Grandeur

Apr. 17th, 2019 01:51 pm
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Celebrity Death Watch: Charles Van Doren was a contestant on the quiz show Twenty-One in the 1950’s and was caught up in the cheating scandal, as he had been given answers by the producers. Earl Thomas Conley was a country music singer-songwriter. Scott Sanderson pitched for several baseball teams, including the Expos and the Cubs. Ian Cognito did standup comedy in Britain. Georgia Engel was an actress, best known for appearing as Georgette on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but she also performed in several musicals, including Hello, Dolly and The Drowsy Chaperone. Tony Buzan wrote several books popularizing mind mapping. Gene Wolfe was a science fiction writer. Bibi Andersson was an actress who appeared in several Ingmar Bergman movies. Les Reed was a songwriter whose works included "It’s Not Unusual."

Whew!:I had a very busy week at work last week, accompanied by a busy week at home. The latter was largely due to taxes. Almost all of the effort of doing taxes is in finding all of the paperwork. Every year it seems that one or more pieces of paper (a 1099 interest statement or a receipt for a charitable donation, typically) goes missing, resulting in much scrambling to find it or search for a replacement source of the relevant info. And every year I swear I will do a better job of filing. At any rate, it did get done. Only to get into the other annual whirlwind known as cleaning for Passover. If it weren’t for that, I’d probably never discover that my pantry has a jar of marshmallow fluff and a can of water chestnuts, not to mention an absurd number of bottles of vinegar. (Presumably each of those was bought with a different recipe in mind.) I still have to clean the oven, vacuum, and achieve total world domination.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t also have a busy weekend.

Grand Hotel: I went to see Grand Hotel at Signature Theatre on Saturday afternoon. I saw the movie long ago and, as far as I remember it, the musical is reasonably true to it. The plot revolves around several people staying in the hotel in Berlin during one day in the late 1920’s. Elizaveta Grushinskaya is an aging ballerina, accompanied by her companion, Raffaela, who secretly yearns for her. Flammchen is a secretary who wants to be a Hollywood actress. Otto Kringelein is a dying Jewish man who is trying to experience some of what has passed him by before the end. Baron Felix von Gaigern is an impoverished nobleman – and thief. The most passionate moment in the whole thing involves the romance that develops between Grushinskaya and the Baron. The Baron is easily the most appealing character in the ensemble, raising the hopes of several of the others, while ending up doomed himself.

The performers included a number of familiar faces. Natascia Diaz was excellent as Grushinskaya and Nkrumah Gatling, as the Baron, made a fine romantic foil for her. But the most striking performance was by Bobby Smith as Otto Klingelein.

Overall, this isn’t one of my favorite musicals, largely because I think it is rather shallow. Maury Yeston seems to have gotten involved with too many of these shows that try to follow too many characters at a superficial level. (I have the same issue with Titanic, for example.) Still, I liked it well enough to find it a diverting couple of hours.


Story Swap: Saturday night was a story swap. We had a small group, but it was still enjoyable. Eve had a long pourquoi story, which I think was from Guatemala. I told my father’s version of the crossing of the Red Sea. And there was a lot of general schmoozing.

One Day University: Sunday was One Day University. I was a bit annoyed that they did not include coffee this time out – unlike all the other times I’ve attended. I wasn’t going to pay four bucks just for a caffeine fix. (Instead, I went over to the nearby CVS and got a coke zero for 2 bucks.) Still, this really seemed pretty chintzy to me.

There were three lectures this time. The first talk was by William Burke-White of the University of Pennsylvania Law School on America and the World 2019: Where Are We Now (And where are we going?. His basic message was that, since World War II, the U.S. has led the global order with four pillars: 1) sovereignty (nation state as basic actor), 2) security (territorial integrity), 3) economic liberalization (currency convertibility, financial stability), and 4) open, rules-based system. What is changing now is the rise of China, leading to a trade war, along with a rise of populist nationalism, due partly to economic disparities. Information transparency and manipulation has led to a lack of secrecy in diplomacy. He also mentioned artificial intelligence and climate change as influencers, though he was less clear about their effects. I can’t say he really said anything I found startlingly new and original, but he was a reasonably interesting speaker.

The best lecture of the day was by Jennifer Keene of Chapman University on World War I: What Really Happened and Why It Matters. She emphasized the importance of the decision for conscription, which included public draft registration on particular days. Despite the public nature of registration, there was an almost 11% rate of draft evasion, which is higher than for Vietnam. While 95% of the men in the Civil War were combatants, only 40% were combatants in World War I. The work of those support troops was not as recognized and respected, which had a disproportionate impact on African Americans, who were overwhelmingly (89%) assigned to non-combatant roles like lading ships.

As for the importance of WWI, she noted that the German threat to the U.S. was real, including both the threat to shipping and sabotage within the U.S. But a more lasting impact was the rise of interest in Civil Rights, partly in response to the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act (which made it illegal to oppose the government and led to the founding of the ACLU). She had several stories related to issues like women suffrage, rights of African-Americans, rights of immigrants, and the peace movement that grew in the 1930’s, which made the U.S. reluctant to enter WWII. Overall, she was a dynamic speaker and held my interest.

I had expected to enjoy the final talk, by Mark Mazullo of Macalester College on Mozart and Beethoven: The Lives and Legacies of History’s Most Famous Composers. But I just didn’t buy his key premise that both composers were inherently tied to the revolutions of the era (both political and industrial) and to empathy as a road to democracy and human rights. Yes, they were entrepreneurial compared to, say, Haydn, who worked for Count Esterhazy, but I’d argue that gave them more freedom to write what they wanted, while also adding greater insecurity. Mazzullo brought up the point as the reason why Beethoven wrote only 9 symphonies while Mozart wrote 41 and Haydn wrote 104. But Haydn lived to 77 and Mozart died at 35, so you could argue they were roughly equally productive. (Beethoven is a bit more complicated – he never really composed quickly and modern scholarship suggests his lifelong poor health was due to chronic lead poisoning. But he also had plenty of patronage during his earlier years.) Overall, I don’t think I really learned anything new from this talk.


Notre Dame: I went to Notre Dame with Robert (the gentleman with whom I conducted the world’s longest running brief meaningless fling) during a weekend in Paris In 2009. It took some effort (and Berthillon ice cream) for me to persuade him to wait in line to get in, but we were both suitably impressed with its grandeur. I believe that grand works of art and architecture are proof of the value of divine inspiration. However, as I read about the large donations to restore the building, I can’t help wondering how much else could be accomplished with that money – education, job creation, etc.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Joe Bellino was the first Navy football player to win the Heisman trophy. David White was a doo-wop singer and songwriter, whose hits included At the Hop." Nipsey Hussle was a rapper. Dan Robbins invented paint-by-number. Vonda McIntyre was a science fiction writer. Philip George Furia wrote books about Tin Pan Alley, with a focus on lyricists. John Quamby played the Health Insprector on Fawlty Towers. Marilynn Smith was one of the women who founded the LPGA

Ernest "Fritz" Hollings served as a Senator from South Carolina for almost 40 years, after having been governor of South Carolina before that. He started out as a segregationist but came to support at least some civil rights issues. He championed food stamps. He also created NOAA. On the minus side, he voted against the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 and supported the interests of the media industry with respect to emerging telecommunications issues. Overall, he was relatively liberal for a Southern Democrat. I should also note that he earned me 24 ghoul pool points.

Trip to El Paso: I went to El Paso for the weekend. Getting there was not too bad and I even had time to grab dinner at IAH during my layover. I walked over to the Downtown Artists and Farmers Market on Saturday morning, where I discovered that most of what is farmed in El Paso appears to be jams, baked goods, and the like, with the only produce for sale at the market being microgreens. The artist goods ran heavily towards fancy soaps and fiber things I could make myself, though I did happen to see (and buy)something that will be a perfect gift for a friend. It was still pleasant walking around and talking with the merchants.

Then I followed part of a walking tour of historical architecture. Much of the central part of the city was designed by one architect, Henry Trost, during the early 20th century, leading to a distinctive look for the city. Then I went to the Art Museum, where the most notable works include a collection of retablos (Mexican devotional paintings, sort of a Catholic folk art equivalent of an icon) and a rather disturbing exhibit of pieces by Julie Speed. At that point I was ready for a late lunch and went to a place called Elemi that sounded interesting. I wasn’t super hungry, as I’d had a largish breakfast at my hotel, so I just got two tacos – one chicharron de pescado (cod, slaw, grapefruit, and lime aioli) and one coliflor almendrado (cauliflower, almond mole, almond "cojita," and cashew crema). Both were on blue corn tortillas and both were delicious. The cauliflower one, in particular, may be the best vegan dish I have ever had. I also had strawberry lemonade to drink, which was quite tasty. I would definitely be happy to eat there again.

