Tuesday, October 16, 2018

concert review: St. Lawrence Quartet

Music@Menlo chamber music concerts tend to be potpourris of various performers making a variety of ensembles, and recently concerts by the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Stanford's resident ensemble, seem to be following this pattern.

Saturday's concert had one basic string quartet, one arrangement of an unaccompanied four-part choral piece for quartet, one for cello and piano, one for string quartet and piano, and one for an oddball string quintet (one violin, two violas, cello, and bass) and piano. The composers were Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and - a bit unusual - Messiaen.

It was an interesting concert, and I had fun writing the review.

Monday, October 15, 2018

something is wrong on the Internet, part CLXVII

So here's an article on the status and title of Meghan and Harry's impending baby.

I know. You don't care. But in a world full of pressing cares, it's the fact that this is of no significance whatsoever that makes it refreshing to talk about.

According to the article, the baby will not automatically be designated a prince or princess. I think that's right. Among the Queen's cousins, the title of prince or princess goes down only two generations from the monarch. Whether the blessing will automatically descend upon them if and when Prince Charles becomes king, I'm not sure but I think so.

However, the article also says that Kate & Wills's children had to be individually given that status: they didn't get it automatically. That may be true for Charlotte and Louis, but the order of George V limiting the use of prince/princess is quoted in the article as not applying to "the eldest living son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales." That describes Prince George. He gets it automatically, so allow me to point out that on this point Wikipedia is right and the Washington Post is wrong.

However, that's not the wrongest. This is about the title of the children of Meghan and Harry. The article says "It is believed that any children of the duke and duchess of Sussex will be known as Lord or Lady Mountbatten-Windsor." Believed by whom? Only by people who don't know the nomenclature of British nobility.

The eldest son (as the patent of Harry's duchy is the usual males-only) will be known formally as the Earl of Dumbarton, by the customary rules that the son and heir of a senior peer takes his father's highest subsidiary title by courtesy.

Other children will be known as Lord or Lady First-name followed by last name, not with last name immediately following title. See Lord Randolph Churchill in history and Lord Peter Wimsey in fiction. There's no such thing as Lord Last-name in British nomenclature, only Lord Title, and "Mountbatten-Windsor" is nobody's title. (I believe you can be Lady Last-name, but only as wife of a knight, not as part of the peerage.)

It is true that the children's legal surname will be Mountbatten-Windsor, but it's very common for people with double-barrelled last names to employ only one barrel of it in their use-names. Winston Churchill's actual surname was Spencer-Churchill (yes, he was a distant relative of Princess Di), but neither he nor his father (see above) nor any of his descendants have been known that way. The one Mountbatten-Windsor in the Lady First-name position is Prince Edward's daughter, who is styled Lady Louise Windsor. Quite possibly Harry's children will be styled likewise.

And that's the straight dope as far as I know it.

Friday, October 12, 2018

to your scattered minorities go

I've seen recent demands that Sunnyvale, a city of 140 thousand people, begin electing its city council by districts. (Currently the 7 members are elected for separate seats but all at large.) This is because, although the city - in the heart of Silicon Valley, the highest concentration of Asian population in the continental US - has an Asian population of 40.9%, there have rarely been any Asians on the council: maybe 2 or 3 in its history. There's none now, though there's one running for one of the three seats up next month.

The idea is that districts will enable concentrations of ethnicities to have a stronger voice than they do city-wide. But it seems to me that this will really only work if those ethnicities are geographically concentrated. But the Asians here are not.

Using the Census's American Fact Finder for the 2010 census for the city and its constituent zip codes, I divided the city into three zones of very roughly equal population:
1) north of Central Expressway, 94085 & 94089 (40,492: 28.9%)
2) between Central and El Camino, 94086 (45,697: 32.6%)
3) south of El Camino, 94087 (54,293: 38.8%)

The Asian percentages of the population are:
1) 36.6%; 2) 42.0%; 3) 43.1%
That's just not a very high differential. The only way district elections would facilitate the election of Asians is if there happens to be a district with a strong Asian candidate but without strong non-Asian candidates.

Where it could make a difference is with Hispanics, but not that much as the Hispanic population is only 18.9%. But the differential is strong:
1) 29.9%; 2) 21.3%; 3) 9.0%

(Black population in the city is only 2.0%, and there isn't a strong differential. There is one Black candidate in this year's Council elections.)

I think it would be far more effective to recruit more strong Asian candidates to run for Council than it would be to create districts.

traffic zones

The DMV says that it's better to get an appointment than wait in line. When I needed to go in two months ago, I did both. I went in at 6:15 am on August 13 and waited in line 45 minutes until they opened, and then another 35 minutes to wait inside and finish the transaction. Total time investment, about 2 hours including the time needed to drive to the office that opens at 7 am. It was that little because I was willing to rise that early.

If I'd waited for the date of my appointment, I'd be going in today. Today. (I cancelled the appointment after I got my license in the mail, but it's still in my personal calendar.)

Yesterday, the city held a walking tour of one long block of a nearby arterial street, to tutor curious residents in plans and proposals to increase traffic safety. The block extends from the major intersection whose pedestrian crossings are frequently flooded with students from the high school at one corner, to a lesser signaled intersection where recently a lone pedestrian crossing the artery was plowed over by a driver from the side street who was turning right and apparently not looking.

The traffic consultant leading the tour spoke much of improving visibility at intersections and providing tools for pedestrian safety, and the irregular median breaks which contribute to the bad accident rate on the street. It's not like the street I lived on in college, where regularly at night drivers would plow up the wrong way on a one-way street, leading to dramatic crashes, but it's serious enough, and it's nice to know what's being mooted. Someone on the tour had heard a rumor that both the local shopping centers, which I know are at least 60 years old because they were around when I first moved here, are going to be torn up and replaced by the retail-housing mix that is gaining popularity, but we'll see.

Meanwhile the once-thriving, now derelict, regional mall a couple miles away is now formally being torn up, but they're still arguing over what will replace it, and as it's across the city limits my city and its voters have no say in any of this.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Yiddish music in Israel

What a curious topic, I thought on my last visit to the Stanford music department, as I saw the poster for a talk on this subject. I think I'll go. So tonight I did. It was given by Laya Silber, a visiting Israeli professor of choral music. Here's what I already knew, which might clarify what made the topic curious:

For Eastern European Jews, Hebrew was purely a liturgical language. Their mama loshen, mother tongue for daily use, was Yiddish, a highly inflected German dialect full of Hebrew loan words and other influences, and using its alphabet. But that was just the Ashkenazic culture: other Jewish cultures had their own hybrid tongues or ways of speaking.

The founders of the state of Israel sought a common Jewish culture and also to free it from the ghetto image, remaking the Jewish figure into the athletic, outdoorsy sabra, so they reconstructed Hebrew as a secular, everyday language. In the process Yiddish was deprecated in Israel.

So much I knew. What about music? Prof. Silber explained further: Such Yiddish songs as were deemed suitable were not just translated into Hebrew, but the lyrics were entirely reworked. The tempos were made more upbeat, the melodies changed from minor to major, ornaments added to the line and syncopation to the rhythm, characteristics of Arabic and Yemeni music which had been adopted into the Israeli musical style.

But later, starting in the 1960s and 70s, Israeli composers such as Ami Maayani (classical) and Dov Seltzer (mostly pop songs and theater), who didn't even speak Yiddish, began composing songs and vocal works in that language. Why? Because they'd been introduced to Yiddish poetry which they found interesting, and because they realized that Yiddish was an important aspect of Jewish history. But they continued to write the music in Israeli and modernist styles, eschewing for instance the augmented seconds so characteristic of Yiddish folk music and American Yiddish art music.

So that was the talk, heavily musically illustrated. Illuminating stuff.

Meanwhile, in other musical news, I have a review of the opening Symphony Silicon Valley concert for you. I consider this a pretty basic review: I enjoyed the concert a great deal but it didn't generate much to say about it. So it goes sometimes.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

you too may be on Google+

So I read this WaPost article about the Google+ debacle because I wanted to find out what was going on, having seen - as is so often the case for me and news events - secondary material about the fallout without having seen any primary exposition outlining the facts.

And it also said, "For a time, Google made it so convenient to create a Google+ profile that you basically couldn’t make a new Gmail account without also signing up for the company’s social platform. Only those who were paying close attention could really avoid it. To this day, you might have a Google+ profile of your own and not even realize it."

I kind of doubted I had one. Google+ was launched in 2011, and I've had a Gmail address - which I use as a secondary address for when there's problems with my primary address - since at least 2010, which is the date of the oldest entry in my inbox, and my recollection is that I got it while Gmail was still in beta, which it came out of in 2009, according to the Wikipedia article about it. So how could I sign up for a service that didn't exist yet when I was signing up for the other service?

However, there was a link to another article explaining how to find if you have Google+ and how to delete it if you do. And to my surprise, I did. I don't know how this happened. So I followed the deletion instructions - which I would never have done if this hadn't been a trusted source, because I would have feared deleting my Gmail as well - and it's gone. I'd never have realized its presence without this, which is why I'm passing all this on.

But this does suggest why Google+ never succeeded as a social media platform. Nobody's going to use a service they don't realize they have. How stupid do you have to be to sign up your users for a new service and then not tell them you've done so? As stupid as Google, apparently.

