Sunday, December 31, 2017

the annual year-end post

Here's the places (with the sometimes better-known postal addresses in parentheses) that I stayed in away from home this year:

Hillingdon, England (Hounslow) (twice)
Aberdare, Wales
Rohnert Park, CA
Luray, VA
Leesburg, VA
Ashland, OR
Burnaby, BC
Prairie City, IN (Brazil)
Champaign, IL
Hayward, CA
Tesson Ferry, MO (St. Louis)
West Covina, CA

Travels took me to 2 funerals (including my father's), 3 actual conferences (ranging in size from 18 to a couple hundred people), 2 trips expressly for concerts or plays, 1 vacation with no other purpose, and 1 solar eclipse. The only high-level jurisdiction I visited that isn't on the sleeping list was an arbitrary popping into the isolated Point Roberts, WA, during the vacation in BC.

During the year I had 28 concert reviews published, co-edited an issue of Tolkien Studies, and had some bibliographic and review material therein, and had one additional scholarly article published with a second supposed to be out this year but I haven't gotten a publication confirmation on that yet.

critical lump

John Simon on Music: Criticism, 1979-2005 (Applause, 2005)

I collect books of classical music criticism, but I'd missed this one, and now I see why.

To begin with, it'd be more accurately called "John Simon on Opera," as that's 90% of the subject matter. He also manages to avoid discussing any of the few operas I know anything about, so I skipped over most of this. If you like Janáček operas, you'll be better served.

There's also more than a bit about art song. Elsewhere Simon admits to a dislike for choral music, which would strike me as a severe handicap for an opera critic.

Near the beginning (the contents are in chronological order) are some book reviews which consist of nothing but snide and catty attacks on the reputations of the subjects of the memoirs or biographies reviewed (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Daniel Barenboim, Leonard Bernstein).

Later on are some more appreciative but rather dull articles, not focusing on opera, in praise of some slightly overlooked composers: Manuel de Falla, Jacques Ibert, Nino Rota (!). There's also one on what he calls "two pioneer women composers" despite the fact that he'd begun by mentioning several who long predate them: Amy Beach and Rebecca Clarke. Beach was the only woman in a group of turn-of-the-20C composers known as the Second New England School, and not even the most outstanding among this group of uneminent worthies. Clarke, English but with many American connections, is a much better composer but rather stringently modernist for my taste. My candidate for the first great American woman composer is Florence Price, but nobody writes about her.

There's also an article on the Shostakovich wars, in which Simon gets the right answer - Volkov's Testimony is a fake - but with advocates like this, justice doesn't need enemies. Simon actually thinks that Shostakovich's secret rebel status can be disproved by quoting from his groveling letters of thanks to Stalin and citing his service on official commissions. But the Volkov story is built around the disguises you needed to survive: evidently Simon missed the word "secret" in there. Volkov is a fake, but his thesis is more grossly overstated than entirely wrong.

This is going back to the library without regrets.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

tofu replacement

I've mentioned before that San Jose Tofu, the little old fresh tofu maker in Japantown, is closing down at the end of the year - in fact, today is their last, as they're normally closed on Sunday. I'd been buying my tofu from them regularly for a couple decades. I thought about going down there yesterday for one last brick, but even at opening time there was a long line all the way down the block, and I knew they would run out before I'd get in.

So the one we had last week was our last, I guess. Sometimes it's best not to know beforehand that you're doing something for the last time.

Is that the end of tofu? Because I won't eat the factory stuff that comes in sealed packages and has a shelf life. (Fresh tofu has to be eaten within a couple of days.) The packaged stuff is full of preservatives and feels and tastes just nasty.

Not quite. The news articles on the closing carried an unspoken implication that, while they were the biggest fresh-tofu maker and the best, maybe they weren't the only one around here.

So earlier this month I went looking. And I found it. SJ Tofu was Japanese, but I found two small Vietnamese stores in east San Jose that make their own tofu fresh daily, and besides selling it themselves, wrap it up in plastic, put a store sticker on it, and put it in tubs in the back of a large Asian supermarket in those parts.

So after leaving Japantown yesterday, I drove down there. It was around 9:30 AM. The tubs were in a refrigerated case but the tofu was still warm. I bought a brick, took it home, and made my basic tofu stirfry dish with it for dinner.

And it was good. Firmer and less creamy than SJ, but B. likes it firm. Not quite as good, but certainly adequate enough to keep buying.

And so the peril is no more. The quest for the tofu can continue.

Friday, December 29, 2017


I don't listen to podcasts - and someday I may tell you why - but I did enjoy reading the list of imponderable questions asked on Slate's recent one. To which I have my own comments:

Would you rather put clean clothes on your dirty body or dirty clothes on your clean body?
I've done both. The former feels marginally less disgusting.

Your cellphone somehow connects to cell towers in 2025. You don't know how long you have to stay connected. What do you do?
This one I genuinely had trouble figuring out. Why wouldn't it connect to cell towers in 2025? Will they no longer exist by then?
But this is 2017.
I know this is 2017. But in 2025, it will be 2025.
It means that your phone today connects to towers in the future.
Oh. Then why didn't it say so? How would you know that it had?

Would you rather work for a great boss who's a terrible person OR work for a person who's terrible at his job but a great person?
Define how a terrible person could be a great boss.

Would you rather stop aging at 30 and live for 30 more years OR stop aging at 70 and live for 70 more years?
For this to be a conundrum requires a couple assumptions I'm not sure are warranted. First, that life at 70 is significantly worse than life at 30. There are some things about being 30 I'm glad to be rid of. Second, that you'd want to live for 70 more years. If I were 70 in 1947 - so I'd have been born in 1877, about the time the telephone was introduced, and long before the airplane, radio, or automobiles utterly transformed society, not to mention the atomic bomb - I don't think I'd want to live until today, even without further aging. Too much further transformation of society that I wouldn't be able to digest, not to mention global warming and Donald Trump.

What would you do if you found out William Shakespeare behaved like Harvey Weinstein?
Nothing. What do we do because Richard Wagner behaved like Richard Wagner? In Israel they (unofficially) ban his music, but that strikes most people as a little excessive.

Is it insulting to get someone the gift of a cleaning service?
Probably. When I was a boy, my grandmother decided that the gift I needed was an etiquette book.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

theatre review: Watch on the Rhine by Lillian Hellman

This Berkeley Rep production got good reviews, but though I knew a little about the author, I knew nothing about the play but the premise, and avoided reading further before I saw it. It was a highly up-to-date current-events play when written in the middle of sizzling world events in 1940, and that fact attracted me, so up I went to see it. It runs through Jan. 14, and I'd recommend it to anyone similarly interested.

It's the early stages of WW2, before the US enters the war. (Though it could just as easily been slightly pre-war.) Two men, one a Rumanian ex-diplomat who spies for the Nazis, the other a German anti-Nazi resistance secret agent, happen to meet when simultaneously houseguests to a wealthy American family. How they react to each other when they deduce each other's secrets (without difficulty), and how the Americans respond to being caught in the middle, makes the play.

When it was filmed in 1943, Bette Davis played the German's wife (daughter to the American family, which explains what they're doing there), but - as Davis tried in vain to point out to the publicity people - hers was a secondary role. The lead woman is her mother, the lady of the house, played on stage here by the crisp Caitlin O'Connell. The German is played by Elijah Alexander (Orsino in the last Ashland 12th Night - OSF alumni often wash up at the Rep) and the Rumanian by Jonathan Walker, both with thick enough accents that, combined with the Roda Theatre's less than ideal acoustics, make me advise the assisted hearing devices for anyone who might even remotely think such a thing would be useful.

I'd found a couple old BART tickets in my "various stuff" drawer, and used those to get there, but curse BART machines for not properly printing the current value on the ticket, because mine was worth a lot less than it said and socked me with a large unexpected AddFare fee on exiting. OK, but that meant I had no idea how much my other ticket was worth either, which combined with having little cash on me made me reluctant to give any of it to panhandlers - of which downtown Berkeley now has as many as the City does; f anyone who says times aren't hard - which made me feel uncharitable.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

world according to cat

Our cats are very loving, and a recent discussion with B. led to the conclusion that there is only one thing they want from their humans more than love, and in turn to a rousing chorus of "All You Need Is Food."

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas report

By popular demand, I made my roasted broccoli recipe as a side-dish contribution to the family dinner. This is designed to be eaten straight from the oven, but I find it keeps if I simply put the juice and oil it's to be mixed with in one small sealed container, the toasted pine nuts (carefully drained) in another, and the shredded cheese and pepper in a baggie, and mix them in with the broccoli just before serving.

The main dish was two smoked turkeys carried in from the back yard. Someone remarked on the amount of turkey skin I'd put on my plate, so I sang, after Allan Sherman, "You've gotta have skin / Skin's what keeps your insides in."

I have new shoes, not scuffed up like my old shoes, and a couple interesting books to read.

Went out the next (quiet) morning to do a little necessary shopping. I wonder if the Christmas-enforcing theocrats think it's OK to say "Happy holidays" now, because that's what the store clerk said, or would they insist on "Eventful Epiphany"?

Sunday, December 24, 2017

all about (Christmas) Eve

Christmas season seems to have been sneaking past rather quickly this year. As a church musician, B. is particularly busy, for having Christmas Day on a Monday means that the fourth week of Advent (Advent weeks always begin on Sundays) has to be crammed into one day. I think that's how it works, anyway; Catholic liturgical calendars are still an exotic topic for me. If I've counted up right, she's participating in four masses today, and my job is to be ready to pop dinner out when she arrives home between two of them.

Meantime, here's a few accumulated blog points:

1. I've seen all of Alexander Payne's previous movies, but I'm hesitant over Downsizing. This review codifies my mistrust, as well as providing a brilliantly deflationary summary of one of its predecessors, The Descendants, "which began as a film about dealing with grief and ended up being a lesson about land ownership."

