fauxklore: (Default)
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)
Celebrity Death Watch: Vin Garbutt was a British folk singer, best known for protest songs. Sam Panopoulos invented Hawaiian pizza, which should be protested. Adam West was Batman. Andimba Toivo ya Toivo was a cofounder of SWAPO and more or less relegated to minor ministries within the Namibian government after independence. Samuel V. Wilson directed (and reorganized) the Defense Intelligence Agency in the 1970’s. Rosalie Sorrels was a singer-songwriter. A. R. Gurney was a playwright, best known for The Cocktail Hour. Bill Dana was a comedian, best known for his Jose Jiminez character, which seems horribly dated and racist nowadays. Helmut Kohl was the Chancellor of Germany, including 8 years prior to and 8 years after the 1990 reunification. Stephen Furst was an actor, best known for playing Flounder in Animal House. Baldwin Lonsdale was the president of Vanuatu. Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz was the founder of ArtScroll publications, an influential publisher of Jewish texts. Frederick Leboyer popularized a natural childbirth approach. Gabe Pressman was a television reporter in New York. Michael Nyqvist was a Swedish actor. Michael Bond created Paddington Bear.

Business Trip #1: I got back from New York in time to unpack and pack for the first of two back-to-back business trips. That one was to Colorado Springs for an annual meeting. I flew out from DCA via ORD, which wouldn’t be my first choice, but it worked okay. I was even able to have a sit-down dinner at a Chili’s in the airport. I waited forever (about 7 minutes) before being given water. Fortunately, once I called the server out on that, she was efficient. That was not the case a couple of nights later at a diner in Colorado Springs, where I was tempted to leave, citing the need to go to the police station and file a missing persons report for my server. There is something of a stereotype about women eating alone being bad tippers. Self-fulfilling prophecy at work.

Anyway, the work stuff was reasonably productive, though, as is typical of this sort of thing, most of the value was the conversations in the hallway between presentations. Connections are, as always, everything.

The Weekend In-Between – Awesome Con: I had made plans to go with a friend to Awesome Con, which is a comic con type of thing at the D.C. Convention Center. I am not a science fiction / comic book type for the most part and am fairly pop-culture illiterate. My primary interest was people watching and I do find it intriguing how much effort people put into cosplay and such. We spent most of our time on the sales floor, though didn’t manage to cover all of it. I bought a fairly spectacular hat because the friend I was with is an evil person who refused to talk me out of it. I also bought a couple of gifts which I won’t talk about until they are given. We did also go to a panel on women in geekdom, which was less focused than I was hoping for, but still reasonably interesting. I later found out that another friend of mine was there (i.e. at that same panel) but I didn’t see her.

Overall, the event was overwhelmingly huge, which I found something of an energy drain. They also did a terrible job of signage and a pretty egregious set-up for food, with most of the food stands having no nearby seating. If I go again in the future, I might try to do more planning and focus on panels more. And maybe get more sleep in the week beforehand.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch: The next day, I had tickets to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch at The Kennedy Center. I had heard good things about this show, but never seen it (or heard the music) before. The premise is a concert by Hedwig, the victim of a botched (and not really voluntary) sex change operation. There are various references to (and sort-of glimpses into) a much larger concert being given at the same time by Tommy Gnosis, who turns out to have an interesting history with Hedwig. That relationship drives some of the transformation behind the story.

Unfortunately, the story is pretty thin. There is an interesting mix of music and some mildly funny lines. And there is no doubt that Euan Morton (who played the lead) is very talented. But I thought the whole thing was heavy handed and not well pulled together. I also want to note that the lighting was completely irritating. Incidentally, I ran into a couple of friends, who were puzzled by the whole thing. We concluded we are just too old and clearly not the target demographic for this material.

Business Trip #2: Unpack, do laundry, pack. Such is my life at times. I was off to the Bay Area for a one day meeting. It was actually pretty interesting and included a high bay tour, which is always one of my favorite things to do. But quick trips like this are always pretty exhausting. I should note that I had originally been scheduled to fly out on American through DFW, but weather delays let me persuade them to put me on a non-stop on United to SFO. I did come back on American (via CLT), which featured just as much service as is typical of them (i.e. next to none). The highlight of CLT was spotting a plane painted in PSA livery. I used to fly PSA quite a bit between L.A. and the Bay Area, but they were bought by USAir a lot a lot of years ago.

Book Club: I got back in time to make it to book club. This meeting's topic was A Man Called Ove. I believe it was the first time that everybody liked a book. If you haven't read it, do. It's quirky and funny and touching in equal measures.

Jesus Christ Superstar: The only thing on my calendar this past weekend (well, aside from catching up on sleep) was seeing Jesus Christ Superstar at Signature Theatre. I really know this show from its original cast recording of over 45 years ago – and will admit that it is not one I particularly like. I remain unimpressed by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score, but, then, it was an early experiment with rock opera and the form hadn’t really been figured out. (ALW, of course, never did figure it out, but others have.)

Signature is always a good place to see musicals for several reasons. Among those are a number of performers, including Nastascia Diaz as Mary Magdalene and Bobby Smith as Pontius Pilate. I was also impressed with Karma Camp’s choreography and thought the lighting and projections were used in interesting ways to create the sets. Overall, I’d say this was a good production of a flawed show.
fauxklore: (Default)
Celebrity Death Watch: Chuck Barris was a TV producer, responsible for The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and The Gong Show. Dallas Green played for several baseball teams (mostly the Phillies) and managed a few, including some success with the Phillies and remarkable lack thereof with the Mets. Lola Albright was an actress, best known for her role in the TV show, Peter Gunn. Pete Shotton played the washboard, but is better known for his friendship with John Lennon and for founding the Fatty Arbuckle’s chain of diners in England. Sir Cuthbert Sebastian was the Governor-General of St. Kitts and Nevis, but I wouldn’t have heard of him were it not for a couple of my ghoul pool rivals having him on their lists. (My picks are thriving, alas.) David Storey was, appropriately, a writer, and won the Booker Prize for his 1976 novel, Saville. Bernie Wrightson drew horror comics and is best known as the creator of Swamp Thing. Ahmed Kathrada was an anti-apartheid activist. Darlene Cates played the mother in the movie What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. William Powell wrote The Anarchist Cookbook, though he later tried to have it removed from circulation. Roland Schmitt was an executive at GE and president of RPI. Gilbert Baker created the rainbow flag as a symbol of gay activism. Richard Bolles wrote What Color is Your Parachute?, a frequently recommended book on job-hunting, though I never found it particularly useful. Lonnie Brooks was a blues singer. Gary Austin created the improv theatre troupe, The Groundlings. Yevgeny Yevtushenko was a Russian poet, best known for his work Babi Yar, which was set to music by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Quarterly Goals: I have been working on various projects, but haven’t finished any. I have not been reading things from the goals on my life list, alas. I treated myself to a pedicure, perfume, and a couple of extravagant meals out. And I have gotten in touch with the daughter-in-law of a cousin twice removed (in Israel) and a couple of the descendants of my great-grandfather’s brother.

MIT Reception: Monday night was the reception for MIT student in their policy internship program. It is always good to corrupt young minds, er, try to persuade students to: a) get involved with space policy and b) take advantage of all the non-work things to do in the D.C. area. Overall, it was a pleasant evening of decent food (heavy hors d’oeuvres) and intelligent conversation.

Loren Niemi House Concert: Storyteller Loren Niemi did a house concert in an apartment in Adams Morgan on Tuesday night. It was a nice intimate setting and he is always interesting to listen to. I particularly liked his story about re-encountering a woman he once knew under unexpected circumstances, which evoked a lot of memories for me about how life circumstances change. He also told an excellent ghost story.

