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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: 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.

Me Too

Oct. 16th, 2017 02:33 pm
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Unless you have been living in an internet-free bubble for the past 48 hours or so, you probably have seen that posted on facebook and twitter and whatever other social media sites people use nowadays. (I prefer being longwinded, but I do use facebook. Too much, in fact, but that’s another matter.) It refers to (primarily) women posting those words if they have been sexually harassed or assaulted. The idea is to raise awareness of this problem.

I am one of many women who admits to being surprised if any woman could not answer "yes" to having been harassed or assaulted. I’m concerned, though, that just saying that, without including the story, may be inadequate to help others understand.

I’ve been fortunate enough not to be raped. I was once in a situation where I came closer than I was comfortable with and where I still believe a lot of people would have blamed me. The short version is that I was upset about something that had happened with respect to a relationship I was in. Another man, who I thought of as a good friend, offered me a drink and a shoulder to cry on. And then suggested that I should see him as a substitute. He could easily have overpowered me – he was a big guy and I had been drinking. That he didn’t showed that he had some fundamental decency, but his suggestions continued afterwards whenever we saw each other (which circumstances made frequent). I had to go out of my way to make sure we weren’t alone together.

The scariest story is a string of voicemail messages I got over the course of a few months in which a guy threatened to rape and sodomize me. I had my suspicions as to who it was leaving the messages, but couldn’t prove anything. There were various reasons I didn't think the threat could be acted on, but it was still scary.

I can think of another incident during a summer when I was working as a camp counselor and was on duty with another counselor who thought it entertaining to fill the time of our hanging around in between patrols by masturbating in front of me.

Another summer camp incident was when I was about 11 and a couple of older girls (yes, girls) groped me and pulled off my bra. I reported what had happened and they were expelled from camp.

There are countless incidents of catcalls, guys leaving inappropriate photos around (hint: if you have to apologize for the nudie pictures on the ruler on your desk, maybe you should go out and spend a buck or two on an inoffensive ruler. Also, your apologies might be more plausible if you didn’t then throw in comments about "all those coeds always …"), men in certain countries who believe American women are all loose, …

None of these are huge things compared to a lot of the stories I have heard from other people (or, in some cases, witnessed.) But the point is that they’re common and it is bloody exhausting to deal with this crap. And I am also sure I have behaved inappropriately plenty of times myself, because I am a product of my culture.

So, yes, me too.
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Puerto Rico is fairly complex, but there are few key points that I think are worth noting:

  1. Remember the Spanish-American War? Part of it involved the invasion of Puerto Rico, primarily because of sugar interests. During the last years of Spanish rule, Puerto Rico had been given a semi-independent status, including a constitution and voting rights and had its own local parliament. The local economy was mostly based on coffee. Both that independent status and economy were wiped out by the U.S. which made the island an "unincorporated territory." You broke it, you bought it should apply.

  2. Puerto Ricans became citizens in 1917, largely as a way for the U.S. to use them to defend the Panama Canal during World War I. That citizenship did not, however, come with voting rights.

  3. The modern economy is dominated by the pharmaceutical industry. To quote the husband of a friend who works for one of the companies involved, "there are some things that even New Jersey won’t allow to be manufactured on their territory."

  4. One of the other things inhibiting the Puerto Rican economy is the Jones Act, which requires shipping between U.S. ports to be on ships that are entirely U.S. owned and operated. This means that fuel comes almost entirely from Canada and Europe, which makes it slower to arrive and more expensive than if it came from the U.S. mainland. If the Jones Act were such a good deal for our colonies (and, let’s face it, territories are colonies), why does it explicitly not apply to the Virgin Islands? San Juan as a port has been steadily losing shipping business to other Caribbean ports because of this misguided protectionism and its unintended consequences. (It costs about three times as much to ship something via San Juan as it does via Kingston, Jamaica, for example.)

  5. Speaking of the failures of protectionism, I have a lot of professional experience with another example – namely the inclusion of satellite components and complete satellites on the International Traffic in Arms Regulation list. Rather than protect U.S. manufacturers, it has led to the development of "ITAR-free" satellites by some European manufacturers. Operators are willing to pay roughly a 30% premium to avoid having to deal with ITAR compliance and the resulting delays from that. Full disclosure: I own a tube of ITAR-free lip gloss, obtained by a colleague at a conference.

  6. So what’s my point? The infrastructure of Puerto Rico is underdeveloped largely because of policies from the mainland. That lack of modern infrastructure is a lot of what is in the way of hurricane recovery. Yes, there is corruption and bureaucracy, but that is typical in colonial economies that are designed for the benefit of the mainland. (I have ranted in the past on why former French colonies tend to be basket cases, albeit basket cases with good coffee and good bread.) Immediate hurricane relief is only part of the need. It should include revitalizing the infrastructure. But, hey, we are letting bridges and roads on the mainland crumble and those people even get to vote, so I don’t expect anything to happen.

  7. And, by the way, expect shortages of common medications in the meantime.

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Celebrity Death Watch: Vin Garbutt was a British folk singer, best known for protest songs. Sam Panopoulos invented Hawaiian pizza, which should be protested. Adam West was Batman. Andimba Toivo ya Toivo was a cofounder of SWAPO and more or less relegated to minor ministries within the Namibian government after independence. Samuel V. Wilson directed (and reorganized) the Defense Intelligence Agency in the 1970’s. Rosalie Sorrels was a singer-songwriter. A. R. Gurney was a playwright, best known for The Cocktail Hour. Bill Dana was a comedian, best known for his Jose Jiminez character, which seems horribly dated and racist nowadays. Helmut Kohl was the Chancellor of Germany, including 8 years prior to and 8 years after the 1990 reunification. Stephen Furst was an actor, best known for playing Flounder in Animal House. Baldwin Lonsdale was the president of Vanuatu. Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz was the founder of ArtScroll publications, an influential publisher of Jewish texts. Frederick Leboyer popularized a natural childbirth approach. Gabe Pressman was a television reporter in New York. Michael Nyqvist was a Swedish actor. Michael Bond created Paddington Bear.

