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13 February 2019 @ 04:30 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Rosamunde Pilcher wrote a lot of romance novels and some family sagas, of which the most famous was The Shell Seekers. .Yechiel Eckstein founded the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Albert Finney was a film actor, who for some reason I tend to confuse with Alfred Drake and Ron Moody. A few of his more notable movies include Tom Jones, Erin Brockovich, and Big Fish. John Dingell was a Democratic congressman from Michigan who served 59 years in Congress. Patricia Nell Warren wrote The Front Runner, the first gay novel to make the New York Times best seller list. Tomi Ungerer was an illustrator, best known for creating Flat Stanley. Walter Jones was a Republican congressman from North Carolina, best known for inventing the term "freedom fries." Lyndon Larouche was a politician, Presidential candidate, anti-Semite, racist, possibly a Soviet agent. Hmm, reminds me of someone else.

Frank Robinson played baseball for several teams, including the Cincinnati Reds and the Baltimore Orioles. He was the only player to be named MVP for both the National League and American League. He later became the first black manager in major league history (for the Cleveland Indians) and went on to manage several other teams, including the Washington Nationals. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.

Don’t Analyze This Dream: I was eating lunch in a conference room. On an airplane.

A Brief Rant About Reporting on Taxes: I am tired of seeing articles about people complaining about their refunds being lower. One’s refund could be lower because they are paying more taxes, but it could also be lower because their withholding was lower. Of course, one should ideally aim for not getting a refund at all, since that means you are lending money to the government at no interest. What actually matters is what one’s overall tax bill is. Many people’s will be higher because of the limits on deductions for state and local taxes, but many people’s will be lower because of reduced tax rates.

One Day University – Lectures: Saturday was One Day University. The morning had two lectures, while the afternoon had a short film festival.

The first lecture was by Andrew Porwancher of the University of Oklahoma on The Constitution: Enduring Myths and Hidden Truths. He was rather more enthusiastic about Alexander Hamilton than I’d have preferred, though he did also credit James Madison, George Washington, and Ben Franklin. But how does anybody talk about the Constitution without mentioning Gouverneur Morris, who wrote most of it? Despite that obvious flaw, Porwancher did have several interesting points. One of his key ones is that the three branches of government were not intended to be equal. The legislative branch was supposed to be the most powerful and the judiciary the weakest, with the executive branch in the middle. He went on to talk bout several amendments, starting with the specific part of the first amendment dealing with freedom of religion. His key point there was that there were interpretations of freedom of religion which did not require separation of church and state, but Jefferson’s views won out over Hamilton’s there, largely because of nativism in the form of a fear of Catholicism. He also noted that Article VI, Section 3, which forbids religious tests for serving in office is more significant in practical terms. He also made an interesting point re: the 2nd Amendment. Namely, that Madison’s original language included a conscientious objector clause, which suggests his intention was the military context, not the individual context, for the right to bear arms. Overall, he was an interesting and enthusiastic speaker, albeit more enthusiastic about Hamilton than I am.

The other lecture was by Wendy Schiller of Brown University on What’s Wrong With Congress? Can an 18th Century Structure Still Work? One of the main things she objected to was the staggering of Senate elections, so that only a third of the Senate is up for reelection each term, though I am skeptical about how much of a difference that makes. Mostly, what she claimed is wrong is: 1) polarization, which used to be only about race and trade now being about everything, and 2) the responsibility of the Senate for confirming judges and cabinet members. She talked a lot about changes in how the Senate was chosen, including the corruption that dominated the process when state legislatures chose Senators and the impact of reform intents that resulted in many states going without one or both Senators. The 17th Amendment in 1913 (direct election of Senators) fixed that. Other things she suggested (most of which I agree with) were proportional representation in the electoral college (which is already done in Montana and Nebraska) and which really has more to do with the President than with Congress, lengthening the House term to 4 years to reduce the amount of time spent electioneering versus legislating, making the House bigger (which would, in my opinion, make it harder to manage and make deals), and requiring independent commissions for redistricting. I am more skeptical about requiring gender, racial, ethnic, and economic diversity in redistricting, because I think that would be likely to dilute the influence of underrepresented groups. She also suggested term limits for the Supreme Court and removing term limits for the President, but did not discuss term limits for Congress. Personally, I think term limits for elective offices are a bad idea, though I would support other ways to reduce the perceived advantage of incumbents. Finally, she supported an increase in on-line and mail voting, which sounds great, until you look at research on voting integrity and realize that it is likely to disenfranchise large segments of the population.

