Sunday, May 31, 2020

weird weather

And not just about the protests, about which I have much to say but not on this channel.

It's been weird in the ordinary talking-about-the-weather way too. Several days of weather so hot and broiling that it shouldn't occur until July have been succeeded by weather cool and wet, of the kind that shouldn't occur after the end of March.

Don't know what will be happening next.

Friday, May 29, 2020

on the audio

So just now I spent an hour talking about Tolkien into a microphone, with prompts from an interviewer. I hadn't done that since I was on the radio a dozen years ago. This wasn't for the radio, but you may be able to hear it soon. I said a couple things that surprised even me, but much of it was trying to put some basic concepts about Tolkien across. We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

it's been punishingly hot

the last couple of days, and Tybalt is trying out various spots on the floor to spread himself out over. Maia prefers to curl up like a pill bug on one spot on the upstairs landing.

As for me, this is the kind of weather that would normally send me out to spend the afternoon reading in the public library, which at least has air conditioning. That's out now, so I must stay home and wait for the time when opening the windows will offer relief instead of increased intensity.

The most refreshing thing I did was watch a recording of the Great Performances broadcast of the LA Philharmonic's centennial concert. All three living music directors, past and present (Dudamel, Salonen, Mehta), each conducted a piece and then all three conducted together in a new work for three orchestras, very spectral. It's by Daniel Bjarnason, another one of those striking musicians from Iceland. Ah, Iceland. Sounds really good about now.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

a little bit online

This week the UK National Theatre's online offering is a several-years-old production of A Streetcar Named Desire, with a vocally unrecognizable Gillian Anderson as Blanche. I started to watch it, not because I really wanted to see Streetcar again (I saw it in Ashland in 1977), than because it's Great Literature to which I thought I should give myself Renewed Exposure.

But I was forcibly reminded of the fact that one sits through moderately tedious plays on stage because it's not really practical to leave, and besides you paid all that money to be there. Whereas on the small screen at home it's got to be better than that. I first got tired and quit during the long initial dialogue between Blanche and Stella, because it was so stagy. I decided to come back and press on, but when Stanley comes in, he's the only one of them who sounds like a human being, and I didn't want to risk getting too sympathetic to Stanley, so I quit again.

Today there was a fund-raising webcast by the Berkeley Symphony, and since I had an e-mail notification and (a not unimportant point) I remembered it was on, I tuned in. Several sheltering musicians played unaccompanied solo pieces, usually by Bach, which transfers well to the viola and even the clarinet. I liked best the one by the associate concertmaster, who not only was crisp but who injected a bit of jazz into his playing, very well injected I thought. Conclusion, video from the symphony's last live concert of the finale of Beethoven's Fifth, introduced by the music director as hopeful and encouraging music. Let's see that it is.

Friday, May 22, 2020

one works, the other doesn't

Given how content I am to hole up with B. and the cats, with just e-mail and blogs and an occasional phone chat with my brother to sustain me socially, I was surprised at how satisfying my latest web-based meeting was yesterday. Because it went smoothly and because it was populated with a group of actual friends (as opposed to just friendly acquaintances, like the library committee), it filled a socializing hole in my being I hadn't realized I was missing. In lieu of meeting annually in person, we're going to try meeting monthly online for a while. I think this will work.

The weekly grocery shopping, though, couldn't have been more stressful while still coming to an eventual successful conclusion. We'd tried to turn to online ordering and pickup from the store back at the start of April, but gave up because no slots were available. This week we looked again and they were. So we placed our order, which allowed specification of substitutions, with a pickup time of noon today. The instructions said, when your time arrives, drive to the store, park in one of the designated spaces, phone the number on its sign. Seemed easy.

The first crash came when the phone call produced only an intercept. When I went inside to inquire, the first thing I was asked - the first thing every store employee asked me during the day's saga - was, had we received the e-mail confirming the pickup was ready? No, but there was nothing in the instructions saying to wait for such an e-mail. I was told they were running way behind, partly because of the holiday weekend, but then why were they offering time slots they knew they couldn't fulfill? How late they'd be they couldn't say at that point, but when I tried again after dinner, a shifty manager whose stories kept changing finally settled on "sometime that evening." At about 9:15 the e-mail came. But why they couldn't have sent out a delay message or two with an ETA was not clear, nor was the utter and complete lack of interest of every employee in the fact that the dedicated phone number didn't work. Also unencouraging was the several-times-observed tendency of store employees to pull down their masks in order to talk, which rather misses the point of having one. Given that I couldn't reach the store even on its regular phone number (ring, ring), I probably spent more time in breathable risk by conducting this ideally no-contact pickup service than I would have had I done the shopping myself. Maybe we'll try this again next week, with no holiday and a longer prep span. Maybe.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

another web meeting platform

It's called WebEx, and it's what a different meeting of mine was on today. Since by now I have a microphone, if still no camera on my desktop (and I'm not planning on getting one), I could sign in hard-wired without suffering through my tablet on wifi. I'd found Zoom's interface to be cramped on the tablet, so it's not fair to compare that to WebEx on the (much larger) desktop, but I did figure out how to work the commands, and the tile display got all 11 other people in the meeting on one screen, even the others who had no video (who'd mostly telephoned in), so their displays were blank.

