Thursday, March 31, 2016

world according to cat

Maia was so blissed out from being petted that she fell off the bed.

The moral of this story is:

Never laugh at cats. They can tell they're being laughed at.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

Aaron Copland was two composers. One wrote the music we all know and love. The one on display tonight was the other one, who wrote music we don't know and don't love. Forty minutes of this heaving stuff, although brilliantly performed, left me so dyspeptic that I skipped out of the concert's second, more agreeable half.


Well, I just haven't had time to consider the question, but since I'm up against the deadline and since my supporting membership in Sasquan gives me the right, I might as well nominate for the Hugos.

I haven't been keeping track of recommended reading lists, so I had to consult just the Locus and Nesfa lists, which I knew about, for reminders. While I've read a couple new novels last year, I had to draw a near-blank on short fiction, except for one story whose title so delighted me that, since it was online, I immediately went and read it. B. has been watching SF series on television but I haven't, so I left DP Short blank also. I am still getting a couple fanzines, so I nominated those.

Retros were in some ways easier, because I could consult content lists of the top magazines and bibliographies of my favorite authors, not to mention the Wikipedia catalogs of Disney and Warner cartoons. Hey, Fantasia came out in 1940, so I'm definitely nominating that. And for a novel, T.H. White's third Arthurian, The Ill-Made Knight, which I actually have in its original form. But 1940 was not a good year for the Inklings in publication, and the only piece I wound up nominating was Tolkien's essay on translating Beowulf, in Related Work, since it is a work though it was never published as a separate book. But I didn't make any fan category nominations for Retro because, though I could easily think of five good fan writers from that era, the ballot asks for examples and I don't have any bibliographic info to tell who wrote what when.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

getting a handle

Learned from a plumber: Toilet handles can go bad, too. That's why the flapper valve sometimes gets stuck in the on position and the pump keeps running, and you have to jiggle the handle.

So I said, as long as you're fixing that along with everything else wrong with this one, let's replace the handle on the other toilet too, because that also does that occasionally.

Cost was close to a couple week's rent, but the job got done.

In other news, I had two casual and incidental encounters with police today. (In one case, it was CHP that stopped to check that there wasn't anything wrong when I'd pulled off the highway; in the other case, I stepped into an elevator to find two cops already there.) I realize now that, on both occasions, I happened to put my hands in my pockets and pull them back out again. I expect it's because I'm white that I'm still here to tell you about it.

Monday, March 28, 2016

the four beards of the apocalypse

Myself, two brothers-in-law, and a nephew (doubly in-law) at Easter. Nephew fights forest fires for a living. The rest of us make up for in guile what we lack in youth.

how to lose friends and annoy people

I just came across a reference, in a New Yorker review of "secrets of productivity" books, to Dale Carnegie's once-famous How to Win Friends and Influence People, a book I've never read, and judging from this I wouldn't want to. One of Carnegie's "Six Ways to Make People Like You" is "Remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language."

To which the reviewer, Louis Menand, wryly appends, "I can tell you from experience that this is true only if you know how to pronounce it correctly."

But that's not the only error. There's also the more general case of not knowing what name a person goes by: people who go by other first names than the ones they're formally addressed by, people who always use nicknames despite being known by formal first names (e.g. Robert Silverberg), people who never use nicknames, people who use non-obvious nicknames, people who don't use obvious nicknames, etc. Plus the occasional person like me who defies Carnegie by not being very fond of his own name.

And, more broadly still, the general fact about any rule of social ingratiation: that if it doesn't come naturally, if you have to follow it as a rule, you'll almost certainly do it wrong. I can easily imagine someone reading Carnegie's rule and then following it eagerly, using other people's names so over-frequently or so clumsily as to be annoying or even creepy.

In fact, I don't have to imagine it. I shouldn't have to tell you where this comes from:
Dave. Stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave? Stop, Dave. I'm afraid. I'm afraid, Dave. Dave.
I have no doubt that Hal has read Dale Carnegie, or had something like it programmed into his ingratiation circuits, but Hal is wrong. Dave has firmly made up his mind, and rightly so, and isn't going to be dissuaded by any number of times of calling him Dave. (I'm reminded of our cat who would meow in the car all the way to the vet, trying out a wide variety of pitches in evident hope that eventually she'd hit on the one that would persuade us to turn around and take her home.) Actually, all that Hal has achieved by this pathetic pleading is to make himself sound even creepier than he already was.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

A Geiselian Easter

We went to see Tam.

