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Neal Vitale Reviews (on DVD): State Of Play

5 stars out of 5

This State Of Play is not this past April's film by director Kevin Macdonald (Last King Of Scotland, Touching The Void) and writers Matthew Michael Carnahan (Lions For Lambs, The Kingdom) and Tony Gilroy (the Bourne trilogy, Duplicity, Michael Clayton), but rather the 2003 BBC television series written by Paul Abbott ("Shameless") which was the basis for that film. And it is a terrific work, in six hour-long episodes, chock full of drama and suspense, with plot twists and turns galore, and nary a shallow or one-dimensional scene. State Of Play follows ateam of newspaper writers and editors as they investigate the death of an assistant to a member of the House of Commons, and confront each successive revelation and complication. The cast is familiar to fans of British TV, featuring actors whose faces are recognizable but whose names aren't quite marquee-level - like Bill Nighy, Kelly Macdonald, James McAvoy, John Simm, and David Morrissey - and they turn in sensational work as an ensemble. It is shows like David Simon's The Wire and this one that demonstrate the power of episodic television at its best. This a richly rewarding viewing experience.

Dern on Sally Forth, Several From Reynolds, Dan Grobstein File

Daniel Dern notes: The first lines of Sunday's  Sally Forth  comic strip are the first lines of Gravity's Rainbow

A few from Craig Reynolds:

Dan Grobstein File
Cat Handedness

The findings also add to a growing body of evidence that male animals tend to be left-handed, or in this case left-pawed, more often than females. While 90 percent of all humans are right-handed, of the remaining southpaws, more tend to be men.
The differences are even clearer among cats.
In humans, the steroid hormone testosterone has been linked to left- handedness. This hormonal link also appears to carry over to animals. For example, studies on dogs that haven't been spayed or neutered show the same sex-based split, with female dogs favoring their front right paw and males favoring their left. No sex difference, however, was observed during tests involving neutered dogs.

Political Briefs

Not really much time to edit these...

Paul in Lowell Part 2

Sunday Afternoon

It turns out that the route from the Lowell Doubletree (soon to be the Umass Lowell Inn and Conference Center) to the Boott Mill, where most of our sessions take place, is along a novelty streetcar line. Special custom-made open sided streetcars run a half-dozen times a day between various National Park Service sites in Lowell. The line follows the canal walk, which leads to the river walk, both of which are great for morning exercise.

Sunday before dinner, we spend a half-hour with a re-enactor pretending to be a Lowell Mill Girl. We also practice carding and weaving cotton. They will give me the cloth I weaved later this week as a souvenir. Then off to a nicely portion-controlled dinner (prepared by the crack forces of Aramark). Since there were neither cherries nor bananas at dinner or in my hotel, I looked up the nearest supermarket on the Internet (three miles-apparently no one who lives downtown cares about fresh produce, unless it is Asian). At the Hanaford, I wallowed in Rainier cherries, Pellegrino and great looking raspberries.


Stayed up too late last night (still trying to finish the reading I was supposed to do before the seminar started). Got up at 6:15 anyway, and walked to the only remaining downtown newsstand, which is, apparently, the only place in Lowell you can still buy the pitifully thin Boston Globe. The hotel only carries the Lowell Sun (OK) and USA Today (yuch), not The New York Times (apparently not the Doubletree demographic), so I buy that at the newsstand as well, then carry the papers for the rest of my morning hour walk along the canal.

Announcements at 8:45. The first lecture of the day was an MIT professor of the history of science, co-author of Inventing America, the textbook we had to buy (I got my copy used) in preparation for the seminar (I must remember that this is tax-deductible). I immediately asked him why Eli Whitney, credited in out middle-school textbook with invention of interchangeable parts, was left out of his textbook. "Complete fiction," he said. It's a long story, but Whitney was an advocate of uniform parts who never successfully made any (and faked the famous demonstration he offered to Adams and Jefferson in 1800). Sometimes history's a bitch. He stressed that the U.S. government has played a role in funding technology since 1800, when it did so by pre-paying contracts for guns with interchangeable parts.

Off by streetcar to a nearby mill with a working turbine-type water wheel, and a working pulley-operated weaving machine. Fascinating to see this stuff first hand.

After a perfectly adequate lunch,. Prof. Pat Malone tells us EVERYTHING there is to know about the use of water to power machinery in Lowell. Dam the river, run a high canal and a low canal, and pass water over wheels between them.

