Philadelphia: City of Brotherly Love & Good Movies


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Independence Hall, Philadelphia, where the US Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were debated and adopted
(Photo by Ellen Miller)

Reviews by Ellen Miller:

We were back in Philadelphia this year for their terrific film festival, having missed last year because of other travel. This was our 5th or 6th year attending, and every year we enjoy our long weekend, crammed with outstanding films.  

How many films can you see in a day you might ask?. Our record one year was five; generally our pace is three, but if we try hard enough (and decide not to eat anything other than popcorn), we can make four. Not surprisingly we can’t recall all the film names from memory, but, astonishingly, we remember the story, the direction, or cinematography, or the overall impact of each one. Not every film we saw this time is ‘for us,’ but we’ve come to appreciate what film artists are doing as they hone their craft.

There was great diversity in our choices this year. The films we saw came from around the world: Australia, Korea, Austria, France, the Vatican, Romania, China, England, and the US. There were documentaries (Varda by Agnes, The Australian Dream, Leftover Women); commentaries about current social/economic inequities (Parasite, So Long My Son, Les Miserables, Sorry We Missed You); stories of modern day heroes (A Hidden Life, Just Mercy, The Two Popes,); insights into modern day life (Marriage Story).  Some of the films we saw fit more than one of these categories.

So, in the order we saw them:

Parasite    Ellen *****    Richard ***

An avant-garde South Korean film by well-known director Bong Joon-Ho, this film focuses on the economic and social disparity between the poor and wealthy in ways that are sometimes outrageous, laugh-out-loud funny, shocking, and horrifying. A working poor family — mother, father, son, and daughter (all talented in some way but out of work and living on the edge) — worm their way into an upper class, clueless household to take advantage of them. The confidence game the family plays comes unraveled in unpredictable ways, with horrifying consequences. The plot and dialogue were clever and constantly surprising. But there were times when I had to cover my eyes.

Parasite is not a film for everyone (Richard gave it only three stars) and was certainly ‘over the top’ for me, but standing back and judging a film not from the perspective of “did I like it,” I can say this is a fine movie, if you can take it.

Just Mercy    Ellen *****     Richard *****

This is a bio-epic of a personal hero of ours – Bryan Stevenson – the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, the organization that has become a tireless and successful crusader for wrongfully accused death-row inmates in the Alabama prison system (and elsewhere around the country). The film is based on Stevenson’s book of the same title, which I know has justifiably been popular among readers. Two strong actors play the lead roles: Michael B. Jordan is cast as Stevenson; Jamie Foxx is cast as the inmate, Walter McMillan, whose wrongful conviction is the focus of this powerful story. The producer was Destin Daniel Cretton.

The film reveals how the state of Alabama made up murder charges against McMillan for the killing of a young white girl, and for which he is wrongfully convicted. It tells the story of how Stevenson and his team fought for his release. It is populated with other real clients of Stevenson’s, telling their own compelling stories. It also compellingly documents the steadfastness of Bryan Stevenson and his team at the beginning of their work some 30 years ago.

The greatness of this film is in the narrative, although the acting, particularly by Foxx, is very compelling. In sum, this film documents the ongoing unequal justice system that is driven by racism and hate.Adding to the evening was an after-film discussion that included Stevenson himself along with others involved in making the movie. Just Mercy is a must-see (and a must-read if you have not already done so).

Sorry We Missed You  –  Ellen *****  Richard *****

This film offers a devastating social critique featuring a hard-working British couple taken advantage of by an employment and economic system that doesn’t provide adequate pay or personal support in their jobs.  In the “gig” economy in which they operate, this family faces increasing financial debt along with emotional trauma of their children. As the husband and wife strive to cope, they are dragged further and further down. These are good people, beset by a system that simply doesn’t care.

Ken Loach who has tackled unfairness of political and economic systems in the past directs this British film. (This one is similar in tone and approach to another one we “enjoyed” several years ago in Philly, I Daniel Blake.) The acting is superb with Kris Kitchen and Debbie Honeywood in the leading roles. The movie is difficult to watch as the family spirals out of control.  There are no solutions at the end.

Another must-see.

(Richard: Probably my favorite of the 12 we saw.

Leftover Women    Ellen ****  Richard ****

Are Chinese women who reach their late 20s and early 30s “past their prime” for marriage? It appears that a lot of people in China think that way, and the pressure that is put on the unmarried women (many of them with professional careers) is old fashioned in this modern world. This is a story of a Chinese cultural transition (or lack thereof) regarding marriage.

In this thoughtful Chinese documentary (directed by Hilla Medalia and Shosh Shlam (oddly, both Israeli)) we learn about the marriage markets and government organized meet-ups as men and women search for mates (China has 30 million more men of marriageable age than women), and the pressures that women not yet married face from their families is enormous.

The film presents three personal stories: the first is of a woman lawyer who wants to marry but is already considered too old and too “aggressive.” (She ultimately finds a mate and makes compromises to live as good a life as she can); the second woman, under severe pressure from her family to find a mate, ultimately leaves China for a new and single life in Europe, losing her family in the process; and the third can’t seem to satisfy her mother who criticizes every possibility as inadequate.

The film is most moving in the very private and personal conversations with their families, all of which are filmed in real time.  

This is a very thought-provoking movie. See it if you can. E

The Whistlers  Ellen *   Richard **

A modern day international crime caper with a dozen or so major actors from one of Romania’s “new wave” directors — Corneliu Porumboiu. It was hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys (were there any good guys?). You need a diagram to keep the “game” straight, and without it, you’ll likely be as lost as we were.

The essential story is that a bad cop from Romania goes to the Canary Islands to learn a secret whistling language that is key to pulling off a heist, which involves collecting millions of “dollars” hidden in mattresses. This cop is joined by a femme fatale with a subplot of attempting to keep her boyfriend out of jail. All of the antics of this bunch take place in the dark, further obscuring who is doing what to whom or why.

The audience at Cannes apparently loved it. We did not.

So Long My Son  –  Ellen *****   Richard *****

I rolled my eyes as I sat down for this three-hour Chinese drama focusing on the impact of the one-child policy on two different families over a 40+ year period. But I got up three hours (and five minutes) later impressed by this well-paced, complicated, and tragic story. The director was Wang Xiaoshuai.

The film unfolds as a mixed chronology of these families’ lives, and while it was somewhat confusing at times, the whole was more than equal to the sum of its parts.  It presents a different narrative of the initiation of China’s one child policy and the psychological/social impact on their lives. This is a story of unspoken secrets, sorrow, and resentments. No spoilers here.

If you’re interested in China’s cultural and political history, this is a must see.

A Hidden Lif –  Ellen *****   Richard ****

This French period drama (set in 1943) is based on the true story of a devout Catholic man (Franz Jagerstatter, played by August Diehl)) who refused to pledge his support to the Nazi party. The family lives in an idyllic Austrian community, which becomes increasingly hostile toward him and his family until (and even after) his eventual arrest. Jagerstatter’s wife (played by Valerie Pachner) stands by his side as she continues to farm their land and raise her children. Her husband’s steadfastness in his principled opposition to the Nazis drives the beauty of the film.

The film’s director is Terrence Malick, and the film has dramatic pace (fueled by music) and stunning cinematography.  There is little dialogue and the thoughts and feelings are portrayed (slowly!)essentially though lighting, soundtrack and impressionistic images.This film came highly recommended, and we can see why. I suspect this will be nominated as a Best Foreign Film, and it could well win. 

I personally found it a bit over dramatic.

The Australian Dream  –  Ellen ****   Richard *****

We were attracted to this documentary because of our recent travels to Australia and our continued interest in the lives of the Aboriginal people. The film tells the story of one of the greatest players of the Australian Football League — Adam Goodes — and traces the rise of both Goodes’ career as a sports icon and fighter for indigenous peoples’ rights. Goodes was attacked and vilified for his outspokenness, particularly after he was named “Australian Of the Year” in 2014. The film presents a sobering reminder of the continuing racism and hatred that plagues every country in the world.