2. Hey, U.S. federal government officials of all kinds who have to check ID: not only do you need to learn that New Mexico is not in Mexico, but also that the District of Columbia is not in Colombia.

3. For dog-ear reference later on, an evaluation of the 15 top Democratic presidential candidates for 2020. When I found one of these for the Republicans four years ago, Trump wasn't on it.

4. I'd known that Rimsky-Korsakov wrote an opera about Mozart and Salieri. What I hadn't known is that someday it would be staged locally. Assuming that Alameda is local. I'm thinking about going to this.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

English suites no. 16

I gave you Malcolm Arnold's English Dances, set 1. Here's set 2.

one memoir

Not So Good a Gay Man: A Memoir by Frank M. Robinson (Tor, 2017)

A couple years ago I read and reviewed memoirs by a pair of science fiction writers who had since died, Daniel Keyes and Jack Vance. Like them, Robinson got into the field in the years immediately after WW2, and where they both served in the merchant marine, Robinson was in the US Navy. For this one, the author died before the book was published. But he's like Vance in one other respect, having little to say about his fiction, or how or why he wrote it.

One theme that runs through the book is of trying to figure out his homosexual identity in a time and place where the world was trying to tell him that did not exist, and of his relief and self-understanding when he finally found an open community to belong to. But that's incidental for most of the book, and there's just as much on his experience as an editor, mostly for men's magazines. (Keyes also had a lot of experience in editorial trenches.)

Like a lot of first-drafted (presumably), self-written memoirs, much of it is very disjointed. Most of the anecdotes read as if half the story was scissored out. It gets much more coherent near the end, when he moves back to San Francisco in the early 70s and meets Harvey Milk; this is also the point when he began collaborating with Tom Scortia, and begins saying a little more about the fiction-writing as well. But the accounts of his part in Milk's career are an undifferentiated mixture of what he experienced, what he was told at the time, and what he read about later. Then it quickly moves on to the AIDS epidemic, and then the Milk film, and ends. Except for his brief early stint working for Ray Palmer and Howard Browne, at no point in the book does the science-fiction community play any part, though local SF societies are where I knew Frank from.

Interesting book, and I'm sorry there's not more to it.

Friday, December 22, 2017

selective fastidiousness

My favorite example of this was demonstrated by the British Conservative politician the 5th Marquess of Salisbury, who in the Eden government in the 1950s was the firmest bulwark against permitting Princess Margaret to marry with Group-Captain Townsend. One wag - possibly it was Bernard Levin, I don't recall - commented, "Salisbury doesn't mind working for a divorced Prime Minister, but a Queen with a divorced brother-in-law is a step too far."

Now we find selective fastidiousness in the classical music world, and right at home, in the case of the San Francisco Symphony and its frequent guest conductor Charles Dutoit. And let me emphasize frequent. I don't know how often he's appeared at Davies, either with the home band or a visiting orchestra, but, though I attend less than a third of the programs there, two years ago I began a review with, "It's Charles Dutoit again. This is at least the sixth time I've heard him conduct in the last five years." I've heard him once more since then, and was expecting to do so again in April.

Well, a journalistic report has accused him of several incidents of sexual harassment. These range from 1985 to 2010, so they've been going on over quite a long time, and, though some of the victims were surprised, one singer reports that "a veteran soprano, now deceased, warn[ed] her to watch out for him."

Well, that was published yesterday. That very day, the San Francisco Symphony put out a press release announcing that it "has severed all ties" with him. He won't be appearing before SFS in April; he won't be appearing with his own orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, in January; if the wording of the press release is to be believed, he'll never be back again. Now that's prompt action. A "strong commitment to a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment in the workplace," it says.

What interests me is that everybody seems to have forgotten the most notorious incident in Dutoit's career. I know that the AP, which wrote the harassment report, has forgotten it, because all they say concerning this is to note that "in a long, distinguished career, he also has led highly regarded orchestras in Paris and Montreal."

So let me inform you, and them, that Charles Dutoit, newly-accused serial sexual harasser, is the same Charles Dutoit who resigned from the music directorship of the Montreal Symphony in 2002 after the musicians called him a "tyrant" who ruled by "verbal and psychological abuse," and that he treated them "with derision and condescension" and like "battered spouses." This was all very public at the time, thank you New York Times.

But it didn't seem to otherwise affect his career any. There's no indication he ever abused the SFS musicians like that, but there's no indication he ever mashed any of its women in his dressing room, either, so this isn't a case of the SFS being hit where it lives. So, SFS: Some forms of harassment we condemn immediately. Others don't seem to bother us so much.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

museum day

The way to get around to visiting a limited-run exhibit at a museum an hour's drive from home is to treat it like a performance you have tickets to: pick a day in advance, schedule it, and just go.

That's how we got to Gods in Color at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco today.

I've been curious about the discovery that those ancient Greek statues we're used to thinking of as pristine white marble, with blank staring eyes, were originally painted in bright colors, with pupils painted in the eyes, ever since I saw the startling giant painted reproduction statue of Athena in the replica Parthenon in Nashville, "The Athens of the South," some 15 years ago.

This exhibit was all about that. It featured a large number of very recently-made reproduction statues - small pieces, no giant Athenas - mostly cast in plaster or imitation marble, and painted in egg tempera, which is what the ancient Greeks would have used, using mineral or vegetable dyes in bright flat basic and primary colors, mostly yellow, red, brown, and blue. (The yellow lion with a blue mane and red whiskers was a sight. It's no. 5 in the slide show at the bottom of the exhibit web page.)

Some of the replicas were placed next to the originals, for comparison, or to show the faint traces of paint still visible on some of them. (It was the custom in the 19th century to take newly-discovered ancient sculpture and scrub it down. Philistines.) A technical display described the various techniques used to deduce the original colors when they're no longer visible: bombarding the statues with everything from infrared and ultraviolet to x-rays and scanning electron microscopes.

I found the coloring charming and arresting, particularly the lozenge pattern on some of the clothing, as visible in the figure on the exhibit front page linked to above. It reminded me more of medieval motley than anything else I'd known.

But it also raises another point, as do the pupils in the eyes: the painters went beyond expressing the shape of the sculpture, and added shapes of their own. And with none of them was this more dramatic than with the Cycladic figures, simplified human statues with an eerie blank appearance, even spookier than Rapa Nui moai, as the faces are entirely flat and featureless except for the elongated noses.

The caption said that these mysterious figures inspired modern artists like Henry Moore, and from the blank featureless look I can believe it. Well, Moore was as misled as all the neoclassical designers who created worshipful imitations of high Classical Greek work in white marble, because, according to the exhibit, the Cycladic figures originally had cheerful-looking line-drawing faces painted on them. I can't find an image of this online, but the replica with this on it was outstandingly goofy. It looked rather as if a kindergarten teacher had drawn the face for the edification of her class.

This earns a prize as a wild and strange art exhibit.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

what to read today

Margaret Atwood is reading Tolkien and Le Guin.

And Daniel Alarcón is reading Margaret Atwood.

English suites no. 15

I have tremendous gratitude towards the English Dances by Malcolm Arnold. This was the work that first taught me, as an innocent teenage explorer in classical music, that there was such a thing as modern music that didn't sound like cars honking, bees buzzing, or people moving furniture around.

The books about modern music I was avidly devouring were full of crap from Vienna and Darmstadt. They were trying to convince me that tonal, enjoyable music was dead, dead, dead, nobody was writing it any more. But I began to realize there was a lot of stuff going on that these books weren't telling me about when I came across an old LP in my parents' collection with some Elgar that they liked. I found these on the other side of the record. They'd been written in 1950, and thus only twenty years old at the time I was listening: practically hot off the presses by classical standards. And they were delightful, in a distinctly modern orchestration full of strange brass whooping cries that I soon came to realize were Arnold's signature sound. He was an accomplished, colorful orchestrator, and had been an orchestral trumpeter himself, so he was particularly good with the brass.

What's more, these aren't arranged folk tunes. The melodies are entirely original, though in the spirit of Playford dance tunes. Arnold went on to write a long series of British national dance suites, most of them in the same format of four movements in a rough approximation of sonata form. We'll hear more of them later. Here's the English Dances, set 1, in the mono recording by Adrian Boult that I originally heard.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Narnian seder

1. On Tor, com, Mari Ness muses on the question, where should a first-time reader begin with C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia?

And comes up with the right answer: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the one that was published first. In fact, just about everybody who's seriously considered the question gives that answer. Everybody, that is, except the publisher, who's given them official numbers with the later-published prequel, The Magician's Nephew, coming first, and Lewis's literary executor, who talked them into it.

Ness astutely points out that "The Magician's Nephew pulls away quite a bit of the magic." But its function as a later explanation of earlier events, that should come after the initial intriguing mystery, can be demonstrated objectively as well as subjectively. The Magician's Nephew begins by stating, "It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our own world and the land of Narnia first began." This is addressed to a reader who already knows what Narnia is and why a story about it would be important. In the first paragraph that a reader ever encounters about Narnia it makes no sense whatever.

In chapter 7 of Lion, by contrast, when Mr. Beaver whispers that "Aslan is on the move," Lewis tells us that the children are all moved by this in a mysterious way, even though, he adds, "None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do." Look at that: if you don't know who Aslan is, then you are a reader who has never read about Narnia before, and who specifically hasn't read The Magician's Nephew.

Could it be any clearer? Lion comes first. If Lewis had wanted to change that, he'd have to rewrite the books.

Ness does record that "C.S. Lewis himself once told a young fan that chronological order was probably the best way to read the series." Not quite, and this had better be unpacked. The source is a letter, dated 21 April 1957, to an 11-year-old American boy named Laurence Krieg, and its supposedly definitive statement on an ordering is: "I think I agree with your order for reading the books more than with your mother's."

