Saturday, September 30, 2017

hush, and restless

The same medical issue that put paid to B.'s singing career is now, it turns out, being exacerbated even by her talking, and she's been prescribed complete vocal silence. For three months.

Like Buffy in a similar situation, albeit a different cause, she's gone out and bought a dry erase board, and that, plus a lot of notepads, a computer display, and some gesturing are enabling her to communicate. But you may see her even less than usual at social events for a while.

The hope is that, with sufficient rest, she might even be able to sing again, and nobody could be against that except the viola lobby.

Meanwhile, I went out with two items on my agenda. First, lunch with my stepmother, visiting from Wales on a long-delayed trip that had not been possible while my father was still alive but unwell, and which she's describing as probably her farewell trip to California. So that affects the agenda on future trips I take to the UK.

And to buy my pocket calendar/address book for next year from the little stationers' with the best selection. Only to discover that the manufacturer has discontinued the model that I buy. That I have been buying annually for over forty years. Some loyalty to their customers they have. I searched long and hard for an adequate substitute among the other varieties, considering switching from a month-at-a-glance to a week-at-a-glance, or to an otherwise adequate one that's too big to fit in my pocket, and wound up taking one whose most serious deficiency is that the spaces for weekend days are half the size of the others. Since most of my appointments are on weekends, that's a burden, but I think I can live with it, especially as it also has a notepad which I can use for the miscellaneous notes with which I am increasingly inclined to festoon the calendar.


Friday, September 29, 2017

English suites no. 4

We've had suites for strings, how about one for winds? This is Vaughan Williams' Suite for Pipes. He evidently meant a quartet of home-made bamboo flutes, but it's usually played on recorders, here by the late David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London, who were always up for later music if early instruments could play it.

There's four movements, rather loosely titled Intrada (0.01), Minuet (3.10), Valse (6.13), and Jig (9.02).

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

My first concert of the new season, and my change to regularly going on Thursdays because they're no longer playing on Wednesdays.

I go all the way to the City to hear things like MTT leading the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique like he did last night. Pure clarity in the blocky orchestration, huge thrumbing rhythmic drive in the bass, cool smooth lyricism without heaving in tempo or dynamics which Berlioz does not call for, weird dying falls in the cut-off notes at the beginning of the finale.

Fine performance, though the most interesting thing was the pre-concert lecturer giving evidence that Berlioz, who idealized Beethoven, modeled the "March to the Scaffold" as a negative image, a kind of emotional inversion, of the finale of Beethoven's Fifth, and the "Witches' Sabbath" similarly on the "Ode to Joy." There's a moment in the "Ode to Joy" where a fugato leads to a triumphal reappearance of the main theme; in the "Witches' Sabbath" a fugato leads to a dark triumphal spouting of the "Dies Irae". That sort of thing.

Also on the program, Jeremy Denk doing an unvarying mumble through the solo part of Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 2. The orchestra did well, but that didn't help much.

Monday, September 25, 2017

English suites no. 3

I'd started with Gustav Holst, so one's thoughts then turn to his close friend and colleague Ralph Vaughan Williams. VW is, to my ear, the greatest of all 20C British composers, but he wasn't as keen on the suite as a form as Holst was.

He did write a few, though, and a highly characteristic one is the Charterhouse Suite for strings. This has an unusual origin. VW wrote it for piano, an instrument he was not often drawn to. It was arranged for strings by another hand, but it still sounds a lot like VW, in part because the arranger was good, he worked under VW's supervision, and also because much of the music is modal, typical of his work.

The six movements are Prelude (0.01), Slow dance (1.44), Quick dance (3.40), Slow air (5.57), Rondo (9.40), and Pezzo ostinato (11.43). Enjoy the attractive views of the English countryside on the visual side of this file, too. Since RVW was pre-eminently the composer who caught the spirit of the land ("cowpat music," those who didn't like it called it), that's appropriate.

old movies

I came across a list I once made of movies that had been nominated for major Oscars (picture, acting, directing, writing), which seemed to be the best way to manipulate Oscar statistics to most closely approximate a list of notable movies.

