fauxklore: (Default)
2017-09-18 04:10 pm

Intellectual Snobbery, Folk Music, and Brunching

Celebrity Death Watch: Maurice Bluestein modernized the wind-chill index. Edie Windsor was an activist who played a major role in overturning the Defense of Marriage Act. J. P. Donleavy was a novelist, whose works included Fairy Tale of New York. Frank Vincent was an actor who sort of specialized in playing gangsters. Grant Hart was one of the founders of Husker Du. Harry Dean Stanton was a character actor who was in too many movies to attempt to single out a few to mention. Paul E. Gray was the president of MIT from 1980 to 1990.

Pete Domenici was a senator who represented New Mexico for many years. In general, I disagreed with his positions on environmental issues. He also got into trouble for reports about having fathered an illegitimate child and supposedly had pretty awful phone manners. However, he was a strong supporter of treating mental illness the same as physical illness.

Book Club: Book Club was on Wednesday. We had a pretty good discussion about Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. I like the central question at the heart of the novel, which is who should tell another’s story. But the reason I am mentioning this is that part of the novel involves one of the characters having an affair with a writer she admires. I made a comment to the effect of, "if Neil Gaiman showed up on my doorstep…" and was shocked that two of the people present were entirely unfamiliar with him. (I explained him as a writer of humorous fantasy with floppy hair and a British accent.) It also turned out that there were several people who had never read "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Philistines!

Christine Lavin: Friday night I went to see Christine Lavin at Jammin’ Java, one of my favorite local venues, not least for its proximity to home. Doug Mishkin opened for her and was thoroughly delightful, getting everybody singing his song "Woody’s Children." As for Christine, she was as funny as ever, with a mixture of old and new material. Many of her songs tell stories, e.g. one that described a dinner with a famous person with atrocious table manners. (I won’t reveal who it was, so you can have the joy of the surprise at the end.) During intermission, she taught members of the audience how to do some elaborate napkin folds. (I, alas, was in line for the facilities, so missed out on the lesson, though I saw the results.) All in all, it was a thoroughly delightful evening of folk song and laughter.

Loser Brunch: There were several things I could have done this weekend, but it had been a while since I’d been to brunch with the Style Invitational Losers and Devotees, i.e. fans of the Washington Post’s humor contest. This brunch was at Brion’s Grill in Fairfax, so reasonably convenient. The buffet was just okay, losing points from me for not having any fruit beyond a bowl of mixed melon. On the plus side, they did have cooked to order omelets. And they had French toast donuts, something I had never experienced before. This sort of thing is all about people, in my opinion, so I don’t really care much about the food. The conversation was lively and it was a good way to get out of the house for a couple of hours.
fauxklore: (Default)
2017-09-11 04:35 pm

About Last Week

Celebrity Death Watch: Kate Millett wrote the feminist classic Sexual Politcs. Gene "Stick" Michael played baseball and moved into management, primarily with the Source of All Evil in the Universe. Don Williams was a country music singer, as was Troy Gentry. Michael Friedman wrote the score of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Len Wein was a comic book writer and editor, credited as co-creator of Wolverine. Don Ohlmeyer was a sports television executive, responsible for Monday night football. (He was also the mentor of someone I grew up with, who has some very interesting stories about him.) Nancy Dupree was an historian who focused on the history of modern Afghanistan. Jack Kiel created McGruff the Crime Dog.

Jerry Pournelle wrote science fiction and published articles on military strategy. He had actually worked for the company that I am employed by at one time (as well as other companies in the space industry). He was alleged to have been the first author to have written a published book using a word processor on a personal computer. I have absolutely no recollection of having read anything he wrote, but I think I have read anthologies he edited.

Lotfi Zadeh was a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and is best known for his work on fuzzy logic. I am somewhat hesitant to list him because there had been at least two earlier, incorrect reports of his death. But the EECS department is now reporting it, which is a more reliable source than various Azerbaijani sources. Incidentally, it is probably not well known that he was Jewish, at least technically, as his mother was a Russian Jew. (His father was Iranian and, I assume, Muslim, in which case the Muslims would claim him too. Though maybe not, since he apparently went to a Presbyterian mission school when his family returned to Iran from Azerbaijan. None of this actually matters in the least – I just think it’s interesting. And is perhaps an example of fuzzy religious and national identity.)

Birthday: I turned 59 on Labor Day. I really want my life to be in much better order by the time I’m 60.

Speaking of Order: I more or less tore my living room apart looking for what I had done with some theatre tickets. Of course, they turned out to be in the pile that I was positive that they absolutely could not be in. In the process of searching, I did manage to throw out 4 bags full of papers. What is pathetic is how much there is to go.

A Little Night Music: That ticket was for Signature Theatre’s production of A Little Night Music. Signature makes something of a specialty of Sondheim so this was a sure bet. And it was, indeed, a good show. There were lots of familiar performers, e.g. Bobby Smith as Frederik, Sam Ludwig as Henrik, Maria Rizzo as Petra, Will Gartshore as Carl-Magnus, and Holly Twyford as Desiree. I should note that Twyford is known as an actress, not a singer, but was more than up to the role. But the real highlights were Florence Lacey as the acerbic Madame Armfeldt and Tracy Lynn Olvera as Charlotte. Both performers highlighted the humor of some of Sondheim’s wittiest lyrics. Even though this is a show I know well, I still noticed lyrics I hadn’t quite caught before. Overall, this is among the best theatre I’ve seen here.

I do have one complaint, however. The air conditioning was way too aggressive. It wasn’t even hot out. I need to remember to bring a sweater or shawl whenever I go to Signature.

Also re: Shirlington: I had amazingly good parking karma for this trip to Signature, with an available spot right by the stairs / elevator in the closer garage. I believe the reason for this is that it allowed me to do a good deed. There was a miniature Celtic festival going on and a blind woman was trying to find a place to sit to listen to the music. I let her take my elbow and led her to the chairs set up in front of the stage.

Story Swap: Saturday night was our monthly story swap, which is always fun. I have found an Albanian story to tell, which went over reasonably well. Especially the part in which the hero is sent to collect overdue taxes from a church full of snakes.

JGSGW: There was a Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington meeting on Sunday. The topic was ancestry tips and tricks, but, alas, that was pretty much focused on tips for your tree on ancestry and I don’t keep mine there. I was hoping for tips on more effective searches. And, given that the speaker was time constrained, I didn’t bother asking. I did have some conversations before the meeting which were most useful, so it wasn’t a waste.

I had intended to go to a storytelling show later in the day, but I was too tired. At least I did manage to get grocery shopping done on my way home from darkest Maryland.
fauxklore: (Default)
2017-09-08 04:38 pm

Graze Box #32

All repeats, though some I had not gotten in quite a while.


Grilled Cheese: This is a mix of hickory smoked almonds, mustard breadsticks, and cheddar cheese bruschetta. It has 120 calories. I thought this had an excellent mix of flavors, with the almonds providing a nice hint of smokiness. Very tasty.

Deconstructed Carrot Cake: This is a mix of carrot chews, cinnamon flavored raisins, walnuts, and ginger fudge. It has 180 calories. This is one of the more convincing deconstructed desserts that graze offers. I like the cinnamon and ginger flavors, too. It could, however, be a bit better balanced, perhaps with smaller walnut pieces so it is easier to eat all the components together.


Booster Seeds: This is a mixture of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and flaxseed. It has 200 calories - and 9 grams of protein. This is a good combination, but not particularly interesting. And the flaxseed is a pain, since the seeds are so small. It is particularly irritating when you spill a bunch of this on your desk, not that I would know anything about that.

Original Fruity Flapjack: This is a soft granola bar, with dried apricots, dates, raisins, currants, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds. It has 230 calories. The dominant flavor is definitely from golden syrup, which is not something I’d ever really complain about. There is a nice balance of textures, with the chewiness of the bar and the crunch of the seeds. Very good.

Kettlecorn Kern Pops: These are half-popped corn kernels with a sweet and salty flavoring. The package has 130 calories. I like the texture, but I really prefer the more savory types of kern pops to these, which I think are just okay.

The Cheese Board: This is a mix of cheese-flavored cashews, cheddar cheese bruschetta, and baked herb bites. It has 110 calories. This is a pretty nice savory snack – and I’m not even a big cheese person. The cashews are particularly good.

Fantastic Forest Fruits: This is a mix of dried apple slices, blueberries, lingonberries, and cherry-flavored raisins. It has 80 calories. I think this combination leans a bit too much on the tart side, with the lingonberries tipping the balance. The blueberries get pretty much drowned out by the other flavors. Okay, but there are other dried fruit snacks I prefer.