Business Trip #1: I got back from New York in time to unpack and pack for the first of two back-to-back business trips. That one was to Colorado Springs for an annual meeting. I flew out from DCA via ORD, which wouldn’t be my first choice, but it worked okay. I was even able to have a sit-down dinner at a Chili’s in the airport. I waited forever (about 7 minutes) before being given water. Fortunately, once I called the server out on that, she was efficient. That was not the case a couple of nights later at a diner in Colorado Springs, where I was tempted to leave, citing the need to go to the police station and file a missing persons report for my server. There is something of a stereotype about women eating alone being bad tippers. Self-fulfilling prophecy at work.

Anyway, the work stuff was reasonably productive, though, as is typical of this sort of thing, most of the value was the conversations in the hallway between presentations. Connections are, as always, everything.

The Weekend In-Between – Awesome Con: I had made plans to go with a friend to Awesome Con, which is a comic con type of thing at the D.C. Convention Center. I am not a science fiction / comic book type for the most part and am fairly pop-culture illiterate. My primary interest was people watching and I do find it intriguing how much effort people put into cosplay and such. We spent most of our time on the sales floor, though didn’t manage to cover all of it. I bought a fairly spectacular hat because the friend I was with is an evil person who refused to talk me out of it. I also bought a couple of gifts which I won’t talk about until they are given. We did also go to a panel on women in geekdom, which was less focused than I was hoping for, but still reasonably interesting. I later found out that another friend of mine was there (i.e. at that same panel) but I didn’t see her.

Overall, the event was overwhelmingly huge, which I found something of an energy drain. They also did a terrible job of signage and a pretty egregious set-up for food, with most of the food stands having no nearby seating. If I go again in the future, I might try to do more planning and focus on panels more. And maybe get more sleep in the week beforehand.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch: The next day, I had tickets to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch at The Kennedy Center. I had heard good things about this show, but never seen it (or heard the music) before. The premise is a concert by Hedwig, the victim of a botched (and not really voluntary) sex change operation. There are various references to (and sort-of glimpses into) a much larger concert being given at the same time by Tommy Gnosis, who turns out to have an interesting history with Hedwig. That relationship drives some of the transformation behind the story.

Unfortunately, the story is pretty thin. There is an interesting mix of music and some mildly funny lines. And there is no doubt that Euan Morton (who played the lead) is very talented. But I thought the whole thing was heavy handed and not well pulled together. I also want to note that the lighting was completely irritating. Incidentally, I ran into a couple of friends, who were puzzled by the whole thing. We concluded we are just too old and clearly not the target demographic for this material.

Business Trip #2: Unpack, do laundry, pack. Such is my life at times. I was off to the Bay Area for a one day meeting. It was actually pretty interesting and included a high bay tour, which is always one of my favorite things to do. But quick trips like this are always pretty exhausting. I should note that I had originally been scheduled to fly out on American through DFW, but weather delays let me persuade them to put me on a non-stop on United to SFO. I did come back on American (via CLT), which featured just as much service as is typical of them (i.e. next to none). The highlight of CLT was spotting a plane painted in PSA livery. I used to fly PSA quite a bit between L.A. and the Bay Area, but they were bought by USAir a lot a lot of years ago.

Book Club: I got back in time to make it to book club. This meeting's topic was A Man Called Ove. I believe it was the first time that everybody liked a book. If you haven't read it, do. It's quirky and funny and touching in equal measures.

Jesus Christ Superstar: The only thing on my calendar this past weekend (well, aside from catching up on sleep) was seeing Jesus Christ Superstar at Signature Theatre. I really know this show from its original cast recording of over 45 years ago – and will admit that it is not one I particularly like. I remain unimpressed by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score, but, then, it was an early experiment with rock opera and the form hadn’t really been figured out. (ALW, of course, never did figure it out, but others have.)

Signature is always a good place to see musicals for several reasons. Among those are a number of performers, including Nastascia Diaz as Mary Magdalene and Bobby Smith as Pontius Pilate. I was also impressed with Karma Camp’s choreography and thought the lighting and projections were used in interesting ways to create the sets. Overall, I’d say this was a good production of a flawed show.


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

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

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

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

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

K – Mrs. Caspar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oy: I discovered this morning that the vanilla tea I had bought last week was decaffeinated. No wonder I was so tired yesterday. I drank lapsang souchong today.
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This is one of those catch-up posts. What can I say? I do a lot of stuff.

Celebrity Death Watch: Arthur Anderson was the voice of Lucky the Leprechaun, telling us about cereal being magically delicious. Doris Roberts was a character actress, who I first took notice of when she played a guest role on St. Elsewhere. Ben-Zion Gold was the rabbi at Harvard Hillel during my years at the superior institution up the street.

You don’t need me to tell you about Prince. And you’d be better off asking somebody else about him, anyway, since his music wasn’t really my thing. Billy Paul, who sang "Me and Mrs. Jones," was more to my taste. But the musician whose death I really want to highlight is Papa Wemba. He was a major figure in the world of Afropop, which is very much my thing. If you can listen to his music without dancing, you may want to consult a doctor to make sure you aren't dead yourself.

Made in Space: As I mentioned previously, the theme of this year’s MIT Club of Washington seminar series was space. This talk was not actually part of the series, but many of the same people were there. The speaker was Andrew Rush, the President of Made in Space, which has demonstrated (in a very limited way) additive manufacturing in space. For example, they used a 3-D printer to produce a tool on the International Space Station. Their plans are a lot more ambitious. I grasp the benefit of not needing things to survive the launch environment, but he didn’t address having the manufacturing equipment survive the space environment. For example, what are the impacts to electronics of energetic charged particles? And he didn’t really talk about the economics at all, since certain components (mostly electronics) would need to be stockpiled in the manufacturing facility. Still, it was an interesting talk. And, as a bonus, one of the people there was someone I was very friendly with as an undergrad and hadn’t seen in close to 36 years!

