Monday, August 31, 2020

Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival

So word had been forwarded to me that the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, which is based I think in Detroit, was going to be online and free. So I decided to sign up for this, and for their eight online events over five days they kindly sent me one e-mail a day with links to the YouTube videos. The evening concerts, though only an hour long each, were imaginatively programmed and featured some performers I knew from Menlo. Obviously I couldn't attend the one live event, which featured a work by John Luther Adams performed by musicians spread out over three acres of the Cranbrook School grounds. I've been to one spread-out spatial outdoor concert like this, and didn't find anybody I wasn't standing near to be at all audible, so I doubt this worked very well.

More interesting to me were the morning string quartet interviews, especially because three of the four quartets I knew from Banff (or rather two-and-a-half, since only two of the Rolston's members are still the ones they had when they won top prize at Banff four years ago). The interviews, which were over typically stuttering teleconference software, were all conducted by Philip Setzer, who may be a great chamber music violinist, but he should retire from interviewing. His response to anything the interviewees said by telling some hoary and usually limp anecdote from his own long experience, and the demeaning joshing remarks he'd make to the performers, were fairly painful, and you could see them gritting their teeth to get through it, because they didn't want to be rude to the old guy who could still influence their careers.

But the pre-recorded performances they offered were good, and the best was the Viano Quartet in Mendelssohn's Op. 80. Despite the disconcerting effect of their masks making them look like pirates, they turned in a tight and sizzling performance that shows why they were a Banff competition winner last year. It's still online for a little while: here, have a listen.

Then afterwards the festival sent me one of those useless little surveys, with a subject line on the e-mail reading, "Let us know you're experience with the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival." Oh, Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, shame on you.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

some books read

The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir by John Bolton (Simon & Schuster). One book I would only get from the library; I wouldn't give Bolton any money. Painstakingly detailed account of the author's time as National Security Advisor, that feels like it's taking you through the story at the same pace that he lived it. This does have the advantage of giving a concrete feeling of what it was like to exist inside the Trump administration, but after a while the eyes water, interest in the details of negotiations with Russia, North Korea, and Venezuela (which gets an unexpectly large amount of space here) falters, and you begin skimming through looking for the juicy bits which were already mined by journalists anyway. For a truly disconcerting and vertiginous experience, read this book in between watching old episodes of The West Wing.

Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956 by Anne Applebaum (Doubleday). Sweeping account, focused on Poland, East Germany, and Hungary, of how the Russians came in and rogered these countries. Large-scale chapters on various topics explore how the invaders and their patsies were slowly able to put the weight on and force acquiescence from the citizenry. Of course the fundamental reason, the fist inside the glove, that the Communists could do this was the threat of the Red Army. The book makes compelling reading, despite the dryness of the presentation, because of the clarity and meaningfulness of the facts. A few places give a hint of some limitations in the source material: Applebaum has clearly read the memoirs of Andrzej Panufnik, but the absence of virtually any other references to classical music, in a book with a heavy emphasis on cultural themes, is noticeable.

The Bible Doesn't Say That by Dr. Joel M. Hoffman (St Martin's). The title suggests a journalistic debunking, but it's nothing of the sort, and specifically in no way an attack on the Bible, but an attempt to cleanse it of misinterpretations. The author is a Biblical scholar and writes like one, straining towards a general-reader's approach as he fussily explains the difference in nuance or in rhetorical import between some Hebrew word and its usual English translation, littering the text with extraordinarily inept parallels. He disconcerts the reader by brushing aside various controversies, like the question of whether Isaiah says "a virgin" or a "young woman", as insignificant issues of fuzzy translation. Even when he ought to be tearing into red meat, as with "no, there's no such thing as the Rapture," he's fussy.

Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages by Gaston Dorren (Atlantic Monthly). Brief but concrete essayettes on various aspects of language - internal things like vocabulary and, yes, grammar; external ones like place in national and ethnic culture - each illustrated by one or more European languages, which turn out to have distinct style markers even from their related neighbors. Much of what's in this book I already vaguely knew, but it's nice to have it confirmed (like the inter-intelligibility of the Scandinavian languages, or the story of the resurrection of Celtic ones), and yes, what it always seems like is true: Spanish really is spoken faster than other languages.

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson (Doubleday). Another one of Bryson's bursting-with-facts entertaining reads, like A Short History of Nearly Everything (so long as "everything" is defined as "earth sciences and biology"), One Summer (the event-filled American year of 1927), and Made in America (its language), like them it is packed with varyingly-relevant digressions. Organized by the rooms of a 19C English house, it discusses its design, construction, and what went on there, from treatment of servants to disease to forestry (houses need to be built, after all) to nutrition to the acquisition and use of whale oil to the advent of the telephone, going as far afield as to explain how (and why) the Eiffel Tower, no house and not English, was built. An irrelevant footnote regarding Parliamentary elections on p. 24 completely confuses pocket boroughs and rotten boroughs, leading me to wonder what else Bryson gets wrong with utter confidence in what he's saying.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

... I wasn't one

So Annette Bening and Bill Nighy are starring in a new movie about a long-married couple who break up. And although they didn't write the script, they have a lot to say about women, men, and relationships.

