Wednesday, September 29, 2021

another thing Zoom can't do

We learned while reading plays aloud on Zoom that Zoom is inhospitable to reproducing multiple people talking in unison.

What we learned from a library educational program today is that Zoom also balks at reproducing the raucous sound of a crumhorn.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience

This is a different Van Gogh images projection show than the one that's been on in San Francisco. The reviews I've seen say it's better, and it's also closer, which is the determining factor for one with only a casual interest. It's in the San Jose convention center's South Hall, which is the giant temp building they put up to occupy their back parking lot a few years ago.

You show your proof of vaccination - though they're quite bewildered by the actual card, expecting it to be transferred to a phone - and nobody's very interested in your ticket - and head down a clogged (because people read very slowly) passage by a series of panels with explanatory narration and quotes from Vince's letters in English and Spanish. Finally, if you get around that and the arrow-bearing signs reading "Gogh This Way" which must be terribly confusing to anyone who doesn't know how to mispronounce the name, you get to the main hall.

My tastes in visual art run towards the fractal. I like art which reveals more detail the closer you look at it. Van Gogh isn't like that. His art looks better the further back from it you get (which is hard to do in a cramped and crowded art gallery). Close-up it disintegrates, as the impressionists' art does, except that Van Gogh is more dynamic than any impressionist. You get up close and personal with a Van Gogh not to appreciate its beauty, but to study his technique.

Well, this exhibit is entirely up close. It's a huge room draped with hanging canvases all around and some randomly in the middle, on all of which and on the floor photo images of Van Gogh artwork are projected from ceiling cameras at Brobdingnagian size, with 2-4 fold repetition across the room so you don't have to look at everything. It's technique study time, all right, except that a major part of studying Van Gogh's technique is appreciating the three-dimensionality of the clumps of paint stuck to the canvas, and you're missing that here. There's nowhere to stand back, and if you get up really close to this, you see the individual pixels of the images.

What keeps this exhibit going, and what makes it so unpainterly, is its activity. The images change every minute or two, and in between they move. Images flow onto the screens bit by bit, as if an invisible paint brush were creating them as you watch. Ink drawings erupt into color. Foregrounds move in front of backgrounds, clouds waft around in the breeze, petals rush past blossoming branches, waves rock in the surf, portraits of people actually blink - oh, come on.

The whole sequence takes about 30-40 minutes to run on loop, and it's worth seeing parts of it twice. Attendees mostly stood around or sat on the floor. There were a few chairs and benches, and after a few minutes I took refuge on a rare vacant one. Meanwhile recorded music played, hard to hear over the roar of the air conditioning, but it seemed a mixture of minimalism, folk, and Parisian cafe music.

And then there's a meager gift shop with exhibit swag (plus covid masks with Vince's paintings on them: that I liked), and out the door.

It was an immersive experience, it gave a definite sense of the artist's style, but it also felt artificially curated and separate from the real art.

Monday, September 27, 2021

flew shot

No we didn't fly, we drove to our flu shot, but it was a longer drive than we'd hoped.

So various articles had been urging people to get their flu shots early this year. Our provider had said they were going to start last week, but when we went in to our local facility, they said they weren't starting for another week. Then B. discovered they had a hotline number that confirmed this, but when I tried it a few days later, it had been changed to say that they'd postponed it indefinitely.

Other vendors were offering the shot (though it wouldn't be free, but quite expensive, if we did it that way), so this was vexing. But then it occurred to me: the phone hotline voice menu had asked callers to specify their local facility. What if I specified a different facility?

And what do you know: two of them, about 20 miles away in different directions, had already set up their flu clinics. It was just ours that was running late.

So to one of these we drove this morning. Two lines under tents in the parking lot, one for flu shot, one for covid vaccine. The former line was much longer; this is civilized country, so most people around here already have their covid vaccine. One man in the covid line was wearing a t-shirt that read "Just Do It" and I wondered, if that's his philosophy why hadn't he been vaccinated already?

Our line was mostly older people, although a family group in front of us had 2 small children, both of whom cried like the dickens when their turn came, as the nurses kept saying "It's all right." No it isn't, I'm sure the kids wanted to reply: you're sticking a needle into me! Everyone was masked although one older person had it pulled down to her chin, which is pretty clueless. It took over an hour to wend through the line though there were plenty of open stations. It was 10 am when we got there, and when we left at 11 the line was much longer and extended out of the tent, which it hadn't when we arrived, to a much hotter parking lot than it had been when we arrived.

But we're jabbed now and I hope that takes care of that. Next, still waiting for word from Godot about the covid boosters.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

who shall decide when linguists disagree?

One of the most amusing, when it isn't frustrating, parts of the internet is its ability to give multiple conflicting answers to any question. Anything to do with how to fix a problem with your computer definitely falls in this category - usually I collect ten or twelve different solutions and none of them work - and so do song lyrics. I'm not going to bother checking to see what you get now, but I once looked up the lyrics to Jefferson Starship's "We Built This City," and got one line transcribed as:
Ma Coley plays the mamba / While Tony plays the mamba / Marconi plays the mamba / Marconi does the mamba / Marconi played the mambo / Marcone plays the mamba / My pony plays the mamba
Anyway, I need to phone up and speak in an importuning way to someone, and I ought to pronounce her name correctly. Her surname is Nguyen.

