Monday, April 12, 2021


I did a very pre-pandemic thing today, i.e. a once-regular habit I'd not practiced for over a year, which is to line up a whole set of geographically proximate errands and do them on one trip. I was out for nearly 2 1/2 hours.

1. Stopped at the independent bookstore to pick up a volume I'd ordered from their web site: The Science of Middle-earth, translated from the French. Reading the opening chapters during the waiting part of step 4 revealed loads of irritating errors. Early LOTR reviewer Michael Straight is called Straits. Tolkien is said to have delivered "On Fairy-stories" at a conference on fairy tales. And an article on family relationships in the legendarium invents a non-existent nephew of a non-existent king.

2. Stopped at the public library in the same town to turn in a large book bag's worth of checked out books, including some from ILL, concluding work on the Tolkien Studies annual bibliography which I turned in yesterday.

3. Stopped at my credit union office to make the annual small deposit. I only keep this account for the credit card I got from it, but I have to do something with the account itself once a year or I start getting charged for inactivity. Remembered to bring along my member number this time.

3a. Impulse stop, as on the way out to the freeway I passed Izzy's, the only genuine bagels in the area south of SF. First bagel I'd had since before the pandemic. They've set up an ordering counter blocking their front door, and the clerk shouts your order over her shoulder to the person at the bagel counter in the back. I asked for an Everything bagel. What do you want on it (e.g. cream cheese)? Nothing, I said. This evidently caused my order to transmute into a Plain bagel. Got that straightened out.

4. 2nd dose of Pfizer.

5. Stopped at favorite fish restaurant for a take-out lunch order of fried sole. Ate the nuggets on the drive home with the aid of a vinyl glove and a bottle of water I'd brought along for this eventuality. The haste was because I would otherwise be running short of time for the starting point of an errand at home,

6. Our weekly play reading session on Zoom. Today, the first half of Shakespeare's The Tempest. Was more interesting this way than some live performances I've seen. Afterwards, analyzed the rest of the play to assign parts for next week. This can be a bit of a challenge when you have only four actors for a final scene in which the whole cast of characters is on stage at once. Efforts to assign multiple parts that don't interact led to B. in Act 3 Scene 3 reading Ariel and Sebastian. Yikes! We're doing Disney's The Little Mermaid!

Saturday, April 10, 2021


A lot of talk about Ernest Hemingway in the media lately, because of the Ken Burns documentary on him. I'm not planning on watching this. Burns's mannered and portentous style has turned me off, and caused me to turn him off, on subjects I'm a lot more interested in than Hemingway.

My experience in reading Hemingway consists entirely of two high-school assignments, which left me with an intense desire not to repeat the experience. I think my basic problem with Hemingway may be summed up in a quote from C.S. Lewis, who once wrote of the Inklings that "the problems of narrative as such - seldom heard of in modern critical writings - were constantly before our minds." Hemingway was writing for those critics who did not have the problems of narrative before their minds. In his stories, at least the ones I read, nothing happened.

One story we read was called The Old Man and the Sea. It concerns an old man who goes out fishing on the ocean, catches a really big fish, and ties it to the back of his boat. Over the course of the apparently several days it takes him to get home, sharks eat the entire fish. It seems to be telling us of the utter pointlessness and futility of life, and I couldn't agree more: not that life is pointless and futile, but that reading Hemingway is.

In another class, we read a few Nick Adams stories. Our assignment was to rewrite one of the stories from a different character's narrative perspective. In keeping with what seemed to be the spirit of the originals, I attempted to write a story in which absolutely nothing happened. I got an A. That told me a lot.

Most of the articles on Hemingway compare him to Faulkner - whom they consider a lot more influential on writing today - and whom I also bounced off of, though not in class where he was never brought up. Curiously, none of them mention the writer who seemed inseparably paired with Hemingway back when I was encountering them, and that was John Steinbeck. I found them highly contrasting. Steinbeck I liked. Yes, some of his early work was absurdly symbolic, and the later sloppy and garrulous, but he hit a sweet spot in the 1930s. Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, Tortilla Flat, The Red Pony, and the unjustly forgotten In Dubious Battle all captivated me, and I read them of my own volition with pleasure. Isn't that what a writer should hope to accomplish in readers?

Friday, April 9, 2021

That's the URL at which I just watched my favorite local ensemble, the Stanford-resident St. Lawrence String Quartet, perform live Haydn's String Quartet Op. 76 No. 5. It began with violinist Owen Dalby backstage at Bing Concert Hall on his smartphone. He showed us around a little, then moved onstage where his colleagues and two production staff were waiting, and we switched to the full cameras for a crisp and delightful performance with tremendous ensemble work.

It's the sort of piece I'm used to going to Bing to hear the SLSQ play live, and this was the next best thing. And you can hear it too, because it'll be up on their web site, in embedded YouTube, for the next 72 hours.

And they'll be playing the other five quartets from Op. 76, at various other locations around campus, over the next two months: schedule is on the web page. I think I have some virtual concert-going mapped out for me.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

i scream

A gift-giver presented me with a pint of artisanal mint chip ice cream. That's what it said on the lid, "ice cream."

I opened it up and took a couple of bites. It tasted dreadful: weird and unappetizing.

Now I looked more carefully on the side of the container. That didn't say ice cream: it said "non-dairy frozen dessert." The principal ingredient was coconut cream. Oh, yuck.

A gift-giver presented the trash bin with a pint of ice cream.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

the Rainbow connection

I was reading a post by Mark Evanier about people's videos collecting their choices of the all-time great songs from Broadway musicals, noting that most of them tend to be heavily weighted towards recent work and omit most of what us older folks would consider the classics of the field. (And that's OK: it's their lists, they can choose what they want.)

But it made me think of Randy Rainbow, the staggeringly talented and prolific political song parodist, who takes most of his source songs from musical theater, and whose new work I follow through the embeds that Mark Evanier faithfully puts immediately up. He's in his late 30s, but he's versed in older musicals: he uses a lot of songs from them (like his latest, which is from Oklahoma!), and I wondered: how many, and which ones?

What I needed was a complete list of his political parody song videos, but despite his immense current popularity, there is no such list. The list on his Wikipedia page currently lists well less than half of them (36 of 92); his own web site just embeds his most recent work and a few older favorites, and tells you to check YouTube for the rest.

OK, his YouTube channel does have them all, but they're embeds with no list, there's no identification of the source songs, and the older ones are intermixed with other sorts of videos he used to do.

So suddenly I found myself with a new project. Fortunately it took only a day to do and it was lots of fun, because I got to watch a lot of brilliant early Randy Rainbow videos I hadn't seen before. Mark Evanier has been posting him only since mid-2018, but he's been doing these regularly since the 2016 Republican primaries, when he saw off each departing candidate with a version of "GOP Dropout" to the tune of "Beauty School Dropout" from Grease. The best of these was Ben Carson's. My other favorite from 2016 takes up Mike Pence's controversial visit to Hamilton to the expected tune, and with lots of other Broadway references. It's also a useful reminder of how, even before DT's inauguration, we already had in his reaction to this incident a taste of what we were in for four years of. "Grow up!" Randy tells him, but he never did.

And then just after I sent links to those to B., I went on to early 2017 and found more new-to-me and utterly delectable send-ups of songs from two of our modern favorites, Into the Woods (along the same futile lines as the last one) and Cats (taking up Kellyanne Conway's first bizarre locution).

So now I have the complete database. I'm relieved that I recognized a hefty majority of the originals, though sometimes only after some cogitation ("Private Eyes" by Hall & Oates? Really? That's a song I hadn't heard in about, oh, forty years) and I was able to get the rest from the Wikipedia list, by asking B., or by Googling. Wikipedia provided additional information, such the originals' year of release.

I lack the skills to translate this tome into a Wikipedia table, so I left a note on the relevant Talk page of Wikipedia offering it to anyone who wants to do the work, and in the meantime, if you really want it, you can download the Excel file by clicking here.

There's 92 videos altogether, although there's 98 entries because I made a separate line for each song in the 7-part medley on "covfefe" (remember that? four years later, we still have no idea what it means).

So what I find is that the vast majority are from stage musicals, though there are also quite a few from movies, mostly from Disney and most of those from the Disney Renaissance, plus a few pop songs, mostly recent but not all. A full half of the originals date from before 1970, which I consider roughly the break-point between old and new Broadway. There's ten Rodgers & Hammerstein from 3 shows, plus some Fiddler on the Roof, some Music Man, two Bye Bye Birdie, one Guys and Dolls, and two uses of the title song from Camelot. There's also a couple Irving Berlin show numbers, plus one from Show Boat and one from the daddies of them all, Gilbert and Sullivan. Over the time break between old and new Broadway, there's seven Sondheims from six shows, assuming you count West Side Story and Gypsy, for which he wrote just the lyrics, as Sondheim. Of newer composers, Randy's favorites appear to be Menken (thus all the Disney Renaissance movies) and Lloyd Webber, though there's plenty of others: Rent, Avenue Q, Legally Blonde ...

Sunday, April 4, 2021


B. now counts as fully vaccinated (yes, the extra two weeks and all), so in addition to socially-distanced church services for the multi-day events surrounding Easter, she went out today for the traditional family Easter event, populated (I hope) only by others who were also fully vaccinated, and where there was much food, chocolate (a separate item, owing to sheer quantity), playing with cats, and post-prandial napping.

