Saturday, October 31, 2020

evidence that hobbits didn't have daylight saving time

This came up in the course of today's Tolkien Society online pub quiz, in which one round was devoted to questions about the time of day that events happen. (Quick, what time did the auction of Bilbo's estate begin at the end of The Hobbit, and what time did Bilbo arrive home to find it finishing off?)

At Bilbo's Long-Expected Party, we are told that the fireworks started at six-thirty in the evening.

In mid-September, by British Summer Time, this is far too long before sunset at northern latitudes, and the fireworks won't be visible.

If it's GMT, however, that's just about sunset, and the perfect time to start the show.

Sean Connery est mort

Memorable actor, less to say about his human qualities.

This list of Sean Connery Movies I Have Seen says more about me than it does about him:

The Man Who Would Be King
Robin and Marian
A Bridge Too Far
Time Bandits
The Name of the Rose
The Hunt for Red October

Observe the complete absence of James Bond, of Indiana Jones, of Murder on the Orient Express, of Zardoz or Outland or Highlander.

words and music

I had a few variably interesting online artistic experiences this week.

Most effective was a brief string-orchestra concert by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. I'd read of their series in an article in the Washington Post, and this one looked interesting enough to sign up for. Socially-distanced players in masks, wearing black, spread across a big blank stage. They played the Shostakovich so-called "Chamber Symphony", an arrangement of his inward-dwelling String Quartet No. 8, which came out here with the proper expression of drama. Also the Serious Song of Irving Fine, a post-Romantic work I hadn't heard in, oh, some forty years, plus what I was most there for, two movements from a string quartet by Florence Price, one movement slow and dreamy, one quietly uptempo. Both combined a 19th-century string quartet base with softly swinging melodies and rhythms influenced by African-American folk music, marking Price's kinship with William Grant Still.

One musical talk: Nicholas McGegan, recently retired from leading Philharmonia Baroque, gave one on "Bach and the Dance." This turned out mostly to be about the importance of dance to genteel culture in Bach's time, plus descriptions of various dance forms Bach used in his music, including their appearances sans titles even in his religious cantatas. McGegan didn't address the question I was hoping to hear about, whether the dance-titled movements in Bach's solo violin and cello music are intended to be heard as dance music or are merely nominal titles, a question on which musicologists are at odds. So I asked it in chat. McGegan didn't really address that specific point either, but said he'd led performances of Bach's orchestral suites to which dancing was actually being done.

One literary talk from the Wade Center, on whether reading Lewis's and Tolkien's descriptions of natural landscapes can lead the reader to greater sensitivity to real-world landscapes. Well of course it can. Next question?

And a play. I'd read a rave review of a production by the Mint Theater (of NYC) of Conflict by Miles Malleson, a supposedly unjustly-forgotten 20C British play. Strike the "un" and you have it. Set during the 1923 British general election, it depicts a flighty young well-off woman who's caught between the Conservative and Labour candidates for her constituency. (She wouldn't have had the vote yet, but that doesn't seem to matter.) The Tory is a smug older man who's been genteelly courting her; the Socialist is a rather desperate fellow she meets by contrived happenstance. She runs back and forth between them as each puts his political case to her, rebutting the arguments she repeats from the other one; and this goes on until the Socialist suddenly concludes one of their meetings by saying, "I want to kiss you" and does. Mind, she's given him absolutely no reason to want to kiss her except that she's young and female and in his boarding room, but apparently that's enough. It was enough for me: I turned it off at that point.

Also, I've put my hand back in the classical concert reviewing game with an article for the Daily Journal on local online concerts. For my next trick, I ought to review some of these upcoming events, a prospect - online concerts are not the real live thing, no matter how much I pretend they're alike - I'm anticipating with some trepidation.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Halloween music

You know the Danse macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns? Spooky music for orchestra with a prominent solo violin part?

