Truth in advertising

Reporting on the recent FDA food labeling standard for gluten-free foods, Allison Aubrey does a great job of unpacking the various consumer constituencies who care about gluten in their diet. The blog post doesn’t dwell on this point, so listen to the audio from the All Things Considered two-way with Audie Cornish. Aubrey identifies three groups:

  • people who are on the gluten-free bandwagon and will fall off eventually;
  • people who experience gluten sensitivity, who do better avoiding wheat and related grains, but can tolerate a little or a lot;
  • people with true-blue celiac disease.

Aubrey identifies the third group as those for whom gluten is a real problem, not just something to be avoided casually. These are the three million people who, in her deft description for radio, suffer from a “chronic auto-immune disorder that can destroy the lining of the small intestine… even a little gluten can make them sick.”

Posted in Food and Cooking, Health and Medicine
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The E does stand for Entertainment

Allan Savory gives a rubbish science TED talk and gets 2M page views. George Manbiot looks at the peer-reviewed literature and finds no evidence to back up Savory’s claims.

When faced with the claims of a Savory, Leta and I like to quote Brick Pollitt, in the last line of the play as Williams originally wrote it: “Wouldn’t it be funny if that was true?”

Lili Taylor

Posted in Agriculture, Annoyances
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tenth and marketthird and marketAlong the broad swath of Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania’s Market Street (surprisingly, Market is not the north-south axis: rather, it’s the narrow nondescript Center Street two blocks over) can be found some lovely old street name signs suspended from scrolled brackets. There are variations and simplifications of this design (clips instead of hangers, utility poles instead of purpose-built supports), and eventually the newer signs give in to the conventional perforated post and crosstree design. But still, these that remain are graceful and quite fine.

the fountain is onAt Market and Main across from the Civil War monument is this well-maintained fountain. The only flaw in its design is that there’s insufficient dallying space next to it: lingerers are likely to get wet.

no creditNot all of the businesses on Main Street are thriving.

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Nescopeck State Park

hemlocksI had a couple of hours between events in Bloomsburg to take a ramble through Nescopeck State Park. The traces of earlier uses of this land are easy to read: the Wood Frog Way Loop trail is almost rectilinear. There were many more annoying dipterans than charismatic lepidopterans to be found on this cloudy Saturday morning. But hunting in the park has apparently kept the deer population in check, and hence the understory looks to be in good shape. And I found a couple patches of healthy-looking Eastern Hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis), hopefully adelgid-free.

Posted in In the Field
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Don’t ever stop being you, Pennsylvania

In the commonwealth of economic development by pointless naming, PA 424 in Luzerne County is officially designated the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce Beltway. This 6 km-long bypass, a straight shot between I-81 and PA 93, used to be named simply the Hazleton South Beltway.

Posted in NOC
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Brutal in the suburbs

The very first service alert that I’ve received from Metro pertaining to the Silver Line:

On Aug 2, 2014 8:42 PM, “MetroAlerts” <metroalerts> wrote:

Silver Line: Single tracking btwn McLean & E Falls Church due to a deer struck by a train outside of E Falls Church. Expect delays.

Posted in Transit in D.C.
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Kriston Capps mounts a thoughtful defense of the unloved, unlovely FBI HQ.

So much of the criticism of Brutalism treats it like a failed quiz—a problem to be solved, a problem for which there are correct answers, not a piece of history that could be preserved and improved upon.


Posted in Art and Architecture
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Secondary factors

Robert W. R. Parker and Peter H. Tyedmers present research results that indicate that energy consumption by fishing fleets has a significant greenhouse gas effect, perhaps even as important as the tropic level of the fish that’s caught. Fishing for small fish like mackerel and sardines is the least energy-intensive, while going after crustaceans like shrimp and lobster can be worse by a factor of 50, consuming nearly as much energy as raising terrestrial livestock. The disparity is even more pronounced in Europe, where crustaceans are scarcer. April Fulton interprets the results.

So why is all this fuel getting burned? As the fishing industry has evolved in the last century from throwing out a few lines over the local dock to industrialized operations, we’ve been able to fish in more parts of the ocean and freeze our catch right on the boats….

And the boats – not the packing plants or trucks transporting fish to the store — are where the bulk of the burn comes from, Parker says. The energy needed to get fish to the dock accounts for 60 to 90 percent of the fishing industry’s total energy use and emissions.