I'm only half-vaccinated, so I stayed home. But last night I had my most intensive online social event of the entire pandemic, as one of the two (as it turned out) out-of-town attendees of a Zoom gathering of fannish friends. I was there for over two hours, which is about as long at a time as I can tolerate this form of activity. Though the content was certainly enjoyable (albeit it's exasperating to have your pronunciation of a French name corrected when you thought you were pronouncing it the same way as everyone else was), and I heard word of how our 96-year-old friend is doing. Zoom is certainly at least adequate in providing the visual cues which we're used to in person that keep a group of ten people from accidentally talking over each other all the time.

Saturday, April 3, 2021


This is a week old, but it's not out of date. I want to say a little more about the death of James Levine, in the light of Lisa Irontongue's round-up of the coverage.

The main-market obituaries tended to take the "say no ill of the deceased" attitude of describing Levine as a great conductor, and brushing the sexual abuse aside as a minor peccadillo. So glaring was this that it generated counter-obituaries, which not only focused on the abuse but for a topping insisted that Levine was actually a terrible conductor!

Both of these attitudes employ common fallacies. The first is that greatness excuses any flaws. The second is that fundamentally bad people cannot have any admirable qualities.

It's the second of these I want to focus on here. It's one we have no excuse for falling into in classical music. That Richard Wagner and Ludwig van Beethoven were, in their somewhat different ways, appalling human beings who wrote great and beautiful music is a contradiction we've long lived with.

And I think it's important to grasp because my analysis is that the success, critical esteem, and general popularity of Levine's conducting is what made it possible for so long for his abuses to be ignored and denied. He was too valuable artistically and too beloved professionally for the institutions to risk losing him, so they had to brush off the charges. The same was true for his equally vehemently denied health problems, until they grew so severe they could be denied no more.

This has been the case for other abusers. Harvey Weinstein was an enormously successful movie producer. Bill Cosby was a beloved comedian and actor. It took a lot of effort to expose their crimes.

This is not to minimize those crimes. It is to offer a warning in future cases. That a person is renowned or esteemed doesn't mean charges against them are true; there have been a number of false bandwagon accusations (see Operation Midland). But it also doesn't mean they are false, and investigations are needed.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

English suites and others no. 42

The outstanding 20th century German retelling of older music is a work by Paul Hindemith which rejoices in the unwieldy name of Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber. Weber was an early 19th century German composer now best known for his operas, but these themes mostly come from obscure piano pieces. The scherzo is from incidental music to the play Turandot (the title will be familiar from Puccini's opera based on it), so its Persian setting is responsible for some pentatonic and exotic-percussion flavor.

Hindemith's music could be as unwieldy as his titles, but this suite is one of the great delights of modern music. And the performance, by the San Francisco Symphony under Herbert Blomstedt, captures my home-town band at its absolute best. The last movement is a gloriously brassy barn-burner.

Movements: Allegro (0.00), Scherzo (3.54), Andantino (11.15), March (15.30).

Monday, March 29, 2021

Pygmalion a 4

Our online Zoom play-reading group, having gotten through Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, has advanced to another play, Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion.

I find there are parts of Pygmalion which are hard to read aloud without bursting into Lerner and Loewe's songs.

Another challenge is that there are scenes in Pygmalion with numerous characters, hard to read for a group of only four people. I undertook in advance to analyze these scenes: how many characters are there, how many lines does each have, and which other characters do the lesser figures interact with? The idea is to assign the parts in such a way as each reader will have close to an equal amount of reading, with a minimum of talking to yourself between different characters.

I came up with this.

1. Liza
Also: Act 3, Clara, Parlor Maid; Act 3 ball scene, Hostess; Act 5, Mrs Higgins up until Liza's entrance

2. Higgins
Also: Act 1, Freddy; Act 3 ball scene, Footmen; Act 4 street scene, Taximan

3. Pickering
Also: Act 1, Clara, A Bystander; Act 2, Mrs Pearce after Doolittle's entrance; Act 3, Freddy, Mrs Eynsford-Hill; Act 3 ball scene, Host; Act 4 street scene, Freddy; Act 5, Mrs Higgins after Liza's entrance

4. Doolittle
Also: Act 1, Mrs Eynsford-Hill, A Sarcastic Bystander, Taximan; Act 2, Mrs Pearce up until Doolittle's entrance; Act 3, Mrs Higgins; Act 3 ball scene, Nepommuck; Act 4 street scene, Constables; Act 5, Parlor Maid

This does shunt some of the characters around; Mrs Higgins is read by three different people, but better her, the 5th most important character, than one of the principal four.

Sunday, March 28, 2021


Here's an article contrasting two formal definitions of anti-Semitism. The first definition strikes me as too broad, the second too narrow. We need a third one that's just right.

Here are some things that I hold about anti-Semitism:

1. "Anti-Semitism" like "racism" is a broad term. It applies to everything from genocide down to polite genteel shunning and microaggressions. (See Gentleman's Agreement for some classic examples.) We need more specific terminology, but in the meantime, people called "anti-Semitic" are not necessarily genocidal even as people called "racist" are not necessarily lynchers. Just as if you're more offended by being called a racist than you are by being one, you are one, if you're more offended by being called an anti-Semite than you are by being one, you are one.

1a. I've had enough of people getting all huffy when it's pointed out that something they said is anti-Semitic. You do that, you will be permanently crossed off my list. You'd never get away with that if the word were "racist." But it doesn't matter because you'd probably crossed me off your list first. When I said people get all huffy over it, I mean huffy.

2. It is emphatically true that criticisms of the policies of the Israeli government are sometimes falsely labeled as anti-Semitic. It is, however, equally true that anti-Semitic statements sometimes disguise themselves as criticisms of the Israeli government.

3. The difference is, does the criticism address current or past governments of Israel and their policies? That's not anti-Semitic, even if it's about the occupied territories and the wall and everything. But if it descends into criticism of Israel's right to exist or to defend itself (not the same thing as criticism of specific defense policies), or of the Jews' right to be there, then it's probably anti-Semitic. Underneath such criticisms usually lie grotesque misapprehensions of the history.

3a. This difference shouldn't be difficult for an American liberal to understand. We felt the same way about our own country during the Bush and Trump administrations: hated the government and its policies but still loved our country and thought its existence was a good thing, whatever its flaws. Same applies here: I don't like Netanyahu either.

4. Criticizing Israel while failing to apply equally emphatic criticism to the peoples and countries it's in conflict with is not anti-Semitic. However, excusing these others' misbehavior while denouncing Israel's is anti-Semitic. For instance, I've read polemics brushing off the rockets fired from the Palestinian territories across the Green Line into Israel proper as no big deal.

5. This specifically applies to things like boycotts. Why are you boycotting Israel? If you're protesting brutality in the occupied territories, go ahead. If you don't think Israel has any right to exist amidst what should be unbroken Palestinian territory, you're anti-Semitic.

6. Supporting a Palestinian state (the "two-state solution") is not itself anti-Semitic. It is possible, however, for anti-Semitic statements to creep into this. It depends again, mostly, on why you think Israel is there in the first place.

6a. And here's one that may get controversial: the "one-state solution" is anti-Semitic. The one-state solution is a disguise of a democratic veneer over a plan to drown the Jews demographically among the Palestinian Arabs and destroy the Jewish state that way. We already know what happens when Jews are a minority in Arabic (or a lot of other) countries.

7. If you say that Arabs can't be anti-Semitic because they're Semites, you've confused the word with the thing. This is a really stupid thing to do.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

music in the studio

The people who did this have now done some more. Some of these are remarkably silly.

(Also, you like Avengers or Harry Potter? They're on it.)

Thursday, March 25, 2021


1. New York Times article saying "The Best Bagels Are in California" has caused chaos in the California bakeries as orders pour in. They don't even include my favorite local bagel vendor, which is in Palo Alto. Their choices are in San Francisco/Berkeley, which I might drop into if I were there (I haven't been to either city since before the pandemic), or in LA, which is rather too far away, but which the Times treats as interchangeable with SF. It's 350 miles away! Would you treat NYC as interchangeable with Lynchburg, Virginia?

2. B. got caught in the feud between the county and the state over vaccine distribution. She was one of the Kaiser patients who'd signed up with the county because it was taking them before Kaiser would, but had their second shots canceled due to their low supplies, and redirected to Kaiser. Kaiser was mighty annoyed about that. But B. got an earlier appointment from them for her second shot than she would have had from the county, so it all worked out OK at least for her. Meanwhile I've had my first, the only challenging part of which was getting out of the high-seated but back-slung chair they'd put me in for the shot.

3. Conservative columnist Marc Thiessen says that terms like "B.1.1.7 variant" are confusing and technical, and we should use the geographic terms of their origin. He says that while terms like "the kung flu" are racist, "China virus" is not. It wouldn't be. It wouldn't be, except that association of the virus with China seems to be what's causing racists to punch anyone of East Asian ancestry, including Koreans and Thais, in the face or even murdering them. Which has to be the stupidest form of racism yet invented, against strong competition.

4. Meanwhile, there's stuff like what's described here. It is both unfortunate and deplorable. It is also casual thoughtless stereotyping and quite distinguishable from a punch in the face. We need more precise and distinctive terminology than "racism" here.