You know, I've seen this common Vietnamese name in print or phosphors dozens, maybe hundreds, of times over the years, but I've never known how to pronounce it. I know, I'll consult the internet. This are just the pronunciations for English-speakers; they're not trying to teach you fluent Vietnamese here.
Quora: nuh-we-in (with a long e and a short i); nwee-EN; noo-yen; nu-win; ng-wi-ng (others say do not pronounce the g); like "when" in two syllables, whe-en; only one syllable, to use 2 or 3 is like John Cleese's Frenchman saying "kuh-nig-it", so if you can't handle proper Vietnamese just say "winn".
YouTube (my transcriptions): nu-wang; when; Gwen; nwhen (one syllable)
But my favorite video is one collecting clips of 7 people named Nguyen saying their names. Result: 4 "win"; 1 "when"; 1 "noo-in"; 1 I couldn't catch but something like "noon". Do we have a consensus?

So while I'm doing all this, I find that YouTube wants to feed me clips of Norm Macdonald telling jokes to Conan O'Brien. I dunno: I never even heard of Norm Macdonald until I read his obituaries, but now I have these jokes. The dirty joke; The shaggy dog story; The ethnic joke; The slightly sick joke.

Friday, September 24, 2021


I've written before about my theory of the Hidden City in the history of the arts: that through most of the 20C a hegemony of modernists in each of the arts declared themselves the only true modern artists, and belittled or preferably ignored anybody who didn't create to that template.

Two recent references to the hegemony have caught my notice. Scott Alexander has written a post expressing his puzzlement at the modernist hegemony, mostly in architecture where he finds it continuing to maintain its hegemony. As several commenters including me have pointed out, Scott is essentially replicating the polemic argument in Tom Wolfe's From Bauhaus to Our House, a book he doesn't mention. But as usual, he expresses himself intelligently and entertainingly.

Then there's an article in the 9/27 New Yorker about Richard Neutra, one of the premier architects of the modernist hegemony. It's by Alex Ross, who usually writes about music and in that field is usually aware that the hegemony was just a hegemony and not the whole story. Something in the article helped clarify in my mind, though without any help from Ross who here only tells one side of the story, the specific aesthetic difference between the hegemony and the hidden city (which in architecture was led by Frank Lloyd Wright). Neutra specialized in glass houses cunningly designed so that people inside the house could have the visual illusion of not being sure where the border was between the house and the outside. He was very sensitive, Ross says, to the placement of his buildings in the landscape.

But from outside, his houses look like alien artifacts placed arbitrarily in their location, with no connection to where they are. And he apparently wanted that effect. Since houses are in fact artificial, Neutra felt they should look that way. Here Ross contrasts Neutra with Wright, who was also sensitive to landscape, but who designed his buildings to look as if they fit where they were placed.

Neutra scorned this aesthetic, like any modernist scorning the hidden city. Ross quotes him: "Houses do not sprout from the ground. That is a lyrical exaggeration, a pretty fairy tale for children."

Aside from the knee-jerk belittlement of fairy tales and the association of them with children, something which J.R.R. Tolkien, another hidden city artist, could have corrected Neutra on, this is factually correct: houses are artificial.

But it's only the modernist hegemony which thinks that therefore they should look that way. The hidden city aesthetic says it's because they're artificial, and because we know they're artificial, that it's a greater and desirable artistic achievement to make them look organic, as if they sprout from the landscape. In much the same way that Tolkien's creation of a world with the texture of reality is all the more impressive because it feels real while we know that it's fiction. If we didn't know it was fiction it wouldn't be so impressive that it looks like fact; if we didn't know that Wright's houses are built artifacts they wouldn't seem so beautiful in the illusion that they're organic. Isn't "the illusion of reality" supposed to be the entire point of traditional painting? What Neutra calls "lyrical exaggeration, a pretty fairy tale" is a good thing: it's where worthwhile artistic achievement lies.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

books about food

Jennifer 8. Lee, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food (Twelve, 2008).
Yes that is an 8 in her name and not a B. Chinese lucky numbers, you know.
The title is misleading. It's Chinese-American food. How different it is from the food in China (which is full of meats with the eyeballs still attached, and the little bony crunchy bits because they're the best part) is largely the point. A lot of the book is like this:
1. Lee becomes curious about some common Chinese-American food: General Tso's chicken, chop suey, fortune cookies.
2. Discovers that it's unknown in China. Nobody there has ever heard of it.
3. Lee goes on road trip to obscure corner of China where the food supposedly originated. Surely they will know.
4. Nobody there has ever heard of it either.
5. So where did it come from? Lee passes on legends, shrugs her shoulders, says "I dunno."

Sarah Lohman, Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine (Simon & Schuster, 2016)
At least Lohman knows the history she's trying to tell, though she also includes a lot of road trips told in the same transcribed-tv-documentary style that Lee uses, as do a lot of other authors of popular non-fiction. Includes chummy visit to the sriracha sauce-maker's pepper grower (frustratingly vague about where it is: it's in Ventura County), published at the exact moment that the two fell out and began famously suing each other. Nor is there anything about the factory's neighbors' odor complaints.
Also unlike Lee's, this book includes a lot of recipes, although most of them generate thoughts of "and where am I supposed to find that?" among their ingredients.
The eight flavors, arranged in the order of their historical introduction to American food, are: black pepper, vanilla, chili powder, curry powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG, and sriracha sauce. Now it's a curious thing, but I've had all of these, and while I don't positively dislike any of them, I'm not wild about them either. The one I'm most positive about is garlic, but it's not that I like garlic but that I like foods with garlic in them. B. likes garlic also, but would brush off several of the others as too spicy. As a result, I have to be very careful about using pepper when cooking; I make my own chili and curry powder blends so as to avoid spiciness, and I'd never use sriracha at home. (I prefer other hot sauces for my own use anyway.) I don't know what MSG tastes like, so I bought a shaker of it and put it on some vegetables. I still couldn't taste anything, but B. hated it.
Lohman also spends a lot of space debunking the notion that MSG gives people headaches. Scientific studies have shown, blah blah. Sounds a lot like the same scientific studies that deny that chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia are things. In all these cases I believe the people who say they're suffering from something, even if we don't know quite what it is. Clearly MSG sensitivity, if that's what it is, is a minority affliction, and the way to track this down is not to test everybody else but to gather together claimed sufferers and try feeding them various things to figure out what exactly it is they're sensitive to.

