Wednesday, September 28, 2022

20 hours at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

20 hours over two days was long enough to see both of the actual Shakespeare plays the self-designated Shakespeare Festival has seen fit to put on this year.

The Tempest had some good acting, but as a show it was dull, duller, dulles. This was partly the fault of the text, which is one of old Will's poorest: it's filled with people talking about what they're going to do later. But a good production can overcome that. This wasn't one. The direction was lax, the amplification in the outdoor theatre subjected the speaking to airport PA levels of unintelligibility, and the costuming was stunningly bad. The text specifies that Prospero has a sumptuous wardrobe, but he and Miranda looked like they were dressed in seaweed. How can Alonso be expected to welcome his new daughter-in-law if she looks like something the cat dragged in?

That Prospero was Black, his brother was Hispanic, and his daughter was Vietnamese is only what you expect of stage Shakespeare shows these days, and not a mental hurdle for the viewer, any more than was ...

King John, which was sort of guest-produced by a Seattle group calling itself the upstart crow collective, which "produce[s] classical plays with diverse casts of women and non-binary people." So this indoor-theatre production was mostly women - including a couple of OSF veterans, Vilma Silva and Kate Hurster - and a few non-binaries. And let me tell you, they were every one the most dynamic, vivid, engrossing Shakespeare cast you could hope to see. They'd all thoroughly thought through the words they were speaking, and their non-vocal movements were equally well chosen. Special credit to Jessika D. Williams as the sardonic Philip the Bastard and Aysan Celik as a thunderously vicious Constance. This little-known play is actually one of old Will's best, but it was the cast that really made it run.

The only disconcerting note was some bizarrely stylized fight scenes.

This is the first summer season OSF has put on since before the pandemic, and they're still not entirely geared up. The gift shop is closed, so is the members' lounge, and the display cases on the outside wall of the third theatre are empty. Maybe these things will be back in place next year. Maybe.

The other effect is that the theatres were half-empty. People just haven't been showing up. As a result of which, next season is cutting way back in number of productions. Masking and vaccination are strictly enforced inside the theatres, which we were comfortable with, but standards are a little loose outside in the businesses of Ashland. At least our favorite restaurants are still there, if sometimes closed over more days of the week than before.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

hobbit day

It was Bilbo and Frodo's birthday today, and going on an unnecessarily extended quest for fried chicken for lunch was an appropriately incongruous way to celebrate it.

In another world, one in which we all had better luck with health matters, I would have spent the later afternoon with a bunch of friends settling toastily into the auditorium at the Haggerty Museum of Art in Milwaukee, surrounded by its Tolkien manuscript exhibition, listening to Carl F. Hostetter talking about "Editing the Tolkien Manuscript." In the event, neither of us was actually there, and the whole thing was conducted by Zoom. Carl talked more about clues to dating the manuscripts and the characteristics, changing over time, of Tolkien's handwriting and penmanship, than about transcribing the text, defeating challenge though, he admitted, that can sometimes be.

So what should I then find but a post, a couple days old now, by John Scalzi on the decline of cursive writing. He says it's not being taught in schools any more. Oh really? Good riddance; I thought it made no sense when I encountered it (in fourth grade, not, as Scalzi reports as normal, second), some years before Scalzi was born. "Now we're going to learn a new way to write," the teacher said brightly, and I remembered how much trouble it had been to learn the old way to write - printing - and I was dashed if I was going to go through that again.

So I didn't. I just flatly refused to learn cursive, and I never have. Eventually my mother pointed out that I was going to have to learn to sign my name, so I learned enough cursive for that (though I never quite got the hang of the "v"), but that's it. The only things I handwrite these days are 1) notes and occasional first drafts for concert reviews; 2) annotations on printed out proofs; 3) memos to B. on the backs of old one-a-day calendar pages. And those are all printed, not cursive. As a result of which, any future scholars studying my manuscripts are going to have a lot less trouble reading them that Carl, or even sometimes the author himself, has or had with Tolkien's.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

we are bivalent

Yes, B. and I have received the new covid vaccine. Today was the appointment we'd made about ten days ago. I was anxious to get this done, because next week we will be seeing people and maybe having meals with them, so it's best to be up to date.

This is my fifth covid shot altogether; they had to inscribe it on the back of my vaccination record card, where there's room for just one more.

We drove down to the facility that had had the prompt appointments, were in and out in about 15 minutes with no fuss, and then stopped by the nearby excellent fish & chips place to pick up some lunch to take home.

And that was the exciting event of the day in this household, unless you were a cat.

Monday, September 19, 2022

in memoriam, monarchs past

I sing the Georges Four
For Providence could stand no more.

Some say that far the worst
Of all was George the First.

But yet, by some 'tis reckoned
That worse still was George the Second.

And what mortal ever heard
Any good of George the Third?

When George the Fourth from Earth descended
Thank God the line of Georges ended.

- Walter Savage Landor
(who was not a fan of monarchy at the best of times, and this wasn't the best of times)

(There are other versions of this doggerel, but I prefer this one)

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Berlin 1938: Broadcasts from a Vanishing Society

This was a concert I attended today, my first in the City since June. It was held in the post theatre on the Presidio, the old military reservation near the Golden Gate (now decommissioned and held by the NPS), and the reason it was held there was because the post theatre was built in 1939, making it vaguely contemporary with the show.

It was put on by the New Century Chamber Orchestra, normally a classical outfit but which remade itself into a 1930s cabaret band for the occasion. The idea was to convey an emotional understanding of a fraught time in world history through its popular music.

It was constructed as a series of news bulletins running through events of the Euroamerican year - including the biggies like the Anschluss, Munich, and Kristallnacht, but also cultural events - read by two announcers, seated at desks by the side of the stage, through microphones that distorted their voices to make them sound like they were coming over the radio. One was German (speaking with supertitles, but also sometimes in English) supposedly from Berlin, the other American supposedly from New York.

And every once in a while one or both would move to center stage and sing, undistorted, a song that reflected on the news they'd been reading, for both of them were actually singers only moonlighting as pseudo-announcers. The American was the noted baritone Thomas Hampson.

The songs were mostly sarcastic German cabaret songs, and at the end they rewrote Lili Marlene to turn it into a sarcastic German cabaret song. Imagine Tom Lehrer with a more brutal German sense of humor. (And in fact I learned while looking one of the composers, Georg Kreisler, up, that he also once wrote a song called "Taubenvergiften im Park," which, I swear to God, means "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park." But even translated, the song isn't as funny as Lehrer's.)

There were also a few American songs, Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" and a couple numbers from Kurt Weill's Knickerbocker Holiday (Weill being of course originally German himself, but you couldn't tell it from this).

Anyway, interesting show, if not quite what I was expecting, with parallels to current events left for the listener to discern.

And it was all the way up in the Presidio - that meant driving there and through its twisty unfamiliar precincts, though I've been to this venue before - on the first rainy day of the year. This was traditional California rain: no sudden heavy downpours; a cloud front just moves in and drops a heavy drizzle on you for the whole day. After running around with a lot of other customers trying to get parking permits from a series of broken machines (never mind, nobody ticketed us), I was both soaked through and plumbed out by the time I got to the hall.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

other minds

This came up in discussion again, so I might as well write it down now.

Tolkien made a statement that has often been taken as offering his imprimatur to those who wish to adapt and recast his works.

In 1951, in a letter to Milton Waldman of Collins, a publisher he was hoping would issue his work, he wrote of his intent in creating it, "to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy-story ... which I could dedicate simply to: to England, to my country." He explained that "I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and have many only placed in the scheme, and sketched." And then comes the key sentence:

"The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama."

All sorts of people have volunteered to be those "other minds and hands." They've even erected it as a motto. And they take this as his authorization.

It isn't.

There are several points which this interpretation leaves out.

1) Tolkien's description is of his former intent. He's long since given it up, disavowed it. The opening words of the paragraph, just before the "to make a body" I initially quoted, are these: "Do not laugh! But once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind ..." And just after the key sentence he puts one word: "Absurd."

He's both boasting of and apologizing for his project at the same time, a peculiar approach. It's evident that in his heart he still wants to do it. But that's not what he writes: instead, he is not endorsing the description he is giving of his former intent.

2) His idea of what the "other minds and hands" would do does not include literary storytelling. It's other arts only. "Wielding paint and music and drama," he says, arts he did not aspire to. In writing to visual artists and composers inspired by his works, Tolkien consistently hopes for a work "akin to my own inspiration" (letter to Carey Blyton, 1964), but is not offended if it is not. (Unless it was in an edition of his book.) But he was infuriated by proposed sequels. "I suppose .... that there is no legal obstacle to this young ass publishing his sequel, if he could find any publisher, either respectable or disreputable, who would accept such tripe" (letter to Joy Hill, 1966). Tolkien is not endorsing fan fiction.

What about dramatic adaptations, though? It's evident, especially if you read Tolkien's essay "On Fairy-stories" (originally written in 1938/9 and published in 1947) that he considered drama an art separate from literature. But he changed his mind.

3) This letter was written in 1951. That's before The Lord of the Rings was published, after which Tolkien belatedly discovered through some painfully inept attempts at dramatization of The Lord of the Rings how naïve he had been in his description of planning to lay his legendarium out in the public domain in the Waldman letter.

Read the preface to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings, which takes the perspective of a literary artist claiming ownership of and responsibility for his own writing. Read also the numerous letters expressing his dismay at early attempts at dramatization of the book in his letters for 1955-58.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

quick shot

A few days ago I got an e-mail from Kaiser, our health service provider, saying that the annual flu shot would be available on Monday. In past years, our local facility has put the stations for this in lobby areas on the upper floors of the medical office building. But on looking it up, I found these were now supplementary stations with limited hours, and the full 8/6 (you've heard of 24/7, this is 8/6) hours were to be in a drive-through station set up in the parking lot of a satellite building down the street (right adjacent to the Apple spaceship).