First, may we observe how hesitant and tentative this is? I think I agree ... more than with the other. In fact, the letter goes on to explain that the series was unplanned, and that at least through the third book Lewis never had any idea he was going to write any more than he had. "So," he concludes, "perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone reads them." This is about the opposite of a definite statement.

Second, perhaps Lewis is being polite to his juvenile correspondent? I was once told by another former boy of my acquaintance that Lewis had once written a letter to him saying the opposite; unfortunately the recipient didn't keep the letter.

Third and lastly, may we remember that Lewis is writing to a Narnian enthusiast who first heard the books read aloud at age 6 and has, by now, presumably read the whole series several times. Perhaps an experienced reader should re-read them in internal chronological order. We're concerned with the first encounter. That's not a topic on the table in Lewis's letter.

For a first-time reader, Lion first. Always.

Monday, December 18, 2017

late Hanukkah entry

When my synagogue sent our confirmation class out to a camp in the woods for some sort of toughening-up program (we were all 15-year-old boys; the girls were in another cabin) and we spontaneously decided it would be fun to march around the parade ground in the late evening singing at the top of our lungs, for repertoire we dredged up the children's songs we'd been taught 8 or 9 years earlier at the other end of our religious education and had somehow never quite forgotten.

So naturally - this was June, which made it even more incongruous - we bellowed out "I had a little dreidel / I made it out of clay / And when it's dry and ready / Then dreidel I will play."

I wish we'd known then these other verses.

Friday, December 15, 2017

musical book

Jack Viertel, The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016)

Underneath the author's "aw, shucks" manner, this is a fiercely intelligent book on the construction of the classic American musical. Viertel is less interested in how the musical is actually made by the creators than on how it works for the audience. The characters and story have to involve the audience adequately, or else the musical will fail. Fortunately he's more interested in showing examples that work well than those that don't, but he does give enough of the latter to emphasize the point. (For instance, Camelot introduces Arthur and Guinevere each with a song about how they don't want to be there, and this makes the audience not want to be there either, even though they're good songs. And indeed, Camelot was not a stage success, and Viertel says this is why.)

Viertel's larger thesis is that the classic musical was built to a formula - not mechanically, which will fail, but by tried and true principles that work when used with imagination and flexibility - and that the fall of the form (he says the last classic was A Chorus Line, 1975) came when this was forgotten. He says the problem is that the classic musical was a hopeful, optimistic form (an odd thing to say when his prime examples of greatness are Carousel and Gypsy), and that the cynicism that arose in the 1970s made this no longer possible. (So far he sounds like Peter Thiel's theory of SF, that it was all cheerful, optimistic stuff before the 70s, suggesting that Thiel has never read any of it.) Some writers, like Sondheim, had grown up in the old regime and were intelligent enough to adapt it to the new circumstances and do great work, but many new ones didn't and failed through fumbling around. (And that sounds like a critique of post-Tolkien fantasists.) Yet he praises some newer work, notably The Book of Mormon and Hamilton.

The book is made out of chapters considering each type and placement of song a musical might have. Viertel doesn't use much of the old terminology I've heard of: he folds the "'I Am' song" into the "'I Want' song," and defines the "Eleven o'clock number" loosely to mean any searing event near the end of the show, even a non-musical one.

I'll go through Viertel's analysis of Act One to show how this works (Act Two tends to be messier and more conditional). He gives lots of examples; I'm citing mostly just a few with which I'm familiar.

1. Opening Number. This has the vital function of setting the tone and telling the audience what kind of show this is and what it's about. What kind of show is A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum? "Comedy Tonight." What is Fiddler on the Roof about? "Tradition."

2. The "I Want" Song. The canonical example is "All I want is a room somewhere / Far away from the cold night air / With one enormous chair," but Viertel also defines Higgins' opening number as "I Want" (I want the English to learn to speak properly) though I'd define it differently as "I Am" (I am obsessed with language and social class). "I Want" songs can be subtle, but most of them aren't: "I wanna be a producer."

3. Conditional Love Songs. Best explained by citing the canonical example, "If I Loved You" from Carousel. The characters claim they're not in love yet, they're just going to talk as if they were. There are also sub-types: the aftermath song, in which a character alone tries to make sense of a perplexing romantic encounter ("On the Steps of the Palace," Into the Woods), or the buddy song ("We Can Do It," The Producers).

4. The Noise. To provide a little break and an energy boost. "Put on Your Sunday Clothes," Hello Dolly; "To Life," Fiddler on the Roof.

At this point, the story can take a number of turns. But there will usually be songs for one or more of the following:

5a. Second Couples. Ado Annie and Will in Oklahoma! Cable and Liat in South Pacific. Tuptim and Lun Tha in The King and I, who were introduced to have the big romantic ballads, inappropriate for the leads, who weren't that kind of singers anyway.

5b. Villains. Jud in Oklahoma! Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd. The dentist in Little Shop of Horrors.

5c. Multiplots. "No Life" in Sunday in the Park with George, which prepares the story for the shift in perspective in the second act.

Then the plot regroups with:

6. Star Turns. A big mid-act showcase for the star. Viertel finds the most interesting example to be "Adelaide's Lament" in Guys and Dolls, because the original performer wasn't a big star but the song showcases her anyway.

7. Tent Poles. Another high-energy number, this one more usually focused on a crux in the plot. The Havana sequence in Guys and Dolls. "Tevye's Dream" in Fiddler.

8. Curtain, Act 1. The presentation, or sometimes the anticipation, of a crisis. "Everything's Coming Up Roses" in Gypsy. "Soliloquy" in Carousel. Both of these are also big solo turns, but they're more dramatic than they are showcases.

Get the idea? Viertel presents all this very well.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

English suites no. 14

This, after Hubert Parry's, is the English Suite I started this series in order to include. It's Havergal Brian's English Suite No. 1 (1904).

Brian (1876-1972) was one of the great eccentrics of English music, living to a great age and writing crabbed and difficult music nearly to the very end. Some of this music is great, some of it is hot air, some of it is vitamin pills. But only for a brief period in his youth did he write music that is also tuneful and enjoyable, and this suite is basically it. (His successor English Suites are not of the same caliber.)

The key to Brian's style as evidenced here is an unexpected wit turning up in the form of abrupt and startling shifts of mood, key, or dynamics, which combine with a colorful and sentimental Englishness to make the music sound like the work of some demented Elgar.

I love this suite, but for many years the only recording available was by a school orchestra that just wasn't up to the demands. I was so happy when a competent professional performance came out, and here it is:

The six movements are: Characteristic March (0.00), Valse (4.48), Under the Beech Tree (10.03, continuing without break), Interlude (13.32), Hymn (15.45), Carnival (19.35).

The Carnival is in turn divided into continuous sections: Introduction (19.35), The Dancers (20.02), Punch and Judy (20.45), The Sleeping Beauty (21.44), Fat Woman (23.28), Finale (24.12).


1. It's Hanukkah, so I made matzo ball soup for dinner. It's also Advent, which B. celebrates, so there are going to be a lot of lights on the counter for the next few days. By the same token, we have a Christmas tree. B. bought me new shoes, and Judah Maccabee left B. some Hanukkah presents under the tree. (And if you think that's a sacrilegious mixture of religions, did you know - surely every secular Jewish child in the US knows this - that if you unwrap one of those foil-covered chocolate Maccabee soldiers, the chocolate underneath is molded in the shape of Santa Claus?)

2. B. is still having her voice studied. Kaiser referred her to the speech therapy clinic up in Oakland, where they have experience with singers. I drove, as I do that. A speech therapist with a stutter, how about that: no doubt that inspired him to choose this line of work. We did fine.

3. The pianist I've been listening to play Beethoven sonatas in a local church won an SFCV readers' award for a concerto she'd played, so my editor thought we should review her in something. What fit my schedule was the "Archduke" Trio. Which I've finally now learned to like.

4. I'm not sure I follow the results of the Comic Con trademark suit. All sorts of cons call themselves "Comic Con," some with and some without licenses from the one in San Diego. How can they defend their trademark if they haven't been doing so consistently? Also, San Diego claims that "Comic Con" means just them, but how can it do so if they're giving licenses to other cons with no connection to them except the license?

5. Ed Lee, Mayor of San Francisco, suddenly died. That's a shame: he seemed a good man. More drama in the City.

6. How did Doug Jones win in Alabama? Turnout. Turnout. That's the key to elections. Note well.

6a. What's disturbing are the number of people who said that the dalliances with 14-year-olds are what caused them to turn against Roy Moore. That means that they were OK with all the public things Moore did before this came out, which strike me as even more horrifying.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

an odd remark

Ursula K. Le Guin, for whom my respect is profound, has nevertheless sometimes made what I thought an odd remark. One such occurs in a recent much-linked essay, in which she recounts her 1970s refusal of a Nebula award from the Science Fiction Writers of America in protest against its withdrawal of an honorary membership from the Polish writer Stanislaw Lem.

Le Guin says "They invoked a technicality to deprive him of his membership and insisted on applying it" on the grounds that "There was a sizable contingent of Cold Warrior members who felt that a man who lived behind the iron curtain and was rude about American science fiction must be a Commie rat who had no business in the SFWA."

Ironically, she says, the award then went to the runner-up, a story (she doesn't name it, but it was "The Bicentennial Man") by "Isaac Asimov, the old chieftain of the Cold Warriors."

I just came across Le Guin telling the same story in 2002, in an essay on Lem reprinted in her recent essay collection, Words Are My Matter (Small Beer Press, 2016). There she says that the reason was that "many members of the association disapproved strongly of admitting a citizen of a Communist nation" and calls Asimov "a vociferous cold warrior."