Book Club: Wednesday night was book club. It was interesting because the person leading the discussion really disliked the book (Someone Will Be With You Shortly by Lisa Kogan, which is not really a typical book club type of book). I didn’t think it was a brilliant book, but it was typical women’s magazine humor and an entertaining enough read. The other news is that the person in the group who has annoyed me (because of not so hidden racism) is gone. I knew she was moving but it has happened a bit faster than I expected. I’m sure somebody else will grate on me – and that I irritate some people, too, but I’m still pleased.

Rasika: This modern Indian restaurant is generally considered one of the best restaurants in D.C. and, therefore, it is next to impossible to get a reservation there. A friend had managed to get a reservation for Friday night, with the catch being that it was on the decidedly early side. Alas, she got ill and couldn’t make it, but I decided it was worth taking advantage of the opportunity, even alone. The famous dish there is palak chaat, which is crispy spinach with yogurt and date and tamarind chutney. It is amazingly good and lived up to its reputation. That was followed by lamb achari, which was decently spicy and very tender, but felt a bit heavy. It came with rice and a mint paratha, which was good, but the flavor of the mint was kind of drowned out by the spices of the lamb. I also had a champagne cocktail, which was okay, but did not have as much ginger flavor as the menu had led me to believe. For dessert, there was excellent gulab jamun with amazing cardamom ice cream. Overall, it was a good meal, though I would order a different main course if I went again.

Out of This World: I had never actually been to the Ringling Brothers / Barnum & Bailey Circus and, this being their final tour, suggested this to the group of friends for whom I am Chief Entertainment Officer. So Friday night (after Rasika) found me with a couple of friends at the Verizon Center for the circus. The show is space-themed, which was a nice plus. There were impressive aerialists and superb horseback riding, but my favorite act was the guys riding motorbikes in a metal orb, with seven of them at one time. The lowlights were the clowns, who were mostly at the far end of the arena, so I couldn’t see what they were doing, and the big cats, who just looked too unhappy. I found myself wondering what has to go wrong in somebody’s life for them to think that a career yelling at lions and tigers is a good life choice. (Yes, I do know most circus performers are born to the life. Still…) I’m glad I went, but, overall, I’m not really sad that it’s ending.

Midwestern Gothic: This is a new musical at Signature Theatre. The book is by Royce Vavrek, who I was unfamiliar with, and Josh Schmidt, who wrote Adding Machine, a show I didn’t know quite what to make of. And that was more or less my reaction to this show. The plot centers around a sociopathic teenage girl named Stina, ably played by Morgan Keene. She sets up her friend to be St. Sebastian, tying him to a tree and shooting him with an arrow. She flirts with her creepy stepfather, Red, who takes semi-pornographic photos of her. Her mother is mostly absent, running a bar. Red picks up a woman, who Stina kills. So she and Red run off to an old, condemned house, where there is more blood shed. The music is a mixed bag, some of it operatic and some of it livelier. Overall, the show just didn’t work for me – and I like dark humor. I think the problem is that the likeable characters are nothing more than victims. Oh, well, it’s always worth seeing something new.

Knitting Group: And Sunday was knitting group. I am finally past the part of an afghan square that I'd had to tink because I'd forgotten the border on the sides.

Whew! What a hectic week. (And things had been busy at work, too, with a couple of big meetings to deal with.)
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
2016 was not a great year for me, though I did have a few great things happen. I had certainly underestimated the impact of changing jobs, mostly in terms of how much mental energy that absorbed. I can't count how many nights I went to bed more or less right after supper.

I did finish one life list item, namely seeing the stone monoliths of Babeldaop. I got somewhat more involved with the Style Invitational Loser community, going to a few related social events. I started doing graze, which has, in addition to providing interesting snacks, given me something to write about here. And I had a particularly interesting year with respect to storytelling and to genealogy. Here are the details, in my usual categories.

Books: I only read 88 books last year, 48 of which were fiction. Only 6 were rereads. The ones I disliked include Lenore Glenn Offord’s Clues to Burn and Parnell Hall’s The Puzzle Lady and the Sudoku Lady. The absolute worst was a Laos Travel Guide which had about 40 pages about Laos and 100+ pages about studying mixed martial arts in Thailand, plus a chapter on ketogenic diets. I described this as the literary equivalent of the movie Disco Beaver From Outer Space.

On the positive side, some of the nonfiction books I enjoyed wereCocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness and Leaving Before the Rains Come (two of Alexandra Fuller’s memoirs), Last Train to Zona Verde by Paul Theroux (about his travels in Angola), Crossworld by Marc Romano (about the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament), and Motoring With Mohammed by Eric Hansen (about Yemen). As for fiction, I enjoyed Christopher Buckley’s No Way to Treat a First Lady, To the Power of Three by Laura Lippman (who often writes teenage girls well), and three books by Tess Gerritsen - The Apprentice, Ice Cold, and, especially, The Bone Garden.

Volksmarch: Nothing, zero, nada, nil. Sigh. I’m not sure why, but I just don’t seem to have been very interested in walking other than as a means of transportation.

Travel: The biggest trip of the year was, obviously, the eclipse cruise in the South Pacific, which included the visit to Babeldaop, as well as seeing the giant stone money of Yap, and, of course, my third total solar eclipse. It also pushed me over the edge of qualifying for the Travelers’ Century Club, so I joined it, even though I still think their country list is pretty silly. My only other international trip of the year was to Martinique, mostly to take advantage of a cheap airfare.

I had business trips to Los Angeles, Florida (the Space Coast), and Colorado Springs.

Personal domestic travel included a trip to L.A. and Denver for Captain Denny Flanagan’s pre-retirement get-together, Stamford (Connecticut, that is, for the ACPT), Salt Lake City (for the NPL con), New York (for Lolapuzzoola and for my high school reunion), Pittsburgh (for Loserfest), Chicago (to see the Art Institute and go to an Elvis Costello concert), and Key West. On the way home from Salt Lake City, I achieved Million Mile status on United.

I should also note that I flew a few times on Jet Blue, which I hadn’t done before. I’m fairly impressed with their service, though I don’t think much of their frequent flyer program.

Culture: I went to several story swaps, of course, as well as several of the shows at The Grapevine and a couple of storytelling-related fringe shows. In terms of performing, I did the Washington Folk Festival. But, more importantly, I performed in three Better Said Than Done shows, including the Best in Show competition. I’m particularly happy to have the summer camp story on video. And I’m glad to be working with some family material in a way that I think works for humor without being disrespectful.

I saw 11 movies over the past year, with only one in a theatre. I think the best of them was The Imitation Game. I went to three music events. Both of those categories are things I would like to do more of this coming year. I also went to a Cirque du Soleil show and to a comedy show.

My biggest cultural activity of the year was going to the theatre. If I’ve counted right, I went to six non-musicals and 21 musicals. The worst of those was The Flick at Signature Theatre. As a friend said, "How many people walked out when you saw it?" Highlights included Matilda at the Kennedy Center, 110 in the Shade at Ford’s Theatre, The Lonesome West at Keegan Theatre, The Wild Party at Iron Crow in Baltimore, Freaky Friday at Signature Theatre, and, especially, Caroline, or Change and Monsters of the Villa Diodati at Creative Cauldron. The latter has become one of my favorite theatres in the region, with high quality performances in an intimate setting.

Genealogy: Note that I added this category this year. I made a fair amount of progress, particularly on my mother’s side of the family, with highlights including meeting a cousin and tracking down info on a couple of my grandfather’s siblings. I’m also proud of having funded the translation of the chapters my paternal grandfather contributed to the Lite Yizkor Book. And I got my DNA tested, though that hasn’t led me to any major revelations yet.

