A New Palindrome

Many moons ago, I had a colleague named Ada, who I called my favorite “palindrome.” Ada was a delight to work with and knew precisely what it meant, so she gave me a novel to read called “Palindrome” that she thought I might like. For those who may not know, a palindrome is a word that has the same spelling backwards and forwards.*

The most famous English palindrome is “Madam I’m Adam” which can be read forward or backwards sans the punctuation. Yet, many names are good palindromes. Ada, Anna, Elle, Eve, Hannah, Sis, e.g. fit the bill. And, Mom and Dad are the most popular palindromes. The most recent numerical palindrome is the year 2002, but we had one eleven years before in 1991. Before then, we would need to go back to 1881.

Yet, palindromes can also refer to identical twins. They are as close to mirror images as we can get in nature. Not to spoil the novel by this name, but identical twins factor into the storyline. 

I bring this up as my wife and I have a new favorite palindrome. Ada will have to step aside as the old favorite, as we have a new niece named Hannah. Hannah is a great name to begin with, but the fact it is a palindrome makes it even more worthwhile. Welcome to the world Hannah. I know your parents are glad you were not identical twins

*palindromic number (also known as a numeral palindrome or a numeric palindrome) is a number (such as 16461) that remains the same when its digits are reversed. In other words, it has reflectional symmetry across a vertical axis. The term palindromic is derived from palindrome, which refers to a word (such as rotor or racecar) whose spelling is unchanged when its letters are reversed. The first 30 palindromic numbers (in decimal) are:0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 22, 33, 44, 55, 66, 77, 88, 99, 101, 111, 121, 131, 141, 151, 161, 171, 181, 191, 202, … (sequence A002113 in the OEIS).

Are US hospitals in trouble?

Many hospitals, especially more rural ones, have been in trouble for some time. More on the rural hospitals later.

“More than 33% of all hospitals are operating on negative margins, according to the American Hospital Association,” per Michael Popke of Benefits Pro in a piece called “America’s hospitals facing ‘massive growth in expenses’.” Here are two select paragraphs from the piece that tell the gist of the story.

“Hospital employment is down approximately 100,000 from pre-pandemic levels, while hospital labor expenses per patient through 2021 were more than 19% higher than pre-pandemic levels. A new report from the American Hospital Association highlights the financial and operational toll the pandemic and inflation has taken on hospitals — concluding that more than one-third are operating on negative margins.

‘Hospitals and health systems have been nimble in responding to surges in COVID-19 cases throughout the pandemic by expanding treatment capacity, hiring staff to meet demand, acquiring and maintaining adequate supplies and personal protective equipment to protect patients and staff, and ensuring that critical services and programs remain available to the patients and communities they serve,’ notes the nine-page report released this month. ‘However, these and other factors have led to billions of dollars in losses over the last two years for hospitals.’”

Per an article called “The South’s health care system is crumbling under Covid-19. Enter Tennessee” by Daniel Payne of Politico, the demise of heath care in more rural areas has been exacerbated by COVID-19.

“Rural hospital closures have been accelerating, with 181 since 2005 — and over half of those happening since 2015, according to data from the University of North Carolina. But that may be just the beginning. Over 450 rural hospitals are at risk of closure, according to an analysis by the Chartis Group, one of the nation’s largest independent health care advisory firms.”

The rural hospital concerns predate the advent of the Affordable Care Act. Too many hospitals had high percentages of indigent health care costs, meaning people without insurance. If they were not funded by a county, the hospital was at severe risk of closing. Since fourteen states have still not expanded Medicaid under the ACA, the opportunity for getting paid did not increase and many have closed. And, the patients, employees and communities suffer.

Yet, a major part of this cost dilemma existed before COVID-19. The US has the most expensive health care system in the world, but we rank around 38th in health care quality. That is a pretty poor rate of return on one’s spend. Hospitals spent too much on technologies that need to be used. There exists a correlation between the ownership of a technology and its higher frequency of use. Yet, with COVID-19 and its aftermath, fewer elective procedures and tests were done in hospitals.

