Thursday, November 30, 2017

Lincoln's clown car

Lincoln's Lieutenants: The High Command of the Army of the Potomac by Stephen W. Sears

This is the first time I've tried reading a book on the US Civil War that's pitched at such a high level of detail. It's 900 pages on generalship in the army that basically spent four years in Virginia (with occasional excursions north), running around after Robert E. Lee. I've been at it for days and not out of 1862 yet.

It's not just the commanding generals. It's all the generals, of whom there were a bleedin' lot, with occasional excursions into colonels.

Here's what I'm learning about generalship:

1. Incompetent generals complained at being charged with incompetence.

2. Competent generals also complained at being charged with incompetence, as well as not having their achievements mentioned in dispatches, and even accusations of treason.

3. Generals frequently had their command assignments switched around. Whenever this starts, I can usually skip ahead a few pages without missing anything.

4. Generals feuded with each other. Constantly.

5. Generals were more likely to explain their strategic plans in letters home to their wives than to their fellow or subordinate generals.

6. Some generals consistently overestimated the size of the enemy's forces. Others didn't.

7. General McClellan, in command, tried his utmost to avoid doing anything, and got terribly upset whenever he did accidentally do something.

I'm hoping this miasma changes soon, and so, it's clear, does Mr. Lincoln.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

the last homely house - or not, as you may think

As you drive through a prosperous residential neighborhood, it may seem to you that the buildings are divided neatly between the single-family dwellings and the apartment houses.

But maybe not. Down our street are some residences that look, architecturally and at first glance, like large single-family homes. But a closer look reveals that they're actually duplexes, or even (if you could get behind them) four-plexes, smaller homes squashed together with shared walls.

Or consider our own townhouse complex. Each townhouse, of identical exterior design, is a separate building, and each has a separate street number. But there are shared spaces as at a large apartment block, and management is responsible for the exterior gardening and maintenance, for instance.

Why should this matter? Well, what if there's a law, or a city policy, distinguishing between single- and multiple-family homes?

We have one. The city has been rolling out new garbage bins, with a recycling container for food scraps. (The food will be fed to pigs. The pigs will not be fed to humans, presumably because of the irregularity of their diet. That means we're recycling our food scraps into spoiled pork meat as well as porcine effluvia, a notorious pollutant. It's not clear to me how this is an ecological improvement.)

The bins, we've been told, are going to single-family houses, but not to apartment buildings. Maybe at some later time, but not now. At some date over a period of weeks, they'll come by after the regular pickup and swap the old bins for the new ones, so be sure to leave yours out after the pickup. So we left ours out and waited each week ...

Finally, a new bin appeared at our curb. The old one didn't go away. But when, having instructed ourselves in the rules for food scrap recycling, we put out the bin the next week, I saw that we were the only house in the complex to have one.

This deserved a phone call. The recycling company didn't know much, but they referred me to the city, who were most responsive. (When the person you reach says "I'll have to refer this to my boss; he'll call you back," you don't expect the underling to call you back a half hour later to report that her boss is busy preparing a report for the city council meeting tonight and will call tomorrow, still less that he actually will.)

Turns out, by city classification, that we're not single-family houses, but a multi-family complex. So we don't get the bins. But apparently the people who delivered the bins had a list of accounts, and since our complex has one account they delivered one bin, and I just happened to get it.

It could be worse, the city man said. At least they didn't take away the old bins. At the four-plexes down the street, they delivered one bin to each and took away the four old bins, each of which had more garbage space than the new one does. He's just gotten finished straightening that one out.

So yes, it does matter if your home is single-family or multi-, and the city would have been wise to check the list of homes before handing it over to the cart deliverers.

in other news

A recent blog post of mine has been called "the most badly written piece of garbled English I have ever read."

Wow. As someone who writes for pay as well as for joy, and whose writing has been complimented by tenured English professors, three of whom have asked me to collaborate with them, I never thought I could reach for such an achievement. Considering the garbled writing that exists out there, it's quite an accomplishment. Indeed, looking over the work in question, I am at a complete loss as to what I did that deserved such an evaluation.

If anyone wants to go over there and judge for themselves, I shall not object.

English suites no. 13

This is from the exact opposite end of Benjamin Britten's career from the Simple Symphony, completed a couple years before his death. And it's a much harder meal to chew, but I've found it intriguing, particularly after repeated listenings.

It's called Suite on English Folk Tunes, "A time there was ..." But it's not a simple presentation of tunes the way Vaughan Williams or Holst would have done it. Both those composers were capable of being modernists; Britten applies that to his folk sources, which come out crabbed and gnarly.

Contents: Cakes and Ale (0.00), The Bitter Withy (2.28), Hankin Booby (5.00), Hunt the Squirrel (7.06), Lord Melbourne (8.29).

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

lost in one place, then the other

Not too terribly long ago, I made a comment in somebody's post somewhere, to the effect that whatever we were talking about showed the fallacy of arguing that taking advantage of any privilege your status entitled you to was morally wrong.

I got a reply vehemently stating that nobody had ever argued that position in the history of the world.

I said they had, and that I had once blogged about it, but I couldn't locate it in my archives, so it must have been in the period for which my blog lacked a searchable index.

It was. I just came across it here. And I'd correctly remembered the context too, one of whether it's right for an opposite-sex couple to get married when same-sex couples can't. (This was several years ago, before the Supreme Court decision.)

But now, though I keep records of my comments, I can't find the fairly recent one so that I can supply the citation to supplement the conversation.

thoughts and activities

1. Sadly, I had to break off the daily morning nuzzling session with Maia because I had to leave for a dental appointment. Two hours, one dentist, and one trip to the vet to pick up more cat food, later, I returned and we resumed right where we'd left off.

2. The location for sitting shiva was in the midst of a neighborhood filled with brilliant displays of Christmas lights, and on the drive there, the classical station was playing Christmas music. Since my destination was a Jewish religious ritual, these surroundings made me feel more than usually like a stranger in my own land. And those special snowflakes who go around moaning the decline of the cultural ubiquity of Christmas can go bite themselves.

3. The most tiresome and dishonest sentence in literary discourse is that defense of bad movie adaptations that goes "The book is still on the shelf." I give it no credence in a world which contains comments like this one: "It's really difficult to read the original novel now without seeing clashing visions of Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp being Willy Wonka, and of the 1971 Oompa-Loompas vs Deep Roy." (I have many examples of this type of complaint: this is just the latest.) It doesn't matter where the book is, if the movie is in the head.