But of all they say, the part that most struck me was this:
“I don’t like the look of hardly any versions of being male, frankly,” says Nighy. “I never found those expressions of masculinity attractive. When I was younger I’d keep quiet in the company of men because I always felt that I wasn’t one.”
That I wasn't one. That really speaks to me: or did, when I too was younger. Teens, twenties. I didn't feel comfortable classing myself as a boy or man. That implied things I felt I was not. But I never thought I was a woman in the wrong body either. I didn't know what I was.

Eventually I grew comfortable with just being me, and knowing that other men felt the same. Perhaps Nighy did too; notice he speaks in the past tense. There is hope.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

faint little object

Never mind why this came up, but I was wondering why it took over 60 years after the discovery of Pluto to find any of the other, now known to be numerous, trans-neptunian objects in our solar system. It wasn't because they weren't being looked for. Clyde Tombaugh found Pluto by chance, but it was in the course of a search for additional planets, which he kept up for another dozen years without finding anything else out in that zone. (Please note also that these things are damned hard to notice. Pluto was first photographed over 20 years before being discovered, but nobody noticed it wasn't just a faint star until Tombaugh used his blink comparator.)

The obvious answers are 1) because he was looking in the ecliptic, and Pluto has the least eccentric orbit of the bunch, or so I have read it does; and 2) though very faint, it's by far the brightest such object. But how much brighter is it? A search for a list of the apparent magnitudes of these objects didn't produce anything, though perhaps you can find one. What I did find was a list of the absolute magnitudes, which is not the same thing, and doesn't tell us how visible they are from Earth. I can get the apparent magnitude from Wikipedia articles for at least some of the objects (not all of them have Wikipedia pages), but I don't want to have to look them all up.

The two brightest in absolute terms are Pluto and Eris, which are both between -0.7 and -1.2, depending on which sources you consult. Pluto's apparent magnitude varies from 13.65 to 16.3, depending on where it is in relation to us. Eris has a much more eccentric orbit, but is mostly much further out, and its apparent magnitude is given as 18.7, though that's got to vary. At any rate it's certainly a lot harder to see, though I note it was first photographed fifty years before it was discovered. (The term for this is "precovery.")

(The best precovery story I've found is this: when Galileo was studying the moons of Jupiter, he noticed a star behind Jupiter which seemed to move, but he ignored it. It was Neptune. Which wouldn't be officially discovered for well over another 200 years.)

Anyway, I'm disinclined to look up a bunch more objects, but that's enough to give me a guess as to what I'd find.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

sleep according to cat

Now that B. is retired, we want to sleep in, and that means without manic cats bouncing against the walls in our bedroom, hoping that we'll get up. Of course one of us will get up to feed them at 5 am (usually B, unless I'm still up from my frequent middle-of-the-night awake spells), but then we want to go back to sleep again.

Often times we toss the cats out of the bedroom and latch the door. Sometimes it doesn't stay latched. Even if it does ... this morning I was up, in my office, when the cats started prowling in around 4, hoping for food. I fed them at 5 and then went back to bed, latching the door on the cats. But that didn't satisfy Tybalt, who started pawing and scratching at the door.

So I got out of bed. I went to the door and knelt on the floor, so my face would be at cat-level. I cracked open the door, stuck my face in the crack, and hissed. This is by far the clearest way to express disapproval to a cat. Tybalt was so startled he leapt backwards. Then I shut the door again. Pawing and scratching did not resume. O blessed sleep.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

trips in waiting

When I was working, often long hours with little vacation, I would muse on the things I'd like to do and trips I'd like to take if only I had the time to do them. But when I was between jobs and had the time, I'd forget what I'd been thinking of. Eventually I decided to keep a list and just consult that the next time I had the opportunity to travel. This worked splendidly.

So now I think I will start a list of the trips I want to take once the virus is no longer a danger. This doesn't include a pair of 2020 conferences I already signed up for which have hopefully (a word I'm using in the traditional sense) rescheduled themselves for 2021.

1 and top priority: to visit my brother in Pittsburgh. I haven't been there since before he moved house (though I've seen him when he came out here), for lack of an urgent reason to go. But he was recently ill for a while, and I couldn't go and help out (not least because Pennsylvania has quarantine). So as soon as I can go, I will.

2: to visit our nephew and his family, and some friends, in Seattle. This one is for B. and me together. We're going to drive up, which we never have done together further than Portland. But hey: she's retired, so we have the time. We were going to do that after going to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in October, but that's out, so it'll have to be next year.

3: Pinnacles National Park. Day trip, since it's only 80 miles from here. I've been to all the National Parks in California at one time or another, but I haven't been to Pinnacles since before it was a national park. I was thinking of going in February, when I still had an annual pass I got without asking when we went to Cabrillo NM in San Diego last summer, but I didn't get around to it, and after that it was too late.

