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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.

What’s this? A quiz!

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader thanks you if you are still checking in at this moribund corner of the interwebs. So, while catching up on reading other blogs and stuff he sees this quiz over at Professor Mondo’s place. Having seen the quiz, he couldn’t resist.

What type of D&D character is your Maximum Leader?

I Am A: Neutral Good Human Cleric (6th Level)

Ability Scores:
Strength-11
Dexterity-12
Constitution-13
Intelligence-15
Wisdom-17
Charisma-14

Alignment:
Neutral Good A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do. He is devoted to helping others. He works with kings and magistrates but does not feel beholden to them. Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias for or against order. However, neutral good can be a dangerous alignment when it advances mediocrity by limiting the actions of the truly capable.

Race:
Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Class:
Clerics act as intermediaries between the earthly and the divine (or infernal) worlds. A good cleric helps those in need, while an evil cleric seeks to spread his patron’s vision of evil across the world. All clerics can heal wounds and bring people back from the brink of death, and powerful clerics can even raise the dead. Likewise, all clerics have authority over undead creatures, and they can turn away or even destroy these creatures. Clerics are trained in the use of simple weapons, and can use all forms of armor and shields without penalty, since armor does not interfere with the casting of divine spells. In addition to his normal complement of spells, every cleric chooses to focus on two of his deity’s domains. These domains grants the cleric special powers, and give him access to spells that he might otherwise never learn. A cleric’s Wisdom score should be high, since this determines the maximum spell level that he can cast.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

Gods. It has been forever since he’s done one of these. It felt good to do it too.

Your Maximum Leader isn’t too surprised about his class. He had hoped to be a wizard (and indeed he came close), but a cleric is pretty good.

Carry on.

Who’s Grinchy?

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader asks you, who’s grinchy?

whosgrinchy.jpg

The one on the left is much more grinchy.

Carry on.

And now for a public service announcement

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader has had this tune running through his mind (and off his lips) for a few days now… For your earworm pleasure:

In case you were wondering about the end of the video. That is a public service from the Melbourne (Australia) Metro system.

If only WAMTA here in DC could be so ingenious.

Carry on.

Rabbit

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader cries out “rabbit” in your general direction. (As it is the first of the month…)

Your Maximum Leader had a lovely day this past Saturday. Due to heavy rains in the area on Friday night, all of the baseball infields were too wet for play. Thus, the Wee Villain’s baseball game was cancelled. As it was an otherwise glorious day, your Maximum Leader took the Wee Villain, Villainette #2 and your Maximum Leader’s sainted father up to Washington DC. While there we walked around to all the monuments/memorials at the western end of the National Mall. We visited the Jefferson Memorial, the George Mason Memorial (which your Maximum Leader didn’t know even existed - and he must add it looks like it needs some TLC), the FDR Memorial (which he’d never visited before - and he likes), the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial (another first - and the statue is out of proportion to the site and location - your Maximum Leader wishes another design had been selected), the Lincoln Memorial (the greatest of them all), the Vietnam Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the memorial for the signers of the Declaration of Independence and finally the WWII Memorial. It was a lot of walking on a beautiful day. A great time was had by all.

When not walking our nation’s capital, your Maximum Leader was watching baseball. He’s been waiting for the Nationals to clinch the National League East. It has not yet happened. He thinks tonight might be the night…

By the way Nats fans… Did you see Michael Morse’s “phantom home run” from Saturday’s game? Your Maximum Leader is having trouble getting the embed video on this site, but you can visit this site to see the “reset swing and home run.” In all your Maximum Leader’s years of watching baseball, he doesn’t recall seeing anything like this.

