Friday, January 29, 2010


Following the career advancement, investigations, philosophical struggles, and cultural explaining of Royal Thai police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, the main character in John Burdett's Bangkok series has been one of my favorite literary excursions over the past few years. Sonchai, the half Thai/half American (farang) son of a former prostitute and current brothel owner (he is a part owner), is a devout, spiritual Buddhist who wrestles with the karmic implications of his role as a minion (and later consigliere) of his boss, one of the two leading drug barons in Thailand. We are first introduced to him in Bangkok 8, suffering from the loss of his best friend and police partner who is murdered via use of poisonous snakes, and his exploits are continued in Bangkok Tattoo and Bangkok Haunts, which are interesting and enjoyable but did not quite live up to the first book. Along with his mother and boss, other recurring characters include his faithful assistant and devoted foil, Lek, a pre-op transsexual male (katooey); a female American FBI agent that he taps for special intelligence when required; an Army general and rival to his boss in the drug trade; and numerous prostitutes and colorful personalities who come in and out of the stories (not to mention the rather interesting victims of the crimes he is investigating).
So it was delightful that Burdett's recent addition, Godfather of Kathmandu, was as strong and interesting as the first volume. Jitpleecheep here is dealing with the heartrending loss of his only son and his wife's decision to run off to a Buddhist nunnery, as he is called to assist in the mysterious murder of a prominent and wealthy American film director, while at the same time brokering a high-stakes drug deal with an equally mysterious Tibetan lama (Tietsen), who wants to use profits from the sale to get back at the Chinese. He is valuable to his boss because he can easily traverse the different cultures. Soon he is immersed in the complicated worlds of Chinese/Thai secret societies, a brilliant chemically-dependent pharmacist murderess, a tantalizing Tantric mistress/actress, a upward striving junior police detective, and other members of Thai society (as well as individuals in Tibet and Hong Kong). In all of the books the protagonist talks directly to the reader, explaining various aspects of culture and religion, as well as his thought processes as he works his way through various investigations. There is no way for this reviewer to assess how accurate the author is in describing the inner working of Thailand, but the stories are colorful and engaging, and I recommend them highly. Almost all of the characters are richly complex and compelling. Burdett's descriptions and explanations of Thai society are equally good.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Last night I was treated to two magicians. I took the boys (after dance practice for Joey and finishing reading Call of the Wild with Chimo) to see the local magician John Tudor at the Columbia Children's Theater. I would say he is an entertaining, though average, magician, but what he is really good at is developing rapport with the kids (and the adults enjoyed it too). The seventy-plus crowd was receptive and appreciative, and he put on a pretty nice show. He blends silly puns and a bit of storytelling with his sleight of hand, and overall I had a nice time, as did my boys (which is what it is all about for me).

Then I watched a real magician, Devon Downey, of the Carolina Gamecocks, as on the hardwood they defeated a #1 team for the first time in their history, the previously undefeated Kentucky Wildcats. Even had the Cocks lost, I would have been proud of them, because they played hard for the entire game. Yes, we got a few lucky bounces (you simply need a few of those to counter some things), but I have to applaud his teammates as well, who stepped up when they needed to, on defense and in providing a little point support. Downey made about four or five shots that were nothing short of amazing, and I am glad that he got to showcase his talents to a national audience. The crowd was wonderful, and I don't think they stopped jumping on their feet for practically the whole game. The win was especially shocking when you factor the loss of two first-string big men we have lost for the year. I hope one or two big-time prospects saw the game and consider coming here to play.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


