Sunday, July 28, 2019

memorial gas

So we held the memorial for B's sister on Saturday, in a pleasant and utilitarian Sunnyvale park building. All the picnicing and so on was on the other side of an artificial lake, so we didn't interfere with each other.

As the person who rented the room and hence was responsible for ensuring we used it correctly, I found everything was easy. The city worker who opened up the room was helpful to deal with, and when he came back at closing time we'd already finished cleaning up (we were allotted an extra hour for that) and he pronounced our work OK, so we'll get the deposit back.

The attendees were mostly either family or Jo's co-workers in emergency services co-ordination. After a little nudging, they were moved to tell reminiscence stories, ranging from Jo the auntie to Jo the Hawaii vacationer to Jo the master emergency services coordinator. And we all wore Hawaiian shirts and ate from the catered Hawaiian food that was spread out on the front tables.

Nobody tried to smoke or drink alcohol (prohibited activities). Nobody got too rowdy or loud. There weren't many spills and those easily cleaned up. The blue painters' tape held things in place but was easily removable. At the end, everyone who was still there pitched in to wipe down the tables, sweep the floor, dump the leftover ice, pack the food up and take it away, etc.

All taken care of. I hope that Mythcon goes this well.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Thursday, July 25, 2019

ecce homines, pars VIII

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 1885-1901.

Here we have the last gasps of the Gilded Age, and the beginnings of the transformation of the Presidency into its familiar 20th century form. (Not so sure what a 21st century presidency is typically like yet.)

Henry F. Graff on Grover Cleveland is another dull book on a dull president. Cleveland evidently believed the role of the president was to do as little as possible. When destitute Civil War veterans begged for pensions, he didn't do anything. When the American planters in Hawaii overthrew the monarchy and petitioned for annexation by the US, he didn't do anything. When the economy crashed at the start of his second term, he didn't do anything. (And why, having not enjoyed being president and being defeated for re-election, did he run to regain the office at all? Graff doesn't say.) Graff is an academic historian who rather weirdly focuses on details of the nominating convention and inauguration, while skimming over the presidency. Nor does he more than blandly describe the odd points of Cleveland's career, like his affair with (and possible rape of) a woman whose child might have been his, or his marriage to his own ward, 27 years his junior and 21 at the time, or his cancer operation in office which was kept a complete secret for decades. Graff also skips over entirely such critical points as the Presidential Succession Act of 1886, generated by a crisis when the entire line of succession was vacant, only to mention it irrelevantly later in connection with the next administration (p. 106), or say what happened in the 1896 election to the splinter conservative-faction candidate whom Cleveland and most of his cabinet supported (he got shellacked, as described in Kevin Phillips' McKinley book but not this one).

Charles W. Calhoun on Benjamin Harrison is a more invigorating academic historian's study, but then Harrison was a more invigorating president, despite apparently not enjoying the job any more than Cleveland did. An experienced legislator, he actively drove bills through Congress despite what Calhoun says was (but doesn't much describe as) a rebarbative personality. He got those veterans their pensions, for instance. After the Republicans lost control of Congress at the midterms (which Calhoun sort of claims was due to voters deciding they didn't want such an active president), Harrison was forced to expend most of his energy on foreign affairs, largely by signing treaties to establish US-controlled coaling stations to refuel the Navy wherever in the world it might go. Calhoun calls this proto-imperialist, though post-presidentially Harrison was appalled by the annexations following the Spanish-American War. The strangest thing in this book is the continuing thread of Harrison's intense and soul-healing friendship with his wife's niece, Mame Dimmick. It'd be an even more effective tale if I hadn't recognized her name and already known what Calhoun keeps under his hat until it happens: that, after Harrison's wife died, he promptly married her, though his children (who were her cousins, after all) despised her.