I'd also noted which ones I'd seen, and have been filling in gaps of time by watching (from YouTube, which has a lot) some famous early 50s movies I'd never seen before. 3 1/2 of them, and they are:

Sunset Boulevard. The real winner of the bunch. The gothic atmosphere, and outstandingly vivid performances by leads Gloria Swanson (Norma) and William Holden (Joe) - Swanson is playing a grotesque caricature of herself, and why did she agree to do it? - made for an engrossing movie. This despite holes in the plot. When did the swimming pool, which plays such an important part in the story, get cleaned and filled up? It was empty and had rats living in it when Joe arrived at Norma's mansion. This relates to a general inconsistency as to whether Norma is keeping glamorous and up to date - her clothes are - or is a crazy cat lady recluse. Also, Joe is one of those characters so common in old movies who keep abruptly and inexplicably changing their minds. He dumps the (rather insipid) Betty by declaring his satisfaction with being kept by Norma, and then immediately turns around and leaves Norma, saying he's going back to Ohio, the one option he'd ruled out earlier as it would be an admission of failure in Hollywood. WTF does he want? Is he self-destructive? If so, he gets what he wanted.

All About Eve. Another movie about actors, and also so negative I'm astonished they could get any actors to perform it. Bette Davis (Margo) and Gary Merrill (Bill) got married in real life as their characters do in the movie, and a few years later had the same messy divorce that you can see Margo and Bill headed for. The movie seems pretty well performed, but perhaps it's flat writing that made it less interesting than Sunset Blvd. At a party, Margo is being pissy, and her friends say they've seen her like this before; is she getting over it or getting into it? She walks away and then turns around and delivers one of the most famous lines in film history: "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night." But it isn't, not really. And if I started discussing Eve, I'd be here all day, so let's drop it. I should just add that there's a minor, and apparently unnecessary, ingenue character played by a then-unknown washed-out blonde named Marilyn Monroe. I wouldn't have predicted much of a career for her.

High Noon. I recognize that this is an Important Political Message flick, but it's not really a very good movie. The Big Bad is coming to town on the noon train, and marshal Gary Cooper spends a tedious hour wandering around town trying to find deputies to help him fight the guy, but everybody chickens out and he has to face him down by himself. That's it; that's the whole movie. There's a huge lack of context: who is this Quaker woman Coop has just married, and why did they hitch up? If he's so sure the Big Bad is going to be trouble, why can't he do anything about the 3 henchmen hanging around the train station? (And talk about scenes that ought to be suspenseful but aren't: wow.) And even if Big Bad is sure to shoot Coop if he sees him, if Coop skips town - which everyone is expecting him to do - what will Big Bad do then? As far as I can tell from what the townsfolk say, his evil plan is to liven up the saloon and bring more customers to the hotel.

Father of the Bride. I think maybe I should just avoid old comedies. This one was too painfully bad and unfunny to watch.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

a memorial for Jordin Kare

This was held yesterday afternoon, at Jordin's sister's house in the Presidio Heights of San Francisco, a neighborhood so pleasant it actually had available street parking.

A fair but not overwhelming crowd appeared, of SF fans, filkers, and scientist-engineers, all of which Jordin was. Many were people B. and I knew, though some I had not seen for many years.

Like other such gatherings I've attended, it featured people taking turns to offer reminiscences and tributes, but unlike some it did not last interminably. The tributes lasted no more than an hour and a half, after which we milled and ate from the table spread. B. and I were able to make our rounds and then leave early enough to get home for dinner, which made things easier for us and also for the cats.

The first speaker was a scientific colleague who spoke of Jordin's energy and prolificity as marked by his hundreds of patents with hundreds more still pending (it's a slow process), by the end of which he will be one of the few, all very recent, who have surpassed Thomas Edison's record for greatest number.

When it was my turn, I spoke of much that I said in my memorial post, emphasizing how in organizing The Westerfilk Collection and encouraging his colleagues, including myself, to do our best and hardest work, he was displaying the same leadership skills he'd later apply to building rockets and designing laser propulsion.

Of course we also spoke of Jordin's quick wit. My favorite story of the day came from a SF con panel at which one had described his experiment in which rats were taught to run a maze; but by giving them an electric shock afterwards they forgot it all and had to re-learn from scratch the next day. Jordin immediately spoke up.

"So you pulled a habit out of a rat," he said.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

English suites no. 2

This is here to show that Gustav Holst could also write music that doesn't sound hearty-English. Many European composers have written "tourist music," assimilations of flavors from elsewhere in the world to the European idiom, inspired either by visits or sometimes just by a score collection of music from that country.