 The Australian Dream is composed of actual game footage, spliced with interviews with various observers of the political phenomena created by Goodes. Together these interviews present a multifaceted examination of Goodes’ sports activism and its impact.

This film was executive produced by former Australian basketballer (and current Philadelphia 76er) Ben Simmons by Good Thing Productions and Passion Pictures. Simmons was present at the film to discuss it afterwards.

Varda by Agnes  –  Ellen *****   Richard *****

Wow. Just Wow. 

We are latecomers to the superb talents of film director Agnes Varda and her phenomenal career. (We saw our first film by and about her several years ago at this same festival). This French documentary, which she directs and in which she is the only actor, was produced just before her death at age 90 in March of this year. It provides a time capsule of her 60-year career work in a charming, self-effacing way.

The structure of the movie is quite simple. We see and listen to a series of lectures that Varda is delivering to audiences in which she is discussing her inspirations, her creative process, and the goals of her work. These lectures are illustrated with examples of specific excerpts from her films. It is very much a “show” and not “tell” documentary. She discusses her work as a feminist, a woman sympathetic to the poor and downtrodden, and her love for her husband. It’s a phenomenal story – a memoir — of the artist by the artist. It is also an inspiration for others: artists, directors, and photographers.

It’s a must see. I was mesmerized by it, perhaps because of my continued interest in my ‘second career,’ photography.’ I wish I had taken notes. (Richard: So see it again if it becomes available.

Les Miserables   Ellen *****   Richard *****

Another Wow.

This film takes its title from the Victor Hugo book of the same name, but updates the situation to modern times. Do not go expecting a movie version of the play. What makes this French film so compelling is that the situation it depicts hasn’t changed since Victor Hugo published his book in 1862. It’s stunning and shocking.

The story: a new cop on the beat (played by Damien Bonnard) is paired with a racist cop (Alexis Manenti) and his driver (Djebril Zonga) who have highly suspect ways for keeping the peace. As they patrol their territory – largely a poor outlying Muslim neighborhood in Paris – problems develop and tensions between power factions in the neighborhood escalate quickly into an all out community riot. The police suddenly face a situation they can no longer control.

This is an all too familiar story of the suppressed and harassed lower classes and police brutality and while it takes place in Paris, it could be Baltimore or St. Louis. The ending is brutal, a warning, a primal scream.

A first time feature director Ladj Ly directs the film. I suspect we’ll hear more about him when it’s Academy Award time.

The Two Popes – Ellen ***** Richard *****

This film has US, UK, Italian, and Argentine roots. And, perhaps appropriately, we must thank God for the subtitles, since Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, German, Latin and English are all spoken in the film. The director is Fernando Meirelles. The acting of Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce will take your breath away. The dialogue is witty and brilliant, and amusing.

The film based on a 2012 meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and the future Pope Francis (then known as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio). Pope Benedict summons the Cardinal (an outspoken critic) to meet with him as faces a series of scandals and considers retirement (something that hadn’t been done in over six centuries). The intellectual jousting and sharing of ideas (they are ideological opposites) between these two men is mesmerizing and brilliant. I didn’t want it to end.

This will hit the big screens. It too is a must-see.

Marriage Story – Ellen **** Richard ****

The more I think about this film the less I l liked it. There is some very fine acting in parts (Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are the film’s stars), and it conveys the pitfalls of modern day marriage and divorce in a very subtle and compelling way. But something is missing that I can’t quite put my finger on. The director Is Noah Baumbach who is well known for various films about family relationships. Perhaps the characters are a bit too formulaic (self-interested, career driven New Yorkers) for my tastes.

Here we have a lovely young couple in New York: he is an up and coming stage director in New York; she’s an up and coming actress, very involved in his work. They have a young child. The wife is drawn to Los Angeles for a new role and uses that as an opportunity to take a break from coupledom, ultimately deciding she wants a divorce, an amicable divorce. But soon that amicable divorce becomes complicated, and mean and nasty, and out of the couples’ control. (Very stereotypical lawyers fight to get whatever they can get for their clients.) There are heart-rendering moments of love, heart-break, and fury which will tug at you.

I suspect this will be a popular film, despite my hesitations about it.


Before the Philly Film Festival we saw three films that are now generally available in movie theaters. A few highlights from them:

By The Grace of God    Ellen *****   Richard *****

This is the story of three men who take on the Catholic Church after experiencing abuse from the same priest during their youth. What
separates this film from others that deal with similar topics are the intimate portraits of each of these now middle-age men. The attempts of the church to excuse, coverup and take no action against one specific priest speak is ab outrage. The courage of the men to bring the issue forward was beyond brave. It was well filmed and acted.

The film is based on a true story in Lyon, France. There was a recent conviction (March 2019) of the Cardinal of Lyon for concealing the conduct of the priest.

We highly recommend it.

** *** **

Pain and Glory    Ellen *****   Richard ****

This was an absolutely stunning film by the great writer and
director Pedro Almodovar. It tells the story of a retired film director (played by Antonio Banderas) and his accomplishments and failures. It is exquisitely filmed and a story hauntingly told. Penelope Cruz is cast as the director’s mother and she is as mesmerizing as always.

** *** **

Downton Abbey    Ellen *  Richard **

I was a fan of the TV series. But the money it cost to make this two+ hour manufactured, multiple plot, extravaganza should have been spent on another TV season. In the film the characters were caricatures of themselves, the plot trite. and disjointed and the end was sappy.

Don’t bother.

Baseball Contest #1 Finalists


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Contest #1: Name the two teams who will make it to the 2019 World Series. Who wins it all and in how many games?

MillersTime contestants overwhelmingly predicted it would be the Yankees and the Dodgers.

Well that didn’t happen.

A number of you had either the Astros or the Nats but not both:

*Pernell Choren had the Brewers over the Astros in six.

*Rob Higdon had the Astros over the Cubs in six.

*Ron Davis had the Nats over the Yankees in seven.

*Brandt & Samantha Tilis had the Sox over the Nats in six.

*Hopeless Chris Eacho had the O’s over the Nats in four.

*Shawn Scarlett had the Astros over the Cubs in five.

*Ben Senturia had the Nats over the Yankees in six.

*Robert Smythe had the Dodgers over the Astros in six.

*Nellie Romero had the Astros over the Dodgers in six.

But there are two contestants who had both the Astros and the Nats in the World Series and thus are in the running for a ticket to the 2020 World Series:

*Jeff Friedman has the Astros over the Nats in six games. Jeff is a former MillersTime winner, perhaps more than once.

*Joe Higdon, father of Rob above, has the Nats over the Astros in six.

Hoping it will be a good WS.

And of course I hope that Joe is the winner and Jeff is the runner-up.

On the Way to Greenland…Iceland


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from Ellen Miller

Our take off point for our recent adventures in Greenland was the charming city of Reykjavik, Iceland. And after a wonderful trip there in February 2016  — viewing the Northern Lights, ice and snow covered landscapes, lakes, glaciers, and frozen waterfalls — we decided to further explore Iceland since it was the launching place for our 2019 Greenland trip. (Yes, Greenland alone would have been enough, but we generally leave few opportunities for adventuring on the table.)

This time in Iceland we headed north, about a five to six hour drive out of Reykjavik to the area known as the Diamond Circle.  We stayed on the shores of Lake Myvatn for our three nights in the area.

It was late August: there was no snow or ice or freezing temperatures, and nothing but green fields, ponies, sheep, and exquisite landscapes and waterfalls. There was also rain and fog. But the weather didn’t deter us. It was lightly raining most days, and the spray from the waterfalls was heavy (especially on the camera lens). It actually made for some lovely pictures.

First, a few photos from this, our second Iceland trip. then see below for a link to a short slide show if you want to see more.


