Sunday, June 30, 2019

in the midst of life we are ...

Quite a few years ago now, I skipped out on a convention I'd been planning to attend - it was Corflu Nashville - because the same weekend turned out to be the celebration of the 50th wedding anniversary of B's parents, and I couldn't miss that. It was a good party. They've both since passed on, but they had a glorious run.

I might still now be on the east coast after my Massachusetts trip last week, attending a Tolkien conference near D.C., except that this weekend turned out to be the celebration of the 50th wedding anniversary of B's older sister G and her husband, and I couldn't miss that either. Their four children - all of whose weddings I've attended too, imagine that - with spouses and grandchildren blew in from their scattered locations across the four winds to organize the gathering at a club banquet room and bar. Good dinner and merry greetings.

The only flaw was the last-minute absence of B's and G's younger sister, who'd been planning to come up with her sweetie from San Diego. She was back in the hospital again. J's health has been precarious for years, so much so that even five years ago, when B and I went down to San Diego to visit them, we were thinking we should do this because it might be the last time. It wasn't; we'd seen her up here after that on a number of occasions. But not this time, and not ...

Late in the evening, G's eldest, niece T, came up to whisper to B, looks of distress on both their faces. I guessed what it was before I was told. J had just died in the hospital.

The news wasn't allowed to spoil the party, but B and I went home soon afterwards and have since been trying to absorb this long-feared but still surprising as well as sad news. J was a worthy person, fun to be around, a cat-lover like her sisters, and a hero in her own way as an emergency services dispatcher for the state, coordinating personnel for wildfires and other disasters. She is the first departure from her generation in the family, and as she was the youngest it's especially poignant.

May her memory be for a blessing.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

the three words meme

This seems to have passed by and had its day before I got around to it, but I did request three words from Lydy N., so here they are, a chance to talk about random topics off top of head:

Needle. Of course the first thing that word makes me think of is a joke told by a friend in the days of the Wars of W.
Q. Why are knitting needles prohibited on airplanes?
A. They're afraid you'll knit an afghan.
Although I don't like being pricked, medical needles don't frighten me as long as I don't have to watch them going in. (Eye drops: those frighten me.) Sewing needles I have nothing to do with; of the life skills my mother tried to teach me before I went off to college, mending clothes is the only one that didn't take. (I relied on friends with sewing machines.) But the kind of needle with the most impact on my life has been the phonograph needle. It may seem odd today that we used to run these slivers of diamond through grooves in plastic, but we did. Keeping my needle fresh so that its damage to the disc was minimal was an obsession, so I changed the needle frequently. However, the last time I did that, several years ago now because I don't play the records much any more, the store where I'd bought my then-newish turntable was no longer selling needles, and when I found a quaint old bushwack of a store which did, the crusty owner looked at the needle and said he couldn't replace it. To borrow a line from Walt Willis, the manufacturers had made this one cartridge and then broken the dies, burned the blueprints, and shot all the technicians responsible. He could replace the cartridge, but I had to bring in the entire turntable for that.

Stalk. As a privileged white male who cooks dinner, my principal encounter with stalkers is the ones in vegetables. They usually are best cut off: broccoli (just above the point where it branches out), brussels sprouts. The ones that cause the most trouble are asparagus, which is mostly stalk. The problem with asparagus is that the bottoms of the stalks get woody and inedible, and that this gradually climbs up the stalk as the vegetables age, even in the fridge, but it's impossible to tell by sight where the woodiness terminates. I've gotten woody bits in asparagus even in fine restaurants, so apparently nobody knows how to prevent getting this in your food except me. I can hardly believe this, but it's simple. Asparagus stalks grow in sections, with joints between them. As the stalk becomes woody, the joints harden. So break off the stalk by hand (hold both ends and snap from the bottom), and the point it will break is the first joint above the woodiness. Do this and the residue will be guaranteed to be wood-free. Works every time.

