Sunday, July 14, 2019

Mythcon update

We sent out the draft Mythcon schedule to program participants Friday and are waiting for replies. That's mostly paper presenters, but there are also panels. Over the last three days, since I drafted the schedule, I've gone from pleased with our work to totally sick and weary of the whole business, down to fairly satisfied again, especially as responses roll in and the tentative panelists say yea. We're down to only one uncertainty at the moment.

So I might as well say something about gender staffing. At SF cons it's considered desirable now to have panels within one person of evenly gender-balanced. Here at the Mythopoeic Society, we run a small con and don't always have the advantage of enough qualified people for any given topic to follow that principle. So I pursue gender balance in a different way.

Here's the stats for the five panels I recruited the personnel for:
1. moderator woman, panelists 4 women
2. moderator man, panelists 5 women
3. moderator man, panelists 3 women
4. moderator woman, panelists 2 men, 2 women
5. moderator man, panelists 3 men

And here are the four that were offered to me as packages:
6. moderator man, panelists 3 women, 1 man
7. moderator man, panelists 1 man, 1 woman
8. moderator woman, panelists 2 men
9. moderator man, panelists 4 men, 1 woman

#2 is something of a coincidence (for one thing the one man is the moderator because the woman I originally thought of is moderating another panel - he's well-qualified for the job, though), but #1 and #3 were deliberately cast this way. In #3, our male GoH will be quizzing experts on each of the three major Inklings on their areas of expertise. The idea of having three women represent the Inklings pleases me no end. #1 is a panel on the challenges of doing research, on Tolkien in particular, and will be illustrated by a particular topic of research, women and his work. Therefore the casting. I've titled the panel Are there any women here today?, a line from Life of Brian.

Another panel, on Tolkien and WW1, incorporating discussion of the recent bio-pic, I've also given a whimsical title: All This and World War One, a reference that so far, nobody has got.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

and here it is

Here's the newspaper obituary for B's sister. The run-on sentence at the beginning is due to editing by the newspaper; otherwise this was mostly written by B. with help from family.

Behind the announcement of a commemorative party lies a long story, beginning with discussion by e-mail among the family as to what sort of event we should have and where it should be put. It was B. who remembered that our local city park has a one-room building which is used for various local events. Checking with the city website revealed it would be too small, but some other parks have much larger ones. Cue me driving around looking at them all, and then checking with the city. Turns out the most attractive one is still available for rent on our preferred date. It's half-surrounded by a pond with a tiki theme, with artificial moai (the Easter Island statues) in the water, one of them with a fountain blowing out of the top of its head. Jo would love it. Family agrees. Rush back to rent it.

So now we're having a party with a Hawaii/islander theme, with Hawaiian shirts and catered food and who knows what else. I'll be the one who has to enforce the no-drinking no-smoking rules, because I'm the one whose name is on the rental.

Meanwhile I get up to work, finally, to test out a new-to-us feature on our computer program which doesn't work, and also to take some time to work out the Mythcon schedule. This involves cutting out items from a printout of the papers database, and moving these slips of paper around the table until they look like they're in a pleasing juxtaposition.

I do this at work because not only do they have a big work table whereas at home we have nothing both large and vacant, but at home anything involving spreading out pieces of paper carries the risk that a cat will come and sit on them.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

site visit

Just back from San Diego, on a site visit for Mythcon. I'm programming; also present were chair, art show, and dealer's. Two I know well, but the last I'd never previously personally met; it's a good idea to know your fellow committee members by sight before the con. Also between 2-5 representatives of the site at various parts of the meetings.

Site had recently unexpectedly switched dorms on us, as someone had decided to renovate the ones we were having. Problem 1: how to fit reservations designed for one configuration into sets of rooms in different configurations. Problem 2: Compiling all the specific regulations, like "no untoward noise after 10 pm" and "no moving furniture from the bedrooms to the common area." Problem 3: Where are our members going to park temporarily to unload their bags, because hauling them over from where they park long-term is not going to work, not on that sidewalk. Problem 4: Which place should we hand out the pre-paid parking permits. Problem 5: How to explain all this clearly to members who've never been here before and aren't going to intuitively absorb any of it, including how to find the dorm in the first place.

Additional long and gritty meeting in one of the programming rooms to discuss the time allocations that we're renting them for. On getting home this evening, find that the site's chief allocater actually kept her promise to e-mail us the tabular results of the discussion. Problem: With our slowly growing membership numbers, are we still going to fit in our original rooms, or should we switch to some larger but more awkwardly located ones? Everyone looked at me. I swallowed and said, "Hold." I know we're going to have overflow situations, but I'm not convinced the larger rooms would entirely prevent that, and it would disintegrate the geographic integrity of the conference.

