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Celebrity Death Watch: Alene Duerk was the U.S. Navy’s first female rear admiral. Ron Dellums was a Congressman from California for many years and later served as mayor of Oakland. Yaakov Elman was a Talmudic scholar. Mary Carlisle was an actress, primarily in B-movies.

Baseball News: I am inordinately happy that Ian Kinsler has been traded to the Red Sox.

Good News: For reasons involving some sort of statewide softball event, the NPL con next year is moving back to the original dates. Which means I can go. Yay!

Bad News: Metro is going to be doing major track work from August 11 through the 26th. This will screw up my commute for a week. I am hoping that the Fairfax Connector people will run bus service to the Pentagon like they did the last time that there was so little service. But I haven’t seen anything announced.

Just Gnus: Contrary to what I was taught by my 3rd Grade teacher, the "G" is not silent.

The Story of the Gun: You might note that GUN is an anagram of GNU. Which has nothing to do with this show, a monologue by Mike Daisey, currently playing at Woolly Mammoth Theatre. I saw it on Tuesday night.

Daisey likes to refer to himself as a storyteller, but he does use notes so some of us would question that. I don’t really care how he is characterized. He’s entertaining and thought-provoking, even when I disagree with him.

Anyway, Daisey starts out with talking about the history of guns in America and, specifically, makes the claim that guns were essential to the white European conquest of America and to the enslavement of Africans. There are a number of reasons why this is a simplistic claim, starting with the role of disease (both deliberately spread and otherwise) among indigenous populations. And the importation of slaves is intimately wrapped up with tribal warfare between various groups in West Africa. For example, the Abomey were waging war on and enslaving other African tribes long before Prince Henry the Navigator had set out from Portugal.

Suppose you do accept the historical premise. What does that have to do with debates about guns now? Daisey doesn’t really answer that question. Instead, he attacks Alexander Hamilton. One of my rules is that one should not attack what one is not familiar with, so his jibes at the current musical were annoying.

He’s better when he talks about the gun culture of northern Maine, where he grew up. That is tied in with hunting and his rant about deer, which he describes as fast cows, was actually pretty funny. I will, however, admit that I like venison, so his claim that our failure to domesticate deer is proof that their meat doesn’t taste good, is another point on which I disagree with him.

The real point came in a story about his father and the use of firearms for suicides amongst veterans. There was actual emotional resonance there. But there are still a lot more questions in what he had to say than any suggestion of answers. As I said above, Daisey is provocative, though I’ve preferred other of his monologues to this one. (To be fair, I was tired. And, while the show was advertised as 90 minutes, it was actually 2 hours.)

Airplane Kerfuffle: Alaska Air is being accused of anti-gay discrimination for allegedly moving a member of a gay couple because of a straight couple who wanted to sit together. Except, as usual, there is more to the story. For one thing, it does sometimes happen that glitches result in two people having the same seat. How that gets resolved involves a number of factors. For example, I was upgraded from business class to first class once under those circumstances. Why was I upgraded and not the other person, who showed up after I was seated? Presumably because of my frequent flyer status. I’ve also had people try to poach my seat and ask wouldn’t I mind a middle seat in the back instead of my aisle seat in a section of the plane with better seating so they could sit together? (I might be willing to move to keep a parent and child together on a short flight. But I will not budge if someone steals my seat without asking beforehand.)

In this case, there are several possibilities. For example, the two men could have had tickets that were not on the same passenger name record (PNR) making it less clear that they were traveling together. Only one of them could have been upgraded. Et cetera.

Bottom line is that there is no evidence of discrimination. And, in fact, Alaska has a particularly good reputation with respect to LGBTQ issues. They don’t, alas, have a good reputation with respect to using twitter effectively.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Last Week’s Entertainment: I went to see a documentary (Famous Nathan about Nathan Handwerker and his hot dog emporium) at the DCJCC Tuesday night. I’ll have more to say about that when I do my quarterly movie wrap-up.

Then, on Wednesday night, I went to the opening show of the new season of The Grapevine, which has moved more conveniently to Busboys and Poets in Takoma. I’d comment on it still being in darkest Maryland, but actually it is on the DC side of the line. And, most importantly, it’s easily metroable. There were two storytellers, followed by an open mike. The first teller was Shirleta Settles, who I had not heard of before. She did a folk tale, with excellent voices and strong singing, and was very animated and entertaining. She was followed by Jon Spelman, who did a couple of excerpts from The Prostate Diaries. One of those was quite timely since it had to do with his experiences on the Camino del Santiago, which [livejournal.com profile] fossilfreakca had just started on. He did a good job of making the excerpts make sense while telling something less than half of the whole piece. As for the open mike, I told "Two Foolish Old People," a badly mistitled Mongolian story.

Speaking of Storytelling: I am part of the Better Said Than Done fundraiser for the Reston Nature Center this coming Saturday night (September 19th). The show is at 8 p.m. and doors open at 7:30. We had rehearsal on Sunday afternoon and the show (which has a theme of "Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire") is going to be hot, hot, hot! You should come if you are anywhere in the general vicinity.

Rosh Hashanah: I went to services at Shoreshim in Reston. Overall, I’d say I’m looking for something more traditional. In particular, I would have preferred a more complete Torah reading , rather than just the first Aliyah. I also prefer not to have musical instruments (though I can actually make an argument for including them) and very much prefer not having microphones (though that is a losing cause for the most part). On the plus side, the drosh (sermon) was both brief and relevant and the shofar blowing set a high standard.

I Despair for Our Future: The internet is exploding today with the story of Ahmed Mohammed, a 9th-grader in Irving, Texas, who was hauled off from school in handcuffs because a teacher and some cops were too dumb to be able to tell that his homemade clock wasn’t anything like a bomb. I’m proposing supporting him with a Bring Your Clock to Work Day.