Kevin Phillips on William McKinley is a very different book from any of its predecessors. Phillips is the famous Republican political strategist, and he's written less a biography of McKinley (his assassination, for instance, though mentioned is never described or recounted) than a study of Republican political strategy in the McKinley era, both in electoral and policy terms, and he does go on, though he's both lucid and factually accurate. His thesis is that McKinley was not the dull-minded and reactive man of legend but a keen-witted, intelligent, and crafty political strategist. McKinley, Phillips says, was pro-labor at a time when the party was anti-, which won him support among workers, but how he let the workers know that he supported them and would do things for them in office while hiding this from his own party lest they think him a radical, is not clear. Phillips repeatedly states that all McKinley's (very competent, with long careers ahead of them) subordinates, including TR, always praised his strength and leadership, but he also - while lining up the stereotypes to debunk them - quotes TR saying McKinley had "the backbone of a chocolate eclair" (p. 4). So what the hey? Phillips' defense of imperialism is as clearly-written and factual as ever, but is truly embarrassing to read, including such feckless arguments as 1) all the other Western countries were doing it too, and 2) many who opposed imperialism did so because they were racists. These are true, but they're no excuse.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Mythcon schedule

So here it is: what I've been spending most of my time the last few weeks building up, tearing apart, rebuilding, and patching, largely on a grid of columns I drew in a large lined notepad: the Mythcon schedule.

Where do you start with drawing up such a schedule? I start in two places: first with the panels, which at Mythcons are relatively few. Once the panelists were set, it was a matter of spreading the panels out so that nobody who was on more than one had their duties tightly clustered. With a couple of panels on required days (the keynote panel on Saturday, the first full day; the panel dissecting the awards on Monday, so that it can discuss this year's awards to be given the previous night), and putting the untied panels in last on the emptiest days, that gave day assignments to everything.

Then at Mythcon I traditionally put all the papers requiring AV in the same room on the same day (usually Sunday, which has the most schedule flexibility). I got that idea after watching gofers at large SF cons madly shuttling AV equipment from room to room and thinking how unnecessary that should be. This tracking is no longer strictly necessary, as most AV now is PowerPoint and all our rooms are equipped for that, but it helps to form a core around which the rest of the program may be built.

On top of that I place the other papers, by tracking (running thematically related papers in succession), contrasting (giving variety to the papers opposite each other, though given this year's smaller rooms I focused on estimating comparable levels of popularity), and presenter requests for days or times. One factor I didn't consider at first was ensuring that a professor's paper wasn't opposite those of her students. Have to watch out for that if I ever do this again.

The draft went out a week ago last Thursday, with requests for changes to arrive by the next Tuesday. A few came in, including a couple of cancellations, which freed space in a very tight regime. Then a desperate request for a move came in yesterday. A week after the deadline. Literally as I was lining up the e-mails in my outbox to send out the final version.

Inserted thought: It's interesting what people mean when they say they can't do something. Sometimes it's physically impossible ("I can't be there in 15 minutes; it takes 30 to drive from here"). Sometimes they could do it, but they're unwilling to deal with the consequences or possible consequences of doing so: things that are majorly illegal, or that would violate rules and cause you to be fired, fall into that category. Sometimes it would violate the person's moral code, or just be too embarrassing. Sometimes they have no control over the subject of discussion, and can't do something because it would require persuading a hard-to-persuade person who does have control, and who may have their own constraints.

My first thought was, "I can't change the schedule now." But who made that rule? Me. Who will stop or punish me if I make an exception to my own rule? Nobody. I have the power to make the decision here. Would it be feasible to find something else to exchange time slots with this paper with? Hmmm, no ... well, maybe. I could still say no. But if I am sufficiently kind-hearted (and, in truth, sufficiently fearful of the mess that could ensue if I refuse), I will try. So I did, and thanks to a quick response from someone I knew I could ask favors of, the exchange turned out to be possible.

Now I reshuffle back into their original place some other papers that I moved out of the way because of constraints specifically dependent on the paper which I just sent off to where the paper needing moving came from (got that?), and it's done. No more last-minute whimpers, please. Time to publish.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

last at Menlo

Back to Menlo for another review, this one of Beethoven's Op. 135, which I was looking forward to all right, and Schubert's Winterreise, which I ... um ... well ... I ... um, ah ...

And yes, if you've read the review now, you've read aright. Once I already managed to get a quote from Buffy the Vampire Slayer into a review, but this time, in an entirely serious review, I've quoted Super Chicken.

Went back for a talk by Larry Todd on Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel and Clara Wieck Schumann, the forgotten women composers of German romanticism. FMH wrote a lot more music than I'd known about, including a string quartet which, like her brother's early quartets, follows Beethoven very closely.

