Thursday, February 29, 2024

buon giorno Gioachino

After all, it's not every year we can celebrate Rossini's birthday.

Here's three of his lesser-known great overtures.

It's also Tim Powers' birthday. He's 18 in pirate years.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

browser wars

I usually keep two web browsers open on my desktop: Firefox, which is my regular browser, and Opera, which I use for a few things Firefox doesn't work on. For instance, if a vendor sends me a ticket as an e-mail attachment, Firefox will not display the QR code. I get an empty box. Neither will Opera display it, actually, but if I print it in Opera it comes out OK, which it doesn't in Firefox.

Some websites which didn't display well in Firefox now work better than they used to. One of them is Disney+, and this is fortunate because yesterday, Opera decided it no longer wanted to play videos, from any source. (The sound is still OK.) This happened directly in between one Disney video and another. Online advice for dealing with this problem included closing and reopening the browser, and clearing the cache. I don't know why I keep following advice to solve problems by clearing the cache, because it never works, nor did it this time.

Occasional websites, like Delta Airlines or Kaiser's video appointment service, won't function in either Firefox or Opera, so I have to drag out Google Chrome, which I otherwise avoid.

A non-web item that stopped working recently was our old reliable DVD player, useful for when we've already bought the DVD and don't want to pay additional money for streaming. As with Opera, the problem appeared directly between two files from the same source, in this case on the same DVD, and it took the same form: sound, but no picture. At first I thought the problem was with the monitor, then the disc, but testing proved that not so, and when the player made grinding sounds instead of loading another disc, I knew the end was upon us.

Suspecting that DVD players aren't major items in stores any more, I looked up the model number of ours on Amazon and found it's still in production and not too expensive. So I ordered another one, figuring I could swap it out without having to deal with any rigamarole regarding settings. I placed the new DVD on top of the old one, moved all the cords to the equivalent plugs, and pulled the old one out. Lo, it worked.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

concert review: Telegraph Quartet

Saturday evening I went to the Bing Studio, the little room in the basement of Stanford's concert hall, for a concert by the Telegraph Quartet. I was there to review them. They were playing modern music by three early-to-mid 20th century B's: Berg, Britten, and Bacewicz. All right, it wasn't all that difficult music - even the Berg, which is (mostly, effectively all) serialist, was not that hard to listen to, the Bacewicz is charming when played well, and the Britten is weird and fascinating - and they played it very well, as I acknowledged in my review. It was an enlightening and enriching experience, truly.

Yet the reason it was tucked away in the basement is that the main auditorium had been reserved by the Music Department for the quarterly concert by the student orchestra. The music from it was piped out to monitors in the lobby. At our concert's intermission, they were playing Ravel's Ma Mère L'oye, and when the string quartet concert was over, the orchestra was playing Beethoven's Emperor Concerto. And y'know, I would rather have been there.

Monday, February 26, 2024

on the cusp of bureaucracy

Hurrah, my new driving license arrived, just two weeks after my last visit to the DMV.

The process wasn't so much difficult - though it was that - as consequential, insofar as if anything went wrong I'd be without a license.

You can start as early as 3 months before the renewal date, and I did that. Went online and got an appointment at what I hoped was the most obscurely located (hence perhaps uncrowded) local DMV office - the one that opened at 7 AM that I used before has since closed. I arrive at noon, in time for the appointment, to find no open parking spaces and a long line for non-appointment customers. Go through the normal rigarmarole, to find a new wrinkle. Although in previous renewals my unusual optical situation (one of my eyes can't be corrected for distance vision) was merely checked off, this time they insist I get an eye doctor to verify it. They give me a form for the doctor to fill out, and a temporary license which, as it's only good for two months, expires before the real one does.

Then I have to get an appointment at the eye clinic. My local one has no appointments available for as long as they take appointments for. But it's easy to get one at another branch some distance away. I go there. Usual eye test, new prescription, doctor fills out form, notices that the DMV, when writing down the results of the eye test I took there, mixed the two eyes up.

I can't get an appointment online to turn the form in, because there's no option for this on the web site, which is very baroque and forces you to fill out the application form every time you log in, even if you specified you've already done that. So I decide to return to the same DMV office sans appointment, only this time when they open at 8.

This is much more successful. There's plenty of parking spaces and nobody in line. I get my business done without an appointment faster than I had with an appointment at a busier time. Clerk corrects error on the form, agrees that everything looks OK, confirms I did everything else on my previous visit, isn't put off by all the phantom applications I filled out on the web site, sends me off in the hope that the license will actually arrive soon.

It's two weeks later when I find that this was correct, and that brings us to today and, I hope, the end of this story.

Friday, February 23, 2024

theory in practice

So I've been watching, on YouTube, early episodes of the BBC quiz show Only Connect, which I'd long avoided because I hate the title. In practice it's strangely hypnotic. Its aim is to test both knowledge (over a broad field from academic and technical to British pop culture) and imagination. No one person is expected to display this; it's played in teams of three. I get the answers a lot less often that the teams do, but often enough that I could imagine myself being on a team, and every once in a while I get the answer faster than the teams do.

