Category Archives: Uncategorized

Welcome to the End of the Thought Process

Hi.  Welcome to the end of my thought process at The End of the Thought Process.  The title is taken from a line in the House, MD episode Autopsy.  House is always several steps ahead of everyone else on his team.  After hearing each of his fellows offer an opinion, Chase finally arrived at the destination House had intended.  He said to all:  “Welcome to the end of the Thought Process.”  I just thought that was a great line, and one that says so many things about the words that emerge from the fingertips and onto the (virtual) page.  So there you have it. 

I’ve had a Live Journal blog for a little more than a year, and I will gradually move all of my posts over here, but for now, if you want to see what I’ve been up to over there (mostly House, MD fanfiction and reviews) please click here.

My decision to move to WordPress came after I began writing for BlogCritics.  I decided that I needed a more flexible personal blog than LiveJournal offered, so…

My fanfiction can be found here

A note about my banner:  I took that photograph in the Canadian Rockies last summer in Jasper, Alberta.  It’s one of my favorites (of about 1,000 photos taken during my two weeks in Alberta).  So I hope you like it.

Barbara (sasmom)

A little speculation about next week’s House, MD

The FOX Network press release for next Tuesday’s House, MD tells us that House’s father dies. On most television shows, we would know what to expect. Funeral, family, tears and hugs, reconciliations and regrets. But seriously, guys, this is House, MD we’re talking about, right? Nothing is ever conventional about House or House. Throw Wilson into the mix (we know he’s there from the episode previews) and who knows what we’ll get? Of course we should expect some sort of exploration about House and his troubled relationship with his dad — and an exploration of House’s fractured relationship with his best friend Wilson. (And speaking of the wonderful duo of House and Wilson, be sure to check out next week’s issue of TV Guide — hitting the newsstands Thursday — which features a wonderful interview with Hugh Laurie and Robert Sean Leonard discussing their estranged alter egos.) So, with no new House episode to discuss this week, I thought it might be fun to speculate about how House might confront the death of his father. We already know something about House’s relationship with his parents. And it’s clear that his relationship with them is strained (especially with his father). House seems to avoid all contact with dad, at least. Article continues here

Pursuing Ivy: The In-State Tuition “Bargain?”

Sigh. So here I’ve been, trying to convince our son that he should consider the flagship university of our state system — the University of Illinois (at Urbana-Champaign). Hey, if it was good enough for your dad…Actually, U of I is a great school, ranked in the top 50 of the highly coveted US News college rankings. The business and engineering colleges are ranked amongst the best in the country. It has always been known as a great value for Illinois residents (which we are). When our daughter applied in 2004, the tuition and room/board total was less than $15,000 per year, literally one-third the cost of comparable private schools. The actual tuition was $6,000 (room and board are pretty standard no matter which college you want to attend — public or private). A terrific value, no?Continued here 

Of Firing Squads and Democrats

A circular firing squad. It’s an apt metaphor for the democratic presidential campaign these days. I never, ever thought we’d be in this position. Although I’ve never been known as a political pessimist (hey, I was rooting for John Kerry way into the night in 2004), I have become one. Only the democrats could manage to turn this year’s presidential sure thing into a possible rout. OK, maybe it’s a bit hyperbolic to say so this early. But I’m beginning to dread the fall.

And who’d have thunk it? A long and costly (and unpopular) war; the unitary executive; the emasculation of Congress; the Supreme Court; an economy that everyone but George in Wonderland perceives as tanking; a Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan that promises to erase any gains we may have made prior to Iraq; Blackwater; Halliburton; an army stretched to the brink, with stop-loss orders threatening the lives, livelihoods and well-being of our veterans; a health care system that is an embarrassment equal only to our loss of our credibility on the international stage. The list goes on. And on. And yet…let me get this right: Clinton and Obama are sniping at each other? Circular firing squad indeed.

The stakes are way too high this year to allow the Republicans to keep the castle…er…White House. Nearly eight years of damage cannot be piled atop another (even) four years of an imperialized Republican executive.

So, here’s my two cents worth (and in this economy, it’s not worth very much). Everyone just take a breath. Then readjust the circular formation and re-aim. But this time, instead of aiming at each other and assorted feet, this time take aim at the real enemy: John McCain and every up-for-election Republican who sits in the House and Senate. They’re the enemy. They’re the guys who’ve let our country fall apart and fall away from the values (yes, values) and ideals that make our country great.

