Thursday, December 31, 2020

the annual year-end post

Usually on the last day of the year I publish a list of the cities I stayed in away from home. But this was the year of not going anywhere, so my list is accordingly short:

Seattle, WA
Mountain View, CA

Seattle was the one actual trip I took, in January. For a final vacation, possibly ever, it was sweet, even though the occasion for it was a memorial gathering for a dead friend. I saw many live friends - and not only at the gathering; I did my usual Seattle rounds including bookstores and Pike Place, attended a Seattle Symphony concert, and one special thing: a day trip to San Juan Island, which I hadn't visited since childhood. Out of tourist season, cold and dripping wet and nearly deserted of non-residents, it provided my idea of a perfect vacation day.

Mountain View is the town next to ours, which I hadn't had need to stay in since I actually lived there more than 30 years ago. But it was the location of the hotel I retreated to for a couple of nights when the summer heat became too much and I needed something with air conditioning. This was in early September, by the way. I wouldn't be able to do that now, if it were needed, because now the pandemic is so severe even the hotels are closed. I hadn't done this before, but I'm sure I'll need it again next summer.

That I've attended online concerts and plays held as far off as places like Syracuse and Baltimore, and participated in an online conference that would have been in Oxford had it been real, and which I wouldn't have gotten to if it had, doesn't seem worth the enumeration. I'm finding myself less likely to do this stuff. If I want to listen to recorded music, there's studio recordings with my choice of repertoire at my bidding; if I want a dramatic performance, there are movies; and attending an online conference also has an artificial air compared to just reading the papers, and I find I'm just not putting the mental and full-time commitment to it that I would if I were there. Thank goodness I'm not still in school and having to do this full-time; I'd probably have given up and gone away. (I'm also thinking back to my professional work as a library cataloger, and if I could have done that remotely: I'm not sure. I did my work on computer, but I was in constant need of consulting a vast and miscellaneous array of rule and reference books that didn't exist online. But I retired over a decade ago, and maybe now they do.)

This year I wrote 8 professionally-published concert reviews, one of them of online pandemic-era performances and the others predating it, plus 3 feature articles on music performance, two of them summarizing pandemic-era events. With my other hat I co-edited an annual volume of Tolkien Studies, contributing personally to the Year's Work and the bibliography; and I had one paper published in another journal, a previously-written conference paper I decided as late as July to submit. It was edited fiercely into shape and the online edition of the journal issue was released just this week.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas dinner

Just as I spent the better part of two days constructing Thanksgiving dinner, I've now spent two days on Christmas dinner. The mashed potato mix, the gravy, and the brownies for dessert were the same; instead of the elaborate veggie dish with tahini that I made for Thanksgiving I reverted to my standard plain sauteed veggies, because instead of stuffing from a mix I made Kamala Harris's homemade cornbread stuffing, the recipe for which had appeared in the paper on Thanksgiving day, which was a little late for it.

The recipe had suggested making the cornbread itself the day before, so I did that, along with the brownies, and the evening and the morning were the first day. Doing this in advance had the further advantage that I could use the same pan for the cornbread and the resulting stuffing. This included sausage (I used chicken sausage instead of the specified pork), onion and celery and apple, the last of which I'd never diced up for a dinner recipe before, and this was also the first recipe I've made to include all of parsley and sage and rosemary and thyme. (Footnote: When I first heard Simon & Garfunkel's recording of Scarborough Fair, I thought it was about two herbs and two people, the latter of whom were Rosemary and Tom.)

Then there came the turkey. For Thanksgiving I'd bought a 3-pound boneless turkey roast made of formed white and dark meat, which was suitable because B. likes the white meat and I prefer the dark. But I couldn't find another one of those and wound up with what said it was a breast. I'd imagined a fillet, but it turned out to be a small whole oven-ready turkey with the dark meat and the outer two joints of the wings removed. That meant it had the bones and all. It was also 7 pounds rather than 3. So this was another new cooking experience for me.

For Thanksgiving I'd monitored the meat with a pair of cheap plastic one-use-only devices which pop up when it's done; one popped up considerably before the other so I'm glad I used both. I couldn't get back to the store where I'd bought those so this time I invested in a pair of full-scale metal meat thermometers. Again I stuck them in disparate parts of the turkey and hoped for the best. Reading the thermometers was a bit of a challenge because the instructions said to consult the pointed end of the needle; unfortunately for this, both ends of the needle were pointed.

Oracles had suggested it would take close to 3 hours to cook, and as the time reached 2.5, I found that one thermometer recorded the inside temperature as either rather high or extremely low, depending on which pointed end of the needle you chose to believe. However, as the other thermometer's needle was definitely pointing to almost done, I chose to believe that one.

And yes, we got a turkey that was cooked through but still fairly moist, so I count this a success. Despite a knife that turned out to be ill-suited to on-the-bone turkey, I carved about half of it (something else I'd never done before, carve a turkey) and we ate most of that. After dinner I went to work on the rest, and filled our largest Tupperware container full of turkey, which should make, along with all the other leftovers, enough for a rerun dinner tomorrow plus a couple days'-worth substitute for the chicken breast meat I usually put in skillet sauce dinners. And the bony carcass went straight in the garbage so I don't have to worry about fitting it back in the fridge.

And that's the news on the kitchen front from Minnipin Cottage.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

the day before the day before

We usually pick up our weekly shopping on Friday, but this week it'll have to be Saturday for obvious reasons. That renders more urgent the intermediate small shopping I usually do mid-week, also done by pre-order since the pandemic went into overdrive. I had to force myself not to include staples that we weren't at immediate risk of running out of, just mostly produce that we'd actually need, because I wanted to make as small a burden on the store as possible in the mad pre-holiday rush.

But it seems, from what I found today, that the pre-holiday rush is already over. Unlike last week's big order, which wasn't ready until 3 hours after our requested pickup time, this one was ready 1.5 hours before the pickup time. That never happens. And as I drove to the store, there was no traffic and all the lights were green. That never happens either.

B. had complained that we hadn't been able to order Christmas cookies. So her sister, the family's great baker, made some for us and dropped them off today. She also dropped off some lemons from her backyard tree. Somebody got the color balance off and they're orange, but they're lemons. So I need to find something to do with them. Hmm, we have chicken and now we have lemons, therefore = lemon chicken.