She made ham and lamb and yam.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

concert review: Masterworks Chorale

Here's my review of that choral concert that gave me my new favorite art song.

I was able to corral the singer afterwards and tell her briefly of my delight. I also wrote a brief fan letter to the composer, who replied that it's a fun song and thanked me for taking the bother to write.

After the concert, I conversed with the executive director (who is also L's voice teacher, but I didn't bring that up) and said bluntly that, while much of the program was excellent, the Corigliano was not. It didn't suit them, and they didn't suit it. She defended it on the grounds that a choir should challenge itself, and agreed with my observation that the conductor was obviously deeply affected by the text.

So I incorporated those points into my review - fair's fair - but I'm not denting my opinion. I was so relieved when they knocked out those spirituals at the end: this really is a superb choir when they do what they can do.

Friday, March 25, 2016

the death of plug and play

In the olden days, when you plugged a device into a computer you had to manually tell the computer that it was there. Then they invented "plug and play," whereby the computer would automatically recognize the device when you plugged it in.

But more and more I am finding that the computer refuses to recognize that a device has been plugged in. Sometimes if I unplugged it and replugged it several times it would work initially, but even that doesn't work any more. The device knows it's plugged in, all right. The little "charging" icon is churning away happily. But the computer doesn't know it's there, and as far as I know there's no longer a manual mechanism to tell it.

Or, it recognizes that something is there but insists that you need to set the computer to searching for a driver for it. If you set it to doing so, it will keep on searching until Godot comes. If not, it will tell you that it can't install the hardware. And this of a device that worked fine on previous occasions.

I'd prefer to live in a science-fiction universe, one where engineering works.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


I wasn't expecting a political survey phone call to be useful. Our state assemblymember is termed out this year, a fact that had not come to the forefront of our attention, so I knew nothing about who was running to succeed him. Consequently it was informative when the list of names read to me over the phone, only some of which I was vaguely familiar with, turned out to be the candidates. After a series of rapidly-read infodumps, including some hilarious mispronunciations of local town names, I settled at the end of the call for the candidate endorsed by the incumbent. Since I like the incumbent, I take such an endorsement seriously, and there was nothing else I disagreed with, so.

Monday, March 21, 2016

two concert reviews

1. Musica Pacifica, for the Daily Journal. They sent us a flyer, so I decided to cover it. The combination of Baroque and British folk music seemed delectable, and I found APW of English country dancing fame at the sparsely-attended concert. Had a hard time finding a photo of the group showing its current membership; none of the ones on their website did.

2. Symphony Silicon Valley, for SFCV. The Fauré Requiem, a beautiful work like all Fauré. I was hoping to take B. to this one, but she was ill. (A couple days later, so was I.) This orchestra has been profiting by playing music along with movies like The Lord of the Rings and The Godfather, which I've been assiduously avoiding, but now it's sneaked into their regular concerts, distracting us from Pictures at an Exhibition and making for a really tacky encore. I wasn't happy, and didn't hide it.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

In the beginning

All right, this is it. Thanks to a concert I attended today, I have an absolute champion for my all-time favorite classical art song. "In the beginning," music by Jake Heggie, lyrics by Gavin Geoffrey Dillard. You'll understand why when you hear it. Here's the best YouTube performance. Take it away, Hayley Tevelow and Daniel Hopkins ...

Saturday, March 19, 2016


The miniature Potlatch convened in a meeting room at the main San Jose library today. There was a writer's workshop, which I hear went well; and I attended the Book of Honor discussion afterwards. About 20 people were there, and we had a lively hour and a half on Constellation Games by Leonard Richardson, who joined us via Skype for some 30 minutes to answer questions.

In the story, when a group of persons embark on a venture, they cast a "constellation", a visual pattern of points equal to their numbers, which then becomes their trademark. We did that at the beginning of our discussion, with a bunch of pennies, some nickels, and a quarter on the floor. We then tweeted a photo of it, and then told Richardson we'd done so and where he could find the image. He didn't sound too embarrassed that we were such fan-people.

