Tuesday, June 30, 2020


I've just finished - I think - editing and sprucing up a paper of mine into a form where it's ready for scholarly submission.

This one began life several years ago as a conference presentation, and I usually take a lot of shortcuts with those to avoid getting bogged down in documentation when the writing inspiration is high. I tend, for instance, to give bibliographic citations only for references I fear I might have trouble finding again. That often puts me, at this later point, looking up a lot of basic things over and over. And making sure the quotes are right. Occasionally I'll quote from memory, so that has to be corrected. And occasionally I'll remember a reference without being sure where it's from. Just now I had an allusion to what I thought was Book 1, Chapter 2 of The Lord of the Rings, but it turned out to be Book 5, Chapter 9.

Then there needs to be consideration of remarks that are fine before an audience but whose tone needs to be reconsidered before committing them to scholarly print. So there's a lot to do here.

I also needed to salt in reference to an article, published since I gave the paper, which attempts to overturn the chronology of the authorial events discussed. I don't quite believe it, so I stuck the reference in a footnote.

As I often do while final-drafting, I pulled the Works Cited out into a separate file, so I could jump back and forth between them to ensure that everything cited in the text is in the bibliography (amazing how many authors who submit to Tolkien Studies don't do that) and vice versa (ditto), without having to paw up and down through the file. Then I put it back when I'm done.

Monday, June 29, 2020

better not take down this statue

McGovern statue

It's George and Eleanor McGovern, in front of the McGovern Library, dedicated in 2006 on the campus of Dakota Wesleyan University, where they both were students, in Mitchell, South Dakota.

I'm not making any trips myself, but I can be vicarious. My brother is driving through South Dakota, and last night he phoned me from Sioux Falls, which he reported to have nothing much of interest except the smell of cow lots. He mentioned he'd be passing through Mitchell today, and I said, "That's George McGovern's home town, you know," so we hastily checked to see if there was anything commemorating that fact, and found this. And here we are, and here is the visual record of his visit there today. We collect presidential historical sites, and there's room in our interest for a few should-have-beens.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Shakespeare alive

I just want to direct your attention to some fabulously good performances of Shakespeare online, both of them from productions at the Bridge Theatre in London. One comedy, one tragedy.

One is this week's National Theatre Live free performance: it gets taken down on Thursday, so watch it now. It's A Midsummer Night's Dream. This is in some respects a highly experimental production, and there is one really major plot change which I will not reveal here. In some ways the alteration works and in some it doesn't; but what mostly makes it work is the sheer quality of the acting. Everybody in it is just fabulously good; you should know you're in for a good time from the very beginning with the peerlessly haughty Theseus played by Oliver Chris, the same actor who played Orsino in the Twelfth Night that NTL had on earlier this year. What happens after that ... just watch it.

The Bridge's Julius Caesar is, so far as I know, not online in full. But there's three long scenes from it online, all featuring Ben Whishaw as Brutus. I would not have picked him for this part; I'd be more likely to have cast him as Antony. But he does it stunningly well. Act 2, Scene 1, in which the conspirators meet (cut off just before the end). Act 3, Scene 1, the assassination (abridged at the beginning). Act 4, Scene 3 (with a bit of scene 2 at the beginning), Brutus confronts Cassius and the Ghost of Caesar.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

cube shelving

The wooden pressboard stackable cubes that I use to store the material for current and continuing projects were rather precariously balanced in the first place, and have finally fallen apart after at least 20 years use.

Besides spilling debris everywhere that I now have no place to put, they created a need for a replacement. So, for my first shopping outing since the virus shutdown that wasn't for food, pharmaceuticals, or hardware, I drove to the container store at Santana Row for a replacement. Social distancing was strictly enforced, and in fact I had to abandon my first attempt because of the line to get into the store that didn't look like it was about to get shorter any time soon.

There were several possible items, and on advice I bought two wooden structures composed of four vertically stacked foot-square cubes each. They came unassembled, in boxes, which did mean I could (barely) fit them in my car, but I also had to assemble them, and in my condition that was a slow and painstaking process. Day one: drive them home, leave them overnight in the car. Day two: unpack the boxes outside and bring them piece by piece inside to the living room. Day three: carry them piece by piece upstairs, where my office is, but take them to the master bedroom instead. Day four: assemble them on the bed. Day five: move them into the office.

We're on day four now. Fortunately the instructions, though wordless, were not hard to follow. Lots of dowels and cam locks. Only tool required, supposedly: a screwdriver, though I ran into a snag with the little screws intended to fasten the back panel on. There are holes in the panel, but none in the wooden structure it's to be attached to. I guess you're supposed to drive the screws straight in, but that trick never works. I need pilot holes. Retrieve ancient power drill that my father gave me when I left home. Select appropriate-sized drill bit and attach. Put on glasses for safety. (I wonder if the men who think they're too macho to wear masks in the time of virus also eschew safety glasses when using drills.) Plug in the cord, make the little holes, scare off the cat. Continue where you'd left off.

Friday, June 26, 2020

federal enclave

So the latest news is another attempt to make Washington, D.C., into a state. Right now it has electoral votes (which it was granted by constitutional amendment in 1964), but only a non-voting delegate in the House and no senators. Supposedly it is unique this way among federal enclaves (I haven't checked other countries).

Why is it this way at all? Because in the early republic, the states were jealous of each other and nobody wanted control of the federal capital to be under the control of any state other than their own. So they put it in no state. The Constitution provided for, and acts of Congress established, a ten mile square zone along the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia, taken from bits of both states, exact site chosen by George Washington, who besides being a resident of the general region and the President, was also a surveyor by profession. They called it the District of Columbia. And in that zone, on the Maryland side of the river, they erected a Capitol and a Presidential Mansion (later called the White House) and a few other buildings, and that was about it for a long time. It was a manifestation of the 18th century passion for conquering swamps, which also gave us Versailles and Saint Petersburg. None were healthy places to live, and in the sketchy town of Washington for many years pretty much the only permanent residents were service personnel (including slaves, because this was the South). Congressmen rented rooms in boarding houses during the short Congressional sessions, and then went home.

