for her. It was just view that she had (pretty much) just seen the day before. If you are asking your Maximum Leader (which you may or may not be), going to the top of 30 Rockefeller Center is a better visit than going to the top of the Empire State Building. He thinks it is better to see the Empire State Building in the view than to see the view from the Empire State Building. But, it is a visit to an icon that Villainette #2 can check off her list of places she’s visited.

We rode the subway back uptown to the hotel to get our bags and think about getting to the train. Villainette #2 indicated that she was “sort of hungry.” So we stopped back by Sarabeths for a sandwich. Since we were going to split the sandwich we decided we had to agree on whatever we ordered… We opted for the lobster roll. It was fabulous. Allow your Maximum Leader to mention that as good as the lobster was, the highlight of the sandwich was - in fact - the roll itself. Your Maximum Leader has forgotten the lobster, but he remembers the roll it was served on.

Then we got our bags from the hotel and took a cab ride through Times Square to Penn Station and returned to DC. By the time in DC it had been snowing for a few hours. That meant that the drive home (11:30pm to 1:30am) was somewhat harrowing - but that is a story for another time…

It was a wonderful trip overall. One that he imagines he’ll have to repeat in many ways with Villainette #1 (who became a little jealous of the trip on our return) before too long.

Carry on.

Now listening to…

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader mentioned in the post below that Mrs. Villain is with her father right now… While she is gone your Maximum Leader has been listening to this song and thinking about her…

He’s also listening to “our” song…

Carry on.

Whither your Maximum Leader

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader sees that the month of January is nearly half spent and he’s hardly blogged at all. He’d thought that he’d devote a little more time to blogging in 2012.

But fate has conspired against him.

Your Maximum Leader is not trying to elicit sympathy from any of you out there that are still reading… But…

2012 (and frankly the tail end of 2011) have not been particularly good for your Maximum Leader.

After Christmas, Villainette #2 got pretty sick and was not feeling well for a while. That was a downer during the period from Christmas to New Years.

Right after New Years your Maximum Leader’s dear father-in-law saw his doctor for some chest pains. He (father-in-law) has had some cardiovascular issues in the past and has a number of stents in various arteries around his heart. After an examination we all thought that there would be more stents inserted into arteries around father-in-law’s heart. Well… That was wrong. Upon closer examination, father-in-law required double bypass surgery. That was the bad news. The good news is that father-in-law is a model of health and vigor and has come through the surgery very well and is now recovering at home. In fact, Mrs Villain (and a fully recovered Villainette #2) are with him now to help him and mother-in-law get all settled in.

As if that was not enough…

He hardest blow has been what has happened to your Maximum Leader’s graduate school buddy and one-time roommate, Frank S.

The Wednesday after Christmas your Maximum Leader received a call from a friend. She had just been called by Frank’s father. Frank was in the hospital. Frank had had a massive stroke. Frank was in a coma. Frank’s prognosis was unclear, but likely bad.

Sadly, my friend Frank’s condition is unchanged. He has suffered massive amounts of brain damage. He is still in a coma. His prognosis is still somewhat unclear, although doctors say any recovery is highly unlikely.

Frank is 44 years old.

I last spoke to Frank over Thanksgiving weekend. We had agreed to chat in January and set a date to go and see the hoard of Saxon gold at the National Geographic Society. I was going to bring the family along and we would see the gold and then get some Indian food near Frank’s apartment in Arlington.

I have visited Frank a number of times in the past few weeks. Some days I believe he might be “aware” of my being there and talking to him. Most days I don’t know. Sadly, as I have already mentioned, it is my understanding that Frank’s condition will not improve.

So there is that…

Sorry your Maximum Leader hasn’t started off 2012 with a burst of creative output. But he doesn’t have it in him.

Carry on.

Ephemera

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader hopes that you all had a Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah. Your Maximum Leader had a fine time. He got a video game for the PC (Total War: Shogun 2) and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” Sadly your Maximum Leader has not devoted too much time to either. He’s done a few of the tutorials for battles and such on the game. He hopes to spend a little more time playing this coming weekend.

As for the movie… Your Maximum Leader has watched about half of it. Then events conspired to keep him from finishing the film. So far, James Franco’s performance is flat. John Lithgow is great. Frieda Pinto is beautiful but her character is underdeveloped. And Ceasar (the ape) is awesome. Your Maximum Leader hopes to finish the film one night this week.

