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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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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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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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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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.
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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.
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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.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Harris Wofford was a politician and civil rights activist. Maxine Brown was a country singer. Kaye Ballard was an actress and singer, best known for The Mothers-in-=Law on television in the 1960’s. Jonas Mekas was a film director. Diana Athill was a literary editor and memoirist. Meshulam Riklis was a businessman of the sort that gives Wall Street a bad name, but is better known for having married (and later divorced) Pia Zadora. Florence Knoll designed modern furniture, largely for offices. Fatima Ali competed on cooking-oriented reality TV. Michel Legrand was a composer, best known for the song "The Windmills of Your Mind" from The Thomas Crown Affair. Jumani Johansson claimed to be the illegitimate son of Malawi’s long-time president, Hastings Banda. Peter Magowan co-owned the San Francisco Giants. Rosemary Bryant Mariner was the first woman to fly jets for the Navy and the first to command a military aviation squadron. Patricia McBride Lousada (who is not the same person as Patricia McBride) was a founding member of New York City Ballet and a protége of George Balanchine and Merce Cunningham.

Oliver Mtukudzi was a Zimbabwean guitarist and cultural icon. I was privileged to see him perform in 2012 at the Lowell Folk Festival.

Russell Baker was one of my favorite writers. He wrote more columns for the New York Times than anyone else and won two Pulitzer prizes, including the first ever giver to a humorist. The other was for his memoir, Growing Up. He also scored me 15 ghoul pool points. (I’ve backfilled with Harry Reid.)


Errata: I didn’t watch someone die per se, but I did witness a suicide. I was in Prague, walking across the Charles Bridge to the Old Town after visiting the castle. A guy climbed up on a railing and leapt off. He landed on a plaza below, not in the river. I had nightmares the rest of the time I was in Prague and for about a week after I left.

New York State of Mind: I may be swamped at work, but I had made plans for a weekend in New York, so I took off Friday and took the train up. The excuse was a get-together, vaguely organized by some Travelers’ Cwntury Club folks, focused on the New York Times Travel Show. The hotel price (at the Doubletree on West 40th) was particularly good. One of my friends wanted to come, too, so we made some dinner and theatre plans. The catch came when she broke her ankle while on vacation. She decided to come anyway. The travel show could have been a huge issue, but it turns out that one can borrow a wheelchair (for free!) at the Javits Center and I was willing to push her around. We also had to use taxis and Lyft to get around, instead of just walking, but so be it. I’ve had experience with a broken ankle myself and it’s not like it was fun for her.

I figured out why the hotel was so cheap, by the way. Aside from the annoyingness of having to rearrange furniture (in this case, moving the desk) to close the curtains (a fairly common hotel problem) and absurdly slow elevators, the heat in my room was entirely inadequate. I finally got the room temperature up to something humanly tolerable by turning up the heat to 87 and putting it on high fan. The hotel restaurant (where we had breakfast with the group that had arranged the get-together) was pretty dreadful, with bland food and slow service. The really egregious problem came Saturday night, when we came back and they weren’t letting guests in the main door and two of the four elevators were reserved for their roof-top bar. They relented with my friend due to her broken leg, but I had to shove past them, with them threatening to call security, to get in. If two people are together, you should let both of them in, assholes. The two redeeming things were that the room was pretty well sound-proofed and the bellhop, with whom we had stored luggage on Sunday, was very helpful, offering us bottles of water and opening up a wider door so my friend could manage more easily.

But I was only in the hotel to sleep and I have experienced worse in my time There is a much better Doubletree on W. 36th, by the way.

Restaurants: On Friday night, we ate at Barbetta, suggested by another friend. This is the oldest Italian restaurant in New York and is quite formal. Some people might think that’s stuffy, but it was fine with us. Their prix fixe menu is normally $58, but because it was restaurant week, it was $43 for the three course meal. (The a la carte menu was also available.) I should have asked about prices for drinks, however, as they charged me $30 for a Campari and soda. Anyway, I got beet salad, paillard of chicken with fennel, and pears baked in red wine (something I actually had a craving for recently and am too lazy to make). All of it was quite good. The service was attentive, without being intrusive. And it was quiet enough to carry on a conversation.

On Saturday night, we went to the Third Avenue location of P. J. Clarke’s. This is another really old place and we chose it largely due to proximity to the theatre we were going to. The food is not very exciting (I had chicken pot pie), but they have a good beer list. The table we were initially seated at was by a window and there was a draft, but they moved us. It’s noisier than I’d have liked, but it was fine for what it is. Given my friend’s limited mobility, it was a good choice.


Come From Away: Friday night’s theatre excursion was to see Come From Away, which I’d been wanting to see for ages. It had done a pre-Broadway run at Ford’s Theatre but I never managed to make it work with my schedule. Anyway, for those who are not familiar with it, it tells the story of the diversion of 38 planes to Gander, Newfoundland on 9/11 and the relationships that developed between the townspeople and the plane people. Some of the stories are composites, but several are of individual people – a woman from New York who was worried about her firefighter son, the first female captain of a commercial airline, etc. I mention those two in particular, because they were among the more moving stories. The music is suitable for Newfoundland, too, with its Celtic influences. This is a true ensemble piece, not least because the various actors all play multiple parts.

There are a couple of things I can quibble with. For one, during the song "Prayer," an Orthodox rabbi talks to a Jewish townsman who has been separated from his heritage since he was snet as a refugee from the Shoah and they sing "Oseh Shalom." While the melody is a very familiar one now, it was actually written by Nurit Hirsch for the 1969 Hasidic Song Festival, so a man who hasn’t had any Jewish exposure since he was a child in the 1940’s wouldn’t know it.

Later on, some of the plane people get screeched in, becoming honorary Newfoundlanders. This involves drinking Screech rum and kissing a cod. They all balk at the latter, but as someone who has experienced this ceremony itself, the rum is far worse than the cod.

Anyway, those are minor nits and did nothing to take away from how much I enjoyed this show. I would definitely be willing to see it again. Though I would bring a lot more Kleenex with me. Do go see it if you have the chance.


