Miscellaneous Pop culture

Andrew Bird’s Kennedy Center Pops Concert plus my personal Top 5 Andrew Bird albums

Me: “I’m going to see Andrew Bird!”
You: “Who is Andrew Bird?”
Me: “He’s an indie rock songwriter who plays the violin.”
You: “Oh.”

Andrew Bird usually plays in late-night clubs, but in October he appeared with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center for a pops concert; also on the bill was singer-songwriter Gabriel Kahane. (Kahane orchestrated Bird’s songs for the performance.) I bought tickets months in advance.

The performance cast Andrew Bird’s songs in a new light with the full orchestra filling out the songs and giving them a symphonic largeness. Some of the accompaniment was a little atonal for my taste — I would have preferred more melodic orchestration — but it still brought out the real beauty of great songs like “Pulaski at Night” and “Scythian Empires.” I love classical music and I love indie rock; I’d like to see more match-ups like Andrew at the Kennedy Center.

The night made me reflect on the five times I’ve seen Andrew Bird in concert … An earlier band called Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire in Austin at the South by Southwest music festival, probably around 1997 … At Tampa’s Straz Center in October 2012 for his album Break It Yourself … For his album Are You Serious at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.,  in April 2016 … At Maryland’s Merriweather Post Pavilion in 2017 … At the Kennedy Center Pops Concert in October 2018.

Here is my ranking of Andrew Bird’s Top 5 albums (or EPs).

5. I Want to See Pulaski at Night (2013) – The pop song perfection of “Pulaski at Night” with its lilting violin hook is nestled between soothing instrumental variations. This is a great EP for just chilling.  

4. Break It Yourself (2012) – Andrew Bird doesn’t really have “hits” per se, but the song “Eyeoneye” is a real rocker, and he played it on a late-night show or two when this album came out. The other songs are more leisurely and melodic, call it music for the planet Earth: the fragility of the natural world (“Hole in the Ocean Floor”), staving off climate change (“Desperation Breeds”), or traveling by boat (“Lusitania”) to Australia (“Fatal Shore”).

3. Armchair Apocrypha (2007) – This album has my second most-favorite song ever of Andrew BIrd’s, the thumping disco lullaby “Plasticities” with its warning to never let life’s slow unfolding lull you to sleep intellectually: “We’ll fight, we’ll fight for your music halls and dying cities/ They’ll fight for your neural walls and plasticities … precious territory.” There’s also the adventure story opening song “Fiery Crash,” the environmental warnings (again) of “Spare Ohs” (“What remains of the small flightless birds that you failed to protect?”) and the mythic galloping horse riders of “Scythian Empires.”

2. Noble Beast (2009) – So many great cuts on this one, from the mysterious sadness of “Oh No,” to the memory games of “Anonanimal,” to the pastoral longing of “Souverian.” It’s an album for sitting on a front porch at twilight on a summer’s night, sipping a cold drink.  

1. The Mysterious Production of Eggs (2005) – This is the Bird album I go back to again and again and again, because just about every song on it is so memorable and sweet. There’s my No. 1 favorite song of his, “Tables and Chairs,” a wistful love song for when the end of the world arrives. There’s the elegiac and soothing “Sovay,” there’s the pulsing syncopation (and whistling) of “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left,” there’s the child’s play marching song “Measuring Cups.” I could go on, but better that you listen yourself.

Journalism Miscellaneous

My father’s obituary

My father died recently, and I wanted to honor him by writing an obituary that captured his adventurous and rich life. With my mother’s help reminding me of key events, and my husband’s help editing, this is what I wrote:

Leo Drobnic, 76, a retired practitioner of Chinese medicine in the Austin area, died Friday, April 27.

Leo’s lifetime spanned three continents. He was born in 1941 in Milocer in the former Yugoslavia to servants of the royal family. Shortly after World War II, his parents escaped communism with Leo and his younger brother, Jose, crossing from their native Slovenia into Italy. The family spent 1948 as refugees in Italy’s displaced person camps while attempting to reach the United States. Unable to immigrate to America, the family instead traveled to Venezuela, where they opened a restaurant. Leo attended high school and some college in Caracas. When civil unrest interrupted his studies, Leo made a second attempt to reach the United States, this time successfully. He studied engineering and computer science at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

At LSU, Leo met Faye Marin of Patterson, La. They married in 1968 and had two daughters. Leo worked briefly as an engineer at McDermott Shipbuilding near Morgan City, then joined Patterson State Bank, where he worked alongside other members of the Marin family.