Goals: I pretty much failed miserably on my goals for last year, other than reaching million mile status on United. It isn’t even worth enumerating progress on others, all of which were, at best, one step forward and two steps back. I’m giving myself a 25% for the year.

As for the coming year, I still have hope that I can get things done. I’m tempted to write something like "oh, just grow up already," but let’s be somewhat specific and measurable.

  • Complete at least one household organizing project.

  • Complete at least one knitting or crochet project.

  • Complete at least one writing project.

  • Contact one "lost" family member every month to request genealogical information.

  • Spend at least a half hour each week reading things from the reading goals on my life list.

  • Treat myself to one indulgence (e.g. spa treatment or special meal or the like) every month.

Le Catch-up

Dec. 1st, 2016 05:05 pm
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Oy, am I behind. But I won’t get caught up by kvetching alone, so here is an attempt at catching up.

Celebrity Death Watch: Yaffa Eliach was a Holocaust historian. Robert Vaughan was an actor, best known for playing Napoleon Solo on The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. Little known fact is that I had a Napoleon Solo doll when I was a kid and he had a wonderful relationship with Barbie, often helping her escape from Russian spies and wild animals and so on. Leon Russell was a musician and songwriter. Gwen Ifill was a journalist, primarily on PBS. Mose Allison was a jazz pianist. Whitney Smith designed the flag of Guyana, which I mention only because he is claimed to have coined the word "vexillology," thus enabling Sheldon Cooper’s "Fun With Flags" shtick on The Big Bang Theory. Ruth Gruber was a journalist and humanitarian. Sharon Jones was a soul singer. Ben Zion Shenker was a rabbi and composer of over 500 Hasidic niggunim. Florence Henderson was an actress, best known for portraying Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch. Ron Glass was also an actor and associated in my mind with his role on Barney Miller. Grant Tinker was a television executive, including heading NBC in the 1980’s. And, of course, he was the husband of Mary Tyler Moore before that. Michael "Jim" Deiligatti invented the Big Mac. Brigid O’Brien followed in the tradition of her father, Pat, and acted.

Leonard Cohen was a singer-songwriter, who I’ve always thought of as the Poet Laureate of Depression. That isn’t intended as a negative statement. It just means that there are times when you need to wallow in despair and his music suited that mood perfectly.

Melvin Laird was the Secretary of Defense from 1969 to 1973 (under Richard Nixon). While serving in Congress, he supposedly convinced Spiro Agnew to resign the Vice Presidency. He had a lot of influence on how Pentagon budgeting is done. Most importantly, he ended the Vietnam era conscription and initiated the All Volunteer Force.

Jay Forrester was, essentially, the founder of system dynamics. I will admit to qualms about the application of systems models for economic analysis, but his work did enable the growth of systems thinking in the world at large. Hence, he made a difference in the opportunities I’ve had in my career.

And then there was Fidel Castro. He was a dictator and it’s clear that he oppressed the Cuban people. On the other hand, his commitment to education and health care was real. That doesn’t balance out the evils of his government, of course. I will note, however, that the U.S. has had a lot less animosity against lots of dictators who are at least equally bad. How much do you hear about Teodoro Obiang Nguerna Mbasogo, for example? Admittedly, Equatorial Guinea )see, I saved you from having to look him up) isn’t 90 miles from Florida, but the point remains that the treatment of Cuba has not been entirely rational. I am hoping that Fidel’s death may work towards normalizing things. I do still hope to go to Cuba at some point, since my grandfather lived there in the 1920’s and my grandparents met and married there.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: Milt Eisner was a member of my chavurah. He was a retired statistician and a puzzle person, who competed at least a few times in the ACPT.

Condo Association Meeting: Our annual meeting was right after election day. It wasn’t too painful. And they had good brownies.

WBRS Reception: Then came the William Barton Rogers Society reception. This is an MIT related thing and a reward for a certain level of donation. It was at the Mayflower, which is less impressive than one might think. They served heavy hors d’oeuvres. The speaker was John Lienhard, who is the director of the Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab. He was reasonably entertaining. But, really, the value of these events is the opportunity to have intelligent conversations before the main speaker.

Housecleaning and Swap Hosting: Hosting a story swap forced me to do a certain amount of house cleaning. It is fairly appalling to turn up coupons that expired two years ago and such.

Anyway, there was a small group at the swap but it was still enjoyable. I was particularly pleased that Margaret told a First Nations story that is, apparently, in the novel Mrs. Mike, a book I remember entirely for some gruesome medical details involving: 1) diphtheria and 2) amputation.

JGS 36th Anniversary Luncheon: The meal was just okay, but the talk, by Arthur Kurzweil, was excellent. He was entertaining and inspiring. I have commented in the past about genealogy in terms of connectedness to my family’s history and I’ve also thought about that connectivity when I go to shul, admittedly all too rarely. (That is, by the way, why I prefer a more traditional service.) Anyway, as always, it is all about stories and he told good ones.

Book Club: We had a good discussion of How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway, which involves a Japanese war bride. But I am getting increasingly annoyed at the racism (and other general narrowmindedness) of one person in the group. Sigh.

Work: Work has been particularly hectic lately. I was at a full day class one day and have been in endless meetings other days. The telephone is also both my chief tool and the bane of my existence. I’ve also been suffering a lot of IT hell, with issues on three of the four systems I use. However, I suppose it is worth it as I did get a very positive performance review.

The Secret Garden: I went with a friend to see The Secret Garden at Shakespeare Theatre Company. This is one of my favorite Broadway scores of all time. Really, almost the whole score is earworm worthy. I do still think that the book, even as somewhat rewritten here, is probably incomprehensible to anyone who have never read the original novel. But who cares when there is such luscious music with songs like "Lily’s Eyes" and "Where in the World" and
"How Could I Ever Know?" (They did, alas, cut out "Race You to the Top of the Morning.") I should also mention the excellent performances, including Anya Rothman’s as Mary Lennox,, Josh Young as Neville, and, especially, Michael Xavier as Archibald and Lizzie Klepmperar as Lily. (Note, too, that Daisy Egan, who played Mary Lennox on Broadway in 1991 and won a Tony at it, plays Martha, but that’s not an especially showy role.) Anyway, if you live here, go to see this show. If you don’t, you could do worse than to listen to the original cast recording a few thousand times.

Martinique: Finally, I went to Martinique this past weekend. It sounds unlikely, but Norwegian flies from BWI to Martinique and Guadeloupe at very low fares, so why not? I stayed at the Hotel Bambou in the Trois Islet area, which was decent enough for the price. They were very friendly, but the wifi in the room didn’t work well and, while the price included both breakfast and dinner, the dinner buffet was not very good. One expects better of a French colony.

Anyway, it was an easy ferry ride to Fort de France, the capital, where I was eager to see the Bibliotheque Schoelcher, which is very impressive indeed. It was built in France in 1889, then disassembled and shipped piece by piece to Martinique. Schoelcher, by the way, was the major abolitionist writer of the French West Indies. I spent a couple of more hours meandering around the city, which has some interesting architecture (somewhat akin in New Orleans). The Grand Marche was another highlight, especially as there was a lively band playing in front. Overall, it was worth a few hours meandering around.

My rule of thumb for travel is that I need to do something every day, so my Sunday venture was to Musee de la Pagerie, which was the birthplace of Empress Josephine. There was a special exhibit about the history of jazz, but it was dense words, entirely in French, so I didn’t read much of it. The actual museum has pictures of Josephine, along with a few of Napoleon, as well as a few artifacts, many of which I gathered are reproductions. There is also a sugar house (the family was in the sugar cane business) and attractive grounds.

Other than that, I spent time swimming, both in the pool and in the sea. And lazing on the beach. I walked up to the casino, which is remarkably unimpressive, and to the Creole Village shops, which are likewise.

