Saturday, November 30, 2019

cat meets tree

I was expecting this to be a much more interesting story than it is.

We acquired Tybalt in February. He was, we were told, 12 months old at the time, and he was very much still a kitten. He's slowed down a bit since then, but only a bit, and still demands playing with great frequency. But his most frequent habits are to get in everything - wastebaskets, the kitchen sink - and to eat anything he can find. Once I accidentally dropped a couple wooden ends of asparagus stalks on the kitchen floor, and was surprised to see Tybalt eat them, both of them. I let him do it because it was a most amazing sight.

So what would he do when he saw his first Christmas tree? I set up our artificial tree today. Severian used to climb the tree. Would Tybalt? No; he watched with curiosity but didn't attempt to go up. He did, however, twice try to nibble the plastic needles. I buffed him off that in a hurry, and even more when he tried to chew the power cord for the tree's installed lights, but after that he left it alone.

So when B. puts the ornaments on ...

Friday, November 29, 2019


My contribution to the family Thanksgiving table is usually a veggie dish, since I make so many of them at home and everybody else tends to bring dessert. Recently I've been making roasted broccoli, which keeps well for the couple hours between coming out of my oven and being set out on our niece's kitchen counter, and which has gotten its share of compliments. But this year I decided on something different.

B's youngest sister, who died last summer, was the family's mistress of what we called the greenie beanie casserole. Perhaps you've had this too; it's a common dish, made with frozen green beans and a can of cream of mushroom soup, plus a package of toasted onions. Since she's gone, we will have this no more.

But I found a recipe for the same dish made with fresh green beans and fresh mushrooms. I looked it over and decided I could do this, so I did, as a memorial for Jo. Bought the veggies at the best of the local produce markets, and prepared everything except for the final mixing and baking at home in the morning. Brought the creamed mushrooms (surprisingly easy to make) in the casserole dish, the blanched green beans in a tupperware container, and the split toasted onions in baggies, and hit it to the oven at the right moment. I was pleased at how well it came out: the beans were cooked just right and never stringy, and while I don't much like mushrooms, the pieces were tolerable and the cream sauce actually good.

Next time I may try making it with home-made cream of celery done the same way.

This dish also marked a notable landmark for me. The big 26-ounce canister of salt, which I've been using ever since I was in college, finally came to emptiness. I always wondered if I'd outlive that. Now I have to buy a new one, but I think it will be a smaller size.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

some posthumous thanks

Just a moment to post here before prepping for family Thanksgiving, so here's my chance to give thanks for the lives and work of Clive James and Jonathan Miller, two great British cultural figures who've left us within the past few days.

James, who was Australian by origin and continued affiliation, but lived in the UK most of his adult life, did much creative writing particularly poetry, but is best known for his literary reviews, which showed much perception as well as wit. My favorite bodies of his writing are his travel accounts, usually of visits to specific places, which nearly always began with a description of the plane flight he took to get there; and his short and punchy television reviews. He won my allegiance with one that began "The gymnastics and the swimming having finally been got out of the road, the Olympics settled down to the task of boring you rigid with the track and field events," though it turned out his disdain for the Olympics didn't survive the swell of patriotism when they were held in Sydney.

Jonathan Miller won fame as one of the four Oxbridge students who put Oxbridge student humour on the map with the show Beyond the Fringe (here he is there being learnedly Oxbridgian with Alan Bennett) and then became something of a cultural polymath and one of Britain's leading directors of theatre and opera. Some rare footage of him directing the initial cast of his famous ENO production of The Mikado; if you haven't seen the result, it's here: Act 1 and Act 2.

Among the recently departed, I'm also grateful for William Ruckelshaus, the second hero of the Saturday Night Massacre of 1973. Whether his and Richardson's likes exist today remains questionable.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

A Restaurant Critic Crashes the White House Turkey Pardon

more British detail

I wish to make a subtle correction to the historical comment of a British political think-tank director quoted at the end of this article. He compares what might happen after the current general election with what happened after the last such election held in December, in 1923. “The Conservatives throwing away a majority and the first Labour government ever being ushered in with the support of the Liberals,” he said. “History doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme.”

Besides the fact that the Conservatives don't have a majority this time, I wish to quibble with the word support as used of the Liberals in the 1923-24 situation. The Liberals didn't support the Labour government, they consented to it. There's a difference, and since the scenario being mooted in the current election is of a massive anti-Brexit coalition, it's a big difference. There was no anti-tariff coalition in the earlier case, even though that issue separated both Labour and Liberal from the Conservatives. Labour, though a minority, governed entirely on their own. There was no consultation with the Liberals as "support" implies. Labour didn't trust the Liberals and wished to avoid being dragged down by them.

Instead, Labour sailed on and did what they wanted to do, held back by the fact that the Liberals could turn them out at any time, but pushed forward by the fact that the Liberals didn't want another election any more than Labour did. In the event, a controversy caused the government's fall after only eight months, and the Conservatives won the ensuing election. Not an enticing parallel for the anti-Brexit parties, if it is a parallel at all.

another task

The first rainstorm of the season was due yesterday afternoon (it's still beating down on us early the next morning: typical California winter storm, no cloudbursts but long steady rain), so I needed to take in some items that had been left on the patio, which in turn meant I needed to do something we don't do often around here: open the garage door.

We don't use the garage door often because we don't keep a car in there: we use it for storage. It's a sectional door which runs on an electric motor, which is loud and grindy, and has been as long as we've lived here, but it never did before what it did this time, which is get stuck.

