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.
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.
Oof! 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.
Posted in Like Life
A lush, ostinato-less “Every Breath You Take,” in the lobby of Navy Federal Credit Union, Reston branch.
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
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
By chance, I figured out what this peculiar-looking project, spotted just north of the High Line last August, will be: The Shed.
Posted in Gotham
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.
Stephanie 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.
We 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.
Posted in In the Field
Rinker Buck was a pleasant surprise (and a book exchange pickup). Stephen Batchelor appeared on the freebie shelves at work. And I finished two monster-good works: Caro’s The Power Broker and Haskell’s The Forest Unseen.
Enh, I need to get out more.
- The Glade, Reston, Fairfax County, Virginia
- Sugarloaf Trail loop, Shenandoah National Park, Rappahannock County, Va.
- Sky Meadows State Park, Fauquier County, Va.
- New York Botanical Garden, Bronx County, New York
- Turkey Run Ridge, Prince William Forest Park, Prince William County, Va.
- Fort Circle Trail, Washington, D.C.
- Ice Mountain Preserve, Hampshire County, W. Va., led by Kevin Dodge, Shirley Gay, and Steve Kite
- Ferns with Carl and Jerry Taylor
- Blockhouse Point Conservation Park, Montgomery County, Md., led by Carole Bergmann
And several trips to my home park, Huntley Meadows Park.
2016’s list. 2015’s list. 2014’s list. 2013’s list. 2012’s list. 2011’s list. 2010’s list. 2009’s list. 2008’s list.
A renewed acquaintance with Olney Theatre Center, following their expansion and rebuilds.
Bonus out-of-town venue:
Bonus out-of-town library:
- Mertz Library, New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York
2016’s list. 2015’s list. 2014’s list. 2013’s list. 2012’s list. 2011’s list.