Book Club: The major reason to belong to a book club is to force yourself to read books you might not choose otherwise. This session’s book was Minaret by Leila Aboulela. It was an interesting book, with a somewhat unsatisfying ending. It would have been helpful to know a little more about Sudanese culture – and clothing, as I had to google what a "tobe" is. (It turns out to be more like a sari than like a burka, which is what I had been envisioning. One thing I continue to find amazing is other people’s limited views of the world. That is, except for the Tajik woman in the group. Of course, they probably think my view of the world is weird - e.g. my scale of how much a country is likely to be a basket case based on what colonial power dominated it.

Speaking of the Basket Case Scale: The worst colonialists were the Belgians. It isn’t clear that there’s an adequate sample size, but I wouldn’t want more countries to be as screwed up as the Congo is.

The Dutch were horrible colonialists, but, fortunately, were usually kicked out by the French or British before they could do too much damage. There are, however, no excuses for the basket cases they made of Indonesia and New York City.

Former Portuguese colonies are, in general, doomed to an eternity of civil war. The only mitigation is that they tend to have great music.

Former French colonies are also doomed to be basket cases. On the plus side, the French are sometimes willing to come back in and help them out. And they tend to have good bread and good coffee.

Former English colonies are a mixed bag. They tend to have some level of democratic government, but may have lasting ethnic tensions. Quality of food and music is more variable.

Former German colonies seem to end up with suspiciously long serving leaders, but, again, it isn’t clear if the sample size is adequate to judge. On the plus side, they tend to have good roads.

Surprisingly, former Spanish colonies may be the most functional. Admittedly, the lifetime of a President for Life may be measured in days, but the periods between junta rule are often reasonably free politically.

Innovation Reception: I had an MIT-related reception to go to on Monday night, which was kind of a pain in the neck since, being Passover, I couldn’t eat much of the food. (They did have some raw veggies.) The talk was fairly interesting, with an emphasis on nano-technology. I have to admit to a certain level of skepticism about the emphasis on nano, largely because of my experience with the technology valley of death. That is, the overwhelming majority of technologies fail to make it from research to operations (or, in this case, commercial viability). Academics are always way too optimistic about this, but it affects the riskiness of technology investments.

Pierre Bensusan: My very favorite musician on the planet playing at a place just a couple of miles from my home? Of course, I was going to be there. I’ve seen Pierre perform live numerous times and I continue to be blown away by his guitar virtuosity.

Passover: I have been somewhat unenthusiastic about Passover this year. The only significant cooking achievement was a frittata with asparagus and mushrooms from the farmer’s market. And, frankly, that is as much a shopping achievement as a cooking one.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
As I mentioned in my previous entry, I am concerned that holding the National Storytelling Conference in the same location for several years in a row will have a negative impact on attendance. I wanted to think this through a bit and do at least a cursory analysis.

There are three general categories of people who attend conferences like this. The first will go pretty much anywhere. The second are people who will attend only if they are presenting something or getting an award The third are location specific attendees. They live close to the event location (or have family there) or want to do some sightseeing nearby. I believe that first time attendees fall overwhelmingly into this third category, though I don’t know of any actual data that are available to prove this. I have lots of anecdotal evidence, in the form of which conferences members of my local guilds have been to. (There used to be a list handed out of all the attendees at the NSN conference, but it’s been a long long time since I’ve seen one of those.) I’ll note that some people in the first category are really in the third category. At least four people at this year’s NSN conference told me they like the excuse for going to different places.

Of course, the hotels for the last several conferences have been in non-central parts of the host cities. There is not a lot of difference between suburban Phoenix and suburban Cincinnati and suburban Richmond. The Kansas City location (the Marriott at Country Club Plaza) was better than average in this respect. True, Country Club Plaza is bland and largely full of chain restaurants and shops. But there were two museums within walking distance. The Kemper Contemporary Museum of Art is particularly convenient (though not for arachnophobes, as it has a giant statue of a spider on its lawn), while the Nelson-Atkins is not much further, though not for aracketnetphobes, as it has giant badminton shuttlecocks on its lawn. (And thanks to Jon Gearhart for suggesting that neologism.)

So there is my concern. I know the board believes they can do better sponsorship funding by sticking to one location – and that being where the headquarters is now. I’m not sure why a nominally national organization believes that, but I also don’t pretend to understand much about the sort of grants and sponsorships they are looking for. But I think this doesn’t serve membership well – especially as under 10% of the membership is in the South Central region, which Missouri is part of.

Where am I going with this? Costs are a big part of the difference between cities.

And I do know exactly how to get at that. I created a list of potential conference locations by taking where the last 10 conferences have been held. I then used the locations of the last 10 National Puzzlers’ League conferences within the U.S. as where people might be traveling from. I used that as a sort of randomization and to keep from biasing things by using my current location and the center of civilization as my examples. I assumed that people will drive if they live within 500 miles, a very scientific number I came up with by asking the guy in the next cubicle at work, "hey, how far would something have to be for you to drive rather than fly?" I then multiplied that by 57.5 cents per mile, which is the current U.S. government reimbursement rate for use of a personal vehicle. The resulting numbers (based on round trip, with mileage computed using google maps) came out higher than I would have expected, which makes me feel justified in my preference for flying.

For airfares, I used ITA Matrix, which is the software that underlays the airlines own pricing engines. Airfares for next year only get released 330 days in advance, so I looked for the cheapest Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday in June of next year, instead, for a trip of 3-5 nights. (By the way, the Board mistakenly stated that Kansas City is a hub, which it isn’t. It used to be a hub for Midwest, but was dehubbed when Frontier bought them.) I always used the closest airport to the destination and did not really account for the possibility that still required a long distance to go, e.g. from Knoxville (TYS) to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, with attendant costs. That probably weighs most heavily in the case of Bellingham, Washington, where one could almost surely get better fares by flying into Seattle. It also may have affected Los Angeles, since I used LAX, instead of allowing for Burbank, Long Beach, or Ontario, largely on the grounds that I was a West Side gal in my days there and prefer not to think about the existence of Burbank.