No appointment necessary, so B. and I drove in this morning to find no lines. We rolled down our windows, they checked our membership cards and jabbed our upper arms, and we were off.

While I had been checking, I also looked up the covid vaccine. The last time I'd checked, they hadn't had the new vaccine yet, and as my last booster was 5 months ago I was designated ineligible for a new one (usual threshold is 6 months). But now they do have the new vaccine, I am eligible and so is B., and after scouting listings for 3 facilities I found one where we could get an appointment for next week, before we go on a trip.

In other good news, the week-long heat wave broke on Saturday, and after a couple days of waiting for the sizzle to wear off, we're back to balmy late-summer weather. B. is now practicing violin without a fan on, for the first time in a while.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

a wizard's guide

A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking, by T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon). Argyll, 2020.

The title might lead you to expect some kind of expository lump, a fictional cookbook, but no, this is a novel, with a first-person 14-year-old protagonist. Her name is Mona, and she holds a responsible position in her aunt's bakery in this not-quite-medievalish city.

Oh yes, and she's a wizard. In this world wizards, who have a talent they're just born with, are none too powerful and can usually do their magic on just one thing. Mona's is baked goods, bread and cookies. She can use her magic to encourage the bread to bake properly, or to animate things, e.g. make gingerbread men dance. She also has a sentient sourdough starter living in the basement.

So when, in the course of this novel - sorry for mentioning stuff from the last third of the novel in a review, but this is the only way the title will make sense - she is the only wizard available to help defend the city from an invading army, what can her magic do to help?

Well, what the senior wizards - who never condescend to Mona: they treat her with respect as a fellow practitioner - had told her is that it's not the power of your magic that counts, it's the creativity of what you do with it. So here's something: a golem soldier baked of bread isn't going to mind being stuck with a knife or sword, and as it isn't serrated it's going to be awfully hard to cut the golem down that way. Defensive baking. You get the idea.

I usually bog down in fantasy novels I read for our book discussion group. This one, while not aspiring to greatness, was enjoyable and interesting all the way through. It's well crafted. It starts as a murder mystery, with a body discovered in the bakery, but this ends up being directly related to the plot, and not a sideshow as is usual. The characters are all individual and memorable, even when they disappear from the story not to return until much later. Only once did I have to stop and think, "Now who was that person they just mentioned?" and look them up from earlier on, and that was an incidental character who doesn't appear on stage. Though Mona's magic is vital to the city's defenses, she doesn't save it single-handedly. And we never forget that, hey, she's 14 and having a lot dumped on her shoulders.

The only distractions were musical. There's a character named Elgar and Mona has an Uncle Albert.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

the all-time great QE2 story

I haven't tried linking to a tweet before, so I hope this works. It's a brief video of a former royal bodyguard telling a story of what happened when he accompanied the Queen on one of their regular outings, a picnic on the hills outside Balmoral.

Friday, September 9, 2022

in commemoration, Pauline Baynes

It's just now been brought to my attention that 9 September, which it still barely is here, was the centenary of the birth of Pauline Baynes. She was the young artist who was commissioned to illustrate Tolkien's Farmer Giles of Ham in 1949, and who turned in mock versions of medieval manuscript illustrations that wholly delighted all who saw them. Here, for instance, is the first page of the story:

Tolkien wrote, in a tone of pleasure you don't often get from him, "They are more than illustrations, they are a collateral theme. I showed them to my friends whose polite comment was that they reduced my text to a commentary on the drawings."
This led to further work illustrating other works by Tolkien including The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Smith of Wootton Major, as well as C.S. Lewis's Narnia stories. The grander side of Tolkien's imagination was considered a bit beyond her rather small-scale approach, but on the other hand she did draw the cover for the large one-volume softcover which for many British readers is the iconic edition of The Lord of the Rings:

Honor her today and continuously, eh?

Thursday, September 8, 2022

so, the Queen

Whatever you may think of the British monarchy, Queen Elizabeth II didn't make it that way and it was not in her power to change it fundamentally. All she could do was be the best Queen she could, and I think she did pretty well: presiding, not ruling, and doing it with dignity and not behaving as if it was a total waste of her time.

Seventy years of it. And she was on the job to the end, commissioning a new prime minister only two days ago. (That makes 15 different ones in her reign, 3 of them women.) She was 96. Some were expecting her to go on a lot longer: her mother lived to be 101.

And now, King Charles III. Some wondered if he'd take that name. After all, the first two Charleses were hardly ideal models of royalty, and the name "Charles III" already had a smudge on it, being the term the Jacobites used for Bonnie Prince Charlie after his father, the Old Pretender, died.

But it's usual for the monarch to take his or her own name. Some articles have implied it's not, but the circumstances in which a king took a different name were rare and unusual. (In both cases it was a prince named Albert, due to Victoria's attempt to honor her husband. Both thought a King Albert was inappropriate, and took a middle name instead. Also, Victoria was actually her middle name (her first was Alexandrina), but she'd been called Victoria from childhood.

When Elizabeth became Queen, some expected her to take another name. There'd been only one Queen Elizabeth; was there the nerve to change that? But the Queen said it was her name and she was keeping it, and it turned out not to be much trouble to refer to the earlier monarch as Elizabeth I.

The official accession is a meeting of the Privy Council, probably tomorrow. The coronation comes later. It's a big ceremony but it doesn't mark the beginning of the reign. The Privy Council does that. By the way, I'd like to inform the radio announcer who was blabbing about it that the verb form of what the monarch gets at the coronation isn't "coronated." It's "crowned."

The Duke of Cambridge is now also Duke of Cornwall. That's automatic. But he doesn't get to be Prince of Wales unless and until the monarch says so. Elizabeth waited several years before giving that title to the (admittedly then very young) Charles.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

heat wave

It's been very hot here - over 100 degrees F, and we're in one of the cooler parts of the area - for several days now, and it'll continue through tomorrow.

A couple years ago during such a wave I retreated to a hotel for a couple of nights so that I could sleep under air conditioning, but B. has learned to be vigilant in the use of fans, and the nighttime temperatures are not too bad.

Daytime, not so much. Yesterday I spent the whole afternoon at a library - a tiny branch in an obscure corner of the jurisdiction, which proved to be not very crowded - and fortunately I had something printed out that I needed to read, so that was worthwhile.

The cats have been stretching out on the linoleum downstairs. Usually if I head upstairs around 5 p.m., Tybalt bounds past me to get upstairs first, because he figures I'm on the way to the bathroom where the cat food is kept, and they will get fed. Almost always he's right about my destination.

Today, though, he lay lying there until he heard me opening the canisters: then he bounded up. But he clearly wasn't going to expend any energy until he was absolutely certain that he was about to be fed.

Monday, September 5, 2022


B. and I are getting our exercise by taking walks through the neighborhood. We usually go past a couple of local landmarks: a house with a low brick wall around its front lawn where lizards (little fence lizards are common here) like to sun themselves, and a house whose owner keeps chickens she sometimes brings out into the front yard.

These are useful as markers when I'm describing distances we may have to walk when away from home. I can say "as far as the lizard house" or "as far as the chicken house" and we know how much energy will need to go into it. We're talking up to about 0.3 mile here; except for turning around we don't walk further than that.

Usually we've been taking these walks in late afternoon, but a currently oppressive heat wave has discouraged that. This morning we were both up at 6 AM, just at sunrise, so B. suggested we walk then. It was very quiet. No lizards, no chickens, just a couple dog-walkers and joggers. But we did see a rabbit. White with black ears, it was nibbling leaves in the street gutter and didn't seem particularly afraid of passing humans. It must have been a pet that got out. Last time we saw a rabbit was a brown jackrabbit in Albuquerque.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

BISQC, day 7; Oxonmoot, day 4

I woke up at 1.30 AM and immediately turned the computer on, to find I was just in time for Jessica Yates' remarkable and provocative Oxonmoot paper attempting to reconstruct the topic of the lost lecture on Hamlet that Tolkien delivered at the Oxford English School in 1937, and about which she has been regaling me for the past few months.

I also started to watch a talk on The Hobbit which won my allegiance initially by pointing out that the story doesn't begin until the sixth paragraph, but instead of treating the previous paragraphs like the expository introduction they are, the author evidently was trying to sort the text out by internal chronology. Plus bad sound quality and I gave up on that one.

Also saw part of a proposal for a Tolkien museum. This got lively when the presenter showed a slide featuring a photo of what looked like Tolkien, with a pipe, examining plants in a greenhouse. "That's not Tolkien!" shouted some members of the in-person audience. "Yes it is!" replied the presenters. "No it isn't!" repeated the audience, and their will prevailed.

Meanwhile at the string quartet competition, the finalists were announced as the Balourdet, Isidore, and Opus 13 Quartets. Interesting, I thought: those are the three groups that played Brahms in the Romantic round, and my thoughts went back to an earlier competition when the three finalists were the groups that played Ravel in the Romantic round. At least, I thought, Isidore and Opus 13 did above-average Brahms: his quartets do not often come off well.

My own choice as the best ensemble was the Dior Quartet, followed by the Karski and either the Abeo or Terra.

The finalists get to play a major middle or late Beethoven quartet of their previous choice, and this time we wound up with all three of the most prestigious of the 5 late quartets, just about the most epic and intimidating music in the standard quartet repertoire: Op. 130/133, Op. 131, and Op. 132. Each took close to an hour.

My favorite of the three is Op. 132. I thought the Isidore Quartet did very well with it, but I've heard other performances I found more sublime. The Balourdet Quartet perhaps did better with Op. 131, which I find a tougher nut, and the Opus 13 Quartet attacked the enormous Op. 130/133 with gumption.