In 1990, Leo began a major career change. He left Louisiana to study massage therapy at the New England School of Shiatsu in Boston, Mass. After graduating, he moved to Austin and opened a professional practice. He expanded his studies into Chinese acupuncture and herbs at the AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine. For nearly 20 years, Leo practiced Chinese healing, working with clients around the Austin area. He retired to Creekside Villas in Buda, Texas.

Leo died of congestive heart failure and other complications. He was treated with care at Seton Medical Center Hays in Kyle, Texas, and was surrounded by loved ones at his passing.

Leo is survived by his daughters, Marina Drobnic of Houston, Texas, and Angie Drobnic Holan and her husband Mark Holan of Arlington, Va.; his brother Jose Drobnic of Andover, Mass.; and his former wife Faye Drobnic of Lafayette, La.

A funeral Mass will be held 11 a.m. May 26 at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Patterson, La. In lieu of flowers the family asks donations be made to the Seton Hays Foundation, 1345 Philomena St., Austin, Texas 78723; or Hospice Austin, 4107 Spicewood Springs Rd., Suite 100, Austin, TX  78759.


Beating the odds on the no-hitter

My husband and I, both baseball fans, have seen three no-hitters in person over the last three years.

  • Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals, beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-0 on June 20, 2015,  in Washington.
  • Jordan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals, beating the Miami Marlins 1-0 on Sept. 28, 2014, in Washington.
  • Home Bailey of the Cincinnati Reds, beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 1-0 on Sept. 28, 2012, in Pittsburgh. (This one was a bummer.)

What are the odds? Well, we usually attend between four and 10 games per season. So let’s say we’ve been attending games since  2002 (13.5 seasons), and we’ll be generous and say we’ve been to 135 games. We actually haven’t been to that many. But if we had, it means our overall record of seeing no-hitters is 2.22 percent.

Meanwhile, in that same period, there have been 51 no hitters. For total games played, I’m calculating 32,805 for 13.5 seasons. Which means the typical chance of seeing a no hitter is 0.16 percent.

I’m no statistics ninja, but by my reckoning and using a very conservative method, we have been 13 times more likely to see a no-hitter than a regular MLB fan.

History Miscellaneous Travel

‘Get action, be sane …’


I loved getting to know Teddy Roosevelt through Ken Burns’ documentary, The Roosevelts. His advice for staving off depression by staving off boredom was this: “Get action, be sane … .” Another great TR quote is chiseled on the monument I viewed today at Theodore Roosevelt Island: “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”

Digital Miscellaneous

Welcome to

Welcome to my new website! I’ve imported below a few select entries from my tumblr, just so you’ll have a little something to look at. More to come soon …

Digital Miscellaneous

How a certain computer company lost me, and how they won me back

Just a few months ago, I replaced my PC with a Mac, and I’m kind of surprised that I did. Here’s my personal technology history, briefly: 

The first computer I remember seeing was around 1986 or ‘87, when my dad brought home a “portable” Compaq that was the size of small suitcase. It had an operating system called DOS. I didn’t get anything my own computer-like device until late high school, when I got a Panasonic word processor. The Panasonic took me all the way into my senior year of college, when email was just starting to become common. My first computer was an Apple LC III (Or was it II? Hard to remember).

At my first newspaper job in 1994, we wrote our stories on Macintosh Classics with those teeny tiny black and white monitors. The World Wide Web hadn’t been invented yet. When it was, around 1997, we got up from our Mac’s to use the special “Internet computer,” which was PC. (Yes, I’m serious that it was the special “Internet” station.) I still had the LC III, but my roommates had PCs that I’d use from time to time. 

In 1998, I bought my first laptop, a Macintosh Power PC. By the time 2002 rolled around, though, I wanted a newer, faster computer. But I was put off by how high the prices for new Mac’s. I’d also been having problems with sharing documents between home and work, and with files from the Internet that wouldn’t work on a Mac. So I bought a cheap, fast laptop, and I was pretty happy about it.