My favorite of its quizzes is the one where you're given up to three clues and have to guess what the fourth in the series is. Extra points if you guess the fourth after only two or (very rarely) one. (One case where they got it after one was where the one was the text of a 401 web error code and a contestant guessed very reasonably that the fourth would be the classic 404.) Some of the ones that I had no trouble guessing right faster than the teams did, and after only two clues, were
  1. Alexander the Great
  2. Aristotle
  1. Victoria
  2. Edmonton
  1. Ares
  2. Gaia
But my absolute favorite was the one which read
  1. Fear
  2. Surprise
The team given this was absolutely stumped. They were imagining something akin to the Five Stages of Grief (which has also been used in this quiz segment). Meanwhile the other team was chomping at the bit to answer it, and so was I. We knew that the fourth in that sequence is "devotion to the Pope," because "fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope" are the chief weapons - pardon, amongst our weaponry - of the Spanish Inquisition in the Monty Python sketch.

And this comes to mind because I was reading Ada Palmer's wise essay about censorship. And yes, she mentions the Spanish Inquisition. Amongst the article's weaponry is the point that censorship doesn't have to be formally conducted by governments. They can lure people into censoring themselves, and their chief weapons for doing this are described as
  1. fear
  2. deliberate unpredictability (i.e. surprise)
So you can see that, silly as Monty Python is, it's based on reality.

Answers to the unanswered quiz items above. Remember we want the fourth in the sequence.
1. Socrates (each was taught by the next).
2. Winnipeg (Canadian provincial capitals from west to east).
3. Hermes (planet names, inbound, in Greek).

Thursday, February 22, 2024

more world according to cats

It's not going to eat you, Maia: it's only a laundry basket.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

world according to cats

The cats were sleeping in the lazy hours of the afternoon as I hoisted the remaining half-bag of cat food from storage to the upstairs bathroom where we feed them. I managed to keep it silent enough that the food did not rattle.

Closing the bathroom door, I no longer worried about sound as I opened the canister we keep up there, poured the food in, and sealed it up again.

So I was not at all surprised, on opening the door, to find two faces at the threshold patiently looking in. As I left, the cats were scouring the bathroom trying to figure out where the food went. They knew they'd heard it, so it had to be there somewhere.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

presidential greatness

A news item has been running around that historians have once again been asked to rank all US presidents in order of greatness, with the obvious one coming last and the relatives of James Buchanan thanking the scholars for getting him out of the bottom hole at last. However, it's hard to get at the actual list, and I had to fight my way past a series of "Danger Will Robinson" warning labels from my internet security provider to do it.

So as a public service, here's the list, enhanced by me with full names and terms of office. The authors forgot that there were two presidents named Harrison so they didn't distinguish them, so I just guessed which was which. Also, although Biden is called #46 there are only 45 names because there was a 19th-century president, Grover Cleveland, who served two separated terms and gets two numbers - a numbering practice not followed in any other case I know of office-holders more likely to experience repetitions.
  1. Abraham Lincoln (1861-65)
  2. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-45)
  3. George Washington (1789-97)
  4. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09)
  5. Thomas Jefferson (1801-09)
  6. Harry S. Truman (1945-53)
  7. Barack Obama (2009-17)
  8. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-61)
  9. Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-69)
  10. John F. Kennedy (1961-63)
  11. James Madison (1809-17)
  12. Bill Clinton (1993-2001)
  13. John Adams (1797-1801)
  14. Joe Biden (2021- )
  15. Woodrow Wilson (1913-21)
  16. Ronald Reagan (1981-89)
  17. Ulysses S. Grant (1869-77)
  18. James Monroe (1817-25)
  19. George H.W. Bush (1989-93)
  20. John Quincy Adams (1825-29)
  21. Andrew Jackson (1829-37)
  22. Jimmy Carter (1977-81)
  23. William H. Taft (1909-13)
  24. William McKinley (1897-1901)
  25. James K. Polk (1845-49)
  26. Grover Cleveland (1885-89, 1893-97)
  27. Gerald R. Ford (1974-77)
  28. Martin Van Buren (1837-41)
  29. Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-81)
  30. James A. Garfield (1881)
  31. Benjamin Harrison (1889-93)
  32. Calvin Coolidge (1923-29)
  33. Chester A. Arthur (1881-85)
  34. George W. Bush (2001-09)
  35. Richard Nixon (1969-74)
  36. Herbert Hoover (1929-33)
  37. John Tyler (1841-45)
  38. Zachary Taylor (1849-50)
  39. Millard Fillmore (1850-53)
  40. Warren G. Harding (1921-23)
  41. William H. Harrison (1841)
  42. Franklin Pierce (1853-57)
  43. Andrew Johnson (1865-69)
  44. James Buchanan (1857-61)
  45. Donald J. Trump (2017-21)
I would find it difficult to vote in a survey like this. How do you account for actual malignancy in presidents? I count five clear-cut cases, not all of which are ranked at the very bottom; plus about three more with malignant traits passing beyond foolish or erroneous policy, and no, I'm not counting "being a slave-owner in a slave-owning society" as evidence of malignancy. (Though it is notable that only 3 of our first 18 presidents were entirely free of either the taint of this practice or of fellow-traveling in its favor.)

