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First, re: the Christchurch attacks, about all I can say is that it proves that it can happen anywhere. Nobody is safe. Some (white, Christian, cis-gendered men) are relatively safer, but they run the risk of believing they’re in danger and perpetrating horrible acts out of that. To quote Jonathan Richman (in a somewhat different context), "people are disgusting."

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

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

Is our culture really that screwed up or is it just the celebrity news mill at work? Can we still think about the good of the community instead of individual greed? Or am I just a hopeless dreamer?
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Celebrity Death Watch: 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: 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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Caution: Virginia politics ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am also concerned about any impact this whole mess could have on Mark Warner’s reelection campaign in 2020. Admittedly, I am just assuming he will run for reelection to the U.S. Senate, but I don’t see why he wouldn’t. Though I wouldn’t be upset if he ran for President, I don’t think he is charismatic enough to win. And moderates are out of style, alas.
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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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Don’t Analyze This Dream: I was on a game show of some sort. The question I got had to do with identifying the show Who Do You Think You Are? But the host wanted me to answer it in German.

Humanitarian Crisis at the Border: There actually is a humanitarian crisis at the border. It’s caused by Trump’s ridiculous policy of ignoring international law re: refugees and asylum seekers and his family separation policies.

As for a security crisis, I think that expecting TSA, Border Patrol, the Coast Guard, etc. to work without pay is a more significant security crisis than the handful of potential criminals who enter via our southern border.

2020 Presidential Candidates: I miss the days when candidates started emerging somewhere around January of election years, not a full year earlier. But, as a general rule of thumb, I’d really prefer to see candidates who have some executive experience – i.e. as governors or as mayors of major cities. Ideally, a combination of executive experience and experience in either the House or Senate would provide the right mix of skills. Gender, race, etc. are entirely irrelevant. There are white men I’d be happy to support. There are people of color I'd be happy to support. There are women of various ethnicities I'd support. I do have some feelings re: age of candidates, but there’s more flexibility there.

Tax Rates: I am not a big fan of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez for reasons I don’t want to go into right now. But I agree with her re: marginal tax rates. We had marginal tax rates well over 70% for the highest brackets for a lot of years and we were far more prosperous.

The Congressional Committee System: What I was waiting for AOC (and other new Congresscritters) to learn and react to is the system of Congressional dues for committee assignments. In the Senate, assignments primary follow seniority. But, in the House, committee assignments – and, particularly, chairmanships – are paid for. The “dues” go to one’s party’s campaign committee and are in the hundreds of thousands dollars for significant committees. Ultimately, of course, the money comes from lobbying organizations.

I consider myself fairly savvy politically and I only learned about this maybe a month ago. But it’s been reasonably widely reported in reliable sources since at least the middle of 2017.
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I promised a couple of people that I’d explain a few things re: the partial government shutdown and who it does and doesn’t affect. If you aren’t interested in politics, feel free to skip.

The most important thing to know is that there is not a single budget bill. Instead, there a dozen different appropriations bills. Five of those were signed by the end of September – which is interesting, because the fiscal year starts on October 1st though it’s rare for Congress to pass the bills by then (much less for the President to sign them). So, for example, the Department of Defense, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Education aren’t shut down. By the way, you may have heard of an omnibus spending bill. That’s what it’s called when the various appropriations bills are combined into one. More common is what is called a minibus, which combines some, but not all, of the appropriations bills. While it seems like those would be good things, the problem is that it can hold some agencies hostage to an issue with one. Right now, the issue has to do with the Department of Homeland Security, but the shutdown also impacts Agriculture, Science, Justice, Commerce, Interior, Transportation, etc.

For some things (defense and intelligence), there are two types of budget-related bills in Congress – appropriations and authorization. Appropriations tells you how much you can spend and authorization tells you what you can use that money for. The tricky thing here is that if even a single dollar is authorized, the agency can spend up to the amount of the appropriation. The way I like to explain this is to imagine that you were asking your parents for tuition money for college. They want you to study international real estate finance, but you want to study underwater basket weaving. They authorize you to take Real Estate 101, but you can’t sign up for it until they also give you an appropriation for the tuition money. Good luck finding the lab fees for wicker and scuba gear.

Now, the impact on contractors is more complicated. See, some appropriations cover multiple years. What matters then is whether the money for a contract has already been obligated. The other thing to be aware of is that the period of a contract does not necessarily match the federal fiscal year. If a company is already on contract for services from January through December, the failure to renew an appropriation in August won’t matter – until the end of December.

The even bigger issue with shutdowns that people don’t talk about is collateral damage. That is, government employees who aren’t working and aren’t getting paid are also not going out to lunch near their offices and getting haircuts and shopping for non-essentials on their way home. That’s a huge impact on a lot of people in places with government workers.


