Friday, May 24, 2019

this is the joke

Mark Evanier administers a juried award called the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing. The Finger Award is intended to compensate for the Fickle Finger of Fate by honoring unjustly neglected figures in that field, of whom Bill Finger - the writer who co-created Batman, but was long ignored in favor of Bob Kane, the artist - is said to be the prototypical example.

The Finger Award comes in two categories, living and posthumous, and for this year's posthumous award, the jury has fingered E. Nelson Bridwell. Not being much of a student of comics, I had never heard of him, but it turns out I should have. Evanier's announcement credits Bridwell with co-creating a comic called The Inferior Five, which I'd never heard of either. A quick visit to its Wikipedia page proves that it's exactly what it sounds like, a sort of precursor to Mystery Men, a rare case of a superhero movie I rather liked. So I might enjoy The Inferior Five as well, especially as Evanier says that Bridwell's "writing was marked by a wicked sense of humor."

But it was by clicking from there on Bridwell's own Wikipedia entry that I discovered what he really deserves to be remembered for. While writing for MAD Magazine in the 1950s, he created one of our culture's truly classic, memorable, and lasting jokes. It's usually rendered something like this:
The Lone Ranger and Tonto find themselves surrounded by hostile Indians.
"Well, Tonto," says the Lone Ranger, "we're really in trouble now."
And Tonto replies,
"What you mean 'we', white man?"
I can't tell you how often I've seen that last line invoked, often without any further reference to the joke which readers are assumed to know. And sure enough, whenever lazy essayists or reviewers - and they're usually white men - assume their personal reactions are universal and write something like, for instance, Edmund Wilson on The Lord of the Rings that "we never feel Sauron's power," I'm there to murmur, "What you mean 'we', white man?"

And did Bridwell invent this joke? Apparently. According to Wikipedia's sources, nobody's been able to find it told earlier than a 1958 MAD article by Bridwell and artist Joe Orlando depicting moments you'll never see in popular TV shows. In Bridwell's script, Tonto just says "What you mean ... we?" but it's the same joke.

For that alone, he is worth honoring.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

ecce homines, pars VI

Returning to my three-volumes-at-a-time survey of the American Presidents series, edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. This installment covers the presidencies of 1861-1877.

These are the presidents of the Civil War and Reconstruction. The coming of the Civil War was a huge watershed of American history, so much so that reading about these wartime and postwar presidents' pre-war lives feels as if they're different people or were somehow dropped in an alien environment.

George McGovern on Abraham Lincoln is more of a schematic diagram of Lincoln's presidency than a personal portrait, and it makes no attempt to tell a history of the war. The former presidential candidate and, one remembers, former executive administrator offers a dry and administrative look at the major issues of the presidency in the Civil War: preserving the union, waging the war, dealing with political pressures, and deciding to emancipate the slaves. Then it takes odd sidetracks to deal with side issues like Lincoln's relationship with each of his cabinet members, while ignoring other points, like foreign relations during the war. Lincoln, had he written it, would have leavened this account with a few jokes, and I missed other things I would have liked to see, like Congressman Lincoln's trenchant criticisms of the legality of the Mexican War (uncannily applicable to Iraq 160 years later). Despite the dry tone and the omissions, it's a good evaluation of the importance of the things Lincoln did.

Annette Gordon-Reed on Andrew Johnson is the boldest, and one of the best, matches of author and subject in the series. Gordon-Reed is the historian who penned the major study of Jefferson's black family, the Hemingses. She cannot be expected to like her present subject, the most racist president America has ever had (present company excepted), and she doesn't, but instead of spending her space denouncing him, she seeks to understand the cultural and personal context that made him what he was, why many hoped that acceding to the presidency might produce an epiphany in his attitudes, and why it didn't. Nor has she forgotten the corresponding strengths of his weaknesses (absolute obstinacy can be a virtue if you're a Southerner minded to stick with the Union), nor her biographer's remit to cover all of his public life and major events of his presidency, even those irrelevant to her thesis. This is one of the best books in the series.

Josiah Bunting III on Ulysses S. Grant is another military writer on a military president. Bunting goes through Grant's military career with the same clear-sighted, straightforward attention on the task at hand that he credits as the key to Grant's greatness as a general. But when Bunting turns to the presidency he gets strangely waffly, as, apparently, did Grant. Grant tended to appoint subordinates without performing due diligence, but ... his cabinet members were all top-class men regardless of this, but ... somehow bad things happened anyway. Bunting is reluctant to blame Grant for anything except insofar as he was too passive in addressing problems, and goes through an entire chapter of scandals sweeping them aside this way. The strangest chapter is the one on Indian affairs, where Grant's determination to solve the native problem by assimilating them all to white culture, which nowadays would be called cultural genocide, is praised as noble. Yet Little Big Horn happened on Grant's watch, but this is somehow not connected to anything.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

concert review: two pianos and political culture

The publicity agents for this concert invited me to attend. Then I got my editor to agree to publish the review.

The theme was recent piano compositions inspired by the search for social justice. As I noted in the review, the concept sounds deadly, and one of the pieces indeed was, but what I didn't say but should have was that the reason I jumped at the opportunity to go was the list of composers. I was familiar with work by six of the eight on the program, and at least four of those I was more than happy to hear music by again. Both of the ones new to me turned out pretty good too.

I hesitated a bit at whether I should approach Elinor Armer, when I saw her at the cheese and crackers table after the concert. Then I did. I complimented her on the wit of her composition, and mentioned her set of collaborations with Ursula Le Guin, most of which I heard in concert when they were new. We agreed that we both missed Ursula terribly, and she said that she was planning a CD of her previously unpublished settings of UKL's poetry. I'm looking forward to that.

Since her piece was a tribute to her composition teacher, the noted French composer Darius Milhaud (who spent many years part-time at Mills College here), I asked if by any chance she was familiar with my harmony instructor, who was also a Milhaud composition student. She didn't recognize his name, and I said, "Well, he was probably before your time. He would have been rather older than you." She said, "I'm 80 years old, you know." I said, "Yes, but he was my teacher nearly 50 years ago, and he wasn't a young man then." Anyway, we had an agreeable conversation.

Then I took my notebook home and wrote the review. With a program full of new works and only one I'd ever heard before, it was hard to evaluate the performances, but I could certainly describe the music, so that's what I mostly did.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Stop Thebans

Today was the day of nationwide protests against the draconian anti-abortion laws from Alabama and Georgia and such benighted places, and while a quick transporter to go there was not available, I could at least show up locally, even though around here such protests are preaching to the choir.

Publicity said that protests were to be gathering at town squares and such places, but we don't have a lot of town squares around here. A web site showing locales showed that two of the three local events would be at shopping centers. Oh, I've seen that kind of protest before. A bunch of people gather on the sidewalk to yell at passing traffic. When I'm the passing traffic, I never know what to do. I can never make out what they're yelling, anyway. Not to be one of that crowd is a strong desire of mine.

But look. The third protest is at San Jose city hall. That's a plaza, at least, if not a town square, and it was the staging area for the Women's March which I've attended twice, and they're the sponsoring group for this one, so I'll go there.

So I do, and arrive as the rain stops just before official starting time to find ... they're all gathered up against the sidewalk to yell at passing traffic. Oh well. At least there's enough - about 300 people, I'd guess, virtually no children but a few men, not as large a proportion as at the Women's March - to mill around. I park myself on one of the artificial rocks and hang around agreeably for an hour. If any media types try to interview me, I'd say, "I'm here to support the women. Why don't you go talk to some of them?" but nobody does.

The first sign I see appears to read STOP THEBANS. I figure that's some species of alien, like, I dunno, Thermians. Then I figure it out. Other signs read:



GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUNdamental human rights


PRO CHOICE, because other people's choices are none of my fncking business

which I particularly like because it pretty well sums up my own reasoning for picking this side. Once upon a time I considered abortion vs. forced pregnancy an insolvable moral dilemma. I might not like abortion, but where did I get off telling women they had to keep pregnancies because of my moral qualms? That arrogant I'm not. Eventually I decided that if I couldn't solve the dilemma, it was up to the woman who had the problem to solve it for herself. When it dawned on me that that was exactly the pro-choice position, I took that stand and have never wavered since.

Anyway, so we're all milling around and clustering by the sidewalk, and every time a passing vehicle toots its horn, everybody cheers. Especially when it's a heavy construction vehicle or, in one case, a city fire truck. Oh, so that's what drivers are supposed to do. It feels wrong to me, for whom car horn = hostile intention. But, whatever. In between cheers, a few speakers wielding highly directional bullhorns, so I don't catch more than a drift of what they're saying. But the drift sounds good.

After an hour everyone begins drifting away and the rain starts up again. I like to think that $DEITY arranged that break for us.

Monday, May 20, 2019

an excellent sf movie

First, you have to understand that I'm no fan of those big blockbuster movies that get all the attention. I tend to like quieter and well-crafted films. Even my favorite space adventure movies are 2001 and Dark Star (yes, Dark Star), but a lot of my favorite sf films are actually modest little things with here-and-now settings that integrate their sf elements into real dramas of human beings. For instance, I was quite taken with a little film from 2012 called Safety Not Guaranteed, which was set in a small town on the Washington state coast and which may, or may not, have involved time travel.

Now I've seen another film of that kind which is just as good, in some ways better. It's just been released on Netflix and it's called See You Yesterday. In this one, there really is time travel. Two bright juniors at the Bronx High School of Science have built a modest time machine which they've just now gotten to work.