Camelina: On Saturday night, we went to see Carmelina as part of York Theatre’s Musicals in Mufti series. I have seen a number of productions there, although it was my second choice for the evening. My first choice was The Book of Merman but my friend had assumed I had meant The Book of Mormon and vetoed the idea since she’s seen that. I should have explained the parody version, but this was fine with me as I think York always does a great job.

Anyway, Carmelina was by Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner, with additional lyrics by Barry Harmon and book by Joseph Stein. It is based on the movie Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell, though many of you are more likely to recognize the plot from Mama Mia. Carmelina, who lives in a small Italian village, made up a dead American war hero, Eddie Campbell, who she claimed was the father of her daughter, Gia. She had actually slept with three different American soldiers and has been extracting money from all three for 16 years. Old fashioned, indeed, as nowadays, they'd insist on DNA testing. All is fine until there’s a reunion of the American soldiers who served in that area. There is also a café owner, Vittorio, who has been mooning after her.

I should explain that the Mufti series involves minimal staging and actors are often still carrying their scripts. This was exactly the sort of show which the format is well suited for, since it doesn’t involve big production numbers. What it does have is a lovely score and a witty book. It flopped in 1979 (only 17 performances) because it was perceived as old fashioned, but I really loved it. The notable songs include "It’s Time for a Love Song," "Someone in April," "One More Walk Around the Garden," and "The Image of Me." It was also well-performed, with Andrea Burns as Carmelina, Anne Nathan as her maid, Rosa, and Joey Sorge as Vittorio. All in all, a delightful evening.

By the way, Burton Lane’s widow and his stepdaughter were there, sitting right next to my friend (who got moved to the front row because of her leg). And John Kander came over to talk to Mrs. Lane during intermission. I was proud of myself for refraining from swooning fan girl behavior.

Travel Show: Since the travel show was the ostensible reason for the trip, I should probably say something about it. I had gotten a deal for admission from one of the exhibitors – free ticket for one day, $5 plus service fee for the second day. On Saturday, we mostly went around the exhibit hall, collecting brochures and swag. I like to look at travel brochures for destinations I plan to travel to on my own, just to get itinerary ideas. I did also get some info on a couple of specific destinations I’m interested in. (I have booked at least three trips I found out about at either the New York or DC travel shows in the past.) We did also go over to the Ask the Experts area and talked to people about travel insurance and about Bolivia.

On Sunday, we went to a presentation on the Camino del Santiago. Then we went ot hear Pauline Frommer talk about up and coming destinations and new travel planning tools and such. And we went to a couple of other Ask the Experts tables to find out about gadgets and about what to do when things go wrong.

All in all, it was a good weekend, though tiring. I slept pretty much through from Newark to Baltimore on the train home.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Mason Lowe was a professional bull rider, who was killed by a bull. John Bogle founded the Vanguard Group, popularizing index funds. Mary Oliver was a Pulitzer Prize winning poet. Glen Wood was a NASCAR driver. Brian Stowell was a linguist who, among other things, translated Alice in Wonderland into Manx. Tony Mendez was the real-life spy who the movie Argo was based on. Nathan Glazer wrote important books about American ethnicity, with something of a focus on Judaism.

Should Have Been Celebrity Death Watch: Anne Thomas died yesterday. She was an amazing woman – a storyteller, a writer, a world traveler, an activist – who didn’t let being a paraplegic get in the way of anything she really wanted to do. I will miss her and her stories.

Desserts: We didn’t get much snow on Saturday, so there was no sugar in the snow. As for other desserts, I got as far as making cranberry bread pudding. Mostly because I had cranberries that needed to get used up.

Gulf View Drive: On Friday, I decided I was in the mood to go to the theatre and a quick look at Goldstar showed me that the Washington Stage Guild had a production of Gulf View Drive by Arlene Hutton on offer. I had really enjoyed See Rock City, so this play made a lot of sense to see. (They’re the second and third plays in a trilogy. While I haven’t seen the first, Last Train to Nibroc, they stand alone quite well.)
As I expected, this was an enjoyable evening . There are interesting issues, including domestic violence and racism, but the focus is still on family dynamics. The performances were uniformly very good, with Laura Giannarelli especially convincing as the domineeringly awful Mrs. Brummett. It’s playing through February 9th. I recommend it to D.C. area theatre goers.

Lunar Eclipse: I didn’t stay up for last night’s lunar eclipse. I’ve seen a lot of lunar eclipses, for one thing. And it was insanely cold out.

Fruit: Today is Tu B’Shvat, which is that Jewish equivalent of Arbor Day, though actually the New Year for Trees. It’s traditional to eat fruit. When I was a child, we’d get trays in Hebrew school that had a lot of dried fruit – figs, prunes, dates, raisins, apricots, and bokser (carob), if I recall correctly. The only ones of those I liked were apricots and bokser. I’ve been making a point of eating fruit every day and have this mental debate about whether dried fruit counts. I’ve decided it does, but only once or twice a week. I didn’t think of it when I was grocery shopping, but I might have bought some dates (which I do eat nowadays), as well as the kiwi fruit that I did got this week. (Mostly because it was on sale.) I still have a good supply of clementines, too.

Now I am really craving bokser.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Houari Manar was a singer of rai, a type of Algerian traditional music. Verna Bloom was an actress, best known for playing Mrs. Wormer in Animal House. J. D. Gibbs raced stock cars. Sir Michael Atiyah was a British mathematician whose work included algebraic geometry, topology, and a lot of things that I have no clue about (index theory? K-theory? Gauge theory? To quote Tom Lehrer, "bozhe moi! This I know from nothing.") "Whitey" Shafer wrote country songs, including "All My Ex’s [sic] Live in Texas" for George Strait. Mel Stottlemyre pitched for the New York Yankees.

Lester Wunderman invented direct marketing. At least, he named the term. He was specifically responsible for those annoying subscription cards that fall out of magazines,the zip code system, and 1-800 toll free numbers. On a better note, he created the first customer rewards program (for American Express) which led to the wonders of airline and hotel miles and points. His development of the Columbia Record Club was probably a more mixed blessing. On an unrelated note, he collected Dogon (a Malian ethnic group) artifacts and was one of the co-founders of the International Center of Photography.