I had contemplated going to the El Paso History Museum, but I decided I needed a nap more, so went back to my hotel for a couple of hours. In the early evening, I walked over to Southwest University Park for a minor league baseball game – the El Paso Chihuahuas vs. the Las Vegas Aviators. The ballpark felt pretty average to me, but I may have been negatively biased because I had a really uncomfortable seat on a metal chair in the last row, vs. one of the plastic ones in any of the other rows. On the plus side, the food offerings had a lot of local flavor. The fans didn’t seem super enthusiastic, but that may have also been because the Chihuahuas didn’t play well. Cal Quantrill’s pitching was inadequate and he was out by the 4th inning. There were also a couple of errors by third baseman Ty France. In the end, Las Vegas won 12 to 5.

Speaking of Baseball: I am hoping that being at home will restore my Red Sox to what they should be.

Travel Hell: Getting home from El Paso on Sunday was, er, challenging. There were severe thunderstorms around Houston, leading to a ground hold on everything coming into IAH. Seeing that the 8:18 flight was delayed and figuring my 10:05 flight would also be delayed, I switched to the 8:18, hoping that would give me time to get my 2:30 connection from IAH to IAD. That would have worked – except that IAH closed and the plane I was on got diverted to DFW. We needed to refuel at that point, by the way. We ended up being on the ground at DFW for about 5 hours, if I recall correctly. I changed my IAH to IAD flight to a significantly later IAH to DCA one. I also discovered that my original flight from ELP was delayed almost 4 hours so, yes, changing planes had been the right thing to do. In the end, I got home about 7 hours late. But I did get home safely, which is what counts.

Tonic at Quigley’s: I went to a play with a friend last night (about which, more below) and we had dinner before at Tonic at Quigley’s. This place has a reputation as being largely a hangout for GW students, but French President Emmanuel Macron had dinner with Congressman John Lewis there last year. My friend got a burger and tater tots, which is pretty much what Macron had eaten. I went for the ahi tuna salad, which was quite good. I also had a G&T because how could I not at a place named Tonic?

Ada and the Engine: What we went to was a staged reading of Lauren Gunderson’s play Ada and the Engine, about Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage. This was art of the Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences, in collaboration with the Shakespeare Theatre Company. The director, Samantha Wyer Bello, introduced the program, noting that they’d had a whopping five hours of rehearsal. Obviously, that meant that the actors were reading from scripts, with another performer reading the stage directions. The short prep time did lead to a few flubs here and there, but, overall, I was impressed by the readings. Chelsea Mayo was a very charming Ada Byron Lovelace, David Bishins was passionate as Charles Babbage, and Jonathan Uffleman was surprisingly likeable as Lord Lovelace, who didn’t understand his wife, but sincerely wanted her to be happy, while Nicole Brewer was up to the challenge of being the unlikeable Lady Anabella Byron. There were a lot of interesting ideas in the script, touching on visions of the future from Industrial Revolution England to how the arts and science interact to the role of women in society. The stage directions were quite detailed and seemed to me to present some serious challenges for a full-up prpduction. What none of that tells you is how funny the script was. This was a delightful presentation and I would love to see a fully-staged version.

There was also a short talk-back with the playwright after the reading, which came about somewhat by chance. Gunderson had just flown in (she lives in San Francisco) because of a commission at the Kennedy Center. She talked about her interest in women in science and mathematics and about the research she did in writing the play. She also noted that doing the reading at NAS was interesting because there was such a nerdy audience, with people laughing at lines that don’t usually get such a strong reaction.

I have probably said this before, but I truly appreciate living somewhere with such amazing cultural opportunities.

Yawn: Two nights in a row of under 6 hours of sleep is definitely sub-optimal. It also didn’t help that we had a power outage at my complex this morning. I plan to collapse right after supper tonight.
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I have been crazy busy at work and trying to get caught up on some household things. Hence, my relative silence. Which is not, alas, likely to change this month. Anyway, here is a quick catch-up of last weekend’s entertainment, before I head out of town for this weekend.

Don’t Analyze This Dream: I don’t remember any of the context, but I was wearing a jacket with teal and purple horizontal stripes.

Hexagon 2019 – Romp in the Swamp: Hexagon puts on an annual political satirical musical comedy revue, with the money going to charity. I know two people involved in it. One writes music and lyrics and performs in the show. The other mostly writes lyrics. Some of the funnier bits involved a perfect candidate who is undone by using a plastic straw for her water, a song in praise of athleisure, and a relook at the Golden Girls in the age of #metoo. There are also Newsbreak segments, with late breaking topical jokes. My favorite was about the Georgetown tennis coach being arrested for racketeering. Overall, it was a fun evening. But the venue (a high school auditorium in Tenleytown) had seriously uncomfortable seating. I felt sorry for students who have to sit through assemblies there.

Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity: I saw this play at Signature Theatre on Saturday afternoon. It starts with a lecture by an art historian, during which members of the audience are asked to write down what they would consider a masterpiece that needs to be preserved when the rest of the world is destroyed. Then the scene shifted to the ruins of a museum, with the art historian shackled to the wall. She is tortured by a young woman soldier, while a third woman nurses her. The idea is to force her to restore a Rembrandt painting. There is a fair amount of absurdity in the script, ranging from a choice of music to listen to while she works on the painting to the rhinoceros that has taken up residence in 17th Century Dutch Paintings. That leads to plenty of humor, but, ultimately, the story is about the destruction of a civilization and is very dark. I found it interesting, though more violent than I’d prefer. It was also well-acted by all three women – Holly Twyford (the art historian), Felicia Curry (the soldier) and Yesenia Iglesias (the nurse). I will probably look for other plays by Heather McDonald in the future, as I did find it provocative.

Lost and Found: Saturday night was a Better Said Than Done show on the theme of Lost and Found. I had thought about developing a story about my non-existent sense of direction, but decided I didn’t have the time to flesh it out. So I went with a story I’ve done before about a hiking experience in South Africa nearly 20 years ago. It went over reasonably well, though I did forget a moderately funny line I’ve used in the past. On the plus side, something I added (largely because of a mistake I made during rehearsal) worked well. Overall, it was a nice evening.
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Goals: I am on track with 4 of my 9 goals. As you will see below, I’ve read 13 books over the first quarter. I entered the Style Invitational twice. I’ve done reasonably well at bringing lunch to work and at eating fruit daily, with a few weeks of slip=ups. Everything else, alas ….


Quarterly Movies: My quarterly movie list is easy this time, as I appear to have not seen a single movie over the past three months. I might have watched a couple on my flights to and from El Salvador, but the earbuds I had with me broke.


Quarterly Books: I did, however, read a bit. I wrote about the 8 books I read in January already, so here is my list for February and March.


  1. Tom Hodgkinson, How To Be Idle. This was a surprisingly humorless volume about the virtues of things like sleeping, slacking off at work, smoking, alcohol, etc. I suppose one could add reading this dull a book to the list of time wasters.

  2. Kathryn Lilley, Dying To Be Thin. This mystery, set at a weight-loss clinic, wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great either. I could have lived without the diet tips thrown in, though they did make sense in context (as the heroine is focused on losing weight). Even more so, I could have lived without the romantic subplot, which has her being pursued by two different men. And I could have really lived without her being enough of an idiot to end up in a confrontation with the murderer that results in her being poisoned.

  3. Danielle Steele, Silent Honor. At last, a book I really enjoyed. This traces the story of a young woman from Japan, whose progressive father sends her to live with relatives and go to school in California. She gets stuck in the U.S. when World War II breaks out – and ends up in an internment camp with the family. There’s a romance with a (white) American man and a lot of complications before they end up living happily ever after post-war. I felt like I knew a lot more about the indignities suffered by Japanese Americans – and the differing reactions to them – after reading this. Recommended.

  4. Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, The Nest. This was a book club selection, though I ended up missing our meeting because I was sick. The story involves 4 siblings who are waiting to receive their nest egg from their father’s estate on the 40th birthday of the youngest. Then, one of them has a drunk driving incident and their mother uses the money to pay off the woman he’s injured. Unfortunately, all of them need money and try to find ways to manipulate him into paying them back. This was interesting enough, but the siblings were all unlikeable enough that I wanted them to just grow up already.