Monday, February 19, 2024

Hugo, I'll stay home

"We know of no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality." - T.B. Macaulay

I'm beginning to be reminded of that by some of the reactions to the scandal regarding last year's Hugos. No question that it was very badly run and all sorts of rules both written and implied were violated. The question at hand is, Now what do we do about it?

Here's a proposal that makes me wonder. The author sweepingly denounces
the cartel of self-proclaimed "SMOFs" (secret masters of fandom) who treat the Hugos - and Worldcon more broadly - as their birthright, playground and personal fiefdom. The Hugo Awards are supposed to be democratic in nature and process; the behavior of the self-proclaimed "SMOFs" is fundamentally anti-democratic - and this is by no means confined to Chengdu Worldcon.
Note that last clause in particular. That being the author's belief, why is one of the proposals that
Individual Cons should no longer administer the Hugo Awards - this should be done by an independent, rotating committee.
Wouldn't that continuing committee be a "cartel" even more than having each convention run the Hugos separately? Sure, if it's rotating it wouldn't be the same people every year, but that's what we have now. There is an informal mass of people known as the permanent floating Worldcon committee, who keep turning up doing the job - and a good thing that often is: they have experience, they're not starting from scratch every year - but each Worldcon is a separate entity and has its own administration. That means that, a few specific overlapping individuals aside (and the relevant one has resigned), the upcoming Worldcons in Glasgow and Seattle are in no way complicit in or tainted by anything that was done by Chengdu. If we had a permanent Hugos committee, we'd lose that.

In any case, practice has been to hermetically seal off the Hugo subcommittee from the main Worldcon committee, for the purpose of protecting the main committee - which can be an awfully large number of people, with uncertainty as to which workers formally qualify as part of it and which don't - from the constitutional provision that those responsible for the Hugos are ineligible as candidates. The main committee can't make the Hugo administrators do anything. Whether Dave McCarty, the Chengdu administrator, accepted direction from above is unknown - we only have his e-mails to his subordinates - but, if so, that was his decision. And a permanent committee wouldn't have been immune to unwonted sensitivity to Chinese censorship.

The current situation is that each Worldcon appoints its own Hugo administrators. And these are either seasoned trusted experienced people who've done it before - which class included Dave McCarty until last month - or new people without any historical baggage, or, mostly these days, some of each. A continuing committee would have the same sort of people, because who else is there to do the job? And without being individually selected by the Worldcon committee, who would select them? Would the committee choose its own new members? Would the Worldcon Business Meeting? If we don't trust the Worldcons themselves to do it - they're selected by the members, who are the ultimate authority.

Perhaps it's clear, then, why I'm also dismayed by another proposal, which reads
No one involved in the administration of the 2023 Hugo Awards, or who assisted in the collection of political evidence, can ever be allowed to have any role in administering the awards ever again.
What exactly is the point of this stricture? It must be just to punish the specific individuals involved and to chill all future administrators with the threat of this very meek form of cancellation, because it can't be to keep maladministrators out of office. It's fallacious to think that only the people who did this, could have done it. Nobody would have suspected Dave McCarty of it until he did it. If someone else were in his place, maybe they would have done the same thing. Human fallibility isn't limited to identified miscreants, but it's convenient to identify a scapegoat and then think you've solved the problem.

I don't think any Worldcon is likely to appoint McCarty again, even without directives. Some of the lower flunkies were perhaps naive or ill-informed and not as responsible. My belief is that we should learn our lesson from this, as we did from the Puppies affair, and move on. A constitutional provision specifically prohibiting the erroneous acts of Chengdu couldn't hurt, but being aware that this flaw in administration could happen is the best way to prevent it from happening again.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

not entirely there

This weekend was the Mythopoeic Society's Online Winter Seminar, whose topic was queerness in all its manifestations, and the papers that I heard mostly stuck pretty closely to it. One of the more interesting, if provocative, speakers defined queerness by saying that the meaning was inherently unstable, but that basically it means "transgression from the normative." This is what it meant, for instance, when a crusty hobbit told Gaffer Gamgee that "Bag End's a queer place, and its folk are queerer." And that's the root of the word's application to specifically sexual transgression, which as a common usage is generally dated from the trial of Oscar Wilde, though it was less prominently used in that sense earlier.

So, since if there's one thing fantasy literature is full of, it's transgression from the normative, there should be plenty to talk about. And there was, but I didn't get much out of it, and bailed early. This was partly due to not liking online conferences. Somehow it's one thing to sit in a cramped classroom chair in a stuffy room and listen live to someone read a paper, but less appealing to sit in my own chair in my own office and listen to someone on a computer.

