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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.
fauxklore: (Default)
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.



May. 12th, 2017 02:23 pm
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Health Care: First, a brief rant on the Republican approach to health care. The fundamental problem is that the free market doesn’t really work for health care. For example, I know at least three people who have had to have emergency appendectomies. In one case, she was far away from home (in D.C., while she lived in Los Angeles). It’s not like she could realistically go around calling various hospitals to find out which would be cheapest. I’ll also note that one of the others had insurance from work that turned out not to cover the anesthesiologist at the hospital she was at, which was otherwise within network.

When I am looking for a doctor, pricing is hardly my primary consideration. In fact, I go to a dentist who doesn’t participate in my insurance. That is, the office takes the insurance and files the paperwork, but does not conform to the rates. Yes, I could find someone in network, but I’ve had bad experiences with dentists in the past and finding someone who can handle my strong gag reflex is more important. (Hint: putting salt on the tongue suppresses the gag reflex, allowing me to handle getting x-rays. Yelling at me while I am choking is not a good approach.)

In addition, there are many places where there isn’t enough realistic choice to make price shopping feasible. The doctor I went to while growing up was the only one with an office in our small town. In that case, there were options in neighboring towns, but that would have involved lots of additional time and inconvenience.

The real reason our health care is so expensive and inefficient is that for-profit insurance adds an unnecessary administrative layer. One of my oldest friends is a cardiologist and she tells me that only 5 minutes out of every hour is spent on actual patient care, with the rest being paperwork, much of it insurance-related. Single payer is the obvious solution.

Teacher’s Appreciation Week: There is a meme going around on facebook to list your elementary school teachers. These were mine at Audubon Boulevard Elementary School in Island Park, New York.

K – Mrs. Caspar.

1 – Miss Jacobellis. I think she got married the summer after that, but I don’t recall her married name. And I am not sure whether or not she continued teaching after marriage.

2 – Mrs. Rebman. It might have been Redman. My memory of 2nd grade is pretty fuzzy.

3 – Mrs. Kramer. The main thing I remember about her is that her husband was our piano tuner.

4 – Mrs. Hunt / Mrs. Barnett. Mrs. Hunt broke her leg in the middle of the school year and Mrs. Barnett took over for her. I vaguely remember her living in a house on the water in East Rockaway that had an artificial palm tree in front of it.

5 – Mr. Bilash. The most notable thing about Mr. Bilash was that he let us bring in records to play on Friday afternoons. Somewhere in there, he sang "Old Man River."

6 – Mr. Ryder. Mr. Ryder was into theatre and had us learn about the middle ages by doing a production of sort-of Camelot. Sort-of because we rewrote the script to include a lot of new characters. The whole class sang the songs, which was a good thing for those of us who are not rich of voice. I also remember making paper mache trees for the set at another girl’s house and her introducing me to Dark Shadows, which became the only soap opera I ever got into.

I have mercifully forgotten our gym teacher(s). I think Miss Evans was the art teacher. But my very favorite teacher was Mrs. Meyers, our music teacher. There was no greater thrill than getting to play the autoharp in music class.

The Grapevine: As for actually doing things this week, Wednesday was a difficult night, with multiple options. I ended up deciding to go to The Grapevine, a storytelling event in darkest Maryland. I took advantage of the open mike part to try out the story I’ve learned from Afghanistan, part of my "story from every country" project. It went over pretty well, I think. As for the featured tellers, I had not heard Dennis Dewey previously, but found him entertaining, particularly with a personal story about buried treasure. Laura Packer was the main reason I had gone and she was wonderful. I’m particularly glad she told a story I’d heard from her before, which starts with what girls are told they can’t do and her approach to that as a child. Overall, it was an excellent evening and well worth the schlep to Takoma Park.

Oy: I discovered this morning that the vanilla tea I had bought last week was decaffeinated. No wonder I was so tired yesterday. I drank lapsang souchong today.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Aaron Hernandez played football for the New England Patriots before his arrest in a murder case. Lawrence Hogan served in the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland, where his son is currently the governor. Cuba Gooding, Sr. was a soul singer and the father of actor, Cuba Gooding, Jr. Erin Moran was an actress, best know for Joanie Loves Chachi. Robert Pirsig wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a book I have intended to read for many years but never gotten around to.

Fun Home: The touring production of Fun Home, a musical based on Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel is playing at the National Theatre and I saw it last week. The story is fairly simple – Alison is gay and becomes a lesbian cartoonist. Her father is gay and commits suicide. (That is not a spoiler. She says it in the first few minutes of the show.) The interesting thing is how the story is told, with adult Alison narrating the action and two younger versions of herself acting appropriate parts of it. Almost all of the focus is on Alison’s relationship with her father, which is ironic given the Bechdel-Wallace test. There are two other female characters – her mother and her first lover - and most of what she talks about with them is that relationship.

I will admit to having had some skepticism, because this is the sort of premise that could lead to a preachy or dull show. But it is neither. We all have coming of age discoveries to make and we all have evolving relationships with our families and we all learn things about our parents that may make us reassess those relationships. Small Alison (about 9 years old) is a cute and lively kid, longing for Dad’s attention, yet recoiling when it comes in the form of asking for help at the family funeral home (which is the source of the title). Medium Alison (a college freshman) felt exactly right for that confusing age and got one of the best songs as she enters a relationship and sings about changing her major to Joan. I also through that Abby Corrigan, who played Medium Alison, was a particularly strong performer. Robert Petkoff was also notable as Bruce, Alison’s father, who was somewhat trapped by his times and didn’t know how to deal with that. He’s not particularly likeable, but it’s also obvious he causes himself as much pain as he causes to other people.