Saturday, October 6, 2018


So now we have two aggrieved sexual abusers on the Supreme Court. Somehow one seemed sufficient representation.

Justice Kagan - how can she bring herself to shake hands with these guys? - is worried about what will happen to a Court without a swing justice.

A couple profs say not to worry: Roberts will step into the breach.

And, you know, he might. He already did once, in the Obamacare case in 2012, when Kennedy declined to take the job. Roberts stared into the abyss that we'd fall into if Obamacare were overturned, and he blinked. He refused to join Thomas, Alito, and Scalia in marching over the edge, and adhered to the liberals instead. There may be just enough of a patriotic conservative left in Roberts to refuse to go full Trumpian.

But it won't be enough. People forget that Kennedy hasn't always been the swing justice. In fact, there used to be many swing justices. The role was only pared down to one after the Bork nomination polarized the Court, and that one swing was O'Connor. In the Clinton years, the perceived balance was four liberals - Stevens (who'd been perceived as something of a conservative when first chosen in 1975), Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer - and four conservatives - Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy. Then when O'Connor was replaced by Alito, Kennedy moved into the swing spot, but a more right-wing swing spot than her. Roberts will be more right-wing still, and while he may still save Obamacare, he's unlikely to save Roe, especially from incremental drip.

Friday, October 5, 2018

concert review: Berkeley Symphony

Finding my Thursday evening unexpectedly free, I accepted an invitation to attend the Berkeley Symphony at Zellerbach Hall. Ming Luke, who leads the orchestra's educational programs, conducted this first concert of a season bereft of a music director.

I couldn't leave home until 4:15, and the drive to the station was heavily congested with traffic, but BART was on its best behavior, and I arrived at 6:25 for a 7 pm show, which, as long as I wasn't expecting to eat anything, was just early enough to be relaxing.

My experiments at finding a sonically decent place to sit in this hollowed-out cannonball of an auditorium have not yet succeeded, and that may be the reason that Anna Clyne's Night Ferry, which is the work I was there to hear, came across as roiling chaos rather than the powerful roar it was at the Cabrillo Festival when I first fell for Clyne's music.

It was followed, without a break, by Ravel's La Valse, whose opening quiet section seemed to fit pretty well with Clyne's dying-off ending.

Jennifer Higdon's Violin Concerto is the work that won her a Pulitzer, but I have little affinity for violin concertos as a genre and this one did little for me. There were some intriguing and lovely sounds from the orchestra now and then, but soloist Benjamin Beilman's determinedly ceaseless sawing and squeaking away did not appeal.

Lastly, or rather firstly, came Shostakovich's Festive Overture. I do not understand why orchestras so frequently play this work. It's a piece of tossed-off hackwork with no redeeming value. The program notes actually quoted a Soviet conductor as saying that the usual third-rate hacks who got such festival commissions "wrote terrible shit." Well, now we get to have terrible shit by Shostakovich instead. If you want a fairly brief orchestral work by this composer, why not the Five Fragments, Op. 42? Them's weird stuff. Or the orchestration of Tea for Two that he wrote in an hour on a bet. Anything.

Friday, again fighting traffic, I got over to Stanford for a noon concert by the Puck Quartet. This group from New York is described on the leaflet as "drawing inspiration from [the] mischievous" Shakespeare fairy, playing with "a capricious spirit ... and sense of humor." If only they had done that in the Ravel Quartet, it would have been quite a show. Instead, they played it in a subdued Romantic manner. Nice, but nothing to write home about. Britten's gnarly Three Divertimenti (which we were told was his first work for quartet, but it wasn't) came off more puckishly.

Monday, October 1, 2018

the good citizen

The good citizen goes to the candidates forum for the school board election, because even though he has no children and never did, he always votes and believes that public schools are important. And I've found there's nothing like an in-person forum to find out what the candidates for obscure local offices are really like, behind their bland web sites and the uncommunicative newspaper writeups.

There in fact are two school boards, one for the younger children's schools and one for high school. Each board has three seats open and, with only one incumbent running between them, it's a pretty open race, four candidates for one board and six for the other.

Two of the six, including the sole incumbent, stand out above the others for skill with words and clarity of vision. Nothing riveting, just a few good points. It's hard to choose among three for the third spot, but I think I can cross off one. She's not terrible, but she reads most of her answers from cue cards. Mostly she finds ones that vaguely fit the question asked, but sometimes ... not. She's also the only candidate who refuses to take a position for, as all the others do, or even against, our school construction bond measure. She says it's for the voters to decide. Sure it is, but what do you think?

For the other panel, three of the four are experienced volunteers and advisory board members who just want to move up to fill the vacancies. They're in the usual mode of aspiring local politicians, more interested in discussing process than goals. Saying that you want to improve communication means little - doesn't everyone in a context like this? - unless you say what direction you want that communication to move.

The fourth candidate is different. With no prep background in the schools, but boasting accountancy and business experience, he's a kindergarten dad who just decided to run for school board. He could have been a flake, but I like his observations, naive though they are, even when - as with reform of state school-funding policy - they're far beyond the powers of a school board.

The city council one is in two weeks.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

A Mirror for Observers, by Edgar Pangborn (1954)

When I wrote a couple weeks ago that I had borrowed a copy with intent to read, I got a few unsolicited comments from people testifying how much they loved this book.

Well, now I've read it. I didn't like it.

It's the near future, as of the date of writing. Martians have been living secretly on earth, disguised as humans, for thousands of years. Most of the book is the journal of a Martian agent who's been assigned to watch over a 12-year-old boy in a Massachusetts mill town, to protect him from the Bad Martian. The agent is not very good at his job. He misplaces the boy and doesn't find him again until he's an adult nine years later. Nor does this prevent the Bad Martian from carrying out his Evil Plan, although as world-destroying Evil Plans go it's something of a damp squib. (But it's still a major disaster, so making it come across as a damp squib is a monumental achievement in bathos.)

However, it was never clear to me why the Bad Martian is interested in this particular boy, or how the Evil Plan couldn't be carried out with his presence, or alternatively - since this seems to be how it actually goes down - without his presence. This lack of understanding on my part isn't that important: it just destroys the entire plot and character motivation for me, that's all.

Also, none of the dialogue sounds as if was spoken by human beings, even humans who are actually Martians in disguise. This is particularly glaring with the lines spoken by children, even though they're supposed to be precocious children. But then, precocious children are an SF specialty almost always handled spectacularly badly. That, in addition, the Martians don't seem very alien is a trope so common in SF as hardly to be worth mentioning.

John Hertz asked me about this book because he wanted my opinion of the writing about music. The 12-year-old boy has a 10-year-old girlfriend (yes, they get married at the end, after they're grown up) who is a budding piano student, and she bonds with the Martian because he plays piano also, despite one finger on each hand being artificial as part of his human disguise.

After the girl is grown up, the Martian attends her debut piano recital in New York, and this is where most of the book's music natter is located. The one thing that's clear is that Pangborn - who was conservatory-trained - loves piano music, especially Beethoven and Chopin, and gives that love to his characters. The description of her concert rendition of Beethoven's "Waldstein" Sonata is detailed enough that, as I am tolerably familiar with the work, I get an impression of what it would have sounded like. I wish I could hear it.

I got less out of the description of Chopin. The recital includes "the sonata" (which one?) and "the F Sharp Minor Impromptu." There is no F Sharp Minor Impromptu. It probably means the F Sharp Major Impromptu, one of that majority of Chopin pieces I don't get much out of, so I can't judge the Martian's emotional reaction to it.

The most curious comment comes in connection with the music of a (fictional) contemporary composer. (Remember, the story was published in 1954, and this part takes place 18 years later.) The Martian, as critic, contrasts this composer with "the I-don't-really-mean-it school of the '930s and '940s." The reference is presumably to something historical, and I might be better able to guess what school this is if I knew Pangborn's own stylistic affiliations in modern music. As the antidote to this school is being influenced by Brahms, I wonder if it means neo-classicism, as Brahms is smooth and shaded while neo-classicism is bright and brittle, and was thought by some at the time to be mannered and insincere.

But neo-classicism is traditionally considered to have been founded by Stravinsky's Pulcinella and Prokofiev's Classical Symphony in 1917-20, and flourished in the 1920s, so it's of slightly earlier date. The style that most distinctly flourished in the 1930s-40s is socially-conscious populism, as in Copland's most popular works. The reference is unlikely to be to serialism, which began earlier but didn't become dominant until slightly later. So I dunno.

Friday, September 28, 2018

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

MTT opens his penultimate season as music director with a two-week Stravinsky festival (surprise!1), of which this is the second week's program. Like all Stravinsky festivals, it's built around his three famous early ballet scores for Diaghilev, a concentration of repertoire not appropriate for any composer worthy to be the subject of regular festivals. Regardless, we get two of the three tonight.

I'd be more eager for this if I were more of a Stravinsky fan. As it is, I almost wonder if I really want to go and hear The Rite of Autumn2, I mean Spring, again. But I drag myself there because I know that SFS will do an absolutely splendiferous job on this music, which they do. Likewise on Petrushka and the ringer on the program, the 1931 Violin Concerto in D. Leonidas Kavakos saws off the solo part energetically, and it's generally a much better performance than I ever expected to hear of this piece.