Dec. 13th, 2018 07:55 pm
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I spent yesterday and today at a work-related conference. One thing I find myself doing is counting the number of women at meetings and it was particularly low at this event. It’s hard to tell because not everyone was at all sessions, but it was definitely under 10%. Sigh.

Also, this was the sort of thing which has a token talk by a congresscritter. I won’t give specifics since it was a non-attribution event, but he offended me by giving a very partisan talk and by not using the correct name for the other party. In addition, aside from one slide his staff had prepared, almost none of his talk was relevant to the subject of the conference.
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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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Work is busy but frustrating.

I have been in sort of a swirl of trying to get caught up on the chaos that is my condo, but getting distracted by other things (mostly reading things on-line and catching up on crosswords) instead. I had particularly good intentions for Saturday, but spent much of the day in suspended animation, i.e. alternating between reading and napping.

Sunday, on the other hand, was a swirl of activity. The morning was One-Day University, with three presentations focused on the theme of Genius. I will write more about those below. I was supposed to rush from there to rehearsal for an upcoming storytelling show, but realized I had misremembered when One Day University ended, so opted to run my story (which is not a new one) over the phone on Monday instead. That gave me roughly an hour at home to get some housework done before heading to Arlington for dinner and trivia at Heavy Seas Alehouse with some Losers, i.e. devotees of the Style Invitational. I was clearly tired as I badly misinterpreted a cocktail I ordered. Any Port in the Storm turned out to have ginger syrup and golden ale, not ginger ale. I was thinking it would be sort of like a Dark and Stormy, but it was too sweet. We did, however, win at trivia, even though we were completely hopeless at a fill-in-the-blank lyrics component, which involved a rap song none of us had even heard of.

FDR: The first was by Jeffrey Engle of SMU on Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He started by pointing out that a lot of politicians – including George H.W. Bush, Osama Bin Laden, and Kim Davis – have claimed to be acting in the name of freedom, but that most never define what they mean by freedom. FDR, however, was very specific in his Four Freedoms speech, which he noted came 10 and a half months before Pearl Harbor. Those four freedoms are, of course, freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

Anyway, his main point was that FDR’s success was due to his skill with rhetoric, his optimism, his pragmatism / flexibility, and his empathy. Regarding the latter, he believed that bad things can happen to people through no fault of their own, probably because of his own experience with polio. (By the way, Professor Engel noted that people actually did know FDR was paralyzed, even if they didn’t see photos of him in a wheelchair.) As for political ideology, FDR stated that he was: 1) a Democrat and 2) a Christian. He thought aerial bombing was immoral, but realized it was a valuable tactic. Similarly, he (and the Democratic party of the time) believed in a balanced budget, but was willing to experiment with government spending to end the Depression.

Overall, this was an entertaining talk, especially because of a lot of trivia Engel threw in. For example, he talked about how disliked William Jennings Bryan was as Secretary of State because he was a teetotaler who banned alcohol from diplomatic parties. And he noted that "Make America Great Again was Warren G. Harding’s campaign slogan.

Marie Curie: The second talk was on Marie Curie by Susan Lindee of the University of Pennsylvania. She started out by pointing out that genius is a social category. That is, just being great at what you do is not enough. You have to work to get the recognition, too.

Anyway, Maria Sklodowski and her sister, Bronislawa (who became a doctor) were encouraged by their father in their studies. Originally, Maria was supposed to work as a nanny to pay for Bronislawa’s education, but their father got a good job, enabling her to enroll in the Sorbonne instead. She got top grades in math and physics. Her need for lab space led to her introduction to Pierre Curie and she married him in 1895, a little over a year after they met. Fun trivia is that they spent their honeymoon on a bicycling trip, complete with fashionable biking outfits.

The Curies shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with Henri Becquerel. Pierre insisted Marie (as she had modified her name from Polish to French) be included. In 1896, Pierre was killed in a cart accident after slipping on a wet road. (By the way, this was the day before the San Francisco earthquake and fire, so was a bit overshadowed in the news.) Marie went on to win the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. She also went on to a scandalous affair with Paul Langevin, who was married. The affair resulted in five duels, only one of which involved Langevin himself. Langevin eventually did go back to his wife, by the way.

Other notable things Marie did included creating x-ray wagons for use on World War I battlefields (and drive one herself, as well as teaching other women how to drive them and read the x-rays), writing a biography of Pierre, and persuaded an American journalist to raise money to buy her radium for her research. And she had two daughters, one of whom, Irene, shared a Nobel prize with her husband, Frederic Joliot-Curie, while the other (Eve) wrote a biography of Marie. Eve’s husband, Henry Richardson Labouisse, Jr., went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965 on behalf of UNICEF. More fun trivia is that Irene’s daughter, Helene, married Michel Langevin, the grandson of Paul Langevin.