Video displays were pretty good on WebEx, but sound was variable. People who came through loud and clear on incidental remarks suddenly started fading in and out or getting caught in transmission stutter when they had the floor and spoke at length. But most of what they said came through.

The curious thing was that, unlike with Zoom, I had no visual display for myself (even though there'd be nothing on it), and, even more curiously, I could not hear myself on the headphones, though others assured me they could hear me. However, if there's any measurable delay in sound transmission, which there probably is, even a fraction of a second, it would be best not to hear yourself, as to hear yourself speaking live on even a small delay is a good way to make you trip up on your words. It did mean, though, that there was no way to tell if I was emitting background noise or (unlikely as it'd be in the circumstances) feedback.

Anyway, now we know the microphone works, both in itself and in persuading the computer and the meeting software to go along with it, that's the important part. So now I can go ahead in planning the matter that I bought it for.

and ... a dog

This is the most enjoyable classical lockdown video I've heard recently: members of the Peninsula Symphony, one of our local volunteer orchestras - who'd already done the slow movement of the Second - in a less than polished but quite bang-up energetic and sizzling performance of a cut-down chamber instrumentation of the first movement of Beethoven's Eighth Symphony. The retransition section (from about 4.45 to 5.40) in particular is quite wonderfully well done.

And ... look underneath the flute from about 3.25 to 4.15 (go full-screen for this), and you'll have a little visual treat.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

not an expert

As I recall, it was my friend the late Kate Yule who once wrote an article trying to figure out how good a cook she was. I found that I identified precisely with her predicament, so I think I'm on the same level.

What Kate said was, on the one hand there's people who manage to burn a pot of water, don't know what to do with an egg, or find "heat in microwave for 2 minutes" to be a challenge worthy of their mettle (and sometimes take a weird pride in all this). Next to them, people like Kate or I are whizzes, experts, virtuosi.

On the other hand, there's professional chefs. Next to them, we're fumblers, complete beginners.

Somewhere, there's a level of everyday mastery, basic competence and understanding of how the things you do work, but without artistry or complex technique. Put it this way: the kinds of recipes that Julia Child wrote, I'd find very difficult or unnecessarily time-consuming. (My goal in cooking is to have dinner, not to spend time in the kitchen.) But the kind of recipes you see on the backs of packages, or that get published in local newspapers (food columns in major papers are another matter), those are easy and I get a lot of ideas from them.

Same is true with computers and electronics. I have a basic end-user's knowledge of how things work and go together, supplemented - as with cooking - with some hard-earned experience when things didn't go right. That was enough to make me my mother's computer guru, a status true of a lot of children my age. On the other hand, I know professional techies socially, and most of the time when they speak of their jobs I can't even figure out what they're talking about.

Where does that leave me, then? Willing to dive in to deal with certain situations, but always ready to stop when I run up against the limits of my knowledge. Recently I heard it said that I think I know more than I do, and that really hurt, because knowing how much I know and asking for help when matters get beyond there is one thing I always do. For instance I was once tasked with replacing the fill valve in a toilet tank. I figured I could do that myself, and I did. But when the ancient flex water pipe started to leak when I reattached it, I stopped, re-closed the valves, and called a plumber. That I knew I couldn't deal with, and I wasn't too proud to admit it immediately. Something similar happened with B's monitor, where neither the instructions nor the unit's behavior was clear to me, though it was up and working when I was done, if with fragility.

Driving. I'm not a particularly good driver, but I'm competent. I can drive a stick shift, which most people today can't, but that's because I was trained at it at an early stage. What I am really good at is road navigation. I know that not because I feel skilled at it, but because it feels easy, because a vast number of people seem completely helpless at it, and because real experts don't intimidate me as they do in the above fields.

Typing. As a professional secretary, which I temped at for a while, I was no better than moderate. But I was a pretty fast and accurate copy-typist until my hands wore out.