But it was also due to the style of the papers. These presenters have obvious passionate personal commitment to their subjects, to which their own personal identities are tightly wrapped. But they're also trained industrial-production academics, most of them working on their Ph.D.'s, and they write in stultifying heavy-weather academese. It's a shame: what I like about Tolkien scholarship, or used to like about it, is that so much of it was not written in the academic style, even if it was by tenured academics. Scholars like Verlyn Flieger and Tom Shippey and Brian Attebery and Diana Glyer write like real humans imparting their brilliant insights into the literature that you and they have both read, in ordinary comprehensible language.

The conference was also dotted with the kind of severe correctives of personal failings, especially of those of the past who were not so enlightened as we, that so alarm right-wing critics of this sort of academe. Indeed, some of these right-wingers are former leftists who have decamped in disgust. I, at least, would never do this. Over the top (as Joe Biden would put it) as some of these correctives may be, the right wing's own directives are vast orders of magnitude worse, and far more thorough and sweeping, and more hurtful to those they hit. I know the difference between what's occasionally overloaded and what's thoroughly rancid.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

concert review: Oakland Symphony

The Oakland Symphony still hasn't gotten past the death of its long-time music director Michael Morgan two and a half years ago. It hasn't hired a new music director; this concert was guest conducted by Kedrick Armstrong, the young leader of an orchestra in Galesburg IL; like Morgan he is Black, and he once worked as Morgan's assistant on a guest-conducting gig, so he knew the man.

And the featured work on this program was the premiere of a work that Morgan commissioned. (Musical compositions can be a long time gestating.) It's a half-hour cantata, basically, on the life of Paul Robeson. One thing that emerged from the pre-concert talk was how few people today, even Blacks, have ever heard of Paul Robeson; even Armstrong hadn't when he was asked to lead this concert, which is why I linked to Robeson's Wikipedia page. But people my age, or Morgan's, though we postdate Robeson's career, have at least picked up resonances and heard his recordings.

The music, basically neo-post-Romantic, was by Carlos Simon, and the libretto, mostly from Robeson's book Here I Stand (which also provided the piece's title) and his public statements, by Dan Harder. It incorporated references to some of Robeson's vocal repertoire: a verse of "Joe Hill," a couple bits of spirituals, and a brief thematic reference - no lyrics, you wouldn't want them - to "Old Man River." The solo part, which mixed singing, speaking, and some in between, was delivered by Morris Robinson, whose range went if anything deeper than Robeson's own, but seemed less powerful or resonant, but that may be due to my sitting in the back of the auditorium beneath the overhang. The text focused on Robeson's political and social faith to help the African American and other suffering peoples (it did not shy from Robeson's use of the now-outdated word "Negro", sometimes using it in melismas); the chorus mostly chimed in, except for a scene taken from Robeson's HUAC hearings where it played the censorious congressmen.

Anyway, an effective piece, and it was paired with two other works which could be packaged as showing the composer as social activist: Joan Tower's Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 6, rushed and angry, and Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony, for which Armstrong took the slow and quiet parts of all four movements as slowly and gently as possible, the better to contrast with the fast and loud parts without overloading them. Also an effective performance.

Friday, February 16, 2024

concert review

Nearly fourteen years ago, I reviewed a Paganini concerto with a staggeringly talented fourteen-year-old boy named Stephen Waarts as soloist.

Yesterday, I heard him again at Herbst: in his late twenties, very tall, and playing Janáček's gnarly First Violin Sonata from memory (Juho Pohjonen, pianist). But the principal attraction of the evening was a pair of piano trios (Jonathan Swensen, cellist) by composers who were themselves teenagers at the time they wrote them: Dmitri Shostakovich's, which was incipiently modernist, and César Franck's, which was stealthy and hypnotic. This weirdly attractive piece (Op. 1 No. 1 in F-sharp minor) ought to be heard more often, or, indeed, at all. (Music@Menlo has just announced this year's festival, which is focused on French music but includes no Franck whatever. What were they thinking?)

Arriving in the Herbst lobby over an hour before showtime, I was genially accosted by an elderly woman in a wheelchair who wanted to talk at me incessantly. She was interesting enough, and even asked permission to follow me over when I went to sit on a bench, so I welcomed her company. She told me that she'd once been engaged to sing Tosca at La Scala, but canceled to return to the States to take care of her ailing mother. She told me this several times. She was also frantically looking through the plastic bags of stuff in her lap for her misplaced credit card. I suggested that she spread the stuff out on the bench to make it easier to look. This worked and she was grateful. Then she went off to buy a ticket and then came back. Not sure if she'd ever stop talking, at least if she had me to talk to, when the hall opened I pointed her towards the wheelchair seating and went myself off down some steps. Phew.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Hugo mess

(This will only make sense to people who've been following the controversies over last year's Hugo Awards. My apologies to anybody else: just skip it.)

So Kat Jones has resigned as Glasgow Hugo Administrator, presumably because she was complicit in the censorship decisions made at Chengdu.

The thing is, though, that she's been complicit all along, and she knew she was complicit. The rest of the world didn't know it, but she did. She knew what was going on. She knew what lay behind Dave McCarty's infamous non-answers to legitimate questions, and why he wasn't answering them. Perhaps she even knew why that long delay ensued before the release of the statistics (Diane Lacey did).