Final point was that Marie Curie never made any statements about the rights of women. However, she did hire a lot of women in her lab, which may be more practical feminism. And she was very good at promoting herself, which is why we know more about her than a lot of other women in science. That goes back to the idea of genius as a social construct. Self-promotion is, alas, an element of genius.

Mozart: The final lecture was on Mozart and was given by Craig Wright of Yale. He started with having us sing, which was a good way to make sure everyone is awake after a couple of lectures. Unlike the other lecturers, Professor Wright gave an actual definition of genius as involving a person whose creative works or insights change society in some significant way (for good or ill) across time and across cultures. He then went on to talk about two types of cognitive processes in music – 1) perceiving and replicating music and 2) creating music. I’m not sure he is completely correct about the first of those. I believe that I perceive music well, but I am not good at replicating it. That is, there are various tests I do well at, e.g. of the ability to perceive intervals But I am no good at the mechanics of reproducing those to sing or play an instrument by ear. Mozart was very good at both aspects of the former, reportedly having perfect pitch, which enabled him to hear a piece once and them play it. And his manuscripts are lacking in corrections.

Wright than discussed aspects of creativity, which he said is facilitated by opportunity, motivation and an active and vivid imagination. Some of the things he talked about as far as creative thinking are associative thinking (which also included verbal, as well as musical, sounds in Mozart’s case), combinative thinking / synthesis, homospatial thinking (which he defined as multiple strands of information superimposed in one temporal space), iconoclastic thinking (including scatological thinking), and dhildlike thinking. The latter two could be combined as a lack of barriers to imagination. He showed various examples of these aspects of Mozart’s work throughout, including clips from the movie Amadeus. One of the most interesting was an animated visualization of the Jupiter Symphony.

At the end, somebody asked what other composers Wright would consider geniuses. He cited Mahler, Beethoven, and Bach. I’ve been pondering that question all week. I think there’s an inherent difficulty in thinking about it because we can’t really hear a piece of music the way people heard it when it was first written. I value the revolutionary aspect of genius, which is why I’d put Balakirev on my list for his work fusing traditional (Russian) folk music with classical practice, leading to whole idea of nationalistic music. So, while I think Mussorgsky was the most musically talented of The Five (or would have been if he hadn’t fallen to drink), Balakirev is the more historically important.

I am not entirely consistent, however, because I’d list Gershwin above Berlin, even though the latter is the one who really emphasized jazz and ragtime as fundamentally American music. And, yes, Mozart and Bach belong on the list, too, because I am a product of Western culture.
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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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I still haven’t had time to catch up, because I’ve been busy doing things. Here’s what the past several days have looked like.

Storytelling, Part 1: The Grapevine Wednesday night was the season opener for The Grapevine, a very good storytelling series at Busboys and Poets in Takoma. I can’t quite whine about it being in darkest Maryland because it is still just within the D.C. line.

Anyway, this month’s featured tellers were Milbre Burch and Len Cabral. I’ve known Milbre for many years, since we both lived in the Los Angeles area in the 1990’s, and it is always delightful to see her. I was glad to have a chance to catch up with her a bit. And, of course, to hear her tell. Her program was a selection of folk tales from banned lands, i.e. those subject to the immigration restrictions of our current administration. I thought that was a really cool idea for a theme. There was a good mix of stories and she told elegantly and entertainingly, as always. Len’s stories included some from his Cape Verdean heritage. His telling was far more physical, with a lot of voices. Overall, this was a good illustration of the range of traditional storytelling and a very entertaining evening.

Storytelling, Part 2: Voices in the Glen Story Swap: Saturday night was our monthly story swap. It was in darkest Maryland, so I was grateful for carpooling. There was a particularly big turn-out and another wide range of stories. In honor of having just heard Milbre, I told "Be Nice," which I first learned from her.

One Day University: I went to One Day University on Sunday. This is always a good use of a half-day.

The first talk was Is That Really Art? Understanding and Appreciating Modern Painting by Tina Rivers-Ryan. She focused on four artists / styles – Pablo Picasso (cubism), Alexander Rodchenko (constructivism), Jackson Pollack, (abstract expressionism), and Andy Warhol (pop). Her basic point was that one has to understand the language of painting in order to assess its quality. I thought the section on Rodchenko was particularly interesting, largely because he was the one of the four I was least familiar with. I also appreciated her plug for taking advantage of docent tours as a way to learn about art. But I am still completely cold towards Pollack’s work.

