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17 October 2017 @ 03:08 pm
I have plenty of things to write about, but I want to make sure to capture this before I forget about it.

More NODEL Mysteries:

A while back I’d found some interesting info in Kaunas, Lithuania voter registration records from December 1940. Namely, that my grandparents had other people living in their apartment who were almost certainly relatives. Those were Icik and Leja NODEL. I finally got around to doing a bit of digging for them and found their marriage record. It turns out Icik was Icik Leizer, the son of Iser. His mother was Base Leja SAVELOVICH and he was born in Naumiestis in 1910. On 29 August 1937 in Palanga, he married Leja LIKHTER, the daughter of Codik and Beile, born in 1917 in Raseiniai. This all matches the voter registration record, so I can be fairly sure these are the right people.

A bit more searching turned up his brother, Yankel Leib, born 19 January 1912 in Zemaiciu Naumiestis, whose father’s name is given as Sroelis. (Which is really Sroel, once one removes the Lithuanian endings of names.) Yankel Leib married Asne BLIUMBERG (born 1909 to Chackel and Feige in Zemaiciu Naumiestis) on 3 June 1939. Basia Leya shows up with her two sons in a 1915 family list in Zemaiciu Naumiestis, along with a daughter, Sora Dobe, who appears to have been born in 1914. The family fled to Kvedarna / Koinstantinov and the sum of their destroyed property was 907 rubles. I have no idea where that placed them economically at the time. Basia Leya is shown as the head of household. Had Srol / Iser died? Or were they divorced?

So who is Srol / Iser? Those are both nicknames for Izrael. Unfortunately, that leads to lots of confusion. My great-great-grandfather did have a brother named Izrael Ber, but there doesn’t seem to be anything to tie him to Naumiestis. And he never shows up as just Izrael in any records. Moreover, he died in 1925 in Rokiskis and he’d had several children there, during a period that seems to overlap with the births above. So I’m not convinced that’s him. There are other possibilities, but I need more records to prove anything.

My Great-Grandmother's Husbands:

On an entirely different note, I think I have finally sorted out all of my great-grandmother’s marriages. She was born Tsivia BRUSKIN in Daugavpils, Latvia in about 1876. She married:

  1. Shlomo BIKSON in Vilnius on 20 Dece3mber 1895. He died in Vilnius on 12 April 1901 of typhoid fever.

  2. Pinchas NODEL (my great-grandfather) in Vilnius on 11 September 1905. He died in Vilnius on 15 December 1909 of appendicitis.

  3. Rubin SHUB. Not clear exactly when they were married, but they were divorced in Kaunas on 12 May 1929.

  4. Gerson TSESLITSKI in Kaunas on 19 July 1932.

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16 October 2017 @ 02:33 pm
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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Celebrity Death Watch: Vladimir Voevodsky was a mathematician. Tom Alter was in over 300 Bollywood films. Ralphie May was a comedian. Joseph Schmitt designed spacesuits for the earliest astronauts. Nora Johnson wrote The World of Henry Orient. Armando Calderon Sol was the first president of El Salvador after their civil war. Edna Dummerth played for the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. Connie Hawkins was a basketball player, whose career included the Harlem Globetrotters and the Phoenix Suns, among others. Herve Leroux was a fashion designer.

Embassy of Romania: Thursday night I went to a dinner at the Embassy of Romania, which was cosponsored by the MIT Club of Washington and the Harvard Club. You can tell events organized by the latter because they tend to be less organized. The ambassador talked about the history of Romania and was reasonably interesting, but the sound system was terrible. The buffet was quite good – a few types of dips, rice, vegetables, chicken, stuffed cabbage, mamaliga (i.e. polenta), and tiramisu and some sort of strudel-like things for dessert. It was a nice enough event, but I prefer there being tables to sit at when eating.