5. Much sorrow locally at the announcement of closure of at least undergraduate education at Mills College. We held two Mythcons there in the 1980s, because our chair, Diana Paxson, was an alumna. Much mention too of the music instruction that's gone on there, though much of that is at the graduate level. My harmony instructor had been a pupil of Darius Milhaud, who taught there for many years.

6. As for the Boulder shootings, what else can I say besides, "Oh no, not again"?

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

three books on Tolkien

Three major research books on Tolkien that have been published recently (one each from this year and the two preceding) have recently crossed my desk and my eyetracks. All are products of deep and meticulous research, for which the authors deserve all honor. The conclusions they reach, however, may be another thing.

John M. Bowers, Tolkien's Lost Chaucer (Oxford UP, 2019)
Tolkien spent years working on the language notes and glossary for an edition of Chaucer selections that never got finished or published, partly (though only partly) because Tolkien was a perfectionist who wrote about four times as much as OUP, the publisher, wanted for a book aimed at undergraduates. This matter was an obscure footnote in Tolkien studies until Bowers revealed the sheer extent of the project by going through all the surviving correspondence to write a history of the 30 years this dragged on, plus uncovering a large box of surviving galleys and drafts in the OUP basement and quoting from them liberally.
That's the first half of this book, and it's brilliant and valuable. For the second half, Bowers has gone through The Lord of the Rings (he has little interest in the rest of Tolkien's creative writing) looking for things that remind him of something in Chaucer, and blithely assuming that Tolkien copied Chaucer like an amanuensis. It doesn't work that way. The connections he finds range from the trivial to the nonsensical, and his assurance that nobody would have known how important Chaucer was to Tolkien without unearthing the scale of this project is absurd. It's always been well-known that Tolkien was a Chaucer expert, and there's plenty of articles on Chaucer's influence on Tolkien, not all of which find their way into Bowers' extensive bibliography. What I conspicuously miss is anything connecting Tolkien's scholarly method in his Chaucer philology with the nature of the detail he put into creating his fiction: this could have been a rich source of study, but it wasn't.

Holly Ordway, Tolkien's Modern Reading: Middle-earth Beyond the Middle Ages (Word on Fire, 2021)
Tolkien has a reputation of being only interested in medieval literature. Ordway is out to prove that he was also well-read in modern literature and had a lot to say about it. This book goes systematically through Tolkien's known encounters with post-1850 English-language literature (because there have to be some limits), discussing its character and what Tolkien would have gotten out of it, on which topic Ordway is a solid analyst.
This, too, is brilliant and valuable, and the extent of Ordway's research is impressive. The thoughtfulness with which she proceeds makes her book much more valuable, for its area of coverage, than Oronzo Cilli's mechanically-compiled and rather sloppy Tolkien's Library. The problem - the first problem with this book - is that Ordway writes as if she's made a great discovery, but most of what she writes about is well-known in Tolkien scholarship. What she has written is a great work of synthesis, and the revelation is of how much there is put here in one place for the first time. The second problem is her attribution of Tolkien's standard reputation to Humphrey Carpenter's biography. This leads to an epic bout of Carpenter-bashing, far beyond his deserts. The third problem is Ordway's tendency distinctly to underplay the extent to which Tolkien disliked a lot of this modern literature that he read. She doesn't omit this, but there's a notable lack of emphasis. The standard reputation is actually less that Tolkien didn't read anything after Chaucer but that he didn't like anything after Chaucer. There turns out to be a lot more truth in this than one would think from the pitch Ordway is trying to sell.
Ordway has no religious agenda, but the publisher is a Catholic ministry, and if you order the book directly from them you'll start getting in your e-mail daily homilies from some bishop until you send an unsubscribe message at least twice.

John Garth, The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien: The Places that Inspired Middle-earth (Princeton UP, 2020)
Previous books on the inspirations of Tolkien's geography have followed the John Bowers method, actually well-known to all cheap-rent source-hunters, of touring around England looking for places that remind the tourist of something in Tolkien and blithely assuming that Tolkien just copied them. Garth doesn't do that. Despite its sub-title, this is not a guide to places that inspired Tolkien, and it can't even be conveniently used for that purpose. It's actually a guide to the inside of Tolkien's mind, in its geographic, landscape, and geological facets. The coverage is thematic - there are chapters on mountains, waterscapes, forests, archaeology, towers (yes, towers), and battlefields - and the focus is always on Tolkien's invented places and what he was trying to accomplish by creating them. Real places (with generous photographs) are brought in only insofar as there's a documented connection in Tolkien's mind; or, if there's widespread speculation by reputable scholars, Garth labels it as such. Garth even goes to the trouble of debunking several popular but fanciful theories of Tolkien's geographical inspirations. There is no guesswork or blithe assumption in this book. As with Ordway, little of what Garth describes is new to scholarship. This is a well-researched work of synthesis, reinforced by Garth's sharp and clear understanding of how Tolkien's mind worked. That overall viewpoint, together with the systematic coverage, is what Garth really brings to the table.
All three of these books are greatly useful for the worthwhile things they accomplish, but this one is the best, and one of the most valuable books out there for understanding Tolkien.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

plays or things

I've had success at watching movies and watching/listening to live or prerecorded concerts on my computer. Stage plays, though, seem more problematic. Actors have to raise their voices and make expansive gestures on stage, and somehow that doesn't transfer to the tiny medium so well. A staged Amadeus I saw early on in the pandemic worked well, but its successors have lacked something.

One recent attempt was a production of Lillian Hellman's rarely-seen Days to Come. In this case the problem wasn't the production so much as the script's way of loading the stage with a large number of characters without explaining who they are or how they relate to each other. I quickly felt lost and gave up.

A local group called the Tabard Theatre, which performs in an old warehouse space in downtown San Jose, up a rickety set of stairs or an even more alarming old freight elevator, offered the option of neither of these for a production of a one-woman play about Erma Bombeck. A ubiquitous newspaper feature columnist up to her death in 1996, Bombeck spun tales of life as a suburban wife and mother in Ohio (she'd actually moved to Arizona, but didn't reveal this) that I always enjoyed as passingly amusing if not actually, you know, funny. Nostalgia is independent of how well you really liked the thing you're nostalgic for, and I didn't mind a return visit to old Erma, so I bought a ticket to opening night: apparently they were going to do the thing live for the entire run. There was a small audience of production staff, I guess, who laughed occasionally and kept it from being totally dead. Like many Tabard actors early in the run, Carolyn Ford Compton froze up on her lines occasionally, but did pretty well. It wasn't awful, but I'm sure I'd have enjoyed it a lot more if it could have been in person.

How about Shakespeare? I really liked the National Theatre's strange and spooky Midsummer Night's Dream (a bootleg copy of which is up: see it while you can; it's fabulous), but I wasn't much more impressed with the American Shakespeare Center's Twelfth Night than I'd been when I saw their R&J in person a few years ago.

Latest was the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's 2017 production of Julius Caesar. I didn't see this live for some reason, though I went that year. Maybe I was just tired of ridiculous stagings of Julius Caesar: one OSF production, years ago, set it in a banana republic. This one seems to have been set in the bargain basement department of Mad Max. No leather (that's what made it bargain basement), but very grungy. Lots of plastic buckets. Brutus gave his big soliloquy working up the courage for the assassination while dressed in a muscle shirt and barefoot. The battle scenes were strange stylized things in which all the actors playing both armies, all facing front and not interacting, moved their arms around in unison choreographed patterns, while deafening noises pounded out of the speakers.

OSF stalwart Danforth Comins was Brutus, giving off an imperturbable air even while being highly perturbed. Cassius (Rodney Gardiner) was wily and eccentric, faintly reminiscent of Don Rickles: I don't know where I get these ideas. Mark Antony (Jordan Barbour) yelled out his funeral oration, in fact he yelled out most of his part throughout the play. The best piece of acting actually came from Barret O'Brien as Decius, making funny his lines convincing Caesar (a weary Armando Duran) that the omens are actually good and he should come to the Capitol. As I've noted before, it's all in the lines already; you just have to say them properly. Like this:

DECIUS: This by Calpurnia's dream is signified.
CAESAR: And this way have you well expounded it.
DECIUS [confidently and a bit smugly]: I have!

Thursday, March 18, 2021

English suites and others no. 41

Logically, the next suite on my list ought to be Richard Strauss's Dance Suite made of music by Couperin. But, unlike the similar suites by Italian composers I've already offered, I don't think this one is very good. (Here, you can listen to it if you want.)

Instead, I'm going either to go back considerably farther or forward more than a bit, and offer you a hearty wind band arrangement by contemporary American composer Patrick Dunnigan, of the most excellent Renaissance dance tunes, compiled by the 16th century Antwerpian publisher Tielman Susato in his book The Danserye.

I like Susato's music in any arrangement, but this one is the real sharp cheese. After buying the CD on which this is the first piece, I never went on to listen to the rest of the album: just kept repeating this.

Ingredients: La Morisque (0:00); Bergerette (2:08); Les Quartre Branles (4:35​); Faggott (7:19​); Den Hoboecken Dans (8:12​); Ronde & Salterelle (10:12​); Ronde & Aliud (11:51​); Basse Danse: Mon Desir (13:41); Pavane: La Battaille (15:52).

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

James Levine

The once-esteemed conductor died last week. Since most of the obits I've seen concentrate on the greatness of his conducting, I feel the best response is to link to my previous posts about this character.

The case of James Levine.