Holst really did visit Algiers; the Beni Mora Suite is his report on North African music, and my favorite of his out-of-the-regular-order music. An exotic and hypnotic piece, especially in its third and final movement, beginning at 10:24, which repeats a tuneless phrase that Holst heard a bamboo flute player perform nonstop for two hours. (Here it lasts less than 7 minutes.)

(Some critics have called this movement "proto-minimalism," proving only that they don't have the slightest idea what minimalism is.)

notes

1. Another commitment today means I can't attend the Redwood Symphony's opening concert tonight, despite my interest and the pleas both of my editors and its conductor to have me there reviewing it, so I substituted by using it as the kick-off for a round-up of the local classical concert season. Word-count restrictions meant I had to stuff the professional chamber music societies at the end (and I even left out entirely the one that plays in a dreadful hall).

2. Cat report: Maia has a particular sound, a rising trilled purr, which means "Please resume scritching my head." Every time I took even the briefest pause from this arduous duty, she'd utter this. Petting sessions customarily last about ten minutes (until she jumps down from the bed), twice a day after meals. You can count on it. Pippin, meanwhile, is still thinking outside of the box, to the pleasure only of the accountants in the paper towel industry.

3. If Jimmy Kimmel knows more about health care than a passel of Republican Senators, which sadly he does, then it's no surprise that John Cleese knows more about political analysis than a passel of reporters. In this interview he points out something that's puzzled me. Every time I see an article purporting to explain why Trump won so many working-class votes, the article goes into great detail about economic suffering, particularly in rural areas, but never - not once - do they go on and address the question that this is the first time I've seen put in print. In Cleese's words, "why on Earth did the less successful people think Trump was going to do anything he said he was going to do to help them?"

4. I'm not happy with having a "president" implying threats of nuclear war against another country, are you? I suspect the rest of the world isn't thrilled either. And as long as it's still limited to trading verbal personal insults, I have to say that the other, non-English-speaking, party has a more virtuosic command of English-language insults than our English-speaking one has.

5. Anybody re-watched the video of "Despacito" since the hurricanes hit Puerto Rico? Wondering whether anything in the outdoor scenes is still standing? That'd make a great hook for a feature article, but I haven't seen anything of the sort.

6. I was not tremendously thrilled by my experience having an evening out at a comedy club in LA, but it wasn't a bad experience, and lordy lordy was it nowhere near as awful as this.

7. Another thing I did in LA was return to the Richard Nixon Presidential Museum. I'd been there once when it was a private entity, and I awed at its description of Watergate as a conspiracy organized by John Dean and Sam Ervin to overthrow Nixon. I wanted to see how it's changed now that the museum is federally-owned. The contents have been entirely revamped, and the Watergate display is a detailed timeline of impressive veracity, but other parts of the museum are more slanted (there's an implication that South Vietnam fell only because Congress failed to appropriate enough money to support it after the US pulled out), and the only books on Watergate in the gift shop are more conspiracy theory nut jobs.

8. Teenagers who don't drink, drive, or date. Note that this is only a trend. "The portion of high school students who’d had sex fell from 54 percent in 1991 to 41 percent in 2015." Still a lot on both sides at both dates. Apparently the reason they haven't learned to drive is that the only reasons they see to drive are to get you to places where you can drink or date. Well, even back in my day I didn't drink nor date in high school, but I did drive, because it was the only way to get anywhere in the trackless suburbs, even to go shopping. And my parents were thrilled to have me available to drive my little brothers to their lessons et al so that they didn't have to do it; they encouraged me to get my license at the first available opportunity. The newer law prohibiting under-18s from driving other minors without an adult present would not have pleased my parents. And maybe that's a reason for the difference.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

English suites no. 1

This has been Gustav Holst's birthday, as the radio announcer kindly informed me, so it's as good a time as any to use a Holst work to launch a musical project I've been mulling for some time, which is a series of pleasant, mostly modern, suites, first by English composers and then branching out.

This is probably the best-known one I'll be presenting in the entire series, Holst's St. Paul's Suite. It's played by a student orchestra from Poland, which might account for the unusual sonority. The players are all female, appropriately, as Holst wrote the work for the students of the St. Paul's Girls' School, where he taught music for many years.