United Catering Operations: On Friday evening, I flew to Denver to go to a Frequent Flyer Giving event involving a tour of United Catering Operations. My flight out to Denver got delayed by a mechanical problem, so I didn’t get in until 11 at night and it took another half hour to get to my hotel. Fortunately,, the tour was worth it. We had to wear lab coats (personalized with our names, so we got to keep them) and hair nets. We went through various coolers and food preparation areas. United also caters for Frontier Airlines, British Air, Icelandair, as well as preparing food for the deli department at King Sooper and for the Air Force Academy. We had activities at some stations. For example, I put bread out on a conveyor belt for sandwich making for King Sooper and sliced cucumbers for a salad in the test kitchen. There were also trivia questions along the way, with chocolate coins as prizes. At the end, we got a tasty lunch (including rare bison on crostini, a salad with pears and acai and pomegranate dressing, a very tasty steak with asparagus, and triple mousse cake for dessert). There was also a charity auction, but I am trying to downsize. They gave everyone swag bags with a small Polaris pillow (which they discontinued because buttoning the pillowcase was too slow a process) and a couple of amenity kits. Then it was back to the airport and my flight home, which got in a half hour early. Overall, a fun but exhausting trip.

The Mistress Cycle: On Sunday afternoon, I went to see this show at Creative Cauldron. It’s more of a song cycle than a conventional musical, since there is a very minimal book. The piece tells the stories of five women, at different times and places in history. Ching (a composite character) was a 14-year old concubine in 12th-century China. Diane de Poitiers was the mistress of King Henri II in 16th-century France. Lulu White was forced into sex work at the age of 13 but went on to become a successful madam and the richest woman in New Orleans at the end of the 19th century. Anais Nin was the 20th century French writer of erotica. And Tess Walker was a composite of a modern 30-something woman.

I have some qualms about treating all of those characters as mistresses. I’d argue that there is a difference between the choices that some of the women (notably Anais Nin) made and being sold as a concubine. I also wish that the music had been more varied. Lulu White did get bluesy numbers (perfect for the vocal talents of Iyona Blake, who played that role) and Ching’s solos (especially "One in a Line") had a distinctive voice (and were well-performed by Justine Icy Moral), but the rest of the songs were a bit monotonous. That’s a pity since the performers were all quite good. Erica Clare was very expressive as Tess, so I wish she had had more interesting songs to sing. I thought the show was provocative and worth seeing, but the score didn’t excite me.

MIT School of Engineering Reception: Finally, Sunday night was a reception at the Willard for the MIT School of Engineering, in honor of selectees to the National Academy of Engineering. The food was pretty good (especially the desserts) and the conversation was lively and intelligent. The main talk had to do with increasing diversity in STEM. Overall, it was a pleasant evening out.

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10 October 2017 @ 11:15 am
I have another political rant (or maybe two) to write, as well as a rundown of things I have been doing. But, first, the snack reviews.

Thai Sweet Chili Dippers:This consists of soy and rice crackers with a sweet chili sauce. It has 83 calories. It’s hard to tell from memory, but I think they have made this less sweet and a little spicier. If that isn’t my imagination, it’s an improvement. The crackers have a nice crunch and are just bland enough that a sweet chili sauce works with them.

Graze’s Grilled Cheese: This is a mix of sweet mustard breadsticks, cheddar bruschetta, and smoked almonds. It has 120 calories. It’s good mix of flavors, without any one of the components really dominating it. I’m not a big cheese person, but I still like this.

Lemon Drizzle Flapjack: This is a typical Graze flapjack, i.e. a soft oaten granola bar, with a lemon yogurt drizzle. It has 240 calories. It’s a pretty filling snack, so worth the calories. And it is absolutely delicious – one of my very favorites. I particularly like that the flavor is decidedly lemony. Yum.

Hickory Smoked BBQ (new): This is a mixture of barbecue peas, hickory smoked almonds, and roasted corn. It has 150 calories and 5 grams of protein. I liked both the crunch and the flavor – and, particularly, that it wasn’t salty. There are, however, other savory snacks I like better.

