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19 November 2019 @ 01:20 pm
This is mostly triggered by a recent entry from daphnep re: standardized testing and generational differences. For background, I am a late boomer and grew up on Long Island. I’m not going to attempt to generalize about generations, though. I’m just going to provide some anecdotal experience.

My somewhat vague recollection is that we were given standardized tests at least twice in elementary school in the 1960’s. I am not sure whether these were the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills or the California Tests of Basic Skills, though California sounds vaguely familiar. I know we also used SRA (apparently, this stands for Science Research Associates) for reading, which involved a box with cards labeled with different colors for the reading levels, but I don’t think we used an associated all-day test from them. My impression is that the major purpose of the tests had to do with assigning students to tracks. Essentially, we were sorted as smart, average, or dumb, though this was never said explicitly until high school where there were honors classes.

Of course, high school included the PSAT (which was important, because it was used to determine who got National Merit Scholarships) and the SAT (which was viewed as a big part of college admissions). I don’t think SAT prep was really a big thing back then. However, we did have vocabulary practice in English class that focused on Greek and Latin roots, enabling us to figure out words from those roots.

The more important standardized tests were the New York State Regents Exams. They were given in several subjects, which have changed over the years. English, American History, World History, Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and German were the ones I took. There were prep books with sample tests for these. Typically, they were used as a final exam for a particular course. For those of us in honors classes, that was considered a good thing, as they were typically easier than what our own teachers would have devised. Passing a certain number of Regents exams (5 I think, but I could be misremembering) got you an extra gold seal on your high school diploma. By the way, I also earned money tutoring other kids for Regents exams in math and science subjects.

My most interesting experience with grading came during the summer biochemistry program I attended the summer before my senior year of high school. The instructors graded our lab write-ups, but each of them used a system of their own that meant something to them but was undecipherable to us. I particularly remember one teacher using pieces of classical music as grades. I know I got "Summer Nights in Madrid by Glinka" as a grade on one report. To this day I have absolutely no idea what that meant, but I did think of it when I saw Glinka’s grave in the Tikhvin Cemetery attached to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St, Petersburg, Russia in 2000. (By the way, pretty much all of the great 19th century Russian composers are buried in that section of the cemetery.) It was the opposite of the method used by my 10th grade Social Studies teacher, who had an elaborate system for grading essays that started with a letter grade and added plus and minus signs and check marks that could be used to calculate an actual number grade.

We get annual performance reviews at work that grade us in several categories, like productivity, leadership skills, interpersonal skills, and so on. But that is more like a report card than a standardized test. The dirty little secret is that the total score gets figured out first and then one’s boss adjusts the grades so that the total matches your position on the ladder ranking for your organization. Or, at least that’s how it worked back when I was a line manager.

Okay, one contribution to the generation gap:
Dear millennial women,
If it is cold enough out to wear boots, it is too cold to go bare-legged. I don’t care whether you wear nylons or tights or slacks, but put something on your legs.
a boomer.

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18 November 2019 @ 03:55 pm
I had a reasonably productive weekend. Along with a rehearsal for an upcoming storytelling show and a genealogy society meeting which offered up good tips on conserving materials, I got a fair amount of household stuff done.

Work is particularly annoying today. Not so much because of actual work, but because of the environment. They've been doing construction in the other suite on our floor and there is constant banging most of the day. Coupled with how bloody cold they keep the floor, my office is decidedly unpleasant.

Now they are cleaning the carpets. I am skeptical about the claim that this is eco-friendly carpet cleaner. Let's just say that I started sneezing constantly right after I got back into my office when they finished cleaning my carpet. Can't they do this stuff on a Friday after hours and have the weekend for the fumes to evaporate?

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Elections: Most of the election in my district was uninteresting, since I live in an area that is so blue that it is practically indigo. The Republicans no longer bother running candidates for Delegate or State Senator here. But we did have an interesting race for our representative to the County Board of Supervisors, with a Republican candidate whose platform included restoring female modesty to schools and rec centers. I actually approve of many school dress codes, but I believe they should apply to boys, as well as girls. And rec centers? How do you apply female modesty to swimming pools and gyms and still allow girls and women enough freedom of movement to exercise?

Fortunately, the rightest of right wingers lost (not surprisingly). But where does the Virginia Republican Party find these people?