4: The Mother Lode gold country in the California Sierras. This is a road trip I started working out last year. I've been here before, several times, but never comprehensively or in the amount of detail I'd like. As I worked it out, I could do this satisfactorily in three full days plus time to travel there and back. And it's smaller-scale than, for instance, my week in Montana a couple years back.

Monday, August 24, 2020

adjacent to the hellfires

So how are we doing surrounded by the blazes that are pummeling the California mountains? We're not suffering as the victims are, we're just feeling vaguely miserable. The air has been full of smoke and a fetid miasma for about six days now, and while the heat has backed off a little bit - it's high 80s instead of 90s - we were trying to keep the house closed up for a while despite the resulting lack of chances to cool it off. But eventually the smell got in the house anyway, so we gave up.

I'm trying to keep track of the exact geographic locations of the fires, but it's not easy. Newspaper articles sometimes give links to official fire maps, so I bookmark those, but they're not always updated, and since there's nothing intuitive about the URLs, I can't hunt for a more recent one that way, and search engines are no help at all. The state fire site evacuation zone list is less up to date than the newspapers, and has no useful maps. Nor are the newspaper articles always a help: a photo of a house burning in Boulder Creek gave its location as the intersection of two streets which are at the far opposite sides of town, so I don't know where it is.

There appears to be slow progress in containing the fires, aided in the coastside case by slightly foggier weather, but another tropical storm passing through yesterday and today may bring more lightning, which is what set off the fires in the first place a week ago. However, at least last week's powerful thunderstorm was not replicated last night. But the real fire season in California is October and November (Paradise burned on November 8), and I wonder what will happen then.

Meanwhile, I feel even more cooped up than I had previously during the pandemic, despite actually getting out. A minor but urgent medical situation got me into the Kaiser facility for the first time since before the shutdown. It was fairly empty and a little spooky, including my first elevator ride in at least six months. (Signs said, limit of 2 people in an elevator.) Another thing I experienced here is that the difficulty of hearing through masks can put real difficulties in communication. I have more visits ahead of me, and my doctor wants this finished before October, which is also when flu season starts.

Somewhat earlier, I decided to take another virus test. The county has decided to eliminate the walkups that make you stand in line for three hours, as I did the last time, and moved to an online appointment system. Stations are open for 3 days and appointments are taken for a couple days before that. I found one open for the next three days, and while all the slots for the first day had been taken, there were still plenty for the other days. It was a drive-through located in the parking lot of the county fairgrounds. You pull up, lower your window, they scan your appointment barcode, then you lower your mask and they swab your nose (swirling around the lower nostril again - I still haven't experienced the way-up-the-nose version that I'd earlier read was obligatory) while you sit in the car. The e-mail assuring me I was OK came so heavily encrypted I almost couldn't open it.

Flu shots this year are going to be drive-through too, my doctor says.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Democrats, day 4

I didn't see all of this, for various reasons. I didn't see the 13-year-old stutterer, who is said to have been inspiring. I didn't see the opening, which resulted in my walking in to the tv room in the middle of one of Julia Louis-Dreyfus's monologues and not recognizing her, because I hadn't seen her since Seinfeld went off the air. I didn't think too highly of her lame jokes, like attempting to mispronounce "Mike Pence," not in the context of all the inspiring stuff elsewhere in the show.

Stuff like: Lots of ex-rivals telling us what's good about Biden, most effectively and believably from Bernie Sanders. Lots of stories about Biden phoning people out of the blue, or taking half an hour to talk to some random citizen he just met. (If he does things like this all the time, as implied, he wouldn't have time to get anything else done.) So many tributes to Beau Biden and John Lewis, it was as if they were the stars of the show. The award for worst failed attempt to be inspiring goes to the young couple who quizzed their little girls about current events for an agonizingly extended period of time. Sometimes, "mouth of babes" is not a guarantor of wisdom.

Biden's speech was the usual aspirational stuff about how he wants to be president of all the people. Does that ever work? At the end, the mockup of the big cheering crowds at other conventions took the form of Joe and Kamala and spouses waving in the usual fashion at a video wall. Then they walked out into a drive-in theater full of cars that were honking; I'd hate to be a neighbor to that theater, especially as it must have been 11 pm where they were.

Thursday, August 20, 2020


The brush fires I previously mentioned, ignited over last weekend by lightning strikes, have turned into massive mountain-fire conflagrations. The town of Boulder Creek, which I visited on Sunday, was put under mandatory evacuation on Tuesday, and while at last report the town hadn't burned yet, the buildings at the redwoods state park just up the road from it had. Evacuations have now extended to nearly half the county, albeit the more wooded and less heavily settled half.

Over here in the valley on the other side of the mountains, the air has been smoky and murky for the last couple of days. The fire hasn't crossed the mountain crest, but it's completely uncontrolled due to the hot dry weather and the overextension of firefighting needs in lots of other similar fires elsewhere in the area. We're closer to the near edge of the fire than the far edge on the other side is.