These issues need to be evaluated outside of the political lens and with data. Yet, that is not bound to happen. It would at least be helpful to see more people covered with full Medicaid expansion, but that has been politicized for zero-sum game reasons, not to actually help people. It would be helpful to see Medicare expanded, at least down to age 62 from 65. As Medicare works reasonably well, I would like to see it go lower, but whatever we do, it should be evaluated on its results, not a politician’s beliefs.

If people think I am unfairly picking on politicians, it would not be a stretch to say most politicians do not know a whole lot about health care. We saw this with the atrocious “throw stuff against the wall” repeal and replace discussion in 2017 by the thirteen Republicans, which came within one vote from passing the Senate. That would have screwed about 20 million Americans. Senator John McCain gave it a thumbs down vote for its lack of veracity and its poor protocols on evaluation.

And, we saw it with the discussions and passing of the ACA, which Republicans refused to vote for which is strange since it has several Republican ideas in it from Romneycare in Massachusetts, when Mitt Romney was governor there. The ACA is not perfect, but at least we should fully implement it and shore up its deficiencies. It is only people’s lives.

Pieces of April – an encore from a great group

A long time favorite band of mine is Three Dog Night. The three singers who took turn as lead and harmonized so well are Danny Hutton, Cory Wells and Chuck Negron. They had a huge number of hits singing songs written by great songwriters like Randy Newman, Paul Williams and Leo Sayer, to name a few.

A favorite and timely song comes to mind as we head into Spring. “Pieces of April” was written by David Loggin.

April gave us springtime and the promise of the flowers
And the feeling that we both shared and the love that we called ours
We knew no time for sadness, that’s a road we each had crossed
We were living a time meant for us, and even when it would rain
we would laugh it off.

I’ve got pieces of April, I keep them in a memory bouquet
I’ve got pieces of April, it’s a morning in May

We stood on the crest of summer, beneath an oak that blossomed green
Feeling as I did in April, not really knowing what it means
But it must be then that you stand beside me now to make me feel this way
Just as I did in April, but it’s a morning in May.

I’ve got pieces of April, I keep them in a memory bouquet
I’ve got pieces of April, but it’s a morning in May

I’ve got pieces of April, I keep them in a memory bouquet
I’ve got pieces of April, but it’s a morning in May

This song is one of melancholy and love lost. I love the reference to the wonderful time together in April, but it is now May. This is a metaphor that simplifies a longer break-up to just two months, but even if it were that short, it is impactful.

If you want great traveling music with your family, download or access a greatest hits CD and just sing along. Just a few of the many hits include “One,” “Mama told me not to come,” “Eli’s coming,” “Easy to be hard (from Hair),” “Black and white,” “Just an old fashioned love song,” and “Shambala.” Our kids would ask for this one.

For those interested in how they got their name, a girlfriend of Danny Hutton’s described that the indigenous Australians would sleep with three dingos on a very cold night. Three Dog Night gives us all great comfort.

Nowhere Boy

Being a huge Beatles’ fan, I stumbled on to a movie released in 2009 called “Nowhere Boy” after the John Lennon penned song “Nowhere Man.” The movie takes us through the troubled life of the teenage John just as he is about to launch a musical career. It should be noted this career seemed very unlikely at the start of the movie.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson does an admirable job as the troubled Lennon who was not the best of students, while he dealt with his Uncle George’s death and the reemergence of his mother Julia into his life. Two women, though, play a vital role in his life – his aunt Mimi (played by Kristin Scott Thomas) who raised him with George (played by David Threlfall) in her sister’s absence and his mother played by Anne-Marie Duff.

The story focuses mainly on these two sisters and John. Whether the movie tells the story 100% correctly, it does impart the needed theme his mother was not around for long stretches and his father was nowhere to be seen. When Julia got back together with him, it was more like she was a big sister than a mother aiding his truancy and rebellious tendencies. But, she also taught him about Rock-n-Roll and how to play the banjo, which he jumped at. Apparently, she was gifted and could pick up playing pretty quickly, a trait he seemed to have as well.

