Thursday, April 30, 2020

grim anniversary

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the day, also a Thursday, that President Nixon (as appalling a concept in its day as "President Trump" is today) announced on national tv the invasion of Cambodia. Nixon had promised to wind the Vietnam War down; now he was expanding it to another country.

Unsurprisingly, protests followed. And on Monday the 4th, the National Guard decided it would be a good idea to respond to those protests by shooting random students at Kent State.

Just to remind you that things were rather bad, fifty years ago.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

19 years later ...

we're still disputing over Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies. To a correspondent who noted some bad scenes (Arwen disappearing in the second film; Faramir; Frodo deserting Sam for Gollum) and some good ones (the death of Boromir; Sam's "Don't go where I can't follow"; the Grey Havens), and who also said "the book is still on the shelf," I wrote:

Your examples of the problems in Jackson are good, but I see them as examples of a broader malaise. So this is going to be long ...

The Faramir and Gollum examples demonstrate Jackson’s lack of understanding of Tolkien, a quite elementary lack. In the commentary, Jackson and Boyens say that if the Ring is so tempting, they can’t understand why Faramir wouldn’t be tempted, so they wrote his temptation in. Unfortunately, having done so, they couldn’t come up with a reason for him to change his mind. This and the Gollum example are but two of many, many cases where Jackson derails the story because he doesn’t understand why Tolkien wrote it that way, only to have to drag it back onto the rails by force to keep the movie from departing too far from the book.

So why did Tolkien write an untempted Faramir? Because Faramir himself says, “I am wise enough to know there are some perils from which a man must flee.” Jackson thinks the Ring can’t be perilous unless everyone’s faunching for it. But look: our heroes are fighting a desperate war they’re likely to lose. Here’s a weapon that could win the war for them. That’s why Boromir wants it, originally: he thinks it would be insane not to use it. But despite its value as a weapon, those most capable of using it repulse from it with a shudder. Doesn’t that show its danger more than repeating the already-shown scenes of temptation would?

The Arwen example is even sadder, because that’s a case of Jackson trying to rewrite the book to his own preference and then losing his nerve. Arwen is Warrior Princess in the FR movie to make her a more prominent character and to fold in Glorfindel, whose acts are essential but who’s too much of a cameo character for a movie. As you say, that’s understandable. But the viewer reaction to the pre-release news that this would be done was (rather unfairly, I think) so negative that, in the subsequent films, they jerked Arwen back onto Tolkien’s course. When I met Boyens at the movie-preview panel at Mythcon in 2001, just before FR was released, the one thing she wanted to say to me, knowing that I had been critical of the trailers, was, “Arwen never leaves Rivendell.” I was nonplused by this, partly because I hadn’t been part of that particular argument, but mostly because Arwen leaving or not leaving Rivendell wasn’t the point: how Boyens and Jackson wrote the story was the point. And they wrote it very badly.

Partly because this made it another example of the story leaving the rails and then being jerked inexplicably back on to them; partly because it shows they didn’t understand the storytelling reasons Arwen is kept in the background (to show there’s more to Aragorn than you obviously see), and partly because the Ford scene is rewritten so that Frodo doesn’t challenge the Riders. Arwen does everything for him while hauling Frodo around like a sack of potatoes. It completely denies Frodo any agency in his own story, and the same thing happens in one of the most praised scenes, Sam carrying Frodo up the slopes of Mount Doom. The book specifies that Sam carries Frodo piggyback, like a hobbit child. In the movie, he slings a nearly-comatose Frodo over his shoulders like a sack of potatoes.

Further, I disagree with much of what you consider praiseworthy. Jackson can do dramatic, both in plot and in visuals (the latter with Howe and Lee to design for him, which they did well). But he can’t do beauty, and he can’t do joy. His elven-lands are wretched, Lorien worse than Rivendell: dark and dank, in no way beautiful. Only the design of Galadriel redeems it. And those key scenes you praise, particularly the latter two, in Jackson’s hands come across as rather gay. They aren’t in Tolkien. Jackson has no understanding of Tolkien, he can’t see how those scenes would function if they weren’t gay, so that’s what he assimilates them to.

However, all this is minor compared to the discussion of the major premise. To a charge that "the movie ruined the book," I consider “the book is still on the shelf” a deeply imperceptive, unfairly dismissive, and intellectually dishonest argument.

The “book on the shelf” isn’t doing anyone any good until someone takes it down and reads it. A novel only lives when it’s being encountered by a reader, the same way that music only lives if someone is playing or listening to it. And the reader’s mind is as essential to that process as is the text of the book. Surely you’ve had the experience of disliking a book at one reading and loving it at another, either because of increased maturity or just because of, to use the pop term, the space your head is in at the moment.

Well, if the reader’s head is full of the movie, and they don’t want it to be, that affects the reading experience. It can, depending on circumstances, ruin the book for that reader. And if the movie is universally known, then the ruination can be widespread. Don’t say that the reader should just put the movie out of their mind. Movies are vivid and memorable experiences, or they wouldn’t be so popular. Few people are so iron-minded to be able to put movies they’ve recently seen out of mind, especially not while reading the novel that the movie is based on. And having the book be a tie-in edition with the movie’s pictures on the cover doesn’t help either.

Monday, April 27, 2020

useful tools for useless projects

Maybe the project won't be so useless after all, but it seems like an enormous amount of work for doubtful gain. I've had a drawer-full of - now that they're all neatly stacked I can measure the stacks, and there's over 350 of them, gadzooks - 3.5 floppy disks for, judging by the latest dates on the files, some 15 years now, and I've finally finished going through them all, slipping them into a portable drive attached by USB to my computer, reading the directories, and saving the files I might need that I never transferred over to my hard drive before.

