Andrew Clem blog home

Clockwise, from top left: Blackfriar's Theater in Staunton, VA, home of the American Shakespeare Center; National Cathedral in Guatemala City; church near Volin, SD; engraved stellae at ruins of Copan, Honduras; folk musicians in La Paz, Bolivia.

Culture and Travel montage shadow

Culture-related pages:

Travel photos

Religious blogs & sites

Local drama & music

Other Web links


My favorite movies

  1. Casablanca
  2. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  3. Raising Arizona
  4. Fargo
  5. Shawshank Redemption
  6. Field of Dreams
  7. Bull Durham
  8. Fiddler on the Roof
  9. Patton
  10. Bananas
  11. Fort Apache: The Bronx
  12. Broadcast News

January 31, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Ridin' the rails out west

CATCHING UP: I actually made it home for Christmas this season, for the first time in several years. But instead of flying, which exposes one to all sorts of weather-related risks, which I have in fact I have suffered the last two times I flew out to South Dakota (!!!), I took AMTRAK and just relaxed. I got lots of reading done on the way out and back, and did some work on my MacBook laptop computer. Some trains have WiFi service, including the eastbound train from Chicago which I rode. See the Winter 2015-2016 Photo gallery, from which this sample was taken:

Chicago train tracks

Chicago train tracks and skyline, on December 31. (Eastbound)

I used to love flying, but the security hassles at the airports and miscellaneous inconveniences have soured me on that option. It happens that where I live (Staunton) has an AMTRAK station, so I don't have to drive to an airport and leave a car parked there for days or weeks. Besides, it's just plain fun watching the passing scenery from ground level, an experience you never get from 30,000 feet up. I should also mention that all four trains I rode (Staunton-Chicago, Chicago-Omaha, and then the reverse) arrived within a half hour of the scheduled time, which is not bad for such a lengthy trip. (My last trip on AMTRAK, in the fall of 2008, was plagued by delays of more than two hours.) So, they are definitely improving. On one hand, taking advantage of a government-subsidized transportation system does give me qualms, but I think there is a public purpose to be served in maintaining long-distance passenger train service. Wanna ride the rails? Go AMTRAK!

Rating popular-price beers

The Washington Post Weekend Section rated popular-price (i.e., cheap) beers, deliberately omitting the Big Three (Budweiser, Miller, and Coors). The rankings are shown in the list below, and I put the brands I like in bold face. I have to say I am surprised they put Yuengling so low. Back in the 1980s, Budweiser was my usual "regular" beer, and I still like it but I just don't think that it is so much better than some of those listed below that it should be priced almost $2 more per six-pack. Something else that bugs me is how the big brands hog almost all the shelf space in retail outlets. For example, National Bohemian was sold at Food Lion for a while last year, but not any more. Instead there are dozens of cases and six-packs of Bud, Miller Lite, etc.

  1. Genesee Cream Ale
  2. Narragansett
  3. Schlitz (TIE)
  4. Stroh's (TIE)
  5. National Bohemian
  6. Pabst Blue Ribbon
  7. Tecate
  8. Yuengling
  9. Schaefer
  10. Natural Light

On a related note, Top 10 beer brands in America, most of which were imports or high-quality domestic beers such as Blue Moon. Maybe I'll do my own ranking of favorite beers in the future.

January 29, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert!

CATCHING UP: Jacqueline and I went to see Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert at the Rockingham County Fair last August 19, and it was just great. A group called Whiskey Myers played as the opening act, and as the sun went down around 8:00, the main event got underway. I would estimate a crowd of about 2,500 was present. They were enthusiastic, as was the band. The fact that adult beverages were on sale (in a special, roped-off area to the side) may have helped liven spirits. As the photos below show, we were quite close to the stage.

I remember when "Sweet Home Alabama" came out in 1974, and just as they were reached the peak of success in 1977, three band members died in plane crash, most notably Ronnie Van Zant. The band broke up for ten years, during which surviving members Gary Rossington and Allen Collins formed the core of a new group, the Rossington-Collins band. Collins later died as well. In 1987, a new incarnation of Lynyrd Skynyrd was formed, led by Gary Rossington and Johnny Van Zant, younger brother of Ronnie. For more on the band's changing lineup, see and

Here is the unofficial set list from my notes, with three songs (marked with asterisks) that I didn't recognize:

  1. Workin' for MCA**
  2. I Ain't the One**
  3. What's Your Name?
  4. Saturday Night Special
  5. Double Trouble
  6. Gimme Back My Bullets
  7. That Smell
  8. The Needle and the Spoon**
  9. Tuesday's Gone
  10. Simple Man
  11. Gimme Three Steps
  12. Call Me the Breeze
  13. Sweet Home Alabama
  14. Free Bird (ENCORE -- of course!)