Snickerdoodle Dip: This is a cookie dip, with cinnamon pretzel sticks to dip into it. It has 150 calories. This is one of my favorite Graze sweet snacks. Insanely delicious and a good argument for the built-in portion control.
fauxklore: (Default)
2017-09-06 01:58 pm

Since I've Been Home

Here is the rest of the catch-up stuff.

Celebrity Death Watch: Louise Hay was a motivational author. Richard Anderson was an actor, best known for portraying the boss of bionic people. Hedley Jones was a Jamaican musician, who also designed and built the first traffic lights in the country (among other technical accomplishments). Shelly Berman was a stand-up comedian and actor. Walter Becker was one of the founders of Steely Dan. John Ashberry was a poet.

Take Me Out to the Ball Games: I got back on a Thursday and went to Nationals games (vs. the Mets) on both Friday night and Sunday afternoon. The Friday night game started out with some pathetic pitching on the part of young A. J. Cole. He did settle down, some, but the Nats never got very far against Jacob deGrom. Things did get exciting at the end, but the Mets kept their lead.

Sunday was Jewish Community Day and I went with some friends from my chavurah. There had been a special ticket price, which also included a ballcap with Nationals written in Hebrew! This is now my favorite ballcap, even ahead of the one from the Leones del Escogido. There were also tastings of various foods from a kosher caterer. As for the game, Asdrubal Cabrera hit a 3-run homer for the Mets in the first. The Nats proved to be really good at stranding men on base, though they did make things close. And it all came to down to Edwin Jackson getting thrown out at the plate at the end for them to lose.

Apparently, my wearing Nats gear brings luck to the Mets.


Vacation Stories: In between the two ball games, there was a Saturday night and a Better Said Than Done show, with a vacation theme. I told my story "M.D., Ph.D., G.R.E.A.T." which involves our family trip to Expo ’67 in Montreal, my parents’ failure to stop at any of the intriguing tourist traps along the way, and how I finally found satisfaction on another trip years later. The audience was responsive and I think it went well.
You can judge for yourself. Here’s the video.

Don’t Analyze This Dream, Part 1: There was a very important work matter, which I had to discuss with Bob Kaplan, even though he was in the hospital. Alexander Craig insisted that he and I talk with Bob, who was wearing blue pajamas and had just had surgery. We were then going to follow up with the Delaware group. Note that none of these are names of people or organizations I have any association with.

Don’t Analyze This Dream, Part 2: My home was invaded by a group of juggalos. Well, 4 of them stood outside and waited, while the one with the full clown makeup went inside, wielding an inflatable baseball bat.

District Dumplings: This past Thursday night I went out to dinner with a couple of friends who were in town. They chose District Dumplings in the Mosaic District. It was disappointing. The chicken and basil dumplings were good, but the others were bland. And, even though we ordered our dumplings steamed, they gave us fried. If you are over that way, Brine is a much better choice of a place to eat. Oh, well, the company and the conversation were good.

The National Book Festival: I volunteered at the National Book Festival this year, which was held this past Saturday. It’s the sort of volunteer task I can do – with a commitment measured in hours on one day (plus a couple of hours for a training session). I was a Hall Chaperone, which basically meant that I stood on the L Street Bridge at the top of the Grand Staircase with an "Ask Me" sign and directed people to other places in the Convention Center.

You’d think that sign would invite smartass questions, but there were only a few. Mostly people were asking how to get to the main stage (on the 3rd floor) or to the Metro. My favorite conversation was with the guy who said, "you look like you would like someone to ask you a question," to which I replied, "I would be delighted to be asked a question." (Alas, he just asked one of the usual ones.) Anyway, it was reasonably fun and I ran into several people I knew. I would volunteer there again if my schedule works.
fauxklore: (travel)
2017-09-01 02:55 pm

Vacation – Part 4: Cheyenne and Onwards

I also collect state capitals. My specific goal is to do a volksmarch in every capital, generally involving the actual capitol building. Cheyenne was on my way back to Denver (where I’ve done the appropriate walk already) so made for a reasonable morning excursion.

I had not done a 10K volksmarch in nearly two years. I have been having sporadic foot issues, which were probably not helped by how much walking I did in New York the weekend before. It was hot out. It was not really fun.

It didn’t help that the walk wasn’t particularly interesting. There were a few sections of historic buildings, but there was a large part around a lake in a park and another large section through a cemetery, neither of which were notable. The area around the Capitol was better, but the Capitol itself is closed for renovation. There was an attractive Greek Orthodox church and a synagogue across from a statue of Robert Burns. I’d have liked more background on some of the historic houses. So, overall, I thought the walk was meh, but it did serve its purpose.

After the walk, I drove back to Denver and checked into the Hampton Inn near the airport for the night. I have stayed there countless times over the years and it remains reliable for what it is. I called some friends and we made plans for dinner. Normally, I’d have been up for meeting them downtown, but I was pretty worn out and suggested we eat near where I was. That required a bit of research and, through the simple expedient of seeing what the iphone said was nearby, we ended up at African Grill and Bar in the Green Valley Ranch shopping center, a couple of miles down Tower Road.

What a find! Okay, they didn’t actually have any African beers other than Tusker (which is Kenyan, so doesn’t really go with West African food). But the food was excellent. We ordered lamb samosas, fried plantains, spinach stew with oxtail, coconut stew with chicken, and okra stew with goat. The stews came with rice, too. Everything was tasty and all of the dishes were different from each other. Seeing as I do have occasions to be in that area, I am definitely going to keep this place on my go-to list for the future.

And the next day I flew home, though with a delay of a couple of hours. Thus ended an all too brief vacation.
fauxklore: (travel)
2017-09-01 01:51 pm

Vacation, Part 3: Wind Cave National Park and on to Wyoming

One of my life list items is visiting every National Park in the U.S. So it made sense to leverage off my trip to Carhenge to drive a couple of hours further north to Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. (For those who might wonder, I had previously been to Badlands National Park. In fact, I think that may have been the first National Park I ever went to.) It was an easy and uncrowded drive, with the highlight being a sudden stop to let a couple of pronghorn cross the road just before I got to the turnoff for the park visitor center. Once at the visitor center, I had to choose which tour to take. I decided on the Natural Entrance tour, which is the most popular. You’re not allowed to take any bags into the cave, so I went back out to the car to leave pretty much everything except my camera (and my wallet and car keys). I did have time to stamp my National Park passport book and to buy a long-sleeved tee shirt, as well as to watch the park movie and read some of the exhibits, before the tour.

The tour passes the natural entrance, but doesn’t actually use it. The ranger did use a ribbon to demonstrate the wind from the cave that gives it its name. Then we went through a door and down a lot of steps into the cave. There are a total of about 300 steps along the tour (mostly down – you take an elevator out) and roughly half of them are in this first section. When the whole group got down, the ranger talked about two specific types of formations in the cave – boxwork and frostwork. Frankly, neither is anywhere near as spectacular as normal stalagmites and stalactites.

We continued along through the cave, with various stops for talks. The tour covers about 2/3 of a mile, which is a very small part of the overall cave complex, which is still not completely mapped. The most interesting parts were when our ranger (Sina Bear Eagle, a Lakota woman) told the Lakota emergence story, which has to do with the origins of both bison and people. She also read some fascinating excerpts from a journal kept by Alvin MacDonald, who led early tours of the cave. Apparently, it didn’t bother him to leave 3 of the 9 people on one of his tours in the cave overnight!

After the tour was over, I contemplated doing one or two of the short nature trails that were alleged to start near the visitor center. I was, alas, unable to find where either of the trailheads was, so nixed that plan. Instead, I drove on, stopping to look at a herd of bison just outside the park road. These were reintroduced to the area in 1913 and came mostly from the Bronx Zoo. (A few more were brought over from Yellowstone in 1916.) They’re really quite magnificent, at least from what I consider a safe distance.

The next couple of hours involved driving a series of back roads from South Dakota going west and then south into Wyoming. My destination for the night was Guernsey, Wyoming. I’d booked a room at the Cobblestone Inn there based pretty much on being a reasonable distance for my plans. It was adequate. I’d have said it was nice, but the first room they put me in had not actually been serviced. And the second one was lacking a shower curtain. But the really egregious sin was their failure to have coffee / hot water available in the breakfast room the next morning. Yes, I understand that things break, but as a person who considers access to caffeine to be a basic human right, being told just to use the coffeemaker in my room makes me knock at least one to two stars off my rating of any hotel.
fauxklore: (travel)
2017-09-01 10:56 am

Vacation, Part 2: It’s De-Light-Ful

Title pun thanks to my college friend, Mark.