I should also note that Lisa Kron’s book and lyrics and Jeanine Tesori’s music were enjoyable. There is a nice blend of serious and silly among the songs. One of the things I have been known to whine about is musicals where the music serves no real purpose. Here, it does illuminate character and emotion. I do wish, however, that the program had included a song list.

Overall, I highly recommend seeing it while it’s here.

March for Science: Saturday was the March for Science. I had mixed feelings about the whole thing, largely because a lot of the discussion on their facebook page was treating the whole thing as cosplay and focused on silly signs and so on. The real issue, in my opinion, is Trump’s failure to appoint people to key science roles, e.g. science advisor to the President, NASA director, NOAA director. But a friend was in town for it. Notably a long-time friend, who is used to my snarkiness and contributes a certain level of his own snark. We skipped the speeches, met for lunch at a Thai restaurant, and then went over to catch the end of the rally part and march from the Washington Monument to the Capitol. The weather was crappy (chilly and rainy) but I had a poncho and he had a jacket and rain hat and, as my Dad used to say, people are more or less waterproof. So March we did, along with snide comments about signs that were off-message, as well as admiration for some clever ones. The chanting got nicely loud around the EPA building. If nothing else, we got a good walk out of it.

Brunch and Batteries: I had a chavurah brunch to go to on Sunday. Unfortunately, when I went out to go to it, my car battery was dead. I took a cab over (and got a ride home), but it was still stressful. The food was pretty good and the conversation was good, so it was worth it. When I got home, I called AAA and they brought a new battery and installed it. It's still annoying, but not horribly painful.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Yes, the President's Budget Request is problematic in many ways. The thing that people have to understand, however, is that it is just a starting point in negotiations. Actual budgets originate in Congress, not in the Executive Branch. The major thing to understand is the appropriations committees (one for the House, one for the Senate) and their various subcommittees. You also need to know a little bit about authorization, which is another complexity.

The simple way to explain the difference is that appropriations determines how much money can be spent, while authorization tells how to spend it. Except, actually, if any money at all is authorized for a given item (even a single dollar), then you can spend up to the complete appropriation. The analogy I usually use to explain this is to assume you have a child who is in college. You want the kid to study nuclear gymnastics, but your kid is rebellious and chooses to study underwater basketweaving. If you have paid for UB 101 thinking it would be just a minor diversion, well, you are likely to end up with a basketweaver and not a nuclear gymnast. But, as an appropriator, you could cut off all college funds and kiddo is out of luck.

So let's stick to appropriations. Every program has a program element associated with it, which is the line item that money is being requested for. There are detailed descriptions of exactly what those program elements are supposed to fund and where you find those depends on which appropriations bill is involved and what sort of program it is (e.g. research vs. procurement vs. sustainment). That's more detail than we need for this purpose, though it matters if you actually spend time reading these bills and don't want to go blind trying to find the info you are looking for.

The President's Budget Request will have numbers for every program element in it. Some of those could be zeros. But the subcommittees of the appropriations committees will alter those numbers as they create the bills. That is called the mark-up and it takes several weeks. When the marked up bill gets released, it will have reasons for the changes, such as removing money for being early to need or adding money because it will encourage American industry (which is kind of a code word for it having to do with something in some particular subcommittee member's district) or whatever. Much of the heavy lifting is done by their professional staff members, who are middle-aged, sleep-deprived, hard-working, and underappreciated. There are also various organizations and lobbyists who are trying to influence what the numbers should be. The key point is that the members of the subcommittees control what the actual appropriations bills look like. Hence, you can write to and call your congresscritters and other committee members to tell them what you think. And how do you find out who the right people are? It's all on congress.gov which has links to the various committees and lists their members.

The subcommittee bills go to the full House or Senate for approval. After both the House and Senate committees finish with their bills, they have a conference, which comes up with a compromise bill. They often just split the difference on numbers, but that isn't always the case. However, you can be reasonably sure that if either committee appropriated some money for a given program element, it won't get completely killed. Crippled, maybe, but not killed.

I was going to work through an example and even came up with three examples of programs to use (distillation of unicorn tears, synthesis of informaldehyde and businesscasualdehyde, and mining of unobtainium), but I realized it wouldn't add enough without getting tedious. And I certainly don't want anybody to think I'd ever be opposed to distilling unicorn tears.

Bottom line here is to contact your congresscritters, especially if they are on committees dealing with things you care about.

Two Rants

Mar. 8th, 2017 11:24 am
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Rant the First - Republican Health Un-Care: Giving people a maximum $4000 credit when health insurance often costs over $1000 a month doesn't do anything for affordability. Eliminating coverage for things like maternity care and vaccinations will increase the need for more expensive coverage later on. This is sheer cronyism, a break for rich insurance company execs and does nothing to help people.

I firmly believe single-payer would be the right way to go for the simple reason that it would allow a much higher percentage of insurance costs to go to actual health care, instead of paperwork.

As for Paul Ryan's ridiculous iphone comment, an iphone costs well under what a single month of insurance costs. And even the earliest adapters don't change their phones out more than every 12-18 months.

Rant the Second - Ticketmaster: There are really two parts to my annoyance. The first is that I was buying tickets to go to the circus with a couple of friends (because this is it for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey and I have never been, though I've been to a number of Cirque du Soleil shows and to the Moscow Circus). The tickets show up as being $65 plus fees. The fees added 17 bucks a ticket. That's about 26%, which is fairly extortionate. But what really bugged me is that there was no apparent way to see what the fees would be up front.