So, if this was so shameful, why didn't Kat resign earlier? If her reputation is so besmirched that she has to be "removed from the Glasgow 2024 team across all mediums" (e-mail from Glasgow announcing the resignation), why did she join Glasgow at all, assuming she did so after the Chengdu vetting period?

What bothers me is that the sequence of events says that it's not being complicit in Chengdu that's the fault here, but being publicly known to be complicit. Either that's the real reason for Kat's resignation, or else Glasgow has over-reacted to the revelations. (Not their transparency decisions: those are good. But the cleansing of any trace of Chengdu. If it was that dishonorable by those involved ... well, I've made my point already.)

actual age on election day, UK edition

I had so much fun compiling the historical chart of the ages of US presidential candidates that I decided to do the same thing for major-party leaders at UK general elections for the same period, since 1945. I'm assuming that the general election due in 2024 will be held towards the end of the legal eligibility period, which expires in December. As to the comparative age distributions, I'll let that pass without comment.

76 Churchill 1951
75 Churchill 1950
72 Attlee 1955
70 Churchill 1945, Corbyn 2019
69 Foot 1983
68 Attlee 1951, Corbyn 2017
67 Attlee 1950, Callaghan 1979
65 Macmillan 1959
64 Howard 2005
62 Attlee 1945, Starmer 2024
61 Douglas-Home 1964, Thatcher 1987
60 May 2017
59 Brown 2010
58 Heath Oct 1974, Wilson Oct 1974
57 Eden 1955, Heath Feb 1974, Wilson Feb 1974, Thatcher 1983
55 Johnson 2019
54 Wilson 1970, Major 1997
53 Gaitskell 1959, Heath 1970, Thatcher 1979
51 Blair 2005
50 Wilson 1966, Kinnock 1992
49 Heath 1966, Major 1992
48 Wilson 1964, Blair 2001, Cameron 2015
45 Kinnock 1987, Miliband 2015
44 Sunak 2024
43 Blair 1997, Cameron 2010
40 Hague 2001

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

precursor valentine's

B. and I have learned not to try to dine out on Valentine's Day; instead we go out on a shoulder day. Usually afterwards, but this year the day before worked better for our schedule. We picked a high-end Italian place that had gotten good rankings locally for romantic atmosphere. Well, the lighting was dim, and the service was (nearly) impeccable, but it was crowded and noisy and the food, though good, was not great. The best parts were the lobster bisque soup, and the chocolate mousse that I had for dessert. This came in a champagne snifter, and was accordingly a large serving, so why did the waiter look so startled and dismayed (this was the one peck in the service) when I asked to take the bulk of it home? Last time I had chocolate mousse out, it was a smaller serving but the servers didn't quail at the same request. Anyway, he did decant the mousse into a little box, and it's in my fridge now.

More sweets for our little nominal Valentine's presents. B. was delighted with what I'd found: a package of frosted animal cookies, not in the usual shapes of circus animals, but as mythical creatures: unicorns, dragons, mermaids, and sea serpents. What a cute idea, and there's nothing preventing them from being made this way, so why didn't someone think of this before?

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

concert review: Beo String Quartet

Finally out to a concert for the first time in two weeks and a lot of other water under the bridge. To Willow Glen to review my first chamber music concert in the church that several of the wiser concert promoters in San Jose have moved to after being evicted a couple years ago by the closing of the hall they'd all been using.

The concert was a rather mixed grill of a program by the Beo String Quartet, a young ensemble of players from Pittsburgh. One of them attended Carnegie Mellon, and I guess he swept the others, who'd studied elsewhere, in. One Haydn, light and witty as not everybody does Haydn; one Shostakovich, moderately high on the grimdark scale; a chunk of serious Bach fugues; and three contemporary compositions, one by a quartet member, the others by established women composers whose work I've heard before (Missy Mazzoli and Gabriela Ortiz).

Pretty satisfying evening, though I had to equip myself with a large army of cough drops to ward off the remnant of a long-departed cold.

actual age on election day

81 Biden 2024
78 Trump 2024
77 Biden 2020
74 Trump 2020
73 Reagan 1984, Dole 1996
72 McCain 2008
70 Trump 2016
69 Reagan 1980, Clinton 2016
68 Bush 1992
66 Eisenhower 1956
65 Romney 2012
64 Truman 1948, Bush 1988
63 Ford 1976
62 Eisenhower 1952
60 Kerry 2004
59 Nixon 1972
58 Bush 2004
57 Humphrey 1968
56 Stevenson 1956, Johnson 1964, Carter 1980, Mondale 1984
55 Goldwater 1964, Nixon 1968, Dukakis 1988
54 Bush 2000
52 Stevenson 1952, Carter 1976, Gore 2000
51 Obama 2012
50 McGovern 1972, Clinton 1996
47 Nixon 1960, Obama 2008
46 Dewey 1948, Clinton 1992
43 Kennedy 1960

"Voters are just going to have to choose between 'a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory'* or a contemptible, malicious, elderly rapist with a poor memory" - Stephen Colbert

*Special Counsel's report on Joe Biden

Sunday, February 11, 2024

antiquarian book fair

I was wondering what to do on Super Bowl Sunday. It's a good time to go out, because I have no interest in the game but it occupies other people, leaving it quiet and uncongested out there.