We're not using the dorm cafeteria for lunch, so an update of last year's visit to nearby restaurants was vital. I tromped around to all 30 of them. Problem is that many are keeping summer hours which are different from their posted hours. Sometimes the summer hours are also posted, sometimes not. Often the summer hours involve being closed on weekends, which is when we most need them. Site people promise to try to convince the on-campus eateries that there will be over a hundred conferees looking for lunch that Saturday and Sunday; maybe they should consider being open?

In the midst of this, my cell phone ceased working. Had a signal and everything, but would neither take nor receive calls. Eventually remembered how the phone store guy had fixed Famous Fan Writer's apparently terminally fried phone, when I'd taken it in after Worldcon while FFW was in the hospital. Tried it on my own phone. It worked. The secret? Open up the back. Remove the battery. Blow on the connectors. Replace.

All of this framed by the closest the current world offers to the shuttle-bus plane flights of yore.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

without Tybalt

Before we had Tybalt, and the only other cat in the household was the late lumpish Pippin, Maia and I had a regular routine. Twice every day, after breakfast and after dinner, she would come into my room, as a signal that I was to follow her over to the bedroom and on to the bed for an extensive session of stroking and nuzzling, which mostly consisted of scritching various sides of her head. During this she would purr - a gravely sound, as an engine needing oil - constantly. This would last 10 or 15 minutes, after which she'd have enough and jump down from the bed.

But the advent of Tybalt threw a spanner into these works. Tybalt wants to be involved with everything, but Maia likes her primacy. Our nuzzling sessions are only occasional now, and have to take place while Tybalt is elsewhere. Even so, I've learned to close the bedroom door during them, because if he should appear in the doorway Maia presses the abort button and everything stops. She huddles up on the clothes hamper and growls at him. The ever-eager Tybalt is oblivious and knows not what this growling sound means.

Just this morning, I had a Maia by my side, and we headed out of my room, but she stopped dead in the doorway because Tybalt was there, out in the hall. I walked past him and motioned her along. Tybalt knew what this meant and dashed over to the bedroom doorway. Eventually Maia peeked out but turned the other way, over to B.'s room and hopped on to her sewing table, which I've known from before is Maia's second choice nuzzling spot. I shut the door and we had our session. Tybalt, foiled again.

Now, how to foil him from his insistence on jumping up onto the kitchen counter or the dining table whenever there's anything involving food going on. Waving the spray bottle at him is fairly dissuasive - he knows by now what that means - but he just keeps coming back. Dropping 15 or 20 cats on the floor while fixing one dinner is normal now.

on electing a prime minister

There have been many articles (like this one) decrying or staring in dismay at the fact that the election for Prime Minister of the UK, the head of the country's government, is in the hands of the small and unrepresentative body of paid-up members of the Conservative Party.

This criticism would make sense if Prime Minister were an elected position like President of the US. But the Prime Minister is not a president, despite repeated observations over the last half-century about how much more presidential the post is becoming, and it is necessary to understand that in order to grasp what's actually going on here.

The President of the US isn't actually a directly-elected post either. What voters vote for is electors, the members of the Electoral College, and they are pledged to vote for a particular presidential candidate. That's relatively straightforward.

In the UK, what voters vote for is their local member of Parliament. Candidates for Parliament are normally pledged to support a particular political party, and it's that party which chooses its own leadership. If that party has the confidence of Parliament, i.e. enough votes to securely win divisions, then its leaders become the government and the principal leader Prime Minister. If the leader leaves mid-term, that's the party's business and not the electorate's. The electorate voted for the party.

Understand that and it should be clearer. Unfortunately, general discourse is against this. One reads regularly in, for instance the last general election, that voters voted for May or Corbyn. That they did not, unless they lived in Maidenhead or Islington and one of those worthies was their local MP. They voted for candidates who were pledged to support the Conservative or Labour Party - the party, not the leader - and May and Corbyn were the leaders of the parties and consequently the one whose party won would become PM.

Putting the choice of leader to the party members is actually far more democratic than in the past. When the post first emerged in the 18C, the prime minister was the servant of the monarch. The monarch could choose anyone he or she wanted, so long as that person could secure the passage of bills through Parliament, and bribery and patronage usually took care of that. By the mid-19C, with the development of meaningful constituency votes, it came to be recognized that the government should reflect the results of elections, and leaders were chosen by inner-circle jockeying among influential politicians over who could most effectively lead.