Would it were always that easy. (Last time she brought tomatoes, so I invented homemade marinara sauce, a recipe that had always previously begun: 1. Buy jar of sauce.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2020


B. and I went out again last night to look at light displays, by car. This time we went to Willow Glen, the semi-isolated community in San Jose where she grew up, with the primary intention of taking a look at the old family house, which her brother owned until moving away a year ago, to see if the new owners had put up lights. They had. And so had a lot of their neighbors; much of Willow Glen was well-festooned. Some local community organization must have donated the lighted giant candy cane shapes that were outside a series of houses; elsewhere there was a similar series of red and green hoops. For an enlightening and illuminating experience, there was enough hoopla and other festivity to make it worth the bother.

Monday, December 21, 2020

loonies of the wazoo

Do you remember Edgar Maddison Welch? He was the guy who was such a devout believer in the Pizzagate conspiracy theory - the one that said that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex-trafficing ring from the basement of a DC pizza parlor - that one day about four years ago he single-handedly invaded the pizza parlor with a semi-automatic rifle and fired off a few shots, only to discover that they didn't even have a basement. He was hauled off by police and apologized for his foolishness at his sentencing.

What gets me is what must have been going through this guy's mind. Not only did he entirely accept the batsht theory that John Podesta's e-mails ordering pizzas were code words for pedophilia, but that the conspiracy was so open and easily findable that one guy with an assault rifle could blow the whole thing wide open. One is stunned at how complicit he must have imagined the DC police, the FBI, and the entire government apparatus supporting them to be in order not to have easily uncovered and exposed this.

So now meet Mark Aguirre, a Houston PI and ex-cop who's been similarly convinced by the equally imaginary stories of mass Democratic ballot stuffing. Hired by a group of similar nuts, he focused on one guy with a small cargo truck whom he was convinced was carrying around 750,000 fraudulent ballots. (And it would have taken nearly that many to turn Texas blue, by the way.) A team of PIs apparently tracked this guy for weeks - how long would it take for him to deliver a load of ballots? - and eventually Aguirre forced his truck off the side of the road and pulled a gun on him.

Only to find that he was an air-conditioner installer and that his truck was full of air-conditioner parts.

Did that abash the conspiracy theorists? No, they figure their harassment stopped the fraud. They remind me of the legendary guy who banged a tablespoon against a frying pan to get the elephant out from under the chair. But, you say, there is no elephant under the chair. "See?" he says. "It's working!"

Oh, and why is Aguirre an ex-cop? Because his way of dealing with reports of street racing in a Kmart parking lot was by leading a police raid there one evening and trying to arrest everybody in the lot, about 300 people, including all those just doing their shopping, and the ones going to the restaurants next door too. That's what turned him from a cop into an ex-cop.

"I just hope you're a patriot," Aguirre said to the cop who arrested him. I hope so too, but that word does not mean what Aguirre thinks it means.

a year in first lines

I haven't previously done the meme of the first sentence of your first post of each month this calendar year, but when I looked this year's up, I saw that they conveyed what a distressful year it's been:

So here we are in a year that's long been a favorite destination of science-fiction writers seeking a near-future setting, probably because its name sounds like the results of an eye test.

Well, good, the other team won.

I'd never even heard of this group, despite its having been around for a dozen years and having as music director Dawn Harms, well-known to me as associate concertmaster of New Century and for various chamber music performances.

I say - even if nobody else does - that it's time for my second monthly list of concerts I'm not going to be able to attend because they're canceled.

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

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

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

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.

The alternative universe is beginning to diverge enough from the bleak one we're living in that it's starting to get harder to say what I'd be doing in it.

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.

Not a very cheerful post, as it turns out.

Sad news, that my friend and the distinguished Tolkien scholar Richard West died on Sunday in Madison, Wisconsin.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

hell is a place made of computers

My afternoon was rudely jerked out of the noiseless tenor of its way when B. informed me that our tv, on which she was planning on watching something, was nonfunctional. It gave only an error message, and the power light on the DVR, which should be on, was off. Remembering previous occasions, I tried the solution of unplugging various cables from the back of the box and plugging them back in again. No luck.

An unbelievably long wait on hold later (but not nearly so unbelievably long as the subsequent session with the cable co. technician, so I guess it evens out), the tech decided to try remotely resetting our router, which provides all our electronic service except, fortunately, the phones. It hasn't usually been necessary to get into this with previous tv problems, which is fortunate because the tv is downstairs and the router box is upstairs with our computers, to which it's more intimately connected. This turned our end of the phone call into a two-person job.

Anyway, all the resetting succeeded in doing was in disconnecting our ethernet-wired computers from the internet. The wi-fi still worked, however. Eventually we got an in-person technician appointment for two days later and gave up.

After dinner, however, I tried again. I figured out how to manually reset the router (which I hadn't done since the previous box, which worked differently, was replaced) and, after not much more than the usual amount of grumbling from the system, the ethernet connections came back. Then I explored further behind the tv set and discovered that the real cause of the original problem was a plug elsewhere in the system that had been loosened by the intervention of a cat.

So after much expenditure of time and effort we are back where we were. You know, we have cats because life would be so much more boring without them.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

when he was President

Barack Obama, A Promised Land (Crown)

This 700-page memoir was my Hanukkah present from B., and I read it in a week by just keeping it at the kitchen table and reading over meals and whenever else I was there. It's an oddly-shaped narrative, including not much more than the first two years of his presidency, concluding with the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in May 2011. It's intended as a quietly triumphal ending, though I find it hard to feel joyful at an execution, no matter whose. However, Obama also covers the entire personal history of his political aspirations from childhood on, and his presidential inauguration - which passes almost unnoticed; Obama is not very interested in the ceremonial part of his office - only occurs a third of the way through the book.

Throughout his political rise, Obama finds himself tormented with the question of whether, rather than honestly pursuing avenues for political change, he's instead just feeding his ego. But the fact that he keeps asking this question suggests that the answer is "no". He's also always concerned with the effect of his career on his wife and children. Unlike the early astronauts, whose memoirs I've also been reading, who were all career-first at the time and rueful about it afterwards, Obama is at least rueful at the time, even if the disruption to his family life never slows his career. At least there are compensations in the form of helpful staff and fun family trips, and the presidency does have the advantage over earlier offices that he can always run upstairs and be home for dinner. He doesn't mention his daughters in the acknowledgments, but I hope he ran the relevant parts past them, though by now they've probably matured past the stage where descriptions of your earlier childhood antics are exquisitely embarrassing.