Tape. Recording tape, formerly a major part of my life and now even less used than phonograph needles. Medical tape, for securing non-stick bandage pads, which has become more a part of life. Duct tape. Householder's rule: If it moves but it's not supposed to, apply duct tape. (If it doesn't move and it is supposed to, apply WD-40.) Packing tape.* Ah, yes. That one's useful where you might not expect. Having given up on typewriters when my last one's electronics went on the fritz, but still disliking hand-addressing envelopes, when I do need to mail a package or some other item that isn't a bill that came with a pre-addressed envelope, I type the addressee into a Word document on my computer, cut it out of the printout, and tape it to the envelope with transparent packing tape, because Scotch tape is neither sturdy enough nor wide enough.

*I tend to call it strapping tape, but that's wrong. Strapping tape has filaments, which I don't want for the purpose to be described.

Thursday, June 27, 2019


This is only for people who are interested in and care about the Hugo Awards.

Read John Scalzi's "On Being Denounced, Again (Again)" and the editorial to which it replies.

Here's my comment:

Oh dear. I know the author of that editorial personally, and I've often had major disagreements with her. I have also been an active member of the elitist sub-group of fandom which she represents, and on behalf of it I wish to apologize for the attitudes she expresses.

I do bear some resentment when new fans come in and tell old-timers how WE should change our behavior and established customs to suit THEM, but this is different. We don't own the Hugos, we never have, and by the standards she's using, the Best Fan Writer Hugo was broken in 1968, so don't worry about it.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

ecce homines, pars VII

Continuing my three-volumes-at-a-time survey of the American Presidents series, edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. This installment covers the presidencies of 1877-1885.

Now we are well into the period that Mark Twain called the Gilded Age. Despite the infamous corruption of politics in this period, our authors consider all three of their subjects to be basically honorable men and competent presidents, which marks a major distinction from the bad presidents of the decade preceding the Civil War.

Hans L. Trefousse on Rutherford B. Hayes is a dull book on a dull man. Trefousse, an academic historian, gives us every move or action Hayes took during the war (most of which he spent as a regimental colonel, and the detail is incomprehensible if you're not familiar with the campaigns in which he served), as congressman, governor, president, and even in retirement. But all this detail adds up to ... nothing. Trefousse's few excursions into a larger picture are jejune ("The Hayeses also tended to dine out, meeting interesting people," p. 126), and he outsources his entire evaluation of Hayes's presidency to a New York Times editorial of the period (p. 129-31). Even his account of Hayes' contentious election is dull, and the theory that Hayes was allowed to take office peacefully on condition that he end Reconstruction gets no play in this book. Trefousse claims that Hayes was forced into removing the troops by unexplained actions of the preceding Grant administration, and only chastises Hayes with exceeding mildness for being naive enough to believe Southern whites' promises that they'd respect blacks' civil rights. This seems just too pat.

Ira Rutkow on James A. Garfield is a medical historian's account, which is less weird than it seems. The most important thing about Garfield is, not his assassination, but the medical care he received, or more accurately didn't receive, for eleven weeks after it as he slowly and agonizingly died of infection. Rutkow cites the assassin's claim at his trial that it was the doctors who killed Garfield; the gunman merely shot him. And Rutkow can't really disagree with this assessment. It's kind of stunning to learn with what brisk dispatch Garfield would have been patched up and sent home had he been shot like that today; the wound wasn't that serious. Rutkow devotes an entire chapter to the state of American medicine at the time, in a futile attempt to explain the incompetence and arrogance of the chief physician, who appointed himself to that rank over the objections of Garfield's family - and those of his actual doctor, who got physically dragged out of the White House. The half of the book taking place before the shooting is adequate but less energetically written, and it doesn't really convey the intensity of the political warfare interrupted by the event. Nor does it cover everything one might expect. The detail-obsessed Trefousse manages to discuss Garfield's one Supreme Court appointment; Rutkow doesn't mention it.

