Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

We made it back to Austin in the beginning of August by which time the pandemic in America was mostly just an IQ test. But it is a free country and you can’t outlaw stupidity. In Texas it is constitutionally protected right.

So the spring of hope is a distant memory. Evan is still too young to be vaccinated – eating out indoors is over. But we did make it to a couple of movies. Jo picked the time carefully, so we were the only ones in the entire movie theater. Or maybe we picked really crappy movies to watch. We told the kids we had rented out the theater for them.

Evan is taller and browner and buffer after summer. He’s back to his old school and his old soccer team and seems to not be unhappy with either arrangement. He has mastered the art of setting expectations pretty damn low. So I am thrilled when he does five minutes of homework at bedtime on Sunday night. Or when he eats a piece of salmon. I can see where this is headed. Great job, Evan. That was fantastic breathing! Try another one. Not now, whenever. You don’t have to if you don’t want to. But Evan is funny and quirky and cute and continues to stay alive and some would even say, thrive.

Vivian is settling into her new school. At 300 acres the campus is a tad bigger than the two-acre patch that was her old school – which she dearly loved. But she is settling in and making friends and spending most of her evenings buried in homework after volleyball practice or games. She expected that and it seems to make her happy. We met our international student that we are “hosting”. We hope to see more of her and may be Evan will try to learn a bit of Korean from her.

Our other baby, Ouiser, is doing well (Zeus the cat doesn’t give a shit because she’s a cat). After putting on a few extra pounds during her boarding, she is getting her shape back again. I enjoy walking her at Zilker or Edwards or Turkey Creek in the mornings and she goes to visit her neighborhood friends at the park at Rosedale School in the evenings. She enjoys the best social life in the family. Though it does involve smelling a lot of butts.

Jo has taken to suping. She bought an eleven and a half foot board she takes for paddling. The board sits in our bedroom when not in use. I’m thinking if we lived by a beach, this would be when the kids and I realize that we’ve lost her to the surfing life. Is there a suping life?

I have – hold on to your pants – started working. Not much has changed – I’m still not getting paid. But instead of not getting paid to do nothing, now I don’t get paid to work. I’m smart, aint I? Anyway, it is a startup and it is in stealth mode so I can’t say anything more except that it sucks to start my day an hour before sunrise. I’ve discovered yet again that I’m not a morning person. Or an afternoon or evening person. Besides being a hooker, do you have a suggestion for a well paid profession where I can work from after dinner till 2am while making the world a better place?

The weekends are already a blur. Jo has taken up the slack with me pretending to work, which wasn’t much of a slack to take up. Vivian had her friend over for a sleepover this weekend. Evan had his over last weekend. Karen took the kids to the Blue Hole on Sunday afternoon (thanks for the videos, Karen – I extracted a couple of stills from them). Both Vivian and Evan had so much fun.

But summer is over – as in the time of year when the kids are out of school, not the time of year when it isn’t like a sweaty armpit outside – and we’ve got a semblance of our lives back, at least during the week. One of these days when Jo isn’t out suping on the lake we’ll go and have our celebratory back-to-school drinks for brunch. Oh – she is looking for a boathouse on the water. Just a boathouse, not a home. Must have a bathroom. And a nice cozy space for her sup board.


In Virginia, Vivian and Evan got to hang with their cousins. And we did fun adult things with Aaron and Beth like visiting a brew pub and arranging a seafood boil. Not to take away from any of these fine activities and people, but we also got to go to the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News!

My family groans when we enter museums. I like to read everything and view everything s-l-o-w-l-y. If its a maritime museum, it feels as if time has stopped. Or even reversed. Jo first experienced this time freeze when we went to the maritime museum in Halifax many years ago when we were there for Michelle and Alu’s wedding (in a sad irony, as I type this Michelle and Alu are both in Halifax today for a less joyous event). About five years ago we went to the Vasa museum near Stockholm. That was a treat but also a torture because Jo and the kids were done and ready in a mere 5 hours!! So I was pleasantly surprised when Jo took Aaron’s suggestion to go see the Mariners’ Museum. Hell – it was pouring rain anyway and admission is just a buck. One dollar. What could go wrong?

