Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Star Trek rewatch

Some cable channel that we seem to get is undertaking to strip through the episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series, as it's now retroactively called, and B. is taping them. I decided to watch a couple first season episodes; this is the first time I'd seen any TOS episodes since, probably, my own childhood, and it was interesting to see how they held up.

The first episode was "Miri", in which the Enterprise discovers a planet identical to the Earth - probably so that the inhabitants will speak English (the "Earth" language, I guess) and to enable Dr. McCoy to make sarcastic cracks about the architecture of the studio backlot - except that all the adults are dead and the children are aging very slowly, until they reach puberty, at which point they contract the disease that the adults had and die too. I picked this episode because it stars Michael J. Pollard (then about 27) and Kim Darby (then about 19) as the chief purported pre-adolescents.

The other was "Mudd's Women," which I picked for its colorful guest star Roger C. Carmel. Other than that, you don't want to know about this episode. You really don't.

I found that the acting, though sometimes over the top, particularly from Shatner, is mostly pretty good. Even the plotline whereby Darby, as the eponymous Miri, falls in love with Kirk but the Hays Code keeps them apart, while boring is not wincingly bad.

The problem with the show is its pacing. The plots grind to a halt and keep spinning in place, occupying time so that the story won't end before the episode does, or move glacially. Repetitious, self-congratulatory dialogue such as this doesn't help (actual example):
SPOCK: According to their life prolongation plan, what they thought they were accomplishing, a person would age only one month for every one hundred years of real time.
JANICE RAND: One hundred years and only one month?
SPOCK: Exactly, Yeoman.
In "Miri," the party of top officers, plus a couple of anonymous redshirts (their only name is "guards") who, surprisingly, don't get killed, is stuck without any way to evaluate their vaccine to stop the adult-killing virus from which they're all now suffering, and the reason they have no way to evaluate it is because they have no contact with the ship's computers, and the reason they have no contact with the ship's computers is because the elusive children taunted them all into rushing out of their lab in search of said children, and then while they were out Michael J. Pollard - who'd expected them to do this - snuck in and stole all the communicators which they'd stupidly left sitting out on the tables.

Insert, in a desperate attempt to get the communicators back, William Shatner in the Speech Least Likely To Persuade A Group of Wilful Kids to Do What You Want.

So Dr. McCoy gets tired of waiting and injects himself with the vaccine, without knowing what the dose should be, and when it cures him instead of kills him they know it's OK. This is a vaccine, mind you. Vaccines are supposed to prevent not cure ... oh never mind.

One thing that interested me, because it's something I've never seen discussed in a half-century of Trek trivia, is that when the top officers depart, they leave the com in the hands of a lieutenant named Farrell, who also plays a secondary role in "Mudd's Women." Had you ever heard of this guy? You will find him listed in sufficiently detailed Trek catalogs, but he seems to play no role in the mythology. I seem to recall that, in later years, only big-name characters could take the com, that if everybody else was gone then Scotty had to be on the bridge, even though he'd be better off in the engine room fretting about the dilithium crystals which is what he does in "Mudd's Women." I prefer the acknowledgement that there's a whole lot of crew members on the Enterprise besides the ones we know.

Monday, August 30, 2021

entering the building

I get my medical work done at a large complex containing a medical office building - exam room clinics, labs, pharmacy, many specialty offices including eye clinic and optician - and a hospital, the latter of which also contains some clinics including radiology.

They're separate buildings but also connected. There's a ground-level breezeway between the office building and a side entrance to the hospital, and the buildings are directly connected on the second floor.

Restrictions for entering the office building have been relaxed since the earlier days of the pandemic, but the hospital's have been tightened up, and the line in front of the hospital main non-emergency entrance is very long.

The e-mail announcing the rule changes said that you don't have to go through the restrictive procedures if you're just headed for one of the clinics like radiology, but it didn't say how to do so.

I looked at the line at the main entrance. I didn't want to walk past it and earn the irritation of those who'd queued up, even if the folks at the door would let me in. I remembered the side entrance. Surprise, it now says "Employees only," which it didn't the last time I tried this.

But! There's still the second floor corridor. So I turned back from the hospital side entrance, went into the office building, hopped it up the stairs (the elevator is at the other end of the office building) to the second floor, and walked down the corridor, where there was nobody at the hospital end but one guard at a desk. I said I was headed for radiology, and he told me how to take the hospital's elevator back down to the ground floor, not that I didn't already know where to go.

Thing that I'm glad I took with me to radiology: an e-book reader. Thing that I wish I took with me to radiology: shoes that will easily slip on. Thing that I'm glad I only had to do once at radiology: hold my breath for 20 seconds.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

take me to your census

Finally, last year's census results - basic population info on states, counties, and larger cities - has been released. Here's the lookup table.

I was able to download the county population figures and plug them into a database of previous decades. I like using counties because they're of a useful size and fairly stable in area across the decades, so comparisons are possible.

The first thing I noticed is that 53% of US counties lost population in 2010-20. Considering that only 35% did in 2000-10, that's a hefty number. And they're mostly smaller, rural counties. Even in smaller states, the major urban areas grew while the rest of the state languished. To put a number on it: nationwide, of the 100 largest counties in 2010, 96 gained population in the next decade; of the 100 smallest, only 24 did.

Truly, to those that have, more shall be given.

The orange counties lost population; the rest gained, the darker the blue the greater the gain.

A quick calculation enabled me to determine the fastest-growing counties in the US; this privileges smaller ones, as fewer people are needed to make a big percentage dent. The two fastest-growing counties in the US were North Dakota oil boom counties (this isn't unusual: in the 1920s and 30s almost all of the biggest-growth counties in the US were Texas oil boom counties), and the rest of the top ten mostly on the suburban edges of growing urban areas: San Antonio, Austin, Orlando, yes, but also Des Moines and Sioux Falls. It's around 45-55% growth for these. The county with the greatest absolute growth was Harris County, Texas, but that's already huge (it has Houston).

The county losing the greatest percentage of population was Alexander County, Illinois (36%). Focused on the town of Cairo, it's probably never quite recovered from the 2011 Mississippi River floods. Ten years ago the big loser was a Louisiana rural parish wiped out by Katrina, but now that one's growing back. However, now with Ida they may have to start all over again.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

the opening

I wonder if other people have this problem.

You buy a food - in this case it was slivered carrots, but it could be many things - that comes in a commercially-labeled plastic bag. Across the bag near the top is a resealing strip so that you can seal up the bag after using some of the contents and keep the rest fresh.

But there's no immediate access to the resealing strip. Above it the bag edge folds over onto itself on the other side of the strip. Sometimes there's a perforation to pull the top of this off, but most times you need to get a scissors to cut it off.

Now you have two loose flaps, and it should be easy enough to pull them apart, thereby opening the resealing strip and gaining access to the juicy contents.