Mimi was the sober mother figure doing her best. She came across as not endearing, but John realized eventually how important she was in his life seeing his mother being less responsible. Mimi would buy him his first (and second) guitars, but she also sold the first one when he had failing grades. That made him none too happy, especially when his group The Quarrymen” had a gig that night. And, while Julia loved Rock-n-Roll, Mimi would prefer Tchaikovsky as listening music.

A young Paul McCartney is played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster. George Harrison (played by Sam Bell) makes a brief entrance, but for this movie he is put in the background. Josh Bolt plays a band member and friend Pete and Olivia Lovibond plays Marie, an earlier love interest. David Morrissey plays a key role as Julia’s boyfriend and father to John’s stepsisters. The movie is directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson and was written by Julia Baird and Matt Greenhaight. It should be noted Julia Baird is John’s youngest half-sister.

The movie is worth the watch whether you are Beatles’ fan or not. Rotten Tomatoes gives in an 80, e.g. It is easy to see why Lennon had a constant chip on his shoulder as a youth and how he had to become a better person to harness his talent. And, per the movie his observation to Mimi that you and Julia are still sisters, is a key point in his and their relationship.

The response to an inane remark

Having been in consulting for over thirty years before I retired, clients would on occasion say things that were not the most vetted of ideas. Sometimes the ideas would be too costly, sometimes too administratively burdensome, sometimes too hard to communicate and sometimes the idea may be stretching or breaking the law.

I had a colleague who had a disarming way of digging deeper, putting the onus on himself. This would prevent the client from being too offended by questioning. They may not be right, but they are still the client. My colleague would say “Help me understand….” as he asked why the client thought this was a good idea.

I mention this today as people have been writing about how to push back on people who are parroting untruthful information or conspiracy stories. Depending on the audience, one action is to simply vote with your feet and walk away. Or some version of “I do not believe that to be true” might suffice. Yet, those do not qualify as good rebuttal.

If you choose to rebut, you must get into a dialogue. This is the reason for my recent post on the Chicago song of that name. You do not want a shouting match, if you want to get heard. So, take my friend’s suggestion as a lead in – “Help me understand.” This will allow further conversation to delve further without being too offensive. Remember, people just want to be heard. So, hear them out and maybe they will do the same. This is how Daryl Davis talked over 200 members of the KKK into quitting.

Our blogging friend Clay used as an example yesterday about the North Carolina man who went to jail for four years for believing the conspiracy story that Hillary Clinton was running a child pornography ring from a pizza parlor in Washington, DC and acting on it, by storming the place armed with a weapon. Clinton is not perfect and has been made out to be a bogeyman, but really, a child pornography ring?

If he told a friend this plan in advance, the friend might have said, “help me understand…” and saved this person from himself. After hearing the story, a few simple questions may have diffused the situation. The friend could have said something like “I don’t like her either, but c’mon, a child pornography ring? There is no way that can be true.”

I am not naive to think that this will solve our problems and it may be less effective with the most strident. Yet, if Davis can get KKK members to shed their robes, then it must have some validity. One thing is for certain, returning fire with fire by yelling and name calling, will not get you heard. Just watch any talk show with people of divergent opinions. Those folks are not listening to each other, because you cannot listen when shouting.

Let me leave one final thought. As a father of three adult children now, if you really want your children to listen to you, do one key thing. Lower your voice, even to a whisper. That will get their attention.

The limits of sequential thinking – a reprise

The following post was written a few years ago, but I stumbled upon it today. It stands the test of time regardless of how one tracks progress.

What does sequential thinking mean, you might be asking? Many of us think in a sequential order. Basically, it means I cannot think about a certain thing, because it comes after what I need to do next. Sequential thinking is at odds with a working or living environment that demands a multi-tasking mindset.