Especially once he becomes President, Obama is concerned about not just what he did in office, but in how he felt about it and how he behaved. The accoutrements of the presidency were sometimes disconcerting and sometimes a nuisance, but he's never fazed by the responsibility of the job, and he remarks at how others were surprised by how much he takes things in stride. (An informality of approach is suggested by his quoting his aides calling him "boss" as often as "sir" or "Mr. President.") He does worry about taking bad decisions and making gaffes, and about his tendency to be professorial and bore people. The professor shows up untamed in this book, with extensive background lessons on every major issue that comes up, domestic or foreign. But these are lucidly presented, and whether the reader's eyes will glaze over will depend on your level of interest in the particular subject.

In keeping with Obama's laid-back attitude, he finds Republican obstructionism to be more quizzical than actively aggravating, which perhaps accounts for his policy of not doing very much about it. He doesn't seem entirely aware of how dismaying this was to his supporters. For folding over the ACA in a completely unsuccessful attempt to get some Republican votes he blames Max Baucus, the chair of the Senate Finance committee, who kept on being sure he could do it. But it collapses in this meeting with Chuck Grassley, who kept on coming up with objections to each new version of the bill:
"Let me ask you a question, Chuck," I said finally. "If Max took every one of your latest suggestions, could you support the bill?"
"Well ..."
"Are there any changes - any at all - that would get us your vote?"
There was an awkward silence before Grassley looked up and met my gaze.
"I guess not, Mr. President."
And that, I think, is the obituary of the Obama administration right there.

But you don't read a lengthy memoir like this for the downers and the clashes. You read it for the one truly delicious anecdote that's required to be buried in there somewhere. Here it is:
Around six in the morning on October 9, 2009, the White House operator jolted me from sleep to say that Robert Gibbs was on the line. Calls that early from my staff were rare, and my heart froze. Was it a terrorist attack? A natural disaster?
"You were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize," Gibbs said.
"What do you mean?"
"They just announced it a few minutes ago."
"For what?"
Gibbs tactfully ignored the question. Favs would be waiting outside the Oval to work with me on whatever statement I wanted to make, he said. After I hung up, Michelle asked what the call was about.
"I'm getting the Nobel Peace Prize."
"That's wonderful, honey," she said, then rolled over to get a little more shut-eye.

Friday, December 18, 2020

contemplating food

Today we did the big weekly grocery shopping to include Christmas dinner next Friday. In practice that meant submitting the online order to the grocery store yesterday morning and hoping that most of what we ordered would be there.

Fortunately, I was able to get all the ingredients to make Kamala Harris's special recipe for cornbread stuffing, but things were a little trickier with the turkey. The 3-pound mixed white-and-dark turkey roast, which served us fine for Thanksgiving, has not been on the online menu this or any other recent week (which doesn't mean they don't have it). I tried, therefore, to order a 4-pound whole young turkey, but I guess they were out of that, for what I got was a 7-pound breast. That will keep us in turkey meat for quite a while, but I'm not keen on an all-white meat diet. (Fortunately I got enough gravy.) And it wasn't even frozen, which surprised me. I'm reluctant to freeze it, since it might have been previously frozen and a lot of things are not good frozen more than once. However, the wrapper did say use or freeze by the 28th, so I guess it'll be OK. So it went into the refrigerator instead of the freezer, where perhaps there is slightly more room.

Also on the food front, our town's mayor - who'd already shown his civic duty by convening a healing "unity gathering" sponsored by a variety of religious groups after a madman drove into a family he thought was Muslim - has undertaken a civic "restaurant project" by getting his takeout lunch sequentially from every locally-owned restaurant in the city that's open for it and then posting an entry for each on Facebook. As restaurant reviews these are no great shakes, but as an informative list for locals' use it's great. Right now I'm not getting food from anywhere where I have to get out of the car at all, but I'm keeping it handy for when the pandemic eases up a little. The fact is that I only know my half of the city, and am more likely to shop in neighboring towns than in the other half. And I hadn't realized, for instance, that there are several more take-out Chinese cafeterias over there than the three nearby ones I normally frequent. Will have to look into this.

Not food-related, but I care even if nobody else does: links to videos of 34 states' electoral college proceedings.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

last night of Hanukkah

It's the last night of Hanukkah tonight, and I've cleaned out all the leftover wax from the previous night and loaded the candles. This is, I think, the first year that B. and I have been together that I've been home and thus lighting candles for all 8 nights, instead of being out at a concert or somewhere, and thus used up an entire box of 44 candles (1+2...+8, +8 shamas=44).

With the infection rate continuing to rise, we're still holed up as much as possible. B. is coping by having as much holiday celebration as possible: she's decorated the (artificial) tree and has ordered and watched as many seasonal tv specials as possible, including the latest broadcast of A Charlie Brown Christmas, and we're planning a big Christmas dinner, for just the two of us, on the lines of our Thanksgiving dinner, to be preceded by the family Zoom call. And last night we went out by car to look at the displays of yard lights around the city.

Me, I've got work to do, and plenty of reading, and cooking that dinner to plan, and the task of doing the driving on the light-watching expedition. Figuring out where to go, and remembering how to get there, is my idea of fun. My main source is this catalog of light displays. Its listings are a little thin on the ground this year, but I figure where there's one spectacular enough to be listed, there will be others interesting to see, and that was generally the case. Often the less spectacular ones are the more tasteful and give more aesthetic pleasure to observe.

With the high-infection season of winter coming, it looks as if we'll be in this tight quarantine, no food except what we can pick up from drive-ups and drive-throughs, for another two or three months, or however long it takes until the vaccine is distributed. But then I read that we'll have to continue wearing masks and social-distancing even after getting the vaccine, so I must ask, in a puzzled tone, what then is the vaccine protecting us from? At what point - I'm not asking for a date, but a stage of progress - does this stop?

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Beethovens Geburtstag

Today we celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven. (And so I'm listening to our local classical station, which is going all-Beethoven for the day later this morning.) He's often considered the greatest composer in the Western classical tradition - J.S. Bach and W.A. Mozart are the only other likely candidates - and he's certainly one of my favorites. And he was also my gateway into the serious classical repertoire, which has been the heart and bulk of my music listening since, oh, around Beethoven's 200th birthday (which I celebrated by picking up a CBS promotional LP called Happy Birthday Ludwig with a photo on the cover of an impersonator in a Beethoven workroom gazing happily at a large birthday cake).