Like many of the suites to come, it's in four movements vaguely replicating sonata form, and the finale, as with many of Holst's best works, incorporates a sturdy old English folk tune.

oh Hillary

In the airport, waiting for my flight out, I wandered into the bookstore to see what there was to read, and saw the newly-released Hillary Clinton memoir, What Happened (this was last Thursday, and the official publication had been that Tuesday).

Excellent. This was my chance to register my vote against those who had been declaring that she should keep silent and disappear. So I bought a copy, and read it on the trip. Now B. has it.

Anyone who says that the author blames everyone but herself hasn't read the book. She takes on a full measure of responsibility and owns up to some specific mistakes, as well as to some decisions that might have been mistakes or not (like not calling out Trump when he stalked her onstage), because who knows how it would have come out if she'd done differently?

But, you know, 'it takes a village' and Comey and the feckless media deserve their share of blame too. (And if defeating Trump should have been a slam dunk, then why couldn't Jeb, Mario, Ted, or any of the rest of that gang do it? Especially after all the pleadings to suspend the rules and do it?) In fact, the only people whom Clinton doesn't blame at all are her staffers.

Which points to the problem with the book, which is that, while Clinton may be willing to own up to having committed faults, I don't think she really understands what they are. Too much of her defense consists of demonstrating that she tried hard, as if that amounted to doing a good job (the "A for effort as a final grade" fallacy). Nor does she seem to be able to think of appropriate sound bites to respond to attacks. She was flustered by the quoting out of context of the "putting coal miners out of work" line, so why didn't she respond by putting it back in context by simply repeating the next line of the original speech, which amounted to therefore we must take care of these people?

Like the policy wonk she is, Clinton spends a lot of the book diving into specifics of proposals, which is fine; but, like Obama too often, she lacks aspiration, stars to steer by, goals that may be unreachable but that at least you aim for. That's what gives people hope, and gives them the energy to work for the lesser, practical goals that are actually achievable. Bernie Sanders understands this, and that's what generated enthusiasm. Electing a woman shatters a barrier but isn't a substitute for this.

There'll be plenty of time to move on to the next thing. But as historians, we need to understand where we've been and how we got there. This is a start.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

why

You travel hundreds of miles to attend the memorial service of someone you hardly ever met because of your love and affection for the mourners in their family, whom you do know well. That's why it's more than worth the trip.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

concert review: Pacific Symphony

I'd known that Orange County had its own professional orchestra, but up until now almost nothing about it. But opportunity arose, so I found my way to the office park between Santa Ana and Costa Mesa where lies the Segerstrom Concert Hall. It's right next door to another venue also called Segerstrom Hall, which had on a stage play. It would be futile to suggest that this is confusing.

The hall is small, shaped more like a hatbox than a shoebox, and has bright beefy acoustics. This was ideal for displaying the orchestra, led by longtime music director Carl St. Clair, in the Farewell and Magic Fire Music chunk from Wagner's Die Walk├╝re, completely riding over even the immensely powerful and profoundly deep voice of experienced Wotan Greer Grimsley. (Grimsley looks rather like Patrick Stewart with a full head of long hair, and sounds not unlike him too.)

This acoustic quality would be highly exposing of performing flaws, but there really weren't any. St. Clair gave an urgent searching quality to Wagner, Strauss's Don Juan, and the anchor of the program, Beethoven's Fifth. An abrupt way with the fermatas on the opening theme reinforced that. The orchestra was tightly marshaled without being strained, and had a smooth sound with only the piccolo poking out on top.

There's a huge video display above the orchestra, though the hall is not so large as to need one. But this is LA, where nothing is real unless it appears on screen.

Pre-concert lecturer Alan Chapman noted the simple construction of Beethoven's famous opening motif, and said that "the genius of Beethoven (or Mozart) is to take something that simple and make something that complex from it." That's exactly right, and sums up what awed me about this work on my first encounter with it, an encounter which made me a permanent fan of the heavy classics.

In other good news, availed myself of proximity to have a long palaver with Sartorias in her lair.

In sad news, heard of the recent death of DavE Romm. Alas. I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.

going out

As for why I'm in LA, that will come later. But as long as I'm here, I decided to try out two iconic entertainment venues that I'd never been to before.