Here's one of the things. These kids, they live in the East Flatbush ghetto in Brooklyn. They're black. Almost all of the characters in the movie (except their science teacher* and a couple of cops) are black. Their life is the ghetto. This movie was produced by Spike Lee, though not directed by him. The events of life in the ghetto, including the possibility of being randomly shot, by police or otherwise, are present in this movie and intimately intertwined with the story of the time machine.

It's really brilliantly written (and performed, and directed), especially the ending, which is both heartbreaking and audacious**, and which I've rewatched several times just to admire it.

*And guess who was coaxed out of retirement to play the part. I was utterly delighted to see him again.

**There's one old favorite movie of mine whose audacious ending reminds me a little of this one. But I can't tell you what it is, because I don't want to spoil this.

book report

White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (Beacon)

This is a book by a white person, intended to explain racism to white people.

I don't think it's going to work.

The problem isn't with the substantive content of what DiAngelo has to say. I entirely agree with her on that. In particular, I'm in sad communion with her observation that the election of Obama was hardly the end of racism in the US, as was sometimes proclaimed, but the signal for a renewed outbreak of the kind of toxic, blatant, Jim Crow-style virulent racism that some of us were foolish enough to think had permanently faded away.

No, the problem is with the tone and the framing.

Early on, DiAngelo has to patiently explain, as she does every time she brings this subject up with a discussion group, that when she says that white people are racist, she doesn't mean they consciously hate or belittle black people. She's talking about "the racial status quo."

This becomes clear later on when she says that black people can't be racist, even when they're discriminating against white people on racial grounds. Only whites can be racist.

Here it is - or ought to be - as clear as it can possibly be that DiAngelo's definition of racism does not lie in individual acts of racist behavior, but in the whole cultural context of how whites and blacks relate to each other in US society.

Fair enough, but that's not the way she writes. She points to individual whites and says they're racist. She does that to focus them on the problem, but the focus is off. If racism lies in cultural context, then it doesn't consist of individuals' behavior, even when that behavior is discriminatory, and even though the cultural context is formed out of accumulated individual actions. The point is that if that's the definition of racism, then there's nothing any one individual can do to be any less racist, or any more racist for that matter, so the pointing finger is pointing too directly.

I wonder if we need two words, one to mean an inevitably racist context, and the other to mean specific acts of racism.

The people who really need this book - the whites who think that racism is obsolete but who casually demean black people - are unlikely to read it. They'll have been put off by DiAngelo's opening mea culpa breast-beating attitude long before they get to be told to breathe deeply when they're told they're racist, and if they ever get to the point where they read that black people can't be racist while all white people are, they'll just shut down completely.

If you make it to the end, there's some concrete suggestions for how white people should behave in a context of endemic racism, and those are useful, and go against the grain of blaming an endemic problem on individual actions; but first you need to get that far.

Sunday, May 19, 2019


After a preview of the heat of summer, a mixture of rains and threatening weather returned starting a few days ago, wreaking schedule alterations on outdoor events which are normally common in May.

A press tour of Stanford's outdoor amphitheater, to which symphony concerts are returning this summer, was put off from last week for two weeks. While outdoor concerts are not much my thing, I have never been in this amphitheater, so I'm curious to go.

Today was supposed to be the Barron Park May Fête, Barron Park being a small community hidden away inside Palo Alto, whose town park is the location of the corral where lives the donkey, the one used as model for the character in Shrek. (I've seen the donkey at past events, and they look exactly alike.) I was especially eager to go because Brocelïande would be playing, but the rains this morning made it look doubtful, and indeed I found a Nextdoor listing that said it had been canceled. So, stay home and do some work.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

half a day at a book festival

The day I went to the California Symphony, which was Sunday a week and a half ago now, that was in Walnut Creek in the late afternoon, so it gave me time to spend part of the earlier part of the day at the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley.

I'd gone to a couple panels at this three years ago and have been on their mailing list ever since. But I hadn't found anything that looked worth making the trek to Berkeley for until I suddenly found one of this year's guests, Carlos Lozada, on my radar. Lozada has been the nonfiction book critic of the Washington Post for a while now, but I'd only come across him a month earlier when I read his takedown of the now-ex Baltimore mayor's children's book. You heard about this? The mayor resigned after a scandal around the large sums of money she got selling vast numbers of copies of her self-published children's books to various state institutions that could use a mayor's (or a state legislator's, which is what she was previously) help. Anyway, while the scandal was still boiling Lozada got hold of a copy of one of the books (which wasn't easy to find) and gave it a hilarious (and rather atypical of him) review. Since then he's also reviewed the Mueller report in its capacity as a book to read, rather than parsing it purely for intellectual content.

So Lozada was to be on this panel in a hotel ballroom on "Courage in Publishing in an Age of Political Polarization," which sounded interesting, so I went. At first the heavily overpopulated panel looked as if it wasn't going to go anywhere very useful, with heavy remarks about "cancel culture" and the "new prudishness" and whether the news that Woody Allen can't find a publisher for his memoirs means that publishers lack courage. Someone tried to draw a distinction that what's called "cultural appropriation" is not a bad thing in itself; borrowing is enriching; it's disrespect and exploitation which are bad. Well, good luck at maintaining that distinction.

But the moderator kept good traffic control, and when Lozada got a chance to speak, he put forth some good points from his Mueller review. I wrote him down as saying, "The report is the best of the inside White House books because Robert Mueller has subpoena power. Imagine if Bob Woodward had subpoena power. That would be really interesting." They then got into the question of whether the report is going to be an unread bestseller. Another panelist said, "The Attorney General doesn't seem to have read it," to which Lozada quipped, "Then he shouldn't have reviewed it."

Lozada also got a chance to deliver a bit on the kinds of over-common and repetitious books that political reviewers like himself see too much of these days. They cross the political spectrum. The ones on the left that he's tired of are, he said, "resistance anthologies consisting of essays by obsessively like-minded writers who keep screaming 'this is not who we are' over and over again, which I don't think is very useful," and on the right he finds either accommodationist apologias for Trump or else "book-length breakup letters to the Republican Party without addressing the author's own complicity in making it this way."

After that I wandered over to the Freight, whose auditorium had also been rented by the Festival and which turned out to be a good place for Lozada to interview one Kwame Anthony Appiah, a philosopher with, judging from his interview, an excessively dainty approach. He's recently published a book called The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity which I haven't seen anywhere, nor do many libraries seem to have his earlier books though they're from major publishers. Apparently all his writings focus on identity, which you can understand why it obsesses him once he explains that he's half Ghanaian and half English country gentry with a politically radical side (his grandfather was Stafford Cripps), and now he lives in the US. What am I, anyway? he may well ask.

After that I wandered down to the display area in the city's central park. There were some publishers' booths with nothing I wanted to buy and some food booths with nothing I wanted to eat, so I drifted away.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

concert review: San José State University, School of Music and Dance

Probably the most fun, and certainly the most anticipated, thing I did last weekend was to attend SJSU's production of Bernstein's Mass. This is not a work one gets to see staged often - this was the fourth time total for me - and never before for me in a college rather than professional production.

My editor had phoned to ask if I could cover some other concert that evening and I had to say, "Sorry, I'll be at SJSU for their Bernstein Mass." Then I thought for a moment and said, "Would you like me to review that instead?"

He said sure, so here it is. You may thank my resident Catholic, who was enthusiastically there with me, for the comments on liturgical significance (the shroud on the cross, the Celebrant's vestments), because that's not stuff I would know.

I took our two CDs of the work up to my office with me to help with the review. Then I put them back down on the rack in the kitchen where they came from. Now I can hear from downstairs that B. is listening to one of them while doing the post-dinner dishes. (Just as a reminder: I cook, she does the dishes.) We like this work. And I've started writing cat lyrics to it.

Monday, May 13, 2019

An announcer on our local no-brow classical station just named a famous flutist as "Sir Galway."

tiny tyrant

That's what B. called Tybalt when I came back to bed Saturday morning after a couple hours up early. "Did you feed the tiny tyrant?" she asked. Even before I got up, that active young cat was nibbling at our toes, licking our hair, even switching off the CPAP machine, and just causing chaos to our attempts to sleep in.

Tybalt isn't a hostile cat, though: he wants love. It's very frequent, while I'm working here at the computer, for him to squeeze in past the open arms of my office chair and sit next to me in the chair. If only he'd stay there. He's the only cat we've had since we've been together who likes to be picked up, and that's what happens next. He doesn't try to lie on my lap, either. He latches in and goes up my chest. As you can imagine, this feels considerably different depending on whether or not I'm wearing a shirt. What he wants is to sit on my chest, with me holding him up with one hand and petting him with the other. This is fine if I'm reading a long article or listening to music; not so great if I'm trying to write something or take notes.

Tybalt also ventures into places in the kitchen where no cat has gone before, specifically up on the counter, especially when I'm working there on dinner. At first I tended to ignore him, and even work over him, unless he actually threatened to stick his nose in the food (and probably eat it: he's eaten things like spicy potato chips off the floor). But now I'm trying to be more strict, and if he comes up, I scoop a hand under him and drop him back on the floor. Assuming, that is, that my hands aren't covered with something I don't want to get on a cat. Lesson does not usually get through, though in other ways I can see Tybalt modifying his behavior in light of the way things are done around here. But I'm often scooping 15 or 20 cats off the counter in the course of fixing one meal.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Tolkien: the bio-pic

When I wrote in March of my visit to New York, and the Morgan Library's Tolkien exhibit, and the two-day conference for which many distinguished Tolkienists gathered, I left something out.

