Friday, July 31, 2020

old Hugos

B. watched the Hugo Awards live on her computer. I couldn't get the feed to work on mine, so I didn't. But while casting around to see if there was some other avenue to watch with, I discovered that somebody had put up on YouTube the videotape of the 1994 Hugo ceremonies.

Now there's one I regret not having been at, because of the three years I was Hugo administrator, that was the only one where I missed the Worldcon. (I had just started a new job, and it wasn't possible to get enough time off to travel to Winnipeg.)

Barry Longyear was toastmaster, and I thought did a good job. Not too meandering, and his jokes were funny, something you definitely can't always count on at the Hugos. I was pleased that, at the start of the Hugos-proper part of the ceremony, he gave an acknowledgment to me and Seth, and we got a gratifying round of applause. Nice to hear, even after 26 years and the death of the other recipient. The short fiction presenter did essay a joke about the category adjustment, which only proved his complete ignorance of why it was done.

Ah, the olden days, when the politics in the speeches was old-fashioned, when the award music was a mix of the Candide overture and The Great Gate of Kiev, and both presenters and winners had to climb a steep flight of stairs to reach the podium.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

small culinary disaster

So my usual way of making sauce for ravioli is to dry-roast a handful of pine nuts, then cut the roasting by first, plunging the bottom of the small pan into a bowl of cold water, then adding olive oil to the pan. Finally, a touch of dried herbs shaken in makes it a sauce.

This time, though, the packaged ravioli (ricotta and lemon zest, new to me, from Trader Joe's - really good, we'll have it again) suggested a butter sauce. So I melted butter in instead of using olive oil.

Then it came time for the herbs. It wasn't a major grocery brand shaker. It was a blend I'd bought from the franchised outlet of this little vendor at Ashland last fall. I'd been using them with no trouble, but this time ... I shook and the cap top came off and the entire bottle's worth poured into the pan. Worse, the herbs immediately sucked up all the melted butter.

I could have discarded the whole thing and started over, but that would have taken over 5 minutes, not a good idea with the ravioli ready to serve and the expense of throwing out good pine nuts. Instead, I dug out as much herb and as few pine nuts as I could, added more butter and melted that. It was still way more herb than I'd intended, but at least it was edible, and the ravioli were delicious.

But from now on, I'll need to be more careful with what I'd already noticed from this vendor were amateur-level cap tops.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020


1. B. is at work. This is the last time I get to say that. She's been working from home during the pandemic, only going in every couple of weeks when there's something necessary for her to do that can't be done over the computer. And next week she's retiring. So this is the last time.

2. Meanwhile I'm wondering if 20 weeks of this is my limit for taking easily. Yesterday I had an attack of enervation where nothing on my to-do list, nor anything I do for relaxation (reading, watching, listening), seemed doable. What I need is a break, where I go out somewhere and do something else. But there's nowhere to go and nothing to do there. Driving around aimlessly has no appeal for me.

3. Tybalt likes to play with the occasional spider he finds in the bathtub. (He doesn't take baths, but it is a favorite playspace when not in use.) Now we found him playing with a baby lizard on the dining room floor. We have lots of lizards outside, and this one found its way in somehow. B. thought it was dead, but no: it was just frozen in place, like the spiders do, when poked at by a giant monster many times its size. I was more careful, then, when retrieving it and placing it back outside where I hope it stays.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

eternally Olivia

I had another errand down in that direction (picking up some books I'd ordered from a library), so I decided to drive by Olivia de Havilland's childhood home. There was a potted flower out in the middle of the front porch. Maybe it was in memoriam. ETA: It was.

I also decided to try another one of her movies. The one I found was a lot superior to Santa Fe Trail which I watched yesterday, even though it was by the same director. It was also nearly 20 years later, by which time a lot more people had figured out how to make good movies. The Proud Rebel (1958) is a domestic Western set in the late 1860s. Olivia de Havilland and Alan Ladd are tough, hardworking, competent, middle-aged farmers set against some thuggish sheep ranchers, one of whom is a young Harry Dean Stanton. The story is small-scale and sometimes a little dull, but it succeeds through characterization and some good acting. De Havilland's character is hard-bitten with inner tenderness, a part Katharine Hepburn could play, but I liked de Havilland's more sinewy and less overly dramatic approach. Alan Ladd is stoic; there's a little boy with his beloved dog who are not always too cloying, and most of the smaller parts are excellently played, especially Henry Hull as a local judge. Also the dog, who's quite histrionic. Just about only one other brief walkon woman in the entire movie. I liked the restraint in the story being almost a romance between de Havilland and Ladd, but it doesn't quite get there.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Olivia de Havilland

What I hadn't known about Olivia de Havilland until reading her obituaries is that she (and her sister, Joan Fontaine) grew up in my area, a mere eight miles uphill from where I live now, in the then tiny village of Saratoga, built around the hot springs.

Here's the state's historical-site inventory record of their house.

(Add her to Teri Hatcher, who was born to a family living only a block from us, at just about the time we moved away.)

Alas, I don't know much else about Olivia de Havilland. I think I'd never seen her in anything except Gone with the Wind, a movie I don't remember much detail about and in particular not her in it. So I decided to remedy this by watching something else with her, so I went looking for her movies available online without charge.