4. I'm seeing lots of gushing articles about the engagement of Harry and Meghan, and almost as many complaints about it. My annoyance is purely with the media cooing. It's not the royals' fault; indeed, they've publicly stated how much they dislike it. Here's a couple of sufficiently mature years who wish to marry, but they can't do it without negotiating a gauntlet of publicity (and of criticism: of her background, or of dumb things he did when quite young). My only thought is to wish them well and to hope they survive it; the most hopeful sign is that Meghan already likes to do publicity on behalf of good causes internationally: this is fortunate because she's going to be doing that for the rest of her public life. I tend to feel sorry for the British royals, who mostly try to do their best at their job, and must endure having their human imperfections horribly magnified, in a situation they're trapped in. Abdicating would not free them from the glare of media attention; neither divorce nor even death freed Diana.

5. Articles of note:

5a. Another good analysis of the delusions that cause people to support Trump.

5b. On implanting preset narratives onto mass shootings.

5c. Let the punishment fit the crime.

Monday, November 27, 2017

English suites no. 12

Benjamin Britten called this his Simple Symphony, but it's really a suite in sonata form. He compiled it at the age of 20 out of material he'd written when even younger, and it's one of the liveliest string pieces ever, especially in this performance conducted by the composer.

Part of what makes this piece fun is the movement titles: Boisterous Bourée (0.00), Playful Pizzicato (3.27), Sentimental Sarabande (6.32), and Frolicsome Finale (14.28).

sitting shiva

I went Sunday evening to sit shiva in memory of a redoubtable lady whom I had liked and admired.

This was not the full seven-day megilla with rending of clothing and all. In Reform practice as I know it, it's an evening gathering at someone's home, with food and conversation, and the centerpiece a formal session of prayers and reminiscences, led by a rabbi if there's one handy.

There were many people there, including three generations of descendants, and a variety of folk. There was even a topless girl. Of course she was two years old, but whatever.

The deceased had been living in the memory unit of a rehab facility*, but she seemed pretty compos mentis when I visited her there, and the best anecdote told in the reminiscences, story dating from just a few weeks ago, confirms the same. It's useful to remember that among her vocations was that of teacher, and a rather exacting one:
HOME HEALTH AIDE: You need to lay down, Caroline.
PATIENT: It's lie down.
HOME HEALTH AIDE: I'm sorry, English isn't my first language.
PATIENT: I should hope not!
And I can just hear her saying that.

*The same facility my mother had been at in her final illness.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

culture and ecology

It's Thanksgiving weekend. If the people haven't gained weight from food, the newspapers have gained weight from ads. I stayed home on Friday and literally did not shop anywhere.

Other outings have drowned out my chance to mention that, last weekend, I attended the second all-female cast Hamlet I've seen this year. Only this time the actors were all Stanford undergraduates. As with the other, the male characters stayed male, regardless of who was playing them. Claudius and Polonius wore business suits, and Polonius had a paste-on beard. The performers were pretty good, just lacking seasoning. The stage was covered in dirt, of the symbolism of which the program notes made much, and wasn't separated from the audience. Ophelia gave me a daisy (it was actually a twig). Best touch was the Ghost's tombstone, which read "HAMLET / King / Father / Royal Dane".

Despite a link on the show's website to a detailed map clearly showing the location of the building on campus, due to absent and misleading signage finding the actual theater in the building was impossible for a stranger. It was a weekend and nobody was around to ask. I almost gave up, thinking the performance had been canceled, until I saw several people walking on a path leading apparently away from the building and decided to follow them. Naturally, the production people could not possibly have cared less when I told them that I almost missed their show for this reason.

Meanwhile, I'm making far more progress in re-reading Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, which I'd never done before (I'd read it, I just hadn't re-read it), than on watching the Hulu mini-series adaptation. The more it goes on, the less of the book's distinctive eerie tone and atmosphere it captures.

Reserved a hotel room for next year's Worldcon an hour after the reservation link opened, which turned out to be just fast enough. The committee were sure they wouldn't go that fast, but even though I haven't been to a Worldcon in 6 years, I knew better than that. Worldcon hotel rooms vanish at the speed of drops of water in a hot pan.

Hmm, I'll spare you the tale of the city's mysterious garbage bin update until I figure out what's going on here.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

I'm thankful

for the apple pie that my four-year-old (!) great-niece made, with minimal help from her grandmother, for dessert at the family Thanksgiving gathering. It was very good, and the apples - which Grandma assured us that Alix peeled and cored all by herself - were particularly delicious.

As apple is about the only kind of pie I like, I'm particularly thankful that nobody heeded this ridiculous screed arguing that we shouldn't have apple pie at Thanksgiving because you can get apples at any time of the year. We should only eat foods that are only in season around November.

Like turkeys.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

the stories behind things I've done

previous post

1. Lunch with Le Guin: I was working on a bibliography of her work, and visited by appointment to go through some of her papers and books. I was there all day, and we had lunch: sandwiches and tea, and the Tiptree Award, which was a huge bar of chocolate sitting on a sill, off which one hacked a small chunk with a knife. I was also formally introduced to her cat. (This was long before Pard.)

2. Worldcon. I was the Hugo Administrator, so yes I knew who won, and I made the button just to tease people.

3. Walk around a country: I pose this as a conundrum, and people have a hard time guessing it. They realize it must be a small country, but give names like Monaco, which is on the Mediterranean and consequently a foot circumnavigation would require one to walk on water, or Liechtenstein, which would require one to be a mighty Alpine mountaineer. In fact it was a 45-minute stroll down city streets through a modestly hilly neighborhood, and I undertook it as a quaint way to pass the time while B. was attending mass conducted by Pope JP2 at St Peter's in ... all right, can you guess the country now?

4. Drama with a live geyser. When I chaired Mythcon in 1988 with Le Guin as GoH, I appointed the late Leigh Ann Hussey, a devoted fan of Always Coming Home and a remarkable expert in Kesh culture, particularly its music and drama, entertainments coordinator under the title "Kesh consultant" and let her rip. Leigh Ann threw herself into the job: she designed Kesh-style name badges, made Kesh musical instruments and led the opening procession with them, helped Todd Barton lead the chanting of heya, and put on a production of a short play from the book, "The Plumed Water," a ritual celebrating the Calistoga geyser. On the day after the con, a number of us rented a small van and toured the Valley of the Na, the book's setting. Leigh Ann was our party's expert in all the local botany as well as Kesh lore. We finished up at the geyser and found it, luckily for us, erupting. This is not Old Faithful where you have to keep a quarter-mile away; you can go right up to this geyser and stand under the fringes of the spray. Unusually, the geyser kept on going, and Leigh Ann pulled out a copy of Always Coming Home and quickly organized another whole reading of the play. The geyser didn't stop until after we were finished.

5. Gerald Ford's chair: My late grandfather was a businessman in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1948 when he joined a group of moderate Republicans who wanted to do something about their rock-ribbed isolationalist congressman. They supported a challenger in the Republican primary, a young lawyer and veteran named Gerald R. Ford, and in the surprising success of this plan there hangs a tale. Throughout Ford's rise in Congress my grandfather stayed in touch with him, as prominent local businessmen are wont to do with their congressmen. He was proud of the connection, and the shelves in his office developed a few signed photos and the like. In 1972 when my family visited D.C. we stopped by Ford's office and introduced ourselves to his staff. Ford wasn't there; as I recall he was in China; but I had my photo taken sitting in his office chair. (And the Woolsack? Snuck a quick sit while taking a tour of Parliament.)