I hear snapping jaws of intolerance
and hatred, dripping with bile of
irrational anger: stoked, stroked, fired
by pseudojournalists and narrow-minded
commentators spinning fabrications
like deadly spiders in darkened holes,
each web of deceit mending the false
strands, repeatedly sheared by truth,
how dare they take the sacred name
of painted Patriots protesting.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Tonight, Columbia was treated to a wonderful experience, a crowd-pleasing performance put on by the Columbia Classical Ballet and several guest artists from around the world. Lifechance: International Ballet Gala of the Stars not only gathers great dancers and offers fresh material to dance lovers of the Midlands, it raises money for charity, in this case for the Palmetto Health Children's Hospital Special Care Center. It also, I think, allows local dancers the chance to work with their peers, develop new skills, and form networking friendships that can be helpful down the road. Despite its size, Columbia does not lack for opportunities to see a wide range of dance, but this annual event (the fourteenth)---put on largely through the hard work of Radenko Pavlovich---brought together a diverse and accomplished group. This year's production was probably the best attended and most rewarding ever. Thanks to our good friend Renata Franco, the boys and I were treated to excellent seats and we left the auditorium inspired and thrilled. The Koger Center seemed to be practically sold out and the dapper crowd was in the mood for high-level entertainment and was very appreciative of the presentation. They came to see the best young dancers displaying their talents and they were not disappointed.

The star of the show was hometown favorite Brooklyn Mack, whose coach and mentor is Pavlovich, and he did not let down his legion of local fans. Although many of the male danceurs were excellent, when Mack steps----no, SOARS---onto the stage, he is a thing of beauty and energetically shows why he is such a sparkling talent. His jumps are tremendous, his enthusiasm infectious. He feeds off the crowd, and the Washington Ballet is lucky to have him as a principal. His Song for You, done to the music of Donnie Hathaway (one of my favorites) was wonderful, as was his duet with Grace-Anne Powers in Le Corsaire (though I think I would have liked a better selection of costumes for that one). Many times I heard people gasp in awe and comment positively on this jump or that move.

Not to be outdone by any measure, the corps of Columbia Classical Ballet gave three beautiful performances. While Satanella and Majissimo were delightful in every way, I was simply blown away by the job they did in Assassin's Tango. It was an absolutely delightful arrangement, and it had the crowd atwitter. I thought all six ballerinas and the six guys were great (and as always, the ladies were lovely). I must compliment the choice of costumes, especially the black outfits, in all three parts. The dancers were crisp and seemed to be enjoyed themselves. Lauren Frere and Journy Wilkes-Davis have become something of a pair on stage (they also starred together in the recent Nutcracker), and since both are tall and svelte, they match well in their duets. Of course, my favorites are Renata and Akari Manabe, but then again I am somewhat biased. Akari can simply melt you with her smile and Renata is a genuinely beautiful spirit. Kaori Yanagida (and I think Aoi Anraku, though I might be wrong) got the center stage in the first dance. DeeDee Rosner and Kaleena Burks were also great. I think the company really showed the crowd how lucky we are to have them here. Satanella was very good and set the tone for the evening. They can really be proud of their performance tonight. I may not be a ballet afficiando, but I was really impressed and pleased to have seen it.

I will not bore you with a detailed description of every guest performance, though I will say that they were uniformly excellent and each brought a different flavor to the banguet. We were treated to dances put on by five members of the Boston Ballet. Several really stood out. Lia Cirio and Sabi Varga's Tsukiyo pas de deux was sensual and impressive. Cirio is strong, almost feline, in her command of the stage. I thought there was a little too much arm movement in As One, but overall, she is impressive, as was her partner. Jeffrey Cirio, James Whiteside, and Whitney Jensen were also good.

Two dances given by members of the Trey McIntyre Project of Boise, Idaho, were crowd favorites and extremely well performed. Chanel DaSilva and Dylan G-Bowley's Wild Sweet Love was athletic and playful, and really got a rousing reception. G-Bowley's Nitelite was equally impressive. I would love to see Mack and DaSilva share the stage in a duet someday.

The adorable (ok, she's only thirteen) Alexandra Parsons of North Carolina danced two beautiful numbers and she definitely has a wonderful future ahead of her. Alexander Buber (of Belarus via Japan) was crisp and light in much of his dancing, and I enjoyed the Flower Festival at Genzano, with the lovely Kayo Sasabe. Much credit should be given to Sasabe, whose initial foray onto the stage was interrupted by a technical glitch; the crowd warmly applauded her return. Rounding out the first act were Meaghan Hinkis and Alberto Velazquez, from New York's American Ballet Theater, in Don Quixote, and I thought both were good, though Hinkis seemed to outshine her partner.