My reaction to the Hollywood Bowl was, "And now I don't ever have to come here again." Hearing that parking was dicey, I took a park-and-ride bus that delivered us to the front entrance. But words are insufficient to describe the battery of elevators, escalators, tunnels, and other passages, plus a metal detector, that it was still necessary to pass through, past an assortment of stands selling hot dogs and banh mi sandwiches, and picnic tables packed with people eating them, to head further uphill to the arena itself. It was an even longer and more arduous walk afterwards to where they parked the buses to leave, though at least that was downhill.

The arena itself is huge. I splurged on a plastic sports-stadium seat, instead of the wooden benches. I think I was a quarter mile from the stage, and yet still less than halfway up the seating area. There are large video screens by the side, and a tinny amplification system. This did not enhance an otherwise creditable all-Mozart program by the LA Phil. And the Bowl's clout does not extent to prohibiting aircraft from flying overhead during the concert. I would far rather have gone back to Disney Hall, if only the regular LA Phil season there had started yet.

The Comedy Store was a new experience for me. In my extreme youth (and I mean extreme) I saw live both Bill Cosby (in a theater) and Allan Sherman (in a hotel lounge). But I don't think I'd seen live comedy since then. I didn't know quite what it'd be like. The main room is a nightclub setup, with upright chairs and small cocktail tables. The doorwardens ask you how many are in your party, and escort you to seats they choose. I wound up sharing a table with two young women who conversed during the entire show. The performers' microphone was loud enough that I didn't have trouble hearing, but the distraction was still annoying. Fortunately we are long past the days when smoking was allowed in such places.

The show consisted of a series of 15 or 20 minute stand-up comedy sets, each ending by the performer abruptly announcing, "I gotta leave now" (did a red light go on at the back of the room?) but then having to stick around for the degrading job of introducing their successor, after asking the PA guy who it'd be. It started at 9 pm, and how long it lasted I don't know, because after about 2 hours people started to leave, enabling the performers to start making whining jokes about how few people were still there to hear them. I stayed for 3 hours and heard 10 or 12; I lost count. One black man, one white woman, the rest all white men. Lots of jokes about male-female relations, mostly rueful about the foibles of men. Most of the performers were in their 40s or older; the audience looked mostly under 40. This enabled a couple of the Gen-X types to make jokes about Millennials, rather hostile ones. One of the oldest performers made jokes about AA meetings, an underexplored and impressively productive topic for humor. The only performer I'd ever heard of was Yakov Smirnoff, though I gathered from the introductions that some are known for their podcasts or tweets; it's a new world. Most of the performers were pretty good, a couple decidedly not.

Tickets were actually a $20 cover charge; you're required to buy at least two drinks, but considering that this is a profit-making function, it wasn't too much a ripoff at $8 for a glass of wine or $4 for a Coke, which were my choices. Fortunately the servers were on the ball, because they take your credit card when you order your first drink and don't bring it back until you finish your last, which is alarming. They claim to offer vouchers for parking at a garage 3 blocks away (a long walk), but there was nobody at the exit to give me one when I left.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

eating like kings

You all remember this classic Far Side cartoon:

I think it was David Levine and Kate Yule who would remark, "They're eating like kings on the front porch" whenever a spider web had managed to cross their front walkway.

Well, a large spider visible at the center of its web managed to do the same thing at ours today, and that was a feat, because the nearest available fastening points, the walls surrounding our front and side patios, are some eight feet apart. The main web, an impressive structure on its own some two feet high, was near the side, and a pair of long but sturdy threads connected it over to the front wall.

It was with some regret that I cut those connecting threads prior to walking through, and the big spread-out web promptly curled up into a ball with the spider still in the middle of it. Better site planning next time?

Monday, September 11, 2017

a sign

1. The most interesting unintended point in my recent reading, apart from the scholarly treatise with a footnote on p. 307 reading "See p. 307" (this book is from the 1950s, so it's not a sign of the recent decline in copy-editing), came in a book titled Beatles '66: The Revolutionary Year by Steve Turner (HarperCollins, 2016). The idea of discussing just one year in the Beatles' career - this is the year in which they transformed from a mop-top touring pop band to mod-dressed studio artists recording "Strawberry Fields" and "Penny Lane" - is to give a closer focus on their lives than a broader coveraged book can do.

