seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
A Sestina for January 20, 2017. (395 words) by Lanna Michaels
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Original Work, United States Politics
Rating: Not Rated
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Additional Tags: More Joy Day, Sestina, Politics, Jewish Themes, It occurs to me that I am America

A sestina for More Joy Day. (note: not actually joyous.)

Sometimes people write poetry for me
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
Exhausting couple of weeks. A week ago Saturday night was [personal profile] freeradical42's bachelor party, which I hosted. We braved the snow- everyone was late as a result- but it was a really good, chill time. It was the sort of hangout we used to do when we were in our early twenties and have been too busy and dispersed to do too often lately- dinner and then a laid back trip to a bar with lots of beer choices. My commitment from day one of planning was "The only strippers at this party will be wire strippers." I gave [personal profile] freeradical42 a pair of wire strippers, and the other groomsmen gave him a pair of gardening hoes and a bottle of coke. Because my friends are all as terrible as I am. So now I know I can plan a bachelor party, woo!

I was also in the city Tuesday and Thursday- Tuesday for Puzzled Pint with [personal profile] ghost_lingering, Thursday for wedding rehearsal and dinner with [personal profile] freeradical42's family. Wednesday I spent in bed with a cold.

Then Sunday was the wedding. It was wonderful. [personal profile] freeradical42 and I met at CTY more than fifteen years ago, when I was sixteen. I'll be 32 in April, so yeah, we've known each other just about half our lives. We've done a lot of crazy shit together, we've grown up so much together, and he's been there so many times when I've needed him, that I'm incredibly happy that he's found this happiness. And his wife, who doesn't have an LJ I can tag that I recall, I've known nearly as long, and she's an amazing person who complements him so well.

The ceremony was in a beautiful hundred year old synagoguge on the Upper West Side. I served as one of the eidim, the witnesses to kiddushin. Because of this, I was asked to hold the ring- I did not lose it!!! The Rabbi spoke well, the musicality of the chazan singing the Sheva Brachot with choir backup was lovely, and then it was over and there were hugs. Much hugs.

And then the reception, with so much dancing my legs were barely holding me up the next day, and the surprise arrival of [ profile] allandaros, who had a health issue come up at the last minute and almost missed the whole affair. [ profile] theslammer brought a bunch of CTY frisbees and we danced with them and then we drank an alcoholic version of the Passionfruit. Also a whole lot more hugs and some great conversation with amazing people, and good food and good alcohol and happiness. Happiness, man. It's a good thing.

Then Monday I had D&D and Tuesday I had a second date, that also went really well. I am very hopeful about this. I am also struggling to figure out how to balance my post-wedding exhaustion and introversion with my desire to push that forward. A large part of me wants to spend the next week all by myself curled up in a ball not having any human contact. Instead, tonight I'm going to dinner with my parents. Or really, I'm going to tech support my parents' printer, with dinner thrown in.
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)

(Very sorry to be missing the in-person experience this year. Everyone who's in Cambridge, have fun!)
seekingferret: White text on blue background. Yuletide: Good for the Jews (yuletide)
Dear Purimgifts Author,

I write the same letter for Purimgifts every year. Purim is a time of topsy turviness, of sudden reversals. What I want most out of this exchange is to be surprised. Thank you for writing for me!

seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

It's Edith Wharton, of course it's fantastic.

Everyone in the book is terrible, and Wharton's marvelously honed condescension shows how little respect she has for most of the characters in the book, but she nonetheless manages to conjure empathy for their position: New York high society is constructed on a certain kind of order and its members are trained from childhood to be committed to making the hard choices required to uphold that order. The techniques they've established are so robust that even the dullest members of society understand their role in holding up the edifice.

What really struck me is her portrait of Newland Archer, who has enough intelligence and has had enough exposure to the arts and to other forms of society that he knows how toxic the rules of New York high society are, but he nonetheless can't escape its straitjacket, because of his own faults. Because he can't see May or Ellen or Janey as people rather than as women, because he likes it when society compliments him and dislikes it when society insults him, because he finds the order of New York society attractive in spite of himself.

You spend most of the book groaning at Newland Archer's fatuousness, and you strongly suspect he's never going to overcome it. But you also resent him a little in the small places when he does half-heartedly resist. Ellen knows full well that there's no version of Archer who will ever actually be emotionally available to her. She knows that whenever he teases her with the hope of rejecting New York's rules, it is just a tease. She has seen 'the Gorgon' and it has opened her eyes, to borrow Wharton's marvelous metaphor. Still, in spite of this, Wharton recognizes that Archer is by many standards a good person. He is a good father, an always appropriate husband, a loyal friend. Sometimes he is even able to stand, however briefly, against society.

I also really enjoyed Wharton's descriptions of the opera and of its place in New York society. The modern Met is a very different kind of institution, especially the way I experience it, but I liked how Wharton engaged with it, with the repeated performances of Gounod's Faust with Christine Nilsson as the diva, holding new meaning each time it's experienced, even if many of the attending were barely paying attention. "Archer turned to the stage, where, in the familiar setting of giant roses and pen-wiper pansies, the same large blonde victim was succumbing to the same small brown seducer."
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
Rogue One

I haven't posted because I haven't really had much to say. I enjoyed it, but ranked it somewhere in the middle where it comes to Star Wars movies. I might go ANH/TESB/TFA/R1/TPM/ROTJ/ROTS/AOTC, with a considerable jump between TESB and TFA, and considerable uncertainty in the ranking of TFA/R1/TPM/ROTJ.

Rogue One had a great set of characters, a fun story that generally kept moving well, but its commitment to not being a Saga movie threw me out of it periodically. The lack of title crawl, the ending, the color palette, the sometimes boring locations... They were going for a much more mundane version of the Star Wars universe, and they succeeded. And in some senses that's a really cool thing. I like [personal profile] ghost_lingering's post about how ambiguous the 'right choices' were and [personal profile] skygiants's post about how central the nitty gritty details of archiving was to the plot. But it's also... not the reason I fell in love with A New Hope. Star Wars is a universe where there is a Dark Side and a Light Side and those things are kept cosmically in balance by a unifying Force. In that sense the Star Wars movies are generally profoundly conservative, in the best sense of the term. The Force is a presence in this film, but a more uncertain one- the film captures a moment when the Force is out of balance, and balance will not be restored until the end of the film this one is a prequel to, so I think there is a sense of structural incompleteness. I have not yet had a chance to watch Rogue One and A New Hope back to back, and I'm looking forward to seeing how that transition works.
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
The past week has been an odd combination of frantically busy and unbusy.

