Author Archives: markfrombethesda

About markfrombethesda

A recovering quantitative political scientist, after having grown up and being educated in Texas I have recently retired from the exciting world of government consulting and research in Washington, DC. I have a lovely wife, lovely adult daughter, and lovely home in a lovely suburb of a largely lovely city.

Taking it off

Every 10 years or so I contemplate shaving off my beard. I’ve been with some form of facial hair for about 40 years. I had a full beard in grad school and various time since. A goatee for at least the past 15-20 years, save a one week break when went to Paris, I believe. I have been truly clean-shaven probably less than a cumulative month since the early-mid 1970s. I think that since I’m approaching my 62nd birthday I’m old enough to try something different, so I thought I’d shave it all off, at least for a few days – let the long-shaded dermis experience some sunlight and fresh air, learn to fear the razor, all that stuff.

I know my bride prefers my having a beard since I don’t exactly have a strong chin, and the beard covers more of my ugly mug. However, I’m about 20 pounds lighter than I was the last time I was beardless, so we’ll have to see if she swoons.

The most memorable response to having shaved was when my daughter, Emily, was about 4 I think, I shaved and her response was “shave it back on, daddy!”

We leave for our place in Michigan in 3 days, and i can grow it back in about 3 weeks, so, we’ll see how this goes.

Here are some step by step pics:









Godzilla (1998)

With Matthew Broderick. Really awful. One can only surmise Broderick watched this and decided Broadway was a better option. We saw him with Nathan Lane in The Producers and he was great. Maybe he just doesn’t do well with heavy FX action comedies, which is what this hoped to be. There was a lot of FX, of course, and it was all better than any of the dialogue.

Supernova (2009)

SyFy. Brian Krause, Najarra Townsend. Your typical astrophysicist assembles a team to find a way to shield Earth from a devastating burst of radiation released. By an unstable star in a nearby galaxy thriller. It’s only 87 minutes, so it’s got that going for it. A scientist with an awesomely bad Russian accent, some mysterious middle eastern bad guys who don’t understand all the nukes we are sending into space are for good, not evil, a wife & daughter struggling an dessert road to get to shelter in that old cave the family used to visit, and the usual tornadoes being whipped up by the impending doom are all just added bitter flavors to this truly bad movie. SyFy is awesome. They must spend tens or even hundreds of dollars on special effects, possibly getting a two-fer as the same crack team of experts could do FX and script.

Prince Valiant (1998)

Katherine Heigl, Ron Perlman, and some others you will recognize are featured in this really bad movie from 1998. While some segments of some of the sword fights are mildly amusing the dialogue is only terrible, the costumes don’t suck, the special effects are of a level that would be envied by most middle-school productions, and the use of little people as fodder for catapult ammo is probably wrong for a number of reasons, but while understandable, poorly implemented. As a Doctor Who fan, I was particularly unimpressed with the reanimation of the Valiant’s true love at the movie’s end (oh, I’m sorry if this spoiler ruins the movie for you), so closely mimics elements used in the Doctor.

There are probably few who read Prince Valiant in the comic strips. I was an infrequent reader. It is not a stand alone, it tell an ongoing story, and much like today, my attention span for such was a bit limited. The comic artist Hal David started Prince Valiant in 1937 (yes, 1937) and it has now run more than 3900 Sunday strips and is in over 300 newspapers, so this has been, one can surmise, a pretty successful enterprise.

In my humble opinion, it’s fortunate it started as a comic strip, although, 3900 strips x 72 square inches x 300 newspapers = ~585,000 square feet or about 13.4 acres of paper that could have been spared over the years had the movie come first. I am 100% certain that if the movie had been the lead, this saga would have been a short one. I think it’s a should see if you really enjoy bad movies. Don’t expect truly awful. Just bad.

Terrorism on our shores

While I was serving caffeine yesterday morning, a young man with some form of mental illness was walking through the halls of an elementary school in Connecticut killing children. More to the point of my discussion, he was shooting children.

If he had been born in Saudi Arabia, trained in Yemen for the task, flown into Canada, and come across the border for the task, having then retrieved his weapons of mass destruction from a safe house two blocks from the school, the country would, today, be demanding that we go to war to avenge these deaths. There would be cries that we must build walls to protect us from invaders from the north, that we must more carefully screen who is able to come into the country, that those whose names sound so very foreign to our ears should be more carefully screened and watched, because they may bring terror to our towns.