Questions. First person embarked on a rant about the lack of women composers at Menlo. Made its point and then went on about five times longer. All that Todd, who has no control over Menlo programming, could say was, "Good point," and then to add that aspiring performers should listen to lots of music and, if they find something that moves them, play it.

Second person began "We know that Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms were in love" and asked Todd to comment. He said what any careful scholar would, which is that Clara and Johannes were obviously very close friends, but we don't know anything more than that. But they were very close friends.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

a week

A steady, or possibly steadily increasing, amount of my time has been devoted to dealing with planning for Mythcon. Which is in two weeks. Getting the schedule ready, which is still not quite done because some tweaks need to be made because of late changes, and dealing with making sure the site is set up properly. This is frustrating, and more so for the chair, who's on the spot in San Diego, than for me, because while the site conference people are friendly and informative, they sometimes inform you of things only considerably after it would have been helpful to know it, and they don't always respond to e-mail or phone calls or get ready things that they'd promised.

It's almost enough to make us think fondly of our other finalist site, which was a resort hotel. But the facilities they'd offered us were no more than adequate, and they did tell us there'd be some construction going on during the time of the con. It didn't sound like too much, but we drove past the site on my last visit down less than two weeks ago, and the place was no longer recognizable. It looked like a war zone.

That renovations, this time un-previously announced, is part of what's causing difficulties where we are is merely ironic.

Meanwhile, is anything else getting done? Only the essentials. My car needs servicing before we go; I need to meet with my broker to arrange funds to pay some bills that will be due as soon as we get back; but my library job is getting put on hold until then; so are some other big planning tasks; and most of what I need to do for the memorial for B's sister is taken care of, except that I need to phone them and find out which is true, that the city will open the building on the day or that I need to pick up keys the day before, both of which are stated on paperwork I have. Otherwise I only have to worry about the day itself, during which I will probably have to keep patrolling to ensure that none of the guests, most of whom I won't know, are neither smoking nor drinking, both of which are strictly prohibited.

In the meantime, it's Menlo Festival time, a busy season at my other job. I have to miss most of it this year due to Mythcon, and what I've got isn't the choicest end of the program. I've reviewed one concert so far, a rather dutiful violin-and-piano recital of bristling early 20C music, and I've gotten to one talk, Escher Quartet violinist Aaron Boyd on early recordings and what they tell us of historical performance practice, and how we should respond to this. This is exactly the topic of all the Stanford symposiums I've been attending over the last decade, so there was not much new about that, though Boyd's observations that pupils don't always sound much like their teachers, and his conclusion that players should find their own styles, were welcome. Though perhaps addressing the last admonition to the teenage students who formed the main part of the audience might be premature, as at their age they should still be learning how to express themselves at all. Finding their personal styles can come later. Boyd, as he pointed out, is 40: old enough to have his style be his selling point.

Non-Menlo, I was sent to test out the premiere classical series at Stanford's refurbished Frost Amphitheater, so I reviewed the venue as much as the concert. It wasn't as horrifying getting in as at the Hollywood Bowl, but it was grinding enough. And then I get one of those inane comments to the effect that only other professional musicians can judge, this time not even about a criticism. Of course I can tell if the singers sound like they're enjoying themselves! How could I not be able to tell that?

Thursday, July 18, 2019

lunar landing

Fifty years ago today, Apollo 11 was on its way to the moon, and we all know what happened to it next. To get a little ahead of the anniversary, here's what I wrote about it several years ago in commemoration of Neil Armstrong:

Yes, I watched the lunar landing, and Armstrong and Aldrin's walkabout, on TV. I did so more because I knew it was a historic event, unprecedented and sure to be remembered, than because I really wanted to see it. (And I had trouble making out the famous words.) I was supportive of the space program, but I didn't follow it with obsession or in detail. It was less captivating than it now sounds. I have to remind people who only know the lunar landing program from the recent movies and TV dramatizations that the real thing had much poorer video, everything took a lot longer to happen, and there was no stirring music behind it. That makes a difference. These were engineering test flights, really, and the patriotic symbolism sat a bit uneasily atop them. That, I'm sure, was Armstrong's view.