6. The sound of one hand clapping: Fold your fingers over and slap them against the base of your palm. This only makes a sound if you have really long fingers. I've found this talent useful on occasion when I want to applaud a performer but only have one hand free.

7. Car that rolled over and played dead: It was a one-car auto accident just like it sounds. Fortunately I was uninjured, save for it being too painful to walk down stairs for several weeks afterwards, notable as I then worked on the fourth floor of an old building with only an alarmingly rickety cage elevator which we preferred to avoid. The accident was on a deserted stretch of I-5 in the Central Valley; the tow-truck driver deposited me in a wind-swept farming town some distance away, from which I took the bus home.

8. Roadless Alaskan fishing village: Best vacation B. and I ever took was a cruise through the archipelago of the Alaskan panhandle by small ship, one small enough to fit up the odd nooks and crannies of the isles. Our most obscure land stop was at the arrestingly-named Elfin Cove, an exceedingly tiny and obscure fishing village on the tip of Chichagof Island, miles from the nearest equally obscure other human habitation, with a secluded harbor, no ferry service, and no other access except a seaplane dock. Our ship had to anchor outside and land us by skiff. No land transportation at all except your own feet taking you along a boardwalk circling the harbor.

9. Eaten a haggis: See item 4 on the list of common things I've only done once, "Visited Scotland." The first one was at a food stand outside the train station in Edinburgh: I'd just spent all day on a train with nothing to eat except utterly vile BritRail sandwiches. The haggis tasted good; I'd gladly have it again.

10. Four states: It's the Four Corners, where AZ NM CO UT meet. There were four of us boys. We were there on a family vacation. The obvious thing to do was to pose. I positioned us while our father took a photo. I stood in CO because it's the oldest of the four and so am I. That's the kind of thing I was the kind of 12-year-old who knew offhand.

things I've done

Some things I've done, that you might not have:
1. Had lunch made by Ursula K. Le Guin in her own kitchen. Dessert was a chunk of her Tiptree Award.
2. Worn a button at Worldcon reading "I know who won the Hugos, and you don't" - and it was true.
3. Circumnavigated an entire country, by foot. (And by that I mean, walked all the way around it outside its borders.)
4. Performed in a play using a live geyser as a prop.
5. Sat in Gerald R. Ford's office chair, in his office; and on the Woolsack, in the House of Lords. (No, Pat, no, don't sit on that!)
6. Made the sound of one hand clapping.
7. Survived riding in a car that rolled over and played dead on the freeway.
8. Visited a roadless Alaskan fishing village 50 miles from, well, anywhere.
9. Eaten a haggis. Eaten another one.
10. Stood right next to my three brothers in four different states.

Some common things I've only done once:
1. Ridden a roller coaster.
2. Danced to a rock song.
3. Gotten married.
4. Visited Scotland.
5. Worn a tuxedo.
6. Eaten sushi.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

an inner voice corrects

An inner voice speaks to me concerning the statement in my previous post defending John Corigliano's claim never to have heard any Bob Dylan: "I doubt I could pass any sort of test on pop singers three years younger than myself, as Dylan is of Corigliano, either."

"Don't be too sure of that," says the inner voice. "Considering who some of your favorite singer-songwriters are. Remember," says the inner voice, "that Suzanne Vega is two years younger than you, and Enya is four years younger, giving an average of three."

concert review: Redwood Symphony

A passenger, seeing the library book in my car, asked, "So why do you have a collection of Bob Dylan lyrics?" I thought for a moment how best to reply, and said, "Because John Corigliano had one."

John Corigliano is a distinguished American composer, known for his opera The Ghosts of Versailles. Commissioned to write a song cycle on an American text of his choice, at first he felt uncertain, but then remembered he'd been told that this Bob Dylan fellow was pretty good, so he got a book collection of Dylan lyrics, read them, and decided, once he got Dylan's permission, to go ahead. This is the work that I was engaged to review in concert last weekend, for which I wouldst prepare.

That Corigliano had never previously heard any Dylan songs - he says "I was [too] engaged in developing my orchestral technique during the years when Dylan was heard by the rest of the world" - has been widely disbelieved, but I don't find it incredible at all. I doubt I could pass any sort of test on pop singers three years younger than myself, as Dylan is of Corigliano, either. And of the seven Dylan songs that Corigliano set, I only knew two, and those in cover versions: "Blowin' in the Wind" by Peter Paul & Mary, and "Mr. Tambourine Man" by the Byrds.

Corigliano carefully avoided listening to the original songs until he'd written his own settings, and I likewise avoided listening to them until I'd heard his. I got a recording of a rather overwrought performance of the Corigliano cycle, and only then sought out cover versions of the other songs. Cover versions, because like most of the world with good taste, I like Dylan's songs but can't stand him singing them. I did go so far as to hunt down his performance of "Blowin' in the Wind" and was immediately sorry that I had.

I found to my surprise that the Roches had covered "Clothes Line Saga", but if I'd heard it before, I couldn't remember it. I can't remember it now, either. "All Along the Watchtower" belies any generalizations I could make about Dylan's folk-influenced style. Neil Young and Jimi Hendrix, the two cover performers I heard, use it as an occasion for an extended instrumental jam with a few words thrown in. Fortunately, Corigliano didn't know that. The one original new to me that I really liked was Ed Sheeran singing "Masters of War". The tune nagged at me until I realized that it sounded like the English folksong "Nottamun Town", which I knew from Fairport Convention. Then I looked it up, and discovered that it is "Nottamun Town". Dylan lifted the tune from a Jean Ritchie record, and had to pay royalties for her arrangement.

"Masters of War" is an extremely angry song. Sheeran even comments after his performance, "He's an intense guy, isn't he?" But compare Sheeran's version, linked to above, with Corigliano's scream of rage. (Told you it was overwrought.) This was key to my review's description of the difference between the two settings. Corigliano writes classical art song word painting. Dylan, at least in Sheeran's version, is very quiet, apparently belying the anger of the lyrics, but to my mind structuring the lines and stanzas of the verse to form a casing from which the message of the words can be heard outright, with only the quiet underlining of the bleak drone-like shape of the melody.

And that's the best answer I can come up with for a question that's nagged me for a long time, and which I went out on a reviewing limb by using it to frame my review. The question is, if your song is a "message" song, one that exists for the sake of its text, why is it a song? Why not just write poetry? The obvious answer, "Because nobody will read poetry, but they'll listen to songs," only reinforces the question. What are they getting out of the music that they wouldn't get out of poetry?