My only criticism was that too often, dancers standing in the wings had their shadows projected onto the backscreen, possibly by the lighting being at a bad angle or the performers standing too close to the stage. For example, it was disconcerting when G-Bowley was performing his modernist dance, to see the shadow of Parsons twirling behind him. Most people probably didn't even notice it, though.

Overall, I think the night was wonderful. I am delighted that my son dances with this group. I wish I was about twenty and could dance with them. Much thanks should be given to the cities of Forest Acres and Columbia for providing funds for the arts, because we are a much better community because of it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


For ballet fans who enjoy a mix of classical with contemporary, athleticism with fluid motion, unorthodox steps with multimedia, the Alberta Ballet delivers a wonderful performance (on dvd) of dance inspired by the artwork (projected in a large cyclopic eye during the show) and songs of Joni Mitchell. Fiddle and the Drum---a short, but energetic, ballet---laments the state of the planet and contemporary times (from war, to environmental disaster, to social issues), yet concludes with a hopefulness that mirrors in many ways the optimism of the young during the Obama campaign. The minimalist costuming (little more than body suits and briefs, with silky shirts in some scenes), the dancers are shaded in green with splotches of coloring in hair and on body to mimic the pictures and nature. A child appears in several scenes, dressed in white, representing innocence and hope. The dancers are uniformly toned, muscled, and cut. I especially liked the dances associated with "Sex Kills," "Three Great Stimulants," If I Had a Heart," and "If." I liked that in many parts there were three couples performing the exact same steps, in unison. I enjoyed the parts when the whole company danced together, with exuberance and joy. At times there seemed to be a possible influence (which might be disavowed by the choreographer) of Groupo Corpo.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

John English

Last night I took the boys to see a short concert put on by the Columbia Children’s Theater and Cultural Council that featured local folk guitarist/banjoist John English, who apparently has been a favorite among children and adults. He played a mix of original music and children’s songs that sparked good audience participation. About 40 to 45 people attended, a mixed crowd representing the elderly down to toddlers. He was accompanied by an attractive young lady (possibly a daughter or granddaughter) who played sax and helped with the movements in several of the children’s pieces. Both my boys seemed to enjoy themselves.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


In the other room, I heard a lot of huffing and puffing, as Chimo was playing with his legos. Then I heard, "Arrrggggg. I need the address of this company, cause these things aren't hanging together. Legos sucks."

After a few minutes of this, I called him back and asked him what the problem was. He said that his spacecraft wasn't holding together. I told him he needed to calm down and then said, "and all you need to do is put some. . . "

He stops me and says, "Dad, don't worry about it. I know how to make modifications to my design. I am a professional. Besides, don't you know that professional engineers are supposed to get mad when their constructions aren't working right?"

And then he returned to his tasks.

Friday, January 15, 2010


One of my favorite shows is A Chorus Line. I have seen several versions, as well as original clips, and it was covered, of course, in the PBS show about Broadway. I had heard that there was a new documentary, Every Little Step, covering the revival and the effort of more than 3000 performers to earn one of 22 spots. If you like the theater, and have ever tried for a show, there is much in here to really like. Me. . .I can't perform worth a lick, but there was much to pull at my heartstrings and squeeze a little tear. I really enjoyed it, and even the boys sat down and watched a little bit with me. I would never have the stomach to handle the stress and competition. But it also reveals how tough it is to nail a part. I especially liked the blending of old adn new, sampling of a rap session among the original cast (or workshop), that led to the development of many of the roles. I highly recommend this dvd.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


