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Clifford Cunningham

Clifford Cunningham

Dr. Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist. He earned his PhD in the history of astronomy at the University of Southern Queensland, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. In 2014 he was named a contributor to Encyclopedia Britannica. He is the author of 14 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honor in 1990 by the International Astronomical Union based on the recommendation of its bureau located at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

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Space Age Meets Farmhouses in Austin

Published in Miami News

For the 31st annual Austin Homes Tour, organisers selected a bakers' dozen of homes ranging from remodelled structures built 75 years ago to brand new dwellings. Sizes ranged widely too, from a tiny 1700 sq feet to a sprawling 6452 sq feet.


A new construction that represents the best in functional family living is located at 5010 Timberline Drive, and was done by Tim Brown Architecture. I spoke with the first owner, Kerrie Pennington.


One of three ladders leading to the loft“I wanted a farmhouse look,” she said. The house was inspired by an old home her grandparents had “with a windy back staircase. I wanted to recreate the idea of a secret staircase here.” The result is a slide, which her three children (5, 6 and 13) not only slide down but walk up! Another fun feature for the kids is a loft, which can only by reached by ladders that are available in three rooms.


One of the kids' bedrooms features a boat-shaped bed. In all there are five bedrooms, and five bathrooms in this two-story house which has a peaked ceiling and 4,568 sq ft.


For the adults there is an outdoor fireplace by the pool and outdoor grilling kitchen with a pizza oven. “I love how the outside melts into the inside,” enthused Pennington, who only lived in the house a few months before deciding to relocate to another state.


A very different farmhouse concept is located at 108 Parkwood Court in West Austin. Matt Shoberg, the owner and builder, told me he “liked a modern farmhouse: a traditional design with modern features. Big stucco box houses are the norm in Austin, so I went against the grain.”


Dining room at the Parkwood houseThe concept was heavily influenced by the fact he has 3 boys. “We got rid of the formal living room: the kitchen is the heart of the home. The children have their own separate spaces but it still feels like we're together.”


The house, which retained the core of an existing structure, is the largest I visited at 6230 sq ft. It is by Furman and Keil Architects. At one end is the master bedroom with a flexible room below it, currently outfitted as a gym. This is all connected to the main house with a steel and glass dining room bridge. Leading outdoors directly off the kitchen is an expansive area featuring a sport infinity pool.


The most avant-garde design of the suite of 13 houses on the tour is by Alterstudio Architecture at 1103 Constant Springs Drive. I spoke to designer Michael Woodland.


“The project was about taking advantage of the opportunities of the site, especially the slope of the ground and the trees. Live oak trees in front create a large front porch. The back of the house is about the view of a wall of trees and glimpses of a creek.”


What first strikes one upon entering the front porch is an oak tree which appears to be an organic part of the house. It seems planted in the wood floor, and rises through the ceiling with its thick twin trunks. The roughly oval-shaped opening in the ceiling repeats the contours of the front portion of the house that ones walks under just a few feet away. Another large oak tree rises from the earth a few feet to the right, bordered on three sides by the front of this space-aged dwelling.


When I asked Woodland how the shape of the structure and ceiling-opening were decided upon, he rightly attributed it to “whimsy: whatever looked good and felt right.” It certainly works!


At only 3600 sq ft this new home seems a bit constricted inside after the breathtaking expansiveness evoked by the huge trees at the entrance. My colleague regarded the interior corridors are so narrow that he felt claustrophobic.


The backyard features a pool structured above ground, 15 feet above grade. An opening in the ceiling above the pool echoes that of the front entranceway.


With perfect sunny weather on the late October weekend the tour was held, organisers expected some 4,000 people to visit the homes which were dotted across much of greater Austin.


The Austin Homes Tour is organised by the Austin Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, a non-profit corporation. AIA Austin serves the professional needs of more than 1,000 architect and associate members. For more information visit the website:



Come Blow Your Horn

Published in Miami News

It has been 56 years since Come Blow Your Horn first hit Broadway, but this first-ever play by the venerable Neil Simon has stood the test of time. The production by the Players Guild of Dearborn (in Michigan) is true to the lightly comedic spirit that Simon intended.


Sue Delosier, in her role as Mother, stole show with her deft handling of comedic timing and delivery. That comes from a long career spanning 70 productions. One member of the audience said “she was really into her part. The whole audience fell in love with her.”


Mother certainly needed a good sense of humour to deal with her eldest son, Alan Baker, played by Alex Gojkov. The role is that of a playboy, a kind of goof-off who enjoys the money from the family business but isn't keen on being associated with it. Perhaps not too surprising as not many 30-year-olds can find much romance in the wax fruit business.


Younger son Buddy, played by Graham Dallas, has a lot of one-on-one stage time with Alan, especially in the first half of the play. They played off each other in a very natural manner, making it quite believable they were siblings. Their light banter was engaging.


Looking up to his older brother, Buddy decided he wanted to leave the nest and be with Alan. He found the allure of partying all the time to be alluring, but he finally realises he just wants to be a writer. This is Neil Simon's persona in the play.