Why I had so many disks relates to computer-management history it would be tedious to get into, but I was relieved to find many of the disks empty, which means - I think - that I copied and deleted the files onto a hard drive at some earlier point. But why I didn't cross off and discard the disks at that point I don't know.

Next problem. Many of the text files are in WordStar, a word processing program I used up until some time in the early 2000s. Many of the WordStar files are easily readable as text files in notepad.exe (which is what Windows insists on using if they have a .txt extension anyway). There are WS-specific tags, like HTML tags but not the same, which I can deal with; looking at the files I even begin to remember the codes. Some files have formatting kibble at the beginning and end which can be ignored. It's the ones that are text-justified that I have to worry about, and that includes most of the files I used for Mythprint, especially when we were still using raw WS files for layout before 1987. WS's method for justifying was to substitute some high-value code for the last character of each word to indicate the amount of space to be left; this turns the file into a translated-into-Lower-Slobbovian gibberish that reads like this:
C.S® Lewió apologizeä yearó lateò foò thå <169>needlesó  obscurity<170¾ iî hió firsô booë oæ proså fiction¬ Thå  Pilgrim'ó Regress®
It'd be possible to figure out the intended characters painfully one by one, especially if you wrote the file as I did that one. But I'd prefer to convert the files.

That means finding a file conversion program. And after reading too many web pages with cryptic or unfollowable instructions, that direct you to download this from some unspecified place, and then use it to get that, and then extract something else from it and place it in some unspecified directory and what not, I was willing to pay $95 for a program if I could actually just download it and it worked.

And it does. So if you're in need of file conversion, I can happily recommend such a program by the title of FileMerlin. (Auspicious name.) It has a free demo version that downloads without a fuss, but which introduces typos into the output so they're not usable as final copy, but that does mean you can test the program as many times as you want before you buy it. And when you do buy it, there's no additional download: it just disables the typo feature. The interface is a little box allowing file-manager searches for the input file and output location, and to specify the program format of both files, and there you are.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

the man who shot but thought it didn't count

Relaxation time was spent watching a couple of classic James Stewart movies, both of which I'd seen before: It's a Wonderful Life and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. But this time I was paying closer attention than before and noticed some of those plot problems that have become a favorite spotting point of mine in old classic movies.

In It's a Wonderful Life they were pretty minor:
1. The biggest one was that, once Clarence plunges George into the alternate universe in which he doesn't exist, George spends too much time baffled by his non-existence to really seem to be learning the lesson that this is what his non-existence leads to.
2. During the big flashback, there's a mention of the Depression having been in the past, although if you calculate the timeline this seems to be taking place about 1935.
3. At the end, when all George's friends, however poor, are contributing to paying his debt, the biggest cheer comes with a wire from his wealthy businessman friend Sam Wainwright, who offers him a line of credit for over 3 times the total amount. If I were one of the poor contributors, this would make me feel kind of superfluous. I'd be relieved for George, but I wouldn't feel like cheering.

The problem with The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance comes near the end.
First, context. The punchline of this movie is a big gulp of irony. We're told that Rance (Stewart) has built his entire successful political career out of being the man who shot Liberty Valance, but it turns out he wasn't the man who shot Liberty Valance, Tom (John Wayne) was - a man so without honor in his own country that the newspapermen in his own town have never heard of him even on the occasion of his death. (Seems a little improbable.)
But - and here's the problem - except for that line on the train at the very end, we never see Rance being fêted for that part. When Rance's ally Peabody nominates him for convention delegate, he doesn't say anything about Rance's supposed feat. It's the slick politician supporting the opposing candidate who does so, and his position is to criticize Rance for tossing aside the rule of law to shoot a man in a gunfight. There's no honor here.
And there had been none at the gunfight either. When Liberty falls, everyone gathers around his body while Rance, unaccompanied and unnoticed by anybody, staggers across the street.
In response to the politician criticizing him, Rance decides he's worthless and leaves the election meeting. It's then that Tom tells him that, no, he shot Liberty Valance from a hiding place. And that makes it OK? Rance goes back to the meeting and wins the seat. But even if he didn't fire the fatal shot (this should come to mind from a famous piece of Firefly dialogue - SIMON: I never shot anyone before. BOOK: I was there, son. I'm fair sure you haven't shot anyone yet.), he tried to. He took up Liberty's challenge and risked his life. So either credit or demerit for courage, if not for action, should be his.
Lastly, we've been told and shown throughout that Tom is the one man not afraid of Liberty. But since Liberty controls the town in a reign of terror - everything from strong-arm stagecoach robbery to stealing punters' dinners from under their noses - why hasn't anyone been after Tom to do something about this before?

Saturday, April 25, 2020

non-review of non-concert

Despite the complete torpedoing of my concert-reviewing jobs due to the virus, I've managed to achieve a publication in that area. Having received e-mails from some of the ensembles in my Daily Journal coverage area describing what they're doing in the absence of public performances, I thought a rundown of all the major local groups would be useful. I proposed it to my editor, and the result is up today.

I give the Peninsula Symphony points for being most active, with its YouTube channel (featuring a delightful media-based Beethoven performance which the editors embedded in the article). And the Redwood Symphony gets honors for being most realistic, not even being sure if next season will be on yet, while also being the slowest to update its website. (It still listed the June concert as being on as I wrote; I had to enquire of them specifically to find out what was going on.)