But, you wisely ask, aren’t Obama and Clinton running against each other? How else can we figure out who should have the nomination if they don’t attack each other’s Achilles heels and other weaknesses? How, indeed. And thanks for asking.

Fight the enemy. Fight McCain. What better a target for practice? What better a test of wills? Of skills? Of merit? Who has the better claim against McCain? Show us. In real time. Because that’s what it’s all about, baby. Because that’s what’s going to matter in the final analysis.

You wanna see who should have the nomination? Fight McCain. Let us see you set the agenda against his, and theirs. Don’t give the guy a pass. Don’t let him embrace racists like Rod Parsley; demagogues like John Hagee. Don’t let him embrace eight years of a disastrous presidency and revise it to suit his (and the Republican agenda). Because, believe me, he will. And they will. You think Karl Rove has been vacationing in Aruba? You think those 527s have laid down their arms? No way. And while Hillary and Barack are taking pot shots firing at each other, they’re taking their eyes off the prize and watching it disintegrate into sand right in front of their (and our) eyes. They’re distracted from the real war; from the real fight.

Like I said, my advice isn’t worth a lot. So, I do think we’ll continue to see more of the same. Democrats shooting at each other and themselves in the foot as the Republicans plan the autumn offensive. And they’ll be ready. But the real question is: will the Democrats? This campaign sorely needs John Edwards back in the fray. I miss his role as “the adult candidate.”

So I will end with a plea to the adults in the upper echelons of the Democratic Party. Will someone: Howard Dean? Al Gore? Teddy Kennedy? Just someone (or all of you)—put a stop to this. For the sake of the party, for the sake of the race, for the sake of the country—and the sake of the planet.

The Parental Guide to Surviving College–Part I

So, OK, now.  Time to begin quest number two in the Barnett household.  The first quest happened–hold on, let me check my watch– five years ago.  Which makes sense, because child number one is five years older than child number two.  And so it begins:  the hunt for the perfect college.  Put your seat belt on, as they say, it’s going to be a bumpy (but hopefully not too stressful) ride.

My kids are five years apart.  And in some ways, light years apart; like in temperament, academic interests, hobbies, etc.  In some ways, they are only microns apart.  Both sensitive and intelligent (Yeah, I know. Whose kids aren’t when viewed through the parental lens?), good writers, similar musical tastes.  One is a good student (son) and the other(daughter)  was (in high school, anyway) so far above the curve that she couldn’t feel the stones being hurled at her  by the merely good students below.  Five years, two very different kids, two very different college searches. 

So I thought it might be fun (and maybe helpful to others) if I were blog this little adventure, sharing it with others, commiserating with other parents, drawing on the wisdom of others and hopefully imparting a bit of my (meager) own.

This first entry is to set the stage, recall some of the highlights and depths of despair from last time, and provide some context for myself and whoever else might be reading this.  So here goes.

Full disclosure time:  I am not a college counselor, a teacher or a guidance counselor.  I’m the mother of two kids, a dog and a rabbit, living in a very modest house in the very modest middle class Chicago suburb of Wheeling, Illinois.  My children were both privately educated until High School, when they transferred to our very fine local public high school. 

First, so as not to unduly embarrass my children, I will refer to them by their stage names:  Dick and Jane.  Except in this story, Jane is older (by five years) than Dick, and there is no Sally.  Spot is being played by Feathertail (her real name), who would never tolerate a cat (particularly one called “Puff” in her midst).  So much for reading primer analogies. 

In the five years between college searches, some things have changed and some things have remained pretty much the same.  College tuition is way too high; unfortunately, that hasn’t changed.  Just needed to state the obvious and get it out of the way.  In general state schools are cheaper (especially if you happen to be a resident), but not always for non-residents.  Canadian schools are still a relative bargain; most private colleges are not.  Kids apply to far too many schools (and this seems to have gotten worse in the past five years.)  When “Jane” applied to college, the norm was six to eight colleges; now it seems like it’s more like 12 to 15 (or more.)  High school juniors still take the PSAT (well, that one hasn’t changed since I was in high school), the SAT, and, in our area of the country, the ACT.  However, more kids take serious prep classes and many more than I recall from five years ago study with an SAT (or ACT) tutor.  That is where I’ll draw the line.  A tutor?  Seriously?  Never mind.