Anyway, the detail is extensive enough to discuss the theatrical acting career of Jane Asher, Paul McCartney's girlfriend. And there's an illustration in the form of a copy of the program from a play she appeared in. It's on p. 37 and it looks like this:

Did you notice - because Turner says nothing about it - a name of particular future moment on that cast list? And yes, I've checked, and that person was associated with this company, so that is the same one and not a namesake. I was tickled and perhaps you shall be.

2. Possibly in honor of the anniversary of 9/11, I watched World Trade Center, Oliver Stone's movie about the two cops who were pulled out alive from the wreckage after being found the next day. It's tasteful, it doesn't indulge in conspiracy theories, and it's detailed on what the cops had been doing that got them caught in the first collapse, but the rescue was simultaneously overdramatized and oversimplified, and I got more uneasy the more attention was spent on the wives and families. The movie doesn't try to hide that most people still missing the day after never came back, but to push these two gives the impression that the movie is saying they somehow deserved a happy ending more than others. I don't think that was intended, but that's how it comes across.

3. And today's weather featured a midwestern-style late afternoon thunderstorm, donner and blitzen fizzing out of a not entirely overcast sky without a drop in temperature or humidity, unlike the uniformly bleak vista from pole to pole and low temperatures that are normally required to get such action in California, and that normally only in late fall or winter. It's changing, all right.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Kingfisher, by Patricia A. McKillip

The topic for today's meeting of our Mythopoeic Society discussion group. As usual with a McKillip, I enjoyed reading this book, especially for passages like this one:
"Sorry, sirs," the driver announced upon consultation with his dash. "Both lanes are blocked up ahead for nearly a mile. They don't know how long before the road is cleared." He paused, listening again. "They're - ah - they're advising people to turn around, catch another road back in town that runs through the hills around the - ah, the - ah - problem."
He sounded oddly shaken. Leith asked, "What exactly is the problem?"
"Seems to be a mythological beast in the middle of the road, sir."
Or this one:
"You disgrace the name of King Arden." Somehow Leith and Val had pushed their way into the tightly crowded kitchen. "You disrupt people's lives and steal from them," Leith continued sharply. "You are not true knights, and no true god would accept your worship. You're nothing but marauding thieves."
"We are questing knights, Sir Leith," Prince Ingram protested. "You can't change facts by calling people names."
"You're trashing a restaurant kitchen. How proud would your father be of that?"
But don't think from these that this is a book that lives off the ironic contrast between a modern setting on one hand and medievalist and mythic content on the other. In fact they're strangely well integrated. This is a story set in a standard fantasy imaginary kingdom with monarchs and princes and wizards and lore and magic, with landscape modeled on the Oregon coast, that just also happens to have cars and cell phones and restaurants, lots and lots of restaurants. McKillip, who's always concentrated on the domestic arts in her stories, and has set plenty of previous books in inns or castle kitchens, also focuses this one on cookery and even more on dining.

But it's more than that. I began to realize what kind of book I was reading in chapter 3, when it dawned on me that the file of staff marching into the dining room of the all-you-can-eat seafood restaurant was actually a Grail Procession. This is a Grail quest Arthurian novel with different names, but it's not just a one-on-one encoding, as the characters are more complex than that, not everything fits neatly, there is (as one observed at the meeting) a considerable amount of The Faerie Queene mixed in also, and the characters are actually descendants of the original "Arthur" centuries ago.

Further, another informed us at the meeting that the villain's cookery appears to be a parody of a current high-end restaurant trend that I'd not heard of, called molecular gastronomy.

There's a lot to this book; the characters are lively and well-drawn even though quite a lot of them have to be crammed in to a relatively short space, and the main dispute - a scholastic/theological one - is never resolved, so maybe there'll be a sequel? I enjoyed reading this one.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

weather

So one epic-sized hurricane drowned much of east Texas, and another one is at this moment bearing down on Florida, with a third right behind it that may miss Florida but has already socked the small Caribbean islands that the previous one already got.

Closer to home, there's been huge wildfires around both LA and Portland.

What we had locally was merely an epic heat wave over Labor Day weekend, 109 F according to the high-school sign down the street. Occasionally over the summers it's gotten too hot to stay up on the upper floor of our townhouse over the days, but never before quite this extreme or this extended.

Then, after that was over, we had a power outage, which explains my general absence from online for a few days.