Monday, September 20, 2021

come back next week

Seeing articles urging their readers to get the annual flu vaccine now, and seeing reports by clients of the UK NHS that they're already doing just that, we were primed to act on an e-mail B. received from Kaiser, our health service provider, that the vaccine was being rolled out this week, which is about when it usually appears. (I didn't get this e-mail. What Kaiser sends me are updates on the covid booster situation, which usually amount to "Reply hazy - ask again later.")

Owing to differing personal schedules, B. and I don't do many errands together, even when we're both doing them, but we drove down to the Kaiser facility this morning. No flu shots. The e-mail was in error, or something. It starts next week, and it will be drive-through.

Meantime, I'm taking comfort in the covid situation from our sterling numbers. My county is 73% vaccinated - that's out of the total population, and is third-highest in the state. Of 10 counties forming the greater Bay Area, 9 have rates of 66% or higher, all of them higher than anywhere else in the state. (The tenth is 55%.) The SoCal urban cluster is right behind it, though, at 60-64% in the various counties.

Meanwhile, the lone rural county that topped the recall poll at 82% bottoms out the state's vacc rate at 24%. 24%! Nobody else is below 31%, and few enough around there. I'm staying far away from there.

Friday, September 17, 2021

thought while wielding a kitchen knife

Among the selections from the produce stand, corn (maize) probably holds the record for having the greatest amount, in the form that you bring it home from the grocer's, that's discarded rather than eaten.

But celery, if you chop it down to the traditional stalks, is a good second.

I suppose you could use the cut-off bits to make cream of celery soup, and in fact I've done that, but I don't have much use for this either.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

water over the wires

I heard that our local water district was giving virtual Zoom tours of their water purification plant. Curious, I signed up. It turned out to be an hour of a couple PR guys explaining what the water district does (basically, they're responsible for ensuring water supply, wholesale distribution to local water companies, wetland environment maintenance, and flood control) and describing the plant, which was illustrated with a lot of still photos of large rooms with heavy water pipes in them and some outdoor tanks, plus a couple embedded videos outlining processes. The basics of the purification process are outlined here.

What interested me was the context in which this process operates. The plant is attached, limpet-like, to a much larger wastewater treatment plant shared by two of the district's largest cities. It siphons off a relatively small quantity of water that's already been cleansed enough for dumping into the Bay, and runs it through this treatment, ending up with what, the PR guys said, is five times purer, in terms of lack of contaminants, than our potable faucet water. But that's still not good enough to use the purified water for household use: they didn't say why, but I'm guessing that regulations are sensitive to the "ick" factor of processed wastewater.

So instead, they mix it back in with more of its own source water from the city plant, tamping the mixture down to a contaminant level that's legally clean enough for agricultural use.

Future plans, however, are to add yet another purification step that will allow them to inject the purified water into groundwater supplies, which will add yet another layer of cleansing before it's drawn out from wells. (That will require building a pipeline 15 miles uphill from the plant to the percolation ponds.) Delicate business, isn't it?

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

non-voting results

I've worked it out - the effect on the recall election of voters choosing not to select a replacement candidate.

Of course, there must have been a few who voted for a replacement but not on the yes/no question, but I'm ignoring that.

Despite the call for Democrats not to vote for a replacement at all, it's impressive how desperate many Democrats were for someone, anyone, to vote for. All 9 registered Democrats on the ballot were among the top 14 of the 46 candidates in number of votes received. 35% of the votes for Democrats went to Paffrath, so there was plenty of interest in the others. (69% of the votes for Republicans went to Elder.)

Now, for total votes. Of the votes cast for replacement candidates, 68% went to Republican candidates and 28% to Democratic candidates, with the rest to 3rd party or unaffiliated candidates. That sounds pretty meek of the Democrats, but (previous caveat allowed for) 44.7% of the ballots cast chose nobody. That's a hefty abstention (in the previous recall, only 8% abstained for a replacement), and while not all of the abstainers were deliberately abstaining Democrats, added to the votes for Democrats it's 60.2% of the total ballots cast.

We can test this out by comparing it to the most pro- and anti-recall counties in the state.

The most anti-recall was, no surprise, San Francisco. 86.7% voted against the recall. Of the total voters, 17.4% voted for Democratic candidates, 15.4% voted for Republican candidates (fairly close to the 13.3% "yes" vote on the recall), and a whopping 64.3% voted for nobody.

The most pro-recall county in the state was Lassen, a lightly-populated high-desert county in the northeast part of the state, more easily accessible from Reno than anywhere else of note, threatened by but as yet not much damaged by the fires that are ravaging Plumas County to its southwest. It jumped up above even its neighbors by voting 82.9% for the recall. But of its total voters, 80.7% chose Republican replacement candidates, just 6.1% chose Democrats, and only 11.8% abstained. That could include both abstaining Democrats and anybody else who just decided not to vote on that question, but it's very small either way. (As 1.3% of Lassen's voters chose a 3rd-party or unaffiliated candidate, that + R gets within a percentage point of the "Yes" votes on the recall, thus making D + abstainers a close match to the "No" vote.)

The enormous difference between the percentages of abstainers in the extreme pro- and anti-recall counties, and the matching of them plus Democrats to "no" votes on the recall, suggest that the bulk of the abstainers were indeed deliberate anti-recall abstainers, and that those in that specific category strongly outnumbered those who chose a Democrat.