Zachary Karabell on Chester Alan Arthur is the work of an author with academic historical training but whose writings are mostly popular history and current affairs. His view is lucid and clearly presented. Arthur had started out as a vigorous anti-slavery civil rights lawyer, and then mutated into a personally competent top henchman for a corrupt political machine. Then as president, succeeding on Garfield's death, he broke with the machine and favored civil service reform with all the energy he had left after a gradually encroaching kidney disease started to have its way with him. Karabell explains these shifts of character by simply pointing out that as servant of the machine Arthur wasn't his own boss; but as president he could revert to his true self of the young upright lawyer. Karabell is also far clearer than Rutkow on the political controversies of Garfield's administration, though it's Rutkow who points out that Garfield distrusted Arthur, and with good reason. Karabell concludes that Arthur presided over an uneventful period with honesty and competence, and we can't expect much more than that. There's some whitewashing here, as there is with Hayes, but the argument basically hangs together.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

two museums in Massachusetts

The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, Springfield. Springfield, ex-industrial city and birthplace of basketball, was also the home town of Ted Geisel aka Dr. Seuss. For many years the city has had a sculpture garden of his characters, and since my last visit they've added to the cluster of city museums (art, history, science) a Dr. Seuss museum in a converted old two-story building. It's obviously the most popular of the bunch, and the only one they give you a timed entry for at the cluster's ticket counter. If I hadn't been there at opening time on a weekday, I expect it would have been very crowded, especially with children.

At least the ground floor. The upper floor is a conventional museum, with a reproduction of the study in his house in San Diego with a lot of his books and kipple, and it looks just what you'd expect Dr. Seuss's house to look like. There is also lots of unpublished art, especially as included in letters. Contrary to the usual image of Geisel as disliking children, he wrote the children of his acquaintance lots of birthday cards and other letters. Most interesting was the long correspondence donated by his great-nephew Ted, in which you can see Geisel advancing his discourse as the boy grows up, but always remaining whimsical. (There's also a serious letter on logistics for a visit to his grown niece, Ted's mother, which he nevertheless signed with a goofy pseudonym.)

Downstairs, however, is a Seussical fantasia, with rooms full of statues of Seuss creatures designed for kids to climb on or play with. I wish I'd gotten a photo of the four kids, all wearing t-shirts designating them as Thing #1 through Thing #4, sitting on Mr. Gump's seven hump Wump as their mother, whose shirt read "Mother of All Things," took their photo. They were obviously there with enthusiasm.

Also downstairs and in Seussical style is the history of his early life in Springfield. This is accompanied by captions, in both English and Spanish, in imitation Dr. Seuss verse. Nobody who isn't Dr. Seuss can write pastiche of his verse that isn't gawdawful, and this is no exception. I give you one example for the taste, for providence could stand no more:
Ted's dad ran a zoo that was not far from home,
It was a lively placed where animals roamed.
Yes, that is a typo, and yes, it is there on the placard. So is the grammatical error and so is the clunky near-rhyme and off-rhythm and so is the general inanity of the description.

The Clark, Williamstown. Small town up in the far corner of the state with a prestigious college and, quite separately from it, this - quite large for its subdued rural locale - art museum. Officially it's the Clark Art Institute, but it's known locally just as The Clark. ("Look what we found in the park in the dark. / We will take it home. We will call it 'Clark'.") It's named for a serious and prolific art collector who established this museum in the 1950s, though the current building is much newer and starkly modern. Over on one side is the permanent collection, and on the other in a basement an equally large space currently hosting a show of Renoir, specializing in his nudes. Clark, it turns out, was a big Renoir collector, and many of the pieces are from the permanent collection, except that Clark hated Renoir's late period, and I can see why if it's because the faces, previously realistic, become something grotesque and microcephalic. Anyway, I got a good sense of Renoir's development from this, and I liked best the period in the 1870s and 80s when the figures were clear and crisp but the background was weird and colorful and impressionistic. (ETA: And here's an unbridled review of the exhibit.)