Condo Association Annual Meeting: Wednesday night was our annual condo association meeting. There were only as many candidates for the board as there were openings, so it should have been short and sweet. Except, there is the matter of this lawsuit. We share our clubhouse with another condo association (representing the building next door) and they don’t like how much they have to pay to use the facilities. So there was a whole big presentation on that. The only thing we can really do is wait while the lawyers fight it out.

A Chorus Line: I went to see A Chorus Line at Signature Theatre on Friday night. The big deal with this production is that it is the first time Michael Bennett’s estate has given permission to use new choreography (in this case, by Denis Jones). I saw the show during its original run, but that was long enough ago that I remember little of the original choreography.

The main thing to keep in mind is that this was always intended to be an ensemble show, based on real stories of real dancers. Despite which, a few of the stories are always going to end up dominating the evening. The most obvious one is the history between Cassie, who failed at her attempt at stardom and is willing to be back in the chorus, and Zach, the director. Paul doesn’t get a solo song, but his monologue is the longest in the show. It’s hard to remember how revolutionary his story of coming to terms with his sexuality – and his parents’ eventual acceptance of who he was – seemed in the late 1970’s. The most dated line is the one about "what do Puerto Ricans know about musical theatre?" but Lin-Manuel Miranda wasn’t even born when the show was first produced. But I still think the line in "I Hope I Get It" which runs "What am I anyway? Am I my resume?" (not, of course, unique to dancers) captures the experience of people in their 20’s. And "At the Ballet" remains one of the saddest songs ever in a musical, with its contrast between the emotional abuse of childhood and the beauty of the ballet. Throw in the humor of "Sing!" and "Dance Ten, Looks Three" and the spectacle of "On"” and the score remains memorable. Despite all of that, the song which sticks in my head afterwards is one that isn’t even from this show. It’s Kander and Ebb’s "Why Don’t They Mention the Pain"” which was apparently written for Chita Rivera and is sometimes included in And the World Goes ‘Round under the title "Pain." Let’s just say that my strongest sensory memory of many years of dance classes of various sorts has to do with the smell of ben-gay.

As for the performances, I’ll particularly note Jeff Gorti as Paul and Signature regular Maria Rizzo as Sheila. But it is unfair to single people out in what is, after all, an ensemble show. It’s a good show. Go see it if you can.

Metro Whine: Because I had gone from work, I took the bus to/from Shirlington (where Signature Theatre is) on Friday night. Taking the bus back to connect with the metro, I was really annoyed when the driver made racist comments about "Spanish" immigrants. Oy.

One Day University: The metro was also annoying on Sunday, when they were doing track work that made what should be a 45 minute trip take nearly twice that. Still, it isn’t as though I had any desire to drive into the city and I definitely have no desire to ever park anywhere near Lisner Auditorium, where One Day University was being held.

Anyway, I made it before the talks started. The first speaker was Stephanie Yuhl of College of the Holy Cross on The Shifting Lens of History: How We Reimagine the Past. Her key point was that there is a distinction between history, which allows for multiple perspectives, and heritage, which she defined as a particular social groups claims about their past. She talked about the role language plays in this (e.g. whether we refer to "slaves" or "enslaved persons"), what stories we tell (e.g. lack of discussion of the domestic slave trade), and what monuments we have. One interesting bit of trivia was that a statue of King George III was melted down and the lead which most of it was made of was used to make bullets during the Revolutionary War. Re: monuments, she spent a lot of time on World War II and on the American War in Vietnam. I think that the fate of monuments to Lenin in Russia would probably be an even better example, as there are still statues of him in places that most Russians would think of as the hinterlands (not just parts of Siberia, but also in places like Belarus). Overall, it was an interesting and thought-provoking talk.

The second speaker was David Helfand of Columbia University on What We Know About the Universe (and What We Don’t Know). He emphasized the centrality of light to the study of cosmology and how our ability to perceive only visible light limits our perception. He showed a lot of photos from the Hubble Space Telescope and mentioned things like dark matter and dark energy. Because One Day University was being chintzy and didn’t serve coffee and I refuse to pay four bucks for a cup of the swill the Lisner Auditorium sells, my blood caffeine level was too low to stay awake for much of this.