Sports. That's a good case, because (when I could still do active sports) I divided them into two groups: those I was minimally competent at (though never any more than that) and those I couldn't do at all. That's a fundamental distinction not often-enough made. Anything requiring hitting a moving ball with an implement, forget it: tennis, softball, or anything else of either ilk, I'm laughably bad at, like the person who can't boil water. I couldn't hit the ball at all, or make it go anywhere if I accidentally did. But with hand (or foot) is another matter: I could dribble and shoot a soccer ball or basketball in the prescribed manners, so long as there was nobody trying to prevent me. In a game, there always is, so I was of no use in those. My best game of that sort was volleyball, where the opposing players all have to stay on the other side of the net. I also found a knack for golf, where there's an implement but the ball stays still until you hit it. I think I could have developed into a fairly decent amateur if I'd had more of a taste for the game, but I'm not much of a game-player at all, even sedentary ones. I limit myself these days to computer playing of klondike solitaire (at which I think I'm good, because I've heard people say they never win games, whereas I often do) and the occasional tetris (at which I've never gotten above level 10, which is not considered very high by expert standards).

So my question is, does this make sense to you? How do you parse it, and where do you sit on the scale?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020


Three packages were delivered yesterday.

1) B's newer and bigger monitor. Her old one stopped working for a while a few days ago. Power was on, screen was working, nothing wrong with the data connection, but the display was blank. It started up again later, but in any case it's difficult to do her job with big complex displays that fall off the edge of the monitor. (They have bigger monitors in the office.) It's my job in this house to install things like this. It was rather puzzling: I'd never seen what it called an HDMI data cable before, and was worried as to whether B's computer would have a port for it. It did, right next to the VGA port. The monitor's instructions weren't clear as to whether it required a VGA cable also. Turned out it did, and a good thing I didn't take out the one from the old monitor, because there wasn't one in the package, though the parts list said there was. Then I had to figure out where the control is to change the screen resolution display. Gaah.

2) A pulse oximeter. Put your finger in the little clamp and it measures your blood oxygen saturation. Obviously useful in the current crisis. I'd ordered this some time ago when the seller claimed they were still available. Then the package was somehow delayed in shipping, or so the seller's messages said. A check with the shipper's site revealed the truth: they were still waiting for the package to show up. Apparently more had been sold than the seller then had. Under those circumstances, I'm surprised it came as early as it did. (We've both used it: we're fine for now.)

3) A microphone, to plug into my computer's sound input jack. If I'd had this last weekend, I might have been able to join the John Garth interview session on Zoom without all that trouble. I'll get to test it later this week with another meeting, this time on WebEx, and at least I won't be forced to rely on my tablet, or the telephone with no incoming video.
But none of that is what I bought the microphone for. What I did buy it for will come up later.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

John Garth on Zoom

In a covid-free world, John Garth would probably have given his talk on his upcoming book, The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien: The Places that Inspired Middle-earth, sponsored by the Wade Center, at the Wade Center, and I wouldn't have been able to be there. Instead, it was webcast, and by signing up in advance, 60 people from all over were able to listen in.

Unfortunately, it was on Zoom, which I hadn't known before I tried signing in on my desktop, which then had to download and install Zoom while interviewer Laura Schmidt, the archivist at Wade, was giving her introduction. All spectators were automatically muted both for sound and video, but that didn't prevent Zoom from acting in its usual manner. Strange thing about Zoom is that, while you don't have to click on "Start Video" to see the existing video, you do have to click on "Join Audio" in order to hear. And it refused to do that because it couldn't find a microphone on my computer for the very good reason that I don't have one. I had to hastily fetch my tablet, which I already had Zoom installed on, and join the meeting again there, in order to hear a blessed word. But not all of them, because as before it stuttered a lot and I missed much.

One thing was clear: that despite the book's title, it is not a travelogue of "the places that inspired" as previous books by the likes of Robert Blackham and Matthew Lyons have been. And indeed, I was pleased to see that Garth is at pains to avoid what he delicately calls "erring on the side of credulity" of these works. The problem, Garth says, is that if you see a place and are reminded of invented places in Tolkien, you tend to think that if Tolkien saw it too it must have inspired those places. This is most often obvious nonsense, chronologically impossible, and most importantly diminishes the fiction by making fictional place A a simple encoding of real place B.

In fact, as Garth says, Tolkien was a great synthesizer who merged and reconciled loads of even contradictory inspirations; this is true of all his sources, not just geographical, and from the excerpts read from this book, the author is taking a similar approach that he took to Tolkien's early inspirations in his book Tolkien and the Great War. This is less a book about the real places than it is about what was going on in Tolkien's mind that the real places operated as the merest seeds for. Most of the research took place in Tolkien's papers and in written period material rather than out on the ground.

I'm hoping, then, that we may see an end to such inane ideas as that a couple of stacks in Birmingham were the "real" original of The Two Towers, and indeed there's an appendix specifically dealing with such debunking. If I had been going to ask a question (questions were submitted by chat), it would have been whether he was dealing with that, but I didn't have to.

The bulk of the book, it emerges, is divided into chapters by the type of place dealt with: the sea, the mountains, rivers and waterlands, forests, warscapes, craftscapes, and, yes, towers. Plus beginning discussions including Tolkien's early attempts to transmute England directly into his fiction, and on geographic inspirations from outside England.