I had no New Year's plans whatsoever. I went to Shabbos dinner at my aunt and uncle's and went to Shacharis davening, but otherwise had no in person human contact all the long weekend. I finished my Festivid on Sunday, worked on the other vid a bunch on Monday, did some reading, and slept a bunch. I've been kinda sick lately- nothing in particular, just a variety of mild cold symptoms that have refused to either get worse or get better, but I've been trying to sleep better to help my body out. It hasn't really been working- one of my symptoms has been waking up in the middle of the night, wheefun. I also made a big batch of meatballs on Monday- still eating them today. My one screwup was that I got so relaxed and separated from the rest of the world that I forgot I had actually scheduled to be at a D&D game Monday evening. I feel bad about that, but it was nice to spend that time disconnected from the world.

Tuesday, as mentioned, I went to Nabucco at the Met.

Wednesday I had a first date with someone my mother's best friend set me up with. It actually went really well, I definitely want to see her again. Our senses of humor meshed pretty quickly and we were cracking jokes about my grandfather's fictitious mafia connections by the time we reached the restaurant. She's smart and engaging, but seems laid back. We forgot to check when the restaurant she'd suggested closed, and got there as the kitchen was closing, but we were able to adjust and come up with a new date plan instantly and without any conflict or disruption, which to me is a really good sign that this is someone I can work with. She's a sports fan and we share all the same teams, though she's more into the Rangers than I am. ("I'm missing the Rangers game for this date," she said, "You should feel honored.") We spent a good ten minutes swapping stories about Yankee games we've been to. All in all, a good time.

At the same time, I have been chatting on facebook with someone SawYouAtSinai suggested. She also seems nice, and she's fannish- we discovered we're both members of a facebook group for Orthodox fandom people called Frum Fandom. So I can be open about that part of my life with her, and not worry about how she'll respond when I mention that on occasion I write slash, which is a good thing. On the other hand, because she's fannish my weird fannish issues raise up at unexpected moments. Her favorite MCU character is Loki and I actually had to remind myself that that's not actually a reason not to date someone.
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
Nabucco by Verdi at the Met

Special night, utterly special night. James Levine back conducting (as Music Director Emeritus), Placido Domingo as Nabucco (in recent years he's made a transition from the tenor repertory to less demanding baritone roles, and that's the only version of Domingo I've been able to see, but in spite of his diminished vocal capability and diminished athleticism, he still has It Factor and emotional range that's unlike almost everyone else you see on that stage.)

I wasn't previously familiar with the opera or its plot, except that of course I'm well familiar with the Biblical narrative of Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Jerusalem, upon which Nabucco is sometimes loosely and sometimes tightly based. It was a pretty glorious show, though. Verdi's usually pretty reliable that way.

The lovers (starcrossed Babylonian princess Fenena and Israelite prince Ismaele) were pretty perfunctory, though Verdi's music was well-suited. The highlight of the narrative was the rise and fall of Nabucco's other daughter, the ruthlessly ambitious Abigaille, who actually sings things like "Your wedding bed will be your tomb" to her sister, and "I will ascend to the throne on a path of blood" in reference to her father. It was disturbingly sexy. She sings a duet with Domingo as they cross paths (her ascent, his fall) that is so complex, so emotionally resonant, so striking that it was THE highlight of the opera, even though Nabucco is an opera people go to to see the chorus "Va, Pensiero".

"Va, Pensiero" was pretty great, though. A gentle chorus of Israelite longing for return to their native land, loosely paraphrased from the Biblical psalm Al Naharot Bavel, it was adopted by the Italian nationalist movement as an anthem (though historians apparently disagree about whether this adoption took place during the Risorgimento or retrospectively after the unification of Italy). I have zero Italian patriotism but plenty of Zionism, and it worked just fine in its native guise as a Zionist anthem. Actually, the weirdest thing about Nabucco was how non-anti-semitic it was. I'm really... not used to seeing that in opera.
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
My Vids for 2016

Ex Libris (Storylords)
Joker (Battlestar Galactica)
Circles (Ma'Agalim) (West Wing)
Blonde Redhead (Fringe)
Getting Ready to Get Down (Moses und Aron)

I'm pretty fond of them all. Part of me wants to say "Joker", even though it is a total shitvid, because I executes its single idea perfectly, and as a person more inclined to the glorious failure, I admire its precision. But I think "Getting Ready to Get Down" is the best combination of effort and result and art. I think it's the vid I made this year that does the most things and I'm really proud of it. And it's a fandom really dear to my heart that I'm glad I got to celebrate.

Least Favorite
"Blonde Redhead"... I wish that vid were so much more than it is, I wish I could have really finished it rather than just dumped it out to the world part-finished, but really I just hit the end of the road with that timeline.

Most Successful
Dunno, I don't think any of my vids this year were particularly successful in terms of getting attention. I guess by default "Circles" had the biggest audience since it played for the whole Vividcon crowd. That was a really awesome experience, in general, for the first time seeing people at a con respond to my vid as it aired.

Most Underappreciated by the Universe
"Ex Libris". For some reason, not a lot of people are into 1980s Wisconsin educational TV shows. For that matter, I am not really one of them, but I'm proud of the vid anyway for making clever use of the source material and actually telling an effective story.

Most Fun to Make
"Joker". So many giggles as I put that together.

Hardest Vid to Make
"Getting Ready to Get Down". I needed to figure out a whole new vidding vocabulary somewhere halfway between a live action vid and a comics vid, in order to deal with how static the source material is. I think a lot of the choices I made work.