And that explains Larry Elder's apparent victory. Because while he got 46.9% of the votes cast for replacement candidates, almost matching Arnold's 48.6% in 2003, if you count his vote against the total ballots cast, candidate-choosers and abstainers alike, he got only 26%. Which looks close to a core DT loyalist vote to me. So it's a good thing the recall went down, because while Elder as the leading Republican certainly encouraged the hefty "No" votes the recall got, the Democrats brought the possibility of his governorship on themselves.

election results

The 2003 gubernatorial recall received 55.4% yes votes. This one received 36.1%. Hah.

Counties voting "no" both times: 15 (Bay Area, north coast, LA). Counties voting "yes" both times: 27 (mostly Central Valley and mountain). Counties voting "yes" in 2003 and "no" in 2021: 16.

In the replacement vote, Larry Elder got 46.9%. Last time, Arnold got 48.6%. Elder got the most in every county except San Francisco, where he trailed Paffrath 20.3% to 21.0%. Elder's strong showing may well be due to Democrats abstaining, but I haven't calculated that.

My candidate, Joel Ventresca, had 2.7% statewide and came in 8th. In a field of 46, that shows that at least somebody was paying attention. He was nowhere worse than 13th in a couple of valley counties. His best showing was in Mendocino County, where he came in 2nd with 8.5%. Then San Francisco, his home county, 7.9% which was enough for 4th. 3rd in Humboldt with 7.4%. Also above 6% in Yolo (where Davis is) and Alameda (where Berkeley is). The north coast has real pockets of progressivism, but of course they're very small counties. His great showing in Mendocino was with 768 votes. Down here he came in 6th with 3.8%, but this is a populous county so that was 8930 votes, 6.6% of his entire statewide total (we're 4.9% of the state in total population) and 4th largest in the state, after Alameda (also fairly large and where he did very well) and Los Angeles and San Diego (which are very large indeed).

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

recall recalled

It looks like the attempt to force a recall of California Governor Gavin Newsom has gone down with a flaming bullet. That's a relief. Because the conditional vote to replace him, should the recall have passed, went fairly overwhelmingly to Larry Elder. (Which means, by the way, that those Democrats who voted for Kevin Paffrath not because they liked him, but because they perceived him as the only Democrat with a chance to beat Elder, sold their souls for nothing.)

It is at least a terrible relief not to have to deal with Elder, since if his ideas of how to deal with the pandemic had gone into effect, I would have had to utterly isolate myself for over a year, until he was kicked out of office.

As it is, I'm trying to decide whether to attend any concerts at all this fall-winter-spring. I just finished writing a survey article of the mid-peninsula classical groups' season, checking each for its virus safety policy, and found universal adherence to a policy of full vaccination required (with certification to prove it, and ID to prove that's you) and masks, with variations on maintaining social distancing, and a few outliers on the details of vaccination: some allow the unvaccinated, like children, in with a recent negative test; others explicitly exclude children. Since the Delta is easily transmissable even among the vaccinated, I'm uneasy. I suspect even a "mild" case of the virus would be very hard on me. I've told my editor I'm still unsure whether I'll be submitting any reviews this year; and so I watch and wait and contemplate.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

book and concert

Our book discussion group today handled Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Holding the meeting online proved highly productive this time, as new people, people from out of town, and people who'd just never gotten around to a meeting before showed up. We had 14 altogether, which is more than we could fit in some of our living rooms.

I'm usually a grumbler, but I rather liked this book and read the whole thing. What I particularly liked was the way the supernatural element slides in surreptitiously over the course of the plot. Some of my favorite fantasy novels are written this way. Others made the obvious comparison to traditional Gothics, but the closest thing to a Gothic I've ever read is Northanger Abbey, which isn't much help.

Some were a bit disappointed with the ending. Others didn't believe that the style of the 1950s, the ostensible setting, was adequately conveyed. I was mostly concerned about a slack section in the early middle, where the characters basically sit around for a while waiting for some more of the plot to show up. However, this is briefer and less intense than it is in many novels.

It's set among an Anglo family living in the mountains in northern Mexico by the played-out silver mine they used to run decades ago. Most of them still don't speak Spanish, and this surprised some of us, but I and others knew that that area had lots of unassimilated Anglo settlements, not just mining ones but agricultural ones, renegade Mormons (like Mitt Romney's grandparents) and so on.

Not long ago I received an announcement from the Cambrian Symphony, a local volunteer orchestra that I attended regularly up until the pandemic stopped concerts. They were resuming, but the opportunity to stream the concert live was enough to dissuade me from going down to the Hammer Theatre, which is designed for spoken plays and is ill-suited acoustically for concerts.

So I listened and watched online. The date being 9/11, the anniversary was acknowledged. The conductor had the in-person audience stand for, not the National Anthem which wasn't played, but for Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. This was followed by Barber's Adagio for Strings, requiring a complete personnel change. Lastly, Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony, which the conductor introduced as displaying a variety of moods from despair to triumph. So no attempt either to wipe out and ignore the upbeat middle movements, or to downplay their contrast with the rest. The heavily string-oriented second movement was displaying wobbly, but the equally daunting finale was a vast improvement. Be sure you mention that to the stars.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

don't panic

So I already wrote that I didn't think 9/11 fundamentally changed my perception of the world. "We'd long been vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Even people who read Tom Clancy novels would have known that. The WTC had actually been attacked once before. There was reason to respond, but absolutely no need to rewrite our foreign policy."

Now comes a post by Matthew Yglesias explaining why it did. "I think the thing about the event that’s hard to understand if you didn’t live through it is how much everyone changed their subjective assessment of the likely of major terrorist attacks. The earlier World Trade Center bombing had happened, the US embassy bombings had happened, we had movies about terrorists, it’s not like it was some unknown thing — but it wasn’t live."