I stayed with PCs for 10 years. But then a bunch of little things happened that planted the seeds for an eventual return to Mac.

I’m somewhat techy, but I did need help with certain things from time to time, especially with modems and routers. Around midway through my PC run, I noticed that the customer service offered by my PC maker (Dell) was deteriorating noticeably — the reps just were not as helpful, and it was obvious they were all based overseas. Another thing: I could see that the compatibility issues for documents and other files were going away. My students (I teach as an adjunct) had Macs and were navigating those issues just fine.

I had the misfortune to buy my final PC during the terrible Vista years, and as time went on, it created many aggravations. Meanwhile, Apple was launching its iPods and iPhones, and offering more services. I also started noticing that while the price difference between Macs and PCs were still there, they were less than they had been, while Apple was offering more services and options.

This year, when it was time to buy a new computer, I was well disgusted with my PC, so much so that I was willing to pay the extra money and switch back to Mac.

I’m writing all this down here now, and it makes a coherent story. But I have to say the ACTUAL thought processes for making the switch were much less linear and much more intuitive, and not a decision-tree type of thing at all. It was more like this: PCs=aggravating, Macs=interesting. Purchase. 

Thus are the impulses on which rise and fall the fortunes of the major tech companies.


2010 LSMSA Commencement Address

One of the perks of being on a team that won a Pulitzer Prize is getting asked to do cool things … like give the commencement address at your old high school. That would be my beloved Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts (LSMSA) in Natchitoches, La.

Here’s what I had to say to the students …

Thank you, Dr. Widhalm, for that very generous introduction. I’m so happy to be here today. Let me begin by saying: Congratulations to the class of 2010. I’m sure the past few years have been a long journey for you. I’d like to especially welcome your families and everyone who has supported you here along the way. Today is a day you will always remember.

I’d like to thank the faculty and staff for all the work they’ve done this year to help you get to this day.

Finally I’d like to greet the other students here, the classes of 2011 and 2012. It won’t be long before your sitting in the front rows yourselves.

I can tell you, it feels like not long ago at all I was sitting where you graduating seniors are. But the truth is, last night, I joined my classmates from the sixth class, the class of 1990, for our 20 year high school reunion. Twenty years have gone by so fast — and graduates, it will go by fast for you too.

I love the Louisiana School very much, so being invited to speak to you today is truly an unexpected honor — much like winning the Pulitzer Prize for  national. I could go on and on about my days at the school and my hope for YOUR future. But I don’t want to hold up the festivities for longer than is necessary — your festivities or my festivities. So I’ve condensed years of thinking about the school down to three pieces of advice. Three things that I hope you’ve started to learn at the school, and things that I hope you will continue to learn as you go into the future. I’m still learning these things even today.

The first piece of advice: Learn critical thinking

This is the ability to look at a statement of fact or an argument and take it apart — examine its premises and assumptions, how it moves logically to a conclusion. You can learn critical thinking in any class — English, History, Science, Business, even the Arts. It’s a mandatory skill for journalism. And it’s even more important, for my job, fact-checking. Our website PolitiFact is motivated by the question, Is that really true? And how do we prove it.

I remember my first history class at Louisiana School. Dr. Bill McBride entered the classroom, greeted us warmly, and then started talking about the pertinent facts of the first pilgrims in North America. We just sat there looking at him, listening attentively, until he stopped about 10 minutes in and said, very nicely, “You know, you might want to take out your notebooks and take some notes.” That was my first lecture class. Now I know, take notes.

I’m still learning new techniques for recalling information. The Internet puts so much information at our finger tips, but a lot of it is not useful, or alternatively it’s hard to find. I’m always looking for new ways to keep on top of information, and I think that’s a task that never ends.

So how do we learn critical thinking? One answer: By always challenging ourselves.  So don’t be afraid to take college classes that you think might not so so well in. If you’re a science person, take an art class. If you’re an English major, try a biology class. And I’ll tell you this, a lesson some of you may have already learned: It’s OK to make a B, or even — horrors! — a C. Learning is more important than grades

Why do we need critical thinking? It’s only through critical thinking that we can seek truth — for whatever purpose necessary, in whatever field of study, or even truth simply for its own sake. I’ve come to one conclusion after writing literally hundreds of factchecking reports and seeing how people respond. The conclusion is this: There is something in the human heart that loves the truth, that seeks constantly to understand reality itself better or more fully. That’s why we need critical thinking.