Well, I'm looking forward to getting this large-format and well-illustrated volume. Tolkien and the Great War is a monument in Tolkien studies, and I expect this one to be as well.

Friday, May 15, 2020

electronic glitch

I had my first Zoom meeting for work (library committee) yesterday. It did not go well. Video was fine, though figuring out how to tile the images on my little tablet screen (where it works quite differently than on a full-sized screen) was difficult. But the audio was terrible. About a quarter of the time, in bursts, it worked fine, but the rest of the time it stuttered so badly I could not make out what was being said. Probably a combination of wifi problems (our internet connection tends to wilt in the heat) and my underpowered Galaxy tablet.

The meeting overlapped with Claire Chase's marathon webcast recital of new music for flute, but that's OK, since the first hour of it filled up my appetite for that sort of music anyway. And I missed a chunk of it when the signal froze. But the fact that I was willing to watch that much of it, and was captivated by the performance, was a good sign in itself, as this is the first concert, as opposed to a recording of a specific piece, that I've watched online.

I was attracted to the first hour by the opening piece, Steve Reich's Vermont Counterpoint for 1 live flute and 10 recorded ones (which the performer is supposed to record beforehand). It's a typical chunk of cascading minimalism, and I already knew I liked it. Chase kept switching among different size flutes, which I don't recall the performer doing when I once heard this work live, so perhaps it's up to the performer which line is live and which are recorded.

The other two were works that Chase commissioned in 2013 as the beginning of a long sequence of commissions which the marathon was chiefly designed to celebrate.

I liked Pessoa by Marcos Balter, which similarly is for 1 live and 5 recorded, only these are all bass flutes. The swirling lines of the spooky, cavernous sounds made for an eerie and arresting effect. Luciform for (regular) flute and electronics by Mario Diaz de Leon was spikier. The flute played jagged phrases or soothing lines over wavering or fluctuating electronic chords. Sometimes the electronics turned jagged and drowned out the flute. Occasionally I looked around wondering if a cell phone was ringing.

A brief premiere piece at the end, by someone whose name I didn't get due to the signal freeze, consisted of Chase reciting a Gertrude-Stein-like rhythmic poem interspersed with breathing its words into her flute mouthpiece.

If the recording is online, it's not on the webcast site, but you can find Chase playing all three of the main works on YouTube.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

another useless historical project

The news has not been encouraging. At least my county's health officer is holding the line on shutdowns, which means that when I do have to go out, I'm less likely to encounter people in general or ones with the virus in particular. We're not adopting the goofy rules of other counties, such as semi-opening restaurants. If customers must wear masks when they're not eating, then it's not safe for them to take them off to eat. So I wouldn't go. But that's no help to me if I run into other people who did go. So we're still holing up.

In the meantime, I was browsing through a book on British constitutional history - yes, I know, light reading - and came across the Act of Settlement of 1701. I'd known about this decree on the succession of the throne, still mostly intact today, but this account brought it to renewed attention. William and Mary not having had any children, and the children of their heir, the future Queen Anne, having all died young (too common a thing back then), it was clear that any more successors were going to have to come from further off on the family tree. But where?

Experience with Mary and Anne's father, King James VII & II,* had taught Parliament not to have any more Catholic monarchs. (Actually, what it should have taught them was not to have any more monarchs like King James - or his father, King Charles I of having-his-head-cut-off fame.) And most of the other living members of the family, who were all descended from daughters who'd been married off to continental princes, were Catholics, many of them (like King James) personal converts. The one Protestant line was the family of Sophia, dowager duchess of Hanover, who was King James's first cousin. So the Act of Settlement settled the succession on her. In the end, Sophia predeceased Anne, so it was her son, Mary and Anne's second cousin, who succeeded as George I, the first Hanoverian king.

But it seemed to me that the book I was reading was vague or misleading on its description of the family tree, so I decided to figure it out: how many people with a better claim genealogically got passed over to settle the crown on Sophia? I couldn't produce an exact number, because of the shifting cast of babies being born and, often, dying; lack of date information on a few people; and I had to decide whether to exclude children of morganatic marriages (I did, since those were passed over anyway, Catholic or not). The number I came up with was forty. That's a lot of relatives to exclude. If you were to jump that far down the current line of succession, you'd find yourself with the grandchildren of the Queen's cousin, the Duke of Kent.

Mary and Anne, and William (who besides being Mary's husband was also her first cousin), had had another aunt with children, Henrietta, Duchess of Orleans. She was dead, but one of her daughters, the Queen of Sardinia, was alive and had four juvenile children. That's five. The rest were all descended from James's late aunt, Elizabeth, sometime Queen of Bohemia. Only two of the youngest of her children were still living in 1701, but two of the elder children had left seven and twenty-seven (!) children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren(!) respectively, and they were all Catholics. The living child of the elder of these, by the way, was the second wife of the same Duke of Orleans whose first wife had been Aunt Henrietta, and her son, thus also on the list, became the Duke of Orleans who was the subject of the best biography by W.H. Lewis (C.S. Lewis's brother), The Scandalous Regent. (He became regent for his first cousin twice removed on his father's side, the young Louis XV.)