As I walk back to the BART station afterwards, the most peculiar sound is drifting out of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium down the street as I walk by. It sounds like a punk-rock version of Celtic folk, and I find on checking later that that's exactly what it is, a band called Flogging Molly. From behind two thick walls, which is probably the minimum safe distance, it sounds pretty good. At any rate it's attracted an unusually large number of hot dog vendors, cooking franks with bacon and onions on stovetops-on-wheels on the sidewalk outside. If only I were still hungry at 10:30 pm, and if there were somewhere unawkward to eat one before entering the BART station, where food is frowned upon ... but neither of these things is so, so their marketing resourcefulness goes unrewarded by me.

1. I'm being sarcastic.
2. Joke courtesy of B.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

testimony 2

I watched parts of Kavanaugh's testimony, and was sorry I did.

Not only did he ramble around into irrelevancies and repeat himself incessantly when avoiding answering questions, he did the same things when he was answering the question, even if the question was a simple one to which we already knew the answer, like "Did you drink alcohol in high school?" (And notice how he danced around acknowledging that it was illegal for 16-year-olds to do.) Never mind the charges, he should be dismissed from consideration for inability to communicate alone.

Also, someone that angry - and that nakedly partisan - should not be a judge of any description. Just no.

And if this were a criminal trial and he the defendant, that amount of anger on display over the charges and the way it was disrupting his life would have any trial judge throwing him in the can.

You want to know what it was like without having to watch or listen to it? Alexandra Petri has caught it.


We don't have much in the way of cable-only channels, so I wasn't expecting to watch the Christine Blasey Ford testimony, but I found a feed embedded in the Washington Post home page (we have paid access to that paper), and I picked it up during DiFi's time. They're on lunch break right now. Thoughts.

1. Each senator gets only five minutes, except Chairman Grassley who gets to interject whenever he wants. Whenever a Democrat complains about the lack of an FBI investigation, Grassley takes a time out afterwards to defend himself. When one senator (I think it was Leahy) complained of the rush, Grassley said there would have been plenty of time to hold an investigation before Ford's identity was revealed, if only DiFi had been willing to pass that along to the committee. He assures that Ford's identity would have been protected, but he also twice misspeaks and talks about telling the whole world about it, which reveals how much his assurance of privacy would have been worth.

2. No other Republicans have talked at all, so far. Probably wise on their part: no feet in mouth. They all yield their time to the majority's hired lawyer, who - also wisely - concentrates on establishing details of facts in Ford's account. She sounds less like a prosecutor than a neutral investigator. Again probably wise: prosecutorial attacks would probably not go over well.

3. When asked about her reactions to the assault, Ford speaks in the voice of a traumatized victim, which comes across movingly, except when she suddenly switches gears and gives the technical responses of a psychology professor, which comes across authoritatively.

4. Some of the Democrats, Leahy and Durbin in particular, don't have much in the way of questions. They just want to give speeches about how courageous she is, which is kind of embarrassing when delivered to her face.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018


"If you had told me in the 1990s that, between Bill Cosby and Donald Trump, one would go on to become President and one would be going to jail for rape, I would have got that one wrong."

- Ted Alexandro

ear worm

Hello kitten my old friend
I've come to give you food again
Because it seems while I was sleeping
Up onto my bed you came creeping
And the meowing that you planted in my ear
Woke me here
And caused the sound of munching.

Andrew Ducker found an article claiming that apes can't really use sign language, and that causes me to think about communication with animals, pet cats and dogs in particular.

True enough that, as the article says, my conversations with our cats are mostly about their wanting something. "Feed me! Pet me! Get me a peacock feather! Clean my litter box!" And that there is absolutely no syntactical grammar in any of this. So I wouldn't call it language. But it is communication.

For even if the cats can't give a complex account of their emotions, they clearly have emotions which express themselves in behavior and tones of meowing. And because we live a simple, well-organized life with regular expected events - and the cats get very disturbed when this is upset - they've learned to know whether the humans' actions are proceeding towards filling feline wants, even if there's no direct connection between those actions and those wants.

This second-order understanding is well-known among dogs. The dog gets excited at the prospect of a walk when it sees you going towards the closet, because it knows that that's where the leash is kept. That sort of thing. Cats, certainly those house cats that are responsive to human interaction, can grasp concepts at the same level of understanding.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

concert review: Redwood Symphony

So SFCV sent me to a concert featuring a somewhat different iteration of the Three B's. And the review comes out here.

I'm somewhat less than optimally satisfied with how well I expressed in words my thoughts about this one. At least it looks a lot better than it did before I excised excess verbiage. Originally, lines like "His music is warmly accessible and easy to get to know" and "the orchestra proceed[ed] deliberately and cautiously through Brahms's noble utterances" came with explanations of what I meant by that, but I judged them superfluous.

Since it was just about the only appropriate local concert of the month but I couldn't also review it for SMDJ, for them I wrote one of my usual annual season previews, dull to write but I hope a little whetting to read for locals with a taste for this.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Tolkien conference in New York

Here's something that's been in the works a while and may now be announced: a weekend conference next March in connection with the visit of the Bodleian's Tolkien exhibit to the Morgan Library in New York City.

On Saturday, March 16, there will be speakers at the library, and an opportunity to see the exhibit in company of some of the scholars who'll be visiting. (Note: You'll need to buy a ticket to see the exhibit; it's not free as it was at the Bodleian.)

On Sunday, March 17, we'll move a few blocks downtown to Baruch College for a symposium sponsored by the NY Tolkien Society. There'll be a lot more speakers on various aspects of Tolkien and his work, including me. And there will be music!

Details and more links here.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

books and refrigerator

I checked three literary books out of the university library yesterday.

1. Three Plays by Noel Coward. I wanted to track down the Coward quote, "Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs," that Brett Kavanaugh's friend Mike Judge had included in his high-school yearbook page. Out of context it sounds incredibly crass, so what was the context? I'd found online that it was not in Coward's own persona, but spoken by a character in his play Private Lives, but the full text wasn't available to me online. So to the library. Private Lives is a comedy about a divorced couple who re-meet accidentally, fall back in love, and then resume having the fierce arguments that caused their divorce in the first place. The line (about a third of the way through Act 3) is one spoken by the man in the course of one of those arguments consisting of insults and belittlement. It seems to me that to quote it alone, with apparent approval, is to defy and deny the purpose for which Coward wrote it. You can do that, but it should be noted that that's what you're doing. What's the woman's response in the play? She says, "You're an unmitigated cad, and a bully." Say that, if anyone smugly quotes the original line at you.

2. Apples at Night, by H.A. Manhood. I'd come across a blog review of a new edition of this obscure 20C English author's stories, which intrigued me enough, when I saw that the library had a couple of his original collections, to check out one. I've read about half the book so far. They're slice of life stories, mostly set in rural England, with long descriptive passages, and plots based on ironic twists that I'm usually not sure I fully get the point of.

3. A Mirror for Observers, by Edgar Pangborn. Classic SF novel I'd never read. John Hertz had asked my opinion of it at Worldcon, so I intend to acquire an opinion. What John wanted my evaluation of was its descriptions of classical music. Browsing through I see that one character is a pianist specializing in Beethoven and Chopin. OK, I'll read this.

Meanwhile, like Christine Lavin's Mysterious Woman*, I've been concerned with defrosting my refrigerator. The freezer compartment isn't supposed to develop layers of ice on the bottom that steadily thicken until I chip them out and then start all over again, but it started doing that a while ago, and past attempts to defrost haven't stopped it. They (whoever They is) recommend 24 hours, but that wasn't long enough. So I tried 36 hours instead. That required arranging with both B. and myself a time when the freezer could be emptied, and there was little enough in the fridge that it could fit in our coolers along with the ice packs. The project finished up yesterday evening, and so far it seems to have worked.

*This is her parody of Suzanne Vega, and to my taste the funniest song she's ever written.

Monday, September 17, 2018

reading the news

1. It's Anita Hill all over again. That too came out in public after the hearings were already under way. And I fear it will lead to the same result, including the smearing of the accuser which has already started.

But holy weep, I think there's only one person between me and the accuser. B. and I have a long-time friend who's also a psychology professor at the same institute. Her subfield of interest is entirely different, but they must know each other. Cripes.

2. I'm in the "But what about the traffic?" camp about this newsworthy development plan. It's right around the corner from us, we went to the defunct shopping center when it was still open often, and the construction will cause as much headache as the Apple spaceship right next door did.

3. I never thought much of Princess Eugenie, but now I feel sorry for her. Her parents are hijacking her wedding.

4. I always vote for bonds if they're not for prison construction. But this water bond is opposed by a Sierra Club leader. This needs further investigation.

5. Vote for the best Bay Area ice cream. I've only had one of the four finalists, and it was too creamy for my taste. I'd have voted for Three Twins, but it lost in the previous round. But the best Bay Area ice cream, hands down, is Old Uncle Gaylord's. It's been out of business for decades, but it's still the best.

6. Obituary: She shot Nazis.

7. Football player retires from his career at halftime during a game. That's showing them. If only they'd all do that.

8. Disney has somehow gotten its hands on the rights to make a Mary Poppins sequel. Good thing Travers is dead. Note from trailer that grown-up Michael has pulled a Susan Pevensie and doesn't believe in that childhood magic any more. Note also trailer's avoidance of revealing what Lin-Manuel Miranda's cockney accent sounds like, shades of Dick Van Dyke (who's also in the new movie! So is Angela Lansbury! Incredibly old people rule!)

rather busy day

The planning started out with my intention to attend a free Sunday afternoon chamber concert at San Francisco State, because the Alexander and Telegraph Quartets would be collaborating in the Mendelssohn Octet, a work I miss no reasonable opportunity to hear.