When I say multi-tasking, I am not referring to doing more than one thing at one time, although that is its most common description. What I mean is having a list of multiple things to do and balancing the priority and times of when you plan to do them. It is akin to walking while juggling balls in the air. The key is to not drop any balls while you keep walking.

Let me use a few examples to emphasize my point. I may have a list of ten or twenty things to do. I receive information to do one of the items, but that item is not needed for a week. Sequential thinking would push doing that project until later in the week. But, what if you have a hard deadline and the information provided might be incomplete?

The military doctors and nurses coined an apt term called “triage.” So, a multi-tasking way to think of this would be to triage the information for the later project as an earlier step. Then, if it is incomplete, you could ask the sender to clarify or send additional input. Then, you can move onto other things while you wait.

Another example is moving forward with pieces of a project before having all the needed steps complete. One of the best project managers I have ever worked with would apportion a large report out in pieces for earlier completion. She would have folks working on producing the Appendix, Sections 5, 8, 11 and 14, e.g., while the analysis was being done to complete the key findings and recommendations. So, the supporting sections could be completed, so as to reduce the time crunch at the end once the analysis was done.

Although the last paragraph makes so much sense, it is not as widely practiced as you would think. Neither is the triaging concept, except in medical emergency settings. The other thing these two approaches avoid is the bottle-neck created by other projects and demands. And, in so doing, it enables deadlines to be better fulfilled.

As I write this, I recall a very demanding client. She could be a hard-ass on staff, but at the heart of her criticisms often was a legitimate one. If you told her a deadline, she expected you to meet it. The key was to give her a deadline that could be met, not in a vacuum, but in recognition that you had other things to do.

People like to please and hate telling people no. But, having been a consultant and client manager for ages, I would rather someone tell me they were too busy to help, forcing me to find another source, or avoid giving me too aggressive a deadline. This may not surprise people, but many deadlines that are not met are set by the person doing the work, not the client. Managing expectations is vital.

A favorite author, Malcolm Gladwell, confessed in an interview that he writes in an unusual way that works for him. He said he does not do all his research up front, so he outlines the idea, does some research, writes some, does more research, writes some more and so on. Why? Two reasons – he said he would get bored doing all the research, then writing. Plus, the research is fresher in his mind when he writes soon thereafter. He portions out the work in smaller more manageable segments.

Sequential thinking can get in the way of moving forward. I am not suggesting everyone will think like Gladwell or the best project manager I mention above, but think in terms of smaller, earlier steps to move things along.

From the desk of Heather Cox Richardson on seditious actions

A friend sent me the most recent post from Heather Cox Richardson, whom I know some of my readers have cited as well. This post relates to the ongoing investigation of seditious actions that includes a number of Republicans in Congress. It should be noted at least one of these names was offered by House minority leader Kevin McCarthy for the House Select Committee, which were declined by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, because you can’t have that kind of conflict of interest on the committee. Let me just bluntly say, being against seditious actions should be Governance 101, regardless of party. Full stop.

“Late last night, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol filed a motion asking a judge to put an end to the attempts of Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows to stonewall the committee. Meadows has tried to avoid talking to the committee or providing it with documents, using a number of different arguments that essentially try to establish that the U.S. president cannot be held accountable by Congress. The committee’s motion carefully explains why those arguments are wrong.

To support their belief that the Congress has the right and responsibility to investigate the circumstances of the January 6 insurrection—a correct understanding of our governmental system, in my view—the committee gave the judge almost 250 pages of evidence.

Included was some of the material I’ve been waiting for: a list of members of Congress who participated in planning to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

We have heard a lot about independent lawyers and members of the executive branch who were willing to try to keep Trump in office. We have also heard about people at the state level. But while there has been plenty of speculation about what members of Congress were involved, we had little to go on.