So little was made of the District that the part on the other side of the river, which the feds were making no use of at all, was retroceded to Virginia. Meanwhile Washington, over on the other side, slowly became a city, and eventually a majority Black one. Many more government buildings were built, quasi-governmental institutions like the Smithsonian were established, other institutions dependent on government like lobbyists and think tanks took root, and more people began living there permanently. It passed 100,000 in 1870 and 500,000 in 1940.

The big change came with the New Deal and WW2, with the growth of the federal government and the development of air conditioning (which was also transforming Florida at the same time). During the war a huge new five-sided building was constructed to put the entire military bureaucracy under one roof, and due to lack of room in D.C. it was placed on the Virginia side of the river, in the retroceded section. Nowadays the metonym for the federal government and its appurtenances is "inside the Beltway," the Beltway being a highway loop that goes far outside the D.C. limits, encompassing establishments like the NIH in suburban Maryland, the Pentagon in retroceded Virginia, and the CIA in Virginia outside the retrocession.

So it no longer really matters what state the government is in - that state isn't going to control the government - and the idea of a federal enclave is obsolete; the central government is half outside it anyway. They could just retocede the rest to Maryland and have done with it, but that isn't considered practical. Instead, the idea of making it a state of its own, often thought of before, has been resurrected. Republicans are opposed, supposedly for constitutional reasons, but since those are easily brushed aside, it's because they don't want a state full of Democratic-voting Blacks. (D.C.'s electoral votes have gone to every Democratic candidate since they were granted, even McGovern and Dukakis.) Ironically, D.C. is getting less Black all the time. The city is rapidly gentrifying, and Blacks are moving out to the suburbs, especially Prince Georges County, Maryland, which is now far more Black than D.C. is. The city is now just under half Black; it used to be 70%.

One problem is the name. "District of Columbia" isn't suitable for a state, it honors Columbus whom we're not celebrating any more, and nobody calls it that anyway, it's "D.C." or "Washington, D.C." Some of the proposers are suggesting "Douglass Commonwealth," which sounds cool: it honors Frederick Douglass, much more honorable, and several existing states are already officially called Commonwealths, including Virginia. Another suggestion is "New Columbia" which is much less good; it preserves Columbus and doesn't preserve D.C., instead changing to N.C. which is already taken.

What interests me, as a geographic trivia nerd, is what happens to the federal enclave? The proposal is to limit it to a few central government buildings, but exactly what will be the extent? This article from a D.C. real estate site has one; here's a slightly revised version that annexes the Trump Hotel. Here's an earlier proposal encompassing much more area. And a much earlier one, from 1970, very close to the current plan.

The one genuine constitutional problem is that the reduced federal enclave of virtually nil resident population,* will, by virtue of the 23rd Amendment, still have 3 electoral votes, but the sponsors say it can be repealed.

I would ask, though, why do we need a federal enclave at all? Unless I missed something, the only constitutional provision regarding the location of the seat of government is in Article 1, Section 8, giving Congress jurisdiction "over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States." It permits one, but it doesn't read to me as if it requires it. And I don't think we need one any more, unless it were to include the entire Beltway, which is exactly what we're trying to avoid.

*Some comments say this includes the president and family. Not legally. All presidents have kept their voting addresses at their personal homes elsewhere, though DT tried to list the White House as his residence when he re-registered himself in Florida; Florida sent it back saying, "You idiot, you need a Florida residence to vote in Florida," so DT returned it listing Mar-a-Lago, which is what he'd been thinking of when he chose Florida in the first place.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

ecce homines, pars XII

As the public libraries are reopening, it's time to resume my three-volumes-at-a-time survey of the American Presidents series, edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. This installment covers the presidencies of 1961-1974.

These are the presidents of the war in Vietnam, which gets a full chapter in two volumes and much consideration in the third. They're also the presidents of my childhood, the first ones I remember being in office. The authors of these books remember them too: Brinkley remembers Kennedy's image from his boyhood; Drew eschews personal reminiscence, but draws from her own magazine reporting at the time for her portrait of Nixon.

Alan Brinkley on John F. Kennedy gives more space - about a third of the book - to the pre-presidential period than the previous couple books did. Brinkley, an academic known for books of serious popular history, essentially gives us a vivid and lucid tour of JFK's brain. The best parts of the book are the focused and detailed looks at Kennedy's thought on some critical issues: the greater experience with which he approached the Cuban Missile Crisis after dealing with the Bay of Pigs; his gradual evolution to full support of the civil rights movement; and Vietnam, on which Brinkley says JFK held two mutually inconsistent positions: that the Vietnamese were going to have to defend themselves, and that the U.S. couldn't let them down. JFK never reached the crisis point where he'd have to choose between them, so it's impossible to say what he would have done if he did. If this is a book on JFK's brain, it admits that he had a body also, but Brinkley doesn't think that JFK's health issues or his sexual adventures had much of an effect on how he conducted his presidency.

Charles Peters on Lyndon B. Johnson is the blandest book of the three on the most colorful of the three presidents. Peters, a journalist and founding editor of the Washington Monthly, gives full consideration to LBJ's earlier life, but you can see him following Robert Caro's biography both in what he puts in and what he leaves out. The result is rather bloodless, particularly anemic in describing the programs of the Great Society without enthusiasm. Peters' answer to why LBJ persisted in Vietnam is simple: he was afraid he'd seem weak if he pulled out. There's no consideration of what he seemed by not doing it. Though Peters can be critical of LBJ, there are sudden defensive spasms: he reaches fundamental dishonesty by accusing the press of falsely portraying Tet as a defeat when the US won the battle. This misses the point. It matters less that the US eked out a win than that the invasion itself revealed how badly the war was going: if US reports had been true, the North should never have been able to mount the offensive at all, let alone take the Americans by surprise. Peters pulls a similar shady trick with the 1968 New Hampshire primary, which technically LBJ won, but so narrowly that that became the story. There's also an irritating tendency to refer to politicians by offices they didn't yet hold at the time referred to.