I'd previously been listening to light classics - Rossini overtures, Strauss waltzes, 19C tone poems - which satisfied me more than any "popular" music I'd heard, but at first I shied away from symphonies and other heavy classics, which intimidated me. But eventually I worked up the gumption to face my parents' box set of Beethoven symphonies (René Leibowitz conducting the Royal Philharmonic). At this time I knew three things about the Beethoven symphonies: 1. There were nine of them. 2. They were supposed to be the greatest orchestral music in the repertoire. 3. Number five went "da-da-da-dum." That's it. I had never actually heard any of them. I was twelve.

I took out the Fifth and put it on the turntable, curious to hear what else it did. It couldn't just go "da-da-da-dum" for half an hour. Actually, in a sense it could. I had never encountered symphonic architecture before, and the experience of hearing what a towering structure Beethoven could construct out of that simple four-note phrase in the first movement, with echoes in the rest, overwhelmed me. This was the kind of music I was born to hear.

I was immediately converted. I quickly listened to all the Beethoven symphonies and got to know them all, and went on to the rest of the concert ensemble repertoire, at first other composers' orchestral works and later chamber music including Beethoven's.

So what's my favorite Beethoven? Don't ask me to choose among his symphonies. I guess that, picking up a set of recordings, I'm most likely to listen to the Seventh - one of the most high-energy symphonies of all time - and the Eighth - a fierce little monster - and, believe it or not, the First: it's Haydnesque with all the brusque qualities, that Haydn had edited out of his increasingly galant music by that time, put back in.

I'm not generally much of a concerto listener, but I like Beethoven's. (Except for the Triple Concerto and the Choral Fantasy.) Of all of them, the Emperor Concerto, for piano and orchestra, is the greatest. The first movement is so charming (I especially like the "music box" second theme) and the second movement so profoundly beautiful. (Remember that Beethoven wrote this while Napoleon was besieging Vienna, with the composer spending most of his time hiding in the basement with pillows over his ears to protect the remains of his hearing from the sound of cannon. Puts the lie to all latter-day claims that ugly times require ugly music, doesn't it?) And the way the slow movement melts into the finale is one of my favorite transition moments in all music.

Beethoven's chamber ensemble music includes a lot of things - piano-and-strings trios were a specialty of his - but it's totally dominated by his string quartets. I finally learned my way around these, to the extent of being comfortable with them, while reviewing performances of them for SFCV, and wasn't that a task, especially because the late quartets are the most challenging concert works in the pre-20C repertoire, a few works by Bach being their only competition. I'd vote for Op. 130 and Op. 132 as the greatest, especially for their moments of charm and beauty among the vast tracts of serious and somber esoterica. Of the earlier quartets, I'd choose as favorites Op. 18 No. 4 and Op. 74.

Beethoven is one of the few composers whose solo piano music I really look forward to hearing. (Schumann and Prokofiev are the others.) I confess I don't really know my way around his 32 sonatas, except for the really famous ones and a couple early-period favorites, but I recently listened my way through the entirety of András Schiff's lecture-recitals on the whole set, which with the scores in front of me was highly illuminating, especially for the early and middle period works.

There's a few other odd corners of Beethoven's instrumental music worth exploring. One work I came across at a Beethoven miscellanea concert was this early sonatina for mandolin and keyboard, to which my reaction was, "Beethoven invented bluegrass!"

B. says Beethoven couldn't write adequately for voices, perhaps because he went deaf, but even before that. I do find the Ode to Joy the least compelling part of the otherwise epically enthralling Ninth Symphony, and why anyone ever performs the extremely early Cantata on the Death of the Emperor Joseph II beats me. Maybe they like the title. Beethoven wrote only one opera, which he spent years tinkering with (including changing the title), but it's not particularly highly ranked by lovers of opera. But there's one other obscure corner of Beethoven vocal music worth exploring. He spent years earning occasional spending money by arranging piano-and-strings accompaniments for English-language folk songs, for a Scottish publisher who paid well. (Beethoven didn't read English, so he had to have the lyrics translated to have any idea of what they were saying.) Here's one you should know.

And on that, I'll wish you a music-filled Beethoven's birthday, a cheerful Hanukkah, a merry Christmas, and a happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

more electoral collegiality

I'd never watched an electoral college proceedings before, but I wound up watching at least part of several on various video platforms, most of them recordings after they'd happened. (All Democratic states: I have no interest in watching anyone vote for DT.) The larger ones were the more formal. Michigan, the one I'd first come across as it was happening, was held in what looked like a chamber of the state legislature, with the electors spread at desks across the room. Introduced by the governor, the meeting was chaired by the lieutenant governor (not himself an elector), a tall Black man with an imposing voice. They went through formal procedures of nominating and electing, not just the chair and sergeant-at-arms (who collected the signed vote certificates), but honorary chairs, and they even had formal nominations of the candidates.

California was somewhat similar. You knew that both Bill and Hillary Clinton were among the New York electors; I learned from a list posted on an official site that one of California's electors was Pete McCloskey. Up until some 40 years ago a Republican congressman, McCloskey is now 93, and some years ago he announced that after a lifetime he'd given up on the Republican party and re-registered as a Democrat, so I'm not surprised to see him here now.

I also watched parts of New Mexico, because a glitch on the news tally (since corrected) left me uncertain whether it had succeeded in voting for Biden or not, and Arizona, because I wanted to hear the secretary of state's opening speech denouncing the threats of violence against those who are counting the votes.

Both were much less formal and were held in hearing rooms. In New Mexico they sat on the dais, and elected one of their own as chair, with the secretary of state and state elections director coaching them from the audience speaker's podium. In Arizona, which has considerably more votes these days, they sat in the audience section and were addressed from a head podium facing them. Arizona has a law directing the electors to follow the popular vote, and did not pretend to be a deliberative body: they were there to vote for Biden and Harris, and nothing else. In New Mexico, though, when the ballots were handed out, they were actually told to fill it out however they wanted. Both states were small enough that the electors were individually introduced; they were mostly chairs of various state and local party organizations. Both states had tribal electors; in Arizona, if I followed this, all 3 of the state's major tribes were represented.