This isn't the "new normal." We're long past the tipping point (by over 20 years now, I'd guess), and have reached the stage where climate will probably continue to get measurably worse nearly every year. This article seems as accurate as anything I've read on what to expect.

I'm going to go on as I have been, because it's too late to do anything else. I keep thinking of editor Malcolm Edwards' only work of fiction, a short story called "After-Images." That was about nuclear war, but it illustrates the principle of what people do in a situation like this.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

in memory of Houston

I see some bloggers are memorializing the flooding of Houston, since it's not likely to fully recover for quite some time, with their own memories of the place. So why not: I've only been to Houston once, ten-and-a-half years ago (that long, really?), and here's what I wrote about it at the time:

I was so glad that Corflu was scheduled for February. The last time I'd visited Texas was in August, and the heat was memorable. I wasn't going to do that again. But as long as I was to be in Austin again, I wanted to see some more of Texas. On my one previous visit, I'd gone into the Hill Country, and though I would have been happy to return, I preferred to try somewhere else within driving distance where I'd never been before.

Houston. Houston sounded good, especially in February. That meant I would be going east, and I determined to go far enough east to find good Cajun food, which was said to leak over on to the Texas side of the Louisiana border. And I could visit the one tourist attraction that any red-blooded science-fiction fan would want to see in Houston, the NASA Space Center.

The more caustic tourist guides told me that the visitor center there had been turned into more of a NASA theme park, but I didn't find it all that bad. It's a large functional museum with such interesting material as a walk-through mockup of the space shuttle crew area, which is much smaller than you might expect. My only complaint, besides the appalling cafeteria, was that all the relics of past glories - one of the original Mercury capsules, the original Skylab mockup used for crew training, a moon rock display - are tucked into a dark back room with no sign telling you how to get there. A 90-minute shuttle trip took us onto the main campus, with stops at the original Mission Control (into which the original 1965 equipment - complete with dial phones - was reinstalled when the room was decommissioned a decade ago), the crew training facility (from a mezzanine catwalk we could look down onto the huge main floor filled with mockups of everything that currently flies, including pieces of the space shuttle in various different orientations), and one of the original spare Saturn V rockets, lying on its side in a shed built around it to protect it from the elements (with an excellent docent lecture on the rocket's function and role - not that any of this was new to me, but it was a pleasure to hear it well told).

I'd picked a motel on the edge of Houston for ease in getting around, which put me in the most desolate suburban sprawl imaginable. Within three blocks (though they were big blocks) of the motel were two different Chuck E Cheeses. I didn't eat there. On the day I ventured into central Houston I did find a genuine Cajun diner of the kind I'd seen in Louisiana. It's called Zydeco. At lunchtime you join a line of hungry businessfolk stretching out the door. The line moves quickly and you pass a menu board that does not do justice to the variety of unidentifiably brown things in the steam table trays. On reaching the server, shout over the noise at him the same unintelligible syllables that the guy before you said. This will get you a bowl of what looks like watery mud. As you sit down at one of the cafeteria tables and dig in, the first couple spoonfuls will make you think "What the hell is this?" but after that it tastes really good. Yep, that's the genuine Cajun diner experience all right.

The Houston Museum of Natural Science is worth a visit. It has a big walk-through butterfly cage, where large quantities of impossibly colored wings flit before your face or settle down on little birdbath-like stands where their bodies gorge on honeycombs or fruit pieces. It has dinosaur skeletons. It has displays with everything you could possibly have wanted to know about oil drilling. It has a gem room, a hushed chamber with huge uncut stones still attached to hunks of the living rock from which they were wrenched, all reverently lit behind glass. And when you've finished looking at those, you notice a corner around which there's another whole room of them. And another beyond that. And all the time you are there, the sound system is discreetly emitting Pachelbel's Canon.

On the other hand, I have never seen a bigger ripoff than the Rothko Chapel on the University of St. Thomas campus, this despite the fact that they don't charge anything to see it. I knew that Rothko was a minimalist painter, but I hadn't realized that even he would decorate an uninspiring and otherwise empty concrete octagonal chamber with 14 paintings every one of which was in flat undifferentiated black. I sat on a plain bench for a couple of minutes to act respectful-like while the docent read a book in the corner, and then walked out shaking my head, any desire to visit the modern art museum a couple blocks away completely squelched.