Regardless, the competition winner was the Isidore. Well, their Brahms was very good, and their Canadian competition quite stylish, and their Beethoven at least reached for real quality. Reasonable show; sorry I couldn't be there in person.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

BISQC, day 6; Oxonmoot, day 3; Watership Down conference, day 2

This was the day that all nine of the Banff string quartet competitors got to play a half-hour set of their own choosing. And what basically all of them chose was something modern, 3 of them Bartok. I got a little tired of listening to the unending screeing and scrawing. I'm sure I wouldn't have gotten quite so impatient if I were there in person, thus showing the disadvantage of remote listening.

Two half-points to the Abeo Quartet for choosing, for its modernist entry, half of the Shostakovich Third - and doing a much better job on it than they did at Menlo last month - and prefacing it with half of a Mozart, a composer rarely heard at Banff as the required Haydn takes up most of the 18th century air space.

And three quarter-points to the Dior Quartet for picking one movement each out of four recent quartets: less screeing and scrawing than alternation between slow, soft, and gentle; and loud, chaotic, and vehement, though never harsh and dissonant.

And a couple more partial points to the Karski Quartet, whose modern piece was the Debussy, which sounded awfully tame in the circumstances, and who followed it with a wild and woolly arrangement of the Beatles' "Come Together."

Everybody else, despite the brief incursions of Bach, Purcell, Grieg, and Schumann ... nah.

Being up for part of the middle of the night enabled me to hear a couple of Oxonmoot and WD papers. One of these the presenter spent more time fiddling with his electronics than giving the paper. WD had turned the Zoom chat function off, otherwise I'd have written "Get -on- with it!" Unfortunately for the sake of hearing them, I'd fallen back asleep by the time anything I as really interested in was on. Maybe they'll be available later; I await word from the conferences on that.

But I did get to a couple of afternoon (my time) Oxonmoot papers, including a presentation on computational analysis which was almost a parody of the "all about the method, not a penny for the results" kind of analytical speaker, but also including a robust defense of the male heroes of The Lord of the Rings as the kind of sensitive, showing their emotions, willing to emotionally support and bond with each other, males that a young female reader (as the presenter had been when she found the book) could identify with. Her number one choice is Sam, a pick which I think Tolkien would have approved of.

people saying what I'm saying about the Rings of Power, only better than I

Michael Drout

Laura Miller

Inkoo Kang

Friday, September 2, 2022

BISQC, day 5; Oxonmoot, day 2; Watership Down conference, day 1

That's right: in addition to remote-listening to the Banff string quartet competition, I'm remote-attending two conferences, the Tolkien Society's Oxonmoot and a conference from the Centre for Fantasy at Glasgow celebrating the 50th anniversary of Watership Down. I wouldn't be able to do that if I were physically there; I'd be stuck at just whichever one I was at.

This morning's BISQC concert was the Canadian Commission, always the oddest experience of the week. The competition commissions a new work for string quartet by a Canadian composer, to be about ten minutes long, and then they have all the competitors play it in sequence in one marathon concert.

It takes quite a work to be tolerable listening to nine or ten times in a row, and this year's was much more agreeable than any of the works in the 21st century round. Composed by Dinuk Wijeratne, it's titled The Disappearance of Lisa Gherardini. She is not, as I initially presumed, some recent kidnapping victim, but the Mona Lisa of whom Leonardo made his famous portrait. But that's all I know about the piece: in what sense she's meant to have disappeared I don't know.

The music is roughly tonal, containing a lot of dramatic tuttis and expostulating solos. It didn't lend itself to much interpretive difference musically, and unlike last time everybody figured out that a couple solo passages for violin and cello were supposed to be jazzy. In fact, the cellist of the Isidore Quartet, who was Black, put on a pair of dark glasses at that point.

Which brings me to the way the performances did differ. Evidently the composer marks one spot as a place where the performers are supposed to interrupt the music, but exactly how to do it is up to them. Some uttered whistling sounds and hisses, others gave elaborate gestures silently, some combined both. Monarchs in the gesture department (they didn't make many unmusical sounds) were the Dior Quartet, who reacted physically to the music at several other points; and some of whom actually got up from their seats and moved around the stage during their solos. The violist of the Animato Quartet stood up, but she didn't go anywhere. Most amusing was the first violinist of the Agate Quartet, who showed off to his colleagues and the audience the ipad that he kept his music on, which was now showing an image of the Mona Lisa.

This is actually the second day of Oxonmoot, but there wasn't much on the first day except the trivia quiz, which is always fun. My favorite round was the sets of emojis intended to represent chapter titles from The Lord of the Rings. I didn't have any trouble with the cleverest, which was [airplane] [car] and, of course, represented "Flight to the Ford."

Today I only got to one full item, but it was most enjoyable: a copiously illustrated talk by Brian Sibley on the history of the marketing and merchandising of Tolkien. "[slide] You can get the One Ring! [another slide] You can get the two One Rings! If only Saruman had known about that." Another paper I was distracted during, others I was asleep during (most of Oxonmoot takes place in the middle of the night in this time zone), another was cancelled, and the panel discussion on The Rings of Power I skipped out on after it was clear that the panelists got further in the show than I was able to manage.

As for the conference on Watership Down, one of my favorite non-Tolkien fantasies, it's only 2 days long and most of the paper sessions are tomorrow. I missed the keynote speech by Adams's daughter, but two papers were available in recordings and I was able to watch them to my benefit. One was John Rateliff's defense of Adams against the criticisms of Ursula Le Guin; despite my fondness for Le Guin, I mostly agree with John. Mostly. The other paper was a fellow named Michael Mikesell who's discovered that there are two differing texts for Watership Down, both in print. They only differ significantly in one passage, and he was here to tell us about it. I have two copies of the book, and I hastened to check them: I have both texts. This will be of significance if I ever get around to the paper I want to write on Watership Down.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

the ringzzzz ... oh, sorry, I fell asleep

I watched the first episode and a bit of the second of The Rings of Power, giving up about ten minutes into the second when the two hobbits (yes they are, they're hobbits) have the same conversation for about the fifth time in those ten minutes about whether they should help the stranger from the meteor. Any curiosity about who the stranger is is not worth wading through more of this to satisfy. Besides, I can find out more efficiently when the spoiler plot summaries get written.

But first, let me give this show compliments where due:
1) The scenery is awfully pretty.
1a) Furthermore, it's bright and sunny when it's supposed to be bright and sunny. Peter Jackson made everything with elves in it dark and gloomy.
2) They know how to pronounce "Sauron" correctly.

This show is fan fiction: fan fiction with a large budget. It quickly departs from the known facts within Tolkien's sub-creation sufficiently far, and unnecessarily so, that I can't really feel it has anything to do with Tolkien. Which won't prevent many people from mixing up its characters and plot with Tolkien's characters and plot.

Furthermore, it's dull and mundane. Everybody in it, at least the elves, is either a righteous monomaniac or else a conniving skeever. There's no morals, only the cheap imitation politics of bad fiction. It doesn't feel at all Tolkienian. I kept feeling the breath of Le Guin's "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie" down my neck.

I guess I get something different out of Tolkien's works than some other people. I don't care for this invented world because of the characters, or the setting, or the plot. That's nice but it's not what I'm there for. What makes Tolkien's stories worthwhile is the skill and quality with which he wrote them. And if you want to know more about that, check out the critical works of Verlyn Flieger, who's done more than anyone else to illuminate that skill and those qualities.

What I want is Tolkien's writing, not some cheap imitation that can't do what he does. It doesn't satisfy me, it's not what I want.

BISQC, day 4

It looks like tonight's "alumni concert," where the two ensembles that shared first prize at the previous Banff quartet competition return to play a little Brahms and Schubert, is not part of the livestream.

So I can report from today on this morning's final concert of the "romantic round." I'm glad I got to hear Mendelssohn's Op. 13 twice yesterday, but the unquestionable winning entry of this round was the Dior Quartet in Dvořák's Op. 106. When players bring the utmost in enthusiasm and dedication, Dvořák can be wonderful and captivating instead of slightly dull. The drive in here, and the percussive snaps, made this one run.

Quatuor Agate in the Ravel quartet was also very good, clear and crisp in a way I wasn't expecting, and the Isidore Quartet did well by Brahms's Op. 51 No. 2, which they gave the real Brahms flavor to.

So with nothing else to watch, I can return to the increasingly dismaying sensation of watching Amazon's The Rings of Power. More on that when I finish the available material, if I ever do.

21st century string quartet

I was awake and I had the time and curiosity, so I listened through the videorecordings of Monday's and Tuesday's Banff International String Quartet Competition's performances of the required 21st-century quartet of the performers' choice. I can't say I was much impressed. All but two of these composers were new to me, and none inspired me to want to hear more of that.

There were eight composers because two of the nine groups chose the same piece. The composers were: Vivian Fung and Kevin Lau (Canadian, and way to suck up to the judges, guys), Pascal Dusapin and Corentin Apparailly (French), Billy Childs and Derek Bermel (American), Andrea Tarrodi (Swedish), and Prach Boondiskulchok (Thai-British). So far as I can tell, two of the eight are women.

All the pieces emcompassed a great variety of styles. There were always sections that were grossly dissonant or turbulent, and there was usually a section, often brief, that really caught the ear - often an unusual ostinato (ostinato in harmonics, ostinato in tremolo) under a completely forgettable chromatic melodic line. Often there'd be a section reminiscent of older music, though never minimalism: Webernian modernism, Shostakovichian bleakness.

Though this was a selection of music of great variety, the pieces showed just as much variety within themselves as they did against each other. As a result, the whole collection sounded rather alike. I'd like a better selection next time.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

BISQC, day 3

What? What happened to days 1 and 2? Well, I wasn't there. I'm not there now, either.

In another timeline, I'd be spending this week in Banff, Alberta, at the triennial Banff International String Quartet Competition, as I did in 2016 and 2019, having a wonderful time on both occasions. But a combination of issues, mostly covid, led me to decide to bow out, which means I'm at home and can attend Oxonmoot online as well as experience the blinding heat wave we're expecting this weekend.