I am pretty sure you don’t need me to tell you about Carol Channing. She had a successful career in musical theatre, primarily as a comedienne with a, um, distinctive voice. Her best-known role was, of course, as Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! She also played Lorelie Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blndes and Muzzy in the movie of Thoroughly Modern Millie.

I Should Probably Explain: I have been asked about this a few times. I make no attempt to be comprehensive regarding dead celebrities. I just skim a few sources and note names I recognize or achievements that seem interesting. It’s helpful for finding subjects for the annual obituary poems contest in the Style Invitational. Which is what I spent Monday night working on.

Also, I am more likely to mention scientists than actors and, all else being equal, try to list more women than men. That’s one of my little ways of fighting back against some of the things I dislike about mainstream American culture.


Political Humor: There was plenty of mockery of Trump serving fast food to the Clemson athletes. My favorite comment was that he should have served Taco Bell and gotten Mexico to pay for it.

Two Quick Genealogy Notes: I volunteered to do a presentation to the genealogy club at work re: my trip last summer. Oh, dear, what have I gotten myself into? I am actually cool with presenting, but dread having to pronounce Lithuanian place names in public.

Also, I had a minor breakthrough the other day. Namely, I found out when and where my grandfather’s youngest sister died. That led me to find an obituary which told me: a) another place where she had lived previously and b) that she had a son I hadn’t known about. It also suggests that the daughter who I had known about predeceased her (since only that son is listed as a survivor).


Friendzies: I could have sworn I posted this yesterday, specifically on LJ. But it seems to have disappeared. It is easier to edit on DW and I have things set to copy over, so there is no harm in putting it here.

The simpler friendzy is the one being hosted on solteronita’s LJ. It is worth a look to see if you want to add more journals to your reading or find more readers for your own.

The more complex one is this, which is more or less book-oriented:


A Bookworm Friending Meme!
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Celebrity Death Watch 2018: Peter Masterson wrote The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Norman Gimbel was a lyricist, best known for "The Girl From Ipanema" and "Killing Me Softly With His Song." Raven Wilkinson was the first African-American woman to dance for a major classical ballet company (the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo). Donald Moffat was a character actor who won a couple of Tony awards. Paddy Ashdown headed the British Liberal Democrats. Liza Redfield was the first woman to be the full-time conductor of a Broadway pit orchestra (for The Music Man). Wendy Beckett, better known as Sister Wendy, was a nun who became famous as an art historian and critic. Herb Ellis was an actor who co-created Dragnet. Roy Glauber was a Nobel-prize winning physicist. Sono Osato was the first American and the first person of Japanese ancestry to perform with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Lawrence Roberts led the team that created the ARPANET, which made him the founding father of the internet. Nancy Roman was an astronomer who planned the development of the Hubble Space Telescope. Seydou Dadian Kouyate wrote the lyrics to the national anthem of Mali. Amos Oz was an Israeli novelist. Dame June Whitfield was an English actress, best known for appearing in Absolutely Fabulous and for playing Miss Marple on a radio series. Brian Garfield wrote Westerns and mysteries. Dean Ford wrote that one-hit-wonder "Reflections of My Life" for his group, Marmalade.

Jane Langton wrote children’s books and mystery novels. Her Homer Kelly mysteries were literate and witty, with a strong sense of place (largely New England) and charming line drawings. I particularly recommend Natural Enemy (as long as you aren’t an arachnophobe) and The Escher Twist

Larry Eisenberg was a biomedical engineer and science fiction writer. But his bigger claim to fame was in the form of letters to the New York Times, in which his news commentary was in the form of limericks.

Celebrity Death Watch – 2019: Pegi Morton Young was a singer-songwriter and the first wife of Neil Young. Larry Weinberg was a real estate developer and owner of the Portland Trail Blazers. Gene Okerlund was a wrestling announcer. Bob Einstein was an actor known for Curb Your Enthusiasm and for portraying Super Dave Osborne. Daryl Dragon was the Captain in the Captain & Tenille. Jerry Buchek played baseball for the Cardinals and the Mets. Herb Kelleher co-founded Southwest Airlines. Sylvia Chase was a news anchor and journalist. Harold Brown was the Secretary of Defense from 1977-1981 (under Jimmy Carter). Eric Haydock was the bassist for The Hollies. Moshe Arens was the Israeli Minister of Defense for a few terms, as well as being an aeronautical engineer.

Celebrity Death Watch: The lists for this year are officially published so I can reveal my selections for who I think will die in 2019. (The numbers are how many points I’ll get if that person dies.)

20. Kathleen Blanco
19. Leah Bracknell
18. Tim Conway
17. Kirk Douglas
16. Herman Wouk
15. Olivia de Haviland
14. Stirling Moss
13. Jean Erdman
12. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings
11. Al Jaffee
10. Beverly Cleary
9. Jean Kennedy Smith
8. Johnny Clegg
7. Lawrence Ferlinghetti
6. Ken Nordine
5. Jerry Herman
4. Jimmy Carter
3. Russell Baker
2. Robert Mugabe
1. John Paul Stevens

Don’t Analyze This Dream – Part 1: A man was wearing a bright blue sequined suit and standing in the doorway of a metro train. The person sitting next to me commented on the conservatism of my clothing (maroon sweater, grey skirt) and pointed to a woman wearing a red sequined dress and white fur wrap.

Don’t Analyze This Dream – Part 2: A stack of my books were on the night stand at a friend’s house. I reached for what I thought was a poetry book at the bottom of the stack,intending to read a poem or two before going to bed, but it turned out to be a copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror.

Tone Rangers / Impitched: I was pretty exhausted on Friday night, but I still forced myself out of the house and went to Jammin’ Java (conveniently near my house) to see one of my favorite local a capella groups, The Tone Rangers. They had a guest group with them called Impitched, who I thought were fine musically, but whose choreography was weak. The Tone Rangers were as good as ever, with some of my favorite songs, e.g. their arrangements of "Southern Cross" (which is one of my favorite songs of all time), "Helen," and, of course, their most famous piece, "Wild Thing" (which starts out as Gregorian chant). They also continue to be very funny, in general. My favorite joke of the night was about how, with the success of The Crown on Netflix and Victoria on PBS, Amazon Prime is coming out with a confusing series about cops in New Jersey. It’ll be called The Crown Victoria. Overall, it was a great show and I felt energized within the first 10 minutes of it.