If the fire does go over the mountain, could it then extend down into the urban flatlands which we're about 2 miles from the foothills edge of? That's happened a few times - it happened in the big Santa Rosa fire a couple years ago - and the magnitude here is unprecedented. And if an evacuation order is issued, how will people get out of this dense urban area, and where will they go? Still, when I go out in a bit for a little necessary grocery shopping prior to our regular pickup order, I think I'll fill up my car's fuel tank.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Democrats, day 3

To an extent this was the day of ordinary people battered by circumstances. There were victims of gun violence, headlined by Gabby Giffords. There were small businesspeople trying to make it through the virus shutdown. Most daringly, there were families being torn apart by deportation of their undocumented immigrant members. Although one article calls this the most gut-wrenching part of the evening, there are those who don't think adult undocumented immigrants deserve any sympathy at all, no matter what their circumstances, so I call this feature daring.

The chair declared Kamala Harris nominated for VP by default, because there were no other nominees. I'd wondered how they were going to handle that. Go through the whole roll call again? Surely Rhode Island wasn't going to cook up another plate of calamari.

After that, the nominee's speech was a well-crafted piece focused on the upbringing she owes to her mother, with a relative minimum of biting DT. More biting had come from Barack Obama earlier - normally ex-presidents aren't that hard on their immediate successors, but as Obama said, these aren't normal times - but he framed his speech largely aspirationally. This, I think, is necessary: if you're going to criticize the US for not meeting ideal standards, it's necessary, if one is to avoid complete cynicism, to observe that the Constitution points to those standards and provides a road for us to get closer there.

Plenty of other good speeches by great women of the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren ("There's nothing I love better than a good plan. And Joe Biden has lots of good plans"), and, sigh, Hillary Clinton, looking much older than she did four years ago, but not as much older as she'd look if she were President, that's for sure.

The meager applause and cheering after Harris's speech worked a little better than the nomination one last night.

The music was pretty good. I could have lived without Billie Eilish, whom as I wrote once before just makes me want to re-listen to Tori Amos instead, but it wasn't terrible. I liked the guy who sang "Stand by Me" bilingually. The jazz song at the end was quite good: the singer kept the foundations of the song and built ornaments on top instead of tearing the whole thing apart as jazz singers usually do; and I really liked the piano accompaniment. The introduction of Kamala Harris by her sister, niece, and stepdaughter was backed by what sounded incongruously like the love theme from Inception, and if you remember that movie you'll know why it'd be incongruous.


On Tuesday I headed out in search of coolth again. This time I decided to try one of the county's designated cooling centers, mostly in community centers and such, and picked one in a nearby town's library because I knew where it was. Local libraries are still closed to the public except for pickup of books reserved online, but I was kind of hoping that those of us in search of coolth would be allowed free range of the stacks, but no luck: the cooling center was the library's multipurpose room reached from a side entrance. Good thing, then, that I'd brought my own book to read, but I needn't have brought my own water bottle because they had a supply of those.

What I was afraid was that the center would be full, but it wasn't: there were only four other people there when I arrived at 1 pm when it opened; when I left at 3:30 there were about 15 and it still wasn't full. However, I decided to leave at that point, instead of half an hour later, because some of the new entrants decided to sit closer to me than I was comfortable with.

I used my extra half hour (before I needed to get home and start dinner so that it'd be ready when the evening's speechifying began) to shop at a bulk discount market, where I got into a very strange discussion with the checkout clerk. I'd bought a package of Tillamook Country Smoker sausage sticks, which are my favorite brand, and he asked about that, and was surprised when I said it's not the same company as the Tillamook that makes cheese and ice cream. He thought you couldn't have two companies with the same name. I said no; trademarks only apply to the line of business that you're in, and I know they're separate companies because I've visited both in the Oregon town they're named for. Having heard him discussing rock music with the previous customer, I said it was like Apple Records and Apple Computer, which stayed out of each other's way until the latter entered the music business, and then they had to work it out. But he was convinced that Apple Records dissolved when the Beatles did. If only I'd been able to look it up online on the spot, but by this time we'd passed handling the groceries and I ought to let the next person in line in.

On returning to my computer that evening, I found that the Oregon Shakespeare Festival had put online for members only a recording of another of their plays that had had a brief run in March before everything closed: this one was called Peter and the Starcatcher, supposedly the backstory to Peter Pan. I couldn't say, because when I started watching it I only got about halfway through Act 1 before giving up. It was tedious and, like their The Cooper Children, full of spoken expository lumps unfolding great wads of plot and needlessly describing things you could see happening simultaneously on stage. Though supposed to be hilariously funny, it was devoid of anything actually amusing - even though it wasn't written by Terry Pratchett - and, to top it off, it made more mistakes about the nomenclature of British nobility than I had ever previously seen packed into one sentence. Not having any idea how the word "Lord" is used is typical enough, but thinking that lords are created by knighting them is a new one on me.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Democrats, day 2

The part I was wondering about was the roll call vote. I shouldn't have worried. The same party activist/flunkies who usually announce their states' votes simply appeared with their states' party standards planted usually in some scenic spot, gave their brief puffery, and then announced the votes for Sanders and for Biden in almost exactly the same wording. (Some of them said "the next president of these United States." Why, are there some other United States?) You could usually tell which ones were live by whether it was night outside in them. The sequence went by quickly and the variety was entertaining. The nomination victory celebration afterwards, unfortunately, was small and tinny, more so than I think was absolutely necessary.