Having seen 3 total solar eclipses previously, all of which required considerably more complicated travel (Ghana in 2006, Kiribati in 2009, and Micronesia in 2016), there was no way I was going to miss out on the Great American Eclipse. Looking at the path of totality, I realized what would be the ideal spot for me to go. I planned a full year out for my trip to Alliance, Nebraska, home of Carhenge. This is a quirky place, which is always a plus. The combination of a good length of totality (2 and a half minutes) and reasonable odds of good weather made it an ideal destination.

So, after a night at the Fairfield Inn at JFK (just adequate), I took a Jet Blue flight to DEN, where I picked up a rental car. As is all too typical of google maps, their directions are so determined to shave off every possible inch that they make all sorts of pointless turns. Google also has a touching faith in road signs. I might turn on West Kansas Street, but there has to be some visible sign for it in order for me to do so. Still, I managed to find my way along various back roads of Nebraska and made it to the Alliance Hotel and Suites. I was paying about five times what my room would normally cost and about ten times what it was worth, but it was reasonably convenient. At least it was clean, albeit shabby.

Carhenge itself is a few miles north of Alliance. The weather looked iffy, with rain overnight and a lot of fog in the morning. But things cleared up as eclipse time neared. I should note that they were charging $50 for parking, but this was a charity fundraiser, so I was okay with it. There were other parking options a somewhat further walk away. I toured the sight, amused by the car art (e.g. The Fourd Seasons). The main henge is fascinating – built to the proportions of Stonehenge. It’s a must for any fan of uniquely American bizarre tourist attractions. To make things even better, its founder, Jim Reinder, was there, and he thoroughly enjoyed being interviewed by the local media, as well as watching the eclipse with his extended family.

As for the eclipse, I had brought eclipse glasses, my aluminized mylar filter, and solar binoculars. I also had a small tripod and a device for attaching my iphone to the binoculars. What I had not quite figured out at home was that the tripod interfered with the binocular attachment. And I couldn’t hold the binoculars steady enough without it, so there went my main photography plan. I did take a few photos of the "point and pray" variety, but nothing was really great. The eclipse, however, was great. Even at my fourth experience of totality, the feeling of awe was overwhelming. While there were plenty of people around, the site is big enough that it didn’t feel crowded. And it was obvious that everyone was completely amazed by what they were seeing. I think that even applied to the handful of cosplayers who showed up – a couple of people dressed as aliens and one guy as an auto tech kangaroo.

After the sun came back, I waited a while before braving the traffic. I was smart enough to stay a second night in Alliance, so I only had to make it the few miles back to town. My understanding is that the traffic going any further was pretty dreadful. I was glad to take a nap instead of dealing with that. I would end up doing plenty of driving the next day.
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2017-08-29 03:18 pm

Vacation, Part 1: Lollapuzzoola 10

I was going to skip Lollapuzzoola 10, since it was scheduled for the Saturday before the eclipse. But I figured out a way to make the travel work. Surprisingly, it is actually possible to fly from New York to Denver. Who knew?

I took the train up to New York, schlepping far more gear than for a normal weekend excursion. I had managed to get a good pre-paid rate at The Library Hotel, which is one of my favorite hotels in the world. Aside from a great location (41st and Madison, about a block from The Library at the Center of the Universe), how can one resist a hotel that asks you "fiction or nonfiction?" when you check in? In addition, it was raining when I arrived and I was there in time for their nightly wine and cheese reception. A glass of prosecco and some strawberries did wonders to revive me. (The rate also includes continental breakfast, but that’s less exciting.)

But this is supposed to be about Lollapuzzoola, not about great hotels of New York City. The weather was better in the morning and I enjoyed riding shank’s mare up Lexington Avenue. Before long, I was settled in at a table doing warm-up puzzles.

At most puzzle competitions, Puzzle #1 is the easiest. That was not quite the case here. Paolo Pasco is a young constructor who hides on the West Coast, presumably because he wants to live to be an old(er) constructor. The theme was reasonably challenging, though my solving picked up once I figured out what evil Paolo was up to. That "aha" moment is always enjoyable – and, in this case, let me solve the puzzle cleanly, albeit slowly. I definitely did not appreciate the guy at the table I was at who felt obliged to comment out loud "it’s too hard." That distraction probably slowed me down by at least 7 or 8 seconds.

Puzzle #2 by C. C. Burnikel was, in my opinion, the easiest of the day. But I do have some qualms about it. Some of the clues told you to do specific things and the instructions at the top indicated that one wouldn’t get full credit if one did not follow those instructions. However, there really wasn’t any way for the judges to know whether or not a given contestant had followed the instructions. I think most people did, but it’s hard to be sure.

Puzzle #3 was by Erik Agard. I have to admit that it had a bit more pop culture to it than I’d have preferred. I also thought that it was one where grasping the theme wasn’t essential to solving it. Both of those aspects made it less interesting than the other puzzles of the day.

Puzzle #4, which was by Francis Heaney, was intended to be the hardest of the day. It was, indeed, challenging, but I caught on to the trick quickly. With entertaining word play, this was my favorite of the day. It also helped me in the standings – especially since it seems that other people struggled more with it.

Puzzle #5 was by Joon Pahk. This was one where the theme didn’t make a lot of difference in solving. As for Puzzle #6 by Mike Nothnagel and Doug Peterson, let’s just say I was glad not to be a finalist

In the end, I solved cleanly (i.e. without making any errors) but was slower than I’d have preferred. I ended up 105th out of 227 contestants, which is the 53.7th percentile. Comparing to previous years (and, why yes, I am a wee bit compulsive), I was not surprised, but mildly disappointed:


2012 – 42.6
2013 – 44.6
2014 – 57.6
2015 – 51.0
2016 – 59.1
2017 – 53.7

Bottom line is that my accuracy has improved, but I remain solidly middle of the pack when speed (or lack thereof) gets factored in. I remind myself that this is a self-selected crowd. And the selection of puzzles really is excellent.

After puzzles, there was pizza and socializing. And then I retrieved my bag at the Library Hotel and was off to JFK to spend a night at a lesser hotel before flying off to Vacation Part 2.
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2017-08-28 01:43 pm

Mostly a Placeholder

Celebrity Death Watch: Joseph Bologna was an actor, with a long career spanning movies, television, and stage productions. Diane Pearson was a romance novelist. M. T. Liggett was a folk sculptor in Kansas. Sir Bruce Forsythwas a British TV presenter / game show host, who is claimed to have had the longest career in television for a male entertainer. Sonny Burgess was a rockabilly guitarist and singer. Bea Wain was a singer of the big band era. Dick Gregory was a comedian and civil rights activist. Jerry Lewis was also a comedian, though in later years was more famous for the annual telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. His comedy was particularly popular in France, which I attribute to the silliness of a language with accent marks in two directions. Brian Aldiss was a British science fiction writer. Thomas Meehan was a playwright, whose work included the books for such musicals as Annie, Hairspray, and The Producers, making him the only writer to have written 3 Broadway shows that ran over 2000 performances. John Abercrombie was a jazz guitarist. Jay Thomas was a sitcom actor. Cecil Andrus was the Secretary of the Interior under Jimmy Carter, as well as serving 14 years as governor of Idaho. Tobe Hooper directed horror movies, including The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

I want to particularly highlight Dianne de Las Casas, since I actually knew her, though not particularly well. She was a storyteller and a writer of children’s books (as well as several books about storytelling). She was also the founder of the annual Picture Book Month in November. She was known for wearing tiaras and elaborate fingernail designs. Overall, she was a sparkly and memorable woman, who died tragically young (47) in a house fire.

What I Did on My Vacation: First, I went to New York for Lollapuzzoola 10. This is my favorite puzzle event of the year, largely because the puzzles in it are particularly wild. And, once again, I had a fabulous time.

Then I flew to Denver, rented a car, and drove to Alliance, Nebraska to watch the total solar eclipse over Carhenge.

After that, I headed to Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota to satisfy my obsession with national parks. From there, it was Cheyenne, Wyoming to satisfy my obsession with state capitals. Back in Denver, I had dinner with friends.

What I Did at Home: Aside from starting to catch up on work, I went to two baseball games. And I was part of a storytelling show.


All of the above is to be written about.
fauxklore: (Default)
2017-08-17 04:13 pm

Graze Box #31

Summer Berry Compote: This consists of a sweet compote with raspberries, strawberries, and currants, along with whole grain shortbread to dip in it. It has 130 calories. Given my fondness for berries, it is no surprise that I think this is completely delicious. It had apparently been out of stock for a long time, so I was really glad to see it back. More, please.