Of the two surviving children of Elizabeth, one was a Cistercian abbess, so she was out. She was also a painter, and here's a portrait she painted of her younger sister Sophia in pseudo-Native-American getup, at the age of 13 or so, Sophia being the one on whose family the succession to the British crown fell.

*That's the kind of cognomen you get when you're simultaneously king of Scotland and England, separately.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020


I saw an article (it went behind a paywall when I tried to look at it again) about networking in the absence of in-person networking events. That suits me fine, because I always hated anything promoted as a networking event, and I was always very bad at it.

Networking by computer feels less distasteful, but that still doesn't mean I know how to do it. The author specifically recommends using LinkedIn.

Well, that's interesting, because years ago, before the heyday of Facebook and before I learned to be wary of social networks, a friend recommended I join LinkedIn, so I did.

But I then had no idea what I was supposed to do with it. I got a lot of "please add me to your network" emails from people I knew, but I ignored them because I didn't know what to do with them.

Gradually they stopped and I heard no more from LinkedIn for years. But then a year ago I wished to contact a stranger for professional purposes - on a colleague's recommendation I wanted to offer her a writing assignment - and the only contact info I could find for her was a LinkedIn profile. So I dusted off my account and sent her a message.

All went well with that, eventually (she doesn't check LinkedIn very often), but somehow this managed to reactivate my account, and I'm getting "please add me to your network" emails again, this time from a somewhat more exotic collection of friends.

For instance, I just got one from a very old friend (I first met her 40 years ago, gaaah), whose peripatetic life I haven't always been able to follow but who is now a professor of ecopsychology at a Buddhist university, how's that for having friends who do something different? I looked her up with that specification (her name is not rare), and here she is on video talking about how mentally healthy it is just to get outside from time to time. At this moment that's particularly good advice.

By now I've learned to go ahead and add these people to my network, so I suppose I can keep track of where they are, but I still have absolutely no idea what else to do with a LinkedIn account. Any advice?

Tuesday, May 12, 2020


A rather different story on my reading list about a mysterious phone conversation reminds me of a traumatic event of my early/mid-childhood - I must have been about 4 or 5 - that probably explains my anxiety about using the telephone.

Instead of speaking with my grandfather first and then putting me on the phone to say a few words, my parents decided it was time for me to initiate the conversation. But I was still too young to dial the number, so they did that and then handed me the phone while it was still ringing at the other end.

The ensuing typical grandfather-and-grandson conversation had proceeded for some time before any incongruities in the exchanges penetrated my trusting and juvenile brain.

I was talking to somebody else's grandfather. My parents had misdialed the number. "Hello, Grandpa, it's [very common first name in my generation]" just happened to be a greeting this guy would also expect to hear.

That's one reason that, for instance, if I get an answering message that doesn't identify the party by name, I'm still apt to hastily terminate the call, check the number carefully and call again.

2) You'd think in these days of stored numbers that wouldn't happen. But I still get a lot of calls whose callers take a long time to grasp that they've dialed the wrong number, no matter how puzzled or frosty my replies to their cryptic (to me) friendly greetings.

2a) It never happens to me when I call the number; I'm just terrified that it will.

3) I'm trapped in another kind of phone hell because I can only communicate with this investment through my broker. My broker sends me a form, I call to ask a question about it, my broker says she'll call the company. Three hours later, she calls back. The company thinks I have an old form. I say I don't think so, since it says "Rev. 12.19" on it - also I'm thinking it's unlikely an entire major option has disappeared in five months. She says she'll call them back. Four hours later, I'm still waiting. By now it's the end of the day.

4) E-mail exchange with a colleague with whom I hadn't communicated in several months includes him saying, "Now my entire life seems to be spent on video calls." Apart from the Easter one with B. to her family, I haven't had one of those yet. My first solo attempt comes with a committee meeting in two days. I tremble.

5) I still haven't found my cell phone.

Monday, May 11, 2020


I suppose I ought to be spending my leisure reading time, like at meals (yes, B. and I sit opposite each other at dinner, each busily reading away: this is what happens when introverted bookworms mate), on some of the new books on Tolkien that have been coming in; but I have to spend so much of my other time on Tolkien that I've been putting them off.

Right now, for instance, I'm reading The Collapse of the Third Republic by William L. Shirer, one of the fat historical volumes I inherited from my father. I read this book, this very copy, when it was new around 1969, when one would think I was too young for thousand-page historical tomes, even ones for popular readership. And it's true that I retain little from that reading, so not being an expert on French history some of this is coming as new to me. The more so as Shirer deems it necessary to back up through the entire 70-year history of the Third Republic to explain why it collapsed in 1940.