In my photo album on Flickr, you will see 24 pix of some of the major sites we visited including Krafla Caldera (a place of geothermal activity generated by one of the country’s most explosive volcanoes); Dettifoss Waterfall (Europe’s most powerful waterfall) along with Selfoss and Hafragilsfoss Waterfalls; Jokulsargljufur Canyon (one of the deepest and most break-taking canyons in Iceland); and Asbyrgi Canyon (a place full of Icelandic folklore). We hiked in Dimmuborgir (a “lava forest” formed by an eruption that occurred some 2,300 years ago) and then warmed ourselves in hot thermal baths in Husavik.  On the way back to Reykjavik, we visited the beautiful Godafoss Waterfall.

Reykjavik is a delight, and I’m not sure you can get a bad meal there.  From coffee shops to “famous” hotdogs and a gourmet dinner, we stuffed ourselves as best we could in the short time we had there.

I wouldn’t mind going back for another visit.

To see the entire slide show (just 25 photos), use this link:  Ellen’s Recent Iceland photos.

For the best viewing, click on the little arrow at the top right of the first page of the link to start the slide show. If the slide show appears to start in the middle, scroll to the top of the page where you’ll see the little arrow in a box. Click on it.

See all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either). You may have to click on the two angled arrows facing each other on the very top right to get the full page. They are much sharper, and the larger format does more justice to them than the few above.

PS – If you missed our post on Greenland, check out: Greenland in Words & Photos

Why This Night Was Different


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Washington Post Photo

I’ve been a season ticket holder for each of the 15 years the Washington Nationals have been in DC.

That’s not as long as I’ve been a Red Sox fan – since I was seven years old, 69 years ago – nor have I been as obsessive about the Nats as I have been and am about the Sox. But I’ve attended approximately 20 Nats’ games each year since 2005 and enjoyed most of them.

After all, it’s baseball, which I love, and when watching the Nats, I don’t have to be afraid of high places or sharp instruments (my usual concern when watching the Sox). And in every game I’ve attended, I’m always looking for something I’ve never seen before.

Last night that ‘never seen before’ was not so much what happened on the field, though that was thrilling, but what happened in the stadium.

Bear with me for a bit of background and several diversions.

The Nats have won the NL East Division four times (2012, 2014, 2016, and 2017), but they’ve never won a post-season series and were eliminated from post-season play in each of those four years (often in game five).

That changed last night. (I’ll leave it to the water cooler pundits – do they still have water coolers? – to argue as to whether a one-game Wild Card playoff can be considered a post-season series.)

The game opened with the Nats’ franchise face, All Star pitcher, 35 year-old Max Sherzer, giving up a walk to the lead off batter and then immediately thereafter a home run to the Milwaukee Brewers’ second batter, Yasmani Grandal.

Bang. Down 0-2 after less than five minutes.

It got a bit worse in the second inning when Scherzer gave up his second home run, this time to Eric Thames. Now it was 0-3. Was this going to be a one and off and just another post-season heartbreak for the Nats and their fans?

Until the 8th inning nothing changed. Scherzer settled down, as he often does after giving up his usual two home runs a game, but he wasn’t sharp. Stephen Strasburg, 31, took over in the 6th inning and did what he’s been doing all season (18-6 for the year with 251 strikeouts), shut down the opposition though it was the first time he’s pitched as a reliever. Over his three innings, he only gave up two hits, struck out four, and kept the Nats in the game.

But they couldn’t score more than the one run they got in the third inning (a home run by Trea Turner). The Brewers pitchers shut down the Nats with just three hits through the first seven innings.

On came Brewers’ truly sensational All Star closer Josh Hader (138 strike outs in 75 2/3 innings this year…virtually unheard of in the history of baseball). He just needed to get the final six outs so his team could win the Wild Card game.

Another digression please.

The Nats started the 2019 season with great expectations and predictions of winning the NL East Division by nearly everyone who follows baseball. Then they lost 19 of their first 31 games. The Phillies, Braves, and Mets were looking good, and the Nats seemed headed for a dismal year.

Then they went 69-36 beginning in June to end with a 94-69 season record and a Wild Card playoff spot. The Brewers went 20-7 in September, even without their wonderful right fielder, All Star and 44-home run hitter Christian Yellich. Though the Brewers faltered in their final season series, the stage was set for one of baseball’s cruelest tests, a one play-off game to continue towards with World Series.

In the 8th inning of last nights’ 163rd game of the season, Hader faulted. Despite his 100+ fastball, he couldn’t keep the Nats off the bases (thanks to a disputed hit batsman to pinch hitter Michael A Taylor, a broken bat, bloop single to center by the aging and oft injured 35 year-old Ryan Zimmerman, and a walk to the dangerous but slumping MVP candidate Anthony Rendon).

Then the baseball Gods smiled on the Nats and rained on the Brewers’ fortunes when the 20 year old Juan Soto hit a sharp line drive to right, scoring two for the tie, and when 22-year old rookie Trent Graham  misplayed (bad hop?) that line drive, Rendon scored from first, giving the Nats a 4-3 lead. (Soto was tagged out between second and third but celebrated, along with the 42,933 fans in the stadium, despite his mistake in allowing himself to be the third out of the inning.)

Then in the 9th, on came the shaky Nats’ bullpen in the person of Daniel Hudson, who shut down the shocked Brewers and nailed the 4-3 victory, saving not only the game but also the reputation and confidence of the shaky bullpen and the play-off season for the Nats.

So why was this night different from all others as I indicated at the outset above?

For me. it was not that the Nats won, although I loved that.

It was not simply the manner in which they won, though that was thrilling too.

It was what occurred in the stands.

In the 15 years I’ve attend Nats’ games (approximately 300 games), I’ve never seen the Nationals’ fans as they were last night. From the time we entered the stadium until we left three and a half hours later, there was not a moment of silence. There was not just a buzz when we arrived; the fans were already making themselves heard. The cheering, flag waving, and chanting prior to, during, and at the conclusion of the game was something I’ve never seen or heard here before. The fans were not just loud (led by a speaker system and scoreboard that encouraged their emotions), they were relentless. Even when Scherzer put them in a hole right off, the fans were not silenced.

Another small diversion. When I went to the fourth game of the Red Sox World Series game in St. Louis in 2004 with the Sox up three games to zero and not having won a WS in the preceding 86 years, the truly wonderful Cards’ fans around me said the Sox would not win in four, not that night, not in St. Louis. Then Johnny Damon hit a lead off home run for the Sox into the Cards’ bullpen, and the air went out of the stadium.

Not so at Nationals Park last night.

The fans were on their feet as much as they were in their seats, a phenomena I’ve never seen in Washington, where the fans are not particularly vocal nor overly demonstrative.  (I’ve spent some time in Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs, and understand what it’s like to be with truly vocal and demonstrative fans.)

Last night, the fans were truly a part of why the Nats’ won. They never gave up, despite the dreaded feeling that the Nats were about to be eliminated once again.

Final diversion. I don’t know what people saw who were watching the game on TV, though I saw on Twitter from a long-time Fenway friend that at one point the camera showed eight straight TV shots of Nats’ fans holding their head(s) in their hands prior to that 8th inning rebound. But that’s not what I experienced in the stadium. I don’t mean to take anything away from what the Nats’ players, manager, and entire team accomplished. They truly never gave up (forgive that tired phrase) and never seemed to feel they were entirely out of it, a spirit they have shown for much of the season.

While there were a number of Nats’  ‘heroes ‘ in this win, it was the energy, voices, and the once in 15 years truly exuberant enthusiasm of the fans that I believe made the difference in DC last night.

Indeed, what a delight to walk out of the stadium and hear the sustained chanting and celebration of the 42,993 participants in this win.

PS – The Nats record since June, that 69-36 run. is a game and a half better than the 104-58 Dodgers did since June. Da Bums, who play in a much weaker Division than the Nats, better not take this team, nor its fans, for granted for the best of five starting Thursday.

Greenland: In Words & Photos


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Ellen and I have been fortunate to travel widely and see a world beyond where we live. Our recent trip to Greenland certainly ranks high on our list of favorites. It was remote. It was wild. It’s ancient culture is being challenged by modern society. It is quiet, and it is beautiful.