  5. Helen Van Slyke, No Love Lost. This is the story of a woman who grows up rich, marries the man of her dreams, and loses everything when her daughter dies in childbirth. There’s plenty of infidelity plus betrayal by a one-time best friend. Then there’s a most unsuitable second marriage… Despite all the trauma, most of the bad behavior of the various characters is understandable. So, while I wanted to tell them to grow up and/or go to therapy, I didn’t cringe at all of their behavior. Reasonably entertaining, but could have used some trimming.

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Celebrity Death Watch: Randy Jackson was the last player to hit a home run for the Dodgers before they moved to Los Angeles. Scott Walker was a pop singer with the Walker Brothers and on his own. Rafi Eitan was an Israeli spymaster who captured Adolf Eichmann, but (on the minus side) ran Jonathan Pollard as one of his informants. Larry Cohen directed horror movies. Andrew Marshall directed the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment. Gabriel Okara was a pioneer in English language literature (poetry and novels) in Nigeria. Fred Malek was an advisor to Richard Nixon and is particularly notorious for giving Nixon a list of Jews at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. W. H. Pugmire wrote horror fiction. Ranking Roger was a ska singer, who headed up The (English) Beat. Michel Bacos was the Air France pilot who stayed with the Jewish and Israeli hostages when his plane was hijacked to Entebbe. Valery Bykovsky was a cosmonaut.

Don’t Analyze This Dream: I was stranded somewhere, possibly England, with all planes grounded, possibly after 9/11. Finally, they (not that I have any idea who "they" were) decided to bus everyone where they were going. Somehow, I ended up on a bus with only 3 other people. The driver got lost and we ended up going back to where we had been waiting. Apparently, everyone else had left. We had to wait for our bus to be repaired before we could go. I wondered how we were going to drive across the ocean, but it seemed we only had to drive to a ferry to cross the Atlantic.

MIT Intern Reception: Monday night was the annual reception for MIT students in the policy internship program. There weren’t any students interested in space policy this year, so I could just focus on giving general advice, aka corrupting young minds. One young woman told me I’d reassured her a lot when I told her it was okay not to know what she wanted to do, so I feel like I accomplished what I wanted to.

By the way, they changed venues this year. They've used a room in one of the House office buildings in the past. This time, they rented an event space next to the Shakespeare Theatre. The space looked attractive, but they didn't have as wide a variety of food. And it was very noisy.

Proper 21: A friend and I went out to dinner before theatre-going last night. This place was chosen entirely for a convenient location. The food was pretty good – or, at least, the roasted chicken with chimichurri sauce I had was good. But the service was mediocre (e.g. we had to ask a few times before getting our bill) and the noise level was outrageously loud. I won’t be going back unless I am with someone I really don’t want to converse with.

A Bronx Tale: The show we were going to see was A Bronx Tale at The National Theatre. I had seen neither Chazz Palminteri’s one man show nor the movie based on it, so I really had no idea what to expect. The basic story involves a boy named Calogero who witnesses a Mafia-related murder and, as a result of keeping quiet about it, gets involved with Sonny, the Mafioso, who treats him like a combination good-luck charm and son. That leads to conflict with Calogero’s parents. As Calogero grows up, race becomes a big issue, since he falls for a black girl in high school. His friends are ready to set off Molotov cocktails at a nightclub in the black neighborhood and Sonny keeps him from going along with them – which is fortunate, as they get blown up in their car. But Sonny gets killed by the son of the guy he’d killed at the beginning.

This is supposedly based on Palminteri’s life story, but I found parts of it rather implausible. Sonny’s lack of racism, for example, did not ring true. Nor did his encouraging Calogero to get out of the mob life. But, hey, I am a firm believer in emotional truths over facts, so I can suspend some disbelief.

This is a musical and I thought the music (by Alan Menken) worked reasonably well in pushing the story along. The most notable song is "Nicky Machiavelli," sung by Sonny to Calogero explaining his philosophy. And, while I like doo-wop, I do wish there had been a bit more of an ethnic flavor to the score.

I also wish there were local performers in it, but that is too much to ask for a short-run touring production of a Broadway musical. And several of the performers had been in the show on Broadway. I’ll particularly note Brianna-Marie Bell, who played Jane, and whose voice was particularly powerful in the song, "Webster Avenue," which opened the second act.

Overall, I enjoyed seeing this, but I wouldn’t put it into the essential musicals category.
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The 42nd American Crossword Puzzle Tournament was this past weekend. I spent Friday morning at my office, trying to get through a couple of annoying tasks, but left in plenty of time to take an afternoon train up to Stamford, Connecticut. The travel went smoothly and I had a pleasant but windy walk from the train station to the Stamford Marriott. Last year, they’d left a decorated sugar cookie in my room. This year, it was a black and white cookie, which is even better. I suppose a ginger-lemon cookie would be too much to hope for next year.

Friday night’s puzzles started with a fun group game called "Hear Here" by Mike Shenk. The idea was that each team got a crossword grid and Mike read clues in random order. The trick was that the clues was auditorily ambiguous. For example, did he mean "seas" or "cease" or "seize?" Due to the random order, we sometimes had to wait a while to find crossings to resolve which of several possible answers to fill in. This was a lot of fun and we had reasonable teamwork. That was followed by the usual "Pick Your Poison," in which you chose which variety puzzles to do. The first round offered Cryptic, Puns and Anagrams, or Acrostic. I went with the Puns and Anagrams, largely because I figured more people would do the Cryptic. The second round had Marching Bands, Spiral, and Split Decisions. I’m not a big fan of the latter, and figured the Marching Bands would be my best bet. I did finish both puzzles I chose, though not fast enough to win a prize.

Then came the wine and cheese reception. It was very crowded and loud, so I settled for one glass of rose, said hello to several people (including meeting some who were new to me), but went up to my room earlyish.

The main event started Saturday at 11 in the morning. With a record attendance of 741 competitors, there were two ballrooms in use. I went to the downstairs one, which has better lighting and slightly more elbow room. Note that I will refrain from spoilers here, though I did put one in rot13 in the comments.

Puzzle 1 was by Kathy Weinberg, who was a new ACPT constructor. The first puzzle is, basically, a warm-up and I solved it easily enough in just about a typical time for me. The theme was straightforward and, frankly, I think one could easily have solved it without paying any attention to the theme. But that is also typical of Puzzle 1. As a couch potato of my acquaintance says, "Sofa, so good."

Puzzle 2 was by Joel Fagliano. As it was handed out, Will Shortz said something suggesting it would be particularly difficult. I know Joel is capable of diabolical puzzles (he wrote last year’s Puzzle 5, which killed me), so I was concerned. As it happened, there was fill in the northwest corner that was easy for me and, once I had the first few letters of 25A, I immediately knew what the revealer was. So I grasped the theme fairly quickly and zoomed through the puzzle. Zoomed is, of course, relative, as I was a good 9 minutes slower than Dan Feyer and Joon Park. Still, I was happy with how it went.

Puzzle 3 was by Patrick Berry. The theme was straightforward – at least for a human solver, as Dr. Fill stumbled with it. I did have some hesitation over 37D, which I had never heard of before, but I was confident in the crossings. As we broke for lunch, I felt good about how the tournament was going.

I felt less good about the long wait for the elevator, but I wasn’t up to walking to the 14th floor to get my jacket. Warm clothing retrieved, [personal profile] bugsybanana and I walked over to the mall food court and caught up on both puzzles and life in general over lunch. I should probably note that they’ve closed off half the food court (presumably for renovation) which did make things a bit slower. But there was still more than enough time.

Puzzle 4 by Jeff Stillman was interesting. There was some difficult fill. A lot of people had trouble with 23A. I’d seen that word before, at least – unlike 44A. I will admit to not having completely understood one aspect of the theme, but I was confident in the crossings. I thought this was a good challenge, but admit I didn’t love this puzzle, largely because I didn’t think 3 of the 4 theme answers were all that interesting. Still, I was glad to have solved cleanly – and psyching myself up for the dreaded Puzzle 5.

I was rather relieved to see that Puzzle 5 was by Evan Birnholz. He writes the puzzle for the Sunday Washington Post, so I do his puzzles a lot. While he is capable of being diabolical and this puzzle was tricky, I thought it was the easiest Puzzle 5 in my ACPT experience. I finished it with a little over 5 minutes to spare. I didn’t completely grasp the theme until after I had completely filled it in, but I had an "aha" moment, sussed it out, and successfully double checked my answers. I was past the worst of it and solving cleanly, so I felt good. I was in 162nd place (out of 741) at that point.