At the same time, there’s an 11-year-old kid in Virginia who is serving out a year suspension (having to go to some special school as a result) for having what someone believed looked like a marijuana leaf in his backpack. Except it was actually a Japanese maple leaf. He (or someone else) may have joked that it was pot, but sheesh.

I suspect that if I were a kid nowadays, I’d end up in juvie over something similarly dumb.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I have lots to catch up on (so what else is new?). The most significant is the National Storytelling Conference, which will get its own entry. Or, more likely, two, because something I want to say will take some analysis and I don’t want to lose that in the clutter. I promise those will be more interesting than this entry is likely to be.

But, first, some other stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Sometimes You Really Should Read On: I was disappointed that the story headlined "Bat Boy Dies from Swing" had to do with baseball, not that mythical West Virginia tabloid creature.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I mostly write about frivolous things, but I do think about what is going on in the world. If you want me being silly, go read yesterday’s entry.

Some years ago (2004 to be precise), I took a train from Thessaloniki, Greece to Sofia, Bulgaria. Bulgaria was not yet part of the EU and did not have a lot of tourism then. That was part of what made it interesting to me. It also meant that the handful of tourists found one another and exchanged tips. And part of those tips had to do with "gypsies" and watching out for them.

The problem I had was that I had actually broken bread with a Roma king and I didn't necessarily share that bias. There is certainly a crime problem in that community, but the problem is not one of inherent criminality but of discrimination that often leaves crime as the only option. The long term solutions have to involve removing that discrimination and providing opportunities for education and advancement. At the same time, I would have been a fool to ignore the risk of being robbed by kids trying to distract me by waving newspapers in my face and other similar tricks.

The situation with police and African-Americans here is similar. We really don’t live in a world of equal opportunity and some of those conditions lead to higher rates of criminal behavior in some communities. It is not surprising that police, who see the seamier side of things, get conditioned to expecting violence and it may well be unreasonable for them to ignore the risks. Again, the long term solutions involve creating opportunities and eliminating discrimination. Unfortunately, there are no good or obvious short term solutions. We’re in a vicious cycle.
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This is intended to get me completely caught up here, a state that may last, oh, 15 minutes or so.

Frequent flyer meets business travel: I had a quick business trip to Denver a few weeks ago. I managed to arrange my flight out to be on a plane that Captain Denny Flanagan was piloting. It’s always good to be reminded that there are people working for the airlines who care about customer service. (And it was nice to chat with him before the flight.) I also used the trip as an opportunity to have dinner with friends who live out there, which is always nice. The work part was pretty intense, however.

Michael Chertoff: The former Director of Homeland Security gave a talk at an MIT-related reception I was at recently. I didn’t find anything he said particularly surprising, but I did think he completely dodged a question someone asked about the balance between security and privacy.

Domestic politics: Romney’s selection of Paul "Privatizing" Ryan as his running mate pretty much confirms my theory that the Republican Party no longer welcomes its former moderates. However, I doubt that the selection of a vice presidential candidate has much, if any, impact on who people vote for.

International politics: The first American company to open a franchise location in Libya is Cinnabon. This makes perfect sense if you think about local tastes. That is, of course, what makes it all the more surprising.

Women and the Olympics: There have been lots of stories this year about women and the Olympics. It was not until I read an article by Sally Jenkins in today’s Washington Post, however, that I learned a particularly appalling bit of history. In 1976 Margaret Thompson Murdock was the first woman shooter to make the American team. She tied with her team captain, Lanny Bassham. The rules prohibited a shoot-off, so Bassham was given the gold and Murdock the silver. To his credit, he pulled her up on the podium with him, but sheesh!

Story swap: There was a bonus story swap at Eve’s house Saturday night. We started outside around the fire pit, but moved inside when it began to rain. (The rain also prevented viewing the Perseids.) There were several travel related stories and lots of interesting conversation. This reminds me that I should someday put together a piece about places not to eat Chinese food, starting with Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. A particular highlight for me was Jake’s impassioned explanation of why donkeys might be chickens, which made his lawyer father proud of him and has the rest of us laughing hysterically.

Not laughing over traffic:: The Virginia Department of Transportation was doing their usual weekend work, otherwise known as how to screw up my drive home on the Beltway. What annoyed me the most is that the sign indicating that 3 of the 4 lanes were closed was after the exit I could have taken to avoid the mess. Of course, being Virginia, if they actually put up a useful highway sign, they would have to plant a tree immediately in front of it.

Pearl yarn: I got a notice from one of m local yarn shops that they had some of the Zealana pearl yarn, a limited edition created for the 30th anniversary of Vogue knitting. This is 50% crushed pearls, embedded in tencel, and only 500 skeins were made. Each skein is numbered and comes in a presentation box. If you think I could pass this up, you don’t know me very well. I was over there right when they opened. That was a good thing as they only had 20 skeins and I was number 18 in line. It is gorgeous and I think it was worth the 40 bucks. Not that I know what I am going to do with it. The best idea I heard from one of the other lucky purchasers was a bridal veil, but I am not exactly in need of one of those, alas.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: I’ve wanted to see this musical for some time, so took advantage of a production at Elden Street Players in Herndon. I found this very enjoyable. David Yazbek’s score suited the plot (based on the movie) well. In an earlier era, "Like Zis, Like Zat" would have gotten some radio play and "What Was a Woman to Do" would have had some life as a novelty piece. While the early set-up introducing the two con men is a bit longer than it needs to be, the book is funny, with several fairly subtle jokes. The performances were good, too, especially by Tom Flatt as Lawrence and Janette Moman as Muriel.

