Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ooh! Ooh! Media Attention!

It probably won't be there for very long, but as I post this (Wednesday at lunch) there is a partial cast-photo of the Sussex Ballet's Nutcracker on the front page of website of the the Cape Gazette. This photo ran along with a story on the production in last Friday's print edition.

I took that picture at the Dance Studio on a recent weekend. We took photos of several different groupings of cast members. It was fun, but a challenge. It's tough to get large groups all aligned, standing straight, smiling and with eyes open. Their being trained dancers helped, of course, but I will say I took about 10 versions of each pose, just to be sure.

For my post on the performance, I used a family shot from last year.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Yet Another Lighthouse for Sale

The Point No Point lighthouse in the Chesapeake Bay is up for sale. The Washington Post has the story this morning of a recent visit to the lighthouse by prospective buyers. It's a pretty beat-up looking lighthouse.

This is the third lighthouse for sale I've learned about this year; I think there may be a theme developing here.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

In Which I Take to the Stage in a Ballet

Now that we've reached Thanksgiving (and may yours be happy), it is appropriate to start thinking about Christmas. Thus, it is time for you to call (302) 855-9282 to get your tickets to the Sussex Ballet's presentation of The Nutcracker on either December 1 or December 2.

Why, you ask? Well, aside from this ballet's status as a holiday tradition, and the fact that it is being staged by the estimable Kate Walker, proprietor of the Sussex Dance Academy and a truly fine teacher, and the fact that it features some of the most talented and dedicated youngsters Sussex County has to offer, this production of the Nutcracker will include the entirety of the Delaware branch of the Mahaffie family on stage at the very same time!

Actually, that convergence of Mahaffie's has happened before, in last year's Nutcracker. This year, however, both of our daughters will dance in featured roles and I have moved up from the role of stout-man-standing-stage-right-in-party-scene. The Lovely Karen will reprise her role of lovely-tall-woman-in-green-dress which drew such rave reviews (from me, anyway) last year.

Both of our girls are part of the corps de ballet and will have featured roles. Christina will be featured in the roles of the Columbine Doll, Lead Soldier, and a Candy Cane. Colleen will be featured in the role of Dream Fairy, and plays a key part in the opening party scene.

This year, I have taken on the role of Herr Drosselmeyer, the mysterious party guest who delights the children with magic toys and presents young Clara with what turns out to be a magic nutcracker doll.

This may be a ballet, but I won't be dancing this part. Drosselmeyer is an acted role and its main function is to set up the story and help the young folks shine in their dancing roles. I plan to play Drosselmeyer as a kindly magician, with the barest hint of Groucho Marx thrown-in. I'll have great fun, but we'll keep the focus on the dancers.

It really is a remarkable group of kids. They range in age from about first-grade to high school seniors. They are the daughters and sons of local teachers and doctors, police and builders, doctors and judges, government workers and clergy, and all walks of life. Many of these kids have been dancing alongside my daughters for many years now. We've watched them grow and develop a variety of talents. I'm proud to know them.

The New York Times featured a story on The Nutcracker recently. It focused on the fact that there are countless Nutcracker productions in every city and town at this time of year. The story quotes a 1972 British reviewer who wrote "Well, we are one more Nutcracker nearer death." The Times counters, though, that even in its ubiquity, The Nutcracker is an important part of the Christmas experience.
One more Nutcracker nearer death, though? No classic ballet is less death-haunted than The Nutcracker (though tucked into its narrative is a little mouse-scale revenge tragedy). The danger of watching too many Nutcrackers — as opposed to too many Swan Lakes or Romeo and Juliets — is that they may bring you sooner not to death but to second childhood.
I think that captures the function of this ballet, even for those who are not ballet-o-philes: it is an annual expression of wonder and joy and light. And whether you celebrate a pagan winter solstice, or a Jewish Festival of Lights, or Kwanzaa, or Christmas, or something in-between, this season is all about light, and lightness, and joy.