The Conservative Party continued to choose its leaders by this method as late as the succession of 1963, whose contentiousness led them to acknowledge this was out of date, and they changed to the same method used by the Labour Party. The Labour Party, which didn't date back to the 19C, originally held to the position that it didn't have a leader as older parties did. What it had was a body of MPs, and that body had a chairman, whose primary job was to preside at meetings. By that token it made sense for that body to elect its own chairman. When the Labour Party found itself obliged to form a government in 1924, it made sense for the chairman to take the government post of Prime Minister, and the party found itself assimilated. But the principle had been established that the MPs elect the leader because they know the people they'll have to work with, and after 1963 the Conservative Party joined them in this principle. It was on this basis, for instance, that Thatcher was deposed in 1990.

But, following the more participatory lead of the smaller Liberal Party, the larger parties eventually decided that the job of choosing the leader and potential PM was too big for the MPs, and (after much messing about, particularly in Labour) eventually decided that, while the MPs could nominate and winnow down candidates, final decision should go to the party members, which means mostly activists, many of them extreme. Going to a general electorate of party voters, as in US primaries, is not a step the UK is considering, and would probably not be workable there. And that is why, despite the alarm of almost everyone who isn't a blue-waving Tory, Boris Johnson looks about to become PM ...

Or is he? Because the PM is by definition the head of the government, and the government is a body which has the confidence of Parliament, and several Conservative MPs - including even the current Chancellor of the Exchequer - have said they would not vote for a Boris-led government. Tory rebels are traditionally more talk than action, but if they stick to their word, then Boris will not win confidence and will not become PM despite being party leader.

But then what happens? It's Boris's position on Brexit which has generated rebellion, but there is not a single position on Brexit which isn't unalterably opposed by a majority of MPs, so how could anyone win? It puts the Queen in a difficult position, because she has to commission the PM. The PM is still legally her servant, though nowadays she's obliged to follow whatever Parliament says. But what if Parliament - by not passing any votes, something it's already done more than once in respect of Brexit - doesn't say anything? It's a perilous world we live in.

Saturday, July 6, 2019


Home fireworks are illegal around here, but that didn't prevent a lot of them setting off on Thursday, including some from kids in the apartment building parking lot that adjoins our front yard. Good thing nothing caught on fire. B. went out and hissed at the perpetrators.

Speaking of which:

Cat, I'm not going to waggle the peacock feather all day while you stare at it. I want to see some action here.

Two big earthquakes in Ridgecrest. That's how it is: just as you finish putting everything back on the shelf ...

New talk of a tv adaptation of Gaiman's Sandman. I'd watch that, or start to.

Good analysis article on Kamala Harris's prosecutorial record.

After a period during which I felt as if I could no longer chew this job, programming for Mythcon is falling into shape. I've finalized the list of panels, which turned out rather different than I'd expected due to the number of unexpected suggestions and offers I got, and I've sent out the penultimate batch of offers to potential panelists, the contents of the final batch being dependent on the answers I get to this one. The papers coordinator has handed over the spreadsheet and abstracts documents I need for scheduling. First step, after boiling down the spreadsheet, is to read the abstracts and classify the papers in my mind. Slightly stuck at a paper whose abstract says it's about something it actually calls a newly-coined buzzword. Googling the word isn't useful; after sorting through a chain of fitness centers and an obscure SF movie with the same name, I finally find a Wikipedia article on it, which is also full of buzzwords so that's no help. Class as miscellaneous.

Friday, July 5, 2019

strange experience

Strange experience at the backyard party yesterday as it was winding down. Our friends who host the party every year are active in their church (Presbyterian), and many of their invitees are fellow church members. But they mix well with those of us who are not, whose connection with the hosts is through other interests, mostly fantasy literature. In fact my friendship with the husband was originally cemented when we took a class on medieval history at university together.

What I'm saying is that the fact that most of the attendees are Christian doesn't mean that Christianity as a topic dominates the conversation. But this day ...

Most of us remaining were seated in a circle on the back porch. A man I'd seen around here before, with a slight I think Russian accent, plopped himself down in an empty space. He started talking about how wonderful it was that we were all friends of the hosts and each other ... and then he started talking about how we should all also be friends of Jesus.

Even the two other Christians in the circle looked embarrassed, and declined his invitation to speak about what the friendship of Jesus meant to them. Then, after having elicited everyone else's religious identity, he rounded on the one person who identified herself as an open agnostic. "Why don't you let Jesus be your friend?" he demanded. "Don't you ever use your mind?"

That was a bit much for me. I get rather tired of the professional atheists who presume that anyone who uses their mind would be an atheist just like them, and getting the same nonsense from the other side was equally ripe. And I said so, as mildly as I could. Then I added that there's a word in English called "proselytizing" and it referred to something that was to be avoided.

Good thing he didn't get to me and try to make me a friend of Jesus. I would probably have declined by reciting the Sh'ma.

After that we hurriedly broke up. I've told evangelicals this before: you'll win more friends by demonstrating that you practice a religion of love than by browbeating unbelievers.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019


Lots of tasks today. Have to pay in person a bill that ought to be paid by mail. Have to pay by mail a bill that ought to be paid online.