And for anyone minded to believe it was a hoax, there's this little tv sketch.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Andi Shechter

Gone Monday morning. Oh, dear. She was one of my oldest friends, so this is going to be tough.

I first met Andi (originally short for Andrea, but she long ago dropped that entirely) at a meeting of the Little Men, the old line Berkeley SF fan club, in my early days at university, when Alva Rogers, the club secretary, gestured at the younger woman blushing shyly by his side and announced, "She said 'yes'!"

But if Andi seemed shy at first glance, I quickly learned she was not so at all. She was buoyant, talkative, energetic, outspoken, and had a knack of being at the center of everything that long outlasted her marriage to Alva. She became the doyenne of our fannish circle; as a young fan with social aspirations, I hung out with her whenever I could. I have many fond memories of being with her and other friends at the Magic Cellar in San Francisco, at Flying Karamazov Brothers shows, and other events.

One might think, and I suspect some did think, that I had the hots for her, but I didn't. She didn't attract me in that way. I hung out with Andi because she was fun to be with. Our conversations bubbled and squeaked, and her friendship was balm and a nectar. We reached closest collaboration when she was elected chair of the Little Men and I was her vice-chair, working together on arranging guest speakers and running the meetings. We developed a routine of calling me her pet vice, a joke which, as it turned out, lasted a lifetime.

But then I moved away and then she moved away, and our friendship became an occasional thing that was renewed completely afresh whenever we met. It was Andi who arranged, several years after the Cellar's closing, a reunion of its friends up at its owner Cedric Clute's home deep in the Sierras, a particularly golden meeting. I was both delighted and amused when Andi hooked up with Stu Shiffman, who turned out to be the love of her life, because I'd known both of them for years already. Once they moved to Seattle, I'd see them whenever I visited; occasionally she'd come down here; and a favorite memory of the Reno Worldcon was the successful arrangement of lunch at a casino deli: B. and me, Andi and Stu.

Andi was an activist in many ways. She ran conventions: first Star Trek cons from before I'd met her, then sf cons including Worldcons that she'd recruit me on to the committees of. For many years, though, her conrunning activities lay mostly in mystery fandom, where she became a mighty BNF. Our tastes in that literature had little overlap, so it was one topic we didn't discuss much, though I did once attend a Bouchercon because she was chairing it. But also Andi was firm in her support and activities in progressive politics, and also, of course, for disability rights.

Even in the early days, Andi often walked with a cane, and gradually debilitating disease, focused in her back, began to overtake her. Fortunately she was still walking, and having a good day, when the fanzine con Corflu held an incongruous joint event with the Friends of the English Regency, with which I was also involved. When the band struck up Horatio's Fancy, a figure waltz easy for beginners to pick up with an experienced partner, I asked her to dance. From her expression, it must have been a joyous experience, and perhaps the memory a comfort when she could waltz no more. Eventually she went about in a motorized wheelchair, and after Stu had a stroke he joined her in one too. That's how they were married, in the dinosaur museum at the University of Washington, and what another joyous meeting. Afterwards I dreamed that Stu and Andi were dancing. It was a big, vigorous two-handed turn, and they were in rude good health and having a glorious time. Life had closed that possibility off for them, but it was kind of the Sandman to send me the thought.

But then Stu died, and with the cessation of Potlatch my regular visits to Seattle ceased. Having missed Andi entirely on a previous visit due to her health problems, I went up last fall determined to meet with her above anyone else. And it happened. We met at her favorite coffee shop in Lake City where she was living. We sat and chatted for hours about life, literature, and politics just as we always had for over forty years. When it was time to go, I watched her wheelchair trundle slowly up the sidewalk towards home, and I had, though I didn't know it, said goodbye forever.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Mythcon update

We sent out the draft Mythcon schedule to program participants Friday and are waiting for replies. That's mostly paper presenters, but there are also panels. Over the last three days, since I drafted the schedule, I've gone from pleased with our work to totally sick and weary of the whole business, down to fairly satisfied again, especially as responses roll in and the tentative panelists say yea. We're down to only one uncertainty at the moment.