And I can watch and listen to the BISQC concerts live online, and they also have the concerts that are over with stacked up for listening, though I haven't gotten to those yet and am unlikely to.

My attempts to watch days 1-2, in which each of the 9 participating groups (a tenth had to drop out due to an injury) played one Haydn quartet and one written since 2000, were sporadic. Such Haydn as I heard seemed rather 19th-century in style, and the new works varied between the painfully dull and the provocatively interesting. But I'm not even entirely sure what I was listening to, because I thought maybe the title cards on the videos got mixed up.

Today, 6 of the groups - the rest, Thursday morning - played in two concerts, each offering one quartet from the romantic/nationalist repertoire, approximately 1825-1920. Two of the groups played Mendelssohn's Op. 13, my favorite quartet that meets that description. Both performances were excellent, and I find the difficulty of making fine judgments when you're not there in person stymies me in ranking them. Maybe the Karski Quartet breathed a little more broadly and connected episodes a little more firmly than the Abeo Quartet, but they were both sizzling and dynamic. The fact that I just heard the Abeo in person play this work twice at the Menlo Festival a month ago didn't stop me in the slightest.

A group whose name is the Opus 13 Quartet did not play Op. 13. Instead, they gave Brahms's Op. 51 No. 1 a livelier, bouncier reading than the Balourdet Quartet did with Op. 51 No. 2. The Animato Kwartet (that's how they spell it) seemed to be enjoying Schumann's Op. 41 No. 1 immensely, while the Terra Quartet gave the most amazingly crisp reading of the scherzo of the Debussy Quartet. It sounded more as if it were by Ravel than by Debussy.

BISQC continues through Sunday. So does Oxonmoot, which starts tomorrow. Then there's the Watership Down half-centenary conference, which is also this weekend and which I've also signed up for. How much of any of these I'll get to - how much I'll be awake for - is a doubtful question, especially as much of Oxonmoot is in the middle of the night in this time zone, but then that's often when I'm awake. So we'll see.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

a taste of the past

Much of the ice cream sold in the grocers I tend to avoid, but of those available in pints (a necessary qualification: I don't want a larger container), besides the ubiquitous Ben & Jerry's, there's a few I particularly like. One of these is McConnell's, which despite its unfortunate name is a very good ice cream. Because I can only find it in a few of the stores I frequent, and because it's of fairly local origin (Santa Barbara), I assumed it wasn't widely available, but according to their website they're found across the US, just spottily.

Usually I get their mint chip or coffee flavor, but I'm here to report to anyone who cares that McConnell's "Chocolate chocolate chocolate" flavor, which is a strong chocolate ice cream with equally strong chocolate frosting and chocolate chips mixed in, is the only taste I've found which can stand comparison with the late Jane Hawkins's classic chocolate decadence. If you miss that, you might like this.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

the number

An article in The New Yorker said that Queen Elizabeth II has had ten prime ministers. "That must be wrong: it's got to be more than that," I thought, having not noticed that the article was a 20-year-old reprint. Once the glacial - that's no longer a very good metaphor, is it? - process of choosing Boris's replacement is finished, that person will be no. 15.

QE2 has been monarch for over 70 years now. Victoria had 63 1/2 years, with ten p.m.s, but much of her reign was occupied with Gladstone alternating with Disraeli and then Salisbury; there were 20 administrations in total. Hanging around waiting for another term is quite obsolete these days: QE2 has had only one recidivist (two if you count Churchill, whose first term was before her time), and that was nearly half a century past.

The other long-reigning monarch of the modern era was George III with over 59 years, including the Regency. He had 14 p.m.s of whom 3 also had repeats. He also had two father-son pairs, of whom the fathers were brothers-in-law and the sons first cousins. British politics is still pretty closely-knit, but not quite that close.

Friday, August 26, 2022

t.p. verso

B. went to the children's bookstore today to get presents for our grand-nieces, aged 8 and 7, whom we'll be seeing soon. One's interested in horses, the other in sharks (ok, sharks), their parents tell us, so we got a book of fables involving horses and one loaded with facts about sharks.

I looked through these prior to their being wrapped up, so that I'd know what would be in the presents with my name on them, and as a library cataloger I noted that all the publication and copyright info which would normally be on the back of the title page (t.p. verso in book lingo) is now at the end of the book, a placement common in early publications and then called the colophon; I've no idea if it still is.

I've seen this pattern in children's books before, but not systematically. I suppose it's to keep kids from being frightened off by all the small print when they open the book up, and it reminds me that one of the purposes of giving physical books to small children is to teach them how a book is customarily put together: the title, the name of the author, the sequence of pages, and all.

This isn't necessarily easy. I was trying to catalog a children's book in Yiddish once, but I don't really know the language and I asked someone who did to transliterate the author's name. They came back with the information that the author's surname was Verlag, at which point I had to give up. Verlag is German for "publisher."

In other technical news, I've finally figured out what's causing my computer to slow down and become sluggish. It's nothing to do with CPU. It's the memory. Firefox, my principal browser, slowly creeps up in memory hoggage. When I turn it on, total memory usage on the computer is usually about 65%. When it gets above 85%, the functions start to slow. But I don't have to restart the computer. Close Firefox, wait for it to shut down entirely which takes several minutes, and then restart it: good as new, for a day or two.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

new car law

California is proposing a law that new gasoline-powered cars will cease to be sold in about 13 years. This is in the tradition of laws (state or federal) that mandated seat belts in new cars, or that required new cars to run on unleaded instead of leaded gas. The car manufacturers whined over those, but they got them done.

What will really enforce this law will be the gradual disappearance, in subsequent years, of gas stations. Once it becomes too difficult to fuel your car, you'll switch. This happened with leaded gas. For many years stations sold both leaded and unleaded, but gradually the leaded disappeared, and if you still had an old car you were out of luck.

We need two things to make an all-electric car environment work. One is fueling infrastructure. We're building that, rapidly. Good. The other is to get the price of electric cars down. Right now they cost about 4 or 5 times as much as a gas car. That's too great a difference. Tax credits will not help the people who need help the most. Technological advances that make them less expensive to build would be ideal. The substitute would be rebates, built into the purchase price so you don't have to fork over the money and apply for the rebate afterwards. In urban areas we're already developing a system where it's easy not to own a car and just rent one when you need it, and that's good, but that won't work elsewhere without a massive rebuilding of the entire environment.

But what I want to know is: what about hydrogen fuel-cell cars? I test-drove one of those, and if they're technically perfected, become available at a reasonable price, and acquire a reasonable fueling infrastructure, I'd much prefer one. They fuel with a physical substance, so it's easier to figure out how much range you have left than psyching out electric charge; and I believe they're less harmful to the environment, without those giant honking batteries and huge electric charges zapping around: hydrogen is very easy to get. And as for hydrogen being explosive, so is gasoline and we manage that.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Letters of C.S. Lewis

Whenever I need to consult the original 1966 edition of Letters of C.S. Lewis - usually to quote from W.H. Lewis's memoir of his brother which prefixes the letters - I look through the letters themselves and note the ones whose addressees are anonymized, usually as "A Lady." And then I remember the 3-volume supposedly complete Collected Letters, which eschews such coyness. This time, while I had the 1966 book out of the library, I decided to collate the anonymized letters against the Collected Letters - which I own; it'd hardly be possible to do my research without it - and find the answers.

So "A Lady" refers to various persons; before 1945 it's usually Mary Neylan; afterwards it's most often Mary Van Deusen, sometimes Genia Goelz; for a stretch in 1952-6 it's usually a Mrs Johnson of whom nothing else is known. "A Godchild" in 1949 is Sarah Neylan, who reappears as "A Child" in 1950; "A Child in America" in 1956-7 is Joan Lancaster. I should look some of these people up.

"A Friend, who was troubled about a younger woman's unsuitable devotion" in 1946 turns out to be Owen Barfield. That I really ought to search out in Barfield's biography.

I'm writing about this now because the 1966 book needs to go back to the library.

Most surprising, however, is the presence in this book of 5 letters which, as far as I can find, are not in the Collected Letters at all. Not all the letters are dated, and sometimes finding them in the Collected Letters requires recourse to that work's index, but it's a very complete index, so when I say that somehow these got missed, I can be pretty sure of it. A couple more letters aren't in their proper chronological place in the Collected Letters but were added to the appendix, which suggest that nobody consistently combed the 1966 book when compiling the Collected Letters.

One of the missing letters, of December 1962, has some interesting material on Lewis's intent while writing the Narnian books, and another, of April 1959, is the letter to Peter Bide (unnamed here) in response to Bide's request for prayers for his sick wife, a letter Lewis refers to having written in several other letters of the time, as I found while looking unsuccessfully for it in the Collected Letters.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

The Sandman

So I finally watched The Sandman ... or part of it. I skipped the episodes covering Preludes and Nocturnes, because I found that book disturbing to read in a way the subsequent ones weren't. I started with the bonus episode, "Dream of a Thousand Cats/Calliope," then went back to "The Sound of Her Wings/Men of Good Fortune" and on to the four episodes that cover The Doll's House.

I guess I don't understand why people are so eager to see their favorite literature filmed. It can't possibly match the one in my head. No human actor could possibly speak in the dark tones I imagine for Morpheus, though Tom Sturridge at least gestures in the right direction. So all I can do is cherish the moments when the adaptation gets it better than I imagined. Such a moment came at the very end of "Dream of a Thousand Cats" which did in motion what the book could only do in words, and with a more subtle back-reference. "Calliope" was pretty well done, and Derek Jacobi bit off the nasty Erasmus Fry as he ought to have been bitten off. And Ric's descent into evil was admirably rewritten to be more subtle and less abrupt than in the book. But Calliope, unlike the picture in the book, didn't look remotely like someone who'd suffered what she'd suffered.