Travel planning, part 1: Helsinki: My annual birthday excursion this year is a long weekend in Helsinki. In the course of researching what to do, I have discovered a number of bizarre possibilities, some of them related to the city being the World Design Capital for 2012. Those include a walking map highlighting fonts on various signs (and, yes, I am enough of a geek to have downloaded the map), an exhibit titled "Flush: Design of Public Toilets," and an iron age market. There is also an event described as "urban festival brings together design and traditional Finnish rug washing piers." Even without the special events, Helsinki has some oddities, like a Hotel and Restaurant Museum. As someone who has driven out of my way to see things like the world’s largest towel (at the Cannon Towel Visitor Center in Kannapolis, North Carolina) and the water tower of the town of Joe, Montana, I expect to be in my element. (I’ve also downloaded walking tour brochures and directions to the largest yarn shop in town.)

Travel planning – part 2: Israel You may have read about the cheap fares that were available for a little while last week, due to a contractor failing to load fuel surcharges into an on-line system. Since I had already been looking at fares to Israel, I snagged a ticket. I have lots of planning yet to do, of course.

Travel planning – part 3: I also got frequent flyer tickets for Ozfest next year. This was fairly complex because I wanted to do a few things on the way to Perth and back. I’ve got one ticket (using United miles) to Singapore and back from Hong Kong. And I have another ticket (using American miles) from Singapore to Perth and Adelaide to Hong Kong. I’ll have almost a week in Singapore, which should allow me an excursion to Malaysia, too. I plan to take the Indian Pacific train from Perth to Adelaide. Finally, I will have a few days in Hong Kong, which should be enough time to eat lots of dim sum. Or maybe look for traditional Hong Kong rug washing piers.
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Between Pesach and tax season I am behind on everything. So this is another of those catch-all bits of rambling.

First, there are several celebrity deaths to note. Earl Scruggs was a bluegrass musician. Thomas Kinkade was a commercial artist. Mike Wallace had a huge influence on the nature of television journalism. Adrienne Rich was a feminist poet. And Reed Whittemore was one of my favorite modern poets, whose work was filled with grace and wit. If you are not familiar with his work, let me offer this short example.

I also want to note that my first boss at the Circle-A Ranch passed away recently. Wayne retired and moved to Oregon back in the 1990’s and I had a few years in line management as his replacement. That gave me the opportunity to try out management in a safe environment and was a good way to find out it was not really what I wanted to do.

While I am on death and news, Bingu wa Mutharika, the president of Malawi died recently. The interesting thing there is that the Vice President, Joyce Banda, is now the second woman to become a head of state in Africa, after Ellen Johnson SIrleaf of Liberia. In other African news, the coup in Mali looks to be heating up, so it looks like having gone to the Festival Au Desert last year was good timing on my part.

Among the things I never got around to writing about were several receptions, three of them MIT related. A dinner at the Embassy of New Zealand provided an opportunity to see some interesting architecture, with a roof shaped to resemble the hull of a ship. That was enhanced by my conversation over dinner with an architecture professor and critic. A few nights after that, I was at an event with departing MIT President Susan Hockfield. The most interesting part of her remarks had to do with the cost of an education. My alma mater has made real strides in financial aid and she said the average debt of graduating seniors is just $14,000, which I find quite remarkable. The final MIT related reception I went to was the annual one for summer interns. I brought along a friend who works at NASA and has potential openings. It is always good to see the enthusiasm of students and to reconnect with fellow alumni. The non-MIT event I went to was a friend’s promotion ceremony. Aside from the usual military ceremony, which I always enjoy, the setting was particularly interesting. Roosevelt Hall, the site of the National War College, is a spectacular Beaux Arts building overlooking the Potomac, with a particularly dramatic rotunda. We got there early so had time to look around at the display cases, which included several having to do with General Colin Powell, including his diplomas. And the honoree was someone who particularly deserved his promotion, making the whole thing a lovely occasion.

The only other significant thing I did recently without having written about it was go to the most recent Pro Musica Hebraica concert, which involved Marc-Andre Hamelin playing works by Chopin and Alkan. Chopin was not, of course, Jewish, but Alkan was and the link was their friendship, based on both of them being outsiders in Paris. It was an excellent evening of solo piano. The highlight was definitely Alkan’s four-movement "Symphony for Solo Piano." However, I will note that, if one had not been told that the composer was an Orthodox Jew, there is nothing in the music itself that would suggest that.

The other main thing I failed to write about was doing the Month of Letters project, which involved writing a letter every day in February (except Sundays and postal holidays, i.e. President’s Day). That let me get a few things I’d been meaning to send to people on their way, as well as using some of my vast supply of note cards. I am, alas, now behind in answering letters (and emails) that I got in return.

Finally, the clippings file offered up a couple of amusing advertisements. One is for a razor that "hydrates your skin like no other razor." Personally, I’ve always found that drinking water and using lotion were more effective ways to hydrate my skin than shaving my legs is ever likely to be. The other is for a cheese and breadcrumb mix. Because, you know, it is just too hard to sprinkle cheese and breadcrumbs separately on the top of a casserole.


Jul. 12th, 2011 08:24 pm
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Before I write about the NPL con, I have some notes I scribbled about other things I meant to write about.

Celebrity Death Watch: Betty Ford was an interesting character, a feisty woman who spoke her mind. Her honesty about subjects like drug addiction and breast cancer made a real difference to our national dialogue.

Sherwood Schwartz, on the other hand, just created silly TV shows with earworm-infested theme songs.

Bears: I don't think I ever passed along the news story about the car accident in which one vehicle hit a bear, propelling it into the air and through the windshield of another car. The people in the second car were killed, as was the bear. That has to be a majorly unlucky way to go.

Today's news brings the story of a bear wandering into the area as a park ranger was giving a talk on bear safety.

Alaska men While I was in Alaska in June, one of the women who works out there told me that people think her social life should be great but "while the odds are good, the goods are odd." That reminds me of a friend who lives in Fairbanks telling me she treated the local men as being on a catch and release program.