Thursday, April 23, 2020

urgent household tasks

The last piece for Tolkien Studies, an essay of over 8,000 words, came in today, and it became my turn to go over it for editing. It took me 5 hours, and it would have been a lot faster, I said, if I hadn't been interrupted for urgent household tasks. So what were they?

First, the smoke detector in B's office began chirping. Battery needed to be changed. I had to get a stepstool to reach it, and then I discovered that we were out of 9-volt batteries, unless one unwrapped battery counted. It was sticky, which could just be something that had spilled on it, or it could be the battery had gotten old and was leaking. Only way to tell would be to wash it off and see if it comes back, but there's no time for that. So I'll have to go out and get new batteries. No time for that right now.

It was a break in B's work day, so time for our daily constitutional, an essential in these sheltering times, as it's the only thing to force us out. As usual, we walked to the lizard house (the one where lizards like to gather on the bricks) and back, half an hour. Soon it was time to feed the cats. This coincides with B's daily conference call at work, and either she feeds the cats beforehand or I do it, because otherwise they'll give her no peace during the call.

Unless I hastened, which is bad when you're editing, there remained no time to get back to the article before it was time to make dinner. So I made dinner. Ravioli: boiled. Spinach: sauteed with margarine and garlic. Pasta sauce: dry-roast some pine nuts on the stovetop. Cut their cooking with olive oil. Add some herb seasoning mix. All three dishes done at once. Serve, eat. Finish off the first of the last two pints of Three Twins Mint Confetti for dessert.

Then, out to buy batteries. Drive to nearby drug store. While seated in car, put on cloth mask (made by B's sister) and disposable rubber gloves. Enter store (nearly deserted: good), buy batteries in a flash, return to car, remove mask and gloves, drive home. Wash hands.

Great trouble trying to install battery in smoke detector, until I figure out it needs to go in the opposite way from what the embossed instructions say. Get it in. Test the alarm: it works. Reinstall it. Put stepstool away (underneath teddy bear on B's side of the bed). Wash hands again. Return to computer.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020


The sad news came last weekend that Three Twins Ice Cream has ceased business. On top of an already precarious financial situation, the virus proved to be just too much. It's a shame, because they had my business: this brand has been my favorite ice cream since I first tried it, my eye caught by the unusual name in my grocer's freezer case. (The owner is a twin, and once shared an apartment with his twin brother and the brother's wife, who is also a twin: hence three twins.)

What I particularly like, or liked, about it is that it's an ice cream that's more ice than cream, instead of the other way around as most brands are. There are a few others of the kind: Graeter's in Cincinnati, but that's too far away in space; Old Uncle Gaylord's, but that closed decades ago and is too far away in time. And, of course, like all good ice creams of any kind, its mint chip (which they call Mint Confetti) is colored white, not green.

That is my favorite flavor of ice cream, but I was also particularly fond of Three Twins' Mexican Chocolate (with a hint of cinnamon in it), and they had a lot of other good flavors, plus the most unusual Dad's Cardamom. I only had that once; it was really interesting, and I'm glad I had it, but I don't really need to do that again.

It wasn't until today that I got down to the grocer's, and I wasn't expecting to find any left in the case, but there was. I scored the last two pints of Mint Confetti plus a mocha. I'm not going to save it up: this'll be my dessert for the next few days, and after that I'll dream of it, as I still do of Old Uncle Gaylord.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

A 30-day song challenge

John Scalzi did this, putting all the songs in one heap. I'm not going to embed the songs, as he did: just provide links. But here they are.

1. A song you like with a color in the title.
Yes, it's old. So am I.

2. A song you like with a number in the title.
Bloodthirsty folk music.

3. A song the reminds you of summertime.
Epic, graphic, and the first thing that I thought of.

4. A song that reminds you of someone you’d rather forget.
I'd rather not explain this one.

5. A song that needs to be played loud.
My idea of what needs to be played loud is different from other people's.

6. A song that makes you want to dance.
Also has a color (the same color) in the title, but it's here because I once actually did waltz to this song, and it was one of the most lovely terpsichorean experiences I've ever had.

7. A song to drive to.
If I want to drive to music, it has to be as long as the drive. I found it: this is the very same performance from the previous week's Proms that showed up on the BBC's Radio 3 one day in 2005 just as I set out from Chester, where I was staying, to Great Haywood - an hour away - and lasted exactly as long as the drive did. Magical.

8. A song about drugs or alcohol.
Ask me for one of those, you're gonna get this. Sorry.

9. A song that makes you happy.
The guy behind this was a lot less famous when this was released than he is now. Regardless, I have never seen a musical performance more sheerly full of joy.

10. A song that makes you sad.
Of course it's sad! It's about dead cats, isn't it?

11. A song you never get tired of.
Of all the catchy songs this guy has written, I think this one is the catchiest.

12. A song from your pre-teen years.
This was my favorite song by my favorite recording artist when I was eight years old, so help me.

13. A song you like from the 70s.
There is one actual rock band from the 70s that I really like, and this is one of their better songs. By the way, the actual singing doesn't begin until three minutes in. That's three, count 'em, three.

14. A song you’d love to be played at your wedding.
Actually, I made a tape of this writing/composing team's collected love songs to play at our wedding reception. This is one of the most beautiful, though not the most romantic.

15. A song you like that’s a cover by another artist.
"Like," eh? OK. Believe it or not, I had never heard, or even heard of, this quite famous pop song until I picked up a CD with the cover version by this rather unexpected and esoteric - but well-known to me - performer.