Then I read in File 770 an item linking to an NPR news story that the dealer who bought the original Leo and Diane Dillon painting that formed the cover for the first edition of Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness would be displaying it at the Antiquarian Book Fair in San Francisco.

So I thought, OK, I'll go. I've been to the Book Fair before a couple times. I like books but I'm not much of a collector, certainly not of antique nor expensive ones, and the offerings are no more than pleasant to browse through. But at least "antiquarian books" include modern classics, and more and more those classics are apt to include ones that I've read.

So it was this time. It was not very crowded and there was very little sports talk. I headed first for Mark Funke's booth where the painting was indeed on display, with a price tag of (IIRC) $20,000. The most striking difference from the reproduction was the acrylic three-dimensional relief on the little white circles that decorate the painting. I talked with Mr Funke a bit about what the book has meant to us, and then passed on to other things.

I kept my eye out for Tolkien. One dealer had a semi-first edition of The Lord of the Rings for $25,500. It was the first printing of volumes 2 and 3, plus a second printing of volume 1, whose first printing was a shorter run and hence considerably rarer. Another dealer had the same mixed copy for $51,000. But a third dealer had a genuine first all the way through for $42,500. I pulled volume one down and checked: it was indeed a first; it didn't have the typos which entered in the second printing and infected the book for decades. I asked them if they knew how lucky they were to have the true first: they were, but they hadn't known about the typos in the reprints.

There were some more things. A first American Hobbit for $35,000. A first of Farmer Giles for $1200. Some of the same dealers had some early Gnome Press editions of Isaac Asimov. Asimov seems more popular than Heinlein, Bradbury, or Clarke. One of the same dealers had a Shakespeare Fourth Folio for some large amount of money. Popular children's books included Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (no mention of how the early editions differ from the later ones) and - this slightly surprised me - Bridge to Terabithia.

The fair was in a two-story event hall located oddly enough on a cruise ship docking pier on the waterfront. There was something of a glitch getting there because BART was down for some reason so I took a bus all the way to the Embarcadero before transferring to the other bus that went past the right pier. Returning was less stressful.

Friday, February 9, 2024

Seiji Ozawa

The famous conductor, probably the first internationally renowned conductor of Asian origin, has died at 88. Obituaries rightly focus on his long tenure as music director of the Boston Symphony, but they also mention his time at San Francisco, which he passed through in 1970-76 with the same hoopla with which he arrived at Boston, for which he rather crassly abandoned us. I remember Ozawa at SFS; attending it under his direction was my introduction to symphony concerts.

I can best express an honest, unfettered reaction to Ozawa by reproducing what I wrote about him a decade ago in an entry on SFS music directors whose work I've known:

Ozawa, one of the first of the many Leonard Bernstein protégés to be launched on the conducting world, was brought in with the level of hoopla that would later accompany MTT's arrival in 1995, only in 1970 style. He was young! (35 at the time) He had a Beatles haircut! He wore a turtleneck sweater while conducting! He was announced with pop art posters! Unfortunately, unlike MTT, he didn't live up to the hype. His conducting was unexciting, his repertoire choices wayward. (I liked his penchant for obscure Haydn symphonies, but others didn't; even Herb Caen carped about it occasionally.) The orchestra had terrible flaws in technique during Ozawa's tenure, and the conductor got caught up in debilitating personnel wars when he tried to do something about it. I recently picked up a CD re-release of their recording of Dvorak's Symphony from the New World; it perfectly captures the blatty sound of the SFS of those days, and listening to it made me drip with nostalgia (which proves you don't have to like something to be nostalgic for it).

Ozawa's greatest sin, however, was that, though he'd assured everyone he was committed to San Francisco and wouldn't be just a jet-setting hired hand dropping in every now and then, after only three years on the job he accepted simultaneously the music directorship of the Boston Symphony. It was hard to believe he could devote sufficient attention to both at once, and soon afterwards he gave up SFS entirely for Boston, where critical consensus is that he stultified a great orchestra for an enormous tenure of thirty years. He's never been back, but he did leave one great legacy in San Francisco: He created a permanent symphony chorus, instead of hiring community groups whenever we needed one; the result has been continually one of SFS's most solid assets.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

human-made disaster

Of the several reasons I've never gone over completely to using a cell phone - dislike of holding one up against my brain for long periods of time, keeping track of charging and turning the thing off and on - one particularly stands out. It's the spotty reception service where I live. This is striking because I live in the heart of Silicon Valley, one mile from Apple world headquarters. But the cell phone reception here is weak.

Then there's our internet service. It's not so much weak as unreliable. It keeps going out, usually for short periods, especially but not only on summer afternoons. It used to be worse - hours on end - but it's never been entirely fixed.

We've been lucky regarding electric power. Outages are few. We had one a few months ago when some equipment went bad. But neighborhoods just like ours around here are still waiting to get their power back from the storms a few days ago that knocked out power lines.