Elizabeth Drew on Richard M. Nixon is an awesomely sharp portrait of a very peculiar man. As with Truman and Ike, this book disposes of the subject's pre-presidential years with a very abbreviated summary (there's far more detail on his post-presidential comeback tour). Unlike with them, though, the presidency here is treated thematically rather than chronologically. A chapter on Nixon's governing style depicts him as both smart and skilled yet disorganized, presiding over a shambles of an administration, self-obsessed and paranoid, and even addled by drugs and alcohol. On domestic affairs, Drew says Nixon was no progressive, as he's now sometimes pictured; he was an opportunist and pragmatist in a progressive age. On foreign affairs, Drew credits Nixon (and Kissinger) with some brilliant high diplomacy, yet with foolishness and incompetence in other areas and brushing off ones that didn't interest them. On Vietnam, Nixon had no plan, but he had a lot of lies implying he did. And then there's Watergate. Drew is mostly content to narrate the events lucidly, without getting lost in detail, but she does conclude that the whole sordid mess stemmed from Nixon's personality and governing style; you can't separate it from the rest of his presidency because it was an expression of his fundamental traits. She finishes by stating that he was a talented man who was not fit to be president.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Tolkien notes and others

1. Hey there, all those who want to keep up with the latest posthumous Tolkien writings, look out next year for The Nature of Middle-earth (which I hope the publisher decides to spell that way). A few of the contents have already appeared in obscure scholarly sources, so I can say that, like much of the later History of Middle-earth volumes, this volume will delve into the very roots of the mountain, the basic concepts (or "nature") of Middle-earth itself. For the editing of the world-creation, this should be very cool.

2. They're looking for self-defined Tolkien fans to be interviewed for three minutes (to keep you concise, my dear) for The Tolkien Fandom Oral History Collection. You can also listen to (or read) a batch of interviews already entered. I've signed up; should you?

3. No, I don't know what this is about - I wasn't there - and the account does not clarify for me what was going on. Ergo silencio.

4. The cancellation of concerts is now infecting September-December. The San Francisco Symphony is out; so are many others. (By the way, have you noticed how to pronounce "2020-2021 season"? Twenty-twenty-twenty-twenty-one. We may be better off without it.) A few institutions have embarked on social-distance concerts; here's a review that may be behind a paywall. I think I'll pass for now, and that applies to dine-in restaurants also.

4. Looking at what we have come to in the quest to cease memorializing evil, I regret to say that the best comment is Macaulay's, "We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality." Unless it's American. It's disrespectful to the original protests to take them to a level of parody.

4a. But I'll make an allowance for the equestrian statue of Theodore Roosevelt, with ethnic retainers, at the American Museum of Natural History. It's located immediately in front of the main door to the museum, facing outwards. As a result, when you leave the museum, you open the door to find yourself immediately faced with the biggest bronze horse's ass you have ever seen. I always thought that was a better comment on the statue than any act of taking it down could be, but yeah, better that it should go.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

news items

1. Just in case anyone's still tempted to use the term "a few bad apples" to describe those cops, here's an article on how a bad apple really does rot the entire barrel. (I'm also reminded of the line, "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar; actually vinegar makes an excellent fly trap.)

1a. And hey, all you cops protesting your erring fellows' punishment: You're just proving the point, racism is endemic.

2. My favorite line from the late great Sir Ian Holm's entire career. The Madness of King George: Lord Thurlow (John Wood) comes across the recovering king (Nigel Hawthorne) with his doctor, Willis (Ian Holm), reading Shakespeare. He's a doctor, not a literary man.
THURLOW (startled): King Lear? Was that wise?
WILLIS (defensively): I'd no idea what it was about, sir.

3. Headline reads: "SEC, NCAA Threaten to Pull Events From Mississippi if Confederate Emblem Isn’t Removed From State Flag." I know what the NCAA is, but am I the only American reader to wonder what the Securities and Exchange Commission has to do with this? Turns out to be the Southeastern Conference, which from its name I presume to be a college sports league.

4. The hate on for the public health officials who are, as far as I'm concerned, the only thing keeping us at all safe. If it weren't for their severe restrictions, I wouldn't dare take the necessary errands I do perform.

5. The latest campaign to tear down the statues of slavers and their advocates, which began joyously enough at a riverside in Bristol, has jumped the shark. True, General Grant was a seriously flawed president, but really? And Nancy Pelosi ordered the removal of the portraits of four former Speakers associated with the Confederacy. This wasn't a Confederate memorial; it's intended as a display of every Speaker, good, bad, or otherwise. (Is Denny Hastert there?) Unlike with the statues, editing this is to erase history. The removal even included Charles Crisp. Unlike the others, he wasn't a high CSA official; as a very young man (he was 16 when the war broke out), he joined its army. Ordinary soldiers were not considered traitors if they'd swear allegiance to the Union afterwards, without which forgiveness Crisp couldn't have then served in Congress, years later, at all. Should we be more censorious than the Radical Republicans were at the time?