I’ll spare you the complete details, but Kansas City did come out a better than I expected. It was more expensive than Los Angeles (again, this is just transportation), and about the same as Richmond, Virginia and Saint Louis. (In the latter case, it depends on whether you use mean or median to rate the cost of transportation.) So I’d say it is in the cheaper part of the average range, based on this very cursory and somewhat arbitrary analysis. Also, should you care, I was vindicated in not having gone to the Gatlinburg, Tennessee conference, but Bellingham, Washington came out cheaper than both Oklahoma City and Cincinnati. I will also note that if you live in either Providence or Ann Arbor, you’re screwed, while folks in Denver are golden. I guess there has to be some sort of compensation on living in places where you need a case of moisturizer per month.

If I set a somewhat arbitrary limit of $300 on conference transportation costs, then the number of my 10 test cities from which it would be affordable to go to a conference in the last 10 actual locations is:
2015 – Kansas City – 4
2014 – Phoenix – 3
2013 – Richmond – 3
2012 – Cincinnati – 2
2010 – Los Angeles – 5
2008 – Gatlinburg – 0
2007 – Saint Louis – 5
2006 – Pittsburgh – 3
2005 – Oklahoma City – 2
2004 – Bellingham – 4

This does not account for differences in hotel (and possibly meal) costs, which would make, say, Oklahoma City look a lot better. Nor does this account for the time involved in getting places, which is not a simple function of distance. For example, the relative paucity of non-stop flights into some cities means you have to add a few hours to the time required.

I realize that there is already a contract in place for next year (and I probably can’t go next year anyway because I will be woefully short of vacation time after spending as long as I am going to on another trip.) But I really hope the board will reconsider the 2 years after that so the conference will serve the members of what is supposed to be a national organization. In particular, there has not been a conference in the Northeast region since 2001 and there have been only 2 in that region since 1990, while there have been 6 in the South Central region over that time period. The Western region is also underrepresented, with 2, but one of those was in 2014. Pacific and North Central each had 4, while Mid-Atlantic and Southeast each had 3. At the very least, the frequency of conferences in a region should reflect the relative percentage of the organization’s membership within that region.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Yes, this is one of those catch-up entries. I know. Deal with it.

Celebrity Death Watch: Lots of people died while I was away – and since I got back. Malcolm Fraser was a former Prime Minister of Australia. Lee Kuan Yew was the founder of Singapore. Robert Schuller built a glass house of worship, aka the Crystal Cathedral. Cynthia Lennon was John Lennon’s first wife. Sarah Brady was an anti-gun activist. Gary Dahl invented the pet rock. Tom Koch was a humorist who invented Mad Magazine’s game, 43-Man Squamish. Naomi Wilzig owned the World’s Erotic Art Museum in Miami. Stan Freberg was a parodist. Gunter Grass was a German novelist, best known for The Tin Drum.

There are two people I want to highlight in particular. John Renbourn was a British folk singer. He was probably best known as part of Pentangle, but I particularly like his solo albums, especially A Maid in Bedlam. And Al Rosen was a baseball player, whose career was cut short by injury, preventing him from joining Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg, and Lou Boudreau as the Jewish contingent at Cooperstown.

Taxes: I finally finished my taxes this weekend. Most of the delay was due to not being able to find a couple of pieces of paper. The mortgage interest statement was actually in plain view on my dining room table. The last charity receipt was more or less where I thought I’d put it, which still meant a few hours of searching.

I used to be so much more organized and I can be again.

Embassy of Estonia: The night before I left on vacation, I went to a dinner and talk at the Embassy of Estonia. The ambassador was a fairly interesting speaker, focusing on the country’s economic position. However, he went on rather long given that the audience was standing. (There were a handful of chairs, which were occupied primarily by people who really needed them. And a few people sat on the stairs. But the rest of us shifted uncomfortably.) The food was pretty good, with a pretty wide range and especially notable desserts, e.g. excellent strudel. One disappointment was that they didn’t have any Estonian wines or beers – only American ones.

More Vacation Details: I’d bought a ticket from EWR to OSL largely on the basis of price. When I see cheap airfares to somewhere that I might conceivably go to (i.e. anywhere that is not an active war zone and, ideally, somewhere I haven’t been to before), I buy first, think later. I actually knew what I wanted to do in Norway – namely, take the Hurtigruten up the coast and see two specific things in Oslo (the Fram, which is the ship Amundsen took to the Antarctic) and Munch’s The Scream. I was hoping for some aurora, too.

I am pleased to say that I accomplished all that I intended, plus a few other things.

Future Vacation Plans – Your Chance to Help: I cashed in some miles for a trip to South America in November, that partly involves some genealogical research and will also address two life list items. Since I need to connect in Panama City, I built in a day and a half there, which should enable me to see Panama La Vieja (i.e. the old city) and the Canal, including the Frank Gehry designed Museum of Biodiversity. I will probably use the hop-on / hop-off bus to do most of that. Given that, does anybody have any hotel recommendations? Keep in mind that: 1) I prefer boutique hotels and local charm to large modern chains, 2) convenience of location (including things like proximity to restaurants) is a high priority, and 3) safety is always a top priority.

You Can Also Advise Me About Books: I am in the middle of reading The Brethren by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong. This is about the Supreme Court under Warren Burger. I am finding it surprisingly interesting. So I am interested in any recommendations anyone might have for more recent books focused on the Supremes.

Mini-Rant 1 - Politics: I expect to spent the next 19 months – and at least 4 years after that, holding my nose.

Mini-Rant 2 - Free Range Children: Apparently the Montgomery County police picked up the two Meitiv children again, 2 ½ blocks from their home, and kept them for hours, despite telling them they were just going to give them a ride home. If I were the parents, I would be charging the police with kidnapping. And don’t give me any crap about the world having changed and gotten more dangerous. Almost all child abductions involve non-custodial parents. In fact, the crime rate now is lower than when I was growing up in the 1960’s.
fauxklore: (travel)
As most people who know me know, there are a few things I consider unmitigated evil. That list includes Microsoft, the New York Yankees and the color pink.