The opening keynote was delivered by a raft of young elected officials trading off one phrase at a time each. Energetic but exhausting. Some of them made surprise revelations of themselves as gay. I suspect some viewers might be viscerally repelled by that, but if so, they're bigots.

Somewhere in there also, Rosalyn and Jimmy Carter, in that order, without being visible on video, spoke slowly. Then Bill Clinton spoke both slowly and hoarsely. The final speaker of the evening was Jill Biden, who belied her introductory clip program full of crisp vigor by speaking ... even ... more ... slowly. By this point, Tybalt playing with a catnip bag toy was more interesting to watch as well as cuter.

Substantive content of the whole seemed to be about 30% praise of Biden, 50% denunciation of Trump, and 20% exhortations to text this to that. It felt too much like an infomercial.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Democrats, day 1

A political convention made up entirely of live feeds and video clips turns out not to feel all that different from one taking place in a big hall, mostly because the same kind of speeches were being made. At the cost of a few glitches in the feed, we avoided all the pfumpfing between speakers that you normally get, and were able to add things like torrents of clips from cell phone videos of ordinary people saying a few words (for one of which they were all Republicans for Biden - a nice touch). The speakers didn't seem fazed by the absence of applause after their applause lines, and a few of the speeches were punctuated by being followed by screen shots full of ordinary people applauding (or, occasionally, not applauding - rather weird).

There was an MC, but Bernie Sanders wasn't introduced: he just appeared, almost unrecognizable in a natty blue suit and a fresh haircut, to talk about policy specifics. His best laugh line: "Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Trump golfs." Michelle Obama talked about public values and empathy. She didn't say, "This is not who we are," she said "This is not who we want to be," which has the advantage of being more accurate. Her best line: "Being President doesn't change who you are. It reveals who you are," which of course took my thoughts back to Lord Acton and to the more perceptive Anglo-Saxon proverbs cited by Tom Shippey.

I was pleased by the small phalanx of black woman officeholders who appeared near the beginning, by the intercut group testimonials to Biden by some of his primary opponents (no Buttigieg, which was a surprise, and no Gabbard, which wasn't), and particularly the section on Covid. Andrew Cuomo, whom I hadn't seen speak before, had an echo of his father's lofty eloquence, but the real star, the Khizr Khan of the evening, was a young woman named Kristin Urquiza, who delivered a fiery account of how her father, a Trump supporter, believed it when the Republicans said it was OK to go out and socialize, went out and socialized, and promptly contacted the virus and died. Most fiery line: "His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that he paid with his life." Wow.

A couple musical interludes. Maggie Rogers sang a dull song, but did so in the mannered folksinger style that I enjoy. Billy Porter sort of lost his way near the end of "For What It's Worth" (a highly relevant song today, since it's about cops breaking up a peaceful demonstration), but it was mostly OK.

One thing that did nag at me was the repeated declarations that Biden would unite us, while Trump only divides us. That may be true, but the last candidate to say, "I'm a uniter, not a divider," was George W. Bush, and remember what happened to him. I'd rather not be reminded.

trying to escape the heat

Huge thunderstorms all Saturday night and Sunday morning managed to ignite brush fires in the hills but did nothing to break the temperature. Sunday afternoon I'd had enough, so I finally got fully dressed and retreated to the one air-conditioned site at my disposal, my car. I drove off into the mountains, hoping it might be cooler on the other side. (And incidentally making the third time I've left my county since the pandemic started.) It wasn't cooler, but it was refreshing enough inside the car, even though I was pretty much constantly driving mountain roads for two hours.

I stopped in at a grocery in the mountain town of Boulder Creek, which I've patronized before - I always need some sort of destination when I go out driving. Not only were they out of the item they used to carry that nobody else did, but they've ceased carrying the entire brand. A shame, but typical. I headed back towards home on the other back road, which at least has been repaired from the time half of it fell into a gully when I was last on it several years ago. Quite refreshed by the time I got home, and ready to attack the making of dinner.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

it's still Kamala

I was watching Seth Meyers' commentary on the Kamala Harris pick, and noticed that Meyers, who knows how to pronounce her name correctly, didn't remark on the fact that his clips show both Mike Pence and Sean Hannity identically mispronouncing her name. There's no excuse for that at this point; she's been in the news for quite a while and has made clear how to say her name. Checking other commentaries like Trevor Noah I find other Republicans also getting it wrong, though most Fox News hosts get it right or at least stumble over it a different way. The exception being Tucker Carlson, who on being explicitly corrected started ranting about how it doesn't matter and that asking for the correct form amounts to claiming she should be immune from criticism. What?

(I saw some comments saying that Biden got it wrong too. No he didn't.)

I think this is going to become a new Republican mispronunciation meme. The most lasting old one was also on display: despite the closed captioning spelling it correctly, Pence in his remarks twice called Harris "the Democrat candidate." He can't even get the name of the party right, and so can't most other Republicans going back at least as far as Bob Dole.