So I guess that gives the explanation of why I wasn't "everyone" - or, if you take his formulation literally, anyone. I didn't watch it on television. I told you: I'd given up watching TV news, even for breaking events. Talking heads yammering away endlessly, filling in the long gaps between new information by endlessly recapping what they'd already said. Who needs this when you've got the web? If something dramatically newsworthy happens, I open a browser tab to a reliable news source, and then go about my other work on the computer. Every half hour or so - new info doesn't filter in much faster than that - I pop over to the tab, hit "refresh," and see if anything has been added.

Embedded film clips were rare on the web then, and I never actually saw film of the planes hitting the towers until Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 came out three years later.

Maybe this is responsible for my more sober reaction (even Yglesias admits that he had been "caught up in what looks, in retrospect, like a kind of hysteria and I was wrong"), or maybe a more sober approach is why I chose this method of absorbing the news.

(Also, the towers had already collapsed by the time I got to work and started following the news - that happened at around 7 AM Pacific time. Perhaps time zones also affected my reaction?)

Friday, September 10, 2021


I just found some supporting testimony for a long-ago vexing question.

When I was administrator for the Hugo Awards in 1996, one of the Best Novel finalists* was Remake by Connie Willis. By that time, SF novels were tending very long, but Remake was short. Though published as a standalone volume, it made a small one.

Charles Brown of Locus,** the newsletter of the SF field, insisted to me that Remake was under 40 thousand words and thus, by Hugo rules (which were shared in this respect by most other awards in the field), it fell in the Novella category, not Novel. And indeed, in the Locus awards it was put in the Novella category, which it won (not surprisingly, being one of the longest in the category as well as being by Connie Willis).

But most of its Hugo nominators had put it in Novel, and every time I did a word count estimate on it, it came out over 40 thousand, so for the Hugos into Novel it went. Where (perhaps because it was one of the shortest) it didn't do very well.

I've always wondered: did I somehow count it up wrong? But I was doing a little incidental research in the ISFDB and found its entry. They think it's a novel, and the Nebulas (the award of the writers' group, SFWA) also classed it as a novel. So I'm in good company, and it looks more likely that Charles Brown was in error.

*I still tend to write "nominees" for this status and then have to correct myself. But since anything that even one voter enters on the nomination ballot has been nominated and is thus technically a nominee, and various unscrupulous people have exploited that, we now try to say "finalists" to mean the ones that got enough support to make it to the final ballot.
**Many people who knew him still call him "Charlie," the name he originally went by informally, but he announced many years before his death that he was giving that up and wanted to be called Charles even informally, and I've always tried to respect that.

Thursday, September 9, 2021


People seem not to be waiting for the anniversary to post their memories and thoughts, so I won't either.

1. What personal connection do you have to the events?
Not much. I didn't know any victims or anyone who was on site. I'd never been in the WTC (or the Pentagon, for that matter). In fact, whenever I was in NYC I avoided even looking at the towers. So tall, so fragile-looking, so all by themselves far from any other skyscrapers: they made me nervous. And now we know why, don't we?
The evening before, I'd flown home from having spent the weekend at the ceremonies opening the new home of the Wade Center at Wheaton College near Chicago. I often wonder what I'd have done if I'd been scheduled to come home on Tuesday instead of Monday. In fact this happened to friends who were also there. They decided to drive home. It was only 900 miles, and they found it so pleasant that they've driven on subsequent occasions taking that trip.

2. How did you hear about the attacks?
I was getting ready for work. B., who was already at work, phoned me. That's my memory and I'm sticking with it.

3. How did you follow the news?
So I drove into work at the Stanford library. I didn't see why not. But I didn't turn on the tv, even though I had a tv in my office (one of my jobs was to catalog videotapes). The election debacle the previous year had taught me the futility of watching tv news now that we had the web. I opened up a browser window with a news site on, and every half hour or so I'd pause my work at the computer, toggle over to that page, hit "refresh" and see if anything new had happened. Usually nothing had. So much less annoying than listening to talking heads yammer without anything to say.
The one thing I specifically remember about the news is how it took all day to establish the basic facts of how many planes there were and which ones went where.
I also remember reading in the newspaper the next day that the only people worldwide who seemed happy about the attacks were the Taliban and the Palestinians, both of whom were cheering in the streets. I suspect that footage of one of these is what DT saw and believed for some reason that it was in Jersey City, but I've never seen anyone else suggest this.

4. Did it change everything?
No. We'd long been vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Even people who read Tom Clancy novels would have known that. The WTC had actually been attacked once before. There was reason to respond, but absolutely no need to rewrite our foreign policy.

5. So what should we have done?
The Taliban was the only government worldwide to shelter the terrorists. If there was to be a military response at all, we were justified in capturing Al Qaeda and turning out the Taliban. Preferably after a formal declaration of war. But we should have stopped there. Getting out now is only good because it should have happened earlier, and staying in would be even worse.
As for Iraq - it had nothing to do with this. Saddam was a bad man, but if we were to do anything about him, we should have done it already - for which there was just as much cause before 9/11 as afterwards - or else put it off until we were done with the current business.
Another thing we could have done was stop mass attacks on Muslims, but that would have taken a little thought. The intent of 9/11 was to give us a taste of our own medicine, but I assure you that nobody in the US has ever looked at it that way.

6. Have you re-ordered your life?
No. The goal of terrorists is to terrorize, and I refuse to be terrorized. I take the pandemic much more seriously.