TCC Luncheon: Saturday was a Travelers’ Century Club luncheon. There was a huge turnout, which has the downside of making it harder to mingle. There was lots of great conversation. What other group of people is there where having been to 108 countries and territories puts you on the low side? And it is fun to both give and receive travel advice.

Housework: It is remarkable how long housework takes and how much energy it saps.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Philip Bosco was an actor, who won a Tony for his performance in Lend Me a Tenor. Jael Strauss was a fashion model. Les Kinsolving was the first White House correspondent to ask questions about the HIV/AIDS epidemic (during the Reagan administration). Julia Vinograd, known as the Bubble Lady, was a street poet in Berkeley. Harry Shlaudeman was a diplomat who served as ambassador to a number of Latin American countries, including Venezuela, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, and Nicaragua. Pete Shelley cofounded and was the lead singer of the Buzzcocks. Victor Hayden, known as The Mascara Snake, was an artist and perfomed with Captain Beefheart. Rosanell Eaton was a civil rights activist. Evelyn Berezin designed the first word processor and worked on computer systems for airline reservations. Alvin Epstein was an actor and director, best known as something of a specialist in the works of Samuel Beckett. Rob DesHotel was a television writer and producer who worked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer among other shows. Jacques Gansler was the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics from 1997 to 2001. Bob Bryan was the co-creator, with Marshall Dodge, of Bert & I, a series of humorous stories about a couple of fishermen in Maine. Nancy Wilson was a jazz singer. Patricia Marshall was an actress, best known for her roles in Good News and The Pajama Game. She was also the widow of playwright and screenwriter Larry Gelbart. Joan Steinbrenner was the widow of George Steinbrenner and got involved in the business aspects of the New York Yankees. Jerry Chestnut wrote country songs. Colin Kroll was the founder of Vine and HQ Trivia.

Melvin Dummar claimed to be an heir to Howard Hughes’s estate. His story is well known as the basis for the movie, Melvin and Howard.

Penny Marshall was an actress (best known for Laverne and Shirley) and director. She was one of the first women to become well known as a director. In particular, she directed my second favorite movie of all time, A League of Their Own.

Galt MacDermot wrote several musicals, notably Hair and Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Holiday Party: Today was the holiday party at work. This year, they went with somewhat Mediterranean catering, with hummus, grilled vegetables, and various grilled protein things, including salmon. There was also salad and cheese and crackers and fruit. And several desserts, including chocolate cake. This fit in well with my contribution to the white elephant gift exchange, which was a Turkish tea set, I had gotten as a gift from a hotel in Istanbul (two plastic cups, with saucers and spoons, plus powdered apple tea). I supplemented that with a Starbucks gift card. I ended up being the last to choose, so I ended up choosing to take a stack of boxes of Godiva chocolate truffles. At least one of those boxes will go with me to book club tomorrow.

Speaking of Work: If it weren’t for the telephone, I would get so much more done. I have been trying to write up notes from last week’s conference, but I keep getting interrupted. Tomorrow will be even worse, as most of the day will be occupied with a briefing on a study we’ve had going on. I should probably read some of the several slide packages in the read ahead, but I am not sure I can stay awake through that.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Bill Fischer held the Major League Baseball record of pitching 84 1/3 consecutive innings without giving up a walk while playing for the Kansas City Athletics in 1962. He was later a pitching coach, including 6 years for the Red Sox. Roy Bailey was a British folk singer, known for celebrating his working class roots. Olivia Hooker was the last survivor of the 1921 Tulsa race riot and went on to become the first African-American woman in the Coast Guard. Nicholas Roeg was a film director, best known for The Man Who Fell to Earth. Betty Bumpers was a pro-vaccination activist. Ricky Jay was a magician. Stephen Hillenburg created SpongeBob SquarePants. Bernardo Bertolucci was a film director whowon an Oscar for The Last Emperor and also directed Last Tango in Paris.

Ken Berry was an actor. I will always associate him with the TV show F Troop, but he had a broad career, including Broadway, films, and television. An interesting bit of trivia is that he served in the Army and ended up in Special Services, where his Sergeant was Leonard Nimoy.

George Herbert Walker Bush was the 41st President of the United States. He had a lengthy career of public service, including as a Navy aviator, a congressman, Ambassador to the United Nations, and Director of Central Intelligence before becoming Vice President under Ronald Reagan. While I disagree with much of what he did politically (e.g., I think the war on drugs was a disaster for American cities), I think he did show a certain amount of pragmatism (e.g. agreeing to needed tax increases) and, unlike the current administration, he did respect our system of government. I should also note he earned me 18 ghoul pool points. (I have reloaded with Doris Day.)


Puzzle People Death Watch: Barbara Selfridge (Banterweight) died of a sudden heart attack the last week of November. I remember having a discussion with her once re: our similar tastes in pocketbooks. Rebecca Kornbluh (Arachne) also died recently. She was a crossword puzzle champion and a constructor of cryptograms and cryptic crosswords. I remember having a pleasant breakfast conversation with her at the Milwaukee NPL con this past summer.

Leftovers, Part 1 -Elections: A few weeks ago, I had a list of things to write about. One of them was the elections. I am reasonably pleased with the outcome of the midterms. The most important result for me personally was Tim Kaine defeating Confederate whacko Cory Stewart in the Senate race here in Virginia. I also want to note that there were three Democratic women who defeated Republican incumbents to win Congressional seats from Virginia. Abigail Spanberger defeated David Brat, Jennifer Wexton defeated Barbara Comstock, and Elaine Luria defeated Scott Taylor.