Flamingos are not actually pink, by the way. They take on the tint of whatever they eat. If they eat shrimp and krill and the like, they turn pinkish. But they could eat, say, kale, and you would have green flamingos. Unhealthy, protein-deprived flamingos, admittedly, but green nonetheless.

That is a brief explanation of why it didn't occur to me that staying at The Flamingo in Las Vegas - one of the pinkest hotels in the world - would be a bad idea. I got a rate approximately equivalent to what one normally pays at a Motel 6. Well, sort of, since there is the evil resort fee, but those are unavoidable in Vegas nowadays.

What was so bad?

1) It took nearly an hour and a half to check in. The line was absurdly long, there were too few people working, and several customers needed 10-15 minutes for what should be a 2 or 3 minute transaction. At one point, a guy in the line shouted loudly, "This is the worst hotel in Las Vegas."

2) Sound proofing left a lot to be desired. My room overlooked the Linq Promenade, which plays music 24/7. The interior soundproofing was also an issue and let's just quote Paul Simon and say the couple in the next room were going at it all night long.

And then there was the staff member who was vacuuming in the hallway outside guest rooms at 11 at night.

3) They charge 5 bucks to print a boarding pass. Not that I paid it, of course, but it was kind of a final outrage.

4) Checking out took only 40 minutes. I waited in the line because, frankly, I didn't trust them not to screw something up and I wanted to see that paper receipt.

Bugsy Siegel was more of a crook than I realized.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I’ve just had a couple of particularly awful customer service experiences.

Mom subscribed to several magazines. Some of those subscriptions were acquired using the last of her American Airlines miles (which she should have just paid to transfer to me, but she didn’t ask my opinion). You can’t get anything back if you cancel them, so I just changed the address on those. Another subscription was easy to cancel and returned the rest of the value of the magazines. But there is one who I can’t reach yet. Their customer service hours are 10-3 on Monday through Thursday. I found that out when I tried calling on Friday. Today, I was in meetings until 2:30. I tried calling and got put on hold and, after 10 minutes or so, they just hung up on me. That lasted all the way until 3. Aargh.

But her medigap coverage was even worse to deal with. There was one phone number on the bill. I called that number and got into phone tree hell. I must have gone through 70 levels of phone tree, including re-entering the first number I’d called. At one point, I got a person who asked me what number I wanted and connected me to yet another phone tree. When I finally did get through to a human being, it was at the wrong Blue Cross/Blue Shield. To be fair, that person did connect me with a human being at the correct one, but not until after arguing with me that I needed a different phone number. I wasted 40+ minutes on this crap, only to be told I didn’t need to do anything to disenroll her because that would be automatic when the bill wasn’t paid. Aargh, aargh.


Dec. 6th, 2014 08:42 pm
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
There is a local pizza chain that advertises that their pizzas are square because they don't cut corners. Wouldn't it make more sense, then, to make round pizzas, which inherently lack corners?

And then Trader Joe's describes their slicing brie as being shaped between a square and a rectangle. That would actually make it a rectangle. There is further confusion because I suspect the cheese is actually 3-dimensional.

Are advertisers exempt from basic geometry?
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I have a bunch of things to catch up on, but for various reasons it made sense for me to devote a separate entry to the Northlands Storytelling Conference, which was the weekend before last. I’d heard good things about this event in the past and, in the interest of seeing how people in other parts of the country manage storytelling get-togethers, I thought it was worth going to. I actually won the registration in a fundraising auction for the National Storytelling Network, so I was doing an additional good deed out of it. I had to add on meals and, of course, transportation, but that would have been the case anyway. Warning: you will have to read through some travel rants before getting to the good stuff, which is about the conference itself.

Click here for a hotel rant and bonus rant about car rental )
So, was it worth the hassle? I can give an unqualified yes. Details below.

I arrived just in time for the Friday afternoon intensive session. I chose Loren Niemi’s workshop on Mapping the territory: Exploring Narrative Paths, largely because I have a few things I’ve been working on and struggling to find a way to organize into a story. I did accomplish that, but there’s a certain aspect of "be careful what you wish for" to it. I’m still not completely convinced that some of the alternate plot structures work well for oral storytelling, so being pushed to try more of them might have been better for me in the long run.

After dinner came a story concert with performances by Cathryn Fairlee, Linda Gorham, Laura Packer, Jo Radner, Nothando Zulu, and Pippa White. All of them told well. I want to particularly note Laura’s personal story about how she reacted to being told as a child that girls couldn’t do certain things. It’s a subject I relate to and she had a wonderful and humorous take on her response. I also want to mention Jo’s story about pie, which I’ve heard before and enjoyed just as much on hearing it again. And I can’t leave out the excellent job of emceeing by Yvonne Healy.

I stayed up for one fringe performance, by Britt Aamodt on her experiences in Air Force Basic Training. This was an amusing and enlightening look at a life few of us are personally familiar with. I found this story particularly interesting in light of Loren Niemi’s workshop earlier in the day.

The first workshop I went to on Saturday was Pippa White’s on Mining the Gold in the History Books: How to Find Captivating Stories in History. There was good material in this, but it wasn’t entirely satisfying because an hour and a half was not nearly enough time to really get through the whole process of crafting an historical story.

My favorite workshop of the conference was on How to Create a Story-telling Based Walking Tour by Dale Jarvis. Dale had lots of practical tips, based on years of doing ghost tours in Newfoundland. I came away with my mind racing with ideas, which is always a sign of an excellent workshop.

After lunch I went to a workshop by Sara Slayton and Terry Visger on Guilds and Festivals and Shows, Oh My. Most of this had to do with festival organizing and, frankly, it would have been better to maintain that focus since there was so much material they didn’t get to. I did pick up some useful tips, so it was worthwhile.