Anyway, the news said it all came out as intended, no "faithless" shenanigans like last time.

Monday, December 14, 2020

electoral college

I'm watching the formal proceedings of the Electoral College of Michigan, because that's the state that happened to be up when I went looking. They've just cast 16 votes unanimously for Biden, and are now canvassing for Harris. That's satisfying to see.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

hanukkah dinner

OK, we had the Hanukkah menorah and an appropriate holiday tablecloth; what to eat? B. wanted latkes; OK, I can make that. And matzo ball soup, well within my repertoire. Basic steamed veggies this time, and for an entree, breaded chicken fillets seemed to go well, perhaps because, like the latkes and soup, it's also made with egg. (Coat the chicken with egg before dipping in the breading.) And, apparently unlike a lot of people, I can cook chicken breasts so that they're still tender and moist, not dried out.

B. also said we should have challah bread. I'm not going to make that myself; I am not much of a baker. (And it would require more eggs; the above dishes cleaned us out.) Where to buy some, then? There are a lot of Jews around here, but it's not a Jewish ethnic neighborhood. I did remember, though, once buying a challah loaf at about the fourth-closest Whole Foods, but never having seen it at any of the others. An online check confirmed: they still carry it, none of the others do.

But with the covid in the state it currently is, I wished not, as I would have a month ago, to duck in to the store to grab a loaf. A pickup order seemed best, but this was hard to get. Unlike the regular market we use, available time slots at Whole Foods are scarce. I also had to fill up the order with other stuff to make a reasonable price minimum, and Whole Foods doesn't carry much that I want.

But it was done, and I drove there on Friday, which I could get a slot for, and they loaded, although they seemed puzzled that I hadn't checked in with their app (I don't do apps). The challah came from Wise Sons, which is a deli in San Francisco. The challah was still tolerably fresh when we had a few slices for dinner, but we're not big bread eaters; what to do with the rest?

French toast! B. likes breakfast food even for dinner, and day-old bread, especially challah, is perfect for French toast, so the next day's dinner is planned. But that does mean placing another order with the regular market for MORE EGGS.

Saturday, December 12, 2020


The first night of Hanukkah was actually Thursday (I know some non-Jews tend to get confused about our holiday dates), but owing to evening online engagements and the consequent hurried dinners, we've postponed our celebratory meal until tonight, Saturday.

One of those engagements was the annual Brocelïande wintertide concert, usually a toasty warm event in the back room of a metaphysical/spiritual bookshop in Mountain View. The bookshop still sold the tickets, but this year it was virtual and we watched it on an ipad in our living room. We couldn't see our fellow audience members until the feed was switched at the end, but the band could see (though not hear) us so we applauded as usual. Unfortunately the video dropped out occasionally and the sound stuttered (which could have been our wifi), and watching them on a small screen felt more like listening to a recording than attending a concert, and we already have all the songs they played on their recordings.

I had more fun this morning with another Tolkien Society pub quiz, because they've got an online platform perfectly suited to having a hundred people take a multiple-choice question at once without interfering with each other. But the presence of some movie questions salted in, without being set off in an "adaptations" category, made me wonder if this was the Tolkien Society or the Jackson Society. This was followed, since it was Yulemoot and not just the quiz, with some members singing folk songs, which was OK but the online sound was tinny.

It rained last night, first measurable rain of the season. Meanwhile, according to today's paper, the presence of one county in the region that hasn't shut down its outdoor dining, hair salons, etc., has had people flocking to it from around the region. Are they suicidal? To me that's all the more reason to stay away and avoid bringing my breathing apparatus into that county. And to increase vigilance even in my own. How I'm doing shopping ... tell you after Hanukkah dinner, since that's part of that story.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Tybalt is become a stereotypical cat

And cats play with yarn, yes? Tybalt got a ball of yarn out of the workbasket in B's office late last night and took it all the way downstairs. There he unrolled the entire ball into an unclassifiable tangle of string that went around chairs, tables, the Christmas tree ... all over the dining room and living room floors for B. to find when she came down this morning.

He has a habit of discovering more and more things, so now that he's learned about yarn, we may not have an end to it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

cats, cars, water and disease

Monday: Day to take the cats in to the vet for checkups, nail clips, and shots. Only it didn't quite happen that way. We'd hid the cat carriers in the shower stall and tried to lure the cats into the bathroom (where they regularly eat) with offers of a second breakfast. Maia didn't get quite in, and then Tybalt got out. So we had to chase him down, while Maia disappeared into some tiny cubbyhole somewhere.
Last year, Tybalt's reaction to being cooped up was to try to generate a small earthquake to knock the carrier down. This year, he instead issued loud and mournful cries. All the way home, too. But he didn't fool us: the vet said he'd been friendly and cooperative while they worked on him.
The vet, of course, was distanced. I parked, phoned them, they came out and took the carrier from the back seat. Reversed when they were done.

Tuesday: Day for B. to take her car in for servicing. Instead of taking the shuttle home (or waiting, unfeasible anyway as they expected a long wait), she had me pick her up, then drive her back when they were done.
After dropping her off, I drove to a couple local libraries to deposit borrowed books I was done with. Despite the "stay-at-home" order, which is actually less severe than the one back in March (the libraries are now open for pick-up and drop-off, for one thing), it didn't look much less busy on the roads or downtowns than last week. Although outdoor restaurant dining has been prohibited, the main street in downtown Mountain View is still closed off to be used as restaurant patios; I guess they're anticipating being able to use them again soon.

Wednesday: Day for us to wake up and discover our water had been turned off. And not by some joker playing with the master valve on our house, either. Nor had we received any message that this would happen, as we have a couple of previous times. After leaving messages with both the condo complex management and the city's water department, I wandered outside and found a man digging in the verge down the street. I asked him (from a safe distance) if he knew anything about the water; yes, landscapers had accidentally broken a pipe and he was fixing it. Letting residents know was apparently not on the agenda. How long would it take? About twenty minutes, he said. Four hours later, the water came on, about the same time as we got an e-mail from condo management.