The second annoyance was that a new block of tickets for Hamilton went on sale yesterday. After some searching, I actually found a couple of dates with single tickets that were only mildly exorbitant (in the 200 dollar range). Only to get an error message when actually trying to purchase such a ticket. And, of course, they were gone when I tried again later. There are still tickets available for some dates, but only at prices starting at $549. Yes, I could afford that if I really wanted to. But there are plenty of other things I'd like to see at far more reasonable prices.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Stuart McLean was a Canadian broadcaster, whose The Vinyl Café also aired on NPR. Richard Schickel was a film critic. Omar Abdel-Rahman, also known as "The Blind Sheikh," was convicted of seditious conspiracy in relation to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Nancy Willard wrote children’s books. Kaci Kullman Five was chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. Kenneth Arrow was a Nobel laureate in economics. Larry Coryell was a jazz guitarist.

Norma McCorvey was the Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade. She later became active in the anti-choice movement. Note that she never actually had an abortion, as the Supreme Court case took three years.

Leah Adler was Stephen Speilberg’s mother and also owned and ran The Milky Way, a kosher dairy restaurant in Los Angeles. I can’t count how often I’ve eaten there, especially since I used to live more or less across the street from it. I particularly liked their lasagna. Mrs. Adler was a charming hostess, and part of the appeal of the place.

Mildred Dresselhaus was an MIT professor, and one of the most prominent women in science. She did vital work in thermoelectrics and materials, especially nanotechnology. But, more importantly, she inspired almost every woman of my generation at MIT.

Presidential Dining Note: It doesn’t appear that Donald Trump eats out here, except, possibly, at Trump-owned properties. I realized this when I got lunch at Good Stuff Eatery and they still have the Prez Obama burger and the Michelle Melt on the menu. Admittedly, it’s only been a month, but I don’t expect to see him at local restaurants or cultural events very much.

Not Everything Evil is His Fault: I’ve made no secret of my feelings about Trump’s incompetence and bad ideas. But not every bad thing that happens here is his fault. Two specific items are not. First, it is perfectly normal for political appointees to submit their resignations to be effective on inauguration day and, despite what some people have commented in various places, only a small percentage (5% or so) get asked to stay on. That doesn’t, of course, excuse Trump’s slowness in naming appointees. Out of 549 appointments requiring Senate confirmation, 14 have been confirmed and another 20 are awaiting confirmation. This is well behind the pace of past administrations. But that may be a good thing in this case. It means that career civil servants are acting in a number of positions and, in general, people who are career vice political are more likely to push back against bad ideas. Politicals know they only have so many silver bullets, so conserve them and sometimes don’t act when they probably should. On the other hand, politicals are usually easier to deal with for precisely this reason.

The other thing that is not Trump’s fault is Customs and Border Patrol asking people to unlock smartphones and, in general, seizing electronics. This is a bad thing, yes, but the exception to the need for a search warrant when it comes to electronics at borders has been policy for a number of years. There are a couple of court cases which affirmed the CBP right to do so, both of them involving child pornography. My advice is not to travel with electronics with important data. (My company will lend international travelers clean laptops. Not sure what they do about smartphones.) In my opinion, the only thing that would really help here is for a case to get to the Supreme Court. Of course, there is no guarantee of privacy rights prevailing there.

Commonwealth Politics: In general, Virginia has Democratic politicians who align well with my views. But it has occurred to me that I can’t think of any women who are up and coming right now. Of our 11 Congressional districts, the only female congresscritter is Barbara Comstock, a Republican. So what other women could run for Congress? Maybe Delegate Charniele Herring, who seems to have an interesting personal history, including growing up in a military family and spending some time in a homeless shelter? Or the much more privileged Sharon Bulova, who chairs the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, except that she would be in the 11th district and Gerry Connolly doesn’t seem likely to step aside? I’ll admit I don’t know a lot of the politicians from outside Northern Virginia. Is there anyone in the Hampton Roads area or Richmond?

Intentional Walks: The Washington Post reported today that MLB is going to do away with intentional walks, replacing them with a signal from the dugout. This is wrong, wrong, wrong. While it may be rare that they had unintended consequences, such as an overthrow allowing base runners to progress or a pitch too close to the strike zone allowing a hit, that could always happen. And the psychology gets changed when the target has to stand there and reflect on how afraid of him the other team is.

For something this evil, I do indeed blame Trump. (Along with, of course, Robert Mugabe and the New York Yankees.)
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
First, I am not surprised at the results for the simple reason that I have long believed that the first woman to become President of the U.S. will be a Republican. My logic is that a high enough percentage of the right wing would not submit to having a woman in power, so would only vote for a woman if doing so could be perceived as a sort of ideological purity. There are a handful of Republican woman who I would find acceptable (say, Susan Collins), but they are also the ones least likely to be nominated.

Second, I think there's a big neglected psychological factor in how the candidates presented themselves. I believe Hillary is a classic introvert and that made her suspicious in her dealings with the media and led to the perception of secretiveness. For what it's worth, extroverts tend to be perceived as warmer and are trusted more.

Third, I can't help but notice that two of the states that flipped and gave the election to Trump are North Carolina and Wisconsin, which are among the states with the greatest efforts at voter suppression. That is entirely speculative on my part, of course.

Finally, for the people who claim Sanders could have beat Trump, I sincerely doubt it. The same people who wouldn't vote for a woman wouldn't vote for a Jew or a socialist and certainly not someone who is both. I think Joe Biden might conceivably have done better, though he certainly hasn't been immune to attacks of hoof-in-mouth syndrome. But it's a moot point as circumstances prevented him from entering the fray.

As for what to do now, we've had repugnant politicians before, though I am not sure there have been any in my lifetime who are quite as vulgar. But trying to go around the system just plays into his hands. Work the system for all it's worth to protect the vulnerable and to keep Trump from destroying the country.