But it isn't! Flip and flip over, you can't get the two sides of the bag apart at the top edge. Try grabbing the two sides of the bag just below the resealing strip, where they separate to allow space for the contents, and pulling them apart. Doesn't work either, the strip is too firmly sealed.

Resume the scissors and cut further in the area above the strip. Eventually you get to a place where the flaps separate, but now there isn't enough material to grab to pull the strip apart.

Repeat various of these in increasing desperation. Meanwhile the recipe to which you need to add the carrots is getting stale on the counter.

Finally - finally! - resume the scissors and cut the whole resealing strip off. Now you'll never be able to seal the leftovers up again, but at least you can OPEN THE BAG.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Latin lingo

So I'm used to various Latin terms and abbreviations in scholarly papers, but the paper I'm editing now had one I'd never seen before and wasn't even sure what it meant. I couldn't find it in a dictionary for any relevant meaning, and it wasn't in any guide to Latin scholarly terms I checked online, which is enough reason for getting rid of it. My colleague was eventually able to track down its meaning, so we just translated it.

I'm not going to reveal it, because this post isn't about that. It's about a very impressive Latin terms guide that I checked. This is, for instance, about the clearest explanation of the difference between e.g. and i.e. that I've seen.

The main page has links to a number of other useful guides. They go not just into the rules, but why in actual practice you'd want to do one thing rather than another. When to use first person; how to paraphrase without plagiarizing; when it makes sense to use the passive voice; and so on.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Catwoman with real cats

Catwoman? No! Cat Lady!

publicity photo of Julie Newmar, 1966

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

sympathy for the drummer

For everyone who's mourning Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, here he is. Satisfied?

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

what am I doing here?

"Here" is one of the pods of a movie-showing multiplex in a nearby downtown. I haven't been in a movie theater in 19 months, and that wasn't a multiplex, and I hadn't been planning on going back to one soon. But our nephew and niece, a married couple who have waxed fat (not physically) on Silicon Valley largesse, rented out this pod for a private showing for just family members, siblings and parents and an aunt and uncle or two, that's us. So thanks, E. and L. and anybody else whose idea this was.

The movie we saw was Free Guy, the prospect of which made me a little nervous. My knowledge of video games only goes up to about the time of Pac-man. Would I even be able to follow this story of a non-player character in a contemporary multi-player video world who becomes a self-aware AI?

Turns out I found the movie passingly enjoyable, and I didn't have any trouble grasping the outlines of the plot, the difference between the game world and the real world and how they interacted and shaped each other. And I got jokes like the unfinished NPC hastily dumped into the game whose catchphrase is "Catchphrase!" and whose list of favorite activities includes "TBD." I was kind of skeptical of the way the evil game designer planned to destroy his own work in order to launch a non-backwards-compatible sequel, killing off everything the players had accomplished in the game, and my nephew the computer professional confirmed that this was a little implausible, but what he found most unbelievable was that the servers were in the same building where the programmers worked.

However, there were a number of things about the practice of playing the game that confused me. I didn't understand, when the hero first puts on the data-display glasses, that one of the things he sees is a bouncing first-aid kit. What was that for? Nor did I understand the purpose of the snatches of popular songs that would appear briefly. B. tried to explain these things to me afterwards, so you needn't worry over it.

But what most puzzled me was this. (Mild spoiler.) On one hand, an appearance, grabbed out of some electronic storehouse, of Captain America's shield, plus a cameo shot of a startled Chris Evans watching the game (B. whispered to me that that was the actor who plays Captain America: I did recognize the shield by myself), passes by entirely without explanation. But when, a moment later, we get a light saber, complete with a crashingly obvious hint in the form of a background playing of the Star Wars theme, the watching characters tell us about six times that that's a light saber. Y'know, from Star Wars. Has Star Wars really passed so far into the background of today's culture that viewers need to be told six times that something is a light saber before they recognize it?

a great symphony

After recommending their Shostakovich last week, I was exploring the other videos that the Frankfurt Radio Symphony has up, and was knocked over by their Sibelius Third. Here, listen to this.

Notice particularly the timpani at the key change in the slow movement (20:00) and the remarkable sound of the violas throughout the finale, especially when they take the lead at 26:30.

The Third is Sibelius's greatest symphony, but people rarely pay it much attention. They will after they hear this.

Monday, August 23, 2021

a public service announcement

Normally I stay out of political opinionating in my public posts, but this one is a rebuttal to which I want to give as much airing as I can. It's addressed to California voters who are against the gubernatorial recall; everyone else can skip to the next post.

We know you're going to vote "no" on the recall; the question is, how are you going to vote on the other ballot measure, the one to choose a replacement governor in case the yes votes win on the previous measure? You get a vote on this regardless of your opinion on the recall itself.

There's very little guidance on this. No prominent Democrats have filed; neither major party has endorsed a particular candidate. You can't write in the name of the Lieutenant Governor because they won't count those votes, despite the fact that she's the logical candidate: in any other case if the governor leaves office midterm, the lieutenant governor replaces him; that's what we have a lieutenant governor for.

I've seen at least four courses of action recommended, and three of them strike me as just wrong for an anti-recall voter.

1. Leave the second question blank. This is the course recommended by a lot of official-sounding Democrats. Don't do this. You are not going to stop the recall by boycotting it; all you're doing is abdicating from your chance to make a vote, and you're letting the Republicans decide. The reason the Democrats are pushing this option is because they're afraid that if they back an actual candidate, it'll encourage people to vote "yes" on the recall so that they'll get that candidate. That's silly. If voters are minded to take your advice for a candidate, they could also take your advice to vote "no" on the previous question.

2. Some say, vote for Kevin Paffrath, on the grounds that polls say he's the leading Democrat. Never choose your vote by what the polls say; you'll only make a fool of yourself when you lose to Larry Elder. Paffrath is only prominent because of name recognition, an even more dubious basis to choose a candidate. As a candidate, he's Trump-like in his amateurness, full of naive and dubious plans which will make a horrible crashing sound when they collide with reality.

3. The LA Times recommends voting for Kevin Faulconer, on the grounds that he's the Republican who will do the least damage. That's kind of like "the least bad Stephen R. Donaldson novel" – by Democratic standards it's still very, very bad. Furthermore, by dint of being the least objectionable Republican, Faulconer is the one most likely to win re-election next year. (Remember Arnold and what happened to him?)

4. There's one progressive Democrat with political experience on the ballot. His name is Joel Ventresca. He only got 7% when he ran for mayor of San Francisco, and he's not an ideal candidate, but there are no ideal candidates. At least his education and work experience are in public administration, and he's served as a county environmental commissioner. He was a strong Bernie Sanders supporter. Various progressive outlets, like The San Francisco League of Pissed-off Voters, haven't formally endorsed Ventresca but consider him the best candidate, and individual progressives I respect have said they're voting for him. There are other progressive candidates, but they have far less experience and look considerably more flaky. So I think he's the best we've got, and he has support.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

conversation you didn't overhear

B., describing Mass this morning: ... the bishop was there, and that always makes things take longer ...