The second talk was by Robert Watson from Lynn University on Our Broken Two-Party System: Can American Politics Be Fixed? He was very entertaining, but I found his conclusions depressing. On the other hand, we did survive the 1850’s when Preston Brooks beat Charles Sumner to a pulp on the Senate floor in response to an anti-slavery speech. I also appreciated Watson’s point that after 1901 the parties essentially switched positions, largely in response to Theodore Roosevelt. Another good point was the lack of friendships across parties that results from the ease of air travel allowing congresscritters to spend much of their time in their home districts, so they socialize with one another less. Unfortunately, he didn’t really have any suggestions on what to do about the rise of extremism and fact-free politics. Well - he did have one suggestion. Namely, subscribe to your local newspaper.

The final talk was on How the 1960s Shaped American Politics Today by Leonard Steinhorn of American University. He really started with the 1950’s and the post-war prosperity and suburbanization of the American dream. (Hmm, what about the Korean War?) However, the good times really only worked for straight, white, Christian men. That led to the civil rights movement(s) and, combined with the Vietnam war protests, led to huge societal changes. Which led to the backlash by people who think life is a zero-sum game. On a more positive note, he pointed out that millennials are, in general, inclusive. For example, he claimed that even his Trump-supporting students are accepting of sexuality and gender differences.

Overall, it was a stimulating morning.
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TCC Luncheon: Saturday was a Travelers’ Century Club luncheon. I invited a friend who also travels a fair bit to come along so I got a dose of work-related gossip along with the travel talk. She enjoyed the meeting (as did I) and will probably join as a provisional member. There aren’t too many places where somebody can ask, "Who’s been to Easter Island?" and see over three quarters of the people in the room raise their hands.

Better Said Than Done Show: Then there was a storytelling show on Saturday night. I told a story I have been working on for over a decade. I think it had about 3 words in common with the version I rehearsed over the phone. It mostly worked, though it isn’t completely where I want it to be. I took out a lot of the gorier details (involving domestic violence, overheard through open windows) and I am not entirely comfortable with that decision. I think what I need is equally disturbing, but more bizarre, examples of things I’ve heard.

But, overall, it was a very good show, with a wide variety of stories.

If you want to hear me live, the next show I am doing is August 15th at the Lake Anne Coffee House in Reston, Virginia. It’s at 7 p.m. and it’s free!

Also, I haven’t posted the video from the previous show here, so, for your watching pleasure:

Knitting Group: Sunday was the first time in ages that I made it to knitting group. I can’t say I made much progress on my sampler afghan. In fact, I made no progress, thanks to a dropped stitch and screwing up fixing it. But there was lots of good conversation, so it was worth it anyway.

A Brief Political Diversion: The controversy over a congressional race a couple of districts southwest of mine has to do with whether or not the Republican candidate is into Bigfoot porn. There’s a part of me that finds this amusing and there is a (bigger) part of me that thinks, "who cares what his kinks are?" Assuming, that is, that Bigfoot is a consenting adult.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Oliver Knussen composed an opera based on the book Where the Wild Things Are. Melanie Kantrowitz was a poet and activist, writing a lot about Jewish women. Marion Woodman was a psychologist who wrote The Owl Was a Baker’s Daughter, an excessively Jungian analysis of eating disorders. Peter Carington was the Secretary General of NATO from 1984 to 1988. John A. Stormer was a propagandist, best known for None Dare Call It Treason. Henry Morgenthau III was a television producer. Carlo Benneton co-founded the clothing company that bears his name. Nathaniel Reed co-wrote the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Puzzle Follow-up: If you are interested in the puzzle I brought to the NPL con, here’s a link to it.
road to bocon puzzle

While I am Linking to Things - a Friendzy: Here is ghost_light’s birthday friendzy. Probably of more interest to the LJ crowd vs. DW but lots of us use both, n’est ce pas? And lots of people could use more friends.

Weather and Baseball: We had one hell of a storm yesterday afternoon. Fortunately, it was fairly brief, but my power must have gone out at home for a few minutes (based on the kitchen clocks) and there was a lot of flooding. It did stop hours before the All-Star Game, at least. I will admit that I don’t really care about the All-Star Game, but my obsession with Jewish baseball players has me happy that Alex Bregman was the MVP.

Speaking of Treason: I am not quite convinced that Trump’s remarks at the press conference with Putin, disturbing as they were, qualify by the constitutional definition. The question is how one defines an actual enemy. Without a war having been formally declared, I could argue that Russia is not officially an enemy, no matter how much I believe they are in practical terms. Lawyers complicate everything.

Further Proof I am Tired: I saw a reference to a DC superhero show and it took me a minute to realize they were talking about comics, not the District of Columbia.