Movies: I saw two movies recently, thanks to my flights to and from Zurich. Paul was very enjoyable since the story of two British nerds meeting an alien and trying to save him from the big bad government guys is exactly the sort of thing I'm the target demographic for. I watched Take Me Home Tonight largely on the grounds that the main character was supposed to be an MIT alumnus. Alas, it was silly teenage fare about rich kids with nothing better to do than obsess about their high school crushes.
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The Washington Post has redesigned their website, making it harder for anybody over 40 to read and, more significantly, making it harder to actually find much of their content. I firmly believe that paper and on-line media function differently enough that it is a mistake to try to make the latter look more like the former.

On the plus side, John Kelly's column in the Sunday Post answered something I have wondered about pretty much since moving here. It's quite striking to see two headstones at the corner of a suburban shopping center. That shopping center is quite nearby and I run over there to the supermarket or the drugstore or the art supply store all the time.

I should probably read less news anyway, as it just ends up annoying me. From the Republican House Speaker in New Hampshire who wants to restrict voting rights of college students because they're "foolish," "lack life experience," and "just vote their feelings" (i.e. tend to vote for Democrats, but even he is smart enough not to say that explicitly) to the excessive attention paid to Charlie Sheen, the papers are full of vitriol and trivia. It's really better just to skip straight to the crossword.

Finally, there's yet another story of an ignorant flight crew panicking over tefillin. This time it was Alaska Air. (Previous incidents have involved Air Canada, US Air, and a New Zealand ferry.) Here's Alaska's version of the story (from their facebook page):

Shortly after Flight 241 departed from Mexico City bound for Los Angeles yesterday, flight attendants observed unusual behavior from three male passengers that continued during the four-hour flight. Out of concern for the safety of all of the passengers onboard, the crew erred on the side of caution and authorities were notified. The crew did not realize at the time that the passengers were Orthodox Jews engaging in prayer ritual in Hebrew.

They also have a rather bizarre and paranoid interpretation of what the men were doing. "The men prayed aloud together in a language unfamiliar to the crew while wearing what appeared to be black tape and wires strapped to their forearms and foreheads and wires on their chests." Uh, the straps hang loose from the head piece, but I can't see how anybody could interpret that as "wires on their chest."

Their story then refers to the passengers ignored instructions to stay seated and providing "very little information" about what they were doing. That's probably true, but one also suspects language barriers since AS flight attendants speak neither Spanish nor Hebrew. (AS flights to/from Mexico carry one interpreter.)

Before someone asks why they had to pray on the plane, flight 241 leaves Mexico City at 6 a.m. and gets to LAX at 8:55 a.m. if it's on time. The men were Mexican citizens connecting to an international flight. It often takes 1-2 hours for non-U.S. citizens to get through immigration at LAX. And their international flight presumably would get in long after sundown.

But the main thing I want to comment on is the sheer nastiness of so many of the comments on the various news stories about this incident. Most of those are along the lines of "prayer should be done in private or a church, not in a public place like an airplane." This is in relation to an airline that includes prayer cards (with psalms on them) on their meal trays / snack boxes. Sigh.

To their credit, Alaska Air seems to be trying to learn. Again, from their facebook note on the incident:

To help make sure this misunderstanding does not happen again, we plan to incorporate awareness training of Orthodox Jewish religious practices into our ongoing diversity and inclusion efforts. We’ve asked the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle for their assistance to help us better serve our Orthodox Jewish customers and employees alike.
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My LJ site seems to be having some troubles. Yes, I submitted a support request.

First, four things that amused me this week:

1) Algeria has announced that they are going to end their state of emergency soon. That state of emergency was declared back in 1992.

2) I have talked previously about call signs (i.e. nicknames) that Air Force officers use. Right now I work with people who are called "Salt" and "Chili." I wonder if we should try to persuade our other officer to go by, say, "Oregano."

3) The headline on an article I saw about potential successors to the North Korean leader was "Next of Kim."

4) An Amtrak train hit a bald eagle outside Aberdeen, Maryland the other day. The eagle had, apparently, chosen the wrong time to be nibbling on a deer carcass on the tracks. The amusing part is that the Washington Post reported that "the train arrived at Washington Union Station two hours later with the bird stuck to the locomotive like an emblem." This reminds me that Ben Franklin despised eagles and wanted our national bird to be the turkey.

As for actually doing things:

I was surprisingly productive at work on Monday and finished writing a white paper I'd been futzing around with for a few weeks. I tend to spend a lot of time thinking before doing any writing, so the actual writing goes quickly. I only had to make minor revisions before sending it out for coordination. I'm sure I will get some comments back, but it's good to check off an item from my to-do list. Later in the week, I made some needed contacts for another project. There's still plenty of stuff I am spinning my wheels on, however.

On Tuesday, I finally got to the dentist. Not only did the weather cooperate, so did the traffic and I had time to stop at the good hardware store before my appointment. Unfortunately, I need to go back this coming week, as an old filling needs to be replaced. That's a good thing in the long run as I've had some temperature sensitivity in that tooth, but it means having to drive into work.

Speaking of driving into work, my life has gotten ever so much better since I learned that Arlington parking meters take dollar coins. I still prefer taking the metro, especially since it actually takes less time.

Thursday night, I went to see Anna Deveare Smith's play, Let Me Down Easy at Arena Stage. This is a compilation of excerpts from interviews she did with a wide range of people about health care, with a particular emphasis on dealing with death. Ms. Smith is a good mimic and captures the voices and mannerisms of her interviewees well, with minimal props and costume changes. I did find the entrance of her assistant, with those items somewhat distracting at times, so I understand why the items brought in are not removed. But I also found the discarded props and clothing lying around the set to be distracting. I have no idea how to solve that.

As for the interviews, they are a mixed bag. The funniest is Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas. The most moving are Hazel Merritt, who doesn't want to go on dialysis because of a horrifying incident with her daughter, who was on dialysis after contracting AIDS, and Smith's aunt, Lorraine Coleman talking about the death of her sister and finding comfort in a remembered gesture. Some of the more famous people were the least interesting to me. The piece on Lance Armstrong went on for too long and I'm not sure that Lauren Hutton really had anything to say that couldn't be summed up as "rich people get good doctors." Overall, I'd say the show was worth seeing because of the performance, rather than the material.