So call (302) 855-9282 and get tickets to see the charming and talented Colleen and Christina, the lovely Karen, and me on stage at the Little Theatre at Cape Henlopen High School, in Lewes, on December 1 or December 2.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Some Things I Like (#567)

Getting Back to Basics

Artist Jason Salavon has created a new work based on the 2007 Ikea Catalog.

He has reduced it to its most basic elements, page lay-out and color.

(Via information aesthetics)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Jud Bennett Got Me Thinking...

Note: This is a re-posting of a comment I made this morning over at First State Politics. Jud Bennett posted a Jud's Rant that touched a chord and led me to get some ideas out that I'd like to share here as well. I have done some slight re-writing, and added links, to help this stand on its own. Thanks for the inspiration, Jud!

I mostly agree with Jud Bennett's post this morning at First State Politics: How to make Blogging truly legitimate?
Frankly, I hate published anonymity, especially when people take mean spirited shots at others or about any significant issue.
I have made similar arguments in the past, but I have come to think there may be a legitimate place for what I think of as "somewhat anonymous" blogging.

The problem with forcing people to blog as themselves all the time is two-fold. First, it is forcing people to do something, which I'm not crazy about. And, second, the cloak of anonymity may, in certain circumstances, work to our advantage as readers.

I am not a Libertarian, though I place value on some libertarian precepts. I don't think we should have complete personal freedom tempered only by common sense and decency. Let's face it, some people are assholes. Some people are stupid. Some people are violent. Some are all three. There should be some laws and societal controls to help us temper our nasty habits.

This is part of why we have religion. This is part of why we have government and laws. This is why we have etiquette and shame.

But speech is not violence, or fraud, or thievery. Yes, there are many many anonymous dickheads on the internet who spoil discussions, deface news stories, and probably could use a good thumping. But we are not really hurt by their actions. Annoyed, yes. But not substantially harmed.

Meanwhile, there are people who can say things anonymously that they cannot say as themselves. Often these are things that are important and useful. Some may fear to speak before their employers or families. Some may also be so painfully shy as to be unable to participate fully as "themselves." And a little fogging of on-line identity helps us remove the old filters of race, sex, and nationality that can sometimes stand between a person's words and our understanding of those words.

There is an honorable history of anonymous (or pseudonymous) publication; the pamphlet Common Sense and The Federalist Papers spring to mind. There are others.

Also, while I may not know exactly who "Disbelief" is when he is at home, or who "LetMyPeopleKnow" is (though I have some suspicions), I have come to know them through their comments on blogs and the News Journal web site. There are many people I have "met" in this way on-line. When I see their comments they fit for me into a pattern and a history of discussion, and so I can make sense of their ideas (or know to discount them).

Some of these folks are people whose comments I read with interest; while I may disagree with them, I have respect for their thoughts. Some others I know, from past experience, to be trolls, fools, or jackasses. The point is, I can make a judgment, based on past knowledge. So, while I couldn't pick them out of a crowd, I do know who they are, on-line.

This is different from those who comment as "Anonymous." The postings of these people, who lack even the courage of a consistent nom-de-web, I hold in lower regard. Except, sometimes, an "Anon" will throw-in a very funny one-off line that makes me smile. (An exception? That rule must true)

I've written before about my personal credo, distilled from years of thought and study: "Try not to be an Asshole." (It looks like I tempered my language a bit in that posting) I try to let this guide my time on-line. I also use it as a yardstick against which to measure the comments of others.

We all have to make a choice about how to handle our on-line identity. I have chosen to always post and comment as Mike Mahaffie, or mmahaffie. Across all of the web. And, despite temptation from my dark side, I have not broken that vow since I made it (to myself) several years ago. Others have chosen and stuck with usernames (handles) and have established on-line identities under those names. I think there is a legitimate place for this approach.