But since the terror was brought to bear by one of our own, it will be “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

If these children had been in a school bus that caught fire and had burned, there would have been a cry to make sure busses didn’t burn. If the bridge they were riding across collapsed, there would be investigations demanding oversight and safer bridges. If they had all had their morning milk and died from bacterial poisoning, there would be Congressional hearings today on how could such danger be allowed near our youth? But if it’s someone brought guns, with magazines that hold enough ammunition to slaughter classrooms of children, well, that’s American freedom.

No, that’s sick. It is time for the President to lead and Congress to get out of the way, and the NRA to accept some real responsibility for gun safety. Ban assault weapons, again. Ban the sale and manufacture of ammo clips that hold more that one can use for hunting (3-5 shells), and make the possession of these an immediate jail term. And yes, require that those that exist should be confiscated. Please let them pry them from your cold dead fingers. Grow up. It’s life, it’s not a television show, you are not a great gunslinger, you are not going to save the day by shooting the bad guy. You are far more likely to leave it lying around after having shot some dangerous tin cans and have some child pick it up and kill themselves than you are to do anything of any social importance by toting your gun. It is time for reasonable gun laws.

when to let a old friend die

how do you know when it’s just time to let go? when is it time to stop the heroic efforts that keep one going, but will never make one whole again? how do you know when it’s time to no longer spend your hard=earned money on one soon to be gone regardless of anyone’s efforts? Yep, our Volvo wagon is on life support and we are probably going to pull the plug. The other day, at 4:30 AM, as I started off to work, the car started and I left smoothly, then noticed none of the dashboard lights worked. The external lights worked fine, and through the flickering street lights I could tell that neither the speedometer nor tach worked, and neither did the gas gauge or any of those handy things. So, I couldn’t be sure how fast I was going nor when I was going to run out of gas. Other than that, it was fine. I checked with my friendly Volvo repair guy, who I actually trust, and has done right by us many times, “Oh yes, we see this frequently on the model a couple of years newer than yours, the hyperdrive control and command module” or something like that. That part I don’t distinctly remember. This part I do: $1200 for the part alone. We had considered selling this car 4 years ago. It was worth $3000 then. Hmmmm.

We just recently replaced the radiator, it has tires with less than 5,000 miles on them, it looks nice, but it has problems with karma. We probably need to be a one car family. I took it to Carmax. On the way there, the electronics started working – good karma, maybe a sign. Perhaps it’s a play on words Karma – Carma – x . They offered me $3000. It’s like 4 years never happened. Or that’s the scrap value of the Volvo Wagon.

Maybe it’s just time to let it go. We’ll see.

Serving coffee

In July I began working at Starbucks. In part it was to see what I could do after my strokes, in part to keep me from using the term “Amyloidosis” too often after having heard it several times each day on House, MD reruns, and in large part, it was to let me get medical insurance.

I was lucky enough to get a position at a high volume neighborhood store in Chevy Chase, just inside the District line. The manager is a great guy. Annette, a neighbor of mine, who helped me get the job, is a long-time employee, and our clientele are some of the DC power elite along with some just very nice people.

I’ve never shied away from manual labor. Given my druthers, I’d opt to watch a football game rather than dig post holes, but even though I’ve made an excellent living for the past quarter century using my brain, since some of the key chunks of that handy organ that allows one to process numbers rapidly and concentrate for extended periods were zapped during a weekend in early June of 2010 marked by a delightful outing to a friend’s very exclusive golf club and a less nice outing to a wonderful stroke center at the emergency ward at a hospital about a driver and lob wedge from our house, that option, returning to the world of using my noggin to mess with numbers was closed. I needed something else to do. Starbucks always received excellent marks as a place to work, and I thought it would be a good option for me.

Working at Starbucks is tough. You’re on your feet moving along a narrow corridor for 4-8 hours while taking orders, making drinks and trying not to spill things. It became clear fairly soon after I started that making drinks more complicated than coffee was something that may take considerably longer than the two weeks many baristas take to learn how to make most of the drinks in the Starbucks coffee universe. It is also fun. The customers are generally pleasant, even in stores such as ours, which is a haven for many of the Washington famous and near famous. A member of the Court (yes, THE court), PBS types, and nannies from many countries with lovely children from lovely parents in tow are daily visitors, each standing in the long line to order their cappuccino or latte, or the occasional cup of coffee. No one tries to pull rank, no one uses the “don’t you know who I am?!” line, most smile and make small talk, many drop their change in the tips jar, many leave much more. To those of us who are providing the caffeine that gets them going, we are generally afforded at least a bemused respect. I think many are genuinely dazzled by the level of competence that can be brought to the act of ordering and delivering the thousands of permutations of drinks available.