How about scratching the soloist and filling the work up with (more) xylophone, marimba, vibraphone, and orchestral bells? This is a wild arrangement, and perfect for the season.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

nothing has changed

On July 12 [1967], after John Smith, a black taxi driver in Newark, was seen being physically dragged into a police station after a minor traffic violation, two hundred protesters gathered outside the precinct; the assembly dissolved into an unruly ramble in which store windows were broken and a few Molotov cocktails were thrown. Two days later, state troopers and National Guardsmen moved into the city, an overreaction that was met with escalating violence. By July 17, 1,200 people had been jailed, 600 injured, and 23 killed. H. Rap Brown became famous that week when he called for "guerrilla war on the honkie white man." The following weekend, Detroit exploded into riots and looting after a raid on illegal gambling dens; another 1,200 people were arrested, and four thousand fires were set. Again, federal troops rolled into the city. Even as President Johnson was increasing the number of American soldiers in Vietnam to nearly a half million, worries about the war were temporarily overshadowed by stories about "the fire this time," hugely exaggerated reports of property damage (the $25 million of wreckage caused in Detroit was widely reported as $500 million) and a storm of "Who says it can't happen here?" editorials.
The poor, angry black man from the ghetto, ready to loot, shoot, and kill, became as much of a focus for the fears of Middle America - and of Middle American media - as the acid-tripping hippies and runaways pouring into San Francisco had been a month or two earlier, and Sidney Poitier, on a press tour for In the Heat of the Night, found himself asked again and again to denounce the rioters or ally with them, to identify himself politically at a moment when the ground was constantly shifting.

- Mark Harris, Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood

Tuesday, October 27, 2020


1. Cat report. Tybalt is over 2 1/2 now, and he's starting to slow down a little more. He's not quite so frantic and demanding for playing, and he cuddles more. When I find him sleeping on my pillow - which he does a lot (Who's been sleeping in my bed??) - I nudge him over and he will snuggle next to me. Of course that does mean little claws digging into me, and sometimes if I stroke his head he wants to snap his teeth at it, but that's because he's Tybalt.

Maia continues to be all-suffering. She comes into my office to demand attention, which ideally consists of walking over to the bedroom and petting her on the bed. But if Tybalt is anywhere in the vicinity, she demurs. He's poked his head into her affairs too often. One time we were walking towards the bedroom and Tybalt was sitting in the hallway. Impasse. Nobody moved, until I gave up and went back to work. Another time Maia jumped up onto the bed to find Tybalt already there. She then jumped down to the hamper and huddled. Mind you, he wasn't doing anything, but she wasn't having it in case he did.

2. Pandemic report. So the administration has given up on fighting the virus because, to quote the spokesman, "it's contagious." Was it any less contagious when they were claiming to fight it? All the more reason we should take strong measures. But we won't. The virus is related to the flu and in some respects behaves like it. (This is why DT, taking the parallel too far, was convinced it would disappear come spring.) So we're in for a grim winter, especially in states where winter weather is heavy.

Here it's not so heavy, and the rates are not going up, but I'm redoubling my vigilance. In-person grocery shopping now only in the early mornings. I was up today before 6, which is when the markets open, so I went out for a supplementary shopping. For some reason most markets aren't selling eggs by the 6 any more, so they have to be bought by the 12. The only dinner dish I make that uses eggs up fast enough for such a rate is vegetable quiche, so I have to redouble on the veggies (and cheese). There were only about two other customers in the entire store, and it wasn't easy to find a checkout clerk either.

3. Literary report. A correspondent, reading my obituary of Dick Lupoff, writes, "I didn't know that 12:01 pm was written by Lupoff. When I saw it, I thought it was far superior to Groundhog Day which I saw later and which was just boring." Dick certainly thought he'd written a high-caliber story (no arguments from me), and he'd be very pleased at this testimony that the movie made directly from it is superior to the commercial imitation. Now I regret that I can't write him and pass along the compliment.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Pachelbel's greatest hit

According to this (can everybody read this, or do you have to be a member?), the first recording of Pachelbel's Canon was by Arthur Fiedler in 1940. This is not the Pachelbel you probably expect; it's fast and astringent and sounds like the contrapuntal exercise that it really is.

Here's a recent historically-informed arrangement of a similar interpretation.

So from whence came the sad and weepy reading we're more used to hearing? From Jean-François Paillard, who slowed down the tempo and added those arpeggiated pizzicatos that really makes it what it's become.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Dick Lupoff

Here's the news that he's died at the age of 85.

I guess that most of what I had to say about him was in my review of his memoirs. To me, he wasn't so much Richard A. Lupoff, author of science fiction, fantasy, and detective fiction, as he was this guy I knew called Dick. He was always friendly and welcoming, and I found we could talk together easily despite the disparity of our interests.