So, as of September, all I had to do to induce a grimace in Dick was to ask him whether he wanted to begin talking about college.  He would snarl something to the effect of “Are you out of your mind?” (although, I have to say, more politely than that, but you get the idea.) 

So here it is March of his Junior year, and overnight he has turned into “Joe College,” comparing schools, rankings, academics and distance from home (the farther is better than nearby). 

In Memoriam–RJB (Ronald J Baumgarten)

Back in the day, 30 -ish years ago, I took an organic chemistry class at the University of Illinois.  I entered then the world of who was probably the greatest university chemistry prof to have ever walked this earth.  I learned last night that he has passed away. 

The first day of the year long sequence of classes he introduced himself:  “Please do not call me professor or doctor.  I am Ron, RJB, Hey You or SOB.  I will answer to them all, just please-not–professor.”  He was surely entitled to the designation.  A PhD from Johns Hopkins, a chemical reaction named for him, and founder of the unversity’s organic chem program, RJB declined the trappings of professorhood, preferring instead to turn students on to the beauty, poetry and essential learned materials of Organic. 

We had two books required reading for that year.  Morrison and Boyd’s Organic Chemistry and Barry Commoner’s The Closing Circle. Neither were as important as seeing chemistry through RJB’s eyes.  “If you understand the mechanisms,” he would would admonish us, you will understand everything you need for this class.”  Don’t memorize a bunch of syntheses and spit them back, he was telling us.  Understand how the thing works.  What’s the process?  How does it come together?  His words applied to a lot more than chemistry.

We had a huge class–probably 500 students crammed into a large theatre-like lecture hall.  Yet within that huge room, he taught as if he were giving us individual instruction, writing endlesslessy on transparency film, peppering his lectures with pseudo-sexual chemical innuendos about propogating molecules and resonating bonds (a property of all aromatic hydrocarbons like benzene and its derivatives).  Mutual attraction between molecules were a sensual dance and excited electrons were the beginnings of sexual arousal and courtship.  Chemical synthesis as a metaphor for human relationships.  Or vice-versa.  Within that class we formed bonds not only with our model molecule kits but with our fellow students:  future scientists; future doctors; future policy wonks.  We’ve all gone our separate ways, but that year and the several years after that we were a small community within a big commuter university.  And RJB was our hero.

He inspired and encouraged. And in the final quarter of Organic Chemistry, I penned “The Ode to Organic Chemistry” a long, silly song about the toils of learning Organic chem, and its delights.  The words to my song hung on RJB’s office walls for a couple of years, and then appeared in bits and pieces in the margins of his exams along with other quotes, insights, jokes and other exam-graffitti.  As tough as his exams were, they were always a delight for those bits of silliness and wisdom.

I lost track of RJB several years ago, the last note I got from him was a “mazal tov” on the birth of my eldest child 22 years ago next week.  You will be missed, RJB.

When I first came to this class/I was but an innocent lass/then I heard about about benzene and I learned what I could/

can’t remember the rest of the lyrics…oh well. 

Technological Delights and Dilemmas: A Middle Aged Rant

  

By Barbara Barnett
Originally Published at Blogcritics magazine.
I am endlessly fascinated with all things geeky: friends laugh at me for the frequency of new (and always improved) cell phones that dangle from my hip (no, I don’t have an iPhone—iPod, yes; iPhone no). I’ve been using PDAs since they were unsightly gray things with dim gray screens and dark gray text. I mystify my other middle-aged friends with my fluency in the sort of ‘Net-ese that their kids speak as they scratch their heads wondering when the “Google” became a word, much less a verb; and “Wiki” ceased to be a sort of patio furniture made of woven bamboo. (”Oh, ‘wiki‘ not ‘wicker,’ they will realize eventually, still scratching their heads). I proudly have Vista Ultimate and Office 2007, including my always-open Microsoft Outlook. (I’m not quite cool enough to have a Mac.) I have all but abandoned paper books for the cool Amazon Kindle that has become my constant companion. It currently contains about 10 novels, the last three issues of Time magazine and today’s New York Times.