The people I work with are an interesting and generally affable mix. Young, old (not old like me, but middle-aged), students, searchers, time-biders, parents, just plain folks working and then going off to life. Much like those who provide the endless stream that pay and pay for coffee based drinks. Most of our customers are friendly and frequently somewhat flattered when we know what they are going to order. I am only beginning to recognize some regulars. Michael, who opens regularly (that’s getting there around 4:30 AM), knows about 80% of everyone who shows up before 8 AM’s drinks and is a delight for a newbie to work with.

The only things I do well are work pretty hard, and tend the cash register. Starbucks likes to put a premium on the customer’s entire experience, so even though I am not making your Grande Peppermint Latte, I will take your money and send you on your way, hopefully with the correct drink and certainly with less money than you came in with. And, as a bonus, I’ve lost at least 10 pounds in the months I’ve been working. I think I’ve been drinking coffee too long to be any type of aficionado or can appreciate the subtle differences promised by each. But I do appreciate well run machines, and while only a cog, I find it interesting to watch.

The Election –

I would have said this if I were smart enough, but Rachel Maddow’s quote sums it up:

“Ohio really did go to President Obama last night, he really did win. He really was born in Hawaii, and he really is, legitimately, president of the United States again. And The Bureau of Labor Statistics did not make up a fake unemployment rate last month. And the Congressional Research Service really can find no evidence that cutting taxes on rich people grows the economy. And the polls were not skewed to oversample Democrats. And Nate Silver was not making up fake projections about the election to make conservatives feel bad. Nate Silver was doing math.

“And climate change is real. And rape really does cause pregnancy sometimes. And evolution is a thing! And Benghazi was an attack on us, it was not a scandal by us. And nobody is taking away anyone’s guns. And taxes have not gone up. And the deficit is dropping, actually. And Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. And the moon landing was real. And FEMA is not building concentration camps. And UN election observers are not taking over Texas. And moderate reforms of the regulations on the insurance industry and the financial services industry in this country are not the same thing as communism.”

I might add, my GOP friends can continue to ignore all this, and we will love having Hilary as president for 8 years and your party will go the way of the Know-Nothings or the Whigs, or you can decide to join the 21st century and add something to governing besides spite and vitriol. Or not. Have a nice day.

Sorry, I’ve been out

I’ve been trying out a variety of other blogging venues/platforms and haven’t found anything that floats my boat enough to make me abandon wordpress for good. anyway, it’s been a good couple of days, what with the healthcare law surprise, the toasty days we’re having (it’s about 100 here today in the shade), and many excellent things to watch on the tube (Olympic trials in swimming and track & field).

Emily has been home for the past few months and is less than 2 weeks away from moving to Thailand. No, that is not some small village in the piney woods of east Texas. When I was 23 I am damned sure that the thought of moving literally to the other side of the world was out of scope for me. I am hugely proud of her, anxious that she be successful and as always, only really concerned that she be healthy and happy. You are only as happy as your saddest kid, and while she is no longer a child, she is still our only kid, so . . .

I am still looking for employment. Am I sorry that I had parts of my brain fried by strokes and can’t do what I used to do? Sure. However, I have a job lined up at a Starbucks that I am excited about, but am having to wait for their computer systems to purge me from a 60 day window before I can reappear in their DC database so they can hire me. Yes, I know, it is a “huh”? Trust me, I’ve tried that, whatever it is you are going to suggest, so has the store manager, sometimes the bureaucracy is so large that you can’t just shove it aside, even when that is the clearest course. So, in a few more weeks I will be that barista at the Starbucks in Chevy Chase with a Ph.D.

I am totally cool with that.

I have a daughter with a college degree from a great school who has the cojones to move around the world to teach and learn about others and herself, a ridiculously hot wife who is about to become a member of a society that is 375 (yes three hundred and seventy-five) years old in London, three dogs (only 1 is actually ours, 2 are Emo’s), a cat, a pond full of fish which we have raised since the Clinton administration, a house in Bethesda so close that I walk in to an excellent Irish pub where the bartender (Paul) knows our name and frequently provides me with free Guinness. Life is good.