I won’t bore you with the details. If you are interested in the first battle of the ironclads, this is where they are restoring the salvaged remains of the USS Monitor. This tank below contains the full 21 1/2 foot rotating turret of the ship, slowly being electrolysed back into life after having spent a hundred years in her watery grave. The photo above is a model of the Monitor’s arch enemy, the CSS Virginia, and in the background is a full scale mock of the ship.

The Monitor and the Virginia were the world’s two first ironclad battleships to do battle. They pounded each other at close range for hours on a March morning in 1862 in the calm enclosed waters between Newport News and Norfolk and changed the course of naval battles and American history from that moment forward. Neither ship won, but neither ship suffered much damage. According to historians, if the Monitor had not arrived when she did, the Virginia may instead have steamed north up the Potomac and shelled the White House and the Capitol with impunity and today we wouldn’t be trying to outlaw the Confederate Flag.

[photo credit to the Library of Congress at

The museum tells the fascinating story of how both these ironclads came about and the circumstances of their first meeting. I hurried through everything as fast as I could, finished, walked back to where the family was waiting patiently, and realized that this was just one exhibit in the fascinating museum. If you are within a hundred miles of this place, go take a look. Even Vivian, Evan, and Jo would agree.

College Tour

Our little baby is starting high school in a week. And our littler baby is headed for middle school. Being the plan-years-ahead types of parents we are decidedly not, we surprised ourselves by driving Vivian and Evan around a few college campuses while we travelled. Jo got the idea from a friend with a son of Vivian’s age. We drove to or through Colby, Harvard, MIT, Yale, Vasser, Washington College (Jo’s alma mater), URI, and William and Mary. We were in the neighborhood of Brown and Johns Hopkins, and perhaps a handful others that we didn’t get to. While it would be wonderful if Vivian or Evan have to choose between these schools, that is unlikely and moreover it isn’t the point. We wanted to show them what campuses look like and to inspire them a bit. And we would have had to literally drive out of our way to avoid most of these colleges. Besides, my philosophy about colleges and their campuses is simpler: go to the best college that will have you. Period. Of course I say that after having enjoyed the campuses of the Hyderabad Public School and Pilani, which makes me sound pretty damn insincere.

We had a joke about these campuses. They are all, with the exception of MIT and a couple others, old and prestigious liberal arts colleges. But they award degrees in the sciences and often engineering too. These colleges have different buildings for Jewish Studies and African American Women’s Studies but there was usually The So-and-So Science Hall. Science is a nice umbrella term, but come on. Now, I admit that here too I’m guilty of hypocrisy. In Pilani, the physics, chem, and bio departments were all in the S-Block but it was a small school with only four interconnected buildings for all the different academic departments. Going further back, in HPS we learned science till the 7th grade. From the 8th grade Biology, Physics, and Chemistry are different subjects with their own textbooks and separate teachers and labs. So I am more than weirded out by the American system of learning “science” well past one’s tweens. But judging by the number of Nobel prize winners in the sciences (haha) from the US versus India, I should let that one pass, shouldn’t I?

Vivian and Evan enjoyed the brief visits and Vasser, Yale, and Harvard were Vivian’s favorites. These kids may belong to the last generation whose parents are willing to pay ridiculous sums of money to institutions associated with historic buildings and campuses. Delivery of high quality higher education in other ways will happen within a few decades. So if you’re Evan’s offspring reading this blog post in 2050, I can understand if you are bewildered. What is this so-called “college tour” you “blog” about, Grandpa?


Growing up I didn’t enjoy history lessons at school. It was this dry pedantic subject filled with dates and facts that were perhaps imbued by historians with greater precision than they meritted. I could “mug” – the word used in the Hyderabad Public School for memorize. So I could easily fill four sheets of single ruled foolscap paper in neat cursive writing in Parker Washable Royal Blue ink about the details of the battle between Alexander and Porus in 326 BC. Or how Muhammad bin Tughlaq hastened the downfall of the Delhi Sultanate during his disastrous reign in the 1300’s though he was a genius. I got top grades but history had no fascination for me. Besides, it is burdened by one huge unredeemable fact. It’s in the past. When you are 13, life is about the present. And perhaps the future.