The "Sound of Her Wings" episode felt a little stiff and lifeless compared to the extraordinarily compelling book versions of those stories. Maybe they were trying to be too faithful in the adaptation.

Doll's House was better when it dared to be a little bit original, and worse when it tried too hard. It seems to me the adaptation made three basic changes in the story.
1. To eliminate the old DC character references. I can't say anything about that because I don't know anything about the old DC characters.
2. To cut down the role of coincidence in the story. Unfortunately that was done by increasing the sense of conspiracy. Thus, Jed doesn't hitch a ride with the Corinthian by coincidence: the Corinthian is already looking for him; thus, the conspiracy is after you. Even if Jed had gotten his note to the social worker out, it wouldn't have done any good, because the Corinthian immediately kills her. Way to go.
3. To give Rose more agency. This works well in some parts, such as her first confrontation with Morpheus: entirely original to the adaptation and brilliantly done. But it goes way overboard in the final episode, and it creates other problems as well. Thus, an enabled Rose can't be helpless in the face of the muggers but successfully defends herself to an extent improbable in someone with no training. And worse, it leaves Gilbert with nothing to do in his capacity as her champion and knight-errant. He feels superfluous, and his later reappearance becomes awkward and illogical. And Rose swiping name badges from the reg desk? That ought to have gotten her in deep trouble at any convention, however innocuous.

I liked some of the acting. Stephen Fry, as ever when it's not a Peter Jackson Hobbit movie, was almost ideal: though one was reference to Chesterton was perfect, two was too many. Vivienne Acheampong as Lucienne was excellent as was Mason Alexander Park as Desire - both caught the essence of their characters ideally. Kyo Ra as Rose carried a difficult part with complete adequacy. But the Corinthian wasn't quite creepy enough, and the guy playing Nimrod kept looking as if he was about to turn into Wallace Shawn, which was distracting.

Friday, August 19, 2022

and my street smells much of tar

Last week we got a notice, that the city would be laying a new surface of pavement down on our street. They said this was annual, but I think this was only the second time since we've lived here, and that's 15 years now.

Then the signboards went up on the sidewalks giving the date. No cars on the street. Not inherently a problem for us, because we don't live on the street but in a private cul-de-sac, but it did mean that if we left our cars at home we'd be stuck there all day. Well, most of the time that's what we do anyway, but just in case, I took my car out the previous afternoon and parked it on the next street over.

Turned out we didn't need the car, but at least the work got down, and the street reopened on time. So now it's inky-black in color and smells of tar, even from as far away as here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

historical movies

B. signed us up for Netflix so that we could watch The Sandman. She's watched most of The Sandman already; I haven't started yet, because I've spent all of what little time I have for that medium on two movies that were on my "watch these if I ever get Neflix or if they ever get off it" list. Time has been further extended by their being simultaneously interesting enough and wincingly bad enough that I keep turning them off and walking away, coming back and continuing a day or two later.

Both are of a genre of movie I have a weakness for: dramatizations of modern historical events. (I have my standards, though. For one thing I don't like anything in which the characters go around telling each other things they already know so that the audience can catch up, which is one of several reasons I stopped watching The Crown after half an episode.)

Operation Mincemeat. This one I know all about. I've read the books about it, including Montagu's; I've even seen the previous movie. That was partly why this movie wasn't saved by some good dramatizations of particular scenes and some excellent acting. (Colin Firth, now: he's made so many movies in which he plays a repressed man with a strong sense of duty that he's virtually typecast.) The imaginary subplots they added to the story, however, just ruined it. In real life the period after they sent Major Martin off to war consisted of a lot of suspenseful waiting with a slowly dunning sense that the plot worked, that they'd pulled it off. In the movie they run around in a panic over various glitches. It just gives a bad taste to the whole thing. And that's just one of the many, many awful things the adapters did to the story.

The Dig. This one I didn't know much about. I knew about the Sutton Hoo ship burial; I've seen both the treasure in the British Museum and the original site in Suffolk, on which sheep may now safely graze. But I didn't know whose land it had been, how the burial was discovered, or who dug it up. This movie was less inaccurate than the other, so I learned a lot, but it does tend to get fanciful in the same way as Op.M. towards the end. Acting was good: Ralph Fiennes should play more honest countrymen and fewer conniving ex-public school boys. Oh, and the official archaeologist who shows up halfway through? Notice the actor's unusually bulbous nose? So it shouldn't surprise you at all to learn that he played one of the dwarves in The Hobbit.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

it's my Guest of Honor speech

The videorecording of my Scholar Guest of Honor speech at Mythcon, which was in Albuquerque on Saturday, July 30, is now online at the Mythopoeic Society archives, thanks to Society media maven Tim Lenz and official archivist Phillip Fitzsimmons.

The audio is a little choppy - I think it was taken directly from the feed of the portable microphone I was wearing, which is also why you can't hear much of the audience response - but if you hit the download button next to the video, you can get what looks like a transcript but in fact is my actual reading copy of the speech, modified by the cuts and a few small changes I made on the fly while delivering it. (I also corrected one tiny factual error.)

The speech, which is an hour long, is titled "Notes of an Inklings Scholar" and consists of five mini-talks:

1. The Expansion and Contraction of Tolkien’s Imagination
2. A Hobbit in the Legendarium
3. Cursed fate that gave thee to the Moore
4. But did he ever read the book?
5. The Problem of Éowyn

An edited version, somewhat clarified and including full bibliographical references and some additional material in footnotes, is scheduled to be published in the next issue of Mythlore, the Society's journal. In the meantime, for those who weren't there, technology brings us this.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

oo, Edmund Wilson

So I'm adding the bibliographic references to the part of my paper in which I attempt to explain how Edmund Wilson could get so many basic facts wrong in reviewing The Lord of the Rings when he claims to have just read the entire work aloud to his child.

That required getting out of the library a copy of the collection where he reprinted his infamous review, to check quotations and page numbers. Not too many local libraries still have this book.

But I also want his previous essay collection, the one where he's equally dismissive of mystery fiction and H.P. Lovecraft, because I cite those as further instances of Wilson being abruptly and willfully dismissive of literature not to his taste.

That book is in even fewer libraries, and I'd never gotten a chance to look through it thoroughly before, so I do this time, and I find an article on John Steinbeck from 1940. It's an interesting piece, bringing out aspects of Steinbeck's work I'd never seen discussed elsewhere, even though anybody could have cited Wilson.

But even though it's mostly favorable, it's still sloppy. See the astonishment of Wilson saying that Lenny from Of Mice and Men "has murderous animal instincts." Murderous? Has Wilson read the book? Lenny isn't murderous; that means intentional. He's a gentle giant who doesn't know his own strength. That's the whole thing that makes it a tragedy; if you don't get that, you've missed the whole story.

Then there's this at the beginning of the piece. Wilson is briefly summarizing a series of Steinbeck's books, and he gets to: "In Dubious Battle was a strike novel, centering around Communist organizers and ..."

Wait a minute. "Centering around"? Did the reputedly finest American critic of the 20th century just write centering around?

Who elected this guy to a position of prestige? Could we recount the votes?

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

concert review: Cabrillo Festival

My attendance at Menlo was cut off because my editor sent me over the hill to Santa Cruz for the Cabrillo Festival. Two concerts, Saturday and Sunday evening. When I started out on Saturday afternoon, the beach traffic on 17 was so heavy that I gave up and circled back to take the main back road, Hwy 9. It was long, time-consuming, and twisty, but I've taken it many times before so I knew what to expect, and it was not congested, which is the worst part.

(Additional secret of this route: I get off at Felton, because the lower reaches of 9 are narrow and clotted, and take Graham Hill Road instead, which climbs up the hill and then is a straight shot down onto Ocean Street with little congestion or cross-traffic.)

Cabrillo is a two-weekend program, and while the first weekend went fine, rising concerns about covid transmission caused them to decide to eliminate winds and brass, which can't be played masked, from the orchestra for the second weekend, the one I was covering. So: out with 3 of the 5 scheduled works, and in with 5 new ones instead. It's all covered in my review.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Music@Menlo, week 3

Returned from Mythcon, I resumed attending events at the Music@Menlo festival, which is three weeks long and was still going on. After a week in the dry baked alien precincts of Albuquerque, and with little music in my life (the rental car, which had one of those "we know better than you do what you want to listen to" preset radio systems, was picky about whether it'd pick up the Santa Fe classical station or not), it was something of a cultural shock to come home and find things as they were.

I'd reviewed two concerts the first week and one the second, but the Menlo publicity people asked if I could do another. The only main concert occurring after I got back that fit my schedule was an austere little program featuring Mozart violin sonatas. Not my usual choice, but I got the Daily Journal to agree to take it, and what do you know, it was quite good.

I wrote this review from memory, with only the online copy of the festival program book for aid, because I'd misplaced my notes and the program book I went with. I found them just after I'd finished, but found it necessary to add only a few words, like "extraverted" (which I thought was spelled "extroverted," and the spellchecker on this program agrees with me, but I guess your editor knows best).

I also got to the big blowout Friday evening Prelude concert by the young professionals, who usually trade off assignments, but this time all 13 of them participated in one concert: three big works that, including intermission, took 2 1/2 hours. Dvorak's Op. 87 piano quartet, much less rattly than it usually comes out, set the evening's celebratory tone with its unaggressive cheerfulness. Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 3 and Brahms's Piano Quintet are darker works, but the players found the light in them. The iron rigidity that features in the Shostakovich is clearly not a native language for the Abeo Quartet, and they struggled a little with that aspect, but their work was emotionally strong. But no stronger than the Brahms which followed, which was just fabulous, especially the coda of the finale, which closed the evening (and, for me, the festival, since I am otherwise occupied during today's final events) with a perfect bang.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Mythcon, day 4

There were no papers scheduled for Monday. This is unusual for a Mythcon. All there was was a Tolkien trivia contest - some of the questions were a little too easy: What do hobbits call a ...? mathom - before the members' meeting. The Council of Stewards, our board of directors, is large enough now that merely introducing them took up most of the time, and much of the rest was devoted to a formal motion to allow the Council to get even larger. I was actually coaxed into voting in favor of this one, ironic as on a previous occasion when the Council was enlarged I was about the only person who opposed it.