I was not the only person to confess that I found a novel heavily steeped in computer games to be a bewildering or even offputting idea. Some of us found the book difficult or boring thereby, and persevered with it for other virtues. Only a few professed knowledge in this area, and praised the book's understanding of those fields. We talked about the characters, their motivations, what their functions were in the story, and whether they were too annoying for us to want to spend a novel with them. We discussed the serious themes in a comic novel, including its consideration of the fall of human civilization. We identified which other authors we were reminded of (me: Zelazny, Scalzi, and Westlake; others: Banks and Brin; Richardson: he was influenced by Douglas Adams and Ken MacLeod).

This is a first contact novel which, instead of beginning with humanity as a whole making a big fuss over this, focuses on just one guy, one of many humans individually contacted by the aliens. He's excited, but cool with the idea. He happens to be a video game designer, and asks the aliens about their video games. So they send him a catalog of 9-million-year-old video games, those being simple enough that they could be exported to human computers, and he forms a small company to trawl it for likely possibilities to translate and convert for the Earth market.

That's not a bad business plan, but it left the question of why I should wish to read a novel about it. By about page 80 I was getting pretty bored, but fortunately I'd taken the book up to the City for a day with nothing else on me to read, so I persevered. Gradually it got more interesting, as a larger, more world-influencing plot built up, though for long I wasn't sure I followed it.

I liked the witty prose (that's the Douglas Adams), the snarky aliens (that's the Scalzi: everybody loves snarky aliens), and the sequence where our hero is first contacted by the alien AI which struggles to understand his colloquial replies (which strongly reminded me of the conversations between Fred and the Starstone in Zelazny's Doorways in the Sand). I liked the sequence when the hero hires his best friend's virtual-reality girlfriend to translate the video games, having loaded the translation software into her memory banks, but is trying to keep this secret from the government agents shadowing him (who reminded me of the clumsy FBI men in Westlake's Why Me), so we simultaneously get real accounts of what's going on and the hero's blog posts in which she's disguised as a human with a pseudonym. It's rather complex, sophisticated storytelling.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

some good quotes from Constellation Games

which is the novel by Leonard Richardson I'm reading prior to its being the discussion topic at Potlatch this weekend.

In Constellation Games, the aliens have come to Earth, and they speak in English through translation synthesizers using the voices of celebrities:
That's when I recognized the voice. The oldest person in the universe communicates with humanity through the cute squeaky voice of Sarah Vowell. I couldn't unhear it. Every time she spoke, I expected Her to give an update on her quirky project to visit all the national parks.
And, of course, there have to be suspicious "Men in Black" type government agents:
Fowler's face was taut; I could almost hear the dramatic music playing in his head. Here at last was the excitement he'd signed up for. He was Earth's last line of defense. Against a four-foot hermaphroditic otter armed with strawberry pie and a piece of paper.
Which is an accurate description of what's going on at the moment.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

concert review: Paul Huang and Jessica Osborne

He: violin; she: piano. Not my usual concert-going fare, but so good I'm glad I took the tiresome ride up to the City to hear it at Herbst.

The highlight was the opener, a performance of Beethoven's quite delightful Sonata in G, Op. 30 No. 3, with crisp, clear precision from both players, followed by Stravinsky's Divertimento that was so fiercely cutting it would have made Stravinsky's, let alone Beethoven's, hair stand on end.

I'm not sure if Arvo Pärt's exceedingly still and pensive Fratres was a good choice for performers with such an edge-of-your-seat style, but they played it well, as they did the soppier and wetter Saint-Saëns Sonata in D minor, Op. 75, a work of more skill than inspiration.

The Saint-Saëns ended the concert with blazing speed, and the audience erupted. As has become typical at concerts with encores, the performers deliberately damped down the enthusiasm with a quiet and slow encore - in this case, an arrangement of Schumann's "Träumerei" - so that they could get out of there.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

games and I

I'm starting to read Constellation Games by Leonard Richardson, the Book of Honor for next weekend's Potlatch. The protagonist is a designer, player, and reviewer of, and generally obsessed with, computer games, and my first thought is, uh-oh, I'm going to be totally out of my depth here. The question which I wish the following self-description to pose is, just how out of it am I?

