France Photos 2018

Here are a number of pictures from our trip, taken from our social media postings and emails, plus a couple of additional pictures and a video of the fireworks celebrating la Fête nationale.

ADDED: Here’s a map with photos embedded.


We spent the first two days here recovering from lack of sleep, reacquainting ourselves with the area, and walking up and down the Seine.

Yesterday, we visited Versailles for the first time. The palace is beautiful, definitely worth the long line to get in.
The gardens are like little mini-forests with surprises in the middle of each. This was my favorite.

Today we went to L’Orangerie. I found Monet’s willow paintings fascinating and calming. If you haven’t been there, I encourage you to visit virtually.

After watching France win the world cup quarter finals in Versailles, we were excited to watch the ​semi finals in Paris. And we weren’t disappointed. ​People walked around draped in the French flag. Every bar and restaurant had people spilling out onto the street, stretching to see the tv screens inside. They sang the national anthem when it played at the beginning of the game and then again, spontaneously, as it became clear that France would win. Here is the restaurant we were sitting at. You can see Kev in the middle (under “CAFE”) with a man in white standing over him so he could see the screen.

Earlier ​in​ the day we ​went to ​the ​A​rc d​e​​ Triomphe, Then a walk down the Champs-Elysees, through the gardens, to the U.S. Embassy (which we couldn’t get any good photos of because of the high security).

The​ next day we took a​ 4-hour train ride went past fields of sunflowers and small herds of white cows​, to ​Arles​. It​ is a small town with ​lots of ​Roman ruins where Vincent Van Gogh lived. It ​is full of​ tourists and art during the summer festivals.

We spent the first couple of days here getting to know the city with our handy Rick Steves guide.
There is so much to see here, including locations used in famous Van Gogh paintings, well preserved Roman relics and architecture…
…and not-so-well-preserved Roman architecture. When I commented on the almost unrestricted access to these sites, Kev’s response was “That’s why they’re called ‘ruins’, because you can’t ruin them anymore.”

This is NOT our video, but it was obviously taken by someone very close to our vantage point on the riverbank!


Sunset over the Rhône. cf Van Gogh, Vincent.




Photos from Iceland/Eclipse Trip

Here are our favorite pictures from our Iceland and eclipse trip. I’ve added captions and comments for the first few; I’ll be finishing the rest as I have time over the next week or so.

Also, here is a map with many of our photos on it, attached to the locations.

Monday, August 21

Here’s what Julie (@jkercher6) wrote about her experience on eclipse day:

We woke with a flexible plan. We would go to St. Clair unless the weather indicated clearer skies in Chesterfield. We would go early, 3-4 hours, in case we needed to move somewhere else, likely south. We had already filled the hotel room refrigerator with lunch food, drinks, and sparkling wine. We had a Styrofoam cooler to keep it in, necessary with the temperatures in the 90s. Kevin was anxious, worried that we would miss it again, but I thought we were doing everything we could and, beyond that, it was fate.

The sky was clear when we woke. We ate the free breakfast at the hotel. I had granola with yogurt, sliced almonds, and dried cranberries. I also had some skyr (my new favorite breakfast food from our Iceland trip) that he bought at the store the day before. The breakfast room was packed with people, lots of families, significantly different from the next day which was 6 or 7 business people. After double checking the weather report, we packed up and headed down the highway. Traffic was light, surprisingly.

We drove to the old airport because it was recommended in the St. Clair website, but when we got there, a sign said no public parking and a man confirmed that it was no longer an option due to a decision by the FAA. So we turned around and headed toward town, looking for another possibility but trying to avoid going all the way into town because we had not reserved a parking space. We stopped at Burger King, just before the highway to use the bathroom, but soon realized that this was a good option. People were already parking with their eclipse glasses, there was no charge, easy access to bathrooms, and it would be easy to get back on the highway. Except for a sign reserving employee parking, there seemed to be no restrictions and the employees were so busy with all the customers they didn’t care if we didn’t buy anything (although we would have if necessary). After the lot filled up, people started parking on the dirt next door.