This part of the world is not the home of buffoon anti-maskers like in South Dakota or Idaho, but it's bad enough with massive in-person church services (you know, God gave us remote-video technology for a reason) and big holiday parties, and worse yet, politicians violating their own strictures and going out to large fancy group dinners. Do they think they're somehow immune? In the words of Kevin S., I don't mind them risking suicide, but I don't want them to take me with them. So we're hunkering down even more than before and cutting out in-person shopping even in the slow hours: mail-order and (preferably distanced) store pickup only.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Walter Hooper

Walter Hooper died yesterday at the age of 89, of covid. He had been C.S. Lewis's literary executor for decades, and quite prolific in that role. Instead of embarking on a new evaluation and summation of his work, I'm going to reprint a previous post of mine from over a decade ago, on a curious Lewis anecdote Hooper used to tell. nb also the footnote.

Walter Hooper, literary executor of C.S. Lewis, has been going around for years telling a Lewis anecdote that strikes me as disturbingly uncharacteristic of the Lewis I've otherwise read and read about. (Actually, there are a lot of questions about Hooper's personal acquaintance with Lewis, but I'm not going to get into that now.) It's sometimes said of anecdotes that if they're not true, they ought to be, that they're ben trovato. This one is the opposite: if it is true, it ought not to be.

Hooper tells it in print in the preface to the 1980 reprint of Lewis's collection The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, giving it as an example of Lewis's talent for merriment; but if so, it's merriment at the expense of being intentionally rude to a guest in your home.
It took some time for an American, such as myself, to adapt to English "conveniences." I see, for instance, from my diary of 7 June 1963* that during a longish visit with Lewis we drank what seemed gallons of tea. After a while I asked to be shown the "bathroom," forgetting that in most homes the bathroom and the toilet are separate rooms. With a kind of mock formality, Lewis showed me to the bathroom, pointed to the tub, flung down a pile of towels, and closed the door behind me. I returned to his sitting-room to say that it was not a bath I wanted but .... "Well, sir, 'choose you this day,'" said Lewis, bursting with laughter as he quoted the prophet Joshua, "that will break you of these silly American euphemisms. And now, where is it you wanted to go?" (p. 8-9)
OK, maybe Lewis didn't know that in America the toilet usually is actually in the bathroom, whereas in England the bath and toilet are usually in separate rooms. But break him of euphemisms? Surely Lewis - author of a prodigiously erudite historical survey of word usage called Studies in Words (Cambridge University Press, 1960) - would have known that all the common English polite words for the item in question - toilet, lavatory, loo, W.C., restroom, men's room, even latrine or privy - are also euphemisms. Did Lewis expect his visitors to turn to French and ask for the pissoir?

"Bathroom" is a normal American word for the thing, as Lewis surely also knew, else he wouldn't have said "American euphemisms," and not a word adopted out of conscious delicacy. It would have been pretty silly for Lewis to have assumed that Americans were known for their dainty language, particularly about this subject. Lewis had been married to an American woman (by this time deceased), who was described by Lewis's brother Warren as "quite extraordinarily uninhibited. Our first meeting was at a lunch in Magdalen [College], where she turned to me in the presence of three or four men, and asked in the most natural tone in the world, 'Is there anywhere in this monastic establishment where a lady can relieve herself?'" (W.H. Lewis, Brothers and Friends, p. 244)

"Quite extraordinarily uninhibited," he says, over her use of "relieve oneself" - another euphemism.

Searching for records of this material online, I came across a very strange essay arguing that Lewis was obsessed with the urinary. Well, pick over a prolific author's oeuvre closely enough, you can find enough references to prove about anything. Rilstone contrasts Lewis with Tolkien, whom he claims never brings up the subject, but I once published a short article ("Natural Functions in Arda," by Donald O'Brien, Mythprint Feb. 1991, p. 8-9) identifying a couple of "earthy" (there's another euphemism for you) references hidden in the text of The Lord of the Rings. Actually, I think what's on display here is less Lewis's urinary obsession than Rilstone's anti-urinary one. Rilstone scoffs at Lewis's famous remark about how strong need can produce pleasure in contemplating otherwise neutral or obnoxious things, "have there not for most of us been moments (in a strange town) when the sight of the word GENTLEMEN over a door has roused a joy almost worthy of celebration in verse?"** (The Four Loves (Harcourt, 1960), p. 29) Rilstone replies, ", actually. Speaking for myself, there have not been."

Rilstone attributes all this to Lewis having a weak bladder, but I have a very strong bladder (Me Thog ... me have strong bladder), yet I can recall a couple searingly memorable instances where I felt exactly as Lewis describes - mostly because I had relied on my strong bladder a little longer than I should have. I should have remembered the Queen of England's rule, which is always to use the toilet when you have a chance, because you never know when you'll get another chance - or when the restroom you're relying on will be closed.

But for goodness' sake (euphemism), if you are in England, don't make your inquiries by asking for the bathroom.

*This was, though they'd corresponded before, the first time Hooper met Lewis, as revealed in Hooper's C.S. Lewis: A Companion & Guide (Harper, 1996), p. 116. This was less than 6 months before Lewis died, and prior to 1996 Hooper fudged the date of their first meeting, preferring to give the impression, as recorded in the blurb about the editor on the back cover of the posthumous collection God in the Dock (Eerdmans, 1970), that he was "a long-time friend and for some years personal secretary of C.S. Lewis." Well, I said I wasn't going to get into this.

**Rilstone also notes, more fairly, that this leaves out 50% of Lewis's potential audience - including the lady in the monastic establishment.

Monday, December 7, 2020

reading without meeting

Our mythopoeic book discussion group's schedule features an annual December festive gathering for potluck dinner and reading of favorite bits aloud. That's out this year, so we gathered on Sunday via Zoom. Maybe eight of us showed up, including our member in exile in Wisconsin, whom we hear from occasionally but hadn't seen in a long time. So that's one advantage of the current regime: geography has been erased.

No food, except what we had at home, but the business part of the meeting (choosing the discussion topics for next year) went well, without the usual hassle of choosing meeting places, and we had a bit of reading as well.

