Silver Line progress report: 37

Metro announces that the first day of passenger service for phase 1 of the Silver Line will be Saturday, 26 July.

(Alas, there was no groundbreaking ceremony to attend when construction started, and it looks like I will miss opening day, too.)

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Beautiful little gravestones

Tony Award-winning sound designer Robert Kaplowitz has a few things to say about awards, for theater, winning the bowling league, whatever. The nut of the piece, for me, is his eloquent rationale for recognizing good work:

Theater awards matter because theater vanishes. Paintings, sculptures, novels, and poems can last for centuries, or millennia. And, while scripts live on, productions themselves last only as long as that magical assemblage of actors, stagehands, musicians, stage managers, craftspeople and front-of-house staff are together. They enact the staging of one particular director, the movement of one specific choreographer, those particular words said or sung in that exact environment created by those exact designers, and (in musicals) conducted by that specific conductor. It exists only as long as that group gives it life.

What’s special about Kaplowitz’s post is how inclusive it is, recognizing almost everyone who contributes to the theatrical experience. And again,

…[my Tony award] was an honor that resonated throughout my team, and reflected back on the entire company of Fela!


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Lifehacking 10.0

…he was as highly evolved as any successful young Charter could be, the elements of his existence rigorously tuned, as were those of all his peers, with “best practices” in mind, those ever-optimizing metrics that we in B-Mor know as well as anybody, though ours are, of course, designed ultimately to smooth our unitary workings. Charters, on the contrary, are always striving to be exquisite microcosms, testing and honing and curating every texture and thread of their lives, from what they eat and watch and wear to whom they befriend and make love to, being lifelong and thus expert Connoisseurs of Me.

—Chang-Rae Lee, On Such a Full Sea (2014), p. 256
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Experimental Lakes Area

I submitted my class report on the Experimental Lakes Area of western Ontario for grading. This was the last paper that I needed to write for my certificate!

Posted in Water Resources and Wetlands
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Back to nature

Joshua J. Tewksbury et al. make the case for restoring natural history’s importance to answering questions of public health, food security, and biology as a whole. They see citizen science projects as an important means of working with big data that can’t be developed in the lab or in silico.

As evidence of natural history’s contribution to public health, they relate the anecdote of a simple means of blunting cholera epidemics: filtering drinking water through the cloth of human garments.

The discovery that Vibrio cholerae has free-living populations associated with copepods and other zooplankton (Colwell and Huq 1994) forms the foundation of model predictions of temporal and spatial changes in human cholera outbreaks, because these models are based on the dynamics of the zooplankton and phytoplankton on which they feed. With this natural history in hand, public health experts now use satellite sensors to monitor phytoplankton chlorophyll as an early-warning system for cholera outbreaks. The same discovery also explains why filtering polluted water through cloth is surprisingly effective in reducing exposure to cholera: although the cloth does not capture V. cholerae individually, it filters out the zooplankton to which most V. cholerae are attached (Huq et al. 1996).

And, in the area of natural history and recreation and conservation, the Federal Duck Stamp program gets a shout-out:

It is often the collective focus on natural history by hunters, fishers, wildlife watchers, and conservationists that allows consensus-based management of fish and game species. The waterfowl conservation movement in the United States serves as an example. This partnership was set in motion in the early twentieth century by observations of large-scale duck mortality caused by botulism brought on by invertebrate die-offs in wetlands and by lead poisoning in high-intensity hunting locations. In both cases, observations by hunters and bird watchers alerted managers to the issue. The initial focus on disease was fortunate, because it provided a common enemy, and, at least for botulism, the most effective management centered on the designation of federal and state bird refuge areas in wetlands (Bolen 2000). More generally, the many groups that came together to change state and federal policies around these issues led to the creation of powerful hunting and conservation groups. These collaborations also led to a hunting license fee structure that supports the more-than-500-unit federal wildlife refuge system in the United States. The success of waterfowl conservation efforts, and the hundreds of other species that they support, comes in large part from the diverse interest groups that recognized the importance of basic natural history in setting management and policy objectives and that created a stable funding stream to support the collection of that information.

Posted in Citizen Science, Habitat Conservation, Natural Sciences
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Perfectly peachy poem

Rita Dove’s “Ode to My Right Knee,” verse with a slightly concealed structural constraint.

Posted in Poetry
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New York snaps

the viewEvery once in a while, I get a look at New York that turns me into a happy-snapping, cornfed tourist. This view of SoHo, Tribeca, and the Financial District, with 1 World Trade Center in the background, taken from the sky level of the New Museum, is one such.

can't resistCan’t resist stopping for building-mounted street name signs. Bleecker Street, just down from the intersection with Carmine Street.

retrofit?I saw dispensers in two buildings encouraging the BYO water bottle idea: at New York Law School (filling stations from Filtrine), and here at the American Museum of Natural History.