The Things I Learned This Year
How to deal with lots and lots of technical nonsense, as I endured a lot of encoding issues. Vidding is the worst hobby. Other than that, I mostly have been trying to teach myself how to cut faster, with some occasional moderate success.

Planning for Next Year

Well, I have made a festivid, and maybe I will try to make a treat. Probably not- the next few weeks shaping up to be crazy.

Mostly, though, I have been working on a massively multifandom vid that has been filling me with joy for the past couple months. And I will be continuing to work on it for a few months more, but it's started coming together and that makes me very happy.

I should also mention the Neoconservative Tony Stark vid and the Big Bang Theory/Heather Dale vid I mentioned in last year's "Planning for Next Year" section as things that sometime in the future I would still like to make.

Apparently I made five vids in 2015, and five in 2016, so it'd be nice to make five in 2017.
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
Reveals! Okay, reveals for Yuletide. Let's do the easy one first:

Mechaye Hametim (1393 words) by seekingferret
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Yentl (1983)
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Avigdor/Yentl Mendel | Anshel Mendel/Hadass Vishkower
Characters: Avigdor (Yentl), Yentl Mendel | Anshel Mendel, Hadass Vishkower
Additional Tags: Yeshivish

Come, the letter says. Come.

This is easy to talk about. I watched the movie Sunday morning, then Sunday afternoon a pinch hit came up. I grabbed it instantly. Then it was due Wednesday night, and I had D&D on Monday, so I basically had two nights to write it. But it only took me one! I wrote the whole story Tuesday night, then edited it and consulted with Lanna as my yeshivish consultant and posted it on Wednesday. It was kind of just that easy, the timing worked out ridiculously perfectly.

Yentl is a mostly great but sometimes frustrating movie and the recip requested an engagement with the problems in the way Hadass is treated, so I obliged. I tried to toe a careful line on the yeshivish and the Talmud references- making them specific enough to ground the story in reality, but not overly specific in a way that made the story inaccessible.

The line in Berakhot 58b that gives the story its title is one of my favorite random bits of Gemara, because I am super uncertain if it's a joke or not. The Rabbis are arguing whether one says Shecheyanu, the blessing thanking God for keeping us alive and bringing us to a new joyful occasion, when one sees a friend after a long absence. Rabbi Joshua says you do, but only if the long absence is fairly short, on the order of months. If the absence is longer, he says, you thank God for bringing back the dead. That has to be a joke, right? That's not a serious blessing, it almost feels like a bracha l'vatala, a blessing made in vain, since God has not actually brought back the dead. But in the case of this story, because Yentl is an identity that has been carefully erased and then just as carefully brought back, in a sense the rekindling of her friendship with Avigdor and Hadass is a raising of the dead.

I think the other thing my story is about is Barbra Streisand's vision of America. I'm told that in Singer's original story, Yentl does not go to America, but just moves on to a different yeshiva town to try again as Anshel. But in Streisand's adaptation, Yentl goes off to America, to a land where maybe she has a chance to be both a woman and Torah scholar. And I push a little further, and suggest that maybe America is a place where Hadass can love both a woman and a man, a place of new opportunities and new rules. A different kind of raising of the dead. [Weirdly, I sent Yentl to Philadelphia instead of New York, betraying the perpetual New York fetishism trope of my fic. I'm not sure why I did that; Perhaps it's just that it let me have her working at JPS, perhaps it's because I was due to visit my Great-Uncle, who fled Brooklyn for the Main Line, the following week.]

My other story, though... It seems hard to know how to talk about it. The amazingly insightful comment I got from my recip made it clear to me just how unconsciously personal this story was. Brakebills has always reminded me of my alma mater, and everyone I know who's read the book and who went to a top tier tech school has agreed with me that Brakebills South in particular is engineering school in a nutshell. More than anything else, I think this story is a reflection on my college self, as I stare at my ten year reunion coming up in a handful of months.

Fast Times at Brakebills South (5376 words) by Seekingferret
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: The Magicians - Lev Grossman
Rating: Not Rated
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Plum Purchas, Professor Mayakovsky

"Did you win your year?"

"I sure did," she said. "By a mile."

I may have told this story before: When I was a sophomore, we had a course on prototyping techniques. It was only worth half the credits that our calculus and physics classes were worth, but within a few weeks the weekly projects were eating fifteen or twenty hours a week, time we desperately needed to study for other classes. We complained to the instructors, who told us "Look, you don't really need to spend twenty hours a week on these projects. As long as you spend a couple hours a week, turn something in, you're going to get an A in this class just for showing up. But if you keep up working the way you have been, you won't regret it." We kept working twenty hours a week for the rest of the semester, and yes, to this day I don't regret it. I learned a lot of valuable engineering techniques and principles in that class. But stepping back from it, if that's possible, by looking at Brakebills South as the analogue... it kind of seems not okay. Like, okay, you got a bunch of workaholic engineers to work harder with nebulous promises of future benefits. Good for you! It's exactly what Mayakovsky does and it works with brutal effectiveness on Quentin and Alice and it burns out Josh and Janet and Eliot, and in my story with Plum it does something a lot more ambiguous.

Plum is interesting to me because I saw a lot of people not make it through Cooper- bad grades, irresponsible behavior, mental health issues, etc... But as the number of students dwindled, the number of dropouts dwindled, too. My class lost about a third of its members by senior year, but nobody who made it to senior year failed to graduate on time. For Plum to get kicked out of Brakebills as a fifth year is astonishing to me. The kind of people who make it through the ringer at Brakebills, who survive Mayakovsky, do not just suddenly screw up in the kind of way that gets you expelled. Especially because by the time you reach fifth year you have connections and relationships with the faculty and staff that ought to make them much more tolerant of you. My senior year we literally broke into an abandoned building on campus and stole a file cabinet and a table-saw and walked it across campus to our lab, while the security guards waved at us.