Veggie Caesar: This is a mixture of edamame beans, cheddar cheese bruschetta, and sour cream and onion half-popped corn kernels. It has 120 calories. This is savory and a little salty and lots of crunchy. I think it’s a nice combination, though I have to admit it isn’t really clear what it has to do with Caesar.

Peanut Butter & Jelly: This is a mixture of salted peanuts, raspberry strings, and vanilla fudge. It has 220 calories. This is a nice combination of sweet and salty. It is, of course, best to eat all of the components together. You wouldn’t want to run out of fruit strings and still have lots of the less interesting peanuts left, after all.

Vietnamese Pho: This consists of a moderately spicy broth paste (which you reconstitute with hot water) plus dried shiitake mushroom slices, rice noodle pieces, and sesame seeds. It has 60 calories. It’s not really very pho-like and the broth is definitely dominated by the flavor of star anise (which, admittedly, tends to be a flavor I find dominant in any quantity). It’s not terrible, but it’s not something I’d want as often as I seem to get it.

Chia Coconut Cookie with Special Blend Black Tea: The tea is just tea, with a little bergamot (not as much as in most Earl Grey tea) but the coconut chia cookies (you get two) are the heart of this. They have 120 calories. I like both the flavor and the slightly crumbly texture of these cookies. I’m not a big fan of coconut, but it isn’t too dominant here. They’re mostly buttery and not particularly sweet. Overall, an excellent snack – one of my favorites.

Eleanor’s Apple Crumble: This consists of soft apple pieces, raisins, and caramelized honey and cinnamon almonds. It has 110 calories. The almonds are especially tasty. Eating all the components together does taste something like an apple crisp. A reasonably good sweet, but not overly sweet, snack.

Peach Cobbler (new): This consists of almond slivers, peach fruit drops, yogurt-coated sunflower seeds, and amaretti drops. It has 160 calories. The peach drops are amazing. I wish there were more of them and fewer almond slivers. This doesn’t taste much like a peach cobbler, but is good anyway.

Sweet Memphis Barbecue: This is a mix of barbecue peas, salsa peanuts, and wild rice sticks. It has 190 calories. This has a lot of flavor, without being too spicy or too weird. That makes it a good savory snack.
fauxklore: (Default)
2017-08-15 04:10 pm

The Frivolous Stuff (plus a little more politics)

Storytelling at the Lake: Wednesday night was storytelling at the Lake Anne Coffee House in Reston. For complicated reasons, apparently involving window repairs, we were telling outside in the patio area. That’s a bit challenging with people moving around more and noise distractions, not helped by having a hand-held microphone, which was slightly awkward. But it was a good show and I thought the audience was responsive. In other words, they laughed at the right places. (I told "Thank You, Miss Tammy" in which, among other things, I explain why the prince in Swan Lake can’t tell Odette and Odile apart.) Overall, a fun evening.

Big Fish: I saw the musical Big Fish at Keegan Theatre on Sunday afternoon. This is based on the movie, which I don’t remember well enough to judge how alike it is. The story involves the relationship between a journalist, Will, and his traveling salesman father, Ed, and Will’s search for the truth in the fantastic stories Ed did and didn’t tell. This show has only an adequate score, but it is sweet and has lots of feel good material. More importantly, it was well-performed, including convincing performances from Dan Van Why as Ed and Ricky Drummond as Will. I also want to mention the beautiful singing of Eleanor Todd as Sandra (Ed’s wife and true love). And then there is Grant Saunders, who had fabulous comic timing as Karl the Giant. The staging took good advantage of the intimate space. Overall, I enjoyed seeing this and would recommend it.

A Political Addendum: When I linked to my piece yesterday re: Charlottesville, a college friend mentioned that he had a concern that somebody would take advantage of freedom of speech to claim that they had spoken at a particular institution, granting them additional credibility. I think there is a distinction that can be made regarding who the invitation to speak is from. Merely appearing on the campus of a major university is not an endorsement, while, say, being a commencement speaker is. This comes down to the question every institution should ask themselves of "who do we want representing us?" I have enough trust in the values of the institutions I support to believe they would not provide a platform to the likes of David Duke or Richard Spencer or Steve Bannon.

As usual in life, context is everything.
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2017-08-14 03:11 pm

Charlottesville

I have a couple of frivolous things to write about, but they can wait. Right now I need to be serious. The context (which most of you know) is that I am a middle-aged woman, a Jew, and, specifically, the daughter of a Shoah survivor. I also live in Virginia, about 100 miles northeast of Charlottesville.

There are a couple of things from the past that I should start with. The first one was from my undergraduate days and involved an invitation to a speaker who was offensive to a large number of members of a group I was involved in. Some people favored asking the university to disinvite the speaker. I was with the faction that went with the "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." (The quote is widely attributed to Voltaire, but apparently came from a much later biography of him.) I researched quotes by the group that speaker represented and put together a collection that appeared on the back page of a student newspaper. The point was to show that this person was spreading hate and using his own words was a sane approach to doing so. (By the way, I am being vague about the details because, frankly, I don’t remember them after nearly 40 years. But they also don’t matter for what I want to say.)

The second thing I want to mention was 17 years ago, when I was on a trip to Tuva, Siberia, and Mongolia. We took a section of the trans-Siberian railroad, from Irkutsk to Ulan Ude. For those who are not familiar with Ulan Ude, one of its major attractions is the world’s largest statue of Lenin’s head. There was some controversy about leaving this up, particularly as most statues of Lenin were being taken down throughout Russia. There were actually a large number of people in Siberia who thought they had been better off under Communism, so it was a more complicated issue than it might seem. Even for those who opposed Communism, many questioned what the right way to remember history was.

The reason I mention these two items is that I think they are both applicable to what happened in Charlottesville this past weekend. Taking the second one first, the "Unite the Right" march started as a protest against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park in downtown Charlottesville. My personal opinion is that the right thing to do with Confederate statues is to remove them to a museum, which can also provide historical context about the Civil War. Even though I disapprove of the statue remaining in place, I think it was legitimate to allow the protest against its removal. But – and this is a big but – that is predicated on a peaceful demonstration, limited to the intended scope. I also think it is perfectly legitimate for people who disagree with the statue remaining in place to counter-protest (and, yes, again, peacefully).

Some members of the alt-right group, which included neo-Nazis, KKK members, white nationalists, and other racist scum, marched to the University of Virginia and surrounded counter-protesters, who as far as I could tell from news reports were singing peacefully. They brandished tiki torches and flags with racist (both Confederate and Nazi) symbols. There is also report of them having surrounded an African-American church where a service was underway. This is no longer free speech. This is intimidation.

I do have to comment on reports about guns being brandished. Unfortunately, Virginia is an open-carry state. There are fewer incidents up in the region I live in, but there are still some here of open-carry "activists" who get their kicks by showing off their sidearms at diners and shops and such. We’re supposed to believe they are not actually posing a threat by doing so, though the problem is, of course, you can’t distinguish between them and those who are intending to pose a threat. But that’s why I focused on the torches and racist flags.

Anyway, things accelerated on Saturday, with various incidents of outright violence, as well as chanting of racist and anti-Semitic hate speech. (Note that the mayor of Charlottesville is Jewish, but I suspect the anti-Semitism was mostly on general principle for these thugs.) Again, this is far beyond what is legitimate free speech. It appears that there may have been some acts of violence by the counter-protestors, which is also not okay. Of course, the most significant act of violence was by one of the white nationalists driving a car nto a crowd of anti-fascist demonstrators, killing one woman and injuring a large number of others. No human being could possibly justify that.

There are lots of questions about whether the police were adequately prepared and whether they had planned appropriately. It’s hard for me to know, based on a limited number of reports. I hope that gets more investigation over the coming days.

So here is my bottom line:
Both sides have the right to peaceably assemble. Condemning the views of a group is fine (and, indeed, the only moral approach to evil speech), but using violence to do so is not. Let us act deliberately to oppose bigotry and to foster the inclusive values that are the heart of what America should be about. And let us look carefully at what our politicians are saying and doing and work for those who are on the path of good.

Capisce?
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2017-08-09 01:44 pm

Catch-up

I've been busy for most of the past week.

Celebrity Death Watch: Ara Parseghian coached football for Notre Dame and appears in crosswords fairly often. Judith Jones edited cookbooks. Ernst Zundel was a Holocaust denier. Darren Daulton played baseball, largely for the Phillies. Don Baylor also played baseball, including a stint with the Red Sox in 1986, during which he set a record for being hit by pitches. Haruo Nakajima was the first actor to portray Godzilla. Glen Campbell was a countryish pop singer, notable for songs such as "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and "Rhinestone Cowboy."

