Saturday, January 14, 2017

concert review: Pacifica Quartet

I really wanted to attend this off-season Music@Menlo concert on Wednesday, and it turned out their publicity agents really wanted me to attend too. They contacted me before I could contact them. Even over seven years since I heard the Pacifica Quartet at a Menlo summer festival, their Mendelssohn cycle there still haunts me, and it looms over my mind every time I hear one of his quartets. The Daily Journal agreed to publish my review, and I was on.

The catch was that I had to warn both Menlo and my editor that I might be too sick to go. I wasn't (the infectious period is long over, but the malady lingers on), but I found that such meager attention that I could pay to the music was with that small portion of my consciousness that could be spared from concentrating on the absorbing and all-consuming task of Not Coughing.

Nevertheless, what I heard was as good as I'd hoped. On seeing the review, my editor was kind enough to remark that its quality showed I'd made a full recovery, but I hadn't. I was on a tight deadline, and Thursday morning was spent alternating bouts of writing with snatches of trying to catch up enough of the sleep I hadn't had the previous night so that I wouldn't be too groggy to write anything. It didn't quite work. I'm happy enough with the content of the aesthetic evaluation, but there are awkwardnesses of expression and grammatical glitches that can only be classed as "good enough for daily newspaper work." What, for instance, does the "its" in the last sentence of the penultimate paragraph mean? Damned if I know, and I wrote it.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Frankenstein rebound

I never actually finished reading Frankenstein, a book that struck me as a rather tedious philosophical treatise in novelistic disguise. (I've never gotten far into Ayn Rand, either.)

However, I've been reading some articles on its 200th anniversary in Slate, and was struck by this quote, the Monster speaking to Dr. F:
Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even YOU turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance.
Read that last phrase again.

Mary Shelley not only invented science fiction.

She discovered the Uncanny Valley.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

media fantasy

In my delirium, I dreamed that there was a television show, one of those shows that give ordinary yobs their 15 minutes of fame, in which they'd be interviewed by a man skilled at bringing out their secrets and other interesting things about them. The title of the show was Talk To Mr. Adrian.

Then the producers decided they needed a spinoff with a female host, one connected to the Mr. Adrian show but distinct from it, which received the title Tell Mr. Adrian's Ultraweird Girlfriend. That this was an odd and dubious title occurred to me even in the dream.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

thin ice

A sad story hit the news today: a mother and young son fell through the ice on a frozen pond in Kansas and drowned. Of course, they were visitors from California, where frozen ponds are unknown, and thus they might not have known anything about them, but that only increases the urgency of my question, one that's lurked in mind every time I've read a story including people venturing out on ice this way (for instance, American Gods): How do you know? How do you know the ice will be thick enough to hold you? Because if you're not entirely sure, it seems a rash thing to do. I've never been in a position to have the option, but my inclination to decline has reinforced itself.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

water, anywhere

Noon, Monday. Time for lunch. I pour myself a glass of tap water to have with.

Only I don't. No water from the faucet, hot or cold, or from any of the faucets. I check the tank of the toilet I flushed an hour earlier. Nope, it hasn't filled up.

First thought, some prankster has turned off our outside main water valve. I check. They haven't.

Call the plumber dispatcher. They have trouble grasping the concept of "no water," but eventually it's clear, and they send a guy out who arrives in half an hour.

Through his impenetrable accent, I gather that he found a water company worker outside of our townhouse complex, and established that the water for the entire complex had been turned off. Oh. Nobody had told me.

Fortunately, he doesn't charge me, and goes away.

A couple hours later, the water comes back on.

About that time, I receive an e-mail from my landlord. They just received, in the mail, a notice from the property management company that runs the complex saying that the water would be off today. The suggestion that they need to send out these things sooner has been made.

Monday, January 9, 2017

he doesn't remember what he said

Meryl Streep called out Donald Trump's mockery of a disabled reporter, in her speech at the Golden Globes. Trump in return has claimed he didn't mock the guy - well, he did: it's on video - and called Streep an overrated actress. This is mere abuse: even in the unlikely event that this much-honored performer is overrated in her craft, that is completely unrelated to the truth of what she's saying.

Here's an article on the background, what Trump was mocking the reporter for, which actually I hadn't known. It all goes back to Trump's claim that he saw TV news reports of thousands of Muslims celebrating in Jersey City after 9/11. This reporter's article at the time, saying merely that police questioned some people who were allegedly seen celebrating, was the only thing Trump could find that even remotely backed this up, and it didn't go very far: no thousands, no TV or other evidence. The reporter pointed out this difference, and Trump was mocking him for allegedly backtracking on the story, which he didn't do.