I am appreciative of the high-tech toys and tools that enable me to create. Music appears effortlessly notated on Sibelius or Finale, where Ellington standards transpose themselves magically to my vocal key with the mere click of a button. I don’t even have to say “please.”  And as for writing…

My first professional writing gig was for a nationally-circulated 120-page monthly (business) magazine. As an associate editor, I was responsible for one-third of the magazine’s editorial content. Sounds more impressive than it actually was. Big title, lots of responsibility,  high pressure. Very little money.  And typewriters. Anyone remember those? Gigantic IBM Selectrics. They had those little white correction ribbons. Which was a great innovation, if you weren’t typing on a five-layer packet of copy paper. And I don’t mean the kind of copy paper that goes into the photocopy machine.  It was carbon-coated paper onto which you typed your work.  It was a time-intensive and painful experience until you learned to be a very good first draft writer. 

Like many writers, I embraced the invention of the word processor as virtual manna from heaven. I can’t even imagine (and barely remember) life without word processing. In my opinion, the best invention in history was Microsoft Word for Windows. WYSIWYG, and a whole new world (as the song goes).

Yet as I wax poetic, extolling the joys and virtues of my high-tech world, where my entire address book is stuffed weightlessly in my BlackBerry; my email is zipped to me at lunch or waiting in carpool line, I confess that there are some things that are better in real, rather than virtual, life. Take my calendar for example. Try as I might (and try I have) I simply cannot get along without a hard copy of my appointment book.

I am a very visual person and I have to see my week spread out in front of me. I can’t scroll, click and maneuver my way around a virtual calendar with the same ease as I can cross out, scribble notes and draw arrows on my big old paper calendar. Admittedly, I used the computer (an Excel spreadsheet) to create my own customized, but printed out, desk planner, with all of my recurring appointments automatically slotted in. But I can’t make the leap to the purely virtual world. Even something as simple as changing a client’s appointment works better in hard copy. It’s easier, quicker and more efficient. No? Don’t believe me? I herein make my case to you. (Oooh. I feel like I’m going to do a re-enactment of that great old folk song John Henry—you know the one where the mythical John Henry picked up his hammer and pitted his strength against a steam-driven machine).
This time it’s stylus (or thumbs for you smart phone mavens) vs. pencil and eraser.The virtual challenge: move appointment with John Henry (for the sake of poetic justice) from 3:00 p.m. Monday to 4:30 p.m. Thursday.Electronic calendar (be it PDA, smart phone, not-so-smart phone, or Outlook). Step 1: Open appointment. “Do you wish to open this instance or the entire series?” asks EC (electronic calendar). Oh yeah, I forgot to disclose that John Henry has a “weekly” appointment with me. And he wants to change just this week’s appointment. Step 2: I point to “this instance” and click. Steps 3-7: Several more clicks and mis-clicks, do-overs and think I’m done. Oops. I just made his new appointment for 2009. Damn. Repeat steps one through seven. This time for sure. Phew. Got it. Elapsed time: three minutes.Paper calendar.
One of those Week-at-a-Time thingies. Cross out John Henry on Monday. Write him in on Thursday. Done. Elapsed time: 25 seconds.
See what I mean? But something keeps compelling me to try going virtual. Earnest attempt after earnest attempt. The result usually is that half of my appointments are written in ink on my desk calendar at the office; and half are electronically stored on my BlackBerry. The main problem with this scenario is that you can’t synch a BlackBerry with a paper calendar.What someone really needs to invent is an electronic/ink hybrid. Write your notes in a pen that magically inputs it into Outlook, which can then synch back to your phone or PDA. So you can go both ways. Or either way. Electronic pen flowing ink onto the page and pixels into Outlook. I’d be in (a very organized version of) heaven. And ever so grateful.

DVD Review: All Or Nothing At All

Written by Barbara Barnett
Published November 26, 2007

Reprinted from BlogCritics.org

Hugh Laurie stars as Leo Hopkins in All or Nothing at All (originally airing in 1993 on Britain’s ITV network). The nearly three-hour mini-series allows us a rare opportunity to see Hugh Laurie in an earlier dramatic role, long before he was cast as Gregory House, MD.