7. What about the conspiracy theories?
9/11 is my favorite example of a self-defeating conspiracy theory. The theorists want us to believe two things: 1) that the towers were brought down by a pre-set controlled explosion, intended to make us think that the terrorists did it; 2) that the proof of #1 is that the towers couldn't have pancake-collapsed downward without it. But if #2 is true, then it foiled its own purpose in #1 because it was a dead giveaway. But if #2 isn't true - and it isn't - that takes away the evidence that #1 was the case.
Theorists differ on whether the conspirators knew about the hijack plans in advance and merely exploited it to make a bigger bang to further their cause of getting the US into a war; or if the whole thing was a hoax: no attacks, no hijackers, maybe even no planes. Leaving aside the implausibility of planning either of these, if the fall of the towers was faked to make a bigger bang, then why not make them fall over sideways? That's what you'd expect to happen and it would be much more destructive, if big destruction is what you want.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Northfarthing Beer

An odd gift I brought home from my trip to LA in July was a leftover bottle of Northfarthing Beer. The owner had kept it as a souvenir for, let's see, 26 years now, and I guess was tired of having an unopened bottle of beer around. So since she certainly wasn't going to drink it, and I was one of the people responsible for this project in the first place, it was foisted off on me.

Like its previous owner, I stuck it off in a corner, and today is cleaning day and I happened to get into that corner, so I disposed of the contents and dumped the bottle in recycling. The part worth saving is the label, but it didn't come off cleanly and I already have one in a file somewhere anyway.

Northfarthing Beer was a project when we ran the 1995 Mythcon. One of our members, a connoisseur of the more demotic forms of alcohol, was determined to brew and bottle his own beer. We had quite a lot of it around that Mythcon, and I witnessed some of it actually being drunk.

The fun part of the planning was designing a label for a purported Shire-hobbits' beer. Kevin Farrell drew the illustrations, a scene of fields of grain in front of Bag End, and a copy of Tolkien's view of Bilbo in his front hall, only with huge stacks of beer barrels on either side. And I had the fun of composing the label text, which I'll preserve here.

Back label:
A premium beer brewed from the finest Northfarthing barley, Frogmorton hops and Brandywine spring water. Winner of the Peregrin Took Memorial Imbibing Award in S.R. 1502 and many succeeding years. We hope you will also try our other fine beers, Sharkey's Brew and Cotton's Mouth-Watering Lager.
Hobbits must be 33 years of age and present proof of identification to purchase this bottle.
Side label:
The Shirriff General has determined that drinking alcoholic beverages can be hazardous to your health. Do not attempt to stay on your feet in bathtubs, wrest swords from barrow-wights, fight Nazgûl, orcs, or malignant trees, or cast Rings into active volcanoes while under the influence of alcohol.
I enjoyed writing that, stopping into a liquor store and examining some actual bottles for inspiration, though I'm not sure anyone ever caught the cheap puns or if they were just too restrained to mention them.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Carol Carr

I've learned that Carol Carr died a few days ago, and though she was full of years I am saddened. I knew her slightly, and I also knew her work. She wrote wry humorous columns, very much like series of the kind of blog posts I like to read, for the eminent fanzines of both her husbands, Terry Carr and Robert Lichtman; and once in a rare while she'd write - and invariably publish, for she was good at this - a fiction story. There were just six of these altogether, and one is one of my absolute favorite stories, which means that on average, measured story by story, Carol Carr is my favorite science-fiction writer. I'm pleased that I once got to tell her that.

And when I heard, in her presence (at a book party for the publication of another collection from the same publisher), that a book collection of her work was impending, I determined to be first in line to buy a copy. And I got to tell her that, too. It's called Carol Carr: The Collected Writings (Surinam Turtle Press/Ramble House, 2014) and it includes samples of her fanzine blogging and five of her six stories. (The sixth, the second best one, was co-authored with Karen Haber and is in Karen's collection The Sweet Taste of Regret.)

The favorite story is called "Look, You Think You've Got Troubles" and it was published in Damon Knight's Orbit in 1970, belying Orbit's reputation for difficult high-literary fiction, for Carol's story is a humorous romp, though with a serious point. It's a first-person narrative by a middle-aged Jewish man whose style has the Yiddish inflection still common among older Jews when this story was new. But it has a serious topic. It's a story about prejudice. Hector, our narrator, is disgusted that his daughter has married a Martian - who, according to Hector, look disgustingly like vegetables with legs - and refuses to have anything to do with it.

Carol says in the preface in her book that "This is a very dated piece of work - misogynistic, ageist, antisemitic, blindly ethnocentric ..." But it isn't antisemitic to show a Jew as being as fallible as the rest of us, and the story isn't those other things: Hector is.

The story avoids being obnoxious by several clever techniques. First, the daughter is marrying not a human, but a Martian. The parallel with real-life racial prejudice is obvious, but it's distanced. None of the specifics of Hector's disgust land blows.

But it takes more than that to make this a good story. Second, Hector's prejudice is continually undercut. Both his wife and his daughter are offended by his response, and just refuse to accept it. Hector continually reports this while seeming oblivious to it. This contrast forms the bulk of the story's humor. When the daughter invites her parents to visit them on Mars, Hector flatly refuses to go; section break; now he's on the spacecraft.

And lastly, at the end Hector realizes, not how ridiculous, but how unproductive and unhelpful he's being. He overcomes his prejudice and accepts and welcomes his son-in-law. Without being in the slightest less disgusted, he realizes that acceptance of the other is not in how you feel inside - that will come in due course - but in how you behave. One step at a time, and he takes that vital step.

Most of Carol's other stories also include aliens, but most of them are hidden or disguised in one way or another. Could that mean something?