For those who want there to be a new party, I'm with you, but it has to start at the lower levels. I will offer up my Congressional district as one that is ripe for a third party, as our one-time liberal Republican congresscritter was forced out of office by the extremism of the party (he has said this himself, so it isn't speculation on my part) and the Democrat who replaced him a few elections ago is unlikeable and unliked, but has run unopposed twice now. My vision of what a new party should look like is probably not the same as yours, since I am a Radical Centrist of the Dead Armadillo stripe (i.e. firmly middle of the road) but we can talk.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
The Trump Card I went to see Mike Daisey’s latest monologue at Woolly Mammoth on Thursday night. If you are at all familiar with Daisey’s work, you know that he has no qualms about being provocative. The thing that makes this piece more than just a rant is that Daisey tries to understand both how Trump became what he is (e.g. his father’s racism and dishonest business dealings, combined with Roy Cohn’s mentoring) and his supporters’ frustration with feeling left out of the American conversation. A lot of the emphasis is on Trump as a performer and his success at being what he is. Interestingly, there is nothing about his wives and children, though there is plenty of material about his sexual assaults. The left does not get off lightly here, either, with accusations of smugness (mea culpa) and a bit of an attack on NPR. It’s an interesting piece and was worth seeing, though I don’t think Daisey is likely to change anybody’s mind.

Trip to Chicago: A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that: 1) I had never been to the Art Institute of Chicago and 2) it would be easy to remedy that. A quick bit of research also found an Elvis Costello concert to go to at the historic Chicago Theatre. Plane tickets are easily acquired, as are hotel reservations. In this case, I stayed at the Hilton at O’Hare, which is located conveniently on the airport grounds. I had some qualms about the travel when the American Airlines plane caught fire at ORD Friday afternoon, but my United flight was actually fine and, in fact, arrived about 20 minutes early. By the way, before leaving IAD, I checked out the new Turkish Airlines lounge and had an excellent supper of lentil soup and baba ghannoush.

I had intended to have breakfast at Wildberry Pancakes and Café, but the wait for a table was an hour and a half, so I went elsewhere. Then I drifted over to the Art Institute. I am a great believer in docent tours, so took the tour of the Modern Wing that was on offer when I was there. They define Modern as, essentially, early the first half of the 20th century. The tour started with Picasso and Braque and cubism (with a few touches of other things Picasso did, including a bit of insight into his various mistresses). After passing through the Russians (e.g. Kandinsky), we continued down to the Contemporary collection, which included Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollack. I will have to admit that the latter is pretty much my least favorite artist of all time, but so it goes. The most memorable piece was a sort of sculpture by Felix Gonzales-Torres named "Untitled" (Portrait of Ross in L.A.). This consists of a stack of wrapped candy and viewers are encouraged to take a piece. Talk about absorbing the artwork!

After the tour, I stayed in the Modern Wing for a bit, going back to look at some things we had skipped, e.g. a couple of works by Chagall, notably White Crucifixion. Of course, the most significant Chagall work at the museum is the America Windows, six stained glass windows, which are beautiful and vibrant and the definite highlight of my visit.

There are lots of other famous works at the museum, of course, though American Gothic is off on tour right now. I did see such things as Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks and Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jette. I also made a point of visiting the Thorne Miniature Rooms, which depict both European and American rooms from various periods. They are quite exquisitely detailed, but the crowds make them harder to enjoy than they should be.

Anyway, the whole museum is quite overwhelming and I didn’t attempt to see everything. As it was, I spent about 5 hours there and was pretty exhausted at the end of that. Had I been staying downtown, I could have gone to my hotel and taken a nap, but I didn’t think I had time to schlep back to the airport and back to the city. So I was rather tired for the Elvis Costello concert.

First of all, I should note that the Chicago Theatre is pretty spectacular. Unfortunately, the sound system doesn’t measure up to the ornate décor. There was a good mix of material, including pretty much everything off the Imperial Bedroom album. The most notable video images on the screen above the band were for "Watching the Detectives," which used a wide range of noir / pulp covers. That nourish theme was nicely followed by "Shot With His Own Gun," by the way. But I think the performance highlight of the evening was "This House is Empty Now." Overall, it was a reasonably good evening, but the sound system really did put a damper on things.

For what it’s worth, travel home was also straightforward and hassle-free, though I didn’t get upgraded.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Joyce Carol Thomas wrote over 30 children’s books. Aboud Jumbe was the President of Zanzibar from 1872-1984. S. R. Nathan was the President of Singapore from 1999-2011. Choo-Choo Coleman played for the Mets in the 1960’s. Oddly enough, actor Marvin Kaplan, who also died recently, voiced a character named Choo-Choo in the Top Cat cartoons. This might not be a good time to ride on trains, lest there be other choo-choo demises.

Jack Riley played Elliot Carlin, the neurotic patient on The Bob Newhart Show. Irving Fields played piano and wrote such lounge music as "Managua, Nicaragua," as well as recording Jewish comedy songs. Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis was a Shoah survivor who went on to found Hineni, a major center for bringing people back to their Jewish heritage. John McLaughlin hosted a political talk show. Joe Sutter was the chief designer of the Boeing 747. Doris McLemore was the last fluent speaker of the Wichita language. Fred Hellerman had been the last surviving original member of The Weavers.

Bigger news, of course, is the death of Gene Wilder. Most of the news stories highlighted his performance as Willy Wonka, but I think his best work was for Mel Brooks, in The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein. He had a distinctive comic style, which I sometimes found a bit too manic for my tastes, but was often genuinely funny. I am, by the way, rather peeved about people saying that now he is reunited with Gilda Radner. He had been married twice before her and, more significantly, remarried after her death. Karen Boyer was with him for the last 20-something years, including caring for him after he was stricken with Alzheimer’s. It is pretty offensive to ignore that.

In the world of politics, Islam Karimov was the "president" (really dictator) of Uzbekistan. I have a particular fascination with Central Asia, with Samarkand and Bukhara high on the list of places I want to visit, so it will be interesting to see what happens there now that he is dead.