After first contact (when the shadow becomes visible), we found a spot in the grass. It was right next to the entrance but it didn’t matter. We had a good view of the area as the traffic died down and more and more cars parked in every spot that was legal and some that were not. We ate some of our lunch and kept checking the shadow as it got bigger and bigger. As the light diminished, the automatic lights came on at Burger King and the neighboring gas station. As it got cooler, the temperature display on one of the signs went down from several degrees. The sun was high enough that it hurt my neck to look for too long. Kevin told us to watch for Bailey’s beads and the diamond. We didn’t see the beads but the diamond flash was huge and bright. Then Kev said “glasses off!” and I took mine of a little hesitantly. There were gasps from the crowd. It was a beautiful circle of light (even better after I removed my sunglasses, which I forgot I had on). My eyes teared up as I looked at it, not from the light but from the emotions I was feeling. It was so amazing. The only light was the corona, white wisps flaring off from the dark moon circle. The cicadas started chirping. We saw one star and then another. The sky was so much bluer than I expected and there was no color from the sun or moon. But the color was all around us, like a 360-degree sunset. It went on for 2 minutes and 39 seconds. Then it was time for the glasses again and we saw another bright diamond.

As the moon moved on, we went to the car and opened the sparking wine. The cork flew across the parking lot. The crowd dispersed quickly and the road for backed up with all the traffic. By the time we left, the highway was backed up too but we didn’t have anywhere else to go. We got what we came for, and more.


It started with a letter in the mail in the summer of 2008, and ended Monday in a Burger King parking lot in St. Clair, Missouri.

We got what seemed like just another solicitation from our alma mater. The Harvey Mudd College Alumni Association was sponsoring a trip to China and Tibet to see the total eclipse of July 2009. I remember looking at the letter and telling Julie something like, “Ha ha! We should do this.” and then, upon further consideration, “No, really, we should do this!” We signed up and paid our deposit. Then Julie got laid off.

We considered backing out of the trip, sacrificing our deposit. But the more we thought about it, the more we realized that the trip might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So we decided to go anyway, regardless of the finances. We are fortunate and privileged to be able to make that choice.

The trip to China was fantastic. We met up with some friends we had known in college, and met other alumni we had not known before. We flew to Beijing and stayed for a few days. From there it was on to Xian, then Chengdu, then up to Emei Shan, where we were to see the eclipse. This location had been chosen by Sirius Travel, who specializes in eclipse tours and was conducting our trip. It was supposed to have a very good chance of good weather.

It didn’t. The eclipse was supposed to happen about 8:00 in the morning. About 4:00, I woke up in our hotel room to a pounding rainstorm. This was before the widespread availability of smartphones; all I had was a Nokia flip-phone. I called my mother in Missouri and asked her to get on her computer and look at the weather in China. She responded that it did not look good. I really didn’t need her to tell me that.

The tour group assembled on the lawn where we were to view the eclipse, but all we saw were grey clouds. We started making our own fun, creating rock sculptures and offerings to the eclipse gods. Apparently they were not satisfactory, as the eclipse came and went without us seeing any of it. It got dark under the clouds, then got (slightly) lighter again. We had missed it.

Eclipse veterans told us that it still “counted”, as time in totality. I didn’t listen; it didn’t count as far as I cared, because I hadn’t seen it. (The rest of the China / Tibet trip was amazing, by the way. The lack of eclipse didn’t diminish what we experienced on the rest of the trip, especially given that China closed off travel to Tibet shortly after our visit.) (Not that it was our fault, I think.) (I mean, I can’t be sure, but it’s not like we did anything egregious.) (Okay, Eric’s dad did take a picture of Chinese soldiers from the tour bus after we were told not to, but I really don’t think…)

I don’t remember when I started looking for the next eclipse opportunity, but I think it was still on that trip. I found that an eclipse was to go across the United States in August 2017, going just south of St. Louis. My parents still lived in St. Louis at that time, so I told them to put it on their calendars, because I was going to be there.

Fast-forward to early 2017. My parents had since retired to Texas, and I had literally no family remaining in St. Louis. Still, it seemed like a good location to view the eclipse. We made hotel reservations in Chesterfield, a suburb to the west of St. Louis. Our hotel was in the path of totality, but if we went south a bit, we could get a longer time in totality. We decided to try to get to St. Clair, very near the centerline of the umbral path (meaning maximum time in totality).

From Xavier Jubier’s interactive map:


My parents joined us in Chesterfield. I worried about crowds and clouds. News reports predicted horrific traffic jams as people tried to get to the path of totality. My big concern, after our experience in China, was getting stuck underneath clouds. To address this, I had studied the map extensively, ready to drive in any direction that seemed to have clear skies.