Friday, June 19, 2020

logic for Juneteenth

Here's somebody else who's finally making the point that B. has been making about the slogan "Black Lives Matter" and those who object to it. The somebody else is a sports broadcaster named Max Kellerman, who said on TV,
Black Lives Matter has always meant Black Lives Matter parenthetically 'too.' In other words, we already know that white lives matter. Black Lives Matter too.
The context was a college football coach who wears a shirt reading "Football Matters." Kellerman said,
I think a lot of people think football matters -- probably too much. So to have a "football matters" shirt and play on Black Live Matters shows maybe not a tone-deafness, but a lack of comprehension.
BLM isn't some sort of ra-ra cheer for Black people, suitable to be played with by adapting it to a ra-ra cheer for anything you like. It's a desperate plea to take Black lives seriously, to treat them with respect instead of as something that can casually be snuffed out by any cop with a gun, or a knee. To put something popular (e.g. football) or well-defended ("blue lives") on that level is a studied insult and denigration, and if the coach doesn't realize it, his incomprehension is monumental.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Tolkien Studies 17: a correction

A change has been made in the contents of Tolkien Studies 17, and the previous announcement has been corrected to adjust for it. - David Bratman, co-editor

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

on a venture

It's been a red-letter day. On February 29th I drove up to the City for a concert. Today is the first day since then that I've crossed the line and left the county I live in.

Not very far: I went just outside to Menlo Park, which hugs Palo Alto (which is within my county) so closely that they share a telephone exchange. I went there to return a book to their public library which I'd had out since before the shutdown. Ironically, it was a guidebook to Indiana (not a state popular with the guidebook industry, which is why I had to go up there to get one), a place which in normal times I would have been visiting two weeks ago.

Ever since I got the book in February, I've been waiting for the libraries to reopen. On different schedules and with differing rules, they've finally begun to do so, with some variant on "put holds in the online catalog for the items you want, and then come by and pick them up from an outside table during certain limited hours; we're not letting patrons inside." Most of the websites are not so clear on returns, but I got info by phone from the two I had books out from, and MP has its outside bookdrop open during the same limited hours it runs pickup, so I drove by this morning.

Then I got lunch to go from my favorite fish-and-chips place a couple blocks away - good vigilance on the social distancing there - and skipped back home. Out later for the somewhat different limited hours of the library with the biggest stock of the American Presidents series, so I now have the books to continue that review project.

Jotting down various musical, theatrical, and other online events of interest, and we'll see if I remember to attend them. One proposes to send registrants a link on the day of the event; I call that a useful reminder.

Monday, June 15, 2020

No, this is the highest score I've ever gotten at solitaire without being able to play out.

things seen

Busy morning. Both cats want individualized attention, Maia to have her head scritched and Tybalt to play with his current favorite toy, a knitted jellyfish (yes, we have one of these) on a stick. But Maia will only be scritched where Tybalt is not, so that he won't interfere. She climbed on top of a dresser for her ministrations, only to have Tybalt climb up after her. He batted at her. She ran away. He chased her downstairs. This is how these things usually end.

I've seen the following:

Emma, the new movie version. Not bad. Not as delightfully wry as the Paltrow version, and rather brittle in the performance, with the characters talking past each other more than conversing. But clever and witty withal, and with particularly good use of music: the actors actually play Mozart and Beethoven on the piano, and for transition scenes there were acappella folk songs in which I was stunned to recognize the distinct tones of the Watersons and of Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band.

Just Mercy, the movie about African-Americans everyone's supposed to see, so it's been made free on all platforms this month. I've seen this story in movies before: idealistic lawyer manages after much struggle to free innocent client from Death Row. Only this time the lawyer (Michael B. Jordan) as well as the client (Jamie Foxx) is Black. With those names in the cast, you'll expect, and get, some pretty high-powered acting, but the film as a whole is rather subdued considering its topic, and victory or defeat in court is predicated entirely on the unpredictable decisions of the white judges whether to be racist pigs or not.

Macbeth, Folger Theatre production that was praised wildly by Terry Teachout. The setting was certainly gruesome - more Titus Andronicus than Macbeth - and there were lots of clever directorial touches in the performance, but the acting seemed rather bland. Mackers didn't fill the role, and Lady M began by sleepwalking through her part instead of ending that way.

After that, I thought better of the Shakespeare's Globe Macbeth, which gives off the air of a goofball amateur production and as little air of the spooky as it can get away with. But the acting is pretty good.

Quick view lively:
I'd intended to see in April a new production of Scott Joplin's opera Treemonisha, which I'd never seen before at all. Now I've seen parts of it online, and find an effective melodrama interspersed with lively dance numbers, which are the best part. Especially the finale, the most ragtime-influenced piece in the show. Here it is, with Carmen Balthrop in the lead, from a 1980s stage performance. If the lyrics are hard to make out, they're all about how to perform the dance that they're doing, which is called the "real slow drag." I thought this was very catchy.

Quick view serious:
Clarinetist Anthony McGill reflects on current events as a musician, by playing "America the Beautiful" in the minor mode, and then taking two knees.

Sunday, June 14, 2020


The more that people think it's OK to go out in congested public settings without masks on, with the virus still rising, the less I think it's OK to venture out at all. Even surviving the virus turns out to be grim, and I'd just rather not get it.

Remember that you don't wear the mask to protect yourself, but to protect other people. To venture near them without one amounts to assault. They talk about "freedom," but it's an old line that the freedom to swing your fist stops before it gets to the other guy's face, and similarly there's no freedom to breathe virus on them.

The stores I've been to - mostly groceries and take-out food - require masks, but they don't always enforce it. One grocery, every time I go there there's always one older man shopping without a mask. Different guy each time, but one's always there.

I decided to order my latest batch of needed books (a swath of new Tolkien-related items) from a local store instead of going through a big online retailer. They arrived four days later and I went down to pick them up. This was the first time I'd been in a downtown retail district since February. The store had limited occupancy and required masks. But that didn't mean a lot of the people strolling the streets - I had to park around the corner, which is actually pretty good for that area - weren't wearing them. I thought I'd save a lot of potential hassle by not opting for mail delivery, but this is a different hassle.