16. A song that’s a classic favorite.
"Classic," eh? OK. This one is by the opera composer Jake Heggie. And it's a favorite, thanks also to the lyrics by Gavin Geoffrey Dillard.

17. A song you’d sing a duet with someone on karaoke.
See no. 14: this was also on that tape, and is merely one of the more unusual numbers. I have sung this one with B, not on karaoke but with her at the piano.

18. A song from the year you were born.
After a despairing search through a list of the pop hits of that miserable annum for something I could tolerate, I remembered that this wonderful show was first produced the same year.

19. A song that makes you think about life.
This song pretty much described my life back when it was a current hit. As the saying goes, things get better.

20. A song that has many meanings for you.
I don't know what this song's meanings are (except for the outright riddle, which is pretty obvious), but it certainly has plenty.

21. A song you like with a person’s name in the title.
Boy, is this 40-year-old song ever obsolete. I think the author would like to bury it at the bottom of the Mohole, but once you release a recording it doesn't work that way.

22. A song that moves you forward.
I'm not sure what that means, but I find this tremendously energetic.

23. A song you think everyone should listen to.
That's an awfully forbidding description, but I can say modestly of this song that it's not only a good song, but it has something important to say about the human experience.

24. A song by a band you wish were still together.
This would also require them all to be alive, which I also wish. (I did get a kick out of the wholly amateur video by other people.)

25. A song you like by an artist no longer living.
Well, several we've already had meet this criterion, but how about one by someone I knew personally? Leigh Ann Hussey wrote this, sang it, and played the violin in it too. This is my favorite from her repertoire.

26. A song that makes you want to fall in love.
This album was on my regular playlist at the time I met B.

27. A song that breaks your heart.
I associate this one with being isolated far from home at the age of 11. There was a record player out there, and this was one of the records.

28. A song by an artist whose voice you love.
Of all the great women of folk, it's gotta be Maddy.

29. A song you remember from your childhood.
This was my very first favorite song: we're talking age 3 or 4.

30. A song that reminds you of yourself.
No such animal.

Monday, April 20, 2020

but without bicycle

This is less of a milestone than it looks, because it's been several years since I rode my bicycle. Various aspects of health and aging have caused that to drop off the slowly dwindling list of things that I do. What just happened, though, was a formal acknowledgment of that: we put it up on a neighborhood list, and yesterday someone came and took it away, and my helmet too.

A bike was my regular transport vehicle in childhood, but I stopped riding in early adulthood. Not feasible as a method to commute to work, less time to do it recreationally, and living in small apartments I had no real place to keep a bike. It was much later on, probably when I was close to 40, that I bought the bicycle I had up until now. It was the first bicycle I had with touring handlebars since child-size ones; when I got my first adult-sized bike, as far as I could see those curled-under racing handlebars were the only ones being sold. I always hated them, but I couldn't get anything else.

That touring bike did me a lot of service, especially after I got a hatchback car which the bike would (barely) fit inside with the back seat down. Since I was never a distance rider, this meant I could take the bike to places I wanted to ride around in. There's a scale of travel at which a car is too large and clumsy (and it won't go off-road anyway), and walking is too slow and wearying, so a bike is perfect.

Having been transported by car it took me: from a park-and-ride lot a couple miles to the Portuguese festival, avoiding the extortionary parking fees there (I did this more than once); to old town Willow Glen, where B. and I rode around the narrow streets looking at the marvelous old houses; up to the Santa Cruz mountains, where I rode downhill on a half-trail half-road that I'd wanted to explore for 40 years; to the Napa Valley, where I rode around exploring the sites that Le Guin turned into the villages of the Kesh in Always Coming Home.

Those were all grand expeditions, but that phase is over, so it's best to hand the tools on.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

ways of making you laugh

If your sense of humor is anything like mine, this will amuse you and take your mind off sitting at home all day.

Last summer, B. and I went to see the touring production of The Play That Goes Wrong, a farce in which a troupe of incompetent actors puts on another play. And though the play-within was an uninteresting murder mystery, we found the result diverting and funny. Here's a typical sampling, taken from the Royal Variety Performance by the original London cast:

But that's not all. The creators of this have applied the concept to better plays. Here's some assorted bits, in irregular order, from Peter Pan Goes Wrong:

and a TV production of A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong:

And the stars, in character, announcing an equally silly award-winner:
There's more, but this seems to be where the inspiration ran out. As the guy in the last clip says of sequels ... But I enjoyed all of these.

Saturday, April 18, 2020


1. I'm embarking on a long-deferred project: examining all my old 3.5" floppy disks (itself already an obsolete term then, inherited from when they were 8 inches across and actually floppy) for files worth saving onto a more useful medium. True that discarding a whole file drawer full of the things will give me needed storage space, but why I'm doing this now is for revelation at a later date. I bought a portable USB-plug drive, and all went well until the metal cover of one of the disks stripped off while I was ejecting it. Now the cover is stuck in there, and the sites I've consulted say it'd be best to give up and get a new drive. They cost $20, which is not horrific, but it's a nuisance, and I'm suffering the feeling of researchus interruptus.

2. Having observed that all 6 Hugo Short Story finalists from this year are available online, I figured I'd read them. They couldn't be easier to get, and they're all short.