In other VP pick news, while she's the first ever Democratic national-ticket nominee from California (and indeed, as a friend observes, from west of the Central Time Zone), here's one that says she has one predecessor: Adlai Stevenson in 1952 (they forgot about 1956). I think that's really stretching it. Stevenson was born in L.A. but he had no other connection with the state.

Also pointed out by the ooo-ee-ooh Twilight Zone squad, Kamala Harris was born on the same day that Herbert Hoover died.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

sweltering in place

It's been very hot. Especially today.

In the morning, when it was still relatively tepid outside, we went to the park for another session of B's Socially Distanced String Quartet.

When we came back, I stripped down, put on my lightest-weight robe, and spent most of the afternoon downstairs, where it's less hot, reading old Sprague de Camp fantasy novels. Getting dressed again to go in search of somewhere cooler, with a restroom, did not appeal.

Tybalt is stretched out lying on the linoleum.

Friday, August 14, 2020

catching up

Despite having all this time supposedly on my hands, I'm finding it challenging to remember or find time for the online music programs I've written down. Sometimes I don't even try to catch up later, but I did so for the Menlo festival. For the three weeks this would have been running in the alternate universe, they put up usually two videos a day. The run ended a week ago, and I've just now finished catching up, which is a good thing because I understand they're taking the videos down tomorrow.

Some of the videos consist of or include current social-media interviews, which can occasionally be worthwhile when they get off the mutual congratulations bandwagon and talk about music, but many are clips from performances from the past 4 or 5 years' festivals. And then there are the masterclass sessions from the same period. In each, two sets of younger performers play a movement they've been working on, and then the teacher, one of the senior performers, critiques them for half an hour.

I find that, even spread over days as they are when live, there's a limit to how much of these I can take. After a while you get tired of listening to the teacher yammering away about niggles and just want to hear the students play without interruption again. But these recordings - there's 12 of them among the video offerings - are supposed to be of the best sessions over several years, and I got through most of them, at least in part.

I thought it would be handy to be systematic and note which teachers I thought were not necessarily the best teachers, but the most agreeable to listen to, so that I'll be prepared for what to pick to attend when the festival resumes. Turned out I liked Jon Kimura Parker and Soovin Kim the best. The Calidore Quartet as group teachers were also fabulous. They were most likely to discuss broad aspects of the music in an interesting and coherent manner, and not focus as much as the others on minor points of performance practice, in many of which cases endless niggling left the performers sounding much like they did before. Too many did this, or concentrated on their own instrument to the detriment of the rest of the ensemble, or illustrated how passages should go by singing them, which is never edifying. The poorest was Keith Robinson, who couldn't express himself in words very well at all.

Also among the videos I liked the interview with hornist Radovan Vlatkovic, who talked lucidly about the slow movement of the Brahms Horn Trio he was then heard playing in; and the final collection of selections from the Young Performers Concerts, which included the first movements of Schubert's Death & the Maiden and Dvorak's American Quartets, and the whole second half of the Mendelssohn Octet, all delightful to hear.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

life among the retired

This may become my latest recurring heading. B. has been retired for a week and a half now, and a new life of reading and playing music suits her well.

She had an appointment out today, so I was able to accomplish some household errands without worrying about getting in the way: 1) tightening up the chain in the downstairs toilet tank; 2) replacing the bulbs in the upstairs hallway light fixture (a harrowing task involving dragging the stepstool upstairs, planting it blocking the hallway, and steadying oneself precariously on the books on top of the low hallway bookcase while leaning over to fiddle with the fixture hovering over the stairway opening), 3) fixing an elaborate lunch for myself with a seasoning mix I found in Walmart.

An unexpected afternoon nap left only a minimum of time to prepare and eat dinner (ravioli and sauteed broccoli) before I headed upstairs to commune with the computer on a live music education session describing musical form as found in Beethoven's "Harp" Quartet, a delightful piece I was happy to listen to again and to have analyzed.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

gift card

B. got a retirement present at work. A gift card. For Walmart. wtf? We never shop at Walmart, and would rather not do them the business. I'm not even sure what they have that we'd want.

Not that there are many Walmarts around here anyway - this isn't normally what you'd call Walmart country - but there are a few. But what's closest is a Walmart Neighborhood Market, as it's called, a large supermarket. Which I'd not visited. But since the card was already paid for - I'm not that rigid on my commercial morality - I thought I could dispose of it there. So I went there and bought a few staples, a few odd things they had that other stores didn't carry, and so on.

At the register, the gift card was to be used as a first payment card. But the scanner wouldn't read it. Clerk said the card must have no value. I said I really didn't think so. A supervisor called over was able to read the value off the card and get it entered in.

Now I don't have to return to Walmart.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

it's Kamala

(Harris; how many other Kamalas do you know?)

All the features, and positives and negatives, of all possible candidates for VP having already been analyzed to the ground before we got this far, I'd just like to point out, from the perspective of local patriotism, that after all the Nixons and Reagans, she's the first major-party candidate from Northern California since Earl Warren (R, VP, 1948).