Saturday morning, before any of the other conference events occurred, most of the conference presenters converged from various directions in the chilly quiet of a March weekend morning in New York, on an otherwise deserted (not yet open for the day) spacious multiplex movie theatre out on the far fringes of East Midtown. (I hadn't known there were any multiplexes in Manhattan, did you?) This was the first most of us had seen of each other on this visit, and it was a strange way to greet old friends. I was walking along a deserted street towards the theatre, for instance, when a man crossed the street and fell into step beside me to greet me: it was Peter Grybauskas. In the theatre were many more, including John Garth, the British scholar whose biography Tolkien and the Great War is the closest thing to a book equivalent to the movie we were there to see, which was of course the Tolkien biographical film which is just now hitting general release.

And the reason I haven't said anything about it until now is that we all had to sign embargo forms before entering the theatre. This didn't surprise me: I've previously been asked not to publish pre-release reviews of movies I've seen in private previews, though this was the first time I had to sign a form. Curiously, the form bore no date on which the embargo expired, so I wrote "until the film's general release" on the form before signing it. Others were less punctilious, but at least one person there blanched at the form and refused to sign it at all, and therefore (as far as I know) did not see the movie.

But now it's out so I may speak. So I'll tell you what I said. When the lights came up I turned to Janet Croft and David Emerson, who were seated near me, and said, "If they're going to make stuff up, why can't they at least make a coherent and interesting story out of it?" Only I didn't say "stuff."

The plot covers Tolkien's life from the time his family moved away from idyllic Sarehole (at which time Tolkien was 8, though he's played as a boy by a young man who was something like 16 at the time of filming) until his return from France during WWI, with a couple of later epilogues. The elements mostly come from his life, but by the time he gets to Oxford, the sequence and causality of the plot have departed sufficiently from historical fact that it's essentially made up. But if they're going to play so loose with history, why not include even any of the historically known ways that Tolkien's life inspired his fiction, let alone make any up which they were free to do?

The movie is being promoted as "explor[ing] how ... time spent in college and his service in the British army ... and other events influenced his classic works," but that’s exactly what it doesn't do.

For instance, in an epilogue title card we’re told that the names of Beren and Lúthien appear on Ronald and Edith’s tombstone, but nothing is said in the movie itself of the inspiration for that story. There's a brief shot of Edith dancing in the woods (at a different date than the occasion which actually inspired the story), but the allusion is left completely untouched.

I subsequently saw an interview with the director who said that he was trying to avoid the implication that Tolkien's fiction encoded his life. An admirable concern, but that ship has sailed. The only point in making a commercial movie of Tolkien's early life is to show how he became the man who wrote the fiction, and you can do that without reducing the fiction to a commentary on the life. See John Garth's book for a start.

But it's worse than lacking that connection. The movie keeps telling us that Tolkien was marvelously creative, but what it shows us is a man who's mostly inert or at best reactive (more often unreactive). There's a scene at the TCBS where the others ask Tolkien what he's written lately and he says he hasn't written anything. Why is this scene in the movie, then? There's another scene where he brings Edith to meet the TCBS (I don't think this ever actually happened) and the conversation is awkward at first, but as soon as Edith gets into a juicy discussion of Wagner with Christopher Wiseman, Tolkien jumps up and says they have to leave. Why does he do this? In the next scene Edith chews him out for it, but there's never any explanation or an attempt to fit this in to a larger pattern of behavior. There's almost as much attention in this movie to G.B. Smith's poetry as to Tolkien’s writings.

Nor does the movie entirely avoid showing Tolkien's creativity being inspired. But what it does show – fragments of some stories which have nothing to do with the legendarium; a hallucination of mounted knights clashing on the Somme; artwork pinned to Tolkien's walls that appears inspired by the Book of Ishness but is far grimmer than anything actually appearing there – is of a tenor to give more the impression that Tolkien is the author not of his books but of Peter Jackson's movies. At the end there's a casual attempt to wrap up every experience Tolkien has had and claim they went together to make up The Hobbit, but it's glib and the book doesn't carry that kind of weight.

I found this movie dull and meandering. By far the best acting in it came from by far the best-known actor in it, Derek Jacobi as Joseph Wright. Laura Donnelly (new to me) as Tolkien's mother shows some zest, and the bit in which she reads from Völsunga saga to her boys is my favorite scene in the movie, as well as the one most relevant to Tolkien's inspiration. Nicholas Hoult as the adult Tolkien looks pained a lot. Lily Collins as Edith pouts a lot. The actors playing the other TCBS members as adolescents have a liveliness to them which disappears when they're replaced by the actors who play them as adults. I don't anticipate this movie having a major impact on public perception of Tolkien, simply because it doesn't have the kind of appeal, as a film on its own account, that Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies certainly had.

concert review: Music@Menlo

So as I explained while reviewing their previous offering, Music@Menlo is trying out a new format for its winter concerts, Focus Residencies. And evidently they like it, because they've scheduled two more for next winter's season.

In these, one of Menlo's regular musicians is asked to serve as guest artistic director for a program. This person chooses a topical theme, selects appropriate repertoire, and assigns performers. The resulting concert is preceded by a lecture on the theme.

This time I got to attend both the concert and the lecture, Thursday and Friday of last week, and that was the first of my three weekend concerts. The Curator (that's what they're called) was regular Menlo violinist Arnaud Sussmann, who explained at both events that he started with the performers: he wanted to play with his violin mentor Pamela Frank, and with Menlo's pretty fabulous violist, Paul Neubauer.

And here they are at work, l. to r. Frank, Neubauer, and Sussmann.

So, then, what great music is there for two violins and a viola? Sussmann could think of two often-played pieces by Antonín Dvořák and one by Zoltán Kodály, though curiously they're never all played together. On further search he found a couple more good ones by Sergei Taneyev and Eugène Ysaÿe, which made enough to form a concert.

And then he had a theme, too, because Dvořák, Kodály, and Taneyev - Czech, Hungarian, and Russian respectively - had one thing in common, that they were nationalist composers inspired by their own countries' folk music.

So we had a nice little concert in the bright precincts of St. Bede's Church with Dvořák's Terzetto and Four Miniatures, Kodály's Serenade Op. 12, Taneyev's Trio in D Op. 21, and Ysaÿe's Le Londres. The Ysaÿe, the non-folkish one of the bunch, was a challenging, counterpoint-heavy work with a lot of imitative work and an entire fugato.

The other pieces, the folk-influenced ones, were more ingratiating. The Taneyev, a hefty four-movement work, was a real find. It starts out sounding like a pastiche of Mozart, and then shifts into a more typical circa 1900 Russian style, though less heavy or bear-like than Tchaikovsky or the Mighty Five would do it. Taneyev hasn't gotten much respect since Harold Schonberg dismissed him as a sterile academician, but Schonberg hadn't heard much of Taneyev's music.

The Kodály was most notable for a slow movement dialogue, which begins with Sussmann's violin audibly laughing at Neubauer's viola's emotional pretense, all over a continuous tremolo from Frank on the unheralded other violin.

And the Dvořák pieces were full of Czech intensity, double-stops, frequent key changes, expressiveness, and - in the slow movements - weeping hesitations. The Miniatures were thicker and more intense, the Terzetto more lively and friendly.

Patrick Castillo gave the introductory lecture the previous evening in Stent Hall on the Menlo School campus. (Martin, the usual lecture venue on campus, had to be abandoned because the school was rehearsing Bye Bye Birdie just outside, and I was thinking, do today's students even believe that there once existed the culture depicted in that show? I can barely remember it and I don't believe it.) Some of his musical examples were recorded, but those which could be played by the three musicians of the concert live, were. So we got a preview of the concert.

What I found most interesting in his talk was his addressing of the scoring problem. He viewed this kind of trio as like a string quartet with the cello missing. So what do you do without your bass line? Several possible ways. One, you can use the viola as the bass, and that's a highly recommended procedure when you have the powerfully strong viola voice of Paul Neubauer at your disposal. That type of scoring in the concert worked exceptionally well. Another is to thicken the texture by playing a lot of double-stops. Ysaÿe really went for that one. And a third is to exploit the fact that violin and viola have similar timbre, and cluster them together in a medium-high range, defying the lack of cello.

Oh yes, we heard all those things, brilliantly rendered. Here, all you fine performers, take a curtain call:

Monday, May 6, 2019

concert review: Symphony Silicon Valley

Proceeding backward through my weekend, then, we get to Saturday at Symphony Silicon Valley. I was there to review this, so there it is.

The program, of Petrushka (by Stravinsky) and Rach 2 (the piano concerto), is one I could have used a refresher on. I know these works, but not particularly well, and I'd have liked to have gone over each with a score and a recording beforehand. But there just wasn't time, what with spending Friday rushing off to libraries 50 miles away and going to another concert that evening (next up in this travelogue) and so forth.

So this was more impressionistally written than I'd intended, but at least it was written Saturday night when I got home, leaving me free for a packed Sunday. (The Cal Sym concert wasn't the half of it. More on that later too.)

Sunday, May 5, 2019

concert review: California Symphony

I went to three concerts this weekend, but owing to logistics I'll probably be covering them in reverse chronological order. At any rate, third on the list was the California Symphony, under its music director, Donato Cabrera, on Sunday afternoon at Lesher in Walnut Creek.

Their current composer in residence, Katherine Balch, contributed a new violin concerto. Balch turns out to be an unreconstructed modernist. The soloist, Robyn Bollinger, her best friend since conservatory days - with friends like this, etc etc - sounded variously like a baby bird in pain, a mule in pain, a cow in pain, and a car alarm in pain. You know, it's still possible to write great music today, even great music which by no means sets out to soothe the listener, but this ain't it.