Then I noticed that the evening's concert over at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley would be the Tannahill Weavers, a Scottish folk band I remember fondly from my serious folk-record listening days in the 70s.

To which I added the Eat Real food fest in Oakland's Jack London Square around noon, which had intrigued me but had not seemed worth the bother of getting up there by itself.

Could I attend all of these by public transit, driving only to and from the BART line at the start and end of the journey? I could and did. Much web research was involved in making sure it was feasible and learning the necessary bus routes, and the inter-system transit card was essential for covering the large and complex fares. Only the schedule timings proved to be more aspirational than real. It came out like this:

Travel. Car across the Bay to BART. BART to downtown Oakland. Bus down to Jack London Square on the waterfront, about 3/4 of a mile but longer than I care to walk these days. Arrived just before opening, early enough to get in a popular food booth line before it became very long.

Food. There I bought a small bowl of paella (whose main veggie was chard instead of the usual peas, much more to my taste), dished from vast simmering skillets about five feet in diameter, following it up down the way with some Japanese fried chicken, crispy tenders dolloped with spicy bbq sauce, and finishing up with an artisanal watermelon-and-pineapple popsicle.

Travel. Bus back to downtown. BART to Daly City. Search for bus stop, which is always on the other side of the station from where you start looking. Bus to SF State. Walk down through campus to the Creative Arts Building.

Music. The Mendelssohn Octet, led by the Alexander's Zakarias Grafilo, was businesslike in its first movement. The finale, usually brusque and heavy, was as light and airy as the scherzo. I liked that. McKenna Theatre's absurdly dry, almost coarse, acoustics served the inner voices of the Octet well, but was far less appealing in the Alexander's Mozart K. 428. They also played the Penderecki Third, a sort of anthology of modernistic techniques that I did my best to nap through, since I didn't have to review it.

Travel. Rush back up the hill to the trolley stop, catch a trolley leaving just then, 5 minutes before schedule (and the display said the next wouldn't be for 20 minutes instead of the scheduled 12-minute intervals). Transfer to BART line. Transfer to other BART line, both also off schedule. Arrive in Berkeley just in time to grab a quick frank from Top Dog before walking down the street and around the corner to the Freight.

Music. Four varyingly venerable guys take the stage, the Tannahill Weavers. Not even every Scottish folk band includes the Highland bagpipes, but this one does. I like that. Also fiddle, flute, and guitar, occasionally varied with bodhran and tinwhistle. Lots of fast jigs and marches, lots of songs in impenetrable Scots, lots of cracks between songs from the band leader. ("If you don't like the album, mail it back to us, and we'll send you something we don't like.")

Travel. Straight run on BART back to where I parked is quiet until we reach the Oakland Coliseum, which has just come to the end of what I later find was a hip-hop festival. Previously nearly empty car is suddenly packed with people, mostly white, mostly young, mostly loud, some of them smoking, which you're not supposed to do on BART. The seat next to me is occupied by three young women. Three. One on the seat, one on her lap, one on hers. I ask them not to fall over on me, which on BART is not an idle request. They're good, and they let me out at my stop.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

making more music lists

The New York Times got 18 responses from professional musicians and critics to "5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Classical Music". True enough, as Lisa Irontongue has pointed out, that there's no excuse, out of such a group of 18, for only 4 to be women. I'm curious about the premise of the choices: most of the listeners chose pieces that had socked them personally, rather than the more dreary answers of what they thought might most appeal to hoi polloi. (You can see the latter in the comments, which are full of suggestions for Romantic schmaltz. Good pieces, mostly, but boringly obvious as choices for a list.)

These answers were, for the most part, more interesting. Two of the four living composers were unknown to me, but otherwise I was familiar with all the composers, though not necessarily well with the individual pieces. However, the Ravel song and the selection from Der Rosenkavalier are the only pieces I didn't care for (I like these composers, but not these particular works), and some - the Beethoven, the Janacek, Reich's Tehillim - are long-time favorites of mine.

But what would I have chosen? Hmmm, tough. If, like Anthony Tommasini, I went for what thrilled me at age 12, I'd have to name the work that initially sold me on the heavy classics, the ultra-basic choice of the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth. If you've never heard it, which at the time I hadn't, it's a real stunner, and the challenge for a performance today is to try to re-capture a little of that.

But I'm more attracted by Michael Cooper's idea of picking a work that suited one's melancholia in college. Sure, his pick of the Beethoven Seventh allegretto is a good one, and I love that music, but the particular sad music that most kept my sore heart company in those days was the Andantino from Sibelius's Third.

But if I want something that truly thrills me, my choice would have to be the coda from the first movement of Bruckner's Sixth. I don't know how well this works without knowledge of the build-up (you can listen to the whole symphony if you want), but the coda goes like this:

Turning abruptly from music I know to music I don't, there's John Scalzi's list of 20 songs he's enjoyed from the last 20 years. Folks, I'd never heard any of these performances before. I was even familiar with the names of only 4 of the 20 performers, and I didn't know much about them. My brief listening-to-popular-music days ended more than 20 years ago, and while I'm quite aware that good songs have been released since then, apart from a few performers I have a particular fondness for, I just haven't bothered to seek them out. But I listened to these, or began to: those which began or quickly moved into aggressive distortion or feedback I turned off quickly. Even if they were good, and one or two of those were, I can't abide listening to an entire song like that.

The ones I liked were quieter, and the ones I liked best were those that reminded me of other performers I liked. I liked "Cut Your Teeth" by Kyla La Grange because it sounded rather like Tori Amos. I liked "On the Radio" by Regina Spektor because, even though her singing style is very different, after some cogitation I realized that the distinctive instrumentals reminded me of Enya, particularly "Wild Child". I also particularly enjoyed listening to "Something That You Said" by the Bangles (surprise! a group I'd heard of, though only because they were prominent rather more than 20 years ago) and "Won't Give In" by the Finn Brothers. Though I don't think I would have rushed out to buy a recording of any of these even in my most pop-listening days.

The last item on Scalzi's list is a ringer: Petra Haden's cover of "God Only Knows" by the Beach Boys. God only knows that this is much, much better than the original – I know this is heresy, but I hold that the Beach Boys could not sing worth a damn. But if Scalzi wants a slam-dunk stunner of a recent cover of a classic 1960s song - and I left a comment telling him so - nothing is going to out-do in power or impact this.

Friday, September 14, 2018

phony call

I was napping, and having a dream in which I was talking on the phone, when my sleep was interrupted by the phone ringing. After a brief moment of cognitive dissonance over this incongruity, I hopped up and found it was some sort of solicitation call for my mother. (Polite, too: the guy just asked for her by name, instead of opening with "How are you today?" which always makes me want to respond, and sometimes actually respond, with, "Wondering who you are and why you're telephoning me.")

That would be my mother who died several years ago, so I informed the man of this and he went away. Possibly not to return, but she does still get calls like this occasionally. She also still gets occasional junk mail, which by this point I just toss. She never lived with us; the reason the mail comes here is because I filed a postal change-of-address for her when we closed her apartment, and apparently advertisers are very good at picking this stuff up, including associated phone numbers.

Possibly I should have marked the CoA form "deceased" instead, but I wanted to get the mail because I didn't know what might be in it. I probably missed much because of a strange glitch. I filed the CoA about a week before we closed the apartment, with that as the starting date, but the clerk told me that CoAs have to filed two weeks before the starting date. I said, "Oh: in that case just start it as soon as you can." When no mail came, I figured the advertisers had already picked up that she was dead, but no: the PO had filed the CoA to begin at the designated starting date one year later, and for a while we got floods. What happened to all the mail that must have come in the meantime I have no idea.

The groups she actually regularly did business with I'd long since communicated with; this mail was mostly mail-order catalogs and contribution solicitations. With most of the latter, the best way of reaching them was via websites, and the most clearcut way of sending a message was usually filling out some CoA form there. I'd put her name in and then fill the word DECEASED in all the other new info fields, in hopes they'd get the message. The most hilarious part was when the form would bounce because the e-mail address wasn't in the correct format. So I'd change that from DECEASED to DECEASED@DECEASED.DECEASED, and it would always go through.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

fricking file formats

Finishing up a stage of work on the library catalog at my job, I prepared a report file of problem records. No problem, I thought: I'd done this before when I created the entire shelf list for the inventory. I set up the parameters in the catalog, generated the file, and saved it to a thumb drive.

Only difference was, the shelf list I had taken to FedEx and printed out. This file was to be e-mailed to the library people who'd need it. So I wasn't worried that the file format was PRNX, which I'd never heard of: I figured my computer could deal with it.

It couldn't. No program I had or could find could read it, and while Googling for "convert .prnx to .pdf" produced a lot of results revealing that PRNX was some sort of proprietary print format, none of the results whose titles said they'd show you how to convert actually did. Not one. I know, you don't believe me. But here, for instance, is one whose Google results title was "PRNX File - How to open or convert PRNX files". Can you see from here how to open or convert them? I sure can't.

So, I thought, I know from previous experience that at least the FedEx printer can print them. I'll print it out and then use their scanner to scan it as a PDF. I've had to do weirder things than that.