Finally, Phyllis Schlafly was a conservative activist. One is not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but I will make an exception in her case to point out her hypocrisy in opposing women’s rights while working as lawyer herself. The thing I think is most memorable about her is her fictional debate with Joanie Caucus in the Doonesbury comic strip. I consider that a reason not to wear salmon. (Aside from, of course, the fact that I look terrible in salmon.) Anyway, she was pretty much opposed to everything I believe in, so I wish her politics vanished with her. But I have little hope of that.

A Political Mini-Rant: I am mildly annoyed to see t-shirts and such that advertise the Democratic candidate as Hillary, vs. Clinton (or, preferably, using her full name). It seems to me disrespectful to call a woman by her first name, while a male candidate is referred to by his surname. I do realize that part of the advertising is to distinguish her from Bill, but that sort of distinction wasn’t really used in the case of the younger Bush.

Cirque du Soleil – Kurios: I went to see the current Cirque du Soleil show at Tyson’s Corner with a couple of friends on Friday night. Kurios has a definite steampunk aesthetic in its design of sets and costumes, with the usual exquisite attention to details that Cirque is known for. That makes it more than just the incredible acrobatics, though the circus skills are decidedly impressive. For example, the guy who balances on a board stacked on balls and cylinders, including a bit on a moving swing, was very impressive. And the trampoline group was breathtaking. More surprisingly, the contortionists were showy without being creepy. The only act I didn’t particularly care for was a mime act in which a woman from the audience was pulled on stage to sit on a sofa while the mime acted out various animals. All in all it was an excellent show. I did wish I had realized how close the tent was to the metro station, as I could have saved myself $25 in parking.

Jelly’s Last Jam: Saturday I saw Jelly’s Last Jam at Signature Theatre. It was rather different from what I was expecting. I assumed it would be more or less a jukebox musical, highlighting Jelly Roll Morton’s songs. While it did have several of his songs, the show was much darker, focused on his own ambiguity about race, with his claims to have been a Creole and not an African-American, leading to his racist behavior towards people who should have been his friends and supporters. That gave the show a lot more depth and I thought it was well worth seeing. I also want to note the performance of Mark Meadows in the title role. He is known as a jazz musician and, while he had not acted previously, I thought he was convincingly expressive. I was also impressed by Felicia Boswell as Anita. I was less impressed with my seat, which was in the nightclub section on the floor, making it awkward to see some of the action.

My Birthday: I made it to 58. I didn’t really do anything to celebrate my birthday. Well, I did go to knitting group, avoid housework for the day (after being fairly productive at home on Saturday), and eat chocolate lava cake for dessert.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Betsy Bloomingdale was a socialite and fashion icon. Dave Bald Eagle was a Lakota chief who is probably most famous for having acted in the movie "Dances with Wolves." Miss Cleo was a TV psychic. Jack Davis co-founded Mad Magazine. Richard Thompson was a cartoonist ("Cul de Sac") and illustrator. Doug Griffin played second base for the Red Sox in the 1970’s. Fred Tomlinson wrote "The Lumberjack Song" for Monty Python.

Forrest Mars, Jr. inherited money from the candy company, some of which went to support historical projects, including support of Fort Ticonderoga and funding the construction of a coffeehouse in Colonial Williamsburg.

Marni Nixon dubbed the singing voices of several actresses in movie musicals. James M. Nederlander owned a number of theatres on Broadway and elsewhere. Zelda Fichandler co-founded Arena Stage, one of the major regional theatres here in Washington and, apparently, the first racially integrated theatre in the region.

The death I most want to highlight is that of Mary Ann Madden. She edited the New York Magazine Competition for many years and some of the best entries were compiled in such books as Maybe He’s Dead and Thanks for the Giant Sea Tortoise. I have distinct memories of several of the entries from the 1970’s. She was long retired and had, apparently, been ill for some time, but her spirit lives on in the Washington Post Style Invitational and the community it has fostered among its devotees.

Lesser of Evils: It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that I intend to vote for Hillary Clinton in this year’s presidential race. I’m not especially enthusiastic about her (she is, after all, a Yankees fan), but this is a clear lesser of evils for me. I challenged myself to see who would be so awful that I would vote for Donald Trump over them and came up with two names. The first was Robert Mugabe, who is not, of course, eligible, not being an American. The other was Cthulhu, who I could argue was born in Rhode Island. I generally prefer my political candidates without tentacles.

On a More Serious Note: The major impact of the veepstakes is that it gives some insight into how a politician makes decisions. I’d argue that the single most important thing a President does is make political appointments. (That is especially true of the Supreme Court, of course, but applies to various Cabinet and other posts.) The choice of a running mate is our first opportunity to see this in action.

This is an area in which I think Hillary Clinton made an excellent choice. I’ve lived in Virginia through Tim Kaine’s term as governor and his tenure in the Senate. I don’t agree with him on everything, but I’ve been impressed with his integrity and with his ability to work across the aisle. I think he can provide some good balance to the race.

One More Political Note: There is nothing wrong with trying to develop third parties to better represent certain advocacies. However, it makes sense to start doing so at the local level. Not enough attention gets paid to city and county races to begin with. Even at the state level, there is plenty of room for expanding the slates. For example, I remain appalled at how many candidates for the Virginia House of Delegates run unopposed.

Damn You, Noodles & Company: They added spicy Korean beef noodles to their menu. I have no particular objection to that, but in doing so, they got rid of the Indonesian peanut saute. That, with tofu, has been my mainstay of their menu.

Storytelling: Saturday night was the Better Said Than Done show in which I told my summer camp story. The show was an interesting mix of stories, which always makes for more fun for me as a listener. The audience was very responsive and I got plenty of laughs in the right places. All in all, a fun evening.