Ch-ch-changes: I’ve decided to write about only new graze snacks, as I was finding it hard to find things to say about the umptyumpth bag of microwave popcorn.

I need to get better control of my time and space. I am not sure how to do that, but I am thinking I should aim for leaving one unscheduled weekend a month. What I really want to change is the rotation of the earth, but I’ve been advised that is not within my bailiwick.
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Rant the First – Trade Wars: It is true that there are some issues with tariffs other countries impose on us, but the way to deal with that is on an individual case by case basis instead of totally destroying U.S. trade and, hence, the broader economy.

Rant the Second – Virginia Politics: Once again, the Virginia Republican Party has proved their ability to find the looniest de la loony. I refer to Corey Stewart winning last week’s Republican Senate primary. This is a guy who parades around on a horse waving a Confederate flag and chanting anti-immigration slogans. Not that the other two guys running were much saner, but still…

In the meantime, my Congressional district didn’t have competitive races for either party. But we are going to have fun in November because, in addition to the incumbent Democrat (a man whose opinions I generally agree with, but whose personality I find grating), we have not only a Republican and a Libertarian running, but also the first person to run for office in Virginia as a Whig in over 160 years! This amuses me to no end.

I did go and look up the Modern Whig Party platform and, while there are some good points, I have reservations about their opposition to affirmative action, their view on gun ownership, their support for charter schools, and their support for a voucher system for health care. So, no, they aren’t the Dead Armadillos I am seeking. (That’s a quote from Jim Hightower – "There’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos." I am about as middle of the road politically as one can get; hence, I must be a dead armadillo.) At any rate, it hardly matters because my district is so blue it is practically indigo.

A Brief Comment on Israel: The best thing I have read recently about how Israel deals with Gaza explained that the heart of the issue over how to react to the protests is whether the Gazans are acting as civil protestors or are committing acts of war. There are valid arguments both ways and those govern which aspects of international law are applicable.

The UN and Human Rights: I am actually perfectly fine with the U.S. pulling out of the U.N. Human Rights Council. In addition to concerns about their excessive focus on Israel, I have specific concerns that their list of country-specific mandate holders does not address several countries that are known abusers of human rights, including Venezuela and Zimbabwe. I also believe that their approach to freedom of expression is ineffective and dangerous.

Rant the Third – Immigration: The notion of refusing asylum to people fleeing gang violence and domestic violence is simply immoral. And separating asylees from the children they are trying to protect is particularly heinous. (Note that the warehousing of children which occurred under Obama was: a) limited to unaccompanied minors and b) was much shorter term, in general. And it was still problematic.) The only positive I see is that this issue does provide a way to see which people in my social circles are complete monsters.

GUT: In accordance with the Grand Unified Theory of Politics, Economics, and the American League East, it is all the fault of the New York Yankees.

Rant the Fourth – Space Force: The idea of a Space Force is not at all ridiculous and has, in fact, been discussed periodically for at least the past 15 or so years. The timing of Trump’s announcement was, however, interesting because there is a report to Congress (in response to an item out of last year’s Authorization Act) that is due August 1st. It would more typical to wait for the results of that report.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Shammi was a Bollywood actress. Bill Pulte was a real estate developer. Kate Wilhelm was a mystery and science fiction writer. Togo West was the Secretary of the Army under Bill Clinton and later became Secretary of Veterans Affairs (still under Clinton). Ruth Wilensky served up a light lunch in Montreal. Oskar Groening was a war criminal, dubbed the bookkeeper of Auschwitz. Gary Burden designed album covers for rock albums. Hubert de Givenchy was a fashion designer. Ken Dodd was a British comedian. Craig Mack was a rapper. T. Berry Brazelton was a pediatrician and author.

Russell Solomon founded Tower Records. Once, oh best beloved, there was such a thing as a record store, where you could go and listen to records (or, later on, CDs) and find new things to buy that you had never heard of before. I mostly frequented HEAR Music in Santa Monica, which had well-curated listening stations, leading to many somewhat serendipitous purchases. Tower Records was bigger and more mainstream, but I still spent money there.

Stephen Hawking was a physicist. Part of his fame was due to his disability. His book, A Brief History of Time, was probably the least-read non-fiction bestseller of all time. I did actually read it, but I can’t say I remember much about it.

Liam O’Flynn played the Uilleann pipes. He co-founded Planxty, one of the major bands that modernized Irish folk music. He also played for Shaun Davey’s orchestral suite The Brendan Voyage. That piece had a big influence on my life, because it led me to discover Tim Severin’s writing, which has made me choose certain travel destinations (notably The Faroe Islands, but also Georgia.)