I want to particularly highlight Barbara Cook, who was one of the greatest Broadway stars of all time. Some of her more famous roles included Marian in The Music Man, Cunegonde in Candide (in which she achieved a tour de force with "Glitter and Be Gay"), and Amalia in She Loves Me. She had a fabulous voice and, unlike many great singers, she could also act.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: Michael Cotter was a Minnesota farmer turned storyteller, who told stories of his farm life. He was a quiet and skilled teller, who I was privileged to hear a few times.

I am way behind on reading magazines, so I only just caught the news (via the MIT section of Technology Review) that Kathy Porter-Jordan, a friend from my undergraduate days died nearly a year ago. I particularly remember one year on Shavuout when she and I delved into the subject of leprosy in the Tanach.

Trip to Oregon: I made a quick trip last week to Portland, Oregon for the memorial service for my friend, Mary Joan. The travel was a bit stressful, as a thunderstorm struck just after we had been boarded (but before the plane was fully fueled). In the end, we got delayed about two hours. My decision to take a non-stop was vindicated as I figured I was fine as long as I got there some time on Thursday night. The delay was extended a little on arrival as a guy in the row behind mine had a medical emergency (significant enough for the flight attendant to be bringing him oxygen) and we had to wait for paramedics to take him off before we could disembark. But, I got there, so everything was okay.

My friend, Suzanne, was at the same hotel and, fortunately, has a compatible attitude towards timing. (Google maps says it’s a 22 minute drive, so let’s figure 45 minutes and then let’s add an extra half hour just in case we get lost ….) The ceremony was brief, with a few people (each of the two of us included) speaking, with a longer speech by Mary Joan’s husband. Then everybody went out to lunch, at which we learned that the day had been chosen since it would have been their 44th wedding anniversary.

The trip home went smoother, despite it involving a redeye too short for more than a nap. I also had a longish wait for the moon buggy from the D-gates to the main terminal at IAD, so it took longer to get to my car than to drive home. At least I had time to nap for a few hours before my next commitment.

Ben’s Bar Mitzvah: A friend’s son’s bar mitzvah was Saturday. The service was your standard Chabad service, which I won’t comment on. Ben did fine on the Torah reading and his haftorah and his mother did the expected job of bursting into tears during her brief speech afterwards. There was pretty good food at the Kiddush lunch. The big reception was in the evening at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. I only had time for a quick look through the museum, but it would be worth going back and spending half a day to see it all. There was reasonably good food and slightly odd entertainment, mostly oriented towards the kids, e.g. a sword swallower. Overall, it was a pretty nice event.

Embassy of Haiti: I went to an MIT Club of Washington event at the Embassy of Haiti last night. Actually, it was a joint event with the Harvard Club and they far outnumbered us. The embassy is beautiful, with a large art collection – practically a gallery. The ambassador was personable and gave a brief and entertaining speech. The food was okay – rice, chicken, fish, pork – and they had tasty rum punch and cake for dessert. The only problem was that it was very crowded and the food line was quite chaotic. Still, it is always worth going to these sorts of things.
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2017-08-07 03:09 pm

Graze Box #30

I have some other things to write about, but I do try to keep up to date on snack reviews.

Salted Fudge & Peanut Cookie: This has baked salted peanuts, redskin peanuts, mini cocoa cookies, and vanilla fudge. It has 230 calories. It is best to eat all of the components together. I like the mix of sweet and salty, but the fudge doesn’t really add much in my opinion.

Pizza Margherita: This is a mix of cheese-flavored cashews, basil crunchini, and mini tomato breadsticks. It has 120 calories. It has nice crunch, but doesn’t taste very pizza-like to me. In particular, the tomato flavor is very mild. This isn’t bad, but there are other savory snacks I prefer.

Lightly Salted Popping Corn: This is 130 calories worth of microwave popcorn. There’s not really much more than that to say about it. It pops up well and tastes good. But it isn’t substantially different than the better brands of popcorn you can get in the supermarket.

Caramel Apple: This consists of dried apple slices with a caramel sauce. It has 80 calories. Whether or not people like this tends to depend on how they feel about soft, chewy dried apples. They make sense to me for something like this where the point is the caramel dip, which is amazingly delicious. It’s a good thing there is built in portion control, because I could go through gallons of this caramel sauce otherwise. Yum.

Sweet Rhubarb Jam: This is a mix of dried cranberries, dried apple pieces, and rhubarb slices. It has 100 calories. I really like the mix of sweet and tangy in this snack. It works best if you eat all of the components together. As far as I am concerned, this is right on the mark.

Soy Roasted Seeds: This is a mixture of roasted sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds with soy sauce. It has 200 calories and 7 grams of protein. It’s tasty and a good enough snack. But it is also pretty boring.

Vitamin C Crush: This consists of dried mango, dried pineapple, and coconut flakes. It has 100 calories. The ingredients are all things I like, but the pieces of mango and of pineapple are large and too chewy. The flavor is good, but the texture just doesn’t work for me. I decided to trash this, as a result.

Pumpkin Spice Flapjack: This is a rolled oat flapjack (i.e. soft granola bar) with dates and pumpkin spice mix. It has 230 calories. I like all of the graze flapjacks I’ve had. This is heavy on the spice – which is good as far as I’m concerned. Flavorful and filling. I do wish they were lower in sugar, however.
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2017-08-01 04:19 pm

THEM and Other Stories

Celebrity Death Watch: Raymond Sackler was a physician whose pharmaceutical company marketed Oxycontin among other drugs. He was also heavily involved in various philanthropic ventures, both in scientific fields and in the arts. Kenneth Jay Lane designed costume jewelry. Chester Bennington was the lead singer of Linkin Park. Geoff Mack was an Australian singer-songwriter, best known for "I’ve Been Everywhere." John Heard was an actor. Jim Vance was a news anchor in Washington, DC. Artyom Tarasov was the first person in the USSR to become a millionaire. Patti Deutsch was a comedian and voice actress. Cool "Disco" Dan was a graffiti artist. Sam Shepard was an actor and playwright. John G. Morris was a photo editor for Life and The New York Times as well as various other publications. Stan Hart wrote for MAD. Lee May played baseball fpr the Cincinnati Reds and the Baltimore Orioles among other teams. D. L. Menard was a major figure in Cajun music. Jeanne Moreau was a French actress, best known for starring in Jules et Jim. Marina Ratner was a mathematician.

June Foray was the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Natasha Fatale among others. She is particularly significant because she earned me 31 ghoul pool points (19 for where I had her on my list and another 12 because nobody else had her at all), catapulting me into a tie for fifth place. I would feel bad about that, but she made it to 99, which is pretty respectable.

Not Dead Celebrity: I woke up this morning in a minor panic over whether or not Carol Burnett was still alive. She is, but I have to wonder if that panic meant anything.

Storytelling: I told a new story at Saturday night’s Better Said Than Done Show. It went okay, though the first third of it was definitely much more polished than the rest and the last third could have been much funnier. Of course, later that night I had a moment of inspiration on something that I could have added. The story has to do with my battle against Argentine ants, which invaded an apartment I lived in in Los Angeles many years ago. They reminded me of the horror movie, THEM, which was also set in Los Angeles. They even invaded my freezer, which didn’t have a very effective seal. I opened the freezer door one day to find the freezer overflowing with antsicles, setting me on the path of various ineffective solutions. I documented those, but there was an important one I left out. I should have checked my lease to see whether anteaters were allowed as pets.

On a related note, it appears that Grant’s Kills Ants is still available, but no longer contains arsenic.

Clothes Shopping: I have a bar mitzvah to go to next weekend and thought I would use it as an excuse to get a new dress. Hah! Those ridiculous (and highly inappropriate) cold-shoulder designs are all over the place. I found a couple of almost acceptable dresses, but one was a little too short. And several had necklines that were too wide. That was a particular pity in the case of one that had something rare and wondrous – namely, pockets.

At least it wasn’t as if I don’t have anything acceptable to wear. But it’s still frustrating.

Speaking of Frustrating: The Red Sox seem determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Sigh.
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2017-07-24 04:56 pm

Three Fringe Shows

I went to three Capital Fringe Festival shows over the weekend. (I had previously seen Mr. Taken.) Here’s the run-down, plus a note about the neighborhood.

NoMa: All three shows I saw this weekend were at Gallaudet University, which is at the edge of the NoMa (North of Massachusetts Avenue) area. Since I hadn’t been over that way before and had heard that it’s the hot and trendy neighborhoods, I took advantage of good metro connections to walk around a bit before the first show I went to. Unfortunately, a couple of friends saw me walking in the wrong direction (i.e. away from Gallaudet) and called me, panicked that I was horribly lost. Now, to be fair, I do spend a good percentage of my time horribly lost, but I probably should have answered the phone and reassured them.