I didn't read much of his fiction, except for the famous "12:01 P.M.", which he and others felt was ripped off for the movie Groundhog Day. We talked about that once; I regret that I never took him up on the vaguely proffered offer to come over to his house and watch tapes of the two filmed adaptations of "12:01 P.M." and see what I thought of them in contrast with Groundhog Day.

Well, that's among the many things we leave undone. Farewell, Dick. You and Pat will rest easily among our warm memories.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

a little day music

A couple pleasant pieces of online music that e-mail links have sent my way recently.

The suite from Copland's Appalachian Spring in the original chamber ensemble instrumentation. If you haven't heard it this way before, prepare to be invigorated.

Shostakovich's Waltz No. 2, the one from Eyes Wide Shut, with accordion:

Sunday, October 18, 2020

funny colonoscopy stories

It's 1962. USAF Major Frank Borman (later commander of Apollo 8, the first human flight around the Moon) is taking the medical tests attending on his application to become an astronaut, and this includes a colonoscopy:
Mine revealed a polyp the size of a BB shot; they took it out and, although a biopsy showed it to be non-malignant, they insisted on my staying over for additional GI tests.
I got the usual barium enema, followed by a session with some kind of X-ray machine hooked up to a small screen. They laid me on one side and started looking at the feature presentation on the screen.
One doctor exclaimed, "My God, look at that!"
Another said in the tone of a hanging judge, "You've got a mass in your belly, Major - it's a tumor. Very serious. You'll have to go into surgery this afternoon."
"You're nuts!" I retorted. "There isn't a damned thing wrong with me."
The four internists clustered around the table clucked disaprovingly at this amateur diagnosis. "Take a look at what's on the screen," the principal voice of doom advised ominously.
I looked and broke into a cold sweat. Sure enough, there was a white mass in my intestines. They were still conferring over the telltale X ray when a radiologist, a Dr. Randall, happened to come in and immediately asked what all the fuss was about. A definite tumor, possibly malignant, he was told. He looked at the screen and shook his head.
"Turn him over," he ordered.
They did. The white mass disappeared. Randall stared unbelievingly at his colleagues, as if they were a quartet of medical students about to flunk out.
"You've been looking at a pool of barium," he murmured.

- Frank Borman, with Robert J. Serling, Countdown: An Autobiography (1988)

Saturday, October 17, 2020

household duties

1) We're having another heat wave, which among other things means further exasperation with our ancient oven, whose temperature control is slightly broken and never turns entirely off, which of course results in radiant heat. This time I had an idea. (No, not replace the range: it's not ours, it's the landlord's, and as long as it works properly when asked to, which it mostly does, I'd rather not deal with the question, especially as the complex controls on new devices intimidate me.) My new idea was, turn off the circuit breaker when I'm not using the range.

Took me only two tries to locate the right one, and yes indeed, it handles just the range and nothing else, not even the refrigerator (also aging badly) which is next to it.

So, new step in housekeeping. So far I've only once turned on the burner and wondered briefly why it wasn't working.

2) And there's the busted swivel chair which we've been trying to discard since, oh, February. You can pay to have extra things hauled away with the garbage, but the city usually holds free dumping days every three months or so at the recycling center. But the virus has cancelled that. Hoping they'd come back, we've held on to the chair. And what should we get but a neighborhood dumping day, when dumpsters were to be placed at various spots around the neighborhood. The publicity for this failed to say exactly where the dumpsters would be, an omission the organizers didn't notice until I pointed it out, but I did get the info eventually.

Finding that the chair wouldn't fit into my car's trunk but would into the back seat, I drove it over to find the dumpster unattended, which we were told it would not be. Despite age and general infirmity, I managed to lift the chair the six feet over the dumpster sides and tip it in, so it's gone now, and the replacement, a solid armchair we bought at Pier One last fall, reigns in splendor in the living room.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

musical and literary activities

1-2) I didn't watch either of the competing town hall meetings; my evening was too busy. First was the regular Zoom meeting with my fellow wizards, just about the only easeful socializing I get to do these days; then a rush out to get my dinner, while B. claimed the camera and microphone attachments for her theology class, so that I could be back at the computer in time for an online concert from the San Francisco Conservatory with their resident ensemble, the Telegraph Quartet.