What's odd about this is calling Asimov "a cold warrior." The capitalization in the 2017 version associates him with the same capitalization of the anti-Lem faction in SFWA. I do not know Asimov's position on the Lem issue; I don't have access to the SFWA files, and Asimov doesn't mention this in his memoirs. Possibly he was opposed to the honorary membership and this accounts for Le Guin's characterization; I don't know.

But to call Asimov a cold warrior in any other sense, that is, a vociferous anti-Communist, or, even more, a political conservative suspicious of Communist infiltration into liberal causes, is absolutely wrong.

Asimov got his start in SF in the 1940s in the "Campbellian stable," the authors nurtured and published by John W. Campbell, Jr., then editor of Astounding. And Campbell, at least by the 1960s, was that kind of cold warrior. (Back around 1960, Campbell had opined that Vietnam was a quagmire. But once the hippies took up the cause, you wouldn't find him agreeing with them about anything.) But the authors who wrote for Campbell didn't necessarily share his views, and Asimov least of all. One sold to Campbell in the 1940s because he was then by far the outstanding editor in the field, whether you agreed with his politics or not.

And Asimov got into hot water with Campbell from the beginning. Irritated by Campbell's insistence that, in any story in which humans encounter aliens, the humans must come out on top because of their superior abilities, Asimov invented the Foundation universe, in which there are no aliens - something Asimov considered highly unlikely to be true of the real universe, but it enabled him to sidestep the problem at an early stage in his career when he didn't feel capable, or willing to take the risk, of arguing with Campbell. (Later on he argued a lot.)

Asimov stayed liberal, also. In the 2002 essay, Le Guin says "the division over Lem followed much the same lines" as a famous 1968 pair of ads dividing SF writers into those supporting and opposing US involvement in Vietnam. Le Guin was opposed, of course. But so was Asimov. Here they are. To that end, Asimov "was heart and soul with Eugene McCarthy" in the presidential race that year (In Joy Still Felt, chapter 27). Later on, in opposition to many other SF writers, he vociferously denounced Reagan's SDI program, saying that it "probably won't work and even if it does work, won't do us any good," and giving as his reason for opposition "not because I'm a science fiction writer ... but because I like to think I'm a sane human being." (I remember, but cannot now find, Asimov telling a story of being confronted by a defense of the expertise of the SDI proponents, and shaking his interlocutor severely by replying, "I don't doubt their expertise. What I doubt is their sanity.")

I could multiply examples. Asimov's opinion, expressed in his science columns, was that the biggest threat to world peace was (not Communism, for ghu's sake, but) overpopulation, to which end he supported the use of birth control and other ways for women to take control over their own lives, and he was scathing at claims that women lacked certain abilities. Ironically, in person Asimov was a notorious groper - he thought it was a game, all in fun, the old lech - but honorable opinions and obnoxious personalities have co-existed before and since, see Al Franken.

I'm guessing that the reason for the odd characterization of Asimov as a cold warrior lies in Le Guin's analysis of the reasons that those who opposed Lem's honorary membership did so. She's entirely correct that the opponents were irritated at Lem's blunt criticisms of American SF, and that he was removed on a technicality. But that the motivation was suspicion of "Commie rats"? Or even disapproval of "admitting a citizen of a Communist nation"? Nothing else I've read about this much-discussed incident suggests anything of the kind. The impression I've always had is that the opponents thought Lem's critiques were so rude as to make him the guest who crapped in the punchbowl. Why honor such a person?

Here's the account by Frederik Pohl, who was the president of SFWA who found and applied that technicality to remove Lem, and who says he did it to avoid dealing with the nuisance of complaints. Pohl could be pretty blunt in his later years, but he says nothing about fear of Commies in his account of the reasons for opposing Lem. He says the main complainants were Philip José Farmer and Philip K. Dick - both of whom, by the way, were also, like Le Guin and Asimov, on the anti-Vietnam War side of the famous ad. So that's another strike against Le Guin's theory that the Lem controversy was a proxy for the Cold War. (Pohl signed neither side, possibly staying out on the grounds that he was the editor of the magazine where the ads appeared.)

I'm sure there's more evidence that can be found on this, but I'm stopping here. I won't speculate further on Le Guin's reasons for attributing an anti-Communist motive to people whose actions irritated and offended her so, but I tend to doubt that that was it.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

two Christmas choral concerts

I don't usually get to two of these in one year, but fate decreed.

First was the Ragazzi Boys Chorus, which I attended with athenais, and reviewed at the behest of the chorus' publicity people, who were rather persistent. But it was only fair; after four years at the Daily Journal, I'd never covered one of their own concerts before.

Some nice stuff, especially the English Renaissance anthems, and some modestly imaginative new works. The carol singalong, though, didn't work: the throbbing heavy organ was out of place, and the choral arrangements were too complex for a singalong to latch on to.

Second was by the Symphony Silicon Valley Chorale, subscribed to with enthusiasm by myself and B. and all the other Friends of vgqn, who sings therein. It was at the California Theatre in downtown San Jose, where SSV plays, and was led by associate director Michael DiGiacinto.

This highly textured and well-balanced chorus was most excellently displayed in superb arrangements (by Dan Forrest and Peter Wilhousky, respectively) of "The First Noel" and "Carol of the Bells," plus James McKelvy's wacky setting of "Deck the Halls" in 7/8 time.

The big pieces on the program were two oft-played modern British classics. Britten's Ceremony of Carols, accompanied by harp (Karen Thielen, a true master of tone color on her instrument) was vigorous and charming, and the more angular Gloria of John Rutter - whose finale starts out sounding like Carl Orff and finishes up like John Williams - was likewise invigorating and sometimes unexpectedly beautiful.

Rutter calls for an instrumental ensemble of brass, percussion, harp, and piano doubling organ, and as long as the brass was there, we also had a couple antiphonal pieces by Gabrieli and Praetorius with the chorus forming one choir and the brass the other. Interesting experiment, and it worked pretty well.

And there were singalongs here too, better arranged than Ragazzi's, and encouraged by mugging comments by the conductor. One set of secular carols - "The Christmas Song" (you know, "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire"), which was co-authored by Mel Tormé, probably requires Tormé to do it justice - and one set of sacred ones. The latter included "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" ("Hark the Herald Tribune sings / Advertising wondrous things" - T. Lehrer) and "O Come All ye Faithful" ("Oh come let us adore him / Pippin the Cat" - Kalimac).

On the way over, we stopped for a brief walk-through of Christmas in the Park. Every year, Chavez Plaza is filled with Christmas trees which are decorated by various local organizations, both religious and secular (clubs, charities, schools, etc.), and in among them, as festive as any others, were trees by the local atheist group and the Satanic Church. The sight of these would probably cause Roy Moore's wig to fly off, but around here we take such diversity in stride. Also dioramas with recorded music playing, one of The Nutcracker in such sound quality as to suggest it was recorded by Tchaikovsky himself, and another of "Deck the Halls" at the speed of a dirge.

Friday, December 8, 2017

world according to cat

We closed the doors to the bedrooms last evening, and the cats began to fear and tremble. This rare event means the closing off of hiding spaces in preparation for the most dreaded of all feline events, Going To The Vet. Pippin even decided that hiding (downstairs) was a more productive use of his time than eating his dinner. If you know Pippin, that's a dramatic decision.

Perhaps due to the totalitarian threat implied by the doors, they came along fairly quietly when it was time to enter the carriers. Two cats, two carriers. Some authorities advise that if your cats get along with each other, as ours do, you could use just one carrier. But considering what Pippin does in his fear in the carrier, it's just as well that Maia not be there. Also, a cat carrier in our house is like an electron shell that only holds one electron. If you open up the shell when there's already an electron there, it shoots out. You'll never get a second one in at the same time.

At the vet's, though, it's entirely different. Here, getting them out is the trick. When we opened up Maia's carrier, she cautiously stuck out her head and one paw, staying in that attitude for a long time. When she finally finished emerging, I intoned, "That's four small steps for a cat, one giant leap for cat kind."

They're doing fine, and everybody's shots are now up to date.

Thursday, December 7, 2017


1. Despite the date, I hastened to San Jose Tofu to buy a block - first stage in a campaign to have as much as I can stand to eat (perhaps one a week) in the month remaining - and to give the retiring owners best wishes.

2. Changing bandages is difficult when in the company of a curious cat.

3. Wandered by the living room just as B. turned the television on. Heard announcer say, in a shocked voice, "He's marrying a divorced American actress who's three years older than he is." Can't determine which part shocks the announcer most, but realized with a mixture of amazement and regret that I know who's being discussed.

4. Firefox updated itself, again. This time I had trouble figuring out what happened to my bookmarks. I could bookmark a page, I could find (under the icon of a bookshelf) the list of recent bookmarks, but where was my big classified file? And, once I found it, what was an easy way to display it? Turned out they did something very sensible with it: Ctrl-B toggles it on and off as a sidebar, which is much more convenient when I want to consult multiple bookmarks than the old pull-down menu was. I like that; what I didn't like was how difficult it was to figure that out.

5. More big fires, this time in the LA area. Collaterals of friends are being affected by these. Those who say "In December?!" don't know California. I'm afraid this is going to be normal.

6. Al Franken has to go, but Roy Moore is not being prevented from arriving, and Donald Trump is still there. Isn't there something wrong with this disposition? I'd have Franken say, "All right, I'll resign: to take effect the minute that Moore is either defeated or expelled, and Trump is impeached."

6a. I have to agree, though, with regrets, that Franken has passed his sell-by date. It's not so much the incidents themselves, which were routine creepy masher gropings (bad, but deserving a more measured denouncement), but the sanctimoniousness of his response that got him. To the first charge he said it was just one case of bad judgment which he regrets. That might have been forgivable, but no surprise, it turns out he did it all the time. The gap here is what kills it. Kevin Spacey had the same kind of response, and though the charges against Spacey were much worse, it was, again, the divorce of that response from reality which made it game over.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

culinary tragedy

The news came out today: San Jose Tofu is closing at the end of the month.