But that wasn't why I was here. I was here for Bruckner's Seventh. I'm always eager to hear what a second-tier orchestra will do with such a work. The big waves of sound lined up to crash across the dry and unresonant stage in a powerful but neatly-ordered fashion. It wasn't subtle, but it was sincere.

Lesher is still selling single-serving containers of ice cream at intermission, but there's been a change since the last time I was here and complained about this in a professional review. Now the ushers equip themselves with small trash bags so customers have a place to throw the empty containers away. Good going.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Colbert does it again

People have criticized me for unfairly ragging on Stephen Colbert's Tolkien spasms on his tv show, but this time ... this time he's really gone and done it. This time, nobody can say he's not totally mixed up.

So he's interviewing Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins, the stars of the new bio-pic about Tolkien, and Colbert is saying Toll-kin with emphasis on the first syllable and they're saying Toll-keen with even emphasis on both syllables and they're saying that's right and that they learned it from listening to Judi Dench narrate a documentary, and they're trying to teach it to Colbert and he's having a hard time getting it.

And in fact they are right, -keen is the preferred second syllable.

And then Colbert tries to explain how he got it wrong. He says that in high school, the people who read Tolkien were much the same as the people who read science fiction (true enough, at least in his day and mine), so they would say Toll-kin because they said Robert A. Hine-lin because they're spelled the same.


First off, they're not spelled the same. J.R.R. Tolkien. Robert A. Heinlein. I-E in one, E-I in the other. Unless Colbert is one of those cretins who spells it "Tolkein"?

Second, I don't know what they may have said down in South Carolina where Colbert comes from, but I've never heard anyone say Hine-lin. Where I've heard it, it's universally Hine-line. Even emphasis on both syllables, like Toll-keen. They're both German names, and that's the vowel in German; I-E is pronounced E and E-I is pronounced I. That's not how that combo is always in English, and some people with German names in the US reverse the pronunciation, but most don't.

The science-fiction writer they always get wrong is Fritz Leiber. Nobody misspells his name, like Tolkien's, but they say Lee-ber. That's wrong; it's Lye-ber. I have that from the man himself. I don't know why they get it wrong; it's the same combo as Heinlein. I've taken to referring to the latter as Heen-leen to mock this, but it doesn't help.

So, Colbert, what the bleeping bleep?

Friday, May 3, 2019


I had one more research thing to do for the 30,000-word survey of a year's worth of recent Tolkien literature that's going to press next week: look up a few bibliographic references in a book I don't have. That's it.

Stanford has the book, or claims it does, but like all the recent lit crit it's in storage. So I ordered it up last Sunday. Supposed to arrive in the on-campus library by Tuesday afternoon.

I went in Wednesday morning. It wasn't there. Clerk told me something went wrong with the request. He re-ordered it under his own name. Supposed to arrive by Thursday afternoon.

Checked Thursday evening; still wasn't there. Friday morning delivery? No. What is wrong here? I've never had trouble with Stanford delivery before.

Time for Plan B, because I can't do this over the weekend and can't wait as long as Monday. Plan B is to visit the next nearest library with a copy. This is a junior college that I'd never heard of before, 50 miles away. I drive there in the late morning, before the afternoon commuter traffic kicks in. (And it's already kicking in, I see from across the freeway, at 1 PM as I'm driving back in the other direction.)

Friday's a quiet day on this little campus - it shuts down at 4 PM - and I find a parking space near the Learning Resource Center, which is junior college lingo for "library." (The implication that the rest of the campus is not a learning resource center is what's so quintessentially junior college about it.)

I've been in a lot of junior college libraries before, but never one whose stacks were so small, especially considering that they've got a book held by no other libraries for 50 miles around. I take note of the minitude of their Tolkien collection: 13 volumes altogether. Seven books about Tolkien, of which the one I need is the only one less than about 20 years old. They're all basically introductory books, none of them terrible, but Carpenter's biography is the only one on the essential reading list for students of the subject. They do not, for instance, have Kocher's Master of Middle-earth, a very old book which everybody has and everybody should have. One book is specifically about The Lord of the Rings. Two are specifically about The Hobbit. But they don't have The Hobbit. They have a 3-volume LotR, they have The Silmarillion, The Book of Lost Tales vol. 1, and The Treason of Isengard. Interesting selection.

I take the book I need down from the shelf. I copy down the half-dozen references. Takes less than ten minutes. All that trouble for just this. But it's done. I drive to a nearby shopping center in search of lunch. I find a Malaysian restaurant with more unusual food than you'd expect in a suburban shopping center. Makes the trip feel more worthwhile.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Banff: the repertoire

As I've alluded to, I'm going back to the Banff International String Quartet Competition this summer. Ten string quartet ensembles will give 4 or 5 (depending on whether they make the finalists or not) performances each, grouped into 13 concerts over a week, and then a winner will be named.

Yesterday they've announced the competing quartets and what they'll be playing.

Usually at BISQC, one or two of the quartets are repeats from the previous competition - you're allowed two goes, unless you're one of the top two winners. Last time, unusually, everybody was new. This time there are two returns whom I heard last time, the Omer Quartet (whom I've also heard at Stanford in the interim) and the Ulysses Quartet. Neither have had any changes in personnel, I'm pleased to say, and I'm looking forward to hearing both again.

The Omer have been together for ten years; all the others have 3 to 6 years experience as groups. Their origins are mixed, almost all European or North American. So what are they playing?

Haydn - A gratifyingly varied list, and 4 of the quartets are from Opp. 20 or 33, which particularly pleases me.

Modern - Seven Bartoks. Last time eight, this time seven. Still, the folks who come here are really good at Bartok. Two Ligeti Firsts, a work I could live without, and one Szymanowski Second, which at least is different.

Romantic - Four Mendelssohns (3 Op. 80 and 1 Op. 13, my favorite); one Brahms, one late Dvorak, two Debussys, two Ravels.

Schubert - For one concert they're required to begin with the opening movement of one late Schubert quartet. We're getting 4 from the G Major and six from Death and the Maiden. Six renditions of that powerful movement. From six quartets. In one day. That'll be worth the trip all by itself.

Ad lib - And the rest of that concert they can fill with anything they want. We're getting quite a mixture here, including full quartets by a couple of composers I don't know, Salvatore Sciarrino and Thierry Escaich. Plenty of stuff I do know, though: Thomas Adès and Lera Auerbach among the living, and a few older famous names including one bit of Shostakovich.

Finals - The three groups that make the final round have to play one of the eight big Beethoven quartets, but all ten have picked their item, and eight of them have taken one of the same two, Op. 59/2 or Op. 132, wouldn't you know it. We could easily wind up hearing three performances of just one of those. Make it 59/2 in that case; Op. 132 is just too intense to listen to 3 times in a row.

So I'm looking forward to this, even if we only get one movement from a quartet by Shostakovich (and it's the Tenth).

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

Once again, I'm called in as emergency fill-in reviewer of an SFS concert I was going to be attending anyway. And the reason I was going? The chance to hear Samuel Barber's First Symphony, which used to be considered one of the cornerstone rocks of the modern Americanist repertoire. But not at SFS, I guess, where it hadn't been heard since 1963, under the guest baton of Howard Mitchell, a conductor even more forgotten than the Barber Symphony is. Wow, it takes me back to my student days, when names like these were still current.

Anyway, how this tough piece, which hearing live finally got me to feel acquainted with, wound up on the end of a program of Mozart, Beethoven, and Wagner, I don't know, but I'm glad it did. Here's the review.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

concert review: Stockton Symphony

Stockton? Yes, at over 300,000 one of the larger cities in California's flat and fertile Central Valley, it was founded as a river port to support the Gold Rush and named for the US Navy officer who directed California's capture in the Mexican War. It flourished for many years, but its civic profile in recent decades hasn't been sterling: blight, unemployment, school shootings, civic bankruptcy. For most in the Bay Area, there's not much reason to visit except to drive past on the way somewhere else.

But I found a reason. Stockton compensates with civic pride. It has pride for its symphony, which turns out to be a pretty good orchestra, performing in a community college auditorium with subtle amplification. And it has pride for its multi-cultural, uh, culture, which expressed itself in this ingenious concert program: seven works, each representing one of Stockton's sister cities around the world, most composed by someone who came from within hailing distance of that particular city. It attracted me for its sparkling variety, and turned out to be worth the trouble.

One of the sister cities, Parma, Italy, was easy. Parma is the urban center around the home town of Giuseppe Verdi. So the concert concluded with the triumph scene from Act 2 of Aida, brightly performed by the orchestra, with a collection of three local choruses (two of them from the two local colleges) singing powerfully behind them.

Stockton's sister city in Mexico is in Sonora, and that's the home state of Arturo Márquez. But instead of his famous Danzon No. 2, we heard his Conga del fuego nuevo, which applies the same vivid dance character to a conga.

Some of the compositions were themselves multi-cultural. The great Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu was represented, for instance, not by any of his characteristic impressionist mysticism, but by a couple pieces of his 1950s-60s film music, which evoked their movies' settings by being a jazzy blues and a melancholy Viennese waltz.

The impressionism came in a movement from the African Suite by Fela Sowande, applying that technique to a folk melody from his native land of Nigeria.

Chen Yi was born in the Cantonese region of China (sister city, check) but now lives in the US, having taught for many years in Kansas City, for whose anniversary she wrote a KC Capriccio, which turns out to be a raucous work with chorus that, while rather modernist, is so lively and good-humored as to be fun to listen to.