I chose an excerpt from the prologue of The White House Mess by Christopher Buckley. This comic novel, Buckley's first, was published in 1987 and dealt with the fictional administration of a then-future immediate successor to Reagan, a President Tucker. The prologue recounted inauguration day. The narrator is Tucker's personal assistant. They're about to leave for the ceremony, but there's a mysterious delay.
"Herb," said the President-elect barely above a whisper, "we seem to have a situation here." He drew a deep breath. "The President won't leave."
I did not at first understand.
"I beg your pardon, sir?"
"His doctor's in with him now. They're talking about maybe giving him a shot of adrenaline." ...
"Have you spoken to him?" I asked.
"Yes, I have," said the President-elect. "He told me his back was bothering him, that he was feeling tired, that it's cold outside, and that he just didn't feel like moving out today."
"Oh," I said, for I could think of nothing else to say.
"He was very nice about it. Hoped it wouldn't inconvenience me."
"I see. Did he say when he might feel like moving?"
"Yes. Spring."
I had spent weeks drawing up contingency plans for everything, including the disposal of 1,800 pounds of horse manure that would be 'processed' during the parade. I had not anticipated this.
Eventually they get Reagan up by telling him we're under attack by the Soviet Union and he needs to assume direct command of World War III from an emergency airborne command post. "Apparently the President was quite animated by this last prospect, and began immediately to change out of his pajamas."

Oh, I suppose you can guess why I chose to read that little bit today.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

two action movies in which the only reason the hero doesn't die is that heroes don't die

The new month's output of films newly available for streaming where I could see them included two blockbuster action movies of some vintage (23 and 12 years old) and considerable fame, but which I had never seen. They're otherwise very different.

Air Force One, in which the US president's plane is hijacked by terrorists, is a fantasy of heroic adventure, with a veneer of realism about the good guys' interactions but complete self-indulgent wanking over the way the president personally and nearly single-handedly defeats the terrorists. This movie single-handedly created the trope of Action Movie President which George W. Bush felt obliged to pretend to live up to during 9/11, with incredibly awkward results.

The Hurt Locker, on the other hand, offers itself as an ultra-realistic look at the US Army teams who seek and disarm or destroy IEDs during the Iraq War (though it did get some criticism on that point from the people who actually do it, as always happens). While Air Force One was popular, this one was acclaimed: it won six Academy Awards including Best Picture, and wound up on many critics' lists of the best movies of the decade, including Ebert's.

My reaction was different. I did rather enjoy watching Air Force One, but I found it irritating. The Hurt Locker, on the other hand, was just irritating.

The reason for my irritation is this: various actions are established as dangerous by depicting good guys getting killed by doing them. But then the hero - Harrison Ford in the one, Jeremy Renner in the other - does the same thing and doesn't get killed. The implication is that it's just his superior dazzle and sparkle that lets him do it, but vulnerability in these situations is not purely, or even mostly, a function of the person's abilities, but of factors over which he has no control. It's really for the reason spelled out in my post title. As a self-confident Donald Westlake character once put it, "I'm the hero ... The hero doesn't get killed."

Air Force One is actually better than some such movies in one respect: good guys hiding out from bad guys who manage to avoid being seen while themselves not being able to see where the bad guys are at the moment. Harrison Ford at least has to look. But in terms of not being shot, and especially in terms of hanging on while dangling outside the airplane in buffeting winds where anybody else was just swept overboard, it's just too obvious that he succeeds because: he's the hero.

The Hurt Locker opens by establishing what a dangerous job this is. Renner's predecessor (Guy Pearce) usually uses a trundling remote-control robot to safely explode bombs. But, forced by a malfunction to approach a bomb personally, Pearce is killed when the bomb goes off, even though he's some distance away and wearing his protective bomb suit. So what does Renner do? He dismisses the robot and saunters in with a pair of wire clippers to defuse the bombs, not even wearing the bomb suit (figuring he'd get killed anyway, so he might as well be flexible and comfortable).

That's chutzpah enough, but here's the thing: Pearce had been killed not through any mistake of his own, but because the bomber was lurking nearby and set off the bomb remotely by cell phone. So why, especially considering the number of locals hanging around while he does this, does this not happen to Renner? The lurking is not under his control, and there'd be plenty of time for the bomber to send the signal.

Worse yet, the soldier whose job it is to cover Renner while he works (Anthony Mackie) is constantly irritated by Renner's unorthodox, unsoldierly, and risky behavior. This doesn't defuse the issue, it only magnifies it. I was just as irritated as Mackie was. I give The Hurt Locker a bad grade as a movie.

Also, what is the point of these stories? Harrison Ford begins Air Force One with a stirring speech about how America will never negotiate with terrorists. But when the terrorists hijack the plane, what does he do? He negotiates with them. While also trying to take them out, yes, but only his success at that prevents at literally the last second the terrorists getting what they want (the release of their imprisoned leader). The point of The Hurt Locker seems to be that you can do all this stuff, but it's ultimately futile. Like other movies depicting futility, it goes on way, way too long.

You know, I didn't have this problem watching Mission Impossible: Fallout a couple months ago, even though Tom Cruise's heroics are of an absurdity that makes Harrison Ford look like a wimp. The reason is, besides the improvement over a couple of decades in filming techniques (the matting in Air Force One is sometimes a little too obvious), Mission Impossible didn't go out of its way to tell you how dangerous the heroics are, and thus insult the viewer's intelligence.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

busy day

My determination to avoid as much physical human interaction as possible, in these covid-tough times, didn't prevent going out yesterday for more than the usual number of errands. In ordinary times, this would be an ordinary number of errands, but these are not normal times.

First to the post office with the payments for several bills, to drop them off at the drive-by outside collection boxes.
Third to the supermarket to pick up our weekly order. I've written before about our problems with this, but on fourth try we found a store in this chain which doesn't regularly make a mess of the pickup process. This week they even sent out a notification at our requested delivery time that they were running late. We'd never gotten such a notice before, and the stores have been later than they proved this time (about an hour).
When it works right - and so far it's worked right at this outlet - you park in one of a few designated spaces in front of the store, phone their designated line, give them your name and space number, and pop your trunk. Five to ten minutes later, they come out and deposit your groceries in the trunk. Everything was already paid for online, so off you go.
Second item was trying the same thing at a pharmacy, for some items the grocer didn't carry. First I'd tried CVS, only to learn after I'd already placed the order that they only do mail order and it won't arrive for a week. Never mind, we can always use more of this. Walgreens, however, does have pickup, and they claim it'll be ready in half an hour. But somehow I managed not to receive the confirmatory e-mail. A query phone call, however, took care of that.

B. had her last socially-distanced string quartet meeting of the season today (it's getting cold outside, cold by our standards that is).