Our nine-day trip under the auspices of Natural Habitat Adventures & World Wild Life Fund included much of what makes exploring the world so enticing to us. It included:

*Truly awe-inspiring landscapes, seascapes, marine life, and the ‘magic’ of the Northern Lights.,

*The cultural issues, always of interest to us, were fascinating as the Inuit population moves from the Stone Age to the iPhone Age.

*Each day our activities placed us in a world where we were constantly confronted with new sights and insights.

*Each day and many nights were a photographer’s paradise.

*Our two expedition leaders were superb, with their planning of activities, their knowledge of all aspects Greenland, their ability to inform, to teach, and to help us understand and capture what we were experiencing. Plus their photographic advice and assistance helped all of us, no matter what kind of camera or experience each of us had.

*The Nat/Hab Base Camp was located in an isolated area that gave us a sense of Greenland which we could never have experienced if we were on our own.

*Excellent weather. Cold but no rain until our final day.

Briefly, after spending four days in northeast Iceland among waterfalls and scenic vistas, we met our group of 10 other travelers (three couples, three single women, and one single man) and one of our guides in Reykjavik. We flew from Reykjavik to Kulusuk in southeastern Greenland and went by helicopter onto Tasiilaq, a town of 2,000 (the total population of Greenland is only 57,000, despite the huge size of the island).

There we spent two days, hiking, boating (our first views of Arctic icebergs and whales), and learning about Greenland (three times the size of Texas, 80% covered by ice and snow, and if you circumnavigated the entire island going in and out of the inlets, you’d cover about the same distance as if you went around the world, 25,000 miles). We learned about its people and about its history, and we met several unforgettable individuals (both in Tasiiliq and throughout our trip.) We also had one incredibly clear night in Tasiiliq of Northern Light activity (see Ellen’s photos below and in her slide show, links below).

A four-hour boat ride took us to the NatHab Base Camp, a truly isolated, wilderness setting on the edge of the Sermilik Fjord. Base Camp consisted of eight individual tented cabins (heated and lanterned and containing ‘dry’ toilets) plus a number of other tented spaces for meetings, showering, eating, and storing of equipment. We had electricity during the daylight hours in the common spaces. The meals were terrific, and the entire camp was surrounded with a ‘modest’ electrified fence as a precaution against polar bear encounters. There was no wi-fi or cell connectivity.

From here we kayaked among the icebergs, spent hours on rubber rafted Zodiac boats exploring the fjords, glaciers, icebergs and sea life, and hiking. Each day seemed to focus on two major activities. One morning, for example, we spent three hours in the tiny town of Tinit, population 82 where we began to get a sense of life today in Greenland versus that of just a few decades earlier when the Inuit population lived in small sod and stone structures and existed solely on their ability to hunt and fish. That afternoon we kayaked amongst the glaciers in one of the fjords.

Words fail to adequately describe what we saw and what we will long remember, but Ellen’s photos will give you some sense of what we experienced over these five days at the camp and over our full nine days in Greenland. Think of them as a collage, not representing every aspect of what saw and did. I think they give you an overall picture of the beauty of the wilderness and the remoteness of the country.

We ended our time in the Base Camp by helicoptering back to the airport island of Kulusuk, population about 300, where we had one last opportunity, as we waited for our flight back to Iceland, to learn about another small town and the role the US military played there.

Then it was back to Reykjavik for one day and night (wonderful food) before flying the six hours back to DC.

As we often do, Ellen and I made a list of some of the best parts of the trip and a few Do’s and Don’ts for those of you who might consider such an adventure:

Words that Best Describe Greenland:

Ellen – Remote

Richard – Land in transition

Most Unforgettable Moment:

Ellen – Photographing the Northern Lights

Richard – First Zodiac trip in the Sermilik Fjord with its icebergs

­Best Day:

Ellen – Day 5 – Zodiacing all day, Haan Glacier, Diamond Beach, whale watching, photographing, and iceberg gawking.

Richard – Also Day 5, followed closely by the afternoon kayaking. (“This is what I came for.”)

What Exceeded Expectations:

Ellen – Weather and capturing the Northern Lights

Richard – The total NatHab experience – guides, plans, facilities, activities, and accessing people and places we never could have done on our own.

What Would You Return for:

Ellen & Richard – To see what changes take place over the next decade for the Inuits and the environment.

Do’s and Don’t’s:

Don’t put on your rain gear or “Mustang suit” with boots on.

And don’t put either of them on before visiting one of the ‘dry’ toilets. (Yes, you have to remove the gear to use ‘bush toilets,’ which are different than ‘dry toilets’.)

Don’t expect to have your passport stamped in Greenland

And don’t expect much internet connectivity.

Don’t try to bring back a Greenland sled dog puppy, no matter how cute they seem.

Don’t fall out of a Zodiac or kayak under any circumstances.

Don’t worry about everyday standards of cleanliness. They don’t apply and no one cares how long its been since you’ve showered.

Do read about the early explorations of Greenland before you go, and then continue that reading while you’re there and perhaps after you return. (We can make specific suggestions.)

Do pay close attention to what NatHab suggests you pack.

Do take a camera, any kind, and keep it with you at all times.

Since you will likely get to Greenland via Iceland, Do eat at least one of the best hot dogs you’ll ever (Yes! I said, “hot dogs”) from that cart in Reykjavik. (You probably should order two, and don’t miss the crispy onions.)

And here are a dozen of Ellen’s favorite photos from Greenland. Do use a big screen to get a high resolution, especially for those of the Northern Lights. You wouldn’t want to miss the stars and constellations she also captured.

If you want more, see the link below to her slide show of 65 photos.

To see Ellen’s entire slide show (65 photos), use this link: Thru Ellen’s Lens: Photos from Greenland.

For the best viewing, click on the little arrow at the top right of the first page of the link to start the slide show. If the slide show appears to start in the middle, scroll to the top of the page where you’ll see the little arrow in a box. Click on it.

See all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either). You may have to click on the two angled arrows facing each other on the very top right to get the full pageThey are much sharper, and the larger format blows away the 12 that you have seen above.

We Have a Winner


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Can’t we just be friends? Gleyber Torres (Yankees) and Mookie Betts (Red Sox), ASG, July 9.
Photo Credit: Ron Schwane

No doubt you’ve been anxiously awaiting the announcement of the first winner of the 2019 MillersTime Baseball Contests.

Contest # 3:

1. Name which League will win the All Star Game. 2. Name one AL team and one NL team who will be leading their Division July 9.

2. Tie-Breaker: Name the first MLB player to hit 25 HRS and the first MLB player to win 12 games.

A dozen of you got the right answer to Part 1 (American League) along with an AL & NL team leading in their Division:

Ed Scholl, Andrew & Noah Cate, Todd Endo, Jeff Friedman, Matt Wax-Krell, Brandt & Samantha Tilis, Chris Eacho, Justin Barasso, Maury Maniff, Jesse Maniff, Jon Frank, Tim Malieckal.

The Tie-Breaker separated the pack. Many of you seemed to choose individuals who were particularly good last year.

No one got both the first to hit 25 home runs (Christian Yellich) and the first to 12 wins (Lance Lynn).

But one of you did identify Yellich who just barely beat out Alonso and Bellinger:

So Tim Malieckal wins.

Prize: Bring a friend and join me for a Nats’ game in the second half of the 2019 season or a Nats’ game of your choice next year (except for Opening Day). If you can’t make it to DC, maybe I can make it to where you live, and we’ll see a game together there.

Notes: There were a few choices and comments that ‘deserve’ notice:

Jeff Friedman wrote, “Anyone who picks the AL this year is nuts.”

David Price (not the player but an unapologetic Yunkee fan) said the Sox and the Nats would be leading their Divisions at the All Star break. Neither were close.

Elizabeth Tilis:Yes. My own progeny, for whom I had high hopes at one point, picked the NL to win the ASG.

Ed Scholl is the Runner Up for Contest #3 as he submitted his correct winning League and Division leaders first, Feb. 21, almost a month before anyone else. He gets one of the ‘highly prized’ MillersTime T-shirts when he sends me his size.