Most of the online concerts I've attended have been somewhat abbreviated, maybe an hour long without intermission. This was a full two-hour concert with intermission, with an intriguing heavy-duty repertoire: Korngold's Third Quartet, the first of his remarkable run of post-WW2 concert works; the Second Quartet of Eleanor Alberga, a contemporary composer from the UK; and Beethoven's Op. 131, a piece I can't claim to make any sense of without the score, which I dug up to follow along. The Beethoven was somewhat fragmented, pieces that didn't quite add up, but the playing was impressive, and even more so in the two modernist works, both of which sat somewhere between Bartok and mid-Schoenberg in their general ambiance. Performance and compositions both caught the attention despite neither being easy, and I felt as if I'd had a real workout.

3) A stranger and more challenging musical activity came up when I noticed in my calendar that it's getting close to the first concert date on my subscription to the chamber music provider up in the city. I'd received no notification of whether it was on or off, and on checking I found that I hadn't received my season's tickets either. Looking up old e-mails found that the last notification was that tickets were to be mailed in August; and a lookup on their web site showed that the concert date had disappeared without any indication of where it had gone, though other dates were marked as cancelled or rescheduled.

So I phoned them and found that, yes, the concert had been moved out, and no, they hadn't sent tickets, but they'd elected not to inform their subscribers about any of these things. Because, working from home, they thought they weren't equipped to handle the flood of inquiries they'd get if they did. Of course I pointed out that, if they had informed me, I wouldn't have been talking with them on the phone right now, but that argument made no impression.

Contrast this hopeless behavior with that of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which has been forced through about five complete revampings of their plans over the course of the year, and for each one they sent out a mass e-mail to subscribers clearly and succinctly explaining what was going on, with links to their website for more detail.

4) Physical copies of Tolkien Studies 17 have made their appearance, so my next job is to mail out the overseas comp copies, as some odd postal regulation prevents the publishers from doing that. Some of my fellow wizards confirmed they'd received theirs.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

a few more books

First Dads: Parenting and Politics from George Washington to Barack Obama by Joshua Kendall (Grand Central)
Here's another way to rate US presidents: as fathers. (Those few who had no biological children functioned, at least in practice, as stepfathers.) It turns out that, by that measure, the top-ranking president is James A. Garfield, with Hayes, Truman, and yes, Obama following up. They found the proper balance in parenting. Criticism is reserved for those who were either too strict (both Adamses and, unexpectedly, Eisenhower) or too lenient (especially Grant), or too preoccupied to pay attention to their children (too many to list, but LBJ was probably the worst). One regrets, due to date of publication, the lack of an opportunity to subject DT to this searching light. There are also chapters on presidents mired in emotional distress over dead children (of whom Calvin Coolidge is the one who may come as a surprise), and those who dallied in fathering illegitimate children, sometimes on slaves (though Jefferson is mentioned in that context only briefly: there were several others). The book's only flaw is its tendency to judge the president's fathering on the subsequent success in life of their adult children: Garfield's and Hayes's offspring all prospered. But I think there's a lot of factors influencing success in life beyond how your father treated you as a child, and while a lot of the bad-fathered ones did have great difficulties in life, some of them did very well, even those whose fathers were strict (John Quincy Adams thrived under his parents' regimen, though his siblings didn't) or preoccupied (William H. Taft's son Robert was an epically formidable politician, and his daughter Helen equally formidable in academia).

The First Congress: How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government by Fergus M. Bordewich (Simon & Schuster)
Reading this book reminded me of the time I visited Churchill's War Rooms in Downing Street. You're imagining exciting WW2 action scenes, and discover what actually went on there was a lot of meetings and bureaucratic paper-pushing. Necessary for running the war, but kind of boring. Same goes for a history of the legislative proceedings of the first US Congress (1789-91). The author tries to write entertainingly, but the topic is a lot of talking and fumbling around, by "extraordinary men" who are mostly local politicians with constituency-based chips on their shoulders, same as we have now. Towards the end, things start to get a little more interesting as debate tightens up on the focal issues of whether to accept Alexander Hamilton's plan for organizing federal finances, and on where to locate the permanent national capitol (these issues turn out to be related via political deal-making). But then you learn that half of the major government-invention issues brought up in the First Congress were, due to lack of time, left undone for the Second Congress to deal with.

Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization by Parag Khanna (Random House)
What a horrifying book. Conceived on a basic assumption that continuous capitalist expansion is the natural and necessary condition of society, and the faster the expansion the better, and written in a tone of narrowly-focused optimistic boosterism, so that whatever he's saying at the moment is of the utmost importance. The initial thesis is that a global network of communication and supply chains is remaking civilization in the Internet age. But then he also says that civilization has always been run on communication and supply chains. And then there's a chapter on how existing connections are falling apart. In fact all these things are happening at once, and the interactions are subtle. But Khanna writes as if whatever he's writing about right now is the only important thing.
Full of bloopers and clangs. In two sentences on the subject, mischaracterizes the Lewis and Clark Expedition twice. Touts Fort McMurray, Alberta, as the successful boom town signifying Canada's economic future. That's the town that was entirely evacuated and half-destroyed by a wildfire in the same year this book was published, 2016 (and which has suffered a gas leak and a major flood since). I don't expect him to have predicted that, but global climate change does not exist in this book at all. But the most amazing sentence is on p. 301, in a section on how supply chains don't always work (and what's going to fix this? More corporatism!): "In August 2014, it was revealed that Western fast-food chains in China such as McDonald's and KFC had served beef and chicken that had been expired for several years." The meat was several years old? I don't think that's what he means. I think he means they'd been doing it for several years. But that's not what he says. This guy cannot write. A cover blurb from Chuck Hagel calls the book "A must-read for the next president," but I can't imagine DT reading this or getting anything out of it if he tried.

Monday, October 12, 2020

three concerts

I attended three more online concerts over the weekend. All were ones I'd gotten publicity emails for and which I signed up for because the programs looked interesting. The results varied.

First was the Neave Trio (violin, cello, piano), who play at Bard College in New York state, so I wouldn't be too likely to come across them at home. They gave a soft, gentle version of Clara Schumann's Piano Trio in G Minor, followed by as close to a similar style as they could get with Shostakovich's Trio No. 1, the one that's rarely played, and Jennifer Higdon's Trio, a work I hadn't heard.

A much more vigorous and incisive version of the Clara Schumann came from the Delphi Trio, in the Noe Music concert series, recorded in a church in San Francisco where I've often been for concerts. (So I appreciated the intro, a montage of arriving at the church for a concert.) Equally fine was their Brahms Op. 87 Trio. These were separated by a new piece by Danny Clay called Circle Dash, because it was written as an animation of those symbols, the dashes meaning rests and the circles meaning notes, their placement and size indicating pitch and volume. The result was a series of thumps which was mildly amusing to hear, especially between two masterworks.

Both these concerts were excellently recorded in both sound and video. The third was ... not. This was the Stenberg-Cahill duo, two local specialists in new music as part of Old First Concerts, another church-based series in San Francisco. I was late for this, and when I tuned in, Kate Stenberg was playing an eerie and mesmerizing piece for unaccompanied violin by Ronald Bruce Smith. That worked pretty well, but subsequent pieces with Sarah Cahill on piano revealed technical issues. There's nothing wrong with the venue, where I've been before, but the sound quality of the recording was awful, the microphones flickered off and on and interfered with the acoustic pickup, the video was dully staged and badly lit, and the performers couldn't figure out whether to leave the stage between pieces. (After one piece, Cahill stood up, moved forward, looked around, sat down again, stood up again ...) They concluded with the Brahms Op. 100 Sonata, and I think that modern music specialists should stick to their last. I'm not taking any more of this series online unless they learn to make better recordings, and I think I'll write the publicist who sent me the notice.