So I had to figure out how to write a version of Plum who lived on the edge, who was talented and disciplined enough to survive four and a half years at Brakebills, but who could have relationships with faculty frayed enough that one mistake could get her thrown out. Expulsion looms over my fic, I think, this endpoint that seems both inevitable and impossible given Plum's trajectory. For Plum, college is a place to explore and push boundaries, and that's the sort of thing that works until it doesn't. Plum doesn't realize, or is incapable of acting on the fact that, she's flying without much of a net. My recip commented on how I wrote Plum as 'brittle', and I think that's exactly it: Plum is hard, but hard metals are brittle.

But Plum is also a survivor, someone capable of picking up the pieces after a wrecking failure. Basically Plum is super awesome and I love her so much and it was great writing a story that, er, plumbed her depths. What this story sets up is the way that Plum reconstitutes herself after finally crashing and burning for real in The Magicians Land. How she ends up a Queen in Fillory after all is said and done. Of course, I don't mention Fillory at all in this story because I can't stand Fillory. I feel like this story let me testify to the parts of the Magicians series I love while carefully straining out all the parts I can't stand. I am very pleased with the final result.
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
[personal profile] brainwane asked for me to talk about "The extent to which various grocery stores and restaurants do or do not cater to your food restrictions."

So I should stipulate that I do not have any food allergies, and so in this context 'food restrictions' means "The extent to which I keep kosher". And for the clarity of those who don't know much about the laws of kashrut, that this is not quite the same as just saying "I keep kosher." There are many different ways to keep kosher. There are a few reasons for this:

1)The modern food system is complicated.
2)Jews like making things complicated.
3)Not all Jews agree on the specific details of the laws of kashrut.
4)Not all Jews trust all other Jews, or all other people in general.
5)Some Jews take extra precautions in their eating practices that are not strictly required by Jewish law, in order to be extra certain that they don't accidentally violate the laws of kashrut.

These things are interconnected. In a sense, kashrut is pretty simple and straightforward. There aren't really that many main concepts. I think I can cover pretty much all of them in a few lines:

1)Only certain animals and parts of animals can be eaten, and those animals must be killed and processed according to certain ritual procedures.
2)Anything grown in the earth can be eaten, but if it was grown in Israel certain percentages must be committed to Temple use and cannot be eaten.
3)Unkosher foods ritually contaminate the vessels they are contained in under certain conditions.
4)Dairy and meat cannot be mixed.

There, that is all of kashrut while standing on one foot. As I said, in a sense it's pretty straightforward. But the modern food system is complicated. If you're just buying vegetables straight out of the ground, there's no question of what's in it: Dirt and insects and pesticides and vegetable matter, and that's it. You clean off the dirt and insects and pesticides and you make sure there weren't any tithes involved and you're fine to eat. But so much of the food we eat is processed, and there are so many ingredients involved and so many different kinds of cooking vessels involved. To determine whether unkosher animal byproducts have been introduced could be a difficult challenge.

Could, I say! Doesn't have to. Theoretically, there's a principle in kashrut called bitul, which is a little technically involved but says that if a nonkosher ingredient is less than a sixtieth of the total volume of a food mixture, it's nullified by the vast bulk of kosher food. Some people take this approach to the kashrut of processed goods- if there isn't something obviously unkosher on the ingredients list, they'll eat it and assume if there was anything unkosher it's nullified by bitul. Orthodox Judaism in the post-war era, generally speaking, does not take this understanding of bitul, though. Their sense is that bitul requires that the unkosher ingredient be added by accident, and so in the case of industrial processes with each ingredient carefully added, nothing can be nullified. As a result, a huge and complicated industry has grown up of kosher certification. Ingredient lists are scrutinized, industrial processes are supervised by trained workers, and in theory if there is kosher certification on a food item it means that somebody with Rabbinical training is keeping an eye on the whole process to make sure the food is legitimately kosher according to Orthodox standards.

But which certifications a given Orthodox Jew holds by comes down to items 2, 3, 4, and 5 on my list. Some Jews won't eat food certified by certain certification organizations because those organizations observe a less stringent interpretation of certain kashrut rules. Some Jews won't eat food certified by certain certification organizations even though they observe the same kashrut rules, because they don't trust the certification organization to be honest and thorough. As a result, there are hundreds of different certification authorities and if you really want to dig into it, you have to educate yourself on the differences between them. To make matters more confusing, outside of New York State there are virtually no secular legal structures imposed on the labeling of kosher products, so anyone can stamp a K on food and declare it kosher without any supervision. (The community tries to pass warnings along when this happens, but transmission is not always perfect)

Personally, my general approach is to say that for my purposes, the purpose of kashrut certification is to keep the food providers honest. As long as someone is willing to sign their name to assert that the food has been supervised according to Jewish law, I will eat it. I mostly don't even bother keeping track of the various kashrut organizations, except in a general way, as I feel that the presence of a certification stamp is sufficient. The only exception is of a few certification authorities that I know will cause problems if I serve their food to other Orthodox Jews: Virtually no Orthodox Jews will eat Hebrew National food, because it is not glatt, an added stringency in the examination of slaughtered animals to find defects, and because some of them don't trust the Rabbi doing the certification. I have no problem with eating Hebrew National food myself, but I don't buy it because it would be inconvenient when hosting others.

Now, to return to [personal profile] brainwane's question, virtually nobody running a grocery store knows any of this, so it's pretty much on the Jewish consumer to know the meaning of labels and how to handle purchasing accordingly. And that's fine, that's just how it is. Reading the language of kosher certification symbols is something Jewish children are taught very young, because young kids need to have it explained to them many times why they can't just eat anything off the shelf.

The bigger issue when it comes to grocery stores is stock availability. I have it fairly easy in Central Jersey, with its large Jewish population. Several major supermarkets in towns with particularly large Jewish populations have, in the past decade, built out larger kosher sections. Shop Rite calls its special kosher section in some of its stores "The Kosher Experience". There are also dedicated kosher grocery stores- I'm lucky enough right now to live in walking distance to one. But even the supermarkets in my area that don't particularly cater to Jews at least tend to have a small kosher aisle. It's actually jarring when I'm on vacation to go grocery shopping and realize that's not the norm everywhere, and to find a greater fraction of even the not-specifically-marketing-to-kosher-people brands do not have any certification. But even in Central Jersey, I often have to do a cycle of several supermarkets to find all the kosher products I want. I don't think that's a particularly Jewish phenomenon, though- most people I know have that weird item they like that they only stock at the slightly further/more expensive grocery store, necessitating a rotation of grocery store visits.