The third and final talk was by Sean Hartley of Kaufman Music Center on Four Memorable Musicals That Changed Broadway. For a theatre geek like me, it was pretty easy to predict which musicals he would talk about. Pretty much everybody acknowledges Showboat as the turning point of the American musical, using songs to tell a story, versus just interjecting popular music that doesn’t advance the plot. In addition, it dealt with the serious subject of miscegenation and it had a sort of integrated cast. Only sort of because the white characters and black characters interact only in the context of master and servant, not as equals.

The next obvious choice is Oklahoma! which advanced the idea of the book musical and triggered a whole era of that genre. I think he missed a key point by not mentioning choreography at all. Oklahoma! is generally credited with introducing the dream ballet, an instrumental piece in which dance moves the plot along and reflects character. On the plus side, he had an audience sing-along (to "Oh What a Beautiful Morning") which is always a fun thing.

His third choice was Company, which was the first successful concept musical, as well as the first Stephen Sondheim musical that Hal Prince produced. He was a bit mocking of Sondheim’s concepts, however, which he described primarily as people regretting what they’ve done in their loves.

Finally, he talked about Hamilton. While I can’t argue with its success, I think it’s too early to tell how much long-term influence it will have on Broadway. Also, Hartley got several things wrong there. For one, Lin-Manuel Miranda was born in New York and was not an immigrant. (I’d argue that even had he been born in Puerto Rico, he wouldn’t be an immigrant as he would still be a natural-born U.S. citizen.) I also think it’s unfair not to mention his earlier success with In the Heights, which did win the Best Musical Tony (and three others).

On the plus side, he did also talk about the role of regional theatres in keeping musicals a viable art form. That’s precisely why I support Signature Theatre and Creative Cauldron (among others). Still, I wish he’d said something I didn’t already know.

Veteran’s Day: I did not get off from work yesterday. Alas, neither did the people doing extremely noisy construction work inches from my office. Sigh.

Weather Whine: It should not be this cold until December. I need to fast forward to April or so.


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05 November 2019 @ 03:50 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Robert Evans was a film producer whose notable works included Chinatown. Paul Barrerre was the guitarist for Little Feat. John Conyers was the longest-serving African-American member of Congress. Al Bianchi was a basketball player and went on to be general manager of the New York Knicks. Bernard Slade created The Partridge Family as well as the play, Same Time, Next Year. Rudy Boesch competed on Survivor. Walter Mercado was a celebrity astrologer in Puerto Rico. Enriqueta Basilio was the first woman to light the Olympic flame.

Ivan Milat was an Australian serial killer, known for murdering backpackers. The world is better off without him. He netted me 16 ghoul pool points.

Holly Clegg was a cookbook author and was, apparently, a big deal in Baton Rouge. She earned me 8 ghoul pool points.

New York Weekend: I went to New York for the weekend, primarily for a bit of a theatre binge. There was no drama with the train either way. I stayed at the Bernic, which is part of Hilton’s Tapestry Collection. The location, near Grand Central Terminal, was reasonably convenient, and the hotel was nice, with a surprisingly large room, excellent toiletries (Beekman 1802), a comfortable bed, and amazingly good sound proofing. The Library Hotel is still my favorite in New York, but this was a bit less expensive and did just fine.

A Note About New York Diners: One of the greatest pleasures of trips to New York is eating breakfast at the sort of old neighborhood diners which have counters where the regulars (and a handful of solo visitors like me) sit. The food isn’t exciting, though it’s fine for what it is. But what makes it so pleasurable is listening to conversations between the regulars and the staff. Saturday morning I ate a plate of chilaquiles and scrambled eggs while a woman from Argentina discovered the waitress was from Columbia. The waitress went on to talk with a guy at the other end of the counter about going to a wedding that afternoon and how to dress her young boys for it.

Sunday mornings are not as good because most people are reading the Times, instead of chatting. Though three people in their 30’s were busily discussing the ins and outs of home insurance.

The truth is, I could get the same experience at home. But I rarely go out to breakfast at home. If I have friends in from out of town, I do like to take them to Market Lunch at Eastern Market to eat blue bucks (buckwheat pancakes with blueberries) and sit at the tall table with the most diverse crowd in D.C. with everyone from Congressional staffers to janitors.