I should also note that the clock stopped working some time during Puzzle 5. They had a clock display on the screen that they’d used to project the main ballroom, but it was a lot harder to read. It was a minor glitch, but an annoying one.

And then I blew it with a dumb error on Puzzle 6. That was a straightforward puzzle by Lynn Lempel. I didn’t have a problem with knowing the answers – I just couldn’t write! Imagine writing a four letter word. Let’s make this more interesting and use FUCK as an example (which was not, of course, the actual word in question). If you are me, it is all too easy to get ahead of yourself and accidentally write FUKK. I should have caught that via the crossings – especially since I had caught myself doing more or less the same thing a couple of rows above. But, no. Maybe I was just tired. Maybe it was my frustration over not being able to see the clock easily. Maybe it was gremlins or the New York Yankees (more or less the same thing in my book). But, whatever, I ended up with an incorrect square. I blew the clean solving and dropped 60 or so places in the standings.

I was, in fact, very tired and opted for resting versus eating dinner (though I did chitchat with some folks before going up to my room to collapse). I made it downstairs for the Saturday evening program, which started with the MEmoRiaL award, which is given for lifetime achievement in puzzle construction. (It is spelled that way in memory of Merl Reagle.) This year it went to the highly deserving Mike Shenk. Not only is he prolific, but he has invented excellent forms of variety puzzles.

That was followed by Matt Ginsberg’s annual report on his AI program, Dr. Fill. I lost interest in the subject after maybe a couple of years attending the ACPT, so I was glad that Matt had a much snappier (and shorter) presentation this year.

The final Saturday night event was a live version of HQ Trivia. There were several rounds with people standing if they knew the correct answer to a question (and sitting down when they were out) until under 10 people were left. Those people went up to the front of the room and held up cards with a number to indicate their answer choice, until only one was left. The winner of each round got $50. I never made it to the final rounds, alas, but I did have fun.

After basking in glory the previous evening, Mike Shenk was the constructor of Sunday’s Puzzle 7. I figured out the theme reasonably quickly, but was a bit slower than I’d have liked to be. Still, I did solve cleanly, which was a relief.

The rest of the day involved the talent show, which was preceded by a brief taping of a get well wish for Alex Trebek. (There are a lot of folks at the ACPT who’ve been on Jeopardy, myself included.) Then came awards and the finals. Dan Feyer set a new record with his 8th victory. An interesting footnote is that the B Division finals were vacated because of an earlier scoring error, which hadn’t been caught in time.

As for how I did, I was (obviously) disappointed in my error on Puzzle 6. But I did do better than last year – and every year except 2017. I’ll also note that even if I had solved Puzzle 6 cleanly, I wasn’t fast enough to have made it up to the B Division. More importantly, I saw lots of friends and had a good time. Which is really what it’s about.

2009 – 265 / 654 (55th percentile)
2012 – 241 / 594 (59th percentile)
2014 – 202 / 580 (65th percentile)
2016 – 171 / 576 (70th percentile)
2017 – 141 / 619 (77th percentile)
2018 – 254 / 674 (62nd percentile)
2019 – 220 / 741 ((70th percentile)
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Celebrity Death Watch: Jim Raman was one of the Married Dentists on The Amazing Race. Joffre Stewart was a beat poet. W. S. Merwin was an off-beat poet. No, actually, he wrote about nature and won the Pulitzer, but I couldn’t resist. Marjorie Weinman Sharmat wrote children’s books, notably the Nate the Great series. Frank Cali was the head of the Gambino crime family. Tom Hatten acted in numerous movies but is more famous for hosting children’s television shows in Los Angeles. Richard Erdman acted in over 160 movies. Dick Dale was a guitarist, known primarily for surf music.

Birch Bayh was a senator from Indiana, who ran for President in 1976. He was responsible for two constitutional amendments (the 25th, dealing with Presidential disability and succession, and the 26th, which lowered the voting age to 18). But what was probably even more of an achievement was Title IX, which bans gender discrimination in higher education. He also worked on the Equal Rights Amendment and on an attempt to eliminate the Electoral College. In short, he was one of the good guys in my political reckoning. And he had a really cool name.

Weather: We had a day or two of lovely warmth, but it is now chilly again. The warmth inspired the trees to get ready for public sex and Thursday supposedly had the highest recorded tree pollen levels for March in the D.C. metro area. Sigh.

Hands on a Hardbody: I went to see Hands on a Hardbody at Keegan Theatre on Friday night. This is a musical that was only on Broadway for about a month, so is not well-known, but it sounded interesting. The premise is that 10 people are competing to win a truck from an East Texas dealership by lasting the longest at a contest, in which they have to stand with one hand on the truck at all times. They get only a 15 minute break every six hours. (This is, by the way, a real thing. The musical is based on a documentary about it.) The real story is, of course, who the people are and why they are willing to do this. Some of the stories are more compelling than others, of course. I particularly liked Jesus, who was saving up to go to veterinary school, and JD, who had been injured at work – and fired, as a result. The villain of the piece is Benny, who had won before. He’s trying again because his wife ran off with the truck he won the last time. In the end, he turns out to have a more sympathetic story than it seems at first. The other villain is Heather, who the dealership owner, Mike, has fixed to win. I had no sympathy for her.

The music was written by Amanda Green (who also did the lyrics) and Trey Anastasio (of the rock band, Phish) and is an interesting mix of styles. There wasn’t anything that was memorable, but it was an enjoyable enough score and fit the story well. I should also mention that the book was written by Doug Wright, who is probably best known for his Tony Award for I Am My Own Wife.

As for the performances, I particularly liked Shayla Lowe as Norma, John Loughney as Benny, and Duane Richards III as Chris. All of the performers were good, but some have fewer opportunities to be noticed as dramatically.

Overall, I thought this was worth seeing. I would also like to see the documentary it was based on.


Travel Show: I went to the Travel Show at the Convention Center on Saturday with a friend. I was pretty disappointed in it this year, though it may have been because I was tired after being out on Friday night. Plus, I had been to the much larger New York Travel Show in late January. I didn’t talk with people at any booth who made me excited about a destination I wasn’t already aware of. And none of the talks I went to were all that inspirational. I thought Peter Greenberg was particularly bad. While he was amusing, much of his advice was incorrect or irrelevant for most people. For example, he suggested that one should either carry-on or FedEx their baggage to their destination. Fine if you are going cross-country and staying in one place, but not feasible for a trip involving camping in the developing world. One person asked for suggestions about car rentals and he recommended either relying completely on Uber or using a European car company’s overseas purchase program. Oy.

I heard a little bit of Ian Brownlee from the State Department offering security tips, but he didn’t say anything I didn’t already know. And he was a less than engaging speaker. And then there was a talk by TV host Kellee Edwards on "How to Travel Safely and Explore More." I wouldn’t take advice on that subject from someone who got on the back of a motorcycle driven by a complete stranger when she got lost twice trying to find a waterfall near her hotel. She might have done better to have learned more than three words of the local language and to have found out how far a kilometer is.

Unconventional Diner: Because we were at the Convention Center, we got dinner at Unconventional Diner, right around the corner. I got a drink called Beast of Burden, which was, essentially, a glorified Moscow Mule – and quite tasty. As for food, I tried their chicken noodle soup, which was delicious. The broth was meaty tasting and slightly spicy, and was filled with chicken, alphabet noodles, carrots, mushrooms, and had two fluffy scallion matzoh balls. My friend was happy with her meatloaf, too. I got a scoop of raspberry-lychee sorbet for dessert, which was tasty, although, frankly, it would have been even better without the lychee.

Sunday: I had lots of household stuff I intended to get done. But I was out of the house for a few hours for a rehearsal for an upcoming storytelling show and did a couple of errands (e.g. grocery shopping) in the way back. Not nearly as much got done as should have. Oh, well.
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First, re: the Christchurch attacks, about all I can say is that it proves that it can happen anywhere. Nobody is safe. Some (white, Christian, cis-gendered men) are relatively safer, but they run the risk of believing they’re in danger and perpetrating horrible acts out of that. To quote Jonathan Richman (in a somewhat different context), "people are disgusting."