Here's the weird thing. All the time I was looking at the Renoir paintings, I was trying to remember the name of the guy whose sculptures are a major feature of the Stanford campus. I know his name well, but it had fled from my mind at the approach of Renoir. It was his contemporary, Rodin. But when I looked it up, I found that now I could not remember Renoir, until I looked that up. It took considerable work before I could retain both names in my mind at once. Maybe it's because they're contemporaries who begin with R. Maybe it's because they had the same given name, Auguste (which I didn't notice until I looked that up). Maybe it's because I don't know that much about either.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Don't Blame Me, I'm In Massachusetts

All sorts of wonderful things are going on near home this weekend, from Garden of Memory and other musical events to the solstice party which is the biggest event on my social group's annual calendar, but I won't be at any of them. I'm in Massachusetts, hobnobbing with my fellow wizards. Back next week.

Two side notes:

1. It's cold and wet here. ("And to think it will soon be June," grumbled Bilbo. Oh, it is? Well, there you go.) But that doesn't mean it isn't also so muggy that the air conditioner can't be turned off.

2. There ought to be a sign along the road I took to get here: WARNING: PITTSFIELD AHEAD. Making it through that congested town, from the unexpected turns on the highway route to the construction equipment blocking the entire street and looking disinclined to move any time soon, was the biggest challenge of getting here.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Tolkien Studies 16: an announcement

On behalf of myself and my co-editors, Michael D.C. Drout and Verlyn Flieger, here are the expected contents of volume 16 of the journal Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review. All of the works are now in the hands of our publisher, West Virginia University Press, and the volume is scheduled to be published in softcover and on Project MUSE later this year. - David Bratman, co-editor

Tolkien Studies 16 (2019)
  • Luke J. Chambers, "Enta Geweorc and the Work of Ents"

  • Marie H. Loughlin, "Tolkien's Treasures: Marvellous Objects in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings"

  • Anika Jensen, "Flowers and Steel: The Necessity of War in Feminist Tolkien Scholarship"

  • J.M. Silk, "The Kings of the Mark: Tolkien's Naming Process and his Views on Language Evolution"

  • Megan N. Fontenot, "The Art of Eternal Disaster: Tolkien's Apocalypse and the Road to Healing"

  • John Rosegrant, "Mother Music"
Notes and Documents
  • Richard C. West, "A Letter from Father Murray"

  • Thomas P. Hillman, "Not Where He Eats, But Where He Is Eaten: Bilbo's Bread and Butter Simile"
Book Reviews
  • Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth and Tolkien Treasures, by Catherine McIlwaine, reviewed by Denis Bridoux

  • The Fall of Gondolin, by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien, reviewed by Jennifer Rogers

  • Sub-creating Arda: World-building in J.R.R. Tolkien's Work, its Precursors and its Legacies, edited by Dimitra Fimi and Thomas Honegger, reviewed by David Bratman
  • David Bratman, Jason Fisher, John Wm. Houghton, John Magoun, Kate Neville, Robin Anne Reid, "The Year's Work in Tolkien Studies 2016"

  • David Bratman, "Bibliography (in English) for 2017"

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

25 years

On that morning, B. and I rose early and packed the car, because we'd be spending the next couple days on a mini-honeymoon at a B&B on the coast. Then we drove up to my family temple for the wedding.

Everything had been scheduled out, and it all went as planned. Our attendants were my brother and B's sister. Also supporting us were our parents, then all hale, now no longer with us. Though my parents were divorced, they were still both my parents, so they consented to stand together. (My father had wanted to know what would be the place of his wife. I'd said, "She's family; she can sit in the front row with the rest.")

The rabbi, now also gone, was the already-retired senior rabbi of the congregation, who had presided at my bar mitzvah and other events, and whose distinctive way of reading the prayers remains welded in my mind. It was his question, why wait?, and pulling out his notebook to seek an open date which had settled this date when we'd first gone to consult with him in February.