Posted in Climate Change, Energy Sources and Consumption, Natural Sciences
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Silver Line progress report: 38

south entrancePhase 1 of the Silver Line is in operation! It comes as a surprise to this Fairfax-centric writer that train operators are still trying to wrap their mouths around some of the local place names. No matter.

Tin revenue servicehe new fare gates are whisper-quiet, but, as at Vienna, reading the green arrows/red blockers in the glare of afternoon sun is a challenge. On to Phase 2 and the airport!

Posted in Transit in D.C.
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cheeryA cheery batch of sunflowers from Charlie’s garden, just because.

Posted in Like Life
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Contemporary American Theater Festival 2014

Themes of this year’s selections include black-white race relations, death and dying, acceptance of the other, hard choices, gender issues—and indoor plumbing.

Chisa Hutchinson’s waspish comedy Dead and Beathing pits Carolyn (the fearless Lizan Mitchell), a wealthy woman weakened by a long-term illness and in hospice status, against her caregiver Veronika, an equally tart-tongued woman (the resourceful, pitch-perfect N. L. Graham). Carolyn, who has made no friends and many enemies in her life, needs Veronika’s assistance to accomplish a single task, one that might redeem both of their lives. Veronika, a ardently Christian woman of hidden talents (she prepares “the tastiest fucking omelette” with Gruyère and herbs for Carolyn), carries a secret that threatens to undermine their shared project. The setup is a bit perfunctory—Carolyn makes a too-hasty decision to get the action of the play moving and to keep it within the 90 minutes of real-time running. However, the moral dilemma that Veronika faces, one of money and life, is well-drawn, and good fodder for drive-home discussions with a theater companion.

One Night, a physically and emotionally violent drama by Charles Fuller, addresses the strains endured by soldiers fighting in the 21st century, chief among them the gnarly issue of gender integration within combat units. It’s told largely in a tangle of paranoid hallucinatory flashbacks, and the effect is appropriately disorienting, if perhaps a bit distancing. The here-and-now of the play is a hot-sheets motel somewhere on the West Coast where two Iraq war veterans on the run, Alicia (Kaliswa Brewster) and Horace (Jason Babinsky), seek shelter for the titular one night. Offstage voices (it’s the sort of cheap place with paper-thin partitions), alas, are only audible when it’s convenient to provide an impetus to the story. And a highway patrolman who turns out also to be a vet is too pat. But Fuller’s command of military lingo (his A Soldier’s Play is from 1982) is convincing, and his outrage is clear.

Some of the flashiest acting comes from Alex Podulke as Julian in Thomas Gibbons’ chamber drama Uncanny Valley, a science fiction drama of bioethics and life extension. Julian is a androidish construction being put together, part by part, by offstage engineers and being trained (cognitively, kinetically, and emotionally) by Claire (the quietly strong Barbara Kingsley). It turns out that Julian is being assembled for a mission, one for which Claire’s programming is only a substrate. Once Julian begins to execute that mission, the action of the play bogs down a bit, as these two skillful actors are left to tell us what transpires offstage. However, the challenges that Claire faces in her backstory, cognitive excursions on the part of her family members, throw some discussion-worthy highlights on to Julian’s narrative.

In a supporting interview, Gibbons says,

One of the things that’s interesting about [2001: A Space Odyssey] is the way that Hal, the computer, is more human than the astronauts. He acts almost irrationally. Throughout the movie, the human beings show very little emotion. They’re all corporate space travelers. Hal, even though he is just a lens and a red light, is the one that is more human.

The drama The Ashes under Gait City, by Christina Anderson, is sparked by the history of Oregon’s pre-Civil War exclusion laws; little discussed today and not repealed until 1926, the legislation was surprisingly effective at suppressing the population of African Americans. In 1860, there were but 128 among a total population of 52,645.

The play follows the charismatic Simone the Believer (Daphne Gaines), who uses social media to organize a tiny group of followers. Their mission: to disrupt the complacence of fictitious Gait City, Oregon and to make a home for the displaced and ignored. Gaines is commanding onstage, but she is even more effective in video projection: the twinkle in her eyes obscures the controlling, paranoid soul that is just discernible there. Willie E. Carpenter is charming as a socially inept mailman who joins the group and (quite conveniently) has mad hacking skills. The play’s violent climax doesn’t unfold the way we might expect, but it provides one cautionary example of how a cult can form. The revolution will not be televised, but it will certainly be YouTubed.