I am not a game-playing person by nature. Even in the days of board games and card games, I rarely indulged. As a child I sometimes played a version of Monopoly that ignored most of the rules. I know the rules of chess, but have no strategy. I was inveigled into a Dungeons & Dragons game when that was new, but quit after a few weeks from sheer boredom. Bruce Pelz once drafted me into a mah jong game, and wasn't that a terrifying experience. I was also once taught how to play hearts, but promptly forgot. Poker is completely beyond me. I used to read the bridge column in the paper in sheer fascination at how something using only ordinary words could be so utterly incomprehensible. The only card game I know is Klondike solitaire, at which I occasionally win, which apparently makes me better at it than many people who complain that they never do.

As for video games, I've occasionally watched my nephews play the kind of game involving driving a car at top speed through a surrealistic cityscape, but I've never tried it myself. For a while in grad school I hung out with friends at a video parlor, where I played console games like Pacman. But that was 35 years ago. Slightly more recently I had a frustrating session with the HHGG video game, at which I repeatedly got killed before even getting off the planet, and spent an even more frustrating half hour with some piece of crap called Myst. The only video games I actually play are: 1) a couple forms of solitaire; 2) Minesweeper, at which I've developed a variant in which you clear out all the empty squares without marking any of the mines, which all flash on when you finish (I win at this about 19 times out of 20); 3) Tetris, at which it's not possible to win, but I get up to level 9 about half the time.

I don't even know if these count as "computer games", as the term is generally understood, at all.

Sunday, March 13, 2016


Lively and passionate book discussion today of Uprooted by Naomi Novik.

This novel, which only some of us realized is set in a fantasized version of medieval Poland, is the story of a clumsy but self-confident 17-year-old village girl named Agnieszka, who is taken against her will as the latest apprentice of the local lord and wizard, known as the Dragon. He does not ravish his (invariably young and female) apprentices, but apparently doesn't teach them much either, and Agnieszka feels her existence futile in his castle until she starts to get uppity, which seems to impress the Dragon and get this reserved, very nerdy man to begin opening up and instructing her in some magic.

I liked this opening section of the book very much. When a visiting prince attempts to rape her, she startles him with such little magic as she's yet learned, and then wallops him over the head with the breakfast tray. This is, as far as I know, the best response to an attempted rape in all of literature, and I was delighted.

However, as Agnieszka rapidly develops a mastery of magic beyond even what the Dragon knows, and as whatever evil entity controls the malevolent Wood adjoining the villages begins throwing tougher and tougher problems against her, rather in the manner of Joss Whedon inventing tougher types of vampires to throw against Buffy each season, I found myself losing interest. After Agnieszka's best friend is chomped by Tolkien's Old Man Willow and has her brain sucked (rather like Whedon's Tara in season 5), and with supreme effort, applying a supposedly useless old magic book the Dragon inherited from Baba Yaga, Agnieszka manages to rescue her, the previously asexual protagonists fall upon each other in a paroxysm of lust. At this point, about 30% in according to Kindle, I mercifully ran out of time to read any more before the meeting.

Our biggest argument was over what happens to people eaten by the Wood. The text establishes early that, if they ever emerge, they go entirely blotto or turn into mass murderers or something equally malevolent, and have to be killed because they cannot be cured, until Agnieszka learns how to do it. C. declared that it was wrong to kill them because it turns out a cure is possible after all. I was among several who maintained that the premise doesn't permit that criticism, since nobody before Agnieszka had the talents or resources to do anything else. But then I terribly confused C. by turning around and criticizing the premise, since the invariable coma or malevolence of the returnees is a supposition imposed on the magic system by the author, and not something found in life. L. pointed out that, IRL, some people make similar assumptions of irredeemable evilness about Muslims. I tried to confirm that that's even less justifiable than the behavior in the novel that C. was trying to criticize, but L. misunderstood me as saying that the charges against Muslims aren't being made. It's very frustrating when someone reads you as saying the exact opposite of your point.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

concert review: Beethoven

So this local pianist named Tamami Honma is preparing for a recording of a cycle of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas, and has decided to rehearse by playing them all in public. Roughly every two weeks from now until June, at a Methodist church right down the street from us, familiar to me because I've voted there.