Panama Hattie: The first of two shows I saw (after shopping for tea at a place I like in the Grand Central Market) was York Theatre’s Mufti production of Cole Porter’s Panama Hattie. I have deeply mixed feelings about Cole Porter. While, admittedly, he did not write the books for his shows himself, they tend to be full of offensive sexism. In this case, that involved three sailors whose sole aim in their time in Panama was picking up women. The songs often have little to do with the story, too. The interesting thing here is that Porter and his collaborators didn’t use the trick of making the songs part of one character’s nightclub act, despite the main character (Hattie) being a nightclub singer. Instead there are pieces that come out of nowhere. A good example is "You Said It," a lively ensemble piece which follows an incident in which Hattie saves the Panama Canal from a would-be saboteur. I don’t know about you, but if I had just rescued the canal from a bomb, I would not be going on to sing about my opinions of reducing diets.

What does work is the skill of the performers. This show was originally a vehicle for Ethel Merman and Klea Blackhurst, as Hattie, effectively channels Merman’s style. Stephen Bogardus os quite appealing as Nick (the love interest), though he was given barely anything to do. Kylie Kuloka, who played Nick’s 8 year-old daughter was cute and expressive – and seemed to be having fun, which is important for a child actor. All in all, it’s not a show I’d really want to see revived, but there’s some fun music and it was worth seeing.

Scotland PA This new musical by Adam Gwon was the excuse for the whole trip. I’m a big fan of Gwon’s work and, while I haven’t seen the movie this musical was based on, it sounded right up my alley. Mac McBeth has been laboring at Duncan’s, a burger joint in rural Pennsylvania, and he and his wife are fed up with how Mr. Duncan shoots down every idea he has for expanding the business. His wife, Pat, persuades him that they should rob the safe at Duncan’s, using a party that Banko (another worker at the diner) is throwing as an alibi. Banko’s party is a flop and they arrange for a prostitute to distract Banko, while they conduct the robbery. Duncan catches them, but falls into the fryolater, meeting a horrible death. Duncan’s son, Malcolm, is happy to sell the diner to the McBeths. And then homicide detective Peg McDuff shows up…

There are plenty of Shakespearean references and plenty of MacDonald’s references, mixed with 70’s-type soft rock. In some ways, it feels more like a fringe show than like a true Broadway musical. But I enjoyed it. I particularly liked the three witches being three stoners, who admit that they’re in Mac’s head. The best character is Banko (real name Antony Banconi), who is a sweet and amiable stoner himself. He also gets the best song, "Kick-Ass Party." Malcolm’s song, "Why I Love Football," is also memorable. I should also note that the performance I was at had the understudy, Jimmy Brewer, playing Mac. I would never have guessed he was the understudy from his performance. He was right on the mark, particularly with some complex choreography. This isn’t a revolutionary show and probably won’t have a long life, but I am glad I saw it. And I hope it gets recorded.

Don’t Analyze This Dream: I was in a back yard with several other people. We were all sitting in lawn chairs and star gazing. In addition to the stars, we saw stages separating from a rocket, including being able to see plumes of gas during staging. One of the people was wearing a name tag which I said marked him as a prominent person doing solar research. (In real life, this is someone I know in the context of South African Jewish genealogy.)

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01 November 2019 @ 03:47 pm
Shiva Call: No matter how old I get, it never gets easier to pay shiva calls. But I do appreciate the importance to mourners of people offering condolences. I was glad I went Tuesday evening, because one of Bob’s daughters told me how much Voices in the Glen (the storytelling group I knew him from) meant to him.

Embassy of India: I went ot an MIT Club of DC event at the Embassy of India last night. The first talk was by Ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla and focused mostly on the economic impact of Indians who have studied abroad. He did comment on space launches in the context of the expanding Indian economy. The longer talk was by Professor Pawan Sinha, who directs an internship program that (among other things) sends MIT students to India. He talked about his own research, which has to do with the ability of blind children to learn to see after surgery. There are, apparently, high rates of childhood blindness in India, largely due to pregnant women contracting rubella. They used to think (based on animal experiments) that the brain could not learn to interpret visual input if the blindness was corrected after a certain age, but they’ve found that isn’t true and there isn’t any upper age limit. The talks were both interesting, though the room was uncomfortably crowded and rather hot. The crowdedness also inhibited mingling to some extent.

But, of course, the main reason people go to these things is for the food. Which was plentiful and varied and quite tasty. I stuck to the vegetarian options and there was a cauliflower dish I particularly liked. I was also pleased that there was gulab jamum for dessert.