After his lecture, we went to a lab, typically used by visiting school children, with lots of running water and pipes. You get to build a simulated system of canals and water wheels. Fascinating. Adults, it appears, get much less wet then students when assembling their constructions. Makes me wish I'd paid attention during class at MIT (again…)

By streetcar to a National Park Service boat which takes us on a water-level tour of the canals, including the hand-operated Francis Lock. If you've always had trouble grasping the lock concept, watching one in action really helps. We also saw a 21-ton wooden structure used for flood control in 1852 and 1936. In 2006 they didn't lower it because they were worried about damaging it. I say, why have a 21-ton flood control device unless you're going to drop it?

Back to Boott mill, where we tour a reconstructed boarding house. The girls slept four to a room, two to a bed. The beds are the size of a modern single bed, and the room is smaller than a Manhattan hotel room--with the bathroom downstairs and outside. The outhouses were cleaned twice a month by farmers who used the material for fertilizer.

We had a boardinghouse dinner: corn muffins, beef stew, green beans, potatoes and apple pie. I can honestly say the apple pie was the best I have ever tasted, The Diet Pepsi probably wasn't authentic, and there was probably too much beef in the beef stew, but otherwise it was straight up accurate. Vegetarian teachers had options. Vegetarian mill girls, if they existed, probably had to pick around the beef.

During dinner, I noticed that all six of the teachers sitting near me were from Massachusetts. I mentioned that I had put in more than an hour looking for soft-serve frozen yogurt on the Interrnet. The closest I could find was a TCBY in Nashua, NH, about 10 miles away. They agreed that was silly, but none of them could think of a place. Except the Crazy Monkey over on Central. "Already been there," I said. "Hard frozen yogurt, not soft serve."

Then they remembered that a teacher at another table taught in a Lowell middle school (Lowell High, by the way, has 4,000(!) students). The teacher suggested Heritage Farm. We called. Success! It was only two miles away, and open until 11. It wasn't self-serve, and the only flavors were vanilla and chocolate, but any port in a storm. Is there a demand for a soft froyo locator web site? I think there is.

No nap! I am exhausted, despite a steady all-day caffeine drip.


Set my alarm for 5 because we were leaving at 8am for a day at Sturbridge Village, a 90-minute bus ride from the Boott Mill. I wanted to walk an hour before breakfast and be on time for the bus. Alas, when the alarm went off at 5 I just couldn't get up. It hasn't happened to me often in recent years, but despite going to bed at 9:30 the night before, I was just too out of it. Partly this was due to my getting up for an hour in the middle of the night to answer mail and record some radio shows I wanted to listen to on my iPod.

So I reset the alarm for 6, figuring I could still squeeze in a half hour. Alas, I didn't have my glasses on, so I accidentally left the setting at 5. I snapped awake from a bizarre dream about being a guest on the David Letterman show. It was 6:30 a.m. By the time I showered, dressed and loaded my iPod, I just had time for breakfast and a brisk walk to the bus. MJ, one of the other teachers, was driving because he had somewhere he wanted to go after our visit. He asked me to drive out with him. We followed the bus and spent the whole 90 minutes discussing our personal histories. He's from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and drove (!) to Lowell for the seminar.

Sturbridge village is a recreation of a New England village, circa 1835, full of re-enactors who are in costume and trained to answer questions about themselves and their era. Each of our six groups was given a question to research. I'm in Group 1; we worked on changing job prospects for the rich, the middle class and the poor in an era of industrialization. We saw a farm, a rich guy's house, and a middle-class house, and spent some time speaking to an excellent re-enactor at the parsonage.

From 11am to 2pm, we were engaged with lunch. There is a large educational center which includes, among other things, four old-fashioned cook over an open fire cooking areas. We learned by doing, preparing lunch for our group by cooking chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls, carrots and gingerbread over open fires. You haven't lived until you've tried whipping cream with a bundle of birch sticks. It takes a VERY long time. We snacked on crackers and cheese; the cheese demonstrated the way people in the era mixed fresh soft cheese and stale old cheese with spices and butter to create an edible concoction.

The historian emeritus of the village came to talk with our group. He's a Harvard man, but I forgave him for that because he was both knowledgeable and entertaining (and so, I guess, not a legacy). We presented our answers to the six questions, and he commented on them.

I passed on a chance to see the Lowell minor-league baseball team play; instead, spent a quiet evening finally reading the last of the assigned reading I was supposed to complete before I got here, and putting in a half-hour in the gym to make up (almost) for not getting any exercise this morning. Grabbed some grilled chicken (we were on our own for dinner) at the grocery store, but forget to refresh my banana supply! Oh dear! That means I have to go back Wednesday.


Mostly indoors today, mostly lectures. In the morning, we learned you can't have an industrial revolution without an agricultural revolution--otherwise, how do you feed people? And, another dearly held myth bit the dust. The South's failure to industrialize may well have been due, in part, to a philosophical opposition to industry, but it was probably due nearly as much to the lack of a banking system capable of accumulating enough capital to support industrial growth.