Feelings about things like the Kosher Experience are a little mixed in the community. On the one hand, it brings supermarket convenience to us, and supermarket pricing. On the other hand, this works against local smaller Jewish businesses like kosher butchers- There basically aren't any around anymore. So, you know, globalization as usual. I'm generally pretty pro-globalization, but it's undeniable that it has costs. Something like three quarters of kosher meat for the country was produced at a facility in Iowa, and when that facility was shut down for labor violations and tax fraud, it was a massive disruption in the availability of kosher meat.

Also, slowly taking the place of local kosher butchers and specialized kosher food stores is the Internet. I haven't really much taken advantage of this, but I know people who order meat from online kosher meat providers that specialize in odd cuts or types of meat that don't make the cut at the new supermarket kosher sections. It is definitely a thing and I'm sure will become more of a thing over time.

[personal profile] brainwane, was that anything like the answer you were expecting?
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
I got two absolutely incredible gifts for Yuletide this year.

The Saga of Hearthruler Whitebeard and Snowsgrace Dreamfinder (4622 words) by Anonymous
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Expert Judgment on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion... - Sandia Labs, 1850s London Cholera Epidemic RPF
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: John Snow (1850s London Cholera Epidemic), Reverend Henry Whitehead (1850s London Cholera Epidemic)
Additional Tags: epidemiology, Post-Apocalypse, Alternate Universe - Future, radiation poisoning, form:saga

Snow and Whitehead bring back miasma theory, and not before time.

This is the crossover to end all crossovers: Post-apocalyptic future versions of 19th century cholera researchers Henry Whitehead and John Snow team up to determine why people are dying in the radioactive waste storage facility left behind by a fallen US. In an incredibly brilliant inversion, they are this time arguing in favor of miasma theory against an orthodoxy who believes the disease is waterborne. SO. MUCH. SCIENCE. NERDERY. <3

Lost and Found (7628 words) by Anonymous
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: A Void - Gilbert Adair
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Characters: Anton Vowl
Additional Tags: Lipogram, Writing with Constraints, Allusions to Ghost Soup, Story within a Story, Fic within a Fic, fanfic about fanfic, Gift Giving, Post-Canon Fix-It, tagging is fun, unofficial bonus gift

Anton Vowl is living and conscious and, in fact, signing up for an infamous gift swap! What could possibly go wrong?

And this story is even more spectacular, if that's possible. It's fic for a fandom almost nobody's read, but the plot's not really that important, as it wasn't all that important to the original novel. A Void is a translation of a French novel written without the letter e; the translation also does not use the letter e. And this fanfic is 7,000 words of hilarious metafic about Yuletide that also observes the constraint. It's a bravura performance that needs to be seen to be believed- the best parts are when Anton Vowl, the protagonist, attempts to write Ghost Soup fanfic- Ghost Soup being a fictional fandom that serves as an in-joke and common narrative example in Yuletide fandom.

Both these stories deserve more readers and more feedback, so please check them out. No canon knowledge required, I've given you all the context you should need.
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
I'm not gonna do the whole posting meme thingy, but if there are topics you'd like to see me rant about, please let me know.
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
So this is about the time where traditionally (You do something twice and it becomes a tradition) I post a playlist for [personal profile] bookherd of the best new songs I found this year.

But I thought about it and realized that it's just Beyonce's "Lemonade". All of it. From her performance of "Formation" at the Super Bowl to the release of the visual album to just many, many listens over the course of the year, "Lemonade" dominated my musical consciousness. Every song has something to offer, every song has something to say.

"Hold On" and "Sorry" are my favorite songs, and I've listened to them the most, but the rest of the album has textures and themes I keep returning to depending on my mood. If you haven't listened to "Lemonade" yet, you should.
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
Let me steal [personal profile] liv's format for a life update.

Reading: Is sort of up in the air. I just finished Swing Time and I have a stack of big books waiting to be read, but I'm not sure what I'm actually reading. I've dipped my head into Adam Levin's The Instructions, enough to think I'm going to love it, but it's actually so big at nearly 1100 pages that it's unwieldy to read in bed. I went back to BolaƱo's 2666, which I've been slowly reading since at least 2011, and read another fifty pages. Someday I'll hit the end, probably. And my book-on-phone that I read when I don't have any book with me and have a few minutes is Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence- I've been reading that since August and am a little over halfway through.


-Went to a birthday party for Jon the Saturday before last. Fifty-fifty split between people I've known since we were teenagers and people I'd never met before, and mostly I sat around a table talking with the people I've known forever, which was fine. I sometimes wish I were the kind of person who was good at engaging with strangers at parties, but I'm not, and I'm at peace with that. I forgot to get Jon a birthday present until the last minute, so I scrounged around on my shelf and found a little fanzine I'd picked up at Sasquan, a Brad Foster work called Personal Inventory, consisting of tiny drawings of every physical thing Foster owned. It seemed like the kind of objet d'art Jon likes to have. He seemed to enjoy it.

-D&D was the following Monday. I'm not sure if I mentioned, but my half-orc ranger was killed by a bear, sacrificing himself to save his brother, about two months ago. I've created a new character, a dwarven sorcerer, and am figuring out how to integrate him into the party. Also, my DM got married the weekend of Philcon, which I missed because of a)Philcon but b)the wedding started on Shabbos. I felt very torn about that- if the wedding had been all after Shabbos, I'd have skipped Philcon for it, and felt a little little resentful about missing all the friends I only see once a year. But the way it was scheduled, the ceremony and most of the party were on Shabbos, but if I stayed home for Shabbos I could have jumped in my car at Havdalah and caught the very end of the party. I decided that didn't make sense and went to Philcon, but I feel bad about the idea of skipping a close friend's wedding to go to a Con. And also most years I would've been telling my DM friend all my Philcon stories, this year I've been consciously editing them out of my conversations with him.