With groceries, we're relying mostly on pickup services. There, there's no contact: you park, phone them, and pop your trunk. But the online ordering is often deficient and confusing. Broccoli, for instance, is sold by the pound, it says, but if you order a quantity of 1, which I thought meant one pound, you get one broccoli head, which isn't enough. That made me terrified of what I'd get when I ordered brussel sprouts. If I ordered a quantity of 1, would I get just one sprout? But if I ordered a dozen, which is the number I usually get, would someone who interpreted the selections differently give me 12 pounds? I ordered 1, and got one 2-pound pre-packed bag, which was not what had been on the ordering system. But this kind of substitution doesn't apply to celery sticks. The kind of packaged celery stick I usually see in the store isn't on the online system. The brand they have on the online system I've never seen in the store. Nevertheless I've ordered it twice and then the order comes saying they're out of it. So I have to go out and buy something.

Take-out restaurant food has worked a little better (we had Mexican takeout for our anniversary dinner, from a local taqueria with good food but terrible ambiance, so I've never gone there with B., who prefers nice table service for in-place dining), and the public libraries are preparing to reopen for pickup of holds, so I'm looking forward to that.

More later on some recent things seen.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020


A few weeks back, we noticed that we were about to run low on the most popular and enthusiastically demanded staple in the house: cat food.

Though Maia's food is easily found in pet stores, Tybalt eats a rarer variety harder to find. So B. ordered both from Chewy, an online pet store. While we were at it, she ordered cat litter which we were low on too.

In a couple days, the package arrived at the local FedEx distributing facility. Then came the weird part. For two weeks, each day the tracking info said the package was on the truck to be delivered to us. Then each day it wouldn't be delivered. The next day it was back on the truck. When B. phoned FedEx, they assured us it would come the next day, really this time. It didn't.

B's theory was that they'd lost the package and were ashamed to admit it.

She called Chewy. They promised to replace and resend the package at no charge. Then that one was delayed.

In the meantime, we were really running out of food. I tried Petco, the biggest local retailer. They have an online ordering site like Safeway's, except it works better. When I set it to our local store and chose Tybalt-food, when I went to the cart it said that store was out of that. (No surprise, since it's not easily found.) I could order it, which would take several days, or I could try another store. I tried other stores. Only took about 5 before I found one which had it in stock. I ordered for pickup, waited for the confirmatory e-mail to arrive (less than an hour), and then drove there and picked it up, with mask and a minimum of contact.

Cats clambered at the closed bathroom door at the sound of my refilling the canisters, even though it wasn't mealtime. Puzzled and disappointed were they when the door opened and there was no visible sign of cat food.

A couple days later the second package finally arrived. (By this time the first one was marked on the tracking info as indefinitely delayed.) 26 pounds of cat food and 30 pounds of cat litter in one large cardboard box, it was already falling apart. Maybe that's what happened to the other one. FedEx didn't like carting it and left it way down the front walk. I had to roll the box into the house, let it fall apart there, and take the contents out while curious Tybalt sniffed at it.

At least now we're set for a while, cat input and output-wise.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

the counting

My brother's unearthing of some old family tree papers that I'd mislaid my copies of has inspired me to do something it had not occurred to me to do before: to count up my relatives.

Most people would think this unnecessary. Most people don't have a family like mine. I was raised with my parents and brothers, and with close contact with two sets of grandparents. But my parents were each raised as only children, and I have no first cousins of any kind. Further, we had moved, when I was very young, far away from any existing relations.

But my parents each had lots of aunts and uncles and cousins, and they've had children who are my second cousins. My parents had their own childhood backgrounds in close company with these people, but I did not. Some of them I've never met. Some I only met glancingly, once or twice. A few I'm on more friendly or relaxed terms with, even though I haven't seen them often. So I can put them in three classes.

I'm here excluding spouses, who complicate up the picture and for some of whom I have no information anyway; and in the first generation, some who died in childhood.

Father's side:
On his father's side, he had 7 aunts and uncles, of whom I only met two aunts, on a visit to the family when I was 20. On his mother's side he had 2 aunts, both of whom I met, and one of whom I was quite close to. (I stayed with her on my trip to my first Worldcon.) They're all now deceased, of course.

He had a total of 11 first cousins, of whom I've met I think 5, two of whom - by far the youngest - I've had extended interaction with, and they're the only ones I'm sure are still living.

And there's 11 from the third generation, my second cousins, and I believe I've only ever met two of those. I've had more interaction with a couple of my third cousins once or twice removed.

Mother's side:
On her father's side, she had 5 aunts and uncles, of whom I knew two aunts quite well, one of them especially after my grandfather was widowed and started spending his winters with her. I'd go and visit. On her mother's side she had another 5, of whom I met two uncles, one of whom I visited once in my early 20s, and he drove me past the Frank Lloyd Wright house he'd commissioned but had since sold. Now it's open for rental, and I was tickled when Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman mentioned they were renting an FLW house in Wisconsin which turned out to be my great-uncle's house.

She had a total of 13 first cousins - wow, no wonder I was never able to keep track of them all - of whom I know I've met 8, some of whom I knew well enough to feel comfortable with. But of those 8, only one, whom I've only met a couple times, is still living. Curiously, one of my mother's cousins on her father's side and one on her mother's side - so they were not otherwise related except that one's uncle married the other's aunt - married a pair of identical twin brothers. (I've met both.)

And there's 24 of the third generation. I'm only sure I've met 4 of these - I don't even have the names of all the rest. One of those I've met lives out here so I see him occasionally, and one of them lives in New York and I met up with him on both my last visits to that city.

So that makes 78 relatives. For someone who thinks of himself as relative-deprived as I do, that's a lot.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Andy Warhol

has come to mind because of a long article about him in this week's New Yorker. Ostensibly a review of a new biography, it's one of those which is more an opportunity for the reviewer to pontificate on the book's topic. So that in turn makes this my opportunity.