Results from the other three contests must await the end of the season, but for those of you keeping track, one of grand Papa’s grandchildren (Ryan) has already seen a grand slam and Teddy winning the President’s race

Santa Fe/Monument Valley: Thru Ellen’s Eye


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Hopefully you’ve seen Ellen’s superb photos from our recent trip to the Slot Canyons of Arizona. (If not, stop now and go to that post and those photos. They capture an unusual and not well known site in the US Southwest. Plus, they are some of the best photos she’s ever done of any of our trips)

On that same trip, we spent some time in Monument Valley (on the Arizona/Utah border) and a week in Santa Fe. While this post is also from that same trip, Ellen has a different focus here (so to speak).

Ellen in Monument Valley

In Ellen’s words:

“Though we were “over the moon” about what we experienced at the Slot Canyons on our Spring trip to Arizona, we headed a bit east afterwards to “recover” in the very different, but also spectacularly beautiful Monument Valley area.

“We had been briefly in Monument Valley years ago when we traveled with our children to various national parks in the area, but we both felt that we wanted our feet on the ground, at different times of the day to better capture its majesty.  We rented a small cabin at The View, hired local guide who could take us off the beaten paths at sunrise, and picked up that tripod again, and headed out.

“On our arrival in the late afternoon, we knew we had a treat before us. View after view, as we drove the public road through the national park, was stunning; the sunset was spectacular. Our sunrise/morning guide was very knowledgeable both about the geology and the cultural (movie making) history.  With him, we traveled off-road and captured photos in many places most visitors don’t get to see.  We felt very lucky.  And yes, it was easy to recall those movies that we grew up on featuring the “good guys” and “bad guys” (not saying here which is which) in hot pursuit of one another.  The photos you see here are my forte: landscapes.

“After a couple of days we moved on to Santa Fe, New Mexico, one of our most frequently visited US spots.  (We’ve been in and out of the area since the 1960’s, with visits as often as every four or five years.)  I have taken many a photograph throughout New Mexico – largely landscapes – and on this trip I wanted to do something different. While landscapes capture the broad overview, I wanted to focus on the details of Santa Fe, some of the things I believe make Santa Fe unique and make that destination what it is. So the pictures you will see below and in the slide show (with an exception or two) are just that.  Something different.  I hope you enjoy this more detailed look at our travels.

“As usual, Richard has included below a few photos from both Monument Valley and Santa Fe.  You can click on the link at the end of these nine to see the full slide show.”

To see Ellen’s entire slide show ( photos), use this link: Thru Ellen’s Lens: Santa Fe / Monument Valley.

For the best viewing, click on the little arrow at the top right of the first page of the link to start the slide show. If the slide show appears to start in the middle, scroll to the top of the page where you’ll see the little arrow in a box. Click on it.

See all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either). They are much sharper and the larger format blows away the 12 that you have seen above.

The Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime Readers Midyear 2019


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“A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never Read.” – A. Lincoln

As always, this post would not be possible without the participation of friends (and friends of friends) who have taken the time to share with me and others titles and comments about what you are reading and enjoying. Think of it as a ‘community’ of readers even if some of you do not know each other. I thank you all for responding to my ‘gentle reminders.’

This 2019 mid-year list is comprised of the favorite reads of 53 adults and 5 small children (10, 8, 6, 3, and almost 2 years of age.) Surprisingly, at least to me, this year nonfiction choices lead fiction 54% to 46%, a reversal of every previous compilation over the past 10+ years. Fifty-seven per cent of the contributors are female, 43% male, a typical breakdown.

I’ve organized the post in three ways:

I. The Books that have been cited by multiple readers are listed first.

II. Next, the Contributors are listed alphabetically by first name — to make it easy if you are looking for the favorites of someone you know — with the titles and authors next and then any comments they made about those books.

III. Two Spread Sheets for quick reference and in case you want to print out either list for future use:

Spread Sheet #1 – Listed by the Contributor’s Name, then Title, Author, & Fiction/Nonfiction

Spread Sheet # 2 – Listed by Book Title, then Author, Contributor, & Fiction/Nonfiction

Also, at the end of this post, I’ve linked to the Midyear and Final lists from 2018, just in case you need more suggestions than those in this Midyear post.


I. Titles that appear on more than one reader’s Favorites’ List.

Fiction (F):

  • Beartown, Fredrick Backman
  • Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate
  • Beneath the Scarlet Sky, Mark Sullivan
  • Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
  • The Lost Man, Jane Harper 
  • Machines Like Me, Ian McEwan
  • The Heart’s Invisible Furies, John Boyne
  • Washington Black, Esi Edugyan
  • The Weight of Ink, Rachel Kadish
  • Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens

Nonfiction (NF):

  • An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago, Alex Kotlowitz
  • Bad Blood: Secrets & Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, John Carreyrou
  • Becoming, Michelle Obama
  • Born a Crime, Trevor Noah
  • Educated, Tara Westover
  • K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches, Tyler Kepner
  • Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder & Memory in Northern Ireland. Patrick Radden Keefe,
  • The Library Book, Susan Orlean
  • Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing, Robert A. Caro

II. The 2019 Midyear Favorite Reads

(Alphabetically by Contributor)

Continue reading »

Thru Ellen’s Lens: The Slot Canyons of Arizona


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Almost 45 years ago a good friend (Judy White) sent us a photo taken in the Slot Canyons of Arizona during a trip she and her husband Mike had taken to the Southwest. That image has stayed in my mind for all these years. Despite a number of trips to the Southwest to explore the many wonderful parks, a week long houseboat trip on Lake Powell, travels through Arizona and Utah, and numerous trips to Santa Fe and other parts of New Mexico, somehow Ellen and I had never made it to The Slot Canyons. (We did purchase, however, two wonderful photos of these marvels from a small photography gallery in Albuquerque, and they’ve been hanging in our kitchen for at least 20 years.) Recently, we were on one of our many trips to other parts of the world and found ourselves in a canyon, literally half way around the world. We were mesmerized by that canyon and both wondered why we had never made the effort to see The Slot Canyons in our own country.

So about a month ago, we spent four days in Page, Arizona where we explored five different Slot Canyons at different times of the day and night — Ellen with her new lenses and her newly purchased tripod and me with my trusty iPhone.

What we saw, experienced, and will long remember is to us one of the natural wonders of the world. We fortunately have been able to travel world wide and have explored many wonderful cities, witnessed many fascinating cultures, and seen numerous outstanding natural phenomenon.

The Slot Canyons are near the very top of what we would call the best of the natural wonders of the world we have seen in our six to seven decades of travel. We’ve never experienced anything like it. Anywhere.

Below you will see just a dozen of Ellen’s photos from her slide show of about 55 photographs, including a bit of night photography, a first for Ellen. If you find these 12 of interest, we urge you to click on the link below these 12 to get to the slide show. Use the largest format you have (desktop computer, large laptop, etc.) to see the photos in all their splendor. These are not ‘simply’ Ellen’s travel photos (which are pretty good). They are the best photos she has ever taken anywhere, ever.

Also, at the end of the photos in this post, you’ll see some information about how we spent our four days and how you might consider planning a trip of your own.


To see Ellen’s entire slide show (55 photos), use this link: Thru Ellen’s Lens: The Slot Canyons of Arizona.

For the best viewing, click on the little arrow at the top right of the first page of the link to start the slide show. If the slide show appears to start in the middle, scroll to the top of the page where you’ll see the little arrow in a box. Click on it.

See all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either). They are much sharper and the larger format blows away the 12 that you have seen above.

** ** ** ** ** **

Some details for those of you who may have interest in pursuing a trip of your own to this part of the country.

From what we have gathered, before and afterwards, the most intriguing and beautiful Slot Canyons are in the Navajo lands of northern Arizona, specifically just outside of Page, Arizona. That’s where we headquartered for four nights. (No fancy accommodations there, but lots of good local food.)