I spend time on an on-line community called MetaFilter, where there are more pseudonymous users than not. The community of users, as it grows to know these people, learns who to trust, who to ignore, and who they should bother to argue with. When someone tries to "troll" a thread (start a fight, derail the discussion, etc.), they are fairly quickly quieted, either by being ignored (the best approach) or by comment-moderation (a fairly rare, but sometimes needed, form of policing).

Sometimes, they succeed in starting a fight and the community relearns an ancient lesson: "Don't feed the trolls."

We are human, and there will always be name-calling, mean-spirited insults, and deep, deep stupidity. It’s part of who we are. When we come together in communities, though, we tend to temper what is worst in us through all of the ancient mechanisms of community: mutual support and understanding, deference (and challenges) to wisdom, and the power of shame and disapproval. These mechanisms are different, on-line, but they are there.

So, while we should deplore the trolls, we should also avoid getting into needless fights with them. We must expect better of ourselves, and of others, but we lead best by example. Try not to be an asshole.

Our politics just now are very contentious. There will be fights. Let us try to make them about issues of substance. Here’s a rule we might try to agree on: any posting that uses pejorative terms about a political opponent (personally or as a group) should simply be ignored.

Think of all the blogs we would no longer have to read.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I Guess Everything IS Bigger in Texas

The old-photo blog Shorpy has a post up this morning showing a 1914 photograph of a municipal Bat Roost in San Antonio, Texas. It took me a few moments to notice the man standing on one of the cross-timbers of the structure and to realize just how large the thing is. We don't see timbers that large much anymore. Certainly not in utility construction. Have a look also at the close-up of the posted explanation and anti bat-slaughter ordinance.

Update: According to Dave, over at Shorpy, the supports that I took for timbers are in fact poured concrete. I'm disappointed to have been wrong, but still impressed at the size of the Bat Roost.

Friday, November 16, 2007

It Has Been a Colorful Fall

With the return of some sunshine today, I made an effort to capture a photo of one of those bright red or yellow trees that we've been seeing the last week or so.

Somewhere, there's a tree with leaves that have turned so deeply they shine like rubies. It stands alone in a field or someone's yard with darker-hued and taller trees ranged behind. The sun hits it square causing the leaves to flash crimson against a deep green background.

I know it is out there, I just need to find it.

On my way to Dover this morning I was ahead of schedule. I took the opportunity to turn right at Milford Neck and head towards Thompsonville and South Bowers. I found a few spots that hinted at what I was looking for. But not quite.

I took a walking lunch in Dover. When clouds were out, the wind was cold and raw. The sun came out, though, and made a brisk walk comfortable. I found a few street trees that came close.

The yellow tree at one end of the old Green (right) might also be a candidate.

I didn't find the exact tree I wanted, but had a good photo-walk. I met a squirrel who suspected me of planning to steal his winter stash of nuts. I finally got a shot of the cross atop Wesley United Methodist Church; I've been looking for the right angle for some time. And I caught a nice image of the flag that flies at the memorial at the junction of Kings Highway and State street, just off of Loockerman Street.

I'm still looking for the shot that means "Fall, 2007" to me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Philosophical Posts

A couple of philosophical posts out on the Delaware blogoscape have me thinking this evening.

Delaware Libertarian Steve Newton has a thoughtful and well-written post that I think outlines one of our national challenges rather neatly. Steve has found a new thing to say about the issue of immigration.
When I see a mass of illegals running for the border on CNN, that’s one thing.

When I see a fellow parishioner hold up a baby for christening, that’s another.
Exactly. We don't want uncontrolled immigration, but how can we not find fellow feeling with families who only want to live, work and worship here?