After reading them, though, I think I'll pass. Two revenge fantasies in which a subject person massacres her oppressors is two too many for me. Two stories I couldn't follow at all; one of them appears to be a metaphor, but I could not figure out for what. One uses an unusual storytelling conceit I've liked better every other time I've seen it. Which leaves one that I found both comprehensible and tolerable, but I didn't think it was very good. I'm not here to condemn these stories, just to indicate my own lack of affinity. If this is the state of contemporary SF, it's not for me.

3. Oh, look, an article on two fantasy authors so obscure that, as far as I can tell, even Doug Anderson hasn't blogged on them.

4. He seems to have dropped off a few days ago, but for a while John Rateliff was giving a day-by-day blog account of what he'd be doing on the trip to Egypt he'd be taking right now if he were taking it. I think that a marvelous way to pass the time if it doesn't merely fill you with regret.

5. We received our stimulus checks. They were both automatically deposited in B's bank account, because that's what we have on file as the destination for our IRS refunds. I'm almost sorry we didn't get paper checks with DT's signature in the memo field, because then I could have written a choice verb or two before his name before depositing it. (You can write whatever you want in the memo field.)

6. I started to watch the National Theatre's stage production of Treasure Island, but I didn't get very far, not finding it any more captivating than I did the novel in childhood. I got even less far with Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, due to the impression that nothing much was happening. Why does the Phantom keep walking Christine back and forth along the catwalk? The music was not good enough to compensate for this.

Friday, April 17, 2020

playing the thing

I was groggy for most of the day yesterday, my innocent sleep having been untimely ripp'd out of the even tenor of its way by a cat licking my hair, as he (this is Tybalt) is ever wont to do.

I managed, however, to get through my fourth video play of the shutdown and the second Shakespeare. Although I enjoy listening to recordings of music while working at the computer, I don't like having full concerts that way. I pay attention at concerts, and I find that difficult at a screen. Plays are much easier to attend to, but they have to be both to my taste - I have no desire, for instance, to watch a currently advertised A Doll's House, Part 2, because I never even liked Part 1 - and well-performed.

The best-performed of the four was the Syracuse Stage production of Amadeus that I reported on two weeks ago. The excellent acting riveted my attention throughout, despite the author having eviscerated the ending in his last revision.

Then I watched the National Theatre Live production of One Man Two Guvnors starring James Corden, which was a little bit too much of a farce even for me. (No longer available.)

Then, on to Shakespeare. I saw that the American Shakespeare Center, of Staunton, Virginia, is selling tickets for online videos of all the plays in their current season, so I picked Much Ado About Nothing. Benedick and Don John were both played by women, but their voices and presentations were such that you'd hardly have guessed. Though there were a few clever bits (the best being the purportedly lame Don John giving a gleeful hop and skip when exiting after succeeding at fooling Claudio and Don Pedro over Hero), I found the performance overall competent but uninspiring. Since that's the same reaction I had when at Staunton in person three years ago for their Romeo and Juliet, I don't think it was an artifact of the video. At times I found myself wishing I was watching the Joss Whedon film version instead, and that's not a reaction I've ever had to Much Ado live on stage.

Lastly, Hamlet from Shakespeare's Globe in London. This also had a lot of cross-casting, much more conspicuous in the performance than with Much Ado. Hamlet was a woman,* who shouted hoarsely throughout the play, for much of it wearing smeared clown makeup for some unfathomable but doubtlessly symbolic reason. The stabbing of Polonius was almost off-handed, and so was forcing Claudius to drink the poison. Horatio and Laertes were also women, the latter so physically small as to be unable to contain the character's fury in Act IV. Rosencrantz seemed over twice Hamlet's age, and Guildenstern spoke only in sign language, though nobody else made more than a token effort to reciprocate. Ophelia was a man, and not a very feminine-looking one either. However, the sight of him in a dress, or of him not trying very hard to depict madness, was not as disconcerting as, hard upon Ophelia's funeral, having this distinctive-looking fellow reappear on stage in the form of Osric. By far the best performance was James Garnon as Claudius, and that's notable, because Claudius is the role in Hamlet most often performed badly. But Garnon's reactions in the early part of the play, and his speeches in the later part, especially the asides, were brilliant and compelling. He was less menacing than exasperated. If you want to watch this, and it's worth it for Claudius, it's still available for free till Sunday on their YouTube channel.

*Michelle Terry, whom I later learned is the theater's artistic director, which explains why there was nobody to tell her that, gender fluidity or not, this was bad casting.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Easter parade

In a normal year, B's family would have been gathering at niece T's house for Easter dinner. So this year, at 2 PM, just about the time we'd be sitting down, came my introduction to Zoom in the form of a family gathering online, with a lot more people than would have been likely to get to T's house, relatives from all over the state and four others, including two states on the opposite coast.

Our instrument was B's iPad, which turns out to show only nine frames in panel mode, making the participants look like the Brady Bunch. There were more of us than that, so the alternative was to show one frame at a time, automatically switching depending on who was talking. This doesn't always work, as one person might be silently turning the camera around to show off the view, while everybody else exclaims in delight. The event lasted an hour, and was at least an opportunity for family social chatter.

Afterwards, since we were already fully dressed for the camera, we went out to take a walk down the neighborhood. It was a warm afternoon, and a Sunday, and Easter to boot, so there was a whole Easter parade of people taking their constitutionals: walkers, dog-walkers, bikers, small kids on skateboards with handlebars. Everyone was very good about keeping physical distance, even the occasional car drivers. Our initial goal was to get as far as a certain house with a brick frame around its front lawn, on which lizards like to sun themselves on warm days. We call it the lizard house. Today was a four-lizard day, a good number. The house also turned out to have a cat in the front window, which we hadn't seen before.