Raspberry & Coconut Muffin: This is a mix of raspberry-infused cranberries, almond slivers, amaretti drops, and coconut flakes. It has 149 calories. It’s best to eat all of the components together, especially since the raspberry-infused cranberries are so awesome, while the rest are rather more ordinary.

Wholesome Honey Nuts (new): This is a mixture of caramelized honey cashes, pumpkin seeds, and baked salted peanuts. It has 200 calories and 6 grams of protein. The honey cashews are amazingly good. The other ingredients are fairly ordinary, but the idea is o eat all of the components together. Very nice.

Chocolate Pretzel Dipper: This consists of a chocolate hazelnut dipper with lightly salted pretzel sticks to dip into it. It has 140 calories. I’ve gotten this a lot of times and continue to like it. It’s not particularly virtuous as snacks go, but sometimes one wants to have something sweet and the portion control helps a lot.

Vitamin E Defense: This has roasted hazelnuts, redskin peanuts, jumbo raisins, and dried cranberries. It has 190 calories. It’s not especially exciting, but is perfectly fine as a trail mix sort of thing goes.

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05 October 2017 @ 04:18 pm
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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Political rants to follow in a future entry. Here’s some catch-up stuff.

Celebrity Death Watch: Joe Bailon was a car customer who was credited with creating the paint color Candy Apple Red. Barry Dennen was an actor and singer who appeared in several musicals (in London, on Broadway, and on film), notably singing the role of Pontius Pilate on the recording of Jesus Christ Superstar. Ann Jeffreys was an actress, most famous as "the ghostess with the moistest" for her role as Marion Kerby on Topper. Tom Paley was a folk musician who performed as part of the New Lost City Ramblers. S. I. Newhouse was a magazine publisher. Arthur Janov was the author of The Primal Scream and responsible for that particularly bizarre form of therapy. Robert Elsie was a linguist and folklorist, specializing in Albania. (He was the collector / translator of a story I have recently started telling.) Michael Jouvet was the discoverer of REM sleep.

Hugh Hefner was, of course, the founder and publisher of Playboy. While the magazine did publish some significant literature, we all know that nobody bought it for that. In short, he exploited women for personal gain. The word for that is "pimp."

Monty Hall was the host and producer of Let’s Make a Deal. He was also a major philanthropist, primarily donating to medical institutions.

Tom Petty was a rock star. A few of his better known songs include "Don’t Come Around Here No More," "Refugee," and "Free Fallin’." Given his years heading up the Heartbreakers, it seems appropriate that he died of a heart attack.

Quarterly Goals: I may need to rethink the definition of the word "complete." On the plus side, I have made a lot of progress on tracing down descendants of my grandmother’s first cousin, who emigrated to Petach Tikvah in the 1930’s.

Queen of Katwe: This was the only movie I saw over the past quarter. (I spent much of my airplane time sleeping or doing puzzles, instead.) Anyway, I thought it was superb. The story involves an Ugandan girl from a poor neighborhood who becomes a chess champion. There is a lot of conflict about what her role in life should be. Her coach, Robert Katande, has other conflicts, as a good job opportunity would keep him from being able to help the poor children he works with. If you’re looking for an inspirational story (with, by the way, a great soundtrack) this is a good choice.

Air Force Academy: You may have seen the video of Air Force Academy superintendent Lt Gen Jay Silveria telling cadets to get out if they can’t treat others with dignity and respect. Not to diminish from the importance of that message, but it bothered me that he referred only to race and sex in his message. The Academy has had a lot of issues with respect to religious freedom - e.g. in 2010, 41% of non-Christian cadets said they were subject to unwanted proselytizing during the previous year. (That was a while ago, but it was the only year I found survey info for. I don’t know their record with respect to LGBT cadets, but there have been plenty of sexual harassment cases. So I wish that the message had been broader.