I never paid much attention to Warhol while he lived, nor knew much about him until I visited the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh some years ago. Warhol had left Pittsburgh for New York as soon as he possibly could, and never returned, not even for his mother's funeral. He tended to fictionalize his own life, and sometimes even claimed he was from somewhere else. That being so, it's impressive how effectively Pittsburgh has been able to reclaim him posthumously as a distinguished native son.

The article says that the reigning abstract expressionist school of art despised Warhol. Willem de Kooning once said to him, "You're a killer of art, you're a killer of beauty, you're even a killer of laughter." That seems to me a highly misplaced charge. First, I don't think abstract expressionists have any standing to call somebody else a killer of beauty. And a killer of laughter is the last thing Warhol is.

What I most learned from immersing myself in Warholia at the museum is that his work is primarily goofy. It's intended to be fun, to arouse laughter. I got the same impression when I was sent to review a concert celebrating Fluxus, the performance art movement that flourished at the same time. A description makes it sound like pretentious nonsense. In fact I found it funny, and it seemed to me the whole audience was there to have a good time. It wasn't music, though it was framed as that; similarly, I find it hard to parse Warhol's most characteristic work as visual art in the conventional sense. It's something else, something that he invented.

His commercial illustrations, mostly for women's clothing catalogs, from the 1950s, were art if not high art (I suspect this background is what most irritated the abstract expressionists about Warhol). What struck me about these, when I saw them at the museum, is the similarity of his delicate and rather offbeat line to the early art of Maurice Sendak and Jules Feiffer, both of whom were almost exactly the same age as Warhol and got started at the same time. Sendak, like Warhol, then went off and did something else, while Feiffer delved deeper into the wandering style and created something new that way. Is there a school or period style here I'm otherwise unaware of?

At the museum, I bought - but it may have disappeared when my travel bag was stolen a couple years ago - a button with a photo of Warhol's distinctive face surrounded by the words, "Your 15 Minutes Are Up." Perhaps Warhol needs cultural revival, because I find most people don't get the reference.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

not quite a concert review

For Friday evening, I had bookmarked a webcast of a piano recital that I might have wanted to attend anyway if it had come to my attention during normal times: Sarah Cahill, local keyboard domina of the new and unusual, in "The Future Is Female," a collection of works by women composers of interest.

As it turned out, my hectic schedule for the day meant I missed it, which is not surprising because appointments to watch things on television or such have never had a hold on my mind the way actually going out to a concert does. Fortunately you can still listen to it and read the program notes too.

I listened to the whole thing, but found as I have before with webconcerts that I have more trouble giving it review-level concentration than I would if I were there in person. So there will be no attempt to replicate the review I might have written for SFCV. But I will say it was pleasurable to hear works I didn't know by composers I did, Gubaidulina and Bacewicz and Tailleferre and Jolas and Kats-Chernin. Of the rest, the most interesting were Lois Vierk's extraordinary reworking of "She Loves You," slowing down the chord sequences so much that it's unrecognizable, and a Prelude & Etude by Gabriela Ortiz, which had much of the clotted drive and busy intensity of New York-style minimalism.

The other latest electronic event has been a Zoom social gathering of PenSFA, the local sf social club. A fair number of people showed up, some decent conversation was had, and it worked reasonably well for us with B's ipad. Tybalt made a brief appearance in our screen window.

Friday, June 5, 2020

on the march

Most unusually for the current environment, B. and I actually went out and did something today. It was to participate in our town's Black Lives Matter protest march. As with the Women's March, it was hard to think of a reason not to do it, not if social distancing could be maintained.

And for the most part it could. Absolutely everybody wore a mask, and we spread out rather comfortably, with B. and I mostly on the edge of the group. Unlike the Women's March, it was mostly younger people, and we were among the few senior citizens. Our city is, as I recall, only about 2% black, and by that account there were a fair number of black people there, though it was mostly white and Asian with some hispanics, which is about what you'd expect around here.

Marchers were asked to wear black, and most of them did. I don't have a black shirt, so I wore one that looked impressively deep-dark blue at home, but out in the sun was more obviously blue. There were many signs, but the snark of the Women's Marches was entirely absent. I liked a couple that asked, "How Many Weren't Filmed?" And several signs pointed out that today was Breonna Taylor's 27th birthday, or would have been had this EMT not been shot to death in her own home in a completely unnecessary and unwarranted no-knock raid. Towards the end were a couple of clueless gits with "All Lives Matter" signs, but they were adequately responded to with one reading "All Lives Don't Matter Until Black Lives Matter."

The walk wasn't difficult, from the newly rebuilt section of downtown over about five blocks to city hall. It was only moderately warm at 5 pm, and fairly windy. Some motorcycle cops were adequately managing traffic where we crossed and then went along a major street, which is what they should be doing. At the park area in front of city hall, B. and I sat down and rested on a park bench. Vague cheers could be heard further in to the crowd, but we couldn't hear anything being spoken, and someone who had ventured further in said they couldn't hear anything from there either.

So after we'd rested up, we walked back to the downtown garage where we'd parked. Total time elapsed, only one hour. It was, quite literally, the least we could do.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

on the audio

So it's been done and put out in public. Last week, I was audio-interviewed over the internet by a fellow using the handle the Longwinded One, who is doing a Tolkien-related podcast that's partly his D&D campaign in Tolkien's world but partly serious interviews with Tolkien scholars, all of whom he has lined up on this page. He has Verlyn Flieger and Michael Drout and Dimitra Fimi and Corey Olsen and Ted Nasmith, and now he has me.