Non-celebrity Death Watch: I got a facebook message from my cousin yesterday. He mentioned that his father (my uncle) had died in December. I had gotten a call from Uncle Herb’s friend at the end of October telling me he was ill (leukemia) and I had expected to get another call when he died. I am a bit peeved not to have been notified, since I would have driven up to the funeral. Anyway, Herb was a man who enjoyed life, including traveling and eating and playing poker and doing Sudoku. He had started going to Chabad and joined a tefillin club there in the last few years of his life and I believe that gave him some comfort.

Space Force: It is rare that I agree with President Trump, but the notion of a Space Force is not at all ridiculous. This has been talked about for years for good reasons. One has to do with funding priorities. The Air Force dominates space programs right now, but tends to prioritize airplanes over space systems in the budget process. (This is even worse for the Navy. I have a running joke with some of my colleagues that we should refer to satellites as spaceships to keep their attention.) But the bigger reason is that space programs are, in general, inherently multi-service and the current processes don’t handle that well. To use a fairly simple example, the Air Force buys the GPS satellites and ground control system, but the biggest user of GPS equipment is the Army. This makes it more challenging to develop and deploy user equipment. We have similar synchronization issues with pretty much every program. A Space Force is a reasonable solution to some of these problems. (Trump taking credit for the idea is silly, but that’s another matter.)

Speaking of Space: It always bothers me that people assume extraterrestrials will be smarter than us. It seems to me perfectly plausible that contacting a non-spacefaring culture is really a question of setting that as a priority. Maybe they have spaceships but not, say, flush toilets. Maybe they have a Space Force instead of a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Contrary to popular phraseology, rocket science is actually straightforward. Now, art – that’s what takes brains.

Speaking of Rockets: I just saw that Wreckless Eric is going to be playing at Jammin’ Java in April. I had no idea he was still around.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Nini Theilade was a ballerina. Morgan Tsvangirai was the leader of the political opposition in Zimbabwe. Gunter Blobel won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Billy Graham was an evangelist. Emma Chambers was a British actress. Sridevi was a Bollywood superstar. Nanette Fabray was an actress and singer and probably best known for her work with Sid Caesar. Shmuel Auerbach was an influential Israeli rabbi. Barbara Alston sang "Da Doo Ron Ron." Eido Shimano was a controversial Buddhist leader, who was forced to resign from his role in the Zen Studies Society after a sex scandal.

Cynthia Heimel wrote humor pieces for a wide range o publications. Her book, Sex Tips for Girls was a big influence on me

Prince Henrik was the Prince Consort of Denmark. He’s only significant because he scored me 20 ghoul pool points due to a quick trade. Since the rules this year let you reuse somebody after a trade, it was an easy way to get on the board. Instead of putting I.M. Pei back on the top of my list, I reloaded with Stirling Moss on the grounds that his retirement from public life probably means he is down to mere weeks. I have been known to be wrong about this sort of thing, however.

About Arming Teachers: I’ve already written my opinions about gun control and the latest massacre hasn’t changed them. I do want to say, however, that the idea of arming teachers as a countermeasure is a terrible one. If there is a school shooting, police who respond will have no way of identifying teachers and are likely to shoot anybody who is brandishing a weapon.

About Punishment and Civil Disobedience: I also have a quick comment about students getting suspended for participating in protests. I believe they should be punished as long as the punishment is exactly the same as for any equivalent action, e.g. other unexcused absences. Part of civil disobedience is being willing to accept those punishments to bring attention to the issues being protested. Compare to Gandhi serving jail time in South Africa for refusing racially-based registration.

Visiting Escribitionist: I met [personal profile] lillibet at Belga Cafe for cocktails and conversation when she was in town. I tried a cocktail called Yuzu Making Me Crazy which consisted of Untitled No. 2 Gin, balsamic, yuzu, beet syrup, and plum bitters. It was lovely, both in taste and appearance. The conversation was equally lovely, covering people and places and ideas.

Month of Letters: I have failed this year, though I have a couple of days left to write to people. I thought I could catch up and just never managed to. Which is about where I am on housework, too.

Election Security: Thursday night, I went to an MIT Club meeting on election security. There was good conversation beforehand. The talk itself was also interesting, covering mathematical techniques for ensuring accuracy of voting. But I do wish they did these things at a better location than Maggiano’s, which I think serves up vast amounts of mediocre food and overpriced mediocre drinks.