I have come to really enjoy the work of Joss Whedon, especially Firefly and Serenity, as well as Angel and Buffy, but I was somewhat hesitant to get too involved with his latest series, Dollhouse. Perhaps it was the title, although entirely apt for the show, that somehow shooed me away, as well as my hesitantcy to get too involved with television serials because of all my domestic responsibilities, and I hate missing shows (I tend to wait for dvds). When Dollhouse became available, at least season one, I snapped it up and was generally impressed, with the acting, story, production, just about everything. It amazes me that his shows do not seem to find long-lasting popular followings (though he has a steady, loyal fanbase); this series was just cancelled after its second season. Basically it is somewhat of an updated version of Westworld, with a dash of X-Files; humans looking to forget troubling episodes in their past volunteer to give their bodies to a corporation that wipes their minds and then selectively implants personalities to fit the needs of well heeled customers seeking singleminded and perfectly oriented "dolls" to achieve their fantasies or goals. Yes, very sinister and dark, and basically the organization is little more than a brothel, with some specialized services as well. Eliza Dushku is the main attraction as Echo, a troubled activist whose actions cost her a loved one, but something special about her brain fights against complete mental wipe and she increasingly rebels against her ensalvement. There is a very good cast: Harry Lennix as Echo's handler; Fran Kranz as a wacky and humorous genius who handles implanting the personalities; Tahmoh Penikett as an obsessed FBI agent determined to free Echo and bring down the dollhouse; Olivia Williams as the manager of the house; and Laurence Dominic as the stern assistant and head of security. My favorite however is the exotic Dichen Lachman, a Tibetan-Australian actress of long face and beautiful eyes. Many cast members have appeared in Whedon's other projects. One day Whedon will again get to display his talents for a longer running show. Moslty, I wish he could find a way to either revive Firefly, or manage to sell some spin-off of that series.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


For fans of Willingham's graphic-novel series Fables, comes a novelized treatment of the Pied Piper tale in Peter & Max, featuring Max (the evil older brother and fabled musician), and Peter (his younger brother and brighter piper, who is gifted with a magic flute Max coveted), and Bo Peep (yes, of lamb fame, and Peter's lovely bride). It is a story of disastrous sibling rivalry and jealousy, woven into continuing saga of the Fables community in New York. It is an enjoyable read, quick and light for the most part, even with its dark undertones, and fleshes out well some storylines in the graphics series. Willingham does leave out some information, especially about the group in the Black Forest, and I would have liked to know more about some of the exploits of the thief band. The ending did not surprise me much, but I love the hints given at the end about soem of the stories to come (I have only read the first four of the comics). I enthusiatically recommend this book to Willingham's fans, and think it will draw some new readers to the graphics.


I am a liberal (in most respects, especially social) and I doubt at this point I am ever going to change. I would not have been terribly upset if McCain had won, but I think Palin was a major mistake. If anything, I think Obama has been a moderate in policy and deportment. He is well spoken, appears to be very smart, and hasn't shown any proclivity for rash decisions. He isn't a laughingstock in the eyes of most of the world (who at best, considered Bush either dangerous or a buffoon). I can think of no decisions of his that have in any way endangered the status of America, and in fact, he probably has steadied it, and like the Republican (or wealthy) anger during the Roosevelt years, all I can say is they protested too much while he basically saved the country's ass. And you simply cannot blow up the rest of the world because you don't like them (that would make us terrorists). I challenge people to provide ONE example of anything Obama has done that is outside the parameters set by our Constitution or legal system. One may not like all of his stands on political and social issues, but he reflects changes occurring in this country (which is what democracy is supposed to be about). If anything, he has disheartened the more liberal wing by failing to make good on some of his promises, which in my mind shows that like every incoming president, once in office he had to take a bit of a reality pill. I submit that the country is actually in better shape than when he came into office (just look at the stock market), and furthermore argue that we would be in much worse shape, perhaps even in a full-blown depression, had not something been done to stem the tide of rampant greed and deregulation of business. Although unemployment is a serious problem, his only option would be to employ some CCC and WPA type programs (I'd be all for that). He has made no executive order that contravenes any established laws that I can think of. He has broken no laws or sacred trusts (as did Bush and Cheney), and as far as I know he hasn't blatantly lied to the American people about any personal or political doings (no girlfriends or affairs, for instance). He seems to have repaired some of the international distrust sown by his predecessors, and almost everyone (even her detractors) have remarked that Hilary Clinton has been a pretty good Secretary of State. Obama has been in office one year, and the country has not fallen apart. Most average people say they feel a little better about things in the country. He definitely supports change, but they largely remain in the realm of Congress. He does not make laws, they do. It is sad that the Republicans and the radical right cannot come to grips with a new America, and cannot get over the fact that a non-white man won the office, and by a decent margin. Much of the ramped-up (and truly false and hypocritical) anger has been stoked and channeled by Tea Partiers (run by and funded by such groups as FOX and led by cheerleaders such as Beck). They are doing a disservice to the country. In fact, the Republicans have been tearing themselves apart internally, often pushing their moderate wing clean out of the party. . .which is good for Democrats. Independents right now determine most elections. Although I believe strongly in the sacred right of loyal opposition, many on the Right are rabid, so blinded by their irrational anger that they simply accept and pass on whatever new conspiracy or criticism that strikes their fancy without really finding out the truth (I think we can go back to Rush for that). And each time their newest complaint is shot down or debunked, they shamelessly reach for another fabricated issue. I do not want the US to turn into a theocracy like they have in Iran (and that is what the radical right religious wingnuts want) or into a fascist state (like Spain, or many South American countries in the 70s). I don't care who lives with whom, what people do behind closed doors, or any of that, as long as they respect others' rights. In fact, I am amazed that Obama has not, for the most part, taken the bait thrown at him, and has remained pretty much above the ugliness. Why. . . he's been positively presidential. Even the radical left never went after Bush's wife and immediate family like they have. Odd that military men supposedly hate him for his stand on "socialized medicine," when of all Americans it is they who have benefitted from the most socialized of medicines in this country. . .the VA and military hospitals. As of today, the political polls seem to indicate that O's approval rating hovers at about 55-57%. Considering the closeness of the election, the heat of opposition, and sensitivity of many issues to be addressed, that is not bad. Bush had an approval rating of less that 30% and Cheney less than 10%. Obama has not been sterling so far, but he has benefitted a great deal for NOT being Bush. If there was an election today (along the lines, say, of the British system), I suspect that Obama would win again.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