The first one I found was Santa Fe Trail (1940). Olivia de Havilland plays apparently the only white woman in 1850s Kansas, a tough and outspoken young woman who helps her father with his freight haulage business. She's courted by two simpering young Army officers played by Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan, and if this casting makes you think, as I did, "I've gotta see that," trust me, you don't. The officers' names are Jeb Stuart and George Custer, but if you think they have anything to do with the real officers by those names, forget it (Stuart did serve in Kansas, but Custer didn't; and they weren't in the same West Point class and didn't know each other; the details are all invented, including de Havilland's character). De Havilland is energetic but doesn't have much to do except tease her suitors and translate the prophecies of an old Indian woman who says there's a civil war a-comin'. (Strangely, this scene enables the otherwise undeserving movie to pass the Bechdel test.)

In fact, the harbingers of war in Bloody Kansas are the main plot of the movie, its real star being a lower-billed Raymond Massey. In the same year that he played Abe Lincoln, he here thunders out the apocalyptic rhetoric of John Brown. That the movie concludes with an epilogue featuring an equally imaginary retelling of the Harper's Ferry raid only confirms the primacy of this plot. With the army, including Jeb and George [no, not Bush] and under the command of Robert E. Lee (yes, this bit is real), professing its loyalty to the Union, as the heroes, that makes Brown the villain, but it certainly allows him to have his say. I'm not going to unpack all the misframing in this movie, for it would make my head hurt.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

book sale

I've crossed the county line for the second time since the end of February.

I was headed for the nearest outlet of Half Price Books, in Fremont, to sell them some surplus books.

These books had been sitting in our garage since early March, ready to be sold, but I didn't get around to it before the pandemic hit. There they would stay, until I noticed that Half Price had reopened.

Their rules have changed, though. You have to make a reservation, and they limit the number of books - to two banker's boxes, which are smaller than packing boxes, or three shopping bags. I chose the bags, since we have those. It covered about 2/3 of what I'd had. I chose what I thought were the more saleable items. The old reference books I'd inherited from my mother's pre-marital editing career (a Webster's biographical dictionary, a Roget's thesaurus) and which I've abandoned for internet sources, no.

Also, they'll no longer take books they think they can't sell, so there will be returns. Fortunately not too many. Less than half of one of the three bags, so they took over 80%. Not for much money, but at least they'll go somewhere useful.

Quick trip. Little traffic, nearly empty store. There and back again in less than two hours, even counting some grocery shopping on the way back.

Monday, July 20, 2020

music in the park

Saturday morning, B. embarked on a new project, and I came along to help carry things and serve as an appreciative audience. She has founded the Socially Distanced String Quartet.

For quite a while now, B. has been a violinist in a rehearsal orchestra for amateurs who claim no special proficiency; they just want to enjoy trying to play. It's been in abeyance due to the pandemic, so B. sent around e-mails to the string players asking if anyone local wanted to try out some string quartet music. The response was gratifying, so B. sent out some pieces she hoped everyone could handle - arrangements of the Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin, the Serenade attributed to Haydn, and the Pachelbel Canon - for a meetup this weekend at our neighborhood park.

The shaded monstrosity vaguely akin to a gazebo that we hoped to meet under proved to be occupied by a tai chi group with a boom box, so we found a shaded spot under trees on the lawn. Six players and I set up our chairs at an appropriate distance and set to. And it went ... well, they could use some practice. The main problem was that, at that distance and with no acoustic reflector, they couldn't hear each other over their own playing, so it was hard to stay in sync. B. has been practicing at home very hard on both violin and viola, as I can testify, and she's definitely the best player in the group.

A few parts worked. The Serenade begins with the first violin(s) playing the melody over pizzicato from the rest of the ensemble, and here the three players on that part (not including B.) showed good ensemble, though the intonation made for the spiciest Serenade you're likely to hear. I actually enjoyed that.

A few passersby stopped to listen, briefly. The one who settled down under a tree and actually stayed for a while proved afterwards to be one of the invited musicians who had just felt too shy about joining in.

They'll be doing this again in two weeks. This is the first live group music I've heard in over four months.

Friday, July 17, 2020

notes of the day

1. We tried a third outlet of the big grocery chain for our weekly pickup order. This one we'd avoided earlier because the store is smaller and we feared it might be out of more items than the others. But it wasn't. When I arrived and phoned to say I was ready for my pickup, not only could I make out what the voice at the other end said - this has sometimes been difficult - but it said they'd be out in five to ten minutes. It was five minutes, exactly, and the order was entirely correct. (Which, to be fair, was true the first few times at the first store.) But I'm going back here next week.

2. Monthly meeting of my scholars' group yesterday. I'm finding this a mentally refreshing experience: even introverts need socializing, if it's to their tastes. This time I was able to add video to my audio. Nobody commented on my heavy-framed computer glasses, which as I rarely wear them anywhere else, few have ever seen.

3. Watched the February video of Ashland's other production that actually made it to stage this year, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Had some clever bits, but felt drab after the fabulous Bridge Theatre production. In particular, nothing magical about the fairies, and the backup troupe of them was entirely deleted. Came across a lot better after I waited a few days to let the Bridge version recede from my forebrain.