One Day University – Short Film Festival: After a lunch break, during which I walked over to Poppa Box for some Korean-ish food, it was time for the Short Film Festival. For this purpose, short films were defined as being under 20 minutes. There were 10 films, with a short intermission after the sixth. There was only one movie I really disliked (Bob, which had what I thought was a cheap ending), I had seen one (The Gunfighter) before, though I can’t remember where, and thought it was funny, but could have been tighter if it were a bit shorter. My favorites were Super Powers, The Tailor, Bridget, and Tanghi Argentini. Overall, it was a fun way to spend a cold afternoon.

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06 February 2019 @ 02:34 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: James Ingram was an R&B singer/songwriter. Dick Miller was an actor who appeared in a lot of Roger Corman’s movies. Stewart Adams developed ibuprofen. Ron Joyce cofounded Tim Hortons. Candice Jean Earley was an actress, best known for a long-running role on All My Children. Harold Bradley was a country guitarist. Clive Swift was a British actor, best known for Keeping Up Appearances. Kristoff St. John was an actor, best known for starring in The Young and the Restless. Bob Friend was a baseball player, who had the distinction of leading the league in ERA while pitching for a last place team (the 1955 Pirates). Julie Adams was an actress, best known for being abducted by the Creature from the Black Lagoon. John Otto Marsh, Jr. was the Secretary of the Army under Reagan and Bush 41. Jacqueline Steiner cowrote "Charlie on the MTA." C. Y. Lee wrote the novel The Flower Drum Song. Izzy Young was a folklorist who produced Bob Dylan’s first concert. Robert Hubbard invented the Head and Neck Support (HANS) system used to reduce injuries in auto racing.

Weather: It was 5 degrees Fahrenheit last week. It was 70ish yesterday. It’s in the 50’s now. And it is supposed to snow some next week. Aargh!

More on Blackface in Virginia: So now it turns out that Mark Herring (Virginia Attorney General, so next in line after the Lieutenant Governor to become Governor) went to a party where he and a couple of friends wore brown makeup and wigs to dress as rappers. This was in 1980, when he was 19. His record as attorney general (and this is his second term in that office) is clearly anything but racist. The point is that this was not uncommon behavior in this part of the country at the time.

An interesting tidbit is that the next in line after Mark Herring is Kirk Cox, who is the Speaker of the House of Delegates and is most famous as being the(Republican) guy who won a tied election by having his name drawn out of a bowl. By the way, he has said he has no plans to try to oust Northam. No reports on whether or not he ever appeared in blackface when he was in college.

Ain’t Misbehavin’: Back in my normal life, I went to see Ain’t Misbehavin’ at Signature Theatre on Saturday. They’re doing some massive construction in the Campbell Street Garage, so I had to go over to the Randolph Street Garage, which is just as close, but feels further away for reasons I can’t entirely explain. Anyway, for those who are not familiar with it, this is a jukebox musical, based on the works of Fats Waller. I don’t like jukebox musicals to begin with and this one didn’t even have any semblance of telling a story. So, while I liked some of the songs and I thought it was performed well (which I will talk about in a minute), I didn’t find it very interesting. The first act seemed rather lacking in energy, but maybe that was just because I was pretty tired myself. The second act was better.

But they did have a stellar cast. That included Iyona Blake, Nova Payton, and Kevin McAllister, all three of whom I’ve seen perform multiple times before. Kevin was particularly good singing "Your Feet’s Too Big," which is one of my favorite Waller songs. Solomon Parker III stole the show when it came to dancing, however, in his performance of "The Viper’s Drag." I should also mention that Mark Meadows did the music direction and played piano, at which he was quite showy. The final performer was Korinn Walfall, whose performance was fine, but who I thought was given a horrible dress for the second act.

Overall, it was diverting enough, but hardly essential to see.

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Caution: Virginia politics ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am also concerned about any impact this whole mess could have on Mark Warner’s reelection campaign in 2020. Admittedly, I am just assuming he will run for reelection to the U.S. Senate, but I don’t see why he wouldn’t. Though I wouldn’t be upset if he ran for President, I don’t think he is charismatic enough to win. And moderates are out of style, alas.

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04 February 2019 @ 03:54 pm
I have a lot of other stuff to write about, but I have a last minute document review I need to get through at work. So here is a quick entry with the obit poems I submitted to the Style Invitational, none which received ink, alas.

Abra Cadaver
Richard Jay Potash
Known to the world
As dear Ricky Jay
Sleight of hand master
But now he’s laid cards down
As he’s passed away.

Dorcas Reilly cooked some green beans
With French-fried onions, mushroom soup
Thanksgiving tables ever since then
Have been graced with Reilly’s goop.

John Bindernagel sought an apeman
known as Sasquatch, Bigfoot, too
Found some tracks but never caught one
Died with empty cryptozoo.

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01 February 2019 @ 02:22 pm
I failed at this last year, but I have done it several times in the past and decided to give it another go. The idea is to send something to someone every postal day of February (so Sundays and President's Day are excluded).