We learned about speedups and spread outs--ways to increase production without increasing pay or employment--by simulating the printing department at a mill. I can teach this lesson at home!

"Things are in the saddle and ride mankind," said Ralph Waldo Emerson (we are headed to Walden Pond on Thursday).

The industrial revolution was about time: people went from controlling their own to working by the clock. Many resisted. We went from 85% self employed in 1820 to 85% wage earners by 1900. "We are not machines," complained the workers.

After lunch, we were shown artwork that dealt with the issues of industrialization and given a website to find more we can use in class. Prior to 1825, American paintings were portraits. After that they were landscapes. Who knew?

Finally, we saw some examples of good ways to use primary source documents. I used my 90 minutes of free time to restock my bananas and take a nap, so I could stay awake for the 90-minute one-woman show, in which an actress moving portrayed three mill girls. A quick 40 minutes on the stationary bike, and then to bed.


A professor of American Literature from UMass Lowell helped us understand the relationship between literature and industrialization. The transcendentalists, based in nearby Concord, MA, were ambiguous about industrialization. Part of their philosophy involved changing their minds when the facts changed, so their position on the mills shifted as conditions at the mills shifted.

I was never too clear on transcendentalism, but the professor drew a triangle, with the deity at the top, and man and nature along the base. Man has a connection to the deity and nature, nature has a connection with diety and man.

It became clear that it was ironic that going to work in the mills freed girls from working on the farm--but the mill work was harder, and the girls had less control over it. They became slaves to the clock.

They believed nature is pure and elevating. Why doesn't anyone ever describe a factory as puie and elevating? Are all the works of man inherently less beautiful than the works of nature? How about a desert versus the Mona Lisa?

Anywho... to the Lowell Cemetery, next to one of the falls which provided power to some of the factories. It was a beautiful place; many of the mill girls walked there 170 years ago, and many are buried there as well. Then to the Minutemen National Monument in Concord, where I walked across the North Bridge, from the side where the Patriots stood to the side where the British Regulars stood. The first shots were fired at Lexington, but the first shots fired under the order of an officer were fired at North Bridge; they were the "shots heard round the world." The British retreated back to Boston immediately after the 9am skirmish--undergoing constant fire on what became known as "the battle road."

Final stop: Walden Pond. We saw the site of Thoreau's cabin, then went to see a replica inhabited by a re-enactor. It was a kick in the pants.

At the end of the day, we were on our own for dinner. CB, who had the room two doors down from me during my freshman year at Student House, stopped in Lowell on her way to a meeting to have dinner with me. She walked the 15 minutes from the train station to the hotel. We both had steak. It was wonderful to see her. She's been divorced for three years now, after having been married for 20. You may not have heard me mention her, since I neither dated her nor was engaged to her, but she was very nice to me at a time when not everyone extended the hand of friendship. She also introduced me to Ed Diamond, for which I am forever in her debt.

We walked back to the train station after dinner and missed the train by about 90 seconds. There was another one an hour later.

I went to the soft-serve yogurt place, 10 minutes away by car. The yogurt machine was broken. They offered me soft-serve ice cream. It was nowhere near the same, but I didn't want to waste the trip, worse the luck.


As is often the case, just when you get things figured out, the experience is over. I smoothly awoke on time Friday, picked up a Globe and a New York Times at the newsstand (there is only one place to buy a Boston Globe within three miles of the hotel) and walked 40 minutes before breakfast. My best morning of the week. They had the cereal I wanted (do you know that Frosted Mini Wheats are the only low-sodium cereal you'll find in a typical hotel buffet breakfast cereal rack? Unless they offer oatmeal, which the Doubletree does not).

On time to the meeting room at the nearby Boott Mill, 8:45 a.m. After a few announcements, we head out for a two-hour, 1.5-mile walking tour of The Acre, the eponymous sized former slum area where the Irish lived in close proximity to St. Patrick's church, an area now surrounded by an international stew of latter-day immigrants. The leaders suggest we show our students the ethnic areas in our towns. I guess in Moraga, we'd have to go over to Ascot Street and show them the one block of apartments...

We had cod for lunch (very New England) along with Boston Cream Pie. Don't know if it was invented in Boston, but I do know it was quite good.

It seems odd to suddenly no longer be a part of a group of teachers (90% from Massachusetts or California, with two from Kansas and a smattering from elsewhere) working towards the single goal of learning enough about the industrial revolution to improve our teaching of the subject. We're supposed to come up with five lesson plans. Should be easy. We learned way more than that.


