Saturday, August 8, 2020

B's birthday

It's B's birthday, and a big round number and the occasion of her retirement earlier this week. So particular celebrations were in order, but it was just us.

For presents, I got her some books on Kindle, including one current-affairs book she'd particularly asked for. Amazon has a button you can click to purchase a Kindle book for another person; you then enter their e-mail and the desired date of delivery, and it's done. B. prefers Kindle over other online platforms, so that makes it tidy.

And she wanted a chocolate cake. Instead of buying one from a grocer's bakery, I decided to revert to making one on my own from a mix, though I haven't done this in some four years. The most challenging part was remembering where we kept tools like the spatula and the beater attachments for the electric mixer (which is kept at the other end of the kitchen). Baking was successful once I determined to ignore entirely the temperature settings on the oven, which live in a world of their own, probably a Hot Jupiter. Only problem was that I forgot entirely to frost between the cake layers. Delivered with a full singing of the birthday song and flaming candles shaped like big digits.

For dinner we ordered out from our favorite local Mexican place. The online ordering process gave a good example of things you already need to know in order to understand how to do something. B. wanted a super burrito and asked to have the salsa left off. "Salsa fresca" was indeed listed as one of the ingredients of the burrito, but the list below where you could check off things you wanted omitted listed no salsa. It was only previous experience that led me to guess (and then confirm) that "pico" on that list was short for pico de gallo, which is another name for salsa fresca, so that's what I needed to omit.

This place has a good pickup service. Place the order online, wait ten minutes, drive over there and find your order packed up in a bag, with a receipt taped to it, on the table outside. Very efficient. I've done this three times now with no mistakes.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020


If you've been watching the Trump interviews, this matchup kind of says it all ...

an odd remark

Of all the criticisms I've seen of George R.R. Martin's hosting of the Hugo Awards, the most surprising is Robert J. Sawyer's. He focuses on Martin's use of nicknames for various senior and deceased authors. Even Sawyer, who's been active in SF for decades, felt excluded by these names he's never used, and wonders how it feels to people newer or from outside the social community. It's as if Martin is saying, "I'm part of the ingroup, and you're not."

I've seen accusations of this before, concerning writings from the SF community aimed at outsiders, but I've never felt that way about it. Even when I was very new to fandom, I found that writings full of in-references were saying to me, not "I'm part of the ingroup, and you're not," but "I'm part of a community, and you can join it." If you learn the lingo and the folkways, you can be part of it too. I did so, and found this was the case.

I think the first writing addressed to the general public that took this tone was Isaac Asimov's introduction to first Hugo winners anthology in 1962. Rather than writing about the stories, Asimov told personal anecdotes about the authors and about the conventions where the awards were given. His editors were dubious about this approach, but Asimov said that readers would feel themselves inside the world of SF, and that proved to be so.

Of course, there are reasons why this wouldn't work. One might feel not welcomed by the community, and one needn't be female (in what used to be a largely male world) or a minority to feel that way: that was the main complaint of Larry Correia of the Sad Puppies. Interestingly, it was George Martin who was most active in trying to get Larry to give specifics, to find out if it was genuine rejection or just the friction and argumentativeness common within any hyper-intellectual community. But Larry had little additional to say and the question was never pursued. (I've certainly had occasions of my own when I've felt stepped on or unwelcome, but it wasn't the community as a whole which treated me that way.)

But there are other reasons. Some people come in with chips on their shoulders, feeling rejected if they're not absorbed instantly, without having bothered to learn the lingo and folkways of the group they seek to join. But there's also the possibility that the person writing the in-groupish material is merely doing it badly. I see a combination of those here.

Let's consider the nicknames that Sawyer notes. Let me note that, though I don't know the people involved (I've casually conversed with Robert Silverberg a few times, though I'm sure he has only the faintest idea, if that, who I am, except that I'm obviously part of the community), I'm well familiar with all these nicknames, having seen them in print, and heard them in conversation, over the years.

"Silverbob" is not a term you'd address Robert Silverberg with to his face. It's a contraction you'd use in referring to him casually. It's free for anyone in the community to use, and I've probably done so myself, though as noted I hardly know him personally. But it feels odd to have it employed consistently. "Piglet" for George Alec Effinger, however, is a different matter. I know that it's a nickname he had in his very early writing-workshop days, but I also know that he hated the name and in later years rejected it entirely. Possibly GRRM, who knew Effinger well in their salad days, feels he has a survivor's rights to use the name; but I'm sure he knows also that Effinger disliked it, and that he was only able to use it without objection because Effinger is deceased.

Sawyer can't remember if GRRM called Asimov "Ike," and neither can I, but if so, the situation is the same: deceased person being called by nickname to which he firmly objected in life, to which being deceased he no longer has a say on.