Leftovers, Part 2 – How Jeff Bezos Will Screw Us Over: I’m sure you’ve heard that Crystal City is going to be half of Amazon’s HQ2. What you may not realize is that Crystal City is where I work. They’ve already been closing some things to put in a movie theatre and a supermarket, which are good things in things in the long run, but annoying in the short run. They’ve now fenced off the building I used to work in because it is being renovated to become part of Bezosville. This adds a minute or so to my walk from the metro to the office, which matters when it is cold out.

If this would make my condo value go up, I’d be happier about it. But I don’t think Vienna is cool enough for Amazonians. It should be, given that we have a good coffee roaster (Café Amouri), an independent bookstore (Bard’s Alley), and a great acoustic music venue (Jammin’ Java). And we have awesome transit options – the metro and the W&OD Trail, to name two. But those young’uns seem to want to live in the city instead of hearing owls nesting in the courtyard at night. (Well, I haven’t verified that it’s an owl. It’s possible that one of my neighbors has developed a disturbing vocal tic.)

All I can do is go into wait and see mode.


Leftovers,Part 3 – How the Virginia Department of Transportation is Going to Screw Us Over: I heard about this at our annual condo association meeting. They are planning to change our exit from I-66. Admittedly, it is a bit of an issue right now, because you have to move all the way to the left pretty much immediately when you get off the highway to turn onto our street. But the solution they are proposing is a traffic circle. That is horribly pedestrian (and bicycle) unfriendly. I wonder how the Amazonians feel about traffic circles?


Obligatory Metro Rant: They are doing track work on the Yellow Line bridge. Which shouldn’t affect me. Except that, instead of thinking logically and realizing that would mean a lot more people taking the Blue Line so they should run Blue Line trains more often, they are actually running them less often than normal. Grrr.


Earworm of the Day: A colleague just relocated here from Los Angeles. When I asked him how his commute is, he told me it involves a bus and two trains. My mind immediately transformed that to "two buses and a train" and this is now stuck in my head.

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Celebrity Death Watch: John Rogers was the president of San Diego Comic-Con. Douglas Rain was an actor, best known as the voice of Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Katherine MacGregor was an actress, best known for Little House on the Prairie. Caroline Rose Hunt was the daughter of oil tycoon H. L. Hunt and, at one time, the richest women in the United States. Roy Clark hosted Hee Haw. Alec Finn was a bouzouki player who cofounded the Celtic band, De Dannan.

Stan Lee founded Marvel Comics. He created a number of popular characters, e.g. Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, but may be more significant for having challenged the Comics Code Authority in the 1970’s. While I recognize his importance to the industry, I’ve always been more of a DC gal myself.

William Goldman was a novelist and screenwriter, whose best known work was probably The Princess Bride. He won Oscars for the movies Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President’s Men.

Barre Toelken was a folklorist. He directed the folklore program at Utah State University and authored important works both on folklore theory and on Navajo stories.


Word of the Day: Aibohphobia = fear of palindromes.


Weather Whine: It snowed on Thursday. Just about an inch and a half, but this was the first accumulating snowfall in November in northern Virginia since 1995, i.e. before I lived here. I was definitely not psychologically ready for it. Fortunately, everything was pretty much gone by Friday.


Charleston, West Virginia: I checked off a state capital volksmarch this weekend with a trip to Charleston, West Virginia. The flight from IAD to CRW was quick and arrived about a half hour early, though we then had to wait 20 minutes to get someone to the gate. My hotel allegedly had an airport shuttle, but it had stopped running by the time I arrived. And, in fact, it doesn’t run at all on the weekend, which is something you’d think would be worth mentioning on their web page. To add to the annoyances, there is exactly one taxi company in Charleston and, when I called them, they said it could be up to an hour to get someone. So I used Lyft, instead, despite my ethical qualms about ridesharing companies.

As for the volksmarch, it was a reasonably pleasant walk. The capitol building is quite grand architecturally, with an elaborate dome. I can’t comment on the interior, as it was closed on weekends. I did, however, check out the West Virginia State Museum, which had a reasonable set of exhibits on the history of the state. There’s also a walk along the Kanawha River and a nice enough historic area downtown.

While I enjoyed the walk, I’ve been having sporadic foot pain and it was much worse after doing it. (I suspect plantar fasciitis.) So I am giving myself a rest from walking for a while. And taking Tylenol for a few days.

By the way, CRW was just as annoying on the way back as it had been on the flight there. I had an early morning flight and was not successful in pre-scheduling Lyft, i.e. the schedule option was greyed out on the app. So I called the one taxi company and scheduled a pick-up. They showed up 27 minutes late – and after I called twice to check on it. The first time (when he was 12 minutes late), the person who answered claimed he would be there in 5 minutes), while the second time, she claimed she had no way of knowing where exactly he was. I got to the airport in plenty of time because I am me and plan to get there early, but there was no way he was getting a tip. Then my flight was delayed over 45 minutes due to a lack of ground crew at the airport. Sigh.

There were a few things I had intended to do yesterday (Sunday) afternoon, but I was too tired after getting up as early as I’d had to. Another victory for my bed in its battle against productivity.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Elder Roma Wilson was a gospel musician. Ntozake Shange was a poet and playwright, best known for For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf. Bernard Bragg co-founded the National Theatre of the Deaf. Whitey Bulger was a gangster. Roy Hargrove was a jazz trumpeter. Raymond Chow was a film producer in Hong Kong, credited with discovering Bruce Lee. Donna Axum was Miss America 1964. Francis Lai wrote the score for the film A Man and a Woman. Evelyn Y. Davis was an activist shareholder and corporate gadfly, who at least once made the list of 25 Most Annoying Washingtonians. Micheal O Suilleabhain was an Irish composer and musician. Wallace Triplett was the first African-American to play in the NFL.

Willie McCovey was a baseball great, primarily playing first base for the San Francisco Giants. He holds the National League record for grand slam home runs. There’s an inlet outside of Whatever Telephone Company It is Named For Today Ball Park in San Francisco that is known as McCovey Cove.