Baseball: Of course, the big news of the week was the Nationals winning the World Series. I hate to admit it, but I fell asleep in the 6th inning of Game 7, while the Nats were still trailing. One of the things I miss most from my youth is day games

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29 October 2019 @ 04:57 pm
I keep intending to write here more, but I have been absurdly busy at work. And, of course, I try to have a life other than work.

Death of a Friend: Bob Rovinsky, who I knew from Voices in the Glen and was privileged to have shared storytelling stages with from time to time, died Thursday of last week after a massive heart attack several dies earlier. He was a good man, heavily involved in several local Jewish communities, and had been particularly helpful when my mother died. I will miss him dearly. I am sure his wife and daughters are devastated. I was at the funeral on Sunday and will be paying a shiva call this evening.

One Note re: Funerals: Well, two notes, actually. There were issues with the sound system. I was particularly frustrated not to be able to hear what Bob’s brother said. The other issue was that they asked people to sing along with a few things, but did not provide song sheets. I don’t know about you, but there are limits to my memory. I plan to leave instructions on these topics.

Alexander McCall Smith: Alexander McCall Smith spoke at the Library of Congress Thursday night. The event was nominally related to the most recent No. One Ladies’ Detective Agency book and the library had exhibits on animals of Botswana and on female detectives available to look at before the talk. His actual talk touched on a number of other topics and he was consistently warm and entertaining. It’s obvious that he genuinely likes his characters. I was reminded of why I find so many of his books so enjoyable.

Spooky Stories: Four of us from Voices in the Glen told spooky stories at the C&O Canal Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center in Maryland on Saturday afternoon. We had a small audience, but it was fun, anyway. I told one literary story ("The New Mother" by Lucy Clifford), an historic ghost story ("Ida Black") and a shaggy dog story ("Lyle and the Ghost").

Don’t Analyze This Dream: I slept really well last night, but I woke up in the middle of a dream involving an incredibly difficult crossword puzzle. I must have been at a competition because Will Shortz was in the front of the room and there was a clock counting down, but I still hadn’t made it out of the northwest corner. In real life, if I am stuck in one part of a puzzle, I try to find things I know in other parts of the puzzle. Dream Me is, apparently, not so good at this.

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23 October 2019 @ 02:00 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Anne Hart wrote biographies of fictional characters, e.g. Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Juliette Kaplan was an actress who appeared in Coronation Street. John Giorno was a poet and performance artist and created Dial-a-Poem. Robert Forster was an actor, best known for an Oscar nomination for his role in Jackie Brown. Mac Christensen was the president of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. E. A. Carmean was an art historian and curator (and was married to someone who works in my office). Sophia Kokosalaki was a fashion designer. Beverly Sackler was cofounder of Purdue Pharma (of opioid fame). Harold Bloom was a literary critic. Kate Braverman was a novelist. Patrick Day was a boxer, who died of injuries sustained in a bout. Bill Macy was an actor, best known for playing Maude’s husband, Walter, on the TV show Maude. Alicia Alonso was a Cuban ballerina and choreographer. William Milliken was the longest-serving governor of Michigan. Mark Hurd was the CEO of Hewlett Packard and, later, of Oracle. Thomas D’Alessandro III was the mayor of Baltimore in the late 1960’s.

Alexei Leonov was a cosmonaut. In 1965, he became the first person to walk in space.

Woodie Flowers was an MIT professor of Mechanical Engineering. Students of my generation remember him largely for the 2.70 Design Competition, in which we got paper bags full of odds and ends (fasteners, springs, venetian blind slats, and other what-have-you) to fashion into a machine to do something. I remember his advice that it was better if your creation did something like going to pieces spectacularly rather than just sitting there. He later on got involved with STEM programs for younger children and was rather a hero to participants in FIRST Robotics.

Leah Bracknell was a British actress, best known for appearing in a soap opera called Emmerdale. She was on my ghoul pool list because she was widely known to have terminal lung cancer. She earned me 19 points.

Elijah Cummings was a member of the House of Representatives from Maryland. He chaired the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

World Series: The Washington Nationals are in the World Series! This is incredible and will be keeping me sleep deprived for at least the rest of the week.

I Try Things So You Don’t Have To: I like Coke Zero. Vanilla Coke Zero, however, is terrible.