4. Tybalt, still playful, has also gotten a lot cuddlier. We've snuggled on the bed without him trying to claw me in playfulness. In particular he's developed the habit of jumping up onto a table or counter in front of me, and then learning up to put his front paws on my shoulder. This means he wants me to pick the rest of him up and hold him for a while. As I've never previously had a cat who more than grudgingly tolerated being picked up, if that, one who asks for it is a real novelty. Sometimes he'll clamber further up, dig himself in immovably, and start licking my hair. The only way to detach him from that is to sit down on the couch, which will make him wander off.

5. Less agreeably, I've developed a leg condition whereby sitting for long periods at my computer chair caused it to ache annoyingly. I'm not sure if it's this chair in particular or my sitting position, as it's hard to test: the ache doesn't start immediately, and once it does it lasts for the rest of the day.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

ecce homines: behold the men

For a year and a half now, off and on, I've been posting reviews of the 42 volumes (covering 43 presidencies, as one man had two) of the American Presidents series, edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., and after his death by Sean Wilentz, in gulps of three books each. And now it's completed. Here's links to the whole set:

I. 1789-1809 (Washington, Adams, Jefferson)
II. 1809-1829 (Madison, Monroe, Adams)
III. 1829-1841 (Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison)
IV. 1841-1850 (Tyler, Polk, Taylor)
V. 1850-1861 (Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan)
VI. 1861-1877 (Lincoln, Johnson, Grant)
VII. 1877-1885 (Hayes, Garfield, Arthur)
VIII. 1885-1901 (Cleveland, Harrison, McKinley)
IX. 1901-1921 (Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson)
X. 1921-1933 (Harding, Coolidge, Hoover)
XI. 1933-1961 (Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower)
XII. 1961-1974 (Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon)
XIII. 1974-1989 (Ford, Carter, Reagan)
XIV. 1989-2009 (Bush, Clinton, Bush)

It struck me that the books varied in quality, from the outstandingly insightful to the ploddingly perfunctory, independently of the value of the president they discussed. So why not rate or grade them? Pay attention, as this is the only presidential historical rating list you'll ever see with Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon at the top:

A (Outstandingly insightful)
Madison, Andrew Johnson, Nixon, Reagan

B (Either outstanding with minor flaws, or just below that in insight)
Washington, Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Van Buren, Buchanan, Arthur, Taft, Coolidge, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Kennedy, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush

C (Good solid work)
John Adams, Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Tyler, Pierce, Lincoln, Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, Wilson, Hoover, Truman, Eisenhower, Carter, Clinton

D (Either good work with major flaws, or just not very successful)
Monroe, Polk, Taylor, Grant, Cleveland, McKinley, Harding, Lyndon B. Johnson, Ford

F (Not a very good book at all)
Fillmore, Hayes, Theodore Roosevelt

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

ecce homines, pars XIV

Concluding my three-volumes-at-a-time survey of the American Presidents series, edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. This installment covers the presidencies of 1989-2009.

This series was conceived during the residency of W., and was planned to conclude with him; if an Obama volume has subsequently been commissioned, it hasn't been announced. These presidents are all so recent that there's no longer any consideration of remembering them; they're just straightforward journalistic accounts. (Naftali has an academic background, but the other two authors are journalists.) All three revert to the Truman/Ike template of cramming the early life into a brief space to allow more room for the presidency; each concludes chapter 2 with the subject's first election.

Timothy Naftali on George H.W. Bush presents a chameleon, a politician eager to reshape himself in the image of whoever was leading the Republican Party at the moment, whether it be Goldwater, Nixon, Ford, or Reagan. As a result, when he finally got to be president himself he wasn't quite sure what his own image was to be. But when he did decide to take firm charge he was decisive, brushing aside any advice he disagreed with. And on such issues as reuniting Germany and Gulf War I his decisions were, Naftali says, well-mooted and sagacious. (I don't really disagree.) But especially in his last year as president he often fumbled or waffled on issues, and worse yet he apologized for earlier decisive actions that were disliked in right-wing circles, which made him look weaker even as he tried to project strength. Nevertheless, Naftali counts Bush as a successful president, especially compared with the Bush to come.

Michael Tomasky on Bill Clinton is one of the entries that openly acknowledges major flaws in its subject, but sees his antagonists as the real source of his difficulties. Tomasky is pretty scorching on Ken Starr, Newt Gingrich, and the media for untruths and distortions. Still, he can't resist the gravitational attraction of the biggie, and devotes the better part of three chapters to the Lewinsky affair and the impeachment. Stretches of description of the investigations and revelations here are interspersed with ones of Clinton simultaneously being the president, especially with foreign affairs. The surreal effect of this juxtaposition is evidently intentional. Elsewhere, we see Clinton studying issues intently, but so intent on a consensus solution as to accept bad proposals. And then he'd do something stupid again, spanning from Nannygate to the Marc Rich pardon. Talented, but exasperating.

James Mann on George W. Bush depicts a man well-seasoned in the political process by the time he becomes president, but weak on policy. He figures he'll just pick wise advisors and do what they say. But he's unprepared for their disagreements and for advice which on deeper consideration would be revealed as unwise, which is what got us into the biggest policy disaster in recent US history, the Iraq war. Mann is carefully analytical on the shifting rationales for the war and the unexpressed undercurrents that lay behind them; he lays out explanations for much that puzzled me (but apparently nobody else) at the time. Gradually, aided by changes to more congenial advisors, Bush learned to make his own decisions and in his later years improved markedly in his handling of foreign affairs. But early-Bush style waffling over whether to bail out failing companies made the 2008 financial crash worse. Bush had his successes, but no, he wasn't a good president.