We knew that both former energy secretary Rick Perry of Texas and Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) had texted with Meadows about possible avenues for overturning the election. We knew that Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO) had recorded videos before the insurrection that suggested they supported it. We had an odd statement from Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on January 5 saying that he, not then–vice president Mike Pence, would count the certified electoral ballots the next day. We had Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) allegedly saying to Jordan on January 6, “Get away from me. You f**ing did this.”

But the January 6th committee has just given us a bigger—although not the whole, yet—picture.

In last night’s filed motion was part of the testimony to the committee from Cassidy Hutchinson, a former special assistant to the president and the chief of staff. When asked which members of Congress were involved in calls about overturning the election—including calls saying such efforts were illegal—Hutchinson named Representatives Greene, Jordan, Boebert, Scott Perry (R-PA), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Jody Hice (R-GA), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), and Debbie Lesko (R-AZ).

The heart of this group was the “Freedom Caucus,” which was organized in 2015 to move the Republican Party farther to the right. Its first chair was Jim Jordan; its second was Mark Meadows. Its third was Andy Biggs. Mick Mulvaney, who would go on to Trump’s White House, and Ron DeSantis, who is now governor of Florida, were key organizers.

Let’s be clear: the people working to keep Trump in office by overturning the will of the people were trying to destroy our democracy. Not one of them, or any of those who plotted with them, called out the illegal attempt to destroy our government.

To what end did they seek to overthrow our democracy?

The current Republican Party has two wings: one eager to get rid of any regulation of business, and one that wants to get rid of the civil rights protections that the Supreme Court and Congress began to put into place in the 1950s. Business regulation is actually quite popular in the U.S., so to build a political following, in the 1980s, leaders of the anti-regulation wing of the Republican Party promised racists and the religious right that they would stomp out the civil rights legislation that since the 1950s has tried to make all Americans equal before the law.

But even this marriage has not been enough to win elections, since most Americans like business regulation and the protection of things like the right to use birth control. So, to put its vision into place, the Republican Party has now abandoned democracy. Its leaders have concluded that any Democratic victory is illegitimate, even if voters have clearly chosen a Democrat, as they did with Biden in 2020, by more than 7 million votes.

Former speechwriter for George W. Bush David Frum wrote in 2018: “If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.” And here we are.

As if to illustrate this point, news broke today that a North Carolina official threatened to fire an elections official unless she gave him access to the county’s vote tabulators. The news agency Reuters noted that this threat was only one of more than 900 instances of intimidation of election officials in what has become commonplace after the 2020 election.

It appears that elected officials of the Republican Party are willing to overturn a legitimate Democratic victory in order to guarantee that only a Republican can hold office. That means a one-party state, which will be overseen by a single, powerful individual. And the last 59 days in Ukraine have illustrated exactly what that kind of a system means.

Standing against that authoritarianism, Democratic president Joe Biden is trying to reassure Americans that democracy works. He insisted on using the government to support ordinary Americans rather than the wealthy, and in his first year in office, poverty in the United States declined, with lower-income Americans gaining more than at any time since the “War on Poverty” in the 1960s. Lower-income workers have more job opportunities than they have had for 30 years, and they are making more money. They have on average 50% more money in the bank than they did when the pandemic hit.

Biden’s insistence on investing in Americans meant that by the end of his first year, the U.S. had created 6.6 million jobs, the strongest record of any president since record keeping began in 1939. By the beginning of April, the economy had added 7.9 million jobs, and unemployment was close to a 50-year low at 3.6%. Meanwhile, the deficit is dropping: we should carve $1.3 trillion off it this year.

Biden’s deliberate reshaping of the American government to work for ordinary Americans again, regulating business and using the federal government to enforce equal rights, so threatens modern Republicans that they are willing to destroy our country rather than allow voters to keep people like Biden in power.

I do not believe that a majority of Americans want a dictatorship in which a favored few become billionaires while the rest of us live without the civil rights that have been our norm since the 1950s, and no voting rights to enable us to change our lot.