Me: That's because the church is laid out at right angles and the bishop can only move diagonally.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Michael Morgan

Oh now, this is sad. Michael Morgan, music director of the Oakland Symphony for over thirty years now, died yesterday. It was the result of a post-operation infection that had already led Morgan to cancel some concerts. With Michael Tilson Thomas, emeritus of the San Francisco Symphony, also out post-operationally right now, one has cause to fret.

And Morgan, who was 63, was just beginning to come into his own on a larger stage. Ignored across the Bay for decades, he had just recently made his San Francisco Symphony conducting debut. Among the pieces in his concert was Louise Farrenc's Third Symphony (1847).

That sort of unusual programming was typical Morgan. Getting to Oakland from here for an evening out is a nuisance, but I usually ventured up for a Morgan concert about once a year, because I just couldn't resist his programming. The last one I attended had music by five Black composers, going all the way back to the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, and including Florence Price's Third Symphony (1940).

There were lots of others, including an evening with American Indian concert music. A rare violin concerto by John Adams. And Morgan was a good conductor as well as an imaginative programmer: of the four times I've heard Bernstein's Mass live, his rendition was musically the best. And he put a blistering defense of the work's value in the program notes: "The work is constantly underestimated by those who are still distracted by its liberal politics and liberal use of popular music idioms. But those of us who have studied it find that the more one studies it, the greater and greater it seems: both as a well-integrated piece of music and as a political/philosophical/spiritual statement."

So Morgan took his music seriously, but he had an informality of manner unlike anything I've seen in other major conductors. Before performing another of his obscure finds, Stenhammar's Second Symphony, he told the audience that he'd first found it in a record bin. Well, so did I; but that's not the sort of source a conductor normally admits to.

He held a poll of listeners for favorite piece, and promised to perform it. Dvorak's Symphony from the New World won, and he paired it with Bruckner's Te Deum, which made another combination I couldn't miss.

Morgan also pleased me by playing a lot of Shostakovich. In February 2017 (note the date), he led Shostakovich's Ninth. He explained that this short, light, cheerful and cheeky work defied Stalin's expectations for a huge, pompous peroration to celebrate victory in WW2, the more so as it was a Ninth, with all the epic burden that number has carried in symphonies since Beethoven. "Sometimes," Morgan said, "when you have a strongman leader, who thinks he can tell everyone what to do, artists have to punch back." And when the audience erupted into huge applause at this, he said with a grin, "I don't know what you people think I'm referring to." And he concluded, "Think of the Shostakovich Ninth as a work of resistance ... our own little poke in the eye to strongman dictators."

Some years ago, I was sitting in the audience at the San Francisco Conservatory waiting for a panel discussion to start, when a guy in jeans and a polo shirt set down a backpack and slipped into the seat next to it, a few rows in front of me. Then I recognized him: it was Michael Morgan. Again with the informality: how many other major conductors would you expect to see just casually in an audience like that?

I really cherished this man and his work, and I'll miss them both.


There's an article in the Aug. 23 New Yorker by Joshua Rothman about rationality. My reaction to it feels offbeat but not irrational.

I'm certainly capable of reacting emotionally, mostly in spontaneous situations, but I think I run my life decisions, on a scale running from "plan my next vacation" on up, on a fairly rational basis as average people go. I modify my practice over time as I learn more about what works and what does not. That's about becoming more knowledgeable, not more rational.

Yet I have no desire to join a rationality movement as described in this article. It does not seem to me a rational thing to do. I read Scott Alexander, who's a figure in that movement, but I read him because he's entertaining and often informative, and unlike some of his fellows he does not hold up rationality as a goal in itself.

What I find missing from comparisons of rational and supposedly irrational behavior is a lack of consideration of the difference between people's individual goals and personalities.

Rothman describes his college friend Greg, a conscious rationalist, as particularly interested in making rational study of monetary investments. Such an interest is sort of a default example of rationality in action, and for someone like Greg, who became a hedge fund manager, focusing on it makes sense.

But I would say, "I'm not particularly interested in studying investments. That's not what I want to spend my free time and my intellectual energy on; there are other things I prefer to do. Consequently, even if I did work at this, I'd probably not be particularly good at it.* So since there are people who make their living advising other people at investments, I can have them put me in mutual funds. Then there will be two levels of expertise watching over my money. They could make mistakes, to be sure, but then so could I if I were doing this. And I think I can avoid the small risk of con men by not using people offering implausibly high returns out of black boxes." That strikes me as a rational reaction from someone with those priorities.

Rothman defines Charlotte Lucas as rational when she accepts Mr. Collins' offer of marriage, implying that Lizzie was irrational to refuse it. But they're different people with different needs and expectations. Charlotte says she's not romantic. She is only concerned with financial security, and as a married woman demonstrates her priorities, eking out a life as detached from her irritating husband as possible.

That's fine for her, but Lizzie wants partnership and a meeting of minds out of marriage, and it would have been irrational for her to make the decision which was rational for Charlotte. Lizzie's only mistake here was to be surprised and not realize how different Charlotte is from herself. That's a lack of knowledge, not of rationality.

*This isn't always the case. I spent my school years perplexed at the fact that I was both very good at math, and found it exceedingly boring.

Friday, August 20, 2021

bad service and good service

Today I experienced, simultaneously, the extremes in quality: really terrible customer service and exceedingly good customer service - from different vendors.

I was down in the Safeway parking lot to pick up my order which had been placed online. You park in a designated space, call up their number and tell them who you are, and they bring out the groceries in bags on a cart, and place them in your trunk. I do this regularly at this store every Friday morning.

But this time when I opened my phone and picked Safeway from my stored numbers, the phone rang once and then a recording said it was AT&T customer service. Which is also on my list, so I thought something went wrong. I hung up and tried again four times before letting it go far enough that it got around to saying that they were intercepting all calls placed from relevant phones until each customer had spoken to an agent about the impending 3G network shutdown - which isn't happening for another six months.

I'm used to having my calls interrupted by recorded announcements that my account balance is expiring in less than two weeks, but it then lets me proceed with my call. This was different.

When the live agent came on the line, I said that I knew all about the shutdown, that I'd already bought a compliant phone from Amazon, that I'd transfer my account over when it was closer to the date, and that it was absolutely outrageous that they should enforce a live intercept. What if my call had been an emergency?

Meanwhile the agent kept saying she was about to disable the intercept on my line, but it took her about five minutes to do it.

Now for the good news.

While I was still struggling on the phone with AT&T, one of the Safeway delivery guys knocked on my window. He'd been coming back from break, saw me in the parking space and recognized me as a regular customer, so he went in and came back with my groceries, which he was now ready to load in my trunk if I opened it.