The highlight of the area is allegedly Union Market, which is pretty much hipster central. I wasn’t all that impressed with it, though it did provide good ice cream. There is a promising looking coffee place there. There are also some charming row houses along M Street Northeast. And the newish REI in the Uline Arena, which was the site of the first concert The Beatles played in the United States. Still, there isn’t really a lot to draw me into the neighborhood.


Ready to Serve: Ellouise Schoettler’s story is about a group of nurses from Johns Hopkins who volunteered to serve in France during World War I. Her research was extensive, based largely on letters from the nurses themselves. There was no shortage of drama, with descriptions of the nurses having to wear every bit of clothing they had to cope with the cold and mud, as well as patients with horrifying injuries that they could do little for. It’s important to tell the stories of women’s history and Ellouise does this splendidly.


Constructive Fictions: This play tells the story of Rabbi Barry Freundel, who is serving a 6 and a half year prison term after pleading guilty to peeping on and filming women in the bathroom of the mikveh. The set is his jail cell, which is rotated (without much real point, in my opinion) by four women, who comment on his explanation of his actions. They outline their stories, and, while they are supposed to be composites of his victims, there is a lot that seems identifiable to anybody who followed the media coverage. That’s a concern, since the playwright, A. J. Campbell, apparently didn’t talk to any of the victims. A bigger problem with the play is that Matty Griffiths, who played Freundel, didn’t seem to know his lines very well. That was obvious partly due to closed captioning, but also had the effect of throwing off the timing of the women.

Despite those problems, the play was interesting, with a shocking ending. Even more interesting was listening to people discussing it afterwards.

Life: A Comic Opera in Three Short Acts: Neal Learner’s light opera was the highlight of this year’s Fringe for me. Act One dealt with birth, as Joan is screaming in agony and Charles tries to reassure her everything will be fine. They reminisce about their meeting and reflect on how their lives will change. And then the twins show up, in a very cleverly staged way. Act Two has the kids growing up and asserting their personalities. Act Three dealt with death. This doesn’t sound particularly interesting, but it was well-written and well-performed. There were some questionable rhymes here and there, but I can forgive this in what was otherwise a quite charming and enjoyable show. This has been selected for the Fringe Extension, by the way, so you still have a chance to see it. I will definitely look for other works by the writer / composer, Neal Learner, in the future.
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2017-07-24 01:50 pm

Graze Box #29

Cinnamon Pretzel: This consists of pretzels and cinnamon honey almonds and has 120 calories. The pretzels are nothing special, but the almonds are fabulous. Those almonds are something I could easily imagine eating by the bushelful, which is why portion control is a good thing.

Raspberry & Coconut Muffin: This is a mixture of raspberry-infused cranberries, almond slivers, amaretti drops, and coconut flakes. It has 140 calories. As long as you don’t expect it to be very muffin-like, it’s a nice sweet snack. Tasty, without being cloyingly sweet. I do recommend eating the various components together, as the coconut flakes and almond slivers aren’t as interesting as the berries and amaretti drops.

Creamy Ranch Kern Pops: These are half-popped corn kernels with sour cream and onion seasoning. They have 140 calories. They have lots of both crunch and flavor. In particular, I appreciate that the flavoring doesn’t have that artificial dairy feeling that is common in so many ranch-flavored products.

Thai Sweet Chili Dippers: This consists of soy rice crackers with a sweet chili sauce for dipping. It has 80 calories. It’s not bad, but the dipping sauce is too sweet and not hot enough.

Chocolate Pretzel Dipper: This consists of pretzel sticks with a chocolate hazelnut spread to dip them in. It has 140 calories. I get this fairly often and continue to like it a lot. It’s another one of those snacks that makes me appreciate portion control.

Active Nutrient Blend (new): This is a mixture of chopped dates, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts. It has 170 calories. I really liked this, which isn’t surprising because all three ingredients are things I like, though only walnuts are something I normally eat. My one quibble is that it works best if you eat all of the ingredients together, but the walnut pieces are too big to really do that. I’d like this even better if I didn’t run out of walnuts while still having plenty of the other ingredients left.

Vitamin E Defense: This is a mixture of hazelnuts, red-skinned peanuts, raisins, and dried cranberries. It has 190 calories. At some level, this is right along the lines of any trail mix combination. It works well enough, but is not especially interesting.

Chinese Shiitake: This is a mushroom broth, with dried shiitake mushrooms, corn, and rice noodles. It has 100 calories. This is nicely spicy, though the corn adds a bit of sweetness, too. It’s a good sort of thing to eat when you have a meeting that will lead to a late lunch.
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2017-07-21 02:41 pm

Shall We Pitch? La La La

The King and I: I went with a friend to see The King and I at the Kennedy Center on Wednesday night. This is (like most Rodgers and Hammerstein) a musical I have mixed feelings about. There is some glorious music, e.g. "We Kiss in a Shadow." And, of course, "Shall We Dance?" is a nice showy number. But is "The March of Siamese Children" anything more than a way to show off kids so parents will go to the theatre? Louis (Anna’s son) could use a lot more development as a character. And "I Whistle a Happy Tune" simply annoys me, aside from its earworm potential.

Despite those inherent flaws, the production was quite good, with special kudos to Jose Llana as the King of Siam. I also thought Manna Nichols was very good as Tuptim. The choreography made good use of a relatively small space (this was in the Opera House, not the Eisenhower, which also has the disadvantage of less than wonderful acoustics). Could one write a musical nowadays with an internal ballet like "The Small House of Uncle Thomas?"

My only real complaint (aside from my overall lukewarmness towards the score) is that the show was awfully long. I was nervous about the metro schedule, since trains stop running at 11:30 on weeknights now. I may have to limit weeknight excursions to things that are driveable or that I know will end by 10ish.

Chinotto: We had dinner before the show at Campono, which has okay food and is right across the street from the Kennedy Center. The café in the Kennedy Center is dreadful, with mediocre food and high prices. And the friend I went with was driving, so didn’t want to do dinner in Foggy Bottom beforehand. My salad was fine, but the real reason I am mentioning this is that they have chinotto! I know I am the only North American who actually likes those bitter Italian drinks, but the point is that I do like them and they are hard to find here. So it was a rare treat.

Now, if I could only find somewhere that has Schweppes bitter lemon…

Fielding Dreams: I shouldn’t really go out two nights in a row, but the DC JCC had a program on Washington’s Jewish Ballplayers and, given my minor obsession with Jews in baseball, how could I resist? Fred Frommer (who authored a book on Washington baseball, not limited to Jewish players) moderated the event. The other speakers were Phil Hochberg who, in addition to a career in sports law, was an announcer at RFK Stadium, and Aviva Kempner, who is well known for her documentaries, including The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg. The big news is that she is now working on a documentary about Moe Greenberg and she talked extensively about him.

Anyway, there were 18 Jews who played major league baseball in Washington, though some played only 1 or 2 games. The number should really be 17 because Buddy Myer, despite being in nearly every Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, was not actually Jewish. Most of the players talked about were active in the 1930’s or so, but there were a few I remembered. For example, Greg Goossen played for the Mets for a while, though, of course, their real Jewish star was Art Shamsky. (As far as I know, Ed Kranepool is not Jewish, though he did give a talk at our shul when I was a kid.) It was Goossen about whom Casey Stengel allegedly said "I have a 19 year old player. In 10 years, he has a chance to be 29."

Another familiar player was Jason Marquis, who I saw pitch here several times. The only Jewish pitcher who had a winning career in Washington, however, was Al Schacht, who went 14-10 in the early 1920’s. The other really significant pitcher who was discussed was Syd Cohen, who gave up Babe Ruth’s final home run. But the better story about him is that he played winter ball in Mexico under the name Pablo Garcia. The minor league ballpark in El Paso (where he grew up) is named after him – and his brother, Andy, who was the more successful ballplayer.

The big story, however, was Moe Berg. His baseball career wasn’t exactly impressive, but his career in the OSS made up for it. Apparently, he spoke at least 7 languages – and couldn’t hit in any of them. But his linguistic skills got him sent to Japan with much bigger names and to Switzerland to meet Heisenberg and so on. He was a genuine character and I’m looking forward to Aviva’s movie.

Speaking of Baseball: Jackie Bradley made an awesome catch Sunday night, robbing Aaron Judge of a home run. That is exactly how I like to see my Red Sox deal with the Source of All Evil in the Universe.

