Bisha TV

Confronting a repressive regime, with satirical puppets.

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Cheverly parks

Sunday afternoon, I crossed over to the east side of the city to walk, bird, and botanize with Matt Salo in two parks in Cheverly, Md.: the Nature Park and the wilder bits of Cheverly-Euclid Neighborhood Park. The Nature Park, located at the highest point in Cheverly, is notable for populations of Chestnut Oak (Quercus montana) and Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia). This location might be home to the nearest patches of Mountain Laurel to the District line.

starletThere wasn’t too much happening with the birds, but we did turn up some earthstars (likely Geastrium triplex) near a patch of moss.

Cheverly’s bedrock is the Potomac Group from the lower Cretaceous, sand-gravel and silt-clay units. Nevertheless, I am surprised by the sometimes steep topography of this area. It doesn’t feel like we’re on the Coastal Plain at all.

The Euclid park doesn’t have organized trails, just deer trails and social trails. Matt and a group of volunteers are managing a clearing for native grasses and Liatris pilosa. We glimpsed a Bald Eagle in the air, and heard at last one Barred Owl.

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Great Backyard Bird Count 2018

melting fastOn the Sunday after our brief snows, I made a very fast trip to the Glade. Only 15 species in 0:45, and a couple of expected species that didn’t show. But I got my RSHA.

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Deck

Washington’s National Theatre may have converted its rigging system from hemp ropes and sandbags to lines and counterweights, but there remain a few houses (and eight of them on Broadway) that use the nautical system, as Lisa Lacroce Patterson reports.

While hemp houses have deep stages, they cannot hang as many set pieces as theatres with modern counterweight systems because, since the bulky sandbags require a lot more space, those theatres have fewer “line sets” from which to hang. A counterweight system might have a line set every 6 to 8 inches, but a sandbag system requires more than double the amount of space between rope sets. At the State [Theatre New Brunswick, New Jersey], if a tour comes in with four or more 53-foot trucks, often less than half of the scenery can make it onto the stage because of the limited number of line sets.

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Some links: 83

Some links, Wild Card Edition:

  • Andrea Appleton’s report: Chris Swan uses vacant lots in Baltimore (there are 14,000 at present) as experimental ecology plots.
  • Callan Bentley road tests a tool for teaching his geology students what went on in the mid-Atlantic: a worksheet matrix that brings together the What (e.g. Culpeper Basin), the When (e.g., Taconian orogeny), and the Why (evidence, to be filled in by the student).
  • Like Ducks? Thank a Hunter, by Wes Siler.

    There are 47 million birdwatchers in the U.S., but only 2.6 million waterfowl hunters. Conservation of wetlands falls disproportionately on the shoulders of hunters. And that’s a problem because hunter participation is decreasing. With fewer hunters, who’s going to pay for wildlife conservation?

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Some links: 82

Some links, Creepy Parasite Edition:

  • Dodder (Cuscuta sp.), a twining plant parasite, can inject bits of microRNA into its hosts, blocking gene-based plant defense mechanisms. Summary of new research by Saima Shahid et al. at Phys.org.
  • We’re understanding more about how the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis takes over the behavior, if not the mind, of its ant hosts, as Ed Yong reports.

    Once an infection is underway, he says, the neurons in the ant’s body—the ones that give its brain control over its muscles—start to die. [David] Hughes [at Penn State] suspects that the fungus takes over. It effectively cuts the ant’s limbs off from its brain and inserts itself in place, releasing chemicals that force the muscles there to contract. If this is right, then the ant ends its life as a prisoner in its own body. Its brain is still in the driver’s seat, but the fungus has the wheel.

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Some links: 81

Some links, Coffee and Birds Edition:

  • Jodi Helmer reports on the nascent coffee industry in California. Even in this non-tropical climate, at least one farmer is going the shade-grown route:

    Andy Mullins of Mullins Family Farm in Temecula… planted 1,000 coffee trees under the canopies of the avocado trees on his 4-acre farm.

  • A study from India by Charlotte H. Chang et al. indicates that coffee plantations given over to robusta supported nearly the same level of biodiversity as arabica farms, as summarized by the Wildlife Conservation Society.
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On deck: 18

too muchOof! Too much indulgence at Powell’s, the giveaway shelf at work, and book exchange parties (with Vanessa and Anna, and now a Virginia edition hosted with Sally), and not enough reading! Oh, and pulling up Black Tickets (a recommendation by Janet when I lived in Minneapolis) from the downstairs shelves, in the expectation that I will either read it or swap it. Yet more books out of frame.