Storytelling: I did Saturday night’s Better Said Than Done show, which had a theme involving love, marriage, and commitment. My story had to do with DLL, a MUD I played on in the 1993 time frame and on which my character and another character had a rather unusual wedding. There was a wide mix of stories and a responsive, albeit smallish, audience. Overall, it was a fun evening.
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Celebrity Death Watch: John Mahoney was an actor, best known for his role on Frasier. Alan Baker was a mathematician, who focused on number theory and won the Fields Medal. Craig MacGregor played bass for Foghat. John Gavin was an actor who was in several classic films and later became ambassador to Mexico. Reg E. Cathey was primarily a television actor, who won 3 Emmys for performing in House of Cards.. Jan Maxwell was a musical actress, who I saw perform as Phyllis in the Kennedy Center production of Follies. Vic Damone was a pop singer, who had a number of hits in the late 1940’s and throughout the 1950’s. Marty Allen was a comedian.

John Perry Barlow was a lyricist for the Grateful Dead and an internet activist, particularly notable for co-founding the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I also recommend his List of 25 Principles of Adult Behavior though I will admit to not being entirely convinced of all of them. I don’t think love forgives everything. Nor do I think that mission is necessarily more important than happiness I do think that, however, that "Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right" is good advice.

Happy Birthday, Neptune: My beloved blue-green Saturn, named Neptune because I am a space geek, officially turned 24 this week. That merited a present, in the form of a radiator flush (along with a slightly overdue oil change).

Joe Biden: Tuesday night, I went to hear Joe Biden talk at The Anthem. This is a newish venue at the District Wharf. (Actually, the whole wharf is newish.) Their directions were somewhat confusing, as the signs they said to follow were invisible so far as I could tell. Anyway, I got there in plenty of time. There was also some confusion over seating as the usher managed not to realize that the seat numbers were repeated in different sections.

Anyway, the format was Biden being interviewed by William S. Cohen, former Senator from Maine (and former Secretary of Defense). The whole thing is somewhat of a book tour, and everybody was given a copy of Biden’s recent book, Promise Me, Dad. But I gathered that there is an ulterior motive of stirring up interest in him making another bid for the presidency. I’d rather he didn’t, largely because of his age, but also because of his long-running tendency towards hoof-in-mouth disease, i.e. frequent gaffes. He didn’t make any particular gaffes that evening, though I was irritated at one of his vocal tics, man. What I did like was his emphasis on collegiality and his examples of being able to have friendships across political lines. Overall, I was glad I went, though the ticket was more expensive than it should have been.

Book Launch:Thursday night involved another book-related event. Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi is a young adult novel that has been getting a lot of buzz in the puzzle community. It was easy enough for me to go to the launch party at Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle. The place was packed and I believe that they even ran out of copies of the book. Ahmadi was interviewed by political journalist Ema O’Connor and joined by Azaf Nafisi, who wrote Reading Lolita in Tehran. Crosswords, alas, only got discussed at the very end in response to a question. (Cruciverbalist Finn Vigeland was Ahmadi’s college roommate, by the way.) There was a lot more about being a child of immigrants and, specifically, the Iranian community. It was an interesting discussion, and I expect I will have more to say after I’ve finished reading the book.

See Rock City: I saw the Washington Stage Guild production of See Rock City on Friday night. I was a little hesitant about it being the second play in a trilogy since I hadn’t seen Last Train to Nibroc, but it was fairly easy to figure out enough of the background for this one to make sense. The play involves a young couple, back from a belated honeymoon during the latter days of World War II. The play involves the twists in life (starting with their failure to make it to Rock City) amid the pressures first from the war and later from its ending, both of which disrupt their lives in unexpected ways. The most immediate pressure has to do with their mothers. May’s mother, who they live with, is cheerful and supportive, while Raleigh’s mother refuses to accept both his ambitions and his physical limitations. I’m hoping they do the third play next year, as I’d really love to know how everything works out.

4,380 Days: I continued my theatre-going by seeing 4,380 Days at Signature Theatre on Saturday. This is a complex political play by Annalisa Dias, part of the Women’s Voices Theatre Festival. The story is about an Algerian man being held without charges at Guantanamo. It’s mixed in with stories of the fall of the Numidians during the Punic Wars and of an atrocity committed by a French colonel during the conquest of Algeria. The prisoner, Malik, tells his story to his lawyer and the two men strive to understand each other and the horror and tragedy of his imprisonment. The ancient history is told by a character named The Woman and her situation, including her relationship to The Man (who she tells this to) is confusing and somewhat distracting. I thought that part might actually be the hallucinations that Malik has a result of the sleep deprivation he suffers, but none of the reviews I read drew that conclusion.

Anyway, this is a powerful and disturbing piece. There is a particularly brutal scene right before the intermission and I think that scene may have been why about a quarter of the audience didn’t come back from the intermission. For those who did stay, there was a lot of discussion after it was over. I’ll recommend it to people who can handle a provocative piece.