The case of James Levine cont'd.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

vaccine update

I thought I'd be qualified when they opened up the vaccination list to 64 year olds with Certain Medical Conditions, because I've got some of those. But then the fine print turned out to say that you had to have those conditions to a certain degree of severity, and I don't think I qualify.

However, the Kaiser system, which has my medical records, let me in to the website vaccine appointment page when I logged in, so I guess they're OK with it. It's their decision, not mine. I grabbed the first appointment they offered, which is a week from now, so with luck I'll be able to re-enter the world cautiously ... around May. It's something.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Oscar the grouch

I've actually seen one movie nominated for an Oscar this year. That's one more than I'd seen at the time nominations were released last year. It was Soul. I didn't like it. It had a promising beginning, but then took a left turn into a remake of Defending Your Life, which is not a recommendation in my book.

A couple others I'm interested in. The Trial of the Chicago 7, maybe. News of the World sounds interesting, even though its only nominations are in technical categories.

Not interested in Mank, because I've seen Citizen Kane and I have no desire to worship at its feet. Nor in The Father because I don't want to spend my movie-watching pleasure time dealing with dementia. Nor in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom because titling a story after somebody's butt is a complete turnoff.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

the girl who was in three movies

Years ago I saw the English-language remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I found a pretty unsatisfactory thriller, mostly because the title character is fairly superfluous to the plot, which is about a (male) journalist who's hired to investigate a 40-year-old missing-girl mystery. Girl with the d.t. is supposed to be a brilliant computer hacker, so journalist hires her as his assistant. But she's also under legal guardianship for reasons dimly alluded to concerning her past, and her guardians physically and sexually abuse her until she takes revenge. More bothersome to me was the scene where the villain, to threaten the hero, murders the stray cat the hero has taken in and leaves it on his doorstep.

I've been told, more than once, that the original Swedish movie was much better. So when I saw that it, and two sequels, were on Amazon prime, I decided to watch them, and that's been occupying my late-night hours when I'm too tired to edit papers but not enough to fall asleep, up to and including noting DST kicking in on the clock in my computer task bar.

These are not dubbed, but subtitled; it was interesting to discover that I know a little Swedish (just a little, enough to catch a few words here and there). And yes, the first movie is better than the remake: the acting and directing is crisper, the girl is more incisive a character, the plot holes are not so holey, and there's no dead cat.

The sequels, not so satisfactory. Especially because, even though the first movie's mystery has been entirely solved and dropped, and the story is now all about revealing girl with the d.t.'s past, she's superfluous to it again. Worse, as a result of a couple rolls in the hay she had with him in the first movie, the journalist is now pining after her, though she's no longer interested. Though his infatuation takes the form of turning all crusading-journalist on behalf of her legal problems, so she has to be grateful, what?

In #2, The Girl Who Played With Fire, her previously cloudy past is revealed, but his and her attempts to do something about it do not intersect. In the whole course of the movie, she sends him two e-mails and then they meet under dire circumstances about two minutes before the end. The title of most improbable scene in this movie must be shared between the one where the villains literally bury her alive and she digs her way out of the grave after they've gone away, and the scene where she sees on her security-cam feed that the journalist has found her keys and broken into her apartment (which she's not currently using because she's on the run, but he doesn't know that) and it doesn't bother her.

In #3, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, all her troubles turn out to be to silence her as a witness for a nefarious long-term plot hatched by a government agency so secret even the Prime Minister doesn't know about it. But she has nothing to do with unraveling this; all her hacker skills have gone away, and she spends nearly the entire movie recovering in hospital from the climax of the previous movie and then in court being tried for it. All the investigation is done by the journalist and a host of others. Finally, at the very end, she's released from custody and ties up the last remaining dangling plot thread with some dazzling action worthy of the first movie, although its only hack is when she calls directory assistance. Then the journalist shows up at her door to tell her what she's just done, and then finally goes away and leaves her alone.

Friday, March 12, 2021

new yorking

March 15 issue of The New Yorker has some interesting articles.

1. The Republican Party is dying. I've been reading this argument for years, but it never does. The party has been regularly shedding its left wing, that left wing going ever further to the right, for at least 40 years now. The party survives, I think, mostly because it shifts the Overton window, and because it's able to picture the Democrats as like itself. While it's the creature of Trump, it pretends the Democrats are the creature of, oh, Bernie or AOC, whom it paints in lurid colors, and convinces voters that it itself is the lesser of two weevils. We're experiencing nothing like the demise of the Whigs, which the article thinks is the equivalent: that happened when the slavery issue rose to the fore and cracked both parties down the middle. The list of other US parties that have died are almost all either minor parties or ones that were absorbed into new, stronger coalitions.

2. Mobile-home parks being bought by corporations who fleece the residents, who have nowhere to go. (Since mobile homes are not really very mobile.) Also not new, and in the end just another tale of heartless corporate greed, which is what corporations do. Yet another avenue for affordable housing being closed off.

3. Somebody is firing random shots in a California state park and killing random campers. I didn't know about this, and apparently neither did anybody else, which is why the campers had no idea it was so dangerous out there.

4. Chinese factories, whose owners have never even been to the US, making fortunes by selling products here over Amazon. Written by an American who's taught in China, and is most interesting for revealing that, while 25 years ago at 5'9" he towered over his students, now he's shorter than most of the boys. China these days can afford better nutrition.

5. Musical genres, as defined by the Grammy Awards, are disappearing. I have mixed thoughts about this. Possibly many pop musical genres are defined more by marketing and packaging and separate audiences than by musical content, so yes, those are probably going as online push-marketing grows. But I've long maintained it's false to say "music is just music": different types have different aesthetic principles, and what's good by one doesn't work for another. While it's possible to write classical-jazz fusion, the two genres in isolation are quite antithetical. I also maintain that opera is similarly distinct from classical concert music, even though they're often composed by the same people.

6. Detailed description of the work of Octavia E. Butler, on the occasion of her being taken up by the Library of America. About time. Butler is being recast as the founder of a distinct species of SF, and the first in a line of strong and talented African-American women, of whom N.K. Jemisin and Nnedi Okorafor are the most obvious. They are SF today. Mentions Butler's MacArthur grant in 1995. I remember that, and how proud we in SF were that an obviously worthy SF writer had won one. Meanwhile, outside the field people were saying the MacArthurs had jumped the shark if they were giving grants to (ugh) sci-fi writers. We've still got a long way to go. But the Library of America helps. It says Butler is the 6th SF writer on their list, and hopes Samuel R. Delany will be the next. I don't know who all the others are: UKL and PKD, yes; and Vonnegut and Lovecraft if they count, I'm not sure they do. Is the fifth Poe? Anyway, the only other genre SF on the LoA list is four volumes of assorted novels from the 1950s and 60s, by many more than 5 hands and chosen by Gary K. Wolfe, and, pay attention now, Delany's Nova is among them, so he's already there.

7. Property rights in purchased electronic, i.e. non-physical, objects. Short version: you don't have any. The sellers can take them back at any time. What they call purchasing is actually rental with no set end point. Article confusingly begins with the only thematically related question of: do you have the right to shoot down a drone that's hovering over your back yard and ogling your sunbathing daughter? The courts said no, but the punishment wasn't severe. That disposed of, this becomes another story of corporate greed.

Skipped the articles on artists I've never heard of and tv shows I've never seen.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Tolkienish books

The books I've been ordering through ILL are beginning to roll into the libraries. These are the general-reader books that I've found online have Tolkien references, but I need to check the actual books to see if the references are substantive.

Not surprisingly, most of them just want to spend a few pages introducing their readers to basic info on Tolkien to place him in some larger context, so there's no need to put them in the bibliography. For instance, here's one based on the premise that F. Scott Fitzgerald had Gatsby claim that he'd spent a few months post-WW1 studying in Oxford on some military exchange program. What might he have seen there? Well, among other things, he might have met Tolkien. But he probably wouldn't have.

More unusual, but also not bibliography-worthy, is a book with a pretentious woo-woo title but which turns out to be mostly a collection of innocuous instructions for making elf-related craft projects: banners, or cookies. The chatty and informal author, who actually seems pretty well informed about Germanic mythological folklore, brings up Tolkien a lot because she says she fixated in childhood on the Rankin-Bass Hobbit ("In my humble opinion, Peter Jackson has nothing on" it) and then on the book. Unsurprisingly for someone for whom The Hobbit is their favorite Tolkien book, she's less enthused about some of the others: "Tolkien observed that there are not many stories that hold elves as the main subject, and that those that do are 'not very interesting.' He would prove himself correct when he wrote The Silmarillion!" Oh, burn.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

the virus is alive

First I read articles that say that all vaccine appointments statewide are now being coordinated through a new website nauseatingly called My Turn. I'm not yet eligible, but I sign up for this and await e-mail and/or text message notification.

Then I read no, no, it has nothing to offer that the county website doesn't. The county website contains links to the appointment pages of each of 7 providers who give the vaccine in this county. You have to try each of them until you find one that gives an appointment, or in my case not, since it still says my tranch is not yet eligible. We're supposed to be in next week, but there's no sign of it yet.

Meanwhile, the state has announced that it's hiring Blue Shield to coordinate vaccine-giving. The counties mostly don't want to be coordinated by Blue Shield, and our county executive has stated that no way will he sign a contract with them; the state's response is to threaten to withhold vaccine from our county, the most populous in this half of the state. Meanwhile B. is waiting for her second dose of Pfizer, which has already been delayed once.