A hasty phone call later, enter a small truck with two men who specialize in garage doors. The motor is worn out, as are the gears. They have a new mechanism on their truck, so I hire them to replace the whole thing. Busy job that takes over an hour, as the rain begins to drizzle down. Not tremendously expensive considering the amount of work involved and the new equipment. It can be scheduled to open automatically at pre-set times. It can be made to open over wi-fi. I don't want either of those things. I want the open/close button and the button that turns on and off the lights. That's it. And it's astonishingly quiet.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

book review

A Man of Parts by David Lodge

This is a novel in the form of a biography, or possibly a biography in the form of a novel, about H.G. Wells. Lodge had written a previous biographical novel, about Henry James, but I never succeeded in reading that one, because I'm not very interested in Henry James. (James, who knew Wells, is a character in the present book, but I found the material on James to be about the least interesting part.) I am more interested in H.G. Wells, though, or at least I came to be interested, because it says virtually nothing about Wells's SF, which is the part of him I know best.

This book concentrates almost entirely on two aspects of Wells. One is his career as a societal reformer and prophet of the near future, mostly around the first decade of the 20C, when most of the book takes place. (Wells predicted a world war, but not really soon.) There's much about his interaction with the Fabian Society during that period.

The other is his personal life, which means mainly his sex life. This is absolutely hair-raising, particularly half a century before the sexual revolution. Even at age 50, Wells was so magnetizing that every beautiful and intelligent 20-year-old woman he met threw herself at him and demanded a sexual affair, and he was happy to oblige. The reader is liable to roll eyes at this and suspect the novelist's overheated imagination, but all these affairs really happened, and the recorded aftermaths suggest they happened pretty much this way.

The affairs are rather sad stories, though. The women start out as shining and eager to embrace life, and the sex with H.G. is great, but he has to pack them off into isolation for social propriety's sake, and then he can't give them his undivided attention, and they get bored and cranky. This happens over and over. At one point Wells is asked, don't you ever learn?, and he replies, I guess I don't. In addition to this, somehow he manages to marry the only two women of his age he knows who don't like sex.

Lodge incorporates a lot of imagined conversations into his story, but they fit well, and his research has been prodigious and is well-integrated into the story. (I caught one tiny mistake in the political history of the period: it's on p. 146.) Lodge's manner of laying out exposition (some of the best of it in a running imagined interview with Wells in which the above question is posed) and of covering a story that takes place over many years entirely fits what I want in this kind of novel, which is why I found it so compulsively readable, despite a pretty hefty length, over 400 pages.

Its treatment of Wells as a writer is curious. He writes easily, and is often described as going off to spend an entire morning, or indeed a hermetic span of weeks, doing nothing but writing, but we the readers hardly ever see him doing it, the way we see him having the even more private activity of sex. This is a weird imbalance I've seen in other novels relating the sex life of writers or indeed anybody who does something other than have sex. Usually the sex is the only part described in detail, although at least here you get the social reform activity too.

Several of Wells's novels are described in detail, but only the ones that draw, if distantly, on his own life. After a while, this selectivity becomes conspicuous.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of good material in here, and a renowned supporting cast, including - besides Henry James - Bernard Shaw, E. Nesbit, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Ford Madox Ford, and a lot of other authors and celebrities of the time and place whom it's not surprising Wells knew. And there's a lot of great lines. In the imaginary interview, Wells is depicted as saying about Bernard Shaw, "His real point of view was hard to pin down, as usual. He liked to goad people into re-examining their assumptions, but all he usually succeeded in doing was to annoy the hell out of them," which is about as good a summary of Shaw as you're likely to get.
Wells had generated a lot of controversy for depicting extramarital affairs in some of his novels, but the book's summary of his later novel The History of Mr. Polly, a comedy featuring arson, insurance fraud, faked death, and other shenanigans, concludes: "It was the most immoral story [Wells] had ever written, but the British public received it without a murmur of disapproval because there wasn't a word in it about sex."

One more thing about the sex. It is commonplace these days to describe self-declared "incels" as men who believe that beautiful women owe them sex, and to mock them for this absurd self-aggrandizement. But that's not what the incels I've read actually say. What they do is point to men like the H.G. Wells in this book, and say, "Here are men who treat women shabbily but get unlimited sex. Why can't I, who try to be more polite than that, get some too?" That's a much more reasonable question. I think I know the answer, but they're not going to like it.

Monday, November 25, 2019

concert review: Redwood Symphony

As I wrote in the review, the value of this program lay in its purpose-written concert music, but I used the presence of not one but two chunks of film music in the repertoire to have a say about the presence of film music on concert programs.

To be blunter than I normally manage in a review, I don't think it belongs there. I came to this view from listening to it on our low-brow classical radio station, KDFC, where it doesn't belong either. I find that, when I turn the radio on, I can always correctly identify if the piece being played is film music. Although it uses symphony orchestra and is written by composers with classical training, it's not classical music but a different genre. It just sounds profoundly different. The main difference, I think, is that while classical music, especially of the minimalist variety, can achieve stasis, it's still active while it does so. Film music aspires to motionlessness.

I'm speaking here of the music of recent decades for drama films (as opposed to both comedies and action flicks), which both of the pieces at this concert are. Such films are usually romances with heartwarming or heartbreaking endings, and the music is intended to underpin that mood. Which it can do very well; it's just that it's very different from the way classical music works.

I wanted to listen to music from these movies before it was played at the concert. I'd seen Cider House Rules when it came out, but I don't remember a thing about it. I found a soundtrack album online, and as I listened I was overwhelmed with a sense of familiarity. Where else had I heard this before? It was also in a movie score ... it was a Jane Austen adaptation ... Sense and Sensibility? ... no, Emma. That was it, Emma. Quick check for the credits of Emma, and guess who composed the music? Same person. There you go.