But it couldn't. The FedEx printer didn't recognize the format.

Phone the catalog program vendor. Learn that instead of using the "Save As" command near the left of the tool bar I should have used the "Export" command near the right of the tool bar. That's the one that creates PDFs. Obviously I'd gotten it right when I made the shelf list, but had completely forgotten about it in the two months since then. Gently suggest to the vendor that this is not intuitive. This hadn't occurred to them. Sigh.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

sf novel review

Which I've so headed because I don't read too many of those these days, but I liked this one.

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi (Tor, 2017)

This is the other book I had electronically - it came in the Hugo voters packet from earlier this year, though I didn't read (or vote) on anything in it at the time - that I turned to when the MythSoc discussion book bogged down on me. Being wrapped up in the plot of this one kept me occupied during the lonely hours in my hotel room in San Diego, and it was both engrossing - a rare quality in SF these days - and not too long - an almost equally rare quality.

Reviews of this book have, more than once, compared it to Game of Thrones and Dune. Those are not what I'm reminded of. Yes, it's about high-level politics, but the intrigue is of a different flavor, until just before the end it doesn't get too convoluted, it has neither the bloodthirstiness of Martin nor the bizarre mind-games of Herbert, and above all it differs from both in being neither overlong nor tedious.

Instead, what it reminds me of - almost uncannily so, and more so than any other subsequent work I've ever read - is Asimov's Foundation trilogy, especially its first book. And since the Foundation trilogy is the work I was weaned on as an sf reader, I'm primed to like such a work. But in style, it's updated to a 2010s kind of sprightliness, instead of the now-dated 1940s sprightliness of the Asimov. Since Scalzi has been generally touted as a later-day Heinlein, and I vastly prefer Asimov to Heinlein, I consider this a plus.

The similarities with Foundation are impressive. There's a far-future all-human interstellar empire - check - from which Earth has been lost and largely forgotten - check - with a medieval/Renaissance imperial hierarchy imposed on top - check. The empire is threatened with collapse - see the title; check - and a lone scientist is a voice in the wilderness warning of the danger - check. There's a religion imposed on the system - check - which is largely actually a fraud - check. The plot is largely political machinations at a high level - check - with a minimum of violence - check - and a maximum of clever people outwitting each other - check - but without mind games and a minimum of the Arlington Road trick (where you know exactly how your opponent will respond to a stimulus you've deliberately made subtle and obscure so they won't figure out they're being manipulated) - check. And the novel ends exactly the way the first Foundation story ends, with the protagonist having a brilliant brainstorm which isn't revealed to the reader, but it doesn't feel like a cliffhanger because the rest of the plot threads are pretty much wrapped up.

There are some differences. Most notable is the cause of the imperial collapse. In Foundation it was political/sociological. Here it's ecological: the hyperspace-like environment which makes interstellar travel feasible and the empire possible is breaking down, and the inhabited planets are not self-sufficient. Parallels to climate change are obvious, especially in the reactions which include heated denial of the "if we sweep it under the carpet it'll go away" sort, and acknowledgment that it's true combined with delusion that it won't be so bad. But there's no solution offered in this book, and the political situation is different enough that I doubt we'll learn anything useful from the sequel. Any equivalent to the actual Foundation in the Foundation trilogy has yet to be introduced; that's another big difference. The one false note in this story was the protagonist feeling strangely exhilarated by the challenge of dealing with this. This reaction ought to have been drowned out by deep existential despair, though that would have made for less fun of a story.

Though two of the later big stories in the Foundation trilogy were notable in their day for strong female protagonists, it's otherwise a very male series. This book, though, is full of female major characters, though with one major exception they don't feel very female to me. This raises the question, "So what do you expect a female character to be like?" which is a fair question, but I think the best even of male authors can create women who seem like women without loading them down with female stereotypes.

Scalzi's snarky dialogue style, which I enjoyed in Agent to the Stars where it was appropriate, but which was part of what caused me to bounce off the other three subsequent novels by him I've tried to read, seems under control here. It's less relentless, and it's light and appropriate rather than heavy. I had trouble with a couple of the names, though. The Empire is ruled by an Emperox, which I guess is a made up word to avoid having to alternate between Emperor and Empress. I found myself ignoring the "x" and reading the title as Emperor, despite its holder for most of the book being female. The antagonists are a family named Nohamapetan. I quickly gave up on trying to pronounce this, even in my head, and decided to render it mentally as "Northampton", which gives a pleasing Old Imperial British touch to the story.

The plot zipped along, and just as it started to become too heavy and ornate - a second terrorist attack with mass casualties intended to assassinate the Emperor, I mean -ox? One was more than enough - the book ended. Which leaves me less than whetted for the sequel, The Consuming Fire, which comes out next month, but I'll give it a shot and see if Scalzi can hook me again.

Sunday, September 9, 2018


1. Last weekend I heard the medieval/Renaissance/folk band Brocelïande in a house concert not far away. It was a while since I'd heard them and the first time ever at a house concert. Usually when I've been to house concerts, they've been classical or filk and thus usually inside (the former because they usually feature piano, which is not an outdoors instrument, and the latter because filkers are not generally outdoors people). But this was outdoors, in a small backyard tiled patio with 50 chairs set up facing a tented stage area. I'd heard about this from Brocelïande's mailing list, but apparently this house frequently hosts folk concerts. I didn't know anyone else there except the performers, but the folk were friendly, and the band played four of their Tolkien settings, which they don't often do these days unless asked.

2. Yesterday I walked over to our neighborhood park for an announced event: the city arborist was giving a tree walk: a walk around the park describing the quite wide variety of trees planted there: ash, pine, oak, cedar, maple, birch, plum, all of various species, and one called a strawberry tree whose fruit (round, red, and covered in tiny quills) isn't a strawberry but is edible, so we tried some. I learned a lot, not just about botany but about an arborist's view of his demesne: the shifting in and out of trees, as different species go in and out of fashion or prove to be or not to be suitable for the climate or susceptible to disease; the constant search for trees whose root systems won't push up nearby pavement. (It's not the tree's fault, he repeatedly said, as trees just do what they do: it's the fault of whoever put the tree and sidewalk in too close proximity.)

3. And today, Mythopoeic book meeting to discuss The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty, an Arabic-influenced fantasy that some liked extravagantly and others found rather dull. I only got about two chapters into it myself.

4. In broader news, we're grieved to learn that all the outlets of Orchard Supply Hardware, a local chain we've long relied upon, are soon to close. It had been bought by Lowe's, a larger chain which eventually decided not to maintain it. I hope at least some of the locations will be converted, as there's no Lowe's conveniently nearby. Lowe's tends to be a warehouse which carries much but where it's hard to find what you're looking for and, unlike at OSH, there's rarely anyone who can help you very much.

5. Tesla is also local news, since their plant is nearby. The various cavortings of Elon Musk are beginning to remind me of Steve Jobs in the period before he was removed from Apple in 1985. Neither has or had the maturity for the positions of responsibility they held or sought. Jobs needed his testing period in the wilderness before he emerged as the great capitalist of his second act at Apple; what's to become of Musk I can't guess.

6. Slightly further off geographically, but relevant to me as I drive up I-5 to Oregon frequently, is another fire that's closing the freeway. Unlike the previous one a month or so ago, which could be gotten around fairly easily, this one is in a spot without convenient detours. I'm glad I'm not going up there this week, and I fear that checking for fire-related travel advisories is going to be a regular summer thing from here on.

7. And now ... it's Rosh Hashanah. See you on the flip side.

Friday, September 7, 2018

San Diego is a peculiar place

I flew there for a quick business trip. I'm working on programming for next year's Mythcon which will be there, and went down so that I and the chair, who's local, could meet with various sites' conference and sales managers and tour their facilities. We learned a lot and made some firm provisional decisions. Logistics comes next, and we should be able to make a site and date announcement within a few weeks.

Some of our sites are on the trolley line, and so was the hotel I was staying at, so I volunteered to be the guinea pig for getting there from the airport. It turned out to be pretty easy, except that there's no signage for the transfer between the from-airport shuttle bus and the downtown trolley station, so it's tough for a stranger to figure out where to walk.

Odd things about the trolley:
*Senior fares start at age 60. Who does that? Not that I'm complaining.
*The trolley doesn't go "clang, clang, clang," it goes "buzz."
*The trolley lines are named for colors, but they don't mean anything. I rode the Green line. The cars on it are red. I did see some green cars, but they were on another line.
*Some of the lines also have sponsors. There is the "UC San Diego Blue Line." This runs from downtown to San Ysidro, which is the Mexican border station. UC San Diego itself is up way north of downtown, nowhere near the Blue line. You don't think this might be confusing?
*The recorded station announcements on the train are in English, immediately followed by the same in Spanish, except that the station names are pronounced as in English, even if they're Spanish words.
*There is only one underground station on the system. Unlike BART, which has lots of underground stations, they haven't figured out how to turn the lights on. It was like a dungeon in there.

I stayed at a generic business hotel, odd only in an elevator call system new to me. Instead of call buttons, there's a touchscreen with a keypad displaying floor numbers. Touch the one you want, the display changes to tell you which elevator in the bank will be yours, and when you get in, the only buttons are open and close door and alarm. Whoosh and off you go.