** Song titles retrieved from My notes indicated that there was another song, between "Tuesday's Gone" and "Simple Man," but I guess not.

What better rock 'n roll cliche is there than delirious fans yelling out "Free Bird," asking for an encore? Well, I was finally part of it. I was a little disappointed that they didn't play any songs from the latest Lynyrd Skynyrd album, God 'n Guns. I bought that CD a few years ago, and like the title track as well as "Floyd," and a couple others. "That Ain't My America" veers toward nativism, taking the idea of "We all dig white people, too" (from the song "Sweet Home Alabama") a little too seriously. It's transparently anti-Obama.

My wife and I saw local Alternative Media entrepreneur Chris Graham, and his wife Crystal at the concert. Chris was very impressed by the performance. Other musical acts at the Rockingham County Fair last August included Lady Antebellum and Alabama; see

Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert

We were about six to eight rows from the stage at the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert, pretty close.

Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert

In this photo shared by the official Lynyrd Skynyrd Facebook page, a bearded figure wearing an olive green ball cap, looking suspiciously like me, can be seen on the right side, about six to eight rows back.

January 26, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Sweet Briar College is saved!

As the spring semester gets underway, and I struggle to get caught up with various tasks, it's high time for me to write a few lines about a topic that is dear to my heart: the saving of Sweet Briar College! I mentioned that Sweet Briar had closed down in my blog post of June 30, 2015, when I was explaining my unusual three-job situation in the spring semester of last year: Bridgewater College, Sweet Briar College, and Central Virginia Community College. Only a week or two later it was announced that Sweet Briar would not close after all, thanks to a wonderful, spontaneous movement of alumni called Save Sweet Briar, to which I had pledged and donated a bit of money.

Well, that meager gesture of good faith on my part must have triggered some kind of cosmic karma, because soon I was offered a full-time position to teach at Sweet Briar, just before I left on vacation to Canada and South Dakota. As soon as I returned I got extremely busy preparing for three courses: Intro to Comparative Politics, Theories of Comparative Politics, and Intro to International Politics. The first two I had taught in the spring semester, while the third course I had not taught since my days at James Madison University, over ten years before. (!)

For the International Politics class, I had the students prepare for and conduct a diplomatic simulation, kind of a mock United Nations Security Council meeting, and it went very well. I concocted a fictitious world crisis in which troops from Iran's Revolutionary Guard seized most of the port city of Dharhan, Saudi Arabia, after Shi'ite Muslim dissidents seized two mosques in that city. That hypothetial scenario turned out to be eerily similar to the real-world crisis that happened a few weeks ago: Iran issued blunt threats to Saudi Arabia after the latter executed 47 people accused of terrorism. (See In response, Saudi Arabia and several other Arab nations in the region cut diplomatic ties with Iran, amid fears that tensions might escalate toward war.

Anyway, I relished the experience, and was delighted to get to know quite a few excellent students, including some who are majoring in Government or International Affairs.

Welcome, Pres. Stone!

One of the most positive changes at Sweet Briar has been the new president, Dr. Philip Stone. He is a former president of Bridgewater College, and I am told by my former colleagues there that he is very highly regarded. I heard him speak at the Fall Convocation on August 25, and on Founders' Day, September 25. He made it very clear: Sweet Briar will prevail! (Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the speech to the college which he gave today.)

Sweet Briar impossible sign

The new president of Sweet Briar College, Dr. Philip Stone, speaking at the Founders' Day Convocation on September 25.

Regarding the previous president of Sweet Briar College, James F. Jones, Jr., I think the less that is said, the better. Without any warning of impending financial trouble, last March 3, just before spring break, he abruptly announced to the assembled faculty that Sweet Briar would close permanently at the end of the semester. When that was announced by a local TV channel that evening, I could not believe what I had just heard. Sure enough, it was in the newspaper the next day, and when I arrived for my 9:00 class, the students were even more stunned than I was. Some of them didn't even come to class, understandably.

For me, one of the worst parts of this tragic episode is that the lives of colleagues I deeply respect were turned upside down, causing untold family angst. Many of them had no choice but to take teaching positions elsewhere, before the "reopening" was announced. It leaves me with mixed emotions as I embrace the academic challenge with the sobering knowledge that my good fortune came at the expense of others, in effect. To find out what was behind those dastardly deeds, see

Future enrollment growth

The future looks bright at Sweet Briar, with over 200 students expected to matriculate as freshmen next year -- the Class of 2020. (Understandably, this year's freshman class was miniscule.) There remains some uncertainty over which programs and which majors will be retained at Sweet Briar, and some cost-cutting measures are to be expected. Colleges and universities across the country are in varying degrees of financial stress, while many warn of an impending crisis due to the "balloon" of student debt, similar to the mortgage debt "balloon." In any case, I would love settling down and making a career at Sweet Briar, so we'll see how things go...