So I might as well say something about gender staffing. At SF cons it's considered desirable now to have panels within one person of evenly gender-balanced. Here at the Mythopoeic Society, we run a small con and don't always have the advantage of enough qualified people for any given topic to follow that principle. So I pursue gender balance in a different way.

Here's the stats for the five panels I recruited the personnel for:
1. moderator woman, panelists 4 women
2. moderator man, panelists 5 women
3. moderator man, panelists 3 women
4. moderator woman, panelists 2 men, 2 women
5. moderator man, panelists 3 men

And here are the four that were offered to me as packages:
6. moderator man, panelists 3 women, 1 man
7. moderator man, panelists 1 man, 1 woman
8. moderator woman, panelists 2 men
9. moderator man, panelists 4 men, 1 woman

#2 is something of a coincidence (for one thing the one man is the moderator because the woman I originally thought of is moderating another panel - he's well-qualified for the job, though), but #1 and #3 were deliberately cast this way. In #3, our male GoH will be quizzing experts on each of the three major Inklings on their areas of expertise. The idea of having three women represent the Inklings pleases me no end. #1 is a panel on the challenges of doing research, on Tolkien in particular, and will be illustrated by a particular topic of research, women and his work. Therefore the casting. I've titled the panel Are there any women here today?, a line from Life of Brian.

Another panel, on Tolkien and WW1, incorporating discussion of the recent bio-pic, I've also given a whimsical title: All This and World War One, a reference that so far, nobody has got.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

and here it is

Here's the newspaper obituary for B's sister. The run-on sentence at the beginning is due to editing by the newspaper; otherwise this was mostly written by B. with help from family.

Behind the announcement of a commemorative party lies a long story, beginning with discussion by e-mail among the family as to what sort of event we should have and where it should be put. It was B. who remembered that our local city park has a one-room building which is used for various local events. Checking with the city website revealed it would be too small, but some other parks have much larger ones. Cue me driving around looking at them all, and then checking with the city. Turns out the most attractive one is still available for rent on our preferred date. It's half-surrounded by a pond with a tiki theme, with artificial moai (the Easter Island statues) in the water, one of them with a fountain blowing out of the top of its head. Jo would love it. Family agrees. Rush back to rent it.

So now we're having a party with a Hawaii/islander theme, with Hawaiian shirts and catered food and who knows what else. I'll be the one who has to enforce the no-drinking no-smoking rules, because I'm the one whose name is on the rental.

Meanwhile I get up to work, finally, to test out a new-to-us feature on our computer program which doesn't work, and also to take some time to work out the Mythcon schedule. This involves cutting out items from a printout of the papers database, and moving these slips of paper around the table until they look like they're in a pleasing juxtaposition.

I do this at work because not only do they have a big work table whereas at home we have nothing both large and vacant, but at home anything involving spreading out pieces of paper carries the risk that a cat will come and sit on them.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

site visit

Just back from San Diego, on a site visit for Mythcon. I'm programming; also present were chair, art show, and dealer's. Two I know well, but the last I'd never previously personally met; it's a good idea to know your fellow committee members by sight before the con. Also between 2-5 representatives of the site at various parts of the meetings.

Site had recently unexpectedly switched dorms on us, as someone had decided to renovate the ones we were having. Problem 1: how to fit reservations designed for one configuration into sets of rooms in different configurations. Problem 2: Compiling all the specific regulations, like "no untoward noise after 10 pm" and "no moving furniture from the bedrooms to the common area." Problem 3: Where are our members going to park temporarily to unload their bags, because hauling them over from where they park long-term is not going to work, not on that sidewalk. Problem 4: Which place should we hand out the pre-paid parking permits. Problem 5: How to explain all this clearly to members who've never been here before and aren't going to intuitively absorb any of it, including how to find the dorm in the first place.

Additional long and gritty meeting in one of the programming rooms to discuss the time allocations that we're renting them for. On getting home this evening, find that the site's chief allocater actually kept her promise to e-mail us the tabular results of the discussion. Problem: With our slowly growing membership numbers, are we still going to fit in our original rooms, or should we switch to some larger but more awkwardly located ones? Everyone looked at me. I swallowed and said, "Hold." I know we're going to have overflow situations, but I'm not convinced the larger rooms would entirely prevent that, and it would disintegrate the geographic integrity of the conference.