Don’t be fooled into thinking critical thinking is something you’re born with. You learn critical thinking through hard work. When I went to Columbia University for journalism school, I had a teacher who said he didn’t think I was that good, that I was tough enough, and that I should  seriously consider dropping out of the program. For about 15 seconds, I thought maybe he was right. But then my common sense kicked in and said, don’t be ridiculous. So I stayed and graduated. And I got one job in journalism, and then another, and then another. And I got a lot better than I was that day in his office. I think about that day now and I get a tremendous sense of accomplishment that I didn’t quit, I worked hard to get better.

So don’t you quit either — work harder when someone tells you you can’t do something. Listen carefully to the criticism — think critically about — see if you can learn anything, then move on. I write fact-checks about political leaders on both the left and the right, who have faithful supporters who like to post to the Internet whenever they feel like us fact-checkers aren’t getting it right. And that’s fine. Actually, I try to learn whatever I can from their comments.

One of my favorite writers, Clay Shirky, said if you do anything interesting in life, people are going to criticize it. You can avoid criticism by never doing anything interesting, or you can do something interesting anyway. I vote for do something interesting anyway.

Which leads to my second piece of advice: Do what you love.

When I was considering coming to Louisiana School, the thing that closed the deal were the wonderful class offerings — foreign languages like German and Latin, advanced Calculus, specialized classes in literature and history.  Some of my fondest memories included a Romantic Era poetry taught by Dr. Art Williams, and a history class on the French Revolution taught by Dr. Jim Findley.

When I got to college, my program, called Plan II at UT,  had many required classes, some of which were less than thrilling. But I made sure that one class every semester that just seemed like great fun. So when you’re in college, make sure some of those classes you’re taking are things you love — and even major in them.

Now don’t get me wrong, not all of college is fun and games. I believe in being practical, and always keeping an eye out toward graduation day and what you’ll do to be gainfully employed. One of the great joys of adulthood is making your own money and paying your own way. When you pay your own way, you can very sweetly and respectfully tell other people to mind their own business. So do think about work and careers.

But at the same time, don’t choose your profession or course of study based on money alone. Life is too short. If you do something you love, you’ll never feel like work is a drudgery or boring. So think critically and do what you love. My husband and I like to tell each other, just do the next right thing, and trust that tomorrow will take care of itself.

My final piece of advice: Treasure your friendships

One of the reasons we’re here on this planet is to be in relationship with each other. So take care of your friendships. I’m so happy to come to the Louisiana School 20 years later and see so many people I’ve been keeping up with over the years. Even the faculty members who seemed so lofty can become our friends if we stick around long enough.

So how do we treasure our friendships?  The most concrete answer is to make sure you don’t let too much time go by without seeing them. Connect with the Louisiana Schoolers you end up going to college with. Get together with your old friends at Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. Come back here to Natchitoches for your class reunions. Seniors, come back next year to see your juniors graduate, then come back at the five year reunion mark, the ten year reunion mark. Join the alumni association or the Louisiana School Foundation, and work with other alumnae to help the school grow.

There’s that old saying that half of life is just showing up. Well, half of friendship is just showing up. You’ll make new friends after Louisiana School, and the same advice goes for those. Make the extra effort to go to weddings and special occasions, even when they happen in far-off, rather impractical places. Like upstate New York, where I traveled last year for a friend’s lakeside wedding. Eight years ago, when I married my dear husband, I had friends travel to Mobile, Ala., from places like Portland, Oregon; Brooklyn, New York; and San Francisco. All of those friends are here in Natchitoches this weekend.

Today, I look at my Louisiana School classmates after 20 years, and I’m so pleased to remember and recognize my friends. They are  good-hearted people who are so smart and doing amazing things with their lives. My class has attorneys, scientists, English professors, stay-at-home parents, novelists, teachers, doctors, engineers. They’ve used their critical thinking and they’ve followed their passions, and I could not be more proud of them. I’m also proud of you graduates, and I have no doubt you will follow similar, interesting paths.

So in conclusion, thank you, graduates, for letting me speak to you today. The rest of your journey begins right now. Make it together.

Thank you.