May 11th, 2004

Salon, 05-07-04, Changing the past.

Sue Blom's monthly salon convened on the 7th, the topic this time to be, "If you had a Time Machine which could take you back in time up to fifty years only, what would you try to change?" We had a free-wheeling discussion on possible alternate histories, with a very interesting effect. Although we were able to agree on some recent events we would affect, such as proving to the Florida election commission that butterfly ballots were a bad idea, or attempting to drop a dime on the 9/11 hijackers effectively, we were unable to determine much else that might have been a sure improvement. Tackling Oswald before he got into the Book Depository would surely have changed history, but would it have been for the good? We could assume that, had Kennedy not died, he would have won a second term, but what after that? Would the conduct of the Vietnam war have been different, or not? Would there have been a Tonkin Gulf resolution, or not? Impossible to say. If Lyndon Johnson hadn't been worn down by conducting the war from 1964 to 1968 and had remained vice-president, would he have run for President in 1968? If so, would Nixon have run against him or not, and with what result? If there had been no Watergate, would the moral climate have brought about a Carter presidency, or not? And if there were no liberal/wimpy Carter to react against, would there have been a Reagan-Bush administration to follow--or not? It gets pretty murky, pretty fast. One thing we thought might be an unalloyed good would have been foiling James Earl Ray's assassination of Martin Luther King, although we wondered how much more--or how little--time we might have bought him before some other assassin struck--.

Spaces and Traces Home Tour 05-08-04

Saturday the 8th was the Spring Home tour conducted by Historic Milwaukee, Inc. We have gone on a number of these tours now, and enjoy them a lot. The organization arranges for open house tours of homes and buildings in an area of the city with architectural or historical connections. This year's spring tour covered the "Sherman Park" neighborhood. The Sherman Park area includes several blocks of N. Sherman Avenue and Grant Boulevard that we drive through frequently on our way to visit friends on the north side. Both streets have an impressive number of well-preserved very handsome homes, many quite large, although not in the league of the east-side and lakeshore mansions. It's very impressive what sort of home a moderately sucessful storekeeper or senior clerk could afford to commission in the 1920's, which is whan most of the homes on the tour were built. The overall exterior impression is eclectic, ranging from "Milwaukee bungalow" to Prairie style to Craftsman and Italianate. Interiors, on the other hand had many features in common, including built-in cabinets and buffets in the dining rooms, natural or gas fireplaces, and leaded, beveled, and stained glass details. The houses are large, spacious, and have many rooms, including an impressive number of finished basements for the period.

Sherman/Grant has long been considered a "transitional" neighborhood, situated as it is on the western edge of the "near north side", which is considered Milwaukee's "inner city", and east of the posh suburb of Wauwautosa. A disturbance at a Sherman Park festival that resulted in several arrests was reported by local media as a riot or near-riot, largely because the majority of attendees were black people. The neighborhoods to the east, immediate west, and north are also heavily African American in demographic, although the streets west also comprise our "fannish ghetto" due to the affordable, spacious housing. Nevertheless, the Sherman Boulevard homes remain mostly in fine condition, and continue to be occupied by people of means. (We did note that many are now occupied by well-to-do black people, which can be discerned by the pictures, etc., on the wall. The tour designates homes by the names of their original owners, as in "Charles Schneider House," "Isadore Blankstein House," in order to protect the privacy of the current occupants--. This lead us to some interesting, if trivial, cultural observations: such as, based on this small sample, one could conclude that the home of a black professional will likely contain a number of impressive pieces of African art, surrounding pretty but kitchy black "angel" dolls.)

It was amazing how well-preserved and cared-for these homes were. I would never have expected to see that many original tile bathrooms and pedestal hand basins with nary a crack or chip. And, although we know that the householders are anxious to show off their homes to the best advantage, we continue to be croggled by the lack of clutter (being of the typical fannish "collector" (pack-rat!) persuasion ourselves. I can see arranging the child's room to look like Architectural Digest with a few tastefully placed toys here and there, but where's the rest of it? There's usually one room or area in each home that's off limits, and we suspect that it's probably crammed to bursting with the occupants' "junk"--.

Party at Sue's, 05-08-04

Saturday evening found us back at Sue Blom's place for her annual May party (celebrating Spring and the end of Sue's tax preparation season). We brought some goodies to contribute, and settled down to a long evening of pleasant chat and general hilarity. Since we would be driving up to the Dells for Mother's Day the following morning, we bialed out fairly early, which, with my ususal impeccable timing, had us driving home though the worst of the thunderstorm that drenched Milwaukee that night. Home safely, though.

A Wrinkle In Time, 05-10-04

Georgie noticed that our local ABC affiliate was going to be showing an adapation of Madeline L'Engle's novel, "A Wrinkle In Time." Although, as we found out tuning in, it was a Disney production*, it was gratifyingly good. I read "Wrinkle" when it first came out, and perhaps once since, so I recalled the basic plot, although few of the details. The story was updated somewhat, with references to home computers and the Internet, but stood up well. The plot, for those not familiar with it is as follows: The Drs. Murray, married scientists, have a brood of more-or-less bright children. As the story opens, the paterfamilias has been mysteriously missing for a year, which adds to the angst of the oldest child, Meg, who also bears the burden of having a young brother, Charles Wallace, who is undeniably brilliant but does not care to talk to anyone outside the family, which causes him to be labled a "freak" in the community. However, Charles Wallace DOES talk to extraterrestrials, especially the friendly "Mrs. Whatsit," who takes Meg, Charles Wallace, and the neighbor boy Calvin on a quest across the galaxy to rescue Mr. Murray.

Very good performance by Katie Stewart as the put-upon Meg, and by David Dorfman as the child genius Charles Wallace (although I think he is a bit too cute: I remember Charles Wallace as being --difficult--in a number of ways). Alfre Woodard was also very good as Mrs. Whatsit, although of course very different than I visualized her from the book. Allison Elliott was quite effective as the "spacy" Mrs. Who, and Kate Nelligan not quite scary enough as the formidable Mrs. Which. Beautiful special effects, especially the first "Tesseract" sequence, which I thought visually expressed Ford Prefect's description of a similar phenomonon as "unpleasantly like being drunk." Although it must be said that once the phenomonon was established, the later sequences were a bit longer than needed. I was surprised to see how "1984" influnced the evil-dominated planet of Camatoz was, but of course when I read "Wrinkle" I had not yet read "1984."

As the network proudly advertised, the show was family-friendly, with no sex, blood, or cursing, which is not to say that it wasn't occasionally scary or violent. Suitable for imaginative children, but may be too intense for the quite young.

*Note to above: Apparently, the show was actually a Canadian-produced mini-series that Disney picked up for US televison, so not actually a Disney product--which didn't stop Micheal Eisner appearing during one of the commercial breaks and inferentially taking credit--.