Don’t Analyze This Dream: I had, for some reason, been given an opportunity to do another Zero-G flight, for free this time. But there was a lot of paperwork to fill out – enough for a 100+ page book. I got hung up on a question asking me to check off which conditions I had, which including being blind, blonde, or blinde.
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2017-07-17 04:47 pm

Mostly Hotels and Theatre-Going

Celebrity Death Watch: Ilya Glazunov was a Russian painter. Liu Xiaobo was a Chinese writer and dissident. More significantly, he was on my ghoul pool list, since I saw a newspaper article that said his organs were failing in time to use him for my one-time trade. (Tommy Tune should now live until next year.) Fresh Kid Ice was a rapper. Mahi Beamer was a Hawaiian singer. George Romero was a director, best known for the movie Night of the Living Dead. Martin Landau was an actor, notable for starring in Mission: Impossible.

I want to especially highlight Maryam Mirzakhani. She was the first woman to win the Fields Medal, which is the top honor for a mathematician. I will refrain from commenting on the spelling of her first name.

What I Left Out of the NPL Con Write-up: I completely forgot to include my appreciation for all the hard work that Hathor and B-side did as Con hosts. Mea maxima culpa.

The Hotel Rant: I spend a lot of time at hotels. Therefore, I feel qualified to state that most hotels suck. I have already mentioned slow elevators. But there are many many many ways that hotels can make my life miserable.

My chief complaint is hotels that hide their light switches. This was one of the sins of the Hotel Revere, where the NPL con was. There was one dim light near the door, which was not adequate for finding the black on black switches that turned on both the desk lamp and the lamp between the two beds. The latter was especially annoying as there was a switch nearby that did not, so far as I could tell, control anything. At least there was a nearly adequate amount of light once I located those switches. There is one hotel I used to sometimes stay at on business trips (The Boulder Broker) where I learned to pack my own light bulbs, since there wasn’t anything brighter than 25 watts within their guest rooms.

Next on the list is the near impossibility of getting mattresses and pillows right. Most hotel mattresses are too soft. Except for the ones that appear to have been hewn out of granite. It is one thing to have had a super-hard surface when I stayed at the Ice Hotel in Quebec. And, actually, that had several layers of reindeer skins, which made it softer than the mattress at a particularly dreadful hotel in Benin that I have mercifully forgotten the name of. Pillows are even more of a problem, as there are usually too many of them and no good place to leave the extra 20 or so they pile on the bed. The worst offenders in this category are bolsters. I have never met a person who actually uses those bolsters. All hotel managers and designers need to read "The Princess and the Pea" and/or watch the musical, Once Upon a Mattress. Or at least try to sleep in the beds at their hotels.

Speaking of useless things on beds, I have never understood those ridiculous shawl-like pieces of fabrics hotels like to drape across the foot of the bed.

Drapes are often a problem. I tend to bring some duct tape so I can get them to close all the way and blot out light. I have probably ranted before on the subject of hotels that locate their drapes in places that require you to climb over or rearrange furniture in order to close them.

Sound is an even more annoying thing than light. I will note that the Hotel Revere had good sound-proofing. But many hotels do not. I particularly despise atrium hotels, i.e. ones where the rooms are arranged around a tall, sound-reflecting open area. This is an especially common design for Hyatts, which is a reason why I usually prefer Marriotts if I am going to stay at chain hotels.

Bathrooms pose a number of issues. If there is going to be a tub, it should be deep enough to soak in. Bonus points if the hotel provides bath salts or bubble bath. But a shower alone is acceptable, as long as: a) you don’t have to spend a half hour figuring out how the fuck to turn it on and adjust the temperature, b) the shower head is not so far away from where a person would stand to allow the shower water to cool too much by the time it reaches the body, and c) there is some sort of closure that prevents the shower from flooding the entire bathroom when it is used. (I am speaking to every hotel in France here.) Good things include heated floors (ah, Norway) and heated towel racks. However, hot water remains more important. I think it was Ulan Ude where I first encountered the notion that a hotel might have heated towel racks without having hot water, but I’ve run into it once or twice since. And I hope never to have that happen again.

I am not particularly fussy with respect to toiletries, with the proviso that they shouldn’t smell weird. I prefer individual bottles rather than the current eco-trend of large squeezy bottles that: a) you can’t take home with you and b) I don’t trust not to be contaminated with something disgusting. If worst comes to worst, my standard toiletries bag includes a small bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, which is also useable as shampoo, laundry detergent, and reading material.

Finally, there is temperature control. It goes without saying that the thermostat should be easily visible when you enter the room and should not require rearranging furniture to reach. The thermostat should be digital and it should be possible to set the controls for either Fahrenheit (i.e. real temperature) or Celsius. The thermostat should be easily visible and not require an advanced degree in engineering to operate. Come to think of it, I have an advanced degree in engineering and half the time I can’t figure out how to get the bloody temperature to something I can tolerate. (Admittedly, I have about a 1.5 degree comfort range.) The default temperature setting should not be 90F in winter and 60F in summer. If I ruled the world, it would be 76F everywhere all the time.

Hotels that don’t suck include half the hotels in Italy (though the other half are amongst the noisiest places on the planet, so one must seek expert advice) and exactly two hotels in New York (The Algonquin and The Library Hotel). The former is bookable using Marriott points. But one needn’t spend a fortune to stay at one of the rare tolerable hotels in the world. The Albergo Atlantic in Bologna can be had for under 60 bucks a night, including breakfast.

Mr. Taken: The first show I saw at this year’s Capital Fringe was Mr. Taken. Ward Kay, who wrote it, is a Style Invitational devotee. And Valerie Holt, daughter of Empress Pat Myers, was part of the six person cast. The story involves a group of friends and their relationships. At the beginning, Jen is living with Marcus, though they don’t treat each other very well. Eric and Liz have just gotten engaged. And then there is Patty, who is crazy about a guy who has a girlfriend (hence, nicknamed "Mr. Taken") but who Jen is sort of trying to fix up with nerdy Charles. Marcus confronts Jen about her behavior, in front of the others (at a pre-Christmas get-together) and then moves out. Some months later, Patty has spent the night with Eric, whose engagement ended because Liz slept with someone else, when Liz suddenly walks in... All of the performances were good, especially those of Jamel Lewis as Charles, Brooke Bangston as Patty, and, of course, Valerie as Liz. But the show didn’t completely work for me. I had a hard time figuring out why these people were even friends in the first place, never mind sleeping together in various combinations. Then again, this is mostly farce, which is a form of theatre I don’t much care for.

The Originalist: On Saturday, I went to see The Originalist at Arena Stage. This is a play about Antonin Scalia, who was very convincingly played by Edward Gero. His foil throughout is a young African-American lesbian law clerk, Cat, played by Jade Wheeler. There is another clerk, Brad (played by Brett Mack) helping out, but he’s mostly there as sort of the anti-Cat and plays a much smaller role. Why does a flaming liberal want to clerk for a justice like Scalia? Well, she explains, she needs to understand monsters to know how to fight them. Scalia is only partly monstrous in this. He is capable of learning some things from Cat, as well as influencing her. At any rate, I thought this was an excellent play. It was often genuinely funny, while carrying a serious message about whether it is even possible to find a political middle. That’s a question I find even more relevant now than when this play was first produced in 2015. (And, remember, I am a charter member of the Dead Armadillo Party.) I also thought that the use of music – mostly opera excerpts – to delineate scenes was very effective. Overall, I highly recommend seeing this. If one could, it would be ideal to see the evening performance on 22 July, when Ruth Bader Ginsburg is going to be doing the talkback (along with Arena’s artistic director, Molly Smith.)
fauxklore: (Default)
2017-07-14 03:46 pm

BeaCon

So last week was the annual National Puzzlers’ League (NPL) convention. This year’s was in Boston, so it was a quick flight up and an easy trip from the airport via the Silver Line to South Station and shank’s mare to the hotel. The Hotel Revere is well-located, near the Boston Common. It is, however, a remarkably ugly building and triggered a number of my hotel peeves. But my rant on how much I hate pretty much all hotels is off topic here.

At any rate, I wasn’t at Con to spend time whining about my hotel room. First there was a picnic of sorts. It was on the rooftop terrace of the hotel, which turned out to be the rooftop of the parking garage (so, one took the elevator down to it). The food offerings consisted of a few different types of flatbread pizza. That was okay, albeit not what I think of as picnic fare. The drinks were pricy. But that is pretty much to be expected at big city hotels and, really, I was there to socialize. I’m fairly sure I didn’t see everybody I wanted to. I should probably note for those who are unfamiliar with NPL that we go by noms, not our real names, so I will refer to people that way.