Sunday, October 11, 2020


all on Amazon Prime, because I don't really have anywhere else to get movies

The Glorias
I was looking forward for this one to come out, because while I don't know that much about Gloria Steinem, I've been very impressed with past movies by Julie Taymor, the director. And it's got the surreal Taymor touches. The Glorias are five women and girls who portray her at different ages, including the real one; occasionally two or more of them meet up on Greyhound buses in black and white and discuss their life. There's also some striking montage scenes, and one spectacular one embodying Gloria's fantasy about what she'd like to do to a male tv interviewer who tells her how sexy she looks: he goes through a nightmarish melange of the witches from Macbeth and the twister from The Wizard of Oz.
One thing I learned from this movie is that Steinem was very much opposed to being taken as the one pre-eminent public face of the women's movement. That being the case, why is there a movie about her? Ironically, it's less about her than a bio-pic should be. Much of the early part (while not in chronological order, it's not entirely out of sequence either) focuses on her eccentric and colorful father (played by Timothy Hutton), and much of the later part is devoted to speeches by other women (Flo Kennedy, Bella Abzug, Wilma Mankiller) while Gloria applauds or takes notes. If it were framed as a history of the women's movement and not as a bio-pic of Gloria Steinem it wouldn't feel as curiously vacant. Still, it was a striking movie, even sometimes inspiring.

I'd found a no-additional-charge miniseries, The Loudest Voice, about Roger Ailes, starring Russell Crowe in a fat suit. I watched the first episode and thought it spread thinly enough that I wouldn't want to watch seven of them. And then I remembered, wasn't there a feature film about Ailes that might be better than this? Indeed, so I watched that instead. This time John Lithgow plays Ailes in a more decrepit fat suit than Crowe is in, but to be fair this takes place at a later stage than the first episode of The Loudest Voice does. But most of it is about the women newscasters of Fox News. They're all glamorous blondes in similar clothes, so despite the fact that I know previous work by all the actresses I found them pretty interchangeable in appearance. It ends with Gretchen Carlson's suit against Ailes for sexual harassment; but though Ailes is classically sexist in trumpeting his demand that women show off their bodies on-air (always wear short dresses, etc.), there's only one scene of pure sexual harassment, a horrifying moment of a leering Ailes and a tearful composite character played by Margot Robbie. But if Ailes falls, Fox News goes on; so, like The Social Network, this is a film about evil in which evil wins.

Mission Impossible: Fallout
I'd liked the original Mission: Impossible tv show, way back when, but I'd never seen any of the movie remakes. But then this film was on a list of the 100 best movies currently on Amazon Prime, and even though the list includes some movies I thought were dreadful, it was no additional charge, so I thought why not? If your desires for an action movie include taut pacing without relentless pushing, a comprehensible plot without too many nonsensical twists, precision teamwork among the heroes, a minimum of endless shootout scenes, and exciting music that doesn't just whirl in place (references to the old Mission: Impossible tv show themes a plus), then this one will fit the bill. There was one big plot twist that involved a substitution that, even on rewatching, I couldn't see how the characters did it; and in the big helicopter chase scene I wasn't entirely sure on first viewing who was in which helicopter; but the movie was exciting and kept me occupied during some of those lonely hours when I'm awake in the middle of the night.

Friday, October 9, 2020

litmus test

Classical music listeners, this will either delight and amuse you, or horrify and offend you.

En el Salón del Rey de la Montañam

Thursday, October 8, 2020

online concert review: Tetzlaff Quartet

This one was sponsored by Cal Performances, with the Tetzlaff Quartet from Germany, in Germany because of the virus, and not live but recorded last week, but they pretended as if it were live. The intermission video was a time-lapse of the upper Zellerbach lobby, but I hope they hadn't planned on holding the actual concert there if it were real. Chamber music goes in Hertz, please.

What attracted me to this concert was the awesome program: Opp. 130/133 and 132, the two most monumental and difficult of Beethoven's quartets. I'd never heard them put together like this before. I had some problems with the sound quality - more on that below - but the performances had me riveted throughout.

They were actually rather different. The Tetzlaffs approached Op. 130 with gravity. Even the lighter inner movements were given the same weight and seriousness as the first movement and the Grosse Fuge, as a result of which the piece expanded and felt even vaster and more all-encompassing than it otherwise would.

Op. 132 was more textured and varied. The Andante interludes in the Heilige Dankgesang were so warm and tender, and the final appearance of the Adagio so emotionally fulfilled, as to make an ideal rendition of the movement. There were other bright spots, particularly the march which was almost as off-kilter as Op. 130's danza tedesca, which is supposed to be that way. Growls from the inner instruments in the finale likewise stood out. It made a great conclusion.