At another house, we saw a very eager small dog up against its front window, so we knew what its name was: How Much. (How Much is that doggie in the window. To be added to all the other famous lyrical animals, like Olive, the other reindeer.)

Off to make dinner: B's favorite meatloaf, plus a surfeit of brussel sprouts mislaid from last week's grocery delivery.

Saturday, April 11, 2020


Topic questions:
1) How do you import text in MS-Word from one file to another file with a different page format? If you import it with formatting, it overrides the page format of the new document. If you import it without formatting, it loses things like italics and paragraph formatting. How do I preserve the latter without overriding the former?
2) How do you tell it not to print page numbers on particular individual pages, like the beginning of chapters, or to put them in the footer instead of the header?

I learned desktop computer layout in 1987 on a wonderful program called Ventura Desktop Publisher, which was a pure layout program of supreme flexibility. You'd set up your page and then drop text files from your word processor (in those days I used WordStar) into it. Then you could move them around and add headers and box illos or whatever. Page numbers, too, were handled entirely separately from the text files. You could edit the text in Ventura as well, but it wasn't designed for that, and I used that function only for touchup. (Fixing awkward page breaks, widows and orphans, that sort of thing.) Otherwise it preserved the text as you'd written it in the word processor; italics and paragraph formatting were taken from there. All the later issues of Mythprint under my editorship were prepared that way.

When Ventura went obsolete and we had to do everything in MS-Word, I gave up on layout, because Word was poorly designed for it, as Ventura was not designed for word-processing, and I couldn't figure out how to do it. I reverted to plain text documents, with nothing fancy except maybe a bold-faced centered header, indented quotes, or footnotes which it does handle well.

More recently I've prepared a couple booklets, including last year's Mythcon program schedule, in Word, but those were single files written in the format I intended to finish with, and with no page numbers. I'm trying to do a more complex booklet now, made up of existing documents, and it's a struggle.

Friday, April 10, 2020

household crisis averted

Our kitchen light went out, fortunately during the daytime when it was possible to see to replace it. It's a halogen lamp, which is what makes this more than a "screw the light bulb in, end of story" problem.

The news struck dread, for though it's been some nine years since the last time it needed replacing, that event is seared into memory. Fortunately, again, that means I remember how we solved it.

Past experiences included 1) learning the hard way never ever to touch the contacts at the end of the bulb, because skin oil will kill the contacts; 2) trying unsuccessfully to squeeze the bulb into the brackets while standing on the top of a stepstool; 3) in the process, dropping more than one bulb on the floor, resulting in its breaking, and having to go out and buy another, and since they cost at least $5, that's a serious dent; 4) eventually determining that if you push this bracket (this one, not the other one) out just so, you can barely squeeze the bulb into place.

All that went through my mind, and having found that we actually had an extra bulb in our supplies closet, so I didn't even have to go out into virus-world and buy one, and lo, the replacement was done in a jiffy. Bright light revealed by contrast just how worn down the old bulb already was, and indeed its glass tube was coated inside with soot, which is not conducive to illumination.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

why is this night exactly the same as all the other nights?

Because we're stuck at home and didn't go anywhere today.

Nevertheless, this night (last night as I write) was the first night of Pesach, "Passover" to you, and since the friends-and-(their)-family seder I usually attend is obviously not on this year, I could only commemorate the occasion by making matzo ball soup - the usual first main course in our custom - for dinner, along with the "comfort broccoli" whose recipe I recently learned, a variant on the roasted broccoli I've made before.

Going through the whole seder ritual for just two would have been a little obtuse - it needs a festive gathering - and yes, there are online seders you can attend; a mailing list I'm on sent a long list of them. But I've attended large and impersonal seders full of strangers before, and even in person that doesn't cut it either. It's about being surrounded by people you know and love. In my own family, the center of it was my grandmother, the only one of us who really was at home with hosting a gathering and cooking a big meal. Her matzo ball soup and sponge cake were exquisite, and so was the pleasure with which she served them. The gathering lost its heart when she died, and that was some 35 years ago. I miss her.

(RIP Ruth (Rashe) Sadovsky Bratman Gumbin Battinus, 1909-1984)

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

the reorganized library of Tolkien

Noted scholar John D. Rateliff has reorganized his Tolkien library - books by him and the ever-increasing number of books about him - and so have I, so since I just finished the main pass through the papers for this year's Tolkien Studies, for which I consulted that library heavily, I might as well tell about it.

I did this a few months ago, prior to plunging in to serious editing work on this year's Tolkien Studies, because I was dissatisfied with how things were physically arranged in earlier years.

I have two particularly heavy-duty uses for my Tolkien collection, both annual: 1) to check facts, quotations, and citations in submissions to the journal; 2) to organize and access books being covered in "The Year's Work in Tolkien Studies."

In the bookcase nearest my desk, to which I can just reach over and grab things, I've now devoted the shelf at arm-level to the standard Tolkien library: the designated editions of his principal works, with "The History of Middle-earth" volumes tucked up in the back corner lying on their sides, and the most common and useful reference works, like the Scull & Hammond Companion & Guide and Foster's Complete Guide to Middle-earth (which I'm always checking to remember whether a character's name has an accent mark or not).

In the other bookcase, the bulk of the literature on Tolkien. No longer in the special classification system I developed, since I found it too hard to remember where a given book was, they're all arranged by name of author or editor now. And, to save room, on their sides in piles separated by letter of the alphabet.