Right after that, it turned out that Tortoise and Songlian were running It Takes Two and Donimo and I paired up for that. This was originally invented by Maso as Doubles Jeopardy and there are some special rounds where, say, one partner is blindfolded and has to identify plastic fruit handed to solve a clue that the other partner can see. Other clues have two parts and each partner has to answer one. Things can get fairly silly. I will keep things nebulous for obvious reasons, but I will note that the final round was particularly clever, with the two people having to guess the answers to each other’s clues. All in all, this was a very fun game – and a fine tribute to Maso’s memory.

After that, I did a miniganza by Kryptogram called Exquisite Inheritance, which was based on Exquisite Fruit questions from last year. I don’t remember who I solved it with, but will note that two of us (myself being one) had never heard of the answer.

My friend, Ron, had asked me if I had time to get together when I was in Boston and we settled on doing a couple of walk-around puzzles together, which also allowed him a taste of what NPL is about. Walk-arounds are one of the things I particularly appreciate about the NPL con, since they provide a fun way of seeing the city the con is in. We started with A Walk in the Park with /dev/joe, which consisted of several flats (i.e. cryptic clues in verse form) that led around the Public Garden. Fortunately, I’d been tipped off to an error in the instructions, so we went around clockwise. The flats were, in general, straightforward types – things like changing a letter or finding a homonym – versus some of the more recent types that are harder to figure out what to do with. At any rate, it was, indeed, a pleasant walk in the park and covered some of the more interesting sites in the park like the monument to ether.

We took a break with Rubrick’s Movie Remakes puzzle, which required changing one letter in a movie title to match a description of the “remade” movie. The results were often had us laughing out loud. We did get hung up on a few of the clues (in one case, because it was out of order) so I had a few to finish later on with a couple of other people.

Then we headed further afield via the T to do A Lazy Somerville Puzzle Stroll by Capital R and Ryma. This had 4 stops, with a puzzle at each. The only one that really caused us any hesitation was at the bike store, where we were confused about which direction the wheels turned to get from one letter to the next. At any rate, this was another pleasant walk with reasonably interesting and straightforward puzzles to solve along the way. We celebrated finishing it with ice cream at J. P. Licks. Since we were near Ron’s apartment at that point, he headed home, while I returned to the hotel.

I had a bit of a rest before meeting up with a group to go to dinner at Teranga, a Senegalese restaurant in the South End. I had never eaten Senegalese food before, so was especially looking forward to this. The food was delicious. I shared in an appetizer of acara, which was a fried black-eyed pea batter, and had a chicken dish called yassa guinaar for the main course. We had a largish group – 13 people – which made it impossible to talk to the people at the other end of the table, but everybody at the end I was at seemed happy.

Back at the hotel, it was time for the official program. I am sure I am not the only person who is relieved that intros are now limited to first timers. There’s still something of an icebreaker game. In this case, that was Shifting Gears by Shrdlu. The table was divided into walkers and sitters. Each round, the walkers moved to a new partner. The game itself involved finding a word to fit a given category using letters from both partners’ game sheets. The catch was that we hadn’t noticed that there were different sheets for walkers and sitters until a few people ended up with the same pair of letters repeated. It was still a good concept for a game, despite that bit of a setback.

Then came included by Murdoch, which involved extracting answers that fit a category from a series of sentences. You were also supposed to write your own sentence, but we didn’t have enough time to get to that part.

The biggest challenge of the evening was Cryptictionary by 530nm330Hz and Tortoise. This had teams coming up with cryptic clues, which had to be drawn in Pictionary style. Some of them were more challenging than others – and it was pretty clear that there was a wide range of artistic skill among the players. The clues were put up on two walls later on and we got to solve a cryptic puzzle with them, which was a lot of fun.

Then the over-the-weekend cryptics for pairs solving got handed out and it was time for more unofficial games. I joined a team for Slick’s GenCon Hunt. This was somewhat frustrating as parts of it involved some specific board game related knowledge and, while I do play board games, I don’t play a lot of them and am not really up to date. The lighting in the room (or lack thereof) was also a problem for a couple of the puzzles because it was hard to distinguish some colors. Mostly this served to convince me not to go to GenCon.


I’d intended to go to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on Friday. But I had slept reasonably late (and would actually have slept a bit later had it not been for a spam call on my mobile) and the weather was kind of crappy. So there was time for more puzzles and games. That included solving the Cryptictionary clues (with a large enough group that I won’t attempt to list everyone), pair solving two of the con cryptics (I did Boston Garden with Neendy and Outside the Box with Lyric), and playing Capital R’s Mystery Jeopardy, which was excellent. The mystery aspect came in with the categories not being identified and being something else that was guessable.

The Friday night official program started with Entry Points by T McAy and Trick, which involved identifying four-letter words from words in their dictionary entries. This was pretty clever and there were lots of aha moments along the way. Then came Consonant Conundrum by Bluff. This involved guessing words in given categories and choosing them in a way to avoid being blocked by using the most common consonants. The concept was reasonably good, but the execution failed for me because the pacing was uneven and confusing. Finally, there was On the Rack by Hot, which involved seven members of each large team becoming human Scrabble tiles and spelling out words suggested by the rest of the team. This was pretty funny as people scrambled to rearrange themselves on stage. However, the scoring depended only on the number of words spelled and not their lengths, which might have added another level of challenge.

After hours, I played Bluff’s Trios, which is a trivia game. Elf, Adam, and I made a pretty good team, though we blew it in the final round. Then I played part of Game Showdown by Zair. This had rounds based on different game shows (e.g. Password). Unfortunately, there were several technical glitches and we were only able to play a couple of rounds. Somewhere in there, it was after 2 a.m. and I decided that I had been up late enough, though I still managed to stay up later once I got to my room.

Saturday always starts with the business meeting. The main question is always where the con is going to be in two years. (We already know the next year – 2018 will be Milwaukee.) The result is that 2019 will be in Boulder, Colorado. I know Boulder well, having spent more time there than any other place I’ve not actually lived in. This gives me incentive to write a walk-around puzzle for it. In fact, I know what the final answer will be based on. I also know of an interesting connection between Milwaukee and Boulder that could provide a puzzle for next year. (I have a well-formed concept, but am not sure how hard it will be to execute.) The other topic that got some discussion was an anti-harassment policy, and I am pleased that the major issue had to do with how much to spend on legal advice. Though I will admit that when I saw the excellence policy distributed this year, my first thought was to wonder exactly what incident had triggered it.

Somewhere in between the business meeting and the afternoon session, I did the third con cryptic (Make Way for Ducklings by Trazom) with Shrdlu. We zoomed through it particularly quickly, by the way, not that it matters. I also played Noam’s Jeopardy, which is always a pleasure. (Come to think of it, that might have been later in the day. Things get blurry.)

As for the official puzzles for the afternoon, those started with Time Test from Willz, which consisted of seven puzzles, some of which I did well at and others of which I completely failed to get in the allotted time. Then came Cartoon Rebuses by Toonhead! I am not a particularly visual thinker and I am pop culture illiterate so had a hard time with this one, though I thought it was done well. In retrospect, I might have done well to team up with somebody else on it. Finally, there was the annual flat-solving competition, edited by Saxifrage. I don’t even bother with this, though I do go up to my room and flip through it to see if there are any I can do easily. There are too many types of flats for me to keep up with, for one thing. I will note that I was able to do more than I expected, including two enigmatic rebuses (rebi?)

I vaguely intended to get back down for the con photo, but instead got in an interminable wait for the elevator. Slow elevators are on my hotel peeve list, but this was particularly ridiculous – nearly 20 minutes (and there were people in the foyer on my floor before I got there).

The big deal of con is, of course, always the Extravaganza. This year was by Navin, Shaggy, Spelvin, and Zebraboy. It turns out that the title Bar Exam referred not to law, but to chocolate bars. The key thing for me is that I like to have a team where everyone is contributing. We had one person who clearly felt that he was not. I would have liked to have seen more of the puzzles and was irritated by another person whose priority was doing things fast. If you want to be that competitive, I think you shouldn’t sign up for a casual team. You might also try listening to other people. (Hint: if you are given a sharpie, there is probably a reason.) I was probably more snappish than I should have been. Perhaps there might be a better way of describing the two categories of teams? Maybe in terms of how much people want to emphasize solo solving versus cooperation? Or maybe I was just too sleep deprived – a state which has been known to induce more than the usual bitchiness.

I didn’t do anything after hours on Saturday night. I could even have gone to bed at a sane hour, but I got into an interesting conversation (NPL has a lot of interesting people) and there went another hour.

As for Sunday, no awards for me this year, which is just as well as I need to be getting rid of things. And no particular travel hassles afterwards, though I flew back into IAD and had the inevitable delays getting home from there.