The metro was slow getting home, due to long waits for both the Green Line at Waterfront and the Orange Line at L'Enfant Plaza. I compounded my exhaustion by playing around with Seth's new took for tracking which World Heritage Sites you've been to instead of going right to bed. You can see the results at mhnadel has visited 89 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. See them & track yours here!

Last night I had dinner at Teaism with Margaret, who was here for a writer's conference. Good food - in my case, their tuna bento which had an especially notable broccoli salad with some sort of sesame dressings - and good conversation, mostly about art.

And then I came home and collapsed into a lovely bubble bath, followed by a cup of Aztec hot chocolate, a nice spicy brew from the Lake Champlain Chocolate folks.
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I'm more or less over both jet-lag and the inevitable travel cold, which filled up most of my head last week. So this is one of those random round-up entries.

Celebrity death watch: I don't think I noted the death of Sargent Shriver, who I remember mostly for his having an interesting name and running for vice president. But his founding the Peace Corps was more significant than either of those. I'm not sure that most people realize that the Peace Corps has become very competitive these days. There was a part of me that was interested in it when I graduated from college and that part was completely shut down by my conventional side.

The other celebrity death I want to note is of Jack LaLanne. Since he made it to 96, I guess there is something to be said for that exercise thing.

Newspaper news: The Washington Post has redesigned their Sunday edition. The main change was to split out Arts & Style into two sections, with the new Sunday Style section in a tabloid format. I'm actually pleased with that change since it means that the Style Invitational is back in the Sunday paper where it rightfully belongs, instead of relegated to Saturday. As long as the Post still has two crosswords to do, I'll stay reasonably content.

Now, if they could only do something about the Travel section (which is incredibly bland) and actually write about the news ...

Storytelling: I drove down to Charlottesville Saturday for a VASA board meeting. It's going to be an interesting few years. My major soapbox is that we need to do things further in advance.

Food pornography: I made it back in good time to change clothes and head into the city for a restaurant week dinner with the flyertalk crowd at Ten Penh. I had spring rolls, seared tuna, and green tea cake with lemon for dessert. All was very good. The real highlight, however, was the cocktail I had. Called a Bombay fissure, it had gin, pineapple water, grenadine, and orange bitters and was served over dry ice, making it bubble.

Decluttering:I decided to dump out the box of shame to go through it. That was a mistake, as I am now overwhelmed by its contents. Sigh. I did, however, throw out things like hotel bonus offers from last March.
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It decided to be winter overnight. I just walk across the street to get to the metro but that was bad enough, with a nasty coat of ice out there. (I do have cleats but, of course, had not realized what it was like out so had not taken them with me). And we are supposed to get more "wintry mix" tonight and tomorrow.

Then we had a suicide at the building I work in. The initial report is that someone had thrown himself off the roof, but that turned out to be slightly inaccurate (though the effect is the same.) Here's the story from Arlington Now:

A man died this morning after falling from a secure government office building in Crystal City. Initial reports suggest the man may have purposely jumped from a second floor balcony into an outside stairwell adjacent to Crystal Drive.

The building, which houses a number of Department of Defense offices, is located at the corner of Crystal Drive and 18th Street. Arlington County Police, Pentagon Police and other federal law enforcement officers were at the scene of the incident, which occurred shortly after 11:00 this morning.

Shortly before the incident, a Twitter user reported seeing a man in a suit jump onto the tracks at the Crystal City Metro station as a train was approaching. The man then jumped back onto the platform and ran out of the station, the user said. It’s currently not known if the two incidents are connected.
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1) The major case of accidental death among hunters is falling out of trees. Personally, I suspect there is usually beer involved.

2) I am a bad influence. One of the guys from my company took a quick trip to Hawaii to maintain his United Premier Executive status. Over on Flyer Talk, we call that a "mileage run." And the guy who has the office next to mine went to Brazill for the weekend.

3) The only place I went over the weekend was Silver Spring for a story swap. It was a particularly good one, with a lot of people there and a wide range of stories. Jane's rendition of the story about why coyote has a puckered anus was a particular highlight.

4) Dear amazon.com: If somebody buys a Red Sox calendar, it is probably because they are a Red Sox fan. Sending them email every couple of days about the availability of calendars featuring other baseball teams is annoying.

5) Dear Washington Jewish Film Festival: It would have been nice if the film about Jews and baseball were on when Robert is going to be here, as that would easily top the list of possible entertainment events to go to. I will go see the film anyway, of course, but you could have sold two tickets, not just one.

6) I made a vegan version of sausage stew last night. Smoked sausage style soy sausage, vegan beef-flavored broth, potatoes, carrots, onions, seasoned with all-spice and bay leaf. It was reasonably good, but too obvious to be a keeper.

7) I'm not sure what I think of the proposal for one-way trips to Mars. I do know that I won't be signing up for one.

8) I'm sorry to see the parent / child teams eliminated from The Amazing Race. I was surprised that Michael and Kevin blew it by incurring penalties, instead of failing at a physical challenge. I was more surprised at how misled teams were by maps in Oman. And isn't Chad the luckiest bastard on the planet? I was so hoping that oversleeping would get rid of him and Stephanie.

Not Cake

Oct. 18th, 2010 04:50 am
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This is one of my hodegpodge entries - basically everything but cake.

Follow-ups: Ron solved the mystery of my "303/357" note to myself. That's a battery size and I wrote it down when I needed to replace the batteries in two of my travel alarm clocks.

I solved the mystery of "3200-11" myself by (duh) googling it. It's a DoD Instruction having to do with test ranges.