Laurie filmed the miniseries at the height of his popularity as a young British comedic actor. At the time, he was best known for his Prince Regent in Black Adder III, Lieutenant George in Black Adder IV (both of which starred Rowan Atkinson); Bertie Wooster to Stephen Fry’s Jeeves in Jeeves and Wooster, and the “Laurie” half of the 1989-1995 sketch comedy series A Bit of Fry and Laurie, which he co-wrote with Fry. To my knowledge, All or Nothing at All never aired on US television; and we are fortunate that, with Laurie’s new-found and well-deserved fame on this side of the pond, ITV has made All or Nothing at All available in the US on DVD.

Leo Hopkins is a young financial analyst working for a prestigious firm in London. The son of a clergyman, he is married to a very wealthy woman and living a very comfortable life on a beautiful estate. Leo’s troubles begin when his brother-in-law, seeing that Leo is living an extremely comfortable life, and knowing that Leo works for an investments firm, asks him to invest a large sum of money on his behalf. Leo balks at the idea and tries to talk him out of it, insisting that his having all the trappings of success does not mean that he knows anything about how best to invest his brother-in-law’s funds. But the brother-in-law insists, and Leo ultimately takes his check. So begins Leo’s personal path on the road to hell, good intentions or not.

Intent to parlay the money and give his brother-in-law a good return, Leo chooses to gamble it on a horse race. Leo’s early success impresses his brother-in-law and his boss, bringing Leo more money “to invest.” Playing on the greed of those who bring him money, and a growing addiction to horse-race betting, Hopkins embroils himself in a terrible web of deceit as wins turn to losses. Hopkins covers his losses with lies building on top of lies and digging himself deeper and deeper into trouble with his boss, his family, and with a high-rolling betting establishment. The depths to which Leo has fallen become crystal clear to him when a blind woman ultimately entrusts him with her charity’s funds — with tragic results.

Leo is haunted by images and memories of his childhood: his father, his father’s values regarding money and sin, and ultimately, his father’s hypocrisy and eventual undoing, which was witnessed by the young Leo. These events have made Leo into the man he is when we enter his sphere: someone who is charming, eager to please, but weak like his father, with a moral compass gone haywire because of his childhood experiences and addiction. He is trapped between trying to please everyone — as he never could his father — and his own weakness. We experience Leo’s memories inter-cut as flashbacks, chilling and frightening to both the young Leo and the grown man he has become.

The director Andrew Grieve was asked in an interview around the time of All Or Nothing At All’s release why he would cast the affable Laurie, a man who was literally a household name in the UK for his comedy, as the dark and deeply flawed Leo Hopkins. Grieve responded that he “wanted to cast the nicest man in England” to play the morally bankrupt but charming hero of the story. Laurie’s humanity and vulnerability (poured out through his wonderfully expressive eyes) gives us a reason to sympathize with the character, despite his flaws. There is a scene towards the end where Hopkins is quite literally out on the ledge. He is responsible for much of the havoc and tragedy in the story and common sense would tell us to hate him. Yet, as he sits out there, his life a shambles, desperate and completely alone, we are out there with him, feeling Leo’s pain.

I think Hugh Laurie has a real gift for instilling otherwise not very likable characters with enough humanity and vulnerability to make them sympathetic. It’s an ability he had used all too rarely in those ten or so years between this film and when he shot the first episode of House, MD. But because we see Leo’s vulnerability and his conflict (portrayed so beautifully by Laurie) we don’t seek his demise, but his redemption.

Laurie’s performance in All or Nothing is beautifully crafted, layered, and underplayed to great effect. The supporting performances by Bob Monkehouse (also a comedian doing a very nice dramatic turn), Phyllida Law, and Jessica Turner as Hopkins’ wife Jane are also nicely crafted.

It’s great to see that Laurie’s success with House, MD has encouraged the producers of his previous work (ITV with this 2-DVD set, BBC with A Bit of Fry and Laurie, and the forthcoming DVD issue of the 2002 UK series Fortysomething, which will be available this spring) to make them available to us now.

The two-DVD set has little in the way of extras: only cast bios. All or Nothing at All, distributed by BFS Entertainment is available November 27. You may view a trailer of the DVD at the BFS website.