However, we did have some time to discuss a major policy question, which is what to do about future Mythcons. Last year we held an online-only event, and this year's though in person allowed remote participation, if in a sketchy way - future years will be smoother. So should we change so that in-person Mythcons are only every other year instead of annually? Arguments in favor included:

1. We're mostly older and slower and not up to doing this that often. (Actually, judging by the number of younger faces on Council, I'm not sure that's so.)

2. Online meetings are almost as easy as in-person ones now. (They do allow you to get to things you otherwise couldn't attend. But otherwise I'm of mixed feelings about their easiness.)

3. The moral question of contributing to climate change by voluntary plane flights. (In my opinion, fighting climate change by cutting back plane flights from every year to every other year is like bailing out the Titanic with a teaspoon - it only wastes your time to worry about it and it insults the scale of the problem with its triviality. If we're not prepared to restructure civilization at the very least - and we're not - we should stop invoking moral imperatives.)

4. The potential difficulty of finding willing and able committees. (I raised that one.)

Nothing was decided - it was only a discussion session - but we also brought up another matter, membership opposition to holding Mythcons in states that prohibit abortion. (It's not just moral opposition. Those are dangerous places for women.) As a non-profit educational group, the Society can't take political positions, but if a significant portion of our membership says "we won't travel to that state," that's an economic argument.

The only nonstop flight home left at 1.15 pm, so we decided not to leave on Monday because it would interfere with attending any of the above, and scheduled ourselves for Tuesday. That left an afternoon free. I'd already gotten to Old Town for some shopping on Friday. Today I spent part of the afternoon at the Sandia Lab's new museum on the history of nukes. Extremely conventional in viewpoint, and with a woman stationed outside the men's room to prevent any adult men from going in while boys were in there: apparently fear of molestation has gotten that psychotic.

Flight home the next day was uneventful save for 1) the far greater intensity and intrusiveness of security at ABQ than at SFO; 2) the extreme shortage of wheelchair pushers when we arrived.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Mythcon, day 3

Sunday was as busy as Saturday for me. I was on two panels, having suggested both topics - I'm not an old Mythcon programmer for nothing - and persuaded the committee to exploit its Guest of Honor. But first I had to drive B to a nearby church for mass; fortunately traffic is pretty light at 7 a.m. on a Sunday.

Busy but pleasant as the day was for me, it was pretty blustery for the committee, for this was the day that the rented golf cart died, probably from an overdose of shuttling large numbers of people back and forth between the hotel and the meeting space for 2 1/2 days; and it was also the day that one of our senior members, having undertaken the walk, fell down and was discovered lying there and bleeding along the way. Off to the E.R. she was taken, CT scan revealed nothing wrong, and she was OK by the end of the day (many sighs of relief), so why she fell remained a mystery.

Returning to programming, I hadn't realized when I walked into a paper in the first time slot that the presenter would be on a screen, and physically in England I think, while we auditors were in another box on the screen. We heard a discussion of aliens in Lewis's space trilogy which argued that Weston and Devine are the real aliens: can't argue with that.

Next was my first panel, on New Mexico (or "NM" as it's informally spelled locally) speculative fiction authors. I'd been thinking mostly of imported power hitters like Zelazny and Martin (and Walter Jon Williams, who actually showed up in the audience), but I heartily endorsed the pre-con discussion suggestion that we also cover native authors like Rebecca Roanhorse. So we ran the gamut: I made quick introductions to Zelazny and Martin novels with NM or SW settings, and the panelists ran through others, culminating in Author Guest of Honor Rivera Sun's thoughtful meditation on how residence in a landscape changes your perspective on it.

My other panel was "Aliens and Others in the Inklings," and as moderator all I had to do for this one was read off the topic statement from my e-mail recruiting panelists, introduce the three distinguished scholars we got, who each gave a 10-minute mini-paper, and wrangle the question session.

At the voice auction I was less interested in buying anything - I'd gotten a few items from the silent auction - than in seeing how much the extra copies of Tolkien scholarship I'd donated went for (gratifyingly much). Though I don't know why the auctioneer kept insisting that Clyde Kilby's reports on helping Tolkien edit the Silmarillion are unreliable; once the book came out they turned out to be quite accurate.

Sunday evening of Mythcon is the banquet. The hotel wasn't holding it, the meeting site couldn't hold it, so we got a little coffee vendor down the street. Not regularly open for dinner, they will cater private parties, so scattered about at tables both in and outside, the latter under an awning but fortunately tonight's thunderstorm was less severe than Friday's, we dined on a generous buffet serving of NM cuisine, huge lasagna-style trays of red and green chile both meat and vegan, plus pozole, with a little plain food on the side as an alternative, assuming there was any of it left.

Food sculptures, possibly influenced by the new Amazon trailer, tended towards reproductions of post-battle scenes from Tolkien with hominy kernels from the pozole standing for skulls.

Rivera gave her Author GoH speech as is traditional in this spot, her skill as a public speaker partially compensating for the low-powered pocket-sized p.a. system in a slightly noisy outdoor environment. She promoted her cause of non-violent political resistance and urged its representation in fantasy fiction, with plenty of examples illustrating where it's been done.

It was a successful event but tiring, so once more we opted for early retirement.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Mythcon, day 2

The concom was very attentive to my needs and requests, which I much appreciate, but otherwise I didn't find the experience of being Guest of Honor very different from my normal Mythcon attendance. Since I'm always there, people are used to me: nobody goshwowed me or asked for my autograph.

The main programming difference was that I had a plenary session for my paper, and that came on Saturday morning. Owing to the pandemic I had two and a half years to decide what to talk about, and I went through several ideas. Abandoning any idea of discussing the conference theme of aliens and others, because I didn't really have anything of moment I wanted to say about it - after some online exchange with the concom, I had suggested I moderate a theme panel, and that came on Sunday - I decided to clean out the back of my refrigerator of academic topics, and cobbled together notes for five unfinished, or too fragmentary to publish, papers on Tolkien or Lewis.

When I test-read the first draft it took an hour, so I cut it by 10%, but I also added bits, especially when I learned I was being placed as the graduation speaker for four Mythies who'd earned BAs or PhDs during the pandemic and never got a proper graduation ceremony. This came now in a makeshift way, with a tiny chorus humming "Pomp and Circumstance" as the grads walked across the front of the classroom.

So I took an hour anyway, remembering to take a Marco Rubio sip of water between each section. There was time for a couple of comments at the end of the session, but what particularly pleased me was afterwards, when a couple of definitely feminist women, a noted Tolkien scholar and a Mythopoeic Award-winning author, both told me I was on the right track with my analysis of what's really burning people who complain about Lewis's Problem of Susan or Tolkien's Problem of Eowyn. There was also a shout-out on Discord is response to my reference to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I got to an excellent paper on Tolkien's monsters by a fellow who always gives excellent papers, and B's discussion session on Encanto - she proposed and co-led it - where the most interesting new-to-me comment was a claim that Mirabel misinterpreted Bruno's second vision - it's not Isabela she's supposed to hug, it's (a younger image of) Abuela, whom Isabela rather resembles. Actually, I replied, it's both: when Mirabel and Isabela reconcile, the house's cracks start to heal, until Abuela interrupts and berates them. Good discussion of a provocative and endlessly rewatchable movie.

A few of us old-timers held a "Mythcon memories" discussion session, then B and I took a couple who are friends of ours out to dinner at Albuquerque's finest Italian restaurant, as we were definitely in a mood for something other than NM local cuisine.

After a long day, and not much sleep the night before, I barely survived the brief costume competition, and collapsed into bed about 7:30. I awoke again at 10 p.m. long enough to make a brief appearance at the con suite, briefer because I was almost the only one wearing a mask, and then back to bed.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Mythcon, days 0-1

(As there were no functioning business terminals at the hotel, and posting blog entries on my tablet is too difficult, I postponed my Mythcon report until I got home.)

They said it would be easy to fly to Albuquerque. Just take this plane from San Francisco. A brief stop in Burbank - you don't even need to get off the plane - and you're there in less than four hours.

Hah. When we arrived at SFO two hours before scheduled flight time, the flight was already listed as 20 minutes late, and this steadily increased until it settled at one hour. Eventually, clock time caught up with the steadily receding flight time, and the flight actually boarded and took off.

At Burbank, us continuing passengers were at first told to stay on the plane. Then we were told to offload briefly, but we could leave our hand baggage on board. Then we were told the inspectors examining a bird strike had decided we needed a new plane. They'd bring our hand luggage in - you can imagine what a mess of identifying bags that was - and we were to walk down the length of the concourse and wait at another gate for someone to find the time to bring the new plane in from storage.

Eventually we did get to Albuquerque, but over three hours after the original arrival time, and too late - Albuquerque wraps up early - for dinner at any desirable locale. But it wasn't a messup for the ages, and we were intact and ready for Mythcon.

Our hotel, a rather sketchy Hampton Inn in an industrial district east of downtown, had besides no functioning business computers no available appropriate meeting rooms, so the committee had rented the facilities of an on-vacation charter school a block away. Temperatures were in the mid-90s and humid, and the hardy walked back and forth, but the committee also rented a golf cart to shuttle members. We, however (B and I), decided not to rely on this and rented a car, and a good thing too as it turned out.