Understandably I wasn’t jumping with excitement when Jo planned a visit to the site of the Battle of Yorktown in Virginia with Aaron as our guide. I went along and hoped that the kids would find it interesting.

Sometime during the last few decades historians have recreated the earthen lines of the allied forces from historical data. The French and Washington’s troops attacked Cornwallis and his English troops holed up in Yorktown in October 1781. The French provided a naval blockade along the York river to prevent the British from resupplying from the water. Aaron explained all this as we walked along the trenches and earthworks, imagining cannon balls and mortar shells raining down on both sides that were separated by less than half a mile. Then we walked up to Redoubt Number 10. Redoubt is a new word in my vocabulary. We learned from Aaron that it is an enclosed defensive fortification that is usually separate from the main fort and is a often a raised earthen structure. In the case of Yorktown the redoubts had steep earthen walls and sharpened timber palisades and trenches under them that made scaling the redoubt difficult, especially when someone from above was shooting musket balls at you.

Here’s what happened according to the Army College website (

With their stores dwindling, the British tried to defend the town as the Americans began construction of another, closer trench line. The second trench line was directly under the fire of the last two redoubts the British forces held, allowing Cornwallis’ men to pour artillery onto the troops digging furiously. Washington and his French counterpart, Lieutenant General Comte de Rochambeau, realized the only way they could complete the second line of trenches, and thus get their troops and artillery close enough to storm the town, was to take the two last redoubts.

On the evening of October 14th, two assault parties formed to attack the two redoubts, designated “Redoubts 10 and 9.” A French band under Major General Baron De Viomenil began their attack on Redoubt 9, while LTC Alexander Hamilton commanded the Americans attacking Redoubt 10. Both forces numbered 400 men, and neither had loaded weapons. Instead, the troops fixed their bayonets and followed teams of sappers to the bases of the redoubts. Each redoubt was surrounded by an abatis, or sharpened tree branches tangled together similar to modern day barbed wire, which required the sappers to tear down. The Soldiers, now under heavy musket fire from the British, dropped fascines (bundles of sticks tied with yarn) into the ditch surrounding the redoubt, and placed ladders to climb the sides of the fortification.

The fighting within the redoubts digressed into violent hand-to-hand combat. Washington reported on the assault, simply stating the allies “advanced under the fire of the Enemy without returning a shot and effected the business with bayonet only.” The French captured one hundred and twenty British and Hessian soldiers in thirty minutes, while the Americans captured seventy in Redout 10.

The next morning, the second line of trenches included the two redoubts, allowing the Americans and French to bombard the British incessantly. The British commanders realized there were no reinforcements coming and supplies were running dangerously low. Finally, on the October 17th, Cornwallis sent a drummer boy and an officer to discuss the terms of his surrender.

Vivian and Evan had of course learned about Hamilton’s role not from history books at school but thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda, so they sang it from the walls of the redoubt.

Cornwallis’ surrender marked the end of the last major battle in the American war of independence. Having lost here, the British next sent him to the Raj as the Governor General of India. Aaron pointed out that this one man was responsible for trying to subjugate people on both sides of our family. History is a lot more fun when you learn about it standing on what was once a blood stained battlefield. And when you have a personal dislike for the enemy commander. Asshole.

Speaking of Statues

When we were in Virginia Beth found this pretty amazing place for us all to visit. So five cousins and four adults drove over, parked, and then found this post apocalyptic graveyard of 43 oversized US presidential busts. Once they adorned a private park nearby but it went bust (haha) so they were slated for demolition at the concrete and stone crushing business where they still rest today. To bring them here, the top of each head was broken open to expose the steel framework inside. Then the bust was attached by chain through that opening to a crane and rocked it back and forth till it came loose from its pedestal. The 5-10 tonne statues were hoisted on flatbeds and driven over and deposited unceremoniously here. Abe fell off the truck and the back off his head is blown off. Art imitating life?

Grass and shrubs grows around busts. In some places the ground is squelchy and our provided rubber boots sank ankle deep into smelly muck. We wandered around the statues and assigned their dominant personalities to them. Washington the general. Abe the uniter. Clinton smirking slightly. “It depends on what the meaning of the word is is”. Senior Bush with his lipless frown. Shrub trying to do the tough guy look but ending up only looking vacant.