We get an e-mail from our gym. They're re-opening, so that means they're unfreezing memberships (and thus charging the monthly fee again) unless you write them and say to hold off. I do this, and get another e-mail too vague to be clear, but what it seems to say is that they're terribly hurt that you don't want to unfreeze, because it's safe: they're scrubbing down the equipment really hard. So they won't freeze you unless you call them up and say "Pretty please?" So I call them up. Guy doesn't know, but he's very responsive to my concerns. Says I'm listed as frozen, and I should call back on Friday which is the day they're unfreezing this.

The situation is this: I'm not going anywhere until I get the vaccine. And once I do, the concern about gyms isn't about the surfaces of equipment - that's not a principal form of transmission, and you can always wash your hands - but about air circulation. I wonder if I should seek out a CO2 monitor, since CO2 levels in peopled rooms are a pretty good proxy measure for whether the air is circulating.

Meanwhile I'm desperately trying to make progress on the Tolkien bibliography against the closure of libraries. I have a whole bunch of trade books that evidently have something about Tolkien in them, but without looking at them it's hard to say how much or whether it's anything but a rehash. Google Books is of limited help, even if it shows previews. I've ordered as many as I can through ILL on public libraries, and I'm waiting for them to come in. Counting those actually held by one or another library system that I patronize, and splitting my ILL requests up so that I don't hit the limit with any one library, I've now got requests in at four libraries, to which I'll be going for socially-distanced pickup. A few cases where the libraries don't have them, if the book is inexpensive enough I buy it online, some hard copy and some electronically.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Meghan and Harry are alive

Yes, I watched the interview.

Like most Americans who've seen it, I basically support them in any dispute; but then, that comes easy because we're not the audience for UK tabloid vilification, nor have I seen very much of it. (And why did Oprah keep asking Meghan for the reasons behind it? She's the last person who would know.)

What strikes me most, as a male viewer, is how supportive Harry is being of Meghan. This was not part of how he was raised, but by his own account what he has is empathy. He loves her enough that he sees how things look to her, and that, he says, opens up his eyes. Also, he mentions history repeating itself. He lost his beloved mother to media harassment when he was only 12, and he's testified before to what a lasting trauma that was. To see the same thing happening to his wife and the mother of his children? He'd do anything to prevent that, and he should.

When he was a very young man, Harry had a reputation for being a clueless goofball, dressing up as a Nazi for a costume party, that sort of thing. But he seems to have matured tremendously in the couple of decades since then.

He still has that upper-class cut-glass accent, though. Notice the strangled way he pronounced the word "girl" when revealing the sex of their impending child.

A few points that haven't been emphasized in the coverage of this that I've read:

1. Meghan distinguishes, but not always clearly, between the family - the actual relatives, of whom she singles out the Queen and Kate as being kindly,1 and whom Harry calls as trapped by the system as he was - and the "firm" or the "institution" by which she means the palace staff, what's formally called the Royal Household. They seem to be the source of most of the trouble.2

2. Meghan raised the question of whether Archie was to receive the title of Prince. The existing protocol, which she refers to, says that grandchildren of the monarch get the Prince/ss title, but great-grandchildren don't, except for the eldest male-line grandson of the Prince of Wales (that would be Prince George).3 Exceptions can be made to this, though: Prince William's younger children got the title by royal grant, and Princess Anne's children were not given the title, apparently by her request. But not receiving a special grant for Archie's title does not appear to be what exercises Meghan; it was a proposal to modify the protocol so that when Charles becomes king, and Archie becomes a royal grandchild, he would still not be eligible.4 Also, Meghan says the point is not the title for its own sake, but an objection to its arbitrary removal, and the substantive issue that, if it's what determines whether he gets security or not, then she wanted him to have it. And isn't that concern easily misunderstood.

3. Both tried to say that their current status was not their original plan. It was only lack of support from the firm that caused them to make the original proposal to step back from being "major royals," who work full-time at royal hand-waving stuff, to being "minor royals," of whom there are quite a few, who have their own jobs and only pitch in at royal stuff occasionally. It's not clear how much security or funding the minor royals get, but it was those being stripped from Harry and Meghan which generated their change of plans to step back altogether, and - for fear of being stuck in Canada without security during the pandemic - to move to LA where they could get both security and financial deals. The timeline of all this isn't clear, but they insist they pulled no surprises on the Queen.

4. Meghan referred to her first job working at a frozen-yogurt shop when she was 13. And all sorts of Angelinos who recognized the name "Humphrey Yogart"5 started tweeting "hmm, that would have been 1994 - she must have served me!" That was amusing.

1. Meghan is careful not to blame Kate for the crying incident, because she had properly apologized. Kate could be taken to blame for not correcting the media story that the crying was the other way around, but Meghan said specifically that the institution muzzled everybody in the family.
2. Aside from the racism bit, which did come from an unidentified family member. And that would be a much bigger "but" if the institution's lack of protection of Meghan's reputation and lack of support for her mental health crisis weren't so appalling.
3. Although that may have been modified by the recent law placing title-inheritance in the monarchy by age only, and removing the previous preference for males. Younger-child discrimination, what can you do?
4. There's also the question of title of nobility. Custom in the UK is that the eldest son of a senior nobleman is called by his father's highest subsidiary title by courtesy. Harry is Duke of Sussex, and that would make Archie Earl of Dumbarton. However, that is only custom, and there is no requirement that anyone with a title, courtesy or substantive, use it unless acting in that capacity. (For instance, Bertrand Russell inherited the title of Earl, but he never used it except when speaking in the House of Lords.) Harry and Meghan have apparently been asked not to use the Sussex title, but while they can lose their patronages and military appointments, they can't so easily be stripped of the titles; they just don't use them.
5. Not a singular pun. The shuttle bus that runs between the UC Berkeley campus and the BART transit station used to be called the Humphrey Go-BART.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are alive

A couple friends of ours mentioned in comments to B. that they'd be interested in a Zoom meeting to read plays aloud. I've acted with all three of them in Mythcon plays, so we set up a session which turned out to be today. I had an ideal suggestion for a four-hander: Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, which can be cast with: 1) R; 2) G; 3) The Player; 4) narration and everybody else (other characters do occasionally interact with each other, but only in quotations from Hamlet).

We had great fun with this and got through about half the play in a roughly 90-minute session before people's voices started to give out. I think that, aside from any pre-existing conditions of throat problems, one tends to read louder in a Zoom session that one might when you're all gathered together in a living room. Still, it was a success and we intend to finish it up next week. This is another item from my wanted-to-do-it-for-decades list of things to do.

We discovered that one person's text was different from the others: some lines were cut and others added. Haven't had a chance to determine which is the older and which the newer version.

Friday, March 5, 2021

quotation marks

Editing for publication the contributions to a scholarly journal are the closest I get to formal copy-editing. I note a number of things: the frequency of transcription errors in quotations: not typos, but putting the wrong word in, my favorite recent example being though for thou; or the peculiar frequency of citing page numbers from a different edition of the book than your bibliography claims you're using.

What's most exercising my attention recently is quotation marks. There are two principal reasons one might use quotation marks other than on an actual quotation. Some authors mark these by using single quote-marks instead of the doubles they'd use for ordinary quotations (this being the US). I think the single quote-marks are a clever solution, but our publisher is strongly deprecatory of this in their house style manual. But there are other ways of handling these.

The first non-quote reason for using quotation marks is to mark off a word for being used as a word rather than for its meaning. A classic example of this where the distinction especially needs to be kept clear is:
The word "two" has three letters.
(Insert here ritual dismissal of the Skinnerian behaviorists who would call that a meaningless statement because nobody would say or write it in ordinary discourse.)

An alternative way of marking these, and one which our publisher's style manual approves, is to put them in italics. So: The word two has three letters. That looks good. So much of the time I've been doing that. If it seems awkward - mostly because the reason for marking the word varies slightly, as e.g. an important technical term being introduced - I'm putting it in doubles.

The other major reason for non-quote quotation marks is to indicate that the author doesn't really mean what they're saying. Put this way, it sounds ridiculous; yet it happens all the time, and some contributions I get are full of examples of it. The usual term for it (here comes the technical term) is "scare quotes." If you're using a word this way verbally, you're apt to raise up your hands and make little hook signs, like a quotation mark, with your fingers.

An example might be when you're discussing a usage often deemed incorrect, but your argument is that there isn't anything really wrong with it. So you might refer to it with the words:
The "incorrect" usage ...
One of my colleagues is absolutely death on these, so I've been trying to eliminate them. Much of the time the scare quotes may just be removed; the sentence is no less cogent without them. Other times some rephrasing is necessary, with adding "supposed" or "so-called" before the offending word often the least advisable option.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

some books

John Clayton, Wonderlandscape: Yellowstone National Park and the Evolution of an American Cultural Icon (Pegasus Books, 2017)
It's a history of the park's place in the American cultural imagination, and on the effects this has had on the physical place. Reaches its climax with the park administration closing the back-country garbage dumps where the bears were accustomed to dine, on the grounds that they want the park to be "natural" and natural bears don't eat human garbage. They ignore the bear scientists who point out that bears know nothing about being natural, and if their garbage suddenly disappears they'll start invading campgrounds with potentially lethal results. And of course that's exactly what happens.
And it has a whole chapter on Yogi Bear, the cartoon character, and its effect on perception of the park. The animation people had never been to Yellowstone, but then they'd never met Yogi Berra, either, so it's all equally imaginary.