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Oxonmoot and Banff, day 4

I heard a few papers at the very tail end of Oxonmoot early this morning. One presenter discovered, to her surprise and delight, that Tolkien's mythological depictions of light actually express wave-particle duality. Another noted the number of Tolkien's school and college textbooks that survive to this day and wondered, where did he keep them when he was off serving in WW1? He didn't have a family home to store stuff like this in. Unfortunately there isn't really an answer. And a third was a discussion of the geopolitics of Numenor chock full of terms like colonialism, imperialism, and exceptionalism, enough to cause the sort of people who objected to the diversity seminar to have steam coming out of their ears.

This was followed by the concluding ceremony of every Oxonmoot, which was successfully webcast to those of us not there in person: the placing of a wreath on Ronald & Edith Tolkien's grave, and the reading of appropriate passages from Ronald's works. This time TS chair Shaun Gunner read the memorial letter Ronald wrote after Edith's death to their son, and it didn't come without catches in the voice.

That was at 6 am my time, leaving plenty of time in the day for two concerts from Banff. First, the Viano Quartet, a winner of the last competition and one I remember fondly. Five short pieces by Erwin Schulhoff setting various types of popular music in 1920s modernism, requiring large grinding sounds the Viano is eminently equipped to provide. Then "The Evergreen," a new piece by the eminent Caroline Shaw, beginning with ethereally wispy rhythmic patterns overlaid on each other, then the same thing with Large Grinding Sounds, then a pizzicato overlaid interlude, and concluding with arpeggiated cadential phrases for one instrument over humming breaths for the others and sounding like nothing so much as the conclusion of Einstein on the Beach. Lastly, the quartet was joined by Marc-André Hamelin for the Dvořák Piano Quintet in A, which mixed slow parts as slow as possible with fast parts as fast, loud, and thunderous as possible. Dvořák Positively Pulverized.

The second concert was a small string orchestra of 16 players. Two Canadian composers, both immigrants, introduced the program. Dinuk Wijeratne's Letter from the After-life began with chittering sounds and evolved into a series of quotations from Schubert's Death and the Maiden Quartet. Not unwelcome, but for goodness' sake why? Marjan Mozetich's Postcards from the Sky had long flowing melodies, but any sense of neoromanticism was overriden by the light clean harmonies and the quiet underlying pulsing accompaniment. It was, in fact, postminimalism, and shows just how far that genre has evolved from its roots. The rest of the concert consisted of standard fare, Elgar's Serenade for Strings and the Barshai orchestration of Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 8, played with Viano-like drama that overcame the awkwardness of blowing this intimate piece up to orchestral size.

Turns out that all the recordings from the festival will be up and free for another month, and you can find them here.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Oxonmoot, day 3

Well, phooey. After usefully occupying my time awake in the middle of the night by attending online two excellent papers (mid-day UK time), I went back to bed and slept through two more I was even more interested in. Then another paper I was eager to hear turned out to be ending just as I logged in; it had been moved into the previous time slot without prior notice when that slot suddenly opened up.

The two from the middle of the night were an illustrated exploration of Tolkien's elaborate doodles (often written on newspapers he'd been reading, they depict elaborate and often abstract plants, carpets, etc.) by an expert in these, who we hope will publish a book; and a discussion of stress in LR, pointing out that some less obvious characters than Frodo also suffer from PTSD: Eowyn (who'd been living under threat of sexual assault, or didn't you notice that?), Boromir (whose behavior in the boats on Anduin is so peculiar that, the presenter said, on the front he'd have been sent to a field hospital), and Sam (secondary PTSD is often suffered by caregivers).

I also got to hear the interview with Dimitra Fimi, who has been mentoring so many younger Tolkien scholars that the chat function was trying to think of appropriate powerful-mother metaphors. Galadriel? Melian? She also does a lot of interpreting Tolkien for the media, which led to the suggestion of the title Professor for the Public Understanding of Tolkien. A lot of good questions about whither Tolkien studies. She sees specialization arising: more "bespoke" criticism about specific aspects. But I liked most her story about discovering Tolkien. Already a BA-holding ESL teacher in her native Greece, she saw a student reading a Greek translation of The Silmarillion and asked what's that? The idea of one man's mythology was attractive, so she followed the student's advice and read The Lord of the Rings first - fortunately in English, because (she says) it makes a big difference which language you encounter a story in first. Then she came to the UK to do grad work in Tolkien and the rest is history.

Of the Entertainments track, the best thing I can say is that the pandemic has done a service to costume presentations, by encouraging contestants to send in videos of themselves. These allow the audience to get a much closer look at the costumes than they would otherwise.

And in the evening, it was off for me to virtual Banff for the Kelemen Quartet in Bartok's Third and Fourth Quartets. Legendarily bristling, this is repertoire I might avoid if it weren't for Banff, because I've heard so much excellent Bartok there. This was more of it: bright, vivid, even cheerful renditions of both pieces, with the Fourth especially fine.

Oxonmoot ends at about 6 AM tomorrow morning my time, so if I'm up during the night I might hear some, and if not, not.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Oxonmoot, day 2

As usual with these online events, I didn't get to as much of it as I'd like.

There was a very interesting panel on translating Tolkien. Marcel Bülles (from Germany) spoke of the economic imperatives which often keep publishers from undertaking translations. As the topic of discussion was technical posthumous Tolkien books like the History of Middle-earth series, I wondered if there was much of an audience deeply interested in Tolkien - for you have to be very deeply interested in Tolkien to want to tackle these - that didn't have enough English to read them in the original? I posed this in the chat, and was informed: maybe not in countries like Germany or Slovenia, where knowledge of English is widespread, but otherwise in Hungary, where it isn't.
José Manuel Ferrández Bru (from Spain) spoke of the invisibility of non-English language Tolkien scholarship to the English-speaking readership, instancing the increased attention his biography of Tolkien's guardian (who was Spanish by birth) received after it was reissued in English translation. I'm uncomfortably aware of this gap, and I'd like to do something about it ... sometime ...
The panel also had a goodly amount of the usual fare at Tolkien translation panels, which is comparative discussions of how to render various names and words in different languages, including Latin from an American student who is (slowly) working away at The Lord of the Rings in Latin; there's already a published Hobbit in that language, and she compared her work to that.