Anyhoo…

Longtime readers of this space might remember Smallholder. Smallholder is our resident farmer/history geek. Well… Smallholder called over the weekend to notify your Maximum Leader that he had won an essay contest sponsored by the Ladies Association of Mount Vernon. The theme of the essay was how George Washington’s farm practices were still relevant to the modern American farmer. The upside of winning this contest is that Smallholder is going to get a weekend at Mount Vernon geeking it out with the staff archeologist, staff archivist and such. Your Maximum Leader admits he is envious of Smallholder’s luck (and talent) in winning this cool weekend. Your Maximum Leader doffs his bejeweled mylan cap in Smallholder’s direction…

And finally…

Your Maximum Leader has the (half) season finale of Doctor Who on the ole DVR. He can hardly wait to watch it. He thinks he’ll be a little sad as he knows this is the farewell to the Ponds. And your Maximum Leader (who is not fond of gingers on the whole) is very (VERY) fond of Amy Pond (played by the lovely Karen Gillam). Your Maximum Leader doesn’t want the Angels to get Amy…

Carry on.

Once again Hollywood, You’re Welcome

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader doesn’t know what is up with his attendance at the cinema this year. He’s seen lots of films. Off the top of his head he can remember that he’s seen: John Carter, Dark Shadows, The Avengers, Snow White and the Huntsman, Prometheus and (yesterday) The Dark Knight Rises. That is probably more movies in seven months than he’s seen in the two prior years. (And there is a chance that there is a film or two he’s seen this year that he now forgotten.)

To recap the past film in short reviews:

John Carter - liked very much; didn’t deserve the bum rap it got.
Dark Shadows - meh. Should have decided to go full-on comedy or full-on campy horror.
The Avengers - great! Second best superhero movie ever (after The Dark Knight).
Snow White & the Huntsman - meh.
Prometheus - mostly meh. Had lots of unrealized potential.

Then there is The Dark Knight Rises. In a word, the film was great. To give an abbreviated and non-spoiler laden review… Your Maximum Leader thought that this film was a satisfactory conclusion to director Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman films. All your story-lines were wrapped up and everything concluded. Your Maximum Leader must agree with his best buddy Kevin that the DKR was laden with exposition. Every actor in the film had a lot of lines to deliver. They all did a fine job of it. But your Maximum Leader feels that the script could have been a little tighter. The acting was great. Your Maximum Leader was impressed by Tom Hardy’s Bane. For a character with a mask covering many of the areas of his face that humans use to register emotion (mouth, nose, chin, cheeks), Hardy was able to do quite a bit with his eyes and the rest of his body. Without giving away anything, your Maximum Leader (who’d assiduously avoided reviews and any potential spoilers) was able to figure out quite quickly who the “real” villain was in this film.

On the balance, your Maximum Leader will stand by his earlier declaration that “The Dark Knight” is the best superhero movie ever and consequently the best of this (all in all) excellent series. You will get your money’s worth from “The Dark Knight Rises” no doubt; but the film isn’t as strong as its immediate predecessor in the series.

Oh yes… Your Maximum Leader couldn’t decided if he wanted to look at Anne Hathaway or Marion Cotillard more in the film. Your Maximum Leader is warming to Marion Cotillard. She is a fine actress with an unconventional beauty.

Carry on.

June nearly gone

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader is a shitty blogger. If by shitty one means “infrequent.”

Anyhoo…

Your Maximum Leader sees on Twitter some interesting graffiti from Pompeii. “hic ego cum veni futui, deinde redei domi.” Apparently this translates as “I came here, had sex, and went home.” It tickled your Maximum Leader so he added it to the random tag lines to this site…

The month of June is nearly half spend, and this is the first post… Crazy how that works. Let’s review some of what your Maximum Leader has done recently…

He saw Prometheus Wednesday night. Your Maximum Leader’s review? Meh. Your Maximum Leader thought the pacing of the movie was fine. He says this because a frequent critique of the film he reads is that it was boring. Your Maximum Leader wasn’t bored. He thought the speed (pacing) of the film was fine (as he just wrote); but it seemed edited for time. Perhaps this is becoming a Ridley Scott thing… He makes a film. He releases the film in the cinema. Then he started amending and remaking the film until it is closer to the film he wanted to release in the first place. Your Maximum Leader could see that this would be a problem back in the 1980s (he is thinking Blade Runner specifically) but can’t imagine that Scott would be “forced” by “studio suits” to release a movie before it was (at least pretty close to being) ready. Prometheus feels like it was: 1) either rushed to meet a release deadline or 2) released with every intention of Scott working on it for another 20 years and periodically releasing new “director’s cuts” until he (one day) gets what he wants.