I received a reviewer's link to the files from a new album, Occurrence by the Iceland Symphony conducted by Daníel Bjarnason, consisting of new music by Icelandic composers. I'm not under any compulsion to give this a full review, so I'll just say that the contents seemed to me to be mostly spectralism. Dark and ominous spectralism from Veronique Vaka (she's an immigrant from Canada, thus the unIcelandic name), bright and glittering spectralism from Þuríður Jónsdóttir (now there's an Icelandic name) and Haukur Tómasson, and just dark and ominous, in more of a Shostakovich/Weinberg mode, from the late and apparently great Magnús Blöndal Jóhannsson.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Christmas cheer from TACO

It's here. For weeks or months now (I've lost track), the Terrible Adult Chamber Orchestra - the confessedly amateur group with which B. has been playing violin - has been planning a series of socially distanced videos of arrangements of carols and Christmas songs. Each player made their own videos at home to the beat of videos of the conductor, submitted them online (and didn't that turn out to be technically difficult), and what turned out to be some pretty talented editors put them together.

Here's the results. It's not really bad for an amateur group. It's a heck of a lot better than TACO sounds live, I can assure you of that; I was actually pretty impressed. Those who know her, spot B. among the violins!

Thursday, December 3, 2020

the names

I started to write about what trans people call their deadnames, in the wake of the announcement by Elliot Page, but it got longer than I have any right to impose. I speak here purely as a cis person who wants to be supportive of trans people, and who is also concerned with clarity and informativeness.

Summarizing then: I think that most trans people, and anybody else whose name was changed before (if ever) they became famous, should have the right to suppress their deadnames if they choose.

But cases like Page who already had public careers under that name are in a different status. We can learn to use the new name exclusively; we've done that before. Yet the old name is still out there; it can be changed retroactively online and in new releases, but it can't be erased universally and new people coming across Page's old work will need to be informed who's who and what's what, to avoid inadvertent errors. So in these cases, the deadname should be included in the person's entry in reference sources like Wikipedia, but it doesn't need to be in boldface in the first paragraph.

Incidentally, this shoe fits on the other foot as well. John Oliver may think it funny to call Donald Trump "Donald Drumpf", but that's a deadname that was abandoned by his grandfather if not two centuries earlier, and we shouldn't use it any more than we should deny that Elliot Page is male.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Richard C. West, 1944-2020

Sad news, that my friend and the distinguished Tolkien scholar Richard West died on Sunday in Madison, Wisconsin. He was 76 and retired from the University of Wisconsin, where he'd been an engineering librarian. He had been in hospital with another chronic illness and contracted the covid. His wife, Perri, is also in the same hospital with the same thing, and it's part of the cruelness of the virus that they were unable to see each other.

I can't remember how long I've known Richard personally: at least thirty years, possibly as many as forty. But I've known his work longer than that. When I first explored Tolkien scholarship, and that was getting on to fifty years ago, I quickly learned that much of the best work was being done in fanzines, and one of the top fanzines in the field was Orcrist, the journal of the University of Wisconsin Tolkien society, which was edited by Richard C. West. In its pages he was the first scholar to begin to poke around in Tolkien's draft manuscripts of The Lord of the Rings, which were - and still are - kept at Marquette University in Milwaukee, and to report in print on what he found there. His judgment, "If we pick [various discarded ideas] out of the scrap heap it is only to show how wise the author was to throw them there," has long been my lodestone in dealing with this material, and I've quoted that sage advice in at least two papers of my own.

In the same early period, Richard wrote one of the pioneering studies in Tolkien's use of medieval literary techniques, "The Interlace Structure of The Lord of the Rings," but in the years since then he's never stopped. In recent years, he's concentrated on bringing insights to the stories of Lúthien Tinúviel and Túrin Turambar, penning essays showing how Lúthien's actions demonstrate how deeply truthfulness and honor are embedded in Tolkien's morality, and comparing Túrin's impetuousness to the ofermod that Tolkien famously discussed regarding Beorhtnoth in The Battle of Maldon. His studies were always both clear and detailed. In the hospital, he was still planning his next trip to Marquette to look over the manuscripts there again.

He was Guest of Honor at Mythcon in 2014, where he gave a remarkable speech on the theme of "Where Fantasy Fits," where - unusually for his scholarship - he drew on his knowledge of science fiction and its fandom (he was a member of the group that founded Wiscon, the pioneering feminist SF con) to discuss their perception of the category of fantasy in the years when Tolkien was writing, before fantasy became a publishing genre of its own. One of his points was that, while few fantasy novels for adults were published in this period, "those that did manage to find a publisher were usually very, very good."

You may read that speech online at the Mythlore archives, but it was another thing to be there in the auditorium to hear it. The formal honor led to Richard's greatest triumph in public speaking. Ordinarily he was not a prepossessing speaker. He spoke quickly and softly, and seemed to address a lot of asides to himself. But if you could hear what he was saying, it was always worthwhile, as the printed versions show. This time, though, his voice rang out with gratifying clarity.

There was, also, the remarkable occasion at the 2000 World SF Con in Chicago, when the organizers put Richard, myself, Doug Anderson, and Tom Shippey on a panel investigating the reasons for Tolkien's popular success. I don't remember much of what we said, except that Richard had a lot of statistics to buttress his points, but I do remember that the evening before the early-morning panel, the four of us went out to discuss it over dinner at one of Chicago's notable steakhouses, one of those glorious outings of four people truly dedicated to Tolkien's works.

Richard was a private person, reticent about his personal life, a devout Catholic and a support to B. in her searches for a good church to attend Mass at when the two of them were at a conference together. His observations in discussions of others' presentations were as worthwhile as his own, and despite his retiring social quality he could be a good companion for one-on-one conversation, as I found a couple times when we went out for meals together.

Somehow apart from Richard's other work is his magnum opus and only book(s), his application of his librarian profession to Tolkien studies in the two editions of the bibliography Tolkien Criticism: An Annotated Checklist (1970 and 1981). They're still useful for evaluating and checking up on early Tolkien scholarship; little-known is that Richard also published a supplement, a selective annotated evaluative list of the best Tolkien criticism of the next 20+ years, published in Modern Fiction Studies in 2004.

There may be another book, though. At a gathering of Tolkien scholars a couple years ago, Richard mentioned plans to collect some of his articles into book form, which we thought a splendid idea and immediately embarked on coming up with appropriate Tolkien-inspired book titles derived from the evocative surname of West. May this book come to be.

(I had wanted to post this on the Tolkien Society blog first, but I haven't been able to get access to the posting function)