It must be something, and the best writers, including Dylan, recognize this. it's a shame if they ignore it, using the music as just something to plop the words on top of. I think of the Indigo Girls, who have said, "It's not about the music," but perhaps that's why, though their style lies right in the middle of a women's music idiom I usually like very much, I've never much taken to the Indigo Girls. There's nothing to their music; it's just there to sing the words to.

Corigliano, though he has nothing you'd normally call a tune, and is totally in contrast with Dylan's music, is dedicated to making his music say something. I found his settings stuck with me, so I count this work, however strange-sounding, a success.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Randy Byers

A few days ago, I saw in the grocery store some bottles labeled "Not Your Father's Root Beer." On inspection, they proved to be beer with the flavor of root beer. I bought some, and had just opened the first bottle to have with dinner tonight when I heard that Randy Byers had died.

So I drank it in his memory. Randy was a great connoisseur of beer, and I'd have loved to tell him about this one.

Randy was also a great many other things, most notably one of the writers who make the best science-fiction fanzines some of the finest personal writing to be had. You can find much of it at the download sites for his fanzine Chunga and his TAFF trip report. He also posted a lot online, much of it on DW as randy-byers, also keeping a separate blog for film reviews and other writings. I knew him in person, casually, but I found we really connected online.

Over the last couple years, a lot of his DW writing was about treatment for his brain cancer. Although he didn't hide that this was a grueling process to live through with a depressing prospect ahead, I was impressed with the fortitude with which he faced it. He quietly retired from his job in administration at the University of Washington, and set about living the rest of his life with fullness and dignity. He took one last trip to Micronesia, where he'd spent some colorful years of his childhood - and wrote about it, of course - but didn't frantically try to stuff experiences in. He just kept on going, and when the news hit that no more curative treatments were available, he wrote of the life he now found himself leading, "Let it roll, baby, roll. Until about 8:30, or whenever I'm ready to go to bed. Quality of life, that's what I'm all about!"

And so he kept on doing what he did, as long as he could do it. He'd been re-reading classic SF novels, especially ones by women, and writing thoughtful considerations of them. His last DW post, two months ago, considered Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler.

Let us honor and remember him by doing the ordinary little things that give us pleasure with the same rich and full appreciation that he gave to his.


1. I've finally started watching The Handmaid's Tale. Not trusting Hulu, which makes you sign up before it'll even show you what it has, I found the series as a purchasable item on YouTube, $19 for the season, which is more than a Hulu monthly subscription, but it doesn't make you sign up and then, if you don't want any more, cancel. Besides, it will take me more than a month to get through this, I'm sure. More on this then. Interesting music choices.

2. Alabama, living down to its stereotypes. Remember Weird Al's "A Complicated Song" and the verse in which he learns that his girlfriend is his cousin? "Should I go ahead and propose and get hitched and have kids with eleven toes and / Move to Alabama where that kind of thing is tolerated?" That sort of stereotype.

3. Blaming city development policies for the Silicon Valley housing shortage. This is backwards. Cities are actually eager to approve new housing; it's residents who are protesting, and their protests are mostly based on the lack of transport infrastructure to handle additional traffic. Of course, those residents are also opposed to transport improvement proposals, but then those proposals are mostly stupid. Fact is, building more homes won't solve the crisis, it'll only increase demand. Which isn't to say we shouldn't build them, just ... it won't solve the crisis.

4. A commenter elsewhere on a link to my Tolkien filming rights post says that the rights question isn't in doubt. But that's because the post that I'd linked to just finished establishing that.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

once more unto the Beagle

I wrote about the legal suit between author Peter S. Beagle and his former manager, Connor Cochran, nearly two years ago when it first appeared, but apart from one follow-up, I haven't had anything to say more recently.

Until now, when a pair of dueling statements from the two, on the question of whether Cochran co-wrote any of Beagle's work, appeared. And it occurred to me that, while they appear to be directly contradictory, I don't think they're necessarily incompatible.

Cochran reacts angrily to what he says is Beagle's statement that Cochran claims that he [Cochran] "wrote his [i.e. Beagle's] stories." (Are you lost yet? Good.) Cochran says that what he's been saying is that he "CO-wrote" (his emphasis) several stories published under Beagle's name.

But while Beagle's previous statement does say of Cochran, "But he did not write my stories, as he is now claiming publicly," the unsigned introduction which appeared with it clarifies that "Cochran is publicly claiming co-authorship." If the dates given by F770 are correct, this all appeared before Cochran's reply, and Cochran would have been better off treating Beagle's actual words as a misstatement rather than a lie.

What Beagle says Cochran was, was his editor. Cochran also says he was the editor of even the material he didn't co-write. Well, there are editors and there are editors. Some are very hands-on. I remember Isaac Asimov's account of his classic story "Nightfall," saying that there was one paragraph written and inserted, without Asimov's prior knowledge, by his editor, John W. Campbell, Jr. Asimov thought this paragraph clashed badly with its context in style and point of view (it contains the only reference to Earth in the story), but he accepted it as part of his story with his name on it.

That's a lot smaller of an intervention than Cochran says he did, but it shows what can be done and how it's credited. It's still Asimov's story even if that paragraph came from another hand. It was also Campbell who suggested the idea for the story and dictated its ending, as Asimov openly acknowledged, so "Nightfall" is part of the web of co-operation and collaboration that's true of almost all serious writing. It's still Asimov's story, though, his work and no one else's, as Beagle says about his own work.

Beagle says he got a lot of help from Cochran as an editor, that he's gotten a lot of help from a lot of editors over the years, but that his work is his work. He's very defensive about this, staking his claim even to his first novel from 1960, a work which is not in dispute in this case. Well, sure. Beagle's work is his, just as Asimov's is his, even if Cochran made major contributions to it. But Beagle's defensiveness is not proof that Cochran is right. In his place I'd feel even more defensive in reaction to an outright lie than to something with a grain of truth in it.

The clue, I think, lies in the paragraph Beagle quotes from the formal legal correspondence by his lawyer, Kathleen Hunt. This says nothing about the actual writing process. It's about copyright claim, the intent of Beagle and Cochran when working together, regardless of who actually did what. Hunt says, "there was no objective manifestation to create a work of joint authorship, [and] that the parties' conduct at the time the works were created suggests a clear intent not to create a work of joint authorship." And, as long as you read that as being about authorship credit and not about contribution to the product, it perfectly meshes with Cochran's statement, "Peter and I both thought that keeping my contribution to certain stories under wraps was the best thing for the Beagle literary 'brand.'" As I'm sure it was, if Cochran's claim is true. Even outright ghostwriting - which is not being claimed here - is kept under wraps; that's why it's called that. (If a book published under a celebrity's name has "As told to ..." on the t.p., it's not technically ghostwritten.)