Continuing to pull a play from FLG’s book… Your Maximum Leader is listening to the album version of this song:

Here’s a question… Would you consider the above linked song (Will Hoge’s “Too Old To Die Young”) a rock song or a country song? Your Maximum Leader heard it for the first time on Elizabeth Cook’s show on Outlaw Country on Sirius/XM. But when he bought it on iTunes it was listed as Rock. He played it for Villainette #1 who said it sounded sort of like rock. Mrs Villain says country…

The taxomony problem in music is sometimes aggrevating. If only we could have a musical Aristotle or Linneaus who could conclusively answer these vexing problems for us…

Another vexing problem… Roast beef… Your Maximum Leader overbought standing rib roast for Christmas dinner. (He thought he would have more dinner guests than he did…) So he put a whole 3 rib roast in the freezer and still has just less than 2 ribs worth of Christmas dinner remaining. (He cooked a very robust 4 rib roast on Christmas.) He’s been eating roast beef at every meal since Sunday night. Not that he’s complaining mind you… (Not exactly anyway…) But it seems as though his family decided to eat other things starting yesterday. So last night for dinner it was your Maximum Leader feasting on roast beast, warmed over Yorkshire pudding, green beans and salad while his family had hot (fresh) rolls, salad and soup. Your Maximum Leader can’t imagine passing up roast beef that is just sitting in the fridge! (NB: Your Maximum Leader suggested to Mrs Villain that he cook the frozen roast for New Years, but she’s put the kybosh on that.)

Since we will not be having roast for New Year’s… Your Maximum Leader isn’t sure what he’ll be eating over the weekend.

He can hope for ham…

Carry on.

New Yawk Trip

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader wrote yesterday about his desire to go to New York City and see the lovely and talented Lola Astanova’s Carnegie Hall debut on January 19, 2012. He speculated that he would go with Mrs Villain.

Well… He is going to go to New York to see Miss Astanova’s Carnegie Hall debut. But he is not going with Mrs Villain. He is going with Villainette #2.

Villainette #2 has always been fascinated with the whole idea of New York City. The tall buildings. The crowds. The hustle. She has been after your Maximum Leader for about a year to take her to New York for a little trip. Well. This concert became the trip. We will likely take the train up to the city on Thursday morning and return Friday night. We will probably hit the Empire State Building and the Met while we are there.

And Carnegie Hall of course.

Tickets to the concert are purchased and tickets on the train are next. Then comes the tough part. Finding a decent hotel that will not cost a kings ransom.

Carry on.

For Arethusa - Bard Edition

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader, in the comments to the previous post, was asked by Arethusa what his favorite films of the plays of Shakespeare.

That is a tough one. It really depends on your Maximum Leader’s mood. There is, however, a small pool of absolute favorites that keep popping up. Allow him to ennumerate them in no particular order…

1) Richard III - Ian McKellen’s version. Richard III is your Maximum Leader’s favorite play. The name of this blog comes from the play in fact. This version is great because of the 1930’s setting. Also, it is edited down and rather short at a little over an hour and a half. If your Maximum Leader wants a Shakespeare fix on the quick, this is the film he grabs.

2) Hamlet - Kenneth Branagh version. If your Maximum Leader’s memory is correct, this is the only version of the whole play on film. That is one of the reasons this film clocks in at about 4 hours long. It is wonderfully acted and the sets are beautiful. This is an exquiste film and probably the best filmed Shakespeare ever.

3) Richard III - Laurence Olivier version. Again, this is your Maximum Leader’s favorite Shakespeare play, so it seems right that it should be on the list twice. This version is a more conventional film than the McKellan version. (Conventional in that it has the feel of a play put on film.) You can’t beat Olivier for talent. Olivier was the greatest Shakespearean of our times (our “times” being roughly 1900 to the present - and in a pinch your Maximum Leader might argue that Olivier was the greatest Shakespearean actor since David Garrick).

4) Ran - by Akira Kurosawa. This might be something of a cheat. Ran is an adaptation of King Lear set in medieval Japan. Your Maximum Leader will stretch the category a little and include this film in the list.

5) MacBeth - Orson Welles version. Although it has been ages since your Maximum Leader has watched this film, he does remember it very fondly. He’ll have to see about renting it and rewatching to see if it is as he remembers it.

6) The Merchant of Venice - Pacino version. Pacino himself is a little over the top in this performance (as all of his performances on film since 1990 have been). But this is a wonderful adaptation of the play. Also, many exterior shots were filmed in Venice - which makes it a joy to watch.

7) Romeo & Juliet - Zefferelli version. This is a conventional choice. It probably makes everyone’s list. But it is well done and as your Maximum Leader remembers it, this was the first Shakespeare he ever saw (play or film).

8 ) Taming of the Shrew - Taylor/Burton version. Come on! Taylor! Burton! Need he say more?

9) Titus - Julie Tamor version. Your Maximum Leader loves the cast of this film. Anthony Hopkins. Jessica Lange. Alan Cumming. They are great actors and do so well in their part. Tamore’s setting and costuming is sort of wierd, yet interesting (not as over the top as her stage version of The Lion King, but interesting - perhaps influenced by McKellan’s R3).

10) Henry V - Branagh version. Wasn’t this the movie that really put Kenneth Branagh on the map so to speak.

So those are the top films of Shakespeare’s plays according to your Maximum Leader. Feel free to dispute as you like in the comments.

Carry on.

Loved this title

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader just loves it when the title of a news article pretty much sums up everything.

Take for example this gem from Reuters: Man wins dumpling eating contest, then dies.

It doesn’t get any plainer than that.

Sadly, the 77 years old Ukrainian man in question only won a jar of sour cream before shuffling this mortal coil.

Carry on.

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