I followed that with going to a story swap, which was fun. I did tell a story ("Thank You, Miss Tammy") but the point was mostly to hear a lot of tellers who I don’t usually hear. And, besides, the drum circle was outdoors – brrr!

I skipped the Northlands annual meeting in favor of continuing a dinner conversation about critique in storytelling (or, as I think of it, how to damn with faint praise). Having just said that, I don’t think I can critique the evening concert, which featured Catherine Brophy, Barb Schutzgruber, Sara Slayton, Susan Stone, and Connie Reagan-Blake.

I had intended to go to a Sunday workshop and concert, but there was a high risk of travel issues due to weather approaching. So I ended up changing my flights. That proved to be a good move, as one leg of my original itinerary did end up getting canceled.

What this summary doesn’t cover is, of course, the general chats and networking, which is where much of the value of storytelling (and other!) conferences. All in all, I would consider going to Northlands again, although it is challenging as it is always the last weekend in April, which is the same time as about 700 other events. But I would stay far away from The Cove of Lake Geneva.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: First, a few celebrity obituaries to note. Peter O'Toole and Joan Fontaine were actors. Ronnie Biggs was a train robber. Al Goldstein was a pornographer. Janet Dailey was a romance writer.

There are two I want to note in a little more detail. Mikhail Kalashnikov designed the AK-47, the most widely proliferated firearm of all time. He appears to have died of natural causes.

Charles M. Vest was the president of MIT a bit after my time. He is notable for having actually listened and acted on the data re: discrimination against women faculty members.

A Brief Rant re: Coffee: Coffee is a magical substance, when treated properly. Being treated properly does not include being grown in bulk in unsuitable climates. Or being burned by overroasting. Most of all, treating coffee properly does not include adding flavoring agents to it. Coffee IS a flavor and should, therefore, not come in flavors.

A Brief Rant re: Winter Storms: Winter storms do not have names. I don't care if you think they should, but they don't and you do not have the right to change this.

A Brief Rant re: Midwestern Vowel Deficiency: Actually, this may be sheer ignorance, not the lack of distinguishing vowel sounds amongst people from the vast middle of the country, but it annoys the hell out of me. When you have the bare bones of an idea and you are elaborating on it, you are flEshing it out. FlUshing things out refers to exposing them, as in sendng the dogs after the grouses you are hunting, which is quite a different metaphor. (Interestingly, someone else at work was complaining about the same thing just last week.)

A Brief Rant re: Brief Rants: Frankly, life is pretty good when my grievances are about people abusing coffee, storm names, and vowels in metaphors.
fauxklore: (Default)
I've been up to lots of things, but writing here has not been one of them. However, today I revised my master list of things to do (an elaborate affair involving graph paper, categories and pens in multiple colors) and writing an entry here will let me cross off something. (Of course, I remembered something else I need to add, so it's not a lot of progress, but still ...)

Celebrity Death Watch: Obviously, the big recent celebrity death was Osama bin Laden. I'll admit to being glad, but I'm also uncomfortable with extrajudicial killing. And I have definite mixed feelings about the burial at sea. Overall, I'd have preferred a trial, execution, and unmarked grave, but we could have done a lot worse. The thing I am puzzled about is why some people said that the affair made them proud to be American. What was uniquely American about the whole thing?

I'll also repeat that I consider terrorism to be like a hydra. Cutting off the head doesn't kill the creature.

Other deaths are ones I am considerably sadder about. Two involved Broadway luminaries. Marian Mercer was an actress who won a Tony for Promises, Promises. And Arthur Laurents wrote the book of West Side Story. But the most significant was in the realm of science. Jerry Lettvin was a true original, one of the best known people on campus in my days at MIT. He was a colorful character and a great inspiration to many students. I didn't know him well, but I felt richer for having known him at all.

Dear U.S. Airways: Days start at midnight. If I am searching for a flight on June 27th at 12:40 a.m., please don't second guess me and show me a flight on June 28th. I did not catch this until after I clicked "buy." Fortunately, I called immediately and could, therefore, cancel since the ticket price on the right day was not worth taking a redeye for.

Product Mockery: While grocery shopping the other day, I saw bags of pre-peeled, hard boiled eggs. I despair for my people.

Tall Tale Contest: I drove to Roanoke on Saturday for the 2nd Annual Virginia Tall Tales Competition. There were nine contestants. Mac Swift won, with an excellent piece (which I had heard him tell before) about his uncle's desire for a flat farm. 11-year-old Olivia Merryman came in second with a piece involving how video games saved her life. Linda Goodman was third with an unusual encounter on a dark road (and an atrocious pun). And Anthony Burcher got the audience choice award with his spooneristic version of the Tower of Babel. For those who care, I told "Why I'm Not a Millionaire." It was all a lot of fun. The evening show had Bil Lep headlining, along with music by Ryan and Paul Little. Much to my relief, the Littles turned out to play jazz and not country music, which is always a risk in that part of the state. Overall, a great day.

Roanoke Walk: Since it is such a long drive (about 4 hours), I stayed overnight in Roanoke and did a volksmarch in the morning. The route went through downtown Roanoke (a bit depressed, but the market square has some life still), the Old Southwest historic district, and greenways along the Roanoke River. It was pleasant enough, though not as exciting as it might be. Still, I appreciated the exercise before the schlep home.

And now I can go and work on some of the other 50+ items on my to-do list.
fauxklore: (Default)
Several months ago, my employer changed the software they use for timekeeping. The software is annoying for a number of reasons but I have had relatively few problems with it - until today.

See, I am going on vacation and, since I want to get paid for the time off, I was trying to do my timesheet before leaving. But, of course, me being me, I don't have quite enough vacation days. No problem, I figure - I can take a few days of no-pay, something I have often done in the past.