But this gives me an opportunity to raise a point: what made Trump think he had seen TV reports of crowds of Muslims celebrating in Jersey City? And I immediately think of the Mandela Effect, people being sure they remember things that just aren't so. What satisfies here is when there's an explanation for what they thought they saw. I'm not sure there exists one for the most famous case, the old movie about the genie. Claims that the people who remember this are thinking of a different movie about a genie starring a different black actor have been met with heated denials. They insist it's a different movie in which different things happen, and they remember both movies being on the video shelf at the same time. But it seems generally accepted that people who remember Nelson Mandela dying when he was still in prison in the 1970s are probably thinking of Steve Biko.

I've had a few cases like that, when I insufficiently distinguished people. I was quite surprised when I saw James Taylor perform at Obama's second inaugural. It was the first time I'd seen him in decades, and I'd thought he had died long ago in a plane crash. It took some looking up to find that the person I was thinking of was Jim Croce, and this moment was the first time I had ever realized that "Fire and Rain" and "Time in a Bottle" were by different guys.

So if it's not Mandela but Biko, and not Taylor but Croce, what could Trump have seen that made him think crowds of Muslims were celebrating in Jersey? I didn't watch anything of 9/11 on television, but I did read the news, and my recollection - which I haven't checked - is of reports of large crowds of Muslims celebrating in the West Bank. I remember that because they and the Taliban seemed the only people happy on the occasion; even Qaddafi and Saddam maintained, as I recall, a dignified silence.

So maybe Trump saw a news clip from the West Bank, and somehow misread a label or misheard a correspondent, and thought it was in Jersey City? For a guy who seems not to pay much attention to anything he sees or hears that doesn't have his name in it, wouldn't that explain it?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

the book review of Patricia Hearst

American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst by Jeffrey Toobin (Doubleday)

Wow, did this 344-page book ever go fast. I read it in about three hours, pretty much nonstop. The only thing I'd ever read about the Hearst case, apart from following the newspapers at the time, was the chapter in David Talbot's Season of the Witch. Talbot seemed convinced that Hearst feigned her adherence to the SLA, to keep them from killing her, and stayed on the run after the bulk of the gang were killed out of fear that the cops would shoot her on sight, though he admits that doesn't explain her post-capture defiance.

Toobin only cites Talbot for background impressions of society at the time, which is Talbot's real interest. It's Toobin who dives into the detail of the event - much more about the first two acts than the sometimes wearying trial - and he makes clear that the Talbot interpretation is Hearst's defense as offered in her own book, which I haven't read. Toobin isn't buying it, though he stops short of calling Hearst an outright liar. There's much more than I knew that suggests Hearst was happy as a revolutionary rebel on the run, and it largely explains her court conviction.

Toobin does perhaps go too far in pointing out the repeated occasions Hearst could have escaped but didn't. I think this situation is far more complex than he posits. I was surprised at the lack of any references to Elizabeth Smart, who likewise could often have escaped but didn't. There are salient differences between them: Smart was only 14 and a dutiful child with little experience on her own, whereas Hearst was 20 - an adult, living away from home - and had been a feisty rebel against parental discipline even when she was 14. But Toobin doesn't even discuss the differences, let alone the similarities. All he offers is a short discussion, near the end of the book, of Stockholm syndrome, but denies it applies to Hearst, though the facts as he gives them seem to fit it, with a huge contrast between Hearst's initial terror and the gang quickly treating her kindly and even coming to like her. (Smart, by her own account, had no sympathy for her captor, who terrified her; but that's also what Hearst said about the SLA. Smart, however, never showed any evidence of being happy there.)

Curiously, the character who my sympathy increased for the most is Steven Weed, and this because of, not despite, Toobin's utter contempt for him. Unquestionably, Weed was in many ways an unsatisfactory person, but Toobin's judgment of Weed's behavior at the kidnapping scene is manifestly unfair. Over the turn between pages 2 and 3, Weed escapes from the home invaders and "bolted" (Toobin's word) out the back door, never to be seen by them, or Hearst, again. Over the next several chapters come repeated denunciations of Weed's "cowardice". These seem to be written from Hearst's perspective, but Toobin doesn't say so openly, and shows no sign that he disagrees with this judgment.

It isn't until an aching 55 pages later that we learn that, after escaping, Weed did exactly what we'd expect him to do: try to find a neighbor who could call the police. And turn back to page 2 for a moment. After already having been "knocked almost unconscious" by the kidnappers, Weed "was able to rise from his stupor" and "made a wild rush" at Bill Harris, who "slammed [him] to the ground" again. Is that fighting back against an openly armed man "cowardly" behavior? And, once it was clear that defeating three kidnappers by personal physical force was beyond his powers, isn't escaping - and hoping they don't chase you down or shoot you - and seeking help the sensible heroic action? Unless one's criticism of Weed is for not being Rambo (and at times I think Toobin is making that argument) or you think his droopy mustache made him an irredeemable wimp (and at times I think Toobin is making that argument too) his action at the scene, after his initial panicked "Take anything you want!" after the invaders demanded his money (which I can't really blame him for in the circumstances, although Toobin's repeated snide response is that yeah, they took Patricia) seems to me to have been wholly admirable, whatever else he did before or afterwards.