Now that is truly great customer service. I must go back to the store and tell the manager about it.

buying online

Since early in the pandemic, we've been ordering our groceries online. This has proved so convenient we intend to continue. B. had been finding the physical process of shopping to be increasingly difficult for aging bones, and the scooters the stores supply are awkward to use and often run out of power. So she writes up a shopping list for her items (mostly breakfast and lunch supplies), I add in things I need to make dinners, and I look them up online.

We don't have the order delivered: that would be decadent, leave delivery time up in the air, and run the risk of the deliverers not being able to find our house. Admittedly the professional delivery services, the PO and Amazon and all, don't have trouble, but back when I was taking shuttles to the airport, they never could. (One reason I quit taking them.)

Instead, I drive to the store, park in one of a set of designated spaces, and phone them. They come out and put the stuff in the trunk. This works well with Safeway (and we're still satisfied with the fourth outlet we tried after the first three had trouble with the concept of bringing the order out), but other chains I've gone to have more complicated systems requiring a smartphone instead of a dumbphone.

And usually we know as I shop, or at least when they e-mail to confirm the order is ready, if there's anything we want that they don't have. Usually I can find it at another outlet.

But here's something that I was stuck on. I've acquired a recipe that includes a can of cream of onion soup. What? Campbell's still makes this, but nobody carries it. I had to resort to a mail-order grocer; let's see how that goes.

Another thing I've been buying mail-order for a while is postage stamps. We still use these, mostly for bills. I enjoy pasting attractive stamps on the envelopes, whether or not the recipient cares. I used to buy these at the PO counter, asking the clerk what have you got? But the selection was often poor. The online store has a full stock.

But only of what they currently carry. Our last purchase, a year or two ago, yielded Star Trek stamps, Wonder Woman (B. likes those), cute pets, Mexican food, and a set of Disney villains, the last of which I was careful not to use on rent checks to our landlord.

But we're running low, and I wanted to order a sheet of the new Le Guin stamps, even though I have little use for a three-ounce stamp. But everything I bought last time is out of print and not much that interests me has replaced it. I had to content myself with Star Wars droids (eh, ok), x-ray (or something) images of the sun, and something that catches my interest, admission date anniversary stamps for states. Having had Indiana and Nebraska a while back, this time I got Missouri - the state I was in to view the big eclipse of 2017 - and Alabama. Well, even though of all 50 states Alabama is the one I have least experience with. About 20 years ago, I drove in one afternoon from Mississippi to Mobile, and departed the following morning in the direction of the Florida panhandle; that's it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Sir Gawain and the Green Movie

Much desire among many I know to see this, tempered by reluctance to go to a movie theater in the middle of a pandemic to do so. But! I learned from Tor.com that it was streaming online that very evening, August 10. But when I tried to buy a ticket, I was kicked off to the next showing, August 18. Which was today. Whether there will be any more, I don't know: you could try the streaming site, though it looks to me as if there aren't.

So I watched the movie. How was it? asked B. afterwards. It was very, very atmospheric, I said. Does that mean it was visually dark? asked my canny B. It does, I said. As unlighted as the proverbial freezing pit. And most of the actors mumbled, with such intense dedication to this arcane craft that if it weren't for the subtitles I'd have had no idea what they were saying. (Another good reason not to see it in the theater.)

Nevertheless it was a gripping movie, atmospheric in the good sense as well as the stereotypical one. Not an action movie at all, but mostly quiet (this must be why so much mumbling) and, like the poem, insistently but not didacticly homiletic. Dev Patel as Gawain has to act more with facial expressions and body movement than words, and he captures the character very well. An awesome work of film-making.

As an adaptation of the poem? Some parts, like the first encounter with the Green Knight, were impressively faithful to the original. Others, like, well, pretty much the rest of the story, wandered off and didn't always make sense.

I except from that, though, the middle. The poem pretty much skips over Gawain's adventures on the way to his second encounter, rather in the manner of Bach skipping over the slow middle movement of the Third Brandenburg. So some performers just make something up to fill the gap, and so did David Lowery, who wrote and directed this movie. I can't object to that, especially as what he adds fits the story in the way that nothing that Peter Jackson added to his movies ever did: it has the same kind of hortative moralism that the poem does.

But when we get to Bertilak's castle, the movie acts as if it's running out of time. The steaminess of Gawain's days in the castle is shriveled up; the mutual gifting theme is foreshortened, making it impossible for the climactic Green Chapel scene to go the way it does in the poem. And it doesn't. Instead there's a gigantic wad of misdirection, the idea for which was perhaps stolen from The Last Temptation of Christ, and when that's done with the movie ends abruptly.

Even with these strictures, it's better than a Jackson monster, and the reimagining of the original is not a tenth as ridiculous as in the Beowulf movie. It's a success on its own terms.

auditory companion

Two versions of the same music have been keeping me company while I slave over hot computer files in the middle of the night (due to my odd sleep patterns).

This is Shostakovich's eerie and ghostly Fifteenth Symphony.

(Check out also his other symphonies by this orchestra.)

This is Shostakovich's Fifteenth arranged for piano trio and three percussionists.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

so much for that idea

In an earlier post, I wrote regarding the California gubernatorial recall, "I expect some advice to be coming for those of us opposed to the recall for whom we should vote for as the replacement should it pass anyway. So far all I've seen are polls, which aren't advice, and one columnist suggesting that we write in the name of the Lieutenant Governor."

However, my friendly neighborhood retired California county election official, Mr. Speth, informs me that "Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis has not registered with the Sec. of State as a write-in candidate. Write-in votes for her will not be counted. Probably just as well; how many people could spell her name?"

So now I'm at a complete loss as to who to vote for, since none of the 43 or whatever listed candidates are actually worthwhile.

Nor am I inclined, as some advocate, to withhold my vote in protest against the recall system. It's not as if the recall were a consumer product, with a recall factory ready to manufacture more if customers buy what's already on the shelves. The connection between a low vote on replacement and discouraging future ones is just too tenuous. The way to discourage recalls is not to have signed the petition, and I didn't.

Monday, August 16, 2021

four books

The first two are good general reading. The others, rather for specialists.

Francesca Wade, Square Haunting: Five Writers in London Between the Wars (Random House, 2020)

The title comes from a diary entry by Virginia Woolf. This is a set of accounts of five British women writers, mostly not much connected with each other, but who had this in common: that at some time or other between 1916 and 1940, even if briefly and not all simultaneously, they all lived in the same square in the Bloomsbury district of London. Three are famous creative writers: Woolf, H.D., and Dorothy L. Sayers; the other two are less well-known academic scholars, the Cambridge classicist Jane Ellen Harrison and the LSE economic historian Eileen Power. But Harrison is of particular interest, since at this time and for most of her later years, she had a companion (their exact relationship is unknown, though Harrison referred to her as a "spiritual daughter") who is also prominent in this book: Hope Mirrlees, the author of the fabled fantasy novel Lud-in-the-Mist. Very few readers know anything about Mirrlees; you will find biographical info and a photo here, though nothing about what made her book what it was.