Tonight, news broke that Democrats in Utah have voted to back Independent candidate Evan McMullin for senator rather than run their own candidate. McMullin is trying to unseat Republican Senator Mike Lee, whose texts to Meadows as they conspired to overturn the election have lately drawn headlines. Democrats are gambling that there are enough Democrats, Independents, and anti-Trump Republicans in Utah to send Lee packing.”

Saturday in the park – great day for a walkabout

Spring has definitely sprung. The flowers have blossomed and the green leaves have returned. It is a good day for a walk in the forest. Especially, now that I have taken my antihistamine for the pollen.

As I walk, I will likely think of the news of the day and time. In no particular order, I might chew on the following thoughts.

I saw where a mother and daughter were sentenced for their role in the January 6 insurrection. As their roles were less violent, they were given 36-month sentences where they need not go to prison. Yet, the thought continues to occur to me, how many people have to be convicted of crimes for people to realize that doing what the former president wants is not a good thing?

In this same vein, the ever flip-flopping minority House leader Kevin McCarthy has been revealed in a recording to blame the former president for the insurrection saying he would ask for him to resign. This is not a surprise as he was critical of the former president on the floor of the chambers shortly after the insurrection. That was, of course, before he was called to Mar-o-Lago to bow before the king and repent. Now, his flip-flopping is back in the limelight and the former president denies telling McCarthy he had some culpability.

Russia is flexing more muscle in Ukraine with more troops and attacks. This is a bolder step to save face and may prove difficult for Ukraine. It is hard to filter through the noise to find out the truth. I feel sorry for the people of Ukraine who are props standing in the way of a malevolent bully. Too many have died and will die, as civilians do not matter in the eyes of this autocrat. I see some offer of settlement where Russia can claim some part of Ukraine in the future. It is sad that this bully must be rewarded for his invasion, while the Ukraine and Russian civilians must bear the brunt of the pain.

I see Boris Johnson is taking a page out of the Richard Nixon playbook. When things are tough at home, go on the road. Nixon did his best work in China while being investigated for the Watergate break-in. Speaking of Nixon, there is a new miniseries out called “The First Lady” which goes back and forth looking at three first ladies – Betty Ford, Michelle Obama and Eleanor Roosevelt. Ford was hoping to retire to Florida when her Gerald got asked to replace the convicted Vice President Spiro Agnew (that was an omen). Then, Gerald became President when Nixon resigned before he could be impeached and convicted. Betty was none too happy with this turn of events, but made of the best of it.

The governor of Florida has decided to punish DisneyWorld for daring to be critical of his “Don’t say gay” law. He led an effort to abolish a state tax break the amusement empire was getting. This is not the first and won’t be the last time the governor has been petty. He is taking a page out of the playbook of the aforementioned Mar-o-Lago resident. Ironically, since the famous resident sees the governor as a huge threat to his possible campaign, he has already started dissing the governor. I am sure they both will go pretty low in their back and forth – as they just cannot help themselves.

I just realized this post includes a host of folks who will go down infamy, rightfully so. At least I mentioned a few first ladies with good reputations to salve these wounds.

More and more movies

Since the weekend is upon us, I thought I would share a few more movies for your consideration. We have seen a few excellent ones and a few that are worth a look. I won’t mention a couple I exited before the end.

“Solomon and Gaenor” is a British award-winning movie set in Wales in 1911. It stars Ioan Gruffudd and Nia Roberts in the title roles about a young Jewish man and young Christian woman who fall in love. Due to the times and tensions, they cannot be together, nor can they stay apart. This is Roberts’ first picture when released in 1999 and she is charming. Paul Morrison wrote and directed the movie and did a marvelous job of making the audience pull for these two lovers.

“C’mon, c’mon” is a more recent movie starring Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffman, and Woody Norman. Phoenix plays a free-lance reporter who is traveling the country to interview kids about the future. His sister, played by Hoffman asks him to look after her son, as she helps her separated husband with a bad bipolar meltdown. The movie is how the boy Jesse played by Norman teaches and learns from Phoenix and his colleagues. Jesse has anxiety and other issues but has learned coping skills. The other key is how Phoenix and Hoffman rebuild a sibling relationship that was tested when their mother died.