Which leads me to conclude that Sawyer is right to be annoyed, but not for exactly the reason he thinks. GRRM's sin in this department was not that he used nicknames that his audience didn't know, but that he gratuitously overused them. There is a difference between employing terminology that you're inviting your audience to learn, and waving it around like a talisman, and this may have crossed the line.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

things read and seen

1. New Yorker article, based on a book, on how the 1960 JFK campaign hired a data-analytics firm whose analyses told them what to do and when to do it, and that set us on the road we're on today. But campaigns had always been driven by perceived reactions; this just systematized a long-standing trend. Also claims that JFK's offer of VP to LBJ was just a feel-good idea never intended to be accepted. Really should read Robert Caro's detailed account of how it was much more complicated than that.

First volume of Sidney Blumenthal's The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, up to 1849. Very oddly-framed book. Huge chapters of background info framed around the career of John C. Calhoun; very little in comparison about Henry Clay, surely much more relevant to Lincoln's politics. Staggeringly spiteful and dismissive about James K. Polk. The account of Lincoln's term in Congress gives almost nothing of his extraordinarily trenchant criticisms of the Mexican War (which I unearthed during the Iraq War, to which they were equally applicable). Best bit is a quote from some fathead's speech defending slavery, who says that in a slave society every white man is an aristocrat. And there you are, the true reason for slavery revealed: to give poor whites somebody they can feel superior to, so that they'll identify with the rich whites and go their bidding. But Blumenthal doesn't go into that.
The book concludes with Lincoln turning down President Taylor's offer to be Governor of Oregon Territory, because Mary didn't want to go. It occurred to me to look up the guy who did take the job, to see what might have happened to Lincoln. Looks like Mary was right to be skeptical. Also a one-term congressman, the second choice lost two children to disease on the trip over and his wife to a carriage accident after he arrived. Not a success as governor, he remarried and stayed on in Oregon for the rest of his life. Had Lincoln taken the job and done the same, most would probably never have heard of him.

3. Noel Coward's Present Laughter on Great Performances, or the beginning of it. Kevin Kline in the lead performs most amusingly, but I cannot figure out how I should identify with or care for these people and their lives of petty appointments. Gave up well before the end of Act 1.

4. Susan Ellison has died. I still want to know what's to become of The Last Dangerous Visions.

Monday, August 3, 2020

B. is retired

B. is retired. As of 3:30 this afternoon, she is officially retired. She will no longer either have to go into the factory or spend the day slaving over its computer input at home. She has deposited her last paycheck and cash-in of vacation time. She can cast all the technical problems of equipment and workflow off her mind, though I suspect that may take a while. They're somebody else's problem. After 42 years of working in this field, she may now cease, and spend all her time reading e-books and practicing viola music.

I've been revising my recently-submitted scholarly paper according to various suggestions by the outside readers, most of which are tolerable or understandable, and spending too much time on the phone, as I have a close one in the hospital a far distance away (nothing to do with Covid, at least, but nor is it casual) and there are things requiring a lot of handling.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

alternative universe VI

In the alternative universe, we'd be in Albuquerque right now, joyfully attending Mythcon, and I'd be just off two weeks of attending concerts and writing reviews at the Menlo Festival, with a little more of it awaiting when we got home.

Over on this one, at least there are other things going on. I finally got to see, on instant rerun as it were, the Hugo ceremony. There have been complaints about toastmaster GRRM chattering away. I don't think there's anything wrong per se with historical glances at the Hugos: knowing where we come from is useful in figuring out where we're going. But there are limits on time and on self-indulgence ("I like this category because I won it twice"). George's stories were of interest to me because I know and share that history, but most of them should have been saved for a fanzine article called "The Hugos and Me."

Less excusable were his (in particular) stumblings over the pronunciation of nominees' names. Inexcusable in disrespect for those nominees and in pre-recorded announcements. Astounding Award winner R.F. Kuang actually said in her acceptance that having her name mispronounced by her own publisher's publicity people was one of the indignities that, if she'd known they would happen, would have made her think twice about getting started as an SF writer.

But you don't even have to be a new writer of non-Anglo origin to get your name mispronounced by this year's Worldcon. I haven't seen the Retro ceremony (it's supposed to be archived eventually, but right now it seems to be securely hidden), so I don't know if they fixed it then, but in the original nominees announcement that's still up, the announcer twice confidently mispronounces the name of one of the most honored dead white males in the field, Fritz Leiber.

Gor blimey. When I was in charge of giving out rockets, I checked the pronunciation of every questionable name and made sure the presenters knew it. As I asked one presenter if he knew how to render one nominee's name, he smiled and said, "Don't worry: he's one of my closest friends."

Also today and not something that would have happened at this time in the alternative universe, the second meeting of the Socially Distanced String Quartet. Last time 6 performers, this time 13 once they all arrived. At one point it was suggested that someone should count off bars. My voice is more carrying than B's so I tried it. It worked OK so long as everyone was all together, but I'm no conductor so when they came apart I couldn't put them together or know where they should go, and I have the same problem many of the amateur performers do: inability to consistently convert what one knows intellectually into kinetic expression. Which is why I'm not normally a performer at all.

