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.