I also did a bit of research on "boughten" and found it is northern U.S. dialect. I will note that I use it only as an adjective and almost entirely in relation to food items, though I could stretch to referring to a boughten sweater (as opposed to a hand-knit one).

Sometimes the headline says it all: "Car eating rabbits invade Denver airport." The story explains that the rabbits eat soy-based wiring found in some late model cars.

Weird thing to wonder about: Suppose a transsexual decides to convert to Judaism. What would an Orthodox rabbi do? I am, of course, assuming the person's history is known to the rabbi, but the question becomes harder in some ways and easier in others if it is not.

Fun with names: I was amused to learn that one of the largest manufacturers of glass for the defense industry (e.g. in night vision glasses) is Schott.

Celebrity death watch: I am slightly annoyed (though not at all surprised) that Barbara Billingsley (who played June Cleaver on Leave It To Beaver) got a lot more attention than Benoit Mandelbrot (who did much of the key mathematical research on fractals).

Story swap: I went to the Voices in the Glen story swap at Michael's on Saturday night. There was a reasonably good turn out and the swaps are always fun. A particular highlight was hearing Eve's son, Jonathan, tell "Birds of America." I also enjoyed Bill's story about Elizabeth Bathory.

Coral Reef Update: The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef Exhibit is open at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History! It was supposed to open on Saturday but there was a water main break on Constitution Avenue, so the museum was closed. I saw the reef yesterday afternoon and it is lovely. The community reef is the biggest part of the display and is huge. I was able to find some of my contributions. And my name is spelled correctly on the plaque, which is always a plus. The exhibit runs through April 24, so you have lots of time to check it out.

USA Science and Engineering Festival: The inaugural USA Science and Engineering Festival is next weekend. There will be booths on the National Mall and around Freedom Plaza and Wilson Plaza and in the Mellon Auditorium. I'm volunteering and will be at the Mellon Auditorium info booth all day Saturday, so stop by and say hello if you're there. And you should be there. It looks like there are a lot of cool interactive exhibits and plenty of performances on four major stages and several smaller ones. (In case you are wondering how I came to be involved, the call for volunteers went out to a local MIT email list. I went to the volunteer training yesterday, which is why I was already in the city to check out the coral roof.)

Amazing Race: I haven't been to Kiruna, Sweden, though I've been to Sweden and I've stayed at another Ice Hotel (in Quebec). My wrap-up is behind a cut since some people may not have viewed the episode yet.

Read more )
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I kept intending to post things during the past week and was just too busy and tired. So here is a catch-up.

Nude With Vioin: I saw Little Theatre of Alexandria's production of Noel Coward's Nude with Violin on Sunday. I figured that parking in Old Town is always a hassle, so took the metro and walked from the King Street station. It's a little over a mile and a pleasant stroll in good weather. It's a good thing I was running a bit late, as I would otherwise have stopped in a used bookstore. And, while I did peek in briefly at Fibrespace (a yarn store), I didn't have time to make the decisions that a real shopping expedition would have entailed.

As for the play, it's Coward's snide look at modern art. A famous artist has died and members of his estranged family (along with the art dealer who promoted him) have gathered at his Paris apartment. The butler, Sebastian, reveals a secret about the artist - and various people (a Russian countess, a Southern belle, a Jamaican evangelist) show up with their own revelations. All in all, it was pretty funny, helped along by a strong performance by John Barclay Burns as Sebastian. My one complaint was that the director seemed unwilling to let the dialogue carry itself and the members of the family were in constant unnecessary motion. People in a living room deciding what to do tend to sit in one place, in my experience, not get up and move to another chair every two or three sentences.

Audience demographics: I have probably mentioned this before, but I find it slightly disturbing that I am one of the youngest people present at a large number of the plays I go to. I'm 52, which is hardly a child. In this case, I figured out why after the show, as a van from a retirement community pulled up to collect more than half the audience. I suspect that part of the problem is that it is most convenient for me to go to weekend matinees, but I worry about the future of theatre.

Celebrity death watch: I'm sure everybody saw that Eddie Fisher died. I am fairly sure my parents must have had a record of "Oh My Papa," since that's the one song I associate with him. Obviously, he became a lot more famous for his failed marriages than for his work.

Baseball, Part 1: It ain't over till it's over.

Baseball, Part 2: It is pretty much over for the Washington Nationals this season, but there has been some improvement. Yes, they're again at the bottom of their division, but there are six teams with worse records this season. My office had an outing to Thursday's game, with about half the group going (along with some family members). It was a good game, with a few excellent fielding plays by the Nats. Danny Espinosa looks like a good addition to the team. I was also glad I got to see reliever Drew Storen pitch, albeit for just one inning. He's the kid who turned down the Source of All Evil in the Universe in the 2007 draft in favor of going to Stanford. The really cool part of his story is that he is going back to Stanford in the off-season, working on finishing his degree in mechanical engineering.

I was, by the way, deeply disappointed when my boss not only didn't sing along to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," but didn't even stand up for the 7th inning stretch. That is just wrong.

Sexism: A nail salon in Maryland charged a man two bucks more for a mani-pedi than they charged his female companion. This is not acceptable. He filed a lawsuit and I am of two minds about that. On the one hand, it's silly to try to collect huge damages over that amount of money. But how else does one get the message arcross that discriminatory pricing is wrong?

Death penalty: Virginia executed Teresa Lewis on Thursday night. What bothers me about this case is that the two men who actually pulled the triggers got life sentences. (One of them committed suicide in jail.) There was at least some evidence that Lewis was manipulated by one of those men, who said he wanted to become a big hit man. Yes, she was guilty of murder, but it seems unfair that her sentence was harsher than that of the other two people involved.
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Because I was hosting a story swap last night, I spent much of the day going through the scraps of paper that seem to accumulate on my dining room table and, alas, the floor of the study nook. I was trying to be good and actually handle them, instead of just tossing them in the box of shame to deal with later.