Yom Kippur: I went to Sixth & I for Yom Kippur, which was a mixed bag. The biggest plus was that the financial appeal was actually the best I have heard. This is not quite verbatim, but the shul president said, "This is the 13th year we’ve done High Holiday services, so we think of it as our bar / bat mitzvah year. At my bar mitzvah, my aunts and uncles came up to me and handed me envelopes. We like to think of all of you as our aunts and uncles."

I liked some of the odds and ends Rabbi Miller threw in during the service, e.g. a story from Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev and lyrics from a range of songs (from Johnny Cash’s "The Man in Black" to "Seasons of Love" from Rent). I thought her sermon was a bit too long and not particularly insightful. It could have been done in one sentence. ("Be true to yourself.") As for the liturgy, I have probably already kvetched about most of the departures from tradition at other times. The main one to add to my annoyances was that I thought they gave short shrift to Martyrology and Yizkor. And I particularly disliked how they did Martyrology, with all of the readings talking about incidents in the past year, primarily in Israel. (The sole exception was the murder of Sarah Halimi in France, which the French government has acknowledged as a hate crime only in the last week.)

They had also organized a tour of local Jewish landmarks for the break in services during the afternoon. That might have been a good thing, but the tour guide could not project her voice to be heard over traffic and construction noise in the area. So I went home and napped instead.

Knitting Group: Knitting group was Sunday. Lots of lively conversation and it was good to get out of the house for a couple of hours. However, that also means that I didn’t get household stuff done, sigh.

Minor Annoyance: I know this is a first world problem but I was grocery shopping on my way home from knitting group and had four canvas shopping bags with me – two green, two red. I told the bagger to use the green ones first (because they are larger and sturdier and I didn’t know if I would actually need all four.) I had to repeat this five times before she would listen, instead of reaching for the red ones. Of course, she also had no clue how to arrange groceries efficiently, but wouldn’t let me just pack my bags myself. Grrr.

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26 September 2017 @ 02:41 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Jake LaMotta was a boxer, best known from the movie, Raging Bull. Lillian Ross wrote for The New Yorker. Maurice Nivat was considered one of the fathers of theoretical computer science. Liliane Bettencourt was a socialite who inherited the L’Oreal fortune and was, hence, the richest woman in the world, despite losing a lot of money in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Daniel Yankelovich was a social scientist and influential pollster. Charles Bradley was a soul singer. Kit Reed wrote both science fiction and mystery stories. Bobby Knutt, Elizabeth Dawn, and Tony Booth all acted on Coronation Street. Barbara Blaine was an activist who fought against clergy abuse.

Federal Budget: Last Tuesday night I went to an MIT Club dinner meeting with a speaker (Josh Gordon of the Concord Coalition, which exists to educate people about the federal budget) talking about the future of the federal budget. When I arrived, the organizer asked me if I had anything to do with the federal budget and I explained that my job touches on parts of the defense budget, so he decided I should sit at the head table. That meant some reasonably lively conversation with the speaker (and, of course, the others at the table.) I don’t think I learned much from the talk, but it was fairly interesting. Too many of the questions focused on health care for my interest level. In short, every other developed country has decided that single payer is the way to go to achieve good health outcomes at an affordable price. I formed my opinion on that long ago. For the record, our for-profit insurance system is inefficient, as a very low percentage of the money taken in actually goes to health care. The fact that there are thousands of people who are paid to figure out what code to use for a large number of different insurance companies is evidence enough of the absurdity.

The Anthem Controversy:I have no interest in football, but I do have a few things to say about the anthem controversy. First of all, it is clear that people have the right not to stand for the anthem. However, there are lots of other examples of first amendment rights not applying in the relationship between employers and employees, so the owners could require players to stand. That would send an undesirable message, but it wouldn’t be illegal. It would be akin to not allowing you to use corporate resources to write a letter to the editor of the newspaper.

Second, that particular protest is not inherently disrespectful to the flag or veterans or apple pie. One can argue about how effective it is, because it doesn’t really tie directly to the issue at hand (namely, racism in policing) but that is a separate (and irrelevant) matter. I can’t really fault people whp have a public platform for using it to speak up about important matters.