Registration opened at the school at the crack of noon, with the first papers scheduled for 2 PM. Everyone was, by con regulation, masked during programming; adherence elsewhen was spottier. I attended a fascinating analysis of "Black Finrod," a phenomenon of Tolkien fan artists depicting that Silmarillion elf as black-skinned, for a variety of reasons ranging from increasing the diversity of racial representation in the story to practicing one's artistic technique to, literally, "Why not?"

I should make clear that, despite my postings last week on distinguishing Tolkien's work from fan or media creations, I consider this trend wholly benign. Fan artists are not attempting to codify representation of the characters as film versions effectively do, and most are exemplary in clarifying when they are extrapolating, inventing new ideas, or interpolating their own where Tolkien remains silent. This is exactly the treatment I'd prefer from people engaged in such projects.

At 5 PM began the reception, held on the roof garden of the food hall, repurposed from some small industrial facility, across the street from the hotel. The first hour passed pleasantly enough, then the daily thunderstorm arrived. At 6 on the dot the cold blustery winds arrived. Then came some lightning strikes in the distance, then the rain, first slow then torrential. With the wind. As I pointed out to the co-chair, "If the rain is coming in sideways, then the awning serves no purpose."

A cooler evening gradually ensued, but the party broke up about 9. And so - at least for us - to bed, a theme of early retirement that would become characteristic of this rather unusual Mythcon.

to be continued

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

concert review: Music@Menlo

Tuesday's was the only concert of the Music@Menlo festival I'm attending this week, so it gets a separate review. This concert was titled "Admiration," and admiration of who? Haydn, this year's theme composer.

The first half was a solid, hearty program of quartets in C Major by Haydn and Mozart: Haydn's Op. 33 No. 3 "The Bird" named for various chirping figures, was one of the then-recent quartets that inspired Mozart to write his set of six that he dedicated to Haydn, of which we heard K. 465 "The Dissonant" named for the extremely hairy slow introduction which is totally uncharacteristic of the rest of the quartet.

Played in a crisply articulated manner, with vigor and dramatic intensity, by the Orion String Quartet, what they mostly showed to me was how distinct and different Haydn and Mozart were as composers within the borders of the Classical style. To say that Haydn is wittier and more pointed and Mozart is more lyrical and graceful would oversimplify greatly, but it gets you somewhere along the mark.

That Haydn and Mozart each admired the other's genius at composition is historically known (for Haydn to have picked the young Mozart as the greatest composer of their day showed great perspicacity on his part), that Mozart learned technique from Haydn and that, later on, Haydn picked up some from Mozart, is also deducible. But what we learned here is how each had a distinctive and detectable individual style, which isn't always realized.

Exhibit A, Orion String Quartet playing Mozart, L to R, Todd Phillips, Daniel Phillips, Steven Tenenbom, Timothy Eddy.

The rest of the program was early 20C French. On the 1909 centenary of Haydn's death, a French music magazine put Haydn's name to musical notes (musical notes already have letters from A to G, to H if you're German; for the rest you have to either ignore them or fake it) and commissioned six noted French composers to write brief piano pieces utilizing this motif and commemorating the occasion.

We heard four of them here, played by Hyeyeon Park, a regular Menlo pianist who doesn't often get the spotlight, more usually taking a self-effacing role as the pianist somewhere in the background of a large ensemble.

The four composers we heard are all names that should be familiar to students of French music of the period: Reynaldo Hahn (who took the theme most seriously, writing an elaborate series of variations), Paul Dukas (whose lush impressionistic arrangement is not what you'd expect from the composer of The Sorcerer's Apprentice, not so surprising if you remember La Péri), Vincent d'Indy (who wrote a minuet), and Charles-Marie Widor (who wrote a fugue).

Omitted from the program were by far the two best-known composers of the bunch, Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. Their Haydn pieces will be heard in a concert next Sunday when I'm not here. In their place, we got one full-length work by each composer, with no connection to Haydn, but offering something substantive instead.

For Debussy, senior Menlo violinist Arnaud Sussmann and first-time pianist Mika Sasaki played his Violin Sonata, with Sussmann packing a crisp declarative style rather similar to the way the Orions played Haydn and Mozart. It took the swamp out of Debussy, though Sasaki carefully put a little bit back in.

Exhibit B: Sussmann and Sasaki in Debussy

For Ravel, the four-hand version of La Valse, with Park on the treble and Michael Brown on the bass, where he mostly emitted rumbles but occasionally shot his arm over past Park to emit a mighty descending glissando across the entire keyboard. In its orchestral form this is quite a hothouse piece, and Ravel packed as much of that as possible into this hardly-reduced version. It was a bit more lurid than Menlo usually gets.

Exhibit C, Park and Brown stomping all over Ravel

I also got to the Prelude concert by the young professionals that preceded this event. First, Kodály's Serenade for two violins and a viola, avoiding the eerie lightness of Beethoven's similar piece that I heard last week by placing the viola line determinedly low, even when carrying the theme with the violins playing a descant accompaniment, and by being based on gritty Hungarian folk music which got quite the emphasis here.

Exhibit D, the rhythm of Kodály, with Katherine Woo, Chih-Ta Chen, and Risa Hokamura

I hope that cellist Joshua Halpern has gotten over his self-confessed aversion to Shostakovich as a bitter and complaining composer after playing the solo part in his Cello Sonata. This piece is built on the same model as his Fifth Symphony which followed after a couple of very eventful years, except that the finale is jaunty instead of pompous. Halpern and pianist Sam Hong showed off the tremendous wave of dynamic emotions that the composer could produce even with only two performers to work with.

Exhibit E, Halpern and Hong show how Shostakovich goes

A good evening. I'll be back for a little more next week.

Photos courtesy of Music@Menlo

Tuesday, July 26, 2022


When I wrote recently about the theater-in-a-city-park dramatization of The Lord of the Rings which turned out to be more movie than book, I didn't mention how I realized that would be the case. Before the show started, one of the few actors with a carrying voice announced that this would be "J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings." Then he went around the audience - there were close to 100 people there - coaching them in audience-participation parts. One of the cue lines was something like "Oh no, Saruman is bringing the mountain down!" When he got to me, I asked him to confirm that line, then I asked him, "Are you doing the book or the movie?" He said he knew both, and acknowledged the truth when I pointed out that, in the book, Caradhras acts on its own, not at the behest of Saruman. "You said you're doing Tolkien's Lord of the Rings," I said, "but you're not: this is someone else's." What he said then - this was hurried because he had to move on - was that they were doing "the story."

Item 2. On a mailing list I belong to, someone wrote a post about Tolkien's conception of hobbits. This was specifically about what Tolkien intended. And in the midst of defining hobbitic character, the person wrote "a hobbit (or Harfoot in the Second Age)". And I responded, "It hasn't even started showing yet, and already what's being invented for the new Amazon series has started infecting writings that are supposed to be about Tolkien." What did the poster reply with but a defense of the Amazon invention as being compatible with Tolkien's creation: the name Harfoot "is canon" as the person put it, and hobbits must have existed in the Second Age. But even if it's compatible with Tolkien (which it isn't, not entirely), that's not the point. Compatible or not, it isn't Tolkien's creation, but something someone else invented on their own volition. This person evidently thinks that such additions by others are not a separate invention but have the same ontological status in the sub-creation as does Tolkien's work.

Item 3. This was in a Discord discussion some months ago, and it astonished me so much I went back and hunted for it, which isn't easy to do on Discord. A writer was defending fan-fiction, acknowledging that Tolkien might not have liked what's being written, but saying that doesn't matter: "If he wasn't brave enough to take Gimli and Legolas's obvious relationship to its natural conclusion, bless the people that pick up the pen and do so." I find two things astonishing here, one being the crippling lack of imagination that can't conceive of a deep friendship that isn't physically sexual (it's "obvious") - as C.S. Lewis said when writing about this specific point, one wonders if such a person has ever had an actual Friend - and the other being the serene confidence that the only reason Tolkien didn't write it that way is because he chickened out ("wasn't brave enough"). It's not just a matter of the personal preference of "I want to write it this way" but the co-opting and commandeering "This is the way Tolkien should have written it."

My point here isn't to argue against Amazon doing what it wants, or fan-fiction writers doing what they want. My point is that it's not Tolkien. I think these people take Tolkien's legendarium as if it were a legendary tradition like the Arthurian saga, in which there is no authorized core and any interpretation is equally - not just equally valid, but equally authoritative.

That's not the case here. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is not an anonymous legend, but a conscious work of art by a conscious creative artist. It has its own authority, its own integrity. You can write additions to the story if you want, but they're your additions, your invention. They're a modified story by you, they're not Tolkien's.

In all three of these cases, the additions and changes were claimed as part of Tolkien's story. The actor said he was dramatizing Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, not the movie or (what they were actually doing) an amalgam. The mailing list poster was gratuitously (because it didn't affect his point) attaching Amazon's invention to a post about Tolkien's conception. And the Discord poster made bold to claim what Tolkien should really have written.

Don't do that. If you want to play with a legendary tradition in which every contributor has equal authority, you have that right. But label it as such. Don't call it Tolkien.

Why this feels emotionally important to me is a separate point which would go on too long, so I'll leave it be for now.

Monday, July 25, 2022


I received two vaccination shots at the doctor's today. (Not covid - I'm up to date on that - but other things.) Consequently I'm now sore in both arms, so this is all the typing you'll see from me today.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

lord of the rings, not

Somebody is performing a condensed dramatization of The Lord of the Rings around various local parks this summer, so I decided to go.

For a venue I picked Pleasanton this Saturday. Bad choice. The park was right next to a busy street, and about a block away a crew was noisily trimming eucalyptus all morning, not that it was easy to hear half the actors anyway. I had no folding chair and I am not equipped to sit on the ground, so I learned against a tree, which only slightly mitigated the limits on my patience.