We're not using the dorm cafeteria for lunch, so an update of last year's visit to nearby restaurants was vital. I tromped around to all 30 of them. Problem is that many are keeping summer hours which are different from their posted hours. Sometimes the summer hours are also posted, sometimes not. Often the summer hours involve being closed on weekends, which is when we most need them. Site people promise to try to convince the on-campus eateries that there will be over a hundred conferees looking for lunch that Saturday and Sunday; maybe they should consider being open?

In the midst of this, my cell phone ceased working. Had a signal and everything, but would neither take nor receive calls. Eventually remembered how the phone store guy had fixed Famous Fan Writer's apparently terminally fried phone, when I'd taken it in after Worldcon while FFW was in the hospital. Tried it on my own phone. It worked. The secret? Open up the back. Remove the battery. Blow on the connectors. Replace.

All of this framed by the closest the current world offers to the shuttle-bus plane flights of yore.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

without Tybalt

Before we had Tybalt, and the only other cat in the household was the late lumpish Pippin, Maia and I had a regular routine. Twice every day, after breakfast and after dinner, she would come into my room, as a signal that I was to follow her over to the bedroom and on to the bed for an extensive session of stroking and nuzzling, which mostly consisted of scritching various sides of her head. During this she would purr - a gravely sound, as an engine needing oil - constantly. This would last 10 or 15 minutes, after which she'd have enough and jump down from the bed.

But the advent of Tybalt threw a spanner into these works. Tybalt wants to be involved with everything, but Maia likes her primacy. Our nuzzling sessions are only occasional now, and have to take place while Tybalt is elsewhere. Even so, I've learned to close the bedroom door during them, because if he should appear in the doorway Maia presses the abort button and everything stops. She huddles up on the clothes hamper and growls at him. The ever-eager Tybalt is oblivious and knows not what this growling sound means.

Just this morning, I had a Maia by my side, and we headed out of my room, but she stopped dead in the doorway because Tybalt was there, out in the hall. I walked past him and motioned her along. Tybalt knew what this meant and dashed over to the bedroom doorway. Eventually Maia peeked out but turned the other way, over to B.'s room and hopped on to her sewing table, which I've known from before is Maia's second choice nuzzling spot. I shut the door and we had our session. Tybalt, foiled again.

Now, how to foil him from his insistence on jumping up onto the kitchen counter or the dining table whenever there's anything involving food going on. Waving the spray bottle at him is fairly dissuasive - he knows by now what that means - but he just keeps coming back. Dropping 15 or 20 cats on the floor while fixing one dinner is normal now.

on electing a prime minister

There have been many articles (like this one) decrying or staring in dismay at the fact that the election for Prime Minister of the UK, the head of the country's government, is in the hands of the small and unrepresentative body of paid-up members of the Conservative Party.

This criticism would make sense if Prime Minister were an elected position like President of the US. But the Prime Minister is not a president, despite repeated observations over the last half-century about how much more presidential the post is becoming, and it is necessary to understand that in order to grasp what's actually going on here.

The President of the US isn't actually a directly-elected post either. What voters vote for is electors, the members of the Electoral College, and they are pledged to vote for a particular presidential candidate. That's relatively straightforward.

In the UK, what voters vote for is their local member of Parliament. Candidates for Parliament are normally pledged to support a particular political party, and it's that party which chooses its own leadership. If that party has the confidence of Parliament, i.e. enough votes to securely win divisions, then its leaders become the government and the principal leader Prime Minister. If the leader leaves mid-term, that's the party's business and not the electorate's. The electorate voted for the party.

Understand that and it should be clearer. Unfortunately, general discourse is against this. One reads regularly in, for instance the last general election, that voters voted for May or Corbyn. That they did not, unless they lived in Maidenhead or Islington and one of those worthies was their local MP. They voted for candidates who were pledged to support the Conservative or Labour Party - the party, not the leader - and May and Corbyn were the leaders of the parties and consequently the one whose party won would become PM.

Putting the choice of leader to the party members is actually far more democratic than in the past. When the post first emerged in the 18C, the prime minister was the servant of the monarch. The monarch could choose anyone he or she wanted, so long as that person could secure the passage of bills through Parliament, and bribery and patronage usually took care of that. By the mid-19C, with the development of meaningful constituency votes, it came to be recognized that the government should reflect the results of elections, and leaders were chosen by inner-circle jockeying among influential politicians over who could most effectively lead.