Tybalt now wants to help as I pay the bills by mail. He climbs up on the table and bats at the other end of the pen. He also likes to sleep on my desk as I work on the computer. This is fine as long as he's not blocking the screen. And when he's not sleeping, he plays with any loose pencils or paper clips.

Also: To the library where I work to test out our computer program's features for a circulation database. To the big-box hardware store to renew our supply of exotic lightbulbs. To various local city parks to check out their facility buildings as possible venues for a memorial gathering for B's sister. Subsequently much online discussion of this. To grocer's to get food for tomorrow's annual party at friends'.

And much work online regarding last-minute venue alterations and organizing speakers for Mythcon in a month; yikes. Good thing I'm not giving a paper this year, and I'm not the only one who's given up any idea of that.

Monday, July 1, 2019


The anniversary party I mentioned yesterday was held at a Portuguese club in Mountain View. Did you know there are actually two Portuguese clubs in Mountain View? And the invitation originally went out with the address of the wrong one? Somewhere along the way I'd overheard there was a problem here, and got the right address by pinging G's local son; but one person didn't, and I heard he'd gone to the wrong one, found nobody there, and gone home.

But why were we at a Portuguese club? B and her siblings are of generic English/German ancestry. But G's husband, M, is of Portuguese descent (part Portuguese, part Spanish, I believe), and therefore so are their children, and they're happy to acknowledge that. A common Portuguese surname doesn't hurt.

Some years ago, at Wiscon, I attended a "how to be a good ally" panel, and one of the suggestions made was that, if someone says to something, say, about Hispanics being lazy, make something up and say, "Gee, my Hispanic brother-in-law is a hard worker." And I realized, I don't have to make it up. I do have a Hispanic brother-in-law, and he is a hard worker. M. had a long and successful career in engineering before his retirement, and for relaxation he loves to tinker with old cars. He put all four children through college, and they're now all fabulously successful in highly technical careers.

I told this story recently at a gathering of Jews, the committee that runs our synagogue library, and one of them remarked that saying "My Hispanic brother-in-law is a hard worker" is like saying "Some of my best friends are ..." I thought about this, but I don't think they're the same. If you say, "Some of my best friends are," you're defending yourself; but if you say "My Hispanic brother-in-law is ...", you're defending him. That's quite different. The point of his being your brother-in-law is that you have close personal experience of him; this isn't something you've vaguely heard somewhere; your testimony about him carries weight.

But the real reason that "Some of my best friends are ..." is a hollow argument is not due to a flaw in the reasoning. It's that self-declared friendship is cheap. There have been far too many examples of people making that declaration who are also prejudiced. Most gentiles with Jewish friends are in fact not prejudiced, but enough are; it carries no weight. If, instead of saying, "Some of my best friends are Jewish," you had said, "I hid Jews in my home during the Nazi occupation," that's the same form of argument - you're citing your behavior as a bona fide - but this time it carries weight, because actions, unlike calling someone your friend, are not cheap, and because these actions carried serious personal risk.

That's just how I contemplate this point.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

in the midst of life we are ...

Quite a few years ago now, I skipped out on a convention I'd been planning to attend - it was Corflu Nashville - because the same weekend turned out to be the celebration of the 50th wedding anniversary of B's parents, and I couldn't miss that. It was a good party. They've both since passed on, but they had a glorious run.

I might still now be on the east coast after my Massachusetts trip last week, attending a Tolkien conference near D.C., except that this weekend turned out to be the celebration of the 50th wedding anniversary of B's older sister G and her husband, and I couldn't miss that either. Their four children - all of whose weddings I've attended too, imagine that - with spouses and grandchildren blew in from their scattered locations across the four winds to organize the gathering at a club banquet room and bar. Good dinner and merry greetings.

The only flaw was the last-minute absence of B's and G's younger sister, who'd been planning to come up with her sweetie from San Diego. She was back in the hospital again. J's health has been precarious for years, so much so that even five years ago, when B and I went down to San Diego to visit them, we were thinking we should do this because it might be the last time. It wasn't; we'd seen her up here after that on a number of occasions. But not this time, and not ...

Late in the evening, G's eldest, niece T, came up to whisper to B, looks of distress on both their faces. I guessed what it was before I was told. J had just died in the hospital.

The news wasn't allowed to spoil the party, but B and I went home soon afterwards and have since been trying to absorb this long-feared but still surprising as well as sad news. J was a worthy person, fun to be around, a cat-lover like her sisters, and a hero in her own way as an emergency services dispatcher for the state, coordinating personnel for wildfires and other disasters. She is the first departure from her generation in the family, and as she was the youngest it's especially poignant.

May her memory be for a blessing.