Third, some people have shown pictures of President Trump standing without his hand over his heart during the anthem as a statement of hypocrisy. While the Flag Code does say that the right hand over the heart is proper, it isn’t the case for the military, who are supposed to stand at attention. I would argue that the President, who is Commander in Chief of the military, could acceptably do that. And, by the way, remember that Obama was also criticized for not putting his right hand over his heart during the anthem. I will also note that when I was growing up, we put the hand over the heart during the Pledge of Allegiance, but not during the national anthem.

Application to My Workplace: By the way, our all-hands meetings at work start with the Pledge of Allegiance. This annoys me, but I don’t feel like I could not say the Pledge. I do ignore the applause when I am sitting in a conference room at the opposite end of the country where the actual meeting is taking place. We’re muted, so what’s the point of clapping?

Rosh Hashanah: I went to Sixth and I, which had its pluses and minuses. The traditional service was almost traditional. The deviations did, alas, annoy me – calling multiple people for an aliyah, for one, and not really doing the priestly blessing, for another. On the plus side, I thought Cantor Larry Paul did an excellent job of the balance between cantorial showiness and congregational participation, with most of the people around me singing quite a lot. Rabbi Avis Miller’s sermons could have been more tightly written, in my opinion. (I apparently missed Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who was there Wednesday night.)

The main thing I wanted to note was that the shofar blower during Shacharit had an interesting technique. I can’t really describe it well, but his shevarim had two notes, in a way that made a siren-like sound. I don’t know if that is specific to some particular region (e.g. I have heard a Yemenite shofar, which sounds somewhat different, but that is because it is made from an antelope horn, not a ram’s horn), but it was really quite striking. He did this both with the plain shevarim and the shevarim teruah, by the way. (For those who have no idea what I am talking about, there are three different shofar calls. Tekiah is the long drawn-out one. Shevarim is three shorter notes. Teruah is 9 or more short blasts.)

Mail: Both my email and my snail mail seem to have been especially slow last week. Should it really take 4 days for something to get less than 20 miles from where it was sent to my mailbox? And the 5 days for an email to reach me was even weirder.

Don’t Analyze This Dream, Part 1: I don’t remember the entire dream, but the gist of it was that two men, one American and one Israeli, had to kill and drink the blood of people to keep from being eaten alive by aliens who looked like a cross between spiders and starfish. They both kept journals about this, with the focus on their trying to be sort of avenging demons. For example, they directed three Korean women to a good diner and paid for their meals, and then went to kill the people who had been keeping the three women as slaves. It is possible that one of the men was actually Bat Boy. At least there was a scene where he was hanging upside down from the crown molding of a room, supported by his toenails.

Don’t Interpret This Dream, Part 2: I was at a restaurant for brunch. For some reason, I had to order at the hostess stand, not at the table. I knew what I wanted (a Mexican omelette), but couldn’t figure out what this particular restaurant called it on their menu.

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25 September 2017 @ 12:06 pm
I have lots of other stuff to write about, but first, the snack reviews.

Protein Peanut Butter Dipper with Pretzel Sticks: The name of this pretty much says it all. It has 130 calories and 5 grams of protein. It’s not very exciting, but it is a good snack for times when you need something that feels reasonably substantial.

Twist of Black Pepper Popping Corn: This is 130 calories worth of microwave popcorn with a little bit of black pepper. You wouldn’t think that is revelatory, but it really is ever so much tastier than ordinary popcorn. The serving size is perfect, too. So good.

Baobab and Raspberry Clusters: This is a mix of baobab and raspberry coconut chips, dried apple pieces, and pumpkin seeds. It has 130 calories. I like the moderate level of sweetness and the mix of textures. Interesting and tasty.