You know what we don't lose? POTS. Plain Old Telephone Service, the landline. It doesn't sputter like the internet. When the electric power goes out, the phone always remains on. It's reliable. And the more unreliable the others are - especially in the mountainous areas, where power outages are especially likely, so are road blockages - the more necessary it is for emergency communication.

Which accounts for the widespread dismay at AT&T's proposal to discontinue it. For most of this region, AT&T is the legally-mandated default carrier, the one that has to maintain a phone line for anyone who wants it. (A few towns are designated for GTE, but mostly it's AT&T.) They find it a burden that prevents them from expending resources on other things. They want to be relieved of the responsibility, and have thus petitioned the state Public Utilities Commission.

Hearings are going on. I hope the PUC declines. Other human disasters going on - wars throughout the world, legislative breakdowns, the rising tide of bigotry which hasn't hit me personally yet though it affects many others, the continued presence of DT in our political discourse (what's he doing there? Surely universal revulsion should have driven him off the stage long ago?) - don't affect me so directly and are well-enough covered by other commentators that I don't have anything to add. (I particularly note the analysis of Supreme Court decisions before they're made or even argued before the Court.)

But this one has not been widely discussed, and hits me close and personal.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

wet days

Monday I arose from my bed of convalescence and actually headed out on errands. Most of our supply of now-needed medical monitoring devices needed new button batteries. It was supposed to be less blustery a day than Sunday, but it wasn't. Plenty of rain and wind. No fallen trees anywhere I was, but plenty of piles of miscellaneous leaves and small branches littering the streets, and a few neighborhoods with the power out.

Today the weekly release of reviews on SFCV came out, and the SFS concert I would have reviewed on Friday had I not been hospitalized was not on it. Apparently the editors weren't able to find a substitute. And that was supposed to be the week's headline event. This only makes me feel more guilty that I wasn't able to attend. Not that I didn't attend, you understand, but that I couldn't. If they'd let me out of the hospital early I could have forced myself back in by trying to attend; on top of which, as B. pointed out, fellow concertgoers would not have appreciated me coughing.

Also today, in the mail a credit card bill, including the air fare to Mythcon next summer that I bought a couple weeks ago. The credit card split it up into numerous separate charges, so I looked it up on the airline's website to ensure the totals matched. They did, but it was at that point that I discovered what the airline had not bothered to tell me, which is that their schedules have changed and our choice of their one non-stop flight to MSP now involves a change of planes.

Now I have a choice:

1. Stick with it, despite our intense aversion, due mostly to age-related immobility, to changing planes. You can get assistance, but it is still a tremendous hassle with plenty of chance for things to go wrong, or if not wrong, stressful.

2. Switch to the new nonstop flight, which is at an inconvenient time, with no guarantee there won't be another schedule change.

3. Buy a new ticket with the other available airline, with all the hassle that involves, and hoping that the guaranteed refund on the first airline is for real.

Still weighing these options.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Darling redux

Many's the year ago that I took along a videorecording (VCR; DVDs hadn't quite come out yet) of an Oscar-winning film as an AV addition to the scholarly paper I was giving. The movie was Darling (John Schlesinger, 1965), and the reason for my need of it was the appearance, in a cameo role, of Hugo Dyson, the Inkling I was giving a paper on. Dyson gave a lot of academic talks to camera, but he wasn't otherwise much of an actor, so this was an unusual appearance. In the movie, Julie Christie plays a model who forms an extramarital alliance with a radio & tv interviewer played by Dirk Bogarde, and he takes her along with him on an interview with a famous elderly writer, and that's Dyson's part.

That's fairly early on in the movie, and while I watched quickly through the rest at the time just to know what happens, I didn't pay close attention. It was only recently that, coming across the cast list, I noticed that it includes a couple actresses who went on to appear in Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner. Intrigued, because it's always fun to spot a performer you know in a different role, I decided to watch the film again more closely.

This was tricky, as it's not available streaming. However, a couple of public libraries still have DVDs of it, so I got it from one of them.

Dirk Bogarde's character is supposed to be a deep, book-reading man, but in fact he's a twit. He does programs like man-on-the-street interviews of What's Wrong with Britain. The answers turn out to be things like traffic, people wanting sumpfin for nuffin, and the rising tide of homosexuality (yes, really). But it's because Dirk is so deep and stuffy that Julie gets tired of him, which she expresses by insulting his character. She runs off to experience the glamorous life in continental high society. Here is where we meet the Prisoner actresses. Georgina Cookson (Mrs. Butterworth) plays a catty woman who exchanges elegant insults with Laurence Harvey. Then Annette Carell ("B" from "A B & C") plays a sculptor - she's always talking about the shape of people's heads - who lures Julie into a strange party game which involves taking off most of your clothes, putting on somebody else's, and then performing a sarcastic imitation of them.

Eventually Julie accepts a marriage proposal from a wealthy widowed Italian prince, but finding herself alone and lonely in his spacious mansion, she suddenly decides that Dirk was the man for her after all and rushes back to London to meet him. But guess what, he's had enough, he doesn't want her any more, and he bullies her into getting on a plane back to Rome.