I did have enough free time to take the city bus up to the Hillcrest/North Park area to visit used-book stores and admire the selection of ethnic restaurants, mostly Asian. Waiting for the first bookstore to open in the morning, I lounged in a nearby Starbucks where I bought a cookie, the first time in over 35 years of acquaintance that I've ever actually bought something in a Starbucks. ("You don't want coffee?" said the clerk in a stunned voice.)

At that bookstore, the one which had more books I wanted to read than I could possibly have hauled home, so I bought three and wrote a lot of titles down, the owner/clerk was commiserating with a customer who was complaining about the slow pace of the Game of Thrones sequels ("You might as well just watch the show"). On fire with the novel I'd just finished reading on my Nook, I said, "You shouldn't be reading that; you should be reading ..." and I'll tell you in my next post.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

possibly obsolete

Encouraged by a rave comment we saw online, B. and I rented the DVD of Peter Hall's 1968 RSC production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. The cast was studded with young names destined to be great thespians: Ian Richardson and Judi Dench as Oberon and Titania, Ian Holm as Puck, Helen Mirren and Diana Rigg (!) as Hermia and Helena, and David Warner as Lysander.

But despite this great cast, it was strangely uninvolving, though not nearly as bad as the acclaimed 1964 Richard Burton Hamlet. I think the reason was a now out-of-favor Shakespearean acting style. Though they didn't shout as if they were on stage, the actors had a way of declaiming all their speeches, addressing the air between them instead of each other. I know they could do better than that: Diana Rigg didn't talk at all like that in The Avengers, which she was making at the same time; on the other hand, I once saw a dreadful early modern-setting Helen Mirren film that she declaims her way all through. But they evolved greatly in later years: we're a long way from the Ian Richardson who says "You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment," or the Judi Dench who says, "Have a care with my name, Mr. Tilney: you will wear it out."

Thinking back over my Shakespeare stage experience, I think one was just used to this style back then. It began to melt away in the 1980s, I think, and a supremely naturalistic way of speaking Shakespeare, as if his ornate phrasing were common language, came into vogue. You can see it on film in Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing, in which the actors, though none of them trained Shakespeareans, all show that they've absorbed as well as understood the words they speak, and spilling it out as if it was so much crepe-paper roll is right out.

On the other hand ... a sure way to irk me is to declare something I still do obsolete. Here's a condescending list of "forgotten websites you can't believe are still around." I can believe they're still around: I use some of them. My principal e-mail is still Earthlink, and as you can probably see, I run my blog on LiveJournal and Blogger.

Why am I using these things? Because I signed up for them when I needed them and they were the hot new things, and I've found no compelling reason to leave. It'd be disruptive and a nuisance and I like what I have. I'm not tempted to run away after shiny new gadgets. That's also why I still read Tolkien and still belong to the Mythopoeic Society, and why I still listen to the same old music, and why I haven't moved house. It's also not unconnected to why I'm still married to the same woman I met 32 years ago. Not to criticize those whose lives have moved in other directions - and we were forced to move house not much more than a decade ago, though we didn't want to - but in my case the desire to keep a good thing, the impulse for stability and contentment, is the same, no matter how old and creaky I, or my websites, get.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

early movie review

Finding myself at loose ends at the end of the afternoon quite near a theater that was the only one showing a movie being released today that I had some interest in, I decided to go see it.

Operation Finale (2018)

The immediately preceding trailer was for the re-release of Schindler's List, in which Ben Kingsley plays the Jewish clerk who helps Schindler compile the list. In this movie, Ben Kingsley plays Adolf Eichmann. It's a change.

This is a movie about the Israeli operation to abduct Eichmann in Buenos Aires in 1960. Oscar Isaac plays the impossibly noble chief Israeli agent, a composite character. I didn't know much about the details of the operation, and after seeing the movie I still doubt that I do. The abduction itself occurs about halfway through; the agents then have to hide Eichmann in a safe house for over a week because of some bureaucratic snafu regarding scheduling the departure of their airplane (which is on a cover mission).

I don't know if this happened in reality or not. According to Wikipedia the delay in transporting Eichmann was spent confirming his identity. In the movie Eichmann steadfastly denies being Eichmann until he suddenly caves and admits it, and this doesn't have much to do with the delay. Also in the movie, but perhaps not in reality, the Israelis twice narrowly escape being captured by a posse of Argentine police who are after them. And as I watched those scenes, what was inevitably running through my head was this.

Kingsley speaks in something of the same odd sing-songy accent he used for the role of Dmitri Shostakovich in Testimony.

Conclusion: Not as boring as Bridge of Spies, but not as exciting as an undercover spy movie ought to be, either.

Monday, August 27, 2018

book found in the worldcon dealer's room

Where Memory Hides: A Writer's Life by Richard A. Lupoff (Bold Venture Press, 2016)

When I was a young sf fan in Berkeley, among the older people I met and got to hang out with a bit were Dick and Pat Lupoff. (Not the only fannish couple I've met named Dick and Pat, none of whom were in any other way like the Nixons.) They were known for having once published a Hugo-winning fanzine called Xero, an anthology of which was subsequently published by Tachyon, and Dick under his formal byline had become a professional fiction writer of note.

In that capacity he was protean, capable of everything from homages to pulpsters like ERB and HPL to the most esoteric New Wave style science fiction or exotically Japanese-influenced epic fantasy. Perhaps because he didn't have a single definable authorial personality, Lupoff's sf/fantasy career never gained traction, and he subsequently sailed off into the friendlier waters of detective/mystery fiction.

With a few small exceptions, I found that I bounced off most of his fiction, or it went into areas I just wasn't interested in following, but I really enjoyed Dick and Pat themselves and their company. I was consequently a good audience for a book Dick wrote a couple decades ago called Writer At Large, a collection of essays about various experiences, in particular his stint teaching writing to inmates at San Quentin. It was highly illuminating and worth reading for anyone with an interest in inmate life or indeed in adult education.

There's a bit more about that in this memoir, which I think was compiled by stitching together various autobiographical writings. It rambles around with little regard to chronological order and repeats the same anecdotes in different places, even acknowledging that it does so. It talks about his sf and fantasy, his mysteries, how an old white male writer created a young black female detective character (by observing the black women he'd known over his life, he says), his dealings with editors and publishers, his fanzines, his childhood, his time in the army and as a bureaucrat in a soulless government department, teaching at Q and working as a radio personality and in a fabulous independent bookstore. It also contains a chapter attempting to argue, by use of selected quotes, that there is absolutely no difference in literary quality between high literature and pulp fiction, which I find hard to credit from a writer with such sensitivity to differences in style, but let that pass.

I doubt this book would be of much interest to anyone not as fond of Dick Lupoff the man as I am, unless they were really powerfully interested in his fiction. So why am I writing about it? Because I find from its pages that today - this very day! - is Dick and Pat's 60th wedding anniversary. I haven't seen either of them in several years, but I hope they're doing OK, and I wish them a very merry anniversary.

Sunday, August 26, 2018


Having been released from hospital duty by the successful discharge of the patient, I had the time for a couple of artistic outings.

First to Stanford, for a concert by a series of student pianists who played Louis Andriessen, Frederic Rzewski, and a whole big wad of Schubert. A rather peculiar combination.

Then to the Livermore Performing Arts Center for the latest Lamplighters production of The Pirates of Penzance. I liked the theater, which I hadn't been to before. Though likewise arena-sliced, it's smaller and more focused than Lesher in Walnut Creek, and consequently sounds better. Nor is it any farther from here to drive to. Excellent singing, especially from Michael Desnoyers as Frederic and Erin O'Meally as Mabel. But the innovations in staging, largely intended to update the Stanley daughters to 1890s "new women," sat incoherently with the plot.

A missed turn on the drive home sent me zooming off towards Pleasanton, which at least is not far out of the way, so I decided to take the opportunity to stop off at the Inklings coffee & tea shop there, just because of the name. If you order your strawberry-mint lemonade, which is just about the only thing they had that wasn't either coffee or tea, from the side of the counter with the menu on it, they'll direct you over to the other side where the computer is, then direct you back again to the original spot to pick up the drink. Confusing.

There were lots of small tables and comfy chairs around. The walls were lined with bookshelves, but a close look suggested something a bit of the poseur quality to it, as despite a few Lewis and Williams volumes scattered about, most of the contents were yard goods: a volume of Winston Churchill's war history here, Zane Grey and Tom Clancy novels there, a bunch of law textbooks over there, and lots and lots of Readers Digest Condensed Books. In one spot by some branded t-shirts and coasters and the like is a sign indicating two books are for sale. One is by Lewis, Perelandra, and the other isn't. The hand-lettered sign gives the title as Voyage to Articus. Jiminy Cricket and all the little fishes, it's supposed to be Arcturus.

Also on the walls are some nicely-done pencil portraits of the four principal Inklings (Lewis, Tolkien, Williams, and Barfield) and on the opposite wall some framed quotations, one real one from Tolkien and two ones falsely attributed to Lewis that are actually spoken by his character in the Shadowlands movie or play. Tsk.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

it's Bernstein's centenary

As you'll know if you've seen today's Google doodle, it's the centenary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein, who grew up in the Boston area and attended Harvard before going off to New York and making his name as a young composer and conductor.