So here are some odds and ends from things I scribbled down for some reason or other.

1) I have no idea why I wrote down the word "perissodactyla." I just looked it up and it refers to odd-toed ungulates, e.g. horses and rhinoceroses and quaggas. Was there something in the news about them roughly a year ago July?

2) I also have no idea why I wrote "Bellhorn 2004" in my planner a few weeks ago. Yes, Mark Bellhorn played for the Red Sox starting in that year, but I can't imagine why I was thinking about him. (He was an interesting player - led the league in strikeouts that year, but became a real hero in the World Series.)

3) I have become a big fan of Christoph Niemann's Abstract City blog in the NY Times. His August 3rd visual diary of a flight from NY to Berlin via London is brilliant.

4) I missed seeing Red Green talk in Frederick a couple of weeks ago, but I was amused that he also made an appearance at a hardware store in Bethesda, where he autographed rolls of duct tape.

5) Most of the strange, unexplained numbers in my planner are phone numbers. Some are not. I am fairly sure I wrote down 16,000,000,000 because one of my colleagues could not figure out how many zeros there were in billion.

6) I was reviewing a document (having to do with an international joint project) recently that included a requirement to "repatriate data." I understood what it meant, but I found the usage to be a bit odd. On the other hand, I'm not sure I could think of a better way to say that the country that provided the sensor should get the data from that sensor.

7) I have completely lost control of my calendar. (Admittedly, that assumes that I ever had control of it). Does anybody know why I have blocked off the weekend of April 8-10 next year?

8) Speaking of the absurdity of my calendar, I need to find a weekend in November to go up to New York so I can see The Language Archive at Roundabout and The Scottsboro Boys. The former is about a subject (saving dying languages) I'm interested in. The latter is a Kander and Ebb musical with John Cullum.

9) Here is a language related link - the OED in limerick form. That the "O" stands for "Omnificent", not "Oxford" does not lessen the charm.

10) Moose can get arthritis. I have no idea why I think that is interesting, but I do.

11) I am not sure whether the credit card lightbulb is absurdly brilliant or merely absurd. It would probably need to produce more lumens than it does to be absurdly brilliant.

12) Lori Berenson is back in jail, the Peruvian government having bowed to public opinion. I'm okay with that, but her son is apparently with her for the remaining five years of her sentence. I admit that I don't really know how Peruvian prisons work, but what about the boy going to school?

13) I had this rather amusing conversation with Alaska Air (abbreviated AS below) this week:

Me: I'd like to make a partner reservation on Air France.

AS: Where would you like to go?

Me: I'd like to do an open jaw. I want to fly from Washington Dulles into Bamako, Mali and return from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

AS: Are those both in France?

I explained that, er, no, they are both in Africa. (And, yes, I got the tickets on the dates I wanted and am well on the way to making my land arrangements. I am actually going to Timbuktu, which is something I have wanted to do my entire life!)

14) The Wall Street Journal had an interesting obituary on July 16th of the traditional mariner / navigator, Tau Pilau. Unfortunately, I can't find the article on-line.

By the way, the story swap went well, despite a phone problem meaning I had to go downstairs to let people in. (The buzzer system is tied to the phone, which hangs up after about 3 seconds.) Ten people is not a huge number, but is just about what is comfortable in my living room. There was a good mix of traditional stories and personal stories. I told "Why I'm Not a Millionaire" which went over well. One person left his backpack behind and I had to make a quick call for him to return for it. I only just now realized that another person left a tupperware behind and I'll have to see what she wants me to do about returning it.

In the News

Aug. 5th, 2010 06:08 am
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Since I seem to be spinning my wheels on personal updates and news gets stale after a while, here are a few odds and ends that interested me recently.

Celebrity death of note is Mitch Miller. We always watched Sing Along With Mitch and I believe we had several sing-along records, too. I think singing together is important for social capital and we've lost something when our children no longer "follow the bouncing ball." Also, without Mitch Miller, I would not know how to spell Mississippi. (And I have probably just infected myself with an earworm.)

The other death of note, though I am not sure one could call him a celebrity, was of Morrie Yohai, the inventor of Cheez Doodles. I note it largely because I never think of products like that as having inventors. A related story involves a non-compete clause in a contract which is keeping a man from taking a job at Hostess foods. It seems he is one of the seven people who know the secret behind how they get the nooks and crannies in Thomas' English Muffins. I usually think of non-compete clauses as limited to the high tech world, so it's interesting to see one in a more mundane setting.

Finally, I am not surprised about the amount of news coverage of Chelsea Clinton's wedding. But I am amazed at the vitriol on the comments on the news stories. Short of a situation where one of the people involved has murdered a former spouse, the only thing to say about a wedding is "Mazel Tov!"
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First, to follow-up on a news story I'd mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the American man who had been effectively exiled for 2 months via the No Fly List was allowed to come home. I'm not sure whether to be more disturbed by the story or by some of the comments about it I've seen on various news sites.

While I am on the Middle East related subjects, I went to an MIT Club of Washington event at the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates last night. I was a little surprised by the food. For one thing, they did serve wine and beer. But the big surprise was that the appetizers included crab cakes and sushi. The ambassador gave a brief speech before turning things over to people involved with the Masdar Initiative. I noticed that the ambassador did peek at his blackberry during the other two speeches. The gist of the presentations was that the UAE wants to be a leader in energy, not just oil.

The announcement had claimed that the presentations would be followed by "dinner featuring ethnic food." There was pita and some dips (very good pine nut hummus) but most of the food was fairly generic Mediterranean fare. There was beef tenderloin, chicken with sage, and Mediterranean sea bass, along with potato croquettes and grilled vegetables (zucchini and peppers). It was good, but not exactly exotic. I suppose the mango ice cream for dessert might have qualified as mildly exotic. Still, it is always interesting seeing different embassies and one gets to have a lot of conversation with intelligent people at these events.