Kory Stamper, Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries (Pantheon, 2017)
Not a history of dictionaries, but an account of life spent sitting in a cubicle at Merriam-Webster amidst huge trays of citation slips (before it all migrated to computer), re-sorting definitions of basic verbs, and answering queries from the public about word meanings. Explains about descriptive v. prescriptive. Demonstrates how to write definitions that aren't completely circular (they should teach this trick to the people who write computer documentation). Says that dictionary compilers never start at A and work their way through; seems unaware that that's what the OED did.

Alison Light, Common People: In Pursuit of My Ancestors (University of Chicago Press, 2015)
British social historian pursues her topic through her own family, mostly 2-4 generations back, the idea being to show how ordinary people lived, not the nobility or gentry. They're sailors and ship's stokers, Baptist preachers, maidservants, bricklayers, workhouse inmates. The most interesting story is of Light's paternal grandmother, who died when Light's father was a small boy, so there are no first-hand memories of her. She was almost exactly Tolkien's age and grew up in the same Birmingham neighborhoods where the Tolkiens lived when they first arrived from South Africa, so the background on the area enlightens me on Tolkien's life too. All that survives of grandmother is a couple photos of her as a young woman in some sort of uniform. It's recalled that she did something during WW1, but nobody remembers what, and it takes Light a while to track down the uniform and discover that its wearer belonged to a now-forgotten but then vital women's army unit called the Forage Corps, whose job was to travel from farm to farm to gather, package, and ship fodder for Army horses, of whom there were still quite a lot in WW1. Besides Birmingham, other towns making cameo appearances in Tolkien's biography which receive detailed accounts of their 19C development here are Cheltenham and Poole.

Monday, March 1, 2021

servants of technology

Your scheduled Zoom meeting has been canceled because one of the necessary participants has a computer which has decided to update itself and looks like it's going to be all afternoon at it.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

it WAS a dog

I first heard this song by the electric-folk band Steeleye Span in 1977 or so.

Hear that vocal sound at 2.06 that sets the beat for speeding up the tempo of the instrumental section at the end of the song? Presumably it's a person setting the beat, but it sounds a lot like a dog, doesn't it?

As I recall, alone among my Steeleye-listening friends, I maintained that it was a dog. The rest thought it just sounded like one. We listened to it over and over, but never solved the mystery. Remember that this was a much-played worn LP over the kind of stereo system that college students could afford in the 1970s, not the crisp digital rendition of today.

And now, all these years later, I have the answer to this long-nagging mystery. It WAS a dog. The producer had brought his Yorkshire terrier to the studio that day, and the dog barked at just the right moment, so they left it in.

How do I know this? From reading All Around My Hat: The Steeleye Span Story by John Van der Kiste (Fonthill Media, 2019). And how did I find out about this book? From watching the live Q&A with the band over Zoom that came with the ticket I bought from their record label for a video of a concert. A couple newer members held it up and said they'd learned a lot from it. It has some terrible reviews on Amazon, but I thought it reasonably well-written and pretty informative, so I recommend it to Steeleye fans.

As for the concert, nothing in the publicity said when it was from, but the presence of a live audience suggested it was a bit back, and from some clues in the between-songs chatter I was able to research that it was from their spring 2019 UK tour. Nevertheless it was a terrific concert. The now-seven-member band's sound was big and powerful without being heavy or over-miked, as it had been the only previous time I'd heard this line-up, and they played with tremendous energy. The instrumental riffs in the older songs were preserved from the originals and even expanded. The big songs - "Tam Lin", "King Henry", and the best of the all-around good songs from their (then) new album, Est'd 1969, "Harvest" - were particularly sizzling. New guitarist Andrew Sinclair has taken over most of Bob Johnson's old vocals and his guitar solos, all of which he does very well, while older guitarist Julian Littman still sings "King Henry", which is always the one he was best at, and has taken over Maddy Prior's lead singing role on "Little Sir Hugh". Maddy still does most of the singing, of course, and is still the class lady of the biz.

where we stand now

So here's where we are at the moment. A few days ago I finished writing my part of the work writeups for the annual "Year's Work in Tolkien Studies": four books, 22 articles, total 5400 words. I read and wrote up two or three a day for most of the month; I find it challenging to concentrate on more than that at a time, but the work itself isn't difficult; in fact it's rather fun, especially this time being deadpan over the crashing errors in a couple articles on names. (If you're going to run statistics on a group of Tolkien character names, try not to filch a list off the web that has names that Tolkien never used.)

There's 6 other people also at work on this, and while some of them are quick, others find it slow and painstaking work. It's not capacity, for they're very good at it; I think it's a matter of native affinity for potting writings in a paragraph. Anyway, the ones that have submitted, I've formatted their citations according to our system and otherwise normalized the files (our paragraphing system, for instance).

This Year's Work is covering 2018; now I'm starting on the bibliography for 2018. First step, clearing out the cubbyhole that I kept all the 2018 books and journals in for handy availability for myself and in case I needed to copy anything for another contributor. Now, go into the other cubbyhole with the newer material. Put any 2020 and 2021 publications aside for reinsertion when I'm done, and take all the 2019 items and type up all their contents lists in the TS bibliography format, before putting them in the cubbyhole where they'll live the next year. Then go into my notes file. Oh man, should have done this earlier. The real killers are the ones that I don't have full bib refs for or can't tell from the titles if they're about Tolkien or not, which means I have to find them somewhere now (accumulating them for next year's Year's Work can come later). Hasty interlibrary loan requests and online book purchasing, and there's some I may only be able to find if and when the university libraries reopen. And that's not even beginning trawling the online databases. If the Year's Work was my February job, the bibliography will be my March one.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

two free hours of string quartets

This has finally finished releasing, one a week all month, and I've watched them, so I can recommend it for the remaining week (closes on March 5) that it'll be up: four half-hour concerts by the Jupiter String Quartet, each beginning with a serious, mostly even anguished, classic quartet movement (by Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn), and concluding with a more hopeful-sounding new work. In between, two of the concerts have introspective slow movements (by Haydn and George Walker).

I liked all of these, but the most dramatic of the initial pieces was definitely the third, the first movement of Mendelssohn's Op. 80 in F Minor, though the second, the slow movement of Schubert's "Death and the Maiden," though a fairly smooth rendition, did grow on me. Of the new pieces, the most fun was a rag by William Bolcom in the fourth concert, while one by Michi Wiancko in the second (which I'd heard in full in another Jupiter concert) was the one that grew on me.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

fried out

Many of the deaths that cause great mournings to pass out from my community - Gary Gygax, Stan Lee - don't mean very much to me personally. I can't say that for Fry's Electronics. That was a store that was once essential for my everyday life.

Although by the time it shut its doors a couple days ago, I and many others had been wondering what had been keeping it alive, because for several years it had been worse than useless, it was a waste of time to go there. Its vast shelves were virtually empty, and of course the employees had been clueless ever since it turned into a glossy retail establishment from its initial incarnation as a computer nerd warehouse.

I first encountered Fry's in the mid-80s, when my hardware guru sent me there to buy the parts for what he then turned into my first computer. Fry's was at its first location then, tucked into a corner of one of the tiny industrial parks that made up Silicon Valley, a big warehouse mostly of unlabeled computer parts in bins. I went up to the counter, one of those glass counters with more parts on display inside, handed them the slip on which H. had written my requisites, and bought the results.

Soon Fry's moved into a bigger facility across Lawrence Expressway, and introduced their first clever store packaging: giant "Enter" and "Escape" keys pasted on to the front doors, and a giant diode mockup in front. There were still bins and shelves with miscellaneous unpackaged parts, and most of the packaged ones were in plain boxes with identifying labels pasted on. There was very little designed packaging in computer parts in those days.

Literally anything you could possibly want in electronic or electrical parts or equipment was for sale at Fry's. And that was reinforced by their choice of what else to sell, the life-sustaining material for computer engineers: food/drink, mostly bags of chips and refrigerated cans of soda, and magazines, of two types, computer tech and men's erotica. It was kind of a parody of what they thought engineers wanted.

Around that time, as I've told before, a computer tech friend of mine (but we'd bonded mostly over English folk music) from the midwest came to town with a colleague for a conference. When I picked them up for dinner, they asked me to take them to Radio Shack so that they could pick up some supplies - I think they wanted to hack their hotel room phone or something. I said no, I've got a better place, and I took them to Fry's - then still the single store and unknown outside of the Valley. They were delighted, and spent considerable time exploring its wonders.

Gradually over the years Fry's altered, but not entirely for the worse. More stores opened: besides the original in Sunnyvale, there was the Western-themed one in Palo Alto and the Mayan temple in Campbell and others. The sales force became less knowledgeable. Huge counters with dozens of stations appeared for purchasing. Security persons to compare your sales slip with your purchase showed up at the exit door. On the shelves there were more packaged products. In the days when packaged software flourished, Fry's had lots of that. In the days that VHS and DVD and CDs flourished, Fry's had lots of that too.

Eventually the Sunnyvale store moved to a new facility with a Disneyland-sized parking lot. The store inside was cavernous and now filled with household machinery like washing machines. The electronics were all still there, but tucked into the back. It wasn't quite the same, but I kept shopping there, until the point where I could no longer find obvious items that Fry's ought to carry. That was about five years ago, and I gave up trying.