Saturday, August 8, 2020

B's birthday

It's B's birthday, and a big round number and the occasion of her retirement earlier this week. So particular celebrations were in order, but it was just us.

For presents, I got her some books on Kindle, including one current-affairs book she'd particularly asked for. Amazon has a button you can click to purchase a Kindle book for another person; you then enter their e-mail and the desired date of delivery, and it's done. B. prefers Kindle over other online platforms, so that makes it tidy.

And she wanted a chocolate cake. Instead of buying one from a grocer's bakery, I decided to revert to making one on my own from a mix, though I haven't done this in some four years. The most challenging part was remembering where we kept tools like the spatula and the beater attachments for the electric mixer (which is kept at the other end of the kitchen). Baking was successful once I determined to ignore entirely the temperature settings on the oven, which live in a world of their own, probably a Hot Jupiter. Only problem was that I forgot entirely to frost between the cake layers. Delivered with a full singing of the birthday song and flaming candles shaped like big digits.

For dinner we ordered out from our favorite local Mexican place. The online ordering process gave a good example of things you already need to know in order to understand how to do something. B. wanted a super burrito and asked to have the salsa left off. "Salsa fresca" was indeed listed as one of the ingredients of the burrito, but the list below where you could check off things you wanted omitted listed no salsa. It was only previous experience that led me to guess (and then confirm) that "pico" on that list was short for pico de gallo, which is another name for salsa fresca, so that's what I needed to omit.

This place has a good pickup service. Place the order online, wait ten minutes, drive over there and find your order packed up in a bag, with a receipt taped to it, on the table outside. Very efficient. I've done this three times now with no mistakes.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020


If you've been watching the Trump interviews, this matchup kind of says it all ...

an odd remark

Of all the criticisms I've seen of George R.R. Martin's hosting of the Hugo Awards, the most surprising is Robert J. Sawyer's. He focuses on Martin's use of nicknames for various senior and deceased authors. Even Sawyer, who's been active in SF for decades, felt excluded by these names he's never used, and wonders how it feels to people newer or from outside the social community. It's as if Martin is saying, "I'm part of the ingroup, and you're not."

I've seen accusations of this before, concerning writings from the SF community aimed at outsiders, but I've never felt that way about it. Even when I was very new to fandom, I found that writings full of in-references were saying to me, not "I'm part of the ingroup, and you're not," but "I'm part of a community, and you can join it." If you learn the lingo and the folkways, you can be part of it too. I did so, and found this was the case.

I think the first writing addressed to the general public that took this tone was Isaac Asimov's introduction to first Hugo winners anthology in 1962. Rather than writing about the stories, Asimov told personal anecdotes about the authors and about the conventions where the awards were given. His editors were dubious about this approach, but Asimov said that readers would feel themselves inside the world of SF, and that proved to be so.

Of course, there are reasons why this wouldn't work. One might feel not welcomed by the community, and one needn't be female (in what used to be a largely male world) or a minority to feel that way: that was the main complaint of Larry Correia of the Sad Puppies. Interestingly, it was George Martin who was most active in trying to get Larry to give specifics, to find out if it was genuine rejection or just the friction and argumentativeness common within any hyper-intellectual community. But Larry had little additional to say and the question was never pursued. (I've certainly had occasions of my own when I've felt stepped on or unwelcome, but it wasn't the community as a whole which treated me that way.)

But there are other reasons. Some people come in with chips on their shoulders, feeling rejected if they're not absorbed instantly, without having bothered to learn the lingo and folkways of the group they seek to join. But there's also the possibility that the person writing the in-groupish material is merely doing it badly. I see a combination of those here.

Let's consider the nicknames that Sawyer notes. Let me note that, though I don't know the people involved (I've casually conversed with Robert Silverberg a few times, though I'm sure he has only the faintest idea, if that, who I am, except that I'm obviously part of the community), I'm well familiar with all these nicknames, having seen them in print, and heard them in conversation, over the years.

"Silverbob" is not a term you'd address Robert Silverberg with to his face. It's a contraction you'd use in referring to him casually. It's free for anyone in the community to use, and I've probably done so myself, though as noted I hardly know him personally. But it feels odd to have it employed consistently. "Piglet" for George Alec Effinger, however, is a different matter. I know that it's a nickname he had in his very early writing-workshop days, but I also know that he hated the name and in later years rejected it entirely. Possibly GRRM, who knew Effinger well in their salad days, feels he has a survivor's rights to use the name; but I'm sure he knows also that Effinger disliked it, and that he was only able to use it without objection because Effinger is deceased.

Sawyer can't remember if GRRM called Asimov "Ike," and neither can I, but if so, the situation is the same: deceased person being called by nickname to which he firmly objected in life, to which being deceased he no longer has a say on.