The statues are one of three series made by Houston artist David Adickes. The first presidential park was in South Dakota near Rushmore in the hope that after people had partaken the giant forms of Washington, Jefferson, Abe and Teddy, they’d want more. The private enterprise didn’t work out but the statues are apparently still there nestled among towering evergreens at the foothills of the Black Mountains. The statues resting now at this stone crushing facility in Virginia was the second attempt. New busts await in Adickes’s outdoor studio under Highway 59 in the middle of Houston, slated for a third presidential park in nearby Huntsville.

A photographer of discarded buildings and his friend give tours of the Virginia statues in the evenings when the stone crushing plant isn’t working. Admission goes towards one day rehabilitating the busts. The guide has a presidential quiz for visitors. Aaron knew most of the answers. I was the first to only answer one. What shipment did JFK receive hours before signing the Cuba Embargo in 1962? Cuban cigars. Specifically 1200 Upmann petits.

I don’t know if the kids learned any history. Perhaps just the weird human need for immortality.

Toppling Statues

I’ve been wondering about statues. Evan stood next to the seated 19-foot white marble Abe at the Lincoln Memorial last week. Lincoln looks worn and tired after the war even as he stares stonily towards a distant horizon with resolve. The world’s tallest statue was completed in India a couple of years ago. It is a statue of Vallabh Bhai Patel, a freedom fighter and founding father. That it was built in recent times is as amazing as its size – three times taller than Liberty. In the US and England, we are busy toppling statues of people who were once heroes and are today recognized as being boobs. Morals change faster than statues erode.

U.S. troops pulled down a giant statue of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein hours after coalition tanks rolled into the center of Baghdad. At school, you learned history from a book, or a computer, or a television. You did not learn it from a statue. Statues don’t educate, they celebrate.

I gave an AI at the above paragraph (taken from two different articles on the internet) and asked it to write me a blog post. It asked me some simple questions and had me select from a few options and 30 seconds later I have a blog post. I’d like to think the AI isn’t as good as me yet (and I recognize that I’m not very good). In the Conclusion section she seems to have gone off the rails. And she does like to drop names. But in the near future, passable essays will be written by AIs. What does that mean for writers and consumers of text? Should Evan practice writing or coding?

Anyway, here’s what writesonic’s AI produced.

What happens when you Remove a Statue: A Thought Experiment

– written by an AI

U.S. troops pulled down a giant statue of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein hours after coalition tanks rolled into the center of Baghdad. At school, you learned history from a book, or a computer, or a television. You did not learn it from a statue. Statues don’t educate, they celebrate.

When a statue disappears, so does the history that it represents. Then comes a gap in our collective memory that would never have happened had the statue not been there in the first place. I was speaking to a Muslim student at a U.S. college who told me how horrified she was to hear her grandparents and great-grandparents call the U.S. a criminal empire that killed and displaced millions in the name of “freedom and democracy” in Iraq. Most Americans are not as familiar with Saddam Hussein as they are with our vice president, Dick Cheney, who told his staff to forget the new Iraq. “Let’s not lose the old one.” Saddam has been dead for seven years. Osama Bin Laden for more than a decade.

What happens when you remove a statue?

They are removed, defaced, or destroyed. The person might be made a martyr, as in the case of the Chinese terrorist, Guo Boxiong, who was made a martyr by the Chinese for refusing to do his duty in World War II, or the South African apartheid martyr, Steve Biko, who was made a martyr by the South African government. The journalist Roger Cohen uses the phrase “cultural cleansing,” which I agree is a bit of a misnomer. He means “the destruction of ethnic identity,” which is one approach, but I disagree. People have always been motivated by identity, but the reason we insist on education is to increase understanding.


Dionysus, the goddess of wine, came out of the mist and carried the pallbearers of Virgil to the valley of the dead. In the Grove of Kousoul, the remains of those who have conquered death and returned to life are re-enacted by the god. Many goddesses and goddesses-in-training are cast into the underworld, but Dionysus will ensure their victory over death. Because Greek mythology and its myths make the world, it seems myopic to not at least acknowledge that it exists. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than watching the moon fill a dark sky. We do not know what we do not know. The moon is majestic and elusive and impressive and helps me appreciate the power of the earth.