Monday, July 13, 2020

dentist in extremis

I made my first visit to the dentist today, for a regular cleaning, since the virus hit. They'd been closed, delaying my appointment for a month, until they could get the new hygiene protocols in place.

So now what you do is park and phone them. The receptionist comes out, takes your temperature by pointing what looks like a 50s ray gun at your forehead, and then, wearing masks, you go up to the office, opened by her key, because obviously nobody's going in without a staff escort. A quick stop at the hand sanitizer, and it's immediately into the room with the chair. The hygienist, who's been cleaning my teeth for many years, now has a face shield in addition to the mask she's been wearing on the job since the height of AIDS. You take off your own mask at her instruction, and then put it back on as soon as she's done. There's a new and more powerful suction device in the mouth, and there's no polishing afterwards, which I never liked anyways, and no consequent rinsing of the mouth. So the job is a little bit shorter, and I'm out without a fuss. I could hear the dentist in another room discussing root canals with some other patient, but I see nobody but the hygienist and the receptionist.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

quasigrecian accounts

The bureaucratic bother I went through signing up for unemployment due to the virus turned out to be worth the trouble. A couple days ago I received in the mail a debit card loaded with three months' worth of, not just the state unemployment benefits, but the special virus-related federal benefits. It's a pretty fair chunk of money, more than I'd earn in an entire year from my intermittent concert-reviewing job; the disappearance in March of those concerts was what made me eligible for this benefit in the first place.

It'd be possible to transfer the money from the card to my bank account, in which case I'd use it mostly to pay credit card and utility bills (and I also got a form in the mail which, returned, would enable me to express the option to put the money in the account and not get the card in the first place, but it arrived after the card did), but as long as I've got the card, I might as well just use it for my incidental purchases instead of the credit cards, which will whittle my credit bills way down.

I've just got to remember to use the credit cards occasionally anyway, since I've learned from experience that credit card companies don't like it if you don't use their cards. I have one card I'd intended only to use as backup for emergencies until I started getting whining phone calls from the issuer saying, "Why aren't you using our card?" Now I try to ensure that each of my 3 cards gets used at least once per billing cycle.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

how it works

sequel to this

So this week I try a different outlet of the chain store for my pickup.

1. Drive in, park in the designated space, phone (as instructed). They say they'll be right out.

2. There's one other driver and car in one of the designated spaces as I arrive. Soon, someone comes and puts groceries in his car. But he doesn't leave. Curious, I think.

3. Twenty minutes pass. I phone again. I can't make out what they say about why they haven't come earlier, but they say they'll be right out. Which they had said twenty minutes ago.

4. Ten minutes pass. A deliverer comes out - and puts groceries in two other cars which arrived long after I did.

5. I put my mask on and get out. I ask him, what about my groceries? He says he thinks they were accidentally given to somebody else and he's going to check on that.

6. Sure enough, he goes over to the car from step 2 and takes out the groceries and brings them to my car. This includes, by the way, ice cream sandwiches which have been sitting in the hot trunk for nearly half an hour.

7. It's only about half of what I ordered. I point this out. He goes back in and, without too much delay, brings out the rest. The car from step 2, by the way, is still there. He's having an even worse day of it than I am.

8. It's a longer drive home than from the other store I gave up on after last week, and all the stoplights are red.

enhanced puzzlement

followup to this

The people who've been kind enough to respond to this post have been informing me that my reaction doesn't have to be controlled by the victims' response. Well I knew that. Only one of them has insistently doubled down on the observation that, not only am I free to do anything I want to do, I'm free to do anything I've already said that I don't want to do. This is not helpful, and indeed I find it morally obtuse.

This is not about my feelings about the incident. I'm appalled, shattered, dismayed, and very sad. It's about the practical question of, what exactly should I do about it? The thing that I don't want to do is express a reaction through a towering anger far greater than that of the actual victims of the actual crime. I've seen that position in cases of this kind before, and I find that very problematic. (This doesn't work the other way around, by the way. Vengeance and mercy are not commutative.)

I'm trying to tread carefully here, and what an appropriate response might be is guided - not controlled, but triangulated - by what other people find appropriate. So here we have a situation where the broadcaster feels it necessary to say that the victims specifically desire that no action be taken against the perpetrator. And then he immediately says that he's going to boycott, which seems at first glance to be the exact opposite of the advice he's just passed on. He's free not to follow it, of course, but he doesn't even address the question. There's a cognitive dissonance here that leaves me quite uncertain of what kind of a response to make.

Friday, July 10, 2020

a puzzlement

The news has been getting out, both within and outside the SF community, that Alan Beatts, owner of Borderland Books in San Francisco, has been credibly accused of physical and sexual assault by women close to him. I'll leave out the details; you can read them at the above links.

As John Scalzi has pointed out, such accusations particularly hurt when the perpetrator is someone you know and like. And a lot of people in the SF community know and like Alan. Including me.

So what should we, as interested and concerned outside observers, do about it? A lot of events scheduled at Borderlands have been canceled, starting with Jo Walton's last night which disappeared that morning - that's how sudden this has been - and a lot of people have declared that, much as it will hurt both the independent bookstore community and their own purchase of SF, they won't do business with Borderlands any more so long as Alan is associated with it.