The Grapevine: I made it to The Grapevine (a monthly storytelling show at a venue right at the D.C. / Maryland border) last Wednesday. The featured tellers were Megan Hicks and Jamie Brickhouse. I told a story with a particularly atrocious pun at the end during the open mike. Megan had a great piece about her mother’s music career and Jamie had stories about his mother and his finding his true self to lead a "sissy fabulous life." All in all, it was an excellent evening and worth the next day’s exhaustion.

Storytelling Workshop: I spent Sunday at a storytelling workshop on dealing with complex stories. It gave me lots of time to work on an idea I have. I’ve mentioned my great-aunt Mary Lehrman before. She died, along with 78 other people, in the 1943 wreck of the Congressional Limited near Philadelphia. I will be telling her story in a show in November. But I want to do a longer piece, which will include stories of some of the other victims of the train wreck. There are some interesting stories there. For example, a man in Brooklyn went to the Philadelphia morgue to identify his wife and children, who were killed in the wreck. He returned home, closed all the doors and windows to his apartment, and turned on the gas. There’s also a story about a Marine lieutenant who never let his briefcase out of his site. He was killed and the briefcase was damaged, but an armed group of men came and took both his body and the briefcase, which appeared to have a sheaf of papers.

I was also curious about survivors who were mentioned. When I got home, I googled Lin Yutang, who the newspaper reports had identified as a Chinese author. He’s really an interesting character. He invented a Chinese typewriter, for example. He published a number of books in both Chinese and English and his wife wrote some of the first Chinese cookbooks in English. I am thinking that using some quotes from him might be an interesting way of structuring the piece – and might also provide a lighter touch to such a tragic story.

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15 October 2019 @ 03:41 pm
Fall for the Book Storytelling: Better Said Than Done did a free storytelling show Thursday night as part of the Fall for the Book Festival in Fairfax, Virginia. The theme was True Lies: Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them. I went with a story that was about various members of my family and lies they told, primarily about how old they were. It went well, as did the show as a whole. At the end, the audience was asked to guess who was lying and who was telling the truth. The one lie I had in my story was pretty obvious, so nobody had any trouble guessing my story was true. But a couple of people did snooker the crowd.

Escaped Alone: I went to see Caryl Churchill’s play, Escaped Alone. at Signature Theatre on Saturday afternoon. I barely made it there as I had flaked out on the way there and made a wrong turn. Given how often I make that trip, I have no idea what was going on in my head.

Anyway, I did make it just in time and am glad I did. The play was intriguing, albeit confusing. The premise is that a woman named Mrs. Jarrett (played very smoothly by Valerie Leonard) is passing by a house where three women are sitting and drinking tea and is invited in to join them. Their conversation is wide-ranging, but each scene is interrupted by Mrs. Jarrett giving a monologue involving some sort of disaster (collapsed buildings, floods, disease, famine). Most of those monologues mix in a certain level of dark humor, e.g. most food being diverted from people to television cooking programs. The conversations the women have touch on some odd aspects of their lives. One of them spent six years in prison for stabbing her husband to death. Another is terrified of cats. The third is apparently agoraphobic. I thought that those scenes took place over several weeks, but it was ambiguous and some people seemed to think it was a single afternoon. After the play (which is only about an hour long), they served tea and had a video about the play. Since Churchill refuses to speak publicly about her work, it’s not like anything much was going to be revealed, but it was an interesting play to see.

Kellari: A friend had gotten a groupon deal at a good price for brunch at Kellari Taverna so we went on Sunday. The three course prix fixe menu includes unlimited drinks, which was pretty much wasted on us. I did drink about half of a mimosa, but that was it. I had spanakopita (which was excellent), tuna salad (nicely seared tuna, with a lot of salad), and cheesecake (good, but I have had better). Both the food and service were good, but I wouldn’t want to pay full price to eat there.

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08 October 2019 @ 01:06 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Anna Quayle was a Tony winning actress, who died in August but whose obituary was just published this past week. Marko Feingold was a Holocaust survivor and head of a Jewish community in Austria, who lived to 106 years old. Christopher Rouse was the composer in residence for the New York Philharmonic from 2012-2015. Robert Hunter was the lyricist for the Grateful Dead. Jimmy Nelson was a ventriloquist. Jimmy Spicer was a rapper who managed to die of natural causes. Jose Jose was a Mexican singer. Jessye Norman was an opera singer. Kim Shattuck was the lead singer of The Muffs. Rip Taylor was an actor / comedian. Karen Pendleton was one of the original Mouseketeers. Larry Junstrom was a bassist, who cofounded Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Jacques Chirac was a former prime minister and President of France. I read that this also made him co-prince of Andorra during that time, which is a cool bit of trivia.