That was by far the closest to Cider House Rules, but I listened around to a bunch of other Portman soundtracks, and they all sounded pretty much like that too. Desperate to see if she could do anything different, I scanned her credit list for something, anything, that I recognized as not a wistful romance flick. Ah, the remake of The Manchurian Candidate. OK, that's certainly different. Listened to some of the music of that: exactly the same sense of motionless stasis as the rest, just a different tone.

As for The Shape of Water, I remembered that movie all right, but I'd paid no attention to the music, because when you watch a movie, you're not supposed to. Listening to some of that online created the reaction I put in the review: this doesn't sound like a creature living underwater, this sounds like Parisian café music.

I was particularly gobsmacked by the composer's explanation for his inclusion of the bandoneón. The creature is from South America; the bandoneón is from South America; therefore, in his primitive mind, they go together. But the creature is from the Amazon somewhere, while the bandoneón is typically played in Buenos Aires and Montevideo. I actually got out my globe to measure how far those cities are from the Amazon. Over two thousand miles. No wonder I don't associate any underwater creature with a bandoneón, no matter where he comes from.

Sunday, November 24, 2019


Ad for eggs: "We're thankful for eggs made with fresh air & sunshine."

And a chicken! Don't forget that!

Saturday, November 23, 2019

day up in the City

An invitation wafted into the Daily Journal's mailbox and was tossed in my direction, so that's why I was one of some 30 people in a restaurant around the corner from Davies Symphony Hall for a press luncheon for the impending local residency of the Violins of Hope.

This is the name given to a collection of some 85 violins that belonged to victims, survivors, or refugees of the Nazi Holocaust. Some of them were played in concentration camps. Some of them were given up by their owners after the war because of the bad memories. They all wound up in the hands of an Israeli luthier who restored them (some of them requiring a lot of that, as you can imagine) and has put them out on tour. The idea is that the violins, or at least the most high-quality ones, are to be played in concert by local performers, and they and the audience can think noble thoughts of hope and resilience while this is going on.

I'd known there were going to be some concerts of this kind here early next year, but it wasn't until I saw the well-organized calendar on the website that I realized just how extensive the program will be: numerous chamber music concerts, orchestral concerts, klezmer concerts, all featuring the violins; plus lectures, demonstrations, panel discussions, films, and museum exhibits, lasting two months. Music at Kohl Mansion, the chamber music series that's the chief sponsor, has commissioned a song cycle from noted opera composer Jake Heggie and his frequent librettist Gene Scheer, written in the persona of the violins, to be sung by Sasha Cooke, accompanied by those same violins.

As we incongruously dined on hamburgers or chicken salad while talking of the Holocaust, Heggie spoke, Cooke spoke, the director of Kohl (a child of Holocaust survivors herself: I've known her for years, and I had not known that) spoke, and various other people running the local project spoke. One of them was the museum curator who's overseeing the exhibits. She spoke of incorporating train imagery into the main exhibit, due to all the historical resonance it has. Since she's not a musician, I wondered if she knew of Steve Reich's Different Trains, perhaps the most significant musical response to the Holocaust. So I asked her afterwards. She hadn't; she has now.

Although I find something quaint and curious about the whole notion of Violins of Hope, this project is clearly a major local event musically, and since much of it will be taking place in the Daily Journal's home territory, it'll be worth some writeup in my columns there.

After that was over, I spent the afternoon in the city library nearby. Since it has a good music books collection, I dug out some recent books on the topic on my reading want list and browsed them over. A book on 19th century American symphonies, a repertoire of truly monumental obscurity. A book on the anti-German hysteria that overtook the US musical world in 1917-18. A book on the history of the Stalin Prize: how'd you like to be on a musical awards committee with Stalin looking over your shoulder the entire time? And another collection of essays on Russian musical history by Richard Taruskin. He says in his introduction that he's mellowed out and become less contentious than in his previous collections. Who is he fooling? He's just as contentious as ever, defending Rimsky-Korsakov from charges of being a hack, defending Mussorgsky from Rimsky-Korsakov, defending Tchaikovsky from claims that he committed suicide, defending Shostakovich from Volkov and his acolytes, defending musical groups' right to cancel performances of pro-Stalin or anti-Semitic music, and defending Stravinsky from just about anything. I agree with Taruskin a lot more than I disagree, but my, is he exhausting.

The reason I stayed on was because I had a ticket to SFS at Davies that evening. Manfred Honeck conducting Bruckner's Fourth: I couldn't miss that. Honeck's recent recording of the Ninth with his home orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony, has been getting good reviews and making end of the year lists, and they recorded the Fourth a while back.

This was in some ways a perfect performance. Each note was played exactly as it should be, every swell and fade was precisely of the right intensity, the flow and shape of the music was ideal, Robert Ward played every one of the extensive horn solos without the slightest hitch or bobble. So then why did it feel a little dull? This wasn't just me; the applause afterwards was warm but not wild as it had been for Canellakis's Shostakovich Seventh. Was it too perfect; to be precise, too perfectly controlled? Was it too predictable? - at every moment I knew not only exactly what was to happen next, but how. The only flaw I heard was that some passages were rather too smoothly polished; one for strings with a more typically Brucknerian roughness really stood out.

Also on the program, Mozart's E-flat piano concerto, K. 482 - supposedly one of his more obscure major works, but I've heard it here three times in the last four years - with Leif Ove Andsnes pouring out pure liquid streams of notes. Honeck conducted by shaking his arms around a lot; this produced an elegant and satisfyingly curvaceous Mozartean sound.