The Conservative Party continued to choose its leaders by this method as late as the succession of 1963, whose contentiousness led them to acknowledge this was out of date, and they changed to the same method used by the Labour Party. The Labour Party, which didn't date back to the 19C, originally held to the position that it didn't have a leader as older parties did. What it had was a body of MPs, and that body had a chairman, whose primary job was to preside at meetings. By that token it made sense for that body to elect its own chairman. When the Labour Party found itself obliged to form a government in 1924, it made sense for the chairman to take the government post of Prime Minister, and the party found itself assimilated. But the principle had been established that the MPs elect the leader because they know the people they'll have to work with, and after 1963 the Conservative Party joined them in this principle. It was on this basis, for instance, that Thatcher was deposed in 1990.

But, following the more participatory lead of the smaller Liberal Party, the larger parties eventually decided that the job of choosing the leader and potential PM was too big for the MPs, and (after much messing about, particularly in Labour) eventually decided that, while the MPs could nominate and winnow down candidates, final decision should go to the party members, which means mostly activists, many of them extreme. Going to a general electorate of party voters, as in US primaries, is not a step the UK is considering, and would probably not be workable there. And that is why, despite the alarm of almost everyone who isn't a blue-waving Tory, Boris Johnson looks about to become PM ...

Or is he? Because the PM is by definition the head of the government, and the government is a body which has the confidence of Parliament, and several Conservative MPs - including even the current Chancellor of the Exchequer - have said they would not vote for a Boris-led government. Tory rebels are traditionally more talk than action, but if they stick to their word, then Boris will not win confidence and will not become PM despite being party leader.

But then what happens? It's Boris's position on Brexit which has generated rebellion, but there is not a single position on Brexit which isn't unalterably opposed by a majority of MPs, so how could anyone win? It puts the Queen in a difficult position, because she has to commission the PM. The PM is still legally her servant, though nowadays she's obliged to follow whatever Parliament says. But what if Parliament - by not passing any votes, something it's already done more than once in respect of Brexit - doesn't say anything? It's a perilous world we live in.

Saturday, July 6, 2019


Home fireworks are illegal around here, but that didn't prevent a lot of them setting off on Thursday, including some from kids in the apartment building parking lot that adjoins our front yard. Good thing nothing caught on fire. B. went out and hissed at the perpetrators.

Speaking of which:

Cat, I'm not going to waggle the peacock feather all day while you stare at it. I want to see some action here.

Two big earthquakes in Ridgecrest. That's how it is: just as you finish putting everything back on the shelf ...

New talk of a tv adaptation of Gaiman's Sandman. I'd watch that, or start to.

Good analysis article on Kamala Harris's prosecutorial record.

After a period during which I felt as if I could no longer chew this job, programming for Mythcon is falling into shape. I've finalized the list of panels, which turned out rather different than I'd expected due to the number of unexpected suggestions and offers I got, and I've sent out the penultimate batch of offers to potential panelists, the contents of the final batch being dependent on the answers I get to this one. The papers coordinator has handed over the spreadsheet and abstracts documents I need for scheduling. First step, after boiling down the spreadsheet, is to read the abstracts and classify the papers in my mind. Slightly stuck at a paper whose abstract says it's about something it actually calls a newly-coined buzzword. Googling the word isn't useful; after sorting through a chain of fitness centers and an obscure SF movie with the same name, I finally find a Wikipedia article on it, which is also full of buzzwords so that's no help. Class as miscellaneous.

Friday, July 5, 2019

strange experience

Strange experience at the backyard party yesterday as it was winding down. Our friends who host the party every year are active in their church (Presbyterian), and many of their invitees are fellow church members. But they mix well with those of us who are not, whose connection with the hosts is through other interests, mostly fantasy literature. In fact my friendship with the husband was originally cemented when we took a class on medieval history at university together.

What I'm saying is that the fact that most of the attendees are Christian doesn't mean that Christianity as a topic dominates the conversation. But this day ...