If you would like mail from me, send me a message with your address. I will attempt both legibility and wit, but do not guarantee either.

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01 February 2019 @ 02:14 pm
Thanks to another friend, I had joined a facebook group for National Just Read More Novels Month. For me, this translated partly into Just Read Shorter Novels for a month, ending up with 7. So, rather than waiting for my usual quarterly book rundown, here’s what I read in January. Note that there are 8 books here, but the first book didn’t count for NaJuReMoNoMo because I had started it in December and only had the last 30 or so pages to read on New Year’s Day.

  1. William Stuart Long, The Exiles: This was a long book and is, in fact, the first volume in a 12 book series about Australians. The author, whose real name was Vivian Stuart (nee Violet Vivian Finlay) was even more prolific than that, writing over 70 books under at least 7 names. This book traces a young woman, Jenny Taggart, from a family tragedy through poverty in London through being transported to Australia on the First Fleet. She makes a great success oi her life there, though there is plenty of tragedy and loss along the way. From what I can tell, the historical background was pretty accurate, too. Overall, I thought this was a good read and I look forward to reading more of this series.

  2. Alexander Kent, Midshipman Bolitho and The Avenger: I like the Bolitho series for the characters and the relationships between them, not the naval battles. This one has Bolitho on leave at home and getting pulled into service to help deal with smugglers along the Cornish coast. The Bolitho novels were not written in chronological order, so I already knew some of what will happen later on between Richard Bolitho and his brother, Hugh, who he is serving under on this mission. I figured out a critical plot point pretty quickly, but it didn’t matter. It was still a good, quick read.

  3. Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing: This was for my book club, but I had suggested it to them, based on the recommendation of a couple of friends. It follows several generations of the descendants of two women who never knew they were sisters and tells the history of Ghana and of African-Americans along the way. I’ve traveled in Ghana, which probably helped in my enjoyment of this, but I think it should be accessible to anyone. This was fascinating and I recommend it highly.

  4. Jeff Lindsay, Dearly Devoted Dexter: This is part of a series (made into a TV show later on) about a blood spatter technician for the Miami Police who is also a sociopathic serial killer. This book involves a particularly horrifying series of crimes, but it also has to do with Dexter’s relationship with his family and his girlfriend and her children. The writing is breezy and entertaining, but it does feel strange to be cheering for Dexter, who is, after all, a serial killer.

  5. Stephanie Evanovich, Big Girl Panties: I needed a change of pace, so it was time for some chick lit. The genre tends to be predictable, so that isn’t a big criticism. The premise here is that a fat woman meets a personal trainer on an airplane, becomes his client, and transforms her life via weight loss, fitness, and, eventually, getting involved with him. To be fair, she doesn’t end up skinny per se and he realizes he loves her though she isn’t model thin, but there are still several annoying aspects to this book, starting with how much weight she loses how fast and going on to equating fatness with eating disorders and emotional issues. Then the whole thing is rather steamier than I really wanted to read on the train to work (including a subplot involving the trainer’s best friend who enjoys spanking his wife). Meh.

  6. Sara Woods, Tarry and Be Hanged: This is a British mystery from the late 1960’s, before mystery writers felt that they had to throw in a couple of hundred extra pages of subplots. Anthony Maitland gets his client acquitted of murder, but he still needs to find out whodunit to rescue the client’s reputation. This is a decent enough example of the genre, though I’d have appreciated an epilogue telling me what became of some of the characters after the crimes were solved.

  7. Alexander Kent, Band of Brothers: More of Richard Bolitho, who passes his commissioning exam to become a lieutenant and is charged with helping a new midshipman adjust, along with doing his actual job. There was a minor annoyance in the form of having one character with the first name Montagu and another with the surname Egmont, which are just similar enough to confuse me a little. I also wish Kent didn’t have the nasty habit of killing off characters I like.

  8. Stephen King, The Dead Zone: Nobody does suspense better than Stephen King. This book is about a guy who spends 4 and a half years in a coma after a car accident and awakens with psychic powers, which prove to be more of a curse than a blessing. There are ups and downs along the way, culminating in an interesting moral dilemma. You probably already know whether or not you like King’s writing. If you do, this is a good example of it.

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31 January 2019 @ 10:52 am
A couple of things came up on facebook recently which have me thinking about what it is that children should be taught.

One item had to do with a person in a crafting group who said she was forcing her children to learn essential life skills – and included cross stitch among those. Cross stitch does involve a few things I consider essential life skills – sewing, counting, planning – but each of those could be taught in other ways. Knowing how to sew on a button or fix a hem is important, but cross stitch itself is a decorative art and isn’t worth forcing somebody to do if they don’t enjoy it. I do think it is fair to make children try a variety of things - different sports and musical instruments and the like (and I recognize that these are not necessarily available to everyone based on their economic situation, but there are ways of addressing that)- but don't push it if they want to quit after a fair try.