Cambodia's king Norodom Sihanouk was also a songwriter and jazz musician, and some of his work was arranged by Andre Kostelanetz into a suite which sounds like typical Kostelanetz pops work with just a bit of what must be Cambodian flavor to it.

The ringer in the bunch was Bernard Green, an American tv composer who did once produce an Overture on Philippine Folk Songs, some of which came from the Visayas region where the sister city of Iloilo is.

There were also a couple fanfares by local Stockton composers, one of which had some historical note. The city's port director in the 1930s, Benjamin Allin, was also an amateur composer, and in their files was a piano score of his Port Stockton March, which current Symphony conductor Peter Jaffe arranged for orchestra to bring out both its Sousa-like energy and an allusion to the Aida march that he spotted in the central section accompaniment. It too was great fun.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

things I'd like to tell authors

The ones who write scholarly articles for journals, of course. (The one thing I want to tell fiction authors is: if your characters are British nobility, they can't be Lord First-name and Lord Last-name at the same time.)

1. Ellipses indicate omitted words from within a quote. Therefore they serve no logical purpose at the beginnings or ends of quoted passages, so don't put them there.

2. Also, don't put brackets around ellipses. That was an innovation the MLA came up with some thirty years ago, as a way to distinguish supplied ellipses from ones in the original quoted text. But soon enough they realized that 1) original ellipses are uncommon, and can easily be handled with a note reading "ellipses in original"; 2) the brackets are bone-ugly. So they eliminated the rule. Get the message; it's been decades now.

3. Check the names of people you cite. Especially check Tolkien character names for accents and other diacritics.

4. Use the editions of Tolkien's books listed in our style sheet. If you don't have access to those, use ## for page numbers and we'll insert them. And for the sake of Ilúvatar and all the little Valar, if you're going to quote from The Book of Lost Tales, DON'T USE THE DEL REY PAPERBACKS! Like every mass-market paperback reprint ever made, they have entirely different pagination from the originals. And especially don't use them without telling us. You will just confuse people.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

bibliography project

I'm slowly reaching the end on this. I have only three more items I have to look at to determine bibliographical details or read to see how relevant they are, and they're all being fetched from storage (where Stanford keeps most of its relevant material, from which it takes at least 2 days to fetch it out) or on quickie interlibrary loan.

Meantime a lot of editing and correcting. Authors' names mangled in the databases. An article whose title implies it's about the movies but also discusses the book (and which flabbergasts me by praising the movies enthusiastically for their "faithful adaptatation", even singling out for favor that most cringe-worthy feature, Sean Astin's acting), and another whose title clearly includes the phrase "Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings" but which turns out to be entirely about the movies. A huge anthology from an Inklings conference which turns out to have only two papers partially about Tolkien. They prefer discussing Lewis.

I've also remembered to scan or download articles as I find them, so that I'll have copies handy for the Year's Work next year. I'm now down to a mere 7 articles I'll have to submit to heavy-duty ILL, which will eventually e-mail me PDFs.

Prepping for the Year's Work is an ordeal of its own. When I was first asked to write this, many years ago, I looked over the previous year's bibliography, which would be my source list, and then pulled out from my shelves all the books I had that were on it. I had most of them, and had already read most of those, so I was confident I could do this.

But I kept doing that from scratch every year. As I acquired new books, I'd shelve them in appropriate spots on my Tolkien shelves, or tuck them in a corner if there was no room. Then I'd have to find them all when it came time to write. This year I had three rare and otherwise unavailable items I needed for the bibliography that weren't in the obvious spot. I found them all, but I said: enough. I have some old cubbyholes originally intended for current projects. I cleared out two of them and designated them: one for the current Year's Work, and one for future years including the bibliography. From now on everything goes in there.

That went well, but not everything has. I edit the bibliography this way: enter data into the computer, print it out, take the printout to the library, add corrections and new info to it by pencil as I work over the day, take it home, enter the pencilled notations into the computer, reprint the file, start over with the next library the next day.

Last night, having come home from the library via my piano concert, I went straight to bed but awoke around 3, as I often do. Deciding to get some work done, I couldn't find the printed bibliography with its invaluable notes. Despair. Then it occurred to me: on my way home I'd fueled the car, and thrown out some newspapers I'd had in the passenger seat. Had my annotated printout gone with them?

Despite the hour, I immediately dressed and drove the 30 miles back to the gas station. And in the trash bin, underneath assorted later additions, I found my newspaper and then, now coffee-stained but still legible, my 8 sheets of paper. I had neither noticed they were there nor had they subsequently come to mind until I needed them. Yow. I don't ever want such a close call again, but it's not possible to keep constant track of everything at once. But this is why I have sympathy for people who forget to fetch things you wouldn't think they would forget.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

concert review: Alexandre Tharaud, piano

So after two long and full days at university library research, I got to head up to the city for a piano recital. This was a replacement for the one on my series that was cancelled when the pianist fell ill. I'd signed up for it because he'd been going to play Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, an enormous work that I'd really wanted to hear.

So Tharaud, the replacement, played instead Bach's Goldberg Varations, an equally enormous work (it took 70 minutes to play) not quite as high on my personal want list. But he played it very nicely, with great distinction and separation among the canonic voices and a firmness that only the transfer to piano from harpsichord can provide. Without a break, that was enough, except for a brief encore.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Tolkien bibliography

That's what I've been working on for the last couple days: the annual bibliography of Tolkien studies for the journal of the same title. This year we're covering 2017 (just long enough in the past to let the references settle down).

First thing is to go through all the specialty indexes and known Tolkien-related journals, and then turn to more general indexes. This is my first time using Google Scholar, which I added to my list of sources last year. I like it a lot. Its article listings are more detailed than WorldCat's, and it has a lot more material, though there's a lot of scholarly sources it omits, and there's plenty more work to be done. It's a very high-recall index, which means there's lots of dross to sort through, and despite using a relevance ordering there's no obvious spot where the dross entirely takes over; that comes from the intensity and depth of the recall. It's a good thing I'm working on an author with an exceedingly rare surname; if I were working on Charles Williams, I wouldn't be able to proceed this way.

Biggest problem is: what possibly relevant items to omit? I omit anything about the movies that isn't directly about comparing them with the books: this is Tolkien Studies, not Jackson Studies. Similarly with other derived and inspired material. Accordingly, I also omit an article about tiny neopagan groups who've modeled their religion on The Silmarillion: it's fascinating, but it turns out to have nothing to do with Tolkien's book, just on what these people did with it.

Theoretical linguists seem to be taking to using Tolkien to provide examples for their airy discussions. There's an article on the difference between the truth values of "Frodo lives in the Shire" (which is a fictional statement already) and "Frodo lives at 221B Baker Street," and what happens if you add "Imagine that ..." to the front of either of them. I decided this was just N to fill the space and had nothing to do with Tolkien.

Equivalently, I've decided to stop listing the trickle of articles, mostly from Eastern Europe, that use translations, usually of The Hobbit, as source material for usually rather vague analyses of how particular forms of expressions or types of words are translated from English into Bulgarian or some other such target language. Any Tolkien content has been sucked out in the process.

There are a lot of things, however, that I add as tentative because there's no full text accessible online and I can't figure out from the citations if they're relevant or not until I can get to a library and figure them out. Already out, from a view at the public library, is a book of tales of famous authors' childhoods whose story of Tolkien and the tarantula is full of made-up detail, because there isn't any that isn't made up. It also says he remained terrified of spiders, which he wasn't.

Besides topic, there's also nature of publication. We don't list unpublished theses. I'm trying to be chary of undergraduate term papers stuck without additional formatting into their school's online journals. Self-published books can go in if they're substantial. Something with no library holdings, no proper title page, and a single Amazon customer review saying it's a worthless ripoff of Tolkien fans' money, no. Frantic e-mails to obscure Tolkien publications: why does your website not list an issue from you, but WorldCat says there is one?

Now to spend the rest of the weekend thinking about making food - there's visits to both a Pesach seder and an Easter dinner on the calendar; that's what comes of being an interfaith couple - and I'm bringing food to both of them. Come Monday, it's down to the trenches of the university libraries for a couple more days' bibliographic work.

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Beard

The most light and enjoyable topic to come out of a day spent releasing the Mueller report was the obsession with The Beard: the one on the guy standing behind Attorney General Barr at his press conference.

Here is both the answer to "Who is he, anyway?" (he's a deputy AG) and a collection of various tweets and comments about his appearance, of which the second best is
“This is going to be tough. Get me a guy with a cool beard to stand behind me.” -William Barr
and the best is
Breaking News: Attorney General Barr brings former President James A. Garfield to press conference in order to distract reporters with his magnificent beard.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019


A kindly person on my Dreamwidth FL referred readers to this post about Buttercup in The Princess Bride. Mostly the movie, but also the book. She lacks inner character, that's basically the problem.

I think the writer is on to something here. I noticed two things about Buttercup in the movie that bothered me from the first time I saw it:

1) The movie, unlike the book, offers no explanation for why Buttercup gave in and agreed to marry Humperdinck. All she gets is denounced for it. That seemed to me the one big plot hole in the movie.

2) Buttercup was played by Robin Wright. It was close to her first movie, certainly the first time I ever saw her. I didn't like her. She was the only actor in the movie I didn't like. Everybody else I thought was terrific. Cary Elwes, whom I'd also never seen before, was better than I could possibly have imagined. But not Robin Wright.

I figured at the time that she was just not a very good actor. But I've liked her in everything else I've subsequently seen her in. (What really sold me on her was not so much Forrest Gump, an annoying movie, as two obscure but terrific films, Toys with Robin Williams and The Pledge with Jack Nicholson.) Either she got a lot better as an actor, or else the part was so badly-written that a good actor couldn't do anything with it.