Which leads me to conclude that Sawyer is right to be annoyed, but not for exactly the reason he thinks. GRRM's sin in this department was not that he used nicknames that his audience didn't know, but that he gratuitously overused them. There is a difference between employing terminology that you're inviting your audience to learn, and waving it around like a talisman, and this may have crossed the line.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

things read and seen

1. New Yorker article, based on a book, on how the 1960 JFK campaign hired a data-analytics firm whose analyses told them what to do and when to do it, and that set us on the road we're on today. But campaigns had always been driven by perceived reactions; this just systematized a long-standing trend. Also claims that JFK's offer of VP to LBJ was just a feel-good idea never intended to be accepted. Really should read Robert Caro's detailed account of how it was much more complicated than that.

First volume of Sidney Blumenthal's The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, up to 1849. Very oddly-framed book. Huge chapters of background info framed around the career of John C. Calhoun; very little in comparison about Henry Clay, surely much more relevant to Lincoln's politics. Staggeringly spiteful and dismissive about James K. Polk. The account of Lincoln's term in Congress gives almost nothing of his extraordinarily trenchant criticisms of the Mexican War (which I unearthed during the Iraq War, to which they were equally applicable). Best bit is a quote from some fathead's speech defending slavery, who says that in a slave society every white man is an aristocrat. And there you are, the true reason for slavery revealed: to give poor whites somebody they can feel superior to, so that they'll identify with the rich whites and go their bidding. But Blumenthal doesn't go into that.
The book concludes with Lincoln turning down President Taylor's offer to be Governor of Oregon Territory, because Mary didn't want to go. It occurred to me to look up the guy who did take the job, to see what might have happened to Lincoln. Looks like Mary was right to be skeptical. Also a one-term congressman, the second choice lost two children to disease on the trip over and his wife to a carriage accident after he arrived. Not a success as governor, he remarried and stayed on in Oregon for the rest of his life. Had Lincoln taken the job and done the same, most would probably never have heard of him.

3. Noel Coward's Present Laughter on Great Performances, or the beginning of it. Kevin Kline in the lead performs most amusingly, but I cannot figure out how I should identify with or care for these people and their lives of petty appointments. Gave up well before the end of Act 1.

4. Susan Ellison has died. I still want to know what's to become of The Last Dangerous Visions.

Monday, August 3, 2020

B. is retired

B. is retired. As of 3:30 this afternoon, she is officially retired. She will no longer either have to go into the factory or spend the day slaving over its computer input at home. She has deposited her last paycheck and cash-in of vacation time. She can cast all the technical problems of equipment and workflow off her mind, though I suspect that may take a while. They're somebody else's problem. After 42 years of working in this field, she may now cease, and spend all her time reading e-books and practicing viola music.

I've been revising my recently-submitted scholarly paper according to various suggestions by the outside readers, most of which are tolerable or understandable, and spending too much time on the phone, as I have a close one in the hospital a far distance away (nothing to do with Covid, at least, but nor is it casual) and there are things requiring a lot of handling.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

alternative universe VI

In the alternative universe, we'd be in Albuquerque right now, joyfully attending Mythcon, and I'd be just off two weeks of attending concerts and writing reviews at the Menlo Festival, with a little more of it awaiting when we got home.

Over on this one, at least there are other things going on. I finally got to see, on instant rerun as it were, the Hugo ceremony. There have been complaints about toastmaster GRRM chattering away. I don't think there's anything wrong per se with historical glances at the Hugos: knowing where we come from is useful in figuring out where we're going. But there are limits on time and on self-indulgence ("I like this category because I won it twice"). George's stories were of interest to me because I know and share that history, but most of them should have been saved for a fanzine article called "The Hugos and Me."

Less excusable were his (in particular) stumblings over the pronunciation of nominees' names. Inexcusable in disrespect for those nominees and in pre-recorded announcements. Astounding Award winner R.F. Kuang actually said in her acceptance that having her name mispronounced by her own publisher's publicity people was one of the indignities that, if she'd known they would happen, would have made her think twice about getting started as an SF writer.

But you don't even have to be a new writer of non-Anglo origin to get your name mispronounced by this year's Worldcon. I haven't seen the Retro ceremony (it's supposed to be archived eventually, but right now it seems to be securely hidden), so I don't know if they fixed it then, but in the original nominees announcement that's still up, the announcer twice confidently mispronounces the name of one of the most honored dead white males in the field, Fritz Leiber.

Gor blimey. When I was in charge of giving out rockets, I checked the pronunciation of every questionable name and made sure the presenters knew it. As I asked one presenter if he knew how to render one nominee's name, he smiled and said, "Don't worry: he's one of my closest friends."

Also today and not something that would have happened at this time in the alternative universe, the second meeting of the Socially Distanced String Quartet. Last time 6 performers, this time 13 once they all arrived. At one point it was suggested that someone should count off bars. My voice is more carrying than B's so I tried it. It worked OK so long as everyone was all together, but I'm no conductor so when they came apart I couldn't put them together or know where they should go, and I have the same problem many of the amateur performers do: inability to consistently convert what one knows intellectually into kinetic expression. Which is why I'm not normally a performer at all.

Lastly, let me say a word for this new music project which I was alerted to by one of the composers in it, who's a friend. A large collection of short pieces, mostly for solo instruments, largely attractive and interesting, many of them evocative.