Posted in Like Life
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Sutton Foster has chosen her next project well, the Broadway premiere of Tesori and Crawley’s Violet, which played off-Broadway in 1997. Violet (Foster), a young woman of the North Carolina mountains, travels by Greyhound bus across the South in 1964 seeking physical redemption. Her face disfigured by a scar (thankfully, left to our imagination) from a childhood accident, she is certain that a faith healer in Tulsa can restore her body. Indeed, this Preacher might grant her an entire suite of feminine attractions, as Violet sings in the entertaining “All to Pieces.” On her trip, she meets two servicemen, one white (charming Monty), one black (Flick, a bit hot-headed), and the trio bond quickly.

It will come as little surprise that the Preacher (energetically performed by Ben Davis) can do no such thing for Violet, although he puts on a much better show than the Wizard of Oz, with the second-half gospel barnburner “Raise Me Up.”

The story of Violet’s childhood and the accident that ended it is told in flashback, interleaved with the narrative of her Tulsa journey. Emerson Steele as Young Violet brings a twangy, innocent exuberance to her role. The details of the mishap are left ambiguous, whether to smooth out some of its creepier implications from the source material (Doris Betts’ short story, which I have not read), or just so that we can draw our own conclusions about how life’s misfortunes happen.

The score is an assemblage of various influences, as Anthony Tommasini has noted. It’s laudable that most of the song structures follow life’s sharp twists and turns, rather than falling into an intro-verse-chorus simplicity.

But the end of Violet’s journey (the one that doesn’t go from east to west but from heart to heart) is somewhat unsatisfying. The connection between the strictures against Violet’s scar and Flick’s skin color wasn’t earned, at least for OTC and me.

Nevertheless, the show it a great showcase for Foster’s clear, sweet voice and Broadway charisma.

  • Violet, music by Jeanine Tesori, book and lyrics by Brian Crawley, based on “The Ugliest Pilgrim,” by Doris Betts, directed by Leigh Silverman, Roundabout Theatre Company, American Airlines Theatre, New York
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Too Much Sun

Nicky Silver’s new comedy recapitulates many of his favorite themes: dealing with an overly controlling parent, self-medicating with food, discovering one’s true sexual orientation—whether this be “discovering” in the sense of finding or revealing. Audience favorite Linda Lavin appears in the role of Audrey Langham, a long-in-the-tooth veteran of the regional theater circuit who perhaps is ready to hang up her traveling shoes. Audrey’s retirement is at the expense of her daughter Kitty (Jennifer Westfeldt) and son-in-law Dennis (Ken Barnett), who are working through their own life crises during their annual getaway to their Long Island summer home. There’s a nice whiff of Blanche Dubois and Mitch in the relationship between the serially-married Audrey and the bemused neighbor Winston (the resourceful Richard Bekins). Of the relationships between the six characters of the play that unfurl, the one between Audrey and Winston is the most interesting, and sweet, and well played—and yet its resolution is the most unconventional.

Lavin has a deep toolbox of microexpressions that she puts to comic use during a fraught technical rehearsal of Medea that has her at wit’s end. And she shows us a lovely singing voice in a run-through of Weill and Brecht’s “Surabaya Johnny” that she alternately plays straight and for laughs.

  • Too Much Sun, by Nicky Silver, directed by Mark Brokaw, Vineyard Theater, New York
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Act One

A rose-colored scrim drapes the stage before each act of Act One, a dramatized version of Moss Hart’s memoir of becoming a playwright. The play, written and directed by James Lapine, is a big wet kiss to American theater of the 1910s and 20s. The Algonquin denizens make quick, funny cameo appearances; the first act closes with an uplifting view of Broadway marquees. Indeed, the narrative of the entire second act (and perhaps it’s not the strongest one) is whether and how Hart can find a way to write and rewrite his first well-supported production, Once in a Lifetime, into a successful New York show. Well, to paraphrase Hart, often life doesn’t follow the most dramatically urgent pattern.

Beowulf Borritt’s set, three levels on a revolve, is a stunner, with details that give the multiple locations of the story extra character: a stairway with a step down before you can go up; the framework of a New York rooftop water tank.

The story unfolds linearly, but it is framed as the reminiscences of an older Hart, played by Tony Shalhoub. Matthew Schecter plays Hart as a boy, but most of the work goes to the adorable Santino Fontana, who plays Hart as a young man. Fontana’s Hart never walks down the stairs when he can run; he is eager to volunteer for a job that he’s not ready for; sometimes his mouth runs away with his thoughts. Over the course of the play, his dialect shows Hart’s voice modulating from the rough working class English that his parents and playmates speak to the urbane tones of the mature Hart.

Shalhoub doubles as Hart’s abusive father Barnett, but he comes into his own as Hart’s collaborator, George S. Kaufman, all his tics and quirks on parade. Kaufman, pathologically concerned with hygiene, would go to any lengths to avoid shaking hands with someone; Shalhoub’s balletic avoidance maneuvers are a delight.