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Peculiar muzak: 5

A lush, ostinato-less “Every Breath You Take,” in the lobby of Navy Federal Credit Union, Reston branch.

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The Humans

The Humans is a routine family comedy/drama, built around the familiar tropes of a Thanksgiving dinner and a new, sketchy apartment in New York. An early telephone call, made by Aimee (Therese Plaehn), to provide some key exposition, is both well crafted and well executed.

  • The Humans, by Stephen Karam, directed by Joe Mantello, Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater, Washington
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The Skin of Our Teeth

Constellation Theatre Company’s production of this quirky mid-century piece demonstrates that it’s still relevant, and that’s to the credit of the performances (like Tonya Beckman’s shape-shifting Sabina) as well as the writing. Consider the passage in the second act where Sabina’s actor breaks character (in a maneuver that prefigures Lanford Wilson’s Book of Days) and refuses to play a scene as “written,”

Because there are some lines in that scene that would hurt some people’s feelings and I don’t think the theatre is a place where people’s feelings ought to be hurt.

(Mr. President, your tickets will be available at will call.)

The production has tweaked a few of the lines (Sabina’s “understudy” been sent to Peet’s for a latte), but Beckman’s natural delivery of Wilder’s scripted lines makes them sound like 21st-century improvisations.

The despair in Beckman’s reading of “Oh, the world’s an awful place, and you know it is. I used to think something could be done about it; but I know better now.” is monumental.

Steven Carpenter’s hale and hearty George Antrobus has a radio-friendly baritone; Lolita Marie gives us an earthy Maggie Antrobus; and Ben Lauer’s honking mammoth is adorable.

The ambitious set design entailed a rather complicated changeover into Act 2 on this Saturday matinee.

  • The Skin of Our Teeth, by Thornton Wilder, directed by Mary Hall Surface, Constellation Theatre Company, Washington
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A mystery: 12: solved

work in progressBy chance, I figured out what this peculiar-looking project, spotted just north of the High Line last August, will be: The Shed.

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Riding the Rarely and Never

I’ve been trying to keep up with the extensive reporting by the Times on the shabby state of New York’s subway system, and how it got that way. Here’s a nugget from Brian M. Rosenthal et al.’s kickoff (it’s from November—did I say that I was trying to keep up?):

A bill passed by the Legislature in 1989 included a provision that lets state officials impose a fee on bonds issued by public authorities. The fee was largely intended to compensate the state for helping understaffed authorities navigate the borrowing process. It was to be a small charge, no more than 0.2 percent of the value of bond issuances….

The charge has quietly grown into a revenue stream for the state. And a lot of the money has been sapped from one authority in particular: the M.T.A.

The authority — a sophisticated operation that contracts with multiple bond experts — has had to pay $328 million in bond issuance fees over the past 15 years.

In some years, it has been charged fees totaling nearly 1 percent of its bond issuances, far more than foreseen under the original law….

But records show that other agencies have had tens of millions of dollars in bond issuance fees waived, including the Dormitory Authority, which is often used as a vehicle for pork projects pushed by the governor or lawmakers. The M.T.A. has not benefited as often from waivers.

The Dormitory Authority? What’s that? DASNY likes to style itself as New York State’s real estate developer. Its Wikipedia article needs some work.

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Some links: 80

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Patuxent River

catching raysStephanie Mason and Cathy Stragar led a walk to two locations along the Prince George’s side of Jug Bay. Snow flurries as I arrived at the park; up in the woods, out of the wind, temperatures were tolerable. We focused on plants and animals that manage to make a living, a little photosynthesis, under cold winter conditions. We enjoyed lightly scratching the bark of thin-barked trees like American Beech and Carpinus caroliniana to see the green evidence of chlorophyll just underneath. We stopped for drifts of evergreen lycopodium nearly covering the forest floor, not shaded out now that the leaves are down. The fuzzy underside of the dead but moist leaf of a Mockernut Hickory is quite pleasantly velour-y.

restingWe drive to Selby’s Landing, and then walked down to the bridge over Mattaponi Creek. A new birder in our group got a look at a small museum of Cedar Waxwings, feeding on Winterberry.

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