All in all, it was a pleasant enough but not especially exciting trip.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Kevin Meaney was a comic actor. Sheri S. Tepper wrote science fiction under her own name and mysteries as B, J. Oliphant and as A. J. Orde. I am intrigued by the titles of a few of the pamphlets she wrote for Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood, which include "The Great Orgasm Robbery" and "So Your Happily Ever After Isn’t." Colin Snedeker invented the washable crayon. Jack Chick published fundamentalist Christian tracts, which you have almost certainly seen as his followers seemed fond of leaving them on parked cars. Tom Hayden was a member of the SDS who grew up to marry Jane (and divorce) Jane Fonda and to serve in the California Assembly and, later, state Senate. I lived in his district for a while and was always happy to vote against him. Bobby Vee was a pop singer, best known for "Take Good Care of My Baby." Junko Tabei was the first woman to climb Everest.

Don’t Analyze This Dream: I was at a story swap at the home of someone I worked with about 8 years ago. Only one other storyteller showed up, but then left, leaving me alone in the living room with a television on. Three dogs came into the room and one settled in next to me and began telling me how it wanted me to pet it. Sooner or later, I fell asleep on the floor, with this dog next to me. When I woke up, it had turned into a rather attractive man. It was morning and more people began arriving. The man began explaining how he had become a werewolf.

Party weekend: Last weekend was just filled with socializing. Well, okay, two events. One was a friend’s book launch party on Saturday afternoon. Then, on Sunday afternoon, there was a get-together with some flyertalk friends. Both were lots of fun, with good conversation and good food. Which is pretty much what parties should be about.

Speaking of That Book Launch: Jessica Piscitelli Robinson has written a novel titled Caged. I admit that urban fantasy isn't a genre I normally read, but since I know her and all, I bought it and pretty much devoured it. There are lots of things I could quibble about, largely because I am somewhat of a purist on the subject of vampires, but she has a knack for chapter endings that leave just enough hanging to make one want to keep reading. And I do like novels with strong female characters. If you like a real pageturner and can handle a certain amount of gore, I recommend it.

Ruthless: I saw Ruthless at Creative Cauldron on Saturday night. This small theatre in Falls Church has become one of my favorites over the past year or so and this production hit the mark again. It’s a rather silly show, with lots of insider references to musicals (and movies). The story involves a talented young girl, Tina Denmark (ably played by Sophia Manicone), her mother, Judy (played by Katie McManus, a local favorite), and Sylvia St. Croix (played by Alan Naylor), who shows up to mentor Tina. There are other characters, too, notably Lita Encore, Judy’s adoptive mother (played by Kathy Halenda), who sings the showy and hysterical "I Hate Musicals." But the focus is on Tina, who will do anything for the lead in the school play. And then there are the secrets lurking in Judy’s past and Sylvia’s… The book is a bit predictable, but this was an excellent cast and the company made great use of the small space.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I have other things to write about, too, but I've been meaning to post this for a while. I've read a few books over the past months that have some sort of Jewish content to them. Two had to do with Chabad Hassidim, one involved a Conservative synagogue, and one retold a Biblical story (so was sort of a Midrash). All of these are worth reading for different reasons:

Stephen Fried, The New Rabbi: Fried followed a large Conservative congregation in Philadelphia through their search for a new rabbi to replace their long-time leader who was retiring. There’s lots of local shul politics, as well as issues with the broader Conservative movement. I have to admit that a lot of why I found this interesting was because my father had been on the rabbi search committee at our synagogue back in my childhood. So it all sounded very familiar. It was also a good reminder of why I prefer more intimate congregations to the sort of large suburban synagogue written about here.

Stephanie Wellen Levine, Mystics, Mavericks and Merrymakers: An Intimate Journey among Hasidic Girls: The author spent a lot of time getting to know teenage girls in the Lubavitch community and profiles several of them in this book. One of the key points is that the separation of the sexes in the community allows these girls to be loud and outspoken. Some are truly pious, but there are also girls who leave the community and, for example, go to strip clubs and experiment with marijuana. (There’s nothing said about them having sex, so one can only wonder.) I'll admit to being most impressed by the girl who ended up going to college and pursuing a pre-med program. Overall, this is a very interesting read.

Anita Diamont, The Red Tent This is a novel, in which Diamont reimagines the story of Jacob’s daughter, Dina. In the Bible, Dina is raped and her brothers avenge her. In this version, she enters into a voluntary relationship and is betrayed by her brothers, who are scheming for their own advantage. This leads her to go to Egypt, where she gives birth to a son and, eventually, reencounters her family. There are some decidedly heretical ideas in the book (mostly involving idol worship by the matriarchs), but it is an absorbing read. And it is worth thinking about different points of view on familiar stories.

Sue Fishkoff, The Rebbe’s Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubovitch The two things one finds all over the world are, of course, McDonald’s and Chabad. If you’re Jewish, the latter is a more significant institution, providing, say, a place to go to a Passover seder in Kathmandu. But they are also controversial, for a number of reasons. I will admit that I don’t like that they’re perceived as the face of Orthodox Judaism, versus, say, Young Israel. Fishkoff is generally positive about Chabad, but doesn’t shy away from noting the criticisms of the organization - especially the Messianist tendencies of a large number of their adherents (but not their senior leadership). She also points out that their emphasis on outreach can lead to fairly shallow services, geared towards beginners. Overall, I thought this was a fairly balanced and interesting book. I’m still too much of a Litvak rationalist to be drawn into any Hassidic group, but I thought this was a worthwhile read.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Bobby Breen was a child star of the late 1930’s and was one of the people depicted on the album cover of the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Erwin Hahn was a physicist who was best known for his work on nuclear magnetic resonance. Jose Fernandez played baseball for the Miami Marlins, as well as having an inspirational personal story of his defection from Cuba. Arnold Palmer played golf and bears some responsibility for the particularly sickening non-alcoholic drink combining sweet iced tea and lemondade. Buckwheat Zydeco was a major figure in the Louisiana music scene. If you can listen to his music without dancing, you may be a zombie.

Non-celebrity Death Watch:Dunn Miller was a puzzle person. Her NPL nom was Loquacious. There’s an interesting obituary of her by Jon Carroll. I particularly recommend the last few paragraphs.

Naomi Feingold was one of my mother’s best friends. I thought they had been in school together, but her obituary says she was 4 years younger than Mom. She and her husband were celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary by going on a safari in South Africa. Since she apparently died in Johannesburg, I hope they were on their way home and she got to see at least some of the grandeur of that beautiful country before her death.

Baseball: First, the Washington Nationals have clinched the National League East.

The Red Sox are 5 and a half games up on Toronto and their magic number is 2. They have been way hot lately, winning 11 straight games. I went to Thursday night’s game in Baltimore, which was very exciting. Orioles starter Chris Tillmnan only lasted 1 2/3 innings, giving up three runs. The O’s did tie it in the third, with a three-run homer by Trey Mancini, who just came up from the minors. But the Sox got a run in the fifth and Hanley Ramirez hit a homer in the 7th, so all was well.

By the way, I took the Marc train and stayed over. Because I was planning things last minute and there was some convention going on, the only nearby hotel I could get was the Holiday Inn Express at the Stadiums, which is marginally within walking distance. They do have a local shuttle, but it runs only hourly.

On the plus side, it is next to the Horseshoe Casino. I was hyper after the game, so not ready to go to sleep and that provided a way to kill an hour or so. I played a slot machine with a Big Bang Theory theme and won a little over a hundred bucks.