Andrea Martin does nicely with the three roles of Hart’s poor-relation aunt Kate (early encourager, nay enabler, of Hart’s budding interest in theater); Frieda Fishbein (Hart’s agent with a good dash of Edith Prickley); and Kaufman’s wife Beatrice, the quiet power behind the throne.

  • Act One, written and directed by James Lapine, from the autobiography by Moss Hart, Lincoln Center Theater at the Vivian Beaumont, New York
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Northwest Branch rock hop

for JaiOne of the simpler assignments for my current class in freshwater ecosystems was to visit the falls of the Northwest Branch (and have a picture taken to prove it).

This reach of the river is wild and urbanized at the same time. The trail is a short stumble down from a parking lot on Colesville Road. This is the site of Burnt Mills (ooh, the Internet Archive has an interesting book from 1931 about the history of the flour mill that was here). The riverborne trash is hard to overlook, and especially around the parking lot, the non-native invasive plants are pretty aggressive. Nevertheless, I found a few bits of Rattlesnake Weed (Hieracium venosum) growing around the rocks. Leta and I scrambled for a couple hundred yards downstream before turning back. I showed her an Acadian Flycatcher making sallies to a pool.

On the other side of Colesville Road, the river is held back by a dam and spillway. On this flat bit of trail, we found two Five-lined Skinks (Eumeces fasciatus): a juvenile with the familiar blue tail and a much-larger adult male with indistinguishable lines, orange-red in the head, and a truncated tail.

Leta chatted with one of the fishermen, who said that sometimes he took bream from the river. I think that we would know these as sunfish.

Posted in In the Field
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She has a point


Like other ladies, the little feathered brides have to bear their husbands’ names, however inappropriate. What injustice! Here an innocent creature with an olive-green back and yellowish breast has to go about all her days known as the black-throated blue warbler, just because that happens to describe the dress of her spouse!

Florence A. Merriam, Birds Through an Opera-Glass (1890), p. 187
Posted in Birds and Birding, Quotable
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Underneath the Lintel

Paul Morella shines as The Librarian in this gentle existentialist fable with just a dash of conspiracy theory. A naive provincial librarian in The Netherlands receives a Baedecker’s travel guide in the book drop, only to find that it’s overdue by more than a hundred years. Seeking an explanation for this mysterious return, he assembles a package of clues, which he presents to us as a chalkboard- and slide carousel-illustrated lecture.

The Librarian’s quixotic mission to reveal, to prove, to justify the existence of his quarry, working from no more than “the ephemera of a life” (tram tickets, police reports, laundry receipts) redeems his own life—and perhaps each of ours—from its more usual fate, the insignificance of an abandoned voice recording at a fair, bought and sold for 50 cents.

This thoughtful, spiritual piece also has its comedy: there’s a nice running gag about a certain juggernaut of a French musical that seems to be playing everywhere in the world simultaneously.

In this solo work, Morella does well with the multiple voices that are required to populate The Librarian’s lecture; however, his baseline Dutch dialect wanders a bit. Nevertheless, his engaging, bemused, slightly obsessive Netherlander bureaucrat is a pleasure to watch.

  • Underneath the Lintel, by Glen Berger, directed by John Vreeke, MetroStage, Alexandria, Va.

Best courtesy reminder of the season: The Librarian enters the lecture hall with the house lights still up, straightens his presentation material, then writes on the chalkboard, “TURN OFF CELL PHONES.” He adds, “PLEASE.”

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Mitchell the mensch

I was asked to complete an online survey by one of the environmental/educational organizations that I support. Most of the questions were routine, but I was struck by this free-answer question:

If you can recall it, what is the story or situation that inspired your first philanthropic gift?

And I was prompted to tell this story from college:

It’s not the first time that I made a donation, but the conversation left its mark on me. I was in college, and I was walking with a fellow student, Mitchell H., and someone asked us for a donation–I don’t remember the cause. And Mitchell pulled out his wallet as naturally as taking a pen from his pocket. Later, I asked him, “What do you care about starving whales/greening the Armenians/whatever the cause was?” He said, “This is what you do.”

Mind you, I was on scholarship/loan/work study/piggy bank and Mitchell’s family was probably paying full fare. Nevertheless, that exchange has stuck with me.

(We’ll save the story about how Mitchell tricked me into eating styrofoam packing peanuts for another time.)

Posted in Philanthropy
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On rails

A good four-part series this week by WAMU’s two Martins on the return of streetcars to H Street N.E.:

Perhaps it should have been obvious to me, but I was struck by a comment made by Ellen McCarthy of the D.C. Office of Planning:

“One of the attractions of streetcar as a transportation mode is that it’s cheaper than rail, and while it’s more expensive than bus, what the experience has been nationwide is that the clear visible permanence of rail tracks creates a level of confidence about commitment to development of a particular corridor, so it’s more apt to produce investment on the private sector side.”

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