The weekend’s high point is Bruce Graham’s North of the Boulevard, an entertaining black comedy set (in this production) in a small city somewhere in the crotch of Pennsylvania. David M. Barber’s richly detailed, grunge-soaked set gives us Trip’s Auto, a neighborhood garage losing out to urban blight and chain competition from Pep Boys. There’s a grimy tool cabinet, practical lighted advertising signs, an Obama poster hiding a huge crack in the wall, and a blown-out lawn chair patched with a moving blanket.

What drives the play are the get-rich-and-get-out dreams of the proprietor Trip (the brooding, explosive Brit Whittle) and his friends Larry (Jason Babinsky again) and Bear (Jamil A. C. Mangan), and so it reminds us of A Raisin in the Sun. That is, until the three’s plans (which involve a theft of McDonald’s scratch-off game pieces and grisly insurance fraud) start to unravel à la American Buffalo. Mangan’s Bear, an African American security guard with a lot of time for self-education, a rich basso voice, and John McCain’s politics, engages in some George Jefferson-Archie Bunker sparring with the unloved Zee (Michael Goodwin, nevertheless endearing despite all the nasty stuff his character’s been up to).

Babinsky is astonishing as Larry, a stammering schlub of a guy who’s lost his house and is working as an orderly in a nursing home (skills that provide valuable to him in the end). Verbally abused by his crummy father Zee, burdened with a special-needs son, and naive enough to think that a petition drive will accomplish change in this corrupt burg, Larry has a comic Kenny McCormick moment where he seems to swallow the collar of his parka to tamp down his revulsion. When he’s particularly stressed, he judiciously squeaks into falsetto—Babinksy could give a master class on this accent note. With all that Larry’s endured, his first act “so long, Dad” (not exactly his words) aria is well-deserved.

  • Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, W. Va.
  • The Ashes under Gait City, by Christina Anderson, directed by Lucie Tiberghien
  • One Night, by Charles Fuller, directed by Ed Herendeen
  • Uncanny Valley, by Thomas Gibbons, directed by Tom Dugdale
  • North of the Boulevard, by Bruce Graham, directed by Ed Herendeen
  • Dead and Breathing, by Chisa Hutchinson, directed by Kristin Horton

Gibbons’ play was inspired in part by the LifeNaut Project, whose Bruce Duncan spoke at the festival. It’s an intriguing, perhaps disturbing proposal. The flattening of personality that our current limited technology entails is distressing, but no doubt, at one time, the same was said of tintypes and wax cylinders.

Posted in Reviews, Theater
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Gabriel Cohen covers a Broadway high-wire act: pit musicians who fill in for the regular performers, sometimes on 15 minutes’ notice.

… Jeff Schiller, another “Kinky Boots” sub, recalled, “I got a call half an hour into a show, when a regular was experiencing incredible kidney stone pain.” Luckily, Mr. Schiller, who goes by the nickname Houndog, lives near the theater district. He swapped in between numbers in the middle of Act One.

Posted in Music, Theater
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Shakespearean skeptic

Rick Wright isn’t so sure that blame for the swarms of Sturnus vulgaris that plague the New World can be laid at the feet of a well-meaning 19th-century drug magnate:

Is there any documentation, from [Eugene] Schieffelin or his contemporaries, that the release of starlings in Central Park in 1890 was inspired by a line in Henry IV? I’d be happy to know about it.

Posted in Biodiversity and Species Preservation, Birds and Birding, Literature
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Brooklyn has Columbused the only game at Dave & Buster’s that I like to play.

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On deck: 12

today's selectionA new shipment from Powell’s, thus some turnover on the read-me shelf. The Bible is my mother’s much-read copy, mended with spike tape; equal time after getting through Mohammed and Joseph Smith. Kate Atkinson continues to wait in the wings, perhaps patiently. The Echenoz translation is a bare-faced crutch to help me through Les Grandes Blondes. The revived-from-downstairs title is Catch-22, one of those books I came to so long ago, one with a strong movie attached, that I can’t remember whether I’ve actually read it.

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