Little Shop of Horrors: Before going away, I saw Little Shop of Horrors at The Kennedy Center. This was part of their Broadway Center Stage series, which are concert versions, i.e. minimally staged, with actors sometimes referring to scripts. The most notable part of the staging was that, instead of using puppets for Audrey II, the person playing the plant wore a suit and gloves to represent it. That worked better than I might have expected, though I still prefer the puppetry. Anyway, it remains a fun show, with an enjoyable score. The performances were also quite good, with Megan Hilty doing an excellent job as Audrey, very much akin to Ellen Greene’s intonations. Josh Radnor was also good as Seymour. Lee Wilkof, who played Mr. Mushnik, was the original Seymour off-Broadway. And Michael James Leslie embodied Audrey II (the plant). Overall, it worth the late weeknight.

NYC Weekend – Part 1: Nancy Drewinsky and the Search for the Missing Letter I had a trip to New York already planned when I realized that I could just go up earlier on Friday and see this Fringe show, written and performed by my friend, Robin Bady. Robin is an excellent storyteller and this piece has to do with how the McCarthy era affected her family. She was too young to be really aware of what was happening as her father, an engineer, was suspected of being a communist, along with several of his colleagues. The answer is complex and her attempts to find out the story were met with reluctance to talk about what happened. It was an interesting story and well-told, though still somewhat of a work in progress. I hope to see how Robin develops it further as time goes on.

NYC Weekend – Part 2: Museum Going Saturday was a dreary day – cold, with heavy rain. Fortunately, New York has plenty of museums to spend such days in. I started with the Guggenheim on the grounds that I had never been there. The architecture is as much a draw as the artwork. The main exhibit was of works by a Swedish artist named Hilma af Klint. The most interesting of her work was from a series called Paintings for the Temple, which was based on her involvement in mystical philosophies like Theosophy, leading her to a mixture of abstract symbols and characters. They reminded me of the magical symbols I used to draw on the corners of my papers in school during a flirtation with witchcraft in my early teen years.

There was also an exhibition from the Thannhauser Collection, which included Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and other art, including several pieces by Picasso. Overall, I enjoyed the museum, but it was crowded and the admission fee is on the high side.

I walked a few blocks north to the Jewish Museum, which is free on Saturdays. I started with their permanent collection, which had several interesting pieces. I was particularly taken by a portrait of an Ethiopian Jew by Kehinde Wiley and by a sculpture called Venus Pareve by Hannah Wilke. I should also note that I was impressed with how much art by women was part of the collection. I also really liked an exhibit of excerpts from television shows having to do with psychotherapy.

But the main reason I had gone to the museum was to look at a temporary exhibit of work by Marc Chagall and other artists active in Vitebsk in the period just after the Russian revolution. Having been in Vitebsk in early September, I felt almost obliged to see this. And, of course, Chagall has long been one of my favorite artists. The exhibit also included works by Kazimir Malevich and El Lissitzky and others. There was a good mix of works and I thought the exhibit (which runs through early January) was well worth seeing.

By the way, I was just leaving there to meet a friend for coffee when I heard about the Pittsburgh massacre. I will write about that and other political matters separately.

NYC Weekend – Part 3: They Might Be Giants The actual reason for the trip to NYC had been to see They Might Be Giants at Terminal 5, a cavernous night club in the extreme western part of midtown, a land populated largely by auto dealerships. I think of them mostly as a novelty act, due to songs like Particle Man and Istanbul and Why Does the Sun Shine? All of those were part of the show. But there was a lot of other material, not all of it funny, and much of it too loud for me. I liked the second set better than the first, but I am really too old to go to concerts that don’t start until 9 at night. Also, I was completely earwormed by The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

NYC Weekend – Part 4: Restaurant Going Friday night a bunch of us had dinner after the show at Cowgirl in the West Village. I got Frito pie, which amused Robin, who was unfamiliar with this wonderful dish of chili (vegetarian in my case, though they also have beef) with cheese and sour cream and the like served over an actual bag of Fritos. I also had a very good IPA, but I don’t remember what it was and they don’t have their drink menu on-line. If you want Tex-mex food in Manhattan, this would fill the bill, but it was on the noisy side.


Saturday night’s dinner before the concert was at Inti, a Peruvian restaurant on 10th Avenue. I got a very nice grilled chicken dish, with garlicky vegetables. Surprisingly reasonable prices for mid-town Manhattan, too. I’d eat there again.

Before leaving on Sunday, I had brunch with friends at Pete’s Tavern in the Gramercy Park area This is one of several places that claims to be the oldest restaurant in New York. The fried chicken sandwich was very tasty. Overall, everyone seemed happy with their food and drinks (I went for Irish coffee) and the conversation was lively and entertaining.

Business Trip: I got home about 9 at night, which meant rushing around to unpack and pack for a business trip to Layton, Utah. Aside from being exhausted and having a fairly intense work schedule, there’s not really anything to say about that. I was originally supposed to come back Thursday night, but the trip got extended because our team had to outbrief in the late afternoon. I spent most of Saturday in a state of suspended animation.

WBRS Reception: I did drag myself out of the house on Sunday, first to go grocery shopping and later to go to a William Barton Rogers Society reception (related to giving to MIT) at the Spy Museum. There were heavy hors oeuvres (particularly good spicy tuna cones, as well as veggie tacos served in lime halves), along with lots of intelligent conversation. The main feature was a talk by Eric Alm, co-director of the Center for Microbiome Informatics and Therapeutics. His main point was that indigenous populations tend to have a more diverse microbiome population than people in the more developed world. He also had some interesting data on how quickly one’s microbiome can change in response to travel or illness. Fortunately, he didn’t mention any changes in response to dessert.


Things Still to Write About: Voting. Condo association annual meeting. How the Virginia Department of Transportation is going to screw us over. How Jeff Bezos is going to screw us over. Possibly a locked entry re: work.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Peggy McKay was an actress, primarily in soap operas. Carol Hall was the composer and lyricist for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Sue Hubbell wrote books about natural history. William Coors was an executive of a company that makes something that passes for beer in Colorado. Paul Allen co-founded Microsoft and then used the money he made to buy sports teams. Todd Bol invented the Little Free Library. Anthea Bell was a translator, notably of the Asterix comic books. Charles Wang owned the New York Islanders. Earl Bakken invented the pacemaker. Dorcas Reilly was a home economist who invented the green bean casserole. Apparently the original recipe card is in the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame.