The tension between those professions defined Bernstein's professional life. He wanted to buckle down to serious work as a composer, but even though he resigned his position as music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1969, kept finding that conducting - and his related need to educate, both in mentoring younger conductors and performers (many of whom are at the top of the profession today) and in giving public, often televised, talks in music education - kept distracting him.

As a conductor, Bernstein was highly emotional and a bit eccentric. He liked to exaggerate the structural joins in large compositions, which actually made him a good choice for a young enthusiast learning his way around the standard repertoire, which is what I was in the 1970s when Bernstein's recordings of it - just about all of it; he was insanely prolific - dominated the record-store shelves.

I also weaned on Bernstein's musical education programs and writings, particularly those geared to children. I later came to disagree with some of his views, but there's no question he was gifted as an educator and imaginative as a pedagogue as well as learned in musical theory and history. But not all of it was that simple. I'd like to direct your attention to this video from a Harvard lecture, a virtuoso five-minute whirlwind summary of the development of tonal harmony. It's perfectly clear technically though historically oversimplified, but I wonder if it makes sense to those uneducated in musical theory or does it fly over your heads?

As a composer, Bernstein was most at home in musical theater or other works with at least a whiff of the stage about them. He made his name with stage shows in the 40s and reached his pinnacle in that form in the 50s with West Side Story (which was a hit in its first production) and Candide (which was not - largely due to the book, the spoken-word part, which was later replaced and the show's done better in revivals). After that, Bernstein tended to feel he wasn't devoting enough time and thought to his compositions and wished he had more to give, but he was too busy and too distracted.

Nevertheless he did get some fine works done, although his magnum opus as a composer, Mass of 1971, received some scathing reviews for its "vulgar" populism, which damaged the composer's self-confidence you may be sure. It's not really until since Bernstein's death in 1990 that Mass has come to be accepted as the giant achievement in early postmodern art that it really is, and one of the few truly great spiritual choral-orchestral masterpieces of its century.

A good introduction to Bernstein's work as a composer is this little summary here. I like its choice of clips, though the sound quality of the one from Mass is poor, and I'm not sure how well an excerpt works out of context, as Mass is very much a work of its cumulative power.

If you're ready for some first-rate full-length performances of Bernstein's staged masterpieces, I have two of them online here: an impressive Mass from the BBC Proms, conducted by Kristjan Järvi,

and an utterly delightful Candide from the NY Philharmonic (the one from which Kristin Chenoweth's "Glitter and Be Gay" is excerpted in the introduction piece linked above), conducted by Marin Alsop (a Bernstein protege).

Thursday, August 23, 2018

buzzer in my pocket

Those who read closely a certain blog may be able to deduce that much of my time since the Worldcon has been spent in aid of a friend from out of town who was taken from that convention to a hospital and is now at a different hospital, recuperating from surgery. I've run errands and spent time on cheering bedside visits. Others helped from the convention end, but then they had to go home; my particular virtue is being local.

Both this, and keeping in touch with B. during the con itself, have put a lot of usage on my cell phone, particularly the messaging function. I count myself fortunate that the Great Disappearing Act of July which disposed of a newish phone I didn't much like enabled me to replace it by reverting to the previous model which is much easier to use. For one thing, I didn't have to use any absurd or complex Bluetooth to add my preferred ringtone. All I needed was to open the browser and type in the file's URL. The phone downloaded the file automatically and then asked if I wanted to set this as my ringtone. Why, yes I do, and that took care of that.

But I haven't actually used the ringtone much, and not just because most of my calls are texts, which use a different, pre-set sound. Experience at the convention rapidly convinced me that it makes more sense to most of the time leave the phone on vibrate mode. I can feel that in my pocket better than I can hear the ringtone in a noisy room, and I don't have to constantly be turning it on and off as program items end and begin. The only catch is that it buzzes the same way regardless of whether I've received a call or a text, and I'm still training myself to look properly to determine which it is.

I'm also still getting used to typing messages by the system by which you type in a word's numerical equivalent and the phone guesses what matching word you want. No, I want 7378464 to mean "resting," not "serving." That sort of thing. The challenge is ignoring the phone's various guesses on the screen as you type digit after digit and try to remember where in a long or messy word you are.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Worldcon panels with Tolkien in them

The two best panels I attended at Worldcon 76 were both relatively sparsely attended, perhaps because they lacked famous names at the table. Instead, the panelists were young writers unfamiliar to me, representing a variety of ethnicities and gender/sexual identities. They were as articulate and interesting as any more famous names would have been, probably more so. The topics were intriguing, which is why I was there.

And both panels discussed Tolkien, in rather different contexts.

The panel on "Fantasy Canon from the Margins" had originally been titled "Tolkien from the Margins" (actually "Tolkein from the Margins," so it's a good thing it was changed). But this attempt to broaden the remit wasn't broad enough, as the works discussed represented pop culture in general, not specifically an established fantasy canon. And the margins considered were just ethnic/racial ones; sexual or gender issues were barely mentioned.

The theme of the panel was dealing with works you personally love, or which you respect as superbly crafted, but which perpetuate negative stereotypes. Suzanne Walker (Lebanese-American) told of how as a child she loved Disney's Aladdin because it had a princess who "looked like me," but she came to realize that it's full of unfortunate stereotypes. It's two things at once. SL Huang (Chinese-American) agreed that it was the same for her with Mulan. And that summed up the panelists' dilemma: They weren't going to drop these works that they loved, but they couldn't avoid acknowledging the glaring problems.

Tolkien came in with Walker discussing the Jackson Lord of the Rings movies. She liked the first one, but the second dismayed her. Nor was she familiar with just the movies, but compared them with the book. Jackson could have made different choices, she said, but instead elevated the stereotypes that were already there.

Note the assumption that the source material, Tolkien's novel, is fundamentally racist. Libia Brenda (Mexican) was explicit on this point, describing herself as "heartbroken" by the racism in Tolkien, Harry Potter, Star Wars. Though she also emphasized that these were good works with admirable qualities that should not be avoided. Just acknowledge the flaws and be critical: don't stop reading the canon, but expand upon it.

Fine, but I wondered just what Walker and Brenda found so racist in Tolkien. They didn't elaborate on the point. Is it just that the bad guys are described as swarthy? Is it the hierarchy of ethnic groups? The entire book is a demonstration that this hierarchy in no way dictates virtue or nobility of character. Does Tolkien's depiction of the good guys as ethnically diverse bear no weight here? Do the fact that he's not lecturing you on ethnic virtue, and his personal opposition to racist policies, at least place him in a different category than authors who use fantasy as a tool to advocate racism? There was no way this question could be asked on the panel, so I let it go, at least for now.

A panel asking "What Does a Nontoxic Masculinity Look Like?" intrigued because it's a question often avoided in discussions of the toxic kind. But there was no evasion on this panel, which featured four persons of a wide variety, not fully expounded in the introductions, of gender identities. The best I can say is that three seemed to fall somewhere in the female realm and the fourth in the male.

What I was not expecting was for Tolkien to make an appearance in the discussion.

To the panel's topic question, Reuben Baron immediately responded, "Mr. Rogers," and was rewarded with a burst of audience applause. "He's the bingo free space in discussion of non-toxic masculinity," said Baron.

But Leigh Ann Hildebrand had an objection. The problem with all these Sensitive New Age Guys, she said (not that Mr. Rogers was in any way New Age, but it was clear what she meant), is that - at least to her taste - they're not sexually attractive. She wants a tough guy with sensuality who yet avoids misogyny. Her examples were men from her personal life, but she found a well-known example later.

All of these were real-life. The question was posed: what about in fiction? and Reuben Baron immediately slapped the buzzer down again with Sam Gamgee. He's emotionally expressive, but a fighter. As for his relationship with Frodo, Baron said, "If you think it's gay, write your fan fiction. But it's still a positive role model for platonic male friendship."

Others added more examples from Tolkien or elsewhere. Foz Meadows mentioned characters in The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) and the Books of the Raksura by Martha Wells, among others, in this context, and then brought in Tolkien's Faramir, "a man who is trying to do the right thing," in contrast with his father Denethor. Baron mentioned Legolas and Gimli as characters who overcome their mutually hostile racism and become friends. And Hildebrand added the winning entry by describing Gandalf in his fight with the Balrog as a great moment of "dynamic masculinity" (her term), the quality that she's looking for. To which moderator Vanessa Rose Phin added, from Tolkien's posthumously-published material, that Gandalf also has the estimable ability to listen, as shown by his having learned patience and pity from the female Vala Nienna.

Good panels.

Monday, August 20, 2018

76th World Science Fiction Convention

Informally only "Worldcon 76" - the traditional city-name-inspired titles by which the previous San José Worldcon was called "ConJosé" seem to be on the way out. Because it was so local I was inevitably drawn into its orbit and attended, although my interest in these events has been rapidly decreasing, and this is the first Worldcon I've been to since the last one within reasonable driving distance, Reno seven years ago. I'm not expecting another in my time.

Like its local predecessor, the con was held at the city's convention center, a corridor extending along a long city block, anchored by attachments to major high-rise hotels at each end, with programming rooms - most of them far too small for the numbers who wanted to attend items - at either end and a giant ballroom and an even vaster concrete exhibit hall in the middle. The latter had art show at one end, dealers at the other, and miscellaneous exhibits and lounges in between.

My principal interest was in the dealers' room, into which I immediately disappeared and emerged with eight books, to which I added four more later. Most of them were single-author short-story collections, my favorite kind of box to consume science fiction from, though one of late only much available from small-press publishers.