All in all, your Maximum Leader doesn’t think he could recommend Prometheus to you. The story was interesting, yet it felt incomplete. Your Maximum Leader doesn’t require that a film raise questions and then answer them; but he does feel as though questions that arise from the narrative be addressed in some way. Prometheus doesn’t do that.

Re-reading that last paragraph makes your Maximum Leader feel as though he should go into more detail. He doesn’t want to give out too many spoilers - in case you’ve not seen the film and plan on doing so… That said, the big open ended question of the film is “what was on the ‘engineer’s’ mind?” The ‘engineers’ are the alien race that apparently created life on Earth, and according to character exposition during the film are trying to destroy it with xenomorph creatures they are manufacturing on LV-226 (the planet begin visited by the Prometheus). Now, some other sites have speculated that the answer to the big question was given in the film by the android character, David (played magnificently by Michael Fassbender). In the film David asks why he was created by man and receives the answer “because we could” then David replies that it would be disappointing for man to travel across the galaxy to speak to their creators and receive the same answer. It is entirely plausible that the ‘engineers’ created humanity because they could; and that they would like to destroy humanity for the same reason. While that answer to the question actually amuses your Maximum Leader more than anything else, it is a weak bit of storytelling.

In other news… Your Maximum Leader is going on a cruise next week. Baltimore to Bermuda. It will be his first time on a cruise ship. He is looking forward to the trip. He expects some quiet and time to read.

Speaking of reading, your Maximum Leader broke down and bought a Kindle Fire. For a few years now a number of people have told him that he should get an e-reader. He’s resisted, until now. He opted for the Kindle Fire for the overall entertainment possibilities offered by that device. Books, movies, TV and internet. So far he is very impressed. He’s found he’s been watching some Amazon Prime streaming movies and TV shows that have entertained him very much. He’s also downloaded about 100 books that are in the public domain (some Edgar Rice Burroughs, Raphael Sabatini, Arthur Conan Doyle, Alexander Pope, Thomas Hardy, Plato and Shakespeare among others) to read. While he doesn’t believe that he’ll ever get away from real books on paper, the Kindle is a good device that serves the purpose for which it was bought.

(NB to readers: Your Maximum Leader still believes that the basic iPod Classic is the greatest piece of personal electronics in recent times.)

How about politics…

Your Maximum Leader voted in the Virginia Primaries this week. He had to vote for a Republican to take on Tim Kaine (Democrat former Governor) to see who will replace Jim Webb (D-VA) in the US Senate. Your Maximum Leader voted for George Allen. Mostly on the basis of the other choices being a Tea Partiers and likely (or possibly actually) insane. Your Maximum Leader will vote for Allen in the fall against Kaine. He hopes that the Republicans will take the US Senate. He also hopes that the Republicans will retain the US House. He further believes that President Obama will be re-elected. So we’ll get at least 2 more years of divided government. Divided government, at this point, serves no purpose other than to moderate the unchecked idiocy of the left and right. Sadly, no one is actually doing anything to address the actual issues that are most in need of solving. No party or person seems to be looking to step up and say what needs to be said either. Your Maximum Leader did read something about Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) repudiating his “no tax increase” pledge. That is a good start. Since both parties seem pathologically incapable of serious action on the debt, spending, and revenue. When Americans start to realize that our economic situation must be addressed with a combination of spending cuts and revenue increases then we might start to get politicians who will act.

Of course, getting voters to vote against their self-interests is a silly hope to hold out… Your Maximum Leader wasn’t sure what he was thinking there…

Basically we’re screwed…

Anyhoo…

Your Maximum Leader will be going on a cruise…

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 heard this song about 2 weeks ago. He’s listened to it quite a bit since then. It was only when Villainette #1 accused your Maximum Leader of only liking the song because of the dancing girls in the video that he learned the song even had a video…

Here it is…

Your Maximum Leader does like the dancing girls.

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.

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