But by doing that, by subsuming his contributions - whatever they may actually have been - under the mantle of editor, Cochran was consciously and deliberately giving up any claim to be the co-author of the story. He has no claim to moral ownership of the work. This is a matter of copyright law: if it has Beagle's name on it, it's Beagle's work. You can see the point by contrasting it with work for hire. In work for hire, nobody's arguing over who wrote the words, but the writer has given up any claim to own them. Unless there's a charge that the owner didn't abide by the contract, the writer has no further claim over the words.

That leaves the question of, so why is Cochran making this claim now? Why is he spreading around more widely what had previously been, in his words, "never public" and merely "not ... a strict secret"? Cochran made his public statement in reply to Beagle's defense, but Beagle isn't just reacting to a slightly wider rumor; there's Hunt's already-written letter to Cochran's lawyer to consider: it's a defense against a claim made in correspondence by the other lawyer.

Cochran says, as already quoted, why he "was never public about co-writing at the time," but he doesn't say why he's being public now. And what comes to my mind is, in Kathleen Hunt's legal language, "there can be little doubt that the sole purpose of your Correspondence was to fraudulently obtain authorship credit in the 27 Works in order to acquire leverage over my client in pending litigation."

And that's how I see it at the moment.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

two concerts reviewed

1. New Century Chamber Orchestra. This was a late call. When I looked at the program list, I didn't know what Stravinsky's "Concerto in re" - which is what they called it there - was. I thought it'd be his Violin Concerto of 1931, which is in D and which I could happily go a while without hearing again. On investigation I found a quite different and much better piece. At the concert itself, I was pleasantly surprised to find a performance at Oshman that didn't sound awful. It's been a while since I had one of those.

2. Morgenstern Trio. Pure happenstance that my annual DJ review at Kohl has been of a piano trio two years in a row, but this one fit my schedule, and I was curious about the Martin piece, new to me, and pleased to hear the others. As a fan of the Schubert Op 100 Andante, I've been inclined to dismiss that of Op 99, but this was a honey of a performance. I'm converted.

Having a live painter working to some of the music was quite the novelty. She was placed in such a way that probably only half the audience could see her, and most of them were not actually watching: painting isn't really as dynamic a process as playing violin, cello, or piano (not that most of those who could see the painter could also see the pianist). Half an hour is not long for work on a painting; fortunately, some of the painter's finished works were in the foyer, so at least I could see what sort of style she was aiming at.

Friday, November 17, 2017

not quite about Tolkien

I suppose I should say something about the recent spate of news articles to the effect that Amazon has contracted to make a tv series based on The Lord of the Rings.

I'm not really your go-to expert on matters like this. I got into Tolkien studies to study Tolkien and his works, not media spinoffs. Willy-nilly they have intruded themselves on my attention, and I've been warned that I count as an expert on the Jackson movies even though I really don't want to be one.

But I can say that the news reports have conveyed that this will not be a remake of The Lord of the Rings itself, but fan fiction prequels. Oh wacko. I shall probably have to avoid this. I'm a scholar; I already have to mentally juggle all of Tolkien's varying drafts and outlines. I can't deal with all of this as well. The human brain's multitudes are finite. Once in the back of John Rateliff's car I found a card deck for some Tolkien-based RPG. I started flipping through it idly, but when I realized it contained characters the deck-writers had made up, I hastily put it down. I cannot afford to have miscellanies like that cluttering up my head.

As for what the result will be like, I fear that this is less of a parody than it looks. Tolkien's legendarium is an enormous, widely-known, and even widely-loved creation; there's much that could be mined out of it.

The most curious question is, what authorized entity is responsible for conveying the rights to do this? News articles in the past have often confused the Tolkien Estate - the family-controlled entity that owns Tolkien's writings - with Middle-earth Enterprises (formerly Tolkien Enterprises), the company which owns the movie and associated marketing rights to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and which licensed them to New Line to produce the Jackson movies.

They're not associated. Tolkien sold the movie rights outright in 1969, and they eventually wound up in the hands of the late Saul Zaentz, who was the producer of the 1978 Bakshi movie and the creator of the firm that now owns those rights. It's this firm which is responsible for most of the trademark defense that's hit the news over the years, but it's the Estate that sued New Line for shafting it on royalties owed.

Since the Estate has no control over the LotR movie rights, its opinion on the topic is moot, though Christopher Tolkien, head of the family and his father's literary executor, has expressed his distaste for them. Because of this, and because of the historical confusion between the entities, the assumption was that the new project came from Middle-earth Enterprises, despite news references to the Estate.

But that apparently is wrong, and it has to do with the fact that the new series will be television, not movies, and will be inspired by other writings by Tolkien. Middle-earth Enterprises does not own rights to either of these aspects; the Estate retains that.

This article on a Tolkien bulletin board is the fullest I've seen, and looks the most reliable to my eye. It cites scholar Kristin Thompson on this. Despite Thompson's lack of comprehension of criticisms of the Jackson movies, I've found her well-versed on the facts of the history of the movie rights, so if she says this, I accept it.

That means, in turn, that the Estate did authorize this, and that brings up the other big news, which occurred nearly three months ago, but nobody noticed it until now. This is that Christopher Tolkien, who after all turns 93 next week, has resigned - retired, presumably - from his co-directorship of the Estate. There are six officers today, two lawyers from the firm that handles the rights, and four family members: Christopher's wife and elder son (the novelist Simon Tolkien), Christopher's sister Priscilla, and the son of Christopher and Priscilla's late brother Michael. Presumably some of these are less opposed to filmic enterprises.

It's worth remembering that the late Rayner Unwin, for many years Tolkien's extremely loyal publisher, with a great respect for the integrity of the works, nevertheless maintained, as a publisher with his eye, as it should have been, on profit, that to continue to sell Tolkien's works need be continually repackaged. New editions, new formats, new packaging, etc. This has continued since Unwin's time, and the licensing of new media productions could be seen as an extension of that.

Enough, however, of the quotation from one of Tolkien's letters to the effect that he wished for his mythology to "leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama." Nothing Tolkien ever wrote has been more selectively and misleadingly read. As for why this isn't the easy defense of media colonization that it looks, that will have to wait for another post.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

English suites no. 11

We've already had a suite by Elgar commissioned in 1930 in the names of the little princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. But they're not the only royal infants to be immortalized in this way. Let's move down a generation to 1948, when Michael Tippett wrote a Suite for the Birthday of Prince Charles. Not the birthday anniversary, the birthday.