Sayers is the one of the five I know most about. She was only a year in Mecklenburg Square, during which she conceived and wrote the first Lord Peter Wimsey novel, while living in the same rooms H.D. had vacated a year earlier. There's a lot on her brief romance with John Cournos, who shows up peripherally in H.D.'s and Harrison's stories as well. Busy guy.

Focused as it is on the writers' living space, this book concentrates on the practicalities of their lives, and how they carried out their work here, especially with two wars passing overhead; why they moved in and why they left. The rest of their lives is mentioned, but the bulk is on their time in Bloomsbury and how the place as it was at the time facilitated their work. As a whole, this is an exercise in demonstrating how an intellectual and creative woman finds a room of her own.


Phillip Lopate, ed., The Glorious American Essay: One Hundred Essays from Colonial Times to the Present (Pantheon, 2020)

I picked this up off the library shelf because a quick glance at the contents showed it included two of my favorite 20C essays, E.B. White's "Death of a Pig," which begins:
I spent several days and nights in mid-September with an ailing pig and I feel driven to account for this stretch of time, more particularly since the pig died at last, and I lived, and things might easily have gone the other way round and none left to do the accounting.
and Nora Ephron's "A Few Words About Breasts," which ends:
I have thought about their remarks, tried to put myself in their place, considered their point of view. I think they are full of sht.
uncensored in the original of course, and a statement I've sometimes taken as a motto. I figured such a wise selection could include other worthwhile essays to learn about, and it did.

Lopate quite consciously seeks a variety of perspectives. He doesn't hesitate to put, near the beginning (they're in chronological order), Jonathan Edwards' Amos-Starkadder-like denunciation of sinners, but it's immediately followed by a chapter from Common Sense by Tom Paine, one of the few authors of his time who writes prose readable by current standards, which may partially account for his popularity in his own day. There's a whole raft of 19C feminists - Judith Sargent Murray, Sarah Moore Grimke, Margaret Fuller, Fanny Fern, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton - and some Blacks of the time too, of whom Frederick Douglass's good-humored and quietly confident letter to his old master is a highlight of the book. ("I have often thought I should like to explain to you the grounds upon which I have justified myself in running away from you. I am almost ashamed to do so now, for by this time you may have discovered them yourself.") Many of the most recent essays are representatives of burgeoning minority groups, whose airing, however legitimate, of their concerns in multiple gives an unfortunate hectoring quality to the close of the book.

There are many good and readable things here. Besides chapter excerpts, Lopate includes a few speeches, of which the mightiest are Lincoln's Second Inaugural and MLK's lesser-known 1967 speech on why opposing the war in Vietnam is a civil-rights issue. Here's a Mark Twain piece, new to me, on the course of his life emphasizing the role of luck and random circumstance producing a cascade of superficially unrelated events, concluding with "I can say with truth that the reason I am in the literary profession is because I had the measles when I was twelve years old." Here's the 1939 essay by art critic Clement Greenberg which, I gather, introduced the word kitsch to the English language, and does a better job of defining it than anything else I've read.

I was particularly struck by Marilynne Robinson's 1994 "Puritans and Prigs," in which she defines as "priggishness" that kind of sanctimonious denunciation of minor gaffes which has become even more common currency since Robinson writes. (And is further complicated by the perpetrators of major sins trying to hide behind the pretense that they're minor gaffes, see e.g. the defenders of DT's Billy Bush tape.) And even more so, I wish I'd known about Susan Sontag's ferocious 1964 "Against Interpretation" when I was in high school honors English where we were taught that the only purpose of reading literature was to ferret out the Hidden Meanings, which is the process that Sontag means by the (not very well chosen, actually) term "interpretation." I was so wearied by this that I wrote my own version of Sontag's (unknown to me, of course) arguments in a term paper. I got an F. I wish I'd had Sontag to wave at my teacher, but since my F reflected the teacher's disdain for my arguments more than flaws in my writing skill, I suppose she'd also have given Sontag an F. Shortly afterwards I dropped the class, and I've never read Joseph Conrad since.


Rae Linda Brown, The Heart of a Woman: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price (University of Illinois Press, 2020)

In the last couple years, due partly to Alex Ross's advocacy, Price - a great mid-20C African-American woman composer - has been emerging from long obscurity. Both the San Francisco and San Jose symphonies are playing her work for the first time this upcoming season, for instance. It's dampening to read that Brown completed this book some twenty years ago, and it could have been published then. But only Brown's death in 2017 stopped her from doing more research, adding more discovered facts ... A rather Tolkienesque approach, actually.

It's a readable but dense book, most rewarding if you're deeply interested in Price's music. There are several chapters analyzing particular works, which I've read while listening to recordings to great benefit. I'm a fan of her symphonies, but it was here that I learned of her song setting of Paul Laurence Dunbar's "Sympathy," which is the poem where the line "I know why the caged bird sings" comes from.

But this book is also valuable for ethnographic background on the Black middle class of Price's day. You'll learn about the rise of Jim Crow in the Little Rock of Price's 1890s childhood and how it gradually suffocated the Black middle class (her father was a dentist; after he died, her mother, who could pass for white, went north and did so). You'll also learn about the high cultural aspirations, including classical music, in the Black community of Chicago, where Price moved, in the 1930s, and how she became locally renowned and even performed by the Chicago Symphony.


Edward B. Foley, Ballot Battles: The History of Disputed Elections in the United States (Oxford, 2016)

This predates the last two US presidential elections, but it's useful background. It goes through just about every significant state- or federal-level disputed election we've ever had, and while the earlier ones are now only of rarified interest, due to changes in rules and circumstances, the recent ones have lessons to teach. For all his academic aloofness from the fray, Foley doesn't hesitate to express judgments as to what went well and wrong in each case, and there's generally useful lessons in here amid the blizzard of election-wonk detail. One is, the distinction between fair administration of the election - making sure everyone eligible can vote, preventing cheating - and fair counting of the ballots, which is a separate process. Another is ensuring that there are rules in place before the election to cover disputes afterwards. A third is ensuring a nonpartisan review process. A bipartisan one (half one party, half the other, especially if they all vote their party's side) doesn't cut it. The judicial panel that handled the Minnesota 2008 Senatorial election is considered a model here.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

questions run so deep

Jim Henson once supposedly said, "there are many situations in this life that I can't do much about, so what I should do is concentrate on the situations that my energy can affect." Fine, but sometimes you're called upon to express your opinion, as with voting. So here are some things I can't affect that are nevertheless on my mind.