For once, the Millbrae train was the first into the BART station when I got there after the concert, but for once, I didn't need it; as I'd come up in the morning I'd parked at Daly City instead of San Bruno, my usual stop for an evening visit (difference in traffic congestion and parking space availability). Good thing I remembered that, instead of absently continuing to my usual stop.

Monday, November 18, 2019

it's alive

How pleasant it is to be able to connect to the internet, to sit at home and read web pages and one's e-mail. What's that you say, it's just an ordinary thing? Not after three days without it.

Several months ago, when we finally got our balky and frequently non-functional modem replaced with a competent new one, the otherwise helpful AT&T repair person did not disconnect or take away the old power supply in the form of a large grey box that sat next to the modem. We did not then know that it was obsolete.

We found that out when it started beeping until I found the sound switch and made it stop. The alarm was to say that the battery was failing. I phoned up the second-tier help line that I always use. They said it was obsolete, but they also said that we'd need to replace the modem along with it. I kept explaining that the modem had already been replaced, and since it was working fine I didn't want to risk replacing it again. But their script read "replace modem" and I couldn't get them off it. So I gave up and kept the thing.

What I wasn't told this time was that when the battery finally failed the modem would go dead. That's what happened three days ago. It was only after puzzling over and tinkering with the modem for some time that I realized what the problem must be. This time when I called the help line I just said the modem was dead, and they made a technician appointment, but not until Monday.

In the meantime, I thought I might be able to buy the power cable for the model of modem we have. Nope. AT&T store carries no such thing. Neither does Target. I can't think of anywhere else around here more likely. Clerks at both places recommended Fry's. I said, "Have you been to Fry's within the last few years?" They said no. Once the bursting emporia for all things electronic or electric (as well as the other needs of the traditional male techie's life: two kinds of magazines, computer and men's; two kinds of consumables, potato chips and soda), its vast stores are now nearly-deserted empty spaces. How they stay in business has actually been the topic of puzzled local newspaper articles. And Radio Shack is also gone.

I could of course order the cable online, but it wouldn't get here before the technician did, so why bother? An hour before the appointment window, he phoned and said he'd be here in 30. (Our phone works because I avoided the temptation to hook it up to the internet service.) He was here in 30, too. I explained the situation, he tested the line just to make sure and then replaced the power cord with the sleek new one, no giant grey box, and took the old one away. He also rebooted our TV set, which hadn't occurred to me would be necessary and would have taken some fumbling if I'd had to do it on my own. No charge, no need to replace the modem, and he was quickly gone, the only trauma being to Maia, who ran off when the doorbell rang and took refuge ... in the room with the modem in it.

Friday, November 15, 2019

"That's not 'Let It Go,' it's 'Let It Be.'"

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

cat toys

For Tybalt, everything is a cat toy. He'll push and chase toy mice around the floor, but he seems to prefer to do the same with things like binder clips and floss picks, the latter of which he digs out of the bag they come in and spreads around the room.

But better than self-playing toys he has to initiate playing with, he likes toys that require human intervention, and he'll sit around meowing piteously until you play with him. And of these, his favorites are plush critters on a stick. A plush toy, in the shape of a fish or bird, is attached to a string, and the string is on a short pole, so it looks a bit like a fishing rod. I flick the rod so the plush toy lands somewhere, Tybalt stares and wiggles at it from a distance and then makes a dash, and I usually flick the toy up and move it somewhere else, repeat process. Sometimes he'll take a mighty leap into the air as the toy goes up.

His favorite of these had a fairly short string, and the plush was in the form of an ornamental goldfish. (We also have one made of yarn in the shape of a jellyfish.) The string was fairly short on the goldfish one, so its movements were easily controllable.

Unfortunately, eventually he pulled the toy off the string.

I thought he'd liked the goldfish toy. Not as much as he likes the string. I wiggle the string around on the floor and he goes frantic, splaying his claws out everywhere in an attempt to catch the thing. Even when he does, it usually slips out easily from between his claws. But every once in a while, he does catch it. Then he puts the string in his mouth, from which it cannot easily be slipped out. So at that point I just drop the pole, and he trots off, carrying the string, pole dangling behind him, and takes the toy always to the same place, which is the floor by one side of our bed. There he leaves it.

What his plan is, I don't know, but he definitely has one.

Monday, November 11, 2019

concert review: Music@Menlo

Previous Menlo "residencies" - chamber music concerts with a topical theme, preceded by a lecture on the theme - have made sense. This one I reviewed, and had trouble expressing as coherent.

The theme was purportedly the 19th century burgeoning of the arts in Russia and how the Soviets repressed it in the 20th century. The 19th-century entry was Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio, a work by a composer who didn't believe that chamber music for strings and piano worked well together, and proved it by the way that he wrote for the instruments: separately, as if they were unconnected.

And the 20th-century entries were both by Shostakovich, a good choice to trace the history of Soviet oppression in music, except that one of them pre-dated the Soviets learning to be artistically repressive, and the other after the Stalinist era had long since faded away, and the people were under the dull blankness of the Brezhnev era. On top of which, Shostakovich was now obsessed by death and no longer very interested in political activity. On top of which the Soviets were never very interested in censoring chamber music anyway, which is why Shostakovich turned to it so intensely in the gruesome later days of Stalinism.

There's only so much I can convey of this tangle in a short review which also has to cover other things. But there's one bit of writing in the review I'm pleased with. The presence of a pianist named Solzhenitsyn raises an obvious question; note how I salt the answer to that question in near the end of the final paragraph.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

two concerts

The two concerts I attended yesterday I went to because they were irresistible.