The other thing was an argument I had with a friend regarding the teaching of religion. I contend that teaching about religion (and, specifically, what the basic tenets of the major religions of the world are) does not violate the first amendment and is important to understand history and literature. For example, if you don’t know about, the Protestant reformation, you can’t really understand anything that went on in Europe for at least 200 years (from roughly 1500 to 1700 CE). She thinks it is adequate to say people fought wars because they had religious differences. I’m talking learning about religions at the half dozen or so bullet point level and including religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, Zoroastrianism, animism, etc., in addition to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, by the way. (And, for that matter, Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology.) Similarly, a lot of literature assumes you have a familiarity with Biblical stories. I don’t think it harms, say, a Wiccan child to read Sylvia Plath’s poem "Lady Lazareth," but they certainly won’t understand it if they don’t know that Christians believe Jesus brought someone named Lazareth back to life. And how on earth could you learn about Western art without ever looking at a painting of a saint or a Madonna and child? (Or, for Eastern art, looking at depictions of Hindu gods or of Buddhas and bodhisattvas.) How do you talk about music without understanding the huge role of churches in its development?

Also, the reason I believe it is possible to teach about religion without any risk of indoctrination is because that’s how it worked in my high school. We did non-Western cultures in 9th grade and that included learning what the basic tenets of various Indian, East Asian, and African religions are. We did European history in 10th grade and spent about 6 weeks on the Protestant Reformation (as well as a couple of months on the French Revolution). In 11th grade, we did American history and focused on the Constitution and a large number of Supreme Court cases, which we had to memorize. We read plenty of mythology, including the Odyssey. And we learned to identify various works of European art. And none of that converted anybody to anything they hadn’t grown up with but it did prepare us well for success at competitive universities.

I’ll also note that our 10th grade teacher had a particular obsession with the Balkans. This proved useful years later when that region fell apart and I could talk somewhat intelligently about places like Bosnia and Hercegovina.

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29 January 2019 @ 01:28 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Harris Wofford was a politician and civil rights activist. Maxine Brown was a country singer. Kaye Ballard was an actress and singer, best known for The Mothers-in-=Law on television in the 1960’s. Jonas Mekas was a film director. Diana Athill was a literary editor and memoirist. Meshulam Riklis was a businessman of the sort that gives Wall Street a bad name, but is better known for having married (and later divorced) Pia Zadora. Florence Knoll designed modern furniture, largely for offices. Fatima Ali competed on cooking-oriented reality TV. Michel Legrand was a composer, best known for the song "The Windmills of Your Mind" from The Thomas Crown Affair. Jumani Johansson claimed to be the illegitimate son of Malawi’s long-time president, Hastings Banda. Peter Magowan co-owned the San Francisco Giants. Rosemary Bryant Mariner was the first woman to fly jets for the Navy and the first to command a military aviation squadron. Patricia McBride Lousada (who is not the same person as Patricia McBride) was a founding member of New York City Ballet and a protége of George Balanchine and Merce Cunningham.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All in all, it was a good weekend, though tiring. I slept pretty much through from Newark to Baltimore on the train home.

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23 January 2019 @ 04:48 pm
How old are you: 60

Tattoos: none

Ever hit a deer: no

Ridden in an ambulance: yes, when I was hit by a car as a teenager

Sang karaoke: no, and I am not going to

Ice skated: yes, as a child

Ridden a motorcycle: no, and I am not going to

Stayed in hospital: no. Well, except when I was born

Skipped school: I skipped classes, but I don’t think I skipped entire days of school

Last phone call: telecon at work

Last text from: the friend I am going to New York with this coming weekend.

Watched someone die: no

Pepsi or coke: coke zero, but I prefer non-cola sodas.

Favourite Pie: depends on my mood, but coconut cream or lemon meringue are high on the list.

Favourite pizza: thin crust, mushroom and black olives

Favourite season: autumn

Broken bones: right ankle, little toes

Received a ticket: one speeding ticket (damn camera trap), a few parking tickets

Favourite color: teal

Sunset or sunrise: sunset

Favourite animal bears, especially polar bears

Had a tooth out yes

Who will play along: don’t know

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21 January 2019 @ 03:50 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Mason Lowe was a professional bull rider, who was killed by a bull. John Bogle founded the Vanguard Group, popularizing index funds. Mary Oliver was a Pulitzer Prize winning poet. Glen Wood was a NASCAR driver. Brian Stowell was a linguist who, among other things, translated Alice in Wonderland into Manx. Tony Mendez was the real-life spy who the movie Argo was based on. Nathan Glazer wrote important books about American ethnicity, with something of a focus on Judaism.

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

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

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

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

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

Now I am really craving bokser.

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