And we'd invited lots of friends. There was room, so why not be festive and generous? Among them were those skilled practitioners who so kindly contributed music and food to the ceremony and reception, the latter of which was in the social hall immediately behind the sanctuary. B's sister, a master of this art, baked the cakes, two of them.

As I stood on the bima at the start of the ceremony, watching B. walk accompanied up the aisle, in the dress she'd sewn herself, I found myself filled with confidence that we were doing the right thing.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

tv series not watched

A lot of cultural weight is going right now into online-only tv series that are deemed really excellently done. I have access to Netflix and to Amazon Prime, so I've been dipping into some of these. The problem with embarking on watching any tv series is that you're putting a lot more personal investment in than in watching a movie, because the tv series is going to take a lot more of your time. Therefore I rely on it to suck me in at least as well as a good movie does.

But a lot of these shows are doing a really poor job of this. I can't tell you how many I've started watching and then quit before the end of the first episode, because I immediately forget all about them.

There's a mode of storytelling that seems to be common among these programs that just totally puts me off as a new viewer. It dumps you immediately into the middle of, usually several apparently separate stories, not properly introducing the characters, leaving the viewer bewildered and at sea as to what's going on, and usually taking place in the dark so that you can't see what's happening or tell the characters apart properly anyway. There's nothing to hang on to and no reason to get caught up and continue.

This kind of storytelling can be terrifically engaging once the story has gotten going and the viewer is a sophisticated reader of the complex situation. But the beginner needs their hand held just a little, just enough to get oriented, if they're to be caught up and persuaded to continue. The mistake here is the same mistake made by educators in the 1950s when they discovered that experienced readers glance at the whole word at once and tried to make beginning readers read the same way, producing a generation of children who couldn't read. The solution, of course, was phonics. Start there, then move on. I think what's going on is that the filmmakers are assuming the viewer has read a vast amount of written material about the show before embarking on watching it. I tend not to do that.

The latest show I gave up on before the end of the first episode because it was too chaotic, confusing, and darkly lit was The Americans, quickly following The Man in the High Castle. Didn't I try watching one with John Goodman? (Looks it up) Black Earth Rising, that must have been it. Don't remember anything else about it.

Of course, a show doesn't need to do that to make me stop watching it early on. I stopped watching Mozart in the Jungle because the level of catty bitchiness was just too high. Try being just a little subtle about it, huh? I stopped watching The Crown because of its meticulous re-creation of just how boring a life royalty leads. I stopped watching Bodyguard when a gripping suspense show started inserting gratuitous sex scenes. I stopped watching House of Cards when it became apparent that a situation created specifically for the circumstances of British politics just wasn't going to transfer over properly to American ones. I stopped watching Sherlock after two episodes because I simply could not figure out what was going on. I forget why I turned off The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I think I didn't find the characters believable. I watched The Handmaid's Tale for about half a season until its departures from the book's premise just grew too disheartening. I never watched Game of Thrones at all because the first book was boring enough.

You want to know how to do this right, how about Orphan Black? Now there was a show which began its first season knowing exactly how to feed the viewer in by starting simple and opening up complications at a rate slow enough to follow but fast enough to keep them enthralled - and it took until the end of the second season to disgust me with manipulative storytelling. But by then I was so caught up with the characters and the events that I kept watching! Success!

There have been others, usually a bit back in time. It took me until the end of a season to get terminally bored with Mad Men. I liked most of the first season of Breaking Bad and only stopped there because while I'd watch a movie with such unpleasant characters, I didn't want to invest in more of a long tv series in their company.