In the evening, the San Jose Chamber Music Society, now firmly placed in the music school auditorium on campus, hosted our great local pianist Jon Nakamatsu and the Modigliani String Quartet (from France) in the Brahms Piano Quintet, my favorite of all chamber music works. The Modigliani had shown themselves in the non-piano first half of the program to be an ensemble of a unified, silken tone, and Nakamatsu is a pianist who adapts his playing to its context, so it took a while for this grouping without that much grit in its playing to ramp itself up to the ferocity of the best Brahms, but the last two movements were all that could be asked for.

In the afternoon I was at the small side room of the Mountain View CPA for players from the Peninsula Symphony in a cut-down, ten-player chamber version of Beethoven's Eroica. That was basically one player per part. It was fun to listen to, and the first violinist, who was an uncanny dead ringer for John Hertz in looks, voice, and speaking style, gave an introductory talk on Beethoven and lucid individual descriptions of each movement. He didn't go on too long, so OK, he wasn't entirely like John Hertz.

What I didn't know until I got there was that this was just the second half of the program. The first half was a classical guitarist, playing mostly semi-pop pieces from South America. One piece with a continuous tremolo I didn't like. The rest was pleasant enough, but the amount of guitar music I want to listen to at once is very, very limited.

After the San Jose concert ended at 9:45, I stopped in at Pensfa, which was conveniently located on the way home. Just four people there before me, and some were quickly fading, but we had a little bit of good conversation, mostly on the topic of flaky people who invite you somewhere and then don't do the thing they invited you to join them in.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

concert review: New Millennium Chamber Orchestra

NMCO generally springs its concert announcements late and one at a time, so if I'm to review them for the Daily Journal, and they're on my regular list, I have to grab them when they seem likely. This one was appealing: it featured Czech music, and included a piece by Vítězslava Kaprálová, who is the other modern Eastern European woman composer I was trying to think of after the Bacewicz festival I attended last month. Though whether Kaprálová, who died at only 25, wrote enough music to populate a festival I'm not sure.

I noted in the review that the concert lasted nearly 2 1/2 hours, which meant I gave up on the attempt to attend a San Jose Chamber Orchestra concert that began 20 miles away half an hour later, even though I'd brought a snack to eat in the car in lieu of dinner. The sacrifices we make for art.

Friday, November 8, 2019

o to be a commentator

1. I linked to this yesterday: raising the question of how to respond to a problem by saying "Why didn't you just ...?" without sounding like you're criticizing them; you ask because you actually want to know what's wrong with that solution.
It occurs to me that there are other problems of this sort. The logical-fallacy rebuttal assumes that the arguments were offered as logical proof, but I'm convinced they're used instead as triage. Thus, when I use a tu quoque, what I mean is not "You didn't apply your own argument to yourself, therefore that proves it wrong" but "You obviously don't really believe your own argument, so why should I give it consideration?" There's also what's called mansplaining. When I do something like that to someone who clearly knows the subject, my intent is to say "Here's my understanding of the situation. Tell me where it's insufficient or wrong." But it can be hard to make that clear, or easy to omit it, in the rush of conversation.

2. Jane Austen as a horror writer, that is, it would be horrible to be a woman of her time, even a privileged one. Well, yes, and doesn't Austen make it clear both how necessary and how difficult it is to escape from durance vile? But what really exercises the writer is people who practice Austen re-creations. She's bothered by the celebration of that world. So see the comments by Sherwood Smith. She mentions the SCA: note that its motto is (or used to be) "The Middle Ages as they should have been." That is, with modern conveniences, modern notions of human worth, and on both accounts no need for most people to be wretched servants. People who go to Austen weekends (and I've done this) are there for the parts of her world that they like. Me, I was there for the dancing. Nothing else. (Though I do like her novels, and was happy to discuss them.) I like that kind of dancing, and it's hard to find elsewhere.
But would this defense also apply to re-creations of antebellum Southern plantations? Or does the presence of chattel slavery in the real thing cross a line that other forms of servitude don't? But if so, it should be noted that many of the cultures re-created in the SCA had chattel slavery, and even Austen's Mansfield Park was funded by slavery (as the movie makes clearer than the book does). I think the difference is the one Sherwood implies in her comments: there are people today actually defending the chattel slavery of the antebellum South. Nobody's occupying our current political discourse defending the inequities of the societies commemorated by Janeites or the SCA.

3. This article is about the Kentucky governor's election, but that's not why I'm linking to it. I'm using it as a good example of a standard journalistic writing practice that I find irksome. "Senate President Robert Stivers" is introduced in the first paragraph. He then does not reappear until the next to last paragraph, where he's referred to merely as "Stivers." By that time, though, I'd forgotten who "Stivers" was, and I'd had no indication from the first paragraph that I was supposed to remember him (unlike Governor Bevin, whom I hadn't known either, but who is clearly the subject of the article). Rather than re-read the whole thing, I had to use my browser's word search to locate the previous reference. This problem occurs for me in news articles all the time.

4. When did the 1940s/50s birth cohort become the symbol of resistance to the concept of climate change? Our generation was the one, or part of the one, that invented environmental awareness: Earth Day was in 1970, when we were in our teens and 20s. It was a commonplace at the time that we had only until the end of the century to clean the environment up, and people tried. That was what the generation symbolized, and I stand with that. How could the likes of W. and DT become put up as leaders of the generation? Back in the day, they would have been considered the over-privileged airhead sons of (then more famous) fathers, as Eric and DJTJ are today, not worth treating as representative of anything.
Note how I avoid the term "boomer". The younger politician who used it in the article claims to be mystified as to why "some people" get "very mad" at the use of "the literal title of their generation." But who officially enacted that title? I consider "boomer" an offensive term, on the level of a racial epithet, so don't call me that. Them's fightin' words.