Finally, I took advantage of having a medical appointment to stop at the Foggy Bottom farmer's market to pick up mushroom empanadas and cardamom gelato for supper. They have a lot more prepared food than the Crystal City market does, but fewer produce vendors. I did get some blackberries to have for breakfast tomorrow, but there wasn't anybody selling salad greens, for example.
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I flew back to D.C. early Monday morning and tried to be productive, despite exhaustion. My productivity was also limited on Tuesday, due to the 50th anniversary party at my company's offices. (Actually, we had the party outside on the plaza.) The food was good and the speeches were reasonably brief. There was also a raffle and I won the grand prize - a stadium blanket. That's actually useful since my government office is often freezing.

The major news item of the week is that Politics and Prose, an excellent independent bookstore, is for sale. Both of the owners are in their 70's and one of them is in poor health, so that isn't surprising. I hope whoever buys it will keep bringing in the wide range of author events they're known for.

My major event of the work week was going to see R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe at Arena Stage on Wednesday night. I used the time between work and the show to do a bit of retail therapy at the Pentagon City mall. SInce the weather was decent, I walked to and from the mall. There were pickets outside the Sheraton, but I couldn't understand a word of what they were chanting. And there was a huge security detail at the Ritz Carlton, presumably for some dignitary.

Anyway, the one man play was written and directed by D. W. Jacobs, but is performed by Rick Foucheux. Never having seen Buckminster Fuller speak, it is hard for me to tell how accurate his mannerisms are, but the performance is impressive, with a lot of energy and humor. There are a lot of multimedia tricks and a bit of audience participation, including a sing-along about the geodesic dome ("Roam home to a dome" to the tune of "Home on the Range.") Unfortunately, all of the trickery and the excellent acting don't make up for a script that needs editing. I was hoping to learn more about Bucky, the man. Instead, I felt preached at for much of the show. There was enough interesting material that I didn't feel like my time was wasted, but this could have been a lot tighter.
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Somehow I managed to miss these two clippings in my news wrap-up.

1) The crime section of a local free newspaper reported a story on a dog bite. The Animal Control Officer who responded is named Barker.

2) The Jewish Study Center is offering a cleverly named class. "Shir Havoc: Meshugah melodies for familiar prayers" is all about "fitting prayers to everything from Vivaldi to movie music to sea shanties and Irish drinking songs."
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First, there are a whole bunch of celebrity deaths to note. I have to admit that I never really cared much for Art Linkletter's sort of humor, though I do understand why he was popular. I never understood, however, why Gary Coleman was popular. (I do admit to finding the use the creators of Avenue Q made of him very funny. I also think that makes me a bad person.) There was also a Dominican baseball player (Jose Lima), which I mention largely because I am sort of planning a trip to the Dominican Republic largely so I can go to a ball game there. Finally, today's news brings the death of Dennis Hopper. As further proof that I am a bad person, my immediate mental association with him is this little bit of verse from my youth:

I ride my Harley chopper
Just like Dennis Hopper
I ride my bike alone
and tear up the old folks' home

In more positive news, I saw that Lori Berenson has been paroled. Since all of my co-workers reacted to my mention of this with "who?" I will explain that she is a nice Jewish girl from Long Island who went to MIT, but dropped out to do aid work in Latin America. She got involved (and here is where the story gets blurry) with a Peruvian terrorist group called Tupac Amaru. (The name is that of a leader of an Inca rebellion which fought the Spanish colonial administration, by the way.) Part of the blurriness has to do with who you call terrorists and who you call freedom fighters, but more of it has to do with just what her role with them was. At any rate, she's been in prison since the mid-1990's. She married her lawyer (who was also part of Tupac Amaru) and had a child in prison about a year ago. They're going to make her stay in Peru for the remaining five years of her sentence, but at least she won't be in prison.

The Watergate Hotel is being sold. I wonder what kind of bug inspection the buyers will insist on.

The other item from the newspaper I wanted to mention was John Kelly's column about After the Storm. These guys perform at the entrance to the Crystal City metro station frequently and they always lift my mood for my evening commute. At least for a few minutes. Then I have to get into the station and deal with cluless tourists. Which prompts these haiku:

Actually my
time IS more important than
yours is. Damn tourists.

Someday I will crack
and throw a tourist onto
the metro train tracks.

I don't think I ever followed up on it, but Jammin' Java did refund my money for the cancelled Pierre Bensusan show once I called them. The performance venue that I am annoyed at currently is Studio Theatre. I have gone to two shows there over the past couple of years. One of those I was lukewarm towards and the other I completely detested. But what I am annoyed about is that they keep calling me for donations. I have asked them at least four times to remove me from their call list. Short of them premiering, say, a new Sondheim musical, I will not go there ever again.

I went to see A Prairie Home Companion at Wolf Trap last night. Garrison Keillor is very good at what he does and it was very entertaining. The guests were jazz singer Inga Swearingen (who did a lovely rendition of "Lazy Afternoon" from The Golden Apple) and folk singer Tom Rush. In addition to a few of his own songs, Rush sang "Old Blevins" by the Austin Lounge Lizards, which I mention largely so I will have a reminder to get tickets to their show at Wolf Trap next April. He also had a great line about The Old Man of the Mountain - "it is creepy to have outlived a geological feature." All in all, it was an enjoyable evening, despite the couple seated behind me who apparently believed they were in their own living room and could, therefore, continue an argument they have been having for 33 years while people were up there on the stage talking and performing music.

This morning I drove down to Fredericksburg and did the river trail Volksmarch. I had actually intended to go to Richmond, but the traffic was so heavy that I bailed. This was a pleasant walk, especially along the canal trail. I didn't much like the couple of sections along a busy road with no sidewalk, but the historic district is always nice to walk through. And the expected rain held off, so I didn't even have to drive home in a storm.


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