“Short Term 12” starring Brie Larson, John Gallagher, Jr, Rami Malek, Kaitlyn Dever, LaKeith Stanfied and Kevin Hernandez takes you through the up and downs and challenges of helping at-risk youth in a non-lock down facility. Larson and Gallagher are in a relationship, but both have obvious experience in talking down kids who are in need of help. Dever plays a pivotal role as she arrives with a host of problems and attitude, which reminds Larson of herself when she got help. It is a powerful movie, but tough to watch at times.

“Jack Goes Boating” is the only movie directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, where he stars as Jack. Jack is a limo driver and is smitten with a shy woman named Connie played by Amy Ryan. It also stars Daphne Ruben-Vega and John Ortiz. The two were set-up by their friends, whose own marriage has some challenges that reveal themselves later as Hoffman and Ryan hit it off. To be more interesting to Connie, Jack learns how to cook, swim and boat, as Connie has this fantasy date of being on the water in the summer. The movie is charming in its own right but knowing this is one of Hoffman’s final films makes it even more endearing. You pull for the two of them, especially Connie who Ryan plays so well.

A few other movies worth a look include “Mona Lisa Smile” with Julia Roberts, Dominic West, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles and a host of other young stars, “Eavesdropping” which is filmed without break in a restaurant as we listen in on various conversations, “The Squid and the Whale” with Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Anna Paquin and Jesse Eisenberg which has a cool title that has symbolic meaning about who was really there for you and “A conversation with other women” with Helen Bonham Carter and Aaron Eckhart about two people who hook up at a wedding as we learn there is more to their past.

“Mona Lisa Smile” is likely the only one of the movies that people may have heard of. It was for me. But, the four I highlighted surprised me at how good they were. Phoenix has done some excellent movies, especially playing Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line,” but “C’mon, c’mon” may be one of his best. Let me know some of yours that struck a chord of late.

Thursday throwdown – a trip to Asheville

My wife and I just got back from a couple of days in the mountains in the very eclectic town of Asheville. I am not sure if the people watching or the mountain viewing was more enjoyable. We did walk in the North Carolina Arboretum which is a lovely spot, so the views of the flora, statues and mountains did take the prize. What is nice is we met folks from Kansas, Minnesota, Michigan, South Carolina, Iowa, etc. who were visiting or had moved.

We went to see the wonderful performer and actor Cindy Williams, of “Laverne and Shirley” and “American Graffiti” fame tell stories about her career and explain behind the scenes stuff with various footage she cared to show. With the help of a “stage-hand” actor, she regaled us for ninety minutes. The stage-hand offered comic relief and helped punctuate the story telling. Williams’ self-deprecating humor charmed us, but when she got too full of herself, the stage-hand would help bring her back to earth. It was funny how they planned that.

We watched some of “Laverne and Shirley” growing up, but it was amazing to see the physical comedy they brought to the table. Penny Marshall, who has passed away, would rival Lucille Ball in that arena, but she was ably supported by Williams. One of the crowd asked in the Q&A if either of them ever got hurt, and she shared that Marshall did suffer a severe sprained ankle. She said the rehearsal prepared them for the acts. I did like that she said if something did not make them laugh in rehearsal, they improved or scrapped it.

It was truly nice to get away on one of our small trips. We love taking day trips and over-night trips reasonably close by. We stayed in a marvelous bed and breakfast, which is our wont, and enjoyed speaking with the guests and staff, who suggested a couple of restaurants. If you do go to Asheville, the Biltmore House (and gardens) is its most famous tourist attraction, but there a number of other places – spas, waterfalls, hiking, golfing, canoeing, antiquing, etc. that might peak your interest along with the eclectic downtown.

What are some places that you like to visit nearby? Are the places in the Carolinas that you frequent?