On a broader note, the whole idea of entitlement is also a lot of what was behind that college cheating scandal. I didn’t grow up in an environment where anybody had enough money to think that way – or, frankly, to believe that there was any hope of finding their way to an elite university. Except, some of us did. I mean, I’m the daughter of a refugee and I ended up at MIT. A guy I grew up with was the son of a conductor on the railroad and went to Harvard (and, later on, Columbia Law School). We did have a community ethos that led to relatively high taxes that funded good public schools, with the complexity that my home town was too small to have its own high school and, in retrospect, there was probably some racism involved in the choice of which school we did end up contracting with. An interesting thing about school budgets is that, since our school district had its own, there were years when we got schoolbooks and the kids from the district where the school was located, which had not approved their budget and was on austerity, did not.

But there were also people who went into the military or got apprenticed to trades or took over the family business. And the majority of the ones who went to college went to local schools (including community college) or state schools. Sure, parents would boast about kids who were at more prestigious places, but that just wasn’t the be all and end all of their lives. What a difference 40-something years makes!

Is our culture really that screwed up or is it just the celebrity news mill at work? Can we still think about the good of the community instead of individual greed? Or am I just a hopeless dreamer?
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Celebrity Death Watch: Boro Maa was the matriarch of Matu Mahasangha, a Hindu reformist sect in West Bengal. Carolee Schneemann was an artist. Charlie Panigoniak was an Inuit singer, best known for his version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" in the Inuktitut language. Carmine Persico was the head of the Colombo crime family. Ralph Hall was the oldest person ever to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Dan Jenkins was a sportswriter, as is his daughter, Sally, who wrote a particularly excellent obituary of him in the Washington Post. Jed Allen was a soap opera actor. Raven Grimassi wrote books promoting an Italian form of Wicca. Asa Brebner was a guitarist who, among other things, performed with The Modern Lovers on a couple of their albums. Hal Blaine was a prolific session drummer.

Jerry Merryman was one of the inventors of the handheld electric calculator. I am old enough to remember when calculators were not ubiquitous. If I recall correctly, it wasn’t until 11th grade physics that we were allowed to use them for exams. And those early calculators just did addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and – if you had a really fancy one – exponents. That fancy one was, in my case, the Bowmar Brain, which cost $75. It was only a couple of years later, when I started college, that I got a Texas Instruments scientific calculator. I think it may have been a programmable one. It cost over $100 and had terrible battery life. By the time I graduated, I could buy a Sharp scientific calculator for about $20. That used AA batteries and lasted a couple of decades.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: Another former colleague, Sy Horowitz, died last week. He was a really nice guy, always interesting to talk with during a lunchtime walk on business trips. I wasn’t completely surprised, given that he was over 90, but having lost so many colleagues over the years makes me feel old.

Mostly Better: However, the cold viruses grabbed my vocal chords with them on their way out. Sigh.

Daylight Savings Time: I think I have found all the clocks that need to be reset. I cannot, however, figure out how to reset the owl that is nesting in our courtyard.

For the record, I would favor staying on DST year round. I love lots of light late in the afternoon. Please don’t remind me I said that if you should happen to be in the car with me at sunset, when I am likely to be whining about glare.

Social Media Annoyance: I can’t update my facebook status for some reason. Nor can I see my timeline. So, of course, I have all sorts of clever things I want to say.

That College Admissions Scandal: What I really want to know is how much the students involved were told about what was going on. I don’t think that, in general, students care as much about the alleged prestige of various schools as their parents do. (And, by the way, there are only two schools on the list that I would consider actual elite colleges, but that’s probably my academic snobbery at work.) I know there are students who have unrealistic views of what their dream school is, but it isn’t doing them any favors to get them into somewhere that isn’t a good fit for their abilities and interests. Of course, It appears that in some cases, their interests are partying and skiing, so I can understand why parents might not want to finance their little darling's dream education.
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1) I am still sick. I am particularly tired of being tired. On the plus side, I am somewhat glad to be lacking much appetite.

2)There is someone who has been trying to have a half hour or so conversation with me re: a work-related matter. I'm happy to talk with him and, while it sounds a bit vain, I am pretty sure I am the right person to explain the issue to him. However, I'd be more convinced of the importance of this if he hadn't had his admin reschedule the meeting three times so far.

3) I am sadder about Tom Seaver's dementia diagnosis than I am about Alex Trebek's pancreatic cancer.

I hope to be back in shape to be more interesting after spending much of the weekend in suspended animation.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Nick Cafardo was a sportswriter, who specialized in covering the Red Sox. Jeraldine Saunders wrote the memoir that inspired the TV show, The Love Boat. Mark Hollis was the lead singer of Talk Talk. Katherine Helmond was an actress, best known for roles in Who’s the Boss and Soap. Kevin Roche was an important architect, whose works included the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Denver Performing Arts Complex, and several corporate headquarters buildings. Ted Lindsay was a Hall of Fame hockey player for the Detroit Red Wings. T. Jack Lee directed NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in the early 1990’s. Carrie Ann Lucas was a disability rights advocate. Janet Asimov was the widow of Isaac Asimov and a writer, primarily of science fiction for children, in her own right. Andy Anderson was the drummer for The Cure. Doug Sandom was the original drummer for The Who, before Keith Moon. Andre Previn composed music for a lot of films and conducted several orchestras. Zhores Alfarov won a Nobel Prize in Physics for work involving semiconductor heterostructures, which have something to do with solid state devices. Johnny Romano played catcher for the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox in the 1960’s. Luke Perry was an actor, who became a teen idol for appearing in Beverly Hills, 90210.

QOTD: "I wouldn’t believe Donald Trump if he had his tongue notarized." – Alair Townsend, ca. 1990

Discovery of the Day: There is such a thing as Picture Yarn. This is a step beyond self-striping yarn. Alas, all the ones I really love are sold out, but it isn’t as if I don’t have way more yarn than I will use in my lifetime. Still, Abigail Grasso is a genius.

Ah-choo: I got struck with a cold on Saturday afternoon. What’s weird is how suddenly it hit me. I was fine one minute, and had a sore throat and couldn’t stop sneezing the next. I stayed home and in bed both Sunday and yesterday, but made the dubious decision to go into work today. I have not been particularly productive, however. Sigh. I did make plans for various entertainment events and some travel (both work-related and not). But I have a high priority task I am struggling to finish. It looks like it will have to wait until the snot production lessens.
fauxklore: (theatre)
Love Stories: Fall for the Book and the George Mason University Folklore Round Table put on a storytelling event on Wednesday night, with a focus on love stories. A few of us from Better Said Than Done were invited to tell as part of the program. I had a mental debate about what to tell. Better Said Than Done is focused on personal stories, but I have an original fairy tale that fit the theme well and decided to go with that. It worked well. But I do still plan to tell a story about the 13,769 times I fell in love (starting with Brainiac 5 of the Legion of Super Heroes – ooh, that green skin!) some time.


Finding Neverland: Last night, I went to see Finding Neverland at the National Theatre. For those who are unfamiliar with it, this is a musical about how J. M. Barrie came to write Peter Pan. I have to admit that I don’t really know enough about him to know how accurate it is, but I gathered that the basics are there. It wasn’t a terrible show, but it wasn’t brilliant either. Most of the music is pretty forgettable and many of the jokes are corny and trite. I like the concept that we all need to play and growing up doesn’t eliminate that. I don’t like being hit over the head with it. Also, I hated much of the choreography. It was redeemed with "We Own the Night," but I wasn’t surprised to learn that the choreographer, Mia Michaels, is best known for working on So You Think You Can Dance. I don’t want generic showy moves in theatre choreography. I want dance that tells a story.

The single thing that annoyed me the most is that I know that J. M. Barrie was a Scot. I assume this is the director’s fault and not the actor’s, but I found it really grating that Jeff Sullivan played him with an English accent. No. Just no.