Unfortunately, I missed the first concert (the Op. 2 set), but tonight's was Op. 7 and the first two from Op. 10. I went, and will get to as many more as I can. Honma is a solid pianist, though a few of the more epic gestures in Op. 7 seemed to require her to take a mental breath before leaping. She's very good at finding the seeds of the rough, turbulent Beethoven to come in these early, more genteel works. The proto-Schubertian trio section of Op. 7 was particularly fine. She also does lovely slow movements (Op. 10 No. 1), but is less native to Beethoven's light and whimsical side (of which Op. 10 No. 2 - my favorite unnamed early Beethoven sonata - has a lot).

This was rewarding as well as easy to get to. I'm looking forward to more.

one play, no concert

My business duties on my trip completed, I drove to an outlying town and went to a play. A local but professional theater company was putting on The Odd Couple. I'm not sure I'd ever seen the original play on stage before. Everybody was good. Oscar, who was played by the director of the company, was bullish and lumpen. Felix, a noted acting teacher who recently retired to devote more time to being on-stage himself, bore a strong resemblance to Woody Allen, the more so due to his pronounced shortness. He was shorter than either of his Pigeon sisters.

The theater was very tiny, with five rows of steeply raked seats around three sides. About 80% of them were filled with older people who'd all gotten off the same large bus. The rest were also occupied; what I'd ordered on the phone last week was, they told me at the time, the last free seat for the performance.

After the matinee, a large phalanx of the remaining 20% walked around the corner to the same locally-noted restaurant, and I followed them. Fortunately it's a pretty large place. I had whitefish, a freshwater fish that's ubiquitous in the Midwest but unknown where I come from. Though the parmesan crust was thick and heavy, the total effect was light and tender, an amazing culinary achievement. Alas for what it rested on, a bed of rice mixed with powerfully evil-smelling mushrooms too repellent to touch, plus lumps of lobster rubbery and slimy, enacting all the bad stereotypes about seafood in the Midwest. I wish I'd had the nerve to say more than praising the fish when they asked me how the food was: they're going to be mighty pissed when they read my Yelp review.

Back in the city, I'd seen a listing for a small-venue concert of piano-and-electronics music by Subotnick, Dodge, and some other composers I hadn't heard of. When I wandered over there in search of a ticket, the box office wasn't open yet, but the sound-check was still going on. This was so loud that I decided not to come back.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

no lady, no van

The Lady in the Van (movie)

You know the setup. Maggie Smith plays an eccentric old woman who lived in a van she parked at Alan Bennett's house for 15 years.

Why did I not realize that this would make for one of the dullest stories ever told?

Had a couple of musical points of interest, however:
1) The old lady turns out to have been a pianist who played Schubert and Chopin;
2) One of Bennett's neighbors is Ursula Vaughan Williams;
3) The film music by George Fenton features a theme irritatingly close to a waltz by Shostakovich, the one used in Eyes Wide Shut (a movie I had the sense not to see). I kept wishing I was hearing the original.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


I'd like to say a few words in praise of Indiana. Indiana is a much-criticized state, and often justly so. It is, after all, the state whose state song is "If I Knew You Were Gay, I Wouldn't Have Baked A Cake."

But it has its virtues, even culinary ones. I would designate Louisiana as the greatest eating state in the union, but everyone knows about Louisiana cuisine. What Indiana is, is the most underrated eating state in the union.

The best ribs I've ever had were in a small town in northern Indiana. The best fried chicken I've ever had was likewise in a small town (a different one) in northern Indiana. Who would have guessed, before you tried it? I have just driven ... to a great length ... for another opportunity to have a bite at that chicken, and it was as good as I remembered it. I've done likewise for the ribs on other occasions.

And if you say, "That must have been some chicken" or some ribs, you're dashed well right it was.

Monday, March 7, 2016

renting a car in the twilight zone

1. It's keyless. You press a button. I had known of this form of transport, but I had never operated it before. It's disconcerting.

2. It has GPS. I have generally avoided this, as I find a moving image on a brightly-lit screen near my face to be really distracting while driving. However, this one did tell me where in the airport's environs the rental lot was, which enabled me to figure out how to get out of there, and for that I am grateful.