This is a culinary tragedy because this tiny shop in San Jose's Japantown makes the best tofu in the Western hemisphere - possibly, these days, in any hemisphere. It's made fresh every day, it doesn't keep more than a couple of days (even refrigerated), and where every packaged tofu I've ever had is gross, slimy and rubbery, this stuff is light, tender, and tasty.

But the third-generation owners are getting old, and tired of hauling buckets of soybeans around, and they can't get replacement parts for their machinery even from Japan any more, and apparently there isn't a fourth generation available to carry on.

Despite its small daily output, San Jose Tofu has distributed to local Asian markets, and that's where I first found it, at a tiny market near where we used to live. When that place closed down, I transferred to an excellent Japanese-Hawaiian produce place near our new home, and when that closed, although there's a Japanese supermarket that also carries it intermittently, I started dropping by the home office whenever I was downtown. I could always park on the street, not bothering to feed the meter, duck into the doorway, ask the lady who was always there - Amy, her name is - for one tofu, please. She'd fish a block out of the vat, put it and some liquid on a small styro square in a plastic bag, I'd give her $2.25 and be out in a jiffy. Then home to the fridge to be stir-fried with veggies and mabo sauce for that evening's dinner.

I'll miss it. I just hope we still have for a while the other server of great things that I go to deepest San Jose for, the equally aging lady who sells the best tamales I've had, from a shop which - unlike San Jose Tofu - has been through 3 locations in the 12 years I've been going there.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

concert review: Symphony Silicon Valley

Oh, was this ever an interesting reviewing assignment.

A new violin concerto.

Played as soloist by the composer.

Who's 12 years old.

It's not as bizarre a circumstance as it may seem. As I noted in the review, I hear equally proficient young performers every year, and while juvenile genius composers are not common, they're not unknown, even now. For a recent example, I didn't even mention Jay Greenberg, who caused a flurry over a decade ago, but has been less heard of since he reached adulthood.

But I was determined to give full and honest consideration to Alma Deutscher the composer, and not to coo over the child prodigy. I was encouraged in this by her own attitude towards her composing abilities as expressed in her 60 Minutes segment, in which she also declared a belief in the purpose of music that I'd heard before.

Oscar Wilde expressed the credo, "The artist is the creator of beautiful things." I've read similar principles expressed in music by people like the composer Alan Hovhaness and the critic Bernard Levin. Levin once wrote that music is centripetal, a term I thought of using in the review and then thought better of.

Then I got to the music. What do I say? Some people seem to hold that music written in what we generally consider a 19th-century style is all right for those old buffers from the 19th century but is anathema if anyone tries doing it today. I cannot accept that attitude. While I believe that to understand a work one must consider the circumstances of its creation and the intent of the creator (as context, not as the end-all answer to its meaning), I also believe that, in measuring quality, the work stands on its own, and is good or bad regardless of its date stamp or other circumstances of its creation. If we're going to criticize Alma Deutscher for writing 19th-century-style music, we have to find reasons for that criticism in the work itself.

Some would say that latter-day epigones will never be as good because the style isn't native to the creator. That's true in some cases: contrast Tolkien, steeped in his medieval inspirations, with his imitators who are not. And that may be the case here. As I listened to the concerto, the word that crept into my mind was "anodyne," and that I did put in the review. When I listen to really bad genuine 19th-century music, that's not how it sounds. What I think then is "full of hot air." Alma Deutscher is not full of hot air: her music is concise and well-, if simply, shaped. She may be more anodyne than the writers of 19th-century hot air, but she is also a better composer than they are. I hope I made it clear: if I wasn't bowled over by simple precocity, I'm also not saying this is bad music. I said in the review that it was pleasant and agreeable, and that's praise as far as it goes. I can still remember themes from it, which is more than I was expecting.

But what about her native style? Well, what is her native style? She's 12 years old! She may not even have one yet. I've noticed before that even Mozart was only a child prodigy, and not an immortal genius, until he was 18 - and that's early; most non-prodigy composers didn't write anything immortal until their mid-20s. I'd like to hear if this one grows into her shoes as she reaches maturity.

But I may not get much of a chance to find out. Because a child prodigy is a child prodigy, but a former child prodigy is merely an adult. I'm well aware that, no matter what I think of her music, or whether it's actually up to the quality of its 19th century models, no self-respecting orchestra of any reputation would play a new work that sounds like this if it weren't by a child prodigy. I've heard new music in antique styles before, music that was as good as this, written by adults. It was self-published and lingered in obscurity. So does much else that isn't atavistic, for that matter; getting on stage is not simply a matter of pure quality and never has been.

All of this was playing around my mind as I kept the review succinct, by word count limits, and as focused as I could.

Monday, December 4, 2017

driving to Santa Rosa

Seeing that next year's SMOFCon will be in Santa Rosa, I visited its website from curiosity. I'm unlikely to go - even when I was working on conventions, they were of a different order or my work was of a different kind and I wasn't part of that community - but I was curious as to their site - is it in an area that was affected by the recent fires? No - and the directions.

On that, I have a few comments.

They recommend San Francisco (SFO) for flights, and do so on the grounds of its larger size and greater number of options. I wouldn't put it that way. I'd say that those are the reasons you might find yourself using SFO regardless of whether it's the best airport or not.

When I'm picking among multiple possible airports, I start by figuring out which one best fits my ground transportation needs. Then I see what the flight options and costs are. Only if some other airport's advantages in that respect outweigh its ground disadvantages do I switch.

So if you just want to go to Santa Rosa and not drive around a lot, Sonoma County (STS) is obviously best. The site says fares there can be quite high. I'm sure that's true (I've never had to price them myself), and that could indeed drive you to consider SFO or Oakland (OAK) even if you had no plans to visit those cities.

But which of SFS or OAK is logistically superior, leaving aside which has more flight options? (And OAK has some non-stops to unexpected far-off places: it could surprise you.) You have to weigh those.

SFO is far more likely to be socked in by fog, and that's a consideration at this time of year.

OAK being smaller is frequently less crowded. However, my minimal experience there says that security checkpoints are more likely to be overwhelmed there, and once I saw baggage claim chaos at OAK worse than almost anywhere else.

The site says SFO has an airport shuttle; it doesn't say about OAK, but actually the same service goes to both.

Both are major airports as far as airline and rental car selection are concerned.

If you drive, the difference in traffic is likely to be a wash. SFO directly connects to the 101 freeway, but you have to drive on surface streets through the City. OAK is a long mile from the 880 freeway, but once you're there it's all freeway. Commuter traffic, if you hit it, can be very bad on either, but it's worse on the OAK route, at least in the part of the route that's I-80, between Emeryville and Richmond.

Bridges. You have to cross over one on each route, and they both charge tolls, but in one direction only. SFO-Santa Rosa goes over the Golden Gate Bridge, which charges toll on the way back. Those tolls are only taken electronically, so you'd best talk to your rental car company about that. OAK-Santa Rosa goes over the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, which charges toll on the way to the con instead (I could explain the discrepancy, but you wouldn't want to read it), and that one does still take cash, $5 for cars.

However, if you've never been over the Golden Gate Bridge, then for Ghu's sake do. It's one of California's finest sights. But that gets into tourist attractions, and that's another post. This one is just practical logistics.

There's another airport option, you know. Sacramento (SMF). Check flights to that. There's no toll bridges on the drive. While SFO and OAK are 70 miles away from Santa Rosa, SMF is 100 miles, which is not that much of a difference at that scale, and for most of the route the traffic will be less, unless you hit holidays. Google Maps will route you through Vallejo, which looks at first glance out of the way. If efficiency is the goal, I'd go down I-80 at least as far as Hwy 12 at Fairfield. The direct route over Hwy 128 and local roads is scenic, so it's good for meandering, but it's mountainous and twisty and will save you neither miles nor time if those are concerns.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

reading and eating

Did I tell you that B. has her voice back? Well, her speaking voice, anyway. The therapists said that not speaking was not really doing anything to heal the voice (it's really designed for people whose speaking style had abused their voice, and that wasn't true of her), so they took her off it.

That was before Thanksgiving, so that meant she could talk to her relatives (If you could talk to the relatives / Learn their languages / Maybe take a relative degree) and also participate in the reading around the (virtual) fire that our Mythopoeic Society discussion group does each December.

For joint readings, we picked the comic interview dialogues with the superhero booking agent and the supervillain threat analyst from John Scalzi's Miniatures collection of short-shorts. We each had this book on our e-readers, having each bought it without knowing the other was doing the same. The first interviewee is female and the second male, and the interviewers are unmarked, so that gave us our casting. I was a little surprised at times at what got the biggest laughs.

For the dinner table, I honored one of our hostesses, who is a Polish-American proud of her heritage, by making a Polish dish of chicken with cream and herbs. I know it's Polish because I used a sauce mix I'd picked up at Tesco on my last visit to the UK. London, at least the part of it I was staying in, is full of Polish expatriates and its markets are consequently full of imported Polish food packages, the way ours are full of Mexican and Asian. I must say that Google Translate was up to dealing with recipe instructions in Polish.

Friday, December 1, 2017

I'm not getting down in the gutter with this guy

as Eisenhower said about Joe McCarthy, or at least not in direct address, but over here where nobody is listening (yes, I know), I'll say that I still can't get over the guy who denounced my Tolkien Society blog post.

Asked (by somebody else) to explain his evaluation, he said that "it would work as a social media post." But if it would work as anything, it couldn't possibly be "the most badly written piece of garbled English I have ever read" as he'd said earlier. That's just a drive-by insult, then, and all he really meant was that he thought the tone of discourse, the voice it was written in, inappropriate for the forum.