Stephen Lukasik was a physicist who led DARPA and the FCC at various times. He played a key role in development and deployment of ARPANET, as well as supporting technology development related to nuclear device development, computer networking, and AI.

Diahann Carroll was the first black women to win a Tony for best actress in musical (for her performance in No Strings), though she was better known for the television series, Julia.

Ginger Baker was the drummer for Cream. He was probably the most influential rock drummer for my generation, spectacular for his use of jazz and African rhythms.

Work Stress: I had a tedious business trip the week before last. Then I was out of the office for a couple of days for Rosh Hashanah. I came back to trying to catch up on paperwork related to the project the trip was for. I need to get caught up on my actual job, but I suspect this other project is going to have lots of follow-up questions here and there, which I will get sucked into.

One Item re: Hotels: I stayed at an airport hotel the last night of the business trip, since I had an early flight. They charged for parking and claimed the room key would open the gate. Let’s just say it was less than obvious where to swipe the card to do so. Eventually, someone came and helped me, but the whole thing was annoying and could have easily been prevented if they had a light allowing the target to be seen at 5 a.m.

Old School Storytelling: I got back in time for a Friday night storytelling show. Which is a good thing, since I was one of the tellers. My story had to do with Class Nite, which was a big deal annual event when I was in high school. This involved a competition between the classes, with events ranging from decorations and costumes, to a song and skit, to assorted sports (basketball, volleyball, various races, tugs of war, and something called cage ball. All I remember about the latter is that it involved a ball and a cage.) The thing is that it was all rigged, so that the seniors won, followed by the juniors, sophomores, and freshman. Of course, we believed it was a fair competition, since it was the 1970’s when we still believed that Russian figure skating judges were unbiased. Anyway, the story went okay, but I was disappointed in it, largely because I don’t think I ever really figured out what the point of the story was, beyond making fun of silly things from my youth.

Speaking of Storytelling, It’s Shameless Self-Promotion Time: I’m in a show this coming Thursday night (October 10th) as part of the Fall for the Book Festival. It’s at The Auld Shebeen (3971 Chain Bridge Rd, Fairfax, VA – entrance downstairs, via North Street) at 7:00 p.m. And it’s Free! The theme is True Lies: Lies and the lying liars who tell them.

Rosh Hashanah: I was not very into it this year. I have plenty of personal issues I need to work on, but having a hard time focusing and prioritizing. This is my usual issue with having trouble doing one thing at a time. I did take advantage of some introspection time. There’s something I should say about how ritual helps with that, but I am not quite sure how to articulate that.

Disenchanted: I finished off last week (i.e. three days in the office writing up stuff from the previous week) by going out to dinner and the theatre with a couple of friends. The dinner part was at Pizzeria Orso, chosen for convenience to the theatre part at Creative Cauldron. I should have gotten pizza, but saw eggplant parmesan on the menu and thought it would be a good idea. I was wrong. It was okay, but not as good as I can do myself. (Assuming, of course, that I wasn’t too lazy to make It myself.)

As for the theatre, Disenchanted is a musical by a man named Dennis T. Giacino about Disney princesses. Essentially, each of the princesses (led by Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty) gets to sing a song about what is screwed up in their story. The pieces I thought best were "Without a Guy" (in which Hua Mulan wonders if she might be a lesbian since she is the only princess who doesn’t end up with a prince), "Finally" (in which the Princess Who Kissed the Frog sings about the commercial potential of a black princess), and "Perfect" (in which the chubby Sleeping Beauty explains that she is just fine as she is). The show was reasonably amusing, but the music was unmemorable and it was a bit raunchier than I was expecting. It was still worth the evening out, but could have been much better.

My friends were appalled afterwards when I told them that the Princess doesn't really kiss the frog - she throws him against the wall. As for Sleeping Beauty, her Prince rapes her and what wakes her up is the pain of childbirth.

WBRS Reception: Sunday night was a William Barton Rogers Society reception at the Cosmos Club. (WBRS has to do with giving $$$$ to MIT.) The speaker was Richard Binzel who talked about NASA deep space projects he (and his students) have been involved in. He was informative and entertaining. Overall, it was a pleasant evening out in a ritzy setting.