Tippett was a modernist composer, but he could have a surprising populist side, such as the beautifully arranged American spirituals he inserted into his magnificent oratorio A Child of Our Time. This suite is a slightly spicy stew composed of a series of medieval religious and folk tunes of various origins. It's in five movements, identified on screen.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Santa Rosa and San Francisco

On my last trip to Santa Rosa, for a concert about six weeks ago, I took some extra time and drove around the hill residential areas above the town. I had a specific reason but that doesn't matter now. This was before the destructive fires swept through, and afterwards I wondered how well what I'd seen had survived. Tuesday I finally had a chance to go back. Big rains were expected to come through on Wednesday evening, so it was my last chance to get a pristine look (and, it turned out, to still smell the ghost of the ashy air). I no longer had access to the material by which I planned my earlier trip, but I followed my route by memory as best I could remember, and spent as many tourist dollars as I could reasonably manage.

Much of the lower hills had been untouched, and even when I entered the fire area within the rural zone, the damage was scattered. Trees and vineyards looked untouched, and while some homes were gone - invariably identifiable as home sites by the lonely stone chimneys sticking up - others were intact.

Only when I came down on Mark West Road to the flatlands did I find entire neighborhoods where all the homes were gone. That was a hideous spectacle and I passed through quickly. But across the major road, no apparent damage, even though the fire map suggested it was hit.

Strange patterns emerged. The Fountaingrove resort hotel, famously gone. The trailer park kitty-corner at the same major intersection, also (mostly) famously gone. The other two corners of the intersection, untouched. The supermarket where I'd bought lunch on my previous trip, on the edge of the fire zone, intact with a big sign saying it was open. The condos on the hill above it, apparently intact except for one building that appeared to have collapsed more than it had burned.

Around here, also, I saw the only scorched hillsides. This fire ignited more by floating cinders than by walls of flame, and that showed in the results.

I was back down in San Francisco in time for another event sponsored by Slate, my favorite political webzine. This one was less successful than the last. Apparently an attempt to produce a live version of a podcast - I hardly ever listen to podcasts; they just don't fit into my day - it consisted of four writers sitting around and chatting about current events for 90 minutes. Although I know their work (when they're not doing podcasts) and they're good writers, their remarks were neither so polished nor so witty as their writings, on top of the fact that none are trained speakers and it was often hard to make out what they were saying, and they jumped around between topics so much I couldn't remember much of what they said when I could deduce it. I'll be more selective of future offerings when Slate brings them to my city.

Monday, November 13, 2017

English suites no. 10

Sorry for the long pause, but I'm not nearly done yet. I was going to put in another Peter Warlock suite that I hadn't known about, but it got taken offline. Instead, we have here a piece by Gordon Jacob, a workman composer of the mid-20C. It's his William Byrd Suite, arrangements for concert band of music by the English Renaissance composer.

While there are a number of earnest amateur performances in single YouTube files, you really want to hear the classic professional recording of this one. Each individual movement of that is in a separate file, and while they'll play in succession automatically on YouTube, that doesn't work in embedding.

So instead of embedding this one, I'll just link to it, and there it is. The opening "Earle of Oxford March" is to my taste the most terrific, but the whole suite is absolutely charming.

not seating Roy Moore

... if he's elected.

Here's an article about that.

It offers three possibilities. One is to refuse to seat him, but it says that can only be done because of the irregularity of an election, e.g. ballot-stuffing or bribing.

The second is the extraordinarily high bar of actually expelling him, something that hasn't been done since Confederate sympathizers in the Civil War.

But the third (no. 2 on the list) is to refer his case to the Ethics Committee. The article doesn't say this, but it could defer his seating until the Ethics Committee had made his report. Something similar to this has happened since the Civil War. The notorious Mississippi racist Theodore G. Bilbo was investigated for his 1946 re-election on grounds of his inflammatory campaign tactics and shady finances. But impasse over whether to take action was postponed when Bilbo became ill and did not insist on being sworn in until he'd recovered and returned to Washington. The committee reports were tabled (which in US discourse means action was deferred). But instead of returning, Bilbo grew more ill and died several months later, which rendered the issue moot. Here's the official version of that story.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Peace with Honour

I guess since it's Armistice Day it's a good time to talk about this. Researching on A.A. Milne for my fisking of a recent movie, I came across, as I had before, references to his having considered himself a pacifist for much of his life, even though he'd served in WW1 after reaching that conclusion, and even though he eventually decided to support participation in WW2 as well. In 1934 he published his only serious non-fiction book, Peace with Honour, expounding his pacifist case, and I decided to read it.

I'd really like to put the Milne who wrote this book in a room with the Milne who supported WW2 and let them argue it out, because Milne-'34 is very prescient about what would happen and is entirely opposed to exactly and specifically the war that Milne-'40 would support, and in the meantime is also opposed to rearmament to prepare for that war, the meagerness of which is now considered Britain's greatest failing of the time.

Milne-'34 starts well, arguing against the glorification of war and pointing out that all the slaughter of WW1 hadn't wiped that attitude out. He scoffs at the idea of fighting for national honor, saying that this really means just national prestige, and that that prestige amounts to the ability to beat up other countries. His pocket summary of WW1 ("In the summer of 1914 an Austrian archduke was killed ... [This] led directly to the killing of ten million men who were not archdukes ...") is justly famed, but I liked even better his definition of a patriot ("a man who believes that other people are not patriots"). And insofar as he shows that stating that war is terrible is not arguing against a straw man he's on solid ground.

But he also dismisses the idea of a legitimate casus belli, assuming that every country will lie about its grievances and since it's impossible to get at the truth in a dispute, not bothering to try. (Imagine applying that attitude to today's "he said/she said" disputes.) And he uses this scoffery to evade his way out of addressing Christian "just war" doctrine.

But, the reader will ask - and Milne invents an imaginary reader who, at several points, does ask this question - if a country abjures war, what is it to do if it's attacked? In parts, Milne starts to respond to this, contrasting war with an individual being attacked by a criminal. There, there are police and courts, while war, because it's so destructive, is the equivalent of defending yourself by pulling out a bomb that would blow up yourself as well as the criminal, and the surrounding neighborhood: you wouldn't do that. A pacifist as prescient about the subsequent peace as Milne is about WW2 would discuss the creation of an effective international equivalent of a system of police and courts, but Milne doesn't: he doesn't even more than passingly mention the League of Nations, let alone analyze how it could be made to work better.

Like every other diagnostician of a world problem, from Marx on down, when it comes to proposing a solution Milne has only inanities to offer. His idea is to force (he doesn't say how) every world leader to swear a solemn oath by whatever God they hold dear to renounce war entirely, defensive as well as offensive, and then by golly they'll be forced to seek mediation of their differences by neutral parties (he doesn't say how they'll be chosen, and evades the question of how the countries will be forced to abide by the decision).

One odd part to this is that it doesn't comport with his ideas of disputes being unresolvable and not worth trying to resolve.

The other odd part is that he treats neutral mediation as a radical new idea he'll have to talk the countries into accepting; in fact it was a standard way for countries to settle differences they didn't want to get into wars over. The boundary dispute between the US and Canada over the San Juan Islands was settled in 1872 by asking Kaiser Wilhelm I to decide. Even wars could be ended that way: The Russo-Japanese war of 1905 was mediated by Theodore Roosevelt. But Milne makes no reference to this tradition.

