Odd Advertising: I get a number of circulars in the mail with discounts for local businesses. Restaurant ads usually have pictures of food. I understand most of these, e.g. kebabs for the Persian place and stir fried something or other for the Chinese restaurant. But why on earth is a restaurant whose tag line is "Get to know our homemade food" advertising itself with a photo of a plate of toast?
Customer Service: I have cooled off from my bad experiences with several companies, but I will note that it is very annoying when either clicking on a discount or logging into your account (which has the link for getting a discount in it) makes the price of an Amtrak ticket go up by 20 bucks. I know how to circumvent this (which sometimes requires buying two one-way tickets instead of a round trip one) but they have known about this for a couple of years and show no interest in fixing it.
Do I Want to Read This? Mark Leyner has a new novel out. I will admit to having liked My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist but could he possibly have more to say?
Celebrity Death Watch: King George Tupou V of Tonga died recently. The interesting part is that he died in a hospital in Hong Kong. As you may recall, the Tongan treasury was greatly increased by the sale of Tongan citizenship to people from Hong Kong who were concerned about China's intention, but much of that money was embezzled by their court jester. That was under the previous king but it is still such a good story that I can't resist repeating it.
Non-celebrity Death Watch: Mara Chibnik lost her battle to pancreatic cancer. She was a calm and intelligent presence back in the good old days of Usenet (and a few mailing lists we were on). She influenced my thinking on a range of subjects, including gender, sexuality, aging, and books. I will miss her.
Speaking of Sexuality: I saw the documentary Trembling Before G-d Saturday night as part of the Northern Virginia International Jewish Film Festival. Homosexuality in the Orthodox Jewish world is more talked about now than it was when this film was made over a decade ago, but it is still (obviously) a controversial subject. I found the movie interesting and moving, especially a scene in which an older man talks about his estrangement from his family, saying "I'm 68 years old and I want my daddy" before singing "Shalom Aleichem."
Brother Russia: As I've mentioned before, I subscribe to Signature Theatre largely in order to support their productions of new musicals. This is their latest and was, in my opinion, an interesting failure. I didn't have problems with using the life of Rasputin as the subject of a musical, but I didn't see the need to place it in the "play within a play" mode involving a theatre troupe. I may also know too much about Russian history to have been able to get past the (admitted) fabrications, which do get called out by one actor later on. The music was just okay, with the only particularly memorable song being a lively celebration of vodka. (My experience, however, is that Russians of the class frequenting that tavern would actually be more likely to drink beer or kvass.) The performances were fine (especially Nastascia Diaz as Anastasia). The choreography was remarkably dull and the whole thing was too long. Overall, this might have been better off with a year or three of workshops to figure out what it is supposed to be and edit it into a more satisfying show.