I didn’t completely hate this – and, by the way, I do completely hate Peter Pan and take some pleasure in refusing to clap for Tinkerbell – but it could have been tightened up quite a bit. If you want to see a show based on Peter Pan, I suggest Peter and the Starcatcher instead. That had some real imagination behind it.
fauxklore: (travel)
Celebrity Death Watch: W. E. B. Griffin was a prolific novelist, who, among other things, co-authored several of the books in the M*A*S*H series. Betty Ballantine was a publisher, who popularized paperback books. (She was, alas, on my back-up list for the ghoul pool.) Bibi Ferreira was a Brazilian actress and singer, who brought Broadway style musicals to Brazil. David Horowitz hosted a television show about consumer affairs. Ross Lowell invented gaffer tape. Sal Artiaga was the President of Minor League Bseball in the late 1980’s. Theodore Isaac Rubin wrote several books of pop-psych, including the short story that the movie David and Lisa was based on. Bruno Ganz was an actor. Toni Myers made IMAX documentaries about space. Wallace Smith Broecker coined the term "global warming." Don Newcomb was, among other things, the first black pitcher to start a World Series game. Karl Lagerfeld was a fashion designer. Vinny Vella was an actor who specialized in playing gangsters. Fred Foster was a record producer and songwriter, best known for "Me and Bobby McGee." Mark Bramble directed Broadway musicals, including 42nd Street and Barnum. Peter Tork was a Monkee. Beverly Owens was an actress, best kinown for playing Marilyn Munster in the first season of The Munsters, after which she stopped acting and married the show’s producer. Stanley Donen directed movie musicals, including Singin’ in the Rain. Margaret Scott was a ballerina, notable for founding and directing the Australian Ballet School.

Lee Radziwill was best known as being the sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. It’s hard to say which of the Bouvier sisters married better, but Lee did get to be a princess, at least until her divorce. I should note that I have some evidence that some members of my family lived on Radziwill land in Kedainiai, Lithuania.

Ken Nordine created a unique form of art he called word jazz, that involved improvised poetry with jazz music as a background. I stumbled upon part of his recording Colors on the radio late one night and it got me interested in jazz. Also, he earned me 18 ghoul pool points (including uniqueness points).


Vacation Summary: I went to El Salvador for a week. Why? Partly because there’s an archaeological site there I particularly wanted to see, partly because there was a good sale price on the tour, partly because I wanted to see for myself what it is like in a place with such a horrible reputation. Overall, I had a pretty good time and was glad I went, though I don’t feel any particular need to go back. Here’s the quick summary:


  • Arrived in San Salvador. Hotel was in the Zona Rosa, which was safe enough, except for the challenge of crossing busy a busy street to get anywhere. Group had 11 people (6 Canadians, a couple from Hing Kong, a British woman, one other American, and me) plus our Guatemalan tour leader. The next day, we got a tour of the city center, with Iglesia El Rosario, a modern church with interesting stained glass, as the architectural highlight. We went on to the Museum of Anthropology for way too short a time.

  • Then we drove to Suchitoto, where we had a short orientation walk around town, which is one of a few reasonably intact colonial towns in the country. There was a big arts festival going on and I went to an opera presentation with one of the Canadian guys. We had supper at a place where you make your own pupusas, which was fun, but time consuming.

    I chose to explore town on my own, instead of taking a city tour. The only real flaw in that plan was that a lot of things were closed on Monday. I did a little sketching of the church exterior, enjoyed people watching in the square, checked out the market, and made it down to the Museum for Art and Peace, which has good info on the indigenous population, as well as artwork by children in their school, which emphasizes anti-violence programs. Later on in the day, I went on a sunset boat cruise on Lake Suchitlan, which involved seeing a lot of birds. Egrets, I’ve seen a few … (Also, every cormorant in the known universe. Plus swallows, vultures, kites, hawks, and pelicans.) Some people did a very early morning bird watching kayak tour in the morning, but 5:30 is too early for me to be functional. I did a quick trip back to the town square and checked out the Museum of 1000 Plates and More, which was just the sort of kitschy attraction I enjoy.

  • We went on to Joya de Ceren, which I would consider the must see of El Salvador. Mayan town was buried in ash after a couple of volcanic eruptions, ca. 600 CE. It is the only site where one sees ruins of day to day Mayan life. There was a very good guided tour. They are still doing excavations, so things are likely to get even better. From there, we drove to Santa Ana, where we had lunch and a short time to check out the neo-Gothic cathedral (only such one in Central America) and the National Theatre. We drove on to the ruins of Tazumal, but arrived just after the site closed. We could still photograph the pyramid from outside.

  • Our next couple of nights were in Ahuachapan, which is not much of a place, but a good base for the Ruta des Floras. We toured a coffee processing plant (so-so coffee, in my opinion), wandered around the village of Ataco, which has a lot of interesting murals on its buildings, and went to a labyrinth (technically, a maze, but the Spanish language doesn’t seem to make the same distinction as English does), which I failed to find the center of. In the evening, most of us went to the Santa Teresa thermal baths, which was very relaxing.

  • Finally, we drove to El Tunco, with a nice stop in the town of Nahuizalco, which has a largish market, some high-quality crafts shops, and a particularly nicely landscaped town square. We also had a stop at the fish market in La Libertad, which was interesting and friendly. El Tunco is very touristy, but is mostly a surfing beach and nightlife town, so not really my speed. Still, a day to spend relaxing with a book isn’t a terrible thing.

  • And then I came home.


A Quick Comment on Group Travel: Being on a tour was the most practical thing to do for a dicey destination like El Salvador. While we didn’t have any issues, our bus driver was commuting from his home and got held up at gunpoint on his way home one night. (We did see some policemen in San Salvador who covered their faces so they can’t be identified by gang members.) But I was also reminded of why I prefer to travel alone. About midway through the trip, my roommate (the other American) opted to pay a single supplement and leave me alone, which helped. There wasn’t anything wrong, per se, but we just weren’t compatible on a couple of basics. She wanted the room several degrees colder than I did (under 65 Fahrenheit, vs. my preference for at least 76 Fahrenheit) and she slept a lot later than I did. There was one other person in the group who I found annoying, because she prioritized her desires (e.g. for particular photographs) above what other people wanted, which came to a head over an issue re: tipping local guides. We had voted at the beginning of the trip to not have a tipping pool, but to let people handle it individually, but she still tried to collect specific amounts from everyone to tip as a group. She did back down when confronted, but it left some bad feelings. I should also mention that I had been afraid that the group would all be a lot younger than I am, but most of the people were roughly in the same age group I’m in, with only a few youngsters.


JGSGW: Sunday was a two part Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington meeting. In the morning, there was a brunch. There was a speaker who was advertised as giving a talk on Central European resources, but who had nothing prepared and managed to give inadequate answers to most of the questions people asked. In the afternoon, he gave a talk about the history of a pickpocket, which was interesting and entertaining, but not as organized as it might have been. I’d have liked to hear about how he did his research and got to the story. On the plus side, I found a possible source for some specific records I am looking for (via another person, not the speaker).

Back to Work: It is always surprising how much can accumulate in even a single week away. Sigh.
fauxklore: (travel)
You would think that somebody who travels as much as I do would be more organized about it. Instead, I inevitably end up in a pre-vacation panic and flurry of activity. Admittedly, this is not helped by being insanely busy at work and, hence, more exhausted than usual.

Which is to say that I will be gone just over a week. Assuming that is, that I manage to actually pack and get myself to the airport. It isn't clear how much internet access I will have as reports are mixed and not necessarily up to date.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Rosamunde Pilcher wrote a lot of romance novels and some family sagas, of which the most famous was The Shell Seekers. .Yechiel Eckstein founded the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Albert Finney was a film actor, who for some reason I tend to confuse with Alfred Drake and Ron Moody. A few of his more notable movies include Tom Jones, Erin Brockovich, and Big Fish. John Dingell was a Democratic congressman from Michigan who served 59 years in Congress. Patricia Nell Warren wrote The Front Runner, the first gay novel to make the New York Times best seller list. Tomi Ungerer was an illustrator, best known for creating Flat Stanley. Walter Jones was a Republican congressman from North Carolina, best known for inventing the term "freedom fries." Lyndon Larouche was a politician, Presidential candidate, anti-Semite, racist, possibly a Soviet agent. Hmm, reminds me of someone else.

Frank Robinson played baseball for several teams, including the Cincinnati Reds and the Baltimore Orioles. He was the only player to be named MVP for both the National League and American League. He later became the first black manager in major league history (for the Cleveland Indians) and went on to manage several other teams, including the Washington Nationals. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.


Don’t Analyze This Dream: I was eating lunch in a conference room. On an airplane.


A Brief Rant About Reporting on Taxes: I am tired of seeing articles about people complaining about their refunds being lower. One’s refund could be lower because they are paying more taxes, but it could also be lower because their withholding was lower. Of course, one should ideally aim for not getting a refund at all, since that means you are lending money to the government at no interest. What actually matters is what one’s overall tax bill is. Many people’s will be higher because of the limits on deductions for state and local taxes, but many people’s will be lower because of reduced tax rates.


One Day University – Lectures: Saturday was One Day University. The morning had two lectures, while the afternoon had a short film festival.