Thai Tom Yum: This is a soup paste, that you reconstitute with hot water. In addition to paste, the soup also has zucchini slices, red pepper, and rice noodles. It has 50 calories. It Is a bit high in sodium (810 mg) but still not as high as most soups. Overall, it’s nicely spicy and a reasonable light lunch.

Jelly Doughnut: This is a mix of vanilla cookie drops, raspberry fruit strings, and almond slivers. It has 120 calories. I think it’s one of the more convincing deconstructed dessert items Graze offers. That is, it really tastes a lot like a jelly doughnut. Delicious.

Veggie Protein Power (new): This is a mix of edamame beans, spicy chickpeas, and black pepper cashews. It has 130 calories and 7 grams of protein. I was surprised by how much I liked this. It has lots of both spicy flavor and crunchy texture, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. An excellent savory snack.

Summer Berry Flapjack: This is a typical Graze flapjack, i.e. a soft oat granola bar. In this case, it has dried cranberries, some of which are infused with strawberry and raspberry flavors. It has 240 calories. That would be a downside, but this is filling enough to be a meal substitute. And, really, Graze’s flapjacks are awesome. This isn’t my favorite of them, but it is still quite nice.

Lemon Almond Cookies and Tea (new): This consists of two cookies and a bag of black tea. It has 110 calories. The tea is just ordinary black tea. The cookies are fairly tasty, though they could be more zippy. They were good, mind you, just milder than I would have preferred.

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18 September 2017 @ 04:10 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Maurice Bluestein modernized the wind-chill index. Edie Windsor was an activist who played a major role in overturning the Defense of Marriage Act. J. P. Donleavy was a novelist, whose works included Fairy Tale of New York. Frank Vincent was an actor who sort of specialized in playing gangsters. Grant Hart was one of the founders of Husker Du. Harry Dean Stanton was a character actor who was in too many movies to attempt to single out a few to mention. Paul E. Gray was the president of MIT from 1980 to 1990.

Pete Domenici was a senator who represented New Mexico for many years. In general, I disagreed with his positions on environmental issues. He also got into trouble for reports about having fathered an illegitimate child and supposedly had pretty awful phone manners. However, he was a strong supporter of treating mental illness the same as physical illness.

Book Club: Book Club was on Wednesday. We had a pretty good discussion about Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. I like the central question at the heart of the novel, which is who should tell another’s story. But the reason I am mentioning this is that part of the novel involves one of the characters having an affair with a writer she admires. I made a comment to the effect of, "if Neil Gaiman showed up on my doorstep…" and was shocked that two of the people present were entirely unfamiliar with him. (I explained him as a writer of humorous fantasy with floppy hair and a British accent.) It also turned out that there were several people who had never read "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Philistines!

Christine Lavin: Friday night I went to see Christine Lavin at Jammin’ Java, one of my favorite local venues, not least for its proximity to home. Doug Mishkin opened for her and was thoroughly delightful, getting everybody singing his song "Woody’s Children." As for Christine, she was as funny as ever, with a mixture of old and new material. Many of her songs tell stories, e.g. one that described a dinner with a famous person with atrocious table manners. (I won’t reveal who it was, so you can have the joy of the surprise at the end.) During intermission, she taught members of the audience how to do some elaborate napkin folds. (I, alas, was in line for the facilities, so missed out on the lesson, though I saw the results.) All in all, it was a thoroughly delightful evening of folk song and laughter.

Loser Brunch: There were several things I could have done this weekend, but it had been a while since I’d been to brunch with the Style Invitational Losers and Devotees, i.e. fans of the Washington Post’s humor contest. This brunch was at Brion’s Grill in Fairfax, so reasonably convenient. The buffet was just okay, losing points from me for not having any fruit beyond a bowl of mixed melon. On the plus side, they did have cooked to order omelets. And they had French toast donuts, something I had never experienced before. This sort of thing is all about people, in my opinion, so I don’t really care much about the food. The conversation was lively and it was a good way to get out of the house for a couple of hours.