Other Stuff: I am swamped with housework. And work work. I did get various chores done during part of the weekend, as well as going to rehearsal for an upcoming storytelling show. (Bottom line, which I knew already, is that my story needs more story work.) Too bad I need to do things like sleeping, too.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Norman Baker was a navigator on three of Thor Heyerdahl’s expeditions. Neil Gillman was a major philosopher of Conservative Judaism. Rance Howard was an actor, though is probably better known as the father of Ron Howard. Lowell Hawthorne was the founder of Golden Crust, a Jamaican restaurant and frozen food chain. Ali Abdullah Selah united Yemen. Shashi Kapoor was a Bollywood actor. Christine Keeler was the model at the heart of the Profumo affair, a famous British government sex scandal. Johnny Hallyday was a French rock star. King Michael was the king of Romania and staffed a coup against the fascists in 1944. Conrad Brooks acted in a number of atrocious movies, primarily those made by Ed Wood. Tracy Stallard played baseball for the Mets and for the Red Sox. He is most famous for giving up the 61st home run hit by Roger Maris in 1961 Simeon Booker was a significant African-American reporter.

Jim Nabors was an actor and singer, best known for playing Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show.

John Anderson ran for President in 1980. He generated a lot of enthusiasm among people like myself, who are socially liberal and economically conservative. Frankly, I haven’t been anywhere near as enthusiastic about any candidate since.

Joan Hess was a mystery writer. Both the Claire Malloy series and the Maggody series are popular humorous cozies, which I highly recommend. She also wrote a series of botanically themed mysteries under the name Joan Hadley.

JGSGW: There was a Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington meeting the first Sunday of December. The speaker was from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and mostly served to convince me that I need to go down to the museum and spend some time with the databases they have which are not on the internet. And it apparently takes some particular expertise to deal with the records they have from the International Tracing Service. It’s handy to live nearby, but it isn’t as if I have any actual free time.

Radio Show: Speaking of lack of free time, I had to leave the JGSGW meeting a little early to go home to tape a story for a radio show. The Story Hour with Wendy Mann will air on Wednesday December 20th and repeat on the 29th at 10:30 a.m. on WERA 96.7 FM in Arlington. It’s also on mixcloud.com. The show is a full hour of holiday stories. My Chanukah in Chelm story is just a small piece of it, but I am sure the rest of the stories are well worth listening to, also.

Ah-choo: Then there was work to cope with. Except I got a cold, so was out for a couple of days. Sigh. Because it isn’t like I wasn’t busy enough and stressed enough to start with.

Holiday Party: The annual condo complex holiday party was last night. The food was good and the conversation was lively, though rather a bit much on the adult side, e.g. a lively discussion of water heaters and dryer hoses. I also discovered that a colleague lives in the complex. (She is newish to our office, though has been with the company for a while, at a different facility.) Also, for those who have followed these parties in the past, no man in kilt, alas.

Brief Political Rant – Jerusalem: The kerfuffle over Trump saying the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is really much ado about nothing. It is not, despite what a few people have posted on facebook, him telling another country what their capital is. Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel since independence and the government offices are there. There have been repeated bipartisan resolutions in the U.S. Congress to relocate the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. In practical terms, it makes sense to have embassies near the seat of government of the country they’re in. And, realistically, the embassy would end up being in West Jerusalem, which is not really in dispute. (There is little to no Palestinian interest in West Jerusalem, just as there is little Israeli interest in most of East Jerusalem. The disputed part of Jerusalem is a small area, pretty much confined to the Temple Mount.)

Brief Political Rant – Sexual Misconduct: There are degrees of misconduct and I am concerned that the current rush to be rid of anybody who has done anything questionable misses that. No, I don’t want to have to deal with off-color comments or unwanted pats on any part of my anatomy, but those are not equivalent to raping a child.

More broadly, how should we deal with bad behavior of people who have accomplished good things? An example which comes to mind is a current debate within the Jewish community regarding the music of Shlomo Carlebach. For those unfamiliar with the name, he was a rabbi who wrote a lot of songs that are widely used liturgically in Jewish Renewal (and some modern Orthodox and some Conservative) circles. He was also apparently abusive towards some women. So, should his music continue to be used in services, knowing that his can feel hurtful to women he molested? It’s not a simple question. I tend to believe that art itself can overcome any evils of the artist. If I didn’t think that, I wouldn’t gawk at Caravaggio’s paintings, for example. But there is the passage of time there, while Carlebach’s actions are much more recent history. Then, how much time has to pass? And how much remorse must a malefactor show? None of this is easy. I do know that treating it as if every case is the same and metaphorically hanging them all can’t be the right answer.


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