In fact, on Monday the 21st it wasn’t clouds or crowds that frustrated us, but bureaucrats. The St. Clair website had recommended an abandoned airport north of town as a good parking and observing location for day-trippers from St. Louis. When we got there, however, two official cars blocked the road. The St. Clair official told us that the FAA wouldn’t allow them to use the airport. We had to go someplace else.

I drove back down the road about a half-mile, to a Burger King, so we could use their restrooms. As we sat in the parking lot, we noticed that the cars around us were waiting for the eclipse. We decided to wait there until someone made us move. In the event, no one ever did. Kudos to the Burger King management for not kicking us out. They were busy making money from all the people coming from out of town. The lines for food were literally out the door.

We had been smart enough to arrive about an hour before first contact. As we waited, more and more cars filled up the lot, and the dirt/weeds/gravel patch next to it. By the time of first contact, there were probably 75-100 people in this immediate vicinity, with more watching from lots across the street, or the gas station next door.

As the eclipse deepened, I watched with awe and anticipation. I reflected on how much of the Sun could be blocked before we would even notice. With only a small sliver of the Sun still visible, the light around us seemed like a slightly cloudy day.

Then came totality.

I have no words.

No one can describe for you what totality is like, if you haven’t seen it for yourself. Pictures do not convey the experience. Videos do not capture the feeling.

I yelled, “Glasses off!” when I was sure that it was safe to view totality. We saw the solar corona; we saw some bright stars; we saw a “sunset” glow on the horizon all around us. I thought it might be darker, but I think there was enough light pollution from the businesses around us that the sky only got a deep blue, not ever black. We saw a nice “diamond ring” effect on both second contact and third contact, but we did not see Bailey’s beads.

I took some pictures with my cell phone because why not, but they did not come out at all. Some of our friends, however, in different locations, took much better pictures. Here are some of Kyle Roesler’s. 

We watched for the full 2 minutes and 39 seconds, and then the real world returned, slowly. I might have giggled a little bit. (OK, a lot.) Cheers arose. We popped some champagne to celebrate the Sun’s return.

On Tuesday the 22nd, we woke up to overcast skies and rain.

What’s Going On?

These Coloradans say Earth is flat. And gravity’s a hoax. Now, they’re being persecuted.

Literal flat-earthers in Colorado:

They call themselves Flat Earthers. Because they believe Earth — the blue, majestic, spinning orb of life — is as flat as a table.

“They just do not want to talk about it for fear of reprisals or ridicule from co-workers,” says John Vnuk, the group’s founder who lives in Fort Collins.

Good. That’s exactly as it should be. They should be afraid of reprisals and ridicule for being complete fucking morons. Stupidity should hurt.

The Fort Collins group — mostly white and mostly male, college-age to septuagenarian — touts itself as the first community of Flat Earthers in the United States. …

Mostly white and mostly male: quelle surprise!

“There’s so much evidence once you set aside your preprogrammed learning and begin to look at things objectively with a critical eye,” says Bob Knodel, a Denver resident and featured guest at a recent Tuesday meeting. “You learn soon that what we’re taught is mainly propaganda.”

I think this gets to part of the appeal of a world view like this: being one of the few who is in on the Real Truth, not like the rest of the common people.

His wife, Cami, shares his views. “Our YouTube channel gets people to critically think,” she said to the Fort Collins group. “The heliocentric model says that we’re spinning at 1,038 mph. They say you won’t notice it because it’s a continual motion. But you should be able to feel it. You shouldn’t be able to function allegedly spinning that fast.”

Nearly perfect response from Cole at Balloon Juice:

A.) That’s not thinking critically.
B.) Clearly you have never been on a plane.

To which, I would add

C.) Take a goddamn physics class and listen this time.

How have we gotten to this point? What has happened that this kind of insanity persists? Why do we have to continually re-fight these intellectual battles that have been over for centuries or millennia? Why? We don’t have time for this. We have real problems to solve in this country, and do not have time to deal with this kind of shit.

Leaders want Flat Earthism to be an accessible creed for the common man, an egalitarian movement that gives life meaning by punching back at scientific disenchantment.

Ah, the old “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge” egalitarianism.

“They want you to think you’re insignificant, a speck on the earth, a cosmic mistake,” Sargent says. “The flat earth says you are special, we are special, there is a creator, this isn’t some accident.”