We talked about how one becomes, or at least how I became a Tolkien reader and then a scholar, about the concepts of sub-creation and Elven magic, about the three styles that I identified in the prose of The History of Middle-earth, about whether Ungoliant still exists and what Tolkien thought of cats, and some other things.

So you can listen to it there or, if you're like me and prefer to read than to listen to long podcasts, I've put up a transcript.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

a child of our time

Every once in a while, classical music produces a powerful choral work that sets, in a moving and effective musical idiom, texts that speak directly and vividly to the time and place of the work's creation.

Leonard Bernstein's Mass (1971) is such a work, as is Michael Tippett's A Child of Our Time (1941), and perhaps Karl Jenkins' The Armed Man (1999) also qualifies.

Though much shorter than these (15 minutes), Joel Thompson's Seven Last Words of the Unarmed (2015) is such a work for our time.

The title is a reference to Joseph Haydn's Seven Last Words of Christ, and its structure inspired this. Its seven brief movements set, for accompanied male chorus, final words of seven African-American men who were killed by police or vigilantes - either wantonly or needlessly, or, even if the claims to be justified might be believed, still revealing deep-seated racism and incompetence in police behavior.

In order of their appearance in the work, the seven men are:
Kenneth Chamberlain (2011)
Trayvon Martin (2012)
Amadou Diallo (1999)
Michael Brown (2014)
Oscar Grant (2009)
John Crawford (2014)
Eric Garner (2014)

Here's a performance:

This work has been around for five years, and I'm astonished that I hadn't heard of it before. It should be performed more widely. Listen to it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Tolkien Studies 17: an announcement

On behalf of myself and my co-editors, Michael D.C. Drout and Verlyn Flieger, here are the expected contents of volume 17 of the journal Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review. All of the works are now in the hands of our publisher, West Virginia University Press, and the volume is scheduled to be published in softcover and on Project MUSE later this year. - David Bratman, co-editor

Tolkien Studies 17 (2020)
  • Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, "Christopher Tolkien, 1924-2020"
  • Michael P. Keaton, "Fairies at War: The Fall of Gondolin as the Cornerstone of Middle-earth"

  • Simon J. Cook, "The Expression of Faërie"

  • Christopher Gilson, "'He Constructed a Language L and Another LL': Diachronic Aspects of Tolkien's Early Philology"

  • Bo Kampmann Walther, "Lights Behind Thick Curtains: Images of Fear and Familiarity in Tolkien"

  • Hamish Williams, "Tolkien’s Thalassocracy and Ancient Greek Seafaring People: Minoans, Phaeacians, Atlantans, and Númenóreans"

  • Peter Grybauskas, "A Portrait of the Poet as a Young Man: Noteworthy Omission in The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son"
Notes and Documents
  • Maria Tsampouraki and Maria Sidiropoulou, "Witnessing Societal Change through Translated Versions of The Lord of the Rings"

  • Josh Woods, "Ring-wraiths and Dracula"
Book Reviews
  • Tolkien's Library: An Annotated Checklist, by Oronzo Cilli, reviewed by Janet Brennan Croft

  • Tolkien's Lost Chaucer, by John M. Bowers, reviewed by John D. Rateliff

  • Flora of Middle-earth: Plants of J.R.R. Tolkien's Legendarium, by Walter S. Judd and Graham A. Judd, reviewed by Lynn Forest-Hill

  • A Wilderness of Dragons: Essays in Honor of Verlyn Flieger, edited by John D. Rateliff, reviewed by Matthew A. Fisher

  • Therapy through Faerie: Therapeutic Properties of Fantasy Literature by the Inklings and by U.K. Le Guin, by Anna Cholewa-Purgal, and The Lure of the Ring: Power, Addiction and Transcendence in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, by Alan James Strachan and Janet Coster, reviewed by John Rosegrant

  • Catalogue de l'Exposition Tolkien, Voyage en Terre du Milieu, edited by Vincent Ferré and Frédéric Manfrin, and Album de l'Exposition Tolkien, Voyage en Terre du Milieu, reviewed by Denis Bridoux
  • David Bratman, Kate Neville, Jennifer Rogers, Robin Anne Reid, Jason Fisher, John Wm. Houghton, and John Magoun, "The Year's Work in Tolkien Studies 2017"

  • David Bratman, "Bibliography (in English) for 2018"
Note: The article by Josh B. Long previously announced has been pulled due to delays in copyright permissions, and is expected to appear in TS 18. It has been replaced by an article by Hamish Williams.

This House

As someone interested in ordinary politics (i.e. not the kind we're having now), I got a big kick out of this week's (UK) National Theatre Live video, a 2013 production of This House by James Graham. It's a portrait of the UK Parliament from the point of view of the Whips' Office, a perspective rarely used in parliamentary stories. I've read many British political memoirs, but usually by ministers, rarely by a whip. It's a splendid drama, it's online up until this Thursday, and here's the link.

(Some people, when they hear of British political whips, may think first of Francis Urquhart in the original Westminster-set House of Cards. But we rarely see Francis acting actually as a whip, and it's important to realize that the reason the Chief Whip makes such a delicious villain is for the same reason that it's the butler in the classic cozy country-house murder mystery: because in real life, this master of loyalty and discretion is the last person who'd actually do it.)

The story covers, starting with the previous election in which the Conservatives lost office, the parliaments of 1974-79, during which the Labour Party, under Wilson and Callaghan, had a wafer-thin majority, if that, in the Commons, so the whips had a lot to do in rounding up votes and keeping the calendar organized. The principal characters are 3-5 whips in each of the Labour and Conservative parties. Each side plans together, and negotiates and clashes across the aisle. The wary but sincere friendship between the two deputies, Labour's Walter Harrison and the Conservatives' Jack Weatherill (later Speaker himself) is the key relationship in the play.