5. And just to show which side I'm on: What I like about AOC. (Videos included.)

6. Politics note no. 2: No commentators I saw noted this in connection with this week's election, but South Bend has just elected Pete Buttigieg's successor as mayor. Pete's out of office come January.

Thursday, November 7, 2019


Being able to drive around in a car is convenient, but one of the most vexing things about it is often finding a place to put the car when you're done driving it. In other words, parking shortages. I've fantasized about inventing a car that you can fold up and put in your pocket when you're done using it. That it would still weigh a ton is only one of the problems with this fantasy.

One place where parking was tolerable but has recently become much worse is the San Jose airport. I learned from today's edition of "Mr. Roadshow," the newspaper's traffic Q&A column, that the off-airport lot I've been using for years and years has closed. It's a sad story, and not just for the feral cats that lived there and enlivened our visits. They used to have a different and superior lot, then they closed that and moved to this rather ratty one (in more than one sense, hence the cats), on the major road that runs behind the airport. This is just down the street from SJ's major league soccer stadium, which can be a problem as I learned the time I needed to arrive at the airport just before a game. (I also learned that the parking lot was renting some of its spaces to game patrons.) Then the construction of new buildings arrived, and half the parking lot closed. Now, it turns out, the other half has closed. (The letter-writer said only "it appears they have closed," presumably from driving past an already rather enigmatic-looking entrance, but I checked the vendor's website and it's true.)

The columnist says that the airport is building more on-site parking, but it will take a while, and they'll have to close some of their existing parking for construction.

I'm going to note down here the options that I can think of. I'm recording this more for my own notes than for reading, but in order to head off "Why don't you just ...?" questions, I'll begin with some I'm ruling out.

1. Take a shuttle. No. I turned to off-airport parking in the first place after some horrible experiences with commercial shuttles.

2. Take a taxi/rideshare. Expensive, as we're over ten miles from the airport. Only in an emergency, dahlink.

3. Take public transit. Theoretically possible, but there's no long-term parking around the transit stations here either. Even more theoretically, I could take the (infrequent) bus that stops behind my house, transfer to another (infrequent) bus, transfer to the commuter train, and then transfer to the shuttle bus to the airport, but that sounds awkward with luggage and would take a very long time, and probably be impractical with an early-morning departure or late-night arrival.

4. Have someone drive me. Really there's only B, so it'd only work when I'm traveling alone, and she hates to drive, especially maneuvering around crowded airports. We've tried it, but it really doesn't work.

5. On-site parking. Definitely possible. Some of the lots are often full, but at least the airport has a web page giving real-time status. The lots run $18/day up, and the most expensive garage is $38/day and right next to one of the terminals. For a trip of only a couple of days, that's manageable, and I've actually used this recently for short trips, because it's actually easier to get your luggage there than taking the shuttle out to the off-airport lot, because the airport keeps moving the pickup zone farther and farther out to make more and more room for Uber and Lyft.

6. A different off-airport lot. I know there are some, because I see their shuttle buses at the pickup zone. But I can't find them online (googling "sjc parking" produces mostly third-party links to the one that's closed) and I don't remember their names, which are very non-specific. Here's what I might do, but I'll wait till after the holidays to do it. (I'm not flying anywhere for quite a while.) I'll drive down to the airport and go sit in the pickup zone for a while, write down the names from the shuttle buses and then go look them up. Sometimes getting your info from the real world instead of online is a really good idea.

7. A different airport. Most emphatically possible. SFO is only 30 miles away, they have a really efficient off-airport lot that I always use when I fly there, and sometimes, despite the greater distance and greater size of the airport, it's more convenient to use it anyway. For instance, I used it to fly to Calgary because SFO has nonstops and SJC doesn't.

So those are my options, recorded for future use.

concert review: Bomsori Kim and Juho Pohjonen

Two violin and piano recitals within a week? Usually I go for bigger chamber ensembles than that. But this one was the SF Performances Gift Concert, an annual treat put on for donors and subscribers. They're worth going to because the performers are usually outstanding.

This was the first I'd heard of Bomsori Kim - indeed, this was her SF debut - but Juho Pohjonen is a familiar name from the Menlo festival. Kim, playing a late 18C violin, had a particularly smooth and enrapturing tone, moderately dark and heavy, but not overly so. I could listen to a great deal of it.

This concert included - not in performing order - two full sonatas: a dark and brooding late-period one from Schumann (Op. 105 in A minor) and a light and chipper one from Prokofiev (his Second). The Schumann extremely emphasized the violin over the piano, perhaps odd considering that the composer was a pianist, albeit long retired when he wrote this.

Plus: a few wetly soppy salon pieces by - of all people - Sibelius, and some grittier and more interesting (pianistically as well as violinistically) salon pieces by Szymanowski. And a showpiece: a fantasy on themes from Carmen compiled by Franz Waxman for his buddy Jascha Heifetz. About 3/4 Carmen to 1/4 ornament, the ornaments often including running one's finger up the string to the highest position and playing the resulting squeak.

Bizarrely, the Sibelius salon pieces were written during WW1. They don't sound like it. The Szymanowski pieces likewise, but more plausibly. They both had quiet wars, Szymanowski on his family estate in what's now western Ukraine, or at least quiet until the Bolsheviks burned the house and threw Szymanowski's piano in the lake. And Prokofiev's was written during WW2.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

in defense of Trader Joe's

Kevin Drum, whom I usually agree with, says he's found the secret behind Trader Joe's. He says, "basically, they sell a limited selection of generic stuff but they put fun labels on it."