-I had my semi-weekly writing date with a guy I met doing NaNo about four years ago. We've kept on-going write-ins throughout the year since then even though neither of us did NaNo this year. It's great even on the weeks when I don't have much to write, as a carved out productivity time with someone I can bounce ideas off. I mostly worked on a Gilmore Girls fic.

-I've reactivated my SawYouAtSinai account, aka That-Jewish-Dating-Site-Mathematically-Designed-To-Mess-With-My-Head. It seems weirdly more successful this time around at introducing me to women who seem like plausible romantic partners, but I can't seem to actually talk to any of them. I've been playing phone tag with two matches for the past two weeks, and a third just contacted me with a brief and ambiguous message on facebook. Hopefully things will start connecting there.

-I talked on the phone to my mother a couple nights ago for a while. Let me ask you people, how often do you talk to your parents? This is a thing I'm renegotiating since I moved out. I don't think I'm that far out of contact with my parents- we live like ten miles apart, I see my father at least once a week at synagogue, I sometimes run into my mother at the supermarket or otherwise around town, it's not like I moved to Alaska or something. But sometimes I get busy and I go more than a week before calling my mother. And even when I don't, even when it's just a day or two between calls, every single time I talk to my mother she opens with a guilt trip about how I've dropped off the map since moving out.

I think part of the problem is that my sister calls my mother constantly. My sister calls my mother for advice on what to make for dinner, for advice on how to handle some banking problem, for advice on social etiquette... That's their relationship, that's always been how they interact. I like to solve a lot of these problems on my own without turning to my parents, even if I end up making mistakes as a result. But in general my sister is way more socially competent than I am.

Also, my mother never calls me. She claims whenever I confront her about this that this is because she worries that she'll be interrupting me in the middle of something, but I have voicemail and can choose not to pick up if I'm actually busy. So anyway she never calls me and she guilts me when I don't call her, and the whole thing is annoying because I see her all the time! Like, since I moved out six months ago I've not gone more than two weeks without seeing her in person, and often I've seen her multiple times in a week. Or I don't know, maybe I should call my mother more often.

Food: I baked cookies last night, because there was a recipe on the cereal box and I said "Ok, I'll try that." The result was basically mediocre sugar cookies with cheerios embedded, and I don't see the point, but the mechanical act of making cookies was nice and I should try that more often.

Games: Other than D&D, not too much. A little Bohnanza with my D&D group on a night when the DM wasn't up to run a game. We learned we've been playing it wrong, and everyone I've ever taught the game to has been playing it wrong- there are no three-way trades in Bohnanza! When the active player receives a card in a trade, he sets it aside for planting as soon as the trading phase is completed. This radically changes the game. It's still a really fun game, but wow, I've played this game a LOT and it's weird to realize it's not the game we thought it was.

Watching: Ha, so I started this massive multifandom vid last month and basically everything I watch is because I'm evaluating it to use in the vid. Which is a weird way to watch things, because most fandoms I watch, I'm looking for the three seconds of footage I'm going to be able to use. It's weird, I have DVDs coming in almost daily from Netflix and library holds and so every day I add another three seconds to the vid. It's coming together like coral. I'm not sure I want to say more publicly about that vid yet, but I'm sure I'll have a million things to say about all the fandoms when I finally post the vid.

About the only thing I've watched lately that wasn't for the vid was the new season of Mozart in the Jungle, which I liked, though not universally. I thought the first half of the season went on too long, when I wanted the return to symphony hijinx to come sooner. I also thought the Rikers episode didn't quite land- it wasn't sure if it wanted to be funny or not, and landed somewhere in between funny and profound. But Nico Muhly's "Amy Fisher" aria was terrific and I am now sad he's not actually writing that opera.

And tonight I have a ticket to see Rogue One!!!!!

Listening: The new Norah Jones album, a bit. It's a regression back to the Norah Jones who I admired but didn't love, before she got interesting and adventuresome, and that's fine, it's a well-crafted jazz vocal album. Also a wild Eastern European folk album by Karolina Cicha called Nine Languages, because it's got songs in nine languages, capped by the final song in Esperanto.

Making: Yuletide fic was finished crazy early this year because I didn't do NaNo. Crazy early. I'm really pleased with it and I think my recip is going to like it. Festivid is at a decent draft, but I need to return to that and finish it.

[personal profile] freeradical42 is getting married in a month and I'm one of his groomsmen. I've been brainstorming wedding shtick- and I want to make some sort of simple dancing robot for the wedding, so I've bought a few motors and motor controllers, but I haven't had a chance to play with them yet. Maybe Sunday. Or probably this won't happen.
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
Salome by Richard Strauss, performed at the Met

Another opera off the bucket list!

So basically Strauss is a genius and everything he ever wrote is guaranteed to be amazing. Strauss's Salome is adapted from the Oscar Wilde play, Wilde's masterpiece of late 19th century decadence. It is all about lust and the pursuit of pleasure, contrasted to John the Baptist's ultimately futile stand for morality and God's will. It is a drama designed to unsettle or perhaps even to horrify, to challenge moral ideals about sexuality and human relations.

The music is sectioned and structured by Strauss's brilliant post-Wagnerian technique. There are passages that are pure tone-poem, with the music doing all the heavy lifting of telling the story. There are passages where leitmotifs carry character information, and passages where orchestral underscoring changes the meaning of the sung words in sharp, striking ways. And then there is the Dance of the Seven Veils, which is one of the most powerfully erotically charged pieces of music I've ever heard, in any genre. It of course stands alone, as it has for the whole past century as a titan of the concert repertory, but in context it means more. Salome's sexual power as expressed in the Dance is part of a narrative arc of her growing knowledge of her own power and unhappiness.

In general, I think that is what the opera is about- power and unhappiness. Power exists in many different forms in the opera- political power, sexual power, military power, intellectual power- but power does not bring any of its wielders happiness, and so they end up wielding their power in increasingly destructive ways in pursuit of pleasure.