1. The California gubernatorial recall. The ballots are now being sent out, so I expect some advice to be coming for those of us opposed to the recall for whom we should vote for as the replacement should it pass anyway. So far all I've seen are polls, which aren't advice, and one columnist suggesting that we write in the name of the Lieutenant Governor.
Meanwhile, here's an argument that it'd be unconstitutional for a replacement to be elected by fewer votes than were given to retain the existing governor. The authors suggest a lawsuit be brought. But they're both Californians, and law professors to boot, so why don't they bring it? But how do you sue to stop an election because of how it might come out?

2. In other polities, Justin Trudeau has had a general election called in Canada. I think I know what he's doing. He's following his father's footsteps. Pierre Trudeau was first elected with a gigantic majority. So was Justin. Pierre called an election 4 1/2 years later. So did Justin. Pierre was returned but with a minority government. So was Justin. Slightly less than two years after that, Pierre called another election. So did Justin. Pierre won another hefty majority and went on to another five years in office. Will it be Justin time again?

3. For those of a certain age, the fall of Kabul immediately after US troops leave is reminiscent of the fall of Saigon under similar circumstances. And I have the same response: if, after all those years, all those lives and all that money and all that effort, our puppet government can't maintain even a little resistance, then we weren't accomplishing anything by being there and should have left long ago. (And why didn't we? Same reason as Vietnam.) Propping up a corrupt and rotting tent with our lifeblood is not what the US should be doing, and certainly not twice.

4. In pandemic news, my county is listed as one of three in the state with a vaccination rate of over 80%. That's of the total population. I guess we're about as safe as you can get. Yes, but here's an article lining up testimonies that if you're vaccinated and get covid, it's not that bad. I'm not taking that as assurance.

5. A few blocks from here, there was a shooting at a massive Instagram-fueled house party. Turns out it was an illegal Airbnb rental, the third such shooting at such a party in such a rental in our area in the last year. Has Airbnb promised to crack down on this? Of course. Have they? Apparently not. What startles me is that, in our city, "bookings are limited to four guests, and hosts are required to be on-site at rentals." That rule would have made illegal our rental of the shark house in Oxford for a party of Americans visiting the Bodleian's Tolkien exhibit. There were, how many? eight? of us, and we picked up the keys from a lockbox. What's more, one evening we had a couple friends over and invited one of them to stay overnight on the couch to save himself the long drive home. Was that technically a party? We were quiet, and we didn't shoot anybody ...

6. Potential collapse of the Atlantic Ocean circulation system: less apocalyptic article, more apocalyptic article, take your choice. But I'm not surprised, any more than I was by Katrina: we've known for decades if not longer that this was possible. The frosting on the cake will be if Europe freezes, then all the nutcakes will come up and say that global warming is a hoax because it's cooler.

7. Article on "Karens" (entitled and belligerent white women) that even attempts a sociological explanation of why they're called by that name. But none of the "Karens" I've read about in the news are actually named Karen. There's an Alison, Teresa, Hilary, Amy, Lisa, Patricia ... but no Karen. All the Karens I know are upright people whom I don't believe would do anything like this. (Mind, I do know some people whom I would believe capable of something like this - but they're not named Karen.) Libel on a good name.

8. I've gotten some blowback on my "Both of these stories are true" post, the one saying that police can be both horrid villains and brave heroes, that U.S. history contains both terrible sins and high ideals. But some are wedded to telling only one story; since most (not all, I know) of my readers are on the left, they lean towards the first story in each case. I think that either they fear that if the second story is told it will undercut the first, or that the existence of the first story somehow negates the second. But it doesn't. Both of these stories are true.
You won't hear any arguments from me about how iniquitous the police can be. But if their actions in response to BLM protests and the like are what have caused you to disdain them, you're decades, nay centuries, late. The police have always been like that. Some of us remember Chicago in '68. Even before there were modern police, in Britain they used the army for crowd control and didn't that go well.
But at the same time we have the acts that prove the panicked shooting of Black men is unnecessary, and that's the frequent cases of cops bravely approaching unhinged gun-wavers and talking them down, confiscating their weapons, and taking them into custody - so long as those gun-wavers are white. And we have January 6, which also featured both villainy and great heroics from the police. Both of these stories are true.
As for U.S. history, if we tell only of slavery and genocide, we leave out the First and Fourteenth Amendments, beacons for rights-seekers to this day. There's both evil and honor here. Both of these stories are true.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

the world according to cats

Now that we have bedframes that may be raised, it's no longer possible to block off the area under the bed entirely from feline exploration, and Maia has taken to spending time under there to escape from Tybalt's tendency to treat her as a giant cat toy. How this will work out when we need to take them to the vet we'll discover in due time; their next scheduled appointment is in December.

Meanwhile it's causing curious difficulty with the feeding schedule. B. usually latches the bedroom door shut to keep Tybalt from bugging her all night, especially for food after about 3:30 AM. When it approaches their actual feeding time of 5 AM (which had been established back when B. had to leave for work at that time, and the cats have insisted on it ever since), as I'm often up then I usually feed them.

But Maia may be under the bed in a closed room down the hall from the bathroom where the feeding takes place. My approach to the bathroom is usually enough to bring both cats running, even if they're downstairs. But if only Tybalt appears I know what's happened. I put the canisters up on the bathroom counter as loudly as may be, with an aim at attracting feline hearing, then I go and crack the bedroom door open. No Maia. Then I feed Tybalt. The sound of that is enough to generate frantic scratching at the bedroom door. Re-open and a Maia comes dashing out.

Meanwhile, Tybalt's desire to prowl around my desk, usually blocking my computer screen, whenever I'm working, is now beginning to mutate into a desire to lie down and lounge on the desk surface. This would be fine if he didn't also insist on pawing at everything, gnawing and clawing on any papers nearby, biting the telephone cord and knocking the phone on to the floor. Pick up cat, hold it until it decides to jump down to the floor, which is the same thing I do when I enter the room to find him sleeping in my office chair, which is also often. If he doesn't stick around and prowl on the desk he'll go into the next room and sleep on B.'s office chair, where he'll stay until evicted from there also.

Thursday, August 12, 2021


I had the kind of question that could be easily answered by Wikipedia, so long as you don't need a scholastically verifiable citation. I was thinking about how 30 years ago I'd have had to pop into the library to research it, since I doubt anything I have at home would have answered it, and how I would neither have bothered to do so - it's not important - nor remembered it when I happened to be in the library anyway.

The question was, "When did the Barrymore acting family become prominent?" And the reason was, I was reading The Hound of the Baskervilles, which I hadn't re-read since childhood, and noticed that a character in it, the butler at Baskerville Hall, is named John Barrymore, which would have meant nothing to me on earlier readings. But now I wondered.