In the past, if I were to, say, take 2 days with no-pay over 2 weeks, I could easily charge 4 days of vacation and 1 day of no-pay in each of those weeks. The new software told me I could not charge no-pay until I used up all vacation, comp time earned, and personal holiday. (The latter two are not relevant, as I have not earned any comp time this fiscal year and I already used my personal holiday for the Friday after Thanksgiving.) So I charged vacation for all of the first week and duly signed that time card.

Which meant that I needed to charge 3 days of no-pay for the second week. Which still triggered the error message that I needed to use all my available vacation, etc. first. Using the "leave inquiry" function, I found that I had some odd fractional number of vacation hours. Of course, you can't actually put in 7.8621 hours into the form. So I tried putting in 8 hours for one day - which got me the message that I need higher level management approval to use vacation beyond what I've already accrued. But I still got the same bloody error message about using all my available vacation before charging no-pay.

In short, the software simultaneously insists that I am using more vacation than I have but I am not using all my accumulated vacation and, therefore, it will not let me sign my timesheet. The on-line help does not address this. And I could not find a phone number for anybody in HR who deals with the timekeeping system. (I suspect that, even if I could find such a number, reaching somebody this week would be unlikely.)

I sent an email to our group business manager (with my boss and our secretary copied on it) and I am sure he will straighten things out because he is a miracle worker. But I had better things to do with the 45 minutes or so that I spent futzing around with this today.
fauxklore: (Default)
Given how much I travel, I figured I should weigh in on the TSA controversy. The fundamental problem I have with the current procedure is that it still relies on somebody looking for something, which will always have a significant failure rate. Every frequent traveler I know can tell you of some time when they arrived at the other end of a trip to discover they had a prohibited item with them, which TSA missed. There is no reason to believe that they will detect items on images of people any more effectively than they do on x-rays of our carry-on bags. If you are serious about detecting explosives, the most effective current technology is a trained dog. (Actually searching cargo would also be more appropriate, particularly since the most recent threats TSA is supposedly reacting to involved cargo, not passengers.)

My second issue is specific to back-scatter technology. This is ionizing radiation, which inherently carries health risks. The risk may be low if the equipment is properly calibrated, but there is no way to know if it. (The backscatter machines are the ones that look like two giant blue refrigerators. There are also millimeter-wave scanners in use, which look like a large plexiglass box and the health risks do not apply to those, though, of course, the privacy concerns do.) I believe that either of these technologies amount to a virtual strip search and are inappropriate for primary screening. I do not have an issue with the use of millimeter wave scanners for secondary screening. They may be particularly useful for people with medical devices that will set off magnetometers, for example.

The pat-down procedure being used for those who opt-out or set off metal detectors or who are "randomly" selected (more about that in a minute) as it is currently practiced is also inappropriate, in my opinion. If the procedures being used to examine the genital regions were performed by anybody other than TSA (or a law enforcement officer under considerably more limited circumstances), they would be considered sexual battery.

As for random selection, my observation (admittedly anecdotal, but consistent with what others have reported) is that women are at least 3-4 times as likely to be selected. (I have read one TSA officer admit that he sends every woman wearing a skirt for scanning or pat-down. His logic is that if he can't see the outlines of somebody's body, that is supicious. That means that women who follow any religious practices that call for modesty are being particularly singled out. I believe some of the other reason for the disparity is that women are perceived as more likely to be docile and comply.) There are several problems with this. A simple one is that the scanners do detect sanitary napkins. Another significant issue is that there are fewer female TSA officers available, so that women often have considerable delays waiting for the pat-down. (Note that TSA promises only that they will attempt to have you patted down by an officer of the same gender, but does not guarantee this. I don't even have words for how offensive this is.)

There are several additional issues from the standpoint of safety (which is the argument for all of this. The pat-downs often add health risk as TSA officers do not change their gloves routinely, for example. A bigger issue is that more people will choose to use other forms of transit, all of which are more dangerous than air travel. Finally, people who have been traumatized by assaultive security procedures are more likely to explode with rage when confronted with additional stress.

My recommendations for dealing with all of this are:

1) Write to your congresscritters to oppose these practices. Specific points to make are health risks, violation of the 4th Amendment, and questions about undue influence by the companies that manufacture the technology.

2) Try to choose security check-points without the nude-o-scopes.

3) If you are asked to use a millimeter wave device, decide for yourself how you feel about the privacy issue. I am willing to use one of these instead of being fondled aggressively, but you may feel differently.

4) Opt-out of using backscatter devices due to the health risks. You will be patted-down. Insist the TSA agent change gloves, using fresh ones from the box, not ones from his or her pocket (which may have been used on another person previously). You must also insist on maintaining visual contact with your belongings while being inspected.

5) While you have a right to a private screening, I suggest that you insist on being screened in public unless you have a specific medical reason (e.g. an ostomy bag) not to. If you are screened in private, take your own witness. (You have a right to this. If they refuse to allow you your own witness, ask for a supervisor.)

6) Calling the TSA officers names or physically abusing them is rude and counterproductive. If you feel there are any questions about whether the procedures are being followed appropriately (a common one being the failure to tell you before touching some part of your body), gently remind them of that. You can also request a supervisor and, if necessary, elevate to a law enforcement officer. (The latter should rarely be needed.) There are also complaint forms you can fill out, in which case you should make every attempt to get the name of the officer whose behavior concerns you.
fauxklore: (baseball)
Having now been to a game at each currently-used major league ballpark, I have opinions. Bear in mind that most of those opinions are based on a single visit. (I have been to games in Boston, Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Washington several times and to San Francisco, Oakland, and Anaheim more than once but not often.) Note that my criteria are poorly defined, but include things like some sort of local character (i.e. I want it to be obvious what city I am in), fans who are there to watch a game and not spend the whole time texting to their friends about how cool it is that they are at the ball game (I'm talking to you, Arlington, Texas) and whether or not people sing along to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

There are some clear stand-outs, some clear losers, and a vast middle ground.

It will not surprise anybody for me to rate Fenway Park at the top. I admit my Red Sox bias, but I think the quirkiness of the ballpark, its history, and the way it is just infused with baseball atmosphere are valid criteria for its placement. And everybody sings along!