Strauss was not exactly a friend of the Jews- I have mentioned an anti-semitic joke in "Arabella"- and there are further jokes at the expense of the Jews in Salome, jokes that are mostly extraneous to the narrative and that I wish the Met could have found a way to excise. I have a lot more trouble reconciling this than I do the anti-semitism in Wagner. Wagner's music is totalitarian, Nietzschean. I deal with Wagner by acknowledging his power to write effective music, but totally rejecting that music. But Strauss is cosmopolitan, thoughtful, open-minded. I find him likeminded, and that makes it harder to make sense of his anti-semitism.

I guess the one joke at the expense of the Jews that I was not bothered by was one that may have been added by the director- when the Dance of the Seven Veils begins, one of the Jews at court eagerly jumps into a seat to watch. The criticism of religious hypocrisy was well felt.
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
About a decade ago, back when I was still in college and had free entry to MoMa whenever wanted, there was an amazing exhibit on Dadaism at MoMa. [ profile] alixtii memorialized the exhibit in a Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist fic, which is bizarre since by their account they never went to the exhibit, but I went. I enjoyed getting the wide angle on Duchamp's work, as I've loved Duchamp since Pinkwater first exposed me to Dadaism in Young Adult Novel. It was neat seeing the elements of Dada that don't usually show up at museums- posters and homemade magazines and so on, the community of Dadaists. But the most revelatory aspect of the exhibit for me was my initial exposure to the paintings of Francis Picabia.

There wasn't much Picabia in the exhibit, maybe four or five paintings, but they were spellbinding. They were electrifying. One of those paintings, Parade Amoureuse, particularly moved me.

It depicts a sort of Rube Goldberg device, mechanical linkages ostensibly capable of transforming linear motion to rotary motion, rotary motion to linear motion, and linear and rotary motion to eccentric cam motion. Love Parade! The colors, the haphazard splash of red leaping out amidst the dull browns and tans! The off-kilter perspective: the flatness of the foreground evoking a draftsman's projections set against a background with an asymmetric axonometric projection of a room! It is an engineer's love parade, the mechanical transforming into the emotional by means of a fantastic mechanism. It is transfixing.

MoMa is now staging a special exhibition on Picabia's whole career, and I went to see it today. It was fucking amazing.

Apparently Picabia began his career as an Impressionist- his first show was a set of paintings in clear imitation of Monet, and they are good Impressionist paintings- not quite as technically subtle as Monet, but elegant and attractive. Though apparently Picabia cheated- rather than involving himself in the process of the Impressionists, of painting outdoors "en plein air", he took photographs and then created his Impressionist works from those references. From the beginning, there was this engagement with the way technology was changing art- this would seem to have been one of the only constants in Picabia's career.

After that initial show, Picabia reinvented himself for the first time with a set of sort of Cubist paintings that moved into full abstraction. "The Spring" is one of the paintings that MoMa's curators keyed the exhibit around- it is striking in its size and energy, and in the muted earth tone palette that Picabia reused several times in this period.

This paintings are interesting, and attractive, in their intricate geometries, but they are probably mostly notable as early attempts at Abstraction. Picabia's next transformation, though, is where it's at. The curators suggest a connection between Picabia's early experience with a letter press and his new aesthetic interest in mechanical objects, but it's not entirely convincing. Be that as it may, Picabia's next period, which coincides with the rise of Dada, was characterized by figurations known as 'mechanomorphs' - machine shapes. There are a several different types of these. Some are direct takes on machinists' prints, sometimes doing little more to reinterpret them than giving them a new, fanciful Dadaist title- the print as the Readymade in place of the object produced. Some use the techniques of mechanical drafting toward more creative ends, combining mechanical objects in unexpected ways.

Here's "Reverence", with the angled white line off-balance not in a pictorial way, but in a mechanical way, recalling a cam shaft in motion, on top of circles arranged like a planetary gearset.

Here's "Fuel Pump", a colorized, stylized rendering of a schematic of a fuel pump.

And here's Picabia's take on a carburetor, in a painting with the legend "L'Enfant Carbureteur", the Child Carburetor.

And of course the centerpiece for me was seeing Parade Amoureuse for the first time in a decade. I probably stood in front of it for ten or fifteen minutes total- I kept coming back to it again and again. Even after I left the exhibit and saw a few more things in the regular collection that I always go to see at MoMa, I went back to see Parade Amoureuse one last time. I just love it so much.

I love the mechanomorphs because they recognize the art of the machine, the art that comes from designing something to be useful, but also the art that comes from representing this beauty on the page. Much of my job involves sitting at a CAD station, and my greatest moments of joy in the job come when a functional design emerges with an unexpected beauty. Picabia's mechanomorphs draw this phenomenon out and brings it to the gallery. It was electrifyingly exciting to see an Atwood Machine in an art gallery.

Everything after that in the furious reinventions of Picabia was a letdown for me, but that doesn't mean there weren't some amazing things anyway. Picabia was apparently involved in the creation of Rene Clair's avant garde film "Entr'acte", which I was forced to watch in a film history class. He followed this with a period in which he used garish commercial paints to create monstrous portraits of grotesque lovers.

Often in this period Picabia was using these commercial enamel paints to paint over his previous, more classical paintings. The contrast between the oil paints and the enamels is fascinatingly strong in a way that photos on the internet do not communicate. Also, the way the contrast uses remix as a way to overlay new ideas over old without losing sight of the old.

Picabia exceeded himself in this respect with the next set of paintings, which I don't think I should even bother posting any photos of, because you need to see them to believe. He took older oil paintings of his and layered a clear resin on top, and then painted new grotesque mythological images on top of the resin, sometimes layering four or five layers on top of each other. I've never seen anything like these paints. You've almost certainly never seen anything like these paintings. They're amazing and they have to be seen to be believed. in one painting, a putative self portrait, he took a realist portrait of himself painted by another painter and painted over it a series of odd figures- faces, hands, bodies. It is without question Picabia in a nutshell.