You cannot go into any of the Canyons on your own, and various companies (all Navajo owned) handle different Canyons. In the two most popular ones, Upper Antelope and Lower Antelope, there are crowds. In Upper Antelope Canyon (the most popular) it is kind of a nightmare. Rattlesnake, Owl, and Cathedral Canyons are definitely more isolated, and you are not likely to encounter many other visitors. For Upper Antelope Canyon and several others we used Adventurous Antelope Tours.  Specifically, we took Photography Tours, for which EACH participant must have their own camera AND A TRIPOD. On these tours (about 12-15 people) there is some photo instruction, but more importantly, the tour leaders clear out of the way the crowds of other visitors so you can get your best shots, ones with no one in the way. In addition to their Photo Tour of Upper Antelope, we also took their Three Canyon Photo Tour (included a return to Upper Antelope which made us happy. We also were able to wander virtually alone in Snake and Owl Canyons both of which were stunning.)

We did a third Photo Tour with them at night, which was amazing. It began at 9 PM and lasted until past midnight. Our guide was great and was patient and skilled in helping teach Ellen about night photography. It was worth it. A highlight experience even if the photos were not as pleasing as the day time shots.

Transportation from the meeting point (office of company) to the Canyons themselves is done in a jeep like vehicle. No major walking here. If you do not take the photo tours in Upper Antelope, and take their regular tour instead, you are in a group of 15 or so, but among hundreds of other people on this or other tours. The experience is sort of like walking down Fifth Avenue in New York. (Not great, but probably the best you can do if you don’t have the camera equipment or want to spend the money for the Photo Tours.)

For Lower Antelope Canyon (which is the second most popular one in the region), we used a company called Ken’s Tours. We took the Deluxe tour option, and it was just the two of us, but we assume it could go up a bit in number. We just lucked out. Lower Antelope is not nearly as crowded, and it is spectacular.Our last tour was to the less well known Cathedral Canyon (not a photo tour), and we did that through a company called Antelope Canyon Slot Tours.  Not impressive but more walking and that actually made it fun.

We also kayaked into one end of Antelope Canyon and so saw that open end from a different perspective. The group that provided the boats and guide was called Hidden Canyon Kayak.

All the canyons are different. All are amazing in their own ways.  Don’t go to see just one, and be sure you schedule a few days to explore. (There are also several others which we did not see. Most people seem just to see Upper Antelope and then leave. Others have so very much to offer.) Our favorites were Lower Antelope and Rattlesnake, followed by Upper Antelope and Owl, but we mesmerized and entranced by them all.

Calling for Midyear Favorite Reads – 2019


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“A Best Friend Is Someone Who Give Me a Book I’ve Never Read.” – A. Lincoln

A few years ago I decided that waiting until December was too long a time between posts that share favorite reads among MillersTime readers. As we all age, it seems more difficult to remember what we read in the first half of the year. Plus, it seems that readers of this website have found a midyear list useful as the summer approaches.

So I have started asking about the end of May for books you’ve read so far this year that have particularly resonated with you. And further, I am making a few changes in this call for books that hopefully will make your submissions easier and will reduce my ‘work’ in both reminding you and in collating them.


  1. Please send me just three or four titles at the most, listing the book, the author, and whether it is Fiction (F) or Nonfiction (NF). Also, indicate if you have listened to the book in an audible form.
  2. Limit your comments, if you decide to make any, to just one or two sentences. While I believe one of the best aspects of our sharing our favorites is what we say about the books, let’s see what happens if at midyear we limit that a bit. I know it will help me in putting the list together.
  3. The deadline for your submissions is June 14, just a bit over two weeks from now. Send them to my email:
  4. I will limit myself to just one reminder, a week or so prior to the 14th, but if you have some time this weekend, maybe you could begin compiling and send me your list prior to the deadline as that spreads out my putting the list together.
  5. And please keep a full list for the end of the year compilation, which will not limit you to just three or four books and one or two sentences.

Thanking you in advance.


PS – For reference:

Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime Readers, Midyear 2018.

Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime Readers, Dec. 2018. Last year’s full year’s list.

An American Summer *****


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Eleven years ago, I wrote about a book I had just read that I couldn’t get out of my mind: Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx (by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc).

“If this book was a novel, readers would probably dismiss it as too chaotic and not believable. But it is in fact a true story, the never ending cycle of living on the edge, the ghetto (largely the Bronx), where the girls get pregnant and the guys sell drugs and go to jail (some of the girls do too.) Somehow, Le Blanc, the author, has gotten inside several families, and the result is you live with them, with all their turmoil, rage, love, and loyalties. I doubt I have ever read a ‘coming of age’ story as intense and memorable as this one. And I’m sure I will remember it for a very long time.”

Now, there’s another one to call to your attention. This one, An American Summer also is non-fiction and is equally as memorable.  Ellen and I went to see and hear the author, Alex Kotlowitz at Politics and Prose’s new Wharf store in southwest DC, and while that hour added to our enjoyment and understanding of the book and its author, the book by itself is one we’ll also remember for a very long time.

Kotlowitz calls it a series of dispatches, but it’s in fact a picture of life on the south and west sides of Chicago, 14 stories, some self contained but all about the same subject: what it is like for children, adolescents, young and older men, and mothers and grandmothers, some who are victims of gun violence. Some are perpetrators of violence.

The author set out to write about the summer of 2013 in this troubled area of Chicago (though he says he could have written a similar book about any one of ten other cities in American that actually have a higher crime rate than Chicago). Like LeBlanc (above) he was able to embed himself in the communities and families and became deeply invested in the lives of his subjects, ones who upended what (he) thought (he) knew.

There’s a bit of Studs Terkel (a mentor and a friend) in his approach as Kotlowitz is able to convey and portray a world that is behind the statistics (1990 to 2010 when 14,033 people were killed here and more than 60,000 wounded). Although his stories all begin in the summer of 2013, many then go back a number of years and then forward for the four more years it took him to present his portrait(s) drawn from these 14 stories. His ability to interview, to listen, to interact, and to write about the violence in these lives and in this part of the city is simply as good as it gets for a writer and for the reader. He helps us begin to understand things most of us don’t know and can’t even imagine.

What is taking place in Chicago, and in other American cities, is complicated. It’s complex. And it’s heart wrenching. It’s about Thomas, Anita, Crystal, Nugget, Eddie, Lisa, Maria, Marcello, and their families and friends. It’s about trauma from one generation to the next. It’s about something called “Complex Loss.” It’s about loneliness and fear. It’s also about resilience and the price of resilience. And it’s about forgiveness as a way to cope and a way to preserve oneself.

Kotlowitz doesn’t give public policy prescriptions nor claim to have answers to what can be done.

But he does humanize people from all sides who live with this daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and decades long violence, and he gives the reader an unvarnished picture of life in these communities.

While he gives no answers, he does go behind the statistics, behind the headlines, and deeply into a world that is out of control.

I suspect you have not read anything quite so revealing as An American Summer.

Put it on your summer reading list. It is nothing like the summer or life most of us will experience this or any other year.

It’s True: Umpires ARE Blind


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How many times have you yelled, “You’re Blind, Ump”?

There is now proof that at least 20% of the calls by the umpires behind the plate over the last 11 years are wrong. That’s one in every five calls.

Recent data of over four million pitches between 2008 and 2018, with the use of sophisticated, triangulated tracking cameras, say this is so.

Further, there is a two strike bias, where umpires make more mistakes on these counts, calling a pitch a strike when in fact it is a ball. As umpires were twice as likely to call a true ball a strike on a two strike count, batters called out in these situations had reason to be angry with the ump (see photo of Mookie Betts above).

Specifically, 55 games ended with incorrect calls.

In 2018, there were 34,294 incorrect calls, an average of 14 per game, or 1.6 per inning.

And it is the older, more experienced umpires who made the most mistakes as the less experienced and younger ones were more likely to get the calls correct. Long time umpire Joe West had 21 errors per game, and Angel Hernandez had 19, for example, while John Libka, 32 and with only 1.5 years of experience, had got many more calls correct (as did Mark Wegner, 47).