But here's something that nobody I've read has commented on. Brian Keene, the podcaster who broke the story to widespread attention also said this:
Both women, I think it's important to note here, both of these women have told me, on the record, they don't want to "cancel" Alan. I'm using the popular term. His daughter told us, quote: "He did a lot of good in my life. He made it possible for me to move to San Francisco, he did his best to provide me support while I was growing up, and for the majority of my life he was my best friend. I don't want me speaking out about what happened to come across as me trying to destroy his life or to get revenge on him. This absolutely sucks and I wish it wasn't the case. ..." Alan's ex-girlfriend echoed this, stating that they just want the public to be informed and they want him to get treatment and help.
But then Keene immediately went on to say that, despite his long-standing connection with Alan and Borderlands, he will not be doing any more signings there.

Is that not "canceling" Alan? If it isn't, what would be? When these women say they don't want to "cancel" him, do they mean that they're not asking us to cease patronizing Borderlands? If not, what are they preferring that we do?

I've never been in a position to visit Borderlands often, and I'm not planning on going up to San Francisco for any purpose so long as the virus reigns, but someday it will happen and I'd like a little guidance here. I'm not eager to be more outraged and indignant than the actual victims of the actual crime. It is a puzzlement.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

in the ancient days

B. is applying for Social Security and Medicare and is going through the stage where she submits the forms and then they bounce them back for some reason, and she resubmits them and they get bounced back again, etc. Now they need her health coverage records from the beginning of her employment with the company; the problem is that the company doesn't have them back that far (partly because they've changed HR services over the years).

Searching for old records of this kind reminds me ... one of my financial accounts included a warning that, if you don't contact them for three years, your account will be sent over to the state Unclaimed Property Division. So I thought I should look myself up there and see if there was anything. And there was! It was only some $16, and the name of the entity that owed it to me was unfamiliar, and it was very very old. I don't recall seeing a date on it, but the address it had for me was the PO Box I used when I was at university, 40+ years ago.

Filling out the form to retrieve this munificence required a lot of proof of identity and proof of my current address of the kind I was used to when I had to get my driving license replaced. But the one that stuck me was: proof that I had received mail at the address I had at the time. Uh-oh. I checked, and my old bank statement files don't go back that far. I've got some personal letter files from those days, but I didn't usually save envelopes. I might have some of my old SF magazines, and they might have mailing labels still on them, but I don't want to dig those out.

Eventually, success. I looked in the folder in which I dump obsolete IDs, and there was my driving license from those days, with the PO Box given as my address. I'd forgotten just how hard I was avoiding getting mail at the house where I lived. (The mail slot was kind of irregular, and ...) So I photocopied that and sent it in, and we'll see if it works. If not, I'm only out $16.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

red packing tape

Return with us now to the thrilling days of early June, when a large package of cat food and litter we'd ordered online vanished into the aether of the delivery services, and we had to get a replacement, and even that didn't arrive until after the cat food ran out, so I had to use a retailer's website to find the kind we needed. (And, incidentally, I have been unable to remove myself from their mailing list. Also, all the ads I see online now are for cat food.)

So late this afternoon, we hear a soggy thud on our front porch. Sure enough, it's the missing package, bursting at the seams (it's 58 pounds) and wrapped madly up with package tape. On the address label is the shipping date, May 25. What has it been doing for the month and a half since then? Where has it been hiding out, Australia? No idea. I cut the box open on the porch, bring the items in one by one (everything's there), and then throw the empty box over the fence into the side yard to keep the enormous boxes from my cubical shelving company until it's worth the trouble to take them down to the city recycling center, since they won't fit in our bins.

And it will be a considerable time before we need to order these cat supplies again, idiot ad algorithm.

Monday, July 6, 2020

on or about the fourth

Three more things done.

1. Attended (part of) the Tolkien Society's web-seminar on "Adapting Tolkien." Putting it at a civilised hour for the UK meant it started here at 4:30 AM, but I'm often up at that hour, so I watched it until I fell asleep again and then resumed when I re-woke. It's on YouTube, so I could catch the rest, but I need the time for it. Regardless, I did get to witness discussion of two musical adaptations of Tolkien, both of which were interesting as adaptations but which I found musically problematic for various reasons; one on artwork which claimed inspiration from earlier art in a way I couldn't detect at all; and two heavy-duty theoretical papers on the perception of Tolkien's work through adaptation which I found very provocative and level-headed.

2. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has put up, briefly, a reference videorecording of one of the two plays they actually managed to put on in February before the season was shut down. A new play called The Copper Children by Karen Zacarias, it depicts a strange incident c. 1904 when an NYC Catholic orphanage, faced with a surplus of (mostly Irish) foundlings, sent them out west to the largest collection of solid Catholic childless families they could find, the Mexican workers at a copper mine in Arizona. The Anglo mineowners, though prejudiced against Irish, were even more prejudiced against Mexicans, and were appalled by white children being raised by (fill in epithet here). So they kidnapped the kids at gunpoint and adopted them themselves, and got a judge to approve their action. (They weren't Catholic, by the way.) The play is very sympathetic towards the Mexicans, but the story is told more through narration than dialogue, which makes it sound pompous; the children are played by one large wooden doll (straight out of the Uncanny Valley) and a lot of miming, which is both creepy and awkward; and an epilogue reveals that most of the children grew up to lead productive lives, so what exactly is the point it's trying to make?