Jonathan Richman: I fulfilled a musical bucket list item on Saturday night by going to see Jonathan Richman at the 9:30 Club. (Hence, the punning title for this entry.) I was reasonably intelligent and went upstairs right when I got there, enabling me to snag a seat on the balcony level. That and an Irish coffee (hey, it was a cold night out!) made for a relaxing evening.

Anyway, I have listened to Jonathan since maybe 1980 or so, back in the days of the Modern Lovers and his early punk efforts with silly songs like "Pablo Picasso (was never called an asshole)." As time went on, he pretty much focused on acoustic music, apparently to protect his hearing. Every now and then there is some song that completely grabs me and I listen to over and over for hours. "Give Paris One More Chance" (from the album, Her Mystery Not of High Heels and Eye Shadow) was one of those songs and I probably listened to it during every waking moment for three or four days in a row. I have no idea why that song speaks to me so deeply, but it does and I still end up playing it over several times in a row when I listen to that CD. Which is all a bit besides the point, as he did not play it Saturday night.

What he did play ranged from "No One Was Like Vermeer" to "He Gave Us the Wine to Taste" to "People Are Disgusting" to "Dancing at the Lesbian Bar." And songs in French, Spanish, Italian, and what I assume was Sanskrit because it was based on the works of Kabir. Seeing him live, with just Tommy Larkins on drums as accompaniment, I felt a greater appreciation for Jonathan’s actual musicianship. That is, I had usually thought of him as a bit of a novelty act, with some great songs but more known for weird lyrics and concepts. But in person I could appreciate that he really can play the guitar damn well. There are flamenco and jazz influences. And, most of all, he was having fun, as was I.

I am so happy I went to see him and I hope I will get the chance to do so again.

By the way, top of the music bucket list now is Luka Bloom. But he doesn't appear to have anything scheduled that I can get to in the near future. Maybe next year.


Profs and Pints – Origins of Vampires: I like the concept for Profs and Pints, which puts on lectures at bars in the D.C. area. I finally actually made it to one of these Sunday night. The topic was vampires and the speaker, Bruce McClelland, emphasized the linguistic origins of the word, which he said originally referred to outcasts, rather than to the undead. He was rather disorganized, though reasonably interesting. For example, there were reports of flying bags of blood, but nobody could verify them because seeing one would kill you instantly. Most of the evidence for early belief in the undead has to do with mutilation of corpses. Which makes it interesting that he didn’t cite Lawrence Durrell’s account of the burial of a vampire in Corfu (in Prospero’s Cell) but I gathered that his literary knowledge was not up to his knowledge of Slavic languages as he attributed a lot of things to Bram Stoker that Stoker borrowed from John Polidori, who wrote "The Vampyre" nearly 80 years before Dracula. One would expect a vampirologist to be familiar with Polidori.

As an aside, Dracula is not really about the supernatural if you know anything about Stoker’s background. What makes it an interesting book is that Mina, as the modern woman, is the only complete character, while Lucy’s three suitors together each have only one aspect of success. Stoker’s mother was an early feminist and that almost certainly led to his rather conflicted views on femininity. But I digress.

McClelland’s other interesting point was that the association of outcasts with the supernatural came to be associated with live women (witches) in the West versus dead men (vampires and werewolves) in the East. That was something I’d never thought about before.

Overall, even with a few quibbles, it was worth going to the talk. And, as I said, I like the concept behind the event and will certainly try to get to other Profs and Pints lectures in the future.


Don’t Analyze This Dream: I was at some sort of spa. But, instead of staying at the main hotel, I was at some cheaper accommodations on the other side of the town square. There was a fountain in the middle of the square and a lot of spa-goers were standing around, dressed in white bathrobes, watching the fountain.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Joe Masteroff wrote the books for Broadway musicals, including Cabaret and She Loves Me. Otis Rush was a blues guitarist and singer. Marty Balin cofounded Jefferson Airplane. Peter Bjarkman wrote about Cuban beisbol. Charles Aznavour was a French singer of Armenian descent, who was also notable for humanitarian activities. Leon Lederman won a Nobel Prize in Physics for research on neutrinos.

Nevermore: Friday night, I went with a friend to see Nevermore at Creative Cauldron, a small theatre in Falls Church that I like a great deal. This was Matt Conner’s musical, with lyrics from Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry. Stephen Gregory Smith (Conner’s husband) played Poe, who interacts with five women throughout the play – his mother (who died when he was an infant), Virginia (his cousin, who he married when she was 13 but who died of tuberculosis 11 years later), Muddy (Virginia’s mother), Elmira (an early love, who was engaged to Poe when he died), and a whore (a composite character). I have mixed feelings about Poe as a writer, but he and his work were definitely interesting. I mostly enjoyed this show and I thought Smith’s performance was particularly notable. He really captured the emotional agony of Poe’s relationships with the women in his life. It was definitely worth seeing.

By the way, we had dinner beforehand at a Russian restaurant called Troika. The food was just okay, but they are attached to a small grocery store. And I found a container of halvah spread! This is something I had discovered in Israel a few years ago and had never seen in the U.S. before. The brand name is Krelva and it is apparently from Turkey (though I never saw it there). I am pleased to say it is as delicious as I remembered.

Heisenberg: Continuing with theatre going, I saw Heisenberg at Signature Theatre on Sunday afternoon. I have subscribed to Signature for several years now and, other than avoiding seeing plays by Annie Baker (whose work I detest), I see pretty much everything they do. That’s my excuse for having been entirely unaware that the title is completely metaphoric and the play has nothing to do with Warner Heisenberg. Instead, it’s about uncertainty and, specifically, the uncertainties that come up in relationships between people.

The specific relationship is between a 40ish American woman, Georgie, and a 75 year old Irish man, Alex. Both of them live in London and they meet by chance, with Georgie tracking him down to pursue the relationship. We quickly learn that a lot of what she says are lies and it’s hard to tell whether she is just manipulating him to get him to give her money to go to New Jersey and look for her estranged son. We can’t even be sure that the son really exists.