The first lecture was by Andrew Porwancher of the University of Oklahoma on The Constitution: Enduring Myths and Hidden Truths. He was rather more enthusiastic about Alexander Hamilton than I’d have preferred, though he did also credit James Madison, George Washington, and Ben Franklin. But how does anybody talk about the Constitution without mentioning Gouverneur Morris, who wrote most of it? Despite that obvious flaw, Porwancher did have several interesting points. One of his key ones is that the three branches of government were not intended to be equal. The legislative branch was supposed to be the most powerful and the judiciary the weakest, with the executive branch in the middle. He went on to talk bout several amendments, starting with the specific part of the first amendment dealing with freedom of religion. His key point there was that there were interpretations of freedom of religion which did not require separation of church and state, but Jefferson’s views won out over Hamilton’s there, largely because of nativism in the form of a fear of Catholicism. He also noted that Article VI, Section 3, which forbids religious tests for serving in office is more significant in practical terms. He also made an interesting point re: the 2nd Amendment. Namely, that Madison’s original language included a conscientious objector clause, which suggests his intention was the military context, not the individual context, for the right to bear arms. Overall, he was an interesting and enthusiastic speaker, albeit more enthusiastic about Hamilton than I am.

The other lecture was by Wendy Schiller of Brown University on What’s Wrong With Congress? Can an 18th Century Structure Still Work? One of the main things she objected to was the staggering of Senate elections, so that only a third of the Senate is up for reelection each term, though I am skeptical about how much of a difference that makes. Mostly, what she claimed is wrong is: 1) polarization, which used to be only about race and trade now being about everything, and 2) the responsibility of the Senate for confirming judges and cabinet members. She talked a lot about changes in how the Senate was chosen, including the corruption that dominated the process when state legislatures chose Senators and the impact of reform intents that resulted in many states going without one or both Senators. The 17th Amendment in 1913 (direct election of Senators) fixed that. Other things she suggested (most of which I agree with) were proportional representation in the electoral college (which is already done in Montana and Nebraska) and which really has more to do with the President than with Congress, lengthening the House term to 4 years to reduce the amount of time spent electioneering versus legislating, making the House bigger (which would, in my opinion, make it harder to manage and make deals), and requiring independent commissions for redistricting. I am more skeptical about requiring gender, racial, ethnic, and economic diversity in redistricting, because I think that would be likely to dilute the influence of underrepresented groups. She also suggested term limits for the Supreme Court and removing term limits for the President, but did not discuss term limits for Congress. Personally, I think term limits for elective offices are a bad idea, though I would support other ways to reduce the perceived advantage of incumbents. Finally, she supported an increase in on-line and mail voting, which sounds great, until you look at research on voting integrity and realize that it is likely to disenfranchise large segments of the population.


One Day University – Short Film Festival: After a lunch break, during which I walked over to Poppa Box for some Korean-ish food, it was time for the Short Film Festival. For this purpose, short films were defined as being under 20 minutes. There were 10 films, with a short intermission after the sixth. There was only one movie I really disliked (Bob, which had what I thought was a cheap ending), I had seen one (The Gunfighter) before, though I can’t remember where, and thought it was funny, but could have been tighter if it were a bit shorter. My favorites were Super Powers, The Tailor, Bridget, and Tanghi Argentini. Overall, it was a fun way to spend a cold afternoon.
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Celebrity Death Watch: James Ingram was an R&B singer/songwriter. Dick Miller was an actor who appeared in a lot of Roger Corman’s movies. Stewart Adams developed ibuprofen. Ron Joyce cofounded Tim Hortons. Candice Jean Earley was an actress, best known for a long-running role on All My Children. Harold Bradley was a country guitarist. Clive Swift was a British actor, best known for Keeping Up Appearances. Kristoff St. John was an actor, best known for starring in The Young and the Restless. Bob Friend was a baseball player, who had the distinction of leading the league in ERA while pitching for a last place team (the 1955 Pirates). Julie Adams was an actress, best known for being abducted by the Creature from the Black Lagoon. John Otto Marsh, Jr. was the Secretary of the Army under Reagan and Bush 41. Jacqueline Steiner cowrote "Charlie on the MTA." C. Y. Lee wrote the novel The Flower Drum Song. Izzy Young was a folklorist who produced Bob Dylan’s first concert. Robert Hubbard invented the Head and Neck Support (HANS) system used to reduce injuries in auto racing.


Weather: It was 5 degrees Fahrenheit last week. It was 70ish yesterday. It’s in the 50’s now. And it is supposed to snow some next week. Aargh!


More on Blackface in Virginia: So now it turns out that Mark Herring (Virginia Attorney General, so next in line after the Lieutenant Governor to become Governor) went to a party where he and a couple of friends wore brown makeup and wigs to dress as rappers. This was in 1980, when he was 19. His record as attorney general (and this is his second term in that office) is clearly anything but racist. The point is that this was not uncommon behavior in this part of the country at the time.

An interesting tidbit is that the next in line after Mark Herring is Kirk Cox, who is the Speaker of the House of Delegates and is most famous as being the(Republican) guy who won a tied election by having his name drawn out of a bowl. By the way, he has said he has no plans to try to oust Northam. No reports on whether or not he ever appeared in blackface when he was in college.


Ain’t Misbehavin’: Back in my normal life, I went to see Ain’t Misbehavin’ at Signature Theatre on Saturday. They’re doing some massive construction in the Campbell Street Garage, so I had to go over to the Randolph Street Garage, which is just as close, but feels further away for reasons I can’t entirely explain. Anyway, for those who are not familiar with it, this is a jukebox musical, based on the works of Fats Waller. I don’t like jukebox musicals to begin with and this one didn’t even have any semblance of telling a story. So, while I liked some of the songs and I thought it was performed well (which I will talk about in a minute), I didn’t find it very interesting. The first act seemed rather lacking in energy, but maybe that was just because I was pretty tired myself. The second act was better.

But they did have a stellar cast. That included Iyona Blake, Nova Payton, and Kevin McAllister, all three of whom I’ve seen perform multiple times before. Kevin was particularly good singing "Your Feet’s Too Big," which is one of my favorite Waller songs. Solomon Parker III stole the show when it came to dancing, however, in his performance of "The Viper’s Drag." I should also mention that Mark Meadows did the music direction and played piano, at which he was quite showy. The final performer was Korinn Walfall, whose performance was fine, but who I thought was given a horrible dress for the second act.

Overall, it was diverting enough, but hardly essential to see.
fauxklore: (Default)
Caution: Virginia politics ahead.

Before I say anything about the Ralph Northan and Justin Fairfax kerfuffles, I have to start on the subject of abortion and, specifically, third trimester abortion, because that is really the issue that started the right wingers looking for things to attack Northam over. And it is, in my opinion, an entirely illegitimate issue. It’s hard to find reliable statistics, but all of what is out there shows late term abortions as under 2% of the total. The problem with statistics is that different places define late term in different ways, anywhere from after 18 to 24 weeks. The key thing is that nobody is advocating performing abortions at the moment of birth, despite what the anti-choice elements want you to believe. The laws that remove restrictions on third-term abortions are intended to prevent criminalizing abortions done for the sake of women’s lives or because of severe fetal abnormalities, e.g. anencephaly (lack of a brain).

The specific law that was being proposed in the Virginia legislature was introduced by Kathy Tran and would have loosened some restrictions on late term abortions. Current Virginia law allows terminating a third-trimester pregnancy if three physicians certify that the procedure is necessary to prevent a woman's death or to stave off substantial and irremediable health impacts. The proposed change – which: 1) has been proposed in the legislature in previous sessions, and 2) never made it to the House of Delegates floor for a vote – would change that to requiring only one physician’s certification and would remove the "substantial and irremediable" language, though still require confirmation of risk to the woman’s health.

So wat does this have to do with the governor? Well, he is a physician (specifically, a pediatric neurosurgeon), supported the bill, and gave a less than articulate response in a radio interview on the subject. He said that a hypothetical infant who was delivered in those circumstances would be kept comfortable and resuscitated if the parents wished. What this was intended to mean is that the parents would decide whether or not to put the baby on life support. Failure to provide extreme and unlikely to succeed life support is hardly infanticide. But certain right wing pundits portrayed this as if he said he supported infanticide and started digging for dirt on Dr. Northam.