Most of us remaining were seated in a circle on the back porch. A man I'd seen around here before, with a slight I think Russian accent, plopped himself down in an empty space. He started talking about how wonderful it was that we were all friends of the hosts and each other ... and then he started talking about how we should all also be friends of Jesus.

Even the two other Christians in the circle looked embarrassed, and declined his invitation to speak about what the friendship of Jesus meant to them. Then, after having elicited everyone else's religious identity, he rounded on the one person who identified herself as an open agnostic. "Why don't you let Jesus be your friend?" he demanded. "Don't you ever use your mind?"

That was a bit much for me. I get rather tired of the professional atheists who presume that anyone who uses their mind would be an atheist just like them, and getting the same nonsense from the other side was equally ripe. And I said so, as mildly as I could. Then I added that there's a word in English called "proselytizing" and it referred to something that was to be avoided.

Good thing he didn't get to me and try to make me a friend of Jesus. I would probably have declined by reciting the Sh'ma.

After that we hurriedly broke up. I've told evangelicals this before: you'll win more friends by demonstrating that you practice a religion of love than by browbeating unbelievers.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019


Lots of tasks today. Have to pay in person a bill that ought to be paid by mail. Have to pay by mail a bill that ought to be paid online.

Tybalt now wants to help as I pay the bills by mail. He climbs up on the table and bats at the other end of the pen. He also likes to sleep on my desk as I work on the computer. This is fine as long as he's not blocking the screen. And when he's not sleeping, he plays with any loose pencils or paper clips.

Also: To the library where I work to test out our computer program's features for a circulation database. To the big-box hardware store to renew our supply of exotic lightbulbs. To various local city parks to check out their facility buildings as possible venues for a memorial gathering for B's sister. Subsequently much online discussion of this. To grocer's to get food for tomorrow's annual party at friends'.

And much work online regarding last-minute venue alterations and organizing speakers for Mythcon in a month; yikes. Good thing I'm not giving a paper this year, and I'm not the only one who's given up any idea of that.

Monday, July 1, 2019


The anniversary party I mentioned yesterday was held at a Portuguese club in Mountain View. Did you know there are actually two Portuguese clubs in Mountain View? And the invitation originally went out with the address of the wrong one? Somewhere along the way I'd overheard there was a problem here, and got the right address by pinging G's local son; but one person didn't, and I heard he'd gone to the wrong one, found nobody there, and gone home.

But why were we at a Portuguese club? B and her siblings are of generic English/German ancestry. But G's husband, M, is of Portuguese descent (part Portuguese, part Spanish, I believe), and therefore so are their children, and they're happy to acknowledge that. A common Portuguese surname doesn't hurt.

Some years ago, at Wiscon, I attended a "how to be a good ally" panel, and one of the suggestions made was that, if someone says to something, say, about Hispanics being lazy, make something up and say, "Gee, my Hispanic brother-in-law is a hard worker." And I realized, I don't have to make it up. I do have a Hispanic brother-in-law, and he is a hard worker. M. had a long and successful career in engineering before his retirement, and for relaxation he loves to tinker with old cars. He put all four children through college, and they're now all fabulously successful in highly technical careers.

I told this story recently at a gathering of Jews, the committee that runs our synagogue library, and one of them remarked that saying "My Hispanic brother-in-law is a hard worker" is like saying "Some of my best friends are ..." I thought about this, but I don't think they're the same. If you say, "Some of my best friends are," you're defending yourself; but if you say "My Hispanic brother-in-law is ...", you're defending him. That's quite different. The point of his being your brother-in-law is that you have close personal experience of him; this isn't something you've vaguely heard somewhere; your testimony about him carries weight.

But the real reason that "Some of my best friends are ..." is a hollow argument is not due to a flaw in the reasoning. It's that self-declared friendship is cheap. There have been far too many examples of people making that declaration who are also prejudiced. Most gentiles with Jewish friends are in fact not prejudiced, but enough are; it carries no weight. If, instead of saying, "Some of my best friends are Jewish," you had said, "I hid Jews in my home during the Nazi occupation," that's the same form of argument - you're citing your behavior as a bona fide - but this time it carries weight, because actions, unlike calling someone your friend, are not cheap, and because these actions carried serious personal risk.

That's just how I contemplate this point.