You know what I really liked, a while back? Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. Cheaply made as it was, it was really enjoyable. I should watch Good Omens. I should also watch American Gods, which I haven't seen yet. Have you got the time for me to do it? Because I don't think I have.

a few things about Tolkien's mythology

(excerpted from an e-mail)

Yes, it was inspired by pure language. No, it isn’t based on Wagner’s Ring. Yes, Tolkien was Catholic and theology infuses his work, but no, it isn’t an encoding of Catholic iconography. That would be allegory and Tolkien disliked allegory. No, the Eagles couldn’t have flown the Ring to Mount Doom. No, Aragorn wasn’t reluctant to become king (that one comes from the movie). Yes, Tolkien was a bit racist (and sexist) by our standards, but it’s far more interesting to talk about the ways in which he isn’t racist or sexist, which can be surprisingly extensive. Yes, Middle-earth is our world, not another planet, and it’s a whole world, not just what fits on a tabletop role-playing game.

Monday, June 10, 2019

and more events

I didn't mention that I got to one of the Stanford Spring Chamber Music Showcase programs last week, a short marathon in which various student groups played individual movements. In addition to the expected classics, we had Corelli, Moszkowski, and even some composers I hadn't heard of. A wobbly slow movement from the Schumann Piano Quartet was followed by a fairly satisfactory finale of Schubert's "Death and the Maiden", with the critical high A getting due emphasis.

Then, the Cambrian Symphony on Saturday, mostly because they were playing Janáček's Sinfonietta. Also Copland's El Salón México and the Brahms Second Piano Concerto. A big, rough sound was probably partially due to the orchestra and partly to the venue, the concert hall in San José State's music building. On a bulletin board I found a printout of my review of the department's production of Bernstein's Mass, so somebody must have read that.

Sunday, our book discussion group tackled Little, Big by John Crowley. Invigorating discussion, particularly between C. - generally our most perceptive reader of the complex depths in literature, who was very impressed with the book - and M., who says she otherwise likes Crowley but had never read this one before and found it irritating. M. found it disjointed, whereas to C. it was merely diverse and came together by the end. I tended to find it disconnected, but at least the individual parts were interesting, so it didn't bother me that much. To prepare for this discussion, although I didn't re-read the whole book, I pulled down from the shelf my original trade paperback, which had been sitting there for 38 years since the book was new, and I read it for a book discussion among the SF fans in Seattle, which I had to miss, even though I was there physically, because of an attack of laryngitis. B. found the old copy too musty to read and bought an e-book.

Saturday, June 8, 2019


Yesterday was the most convenient day to celebrate our Big Round Number wedding anniversary, which is actually next Wednesday, but that's B's workday and Friday isn't.

We decided a day's outing would be pleasant, so we found a near-intersection of our interests by picking the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa. It's a two-hour drive, over the Golden Gate Bridge - oops, I have to pay the toll online, as I do this so rarely I don't have an account; back in a minute - so the plan was to go up in the morning, have lunch, see the museum, and return in time for the evening cat feeding, and that was accomplished.

Lunch was at what turned out to be an excellent Mexican restaurant downtown, and the museum - which I (without B) have seen twice before, but not recently - is good with some excellent background stuff on Schulz's artistic influences. We had fun guessing what languages a display of translations were in without looking at the captions first. I also learned both why the Apollo 10 crew named their ships for Snoopy and Charlie Brown (they'd described their mission as snooping over the Moon's surface, and it came naturally) and that this wasn't Schulz's first involvement with NASA, he having already been hired to produce cartoons for morale-boosting material aimed at contractor personnel.

One of the current temporary exhibits was on Woodstock (you know, the bird), though it also included two large panels devoted to explaining to the young what Woodstock was that something should be named for it. Sigh. The other temporary display was on the theme of camping in Peanuts, with much attention to Mr. Sack, and I'd define a Peanuts fan as someone who knows what that refers to without further reminders.

Also in the personal news: review of another concert from last weekend. This included some items I'd used in my "English suites and others" listening series, which I ought to get back to writing.

Friday, June 7, 2019

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

I wanted to get the other recent concerts I've been to covered before this one came up. Changes in the guest performers resulted in an entire replacement of the program. Nothing performed had been in the original schedule and vice versa.

Francesco Lecce-Chong conducted. He's the new MD of the Santa Rosa Symphony, a local orchestra I haven't yet heard under his regime. Despite being a frenetic arm-waver, he seems to have a clear and vivid control over the music.