I don't see Fry's as having been killed off by online suppliers. I turned to online suppliers because I could no longer get what I needed at Fry's.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

historical controversy

The topic is "How did Winston Churchill become Prime Minister in 1940?" and I'm going to be assuming some background knowledge on your part here.

Churchill once said that he would be treated well by history because he intended to write that history himself, and the received account of the decision to make him PM is in the first volume of his WW2 memoirs (published in 1948, so he wasn't long about it). When Neville Chamberlain decided, after the Norway debate, that a National Government was necessary, and it became clear that the Labour Party would not accept one with him at the head of it, he called in his two principal ministers and likely successors - Churchill and Lord Halifax, who was Foreign Secretary - to decide whom he should recommend as his successor. This is what Churchill writes:
I have had many important interviews in my public life and this was certainly the most impotant. Usually I talk a great deal, but on this occasion I was silent. ... As I remained silent, a very long pause ensued. It certainly seemed longer than the two minutes which one observes in the commemmorations of Armistice Day. Then at length Halifax spoke. He said that he felt that his position as a peer, out of the House of Commons, would make it very difficult for him to discharge the duties of Prime Minister in a war like this. He would be held responsible for everything, but would not have the power to guide the assembly upon whose confidence the life of every Government depended. He spoke for some minutes in this sense, and by the time he had finished, it was clear that the duty would fall upon me - had in fact fallen upon me. Then, for the first time, I spoke. I said I would have no communication with either of the Opposition Parties until I had the King's commission to form a Government. On this the momentous conversation came to an end.
That's what Churchill wrote, and some version of it has become the accepted and usually-repeated story. That being the case, I was quite surprised to be browsing Andrew Roberts' The Storm of War (2011), his history of WW2, to find this:
Churchill was impatient for the premiership, and he took it, bluntly telling his rival for the post, the Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, that he could not be prime minister from the House of Lords. (He later invented a story in which Halifax almost offered him the premiership out of embarrassment after a long period of silence.)
Invented? This was the first I'd heard of anything of the sort. Roberts gives a source note. I turned to these only to find I'd alreadly marked it in my copy on a previous reading of the book. This time I got around to borrowing a copy of the cited book. It's Hostage to Fortune: The Letters of Joseph P. Kennedy, edited by Amanda Smith (published 2001). Kennedy was US Ambassador to the UK at the time of these events, but why would he have definitive knowledge of what happened at a private meeting of the principals of the government? The source turned out to be a memorandum Kennedy took of an interview he had with Chamberlain five months later. (By the time Kennedy met with him, Chamberlain had already resigned from the government due to ill health, and he was to die less than a month later.) Here is what Kennedy recounts of what Chamberlain told him, errors copied from the transcription (Edward was Halifax's given name):
He then wanted to make Halifax P.M. and said he would serve under him. Edward, as [is] his way, started saying, "Perhaps I can't handle it being in H of Lords and Finally Winston said, "I don't think you could." And he wouldn't come and that settled it.
What Kennedy, or Chamberlain, meant by "Finally" (with a capital F), is not clear, whether that meant Churchill waited for Halifax to finish before speaking, but the only thing it adds to Churchill's account is having him agreeing with Halifax's point. It matches with Churchill's statement that Halifax spoke first, and while not outright declining the office, doubting that he could operate as prime minister. It doesn't include the long pause, but it's hardly a full and detailed recounting of the meeting. This doesn't make Churchill's account "invented," by any stretch. Roberts has something of a reputation for being a little loose with facts, and this could be an example.

I turned to a definitive biography of Churchill, Roy Jenkins' tome of 2001. Jenkins finished writing the book in February of that year, the Kennedy letters were published in January (and this bit is a very small note in a very large book), so Jenkins is unlikely to have seen it before finishing the book. But he might as well have. He quotes from and paraphrases Churchill's account, and then writes: "This account is not without a certain central truth, but is wholly inaccurate as to times and participants." Jenkins then corrects Churchill's statement of when the meeting took place, and informs us of something Churchill omits, that the Chief Whip was also present (his job here would have been to pass along the views of the party's backbench MPs). Now we get to the central question of, did Halifax jump or did Churchill push him? This time it's Halifax's account that we get:
It required no determination not to break a long silence on Churchill's part to get Halifax to exclude himself. He had already done so at a 10.15 bilateral meeting with Chamberlain on the Thursday morning. There he stressed the great disadvantage he would suffer as a Prime Minister who was a peer, and for the first time used the phrase that the thought of being so 'left me with a bad stomach-ache'. THis position he maintained at the 4.30 quadripartite meeting. As a Prime Minister in the Lords he would rapidly become a 'cipher' in the position to which Lloyd George had tried to relegate Asquith in 1916. 'I thought Winston was a better choice. Winston did not demur, was very kind and polite but showed that he thought this was the right solution. Chief Whip and others think feeling in the House has been veering towards him.' This somewhat telegraphese account was recorded by the Foreign Office permanent under-secretary, Cadogan, who saw Halifax immediately on his return from 10 Downing Street.
So here we have the same thing as with Kennedy reporting on what Chamberlain told him: Halifax demurs, Churchill agrees. This time the reporter is Alexander Cadogan giving what Halifax told him, and on the same day even. And Cadogan's diaries, from which this comes, were published as long ago as 1971! So the alteration of Churchill's version is not news. Roberts has given us a big scare and told us nothing that we didn't already know.

Nor, by the way, was Kennedy's memo the only record of Chamberlain's view of the meeting, as Roberts elsewhere implies. The newspaper proprietor Lord Camrose saw Chamberlain on the same day and made a typically precise note:
He had considered the question as to whom he should ask the King to send for, and had discussed the matter with Halifax and Winston. ... [Halifax] had said he would prefer not to be sent for, as he felt the position would be too difficult and troublesome for him. He (Neville) would therefore advise the King to send for Winston.
That was published in Churchill's War Papers in 1993, and is quoted by Jenkins.

Two more things, one of which Jenkins raises. To what extent was Halifax's membership of the Lords merely a screen? Surely, some have said, in the emergency, some workaround could have been found to enable him to sit in the Commons. Most likely, I'd guess, though I don't know what it would have been. The writers I've seen discussing this point say that it was a screen to an extent. Roberts, in his much earlier (1991) biography of Halifax, puts it the most generously:
In different circumstances he would, especially if it had been presented to him by friends as being his patriotic duty, undoubtably have accepted the Premiership. The supreme prize of British politics was there for the taking and he had merely to nod for it to be his. But he knew in his heart that he was not of the calibre required for a wartime premier, and that Winston Churchill was. Proposing Churchill in his stead was a supreme act of self-abnegation, one for which history has afforded him scant credit. It was perhaps Halifax's greatest service to his country.
By "knew in his heart," Roberts probably means the same thing as what Halifax meant by saying the idea of becoming PM "left me with a bad stomach-ache." But there is also the possibility that he knew that, even in the Commons, he wouldn't have the real power in the government. Not with Churchill in his cabinet. Churchill would have to be Secretary for Defense (a post he did in reality take on in addition to the premiership), the control of the war would be his, and that would be the whole story. That could have been what Halifax meant by "the position would be too difficult and troublesome." Even when Churchill was younger and less senior, Prime Ministers under whom he served found it difficult to keep him from taking over whatever he wanted and saying whatever he cared to say.

The other point: It is often written nowadays that the Labour Party vetoed Halifax. That is not the case. They were formally asked two questions, would they join a national government under Chamberlain, would they join under someone else not specified? The national committee met and considered these questions (in Labour, it wasn't considered something for the leader to decide on his own), and returned the answers of no and yes to the respective questions. I'm not sure if it's recorded whom they actually preferred, but (in passages I didn't quote) we have contradictory information on what Chamberlain thought Labour preferred. Cadogan says that Chamberlain "was informed" that they'd "swung against Halifax." Churchill says that Chamberlain implied in their meeting that he feared Labour would not accept him, Churchill, because of the arguments he'd had with Labour members during the debate. But that was overriden by Halifax's statement.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

English suites and others no. 40

I wrote earlier that there was one indisputably major 19th century German composer who wrote suites, and that we would get to him eventually. Today is that day, and the composer was Richard Strauss. Before he was converted to post-Wagnerian Giganticism in his mid-20s, Strauss began as something of a Brahmsian composer who actually earned a few pats on the head from the gruff old great man.

And one of the most Brahmsian things he did in those days – he was 20 when this came out in 1884 – was to write a Suite for Winds, Op. 4. This is a delightful little neo-classical piece and one of my favorite works by Strauss.

Movements: Praeludium (0.28), Romanze (6.54), Gavotte (12.40), Introduction and Fugue (17.05)

Monday, February 22, 2021


Today was B's appointment for the first vaccination. She got her place from the county website, not from our health-care provider which is running behind. The county's coverage is up to the second tranch, which B. barely qualifies for, while I barely don't.

When they phoned to confirm the appointment - which was good because, what with Texas-caused shortages, we otherwise wouldn't have known whether it was on or not - B. asked if I could be brought in also. They said maybe: it would be up to the staffers on duty and the availability of vaccines that day. We could ask when we got there.