3. Pop-up free virus testing, intended for the nonsymptomatic, in a local park's rec building last week. Thought I should get myself tested. The line of patient masked people stretched all the way around the two-block park, and slowly progressed at a speed which got us to the destination in about 2.5 hours. I spent it reading about Reagan (see an earlier post). I'd heard that testing involves sticking a swab way up your nose, but this didn't happen. They swirled the swab around the lower bulb of each nostril and it was done. Nothing in the throat either. I got the negative result by e-mail a few days later. Should I rely on this?

Sunday, July 5, 2020

the stage where it happens

Hamilton depicts the presidential election of 1800 as evidently a three-man race among Jefferson, Burr, and Adams, with Adams a sure loser.

That's not what happened at all, though it does set up the story's historically authentic dilemma in which Hamilton is forced to choose between Jefferson and Burr, and supports Jefferson.

Let me see if I can explain briefly what did happen.

In 1796, the parties had been disciplined in their vote for President (same as in 1800, Adams v. Jefferson), but their votes for VP had been scattered. But, as the show notes, officially the electors' two votes were undifferentiated for office. As a result, though Adams had been elected President, no running mate had more votes than Jefferson the opposition presidential candidate did, so he had become VP.

In 1800, both parties were determined to do it better. Each agreed on a ticket and stuck with it. The Federalists, Adams for re-election with C.C. Pinckney for VP; the Republicans, Jefferson for President and Burr for VP. As the show notes, Hamilton loathed Adams, and he went to some trouble to try to arrange a situation where Pinckney would get more electoral votes than Adams and become President instead if the Federalists won. But none of the other Federalists much liked the idea of deposing the incumbent, and Hamilton's idea went pffft.

The Republicans were aware of the problem of an equal number of electoral votes for the ticket, but Jefferson and Madison were reluctant to offend Burr by withholding any votes from him. They just hoped it would happen in some state that voted Republican but that they didn't have any control over. But it didn't. Everybody stuck to the ticket.

Incidentally, only a few states chose electors by popular vote. In most states, they were chosen by the legislature, making legislative elections the popular vote proxy for presidential ones. The New York legislative election earlier that year, then, was when Hamilton and Burr as party managers faced each other down at the street level, even running into each other at polling places. Burr was victorious, and that's what made Republican victory in the presidential race likely, though it was by no means assured. Despite the show's claim, the Federalists were still very much a live option.

Once Jefferson and Burr had equal electoral votes, the election by constitutional rule moved to the House of Representatives to break the tie. The Republicans stuck to Jefferson. Though Hamilton announced for Jefferson, the Federalists in the House ignored him and voted for Burr. But, despite the show's claim, at no time did Burr openly campaign for President against Jefferson. He merely said he would abide by the result, neither campaigning nor withdrawing. He might have been doing much behind the scenes, but we don't know.

Neither candidate had a majority for several ballots, because they voted by state delegation and some were tied. Eventually the Federalists realized they weren't going to get Burr into office against firm Republican support for Jefferson, and gave up.

And that's how Jefferson became President. It wasn't Hamilton who did it. He had very little influence in this election, even with his own party. But he did earn Burr's enmity, so there's that.

patriotic enterprise

B. signed up for a month on Disney+ so that we could watch H.Milton, as the display ads stylize the title. I didn't much like it.

It's not on historical accuracy, for which I'd give it a reasonable ranking. It's the waywardness, incoherence, and inconsistency of the storytelling, particularly in the first act. I watched it in half-hour chunks, which is why it took until the next day to finish; I think if I'd been forced to hear an entire act at once, it would have given me a headache. That's one reason I'm glad I never saw it in the theater. Also, about two minutes in I rewound it to the beginning and turned the close-captioning on. I think that in the theater I'd have had even more trouble making out what anybody said. The music, when it was music, was not nearly good enough to compensate for these problems.

Exception to both considerations is the Election of 1800 scene. It accurately conveys the bottom line - forced to choose between Jefferson and Burr, Hamilton went for Jefferson because he trusted his integrity more - but the show completely mauls the circumstances that led to that point. On the other hand, I can't imagine how they'd have told a more accurate story on stage in less than four minutes. And it was a terrifically dry and incisive piece of writing and stagecraft, vastly the most enjoyable thing in the show.

Then there's King George's song in act 1, less amusing in context than out of it. This does not convey what the real King George was like at all. It is, however, an accurate picture of what the revolutionary colonists thought he was like. His later reappearances have nothing to do with King George either way, and may be thought of as a mocking chorus to give a different perspective on events.

But of all the tiresomely ornate, overdramatized, overrepeated, and overemotional things in the earlier part of the show, the most puzzling was the repeated line from act 1, "I am not throwing away my shot." What exactly does this mean? Obviously it's some sort of expression of determination, but what? Does it mean generally "I am not giving up," or "I am not wasting my effort on a goal I can't achieve," or "This time it's a goal I can achieve," or literally "I am not firing my gun in the air in a duel" or all of these at different times?