But what, the reader insists on asking, if a country attacks you anyway? To this Milne goes to his most inane. Well, he says, assuming that other countries act in bad faith and thus preparing for war has always led to war, so why not assume they act in good faith instead? Couldn't be worse, could it? I shudder at that level of trust. Given your money to any Nigerian princes lately?

Oh come on, the exasperated reader says. What if it's THE NAZIS? And to his credit, Milne addresses that straightforwardly. He has a whole chapter, chapter 13, on exactly that question. He says that fascist dictators like Hitler or Mussolini keep control by keeping their people constantly on the pitch of threatening war. But, he says, 1) if they actually do declare war, they will begin to lose that control they hold most dear. And 2) if they should lose a war, that would be the end of them.

Here again Milne is prescient. Those gleaming fascist empires did indeed begin to crack when war was declared. And both Hitler and Mussolini met ends as degrading and humiliating as any anti-fascist could have wished for.

But Milne falls down with his conclusions from points 1 and 2. He says, 3) the dictators know this. I'm not sure if they did. Nothing I've read about Hitler suggests that he was aware of #1. He did know #2, but neither he nor Mussolini thought that could happen. They'd look out on their gleaming armies and think, "How can I possibly lose a war?" And then Milne says, 4) their talk of war is just bluster. They can't risk actually doing it.

This, I trust, is where Milne-'40 sadly shook his head and departed from his earlier self, because Milne-'34 was just flatly wrong about that. For one thing, he'd acknowledged that the dictators had to keep their populaces on the pitch of war, but he didn't realize that you can't do that indefinitely without eventually producing one.

Oh, but it gets worse. In chapter 8, the one in which Milne evades Christian responses to pacifism, he has his imaginary reader bluntly ask, What if Germany invaded anyway? Would you acquiesce, then, in their conquest of Britain? Milne's response defines "acquiesce" as liking it. He says, and here I quote: "In fact, I should hate them. It would be easy to feel intensely humiliated by them. But then ..." Oh, I can hardly bear to type this: "But then it is easy for an author to feel intensely humiliated whenever his play is rejected or his novel is a failure." And he provides several other examples of the same sort, and says, you don't kill people over that.

Oh, Milne-'34, you silly old bear. Do you really think those two forms of humiliation - an author's book not selling and the Nazis conquering a country - are even remotely comparable? All he can say to defend this position is to point out that, if we fought Germany, women and children would be killed, and (the reader he's addressing at this point is a Christian) we might have to ally ourselves with godless Russia. Well, those things were both true, but they didn't seem to bother Milne-'40: ask him. You don't even need to conjure up the ghosts of six million Jews and as many other Romani, homosexuals, et al, to argue this point: that mostly hadn't happened yet in 1940. But even then, Milne-'40 had figured out that there are things worse than war.

The problem is that Milne-'34 is so terrified by the memory of WW1 that he considers another war worse than literally anything else. The one other thing he's as certain of as the points I numbered 1 and 2 above is that another general war will be the end of European civilization, and he quotes that noted expert on world affairs, Stanley Baldwin, in support of this. (I'm being sarcastic: Baldwin was probably the least internationally-oriented politician in British history.) Milne-'34 is in the position of Chamberlain-'38, who was moved by the same terror to do anything to prevent another war. Remember that, technically, Munich was Chamberlain mediating - just as Milne would want - a dispute between Germany and Czechoslovakia. But it wasn't a real dispute, it had been gingered up out of nothing by Hitler. And the reason appeasement didn't work is not because appeasement is inherently bad, but because Hitler would not negotiate in good faith. In chapter 17 in describing his utopian plan for forced mediation, Milne says this assumes "(i) a Germany which recognizes that another European war will be disastrous, and (ii) a contented Germany." But such a Germany did not exist, and under the dispensations then existing in Europe, which only WW2 changed, such a Germany could not exist. So the entire argument is nugatory.

Nice try, Alan, but I prefer your children's books.

world according to cat

There's much excitement in the mornings. Because there will be food. Fooood. Food, that knits up the raveled sleeve of care, or something.

Pippin says, "If She* is getting fed, then I will get fed. I will now run around the living room several times to express my excitement at the prospect of being fed."

Maia, meanwhile, is jealous. When she and Pippin were on different kibbles, she wanted his kibble and would go to any lengths to sneak past my watchful eye and scarf some out of his dish. Was it just that it was his or did she actually like his kibble better? Then we put her on the same as his and lo, she was content. But now he's been switched to some lovely stinky wet food, and she's jealous again. These changes have all been for medical or dietary reasons, not to annoy Maia, but she is not to know that.

*who must be obeyed, of course

here's one I don't get

British department store chain spends £7 million to kick off its Christmas ad campaign with a 2-minute ad by an Oscar-winning director.

OK, it's a touching story of a little boy and the monster under his bed, but what is its point as an ad? The boy gets a toy with lights on it for Christmas, and it makes the monster go away. Or it doesn't make the monster go away. Or both. It seems to me that the toy the ad is actually trying to push is the monster, but they don't sell that at John Lewis. Or do they?

Friday, November 10, 2017

departed persons

In the last couple weeks, I've been to two Catholic masses in honor of the deceased: one funeral, one memorial service, but the only difference was whether the remains were present.

One was for B's niece's mother-in-law; the other for onyxlynx, who was part of a social circle I'm on the edge of. At the first, the eulogy was given by her son, who told of his mother's harrowing childhood in China, of which I'd known little; at the other, by her sister, who told of family gatherings back on the east coast, a part of her life I'd also not known, even unto the name she was known by her family, never heard among her friends.

In both cases the departed was a woman with a background and character far different from my own, and whom I did not know intimately; but who was friendly and welcoming and interesting, whom I could converse with easily and was always a pleasure to see. Who brought, as I said of onyxlynx before, texture to my life.

I wanted to honor and commemorate their lives, and let their loved ones know that others, too, missed them. And that's why I was there, yes?

Monday, November 6, 2017

two concerts

Last year a kind soul on the neighborhood association mailing list alerted us that a local pianist named Tamami Honma, who works as a music minister at a nearby Methodist church, was giving a series of concerts at that church covering Beethoven's piano sonatas. All 32 of them.

I went to some of these, which were overseen by a large cardboard cutout statue of Beethoven, and I enjoyed them. But whoever notified us of these concerts must have drifted away, because it was only on Saturday, from another source, that I learned that that evening Ms Honma was giving the second of three concerts covering Beethoven's piano concertos at the same church.

So I'd missed the first, and can't get to the third. But I hastened over for the second, which was a particular treat because it featured the concertos Nos. 1 and 5 (the latter is the "Emperor"), my favorites. The cardboard cutout statue was still there, so were Ms Honma and her percussive off-brand piano, and so was a small orchestra of peculiar roster.