I can't say I believe any of this, or am very interested in it. Everybody's cretinous - except Hugo Dyson, he's a nice old man - and none of what they say makes much sense. Even during the halcyon period when Julie and Dirk are supposedly happy together, their love talk is nonsensical blither, their usual response to any question of what they want is "I don't know," and they keep being more meta-concerned about their state of happiness than actually experiencing it.

I had to watch parts of the movie three times through to catch the people I was looking for, because I kept falling asleep. Now I have perhaps conveyed what it's like to suffer through it.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

concert review: Symphony San Jose

Having been otherwise occupied last Saturday, I attended the Sunday matinee of Symphony San Jose's program under instruction to review it. The review wasn't difficult to write and, unusually, I got it done by the next morning. If I'd waited for the deadline on Tuesday it would have been too late (see previous post).

The selling point of this concert was the concerto written as a collaboration between a composer and an A.I. program, which had been trained on the composer's own works. I considered this something of a gimmick and not a very successful one, insofar as the A.I.'s music sounded like a copy of the composer's and didn't go much of anywhere he didn't, despite his and the programmer's avowals in the pre-concert talk that it was dashingly creative and quickly passed beyond normal human ken or whatever.

But I tried not to be too declarative about this and mostly contented myself with a series of sarcastic remarks, not just about the A.I. concerto but for Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra, which, we were told, earned its way on the program due to its association with 2001, a movie with a malevolent A.I. in it.

That seemed to me rather dim grounds for making the audience sit through half an hour of Straussian sludge, just for the opening fanfare, spectacular as it is. But they did at least do a good job with the piece as a whole.

Saturday, February 3, 2024

out of contact

This is my first post since last Sunday because I've been in the hospital for most of the intervening. Some of my vital functions went off the rails and needed repair. After the initial few hours of physical distress were over, it was mostly a matter of sitting around for several days as the functions were gently lifted back on their tracks, or, to vary the metaphor, waiting for the glue to set.

I could have occupied the time posting via wifi, but unfortunately I'm between tablets. My old one is losing function and I hit reset on it recently in vain hopes of restoring this, but it does mean I lost my logins. And the newer one that B. just got me (an ipad mini, refurbished, because they don't make that size any more - one nurse thought it was a weirdly large smartphone) isn't set up yet and requires a lot of data I only have at home.

In the meantime I could browse the web, the free sites anyway, and read such hard copy material as B. had to bring me.

I'm a person who likes frequently to get up from where I'm sitting, or lying, and wander around for a bit, but even ambulatory patients are not permitted to do that on their own in a hospital. For one thing you're connected to far too many tubes. The hospital bed was comfortable, but lying face up in it for hours on end is extremely irksome to me unless I'm actively falling asleep. I felt more at ease in the reclining chair next to it, and with blankets over my feet and behind my shoulders spent most of my time there, even entire nights with a little sleep.

The restriction not to move is enforced by alarms if the bed or chair senses a significant shift or loss of weight. It did not escape my attention that setting the alarm off got staff members to appear a lot faster than pressing the call button did, and I did take advantage of this when I thought it necessary. Not too often. For though the pace of service is a lot more relaxed in the hospital dorms than it is in the emergency treatment bays, where I spent a while because no hospital room was yet open, all the personnel were helpful and absolutely dedicated to their jobs. A hospital patient has to ask nurses and aides for a lot of trivial tasks that ordinarily one could do for oneself, but I never felt as if I were unnecessarily imposing.

No physical therapy program impinged on me, but the aides did take me for a couple of walks along the corridors with a walker. This was helpful what with not otherwise walking anywhere. When I got out I hobbled pretty badly for several hours, but I think I'm getting the hang of it back.

The highlight of your hospital day is meals. For my first breakfast, which I didn't have the chance to order, they brought a cheese omelet with spinach and mushroom. Not bad, and I had it again another day. Lunch was a little dull, with a choice of sandwiches of chicken, turkey, tuna, or egg salad. I suppose there were others if one really objected, and I'm sure there's a vegan option and so on. But I just sighed and ordered the turkey sandwich every day, being sure to load it down with the entire contents of a tiny packet of mustard that came with. Dinner had more variety in the offerings, but I was so happy with the fish I got the first night - cod, seasoned, with seasoned rice and steamed broccoli, my favorite, that I just re-ordered that, and I'd have it again right now if I could. The ordering clerk couldn't tell you what veggie or starch each option came with, and I felt I'd struck it so lucky with the broccoli that I'd better stick with it.

B. came by every day, and my brother phoned regularly. Despite lacking access to my files, I went through with a previously scheduled editorial phone meeting for Tolkien Studies, and we accomplished what we needed. My co-editors worried that it was imposing too much on me, but in fact it was a pleasant break in my day. I also, as soon as I could, contacted my SFCV editor and canceled out on reviewing the same concert yesterday that Herbert Blomstedt had already canceled out on conducting, knowing that even if I was out on Friday I'd be in no shape to go up to the City, especially as it turned out to be a very inclement day.

However ... oh, well, tomorrow's post.