Saturday's costume presentation in the giant ballroom was mostly notable for the number of times that tech failed to play the presenter's chosen music, and for the on-stage nervous breakdowns these glitches gave the emcee.

The Hugo Awards, Sunday, same venue, went smoother. The winners were inspiring, especially N.K. Jemisin with her unprecedented third consecutive Best Novel win. She's the big cheese in SF writing now, no question. But despite noble intentions I hadn't read any of the nominees or voted, so I viewed it from a figurative as well as literal distance.

Of the other evenings' ballroom events, Friday's series of concert sets - mostly songs with guitar - by the convention's various musically-enabled Guests of Honor was very pleasant. But of Thursday's original stage musical inspired by Snow White, the less said the mercifully better. Perhaps I should have gone to that night's alternative programming, a reception presenting the 1943 Retro Hugos, even though it was to be immediately followed by the truly shudder-inducing prospect of an 80s dance. (Why not a 40s dance? Bring on the Andrews Sisters!)

I didn't attend a lot of programming, and indeed was prevented from a few by lack of seating. Not all were worth attending.

1. A talk by the author of a forthcoming biography of famous old-time SF editor John W. Campbell featured his explaining how his publisher had persuaded him to focus on some of Campbell's authors as well, and he'd picked Asimov, Heinlein, and Hubbard as both important and central to Campbell's own story. This was followed by cluelessly name-collecting audience members asking why not Poul Anderson, Henry Kuttner, Eric Frank Russell? To all of which the author gave the same reply, which he'd already given before they asked.

2. A panel on the future of libraries, at which I'd hoped to learn something, was half-filled by the panelists giving detailed accounts of their vitas, and didn't say anything of note in the other half either.

3. A memorial panel for Harlan Ellison ran with the accepted mixed view of his legacy. I wrote down some of the quips. "Harlan never met a deadline he really liked"--Christine Valada. "I knew Harlan for about fifty years. I think we were friends for about thirty of those years"--David Gerrold. "When he was good he was very good. You know the next line"--Robert Silverberg.

A couple panels that actually discussed Tolkien were more intellectually productive, and I'll write about those in a subsequent post.

Fortunately I had something else to occupy a lot of otherwise dead time. I attended the Business Meeting, something I don't often do. Last year's Hugo Administrator, Nicholas Whyte, had proposed a technical constitutional amendment in the Hugo rules, and not planning to be present this year had sought out co-sponsors. As a former Hugo Administrator myself, I liked his proposal and volunteered. Of the three co-sponsors, one wasn't present at the meeting when it was considered (though he was at the con) and one was the sergeant-at-arms, so I was the principal speaker in its favor at the brief schedule-setting session. The motion was rejected from full consideration by a vote of 59-26, which is closer than it looks because it requires 2/3ds of those voting to do so. This continues my unbroken string of being on the losing side of any Worldcon Business Meeting motion I speak on, but besides being based on only 5 or 6 data points over many years, it's neither bad luck nor malevolence, as I am not a skilled parliamentarian and only speak when the arguments I support are not being presented more ably by someone else. Which means they're probably going down.

SF cons are famous for their room parties, but I only attended one such party during the entire con, hosted by my friend and former editing/publishing colleague Lisa Harrigan in memory of her late husband (also a friend, and a mighty mentor in computer hardware) Harold. It was quiet, mostly people who knew Harold. I spent most of it in detailed conversation on reading-reception issues with the erudite John Hertz.

One other perception enlivened Worldcon, best conveyed in a quick exchange I had with a passing personage on Thursday, the first afternoon of the convention.
ME: So far, sir, I have been mistaken for you twice.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

concert review: Cabrillo Festival

Every few years, I'm sent over the hills to Santa Cruz to review a concert in the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music. This year I got one with two composers I'd heard there before, John Corigliano and Anna Clyne, the latter of whom I'd actually first discovered at Cabrillo, five years ago to the day.

It's kind of tough to cram in five new works into a short space, but I found some recurrent themes, and the result is here. I'm not kidding when I speak of "the accomplishment and powerful assurance" in Clyne's music: the weight and force in the music was palpable from the start, even in the quiet first movement. So if you ever see any ads for her music with the blurb
One of the great composers of our time - San Francisco Classical Voice
you'll know where it comes from.

About the Corigliano work I felt a little unsure. It's an early work, sounding not at all like the later ones I'm more familiar with. I could tell what it sounded like to me, but I wanted to triangulate that against what he thought he was writing like. I was anticipating having to go to the library to find detailed discussion of his origins as a composer, but I didn't have to: I was able to buttonhole the man himself after the concert. After saying I liked his piece (which I did) and noting his change of style, I asked what were his inspirations and influences when he was starting out. He replied by naming Copland, Stravinsky, Bernstein. I said, "OK. I'm reviewing this concert, and was was thinking of saying the concerto had an American populist style with a harder edge, and it looks like I was on the right track." So that's what I wrote.

Stopped on the way down at the grocery in Boulder Creek that carries sour cream & chive Pasta Roni, a flavor I've never seen anywhere else. Once in Santa Cruz, had dinner around the corner at a Thai place whose lamb dish turned out to be mostly green beans with what tasted more like beef than lamb. Wasn't bad, though. Encounter on the way back with a maniac who didn't like me changing lanes to get to my exit. Sorry, fella, but there's only a limited amount of space in which I can get over, and I did have my turn signal on: what do you think it means?

Monday, August 13, 2018

queuing up

or "getting in line," the more usual expression over here.

Urgent need for DMV visit. Appointments not available for two months, and non-appointment lines infamously long. What to do?

On checking website for hours, find that, while most offices open at 8 AM, there's a few that open at 7. And one is down in the San Jose industrial warehouse district, between the zoo and the county fairgrounds.

So I go there and arrive at 6:15 AM. There are 14 people already lined up. This turns out to be not too many, though the line soon becomes much longer. I spend 45 minutes reading, and then am in and have completed my business by 7:35.

It's the recent move to TSA-compliant ID (which they call "Real ID" as if others weren't real) that's causing the backups. At the DMV, you visit first a front desk, which is where they give you the customer number that you then wait to be called for being helped at one of the windows where your business will really be done.

But just to get everything ready so you don't waste time at the windows, it's at the front desk that they go through and make sure you have all the documentation necessary, line it up, and put a paper clip around it. This, as you can imagine, takes time, and makes the front desk line build up dramatically.

While you were still in the outside line, clerks went down giving out copies of the list of acceptable documents. It looks like this (PDF). Many of the people around me look as if they've never seen it before. I have; I copied it from the web site. In fact everything they say is news to some people but I already had it from the web site. It's an informative website.

What I wasn't sure was whether some of my old original documents would satisfy the 21st century sense of security. My original birth certificate - this is the same negative photostat copy my parents were given when it was filed a month after I was born, and which they solemnly handed over to me at a tender age - states authoritatively, in the frame section around the photostat, that it is only certified if it has the official seal affixed. The official seal was affixed in the form of a rubber stamp with blue ink. That piece of 1950s security, relievingly, turns out to be good enough.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Henry Clay Work: a great American songwriter

While listening to a performance of Four Australian Folksongs yesterday, it seemed to me that one of the songs I didn't know, "Click Go the Shears," had a particularly catchy tune. On investigation, I found that that tune had been lifted directly from "Ring the Bell, Watchman," a Civil War-era song that was one of the lesser known hits of Henry Clay Work.

Work has somehow been forgotten while his similar contemporary, Stephen Foster, is remembered, and that's a shame, because Work was just as good a songwriter and has had a deeper cultural impact than is realized. He was born to an anti-slavery Connecticut family in 1832, while his namesake was running for President against Andrew Jackson (he lost). That made Work 6 years younger than Foster, and he lived 20 years longer, until 1884. I'm here today to pay tribute to him. Here's some of the best of Work's works, mostly as sung by performers of note:

Johnny Cash sings My Grandfather's Clock:

This is the one Work song that may be considered to have lasted the course in American popular culture, at least as far as my own childhood, when I was familiar with it, though not with the composer's name attached. Allan Sherman wrote a parody version.

Tennessee Ernie Ford sings Marching Through Georgia:

This Civil War boast ballad was Work's biggest hit during his own lifetime, to the extent that General Sherman grew sick of it, because it was played at every public appearance he made. The tune is incredibly catchy, and I'm stunned that I never heard it until, curious about frequent references to the song in books about the war, I looked it up.

Doc Watson sings The Ship That Never Returned:

Does this sound vaguely like "The Wreck of the Old 97" or even more vaguely like the Kingston Trio's "MTA"? It should. This is the original from which those more famous spinoffs were altered.

Ken Burns Civil War documentary soundtrack version of Kingdom Coming:

Yep, this piece of Burns background music is a Work song. You don't want to hear the lyrics to this one, because it's in "darkie" dialect. Stephen Foster did some of these too. Oh dear.

Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band sing Ring the Bell, Watchman

Or, since this grouping specializes in nonconformist hymn tunes, you might prefer a less dirge-like rendition, like this one:

This is the song whose tune (and some of the words, actually) were lifted for the Australian sheep-shearing ballad "Click Go the Shears," which you may hear sung by the Australian national child-molesting balladeer, Rolf Harris, here. Sorry, but it is the best version I found online.