There was a slight wardrobe malfunction in the performance I saw, which turned out to be cute. Allan's girlfriend Peggy (played by Jazzmin Sharara) was not able to get a coat on and walked off the set with one arm in and one out! Both her and Allan's other girlfriend (played by Nicole Harris) were delightfully portrayed. The cast was rounded out by Ron Eagal as Mr. Baker, and Marsha Barnett-Krause as Aunt Gussie. Her one-minute part at the conclusion of the play was perfectly cast for a cameo.


The most memorable scene in the play is where Mother tries to make notes during a succession of phone calls, but unable to find a pencil she tries to keep it all in her memory. She gets so confused she can't remember anything coherent. Her young son comes into the room and goes to a small bar where he opens what appears to be a old-fashioned straw dispenser. It is full of pencils! Her reaction was hysterical.


The very modest set by Ross Grossman, meant to evoke an apartment in the east Sixties, New York City, set just the right tone for this production. As the first play in the 90th season of the Players Guild of Dearborn, this is a sure-fire hit.


Come Blow Your Horn directed by Kori Bielaniec in her debut as a director, ends its run today, October 1, 2017.


thanks to Sharon Williams and Dr. Matt Emanuele for their review comments.

Female Priests in ancient Rome

Published in Books

The subtitle of this award-winning book is a bit misleading, as author Meghan J. DiLuzio does cover the role of priestesses in both the Republican and Imperial Roman periods, although the emphasis is certainly on the former. DiLuzio is assistant professor of Classics at Baylor University in Texas.


Earlier this year I met Dr. DiLuzio at the annual meeting of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS), where I asked about what led her to research this book. Here she mentions Dr. Mary Beard of the University of Cambridge.


“I decided to write about priestesses in Rome because I had read Mary Beard's article about Vestal virgins where she talked about how the Vestals must have had a masculine aura that surrounded them because they were the only priestesses in Rome. To sacrifice you had to have this official public status.


“That seemed odd to me because we do have evidence for other public priestesses like the flamen Dialis, the flamen of Mars, priestesses of the Quirnalis and of Ceres: so there are other priestesses but they weren't getting a lot of attention in the major scholarly works on priesthood or on women in religion.


“John Scheid's article on women in Roman religion asserts very definitively there are no priestesses other than the Vestals although he does acknowledge these other women are performing official roles but there is a sort of problem of categorizing them. I wanted to address what I thought was the issue of the way we are talking about women and their official role in public cults, and present all of the evidence to show they did have a very full role in public cults but one that was conditioned by their gender and Roman ideologies of gender.” DiLuzio said “how this impacted the kind of cults they were involved in and the kind of relationships they had to other public priests” was central to her project, which I must say is a great success.


Dr. DiLuzio with her bookThe author convincingly demonstrates how pervasive the role of women was in a wide variety of ceremonial rites in ancient Rome. Sometimes this was in conjunction with a man, as a priest of a major cult was quite literally married to the priestess of the cult. If she died, the priest had to withdraw from his role, to replaced by another married couple. Foremost among these was the flamen Dialis, and his wife the flaminica Dialis, representing the priesthood of Jupiter, the foremost god. Their requirement to perform daily sacrifices meant they were never allowed to leave the city walls of Rome.


On page 144 she deals head-on with the model advanced by Beard that Vestal Virgins possessed a certain “sexual ambiguity” that made them sacred figures. This thesis, writes DiLuzio, “is untenable.” She looks at a particular leader of the Vestals, Cornelia, “who was convicted of incestum and buried alive” by the emperor Domitian. According to Livy, she defended herself thus: “does Caesar think that I have been unchaste, when he has conquered and triumphed while I have been performing the rites?” This plea, says DiLuzio, “hinges on the relationship between her virginity and efficacy of the sacra (religious rites) in her care. If she has performed the sacra unchastely, Domitian's campaigns would have been doomed to failure.”


The plea, which did not dissuade the tyrant, shows not only the link between Rome's own inviolability, but that of the Vestal Virgin. This also highlights the vast difference between what we regard as religion today, and what it meant to those in ancient Rome.


An examination of the Vestals occupies much of the book as it was the premiere cult that has survived the best in our sources, but the author gives full attention to several other cults. She describes the Salian Virgins as both enigmatic and the most intriguing of the ones under discussion. Unlike Vestals, Salian priestesses “only remained in office as long as they were virgins,” so they resigned upon marriage. Most were thus teenagers, who danced through the city to the Forum at the beginning of the military campaign season. Thus she disputes the opinion of some scholars that the Salian dance was not a martial ritual but merely an initiation rite into adulthood.


The book offers several illustrations showing how the Vestals dressed, and DiLuzio goes into great details about such things as their hairstyle, shoes, and jewelry (or lack of it). Their public role is also given its due in this book, showing how they could and did intervene in public affairs. The most notable of these is the decision by Sulla to kill the young Julius Caesar. Fortunately Caesar had already been named flamen Dialis, and a personal intervention to Sulla by the leader of the Vestal Virgins saved his life, and thus changed history.


A fascinating book that shows how, despite centuries of scholarly study, we still labour under serious misapprehensions about ancient Roman life and culture.

For A Place at the Altar: Priestesses in Republican Rome, CAMWS awarded its “First Book Award” to DiLuzio in 2017.


I noticed three typos: pg. 57 (That the he); pg. 102 (that that); pg. 193 (rather than); Photo with this article by C. Cunningham


A Place at the Altar: Priestesses in Republican Rome (281 pages) is $45 from Princeton University Press.

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