Used Bookstore Run: I did a used bookstore run this weekend. McKay’s took 27 of the 33 books I had brought in. I did use trade credit to come home with 14 new ones, including a Patrick Berry variety puzzle book. I was going to try bringing the rest to Reston Used Books, but there was some international festival going on by there and the normal parking was closed off. It was hardly worth it with so few, anyway. So I will hold on to those until a future run.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
This is one of those catch-up posts. What can I say? I do a lot of stuff.

Celebrity Death Watch: Arthur Anderson was the voice of Lucky the Leprechaun, telling us about cereal being magically delicious. Doris Roberts was a character actress, who I first took notice of when she played a guest role on St. Elsewhere. Ben-Zion Gold was the rabbi at Harvard Hillel during my years at the superior institution up the street.

You don’t need me to tell you about Prince. And you’d be better off asking somebody else about him, anyway, since his music wasn’t really my thing. Billy Paul, who sang "Me and Mrs. Jones," was more to my taste. But the musician whose death I really want to highlight is Papa Wemba. He was a major figure in the world of Afropop, which is very much my thing. If you can listen to his music without dancing, you may want to consult a doctor to make sure you aren't dead yourself.

Made in Space: As I mentioned previously, the theme of this year’s MIT Club of Washington seminar series was space. This talk was not actually part of the series, but many of the same people were there. The speaker was Andrew Rush, the President of Made in Space, which has demonstrated (in a very limited way) additive manufacturing in space. For example, they used a 3-D printer to produce a tool on the International Space Station. Their plans are a lot more ambitious. I grasp the benefit of not needing things to survive the launch environment, but he didn’t address having the manufacturing equipment survive the space environment. For example, what are the impacts to electronics of energetic charged particles? And he didn’t really talk about the economics at all, since certain components (mostly electronics) would need to be stockpiled in the manufacturing facility. Still, it was an interesting talk. And, as a bonus, one of the people there was someone I was very friendly with as an undergrad and hadn’t seen in close to 36 years!

Book Club: The major reason to belong to a book club is to force yourself to read books you might not choose otherwise. This session’s book was Minaret by Leila Aboulela. It was an interesting book, with a somewhat unsatisfying ending. It would have been helpful to know a little more about Sudanese culture – and clothing, as I had to google what a "tobe" is. (It turns out to be more like a sari than like a burka, which is what I had been envisioning. One thing I continue to find amazing is other people’s limited views of the world. That is, except for the Tajik woman in the group. Of course, they probably think my view of the world is weird - e.g. my scale of how much a country is likely to be a basket case based on what colonial power dominated it.

Speaking of the Basket Case Scale: The worst colonialists were the Belgians. It isn’t clear that there’s an adequate sample size, but I wouldn’t want more countries to be as screwed up as the Congo is.

The Dutch were horrible colonialists, but, fortunately, were usually kicked out by the French or British before they could do too much damage. There are, however, no excuses for the basket cases they made of Indonesia and New York City.

Former Portuguese colonies are, in general, doomed to an eternity of civil war. The only mitigation is that they tend to have great music.

Former French colonies are also doomed to be basket cases. On the plus side, the French are sometimes willing to come back in and help them out. And they tend to have good bread and good coffee.

Former English colonies are a mixed bag. They tend to have some level of democratic government, but may have lasting ethnic tensions. Quality of food and music is more variable.

Former German colonies seem to end up with suspiciously long serving leaders, but, again, it isn’t clear if the sample size is adequate to judge. On the plus side, they tend to have good roads.

Surprisingly, former Spanish colonies may be the most functional. Admittedly, the lifetime of a President for Life may be measured in days, but the periods between junta rule are often reasonably free politically.

Innovation Reception: I had an MIT-related reception to go to on Monday night, which was kind of a pain in the neck since, being Passover, I couldn’t eat much of the food. (They did have some raw veggies.) The talk was fairly interesting, with an emphasis on nano-technology. I have to admit to a certain level of skepticism about the emphasis on nano, largely because of my experience with the technology valley of death. That is, the overwhelming majority of technologies fail to make it from research to operations (or, in this case, commercial viability). Academics are always way too optimistic about this, but it affects the riskiness of technology investments.

Pierre Bensusan: My very favorite musician on the planet playing at a place just a couple of miles from my home? Of course, I was going to be there. I’ve seen Pierre perform live numerous times and I continue to be blown away by his guitar virtuosity.

Passover: I have been somewhat unenthusiastic about Passover this year. The only significant cooking achievement was a frittata with asparagus and mushrooms from the farmer’s market. And, frankly, that is as much a shopping achievement as a cooking one.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch:Paul Terasaki was a notable scientist whose work enabled tissue typing and organ transplants. The personal significance is that I used to work for his brother, Dick. Paul Kantner and Signe Toly Anderson were both part of Jefferson Airplane. Bob Elliot was a comedian, half of Bob and Ray. Jack Elrod used to draw Mark Trail, the least interesting comic strip still around. Sir Jeremy Morse set Birtish cryptic crosswords under the pseudonym "Esrom." Apparently, Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse was named for him. Edgar Mitchell walked on the moon. Dan Hicks wrote the song "How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away." Margaret Forster wrote the novel Georgy Girl which was, of course, made into an unmemorable movie with a memorable title song.

Trivia: I got good feedback on my trivia game, with a few useful suggestions for minor tweaks. Now all I have to do is actually write the trivia questions.

Founding Farmers: I went to a Restaurant Week dinner with some folks from Flyer Talk at Founding Farmers in Tyson’s. It was not as great a deal as some other places since, even though you could order anything up to certain prices on the menu, their starter options did not include any of the soups or salads, just things like breads with spreads. The food was fairly tasty, but the service was abominable. The most egregious example was that one guy at our table had to ask for a knife for his lamb four times. So I probably won’t be going there again.

Used Bookstore Run: The weekend before last I finally did a used bookstore run. I got rid of about 50 books and acquired about 15 in trade. Which is, of course, going in the right direction, but ever so slowly.

Book Club: Our meeting got moved a week, due to weather. So it was this past Wednesday that we discussed Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller. Interestingly, this was probably the most divided we’ve ever been on any book, with a few people hating it, a few loving it, and a few in between. That does make for good discussion. Since I was the one who had suggested it in the first place, I was glad at least a few people enjoyed it enough to go out and get Fuller’s other books. Funniest moment of the discussion involved someone commenting on not having been to Scotland (which is where Fuller’s mother’s family originated) to which I responded, "It’s a lot like Zimbabwe." And, actually, in ways it is, both in terms of scenery (though Scotland has fewer kopjes) and tribalism.

Global Entry: I finally got around to getting Global Entry, which should simplify my travel life slightly. I did my interview late in the day at IAD, which was kind of a mistake because it meant driving directly into the sun. And after I had scheduled the meeting, I had a meeting come up in Chantilly, so I could have coordinated things better and not driven back and forth the complete length of two counties. But, oh well, it’s done and successfully so.

The Joys of Home Ownership: This weekend started with a plumbing emergency. My toilet needed to be reseated and resealed, as water was dripping from it into my downstairs neighbor’s bathroom. Plumbing is expensive. (I had heard water running, but thought I just needed to replace the flapper.) I will still need to reimburse my neighbor for repairs to his bathroom ceiling, too.

Genealogy Update: The Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Washington has an Assisted Research session at their next meeting, this coming Sunday. I’ve been working on my great-grandfather’s brother, Chaim Wulf Sczwarzbord, later Hyman Schwartzbord. My maven has helped me find a bunch of info and I believe this has also identified a mysterious family photo of Cousin Ray (a woman, who I now believe is likely his daughter, Ray Ginsburg). The document that really opened things up was one for a death of a U.S. citizen abroad, as he died in Israel in 1959. There are still plenty of open questions, particularly involving the uncle named Kalman Lewidra who he listed as the person he was going to when he emigrated to New York in 1909, but this work added a huge number of cousins to my tree.

