Thursday, June 22, 2017

Wonder Woman and Sumerian

Like a few million other people, I went to see the new movie Wonder Woman soon after it came out. Like a few hundred other people, I've taken a course in the Sumerian language and was surprised when, as a minor plot point, our heroine reads a few lines of that ancient tongue.

So I wrote about it and the Boston Globe Ideas section published it.

Why is Wonder Woman reading Sumerian?
Note: This article contains no spoilers about the film “Wonder Woman,” unless you count the fact that Wonder Woman can read Sumerian to be a spoiler, in which case, the whole movie has already been spoiled for you by the title of this article. Sorry.
In an inconsequential scene of exposition near the middle of “Wonder Woman,” Diana, Princess of Themyscira, glances at the notebook of the fiendish chemist Dr. Poison and recognizes that some of the notes are written in Sumerian.
As someone who took a year of Sumerian language courses at Harvard, I took notice.
Read the rest here

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Pee in the Sahara

Turns out, if you Google "Pee in the Sahara" you may find the story of Mauro Prosperi, an ultramarathoner who went off course in Morocco and ended up in Algiera (183 miles off course).

Or, you could find my short article on a bus stop in Sudan and the "facilities" provided there. You can read that here

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Review: Ripcord

I believe Anton Chekhov wrote that if you introduce the idea of a sky diving company in the first Act, someone better be jumping out of a plane before the end of the play.

With a title like Ripcord, I don't think I'm spoiling anything about David Lindsay-Abaire's latest play, a 90 minute comedy (plus intermission) at the Calderwood Pavilion. Lindsay-Abaire won a Pulitzer for Rabbit Hole a play (and film) about grieving parents, and wrote the Boston-area class-conflict drama Good People which got laughs in a local production when a Southie character intoned the ultimate zip code of the bourgeoisie: "Chestnut Hill." Just as those dramas had a few moments of levity, Ripcord contains some underlying drama to give weight to the comic bickering.

Abby (a deadpan Nancy E. Carroll) is not happy about sharing her room at the senior living facility with the oppressively cheerful Marilyn (Annie Golden, the mute prisoner from Orange Is the New Black). And so they make a bet: if Abby can make Marilyn angry, Marilyn will move out. And if Marilyn can frighten Abby, Marilyn gets the bed by the window. Their pranks escalate into outrageousness and then border on cruelty. The level-headed Scotty, an employee of the nursing home, tries to mediate but eventually washes his hands of the two.

The two leads have an excellent prickly chemistry and the sharp dialogue earned each of them big laughs. Ugo Chukwu as Scotty grounds the setting through his scheduled visits and matter-of-fact line readings -- and then got the biggest audience reaction at the end. The remaining three members of the cast, Laura Latreille and Richard Prioleau as Marilyn's daughter and son-in-law and Eric T. Miller as Benjamin have more difficult roles. Marilyn's relations are a sort of comic relief that help up the ante of the competition but they don't rise much beyond that. In contrast, Miller is introduced as a character that shifts the tone of the play and he does so quite effectively, leaving a big impression after just one scene.

The play itself is well constructed, although Abby gets more depth and nuance through an exploration of her deadened emotional state. Marilyn's relentless optimism is also explained but the play doesn't go as deep with her. If there is a thesis to this work, it's that how we deal with setbacks in life help determine our character. And, because this is a comedy, that if we put our minds to something, it's never too late to change.

The direction by Jessica Stone is terrific. Transitions between scenes are scored to Latin music which the actors dance off to -- still in character. And there is a clever staging of sky-diving that is delightful and reminds us that by enlisting the audience's imagination, theater can produce effects as wondrous as film.

The plot is pretty simple but the jokes are constant to the point where actors had to occasionally repeat lines that got lost in the audience laughter. Not a bad problem to have to work out.

Theater review Ripcord by David Lindsay-Abaire; directed by Jessica Stone. Presented by the Huntington Theatre Company at the Calderwood Pavilion through June 25. 527 Tremont St, $20 and up; 617-266-0800,

Monday, May 15, 2017

I Took My Child to Work -- digging up skeletons

For Take Your Child to Work Day, 2017, Cognoscenti published

I Took My 11-Year-Old Daughter To Work ... In Sudan:

Last year, I took my daughter to one of my part-time jobs: to northern Sudan, where she accompanied me as I worked as an archaeologist.
No, I’m not crazy, and yes, her mother knew (and we are still married). Ironically, the first time I ever suggested going to Sudan by myself, it took weeks to convince my wife that I would be safe.
Read more

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Monday, May 01, 2017

Protesting Lessons

February 3, 2017, Cognoscenti published:

History Repeating: Lessons From The Civil Rights Era For Maximizing The Power Of Protests

At least one elected official and his advisors seem eager to confirm the adage that “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” As Americans gird themselves against societal upheaval and figure out how to respond, it’s worth noting that we can learn from history in an effort to repeat past successes.
How do you oppose a government? There have been articles written on how Italy finally rid themselves of a kleptocratic businessman-prime minister, or how Venezuelans confronted an authoritarian president. While there are lessons to learn from both of those situations, the United States has an excellent example of a successful protest movement to model ourselves on from the Civil Rights Era.
Read more.

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Writing in the new era

Things change. Yep.

The changes are not often what we're seeking but we need to adapt.

Since the US election in November 2016, I've published two essays in WBUR's Cognoscenti that reflect my optimistic disappointment. Surely, there's a way out of this?

The first was published on November 14, 2016:

A New 'Celebrity Apprentice' Host, And Other Silver Linings From The Election

As a Massachusetts Democrat, I was disappointed by the results of this year’s election. But as an American, I'm congenitally optimistic. So I made a list of silver linings.
I don't have to follow the stupid campaign anymore.
My daughter still has the chance to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming the first woman president. (She will be eligible to run for that office in 2040.)

The second was published on January 20, 2017:

An Inauguration Day Message From A Time-Traveling Political Junkie

Hundreds of comic books, movies and television shows later, I finally get it.
In case you don’t share my viewing habits, picture this: We open on the Starship Enterprise, but the light is different and the uniforms seem more… militaristic. Captain Picard is more aggressive. But somehow, one of the crew members realizes that something’s not right. This is not how the timeline is supposed to be!
For the past two months, I’ve felt like I’m in one of those alternate timelines. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Best Part of 50th Birthday Parties

My essay in the Connections column of The Boston Globe Magazine, October 16, 2016:

I’ve never been to a quinceanera — the traditional party given for 15-year-old girls as a sort of bat mitzvah/debutante/you-are-now-a-woman celebration popular in Latin America. However, I have recently been to several cincuentaneras (fetes for folks turning 50). And they are getting elaborate.
My sister’s 50th birthday party was a family reunion of sorts, with cousins arriving from all over the country. It was the first time we had all been together since an unexpected funeral; this was much more fun.
I realized the big-deal cincuentanera was a trend when I spoke to a woman who rendezvoused with seven of her childhood friends on a girls-only weekend out in Jackson, Wyoming. Read more