Fine. The appointment was at a medical office building adjacent to the city hospital of the big town down the road. I was going to drive anyway because the instructions were a bit confusing, I know the place (I was last there to visit the Big Name Fanwriter when he was taken to hospital from the last local Worldcon), and I'm generally geographically enabled.

This was also an opportunity for B. to use her newly-arrived Alinker in actual practice: she put it together and tried it out on our culdesac yesterday. She calls it her bumblebee (it's yellow). It's a walking bike, essentially, though it has three wheels. The idea is that she can walk faster and not have to put weight on her weak ankle, without resorting to a wheelchair. But both of the larger wheels and the seat have to be removed, and the frame folded up, to fit it in her car trunk, so it takes some time to get it ready.

So we left in plenty of time, parked in the next-door garage as instructed, put the bumblebee together, and set off for the front door of the medical building. There we met a doorwarden who was rather shirty but not impolite about it when we asked about my getting a vaccine. So it was no go on that. Nor would I be allowed inside the building, which was fine by me because I didn't want to go inside unless I was getting the vaccine.

So I waited in the car. B. returned with stickers on her and a report that the bumblebee got a lot of comments and worked fine, even shifting around into various lines while she was waiting. She got the Pfizer vaccine. Due to a computer glitch making the appointment for the second shot, hers is 29 days from now instead of the specified 21. By that time they should have opened the third tranch which is mine, so we'll see. Just in time for the takeover by the new variant virus which is reported to be semi-immune to the antibodies, tra la.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

another false fallacy

I wish to make an addition to my list of false fallacies: that is, things that are commonly cited as fallacies but maybe aren't.

One of my classic examples is the tu quoque, in the form of pointing out that your challenger doesn't abide by the consequences of their argument. This is called a logical fallacy of argument because it doesn't prove wrong what it's arguing against. What this criticism misses is that the tu quoque is not intended as proof. It's triage. What it says is not "You didn't apply your own argument to yourself, therefore it's wrong" but "You obviously don't really believe your own argument, so why should I give it consideration?"
Another form of the tu quoque is when the challenger points out you've made the same mistake you're accusing them of. You should admit your own errors, but you can also say, "I know I'm prone to it; that's why it's easy for me to see it in others." (C.S. Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters on this principle, criticizing no sin that he didn't recognize in himself.)

Another is "moving the goalposts." You make a statement, others challenge it, you change what your statement means. What may actually be happening here is that the challenger has misunderstood the original statement. The "change" in what it means is actually a clarification of what it originally meant, and it only looks like a change to the challenger because of their mistaken idea of what it meant.
Another possibility is that the original statement was badly phrased, and left open possibilities its maker didn't intend. Again, they're clarifying what they really meant all along, not changing it.

My latest addition is sealioning. This is defined as asking supposedly clarifying questions in bad faith to provoke an argument. It shouldn't be too surprising that if the questioner really doesn't understand, and needs an explanation in a different mode from that the others are prepared to give, or missed the earlier explanations somewhere far up a complicated thread, or the answerers consider the answer so obvious they're unwilling to expound on it, then the questioner will be falsely accused of sealioning.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Music@Menlo concerts review

Having done two reviews of Kohl Mansion's online series, I said I'd get over to Menlo's eventually, and now is that time. Here's a review of their last two concerts; this time I was able to find my notes for the first one when it was time to write up the pair. I thought the premise for the first one was a little shaky and the between-pieces chatter by the musicians to be ... skippable, though for the sake of reviewing I didn't skip it. Nor was the music tremendously to my taste. However, the publicist read it and called it a very favorable review, so I guess I was kind enough.

On the other hand, a dark and somber hour of Purcell and Beethoven with the Emerson Quartet was right up my alley. This time the talk was confined to a half-hour pre-concert interview, which not only had some interesting things to say about Beethoven which I referred to, but also contained the quartet's account of how they'd been about to embark on an extensive European tour when the pandemic hit, and for several days wondered how much of it they'd be able to salvage as the bookings slowly and then completely crumbled away. I remember that feeling. There was B's scheduled string camp and how at one point its survival seemed briefly dependent on which side of a county line it would be held on. That distinction didn't last long.

Friday, February 19, 2021

how the mind works

Here's a little something I recently discovered about how my mind, at least, functions.

Assume there are two options for a choice I frequently make. Call them A and B, and specify that I always prefer A.

When I'm presented with the choice, I'm always asked, "A or B?" and I reply, "A."

This time, however, I was asked, "B or A?" And I said "B" before immediately correcting myself.

This shows that I've learned to memorize my choice's place in the order rather than internalizing its name. Though I did know what I want, and as soon as I said "B" realized that something was wrong.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

of all the silliest ...

“If I had been less stunned, I would have asked why no one was more concerned that a man of these remarkable dimensions was slithering around south Liverpool. But he was very apologetic and really nice and I think he was just relieved that I found it so funny.”

- quote from one of the silliest articles of the year, and the silliest vaccine eligibility story ever

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

English suites and others no. 39

Joachim Raff is a pretty obscure name today, but in his own time he was considered to be one of the great composers. Once I read a reference to an article, probably dating from the 1870s, extolling the supremacy of then-contemporary German music. In opera, the article said, the greatest living composer was Wagner. In chamber music, it was Brahms. And for symphonies - Raff.

If that testimony is enough to whet your curiosity, I'd suggest trying Raff's Symphony No. 5 "Lenore", especially the extremely catchy March movement that it has in place of a scherzo. And then, keeping up the wind music tradition of Mozart and Brahms, there's his Sinfonietta for winds.

Here, though, is one of his suites, a rare example of a folk-based, nationally-inspired work from Germany in days when most folk-inspired composers were Slavic or Scandinavian. Raff called it his Thüringian Suite, Thüringia being a region in central Germany where Raff was working at the time. It was then known for its rural life in heavily wooded countryside, which this music does something to convey. Bach was from Thüringia, as was Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's consort, but you won't hear them in here.

The movements are: Salus intrantibus (0.08), Elizabeth's Hymn (9.30), Round Dance of the Gnomes and Sylphs (14.41), Variations on a Folk Song (18.27), Country Festival (27.38).

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Mythopoeic Awards

What would have been last summer's Mythopoeic Awards were finally announced today. The delay was not directly related to the cancellation of a Mythopoeic Conference (where the awards are normally announced) last summer; the problem was that the closure of libraries made it difficult for members of the awards committee to locate copies of the nominees, particularly the broad spectrum of first-ballot nominees. (Several of the finalists were distributed to the committee by the publishers on request.) As usual, I was on the scholarship committee and B. was on the fiction committees; I didn't read any of the fiction myself.

Mythopoeic Scholarship Award for Inklings Studies
Amy Amendt-Raduege, "The Sweet and the Bitter": Death and Dying in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (Kent State)
I recused myself from voting on this award this year, because I have a contribution in a collection which was one of the other finalists, but though this wouldn't have been my first choice, I'm very pleased with the result. Not just a survey of the deaths in Tolkien's story, it explores them in the larger context of the meaning of death in our culture, and how they resonate for the reader. I only wish it had broader coverage, because the death in Tolkien that most moves me is Thorin's in The Hobbit.

Mythopoeic Scholarship Award for Myth and Fantasy Studies
James Gifford, A Modernist Fantasy: Modernism, Anarchism, and the Radical Fantastic (ELS Editions)
On the other hand, I was extremely disappointed with this choice, not that most of the other finalists were much better. Gifford's prose is described as "dense" by those who like it, but I found it turgid, convoluted, and almost unreadable. It's rather embarrassing to give it an award in honor of the clear critical prose of Tolkien and Lewis. Further, what Gifford has to say in his turgid prose, insofar as I could follow it, was equally unappetizing: he appears to be trying to force fantasy into a series of Procrustan beds, alternately Marxist and anarchist. Ugh. In Gifford's acceptance speech, he describes the book as a historical survey of classic 20C fantasies in conversation with modernism and anarchism: that would have been a much better book than the one he actually wrote.

Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature
Theodora Goss, Snow White Learns Witchcraft (Mythic Delirium Books)
B. liked this one a great deal.

Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature
Yoon Ha Lee, Dragon Pearl (Rick Riordan)
B. says this one was OK.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Tolkien seminar

I was only able to watch about two hours of the eight-hour Tolkien Society online seminar today, due to my own issues. And trying to listen to it while simultaneously listening to Jamie Raskin repeat the same things he's been saying over and over for the last week didn't work very well either.

But in the process I did learn a lot. The seminar topic was 21st-century receptions of Tolkien, which includes artwork and blogs. Jotting down names (or more accurately opening more browser tabs and Googling them) gave me samples of some striking artists, like Tomas Hijo at the Prancing Pony:

Joe Gilronan at the House of Tom Bombadil:

and Ingvild Schage with Beren and Luthien:

and some recommended blogs: Tea with Tolkien (Tolkien and Catholicism) and A Clerk of Oxford (medievalism).

There was a paper on the memorial symbolism of Tolkien's grave, which pointed out that the names Beren and Luthien under Ronald's and Edith's names function as epitaphs. There was a canny paper on the various schools of reactions to the work, from literary to cultus to pop YA fiction and on. There was the obligatory paper of profound scholarship that was completely incomprehensible. And there was the paper discussing gaming systems whose presenter kept on saying "As you can see" until the moderator interrupted and pointed out that he hadn't turned on his screen-sharing, so we couldn't see any of it.

Will try again for the next one.