The cast of eight were the kind of perspiring thespians I remember from high school, frantically mugging in a desperate attempt at sincerity. The show was supposed to be a satire, but it was only occasionally amusing. When Gandalf described how Sauron let much of his power flow into the Ring, Frodo asked, "You mean like a horcrux?" which was a good point. The funniest part was the Nazgûl, amazingly enough. Wearing opaque black veils down to their waists over street clothes, with black hats to keep the veils on, they looked sinister, but they kept walking into things, and they'd sing silly songs like "Mr. Sauron" to the tune of "Mr. Sandman."

The script made some nods to the book, even giving Bombadil a brief appearance for the Old Man Willow scene. (His song was to the tune of "Margaritaville.") But it was mostly the movies. Elrond was grumpy movie-Elrond, Pippin had a hideous fake Scottish accent next to which Billy Boyd would sound RP, the hobbits' songs were to the movie themes, and when they reproduced the movie's "wizard-fu" scene, I gave up and left. Walking back past the park towards my car after picking up some Vallejo tamales at the farmers' market down the street, I could hear the actors yelling about how many orcs they had to fight, so I knew I'd done the right thing in leaving.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Music@Menlo, week 1

So I've been busy at the first week of the Menlo chamber music festival: mostly at two concerts I was assigned to review. I hadn't been terrifically thrilled at the idea of a concert with two cantatas and two concertos, but it turned out to be excellent stuff, especially the Cello Concerto by C.P.E. Bach, one of my favorite 18C composers. I managed to get in print one of my odder theories - at any rate I've never seen anyone else propose this, though it seems obvious to me - that when what was called the "Sturm und Drang" style of nervous drama spread around Germanic music in the early 1770s, the composers were just imitating what C.P.E. Bach had been doing for the previous 20 years.

On the other hand, I was looking forward to the concert of music for winds, but it turned out rather disappointing, mostly because the pieces by Haydn and Beethoven were bottom-drawer stuff, not very good. They were, however, performed excellently, so there's that.

Besides the Prelude concerts featuring two performances of the rare Beethoven quartet for piano and strings, described in the reviews, I got to two more Prelude concerts featuring two performances of the Mendelssohn Op. 13 quartet by a group called the Abeo Quartet. Op. 13 is one of my favorite quartets, a big and hefty work, and it really felt like having been on a long journey with these performers by the time it was done. Thrilling to get it twice.

Two small boys were sitting in front of me for that and a Brahms Viola Sonata, neither of them very beginner-friendly works. But they didn't squirm too badly.

Also a couple of master-classes for the student and young professional performers, concentrating on putting the work across to an audience. One of the instructors said he didn't like shoulder rests for violins because of the angle it makes you sit at, or something. As if in sympathy, the second violinist's shoulder rest fell off onto the floor with a clang as she lowered the instrument after the slow movement of the Mendelssohn.

But the highlight of the week was a two-hour (plus intermission) lecture on the Haydn quartets by violinist Aaron Boyd, whose combination of erudition, wit, and fluency would make for a winning show even if I hadn't already been in the market for a good overview of this repertoire. Haydn wrote 68 quartets and Boyd couldn't cover them all, but about half got a treatment and all the sets they were published in got generally described. Except for the introduction and coda, Boyd sat with three colleagues from the festival's main artists - violinist James Thompson, violist Paul Neubauer, and cellist David Finckel - and about half of the time was spent playing excerpts from the quartets, plus examples showing Haydn's influence not just on Mozart and Beethoven, but Bartok and Schoenberg. The emphasis was on the audacious originality and imagination that went into Haydn's quartets, ideas that sometimes became so standard they're hard to recognize for what they are. For instance, Haydn apparently invented what Boyd called "beginning before the beginning," that is setting a repeating accompaniment running for a bar or two before bringing in the theme. You hear that at the start of Mozart's K.550 G-minor symphony and Beethoven's Ninth, he pointed out; he did not point out that it's the same thing as "vamping till ready" and so standard in pop music that you'd hardly think anyone had to invent it. I wish I'd taken notes of which of the quartets played I was already familiar with, but it was a thoroughly enlightening and enjoyable evening.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

out of the land of the dex

In addition to attending several Menlo festival events and writing two reviews for publication (I'll summarize that when the week's over), I've been busy with the same task that's been massively occupying me for most of the last four weeks, which is indexing an upcoming book for the Mythopoeic Press. It's a collection of essays which I'd describe as focusing on the aesthetic expression of Tolkien's moral principles in The Lord of the Rings. I'd already critiqued an earlier version, and as I'd indexed a book by the editor long ago, someone prevailed upon the authors to hire me for their index.

I see an indexing job as taking 5 steps.

1. Get familiar with the text. I'd already read this book twice, but I read through each essay again to grasp it as an individual whole before proceeding to:

2. Marking up the proofs. I need a printout of the final paginated copy for this, and I mark it with a felt-tip pen (not yellow: yellow is too light, but not a dark one either: pink is good) with occasional pencil annotations.

3. Transcribing the markups into an Excel spreadsheet. Four columns: heading, subheading if any, beginning page, ending page if different. Alphabetize it, and:

4. Rework the spreadsheet into index form.

5. Cleanup. Mostly done in conjunction with step 4. Look for inconsistencies and problems; word search of the PDFs of the proofs (need that too) for every entry to confirm I didn't miss anything important.

The major work of indexing comes in steps 2-3. An index is not a concordance: I only index names if there's enough material on them to make it worthwhile for the reader to look up the entry from the index, right? Index concepts, too, especially important ones described in consistent language. And always divide lengthy entries into subheadings. A long string of page references is useless to a reader. This time I placed a maximum of 5 references before requiring subheadings.

There's much consideration of phrasing and separation of entries in step 3, but throughout steps 4-5 also, I'm always reconsidering and editing and clarifying. Many indexes are terrible, but I'm determined to create a good one.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

UK political neepery

So it's Sunak and Truss. About what I expected.

If it were up to the MPs, or the general voters, the choice would surely be Sunak, who seems slightly less batty. But it's up to the party activists, who probably prefer Truss for the same reason. It's not looking well for the Tories. Remember when they picked IDS? And that was when they were out of office.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

kitten on the keys

My review of last night's Menlo concert included the words "one of the". After Tybalt finished rolling around on my desk for a while, it read "on+++---+-e of th++*-+-*e".

Saturday, July 16, 2022

eight-step procedure

1. Cat jumps up on desk.

2. Pick up cat, place back on floor.

3. Cat jumps up on desk.

4. Pick up cat, place back on floor.

5. Cat jumps up on desk.

6. Pick up cat, place back on floor.

7. Cat jumps up on desk.

8. Pick up cat, get up from chair, carry cat out of room, place in hallway. Close and latch door.

Friday, July 15, 2022

intractable problem, tiny solution

My now only newish mobile phone said, in its instructions, that to add your own ringtone, put the file in this particular folder on the phone, from which a settings command will allow you to transfer and designate it.

This requires plugging the phone by its USB port into a computer, and that's where the problem came in. When I did so, the phone wouldn't appear on the computer's device list. I'd had occasional problems on my computer in the past, so I tried it on two other Windows computers. Same result.

Finally decided to do something about this. I tried my all-purpose commercial computer gurus. They said there's probably an enabling or setup command somewhere on the phone, but they didn't know my model and didn't have time right then to search for it.

Tried the phone's help number. Out of our area of expertise, they said, and nothing in their manuals helped. Try one of our retail stores.

Retail store guy didn't know anything either. Even after I explained how I'd verified the problem he suspected that it was a problem of the computer, not the phone. I took leave to doubt this. Learned eventually this wasn't a real vendor retail store but a licensed one, so they're not even employees of the vendor. This was news to me; it was a dedicated outlet when I was last there, before the pandemic. Directed me to the nearest real store.

At the real store, they were busy but the person who took down my name for the customer waitlist, upon asking what I was there for and learning the answer decided to skip the waiting process and help me right away herself. After a little fumbling, located a command buried deep in settings called "USB storage." This was disabled; she enabled it. "That will probably work," she said, though lacking a computer on which it could be checked.

Took it home and it was. Now I have a ringtone I can remember is mine.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

found and bought

I've purchased two small mechanical devices that require the insertion of a battery (not included) to work.

One is a travel alarm, to replace my old faithful which disappeared some time ago, probably left behind in a hotel room. One wants to ensure it works properly. Insert battery, set time, set alarm to go off two minutes in the future, and wait. OK, it works.

The other is a stud-finder. It would be helpful, once I reinstall my hanging shelves, for them not to be knocked down again next time a cat jumps on them. I once had a mechanical (no battery) version of a stud-finder, but I could never figure out how it worked. This one has clear instructions and there's even a demo video on the manufacturer's web site. But that doesn't help. If I am to believe its readings, the studs keep moving around inside my walls. Sometimes they're 20 inches wide. Then they disappear entirely.

Then I've found a box of my mother's old theater programs, mostly 1940s-60s. Most of these can just be dumped: obscure local companies and college productions, touring ensembles. I'm keeping the program from an early touring production of Fiddler on the Roof because it has an article by Sheldon Harnick about how he wrote the lyrics.

And into the box for sale to the used bookstore are a few curious items that, probably, nobody younger than myself will recall from when they were current. Prestige motion pictures, the kind that also had ushers and intermissions, used to come also with program books, as you'd get in the stage theater. But they were large format, at least 11 inches high, and at least partially in color. Souvenir books, really. The expected contents: articles about the movie and its topic, bios of the principal actors and production personnel, stills from the movie and production shots. There were four of these, two of Lawrence Olivier Shakespeare films from the 40s, Henry V and Hamlet, and two from big David Lean films from the 60s, Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia.

Those final two were about the last of their kind. I didn't see the movies in the theater, I would probably have been too young not to squirm, but I do remember my parents bringing home the program books and my looking through them. So yeah, I remember these. I wonder if I'll have to explain what they are to the bookstore buyers. I'm sure they've heard of the movies, but the idea of a program book for a movie is so alien now that they may wonder: what are these booklets, what are they for?