Ah, the old “we are special because we’re the center” insecurity.

“It’s not about money. They want complete mind control,” Knodel says after the meeting in the lobby of the Fort Collins coffee shop. “They want to create two classes: the ultra rich and servants. At that point they would’ve taken over the world, and enslaved the population, and controlled everything.”

Ah, the old “ultra-elite mind-controlling everyone” paranoia.

Seriously, do we really have time for these people? How the hell do we fight this?

I *LOVE* hilarious spam

Seems legit…

My favorite parts are the email addresses. I guess he had to take “” because jbcomeyfbidirector 1 through 11 were already taken. And of course the Remittance Director (?) at SunTrust Bank is going to use an address, because why not?

But at least I’m going to get USD 10.3M) from the “Monitory” Crime Division. Yes this is seeming very Englishy good nothing to be suspectful here of.

Being Marsha Sutton

It must be exhausting to be Marsha Sutton. Here it is May 2017, and she is still upset about Rick Schmitt’s salary.

At the time, his SDUHSD salary was $238,329, which was set to go up to $248,347 on July 1. At San Ramon, where he started his employment on July 1, his contracted starting salary was $309,664.

“At the time” was June 2016, nearly a year ago. Rick Schmitt doesn’t even work for SDUHSD any more, and she spends half of her column about him and his salary?

This $6.5 million expense for salaries and benefits across the board will continue each subsequent year. (These figures, however, do not take into account the number of highly paid veteran employees who are retiring.)

“All those highly-paid veteran teachers, with their free apples and all!”

No one would have objected to a reasonable contracted salary increase.

I call bullshit. I think Marsha Sutton would have objected to any settlement with the teacher’s association that didn’t result in teachers being flogged in public.

Schmitt said the district has a history of being fiscally conservative, and that there is money to pay for these raises well into the future, based on healthy reserves, conservative assumptions and realistically rosy projections.

Even if all that is true, which is suspect, did the raises need to be so high, at 12.5 percent?

“Here is someone who knows what they are talking about. But even if they do, I’m going to ignore it. Why do raises need to be so high? Oh, you just explained that? Wait, where am I?”

Assuming scads of cash were just lying around, as Schmitt claimed, could at least some of it have been spent on hiring more teachers to reduce class sizes? More security? The arts? Relieving parents of the pressure to donate to foundations to fund classroom essentials?

Given the tragedy at Torrey Pines High School last week, how about additional counselors?

Did you REALLY just suggest that raises for teachers (“scads of cash”) led, even indirectly, to a 15-year-old’s suicide? Fuck you. I’m done being clever here. Marsha, go get some help, and let the professionals in school districts do what they do best. And you go do whatever it is you do best. I don’t know what that is, but it has nothing to do with writing or education.

Feeling Grateful

It was my college roommate, Matt Ford, who introduced me to the music of the Grateful Dead. I remember listening to Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty and hearing the harmony and beauty in the music. Listening to Aoxomoxoa and hearing “China Cat Sunflower” made me feel like I had known the song all my life, even though it was the first time I had ever heard it.

The summer after my freshman year was 1987. The Dead released their first album in six years, In the Dark, which included their only charted single, “Touch of Grey”. I had also met Julie that year, and had gone to visit her in Tucson during the summer of 1987. I can remember driving around Tucson in her yellow Datsun, listening to her brother’s radio station KRQ, and talking about the new Grateful Dead album. Not that she cared at all about the Grateful Dead; she was showing interest in me and my interests. I was 18 years old and oblivious to such subtleties.

I was playing that song again tonight, and remembered back to those days. I thought, “Wow, that song came out in 1987. That was 20 years ago! … Wait, no … that can’t be right … 30 years ago?!?!”

“Oh well, a touch of grey, kind of suits you anyway…”

That line has a lot more meaning for me now than it did when I was 18.

I approve this message…

Ned Resnikoff, at ThinkProgress, Nov 27: Trump’s lies have a purpose. They are an assault on democracy.

Key Quote:

When political actors can’t agree on basic facts and procedures, compromise and rule-bound argumentation are basically impossible; politics reverts back to its natural state as a raw power struggle in which the weak are dominated by the strong.

That’s where Donald Trump’s lies are taking us. By attacking the very notion of shared reality, the president-elect is making normal democratic politics impossible.