Knitting Group: There was a fifth Sunday in July, so we met at Starbucks, instead of the police station. The disadvantage of that is more cramped space. But the advantage is that we recruit new members who happen to see us there. I also ran into someone I used to work with who lives a few blocks away from there. And, oh, yeah, I got some work in on a charity afghan, though I am still skeptical about some aspects of the pattern. (Well, one aspect, which has to do with how the final triangle making up the hexagon gets joined and whether there is one or two decreases in that row.)

Last Week

Jul. 18th, 2016 01:18 pm
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I still have entries to write about my trivia game and my genealogy updates. But I don't want to fall too far behind on things I am doing, so let's do that one first.

Celebrity Death Watch: John McMartin was a musical theatre actor, notable for performances in Little Mary Sunshine, Sweet Charity, and, especially, Follies, where he was the originator of the role of Benjamin Stone. Larry Bock founded the USA Science and Engineering Festival (which I have volunteered at a couple of times). Interestingly, even though I met him several times, I never realized he was legally blind until reading his obituary. Carolyn See was a writer, whose works included several novels, though her daughter, Lisa See, is arguably more famous. Alan Vega was part of a band named Suicide, though he died of natural causes.

Tapas: An old friend was in town for a NASA-related program she is involved in for the next year. We were able to get together early Monday evening for drinks and tapas at Jaleo, where happy hour is always a good deal. Afterwards, we strolled through TechSHop, the local Crystal City makerspace. I discovered that they have bookbinding classes. That could be handy, since it is certainly closer to my usual haunts than most other places that teach, say, Coptic stitch. Overall, a pleasant evening.

Going-Away Shindig: Wednesday night, I had a going-away happy hour to go to for an old friend who is changing jobs after 20+ years. It was a good opportunity to see a lot of people I hadn’t seen in ages. Unfortunately, I had only a couple of days’ notice, so was unable to acquire a suitable present. I also had to rush off since book club was that evening. That was slightly difficult, as I still had another 80 or so pages of the book to read (out of nearly 600) but there was still plenty of controversy and the spoilers didn’t really matter much. (I did finish the book the next day.)

Sunday Madness: I spent much of rest of the week trying to catch up on household odds and ends (not super successfully) and napping. Well, and working. Saturday was mostly filled with suspended animation, i.e. frequent naps in between bouts of reading and housework. But then came Sunday.

First event was the Style Invitational Loser Brunch. The service at Grevey’s was inefficient, as they were understaffed, but the food was okay. The conversation was wide-ranging, including topics ranging politics (of course) to bell-ringing. I wish I could have stayed longer, but I had my next commitment.

That second event was rehearsal for an upcoming storytelling show. (Saturday, July 30th at The Auld Shebeen. More shameless self-promotion to follow.) My story went well, but it is a bit on the short side. That is better than it being too long, of course, but I do wonder if there is anything worth adding.

Finally, my chavurah had an evening outing to see The Capital Steps do a free performance at Mason District Park. They are, of course, well known for their political humor, and the show was very funny. My favorite piece was probably the one in which a woman complained about transgender bathroom use on the grounds of making lines for women’s rooms even longer. I did wish there had been more Brexit humor, but it does take time to write appropriate songs. There was also one piece about Metro, but nothing about how bloody long it would take to get out of the park after the show.

A General Comment on Life: Oy.
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: Candida Royalle was a porn star. Jack Larson played Jimmy Olsen in the 1950’s Superman television series and later became a playwright. Moses Malone was a basketball player. Max Beauvoir was a biochemist who became a high-ranking Voudou priest in Haiti. Herschel Silverman was a beat poet. Jackie Collins wrote trashy novels, the most successful of which was Hollywood Wives. Daniel Thompson invented the bagel machine, leading to the proliferation of the bland, soft, bagel-shaped rolls which destroy the name of that noble treat. Robert Simon founded Reston, Virginia, a planned community where I have been known to spend time (some of which is mentioned below.)

Two pitchers the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League died on the same date, September 13th. Jane Jacobs played almost all of her career for Racine, while and Emma Bergmann moved around teams a bit more, but most notably pitched no-hitter for Muskegon in 1947.

Unetaneh Tokef 1: I should have mentioned an insight I had on Rosh Hashanah. I usually think of Unetaneh Tokef (the most dramatic prayer in the High Holiday services) in terms of the physical fate of people, i.e. "who will die by fire and who by water" and so on. But it does also refer to psychological states. "Who will be serene and who will be tormented" is another aspect of the possibilities for the year. I’m not sure why I never noticed that before, but I find it oddly reassuring at a time when so many people I know are dealing with various types of mental struggles (their own and other people's).

Unetaneh Tokef 2: I keep playing with science fiction and fantasy ideas for people’s fates. Stuff like "who by aliens and who by dragon’s fire." I am sure somebody must have written this poem already.

New Story: In retrospect, signing up for a show without actually having a story on the theme may not have been a great idea. The show in question was a Better Said Than Done benefit for the Nature House in Reston. I figured I could come up with something on "Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire," in the course of several weeks. Well, I did, but it was somewhat pointless and not as funny as most of my stories. More significantly, I was stressing out over it and tweaking things until the last minute. Overall, it went okay, but it wasn’t as much fun as it should have been. On the other hand, it was a good challenge.

Pricy Beer: I had dinner with flyertalk friends at Fireworks Pizza last night. I continue to find their beer list intimidating. They have something called Tart of Darkness which goes for $44 for a 25 ounce bottle. I went for the Evil Twin Imperial Doughnut Break at $10.75 for a 10 ounce draft. Which is still more than my pizza (the tartufo, which is mushroomy goodness) cost. The beer was interesting, with almond and coffee flavors and a very slight sweetness. I would drink it again.