There are scenes on the floor of the Commons and elsewhere (even in the Westminster clock tower), but most takes place in the two whips' offices placed on opposite sides of the stage, and there's lots of quick scene-cutting between them, so the play proceeds with great snap. This is especially helpful because much of the dialogue is of the "as you know, Bob" sort, in which experienced characters explain things to each other that they'd already know, for the sake of keeping the audience up to speed.

My favorite moment illustrates both these points and occurs early on. The Conservative Chief Whip is exhorting his deputies: "All right, chaps, the usual channels are now open. It's time to ride out into the field. And remember, our one advantage is our ... um, oh, how do I put this so that it won't sound ... I can't. Our class. Labour whips are foul-mouthed, brutish, trade-unionist ..." Flash-cut by lighting change to the Labour office across the hall and into the middle of a sentence by their Chief Whip: "... toffee-nosed, ass-licking, dick-wanking wankers! With silver spoons in their mouths and rods up their asses. Full of baronets and major-generals. Their weakness is their inflexibility. So exploit it!"

Few government ministers appear, and that only briefly; the other characters are almost all House officials (Speaker and clerks), plus many a back-bench MP to be exhorted or kept in line, and third-party members (always called "the odds and sods") to be wooed for their support in the voting lobbies. Few names are used for these characters, and those mostly first names in informal conversation; whenever one appears, the Speaker announces them by the name of their constituency, as he would on the floor of the House, and even the whips usually refer to them that way, which I'm not so sure is realistic. Most of these people are pretty obscure to a foreign viewer, but there's a few it'd be helpful to know who they are. A few references to an offstage character called "Finchley" are to then prospective Conservative leadership candidate Margaret Thatcher; after she's chosen leader she's usually called "the Lady."

All of these characters, though, are real people, though I don't know how accurately they're always portrayed. I can't speak to all the minor events, but the major ones are all historical. Even the MP who loses his grip on sanity and fakes his death by drowning so that he can run off with his mistress and escape his business debts and frauds - that really happened.

I enjoy a good, fast-paced and historically intelligent political play, like Robert Schenkkan's pair on LBJ. Graham doesn't have quite that skill with exposition, but as an enjoyable theatrical experience it goes in that company.

Monday, June 1, 2020

alternative universe IV

In the alternative world, the classical concert season is winding down for the summer, but its month of June is still full of things that, in this lower-powered world, I won't be doing:

Friday, June 5-Sunday, June 7: C.S. Lewis and Friends Colloquium, Taylor University, Upland, Indiana
This was going to be my second trip out of town this year (the first one, to Seattle in January, I actually took). I'd known for some time of this biannual conference held at a small Christian college; it was the theme for this year, "Are Women Human (Yet)?: Gender and the Inklings," that attracted me, because it would be a perfect venue for the presentation I'd already written, "The Forgotten Women of Middle-earth." Also, it's been my experience with Lewis-and-friends conferences that they can always use a few more Tolkien experts. My proposal was accepted with enthusiasm, but then came, still before the shutdown, the wise decision to postpone to next year. That left me, very briefly, with the possibility of attending the concerts at home I'd be missing that weekend.

Saturday, June 6: Redwood Symphony, Cañada College, Redwood City
I was really looking forward to this one and sorry I would be missing it for my conference, because it featured Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony. Eric K has led all the best Mahler performances I've ever heard, and the Fourth is the only Shostakovich symphony that's really like a Mahler: long, meandering, self-indulgent, and completely unexpected and baffling as to what it's doing and where it's going. I expected revelatory clarity of vision from this one. But alas, it will not be, nor will the Ravel left-hand concerto that was going with it.

Sunday, June 7: Symphony Silicon Valley, California Theatre, San Jose
This one got changed twice. Originally Tatsuya Shimono was going to conduct Schubert's Unfinished and Vaughan Williams's Sea Symphony, a program that filled me with sheer delight. Then, while this date still looked open but earlier concerts had been cancelled, the program from one of those got moved in: Nakamatsu playing the Beethoven Two, the least interesting of his concertos, and the Choral Fantasy, even less interesting than that. Even the presence of the Schumann Fourth Symphony, which last got canceled here when George Cleve died, didn't quite compensate for the loss of the original show. But it matters not, because the replacement got canceled too.

Sunday, March 14: Mythopoeic Society book discussion, MK's house, San Jose
The last discussion was actually held, at our house, the second weekend in March, the last social thing we did in person. Will this one be held online? I don't know, and judging from recent experience, if we wait for the secretary to tell us, we may never find out. The topic is The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson, which I haven't attempted to locate yet.

Monday, June 15: dentist appointment, Mountain View
Yes, these get postponed too. I phoned my dentist this morning to inquire what was up. They've just reopened and are still getting their aerosol-limiting devices in shape, so they asked me to postpone a month. I can survive that.

Thursday, June 18: San Francisco Symphony, Davies
This was going to be the penultimate concert of MTT's music-directorial reign, and much more appealing to me than the grand finale (Mahler's Eighth, ugh). The estimable Gil Shaham would play the estimable Barber Violin Concerto, plus a curtain-raiser by Corigliano and the ever-protean Shostakovich Fifth.

Sunday, June 21: Garden of Memory, Chapel of the Chimes, Oakland
The annual walk-through concert at the columbarium, which I've been going to every year I can get to it since I first heard about it 15 years ago. Unfortunately those years have not included the last two, when I had conflicting engagements, so I was awaiting it all the more.

Sometime that week, Mountain View CPA
All I have in my calendar is a note to get tickets for a production of The Book of Will by Lauren Gunderson. I saw this play, about the making of Shakespeare's First Folio, at Ashland two years ago, and thought it so delightful I wanted to see it again.

There has been some music in my life, though: the Alexander Quartet, whom I'd never classified as an ensemble particularly notable for verve or grit, showed both in a Zoom performance of Dvořák's "American" Quartet. Take a listen.