I kind of wonder if he's been there. True, you can buy some stuff at Trader Joe's that you can buy at other places, but can you imagine a grocer's that only sold unique items? I've been in a few, and they were rank and dusty and way too exotic for me.

But I go to Trader Joe's to buy things that I can't find everywhere else, or pretty much of anywhere else, and there's plenty of them. In fact, I've just come back, and my bags - Trader Joe's canvas bags, far sturdier than any others I've found - are full of:

*frozen quick-pan-cook meals, of which my favorites are Kung Pao Chicken and Seafood Paella
*other frozen meals, of which I've had the Korma Fish Curry before, and some new to me: Bibimbap Bowl, Shrimp Seafood Burgers, and (this looks excitingly multicultural) Philly Cheesesteak Bao Buns
*snacks: Popcorn with Herbs & Spices, which I've never seen anywhere else; Popcorn with Olive Oil, which Safeway carries sometimes, but not consistently; Blister Peanuts, a particularly tasty form I've not seen anywhere else; Marcona Almonds, usually findable elsewhere but only in gourmet groceries
*Challah, and I've never seen that outside a Jewish bakery
*Jicama sticks, not unknown in this form but not very common

Other items I saw on the shelf but didn't buy this time:
*Lobster Ravioli, another variety of which Lucky used to carry, but not any more
*Baby Red Potatoes, B's favorite, which may sometimes be found in general markets but not consistently
*Salmon Fillets, BBQ Cut: everybody carries salmon, but these are an unusual cut of even thickness and thus good on the grill: my usual choice if I want fish for a summer bbq
*Frozen Minced Garlic Cubes: while it's now often possible to get minced garlic (my preference) in jars elsewhere, you used to have to go to the garlic outlets in Gilroy to find it; and this is cubes, which is different.

I didn't see the Gravenstein Apple Juice, which is probably seasonal, and I guess they no longer carry Riced Broccoli, which was slivers of cut broccoli designed to be used in place of rice: an interesting idea which I found didn't quite work.

Trader Joe's has also carried lots of irreplaceable items that they've dropped from their stock over the years, and none of them have ever appeared elsewhere. The one I most miss is the only really good Canned Chili I've ever had.

That's for my taste: I'm sure you'd have plenty others of your own.

I don't do my normal staples shopping at Trader Joe's, in part because their selections are sketchy, but they have plenty of things worth going there for that, no, I can't find everywhere else.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

cat on a football field

This may be the only sports story I'll ever post.

I like the bit in the clip where the cat runs into the end zone and the announcer yells "Touchdown!"

why I still use a clamshell phone

It prevents this.

The title says "all of us." Not me, buddy.

Monday, November 4, 2019

concert review: Joshua Bell and Alessio Bax

Joshua Bell, heap big famous violinist. (Alessio Bax, also fairly well-known as a pianist to anybody who's been going to Music@Menlo.) I knew this would be popular, so I arrived at Bing exceedingly early. It didn't help.

First I got waylaid and seduced into answering a lot of personal questions by a voluble Bernie Sanders supporter stationed outside, but somehow I declined telling him my full name.

Then when I got inside, I found I wasn't on the comp list. This has happened before, but I've never had the staff be as uninterested in clearing this up as they were tonight. At the very last moment - like 5 minutes after the concert was scheduled to start, and the will-call line had finally diminished, and the last-minute goodies had been given out - when the man in charge told me there were no more tickets, I said, "OK, but when SF Classical Voice doesn't publish a review, it'll be your fault," and I turned to walk out - and then he somehow produced a ticket.

It was for one of the extra seats they'd put on the risers at the back of the stage. I made that unusual seating position the focus of my review.

But baah. The Stanford arts group's long-time communications director recently left. He knew me and would never have let a reviewer get dumped to the end of the waitlist like that. I hope this isn't how the new regime chooses regularly to handle problems.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

changing clocks

Last night I went around and changed all the clocks.

I'd heard somewhere that it's bad for the mechanisms of mechanical electric clocks to turn them backwards, so instead of turning the wall clocks one hour back, I turned them 11 hours forward.

My alarm clock has two buttons for time change, one for hours and one for minutes. Press the hour button once and it goes one forward; it doesn't go backwards. And since the clock is 24-hour, changing it in fall involves either holding the button down and hoping you lift your finger at the right moment, or just pressing the button 23 times. I did the latter.

In my new car, I have for the first time ever a clock whose time-change mechanism is sufficiently intuitive that I do not have to dig out the manual and figure it out from scratch every time DST goes on or off.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

ecce homines, pars XI

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 1933-1961.

As the presidencies of 1861-1877 were those of the Civil War presidents, these were the presidencies of the World War II presidents. You had, first, the great leader who directed the war and died almost simultaneously with its conclusion; then the obscure border-state senator who succeeded him, about whom everybody wondered if he'd be up to the job; lastly came the war's victorious general, elected president more as a reward for his victory than out of confidence that he'd make a good president.