John Rosegrant gave one of his psychologically insightful papers, this one on the Scouring of the Shire and its expression of the contrast between Tolkien's sense of enchantment and his frustration at seeing its elements turned rancid by totalitarianism. A lot of great incidental insights. Of course Wormtongue in his decay is like Gollum in his; clear enough when pointed out. Also, we learned that John has a book coming; to judge by his sequence of conference papers, it should be a good one.

I also got into the online pub quiz, one of about 75 participants. The first sequence of questions was about hobbits, and on maybe the second question I actually had briefly the second highest cumulative score, having gotten right a question that tricked most everyone who'd gotten right the previous question. I don't remember what it was, but I do remember a later trick question. Which of these 4 is not the name of a horse or pony, and among the choices were Brego and Strider. Most people picked Strider, but I had the vague feeling that was an equine name somewhere, and indeed it was: Frodo gave that name to the pony he rode home from Minas Tirith and later to the Grey Havens. Whereas Brego was an early King of Rohan and certainly not the name of a horse. So I picked Brego and was right. But all the film junkies in the audience remembered that Jackson had given that name to a horse in the movie and weren't sure it wasn't from Tolkien in that capacity. Well, it wasn't. (We'd been reminded at the start that this was a Tolkien quiz, not a Jackson quiz.)
I felt pretty good about my avoidance of immersion into movie trivia, but I got wrong a whole series of detailed questions about orcs - I'm not interested in orcs much more than I am in Peter Jackson; considering his attention to orcs they're too close to being the same thing - and finished up the quiz at no. 29.

In the evening, another Banff string quartet concert, this one from the Dalí Quartet, an emsemble I'd once reviewed, finding their renditions of wild and crazy South American dance music far more enjoyable than the competent but uninspired Mozart they'd inserted to show their serious classical chops. This time their dance music was all by Piazzolla, and they also did well with more somber music by two Hispanic composers: Ginastera's modernistic First Quartet, and a slow movement by Juan Arriaga, a Beethoven-era Spanish Basque, who'd have been destined for great things had he not died at 19.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

busy September days

1. It's the first day of Oxonmoot, the Tolkien Society conference, and I'm attending online again, though all I was able to get to today was part of an interview with Carl Hostetter, Events having kept me away from the rest. That he wants to just study and enjoy Tolkien's languages without forcing them into an artificial standard grammar reminds me of the way I just want to read Tolkien's stories without wanting to have them made into movies. It's the number of people who feel otherwise in both cases that puzzles us.

1a. And what should arrive in the post today but a copy, fresh from the publisher on the very day of its official publication, of the book which was the occasion for Carl being feted, The Nature of Middle-earth, a collection of Tolkien's late world-creating documents. To say there's much to digest from this blizzard is to be modest. Guess where Tolkien probably got the concept of numbered Ages from.

2. It's also the first day of the Banff International String Quartet Festival, and thanks to the magic of online connections I can attend this as well as Oxonmoot. (An early evening concert at Banff is the middle of the night in England, so there's no time conflict either.) Today the Callisto Quartet, which I remember fondly from the last Banff Quartet Competition I attended in person, plus a friend gave a luminous performance of the Schubert String Quintet.

3. It's now six months until the month I'm eligible for Medicare, so that must be why I'm getting phone calls from people who say they're with the Medicare Health Center. And what, you may ask, is the Medicare Health Center? I did ask, but didn't get an answer; instead the callers stuck to the script, which involved asking personal questions like, are you on Medicaid? I got annoyed, they got huffy, I hung up. Later someone else called from the same outfit, and this time on not getting an answer I skipped the annoyed and huffy parts and went straight to the hanging up.

4. My credit card fraud department called and wanted to know if the Patreon donation I've paid on the first of every month for over a year is legit.

5. The Yelp reviews are right, and there are excellent Sonoran tamales to be had from a sidewalk cart that only appears in the mornings at a spot not far away from the pet supply store I had to visit to acquire Tybalt's hard-to-find cat food.

6. Also paid a visit in the area I hadn't been expecting. I'm not thrilled about shopping with Walmart, but their vast online grocery selections contain many items that less objectionable stores either have stopped carrying or never carried. I'd buy them elsewhere if elsewhere offered them, but they don't. For instance Walmart has the cream of onion soup I was looking for a couple weeks ago. But when I placed the order, one of the items turned out to be pickup only, though it hadn't said that on the selection page. Which meant I had to go to the nearest Walmart superstore, 15 miles away and fortunately near my other errands. If it were further I'd have canceled the order.

6a. So I arrived and it's set up like the grocery store. You pull into a designated numbered space and call a phone number. But nobody answered. The eventual intercept said, call the store directly. So I called the store directly, and chose the "pickup" option. Nobody answered. The eventual intercept transferred me to customer service. Nobody answered. So I left the car and hunted down one of the delivery clerks, who was good: she looked me up on her device and fetched my items right away.

6b. But so bedoggled felt I that, when I left the car, I absently left my keys in the ignition. Fortunately I also forgot to lock the door, a rare example of two wrongs making a right. Further fortunately I realized right away that I'd left my keys, because if I hadn't it would have been a third wrong worse than the other two put together.