Anyway, now I've been here and done this.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

how it's supposed to work

How it's supposed to work

1. Place your grocery order online
2. Wait for an e-mail saying it's ready
3. Park outside the store, phone the number and tell them you're there
4. A clerk comes out with your groceries and loads them into your car

That's how it usually works, too. But not this week. We're at step 3:

3. Phone the number but it's broken. Get an intercept saying that voicemail needs to be set up.
4. Put mask on, go inside and report this at the customer service desk. They call the pickup people on an internal line and give your name (our account is under B's name).
5. After a longer than usual wait, clerk comes out with handcart and groceries.
6. As he's putting them in the car, notice they're not your groceries.
7. Clerk says there were two orders labeled Phillips; apparently he just guessed at random which was the right one.
8. Look at the sales slip, which is for someone whose first name is Phillip.
9. Clerk takes groceries back. After a longer than usual wait, he comes back without any groceries and a tale of how the sales slip wouldn't print.
10. Ask him to go back and get your groceries. He doesn't go. Apparently he's paralyzed by the missing sales slip.
11. Decide to get elementary. "Look, it's two simple steps. One, go inside and get my groceries. Two, bring them out and put them in my car." He still doesn't go.
12. Get even more elementary. "You put one foot in front of the other and go inside." He finally leaves.
13. Wait even longer. Half an hour. No clerk.
14. Return to customer service desk and report that you've been waiting an hour for your pickup.
15. Desk person is really startled to see you. The last she saw was step 5. Says she'll call the manager.
16. After only a few minutes, a man comes up and says, "Is there a problem?"
17. Say, "And you are?" "Brandon." "And you are ...?" After only a couple rounds of this, establish that he's the manager. It's not like he's in uniform or wearing a nametag or anything.
18. Recount items 1-14.
19. Manager goes off, returns quite soon with cart and groceries.
20. As he's loading them in the car, notice that one of the bags is still not yours. It's labeled for the guy from step 8.
21. Manager hands bag to assistant, tells him to put it back. Assistant is the same clerk from steps 5-12. Suspect that he's the entire cause of the problem.
22. Thank manager and go home, an hour late.

Friday, July 3, 2020

ecce homines, pars XIII

Continuing my three-volumes-at-a-time survey of the American Presidents series, edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. This installment covers the presidencies of 1974-1989.

The recentness of these presidencies is continuing to cast its shadow over these books. Weisberg is a journalist who begins with an anecdote of covering a Reagan presidential trip, and contrasts his thoughts on Reagan at the time with his retrospective evaluation. Brinkley, an academic historian of popular works, actually interviewed Ford for his book, though the President died before the book was completed. Only Zelizer, another public affairs professor, eschews a personal contact with his subject.

Douglas Brinkley on Gerald R. Ford acknowledges some of Ford's blunders, especially in his re-election campaign (abruptly dumping Rockefeller was a big one), and it's not until that point that he drops in LBJ's infamous crude insults of Ford. Appropriately, because the bulk of the book is a rosy-toned exculpation. In this narrative, Ford's well-intended projects, like the WIN buttons, fail not due to their own inanity but through opposition from Congress or public opinion, as if he can't be blamed for failing to consider that. Throughout he's declared to be an honest and straightforward if unimaginative man, yet without saying so the portrait comes out very differently. It took considerable guile and even backstabbing for Ford to rise up the ladder of Republican leadership in the House, and he showed more guile as President in trying to pin blame on Congress for the loss of Vietnam. Also, he willingly participated in the Watergate coverup, both as VP and previously (it was Ford who spiked the Patman investigation, for instance). Nothing is made of the effect of those malign figures Rumsfeld and Cheney on his presidency. There's a lot more under the surface in this book than on it.

Julian E. Zelizer on Jimmy Carter spends the bulk of the book on a chronological series of vignettes of the crises of the first three years of his presidency, framed by full chapters on his brilliant 1976 and disastrous 1980 campaigns, and shorter material on his earlier and later life. In some of these vignettes, Carter shows great skill, not only in his penetrating understanding of issues, but in dealing with Congress and the public, and he had his successes (Middle Eastern diplomacy and establishing a solar energy policy among them). Yet more of the time, increasingly so as he went on, failure to build support for his bleakly tough-minded policies weighted Carter down and cast an air of failure, as did the continuing irritant in the last year of the Iranian hostage crisis, which he was unable to overcome. Though his campaigns as ex-president have been equally brittle and provoking, as an independent agent he has had more freedom to pursue them than as president answerable to the outside forces which battered his term in office.

Jacob Weisberg on Ronald Reagan is fascinated by, how did Reagan get away with not being blamed for so many scandals, unfulfilled promises, and betrayals of his firmest supporters? (He rarely gave the evangelicals the red meat they demanded, and soon entirely gave up on his signal project of shrinking government.) Weisberg concludes that Reagan was a genius at projecting a public image of caring and geniality not visible to those who knew him well. In particular, he was his own best speechwriter, able to convey a misty sacramental vision of America like nobody else could. His detachment could both keep him optimistic in tough times and allow him to sail obliviously above scandal and discord in his administration. This book delves much deeper into its subject's background than the other two here do, for instance tracing his tendency for secret unethical dealings and a convenient inability to remember them when questioned, so characteristic of Iran-Contra, back to his time as president of the Screen Actors Guild in 1947-53. Weisberg divides the presidency into alternating chapters on Soviet diplomacy and everything else. Reagan's policy on the former was not warmongering, as his critics thought,* but a coherent two-part plan, pushing military buildup to force the Soviets to sue for peace, succeeded by offering a vision of peace so all-encompassing that few of his advisors believed it. In economics, Reagan refused to connect military buildup with paying for it, so the deficits piled up as Reagan smiled obliviously. Lastly, Weisberg fills the book with many of the president's excellent witty remarks, something we could have used in the book on Lincoln.