The former is possible, but I now think the latter is more likely. Buttercup is a cipher. She gets to order Westley around and utter a few defiant lines that - as the post points out - come out of nowhere, but otherwise she's mostly just hauled around and reacts to things. What can Wright do with this?

I've become more aware of how screenwriters and directors who don't comprehend the characters in their movies can kill the actors' performances since the Lord of the Rings movies came out. The only good performance in that mess is Sean Bean as Boromir, because Boromir is the only character in the story that Peter Jackson understands. We know from other movies that Elijah Wood and Viggo Mortensen can be good actors, so why are they so lifeless and inert in these movies? Because their parts are badly written and badly directed. Just like Buttercup.

Monday, April 15, 2019

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

I had tickets to two concerts while B. was gone, both of them evening events in the City. Which created a logistical difficulty, as if she's not coming home from work I have to be home to feed the cats. This shouldn't be done earlier than 5 pm, which doesn't leave much time for driving up to the City in evening traffic and finding a parking space and getting something to eat before showtime. It can be done, but it's challenging.

Fortunately for my schedule, if for nothing else, the piano recital's performer became ill and had to cancel his tour. As for the other concert, my regular Thursday SF Symphony, I decided just to skip it. While I'd have loved to have heard Emanuel Ax play the Brahms Second Concerto, that wasn't enough by itself, and I wasn't drawn to the second piece, Zemlinsky's enormous Straussian tone poem The Mermaid. I'd heard that once on the radio, and once was enough.

Then on Friday I got, as I sometimes do, a call from my editor. Other plans had fallen through, and since I'm usually available, he's turned to me to review the SF Symphony. Often enough my response is, "I just heard that last night," and I can write a review on the spot. Other times, of course, I have to go to one of the later performances.

This time I was glad I hadn't gone. I don't think I would have been able to give The Mermaid a fair or knowledgeable review without having given it some extra attention. So I scheduled myself for the Sunday matinee, both because B. would be back by then and to give myself time to study this monster. I re-read the H.C. Andersen fairy tale on which the music turns out to be very closely based, and I listened to a recording with score, which confirmed for me what I had disliked about the work.

Which put me in a good position not just to evaluate the work, but to appreciate the specific virtues of Andrey Boreyko's conducting of it. I wrote most of the review in my head while walking down to dinner afterwards, and it was merely a matter of remembering my wording.

I was very happy to hit upon the word "grandiloquent" to describe this genre of music. That combines several different words I'd have used to describe it into one adjective. The wording implies Zemlinsky aimed at this quality deliberately, and I seriously think he did, given that what I'd call grandiloquence he'd consider a virtue.

I'm equally pleased with "warm vibrancy" for the cello solo in the Brahms, as a polite description of a style of cello playing I don't care for.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Look, Mr Darcy! An opera!

The best outing B. and I have had recently was last Saturday's concert premiere - it was called that because it was just singers before music stands, nothing staged - of Kirke Mechem's opera of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I hadn't heard any of Mechem's other operas - he's adapted Tartuffe and Sheridan's The Rivals - but I do know some of his choral music and have admired it.

I've been looking forward to this for a year or so since the Redwood Symphony announced it was forthcoming. And the Redwood Symphony has been looking forward to having me review it, and they've been on me for quite a while about that.

And here's the review. It has some critical observations, but the Symphony's marketing director was very pleased upon reading it.

It was a vivid and enjoyable experience to attend. I took lots of scribbled notes, but found I didn't have to consult almost any of them to write the review.

I do regret, however, that space limitations required leaving out some things. When I wrote that, towards the end, "too many threads need to be wrapped up at once, and too much is left to the viewer’s memory of reading the book," I was thinking in particular of, after Jane's relationship with Bingley had been left hanging in the air, a scene arrives in which we gradually learn from incidental references that they are now happily engaged. I don't think Mechem intended that to come as quite the unveiled surprise that it would be to the untutored viewer. I think he expects you to remember that from the book. Earlier scenes don't make that kind of assumptive leap.

When noting that "a jig at Netherfield catches up the vocal lines into its lively rhythm," I was thinking also of an earlier sarabande, to a tune derived from Handel, where the vocal lines conspicuously stay apart from the simultaneous dance, and I wondered why the difference.

I also regret not mentioning all of the soloists. Amy Goymerac as Charlotte was almost as strong as Amy Foote. James Cowing as Mr. Bennet had lots of character, but was not as fluent a singer as his large part required. Bradley Kynard as Wickham had a lovely tenor voice; pity his part was so small.

I should have noted also that the audience was clearly having a good time throughout. Austen's humorous lines consistently got laughs. I'd tried to alert the local English Regency group to this show, but I didn't see any of them show up. (They would have been conspicuous, as they'd probably have worn period costume.) Maybe some of them came to the Sunday matinee.

Friday, April 12, 2019

the history of my website

I got my own personal website when I went to work for a library at Stanford and was put in charge of maintaining the department's internal website (manuals, project status sheets, etc.). To help me do this, I was sent to a staff training class that taught us how to hand-code HTML - this was 20 years ago, and web design programs were still rare - and had us practice this by creating our own personal pages on the university server. I put in a then-new photo of me at work, and links to a few pieces of mine that others had already loaded onto the web.

I gradually added more pages to the web site, especially before I got a new outlet by starting a blog. Design and color scheme, as I previously mentioned, were chosen with the help of Vonda N. McIntyre. I was looking for a background color as dark and unglaring as possible that black type would still be easily visible on, and she helped me with that. When I left Stanford, I moved the site over to the web-hosting of my personal e-mail provider, Earthlink, and there it's sat ever since, occasionally updated. I keep my personal bibliography and list of concert reviews updated, and add things as they come in to other lists like the one of the Inklings in fiction. Other projects I've let fall behind. But it's still all (except outside links) my own raw hand-coded HTML.

So things were until a month ago, while I was in New York, and found that the whole Earthlink web site was down while it was being migrated. Eventually it came back, but at first my web site didn't. It was only after receiving a cryptically-phrased e-mail and getting some clarification from phone help that I learned that Earthlink was phasing out the customer web pages that were being kept on their own server.

They were, however, still offering web hosting; you just had to get your own domain. It's taken me four long phone conversations with the web hosting people (all very helpful and intelligent; all men with the same voice and the same heavy Indian accent; each with a different name like "Frank") to get this up and running - not uploading the files; that was the easy part; but getting the web site recognized and available as one glitch or omission or another got addressed - but it's up now. I love the direct file uploader, which is much smoother and less gnarled than the FTP I used to use, and I am now the proud owner of Please change any previous URLs you have for me, and let's hope this gets propagated onto Google and such in searches for me.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Mayor Pete

The politician of the hour is Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who - unusually for a politician with such a workaday job - is running for President, and making some hay out of it. To my mind, this is the most insightful article I've seen yet on the serious implications of his candidacy.

But never mind that, how do you pronounce his name? Buttigieg has been putting out that it's "BOOT-edge-edge" which doesn't strike me as very helpful. Run together it's a tongue-twister, and at least one of the cascade of mispronunciations collected in this Daily Show segment is by someone who's apparently seen that version and avoided the tongue-twistiness of it by pronouncing it as three separate words. No; that can't be right.

"BOOT-edge-edge" doesn't even parse very well. If that's it, then why is the first "edge" spelled "ig" and the second one spelled "ieg"? That's very puzzling.

But in fact that's not it. Wikipedia offers "BUU-deh-jij", which not only makes a lot more sense in terms of spelling (now the last syllable is spelled "gieg"; OK, that kind of works), and it flows more easily off the tongue, it is - from the same Daily Show segment - much closer to the way Buttigieg pronounces it himself.

Interestingly, to me at any rate, I've actually been to South Bend since Pete took office as Mayor - twice, in fact, once with snow and once without. It struck me as a modestly nice place. Here's what I wrote about it:

South Bend, although a noted university seat, comes up short in the bookstore department. ... Besides Notre Dame, South Bend appears to be notable for two things: it's where Studebaker autos came from, and it makes chocolate. Chocolate being more portable than universities or obsolete cars, of course I brought some home.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

in the political arena

The slow job of transitioning our city from at-large to district council elections continues. I'd already been to a session designed to inform citizens about the issues; now we're in a stage of holding workshops to solicit citizen input on some of the major issues involved.

I went to the first workshop 3 weeks ago, in a large room at the community center. Each participant was randomly assigned to a round table for discussion, so there were 4-5 of us per each of 7 tables, plus each had a facilitator from the consulting firm the city has hired. My table had, besides me, one woman from the bitter anti-politics faction I'm well familiar with from neighborhood politics, but not so bitter that she couldn't be negotiated with; one Hispanic guy from the other end of town; and one white guy who claimed to have nothing to say but actually offered some cogent comments.

I actually found our discussion useful. Our first question concerned the mayor. By our charter, this person is chosen by council from among its members, chairs council meetings and serves as city spokesperson, but has no other executive function ("weak-mayor system" is the customary term). Our question was, if council goes to districts, should the mayor, who represents the city as a whole, be elected separately at large? I came in not knowing what I thought, but we concluded that having the mayor voted on by everybody was outweighed by the at-large seat being contrary to the spirit of district elections. Anti-politics woman said it'd make the seat more susceptible to influence from real-estate developers, which is what the anti-politics people always say, but I proposed the more general language of the previous sentence and she accepted that. It was at this point that she suggested I speak for the table when we gave our reports at the end of the session.