Presidential Candidates: Oy.

Who Buys This Shit?: There is someone on Etsy selling glitter pills that are supposed to turn your poop all sparkly. This cannot be healthy for either you or your plumbing.

Other Stuff: Knitting group was Sunday, also in Reston, and was (as always) fun. My calendar is a complete mess, but I need to find time to schedule a couple of other things. My house is also a mess and I need time to work on that, too. Plus ca change …
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Susan Sheridan played Trillian in the radio version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Frank Gifford was a football player turned broadcaster. Julian Bond was a civil rights activist.

Superfoods: I keep seeing these articles that list superfoods you should be eating for optimal health. Just once, I wish one of those lists would have, say, gelato and cheetos on it, instead of kale and broccoli. Just saying.

Last Weekend: I was actually in town, but things were pretty routine. There was a story swap on Saturday night (at which I screwed up on telling "Shrewd Simon Short" because it seems that one can’t just resume telling a 450+ word tongue twister after a few years), knitting group on Sunday, less progress on household stuff than I intended (or need to get done).

If I Ruled the World – Political Edition: Aside from my usual proclamations (mandatory pockets in women’s clothing, nap rooms available in all workplaces), I would disallow anybody from the presidency who campaigned more than one year prior to election day. I admit that would get rid of some people I like (not that Martin O’Malley was getting any traction anyway), but it would spare me from having to listen to a lot of anti-science, anti-woman, and anti-immigration rhetoric for a few more months.

Addictions: I was pleased to read that coffee seems to prevent recurrences of colon cancer and will, of course, interpret this as coffee preventing all cancers all the time. (Actually, I have always figured that my most likely cause of death is third-world taxi driver.)

Dear Other Dimensional Beings: Thank you for returning two single black socks (not related to each other, but partnered to socks already in the missing mates bin.) But did you really have to take the superglue in exchange?
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I have lots to catch up on (so what else is new?). The most significant is the National Storytelling Conference, which will get its own entry. Or, more likely, two, because something I want to say will take some analysis and I don’t want to lose that in the clutter. I promise those will be more interesting than this entry is likely to be.

But, first, some other stuff.

Celebrity Death Watch: "Rowdy" Roddy Piper was one of the few pro wrestlers I’ve ever heard of. Alan Cheuse reviewed books for NPR (and wrote several of his own). Ainger Lynn Anderson never promised me a rose garden. Ann Rule wrote true crime books, the best known of which was The Stranger Beside Me about Ted Bundy. I’ve read many of her books, which fall into the guilty pleasure category.

Politics: Wit making its way around my circles is that the Washington Nationals are offering a season discount to the first 4000 presidential candidates.

Quick Genealogy Notes: I finally found where I’d put my library card, so was able to use the library edition of Ancestry. I found Max Lubowsky’s naturalization certificate, and it seems he can’t be Icek Chlebiocky, since the immigration dates don’t match.

The new social security application database, though, turned up a few things. Apparently my great-uncle by marriage, Ely Fuchs, was legally Elias. And his parents were Abraham Fuchs and Rebecca Heller. His birthplace is given as Kragow, Poland. That would seem to be Krakow, but there are some other possibilities.

More fun was the discovery that Athalia Lehrman (Mary Lubowsky Lehrman’s daughter) was using the name "Timmy Lee" at some point. A bit of googling turned up an entry in the copyright index of a book she wrote called Poems by Timmy Lee. It doesn’t look like the Library of Congress has that, but they do have a symphony she co-wrote. I see some fun research ahead.

Decluttering: I took advantage of the library excursion to drop Mom’s eyeglasses into the Lion’s Club donation bin there. I also dug out a few old pairs of mine and threw them in. I did keep one pair with frames I could see reusing.

Story Swap: The monthly Voices in the Glen swap was at Penelope’s, which was nicely convenient for me. I thought about walking over, but was concerned about the lighting (or lack thereof) on one street coming home. There was an excellent turn-out, including a few newcomers. And, of course, lots of great stories.

Sometimes You Only Need to Read the Headline: "Texas man injured as bullet ricochets off armadillo."

And Sometimes You Really Should Read On: I was disappointed that the story headlined "Bat Boy Dies from Swing" had to do with baseball, not that mythical West Virginia tabloid creature.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Cat Café:
Crumbs and Whiskers, a cat café opened just over a week ago in Georgetown. Being a cat aficionado but traveling too much to have my own feline companion, this was right up my alley. So I made a reservation and went early Friday evening, right after work. Georgetown isn't the most convenient location, but it wasn't a bad walk from the Foggy Bottom metro station - maybe a little over 15 minutes?

They checked everyone in, making sure we'd signed our liability waivers. Then it was time to go and pet various cats, all of which are available for adoption. There are two levels and one of the challenges is not tripping over the cats who (like many) have an instinctive fondness for stairs. Anyway, there are just a few chairs, but lots of floor cushions. Some of those cushions have cats resting or sleeping on them. Mostly sleeping, as cats tend to do. There were really just a few who were eager to play. It was also just a little bit too crowded. You can only get a limited perspective on any given cat's personality, so I'm not sure how much that contributes to adoptability.

I should also note that: 1) I was probably the oldest person there, by a good 15-20 years and 2) at my age, getting up off of floor cushions is a bit tougher. Will I go back? Well, maybe, but I would try to go at a less busy time.

The relationship between civil benefits and religious marriage has always struck me as a problem in a country that gives lip services to the separation of church and state. I recognize this as a matter of convenience, in practical terms, so it's not like I'd fight it. But it makes the Supreme Court decision simpler to explain.