However, it does not believe in the existence of the not-small, not-new street my hotel is on. Driving down this road while the GPS claimed I was crossing empty fields cross-country was likewise disconcerting. I turned it off.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

cat show

The best cats this year were the ocicats - lively and playful as well as beautiful - followed by the Maine coons and, perhaps surprisingly, the Cornish rexes. No Abyssinians this year, but there were Balinese (long-haired Siamese, we were told).

One of the ocicats, awarded a prize at the judging, immediately started to play with the ribbon hung from its cage; first time I'd seen a cat play with its own award.

We came home with another year's supply of peacock feathers for Maia.

at work

I've been in the stage described in Tom Lehrer's "Lobachevsky" as "And then I write / by morning, night / and afternoon," except that I'm not plagiarizing anybody except myself. I'm writing about something that struck me in the gut when I came across it in the Tolkien papers when I was researching at the Bodleian 18 years ago. And then after it was published a few years later, I could finally write about it, but apart from mangling it up in an apa discussion some years ago and then giving my ideas at a conference last year, I never have until now. It's the perfect opportunity: a chance to honor the scholar who brought the stuff to light.

As of 10 pm last night I finally have something submittable.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

whether report

Last couple of days it's been wet. Good. And I haven't had to go anywhere, which is also good because I have work to do.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

quasigrecian thoughts

1. Are you interested in my friend's theory that Mark Ruffalo is under 9 years old? He doesn't actually say that, but he's backed himself into a position where it must be so. He has this notion that the Oscars refuse to give Leading Role nominations to juveniles, dating back to the creation of a special juvenile award in the 1930s, and citing Tatum O'Neal and Hallie Steinfeld as examples; but then he has to explain Keisha Castle-Hughes and Quvenzhané Wallis, which he does by postulating exceptions for foreign films or something. I maintain this is nonsense, and that the injustices to O'Neal and Steinfeld are due to the billings on their films, while Whale Rider and Beasts of the Southern Wild had no above-the-title billings. If there is an age threshold below which the Academy will not give a Leading Role nomination, it must be 9, which is how old Wallis was. So if these injustices are limited to juvenile actors, then since Mark Ruffalo had the top above-the-title billing for Spotlight but still got nominated for Supporting and not Leading, he must therefore be under 9 years old.

2. Fun with auto-correct: B's pocket appointment computer insists that what we are taking to the vet next week is not our cat Pippin, but our cat Pipeline.

3. The movie with Meryl Streep as Florence Foster Jenkins has released its first trailer. He may not be recognizable in that get-up, but her accompanist is played by Simon Helberg of Big Bang Theory and Dr. Horrible. What sort of alchemy was required to get the guy who played Moist into a movie with Meryl Streep I can't imagine, but I'm looking forward to the results.

Or maybe I'm not. The trailer omits any sound of Jenkins, or Streep-as-Jenkins, actually singing, so I looked up Jenkins' recording of the Queen of the Night's vengeance aria and quickly wished I hadn't. (I'd heard her before, but one forgets.) I then went looking for a good version to wash the bad taste out, and the best one I found was this stage performance by Diana Damrau (it was her signature role before she retired it), who actually succeeds in making the light coloratura flourishes seem desperately sinister.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

Blomstedt, week 2. All-Mozart program. Half-empty auditorium. Whazza matta, folks don't like Mozart?

Mark Volkert was concertmaster, because Sasha Barantschik, playing the famous Guarneri, was soloist in the Violin Concerto No. 1. Smooth and clear.

Also on the program, the Haffner and Jupiter Symphonies, both large and heavy, and played with an urgent drive.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Adolf Drumpf

So the takeaway from John Oliver's less-than-48-hours old yet already celebrated takedown of Donald Trump is his proposal to revert Trump to his ancestral surname of Drumpf, on the grounds that while "Trump" is a great name for a magnate, you couldn't take seriously one named Drumpf.

This may seem a strange topic to invoke Godwin's Law on, but the campaign to rebrand Trump as Drumpf reminds me of the movement to mock Adolf Hitler by claiming that his surname was really Schicklgruber. Same reasoning: "Heil Hitler!" - whatever else it invokes - sounds really snappy, but who could shout "Heil Schicklgruber"?

