Celebrity Death Watch: P. F. Sloan wrote "Secret Agent Man," "Eve of Destruction," and numerous other songs. Amir Aczel wrote readable books about mathematics. (I recommend The Mystery of the Aleph.) Holly Woodlawn was a transgender actress who was in a few Andy Warhol movies, but is more significant for being the subject of the opening verse of Lou Reed’s "Walk on the Wild Side." Dolph Schayes was a Jewish basketball hall-of-famer. He also had a degree in aeronautical engineering from NYU. Peter Dickinson was a mystery writer. Lillian Vernon ran a mail order catalogue emporium. Kurt Masur conducted the New York Philharmonic. Dickie Moore was a hockey star.
The Amazing Race: I realize I have not commented on this past season. Let me just say that I am happy with who won. I was, however, annoyed by the last leg telling them to fly to Long Island. I am pretty sure they flew to JFK, not Islip. Yes, Queens is physically on the island, but it is not considered part of Long Island by real Guylanders.
One Day University: This was actually before I went on vacation, but I hadn’t managed to find time to write about it until now. There were 4 lecturers.
First up, Tina Rivers Ryan of Columbia University spoke on The Genius of Michelangelo. She emphasized his sculpture, pointing out the particular challenge of working with marble (vs. bronze), though she did also discuss the Sistine Chapel (including the Last Judgement). Having been privileged enough to see the major works she discussed in person, I found her talk both informative and entertaining.
Next up was Austin Sarat of Amherst College on 4 Trials That Changed the World. This was my favorite talk of the day, largely because of his breezy lecture style. The four trials he discussed were the Scopes Monkey Trial, the Nuremberg trials, the prosecution for murder of O.J. Simpson, and the impeachment trial against Bill Clinton. I’d quibble some on his discussion of O.J. While it certainly raised issues about the treatment of celebrity (both among the defendant and various of the legal players), I think that the racial atmosphere in Los Angeles after the Rodney King beating and subsequent riots played a significant role that he neglected. (Remember, I lived in L.A. at the time. And I was called for jury duty downtown at the time the O.J. trial was going on, though I got sent over to traffic court to be bored waiting around for two weeks.)
The third speaker was Jennifer Lawless of American University, with a talk on Men, Women, and Politics (A World of Difference). Her primary thesis was that women are underrepresented in political office largely out of a lack of ambition. In other words, women don’t think they’re qualified, so there is a self-fulfilling prophecy. She had some interesting data (notably, about the negative effect of term limits on underrepresented groups), but I was not convinced overall. Or more precisely, I don’t think she got at the reasons why women might be hesitant to run for office. It would be interesting to see if there is similar research for things like high school and college student council elections and local things like school boards and such.
The final speaker was Mark Brackett of Yale on What is Emotional Intelligence? I found his presentation disappointing, largely because his attempts at being interactive didn’t work for me with as large an audience as there was. I also felt that it was a bit of a pop-psych advertisement, but I was expecting that, so it was less of an issue. His personal anecdotes were, however, interesting and, often, amusing.
Virgin Galactic: This month’s MIT Seminar Series talk was by Steve Isakowitz, the president of Virgin Galactic. He was a very entertaining speaker and actually made me wish I had a spare $250K to sign up for a suborbital flight. He also talked about Launcher 1, their small satellite launch vehicle, which will be dropped from a 747. When he told his mother he’d bought a 747, she said, "Good. Now you can come visit me."
I should note that I find Virgin Galactic fairly credible in the commercial launch world for the simple reason that Burt Rutan is the designer of their spacecraft. He’s always made a strong impression on me for his engineering and design skills. One question someone asked is what goes into making somebody such a good designer and nobody had a really great answer.
Three Holiday Parties: First party was at home of my former great-grandboss. Food was potluck and I went with lukshen kugel (noodle pudding). I discovered that none of the recipes I had for a dairy kugel had what I consider the key sweet ingredient, namely crushed pineapple. But it’s not like it’s the sort of thing for which one follows a recipe anyway. (I was mostly looking to see what people use as the noodle to egg ratio. 6 eggs for a 12 oz bag of noodles seems typical.) Anyway, it went over reasonably well. I also told a story. And we played a couple of rounds of Telestrations, a reasonably amusing party game. Overall, it was pretty nice as these things go.
Second party was the annual condo complex party. I remembered that I had to get there early to have any hope of getting food. They do heavy hors d’oeuvres and they’re gone in less than an hour. I chatted with a few folks, mostly about travel. Mostly, this is a "might as well get a meal out of my condo fees" event.
Third (and final) party was the holiday lunch at work. They cater mains and sides and do potluck appetizers and desserts. I did spring rolls because I am still trying to finish up the rice paper from a misunderstanding a while ago. (I assumed that saying the package made 12 servings meant it would make 12 spring rolls. But they defined a serving as an ounce. The package really makes about 100 spring rolls. I make spring rolls a lot.) At any rate, the ones I brought all got eaten, though I had leftover peanut sauce which I can toss with pasta for supper one night. That party also has a white elephant gift exchange. I contributed a Star Wars coloring book and colored pencil set. I got a bottle of wine. Consumables are actually a good thing to get, since it isn’t like I need more stuff. (Well, except books and yarn. One can never have too much of those.) One of the vice presidents got an Obama chia pet. This is something like the 4th year in a row he got a chia pet. He’s now announced his pending retirement.
Texas Jack’s BBQ: I went to this new barbecue place in Arlington with friends from flyertalk. I’m not all that big on Texas barbecue, so I thought the food was just okay. It’s an order by the pound type of place and we got a pound of lean brisket, a pound of moist brisket, and a pound of pulled pork, plus fried potatoes and brussels sprouts. That was plenty of food for 6 people. I sure eat brussels sprouts a lot for somebody who refused to touch them until a couple of years ago.
At any rate, it was good to see some folks I hadn’t seen in a while and meet a couple of new people. And, of course, to talk travel (and miles and points and such.)
Bright Star: This is a new musical, written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, and it’s at the Kennedy Center for a pre-Broadway run. The story revolves around two people – a young man aspiring to be a writer and the steely editor of the journal he is trying to sell his work to. The editor has a deep dark secret, involving an illegitimate child. The first act ends on a truly shocking note, but anybody with any sense of drama knows how the story will end, if not quite how it will get there. The music is pleasant, a bit more twangy than I might like, given that I tend to need subtitles once I get south of Richmond. (It’s set in North Carolina. There is a western North Carolina / eastern Tennessee accent that this northerner finds particularly incomprehensible.) There’s little actual dancing, with the exception of a drinking song (“Pour Me Another”) which is somewhat of a throwaway. It’s intended to contrast the big city girl going after our innocent young writer, but we all know he’s going to end up with the girl back in his home town, so that side plot doesn’t provide much real drama.
All in all, the show was enjoyable. But, other than being written by big names, I’m not sure I really see it as a Broadway production. It seems more suitable for a more intimate, smaller theatre. Roundabout might do well with it, for example.
This Past Weekend: I was hoping to get completely caught up on things at home. I didn’t get anywhere near done, but I did make a fair amount of progress. I also got out of the house for a bit to go to knitting group, which is always enjoyable.