I put my good headphones on to listen to this, but the sound nevertheless seemed a little hollow and stale. It definitely wasn't the performers, nor could it have been the venue, which was wood-lined, so it must have been in the recording or transmission. That, and a few pops in the playback, aside, it was a good recording. A separate microphone for each instrument assured that each could be heard individually. All around it was pretty satisfying.


The vice-presidential debate was less chaotic than the presidential one, but I still could only stand to watch about half an hour of it. I think what bothers me most is the irksome, though necessary under the conditions, practice of candidates responding to questions by reaching into their shelf of prerecorded answers, picking one that's at least tangentially related to the question, or sometimes not even that, plugging it in to their speech circuit, and rattling it off. There was no communication or response going on here, just robotic speechifying. The last candidate to actually respond to what another was saying at a debate was Chris Christie taking on the robot Marco Rubio, and that was a while ago.

So I left the tv set, went upstairs to my computer, and joined a live online event I'd actually bought a ticket for, a club concert in NYC by Suzanne Vega and her band. Then I rewound and watched the part that I'd missed, which included Vega thanking her unseen audience for watching this live and not something else. Oh well. As with other pop music artists I enjoy, I haven't been following Vega's new work for some years - it's not them, it's me - but even though I knew less than half the songs she played, I enjoyed listening to all of them. It felt more alive, as if the audience were actually there, than the Richard Thompson solo concert I heard online last week. Possibly the venue helped. Vega has changed in appearance a lot since I last saw her, but she still sounds the same, and the band (electric guitar, bass, keyboards) was restrained and good. I imagined myself being at the concert, and thinking of my last actual visit to NYC, and that helped too.

Also on my online calendar for Wednesday, a two-scholar lecture for alumni of what used to be my library school, on issues of misinformation, social media, and the US presidential election. One of the presenters said that, though she'd been studying misinformation for many years, she only recently learned the difference between misinformation and disinformation. I found that a little hard to credit, but it may be true, because her examples of disinformation were really more misinformation, so she may still not be entirely clear on it. The other scholar was studying ads on social media, and how users may click on them without entirely realizing they're ads, and whether they contain mis- or disinformation (it turns out not to matter the nature of the site on which you see them). She added that if you use an ad blocker you may not see this stuff anyway. I always do, unless the site won't let me in with one.

Other news of the day includes an announcement that yet another scientist from my undergraduate alma mater, UC Berkeley, has won a Nobel Prize. I think we have some kind of a record. The real kicker came at the end of the article, where it noted that the university has awarded her a free parking space on campus. Now that's worth striving for a Nobel Prize for.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020


I listened to, rather than watched (for the audio and video were ludicrously unsynced) a talk, rather than an interview, between critic Alex Ross and composer John Adams on Ross's new and epically-researched book Wagnerism, which is not about Wagner's music but about the cultural impact it's had, concentrating (Ross said) on the era 1885-1915.

Adams quoted a number of extreme praises of Wagner, mostly from that era, which passed beyond the ludicrous to the actively nauseating. But he and Ross also offered a possible explanation: the rarity in that era of encounters with Wagner's music. A full opera at the push of a button was impossible then; indeed, it was practically impossible to fit a regular orchestra, let alone a Wagnerian one, in front of an acoustic horn of the day, so no recordings existed. Piano reductions weren't the same thing, not with Wagner, so you had to encounter it live or not at all. The rare chance to hear it could be transporting; ok, I can see that.

Adams cited an excerpt played from Hagen's music in Götterdämmerung as an example of Wagner's emotional depth; that it depicts malignancy in a way music had never done before. Other composers had written evil in music, but next to this, he said, Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique sounds comic. Objections from the Berliozians in the audience, I'm sure, and what about Weber? But yes, I can see the point; but to me it's outweighed by shallowness elsewhere in Wagner's conception. A stretch like this isn't integrated with its surrounding music; Wagner has no sense of symphonic development. One might say, this is opera and not a symphony; but if no, so much the worse for opera, and that's why I rarely get anything out of it.

Furthermore, the one other excerpt played was of Tristan and Isolde having manic emotional orgasms over saying "Good morning" to each other. Half overwrought, half marking time; that's Wagner.

Still, I intend to read the book. Even if Wagner isn't good, it's important.

I found it helpful in tolerating the pauses and slow exposition in the talk by running simultaneously another window, quietly with some other music playing. Not by Wagner.