Meanwhile, Reverend Tom Starnes has a sad piece posted on the News Journal's Delaware Talk Back site. Tom had long resisted the often-repeated thought that "9/11 changed everything." But our nation's use of torture, of domestic spying, of imprisonment without trial have changed his mind.
So, yes, I concede the point: 9/11 has changed us, and not, I fear, for the better. My hope, and, yes, my prayer is that we haven't crossed too far over that line that has, except for a few blotches on the record, distinguished us as a free people and a moral leader for the whole world.
As for me, I will confess that the news of late out of Pakistan, where military ruler General Musharraf has recently suspended democracy and imprisoned his rivals, has me wondering "could that happen here?" I think not. I think that that would be fairly unlikely to happen here, and I take some comfort in that thought.

But a few years ago I would have said that the idea of that happening here was completely absurd. Now, I think, it is just unlikely.

And that change, from "absurd," to "unlikely," is a sad measure of how we have changed.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tenth Golf Game in 2007

This should probably be subtitled "A Rainy Day on the Golf Course." It was a damp morning, with rain falling for at least three holes. This photo gives an idea of how the day looked, but it's actually this dim because I took it with my cell phone. I didn't want to take my good camera out into this sort of weather.

Earlier this year, Karen bid on a set of greens passes to Baywood Greens for me at a silent-auction fund-raiser. I should have used them during the summer. I failed that, but wanted to make sure to use them before it gets too cold.

This was the seventh different course I played this year. It is a very nice course; well-maintained and challenging.

I asked Andy and my work-friends Sandy and Mike T. to join me. Andy, Mike and I had the day off for Veteran's Day. Sandy took a vacation day and we met first thing this morning at the pro shop.

We made a good group. Andy and I often play together. Sandy has joined us in the past. Mike and Sandy and I work together on a lot of projects and I was fairly certain Mike and Andy would get on well. I was right.

I had worried that it would be too cold, but it was in the mid-40s already by the time we started. I was comfortable in a mid-weight sweater. It did start raining at one point, but not to hard and it only lasted for a few holes.

I wish I could say I played better. I had fewer blow-up holes, but maintained a steady, dependable mediocrity and carded a lamentable 121. It is a harder course than I'm used to, and it has been more than two months since I last played, but why make excuses? I enjoy the game and the occasional well-played hole. I hit some drives I am proud of and I had a par.

And I spent a few hours with friends. You can't ask for much more than that.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


I reached 88,888 miles in my Prius today. I was on my way home from dropping the girls off at the Sussex Dance Academy for a Nutcracker Ballet rehearsal.

It has been 145 days since I reached 77,777 miles, back in June. I averaged more than 76 miles each day over that stretch. I had calculated an average of almost 87 miles a day during the run from 66,666 to 77,777.

The difference, I think, is that the 4 months between the 6s and the 7s was all during the school year, when I do a lot of driving running the girls back and forth from dance classes in the evenings. About half of the nearly five months between the 7s and the 8s was in the summer, when I don't do quite as much girl-running.

And, yes, I do realize how sad it is for me to be so obsessed with this stuff. But I treasure my silly habits.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Lighthouse Update: "Honey, I'm Home!"

Michael Gabriel had his first look this week at the Delaware Bay Lighthouse he bought from the federal government this fall. According to a story in the News Journal this morning, the California lawyer made the trip out to Fourteen Foot Bank Lighthouse on Thursday, accompanied by a Delaware man who once helped run the lighthouse for the Coast Guard.

News Journal photographer Gary Emeigh was along for the ride, and it's likely that reporter JL Miller made the trip as well, though his story properly reads as if there was no reporter along. It's a well-written piece. The News Journal offers a nice little slide show of Gary Emeigh's photos; there are some neat shots in there.

It looks like there might be a bit more work involved in making the Lighthouse habitable, but it does look possible. He had his contractors (Delawareans, as is right and proper) along with him and they're already planning repairs and improvements.

One question that I think may yet be unanswered is will Mr. Gabriel pay property taxes on the lighthouse? And, if so, to whom?

This may seem overly bureaucratic of me, but the question came up earlier this fall in a discussion with some of the folks who manage parcel mapping for Kent County. Their job is to maintain property maps for all parcels in the county. And they wondered whether or not they would need to add a new, small, perfectly round parcel out in the Bay.