Also, umpires selected for the World Series were not the best performing umps.

You can see these details, and many others, along with charts and names in this article by Boston University’s Mark T. Williams, who, assisted by a group of graduate students at BU’s Questrom School of Business, dove deeply into the data, analytics, and statistics to come up with these results.

Although MLB has had a system of rating their umpires, no one has done the kind of analysis that the new technology of triangulated cameras has made possible.

What will it mean for the future?

Williams believes that it doesn’t mean robots should replace umpires, but he believes there are some solutions that could make the situation significantly better. (See the end of the linked article above.)

In the meantime, it may be an overstatement to say the umpires ARE blind (in fact, they do seem to be getting the calls a bit better, tho they are still missing enough to change outcomes of games).

But if they’re still missing an average of 14 calls a game, then there is something seriously wrong. To what seems an unacceptable degree pitchers are benefiting, batters are losing out, and the outcomes of some of the games are questionable.

If your team has ever been the victim of bad ball/strike umpiring, you were not crazy to say “We waz robbed.”

(Hat Tip to Robyn G. for putting me on to Williams’ work: Analysis of Umpires’ Calls/Missed Calls

Five Movies: From Mesmerizing to Horrifying


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Check out these five films we’ve seen recently, four reviewed by Ellen and one by Richard. All are worthy of your consideration.

Reviewed by Ellen Miller:

All is True:    Ellen ***** Richard *****

All is True, a historical drama that concerns the latter years of Shakespeare’s life, was made for me. Historical films are one of my favorite genres and this one is enhanced by the acting of Kenneth Branagh (as Shakespeare), Judi Dench (as his wife, Anne Hathaway), and Ian McKellen (now 80 years old). With Branagh as the director, producer, and writer, this film “had me from hello.”

The film is set in 1613, immediately following a fire which destroyed the Globe Theater. It opens with Shakespeare returning to his home in Stratford from which he had been long – and frequently – absent.  The adjustment of his daughters and his wife to his return is difficult, and he is unsettled. The story of the last three or four years of his life unfolds, and while what is portrayed in the film is not all true, much of it is based on facts of his latter years. But these distortions matter little here as this film depends not on the story itself, but on the acting, the staging, and the filming, all of which are amazing accomplishments.

The combination of the story, the acting, and the cinematography makes the movie mesmerizing. Each scene is filmed as though it was a still life painting, lit only by candles. The acting is taut – Dench, for example, delivers her lines with such expression and passion that her actual words are unimportant. You know exactly what she means. There is so much contained in this film (I keep wanting to call it a play): family dynamics; convention-resisting daughters; titled men and literary figures paying homage to Shakespeare; the relationship between Shakespeare and his wife; and Shakespeare’s planting a memorial garden to honor his son. (Funnily, the deceased son was named Hamnet – who, in this production, is a ghost who haunts his father.)

An interesting note is that Branagh is a Shakespeare obsessive, and he created this film as a bookend for Shakespeare in Love (which we saw and indeed did love). In a way, the play is an elegy, yet it also provides a detailed portrait of a man of creative genius and his many personal flaws.

And one final note: the film was actually released in 2018 so it could be considered for the Oscars. Somehow, it did not receive a single nomination. And that is true.

Go see this. It’s brilliant. It is scheduled to be released May 10th.

Ash Is Purest White:   Ellen **** Richard ****

I am not sure how this film came to our attention, but we are certainly glad it did.  It is Chinese-made and tells the story of a China we do not know. Perhaps it’s a side of any country not available to outsiders. Even though Richard and I have traveled extensively in China for the last 30 years on our own and with our Beijing and Guangzhou-based friends, we were seeing a side of China we had never seen before. This story was so unusual and so fascinating that about half way through I turned to Richard, at the same time he turned to me, and said, “this is absolutely fascinating.”  And he agreed.

This is the story of China’s contemporary gang culture and illegal underground activity. This is a story of rival gangs, of illegal guns, and of maiming, murder, and mayhem.  It is also a story of romance and sacrifice.

The film takes place over a period from 2001 to 2018 during which we see the main character fall from being a leading member of the criminal underworld in Datong, near Mongolia, to a broken, sick, and disrespected man. We see his girlfriend endure prison to protect him and survive that hardship to care for him, even though he no longer cares for her. The story is told in three parts that are well linked together.

Ash Is Purest White is filled with scenes (and some places) familiar to us: small cafes filled with working men and women; men smoking and playing mahjong as a respite from their working in coal mines; a boat trip on the Yangtze before Three Gorges Dam is built, high rise modern office buildings, and drab uniformly built worker housing.

The writer-director is a well-known Chinese filmmaker – Jia Zhangke — and here he depicts a view of contemporary China that is not widely known. The pace is slow and steady, allowing you to digest all that is happening as you stare fixedly at Bin (Fan Liao)) and Qiao (Tao Zhao), the fraught gangster couple. This is a big and important story about contemporary China. The acting is extraordinary, and the film raises disturbing questions about contemporary China

We highly recommend it.

Hotel Mumbai: Ellen***** Richard****

Here’s a big box office film that really worked. It’s a not a great film, but it is one Hell of a good movie. Batten yourself down and imagine a film of unrelenting tension and drama and prepare to either close your eyes or to cover them at any second. This movie tells a fictionalized account (barely, I think) of the horrifying incident of the November 2008 terrorist attacks on the city of Mumbai, India by Pakistani Jihadists. Ten members of an Islamic terrorist organization organization based in Pakistan carried out 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting four days across Mumbai, including the world famous, elite Taj Mahal Hotel. The movie graphically presents the indiscriminate murder by the terrorists of innocent people at a train station, various prominent hotels, a Jewish community center, a hospital, and a café. A leader who was present only in their headsets encouraged them in their mayhem and guided the terrorists in their carnage.

And horrifying it is. It is based on a Surviving Mumbai, a documentary, and while this movie was a fictionalized account, it rings true. (I am tempted, but I don’t think I can bear to watch the documentary account.) Watching this film is a sobering experience. Its horror is only lightened slightly by members of the staff of the Taj Mahal Hotel who risked their own lives to save those who were held hostage there.

This is not a movie about the acting (good, but not amazing), or the production (stunning at times), but its success is due to the screenplay and direction of the action. It was so well paced to create tension and uncertainty of the outcome that I’m quite sure that I didn’t take a breath from start to finish. I was exhausted by the end of it.

You’ve been forewarned.  But see it if you can.

Maiden: Ellen ***** Richard*****

This documentary is an example of why we enjoy being members of the Sunday morning DC Cinema Club. Had we only read a description of the film, it’s unlikely we would have seen it, and therefore we would have missed a film of considerable importance and enjoyment.

The story is about the first all women’s boat to participate in the Whitbread Round-the-World Yacht Race. The year is 1989, and the race is a beyond dangerous and grueling around-the-world challenge of 32,000 miles. It takes six to nine months to complete.

It is the story of the grit and determination of one woman – Tracy Edwards (awarded the Yachtsman of the Year, the first woman ever to receive the award) — and her determined and skilled crew.  She and her crew faced incredible odds, first even imagining they could participate in the race, to finding financial support. They faced ridicule from the press and other yachtsman; and no one thought they would even complete the first of the five legs of the grueling race.

The one thing that wasn’t difficult was finding competent women with sailing experience. Edwards was doing this initially for herself to prove that she could, but in fact, she and the crew eventually realized, they were also doing it for all women — to prove their competitiveness, toughness, and stamina in this all male sport. Woven into the narrative were recent interviews of many members of the crew who offered reminiscences and reactions from their achievement. This added tremendously to the quality of the film.

The impact of the documentary comes in large part because of the incredible footage that was made at the time.  The boat had a fixed camera on it, and one of the crew members took responsibility for additional photography.  In addition, the documentary includes aerial photography, along with video and interviews from on-site TV coverage. 