In her new novel The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood returns to the dystopian universe she first described in the romance Oryx and Crake, with her vision of ecological disaster and genetic engineering as it is experienced by members of a eco-friendly religious cult known as the Gardeners. In her first novel she concentrates on a love triangle amongst a group of corporate insiders (at HelthWyzer) who are trying to manufacture a new human species, but whose actions lead to the downfall of most of the human race as a body-melting plague savages the populace. In this story a group of societal castoffs, many of whom are ex-scientists and doctors morally opposed to genetic engineering and unethical profit-making schemes of the giant corporations, form a society that venerates "saints" (historical people who fought for the environment, such as Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall, Euell Gibbons, etc.) and establishes a vegetarian (for the most part) commune that tries to avoid waste and warn of future disaster. The members, including children, are only one part of a larger society, and Atwood populates her story with a diverse and interesting group that one roots for. The story is primarily told through the eyes of two women. Toby, a middle-age woman with some holistic training who is saved by the group after she runs afoul of an evil, dangerous killer (who throughout the story hopes to run her down and kill her); she is adopted into the group and eventually earns a position of authority, but ends up stranded in an abandoned spa as the plague spreads. Ren, who was raised in the group, but is later taken back to the corporate compound, only to become an exotic dancer, survives the holocaust by fortuitously being trapped in an isolation ward of the club she works for. Despite depressing aspects of the story, it is remarkably uplifting, much less dour than McCarthy’s The Road, and there are rays of hope throughout. One finds themselves rooting for Zeb (who wants to more aggressively fight against the corporation); Amanda, a streetwise kid adopted into the group, who befriends Ren and later becomes an artists; Mordis, the club manager with a heart; and a small host of other sympathetic characters. I will confess that after a while I just skimmed over the prayers of Adam One (leader of the cult) and the corresponding hymns to get back to the main story, and there are times when events seem too coincidental, but overall, I think this is an even more enjoyable book than Oryx. There are elements that anyone who has been reading postapocalyptic fiction will be familiar. . such as gladiatorial contests for public consumption (such as in the Catching Fire series).

Sunday, January 3, 2010


Took the boys to see Sherlock Holmes, and surprisingly both of them seemed to enjoy it, although a lot of the humor was definitley over their heads. The acting was very good. I was amazed at how they managed to reconstruct London of that era. I like just about anything Downey is in. I wonder what the Holmes purists thought of it.