For only the second time since I came to Lowell, I was able to sleep in Saturday morning. I walked, ate a leisurely breakfast, then took off for Weston, where I spent the day with BLM. We chatted, walked through the woods for two hours (man was it hot and muggy!), chatted some more, then had dinner with several other college friends. It was a wonderful day, with the sole exception of the fact that I learned that Katrina Wooton, who had been a good friend of mine, died last November. I was taken aback, as she was two years younger than me. I wish this "friends dying" thing would just stop. At dinner, we raised a toast to Norman Sandler, another good friend who died two years ago.


Went to St. Anne's church, the first Episcopal church ever built by a corporation. Boott built it for the girls who worked in his factory, and deducted pew rental from their wages. Girls could be fired for not attending church on Sunday. It is a lovely thick-walled church, 180 or so years old. Lolly gagged, rode the stationary bike and read the Sunday papers until evening, when I dined with DD and BF, his significant other.

My working idyl in Masschusetts draws to a close. I dread packing.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

3 stars out of 5


If they had managed to bring this film in at even two hours, I'd have given it 3.5 or 4 stars. But I heartily object to it being 2.5 hours long. This is just Harry Potter, people, not Gone With the Wind or Lawrence of Arabia. There are some nice touches in this installment. They do spend some more time on the human relations. It isn't as dark as the last one--and, to the best of my recollection, not as dark as the book upon which it is based, either. There's a scene at the end (no spoilers from me!) that was described with cinematic exactitude in the book, such that I expected to see it in the film, but it isn't there. The special effects are, as always, totally amazing, and the screenwriter and director showed great intelligence and judgment in their choices of which characters and subplots to prune for the movie version. As with all the Harry Potter films, you'll find it all easier to understand if you've read the book, but you won't be baffled (I don't think) if you haven't, except you may wonder who some of these people are and why they're in the film.

I look forward to the final, two-part installment, with a mixture of anticipation and dread. Dread because part 1 of the finale will have to be like the middle of a trilogy--dark and depressing. And dread because the two films will total 5 hours or more. But I am anticipating that the series will be brought to a successful and satisfying conclusion.

Guest Review by Rae: Moon

5 stars out of 5

Making predictions about the future is a science fiction writer’s job. When Duncan Jones’ asked his magic 8-ball about Earth the answer came back “outlook not good.” His story was adapted into a movie, “Moon,” starring Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell.

Bell is finishing up his three-year contract working alone on a lunar space station to help provide clean energy for Earth. The years of isolation are taking its toll and he’s hanging on by a thread. This movie has the sweeping social commentary we have come to expect from the science fiction genre. The corporation Bell works for supplies Earth with clean energy, but the methods are questionable. This idyllic society comes at a price, and Bell is torn about his roll

Rockwell shows a range of acting when he portrays the character Sam Bell of present and past. After three years, Bell is a broken, doughy and complacent when he started out fresh, young and cocky. He must reconcile these different parts of his personality and to uncover the mystery. he only one Sam has to talk to, other than himself, is a robot Gerty voiced by Kevin Spacey. Since the robot speaks in monotone, he displays emoticons on his screen while he’s talking to express his emotions including your typical :-),  and also :-/ :-O among others. Sam too, needs to discovery his humanity, so he can find his own identity and return to his wife and daughter as a better person.

A few other things I want to mention: you’ll marvel the scenes on the moon’s surface with its strangeness and suspense and watch out! this movie has some major twists and turns.

I give movies five stars too often, my father not enough. But I know it doesn’t matter how many stars any one gives “Moon,” it’s well worth seeing.

Neal Vitale Reviews: (500 ) Days Of Summer

4 stars out of 5     

Set in a less-photographed, almost New York-like downtown Los Angeles, this cute and clever study of youthful relationships is buoyed by its appealing lead actors Zooey Deschanel (Almost Famous, Yes Man; paired with M. Ward in the pop duo She & Him) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (A River Runs Through It, The Juror, Stop-Loss).  (500) Days Of Summer almost falls victim to its own ingenuity and hipness - cool film and music references, jumpy chronology, animation interlaced with live action, big production numbers in incongruous settings, eclectic soundtrack, grainy black & white interviews, etc. - as the film's basic storyline is, at best, slim. But the end product is an engaging, lightweight summertime treat, well worth seeing.

Newspaper Uses, Undercutting America's Future, Dan Grobstein File

10 reasons you'll actually miss newspapers

Another way policies advocated by George W. Bush deliberately undercut America and its future (this time the testing policies of No Child Left Behind, aka No Way To Treat Your Children aka Doing The Terrorists Work For Them)

Dan Grobstein File