Monday, October 5, 2020

ballots arrived

Our postal ballots arrived from the county in the mail today. California is a little slower with this than some states. But not too slow.

The ballots arrived tucked up in envelopes. Pull it out of the envelope, unfold it a few times, and you have four long, floppy sheets of heavy paper.

Looking over the races, I already have a handle on the state propositions, the booklet for which arrived last week and which I was able to annotate with half a dozen voting recommendations. Local props and the legislative posts are easy; I've watched the LWV forum for our city's mayor. That leaves two multi-seat school boards (elementary and junior college) which I had to research. Voter's Edge gave me basic info, endorsements, and links to candidate websites; then Googling all the candidates' names at once turned up one local paper which gave voting recommendations, plus - even more useful - some user comments below. And I think I have my voting decisions settled from that.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

panels online

The Bay Area Book Festival, which has presented occasional interesting programs in the past, had an online festival called Berkeley Unbound today, with enough intriguing topics that I decided to listen in. The ones I heard consisted of interviews of one or two people. But while it might have been effective to read what they had to say, and it might have been pleasant to actually sit in a room listening to them, I found that taking it in on Zoom, podcast-style, expressing their ideas very slowly, was more tedious than involving. (I didn't watch all of any of them.)

On the other hand, the one of them I've actually tried to read writings by is more comprehensible as a speaker than as a writer. This was Judith Butler, who was supposed to be talking about nonviolence, but instead argued against the philosophical idea of pure individual autonomy (would that this were a straw man, but it isn't), pointing out that other people's actions affect us, and this is no more obvious than in a pandemic, where their actions affect our health and our very lives.

This was eventually succeeded by "Embracing the Other," in which Arlie Hochschild seemed to boil down understanding people to simply listening to them, while a fellow interviewee who wants to be identified as john a. powell pointed out that you can't engage with them if they won't engage with you, citing the uniform hostility of Republicans to any approaches by Obama as an example.

Next, a session on food. Asked what's a current matter of concern regarding this topic, activist Saru Jayaraman unleashed a tirade about restaurant reopenings in the pandemic, making servers risk their lives for derisory wages, and (due to the size of the customer base) getting measly tips; while famed chef Alice Waters tried to tie this in to the demand for inexpensive mass-market food, as vs. her advocacy of local food and farm-to-table (which she'd previously said was actually less expensive due to the absence of distributor costs, but whatever). If they got into the question of how to feed people who have little money, that was after I left.

The dean of Berkeley Law addressed the Supreme Court issue, but he seems to have been recorded before Barrett's nomination, so if these shows aren't live, what's the point of watching them at a particular moment? He favors restoring balance by expanding the Court under Democrats, and 18-year-terms for justices, and I've heard all that before.

Friday, October 2, 2020


re Kroeber ranch

Here's a map of hotspots from 9 pm Thursday, 6 hours ago as I write.

There's a hotspot in the hills immediately above the Kroeber place, maybe half a mile away. It's orange around that area with a little red back in the middle. There's no caption saying exactly what the colors mean, though you can kind of guess.

So you can see why the immediate area has been evacuated, and anything could happen next.

Of the sites of Kesh towns in Always Coming Home, Wakwaha is on the edge of the fire and Chukulmas is completely engulfed.

Re DT having the virus, what I seriously want to know is: when did he last test negative? I'd like to know how long he may have been spreading this around. He was talking loudly for 90 minutes in a room with Joe Biden in it just a couple of days ago.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

fire in the valley

What I'm watching the Glass Fire in Napa/Sonoma for is whether it's going to overtake the old Kroeber homestead, where Ursula Le Guin grew up in the summers and which forms the center of the setting of Always Coming Home. But as usual I'm having trouble getting up-to-date information. The most recent article I've seen, dated today, has an excellent map but the map is three days old! More recent maps are either too small-scale or too "approximate" to be of much use. What I can see suggests the fire perimeter is no more than a mile or two away, but hasn't overtaken the area yet. However, I've found one road closure map which shows the road to the homestead as closed, though the branch road on the far side from the fire isn't. So I take that as precautionary at this point, not as a sign of where the fire is.

We have relatives of our own in the Napa Valley, but they're much further away. It was last year's fire that worried us more.