Thursday, July 30, 2009

Congratulations to my friend Phil Johnston, who has been named one of "10 Screenwriters to Watch" by Variety!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I'll be talking about the book on the Milt Rosenberg show on WGN-AM (720) in Chicago tonight after the Cubs game (around 10 o'clock Central Time). Tune in if you can - and let's hope the game doesn't go into extra innings!

UPDATE: Well, the game ran too long, so the interview will have to be rescheduled. Bummer.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Went to watch the world swimming championships this morning with my friend Neil. Check out his blog for some cool pictures.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Life in the Foreign Service... We haven’t even been in Rome for a year yet, but Allyson has already started looking for her next post. Her “bid list” came out this week, and, while it’s far too early to tell where we might end up, it will undoubtedly be somewhere far from Rome (in every respect). This week we’ve begun researching things like Internet connectivity in Rangoon, the feasibility of shipping two cats to Ulaanbaatar, and cell phone rates in Hanoi. Fortunately, we still have another full year to enjoy Rome – but now we can hear the clock ticking!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


I've always been fascinated by the case of Phineas Gage. One day in 1848, he was working on a railroad in Vermont. There was an accidental explosion. An iron bar shot through the air - and passed directly through Gage's head, entering the skull beneath his left eye. His left frontal lobe was pierced, but the wound healed and Gage would resume a more or less normal life. He would live another 12 years - though his friends claimed he was never the same as before the accident. No wonder. Gage's skull is on display at Harvard's medical school, but not much else is known about him. But as this article explains, a post-accident photograph (a daguerreotype, actually) that appears to show Gage (and the iron rod!) has recently surfaced. And, you know, I don't think he looks too bad.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Here's a nice review of the book in the Baltimore Jewish Times.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Well, I found out why I was looking so miserable on the Fourth of July. Turns out I had (and still have) a herniated disc in my neck. Which means I have to wear a neck brace for the next two weeks. But at least I get to take steroids, which should do wonders for my batting average.
Rest in peace Henry Allingham.

Friday, July 17, 2009

I went to see Jon Anderson in concert here in Rome last night. As I’m sure many of you know, he was the lead singer of Yes, the 1970s progressive rock juggernaut that is near and dear to my heart. Jon is on a small solo tour of Europe right now. (Meanwhile, Yes, with a replacement lead singer, is currently touring America. It’s a long story.)

The concert was held outdoors in Villa Adda, a park on the north side of the city. The attendance couldn’t have been more than 300 or so, so it was a pretty intimate affair. We all pulled our plastic chairs right up the edge of the stage. I went with my friend Neil, and we sat less than 20 yards from Jon.

It was a nice, mellow concert. Jon played at least bits of lots of Yes songs: And You and I, Roundabout, I’ve Seen All Good People, Owner of a Lonely Heart, Long Distance Runaround, Starship Trooper, Yours Is No Disgrace, etc. His forays into his solo catalog were mercifully brief.

What surprised me was how frail he appeared. He'll turn 65 this fall and he's had some health issues for the past few years, including a broken back and chronic asthma. But he’d always seemed ageless to me. Not anymore. He had to use his inhaler several times during the show (though all the smokers crowded at the front of the stage didn’t help). He moved slowly and even seemed to have trouble putting his guitar back on its stand when he was done with it.

Alas, none of us is getting any younger, least of all yours truly. More on that later...

Friday, July 10, 2009

A "friend" recently directed me to this website. I think it's kind of "fun."

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Faithful readers may remember how I had a piece of glass stuck in my heel for nearly a month last fall. Well, this kid from my hometown of Perkasie, Pa., has got me beat by a mile: He had a piece of tape stuck in his right lung for two years! Incidentally, if you're as fascinated with foreign objects in human bodies as I am, you most definitely need to visit the Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, which boasts an impressive collection of objects swallowed and removed - and the instruments used to remove them. Good stuff.

Monday, July 06, 2009


My friend Neil took this picture of me at the embassy's Fourth of July party. He thinks I look angry. I think pensive is more like it. He also took this infinitely more appealing picture of Allyson (far right) and some friends:

Sunday, July 05, 2009

I haven't posted any good (mis)uses of "literally" lately, but I caught this one in today's New York Times: Speaking about Sarah Palin, her spokesperson said, "The world is literally her oyster." Incidentally (and for what it's worth), I predict Sarah Palin will un-resign before her resignation takes effect.

Saturday, July 04, 2009


Found this when I was rummaging through stuff at my mom and dad's old house last month. It's my dad's plane ticket from their honeymoon. They flew to Bermuda, which was a pretty swanky honeymoon for a union plumber and a registered nurse in 1951. The cost of each round-trip ticket was $97.75, which (according to this website anyway), equals about $820 in today's dollars. As you can see, they flew Colonial Airlines, a Canadian outfit that was bought by Eastern Air Lines in 1956. (Eastern went belly up in 1991.) I also found a brochure from the resort they stayed at: Elbow Beach Surf Club, which is now part of the Mandarin Oriental hotel group. I guess they had a good time. They were in Bermuda from October 21 to October 25. My eldest sibling was born the following July 24.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


Had a great time in New Orleans (despite the heat and humidity). Allyson had a lot of fun catching up with old friends and I enjoyed making some new ones. Now that we're back in Rome, Allyson is hard at work getting ready for next week's G8 Summit, which the boss is attending. (This boss, not this one.) Meanwhile, the book is excerpted in the latest issue of The Pennsylvania Gazette, the alumni magazine of the University of Pennsylvania (where I earned my degree in folklore). Click here to read it, if you are so inclined. And my interview with Bob Edwards was rebroadcast on the weekend version of his show last weekend. (Click here for information on how to listen to it.) Looking forward to a big Fourth of July party tomorrow night!