For instance, here's an anecdote that would sound goofier in any other telling than Shirer's dead-serious portentous style. In the 1880s the Third Republic was not stable or established. Remember that both Republics #1 and #2 had quickly mutated into Empires, and nobody expected better of this one. An anti-republican general with pretentions to glory (yes, a real guy) spectacularly won a parliamentary by-election in Paris over united republic-supporting opposition. As the news emerged, his followers gathered in the streets, expecting him to lead them in a march on the government offices to stage a coup. (And the government took this seriously: they were cowering under their desks.)

But the general, being French, decided to spend a few hours dallying with his mistress first. By the time he arrived, all his followers had given up and gone home.

[Interruption from cat. I am just a pathway between the table behind me and the floor in front of me.]

A few dozen pages and a few decades later, we're introduced to a rising politician named Pierre Laval. In the personality sketch, we're told that Laval "remained devoted [to his wife] to his dying day." That would be the day in 1945 that he was executed for treason, wouldn't it? But Shirer is going to keep that little nugget of information to himself for a while from those readers who don't already know it, is he? Sneaky bugger.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

it's not Mother's Day

Not for us; we're both orphans now, and for several years. *sob*

Yes, we miss our mothers. It's tough to read ads saying do this or that for your Mom, and I can't.

Biggest accomplishment of the day: I submitted my paper. On the new electronic submission system, and it actually worked, yay. Last thing I did to the file before submitting it: changed the font size to 12 and double-spaced it. I don't mind submitting it like that, but I can't write that way.

After my computer glasses and my pocket calendar last week, what's missing this week is: my cell phone. I have vague recollections of putting it on a shelf somewhere, but it's not on any of the likely shelves. Another good reason for not giving up my land line. And another reason: I've been invited to be interviewed on a podcast, and damned if I want the sound quality to be as awful as many of the other guests (so no Skype or Zoom either), and damned if I'm going to spend half an hour talking on a cell phone.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

to be continued

We're still carrying on in the lockdown period, but I think the cats - who never went outside even before - are going a little stir-crazy. Tybalt has taken literally to bouncing off the walls - he'll run at an angle, and jump up on the wall to take off in a different direction - and he gets more insistent on playtime, meowing loudly until we acquiesce. Unfortunately, as his most active times coincide with my sleepiest, things don't always go as he wants.

It's also beginning to get warmer, lovely time to be cooped up inside, and not much better broiling outside, and the cats are reacting to that too; Tybalt lying stretched out in the manner of "the cat was thiiiis long" jokes, while Maia curls up like a pill bug.

Our nephew is still doing our weekly shopping, plagued by intermittent shortages: eggs one week, cooked chicken meat the next, frozen desserts (!), toilet paper still going on. This may have to continue for some time. I'm very concerned about premature re-openings, and here is Mr Drum explaining why. And our leadership: he has something to say about that too; the thought that there are still people prepared to vote for this guy astounds me; if you don't like the current alternatives, get another one, or just stay home, which is what you're expecting the opponents who don't like the alternatives to do.

In the meantime, there's rough times for the economy, but there are ways to mitigate the suffering for individuals, if the government is willing to do it, without sacrificing lives in a pandemic, though some claim willingness to pay that price, at least in the form of other people's lives. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has just now given up on the remaining dregs of its season, which I was expecting to happen, just not quite this fast. Sweet Tomatoes/Souplantation, the last self-service buffet restaurant that was really good (there were some not so good) has announced its permanent closure; I'll miss their clam chowder. One of the local orchestras has just sent out a patron survey asking nervously what it would take to get us back in the concert hall, and what substitutes we'd otherwise accept. My answers will not thrill them: no amount of social-distance cautioning will get me in the concert hall while the virus thrives; it'll have to go away on its own (possible: the 1918 pandemic eventually did) or a reliable vaccine be available, and another chart from Mr Drum explains why: concerts and theater are up in the upper right with restaurants and weddings. I'm keeping my contacts in the lower left and trying to minimize those.

In the meantime, I'm reading, and writing, and more on that later ...

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

quasigrecian thoughts

1. How about that, I've finished writing the paper I was working on. I didn't expect it to be done that quickly. That is to say, it's a complete text with no more gaps or notes to myself to move this or write that here. It's still over a month before the deadline, so I'll let it marinate for a few days before reviewing it and checking the e-mails from the editor I submitted the proposal to, to see how much I covered of what she wanted.