Sweet Briar impossible sign

"At Sweet Briar, the impossible is just another problem to solve." Roll your mouse over the image to see another such uplifting sign: "It's going to be a legendary year!"

Seth Meyers at Sweet Briar

On Friday, November 6, NBC Late Show host Seth Meyers came to speak at Sweet Briar, being the "prize" for some kind of intercollegiate competition that Sweet Briar won. Seth is a very funny and very bright guy, formerly the chief scriptwriter for Saturday Night Live. He talked to the students about his career path and how he succeeded in a very tough environment. He grew up in New Hampshire, and went to journalism school at Northwestern University, after which he tried his hand at various stand-up comedy acts. He even spent some time working as a comedian in the Netherlands, which must have been different for an English-speaking comic. His message to the students was clear: Whatever situation you are in, produce something original whenever you have time. Don't fret about social networking or getting the highest grades, just establish a track record of effective performance and achievement that will catch the attention of potential employers. Indeed!

The nice folks at NBC (now part of Comcast!) gave everyone who attended the event a tote bag full of goodies such as a frisbee, sunglasses, mini-speakers for iPhones, etc.

Seth Meyers

Seth Meyers, grinning as he answers a question from one of the students in the audience.

NOTE: I will have to update my Academics page in the very near future.

January 21, 2016 [LINK / comment]

R.I.P. Glenn Frey

While driving home on Monday afternoon, I heard on the radio that Glenn Frey of the Eagles had passed away, and I'm still in a state of disbelief and deep sadness. Frey was my favorite Eagle, and I always figured I'd have a chance to see the group in concert again. (The last time was May 2008, in Charlottesville.) "The cause was complications from rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis and pneumonia..." according to the Eagles' Web site, which has a special tribute to Frey, signed by Frey's family members, and by band mates Don Henley, Joe Walsh, and Timothy B. Schmit, as well as former band mate Bernie Leadon and manager Irving Azoff. It also showed the lyrics to the Eagles' song "It's Your World Now," which has some haunting lines hinting of mortality.

Frey mostly played rhythm acoustic guitar, but also played piano on "Desperado," and perhaps other songs. His distinctive voice was clear, reaching fairly high notes with plenty of power. You could tell he still a bit of a Michigan accent (he was born in Detroit), with exaggerated r sounds. It all started when he moved to Los Angeles and met Texas-born Don Henley in 1971, becoming part of a music scene full of folk/country-rockers such as Jackson Browne. Soon they formed a backup group for Linda Ronstadt, and that was the origin of the Eagles. It would be hard to deny that the Eagles defined the dominant musical style of the 1970s, the later plague of disco notwithstanding. Frey's song-writing partnership with Don Henley produced some of the most creative music output since John Lennon and Paul McCartney. In both cases, there was a contrast in personalities that complemented each other perfectly for creative purposes, but which led to constant friction. Lennon and Henley were the serious ones with a Higher Moral Purpose, while McCartney and Frey were the fun-loving melody-smiths. What would the world be like if neither of those pairs of guys had ever met? That's a scary thought.

Tragically, Frey was scheduled to receive a special award at the Kennedy Center with the other Eagles in December, but his ill health made it impossible for the group to attend. Aside from his career as a musician, Frey was an actor in a few episodes of Miami Vice, and played a small role in Jerry Maguire, an excellent movie. For more, see the Washington Post. (I learned from that obituary that the phrase "warm smell of colitas" in the song "Hotel California" referred to the smoke from marijuana buds.)

Frey's death came barely a week after British glam-rocker David Bowie passed away after a bout with cancer. That was likewise a big shock, and reminds us baby boomers that life doesn't last forever, and must be cherished. The Eagles were fortunate that their often-hedonistic life style never had fatal consequences, as so often happens with rock groups. The iconic song "Life In the Fast Lane" may have been autobiographical in part, but they matured and became adults later in life.

I was vaguely aware of the Eagles' early hits at the time (I was in high school), recalling "Outlaw Man" in particular. I would say they became one of my favorite groups after "Already Gone" (from the album On the Border) came out in 1974. With the release of the album One of These Nights in 1975, they became a true super group. I vividly recall waiting for Hotel California to come out at the end of 1976; I bought the vinyl LP record immediately, and still have it! I confess that I was such a fan of the Eagles that I took the messages in their songs (especially "Take It Easy") to heart. In 2013 there was video documentary, "History of the Eagles," which I have seen in recorded form two or three times. It is excellent, an honest portrayal of the group's genius -- and their human foibles. It's a shame that they had to endure so many personality conflicts over the years. They split up in 1980 (which I recall bitterly), seeming so permanent that when the five of them (including former lead guitarist Don Felder) finally got back together for a reunion tour in 1994, the album was titled Hell Freezes Over. Unfortunately, Felder later parted ways and still remains estranged from the group. For more discography information on the Eagles (and other of my favorite groups), see my Music page.