That'd be a reasonable criticism if he'd said so originally. Still, I have news for him. It's a blog. It says "blog" in big letters at the top of the page. A blog is a form of social media. The whole purpose of the TS blog is for discursive informal pieces without the formal and impartial journalistic style of, say, the TS press releases.

Of the various inaccurate specific charges he makes, which merely suggest he has serious reading deficiencies, one is susceptible to simple objective identification: sentence fragments. There's nothing necessarily wrong about sentence fragments; it depends on how they're used. There's only two utterances in my post that aren't full regular sentences: one exclamation and one exhoratory imperative (the latter is the first sentence of the last paragraph). That's not too many, and both are standard forms of discourse in informal writing.

I could go through the sequence of paragraphs and show how each is related to its neighbors, but that would be wearisome and I don't he'd be capable of following it anyway, if he had trouble with the original. As for finding anything hilariously ambiguous in the identification of Christopher's son, that's just pathetic.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Lincoln's clown car

Lincoln's Lieutenants: The High Command of the Army of the Potomac by Stephen W. Sears

This is the first time I've tried reading a book on the US Civil War that's pitched at such a high level of detail. It's 900 pages on generalship in the army that basically spent four years in Virginia (with occasional excursions north), running around after Robert E. Lee. I've been at it for days and not out of 1862 yet.

It's not just the commanding generals. It's all the generals, of whom there were a bleedin' lot, with occasional excursions into colonels.

Here's what I'm learning about generalship:

1. Incompetent generals complained at being charged with incompetence.

2. Competent generals also complained at being charged with incompetence, as well as not having their achievements mentioned in dispatches, and even accusations of treason.

3. Generals frequently had their command assignments switched around. Whenever this starts, I can usually skip ahead a few pages without missing anything.

4. Generals feuded with each other. Constantly.

5. Generals were more likely to explain their strategic plans in letters home to their wives than to their fellow or subordinate generals.

6. Some generals consistently overestimated the size of the enemy's forces. Others didn't.

7. General McClellan, in command, tried his utmost to avoid doing anything, and got terribly upset whenever he did accidentally do something.

I'm hoping this miasma changes soon, and so, it's clear, does Mr. Lincoln.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

the last homely house - or not, as you may think

As you drive through a prosperous residential neighborhood, it may seem to you that the buildings are divided neatly between the single-family dwellings and the apartment houses.

But maybe not. Down our street are some residences that look, architecturally and at first glance, like large single-family homes. But a closer look reveals that they're actually duplexes, or even (if you could get behind them) four-plexes, smaller homes squashed together with shared walls.

Or consider our own townhouse complex. Each townhouse, of identical exterior design, is a separate building, and each has a separate street number. But there are shared spaces as at a large apartment block, and management is responsible for the exterior gardening and maintenance, for instance.

Why should this matter? Well, what if there's a law, or a city policy, distinguishing between single- and multiple-family homes?

We have one. The city has been rolling out new garbage bins, with a recycling container for food scraps. (The food will be fed to pigs. The pigs will not be fed to humans, presumably because of the irregularity of their diet. That means we're recycling our food scraps into spoiled pork meat as well as porcine effluvia, a notorious pollutant. It's not clear to me how this is an ecological improvement.)

The bins, we've been told, are going to single-family houses, but not to apartment buildings. Maybe at some later time, but not now. At some date over a period of weeks, they'll come by after the regular pickup and swap the old bins for the new ones, so be sure to leave yours out after the pickup. So we left ours out and waited each week ...

Finally, a new bin appeared at our curb. The old one didn't go away. But when, having instructed ourselves in the rules for food scrap recycling, we put out the bin the next week, I saw that we were the only house in the complex to have one.

This deserved a phone call. The recycling company didn't know much, but they referred me to the city, who were most responsive. (When the person you reach says "I'll have to refer this to my boss; he'll call you back," you don't expect the underling to call you back a half hour later to report that her boss is busy preparing a report for the city council meeting tonight and will call tomorrow, still less that he actually will.)

Turns out, by city classification, that we're not single-family houses, but a multi-family complex. So we don't get the bins. But apparently the people who delivered the bins had a list of accounts, and since our complex has one account they delivered one bin, and I just happened to get it.

It could be worse, the city man said. At least they didn't take away the old bins. At the four-plexes down the street, they delivered one bin to each and took away the four old bins, each of which had more garbage space than the new one does. He's just gotten finished straightening that one out.

So yes, it does matter if your home is single-family or multi-, and the city would have been wise to check the list of homes before handing it over to the cart deliverers.

in other news

A recent blog post of mine has been called "the most badly written piece of garbled English I have ever read."

Wow. As someone who writes for pay as well as for joy, and whose writing has been complimented by tenured English professors, three of whom have asked me to collaborate with them, I never thought I could reach for such an achievement. Considering the garbled writing that exists out there, it's quite an accomplishment. Indeed, looking over the work in question, I am at a complete loss as to what I did that deserved such an evaluation.

If anyone wants to go over there and judge for themselves, I shall not object.

English suites no. 13

This is from the exact opposite end of Benjamin Britten's career from the Simple Symphony, completed a couple years before his death. And it's a much harder meal to chew, but I've found it intriguing, particularly after repeated listenings.

It's called Suite on English Folk Tunes, "A time there was ..." But it's not a simple presentation of tunes the way Vaughan Williams or Holst would have done it. Both those composers were capable of being modernists; Britten applies that to his folk sources, which come out crabbed and gnarly.

Contents: Cakes and Ale (0.00), The Bitter Withy (2.28), Hankin Booby (5.00), Hunt the Squirrel (7.06), Lord Melbourne (8.29).

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

lost in one place, then the other

Not too terribly long ago, I made a comment in somebody's post somewhere, to the effect that whatever we were talking about showed the fallacy of arguing that taking advantage of any privilege your status entitled you to was morally wrong.

I got a reply vehemently stating that nobody had ever argued that position in the history of the world.

I said they had, and that I had once blogged about it, but I couldn't locate it in my archives, so it must have been in the period for which my blog lacked a searchable index.

It was. I just came across it here. And I'd correctly remembered the context too, one of whether it's right for an opposite-sex couple to get married when same-sex couples can't. (This was several years ago, before the Supreme Court decision.)

But now, though I keep records of my comments, I can't find the fairly recent one so that I can supply the citation to supplement the conversation.

thoughts and activities

1. Sadly, I had to break off the daily morning nuzzling session with Maia because I had to leave for a dental appointment. Two hours, one dentist, and one trip to the vet to pick up more cat food, later, I returned and we resumed right where we'd left off.

2. The location for sitting shiva was in the midst of a neighborhood filled with brilliant displays of Christmas lights, and on the drive there, the classical station was playing Christmas music. Since my destination was a Jewish religious ritual, these surroundings made me feel more than usually like a stranger in my own land. And those special snowflakes who go around moaning the decline of the cultural ubiquity of Christmas can go bite themselves.

3. The most tiresome and dishonest sentence in literary discourse is that defense of bad movie adaptations that goes "The book is still on the shelf." I give it no credence in a world which contains comments like this one: "It's really difficult to read the original novel now without seeing clashing visions of Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp being Willy Wonka, and of the 1971 Oompa-Loompas vs Deep Roy." (I have many examples of this type of complaint: this is just the latest.) It doesn't matter where the book is, if the movie is in the head.

4. I'm seeing lots of gushing articles about the engagement of Harry and Meghan, and almost as many complaints about it. My annoyance is purely with the media cooing. It's not the royals' fault; indeed, they've publicly stated how much they dislike it. Here's a couple of sufficiently mature years who wish to marry, but they can't do it without negotiating a gauntlet of publicity (and of criticism: of her background, or of dumb things he did when quite young). My only thought is to wish them well and to hope they survive it; the most hopeful sign is that Meghan already likes to do publicity on behalf of good causes internationally: this is fortunate because she's going to be doing that for the rest of her public life. I tend to feel sorry for the British royals, who mostly try to do their best at their job, and must endure having their human imperfections horribly magnified, in a situation they're trapped in. Abdicating would not free them from the glare of media attention; neither divorce nor even death freed Diana.

5. Articles of note:

5a. Another good analysis of the delusions that cause people to support Trump.

5b. On implanting preset narratives onto mass shootings.

5c. Let the punishment fit the crime.

Monday, November 27, 2017

English suites no. 12

Benjamin Britten called this his Simple Symphony, but it's really a suite in sonata form. He compiled it at the age of 20 out of material he'd written when even younger, and it's one of the liveliest string pieces ever, especially in this performance conducted by the composer.

Part of what makes this piece fun is the movement titles: Boisterous Bourée (0.00), Playful Pizzicato (3.27), Sentimental Sarabande (6.32), and Frolicsome Finale (14.28).

sitting shiva

I went Sunday evening to sit shiva in memory of a redoubtable lady whom I had liked and admired.

This was not the full seven-day megilla with rending of clothing and all. In Reform practice as I know it, it's an evening gathering at someone's home, with food and conversation, and the centerpiece a formal session of prayers and reminiscences, led by a rabbi if there's one handy.

There were many people there, including three generations of descendants, and a variety of folk. There was even a topless girl. Of course she was two years old, but whatever.

The deceased had been living in the memory unit of a rehab facility*, but she seemed pretty compos mentis when I visited her there, and the best anecdote told in the reminiscences, story dating from just a few weeks ago, confirms the same. It's useful to remember that among her vocations was that of teacher, and a rather exacting one:
HOME HEALTH AIDE: You need to lay down, Caroline.
PATIENT: It's lie down.
HOME HEALTH AIDE: I'm sorry, English isn't my first language.
PATIENT: I should hope not!
And I can just hear her saying that.