Monsters of the Villa Diodati: I had seen And the World Goes Round at Creative Cauldron a couple of months ago, so I was excited to have the opportunity to see this new musical there. It was written by Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith, who are familiar from Signature Theatre and is part of a series of "Bold New Works for Intimate Spaces." In case you don’t recognize the Villa Diodati, it was a large estate that Lord Byron rented on Lake Geneva in 1816. He was there with Percy Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Claire Clairmont (Mary’s step-sister, who had an affair with Lord Byron), and Dr. John Polidori. Most of the show is from Mary’s point of view, though there are aspects from Polidori’s, mostly in the form of excerpts from his diary. (He was paid by a publisher to keep that diary.)

Of course, the famous thing that happened was a challenge to write ghost stories, which resulted in Frankenstein (and Polodiori’s short story "The Vampyre.") But the musical focuses on the complex soap opera between the people at the villa. Lord Byron comes across as a pretty terrible person, frankly, and there’s a nicely nasty scene between him and Mary with a song ("Monster") to show their enmity. Byron and Shelley have a complex relationship of their own, with definite sexual aspects. And then there is poor Dr. Polidari, who really doesn’t fit in at all. He has a particularly effective song ("Directions for John") about his life position.

Overall, this is an intriguing work. It was also well-staged, with clever set changes to move from Lake to Villa to boat and so on, making full use of a limited space. As for the performances, David Landstrom was excellent as Dr. Polidari. Sam Ludwig was alternately attractive and repellent as Lord Byron. Alan Naylor was a handsome Shelley and a good foil to the two women, Susan Derry as Mary and Catherine Purcell as Claire.

I’m looking forward to future shows at this venue (which is conveniently 10 minutes from my house) and, in particular, new musicals being developed there.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
2015 was a complex year. I had underestimated the impact of grieving for my mother and of trying to deal with her stuff. Changing jobs also had an impact. It will be positive in the long run but is inherently stressful. All of this definitely affected my energy level. Despite that, I did accomplish a few things. I managed two travel related life list items (the Hurtigruten cruise up the coast of Norway and the trip to Iguacu Falls), one non-travel related life list item (tracing my genealogy back into the 18th century on at least a couple of branches of my family), and made some progress on other items, e.g. seeing two more Best Picture Oscar winners.

Click here to read the details )
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I’ll write up my weekend trip to New York separately, but here is the rest of the catch-up.

Celebrity Death Watch: Al Molinaro was a character actor who, among other things, played Murray the Cop on The Odd Couple. Fred Thompson was an actor and senator. Helmut Schmidt was the Chancellor of West Germany in the late 1970’s. Allen Toussaint was a major New Orleans musician.

New Job: For anyone who hasn’t heard yet, I am going to be moving to a new job (within the same company) in a few weeks. I will be working on early development activities for the next generation Navy communications satellites. It should be a good challenge.

I should note that this wasn’t a matter of any particular dissatisfaction with what I’ve been doing. While I hate the building I work in, the people are fine and the work is fine. It’s just that I’ve been here over four years, so was ready when an appealing opportunity came up.

Girlstar:This new musical at Signature Theatre had a talented and energetic cast and an interesting concept. There’s a fairy tale sort of opening which gives the back story of a pair of twins (boy and girl). The girl is immensely talented, but a jealous older sister uses a magic liquid she’s found to steal that talent and store it in the belly of her pet snake. And, of course, without talent, one dies. But not before having a daughter, who is then raised by the brother and protected from music by him. Now that daughter is all grown up and ready to seek her aunt, who is the music producer, responsible for the careers of every major star.

What doesn’t get explained is why the aunt can’t use the talent herself, but needs to put it into her girlstar. There are two other stars who mysteriously die to give the girl her voice and her dancing moves, making her ready for a big concert. Everything goes bizarrely wrong, but maybe there is a happyish ending after all.

The problem is that the story doesn’t quite follow the way fairy tales are supposed to work. Overall, a lot of stuff happens out of sheer convenience, instead of making even a limited amount of sense. That’s a pity because there’s some enjoyable music. It’s really a waste of a particularly talented cast, with Donna Migliaccio giving an excellent performance as the evil aunt and Desi Oakley as the sweet niece not sure of what is happening to her.

Halloween: We had a house concert / swap for Halloween. It was a lot of fun. I told "Ida Black," which went over okay though I don’t think I told it especially well.

Knitting Group: I am officially a quarter of the way through this afghan I intended to finish by about March.

Book Club: This session’s book was Euphoria by Lily King, which is a fictionalized story about a thinly disguised Margaret Mead, Reo Fortune, and Gregory Bateson. I think having been to Papua New Guinea (and, specifically, the Sepik region – in real life, Bateson worked with the Iatmul people) did help with it. The ending of the novel, however, annoyed me.

Lost Keys: Somehow, my house keys disappeared. My best guess is that they fell out of my bag when I was pulling out my badge for the bus. And, of course, I got home from book club after our complex office was closed. The weather was dreadful, so it took a while for the locksmith to get there. Not the end of the world, but it’s annoying.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Yvonne Craig was an actress, most famous for playing Batgirl. Melody Patterson played Wrangler Jane on F Troop.

The death I most want to note is that of Merl Reagle. He was the first crossword constructor who I was ever aware of as a constructor. His penchant for puns and wordplay made his puzzles immediately recognizable – and infinitely more pleasurable than the earlier style which relied entirely on knowledge of obscure words. It’s hard to imagine what Sundays will be like without Merl’s puzzle in the Washington Post magazine section.

Del Campo: I went out to a restaurant week dinner with flyertalk folks at Del Campo. Organizing the reservation was annoying, because people drop out last minute and we went from 6 people to 10 to 8 to 6 – and then one didn’t show up. I do understand people having to travel last minute, but I really hate no shows.

Anyway, the deal is a three course dinner for $35. The restaurant had a reasonable menu – 3 choices each for appetizer and main, 2 for dessert. The mushroom empanadas were good, but didn’t blow me away. For the main, I got the short rib, which also came with chorizo and a marrow bone, as well as a surprisingly bland potato puree, with its only sign of the promised jalapenos in its color. The meat was quite tasty, however, and was the highlight of the meal. I chose the carrot cake for dessert and it was okay, but not nearly as good as my own. I also got a cocktail called a gin joint, which had grilled grapefruit juice and smoked simple syrup (as well as more normal things, like gin). It was interesting enough, but a bit sweeter than I would have preferred. Overall, I’d give the place a B to B+. I’ll also note that the service was very good, but it was awfully noisy so I felt like we were shouting at one another all evening.

Stoshvzihl Rrwvhuw: I happened to read a science fiction short story recently, which reminded me of why I don’t read a lot of certain types of science fiction. Namely, there is actually nothing wrong with a character being named Tim or Mary or the like. And, if you are going to invent some alien species, you are actually allowed to use a normal combination of vowels and consonants in its name.

When I Rule the World: There should be sensors at the entrance to metro stations which detect excessive fragrance and soak the offender with water and (unscented) soap.

Also, people should not be allowed to chew juicy fruit gum in the office.

The Height of Absurdity: I thought that the toaster I saw in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog which imprints your toast with a selfie was going to win this category. But I was in Bed Bath & Beyond recently (a store which I have deeply mixed feelings about, primarily because of its missing commas) and I saw a device intended to cook ramen noodles in half the time. In much of the world, that dish is known as "two minute noodles." Are people really that bloody impatient?
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Things have been pretty routine lately – too busy at work, but time for things like story swaps and knitting group and trying to unshovel all the clutter at my house. If I wait for something important to write about, I will never write, so …

Celebrity Death Watch: Ruth Rendell was a British mystery writer. B. B. King was one of the most famous of all blues musicians. Guy Carawan was a folk singer who popularized "We Shall Overcome" as a protest song. Happy Rockefeller was the widow of New York Governor (and later, Vice President), Nelson Rockefeller and was important largely because their relationship was considered scandalous enough to thwart his Presidential ambitions.