Back on the first bookcase, similar shelvings of the extra-small and extra-large volumes. And, upright in neat order, the series: Tolkien Studies, Hither Shore, Lembas Extra, the Walking Tree books, Mythlore since it converted to digest format (all the old bedsheet issues are in a drawer in a filing cabinet).

Up against that bookcase is a wooden device forming little open cubes about 12 inches wide, which I've long used for special projects. I'm now devoting two of those to new Tolkien-related publications. One contains the books for the current Year's Work, and as we're just finishing that up, I've just finished distributing its former contents of 2017 books to their proper permanent shelves, and filled it up with the 2018 books that were overflowing the other cube, which has newer material awaiting review or their turn at the YW.

In another bookcase, over near the door, is the remaining miscellaneous primary source material: different editions, translations, Tolkien's obscurer academic works. I used to have all of Tolkien's books over there, until I got tired having to get up and go over there to get books I was constantly consulting. Some overflow from over here will have to go over there now; I need to think about that. Also there: my Le Guin collection.

John lists a number of books he's recently acquired or moved. Some of them are not so new, and some of those I had to look up to remember them. I'm relieved that all but one have already crossed my field of view, and I've put the last on the next batch of books to order.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020


B. uncovered a couple of old dust masks and I used one when I went out. It had one rubberized band around the back so it was easy enough to put on. And except for a tendency to shift up into my eyes it was easy enough to wear. They're supposed to be single-use masks, but we don't have a supply, so I used it for more than that. Just tried to be careful about how I touched it.

We do, however, have a supply of rubber gloves. I bought a box at the pharmacy some time ago for medical purposes, but they turned out to be too small for me, so I bought another at a hardware store (the kind intended for painters, etc.) I gave B. the first box, since she has smaller hands, and I took the second. This has been great, not just at the grocers but when I needed to pump gas, and since having the smell of fuel on your hands is a constant problem there, I may continue using the gloves for that after this is all over.

Then our nephew's grocery delivery* included another bag in the form of a care package from his mother, which included chocolate Easter bunnies and ... a pair of homemade fabric masks. I looked at these and wasn't sure how to tie it. It had two loose strings dangling from either side. I thought you were supposed to tie the two on each side together with a permanent knot and loop it behind your ear, because I've seen masks with rubberized bands that work that way, but that would require careful calibration of string length to keep it from falling off, and I didn't think I could do that without help. Turns out, B. explained, that you tie the pairs on opposite sides together behind your head with a shoelace knot, and untie it when taking the mask off, which is still difficult but much less so than the other idea.

We tried wearing these while taking a walk yesterday. We looked like a pair of Butch Cassidy-era train bandits. Which adequately explains why some people of color say they won’t wear homemade face masks. In the midst of adversity, another example of white privilege, sigh.

*I forgot, when posting on that, to mention specifically that his equally estimable wife accompanied him, which is why I wrote "them" when writing of the delivery.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

life under the net

Well, the cats like it. As far as they're concerned, the more we're at home to boss around, the better. Tybalt has gotten quite imperious about playing. When he utters sharp, commanding cries, and then jumps into B's living room chair and sits upright and alert, that means he expects me to turn up with a peacock feather or cat toy, PDQ. Since, being no longer a kitten, he tires out soon, we'll go through this routine several times in succession. If, instead, I head up the stairs, he gives me a reproachful look and then dashes up the stairs before I do, figuring that means the playing will be taking place up there instead. Often enough he's right.

Maia's preference is to sneak up behind and startle you with plaintive chirps which mean she's hungry. This often starts an hour or two before mealtime. And the amount of feline tramping around on the bed to get us up for that meal, if it's a day we're sleeping in, is pretty hefty. B. has renamed the cats Pestilence and Famine, respectively.

Though Tybalt is wont to play sous-chef and get in the way of everything while I'm cooking, and then climb up on me from the kitchen counter and insist on being held for a while, it's Maia who prefers to sneak up when you're not looking and start munching on any food that's inadvertently been left out. She didn't used to do anything of the sort before Tybalt was around: for all his pestering, he's given her new frontiers of cat behavior.

For our own part, it's peaceful. There's a reason we insisted on having a 3-bedroom home: hers, mine, and ours. She works in her room, I work in mine, and we don't bother each other. This is literal: B. is still working her regular paid job, just from home from her own computer. With breaks, it's a 10-hour day four days a week, and she might as well be at the factory. Meanwhile I'm in the middle of editing papers for the next issue of Tolkien Studies, so that's a job even if my reviewing job has completely disappeared. When we're not working, we live as we normally do, which was mostly indoors anyway. You'd see us both reading, or me reading and her practicing violin, or me cooking dinner followed by her washing dishes, sheltering or no.

Last month I went out to do groceries, which are really the only thing we need on this timescale that has to be gone out and acquired, more often than was ideal. Judging from the prospective statistics, it looks like April will be the cruelest month (or did somebody already say that?), so I'm trying to be much more restrictive about literally staying in. Our insanely noble nephew has volunteered to buy groceries for us, since services are completely backed up. We prepared a spreadsheet of our usual purchases, checked off the ones we need this week, and got the first delivery late last evening. (His local grocery is, unlike most, still open until 11 pm, and it's quite empty in the late.) I met them at the door, took the frozen and other perishables in for B to wipe down, and we're leaving the rest in the garage for a day to lower the risk of infection.