Roy Jenkins on Franklin Delano Roosevelt is the unique case in this series, so far, of a non-American author, and also the unique case of an author who died before finishing his book. He got as far as the middle of the 1944 presidential campaign, leaving the last 15 pages and 8 months of FDR's presidency and life to be finished off by his consultant, historian Richard E. Neustadt. Jenkins was a major British politician of his day who in retirement turned to penning massive biographies of Gladstone and Churchill. At one point he thought of taking on FDR in the same manner, but concluded that he didn't have enough original thoughts about him to make it worth the effort. But he did have enough to make a reasonable book in this briefer series. Interestingly, years earlier Jenkins had written a short book about Truman which would have made a perfect entry in this series: a brilliant character study bristling with fresh insights on him from a British perspective. By the time he got to his FDR book, though, Jenkins' knack had devolved into making every possible comparison with anything British he could think of, often ludicrously irrelevant. But, like his Truman book, it works as a chronological character study, devoting three chapters to FDR's earlier life and smoothly seguing into one chapter for each of his four terms as president. Jenkins' interest in FDR's relationships with others (sometimes abruptly terminated) leads him to a full account of Eleanor Roosevelt's earlier life, by far the most attention paid to a First Lady in this series. (And yes, the effect of FDR's affairs on his marriage is covered.) Jenkins has a solid grasp of his subject's often enigmatic thought processes, and is particularly brilliant on the president's diplomatic balancing act between a desperate UK and an isolationist Congress in the period before the US entered WW2. (He's properly dismissive of conspiracy theories regarding Pearl Harbor.)

Robert Dallek on Harry S. Truman introduces a new organizational pattern to this series, possibly because the post-war status of the US President as leader of the Free World requires this approach. (But Jenkins' Truman book was far more interested in exploring Truman's background.) After a chapter briskly summarizing the subject's earlier life, Dallek devotes one chapter to each year of Truman's presidency, throwing everything that happened in that period into a hopper and grinding it up. There's no narrative theme, just a lot of events, which is how life really is. Dallek is an academic historian who's written many general-audience books on other modern presidents; I haven't read any of the others, so I don't know if his tendency to evaluate the president's decisions by their effect on his political career is a regular tick of Dallek's; it fits oddly with his judgment that Truman's skill as president improved markedly once he stopped trying to please everybody and just did what he thought was right. Dallek virtuosically balances the rises and falls of Truman's popularity with the wise and foolish decisions of the presidency. Among the actions he defends is the dropping of the A-bomb, and I think he gets the arguments right on that point. Dallek acknowledges that Truman was a good president, who with experience rose to the challenges of his office, but he also claims that Truman was an unreliable narrator about his own actions (stating that his account of MacArthur's behavior at their Wake Island meeting was untrue, something I'd never previously read), and opines that Truman's ferocious temper, even though he kept it under wraps (it only erupted in public in his infamous pop-eyed letter to a music critic who'd given his daughter's concert a bad review), made him emotionally ill-suited to be president, even a potentially dangerous figure. This book was published over a decade ago, but we could use it now.

Tom Wicker on Dwight D. Eisenhower follows the same organizational pattern as Dallek on Truman: one chapter briskly summing up the man's earlier life and (approximately) one chapter each on each year of his presidency, with no division by theme or topic, with the organizing principle being the expression of the president's character. Wicker was a journalist who offers this series' first testimony to personal acquaintance with the subject. Wicker begins by admitting that he was a "devout" (his word) Stevenson man, but rather than disqualifying himself for writing about Ike, he skillfully leverages this into a severe critique of what he considers Ike's bad decisions, balanced with a sincere admiration of Ike's charm (which Wicker personally testifies to) and ability to maintain his popularity. Ike may not have covered himself with glory in dealing with Joe McCarthy, for instance, but getting out of that mudhole unstained was a sign of his political skill. And Wicker praises Ike for some wise initiatives, particularly in high diplomacy. However, it's the criticisms that stick in the mind from this book. Wicker credits, or rather blames, Ike for the creation of US covert warfare policy (engineering coups in Iran and Guatemala, though I'm not sure earlier presidents hadn't also done such things), the domino theory (which later led us into such trouble in Indochina), and the concept of executive privilege (a two-edged sword, that one). Wicker also concludes baldly that Ike's reluctance to intervene in post-Brown integration crises came simply from a preference for segregation, though his worst single mistake may have been sending that last U-2 flight, which torpedoed his nuclear disarmament initiative. Though there's much about Ike's character in this book, there's virtually nothing on his personal life; Kay Summersby goes completely unmentioned, even to deny that they had an affair.

Friday, November 1, 2019

the first president from Florida

DT has changed his legal residence from Trump Tower to Mar-a-Lago. This is historically interesting because it makes him the first president to be a citizen of Florida, but also because he is, I think, the fourth president to change his state of residence while in office. The other three also all involved New York.

The first was Eisenhower, who had been officially living in New York when he was elected because he had been serving as President of Columbia University, though that became increasingly nominal, especially while he was on leave off in Europe as military commander of NATO. By the time of his re-election in 1956, he'd bought his retirement home at Gettysburg and moved his residence there, so he was from New York in his first election and from Pennsylvania in his second. He'd been born in Texas and spent his entire childhood in Kansas, and lived all over during his long army career.

The second was Nixon. Previously a life-long Southern Californian, he'd moved to New York after his gubernatorial loss in 1962 and joined John Mitchell's law firm. That's where he was living at his first election. But he bought his "Western White House" in San Clemente and moved his residence there before re-election. After his ejection from the presidency, however, he moved back to New York and eventually to suburban New Jersey.

I'm pretty sure that Bill Clinton of Arkansas moved his residence to his eventual home in Chappaqua, New York, before leaving office, though I can't be sure because he never ran for office there. Hillary Clinton did, though, so at least she must have.

Many other presidents have moved states, but either before running for office (e.g. Lincoln, who was born in Kentucky, raised in Indiana, and lived in Illinois) or in a few cases afterwards (the first was James Monroe of Virginia, who as a widower went to live with his daughter in, ta da, New York).