I found a far better, and positively fannish, work of art in a neighborhood not far away. You've heard of the Tower of Bheer Cans to the Moon; well, in Houston there is a beer can house, a house covered in aluminum siding made entirely of beer cars. The owner made a decades-long project of removing the tops and bottoms of beer cans, flattening out the rest, and attaching them to his house with the various brands arranged in pleasing color patterns. He also made a low front fence out of intact beer cans. There was nothing to do but admire this from the street, so I didn't find out if he drank all that beer, or what.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

women composers

A topic much explored by Lisa Irontongue, who's noted the peculiar tendency of major orchestras to under-program them. The relative dearth of important women composers historically is less due, I think, to neglect of their works - though there's that too - than to the barriers of access to the highly technical art of composition being then even higher for women than for men, so few ever got a chance to write anything, notable or not.

But in the last century education has become more equitable, and today interesting and important new composers are as likely to be women as men. Yet even in their contemporary music offerings, those major orchestras tend to book mostly men. They might throw in one piece by Kaija Saariaho and that's it.

My discoveries of contemporary women composers in concert have been in other venues, and over the years I've learned to look forward to seeing names of unfamiliar women on contemporary concert programs, because the chances are higher for women than for men that I'll find somebody really good. Whether it's because the women, being suppressed by other outlets, are more apt to be unknown gems, or simply that women are more likely to write in a style that appeals to me, I don't know.

But that's why I was so eager to hear the New Millennium Chamber Orchestra's concert of music all by women composers, and to take the chance to review it for the Daily Journal. And sure enough, I found a dandy composer new to me: Reena Esmail, whose The Blue Room you can hear in full here, in a performance more technically accomplished but perhaps less winning than I heard last weekend.

This also gives me a chance to link to Anne Midgette's top 35 20C/21C female composers, with plenty of sound clips. Many of those names are ones I've found in delighted discovery since I began reviewing: Caroline Shaw, Jennifer Higdon, Anna Clyne, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Gabriela Lena Frank, Valerie Coleman; and others I've known longer: Meredith Monk, Pauline Oliveros, Julia Wolfe, Lera Auerbach, Sofia Gubaidulina, Libby Larsen, Judith Weir, and the criminally forgotten Florence Price. Of course there are some on the list whose music has impressed me less, some I don't care for at all, and a full 8 I still hadn't heard of, but so it goes. Reena Esmail is not on the list; neither are two other of my favorite discoveries, Belinda Reynolds and Stefania de Kenessey; so there's always more work to be done.

Friday, September 1, 2017

uh-oh, I patronized the KKK

That is not a subject line I ever expected to write. But perhaps, since it's weird enough, this local story may have gone viral: the one about the restaurant in Santa Cruz which closed after widespread dismay over the revelation that the owner had contributed to David Duke's senatorial campaign.

I ate at that restaurant. Fairly frequently. It was the best Chinese restaurant on Santa Cruz's westside, and I'd often repair there for lunch after a hard morning's research at the UCSC library. The outside facing was a blank wall with high unrevealing windows and a plain, dingy door: the look of the most uninviting dive imaginable. Inside, though, it was modestly elegant and a little glossy, as was the food. I used to defend it from bad reviews, and my only complaint was that they charged you extra for tea, which no other Chinese place does in my experience.

I'm not in favor of organized boycotts of businesses for political opinions unrelated to the topic of their business, but if the entire customer base of Santa Cruz and sundry chooses spontaneously to recoil in revulsion at this news about the owner, I will in this case find myself among them.

The owner, who is white and not Chinese, plays a supporting role in the article, both feet stuck firmly in his mouth. He calls the population "stupid," which he then corrects to "ignorant," for believing that David Duke is anything but innocuously "defending the civil rights of European-Americans, whites." Uh-huh. You go on believing that, and that "European-Americans" is the name of a legitimate ethnic group,* and we'll go on avoiding your restaurant.

He also wonders why it is that only white people get called "Nazis." Does he? Does he really?

*Do I need to explain why it isn't? Somebody - might have been Ta-Nehisi Coates, but I can't find it right now - wrote an essay about the illegitimacy of the bunching of white ethnicities into a racial solidarity movement. I'll go to a German-American festival, where I expect to find jolly men in lederhosen serving beer and bratwurst, but if I read the words "European-American festival," I expect to see skinheads with swastika tattoos. Or not see them, because I won't be there.