Other problem began several weeks ago when I got a notice from my e-mail provider, which also hosts my personal website, that the website registration would be expiring. It wasn't clear how to pay that, or whether it'd be automatic payment like their other services are, so I called them up and asked. They said it was taken care of. Well, it isn't. The website registration was up today and sure enough, the website is dead. And I can't phone them until Monday to try to get this handled again.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

April full

I didn't see a single April Fool joke this year, not even while surfing online. Good. The last time this was funny was PigeonRank, and even that would have been damp this year.

Instead, I made my first visit to the virtual theater. I'd read an enthusiastic review of Syracuse Stage's online presentation of Amadeus, and it was available for a reasonable ticket price, so I bought one. You can't get it now, though, because due to the actors' contracts it went off sale when the original run was scheduled to close last week (though the video itself remains online to purchasers for a little while yet).

As I understand it, they managed one live performance before the shutdown, but this was skillfully captured on a multi-camera setup by technicians from, I believe, the local PBS station, and that's what the video was of. As that species goes, it was well-done. If not quite like being there, it was captivating enough.

The acting was good throughout, but the play succeeded above all through the performance as Salieri by Jason O'Connell. With a saturnine countenance vaguely reminiscent of James Mason, he played both old and young Salieri with urgent intensity, and transitioned between them eerily well. It was all good except for one thing.

What I didn't know is that Peter Shaffer rewrote the play several times. This was the final version, from not long before his death. The ending was very different from what I remember from another stage production decades ago, or the movie adaptation. The director likes this version: "turning the melodramatic original into a more humane quest for forgiveness and redemption." No, it doesn't work that way. It undercut the entire previous thrust of the play, like the ending of Schindler's List which I didn't like either. Throughout this scene, Mozart keeps saying "This makes no sense!" and "This is stupid!" and I couldn't have agreed more. Authors, you can't negate your own failure by having your characters futilely protest. They're trying to tell you something.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

alternative universe II

I say - even if nobody else does - that it's time for my second monthly list of concerts I'm not going to be able to attend because they're canceled. (Is there a word meaning "monthly" the way that "annual" means "yearly"? Yes, but it's "menstrual," so nobody uses it.)

April 2-4: Scor String Camp, St Stephen's Church, El Dorado Hills
The biggest cancellation of the month is not mine, but B's. She attended this annual educational session last year and enjoyed it so much she was going to go back. It's a small gathering for individualized and small-group instruction mostly geared at enthusiastic amateurs. B. was one of the more advanced students. The proprietors travel around the country doing these all over on a regular annual schedule, and the timing for this one (near Sacramento) just turned out to be wrong this year.

Friday, April 3: Bang on a Can All-Stars, Bing Studio, Stanford
Bing Studio is the little cubical box in the concert hall basement where they do weird stuff that wouldn't fill the big hall. "Bang on a Can," for some reason unknown to me, is the name of a notable sponsor of new-music concerts on the east coast. That they were coming in and bringing music by the likes of Anna Clyne and Michael Gordon sounded really good to me.

Saturday, April 4: Mission Chamber Orchestra, Hammer Theatre, San Jose
Despite the acoustically horrible venue, I was going to go hear them do Britten's Simple Symphony and attempt Beethoven's Eroica, along with a bassoon concerto newly written for local hero Rufus Olivier.

Sunday, April 5: Fauré Piano Quartet, Kohl Mansion, Burlingame
I was scheduled to review this. Works for piano, violin, viola, and cello by their namesake composer, Brahms, and Mahler. Yes, Mahler. I've heard all these pieces before and was looking forward to hearing them again.

Thursday, April 16: San Francisco Symphony, Davies
On my subscription. Tchaikovsky's Fifth, something new by the unavoidable Mason Bates, and a curtain-raiser in the form of one of Sam Barber's gnarly Essays.

Saturday, April 18: Redwood Symphony, Cañada College
My second review of the month. Sibelius's Third, my (obscure) favorite of his symphonies - Redwood has covered a lot of the tougher Sibelius symphonies - and, ta da, the estimable Anna Clyne. Also Brahms's Violin Concerto completes an attractive evening.

Friday, April 24: Volcano Theatre, Palo Alto HS
My third review of the month. I don't know who Volcano Theatre is, but I certainly know about the opera they were going to be producing: Treemonisha by Scott Joplin, magnum opus of the great ragtime pianist/composer. This was a new conception, adaptation, and orchestration, so they were marketing this already-rare piece as a premiere. I've never heard it even in an old version, so for me this was the enticing discovery of the month.

Sunday, April 26: Ensemble San Francisco, SJSU concert hall
My fourth review of the month. The great thing about an assorted ensemble is that they can play assorted things: everything from a cello-and-piano sonata by Beethoven to a piano quartet by Dvorak, by way of quartets for oboe and strings by Mozart and Britten.

Thursday, April 30: San Francisco Symphony, Davies
This was originally going to be MGT's concert (Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, a name I cannot spell and can only cut and paste in from somewhere else) until she canceled - again (maternity leave) - and it wasn't on my series, but I was thinking of going, for her and the Vaynberg Violin Concerto, but what really made me sign up in a hurry was the substitute: Michael Morgan of the Oakland Symphony, who's never conducted SFS before, would be bringing the gem he played at home a couple years ago, the Symphony No. 3 by Florence Price, the great but (up until recently) nearly forgotten mid-20C African-American woman composer. Fantastically miscellaneous other pieces, too: an obscure symphonic poem by Franck, Brahms's Alto Rhapsody with Melody Wilson, and a new piece evoking Pentecostal church services.