Lastly, let me say a word for this new music project which I was alerted to by one of the composers in it, who's a friend. A large collection of short pieces, mostly for solo instruments, largely attractive and interesting, many of them evocative.

Friday, July 31, 2020

old Hugos

B. watched the Hugo Awards live on her computer. I couldn't get the feed to work on mine, so I didn't. But while casting around to see if there was some other avenue to watch with, I discovered that somebody had put up on YouTube the videotape of the 1994 Hugo ceremonies.

Now there's one I regret not having been at, because of the three years I was Hugo administrator, that was the only one where I missed the Worldcon. (I had just started a new job, and it wasn't possible to get enough time off to travel to Winnipeg.)

Barry Longyear was toastmaster, and I thought did a good job. Not too meandering, and his jokes were funny, something you definitely can't always count on at the Hugos. I was pleased that, at the start of the Hugos-proper part of the ceremony, he gave an acknowledgment to me and Seth, and we got a gratifying round of applause. Nice to hear, even after 26 years and the death of the other recipient. The short fiction presenter did essay a joke about the category adjustment, which only proved his complete ignorance of why it was done.

Ah, the olden days, when the politics in the speeches was old-fashioned, when the award music was a mix of the Candide overture and The Great Gate of Kiev, and both presenters and winners had to climb a steep flight of stairs to reach the podium.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

small culinary disaster

So my usual way of making sauce for ravioli is to dry-roast a handful of pine nuts, then cut the roasting by first, plunging the bottom of the small pan into a bowl of cold water, then adding olive oil to the pan. Finally, a touch of dried herbs shaken in makes it a sauce.

This time, though, the packaged ravioli (ricotta and lemon zest, new to me, from Trader Joe's - really good, we'll have it again) suggested a butter sauce. So I melted butter in instead of using olive oil.

Then it came time for the herbs. It wasn't a major grocery brand shaker. It was a blend I'd bought from the franchised outlet of this little vendor at Ashland last fall. I'd been using them with no trouble, but this time ... I shook and the cap top came off and the entire bottle's worth poured into the pan. Worse, the herbs immediately sucked up all the melted butter.

I could have discarded the whole thing and started over, but that would have taken over 5 minutes, not a good idea with the ravioli ready to serve and the expense of throwing out good pine nuts. Instead, I dug out as much herb and as few pine nuts as I could, added more butter and melted that. It was still way more herb than I'd intended, but at least it was edible, and the ravioli were delicious.

But from now on, I'll need to be more careful with what I'd already noticed from this vendor were amateur-level cap tops.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020


1. B. is at work. This is the last time I get to say that. She's been working from home during the pandemic, only going in every couple of weeks when there's something necessary for her to do that can't be done over the computer. And next week she's retiring. So this is the last time.

2. Meanwhile I'm wondering if 20 weeks of this is my limit for taking easily. Yesterday I had an attack of enervation where nothing on my to-do list, nor anything I do for relaxation (reading, watching, listening), seemed doable. What I need is a break, where I go out somewhere and do something else. But there's nowhere to go and nothing to do there. Driving around aimlessly has no appeal for me.

3. Tybalt likes to play with the occasional spider he finds in the bathtub. (He doesn't take baths, but it is a favorite playspace when not in use.) Now we found him playing with a baby lizard on the dining room floor. We have lots of lizards outside, and this one found its way in somehow. B. thought it was dead, but no: it was just frozen in place, like the spiders do, when poked at by a giant monster many times its size. I was more careful, then, when retrieving it and placing it back outside where I hope it stays.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

eternally Olivia

I had another errand down in that direction (picking up some books I'd ordered from a library), so I decided to drive by Olivia de Havilland's childhood home. There was a potted flower out in the middle of the front porch. Maybe it was in memoriam. ETA: It was.

I also decided to try another one of her movies. The one I found was a lot superior to Santa Fe Trail which I watched yesterday, even though it was by the same director. It was also nearly 20 years later, by which time a lot more people had figured out how to make good movies. The Proud Rebel (1958) is a domestic Western set in the late 1860s. Olivia de Havilland and Alan Ladd are tough, hardworking, competent, middle-aged farmers set against some thuggish sheep ranchers, one of whom is a young Harry Dean Stanton. The story is small-scale and sometimes a little dull, but it succeeds through characterization and some good acting. De Havilland's character is hard-bitten with inner tenderness, a part Katharine Hepburn could play, but I liked de Havilland's more sinewy and less overly dramatic approach. Alan Ladd is stoic; there's a little boy with his beloved dog who are not always too cloying, and most of the smaller parts are excellently played, especially Henry Hull as a local judge. Also the dog, who's quite histrionic. Just about only one other brief walkon woman in the entire movie. I liked the restraint in the story being almost a romance between de Havilland and Ladd, but it doesn't quite get there.