Turned out that Maurice Barrymore, the patriarch, became prominent in the 1870s or 80s, though in America so Doyle might not have known about him. But he took Barrymore as a stage name after a prominent earlier English actor, so the name did have theatrical connotations. But the elder John Barrymore, one of Maurice's sons, didn't begin his career until 1903 or become prominent until the next decade. And The Hound of the Baskervilles was published in 1901-2. So the name might have had connotations, but there'd be no direct connection.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

finding a balance

Can we condemn what goes bad and praise what's done right about the same institution at the same time? I think we can. I liked this in a column on the testimony of the police heroes of January 6:
Police aren’t perfect. And because they wield the power of life and death with the backing of the state, we have every right to hold them to a higher standard and to demand that they be held accountable when they get it tragically wrong. But this doesn’t blind me to the importance of law enforcement or their countless acts of heroism.
And I found a writeup from The Week of a piece by Max Boot about US history and the 1619 Project. (I don't know how old this is, as it's from a Week promotional pamphlet including some stuff that's at least two or three years old.) It says, quoting Boot in the middle,
Schools should find "a middle ground that fully acknowledges the sins of U.S. history - which continue to haunt us to the present day - while also showing that generations of Americans have struggled, sometimes at great personal cost, to realize the highest ideals of the Founders." Both of these stories are true.
Both of these stories are true. Hold on to that, and never forget to tell both of them.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

concert review: Cabrillo Festival

Here's my latest.

This was a tricky review assignment, because the Cabrillo Festival this year, unlike Menlo, is entirely online. My editor asked me to cover the two commissioned works for orchestras receiving their premieres here. At least, with the concerts being left up afterwards, I could relisten to them several times, including with the video off so that I could concentrate on just the music.

I liked the music just fine, and complimented its virtues in the review. In particular, they avoided the problem in much recent music of saying what it has to say in ten minutes and then going on for another ten minutes with nothing to say.

But then you might say: wait a minute. With the entire orchestra's musicians each playing separately, with nothing but a click track and some notes for additional guidance, and then put together by an audio engineer - and how the heck did he manage to get something coherent out of that; his comments in the Q&A afterwards didn't even begin to address that question - how does it sound? How well does an orchestra play without a conductor or even each other around? (So-called conductor-less orchestras work out extensively in rehearsal.) How does the interpretive flow come out? Are they even together?

And I didn't address that matter because, frankly, I don't know. I can't really judge those matters in music I'm unfamiliar with, however fine my judgment may be in works I know well. I learned that lesson from my encounters in the 1970s with recordings by a pianist who'd re-emerged from decades-long obscurity and became a cult favorite for a while, though he was immensely controversial for an eccentric and individual performing style. His name was Ervin Nyiregyházi. He announced his return to the field with a double-album of pieces by Liszt. I listened to it, but I don't know Liszt's piano music very well. It sounded perfectly ordinary to me. Then Nyiregyházi released another record, including pieces by Grieg and Tchaikovsky that I did know. Oh, now I could hear his performing style, clear as anything. Yep, it was really eccentric. What's more, now that I knew what to listen for, I could detect it in the Liszt as well.

So that taught me a lot, including not to judge Cabrillo's method of putting its orchestra together until I can do so fairly. I stuck to the music. I know earlier works by both composers, so that I could judge.

Monday, August 9, 2021

our town

Our little play-reading group has just finished Our Town by Thornton Wilder. The third act is sad and poignant, but at least it lacks the injustice of the ending of The Crucible. We need a light comedy next. How about The Importance of Being Earnest, a play criticized when it was new for not being about anything of significance? Perfect!

Our Town is about things of significance, and one of the lessons of the third act is something I learned independently. When I was an adolescent I thought about the fact that anything resembling a normal lifespan would take my life through the year 2000, then still over 25 years away. Ooh, how strange and exotic. And I wondered, what would I know in the year 2000 that I would want my adolescent self to understand?

When it came to the year 2000, I remembered thinking that, and I cast my mind over what message I would want to send back in time. And I decided that it would convey something that my adolescent self would know intellectually, but that doesn't really hit you until it happens.

And that is, the number of people who would have died.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

diary of a man housebound

1. We received a check of some size from the feds. It was labeled as a tax refund, but contained no further explanation. I called our accountant, who was also puzzled but suggested it had something to do with changes in the tax laws regarding unemployment insurance. A few days later we had a form letter from the IRS saying exactly that. Would it had come earlier.
By then I had deposited the check, despite all the ATMs at my local branch being unfunctional.

2. Several years ago, when I was last in Ontario, I picked up at a store a bottle of Manitoulin Island brand chili-mango hot sauce. Manitoulin Island is a large island in Lake Huron, where I've never been; but distribution of their sauce goes a little further than that, though not far enough. The sauce was really good and I've been using it, sparingly, ever since. But the bottle's finally close to empty, so I located their website and ordered some more. Or tried to; when I got to the checkout page it said they won't ship to my address. Is that because I'm in the US? I don't know. They don't answer their phone, or their e-mail either.

3. Also in the consumables department, at Galco's - the retro-obscure-sodapop store in LA - I found a bottle labeled MacFuddy's pepper elixir. Curious as to what that might be like, I bought it and have now finally opened it. I should have paid more attention to the name. It tasted like Dr. Pepper, a concoction I have no use for. Others may disdain Moxie, or New Coke: I disdain Dr. Pepper.

4. The three-episode "mini-series" - I don't think the name applies, as it's really a 3-hour movie in 3 parts, but that's what they call it - seems to be a British specialty. I found "A Very English Scandal" a splendidly-made show, and now the same applies to "The Pursuit of Love," much superior to a couple earlier adaptations of the Nancy Mitford novel that I've tried to watch. In particular, Dominic West really gets into the cold blustery heart of the terrifying Uncle Matthew.
It's the story of a young woman (Lily James) in the 1930s, a bit younger than and a bit like Mitford herself, who is unable to connect spontaneous lust with lasting romantic attraction and is consequently doomed to have mad affairs that end disastrously. It's told from the perspective of her cousin (Emily Beecham), who is comfortably but drearily married and wonders what she's missing. The cousin's name is Fanny. I thought that was a Really Naughty Word in Britain, so how is it also a respectable name for girls? Maybe it's in the same category as Dick.

5. I dreamed that Lyndon Johnson served me doughnuts. No, really, he was the man behind the counter. But he kept getting my order wrong. I asked for "the chocolate one over there" and he gave me a maple bar. Turned out he couldn't see the chocolate one from where he was standing, and when he finally reached for it he fell over and dropped the doughnut on the floor. At that point I just left.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

breakfast out

Today, being more convenient than tomorrow which is the actual anniversary, we celebrated B.'s birthday by having breakfast out, since that's her favorite meal of the day.

So we went early, before it was crowded, to a popular place in the boutique downtown of Los Gatos. We've been there before, but not for a long time. It's notable for the option of pancakes with blueberries and bananas, which makes B. very happy. I eschewed the tempting shrimp with grits for an egg scramble with spinach and ground beef. Unfortunately one bit of the ground beef was not browned all the way through, tsk.