For those watching, the tension wasn’t just about whether the team won or lost the race, but also about the skills and fortitude of the sailing crew and the breakthrough for women. Our enjoyment of the film was further enhanced by having one of the crew, Dawn Riley, present Sunday. She talked about the race, the crew, answered our questions about the film and indicated that their involvement has had an impact (positive) on the participation of women in yacht racing.

The film will be released June 28, 2019. Put it on your list and go see it.  For sure, we will take our granddaughter and grandson to see this inspiring documentary.

Reviewed by Richard Miller

  Crazy Rich Asians Richard ****

I most likely would not have seen this film if I had not been invited to a pre- festival screening of it by a new friend who is the Director of the DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival (Coming up May 31-June 2, 2019). 

But I’m glad he invited me and that I went.

It’s delightful. Fun. Entertaining. And the story is a universal one, with perhaps a twist of an ending. It’s a romantic comedy that pleases.

Handsome, rich Asian man invites his NY Asian girlfriend (who somehow does not know about his background and comes from a very different economic and social background herself) to attend his best friend’s wedding back home in Singapore. You can almost imagine the story. She’s amazed. His mother is dismayed. He’s caught in the middle. She’s stunned by what she sees, learns, and experiences. I’ll leave the unwinding and conclusion of the story for you experience on your own if you see it.

The film comes from a book of the same name, and we were fortunate to have the one of the screenwriters, Adele Lim to talk about the film and answer questions following the screening. The largely Asian audience gave the film and Lim an enthusiastic reception.

Not only is the story well told, even if familiar, there are good performances, and the scenery from Singapore made me want to get on an airplane to see the city for myself. Plus, there’s the food. Dumplings and dumpling making (flashes of our own Chinese dim sum preparation at Thanksgiving here in DC for the past 40+ years).

For a satisfying outing, see Crazy Rich Americans and then find a good dim sum restaurant in your area to ‘top off’ the afternoon/evening. (Note: Crazy Rich Americans won the Critics’ Choice Award for the Best Comedy, Jan. 13, 2019 and was nominated for a number of other awards, including a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – musical or comedy. It has an all Asian cast and was produced in Hollywood.

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The 33rd Annual Washington International Film Fest is coming up (April 25-May 5), and the program looks very good, including many films we haven’t seen or even heard of. Check it out – 80 films from 45 countries over a period of 11 days.

Predictions, Notes, Questions & Repeating History


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I. Some Predictions from MillersTime Baseball Contestants

Contest 1: MillersTime contestants say it will be the Dodgers vs either the Red Sox or Yankees in the 2019 World Series, and they believe the American League team will win it in six games.

Contest 3:  No doubt here. Overwhelming choice is the American League to win the All Star game. Scherzer (or maybe Sale) will be the first pitcher to win 12 games. Harper, Stanton, and Judge all tied for first to hit 25 home runs.

Contest 4:     Contestants split evenly between those who think the Yankees will win the AL East and those who don’t, but they seem to think the Nats will definitely not win the NL East. Everyone seems to think one of my ‘grand’ children will see at least one of the following: a grand slam, a triple play, a no hitter, Teddy winning the President’s race, will go home with a foul ball, will have his/her pix taken with an MLB mascot, or will be on the TV screen at an MLB stadium. (Has happened yet, but I’m working on this one.)

Other Contest Predictions: Too complicated to post here. But thanks to all who participated.

II. Baseball Notes and Two Questions:

***Check out this article that looks at a different, but easy way to judge who are the best hitters in baseball: Secondary Average by Victor Mather, NY Times, April 5, 2019. (Hat Tip to Joe H for alerting me)

***There’s a new book out by one of today’s top baseball writers, Tyler Kepner of the NY Times. A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches. Reviews have been outstanding, and I’ll let you know what I think as soon as I finish it. (It’s due to arrive at my house April 7.)

***Every time I attend a baseball game, I’m looking for something I never saw before. A few days ago this: Tie game between the Phillies and the Nats in DC. Bottom of the 9th. First man up for the Nats gets a single. Then the the Phillies’ pitcher walks the next two batters. Bases loaded. And he does it again. A third walk. Walking in the winning run for the Nats. What do we call that? A Three Walk Walk-Off? A Triple Walk Walk-Off? A Walk-Off Walk? Bad pitching? Terrible managing? Let me know what you would call it. And I suppose you all know the actual definition of ‘Walk-Off’ win. It’s not the winning team walking off. It’s about the losing team having to ‘walk off’ the field after they’ve ‘blown’ the game.

***Not sure if it’s my getting older (which is certainly happening), but I’ve already attended four games at Nats’ Park, and I’m sure they’ve cranked up the loud speakers, making it difficult to talk and hear each other between innings. one of the enjoyable aspects of seeing a game with a son, daughter, wife, father, grandfather, grandchild and/or friends. Is this increase in noise level happening elsewhere too? Or am I just getting more like my parents did at a similar stage in their lives?

III. Repeating History

***Finally, heading to Boston with the three females in my life – wife Ellen, and daughters Annie and Elizabeth – to ‘treat’ them to Opening Day, April 9 in Fenway where the World Series flag will be raised, a huge banner will be dropped across the Green Monster, and the WS rings will be given out. I took them in 2005 (see photo above) when the Yankees had to sit in the Visitors’ dugout and watch the ceremonies after the best ever WS win in my lifetime. Now, with this fourth WS victory in this early part of the 21st century — eat your hearts out Yankee fans — my only regret is that my daughters and grand children will never truly understand what I had to go through for most of my baseball life – though I think Elizabeth kind of understands. If you’ve never read this, don’t miss: The E-Mail on the Kitchen Table, posted 12.19.08 on MillersTime but written just after the Sox finally won it all in 2004. A must read.


***You can look forward to an upcoming post, Opening Day Thru Ellen’s Lens, with commentary attached.

Ellen’s Photo from Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Six Articles of Interest


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“If difficult issues go unaddressed by responsible leaders, they will be exploited by irresponsible ones.” David Frum

For me, some of the most thoughtful and thought provoking writing about issues in our country today can be found in The Atlantic, the monthly magazine that focuses on contemporary political affairs and issues.

Four of the articles I link to in this post come from The Atlantic, and the first one cited is one I would say is an ‘important read.’ I rarely use the label ‘must read,’ but if as a country we are going to address the issue of immigration from a rational, factual basis and not largely from an emotional one, as is generally happening today, David Frum’s piece strikes me as a good starting point. I suspect you will learn from it, as did I. For those who are looking for a way to understand an important and divisive issue and looking for common ground to discuss it, do spend the time it will take to read this. Even though it’s lengthy, I’ve read it twice as there is so much to absorb. I suspect I will reread too.

How Much Immigration Is Too Much?, by David Frum, The Atlantic, April 2019. This Canadian America is a senior editor at The Atlantic, was a speech writer for George W. Bush, has published numerous books on politics in America, and is generally thought of as a conservative Republican.

Americans Remain Deeply Divided About Diversity, by Emma Green, The Atlantic, Feb. 2019. This Atlantic staff writer looks at our country and recent research about how and where we live and why sameness not difference is prized by many Americans.

We’re Losing the War on Corruption by Franklin Foer, The Atlantic, March 13, 2019. Foer is another writer at The Atlantic and the author of the book How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization.

What the Crow Knows: A Journey into the Animal Mind by Ross Anderson, The Atlantic, March 2019. Something different from the three above as this writer explores “What science can tell us about how other creatures experience the world.”

52 Books for 52 Places, from the editors of the NY Times, Feb. 14, 2019, wherein they present “some reading suggestions — fiction and nonfiction, essays, poems — that may help you to better explore cities, countries, regions and states” in connection with their series 52 Places to Go in 2019. I have read 10 of these and can vouch for the high quality of those 10 choices.

America’s Best Jewish Delis by the editors of Food & Wine, March 2019. Ten places around the country to satisfy those who know and value this sort of eating and want up-to-date information about where to find what you might remember from your childhood. Hat tip to Chuck Tilis for the link.-