*The same facility my mother had been at in her final illness.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

culture and ecology

It's Thanksgiving weekend. If the people haven't gained weight from food, the newspapers have gained weight from ads. I stayed home on Friday and literally did not shop anywhere.

Other outings have drowned out my chance to mention that, last weekend, I attended the second all-female cast Hamlet I've seen this year. Only this time the actors were all Stanford undergraduates. As with the other, the male characters stayed male, regardless of who was playing them. Claudius and Polonius wore business suits, and Polonius had a paste-on beard. The performers were pretty good, just lacking seasoning. The stage was covered in dirt, of the symbolism of which the program notes made much, and wasn't separated from the audience. Ophelia gave me a daisy (it was actually a twig). Best touch was the Ghost's tombstone, which read "HAMLET / King / Father / Royal Dane".

Despite a link on the show's website to a detailed map clearly showing the location of the building on campus, due to absent and misleading signage finding the actual theater in the building was impossible for a stranger. It was a weekend and nobody was around to ask. I almost gave up, thinking the performance had been canceled, until I saw several people walking on a path leading apparently away from the building and decided to follow them. Naturally, the production people could not possibly have cared less when I told them that I almost missed their show for this reason.

Meanwhile, I'm making far more progress in re-reading Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, which I'd never done before (I'd read it, I just hadn't re-read it), than on watching the Hulu mini-series adaptation. The more it goes on, the less of the book's distinctive eerie tone and atmosphere it captures.

Reserved a hotel room for next year's Worldcon an hour after the reservation link opened, which turned out to be just fast enough. The committee were sure they wouldn't go that fast, but even though I haven't been to a Worldcon in 6 years, I knew better than that. Worldcon hotel rooms vanish at the speed of drops of water in a hot pan.

Hmm, I'll spare you the tale of the city's mysterious garbage bin update until I figure out what's going on here.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

I'm thankful

for the apple pie that my four-year-old (!) great-niece made, with minimal help from her grandmother, for dessert at the family Thanksgiving gathering. It was very good, and the apples - which Grandma assured us that Alix peeled and cored all by herself - were particularly delicious.

As apple is about the only kind of pie I like, I'm particularly thankful that nobody heeded this ridiculous screed arguing that we shouldn't have apple pie at Thanksgiving because you can get apples at any time of the year. We should only eat foods that are only in season around November.

Like turkeys.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

the stories behind things I've done

previous post

1. Lunch with Le Guin: I was working on a bibliography of her work, and visited by appointment to go through some of her papers and books. I was there all day, and we had lunch: sandwiches and tea, and the Tiptree Award, which was a huge bar of chocolate sitting on a sill, off which one hacked a small chunk with a knife. I was also formally introduced to her cat. (This was long before Pard.)

2. Worldcon. I was the Hugo Administrator, so yes I knew who won, and I made the button just to tease people.

3. Walk around a country: I pose this as a conundrum, and people have a hard time guessing it. They realize it must be a small country, but give names like Monaco, which is on the Mediterranean and consequently a foot circumnavigation would require one to walk on water, or Liechtenstein, which would require one to be a mighty Alpine mountaineer. In fact it was a 45-minute stroll down city streets through a modestly hilly neighborhood, and I undertook it as a quaint way to pass the time while B. was attending mass conducted by Pope JP2 at St Peter's in ... all right, can you guess the country now?

4. Drama with a live geyser. When I chaired Mythcon in 1988 with Le Guin as GoH, I appointed the late Leigh Ann Hussey, a devoted fan of Always Coming Home and a remarkable expert in Kesh culture, particularly its music and drama, entertainments coordinator under the title "Kesh consultant" and let her rip. Leigh Ann threw herself into the job: she designed Kesh-style name badges, made Kesh musical instruments and led the opening procession with them, helped Todd Barton lead the chanting of heya, and put on a production of a short play from the book, "The Plumed Water," a ritual celebrating the Calistoga geyser. On the day after the con, a number of us rented a small van and toured the Valley of the Na, the book's setting. Leigh Ann was our party's expert in all the local botany as well as Kesh lore. We finished up at the geyser and found it, luckily for us, erupting. This is not Old Faithful where you have to keep a quarter-mile away; you can go right up to this geyser and stand under the fringes of the spray. Unusually, the geyser kept on going, and Leigh Ann pulled out a copy of Always Coming Home and quickly organized another whole reading of the play. The geyser didn't stop until after we were finished.

5. Gerald Ford's chair: My late grandfather was a businessman in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1948 when he joined a group of moderate Republicans who wanted to do something about their rock-ribbed isolationalist congressman. They supported a challenger in the Republican primary, a young lawyer and veteran named Gerald R. Ford, and in the surprising success of this plan there hangs a tale. Throughout Ford's rise in Congress my grandfather stayed in touch with him, as prominent local businessmen are wont to do with their congressmen. He was proud of the connection, and the shelves in his office developed a few signed photos and the like. In 1972 when my family visited D.C. we stopped by Ford's office and introduced ourselves to his staff. Ford wasn't there; as I recall he was in China; but I had my photo taken sitting in his office chair. (And the Woolsack? Snuck a quick sit while taking a tour of Parliament.)

6. The sound of one hand clapping: Fold your fingers over and slap them against the base of your palm. This only makes a sound if you have really long fingers. I've found this talent useful on occasion when I want to applaud a performer but only have one hand free.

7. Car that rolled over and played dead: It was a one-car auto accident just like it sounds. Fortunately I was uninjured, save for it being too painful to walk down stairs for several weeks afterwards, notable as I then worked on the fourth floor of an old building with only an alarmingly rickety cage elevator which we preferred to avoid. The accident was on a deserted stretch of I-5 in the Central Valley; the tow-truck driver deposited me in a wind-swept farming town some distance away, from which I took the bus home.

8. Roadless Alaskan fishing village: Best vacation B. and I ever took was a cruise through the archipelago of the Alaskan panhandle by small ship, one small enough to fit up the odd nooks and crannies of the isles. Our most obscure land stop was at the arrestingly-named Elfin Cove, an exceedingly tiny and obscure fishing village on the tip of Chichagof Island, miles from the nearest equally obscure other human habitation, with a secluded harbor, no ferry service, and no other access except a seaplane dock. Our ship had to anchor outside and land us by skiff. No land transportation at all except your own feet taking you along a boardwalk circling the harbor.

9. Eaten a haggis: See item 4 on the list of common things I've only done once, "Visited Scotland." The first one was at a food stand outside the train station in Edinburgh: I'd just spent all day on a train with nothing to eat except utterly vile BritRail sandwiches. The haggis tasted good; I'd gladly have it again.

10. Four states: It's the Four Corners, where AZ NM CO UT meet. There were four of us boys. We were there on a family vacation. The obvious thing to do was to pose. I positioned us while our father took a photo. I stood in CO because it's the oldest of the four and so am I. That's the kind of thing I was the kind of 12-year-old who knew offhand.

things I've done

Some things I've done, that you might not have:
1. Had lunch made by Ursula K. Le Guin in her own kitchen. Dessert was a chunk of her Tiptree Award.
2. Worn a button at Worldcon reading "I know who won the Hugos, and you don't" - and it was true.
3. Circumnavigated an entire country, by foot. (And by that I mean, walked all the way around it outside its borders.)
4. Performed in a play using a live geyser as a prop.
5. Sat in Gerald R. Ford's office chair, in his office; and on the Woolsack, in the House of Lords. (No, Pat, no, don't sit on that!)
6. Made the sound of one hand clapping.
7. Survived riding in a car that rolled over and played dead on the freeway.
8. Visited a roadless Alaskan fishing village 50 miles from, well, anywhere.
9. Eaten a haggis. Eaten another one.
10. Stood right next to my three brothers in four different states.

Some common things I've only done once:
1. Ridden a roller coaster.
2. Danced to a rock song.
3. Gotten married.
4. Visited Scotland.
5. Worn a tuxedo.
6. Eaten sushi.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

an inner voice corrects

An inner voice speaks to me concerning the statement in my previous post defending John Corigliano's claim never to have heard any Bob Dylan: "I doubt I could pass any sort of test on pop singers three years younger than myself, as Dylan is of Corigliano, either."

"Don't be too sure of that," says the inner voice. "Considering who some of your favorite singer-songwriters are. Remember," says the inner voice, "that Suzanne Vega is two years younger than you, and Enya is four years younger, giving an average of three."

concert review: Redwood Symphony

A passenger, seeing the library book in my car, asked, "So why do you have a collection of Bob Dylan lyrics?" I thought for a moment how best to reply, and said, "Because John Corigliano had one."

John Corigliano is a distinguished American composer, known for his opera The Ghosts of Versailles. Commissioned to write a song cycle on an American text of his choice, at first he felt uncertain, but then remembered he'd been told that this Bob Dylan fellow was pretty good, so he got a book collection of Dylan lyrics, read them, and decided, once he got Dylan's permission, to go ahead. This is the work that I was engaged to review in concert last weekend, for which I wouldst prepare.

That Corigliano had never previously heard any Dylan songs - he says "I was [too] engaged in developing my orchestral technique during the years when Dylan was heard by the rest of the world" - has been widely disbelieved, but I don't find it incredible at all. I doubt I could pass any sort of test on pop singers three years younger than myself, as Dylan is of Corigliano, either. And of the seven Dylan songs that Corigliano set, I only knew two, and those in cover versions: "Blowin' in the Wind" by Peter Paul & Mary, and "Mr. Tambourine Man" by the Byrds.

Corigliano carefully avoided listening to the original songs until he'd written his own settings, and I likewise avoided listening to them until I'd heard his. I got a recording of a rather overwrought performance of the Corigliano cycle, and only then sought out cover versions of the other songs. Cover versions, because like most of the world with good taste, I like Dylan's songs but can't stand him singing them. I did go so far as to hunt down his performance of "Blowin' in the Wind" and was immediately sorry that I had.