One way to see these paintings is as Picabia doing Photoshop before there was Photoshop. I would love to see what Picabia would have done with Photoshop; I feel certain he would have been one of the first artists creating art with computers if he'd had the chance. Picabia's lifelong interest in photography saw another resurgence in the 1940s, when he did a series of paintings directly taken from magazine photographs, often pornographic magazines, retaining the lighting and costuming effects that make these photographs live in the unsettling uncanny valley that is 'photorealism'. Of these, I do want to mention one in particular as puzzling but interesting to me, a painting titled "The Wandering Jew".

I don't know what to make of this painting, which has in its upper right corner a misspelled Hebrew attempt to write "Lech Lecha"- the injunction from God to Abraham to become a wanderer and leave Ur for Canaan. The male figure, presumably the eponymous wandering Jew, is in lurid action magazine style, but he somehow doesn't seem negatively caricatured to me. His face is worn and stressed, but there is life in it. And there is the naked woman, his seductress companion. What is she doing? What is her connection to the wandering?

After this final period of figuration, Picabia's last decade was devoted to the rise of Abstract Art, a movement he'd pioneered decades early only to find he had been, as usual, ahead of the curve. Again, I see no value in posting any photographs of these paintings- they are so texturally dramatic that they need to be seen in person to be appreciated.

seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
Swing Time by Zadie Smith

It feels like a cop-out to give this book a short review, but I think that's what I have at the moment. Starting with On Beauty, Smith's books have swung further and further from the gimmickry and gameplay of her first novels, turning instead to more and more complex and intricate character work. It's hard for me to say what Swing Time is about in any reasonable amount of time, I'll instead just say that I enjoyed it unreasonably.

I felt like Swing Time picked up quite a bit of the threads of the Felix section of NW, which were the most challenging parts of that book. My sense then was that if NW was in some fashion, consciously or not, schematized by the Four Children of the Passover seder, Felix represented the child who didn't even know how to ask questions, and far more so in Swing Time Smith is grappling with what possible meaning her work can have to the illiterate or unliterary characters she is often writing about. I'm not sure I have an answer to her question, though I think it's an important one. Since there are many people who will never have any interest in reading the sort of dense, humanist novels Smith is writing, what does it mean to call them humanist? If there is a transformative aspect of reading a great novel, is Swing Time transforming the people Smith desires to see transformed?
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
L'Amour de Loin composed by Kaija Saariaho, in Robert LePage's Met Opera production

The first opera staged at the Met in a hundred years that was composed by a woman!!! (YES, THE MET WAS ACTUALLY MORE PROGRESSIVE A CENTURY AGO THAN IT IS NOW.) No cookies for you, Peter Gelb.

I remain uncertain how I feel about it. Saariaho's musical palette tends toward microtonalism/spectralism, which is kind of a mixed bag for an opera. In terms of conjuring an atmosphere, setting a mood, her music is very effective. I wanted more melody, though. And I say that as someone whose favorite opera is atonal. I don't need melody in my opera, but I wanted it more in this one.

I'm also unsure how I feel about the story. There is plot, though not much of it- the French troubadour Joufre has given up his womanizing ways and devoted himself to writing brilliant (complex, ambiguous, microtonal) love songs in praise of a woman he has never met, across the sea- the perfect woman. Troubled by this change, his friends try to console him, but he is inconsolable until a pilgrim tells him that she has met the woman. The pilgrim becomes an inadvertent go-between, bringing word of this love from afar back and forth between the two until Joufre decides he must set sail and meet his true love, Clemence. Tragically, the sea voyage brings him near to death, and he dies shortly after setting eyes on her and confessing his love to her for the first time.

It's a vision of love I'm uncomfortable with. To my mind, love must be relational, it must be built in the interactions between people. Love from afar in this fashion does not make sense. It's also to a certain extent a vision of love that the opera expresses discomfort with, as in a fabulous aria where Clemence re-sings one of Jaufre's love songs dedicated to her and then goes through the litany of ways in which it fails to describe her, and wonders if it is possible for her to ever live up to it. This was my favorite moment in the opera. But in the final act, when the lovers meet at last and then Clemence comes to terms with her grief at losing him, this skepticism about love from afar is not present. It is a beautiful piece of music about grief and lost love, but it is anchored in the most crystalline bad-opera-love I've ever seen. Afterward, I compared the final Act to the last act of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. The conclusion of L'Amour de Loin is mercifully shorter, but it is similar in its commitment to treating terrible, fixated non-relational love as being the most romantic thing in the world, and the destruction of that love as being the most tragic thing in the world.

The most striking thing about the opera was LePage's staging, which set millions of addressable RGB LEDs across the stage in ribbons and magnificently animated them as a constantly moving sea on which the action took place. Combined with Saariaho's tone painting, the effect was remarkably vivid, the kind of spectacle you go to the Met to see.
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

If anything, better than the Hugo Award winning first book in the series. It's middle booky in that it doesn't advance the plot too quickly toward the climax, but the introduction of Nassun's story gives the book just enough forward momentum and the story of everyone figuring out how to fight against the Season is gripping from beginning to end. And the character depth is just brilliant. Essun is once again fascinatingly bumpy and complicated, but Nassun's epiphanies about her mother and father and in Schaffa her new ersatz father are what charge the book with meaning, for me.

Tefillin by Aryeh Kaplan

A short book I got for a quarter at the library book sale, but a startlingly powerful and moving book nonetheless. Kaplan pairs good mechanical explanations of the process of wearing tefillin and praying with straightforward, plain English summarizations of abstruse Kabbalistic understandings of Tefillin. Kaplan sees tefillin not as a metaphor, as metaphors have limits and limitations, but as the perfected (or perhaps just perfectable) physical embodiment of the idea of Judaism's connection to and responsibility to God. We wear them, he seems to be saying, because the mitzvot exist as a way for us to perfect ourselves and repair the world, and the tefillin are a tool for making that process physical. The next time I wore tefillin, that made a huge difference in how I interacted with them.

I don't think this book would say as much to people who don't already have physical experience with wearing tefillin. I don't think this book would have said much to me when I was first wearing tefillin. But Kaplan brilliantly gives deeper meaning to the physical experience of wearing tefillin.

And then Zadie Smith and Michael Chabon put out new books the same week! My two favorite active writers!!!! I'm currently starting on Swing Time.


seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)

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