Here's the thing. It seems clear to me that having people living in stable relationships is good for society. Isn't it better for LGBT people to be buying houses together and supporting one another in sickness and old age and so on than to be marginalized and relegated to cruising for partners? How does allowing same sex marriage have anything but a positive impact on our communities?
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Kirk Kerkorian was a rich businessman, whose projects included (among other things) the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. Ralph J. Roberts founded Comcast. Allen Weinstein was the Archivist of the United States for 3 years. Jack Rollins made Woody Allen (among others) famous. JoAnn Dean Killingsworth was the first person to play Snow White at Disneyland. James Horner was a film composer. Dick Van Patten was an actor, best known for his role in Eight is Enough. Susan Ahn Cuddy was the first Asian-American woman to join the U.S. Navy and became the first female gunnery officer.

Don Featherstone invented the plastic lawn flamingo. Before that, lawn flamingos were made of concrete. Even earlier, flamingos only rarely frequented lawns and were made primarily of meat and bones and feathers. Flamingo trivia: Their feathers are actually white, but take on coloration from their diets, with pink coming largely from things like krill. I have often wanted to test this and feed them lots of, say, spinach. Could you make designer flamingos, kind of how they dye flowers? Think of the possibilities!

Last Weekend: I already wrote about seeing Cabaret at Signature Theatre. I also went to a story swap on Saturday night, which meant a slightly terrifying drive home through massive thunderstorms afterwards. I had had all sorts of grand plans to get caught up at home, but most of them succumbed to napping.

When I Rule the World: Heavy rain will be limited to weekdays, ideally between noon and 3 p.m. For other weather notes, listen to the title song from Camelot.

DGS Deli: I belong to a meetup group that tried Jewish delis in the greater D.C. metro area. Our excursion to the new branch of DGS in the Mosaic District (a rapidly gentrifying part of Fairfax County) was last night. There were samples of pastrami and corned beef for everyone and I thought the pastrami quite good, albeit somewhat less peppery than I am used to. I ordered a sandwich called The Leon, which had smoked turkey, chopped liver, and cole slaw. I found it quite tasty and want to particularly commend the rye bread. The cole slaw was definitely the weak point, as I prefer a less creamy, more vinegary sort. And the accompanying pickle was so-so. Still, I would go back and try other items on the menu, which has some rather promising smoked fish offerings. I also had an excellent mixed drink called The Schmoozer, which had plum-infused vodka, ginger beer, mint, and lime. They do have a drink on the menu called The Miriam, but its ingredients were a bit heavy on rhubarb, which just didn’t appeal to me. The conversation was excellent and wide-ranging, so it was quite an enjoyable evening.

Confederate Flags and Such: I am happy to see Confederate flags being taken down and stores stopping selling merchandise with them. But I don’t think that this means much in the long run. What it takes to change attitudes is having people from different groups understand one another’s stories, so they realize the basic humanity we all share. That can’t be accomplished by merely getting rid of symbols, however offensive those symbols may be.

I will also note that I have had black friends tell me they’ve experienced far more racism in some parts of the north (e.g. Boston) than in some parts of the south (e.g. Atlanta). I am (obviously) not in a position to comment on this. (Nor would I presume to speak to other people’s experiences.)

On another note, I see various calls for removing statues of people on the grounds that they were slave owners or defenders of slavery. I do find it offensive that there is a statue of Roger Taney (best known for the Dred Scott decision) in front of the Maryland State House. But I also believe that forgetting our history is dangerous. Maybe the solution lies in what explanatory plaques are put up with the statue?

The Bali 9

Apr. 28th, 2015 03:22 pm
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I believe there is almost no part of the Bible that is more misunderstood than "an eye for an eye." It is a plea for proportionality, not vengeance. Instead, it has been used to execute people for crimes that do not involve the deliberate taking of life.

The Bali 9 case is a good example. There are several things about the case that are disturbing in other ways.

  1. I recognize that travelers are subject to the laws of foreign countries they travel to, as repellent as those laws may be. However, it appears that it was the Australian authorities who tipped off the Indonesians to the attempted heroin smuggling in the first place. That would seem to me to make extradition of the Australian citizens appropriate. And it is official Australian policy not to give evidence or information that will result in someone receiving the death penalty.

  2. The death sentences against Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were the first death sentences ever handed down by the Denpasar District Court.

  3. The other 7 of the Bali 9 got lengthy sentences - life, for some, 20 years for others. The argument was that they were just couriers and Chan and Sukumaran were the ringleaders. However, there was a lot of evidence that involved a larger syndicate.

  4. There are apparently some questions about whether there might have been bribery involved in their trials with a report that there was going to be another investigation into those charges in mid-May. Now that Chan and Sukumaran have been executed, I doubt that will go forward.

  5. The other people executed today (also for drug trafficking) were 4 Nigerians (Raheem Salami, Silvester Obiekwe Nwolise, Okwudil Oyatanze, and Martin Anderson, who had been misidentified as Ghanain in earlier news stories), a Brazilian (Rodrigo Gularte), and an Indonesian (Zainal Abidin). Nobody is saying very much about them, but I think it is important to note that they, too, had stories. Mary Jane Veloso of the Philippines appears to have been spared for now, as her alleged recruiters turned themselves in, which sounds pretty fishy to me. There is also apparently a Frenchman, Serge Atlaoui, who is also on death row, but whose legal challenges are being heard.

Yes, drug trafficking is a horrible crime. But it is not murder.

I'm not entirely opposed to capital punishment. I think it is appropriate in well-proven cases of intentional murder. For example, Timothy McVeigh's execution gave me fairly few qualms. I have a lot more qualms about adequacy of proof, particularly because there is good evidence that many innocent people have been executed. The Sanhedrin said that a court that applied the death penalty once in a hundred years was a court of murderers.

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.


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