However, Toobin shows a tremendous grasp of how to tell a concrete, detail-filled story in lucid style, and I especially enjoyed details I hadn't known before - like references to the other two kidnapping victims of the evening - and the cameo appearances by people who later became famous for other things, like Lance Ito (the future O.J. Simpson judge), Sara Jane Moore (the future wanna-be presidential assassin), and Bill Walton (the already-then-famous basketball player).

Friday, January 6, 2017

how to create a new online account

1. Go to an online vendor you've used before. Fill up your shopping cart.

2. Hit "checkout". The system will tell you to log into your account.

3. Curse quietly. All your old account information and passwords were lost when your computer crashed a year ago, and you haven't ordered with this vendor since then.

4. Try a few user names and passwords that you frequently use for low-security accounts. They don't work.

5. Since you think you know the username, click the "Reset password" button.

6. Now it asks you for the answers to your security questions. Discover that you don't remember the answers to your security questions.

7. But not to worry! It says that if you don't remember the answers to your security questions, you'll have to create a new account.

8. Go to the new account page.

8.1. By this time you've already spent more time trying to check out than you spent shopping.

9. Fill out everything on the account page.

10. The button doesn't work. Enable JavaScript.

11. This erases everything you've entered on the page. Fill it all out again.

11.1. By this time you've spent twice as much time trying to check out as you spent shopping.

12. Hit the button. Get an error message saying it's matched up your information and you appear to already have an account. Duh. So it won't let you create a new one. Double-duh.

13. Curse again, more loudly this time. Go back to the login page and try again to remember your password and/or security questions. Fail.

14. Go back to the create-account page. Since you don't have another address, try changing your e-mail contact to a different account and your phone number to your cell phone.

15. It works! Go to the payment page.

16. Go the other room where your wallet is, because you can't remember your credit card number. You used to remember it, because of the frequency with which you order online, but the company reissued the credit card with a new number a few months ago. Note the part of the number you've forgotten, and return to the computer.

17. Go back to the wallet and look up the credit card's 3-digit security code.

18. Go back to the wallet and look up the credit card's expiration date.

18.1. You could have done all these at once, of course, or have just brought the card to the computer, but each time you forgot you'd need more information further down the page.

18.2. By this time you've spent four times as much time trying to check out as you spent shopping.

19. Success at last.

20 (later). Get an e-mail at the address you used for the original account warning you that someone has been trying to break into your account, and it's been locked.

Thursday, January 5, 2017


1. I was going to write a post in honor of Tolkien's birthday on Tuesday, but technical problems prevented it. And I didn't have anything on the subject I was actively burning to say right now.

2. The touching quote from the end of Watership Down published in memory of its author has one small but irritating transcription error. The Black Rabbit says, "They'll be alright." That's not what he says in the book. It's "They'll be all right." Adams's granddaughter, who's supposed to be a journalist, employs the same usage in a memorial article, so I wonder if it comes from her.

3. B. has been watching the DVDs of a show called Gilmore Girls. I came by and found it at a scene where one girl is, quite bossily, expounding on high-school student politics to another. I watched for a bit. "Now I know why you like this show so much," I said. "It's so catty." B. is not herself catty, but ... she likes cats.

4. The Chinese restaurant that offered my favorite wor won ton soup has closed and been replaced by another Chinese restaurant. I went there for the soup to check and see if it was actually the same restaurant under a new name. It isn't. The soup was good, but not the same or as outstanding. Another Chinese restaurant I recently found is reputed to have great wor won ton. I tried that too. Again, it was good but not great, and the vegetable was mostly bok choy. I like bok choy, but ... enough. I may become Diogenes on this subject.

5. While paying bills, for which I'm still old-fashioned enough to write checks, I thought again of how the pre-printed "19" (for the first two digits of the year) that was once universal on checks disappeared a few years before the date flip, but when that was safely over, a "20" never made an appearance. However, more recently banks have started decorating the blank date line with an explanatory "Date" below it in small letters.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

new year's eve

Realizing that I was unlikely to find much other opportunity for socializing over this New Year's holiday, I reinforced myself with caffeine so that I wouldn't fall asleep and attended my friends' annual New Year's Eve party. (B. was feeling poorly and stayed home.) I stayed till the end of the party at 2:30, which turned out to be later than the traffic lights on the drive home wanted to stay up.

During the course of conversation, I found myself siding with Tim May in a disagreement with Brad Templeton over the causes of the war in Syria. Anyone knowing both me and those two gentlemen might find that an unusual disposition of resources.

At another point, some of us were discussing people who perform dangerous stunts for the adrenaline rush. We then began listing what we ourselves find adrenaline-stimulating that isn't dangerous. "What gets my adrenaline going," I said very quickly, "is the retransition at the end of the development section of the first movement of Carl Nielsen's Second Symphony." That shut everybody up.