This is one of the many inner-town sidewalk-facing restaurants that's set up an outdoors patio in the parking spaces facing it on the street, with a wooden platform underneath and a tent overhead. All the waitstaff wore masks; not all the bussers did; the customers mostly didn't, even before their food arrived, but none of them were too close.

So we managed, but I expect that's the only sitdown meal out I'm likely to have for a while.

Friday, August 6, 2021

news of the world

1. The increased transmissibility of the Delta variant, its increased general permeation of the environment, plus, even though I'm vaccinated, my being slightly more susceptible to a serious infection than most people, have led me to back down slightly from my June-July willingness to take outings. But if any of these clowns become governor and model our pandemic response after Florida's, I'm going into full hibernation.

2. A Pentagon police officer was assaulted without provocation and killed with his own gun. The NRA is always telling about attack situations which, however improbably, could have been stopped by a good guy with a gun. Well, here's a situation in which the good guy might have survived (he was also stabbed) if he hadn't had a gun. I suspect that cases where the bad guy gets hold of the good guy's gun outnumber the other kind, but if there's statistics to prove it, they'd hardly be released.

3. Greenville - I've been there, though only a long time ago - is now the second California town to be completely destroyed by fire.

4. And here's an unexpected victim of global warming: the trees that make the best violin wood. We may have to make them from carbon-fiber from now on.

5. In other music news, Michael Tilson Thomas has been seriously ill. He's had surgery, so let's hope he gets better.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

English suites and others no. 46

In the generation after Dvořák, one of the leading Czech composers was Vítězslav Novák, whose works include a South Bohemian Suite. (Not surprisingly, south Bohemia is where he was from.) I like this one for its March of the Hussites.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

oh, he's Jewish enough

Only the most occasional echo of Olympics news is making it into my cortex, but here's one: upon Artem Dolgopyat, an Israeli male gymnast, becoming only the second Israeli ever to win a gold medal, his mother gave a press interview "to complain that Israeli religious law is keeping her engaged 24-year-old son from tying the knot because only his father's side of the family is Jewish."

Yeah, it's the religious law that says you're only Jewish by inheritance by the maternal line. Otherwise you have to go out of the country to marry, and Dolgopyat has been too busy training. (But hey, he was just in Tokyo. But I guess he was still busy.)

And why is she so much more anxious about her son's marriage than apparently either her son or his fiancee is?

"'I want grandchildren,' she said Sunday in an interview with Israeli radio."

Which leads me to conclude: he may only be Jewish on his father's side, but has he ever got a Jewish mother.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021


The phone said, "Hi, this is Sean. How are you doing today?"

And I replied, "I do not take phone calls from people who introduce themselves in that manner," and hung up.

Why? What manner?

First off, only close personal friends should announce themselves by first name alone. But a surname is not what I'm looking for from a stranger. You should begin by saying who you represent or in what capacity you're calling, and giving the reason for your call. Remember that the person you're calling has no idea who you are (which "Sean" doesn't help with: you could be Sean Penn or Sean Hannity for all I know) or what you're calling about. I don't make small talk with a complete black box.

The time to begin a conversation with "How are you doing today?" is if I come into your office and are shown to see you. Then you stand up, stick out your hand (if it's pre-pandemic) and say, "How are you doing today?" In that case I already know who you represent and what the topic of conversation will be, so a little social lubrication beforehand is appropriate.

The only reason to cold-call someone and without any explanation begin by saying "How are you doing today?" is to try to bamboozle people into getting sucked into a conversation before revealing that you're a salesperson or shyster whom the callee would have hung up on already if they'd known it from the beginning. But that trick doesn't work on introverts.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Halfling Mythcon, day 2

I got to the computer in time for my 9 AM Zoom panel (11 or 12 for the other panelists) on Tolkien's poems "Errantry" and Bilbo's song of Eärendil and their startling similarity. My job was to describe the writing process by which one poem turned into the other, a description aided by the existence of 22 varying drafts, quoted in full or part in the posthumous books. Janet Croft in her contribution to the panel suggested that not only are they the same poem, they're the same character, and "Errantry" is some sort of hallucination that Eärendil suffers during his first, frustrated attempt to pass the shadows that protect Valinor. I'm not sure I believe it, but it's an interesting theory.

Someone in the chat function chided my pronunciation of chalcedony, a key word in the poem, but they didn't attempt to correct most of the speakers' persistent mispronunciation of Eärendil. Those two dots over the a: that's a diaresis, indicating that the two vowels are separate sounds. It's something like AY-ah-REN-dil, not AIR-an-dil.

Such post-panel discussion as there was time for went well, and I hoped more of the audience would follow over to the chat function on Discord, but in the end there were just three of us posting, though we got a lot said.

An interview on MythSoc history was another program I hoped would spill over onto Discord. This time I went to the AV channel and found just one other person there. Fortunately it was an old friend and we chatted affably; gradually a few other people, both known and unknown to me, showed up and we passed some time agreeably.

The other full presentation I got to today was a panel on Tolkien and racism. This was highlighted by discussions of Tolkien's co-opting by the alt-right, from a scholar studying that, and a first-hand account by the administrator of the recent Tolkien Society seminar on Tolkien and diversity of all the ignorant abuse he had to go through over that. What do you do about such people? Well, don't let them in to your society, that was one definitive suggestion. I don't think we need worry about that much here. The MythSoc is too small and obscure. We have a few paleoconservatives, but no alt-right types that I know of.

Some useful comments about Tolkien's own racial views were made: I was particularly struck by the observation that, though the good guys in LR are diverse, that's only within the context of their all being white. (Or we presume they are. Another presenter showed fan art depicting Silmarillion elves as brown or black. Apparently fan artists are willing to do that there, but not for characters in stories of which movies have been made.) Although there is a notable passage where Tolkien humanizes a dead brown-skinned enemy soldier, he clearly had a long way to go. That was a fair criticism. But I was astounded to be told that this passage from Tolkien's letters - "I have in this War a burning private grudge against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler, [for] ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light" - showed that Tolkien was just like Hitler, only not as bad. What? Is there really no such thing as innocuous pride in one's own ethnicity's distinctive character? I thought what made the Nazis' ethnic policy evil was that they sought to elevate themselves, to lord it over other ethnicities and persecute them. Tolkien did nothing of the sort. You can praise your own without putting down others. Well, if charges like this are to be made, Tolkien is right about one thing: Hitler has made Germanic ethnic pride for ever accursed.

Summary of the online Mythcon as a technical achievement: The program items were superb. They allowed people who'd never manage to get together in person to converse, the post-talk discussions for the rest of the time slots were lively and invigorating, and the tech support was utterly vigilant and always helpful. The rest of what makes Mythcon, not so much. It's not the fault of the tech people who set them up that not much seemed to come out of the Discord sessions, at least the ones I attended (I didn't get to the Bardic Circles), but it wasn't too successful. Perhaps if we'd been pushed more directly at the Discord AV channels ...