It looks fairly clearly like this lighthouse is within the Kent County portion of the Delaware Bay; the county doesn't end at the shoreline, it extends out to the state line which runs down the center of the bay at that point. The Bay has traditionally (I think) not been parcel-mapped because it is state or (in parts?) federal public subaqueous land.

It might be the case that the lighthouse will be treated as an owned structure on leased or public land. In that case, does Mr. Gabriel pay a land-rent to the state or the feds? Or does he own the small portion of Bay bottom that his lighthouse rests on?

If it is the case that this is a private in-holding out in the Bay, and a parcel needs to be added to the Kent County Cadastral database, I can see the Kent County parcel data stewards having to answer endless questions from data-users about a "mistake circle" outside of the County.

One of the things I love about Delaware is the never-ending series of fascinating challenges and puzzles presented by a state with such a long and complicated history. We're a funny little state, but we're never dull, not if you keep your eyes and ears open.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A Walk on Rehoboth Beach

I had a chance to spend an hour on Rehoboth Beach this morning. I took a walk along the beach the length of the boardwalk. The beach wasn't as deserted as it will be later in the winter, but it was clear enough of folks to make it attractive to me.

The beach was broad and flat, with a fair amount of pebbles exposed. Both, I think, the result of the recent passage of the remnants of hurricane Noel. There was a smallish surf, and one surfer.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

It's Great to Know that Lewes Still Includes Some of its Originals

I have sometimes wondered what my old neighbor John Ellsworth is up to lately. According to the News Journal this morning, John is now building a land-speed record style racer in an attempt to break the 200-mph barrier.

That's pretty cool. And it is in keeping with what I know of John. It also means that my town has not yet completely become just another retirement village for wealthy folks from up-state and elsewhere. We still have some of our uniqueness.

Back in the late 1980s, when Karen and I were first married, we rented a small apartment above the shop next door to John and Hope's place on West Third Street. John owns the town blacksmith shop, but has always done much more than smithing. He was one of the founders of Punkin Chunkin, but left that sport when it went from a collection of individually designed rotary-arm flingers, trebuchets and John's own truck-sized cross-bow style punkin shooter to a contest of ever more-powerful compressed-air cannons.
"You couldn't see the pumpkin flying," he said. "I didn't like that at all. The fun was watching the pumpkins, and with the air cannons, you can't see them. You don't see it go through the air. Just a big whoosh, and that's it."
I agree with him completely. While I still think Punkin Chunkin is cool, and I'm proud that my state is still its home, it lost its charm for me when the air cannons took over.

But throwing pumpkins was never all there was to John Ellsworth. He created marvelous ironwork gates, fences and other items for homes around the area. He ran a herd of small, hand-carved cattle in front of his shop. He had a cement plant there as well; stalks of rebar topped with cement-chunk foliage. In the spring, the cement plant bloomed with small, pretty, yellow cement trucks.

And one year, for the Lewes Christmas Parade, he created a giant, house-tall metal rocking horse for his wife, Hope, to ride down the parade route.

Now there's long, open wheel, lakester-style racer under construction on West Third. John has exceeded 100-mph and hopes to top 200 next year.
"If you ever wanted to put your right foot down and hold it down, it's a hoot," he said. "The parachute coming out was probably the neatest part. It wasn't a jerk of any kind. It was like 'Star Wars' when they came out of warp speed and everything just slows down. You can't tell when it was deployed or anything. You just all of a sudden felt a deceleration."
It's great to know that John is still finding new challenges and ways to have fun. He was a pleasant neighbor; always interesting, challenging, and inspiring.

I moved to Lewes in the mid 1980s in part because it was a real town, with wealthy and modest homes, with folks from different races, with working fisherfolk and factories and with a certain amount of hustle and bustle. And with originals.

Over the years, we've lost much of our diversity, but I'm thrilled to find we still have some of what makes our town special.

Floor it, John.