*This despite the amazing true fact (unmentioned by Weisberg) that his full name, Ronald Wilson Reagan, anagrams as "Insane Anglo Warlord."

Thursday, July 2, 2020


So here's how it seems to be working. Authorized by the state government, the counties start to allow businesses to open up - restaurants and bars opening, etc. - and then they wait a few weeks to see if the death rate starts going up. They have to wait because it's a lagging indicator. When it does, for of course it does, they shut them down again. Wait until lulled into complacency, repeat process.

Fortunately it's not much happening in my county, for we have health officers who are taking the pandemic seriously and not allowing these openings, despite receiving abuse and even death threats for trying to protect the public.

We're still pretty shut down at home. I just placed another weekly grocery order for pickup. Usually they miss a few items which they say they're out of though I can find them elsewhere, so I do have to make a shopping trip but it's much shorter and quicker than it would otherwise be.

Yesterday I did make an outing. I took my car out to be serviced. I've had it nearly six months, it just passed a significant round number mileage, so it ought to get a lookover. This is a Hyundai, which I've never had before, so I went somewhere I hadn't been before, the one of the two local Hyundai dealers which does not have an online reputation for shafting customers on service costs. I didn't know what I'd find there. If they were maskless, I was prepared to turn right around and leave. But no, they were stringent on the protocols and I felt content. A little uneasy about waiting there a couple hours for the car to be serviced, and the waiting area was already full of customers occupying every other chair. So I walked over to the sales area beyond it and sat down in one of the chairs on the customer side of the desk there. Nobody disturbed me.

This was near a fish & chips place I'd been to before since the shutdown started, so afterwards I went and picked up my lunch from there. Masked, only one customer inside the shop at a time, takeout only, it was quick and efficient. Drove home, washed hands, carefully removed food from bags, had lunch. It was a level of shutdown I could deal with.

Meanwhile the authorities are worried that Independence Day will produce the same type of mass social gatherings that Memorial Day did. All I can say is, not from us. My usual sole social event for this holiday is attending the annual backyard party of friends whose wedding anniversary it is. Quite some time ago they sent out the notice that, of course, it wouldn't be happening this year. And that's it. We'll be at home this holiday.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

alternative universe V, appendix A

And I forgot to mention, when writing about Music@Menlo's online highlights program, that their concert on Wednesday, July 22, will feature the Calidore Quartet's 2018 performance of the Bartók Fifth Quartet, which, as I wrote at the time, was just about the most fabulous thing I have ever heard. If you're at all interested in Bartók, or even if you think you can't stand him, don't miss this.

alternative universe V

It's summer festival season in the alternative world, and there were only two big things on my calendar for this month.

Friday, July 17-Saturday, August 8: Music@Menlo Chamber Music Festival, Menlo Park/Atherton
This was canceled before the schedule for the Prelude Performances, which are the best part, was released, and that schedule has a big effect on what I decide to attend of the main program. Other than that, I'd have been happy to attend whatever main concerts my editor chose to send me to, although as is typical for Menlo they're presented in roughly chronological order and get more interesting as they go along, reaching the height of interest just when I have to be gone for Mythcon. Still, not all the music was to my taste, including as it did pieces by Schnittke and Widmann that I'd heard before and could live without. But how about a string quintet by Glazunov (July 23), Bartok's Contrasts paired with a wind-and-piano Tarantelle by Saint-Saens (July 30), or Haydn tributes by Dukas, d'Indy, and Reynaldo Hahn (August 1)?
But wait! In substitute for the festival, Menlo will be running a series of recordings of previous events: mainstage concerts, preludes, lectures, special concerts, and so on, daily during the festival period. I think I'll watch some of that.

Friday, July 31-Monday, August 3: Mythcon 51, Ramada Plaza Hotel, Albuquerque
Attending Mythcon is the highlight event of my year, and has been ever since I first started going back in the Ford Administration (Brits, read "Callaghan"). Most sorry I am that this has been put off till next year, and I'm just hoping that it will be possible to do it then. The nervousness I feel over this is due to strangely and irrelevantly obsessing over, if conditions are like they are now, whether it would be wiser to fly (2 1/2 hours) or drive (2 1/2 days) and how to handle it practically in either case, and not at all worrying over what I'm to say in a scholarly Guest of Honor address, which is what I ought to be thinking about.

Also in the meantime, the San Francisco Symphony held an online gala commemorating the retirement of Michael Tilson Thomas. Whole lot of gushing going on, but also some interesting music. The highlights (links directly to that spot in the video) are a striking new setting by MTT himself of Emily Dickinson's "I'm Nobody", sung by Measha Brueggergosman and the entire orchestra in a Zoom performance of the coda of Mahler's First Symphony, a little wayward without MTT to conduct, but still a fabulous accomplishment and an appropriate tribute. (If you need a little more context, here's the LA Phil in the whole last movement, conducted by Dudamel in a state of barely controlled hysteria.)