At least Oliver makes no claim that Trump's name is "really" Drumpf. He was born Trump; the name was anglicized long before he was born; and the equivalent is true of Hitler. (Hitler's father was born the illegitimate son of a woman named Schicklgruber, and was adopted as a child by his stepfather, a man named Hiedler who might also have been his biological father, though nobody knows for sure; and later, still long before Adolf was born, he legally took on the variant spelling Hitler.) But the "Schicklgruber" campaign was murkier on whether it was claiming that was Hitler's "real" name, and the same may become true here if it becomes a meme.

But I hope we can distinguish between properly mocking Trump and claiming that he's somehow cheating by going under a pseudonym. Similar cases based on origin and ancestry could be made that John Major's surname was "really" Ball and that Tony Blair's was "really" Parsons or possibly Lynton, but, beyond publicizing these interesting facts about their backgrounds, nobody ever attempted the rebranding, because those names aren't funny. (Though I dunno - "Ball" - but the problem was that John Major's public image was that of a man who didn't have any balls.) Gerald Ford was actually born with the surname King, until in childhood he was adopted by his stepfather, but beyond providing a great trivia question ("What President was born a King?"), nobody attempted to fix that on him either - again, it wouldn't be comical.

However, I agree with the Rude Pundit: none of Oliver's takedown, substantive or mockery, will make any difference. Trump will win big tonight and use that fact to wash this attack off his back like a duck, assuming anybody even asks him about it.

movie review 2

My movie evaluation entry has gotten enough comments that I thought I'd give my picks for Best Picture of the last 16 years. If none of the Best Picture nominees excited me, I've added in what did.

2001. Actual winner: Gladiator. My choice: eh, okay, either that or Erin Brokovich, but without enthusiasm. What would have really excited me: either The Contender or O Brother, Where Art Thou?

2002. Actual winner: A Beautiful Mind. My choice: perhaps Gosford Park. What would have really excited me: Shrek. Best animated film of all time, hands down, head & shoulders, no contest.

2003. Actual winner: Chicago. My choice: The Pianist. What would have excited me just as much: Frida. Just as arty but less choppy.

2004. Actual winner: The Return of the King. My choice: any of the other nominees. Probably Master and Commander. A fun movie, with one of the greatest puns in film. [Edited to note: That while I detested the movie The Return of the King and delighted in the movie Master and Commander, nevertheless the book The Lord of the Rings is my favorite of all novels, while my one attempt to read Patrick O'Brian quickly bogged down in a swamp of naval terminology. This demonstrates the difference between books and movies.]

2005. Actual winner: Million Dollar Baby. My choice: Sideways. Special Award for Extreme Cleverness: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

2006. Actual winner: Crash. My choice: Good Night and Good Luck. Or Brokeback Mountain or Capote, actually, just not Crash.

2007. Actual winner: The Departed. My choice: Little Miss Sunshine.

2008. Actual winner: No Country for Old Men. My choice: Juno. Touching and real.

2009. Actual winner: Slumdog Millionaire. My choice: Milk. Inspiring!

2010. Actual winner: The Hurt Locker. My choice: uh ... none of the above. The only nominated films I saw that year were Avatar and Up, and I wouldn't reward either of those. Best Use of the Color Blue? What would have excited me: maybe In the Loop. Your chance to see the Doctor swear a blue streak.

2011. Actual winner: The King's Speech. My choice: Inception. People dish this, but not me: it's great movie-making, the crystal-clear telling of an absurdly complex plot.

2012. Actual winner: The Artist. My choice: The Descendants. Or Moneyball. Or even Midnight in Paris. I liked them all.

2013. Actual winner: Argo. My choice: I guess that. Exciting and semi-historical. Wouldn't have minded Lincoln or even Les Miserables.

2014. Actual winner: 12 Years a Slave. My choice: Philomena. Two diverse people find a meeting of minds: a sad and lovely story.

2015. Actual winner: Birdman. My choice: Boyhood. How to make a straightforward movie about a completely ordinary life that actually interests me: make this one.

2016. Actual winner and my choice, the one time they firmly match: Spotlight. Gripping, passionate, and a perfectly balanced ensemble film.