2. B's nephew and niece from the distant east unexpectedly sent us some cloth masks. They're the slip-the-loops-over-the-ears kind, which is much easier to put on than the tie-the-strings-behind-the-head kind B's sister already provided, but less comfortable to wear. Niece must have made them from leftovers from one of her theme parties, because the fabric pattern depicts the Tardis. I'm willing to wear this so long as nobody beards me with Dr. Who trivia questions. Who played the first Doctor? I don't remember his name offhand. Who plays the current Doctor? I don't remember her name either. Who was your first Doctor? Peter Cushing; does he even count?

3. Joe Biden says, "[The accusations] aren't true. This never happened." Maybe it didn't, but that's exactly what Brett Kavanaugh said, so it doesn't carry conviction. Here's something that only recently came to my attention: Five years ago, Jon Stewart ran a piece openly accusing Biden of being a groper of women: not in an explicitly sexual way, but with an "uncomfortable tendency to invade the personal space of women in his vicinity." Five years ago! The most trusted political commentator in liberal America! At the height of his powers! Why didn't anyone, no matter how maliciously, bring this up during the primaries? It may not be too late to do anything about it now, but it would be ... difficult.
Still, anyone - anyone! - minded to abandon Biden for Trump - Trump! - because of this has their sense of appropriateness completely backwards.

4. Oh, relax. More good music over Zoom, in the form of Beethoven slow movements. The Second Symphony. The Op. 130 string quartet.

5. Meme time: A band that begins with an L, and not a classical one either. Lindisfarne.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

performers, ay!

I've mentioned before having felt disappointed with some performance videos created under social-distancing quarantine conditions. This one, though, is just great. And it's my favorite number from my favorite Sondheim, so ...

Monday, May 4, 2020

cheery day

Yes, it's being a cheery day, and that despite the fact that (as often) I didn't get much sleep. I used my waking hours to make enormous progress on the paper I'm currently writing, and digging through one of my stack of documents cubbyholes, in (successful) search for some old paperwork I needed for the scholarly paper, also revealed that that's where I absently stuffed my computer glasses that I'd been wondering for most of the last week what had become of them. Working on the computer with my nose up against the screen, so that I could see what I was doing, was getting old. I'd presumed that Tybalt, who enjoys rampaging around my desk, which is where I usually leave the glasses, had knocked them off into an inaccessible corner somewhere.

Other cheery discoveries of the weekend:

How to cut up bone-in chicken thighs: When I make jambalaya, I usually buy a couple deboned, skinless chicken thighs, cut them up, and brown the meat with the sausage before cooking the stew. But last week the store had no boneless thighs, so I bought a couple bone-in ones. I don't find cutting up uncooked chicken very easy when it's bone-in, though. So here's what I did: par-broiled the meat. For 20 minutes instead of the usual 30 that I take when cooking them as a separate item. That made the meat cooked enough to cut easily, but still left some pink. I dropped it in the pot as the sausage was finishing up, and it browned fine without overcooking. And now I have bits of chicken skin in the jambalaya, which is actually appealing.

How to defrost your freezer: our freezer builds up ice on the bottom, and I've never been able to get it to stop permanently. Usually I partially defrost it every couple months, enough to be able to chip away the ice. But that's inadvisable when the freezer is packed because of isolation. So it occurred to me to try a hair dryer. I blew the hot air at the edge of the ice for a minute, chipped a bit off, tried again. After just a couple rounds, the knife suddenly lifted up the entire block of ice from the freezer bottom. That had never happened before. I put it down, removed everything from on top of it, and picked the block up again with the knife and a dish towel. Moved it over to the sink, where it didn't fit. Ran water long enough to chop the block in half, which made it small enough to fit in the sink. Left it there to melt on its own.

In both cases, I think I'll do it this way on purpose from now on.

Sunday, May 3, 2020


It's official: Mythcon this summer, the one at which I'm to be scholar guest of honor, has been postponed to next year. The Mythopoeic Society's board of directors met yesterday (online, I presume; in my day as a director, the meetings were usually conference phone calls) and did the deed; the con chair had alerted me this was going to happen. I'd already expressed my preference for a postponement over an online event (though we could have an online event too; it just wouldn't be Mythcon).

With the big local summer music festival, Music@Menlo, having also last week postponed itself to next year, that wipes out the last public events on my calendar until the end of September. We'll see what happens then, but I'm not hopeful. What frightens me is not the postponements, but the protests demanding the re-opening of society. I can understand the frustration: the initial closings were just for a few weeks, but nothing was then said about what conditions would constitute an "all-clear." It seemed to me that this would take months, not weeks, but nobody was saying either so or not; I wrote a post back on March 16, just as the shutdowns were starting, expressing my own bafflement over that.