I've seen a few lists of his (supposed) best songs on CNN, etc., but some of them feature Don Henley as lead vocalist. So, I went through all the Eagles songs I have, and came up with the following preliminary list:

Glenn Frey's best songs as the Eagles' lead vocalist

  1. Tequila Sunrise
  2. Already Gone
  3. New Kid In Town
  4. Take It Easy
  5. Lyin' Eyes
  6. Peaceful, Easy Feeling
  7. Outlaw Man
  8. After The Thrill Is Gone
  9. How Long
  10. It's Your World Now

I may reconsider some of those rankings later on. Today I bought Glenn Frey's album Solo Collection from Apple's iTunes Store, from which I came up with the following list:

Glenn Frey's best solo songs

  1. You Belong to the City
  2. Smuggler's Blues
  3. The Heat Is On
  4. Part of Me, Part of You
  5. True Love

I spent some time this afternoon learning to play "You Belong to the City" on my guitar, using the harmonica (G) in place of the saxophone. It's a "work in progress."


CNN ran an online poll to gauge people's opinions about which American rock band is the greatest. Can there be any doubt? The last I checked, the Eagles were in the lead with about 30% of the vote, which doesn't mean much, of course. I was surprised the Doobie Brothers were not on that list. It seems that some people just don't like the Eagles, but of course there's no accounting for taste. Unlike many other rock groups, there were never any negative vibes from the Eagles, just excellent tunes and good times.

Farewell and thank you, Glenn!
You gave us all quite a thrill!


NOTE: Some contents of this section have been or will be moved to a separate page (Music) which is "under construction."

My favorite groups

  1. The Eagles (1980, 2008)
  2. Fleetwood Mac
  3. Beatles
  4. Rolling Stones (2005)
  5. The Police (2007)
  6. Ozark Mountain Daredevils (1974)
  7. Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young
  8. Led Zeppelin
  9. Kansas (1979) (also see Kerry Livgren)
  10. U2

(Years in parentheses denote concerts I have seen, with blog links for concerts in recent years.) I play several songs from each of the above groups on guitar.

Musical instruments

I play the following instruments:

Guitar 1969 Advanced
Piano 1988 Beginner
Charango 2004 Beginner
Harmonica 2012 Intermediate

Latin American folk music

This table of charango chords is based on a pamphlet that came with the charango I bought in Cuzco, Peru in March 2004. A charango is a very small ten-stringed instrument with a rounded body, roughly comparable to a ukelele but with a much richer, almost haunting tone. The numbers correspond to, respectively,
the index finger (1),
the middle finger (2),
the ring finger (3), and
the little finger (4).

Charango chords

Major world languages

Language 2002
Chinese * 874 # 1,213
Spanish * 322 329
English * 341 328
Arabic ? 221
Hindi 366 # 182
Bengali 207 181
Portuguese 176 178
Russian * 167 144
Japanese 125 122
German 100 90

# : 2004 data for Chinese pertained only to Mandarin speakers, whereas data for Hindi speakers were defined more broadly.
Asterisks (*) denote the official languages of the United Nations, which also includes French (68 million speakers).

SOURCE: The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2004 & 2012

I speak Spanish, some Portuguese, and have dabbled in German, French, Italian, Russian, Catalan, and Quechua.

Major world religions

Religion 2002
Christians 2,038 2,281
Muslims 1,226 1,553
Hindus 828 943
Chinese folk 389 454
Buddhists 364 463
Sikhs 24 24
Jews 14 15
Local, other 32 379
Non-religious 925 798

The obvious discontinuities in the last two lines of data are of uncertain origin.

SOURCE: The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2004 & 2012

I belong to the Episcopal Church and am annoyed at the recent polarization. According to a Theology quiz, I scored as a "Classical Liberal."

Ten Commandments

  1. Worship ONE God only
  2. No graven images
  3. No taking God's name in vain
  4. Keep Sabbath day holy
  5. Honor parents
  6. No stealing
  7. No murder
  8. No adultery
  9. No bearing false witness
  10. No coveting what others have

Seven deadly sins

  1. Pride
  2. Covetousness
  3. Lust
  4. Anger
  5. Gluttony
  6. Envy
  7. Sloth

Proverbs 6: 16-19

There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:

haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies,
and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

Romans 12: 17, 21

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.

Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.

Serenity Prayer

Reinhold Niebuhr was a leading theologian of the mid-20th Century, and often wrote about foreign policy from a "Christian realist" perspective. From

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.