Second question: on what basis - besides equality of population, of course - should district lines be drawn? A number of criteria were listed, but we found that all our ideas fell under the category labeled "community of interest". School districts, neighborhood associations. Council districts are being proposed to increase ethnic diversity on council, but one problem is that there aren't any real geographic concentrations of ethnicities here. There is one neighborhood that's heavily (though not overwhelmingly) Hispanic; in another form of division, there's a part of town full of mobile home parks. All we could do about those is say that they should be the centers of districts, not divided between them.

At the end the table spokespeople all stood up and went to the microphone to deliver brief reports. (This was videotaped, and was supposed to be put up on the election website. I've been waiting for it to appear before posting about this, but it's been 3 weeks and I still don't see it there.) Most though not all of us were in agreement. I hobbled slowly over, not realizing until the next morning that the cause of my difficulty walking was not my usual leg problems but a small cat toy stuck in the toe of my shoe.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Hobbit deconstruction

I watched most of the first episode of Lindsay Ellis's Hugo-nominated film critique "Hobbit Duology" (which is actually in three parts), but stopped there, because although my sympathy for a harsh criticism of Peter Jackson's Hobbit movies is vastly extensive, my tolerance for listening to one is severely limited.

I don't disagree with much that she says about the Hobbit films, except in the brief section where she finds aspects to praise. She likes the change of making Bilbo being visible to Smaug, but that only increases the intensity of the question of why or how Smaug fails to incinerate the entire company, about which Ellis complains vociferously later. She likes the joke about the dwarves disliking eating Elvish greenery. Jokes about Elvish cuisine originated with Bored of the Rings. Turning Tolkien's story into slapstick is merely one of Jackson's lesser persistent flaws. I think she's dead wrong that The Hobbit should have been two 2-hour movies; one 3-hour would have been more than enough.

Much of what Ellis says about Tolkien is inaccurate, but rarely significantly so. For instance, most of the changes in the text of The Hobbit, aside from the rewriting of "Riddles in the Dark," date from 1965-66, not 1951 as she says, and again aside from that they are very minor; but that doesn't matter. Contrary to her claim, Bard does appear in the story before he shows up to kill the dragon, but that doesn't matter because she's right that he could use more development, at least in a version of the story that's not about Bilbo. She seems extraordinarily irritated by the insertion of the White Council's attack on the Necromancer, considering that she acknowledges that the movies have to tie themselves to The Lord of the Rings as the book did not. It's true that the Necromancer's only function in Tolkien's story is to get Gandalf offstage, but it isn't true as she says that he wasn't then identified with Sauron. Even when writing The Hobbit, Tolkien was certain that the Necromancer was the same as the character from the Silmarillion then usually called Thû. But again, that's not very important. References to the Silmarillion in The Hobbit were private hints to himself, as his children hadn't then read the Silmarillion.

What I do disagree with Ellis with is her comparisons with The Fellowship of the Ring movie, which she holds up as a standard of virtue by contrast with The Hobbit series. And yes, the Lord of the Rings movies are not quite as extensively awful as the Hobbit ones, but they are bad in the same way. I've been struck by the number of people who, since the Hobbit movies were released, have approached me about my criticisms of the Lord of the Rings ones that I made at the time, and said, "Now I understand what you were complaining about."

In particular, Ellis claims that, while the Hobbit movies added much extraneous material that wasn't in the book, Fellowship added very little. What is she talking about? True, there's more of the actual book in it; but by the standards of the list she provides for The Hobbit, the list of superfluous additions in Fellowship is just as long. She calls it "tight and streamlined," which is ludicrous for a movie which adds a bad fan-fiction story of Pippin and Merry at the Party; which undercuts Tolkien's steadily increasing spookiness of the Black Riders by having them chasing the heroes at top speed from the start; by making the Watcher in the Water wave Frodo around in the air a while; by inserting a completely pointless fall of another bridge just before the encounter with the Balrog; and much more that I've probably mercifully forgotten.

Even Ellis's specific praises of Fellowship reveal its flaws. She likes that the movie folded Glorfindel in to Arwen, and I agree that makes sense for a present-day movie's purposes. But she says that each character "rescues Frodo," and that phrasing reveals that she hasn't noticed how Jackson changed Tolkien. Arwen in the movie does rescue Frodo: she rides the horse, she confronts the Riders in the stream. Frodo is just an inert lump in her saddlebag. But Glorfindel in the book does not. He puts Frodo on his horse, but Frodo rides the horse, Frodo speaks the lines of defiance against the Riders. Tolkien's Frodo is the hero of his own story; Jackson's has his agency stripped from him, and becomes luggage for other characters to haul around. This is not the only case of that, and it's parallel to the way Bilbo is shunted off to the side of the Hobbit movies, which is one of Ellis's main complaints.

Ellis thinks Jackson's Boromir is actually an improvement on Tolkien's. Well, sure he is. Boromir's error is that he thinks he's the hero of a different kind of story than the one Tolkien wrote. Tolkien has trouble because he isn't at home with that other kind of story, the sword-and-sorcery thud-and-blunder adventure. Jackson succeeds with Boromir, better than with any other character, because Boromir is the only character in the story that Jackson understands.

Ellis admits that her love for the Lord of the Rings movies may be due to her having been young and impressionable at the time they came out, and I'm sure that's so; but she uses them in her critique as if they're objectively good, and that's not so. They're just not quite as bad.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

on geography

B. will be driving off soon to a several-day workshop in a town a couple hours drive from here, which is considerably outside our regular traveling orbit. (I've been to the area a few times.) As I am geographically enabled, while she is not, I wrote out detailed step-by-step driving directions to the specific locales to which she's traveling.

Looking over and marking up these directions, she asked me, "Do you memorize directions to where you're going?"

I said: "No. I keep a little map in my head and I navigate off of that. Directions of the kind I gave you I don't find very helpful. If someone gives them to me, I look them up on a map and memorize the map. But I know that a lot of people prefer written directions, so I'm happy to provide those if that's what they want."

And that's what it means to be a spatially-oriented person.

Friday, April 5, 2019

theatrical review: Shakespeare, mashed up and sent up

Silicon Valley Shakespeare, which normally puts on its plays during the summer in an insect-infested amphitheater up in the mountains, did something different, in a small pre-fab hut in a city park that some other local company has set up as a 70-seat indoor playhouse.

The topic was "Greatest Hits from the 48-Hour Play Festival," and I gather that the rule of these festivals is that a general premise is chosen, and the playwrights and actors have 48 hours to write and perform a short play taking off from Shakespeare using that premise. This greatest hits included two plays from each of four premises. All the concepts were good, but whether the play worked depended on the quality of the writing, which varied greatly. The acting was mostly good, lively without being anxious, though a few of the actors were having trouble remembering their lines. This was the first of three performances.

The offerings were:

1. Epilogues to Shakespeare plays. (In both of these, all the characters were dead.)
A. Most of the characters from Hamlet work out their problems with each other in purgatory. Hamlet Sr. is pleased that his murder was avenged, but not at the number of other people Hamlet Jr. managed to off, directly or indirectly, in the process.
B. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (more Tom Stoppard's than Shakespeare's) meet Richard III. He didn't seem at all like Shakespeare's character either, and I found most of the dialogue in this one merely incomprehensible.

2. Mash-ups of two Shakespeare plays. (Apparently 1B above didn't count.)
A. Lysander and Hermia have a marriage counseling session with Dr. Hamlet (Ph.D., Wittenberg). This was the funniest play of the set, due to the vast number of Hamlet's famous lines aptly salted in to the dialogue, revealing him prejudiced in favor of Lysander ("See, what a grace is seated on this brow") and against Hermia ("O most pernicious woman").
B. Viola and Friar Laurence pour out their troubles to a bartender (who turns out to be Shakespeare himself), who gives them lousy advice.

3. Shakespeare and cyber-technology.
A. Romeo and Juliet friend each other on Facebook the morning after the party. With both on stage at once reacting to each other's postings, and Mercutio and the Nurse along to kibitz, this was hilarious, and would doubtless seem even funnier if I knew anything about Bookface, as the Nurse keeps calling it.
B. Viola rescues Sebastian's Samsung Galaxy from the shipwreck, but the main point of this one is to short-circuit the play's plot and have Viola and Orsino acknowledge their love in a jiffy.

4. Shakespeare and sports.
A. King Lear rewritten as the retirement of a baseball manager. This was not improved by trying to stuff the entire plot of the play on a weak premise, though Lear's speech in the storm scene with baseball references added ("Blow, winds! Crack, bats!") was pretty funny.
B. All the characters in Hamlet place bets with a bartender (who again turns out to be Shakespeare himself) on a curling match between Hamlet's team and Claudius's. The bartender keeps making curling jokes which the other characters don't get, and I didn't get them either, because I didn't even know what curling is. (OK, I looked it up on Wikipedia when I got home.) From the brief part of the match that slips onstage, the game appears to be played with broomsticks and a Roomba.

With two genuinely funny plays and four more that were OK, this was almost worth the trouble of sitting through nearly two hours of. Highest marks in playwriting, then, to Doll Piccotto for Hamlet, marriage counselor, and to Melissa Jones for Romeo + Juliet + Facebook.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

an unusual concert

A percussion quartet, at Herbst. Third Coast Percussion, it's called. All of the ten pieces played are recent compositions, some of them by members of the ensemble. Most were for, or largely for, marimbas and/or other tuned mallet instruments, and were largely soft, gentle, and peaceful, even the one titled "Death Wish." One piece (by Augusta Read Thomas) was for a set of tuned Tibetan prayer bowls: that was very peaceful.