Don’t Brits Know the Alphabet? I sometimes watch semi-mindless television in the form of British quiz shows. While they are slightly less mindless than American game shows, I have found something really puzzling. Some games on a show from 2012ish called Five Minutes To a Fortune have people figuring out answers by seeing a series of letters and having to come up with an answer by shifting each letter one to the right. So, for example, if the category were animals, the answer DOG would be obtained from the sequence C N F. I am astounded by how many contestants could not grasp the concept and do this.

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03 October 2019 @ 03:25 pm
Goals: I’ve been gone more than half of this past quarter, between vacation trips and business trips. So it’s no wonder I’ve done little towards my annual goals. I did get a little done with respect to household paperwork and read another 4 books. But that is about it. Sigh. I believe the business travel part should be done with, which will help.

Movies: I ended up sleeping a lot on airplanes, so just a few movies this quarter.

  1. Free Solo: This documentary tells the story of Alex Honnold and his quest to perform a free solo climb (i.e. alone and without ropes) of El Capitan. As a person who is terrified of heights, I found this tense, but absorbing, to watch. At one level, it’s a reckless thing to do. But Honnold clearly planned carefully, figuring out exactly what he had to do. The film crew capturing his climb has a good grasp of the moral implications of the filming. And his girlfriend’s hesitation about the whole thing adds another dimension. Literally breathtaking.

  2. Green Book: A successful African-American musician hires a working class Italian as a chauffeur for a trip through the Southern U.S. in the early 1960’s. Don Shirley is forced to endure numerous indignities, such as a mansion where he is hired to perform a concert, but they won’t let him use a bathroom inside the building. Tony Lip is crude and confrontational, but does prove to be capable of learning and the two men achieve genuine friendship. I’ve seen criticisms that the movie is cliched, but I didn’t care. I thought it was entertaining and I found myself genuinely liking the characters for their ability to learn and confront their own weaknesses. Recommended.

  3. Eighth Grade: This story involves a shy eight grade girl who tries to remake herself in her last week of middle school. She makes videos that offer advice she finds herself unable to take herself. Her father worries about her – but he also lets her retreat into a world based on Instagram and the like. The most cringeworthy part is an evening she spends with some high school kids. One of the boys drives her home and initiates a game of truth or dare, during which I was sure he was about to assault her. Mostly, this movie made me glad social media didn’t exist when I was that age. This was listed under comedy, but there was absolutely nothing funny. I watched all the way through because I kept waiting for something interesting to happen. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.

Books: I only managed to finish four books this quarter. It did not help that a couple of them were over 500 pages.

  1. Cathie Pelletier, A Marriage Made in Woodstock. This was a book club book, though I ended up missing the book club meeting due to a last minute business trip. That’s just as well as I thought this book was dull. Years after Woodstock, the man is an accountant, while the woman remains a bit of a free spirit, teaching new age psychology groups and participating in protests. Their marriage splits up for less obvious reasons and he falls apart, encouraged by his brother in binge drinking and picking up young women. Basically, this was about unlikeable people who needed to grow up.

  2. Robert Ludlum, The Holcroft Covenant. The plot of this novel involves a young man who discovers that his real father was a Nazi who, along with two friends, claimed to have squirreled away money to compensate victims of the Holocaust. At the same time, there are children of the Nazis, who were raised to grow up and recreate the Third Reich, led by an assassin called the Tinamou. This was a complex, suspenseful novel, in which it was impossible to tell who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. I found it riveting, though I hesitate to recommend it due to the sheer level of violence.

  3. John Dunning, The Bookman’s Promise. I’ve read a couple of the other Cliff Janeway detective novels by Dunning and liked them. This one had the added appeal of involving a mysterious journal by the explorer, Sir Richard Francis Burton. Janeway travels to Baltimore and Charleston to find out what Burton might have done in the American South just before the Civil War. I thought this was a good, absorbing read, but I was less than crazy about the ending.

  4. Rosemary Rogers, The Crowd Pleasers. The daughter of one prominent politician and the wife of another decides to leave her unfulfilling marriage. As a result of a childhood friendship, she gets involved with modeling and a movie and has a passionate affair with an actor, who may also be working with the Mafia. There is a lot of violence and multiple pornographic elements, including her filmed gang rape, with undertones of political intrigue. In other words, this is trash, though it does have a satisfying resolution.

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