But slowly those questions have been answered, and some people are determined to defy them, some of them bearing guns. Oh, that kind of person. Well, they frighten me a lot more than quarantine does, and indeed I may have to quarantine myself all the more firmly now that they're around. Because during the hushed period of April, if I did have to go out, I could at least count on not running into anybody. But if people resume gathering in crowds, how am I to maintain my distance? Because so far, at least, the virus is still around. It might withdraw over the summer, but that has to happen first. Remember that you wear a cloth mask, not to protect yourself, but to protect other people from you. If others aren't wearing them, what price one's own safety? Even if that's enough: airlines are requiring that everyone wear masks, but that doesn't reassure me, not to mention that wearing a mask for the hours on end required by this isn't appealing. But that's OK; both my flying trips this summer, Mythcon and another conference which already postponed itself two months ago, are out, and I have nowhere to go for a while.


I do, however, have social media in my future. My library committee plans to meet on Zoom next week, and my scholars' group has opted for WebEx the week after that. There's no camera on my desk computer (or B's), but my tablet has one, so I loaded the apps onto it, and my brother - who's been teaching law school classes on Zoom for half a term now - and I tested it out yesterday. It appears to have bandwidth problems on such a low-powered device, let's just say that. Going into another room in search of a stronger WiFi signal, I found Maia lounging on the floor, so the cat made a cameo appearance on Zoom. I'm less pleased with my own appearance: I tend to hold the tablet close and below, so my face fills the screen and, even though I keep my beard short, it makes me look like Fidel Castro. I started calling my brother Raúl.

I attempted to watch a play whose production had been moved to Zoom. I didn't watch it on Zoom: the recording had been put on Vimeo. But I didn't last long: the tinny and stuttering sound quality and the awkwardness of the group video display might be tolerable for a meeting, but a play is for entertainment, and this got in the way of my appreciation.

I had more luck with a more standard stage recording, the National Theatre's Twelfth Night last week. (This week they're doing the Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, but I have no taste for Frankenstein right now.) For this production, they figured that since Olivia has abjured men, her servants should all be women, so the play had characters named Fabia and Malvolia. Malvolia? Still, the performer (Tamsin Greig) did a great depiction, and I count this a good production of my favorite Shakespeare comedy.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

alternative universe III

Oh, it's about time for another monthly list of concerts I'm not attending because they're canceled.

Thursday, May 7: San Francisco Symphony, Davies
On my series, because otherwise I'm not sure I'd want to sit through the same Nicola Benedetti playing the same Marsalis Violin Concerto that I heard last summer at Cabrillo again. Maybe I would have shown up at intermission just to hear the Symphony from the New World instead. Some pieces I do enjoy hearing again.

Friday, May 8: Music at Menlo, St. Bede's Church
This was going to be their latest off-season theme concert, this one on "The Soul of the Americas." Lisa Irontongue had already reamed them out for programming no women and saving a lot of space for pseudo Latin American music by Copland and Gershwin. So how I was going to review this thing after that, I don't know. Now I don't have to.

Saturday, May 9: Symphony Silicon Valley, California Theatre, San Jose
Mixing the Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra, definitely one of his more interesting works, with the Brahms Violin Concerto and, oh well, the Haffner Symphony (by all odds my least favorite Mozart symphony), made for an interesting program.

Wednesday, May 13: New Century Chamber Orchestra, Bing Concert Hall, Stanford
A potpourri program with a lot of odd stuff, including Arvo Pärt's Fratres, pieces I don't know by both Philip Glass and Michael Nyman, a movement fro Karl Jenkins' The Armed Man, and an arrangement for strings of both Mars and Jupiter from Holst's The Planets, what an odd concept. I was looking forward to this one.

Thursday, May 14: San Francisco Symphony, Davies
I was thinking of scoring an extra ticket to this, because it looked so appealing. MTT conducts, Yuja plays the Brahms First Concerto, bang and crash. Also, the Sibelius Fifth, and after what MTT could do with subtler Sibelius works, I was expecting to be amazed by this tub-thumper.

Friday, May 15: Peninsula Symphony, San Mateo PAC
I was considering this as an alternative for a Daily Journal review from the NCCO. But I'm not sure why: the Dvorak Cello Concerto and Tchaikovsky's Fourth are pretty basic and often-heard stuff.

Saturday, May 16: Chamber Music Silicon Valley
I was up to review this for SFCV, but the page had already disappeared from CMSV's flaky website before the cancellations came out. I remember that this was going to include a chamber-music arrangement of a Beethoven symphony, and they were going to survey their audience to determine which symphony. Hey, how about the Ninth?

Sunday, May 17: St Lawrence String Quartet, Bing Concert Hall, Stanford
Or was it this concert I was going to review? I can no longer be certain. Oh, another Golijov commission. The last time they tried to play one of these, he didn't get the piece finished before the concert, and I got to review what sounded like the fragmentary sketch it was. And a Haydn, and, omg, the Amy Beach Piano Quintet, must we?

Sunday, May 31: Masterworks Chorale, Grace Lutheran Church, Palo Alto
Another possibility for a DJ review, and this one B. would like. It's an American song program with Copland's Old American Songs, excerpts from West Side Story, and more.