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11 September 2017 @ 04:35 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Kate Millett wrote the feminist classic Sexual Politcs. Gene "Stick" Michael played baseball and moved into management, primarily with the Source of All Evil in the Universe. Don Williams was a country music singer, as was Troy Gentry. Michael Friedman wrote the score of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Len Wein was a comic book writer and editor, credited as co-creator of Wolverine. Don Ohlmeyer was a sports television executive, responsible for Monday night football. (He was also the mentor of someone I grew up with, who has some very interesting stories about him.) Nancy Dupree was an historian who focused on the history of modern Afghanistan. Jack Kiel created McGruff the Crime Dog.

Jerry Pournelle wrote science fiction and published articles on military strategy. He had actually worked for the company that I am employed by at one time (as well as other companies in the space industry). He was alleged to have been the first author to have written a published book using a word processor on a personal computer. I have absolutely no recollection of having read anything he wrote, but I think I have read anthologies he edited.

Lotfi Zadeh was a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and is best known for his work on fuzzy logic. I am somewhat hesitant to list him because there had been at least two earlier, incorrect reports of his death. But the EECS department is now reporting it, which is a more reliable source than various Azerbaijani sources. Incidentally, it is probably not well known that he was Jewish, at least technically, as his mother was a Russian Jew. (His father was Iranian and, I assume, Muslim, in which case the Muslims would claim him too. Though maybe not, since he apparently went to a Presbyterian mission school when his family returned to Iran from Azerbaijan. None of this actually matters in the least – I just think it’s interesting. And is perhaps an example of fuzzy religious and national identity.)

Birthday: I turned 59 on Labor Day. I really want my life to be in much better order by the time I’m 60.

Speaking of Order: I more or less tore my living room apart looking for what I had done with some theatre tickets. Of course, they turned out to be in the pile that I was positive that they absolutely could not be in. In the process of searching, I did manage to throw out 4 bags full of papers. What is pathetic is how much there is to go.

A Little Night Music: That ticket was for Signature Theatre’s production of A Little Night Music. Signature makes something of a specialty of Sondheim so this was a sure bet. And it was, indeed, a good show. There were lots of familiar performers, e.g. Bobby Smith as Frederik, Sam Ludwig as Henrik, Maria Rizzo as Petra, Will Gartshore as Carl-Magnus, and Holly Twyford as Desiree. I should note that Twyford is known as an actress, not a singer, but was more than up to the role. But the real highlights were Florence Lacey as the acerbic Madame Armfeldt and Tracy Lynn Olvera as Charlotte. Both performers highlighted the humor of some of Sondheim’s wittiest lyrics. Even though this is a show I know well, I still noticed lyrics I hadn’t quite caught before. Overall, this is among the best theatre I’ve seen here.

I do have one complaint, however. The air conditioning was way too aggressive. It wasn’t even hot out. I need to remember to bring a sweater or shawl whenever I go to Signature.

Also re: Shirlington: I had amazingly good parking karma for this trip to Signature, with an available spot right by the stairs / elevator in the closer garage. I believe the reason for this is that it allowed me to do a good deed. There was a miniature Celtic festival going on and a blind woman was trying to find a place to sit to listen to the music. I let her take my elbow and led her to the chairs set up in front of the stage.

Story Swap: Saturday night was our monthly story swap, which is always fun. I have found an Albanian story to tell, which went over reasonably well. Especially the part in which the hero is sent to collect overdue taxes from a church full of snakes.

JGSGW: There was a Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington meeting on Sunday. The topic was ancestry tips and tricks, but, alas, that was pretty much focused on tips for your tree on ancestry and I don’t keep mine there. I was hoping for tips on more effective searches. And, given that the speaker was time constrained, I didn’t bother asking. I did have some conversations before the meeting which were most useful, so it wasn’t a waste.

I had intended to go to a storytelling show later in the day, but I was too tired. At least I did manage to get grocery shopping done on my way home from darkest Maryland.

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