The only one that used much conventional orchestral untuned percussion - wooden blocks, snare drums, tambourine, that sort of thing - was the newly commissioned piece by the senior composer of the bunch, Philip Glass. Titled "Perpetulum," it only sounds like typical Glass in a few eruptions of Glass-like themes from those tuned mallet instruments. It wasn't otherwise at all minimalist; the only one that did sound at all minimalist was by an English pop musician named Devonté Hynes.

The one piece I'd heard before was Mark Applebaum's Aphasia, which is for pre-recorded soundtrack (mostly electronically-processed vocal sounds) to which the musicians silently mime. I thought it was funnier and more imaginative the previous time.

A few of the quieter pieces were enhanced with ambient sounds from outside the hall (which is in a building also used for other purposes) or, from inside the hall, the same stentorian snoring from audience right that also enriched the string quartet concert on Monday. Either wake up, or do your sleeping somewhere else.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

two concerts

Sunday I went to the Australian Chamber Orchestra at Bing. I had been thinking of taking this in anyway, and then my editor asked if I'd like to review it. Sure, I said.

Monday, up to Herbst for the Elias Quartet. Like the ACO, this was a softer and more gentle group than the last time I heard them. Their Schumann 41/1 was light-textured and shining, and so was much of their Britten Second, gnarly though that piece often is. And again, as with ACO pulling out a firmer and grittier sound for their new piece, so did Elias for a new quartet by Sally Beamish. This was inspired by the Schumann, in the sense that Beamish bases each of her numerous short movements on a tiny fragment taken from the Schumann piece. It helps to have the Schumann immediately in your ear when listening to this (in the playbill, they were going to play the Beamish first, which would have been odd), but it's listenable to on its own. Eclectic, but not totally disjointed. For an encore, this proper British ensemble played a Scottish folk waltz with an intriguing air of American bluegrass to it. I suppose that's where that originally comes from.

women here today

I'd just like to point out, regarding this year's Hugo nominations, that 80% of the finalists in the five Hugo prose fiction categories are by women. Eighty per cent. I think that's a new high.

Even in the Retro Hugos, covering a much more male-centric time in SF authorship, counting co-authored stories as half a story for each author, 23% are by women, which would have been a very respectable percentage in the regular Hugos almost any time before 2010.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Vonda N. McIntyre

died today.

The obituaries have a lot, not just about her great fiction - Dreamsnake remains a classic, and don't miss The Moon and the Sun, and much more - but on how much of a pillar of the sf community she was.

In particular, as its webmaster. Among other things, she got her close friend (and sometime collaborator) Ursula K. Le Guin online. That led to many good things, including UKL's last essay collection. Vonda even gave me a lot of helpful and patient advice on layout and design when I was setting up my personal website. Her goal, too, was to help me figure out what worked for me that was aesthetically well-designed, not to push me into a standard template.

And I wasn't even a particular friend of hers, just a long-time casual acquaintance. She was most generous with everybody she knew. A real treasure.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

present to myself

Ursula K. Le Guin, Always Coming Home: Author's Expanded Edition, ed. Brian Attebery. Library of America, 2019, hc, 826 pp., ISBN 978-1-59853-603-4; $35.00.

When Le Guin's Always Coming Home was first published, I reviewed it as "her masterpiece to date ... it rivets the imagination like no other secondary world since Middle-earth itself ... [it depicts] a joyous, happy, mature society without the didacticism, sappiness, or artificial perfection of a utopia."

I still consider it her masterpiece, and her magnum opus, which is why I was so delighted to find that the fourth volume of Le Guin in the honored and authoritative Library of America series, after sets of the Orsinian and Hainish stories, is this one. It is likely to remain the definitive edition of this great work.

First, there is the original text of the book, in all its complex, varied, and extensive form. It's meticulously proofread – one spot where I was sure I spotted a typo turned out to be a correction from the first printing – and clearly presented. Neither the pagination nor all the features of the layout of the original are preserved, but all the words are there (except the publisher's blurb), and all of the maps and Margaret Chodos-Irvine's illustrations are there, in pretty much the same place as typography permits. The recorded music and poetry are not there, but they may be ordered separately as CD or download, and information for doing that is given.* The major change from the original text is that the endnotes after some individual items have been converted to footnotes: placed at the bottom of the relevant page and marked with asterisks. This strikes me as a superior presentation.

There is, however, more. Le Guin preserved and later revised about 40 pages of additional Kesh material: poems, mostly from the women's Blood Lodge; some material on Kesh syntax which will please the linguists; and what from its billing appears to be the addition Le Guin was most asked for by readers: the "complete novel" Dangerous People, the Kesh novel of which chapter 2 appears in the original book.

Well, it isn't a complete text. Dangerous People is described in ACH itself as a "long novel," but turns out to be only three chapters, of which chapter 3 is fragmentary, having been "damaged in transit" from the Kesh. However, chapter 1 at least is well worth careful study. Read after chapter 2 it bears some quietly-presented but astonishing revelations which deepen the reader's appreciation of chapter 2 considerably. So do innumerable footnotes, to both the old and new material, which explain Kesh customs the reader otherwise picks up only by osmosis or here and there in the book's bits of expository material.

But there’s more than that. Editor Attebery has included other writings by Le Guin related to ACH. These include "May’s Lion," a sketch for a short story reimagining a real-life incident from the primary-world valley involving an old woman and a wayward mountain lion into a tale of the Kesh; and several essays discussing Le Guin's approach to fictional creativity and her relationships both with the California landscape and the Native peoples who inspired this story. Most of this material previously appeared in collections issued during Le Guin's lifetime.

But three items did not, and it's their presence here which most pleases me. For all three derived from the 1988 Mythopoeic Conference at which Le Guin (and Attebery, too) were Guests of Honor, and up until now all three have only been seen in the pages of Mythlore, the Mythopoeic Society's journal. To have them available in this definitive edition pleases me utterly, especially given my role in midwifing them all into existence. For I was the chair of that Mythcon, I chose the Guests of Honor and the ACH-related theme, and thus commissioned Le Guin for her GoH speech, "Legends for a New Land," which outlines her motivations and goals behind the book far more explicitly than she wrote elsewhere.

Then there is the panel transcript, "The Making of Always Coming Home," featuring all four of the people on the original title page: author, artist, composer, and geomancer (to find out what that word means, read the transcript). I feel particularly proud of this detailed explanation of how the book was put together. I conceived the panel, arranged for all four of the participants to be on it, made the tape recording, transcribed it, sent it to the panelists for corrections, and finally submitted it to Mythlore where it appeared in issue 65. I had also asked some of the questions which kept the panel going: the first questions on each of pp. 762, 764, and 769 were all me.

Lastly and most preciously, there's the endpaper illustration by Patrick H. Wynne, "The Valley of the Na, looking south near Kastóha-na." The credits don't say this, but this was the headpiece to the publication of Le Guin's speech in Mythlore 56. And in neither place is the origin of this illustration explained. After Mythcon, I arranged for and conducted a van tour of the Napa Valley with an eye towards the places significant in Le Guin's fictionalized Valley of the Na, whose locations I had determined from the author’s maps. On Highway 29, going up into the mountains above Calistoga (site of Kastóha-na in the book), we stopped at a foothill turnout that overlooked the valley. A photograph of the scenescape taken at that stop formed the inspiration and basis for Pat's gorgeous illustration.

And now all Le Guin devotees, not just those who know about Mythlore, may see and appreciate all these things in this most magnificent and worthy volume.

*The CD is supposed to include a copy of Le Guin's original liner notes and lyrics, but the copy I ordered did not. Fortunately I still had two copies of the original cassette, so I transferred one copy of the sheet over to the CD sleeve.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

news of web and cats

On top of everything, my personal website was on the fritz. I noticed this before I went to New York; all the host gave was an announcement of a migration. When I came back I found nothing at all. (Nothing wrong with my e-mail, which comes from the same host; just webspace.) Then followed long conversations with the kind of tech reps you expect: their names are Anglo, but their accents say they're from India. I was told that migration had been delayed, but I could be escalated, and I'd get an e-mail in a couple days when it was up. First I got the e-mail but the website wasn't up. Then, several days later, I didn't get another e-mail but the website was up.

Well, most of it. My reviews listing, which would be rather helpful vita material if I were looking for a job, wasn't there. And I needed to update it today anyway, with this review of the Peninsula Symphony. Then I found the FTP [file transfer protocol] isn't working, so I can't update the file. And the host's team that deals with that is closed on weekends. So, let's wait.

I also should try to figure out how to get the web site to reappear on a Google search for my name, from which it's entirely vanished.

Meantime, there's much cat activity at home. Tybalt is a bold little boy, and will jump up on the kitchen counter to lick spills off the stove or dirty dishes in the sink. Now Maia is doing that too. She never used to. But apparently she figures if it's OK for him to do it, she can do it too. The problem is that no, it's not OK for either of them to do it, and they know that, because they jump off guiltily when they see us coming. But there's a reason that the word is "copycat".

However, Tybalt is quite the little charmer at playtime. He makes tiny inquisitive mews (yes, with a rising inflection) when he wants to play, and squiggles around. He carries his plush toys (plus the strings and poles they dangle from) around the house to stashes in different rooms, and I have to hope one of the stashes is around when he wants to play. Sometimes he plays on top of the bed, and will dash right off the edge, or even fall off while squiggling.

Occasionally he is the self-playing cat. Watching him skillfully bat around a small plastic ball on the kitchen floor yesterday, with the finesse of a good soccer player, I thought about making this inquiry of the soccer association: although human players are in most play situations not allowed to touch the ball with their arms, if you're a four-legged player, do your front legs count as legs?