One half was Mozart. David Fray was soloist in Mozart's C minor piano concerto, K. 491. It was a thoroughly competent performance, about as cheery as this work is going to get. That was the concert's good part.

Also, a 15-minute chunk of ballet music from Mozart's opera Idomeneo. Too grandiose and pompous for my tastes. Reminded me of the Haffner serenade. (The program said it would be 30 minutes. The same thing happened the last time they played a "bleeding chunk" from Wagner. Are the conductors abridging the selections further without telling anybody?)

The other half evoked Italy, though not the cheerful Italy you usually get in Italian-inspired music.

The overture to Verdi's opera on the Sicilian Vespers, an event which, judging from the overture, Verdi thought had its jolly side.

Elgar's In the South, which he wrote during a windy and rainy mid-winter vacation in Italy. (Having been in Italy in October myself, I can believe Elgar's weather.) His response to these surroundings was to write a piece that sounds as much like Richard Strauss as humanly possible. Heaving and gesticulatory. This is what the SFS chose to waste its profound talent on?

Summary: The piano concerto was OK. The rest: great performances of crappy music. And to think I went all the way to the City to hear this.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

reviews and events

I've been so immersed in other projects that switching mental gears to write a blog post has felt more difficult than worthy of accomplishment.

One thing that got done was some concert reviews last weekend. I converted my last post on the media event at Frost Amphitheater into an article for SFCV, largely by converting it from focusing on a backstage orientation to an audience orientation. Frankly, I've never been enthused by outdoor venues (my reaction to a concert at the famous and venerable Hollywood Bowl was "Now I don't ever have to go here again"), but we'll see if I get asked to cover the SFS here. It could be interesting: the day after I submitted the article, MTT announced he's cancelling all his summer events for health reasons, including the concert he was scheduled to lead at Frost, so the guest who's conducting the other program is taking over that one as well. My newshound colleague Janos, who wrote that last article, added an update in the comment section to mine as well.

Meanwhile, as I was about to leave for the SFS on Thursday, I get a call from the editor asking me to cover that program. So I did that too. What I didn't tell my editor was that this was an extra concert for me (I really like the Shostakovich Eighth), and I'd gotten a ticket for the terrace behind the orchestra, where I usually grab a seat right behind the spot between the trumpets and trombones, for that glorious brass sound in works that feature it. Listening to a violin concerto, the other work on the program, from behind can be a curious experience, but I think I handled that. The main thing I learned from watching this guest conductor from the front is that he conducts with his mouth open.

A third review, for the Daily Journal, hasn't come out yet. In the meantime I'm trying to finish up the actual writeup of my paper for the conference I attended in early March, I've been invited to speak on Tolkien to a local lecture series and have thrown a bunch of specific topics at them, and B. and I have plunged into the maelstrom of figuring out the logistics of her impending retirement. More on that later, but what I find really remarkable is that, even though we want to stay on Kaiser's health plan, there are three different ways of dealing with this before Medicare kicks in, and there is not a single person at Kaiser who knows anything about more than one of these four things, to help us make any kind of comparison or judgment as to which pathway to take. The thought that every single person in our position has to blaze the same trail through uncharted virgin jungle amazes me. We have hired a CFP (Certified Financial Planner) who specializes in retirement, whom I found by looking for retirement specialists on an official CFP website, who's been of help regarding the big picture. His explanation of how Medicare works was a tremendous help when I went to Kaiser's introductory session, because otherwise I would have been completely baffled by everything it said.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump has gone off to the UK, where even before landing he set out to win hearts and minds by tweeting that the Mayor of London was a "stone cold loser." Whenever someone succeeds at getting under his skin, the best response he can come up with is this pathetically juvenile insult, "loser." It's particularly feeble when applied to a man who won the runoff election for his current job with a vote of 56.8%, which is a lot more than a certain president managed.