The double winds of a full orchestra were all present. But in the strings there was only one player per part. This imbalance made for a wind-band sound much of the time, the more so as both these concertos include trumpets and timpani (which was also there). In a few passages where strings alone accompanied the piano, it became of chamber music intimacy. Interesting experience.

The orchestral musicians were from a variety of local community orchestras, and despite the fact that this included the Saratoga Symphony, they were fairly decent. Some horn wobbles during the transition between the Adagio and the Rondo in the Emperor left this magical moment basically unimpaired. I've heard less inspiring renditions in professional concerts.

Then on Sunday afternoon I ventured up to Redwood Symphony, with B. along, to hear Mozart's Requiem because I was reviewing it. I did not know until a couple hours before we left that it'd be a requiem for 26 Baptists from Texas. The chorus board president alluded, nonspecifically, to this in his introductory remarks, and I was pleased to be just as nonspecific in passing the allusion along. I wanted to acknowledge the moment, but reviews are required to be brief and on topic. There are other places to say what has to be said, and in some of them, it's being said. It may be only MAD Magazine, but I admire the concision in this.

May I just add that it really bites when an ensemble giving the world premiere of a work that they commissioned misspells the title in the program listing? It was right in the descriptive notes. I was just looking at the review and then the program listing and sent a hasty correction to my editor, and then had to follow it with a hastier uncorrection.

Friday, November 3, 2017

et tu, Wolfie

I've just received an assignment to review a performance of Mozart's Requiem this weekend. Now, I've heard Mozart's Requiem in performance at least three times, but I never paid close attention to what was going on in it. Time to do so. So I fetched out B's old vocal score (of course she has one, and there it is next to Brahms's Requiem and Verdi's Requiem) and followed along with a recording. I like what he does with matching up the soloists, especially in the Tuba Mirum where each successive solo entrance stomps on the last note of the previous one.

But I was also curious if I could tell from ear alone where Mozart stopped. As we all know from Amadeus, Mozart didn't live to finish the piece, but Salieri had nothing to do with it. The work had been commissioned, and Constanze was anxious that the patron not find out that Wolfie hadn't finished the job, or she might not get paid. So she hastily enlisted a handy composing friend (possibly a student of Mozart's, or maybe she made that up) named Süssmayr to quickly finish up the work in secret.

Besides the fact that it's somewhat windier? Yeah, there's a couple of things.

First: "Hosan-NAH." Süssmayr! Who pronounces it that way?

Second: A moment just before the end of the Agnus Dei. Mozart would never spiral down into a mere half-cadence that way. It's just not him.

science fiction in real life

Remember the scene in Asimov's Second Foundation where Arkady Darrell turns on the voice recognition program to write her term paper on Seldon's Plan, and forgets to turn it off when she starts to talk about something else?

Imaginative science fiction, seventy years ago.

A simple fact of life today.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

of a friend

Wild-irises posts in memoriam for onyxlynx, who died last week.

Of her nature and character you can read there. Here I will just say that I feel wounded. She was one of those people who brought texture to my life. I like the word "indirect" that wild-irises uses; that was how I experienced her communication, and it was something you got used to. I felt honored that she was my DW friend, and we went on communicating in that same indirect way that I'd first learned when we were in an apa together in the late 70s. I found that staying up late in a bleary haze was the best state to appreciate her writing and to respond appropriately. This broadens and stretches the mind, children.

Of course she used a different name in apas than she did offline. Nor did she litter her online journal with clues to her identity either; figuring out who this "onyxlynx" person was was just part of the fun.

We both disliked dogs. We both disliked potatoes. We may have been the only ones.

I'd sometimes come across her among the niches at the Garden of Memory concert - she's the Tall Black Woman whom I'd report having seen there - and we'd converse there in that happenstantial way of casual occasional friends. She thanked me for posting a reminder of this summer's concert and planned to be there, but alas it did not happen and she sent regrets. And that was the last ...


1. Since we get so few trick-or-treaters even in a good year, and since the light by the carpath in front of our house has been out for over a month (our landlord keeps pinging the management agency for the complex, but nothing happens, and our porch light doesn't extend that far), we decided just to eschew Halloween this year. No pumpkin, no candy.

2. The big news is, Michael Tilson Thomas is announcing his retirement from the San Francisco Symphony. Like a good music director, he's giving three years' notice, but it's still a big change. Reading his statement, he feels that at 75, which he'll be then, it's time to give up the administrative work and go back to just conducting. So he's not going away entirely. Still, he's been so monumental and so much a fixture - 25 years in the post, longest in SFS' history - that contemplating his replacement is an awesome challenge, bigger than it's seemed before. SFS' last 3 MDs have all been good at their job, albeit with differing styles, but the shoes to fill have gotten even bigger, and the wrench into a different style will be greater.

3. Latest quick grab from the library shelf, A Charlie Brown Religion by Stephen J. Lind, on the spiritual life of Charles Schulz both in and out of the comic strip. The big Schulz biography by David Michaelis says he gradually lost his faith and became an unbeliever. That must be one of the ways the Schulz children felt Michaelis misrepresented their father, because this book, accompanied by their enthusiastic blurbs on the back, says not. Schulz's Midwestern Protestant distaste for organized, authoritative religion, which is part of what caused him eventually to stop attending church and to dub himself a secular humanist (by which, Lind insists, he did not mean atheist or unbeliever), did not cancel out his Christian devotion or his interest in Bible study - as indeed can be guessed from the strip, which remained Biblically conversant through the end, without the heavy-handedness of certain other Christian cartoonists. Typical of Schulz is his opposition to official school prayer when that was a hot issue. He wrote to a church publication at the time, "If our spiritual lives need the support of governmental laws, then we are already doomed." Naturally his comic in which Sally whispers to Charlie Brown as a great secret, "We prayed in school today," was widely misread.

Some of what's in here is interesting - did you know that the Great Pumpkin began as a sarcastic joke about seeing Christmas decorations in October? in 1959? - and some disturbing, like the Peanuts nativity set featuring Lucy as Mary, Charlie Brown as Joseph, and Woodstock as Jesus: supposedly the gang are putting on a pageant, but still ... Lind is not a minister, but he sounds like one, keeping a minister's positive upbeat tone about everything, even Schulz's divorce and his failure to discuss morals and ethics with his children (he didn't want to come across as an Authority, see).

4. Speaking of fathers, it's my father's birthday today, the first one he's not around to celebrate, alas. It's also the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, whose exact date I hadn't known before, an interesting coincidence. Balfour gets in bad repute these days, but nobody has a plausible answer for where the Jews were supposed to go instead (my ancestors were already here, and the US soon after stopped letting dusky foreigners in) or notices that the Declaration explicitly calls for territorial justice for the Arabs as well.