And, oy, did they find something. Namely, a picture on his page in his medical school yearbook showing a guy in blackface and a guy in a KKK outfit. Both of them are holding cans and there is a quote about beer underneath, so a benign interpretation would be a dumb attempt at showing how beer brings even extremes together. Northam gave an apologetic speech that evening. Which might have worked if he hadn’t given a textbook example of how not to handle a press conference the next day. In that one, he contradicted his earlier speech, denied he was in the picture (and nobody knows who was in it) and says there must have been a mix-up in assembling the yearbook. But he had sort of done blackface by putting shoe polish on his face during a dance contest that year, when he was imitating Michael Jackson. He was on the verge of moonwalking to demonstrate, but his wife stopped him from that. Someone also dug up a yearbook from VMI (his undergraduate alma mater) in which there was a reference to his nickname being "coonman," which he said he couldn’t explain. I can think of possible benign explanations for that, but will concede his wimpiness on the subject looks suspect.

Despite increasing calls for him to resign, he’s been standing pat. For those who are going on about how this was 1984, not 1954, sorry, but on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, 1984 was pretty much like 1884. There’s no evidence that Northam has treated African-Americans badly and there is some evidence he has learned from those he knows. We know he’s evolved since he worked for Dubya before switching to the Democratic party. (Note that Virginia does not have party registration, so there is no evidence of party membership prior to his election to the state senate in 2007.) And I think he’s been a good governor, particularly in getting Medicaid expansion through the legislature and pushing (not quite so successfully) for gun control measures.

Note that Virginia governors are term-limited to a single term (a law that goes back to 1830, by the way). And nobody thought that he would run for President, because he's not exactly charismatic and (as demonstrated in this instance) has an even worse case of hoof in mouth disease than Joe Biden.

I don’t know about his initial political foray, since his senate seat was not in my district. But it’s pretty weird that none of this came out during his run for Lieutenant Governor in 2013 or the primary for the 2017 gubernatorial race. It’s less weird that Ed Gillespie didn’t raise it, given that Gillespie’s own campaign was highly racist and he could well have figured a hint of racism on Northam’s part would cut into his base.

Which brings me to the Justin Fairfax story. That amounts to a "he said, she said" about whether an incident in a hotel room in 2004 was or was not consensual. Fairfax hasn’t handled that well, either, making stronger claims about why the Washington Post didn’t publish the story when it first surfaced months ago than the newspaper itself has been claiming. I’ll also note that Fox News put out a story claiming Fairfax was blaming Northam for the increased attention on this story, which isn’t justified by anything in what he said. It is clear that the timing is related to the Northam story, but more likely that it comes from the right wing.


So what do I think? I’ve said before that I discount anything people did up to age 25, which is how old Northam was when the yearbook came out. I also deplore the quick rush to judgement – for example, I think Al Franken should not have resigned. However, I am concerned about the impact on his ability to govern and what that means for the future of the Democratic party in Virginia. And that matters ia lot this year, because we have legislative elections in odd years and the winner will control redistricting. If both Northam and Fairfax stepped down, Mark Herring, our Attorney General, would become governor. And I have a lot of respect for him. If Fairfax doesn’t step down, there could be an internal power fight between him and Herring in the 2021 gubernatorial race, which won’t do anybody any favors. (I would favor Herring in such a contest, entirely on the grounds of experience.)

I am also concerned about any impact this whole mess could have on Mark Warner’s reelection campaign in 2020. Admittedly, I am just assuming he will run for reelection to the U.S. Senate, but I don’t see why he wouldn’t. Though I wouldn’t be upset if he ran for President, I don’t think he is charismatic enough to win. And moderates are out of style, alas.

Obit Poems

Feb. 4th, 2019 03:54 pm
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I have a lot of other stuff to write about, but I have a last minute document review I need to get through at work. So here is a quick entry with the obit poems I submitted to the Style Invitational, none which received ink, alas.

Abra Cadaver
Richard Jay Potash
Known to the world
As dear Ricky Jay
Sleight of hand master
Supersensational
But now he’s laid cards down
As he’s passed away.


Dorcas Reilly cooked some green beans
With French-fried onions, mushroom soup
Thanksgiving tables ever since then
Have been graced with Reilly’s goop.


John Bindernagel sought an apeman
known as Sasquatch, Bigfoot, too
Found some tracks but never caught one
Died with empty cryptozoo.
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I failed at this last year, but I have done it several times in the past and decided to give it another go. The idea is to send something to someone every postal day of February (so Sundays and President's Day are excluded).

If you would like mail from me, send me a message with your address. I will attempt both legibility and wit, but do not guarantee either.
fauxklore: (Default)
Thanks to another friend, I had joined a facebook group for National Just Read More Novels Month. For me, this translated partly into Just Read Shorter Novels for a month, ending up with 7. So, rather than waiting for my usual quarterly book rundown, here’s what I read in January. Note that there are 8 books here, but the first book didn’t count for NaJuReMoNoMo because I had started it in December and only had the last 30 or so pages to read on New Year’s Day.


  1. William Stuart Long, The Exiles: This was a long book and is, in fact, the first volume in a 12 book series about Australians. The author, whose real name was Vivian Stuart (nee Violet Vivian Finlay) was even more prolific than that, writing over 70 books under at least 7 names. This book traces a young woman, Jenny Taggart, from a family tragedy through poverty in London through being transported to Australia on the First Fleet. She makes a great success oi her life there, though there is plenty of tragedy and loss along the way. From what I can tell, the historical background was pretty accurate, too. Overall, I thought this was a good read and I look forward to reading more of this series.

  2. Alexander Kent, Midshipman Bolitho and The Avenger: I like the Bolitho series for the characters and the relationships between them, not the naval battles. This one has Bolitho on leave at home and getting pulled into service to help deal with smugglers along the Cornish coast. The Bolitho novels were not written in chronological order, so I already knew some of what will happen later on between Richard Bolitho and his brother, Hugh, who he is serving under on this mission. I figured out a critical plot point pretty quickly, but it didn’t matter. It was still a good, quick read.


  3. Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing: This was for my book club, but I had suggested it to them, based on the recommendation of a couple of friends. It follows several generations of the descendants of two women who never knew they were sisters and tells the history of Ghana and of African-Americans along the way. I’ve traveled in Ghana, which probably helped in my enjoyment of this, but I think it should be accessible to anyone. This was fascinating and I recommend it highly.

  4. Jeff Lindsay, Dearly Devoted Dexter: This is part of a series (made into a TV show later on) about a blood spatter technician for the Miami Police who is also a sociopathic serial killer. This book involves a particularly horrifying series of crimes, but it also has to do with Dexter’s relationship with his family and his girlfriend and her children. The writing is breezy and entertaining, but it does feel strange to be cheering for Dexter, who is, after all, a serial killer.

  5. Stephanie Evanovich, Big Girl Panties: I needed a change of pace, so it was time for some chick lit. The genre tends to be predictable, so that isn’t a big criticism. The premise here is that a fat woman meets a personal trainer on an airplane, becomes his client, and transforms her life via weight loss, fitness, and, eventually, getting involved with him. To be fair, she doesn’t end up skinny per se and he realizes he loves her though she isn’t model thin, but there are still several annoying aspects to this book, starting with how much weight she loses how fast and going on to equating fatness with eating disorders and emotional issues. Then the whole thing is rather steamier than I really wanted to read on the train to work (including a subplot involving the trainer’s best friend who enjoys spanking his wife). Meh.

  6. Sara Woods, Tarry and Be Hanged: This is a British mystery from the late 1960’s, before mystery writers felt that they had to throw in a couple of hundred extra pages of subplots. Anthony Maitland gets his client acquitted of murder, but he still needs to find out whodunit to rescue the client’s reputation. This is a decent enough example of the genre, though I’d have appreciated an epilogue telling me what became of some of the characters after the crimes were solved.

  7. Alexander Kent, Band of Brothers: More of Richard Bolitho, who passes his commissioning exam to become a lieutenant and is charged with helping a new midshipman adjust, along with doing his actual job. There was a minor annoyance in the form of having one character with the first name Montagu and another with the surname Egmont, which are just similar enough to confuse me a little. I also wish Kent didn’t have the nasty habit of killing off characters I like.

  8. Stephen King, The Dead Zone: Nobody does suspense better than Stephen King. This book is about a guy who spends 4 and a half years in a coma after a car accident and awakens with psychic powers, which prove to be more of a curse than a blessing. There are ups and downs along the way, culminating in an interesting moral dilemma. You probably already know whether or not you like King’s writing. If you do, this is a good example of it.

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