I found to my surprise that the Roches had covered "Clothes Line Saga", but if I'd heard it before, I couldn't remember it. I can't remember it now, either. "All Along the Watchtower" belies any generalizations I could make about Dylan's folk-influenced style. Neil Young and Jimi Hendrix, the two cover performers I heard, use it as an occasion for an extended instrumental jam with a few words thrown in. Fortunately, Corigliano didn't know that. The one original new to me that I really liked was Ed Sheeran singing "Masters of War". The tune nagged at me until I realized that it sounded like the English folksong "Nottamun Town", which I knew from Fairport Convention. Then I looked it up, and discovered that it is "Nottamun Town". Dylan lifted the tune from a Jean Ritchie record, and had to pay royalties for her arrangement.

"Masters of War" is an extremely angry song. Sheeran even comments after his performance, "He's an intense guy, isn't he?" But compare Sheeran's version, linked to above, with Corigliano's scream of rage. (Told you it was overwrought.) This was key to my review's description of the difference between the two settings. Corigliano writes classical art song word painting. Dylan, at least in Sheeran's version, is very quiet, apparently belying the anger of the lyrics, but to my mind structuring the lines and stanzas of the verse to form a casing from which the message of the words can be heard outright, with only the quiet underlining of the bleak drone-like shape of the melody.

And that's the best answer I can come up with for a question that's nagged me for a long time, and which I went out on a reviewing limb by using it to frame my review. The question is, if your song is a "message" song, one that exists for the sake of its text, why is it a song? Why not just write poetry? The obvious answer, "Because nobody will read poetry, but they'll listen to songs," only reinforces the question. What are they getting out of the music that they wouldn't get out of poetry?

It must be something, and the best writers, including Dylan, recognize this. it's a shame if they ignore it, using the music as just something to plop the words on top of. I think of the Indigo Girls, who have said, "It's not about the music," but perhaps that's why, though their style lies right in the middle of a women's music idiom I usually like very much, I've never much taken to the Indigo Girls. There's nothing to their music; it's just there to sing the words to.

Corigliano, though he has nothing you'd normally call a tune, and is totally in contrast with Dylan's music, is dedicated to making his music say something. I found his settings stuck with me, so I count this work, however strange-sounding, a success.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Randy Byers

A few days ago, I saw in the grocery store some bottles labeled "Not Your Father's Root Beer." On inspection, they proved to be beer with the flavor of root beer. I bought some, and had just opened the first bottle to have with dinner tonight when I heard that Randy Byers had died.

So I drank it in his memory. Randy was a great connoisseur of beer, and I'd have loved to tell him about this one.

Randy was also a great many other things, most notably one of the writers who make the best science-fiction fanzines some of the finest personal writing to be had. You can find much of it at the download sites for his fanzine Chunga and his TAFF trip report. He also posted a lot online, much of it on DW as randy-byers, also keeping a separate blog for film reviews and other writings. I knew him in person, casually, but I found we really connected online.

Over the last couple years, a lot of his DW writing was about treatment for his brain cancer. Although he didn't hide that this was a grueling process to live through with a depressing prospect ahead, I was impressed with the fortitude with which he faced it. He quietly retired from his job in administration at the University of Washington, and set about living the rest of his life with fullness and dignity. He took one last trip to Micronesia, where he'd spent some colorful years of his childhood - and wrote about it, of course - but didn't frantically try to stuff experiences in. He just kept on going, and when the news hit that no more curative treatments were available, he wrote of the life he now found himself leading, "Let it roll, baby, roll. Until about 8:30, or whenever I'm ready to go to bed. Quality of life, that's what I'm all about!"

And so he kept on doing what he did, as long as he could do it. He'd been re-reading classic SF novels, especially ones by women, and writing thoughtful considerations of them. His last DW post, two months ago, considered Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler.

Let us honor and remember him by doing the ordinary little things that give us pleasure with the same rich and full appreciation that he gave to his.


1. I've finally started watching The Handmaid's Tale. Not trusting Hulu, which makes you sign up before it'll even show you what it has, I found the series as a purchasable item on YouTube, $19 for the season, which is more than a Hulu monthly subscription, but it doesn't make you sign up and then, if you don't want any more, cancel. Besides, it will take me more than a month to get through this, I'm sure. More on this then. Interesting music choices.

2. Alabama, living down to its stereotypes. Remember Weird Al's "A Complicated Song" and the verse in which he learns that his girlfriend is his cousin? "Should I go ahead and propose and get hitched and have kids with eleven toes and / Move to Alabama where that kind of thing is tolerated?" That sort of stereotype.

3. Blaming city development policies for the Silicon Valley housing shortage. This is backwards. Cities are actually eager to approve new housing; it's residents who are protesting, and their protests are mostly based on the lack of transport infrastructure to handle additional traffic. Of course, those residents are also opposed to transport improvement proposals, but then those proposals are mostly stupid. Fact is, building more homes won't solve the crisis, it'll only increase demand. Which isn't to say we shouldn't build them, just ... it won't solve the crisis.

4. A commenter elsewhere on a link to my Tolkien filming rights post says that the rights question isn't in doubt. But that's because the post that I'd linked to just finished establishing that.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

once more unto the Beagle

I wrote about the legal suit between author Peter S. Beagle and his former manager, Connor Cochran, nearly two years ago when it first appeared, but apart from one follow-up, I haven't had anything to say more recently.

Until now, when a pair of dueling statements from the two, on the question of whether Cochran co-wrote any of Beagle's work, appeared. And it occurred to me that, while they appear to be directly contradictory, I don't think they're necessarily incompatible.

Cochran reacts angrily to what he says is Beagle's statement that Cochran claims that he [Cochran] "wrote his [i.e. Beagle's] stories." (Are you lost yet? Good.) Cochran says that what he's been saying is that he "CO-wrote" (his emphasis) several stories published under Beagle's name.

But while Beagle's previous statement does say of Cochran, "But he did not write my stories, as he is now claiming publicly," the unsigned introduction which appeared with it clarifies that "Cochran is publicly claiming co-authorship." If the dates given by F770 are correct, this all appeared before Cochran's reply, and Cochran would have been better off treating Beagle's actual words as a misstatement rather than a lie.

What Beagle says Cochran was, was his editor. Cochran also says he was the editor of even the material he didn't co-write. Well, there are editors and there are editors. Some are very hands-on. I remember Isaac Asimov's account of his classic story "Nightfall," saying that there was one paragraph written and inserted, without Asimov's prior knowledge, by his editor, John W. Campbell, Jr. Asimov thought this paragraph clashed badly with its context in style and point of view (it contains the only reference to Earth in the story), but he accepted it as part of his story with his name on it.

That's a lot smaller of an intervention than Cochran says he did, but it shows what can be done and how it's credited. It's still Asimov's story even if that paragraph came from another hand. It was also Campbell who suggested the idea for the story and dictated its ending, as Asimov openly acknowledged, so "Nightfall" is part of the web of co-operation and collaboration that's true of almost all serious writing. It's still Asimov's story, though, his work and no one else's, as Beagle says about his own work.

Beagle says he got a lot of help from Cochran as an editor, that he's gotten a lot of help from a lot of editors over the years, but that his work is his work. He's very defensive about this, staking his claim even to his first novel from 1960, a work which is not in dispute in this case. Well, sure. Beagle's work is his, just as Asimov's is his, even if Cochran made major contributions to it. But Beagle's defensiveness is not proof that Cochran is right. In his place I'd feel even more defensive in reaction to an outright lie than to something with a grain of truth in it.

The clue, I think, lies in the paragraph Beagle quotes from the formal legal correspondence by his lawyer, Kathleen Hunt. This says nothing about the actual writing process. It's about copyright claim, the intent of Beagle and Cochran when working together, regardless of who actually did what. Hunt says, "there was no objective manifestation to create a work of joint authorship, [and] that the parties' conduct at the time the works were created suggests a clear intent not to create a work of joint authorship." And, as long as you read that as being about authorship credit and not about contribution to the product, it perfectly meshes with Cochran's statement, "Peter and I both thought that keeping my contribution to certain stories under wraps was the best thing for the Beagle literary 'brand.'" As I'm sure it was, if Cochran's claim is true. Even outright ghostwriting - which is not being claimed here - is kept under wraps; that's why it's called that. (If a book published under a celebrity's name has "As told to ..." on the t.p., it's not technically ghostwritten.)

But by doing that, by subsuming his contributions - whatever they may actually have been - under the mantle of editor, Cochran was consciously and deliberately giving up any claim to be the co-author of the story. He has no claim to moral ownership of the work. This is a matter of copyright law: if it has Beagle's name on it, it's Beagle's work. You can see the point by contrasting it with work for hire. In work for hire, nobody's arguing over who wrote the words, but the writer has given up any claim to own them. Unless there's a charge that the owner didn't abide by the contract, the writer has no further claim over the words.

That leaves the question of, so why is Cochran making this claim now? Why is he spreading around more widely what had previously been, in his words, "never public" and merely "not ... a strict secret"? Cochran made his public statement in reply to Beagle's defense, but Beagle isn't just reacting to a slightly wider rumor; there's Hunt's already-written letter to Cochran's lawyer to consider: it's a defense against a claim made in correspondence by the other lawyer.

Cochran says, as already quoted, why he "was never public about co-writing at the time," but he doesn't say why he's being public now. And what comes to my mind is, in Kathleen Hunt's legal language, "there can be little doubt that the sole purpose of your Correspondence was to fraudulently obtain authorship credit in the 27 Works in order to acquire leverage over my client in pending litigation."

And that's how I see it at the moment.