Should-be Celebrity Death Watch: Syd Lieberman was a fabulous teller of a wide range of stories. I think his historical stories were particularly strong. He was a kind, generous man, always encouraging to other tellers. I was privileged to have taken a workshop with him and benefit from his wisdom.

Women in Aerospace Conference: I went to the Women in Aerospace annual conference a couple of weeks ago. It was a somewhat odd mix of technical presentations (e.g. on cybersecurity) and career advice. I was going to write a bit about the career advice, but I realized most of it amounted to: 1) STEM degrees are good and 2) everyone else on the planet has read Lean In. But I did learn a couple of interesting things. To wit, only about 10,700 people have ever served in Congress. Only 313 were women, including 108 now.

I also want to pass along this wonderful explanation of my working environment. "The Pentagon is a building with 5 sides … on every issue."

Achoo!: We’ve had a particularly heavy dose of pollen over the past couple of weeks. It did not help that the lights in my ceiling fan burned out, which led me to discover that I really should have been dusting the tops of the ceiling fan blades. That added a heavy dose of dust to my already irritated lungs. And then there is a virus working its way around my office.

Let’s just say this has not been a very good week.

Used Bookstore Run: I finally made a used bookstore run last weekend. I got rid of 31 books and came home with 19 new ones. Two of those were puzzle books, however, so are transient enough to not really count. About 50 more will be going out this weekend, as I plan to stop at The Book Thing to donate them on my way to New York.

Mostly Neil

May. 6th, 2015 11:16 am
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
The biggest thing I did since my last entry was go to Neil Gaiman’s talk at DAR Constitution Hall. This was fairly pricy for this sort of event, but I got a discounted ticket via Goldstar. And he is one of my favorite authors, so I thought it would be worth it.

I was expecting him to read more of his work, but it turned out to be largely a Q&A. The questions were collected in advance, since it would be too hard to do otherwise in a 1500 or so person hall. Several of his answers did, however, provide opportunities for stories. He told a very interesting one about an aunt who was a Holocaust survivor and what she taught him about the value of story. My favorite of the bits he read was a short piece about a genie encountering an unexpected approach to wishes.

One thing he mentioned that I found particularly relevant was the role of booksellers in recommending books. In fact, I first discovered Gaiman when someone at Powell’s in Portland (one of the great bookstores of the world) pushed Neverwhere on me. The idea of someone literally falling through the cracks was truly original and drew me in.

As for other things I’ve been doing, adulting requires too many errands. I got Neptune serviced. My mechanic recommended new struts, but I opted to hold off until after the next couple of trips up I-95. I rewarded myself by going to a film festival movie on Sunday.

Also, this is now two weeks in a row that I have finished reading the Sunday Washington Post on Sunday. Had I actually matched socks after doing laundry last night, I’d say that I was really getting on top of things.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Yes, this is one of those catch-up entries. I know. Deal with it.

Celebrity Death Watch: Lots of people died while I was away – and since I got back. Malcolm Fraser was a former Prime Minister of Australia. Lee Kuan Yew was the founder of Singapore. Robert Schuller built a glass house of worship, aka the Crystal Cathedral. Cynthia Lennon was John Lennon’s first wife. Sarah Brady was an anti-gun activist. Gary Dahl invented the pet rock. Tom Koch was a humorist who invented Mad Magazine’s game, 43-Man Squamish. Naomi Wilzig owned the World’s Erotic Art Museum in Miami. Stan Freberg was a parodist. Gunter Grass was a German novelist, best known for The Tin Drum.

There are two people I want to highlight in particular. John Renbourn was a British folk singer. He was probably best known as part of Pentangle, but I particularly like his solo albums, especially A Maid in Bedlam. And Al Rosen was a baseball player, whose career was cut short by injury, preventing him from joining Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg, and Lou Boudreau as the Jewish contingent at Cooperstown.

Taxes: I finally finished my taxes this weekend. Most of the delay was due to not being able to find a couple of pieces of paper. The mortgage interest statement was actually in plain view on my dining room table. The last charity receipt was more or less where I thought I’d put it, which still meant a few hours of searching.

I used to be so much more organized and I can be again.

Embassy of Estonia: The night before I left on vacation, I went to a dinner and talk at the Embassy of Estonia. The ambassador was a fairly interesting speaker, focusing on the country’s economic position. However, he went on rather long given that the audience was standing. (There were a handful of chairs, which were occupied primarily by people who really needed them. And a few people sat on the stairs. But the rest of us shifted uncomfortably.) The food was pretty good, with a pretty wide range and especially notable desserts, e.g. excellent strudel. One disappointment was that they didn’t have any Estonian wines or beers – only American ones.

More Vacation Details: I’d bought a ticket from EWR to OSL largely on the basis of price. When I see cheap airfares to somewhere that I might conceivably go to (i.e. anywhere that is not an active war zone and, ideally, somewhere I haven’t been to before), I buy first, think later. I actually knew what I wanted to do in Norway – namely, take the Hurtigruten up the coast and see two specific things in Oslo (the Fram, which is the ship Amundsen took to the Antarctic) and Munch’s The Scream. I was hoping for some aurora, too.

I am pleased to say that I accomplished all that I intended, plus a few other things.

Future Vacation Plans – Your Chance to Help: I cashed in some miles for a trip to South America in November, that partly involves some genealogical research and will also address two life list items. Since I need to connect in Panama City, I built in a day and a half there, which should enable me to see Panama La Vieja (i.e. the old city) and the Canal, including the Frank Gehry designed Museum of Biodiversity. I will probably use the hop-on / hop-off bus to do most of that. Given that, does anybody have any hotel recommendations? Keep in mind that: 1) I prefer boutique hotels and local charm to large modern chains, 2) convenience of location (including things like proximity to restaurants) is a high priority, and 3) safety is always a top priority.

You Can Also Advise Me About Books: I am in the middle of reading The Brethren by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong. This is about the Supreme Court under Warren Burger. I am finding it surprisingly interesting. So I am interested in any recommendations anyone might have for more recent books focused on the Supremes.

Mini-Rant 1 - Politics: I expect to spent the next 19 months – and at least 4 years after that, holding my nose.

Mini-Rant 2 - Free Range Children: Apparently the Montgomery County police picked up the two Meitiv children again, 2 ½ blocks from their home, and kept them for hours, despite telling them they were just going to give them a ride home. If I were the parents, I would be charging the police with kidnapping. And don’t give me any crap about the world having changed and gotten more dangerous. Almost all child abductions involve non-custodial parents. In fact, the crime rate now is lower than when I was growing up in the 1960’s.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Used Bookstore Run: I did a used bookstore run this past weekend. I got rid of a total of 86 books. I haven’t counted how many I brought home in exchange (I am fairly sure it is 20ish), but I will note that the most interesting was Crasswords: Dirty Crosswords for Cunning Linguists edited by Francis Heaney. I don’t normally get puzzle books at the only one of the used bookstores that has them (McKay in Manassas) because they price them at close to their cover price, but this is something a bit different. And the puzzles are by people whose constructing skills I respect. (The price doesn’t really matter, because it’s trade, anyway. I just find it annoying.)

My plan is to get rid of the rest of the books that are ready to go out this coming weekend, with an excursion to The Book Thing. There are, alas, many many more books that need to be read (or, in some cases, reread) first. And I barely made a dent in bringing my mother’s books down here. I got all the books I could find upstairs, but only a shelf or so of what’s downstairs. And I may have missed some upstairs because I didn’t go through all of the wall unit. (Come to think of it, I know there are a couple of dictionaries in a drawer in the living room, too.)