This is a really funny play and the performances were excellent. Rachel Zampelli was an intriguing – and somewhat scary – Georgie. Michael Russotto was a charming Alex, especially in a speech about how he really does listen to all types of music. I wasn’t crazy about the ending of the play, but it did make sense. I just like more certainty in theatre.

Pink Martini: I’ve seen Pink Martini perform several times and they continue to be among my favorite musicians. How often does one get to hear songs sung in English, German, French, Spanish, Croatian, Arabic, Italian, Turkish, Armenian, and Greek in one evening? China Forbes has an awesome voice, as do other singers who perform with them. Notably, that includes NPR host Ari Shapiro, who I still think looks like the groom doll on a wedding cake. I do wish there had been somewhat less talking, however. And that they had started on time, as it was a bit late for a Sunday night. Dave Anderson was a sportswriter for The New York Times.

Brett Kavanaugh: I wasn’t going to say anything because I figured that everyone I know is sick and tired of political discussions. But there are a couple of things I don’t think I heard anyone say.

First, my normal instinct is to pretty much ignore things people do before they’re adults. I’m being vague about defining adulthood here, but I did dumb stuff when I was a teenager. My issue with Kavanaugh was his failure to just say something like, "I probably did hurtful things to other people when I was drunk and I don’t remember them, but I’ve grown out of that and I’m sorry." His fitness for the Supreme Court (or, more precisely, lack thereof) has much more to do with his partisan tirade, which he has apologized for.

So now that he has been confirmed, he has a chance to prove he can be a reasonable and impartial judge. I don’t have any real confidence that he will be, but I have been surprised by other Supreme Court justices in the past.

Or he could well turn out to be another Roger Taney. For those who don’t recognize the name, Taney became Chief Justice as a protégé of Andrew Jackson. (He had previously been rejected by the Senate, first for a position as Treasury Secretary, then as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.) He went on to write the majority opinion in the Dred Scott case, generally recognized as a terrible decision. The interesting thing is that, despite that legacy, he is generally recognized by legal scholars as having made a lot of good decisions. I can hope.

Speaking of Politics: I got my sample ballot in the mail this past week. I had no intention of voting for him, but I am still slightly disappointed that Peter Carey (the Whig Party candidate) did not, apparently, get enough signatures to get on the ballot.

And for anyone reading who is in Virginia, it is really really really important to vote for Tim Kaine for Senate. Because his opponent, Cory Stewart, is a racist Confederate whacko.

Speaking of White Supremacist Whackos: The Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, which is just a few miles from where I live, was defaced with spray-painted swastikas early Saturday morning. I am furious, but there is not a lot I can say until we find out who the perpetrator(s) wes.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Ward Hall was a sideshow impresario. Chelsi Smith was Miss Universe 1995. Peter Donat was an actor, best known for his television work, though his involvement in the American Conservaory Theatre in San Francisco was also significant. Adam Clymer was a political correspondent for The New York Times. Marin Mazzie was a musical theatre actress. Virginia Whitehill was a women’s rights activist. Dudley Sutton played Tinker Dill in the British television series based on Jonathan Gash’s Lovejoy mysteries. Maartin Allcock was the lead guitarist for Fairport Convention and also played keyboards with Jethro Tull. Arthur Mitchell founded the Danc e Theatre of Harlem. George Hatsopoulos wrote an influential textbook on thermodynamics. John Cunliffe was a British children’s author, best known for Postman Pat. Charles Kao won a Nobel Prize for his work on fiber optics for communications.

Denis Norden was an English humorist. I have fond memories of listening to him and Frank Muir on My Word many years ago. I particularly remember a story about Rene Descartes, whose wife told him not to eat the miniature quiches at a party as she was saving them for a late night snack. He explained this request to a friend by saying "I think they’re for 1 a.m."

Health Kvetch, Part 1: I had a (routine) doctor’s appointment on Friday last week. That included getting my annual flu shot, in my left arm. I also got the first shot of the new shingles vaccine, in my right arm. My left arm itched around the injection site until Monday. My right arm was sore whenever I lifted it until Tuesday.

Health Kvetch, Part 2: I had laser gum surgery (LANAP) yesterday, in hopes of it dealing with an infection both less expensively and less painfully than other options. The procedure wasn’t too bad and, so far, the recovery is not terrible, though icing the affected area much of the day yesterday was mildly annoying. (I took part of the day off from work, but did call into a couple of meetings from home.) However, the periodontist said the maximum pain is usually at the 3rd day, so we will see. So far, the pain has been pretty minimal, which might be due to taking Tylenol as a precaution. The other annoying parts (aside from the whole periodontist thing) are: 1) the huge antibiotic tablets that I have to take for a week and 2) having to eat a soft diet for 7-10 days. Hopefully this will prevent the need for worse things.

Museum Day – National Museum of Women in the Arts: Saturday was the annual Smithsonian-sponsored Museum Day. This means free admission to a large range of museums throughout the country. You have to get tickets in advance, which means you need to choose what museum to go to. The trick is to make sure you are going to something that normally does charge admission, which rules out the overwhelming majority of museums around here. I chose the National Museum of Women in the Arts, which proved to be a good choice. Some of my favorite pieces were Red Ice (a photograph by Deborah Paauwe), Jo Baker’s Bananas (textile art by Faith Ringgold), 4 Seated Figures (sculpture by Magdalena Abakanowicz), Carrots Anyone? (artist’s book by Susan Joy Shore), and Wonderful You (painting by Jane Hammond, in which she imagined herself as various mythical and mythological characters). All in all, it made for an enjoyable couple of hours.

JGSGW: The first Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington meeting of the season was Sunday. The topic had to do with Shoah memorials in the former Soviet Union. But there is more value in the general schmoozing before and after the meeting.

Everything Else: I think I am finally caught up on puzzles from when I was gone. I am not, however, completely caught up on reading mail (both e and snail varieties).

Last night was book club. After reading an 800+ page book, we’ve decided to set a 400 page limit on future selections.

I should probably say something about baseball. And/or politics. But anybody who knows me at all can already figure out my opinions.

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