I debated between whether Camden Yards (Baltimore) or Whatever Phone Company It is Named After Today Park (San Francisco) is next. I decided San Francisco has a slight edge since: a) it has better transit access, b) it has better beer, and c) they don't play "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" in Baltimore. (They play "Thank G-d I'm a Country Boy." This is just wrong.)

I wanted to like Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs) better, but I had a seat with so-so sight lines, the sound system sucks, and I hate that the fans throw back home run balls hit by the opposing team. I do like its quirkiness and history and fan energy. And they score high on singing along.

The next group includes PNC Park (Pittsburgh), Coors Field (Denver), Comerica Park (Detroit), Citfield (NY Mets), Nationals Park (Washington), Turner Field (Atlanta), and Progressive Field (which was Jacob Fields when I went to a game in Cleveland). They're all very nice places to watch a game, with enthusiastic fans, reasonable access, and at least some local character, without anything notably annoying. I hesitated most over Coors Field, due to mascot annoyingness, but they got a boost by being the one ballpark that actually tries to enforce people not moving in and out of their seats during play.

Since I live in this region, I should note that Nationals Park got credit partly for not being RFK (a truly awful place to watch a game) and partly for having particularly good local character in the concessions (Ben's Chili Bowl! Gifford's Ice Cream!). It would move up a notch if the fans were more engaged. Washingtonians have been seen singing along. They sang to Gershwin at a show Robert and I saw at Ford's Theatre. They sing along at Wolf Trap. So why can't they sing along to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" like all loyal and patriotic Americans should? I could also do without the presidents' race nonsense.

Yankee Stadium (aka the Heart of Darkness, as the Source of All Evil in the Universe is the home team) would rate in the previous group if the ticket prices were a lot lower. They've priced the average fan out. And nobody sings along.

There's a vast middle group of bland ballparks. They are perfectly pleasant places to watch a game, but lack local character or fan enthusiasm. Or they annoyed me by having multiple mascots (Cincinnati), unrecognizable alien mascots (Philadelphia), more than one ceremonial first pitch (Saint Louis), etc. I am also biased against teams named after states instead of cities, which may have influenced my ratings. That group consists of Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks), Great American Ballpark (Cincinnati), Minute Maid Park (Houston), Miller Park (Milwaukee), Citizen's Bank Ballpark (Philadelphia), Busch Stadium (Saint Louis), Petco Park (San Diego), Edison Field (Anaheim, not Los Angeles), U.S. Cellular Field (Chicago White Sox), Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City), Target Field (Minnesota Twins), Safeco Field (Seattle), Ameriquest Field (Texas Rangers), Sky Dome (Toronto). Again, there is nothing actually wrong with any of these ballparks. They just lack soul.

Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles) just misses out on that group because of how many hours of my life I've wasted searching for my car in its parking lots after games.

Finally, there are the awful places that need replacement. Dolphin Stadium (Florida Marlins) and Network Associates Coliseum (Oakland A's) are the last of the multi-use stadiums that were so popular in my childhood. We also thought TV dinners were a good idea back then.

Rock bottom is Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay). If I were given the ability to wipe one building off the planet, this would be my first choice, followed by the Iranian nuclear reactor and the apartment complex I once lived in in Berkeley where none of the walls met at right angles. Indoor ballparks are an abomination and there is a reason this is the last permanently domed stadium left. I may also have been biased by the horrific traffic to get there, with particularly surly traffic cops directing things. But there is no excuse for the clanging of cowbells. Learn to cheer like normal people and then we'll talk.
fauxklore: (Default)
Back in August, the bank I have my credit card with (a card chosen for frequent flyer mile maximization and fee minimization) sent me a new card because (they said) their database had been compromised. There was no evidence of fraud but they were doing this out of an abundance of caution, a phrase that should strike terror into the heart of anybody being massively inconvenienced. So I updated numbers on things I pay automatically. Which is, fortunately, few as most of my autopayments are utilities I pay from my checking account.

In September, they declined a charge while I was buying a plane ticket (admittedly, in a foreign country) and froze my account. A phone call straightened that out easily enough, though I was still annoyed. Given that most of my credit card usage is travel related, one wouldn't think that buying a plane ticket for roughly $120 would be "unusual activity."

In October, I got a call and email from their fraud alert system, which did turn out to be actual fraud. (Note that this is with the new card, the one that replaced the card in the compromised database). In December, I had another attempted fraud. Both of those charges had been declined, which suggests that they can get some things right as far as "unusual activity." The second time, they again replaced my card.

Anyway, this led me to decide that I really should have a second credit card in case they froze my card due to attempted fraud when I was unreachable while traveling. Since American Airlines counts all activity, not just butt in seat miles, towards lifetime status, I applied for their card. And got declined due to "insufficient positive reports."

So I requested my credit report. And I saw that both of those replacement cards were listed as "lost or stolen card." Now, that may not be why I was declined, but my guess is that it's a red flag. Since when is either of those reasons for replacement a "lost or stolen card"? I'll write a letter attempting to get this corrected, but it is a major hassle.

Maybe I should ignore the miles and just get a card from one of the banks I have an account with.
fauxklore: (Default)
First, Chappy Chanukah! Some day I will sit down and rant about the various spellings of Chanukah and why I have a particular hatred of the form "Hanukkah," which, alas, seems to have become the most popular in the U.S., making it well nigh impossible to buy commercial greeting cards for the holiday.

I also have a rant (which I may or may not write) that has to do with Robert and his dealings with time and why our different attitudes towards planning end up with my feeling that he doesn't have any respect for mine. There was going to be a greatly unfair generalization about men involved in that, but I can't really blame my brother for getting stuck in traffic and being late last night. (He used Robert's theatre ticket. We saw the 42nd Street Moon production of Cole Porter's "Jubilee." I will write about that when I'm home, too.)

So I am making lemonade and adding to the list of things to write about. Yay me.


fauxklore: (Default)

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