Don’t Analyze This Dream: I woke up in a minor panic this morning after a dream in which I was unable to explain a parameter in an elasticity equation to a colleague. The equation in question was, of course, complete nonsense and, yes, I do know that the symbol for Young’s modulus is E, not rho. Such is the way of dreams.

It was also slightly less disturbing than the dream which involved a long-dead great-aunt pointing at my alarm clock.

Weather: It is only November. It is not supposed to be this cold. Please re-boot the calendar.


Jan. 24th, 2014 02:56 pm
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
As usual, I have a bunch of catching up to do.

Used Bookstores and Spices: I finally got around to doing a used bookstore run last weekend. It was a particularly successful one, in that I left the house with 65 books and came home with only 4 of those (plus 18 new to me books, but that is to be expected). I also took advantage of the last store on my route being in that general vicinity to stop into Penzey’s and buy saffron. I will note, however, that they had no true cinnamon, at least not in stick form, but only cassia. (My issue is not the coumarin, as I don’t use it in huge amounts, but cassia is harder to grind and has a harsher taste.) They also don’t carry rosewater, so I still need to make a trip to one of the Indian stores (probably Aditi) to stock up. Actually, I should check first to see if Shopper’s Food Warehouse in Fairfax has it, since they carry some seasonings other supermarkets around here don’t (e.g. star anise) and do have a Middle Eastern section.

Game Night: My Chavurah had a game night on Saturday night. It was kind of weird, but I realize that most people would consider what I think of as a game night as weird. Basically, there was no interest in strategy games at all and complete distaste for anything that suggested actual competition. It was still reasonably fun. We played Balderdash, which I am very good at because: 1) I have a good vocabulary, meaning I don’t consider words like "succubus" to be the least bit obscure and 2) I understand what dictionary definitions sound like and can, therefore, snooker other people into picking my definition. We also played Sour Apples to Apples, which adds a silly penalty thing if your choice is considered least appropriate. In my opinion, that adds nothing to the game.

I should try to make time to go to real game nights, i.e. ones where people are more amenable to playing things with some level of complexity, thought, and feigned malice.

Knitting Group: Sunday involved knitting group. I finally found the needles, yarn, and pieces in progress for a particular sweater I’ve been working on. I even found my notions bag. So, of course, the pattern went missing. I worked on something else instead, but this is extremely annoying.

Weather: Monday was decent out, but we got 4 or so inches of snow on Tuesday, leading me to work from home. That’s a reminder that I really need a new desk chair. It’s been extremely cold since and I am feeling a certain amount of cabin fever.

Do Not Analyze This Dream: I had a dream the other night in which I stopped at a semi-rural resort / retreat center for dinner on my way to somewhere in Pennsylvania and found that several of my friends were there at a storytelling workshop. They talked me into staying for the night, during which I discovered that I had forgotten to bring my Volksmarch books with me. Much of the dream involved whether or not I should drive back home to retrieve them.

Notes to Myself: I scribbled the following in the front of a crossword book:

102 Loon Lake

105 (?) Yellowhead Lake

I am reasonably sure that there is no significance to this being in a puzzle book and that was just a handy piece of paper, suggesting I most likely wrote it on a plane or a train. If it were not for the question mark, I’d think it had to do with Volksmarch events. But, as it is, I am befuddled. Any ideas?

Make the Punishment Fit the Crime: When I rule the world, anyone who submits a document for approval without an acronym list shall be subject to drowning in a large vat of alphabet soup.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
First, a quick obituary note. Mac McGarry, long-time host of It’s Academic has died.

As I mentioned earlier in the week, I went to One Day University on Saturday. This was the first time this had been held in Washington and it was done in conjunction with The Atlantic. The event was at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill, which is a reasonably central but slightly bleak location.

There were four sessions, each of which offered tw o75 minute classes to choose from. For the first session, I chose "How the Brain Works: Why We Do What We Do," presented by Marvin Chun of Yale. I am reasonably knowledgeable about neuroscience, but it was interesting to hear about some of the more recent research using functional MRI to investigate brain activity. In particular, Chun showed results from experiments in which scientists could actually get images that indicate what people were thinking about. He also touched on the question of persistent vegetative states and showed research that indicates at least a small percentage of people in such states show relatively normal brain activity. While I can’t say he really answered the "why we do what we do" part of the title, this was a worthwhile lecture. I also found myself wondering if he had any clue that, during the Q&A, he only looked for hands raised in one half of the room.

For the second session, I chose "Beethoven’s Ninth: The Story Behind the Masterpiece," presented by Thomas Kelly of Harvard. Kelly’s emphasis was on what the audience at the piece’s premiere would have known and how they would have reacted to it, versus how we hear it today. I found this truly fascinating. We are so used to thinking of the Ninth as something of a radical work of music, overthrowing the rules of the symphony, but he pointed out ways in which it is less radical than that, e.g. by comparing the opening of the final movement (which becomes the choral movement, after quoting from the earlier parts of the symphony) to a bass rage recitative. Kelly was an enthusiastic and entertaining lecturer. I left feeling enriched.

They sold boxed lunches, but I was more in need of some fresh air and movement, so I went out for a brief walk. After lunch, I went to a session on "Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness" by Catherine Sanderson of Amherst. She talked about a lot of research on what does and doesn’t make us happy and ran through several things people can do to improve their happiness. While she was a very entertaining speaker, I was a little uncomfortable with some of how she talked about her family. I also wish she had addressed cross-cultural issues.

The final lecture I went to was "Four Books Every Book Lover Should Read" by Joseph Luzzi of Bard College. He actually talked about five books, primarily by reading excerpts from them. My bigger disappointment was that the description had said that he would address how participants could develop their own list of essential reading and he didn’t touch on this at all. Overall, this was the one of the four talks I would not recommend.

Book Meme

Dec. 10th, 2013 04:55 pm
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
There is a facebook meme re: listing 10 books that have stayed with you. I am writing about this here, instead of there, because I think it is worth saying something about why I've chosen the books I've listed.

  1. Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland. Simply the best book ever written in English and one I reread at least annually. The wordplay and sense of absurdity have stood me in good stead all my life and that is especially true since I began working in Washington.

  2. Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith. This book warped my ideas of what being a scientist was all about and was, therefore, probably not a good influence on me as a teenager. But it was an influence.

  3. Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year. I stayed up all night the first time I read this. Defoe has been described as lying like the truth. If you want to understand what good fiction is, read him.

  4. Dorothy L. Sayers, The Nine Tailors. Sayers was the first mystery writer I fell in love with as an adult. This was not the book of hers I got for 19 cents at Barnes and Noble in downtown Boston in 1978 or so, but it is my favorite Lord Peter Wimsey mystery.

  5. Herman Melville, Moby Dick. We read "Bartleby the Scrivener" in high school and I liked it. More of Melville and longer is even better.

  6. Margaret Atwood, Life Before Man. I chose this one of Atwood's books because I love the idea of a main character jogging through prehistory when she is stressed.

  7. Vikram Seth, The Golden Gate. A modern novel written in verse. I think Seth did a great job of capturing the Bay Area. This is just a delight to read.

  8. Bram Stoker, Dracula. This is not a simple horror story. Stoker's conflcted views of women (his mother was an early feminist) make it an intriguing read

  9. Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad. This travel account is what got me into reading Twain after several failures to read his novels. It still rings true for the experience of being a tourist.

  10. Dalton Trumbo, Johnny Got His Gun. There was a substitute teacher in junior high who used to read to us from this. It remains a powerful anti-war novel.


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