Monday, February 27, 2017

awardalysis

As a former awards administrator for two literary societies, I continue to be fascinated by the Oscars snafu this year. There are two outstanding questions in my mind: 1) how and why was Warren Beatty handed the wrong envelope?; 2) why did it take so long for the PwC awards administrators, who have memorized all the winners precisely to prevent problems like this, to stop the train wreck? I checked the time stamps on my DVR, and it was 1 minute 50 seconds after Faye Dunaway read out "La La Land" until a production crew member collected the cards, though there'd apparently been some fuss going on behind for a previous 10 seconds or so. And it was 40 seconds after that - a full two and a half minutes after the wrong winner was announced - before the correct announcement was made: "Moonlight, you guys won Best Picture." And who said that? Jordan Horowitz, one of the La La producers, not an Academy or PwC representative. That's an unconscionable gap of time and dereliction of responsibility.

However, as the correct card was held up, proving that what Horowitz said was true, I could easily see what had confused Beatty and Dunaway: bad award card design.

The award card had the Oscars logo at the top. Below that was the name of the winning movie, and immediately below that, in the same large and bold-faced type, the names of its producers. Those are the parts the presenter was expected to read, in that order. Only at the very bottom, in very small, light-faced type, was the category, "Best Picture."

If the card Beatty had was laid out the same way, it would have said "Emma Stone / La La Land", in that order, in large and bold-faced type, and only at the bottom, in that tiny, light-faced type, would have been "Best Actress in a Leading Role."

Beatty clearly had the presence of mind to realize that something was wrong as soon as he saw the card. The next thing he did was to look in the envelope, as if speculating whether another card might be in there. Then he tried to draw out the announcement: "... and the Academy Award ... for Best Picture ..." perhaps hoping that someone would stop him or explain things to him. What he was wondering was why the card had the name of the lead actress instead of the producers. He probably didn't see the category in tiny type.

But then he handed the card to Dunaway, who thought he was clowning around and didn't realize anything was wrong. She glances at the card quickly, she doesn't parse the oddity of the personal name, she sees "La La Land" in big bold type, she knows it's a nominee, she reads it aloud. And the train crashes. As someone has pointed out, if instead of being an extra card for Best Actress, it had been for Best Makeup and read "Suicide Squad", this probably wouldn't have happened.

I'd just like to point out that when I was administrator of the Hugo Awards, our announcement cards had the category name in Big Bold letters at the top of the card, so there was no mistaking which was which.

crash

A few years ago, the Best Picture Oscar went to a movie called Crash. This year's Best Picture Oscar was a crash.

I was the Hugo Awards administrator the year after the presenter was given a card with the wrong winner on it. I was earnestly instructed by the executive committee not to do that. I said, "Don't worry: we will only make new and original mistakes." (I later learned that the late great George Flynn had said the same thing the first time he ran the Hugos, so it wasn't a new and original joke.)

I have no idea how the wrong name on the card happened, and it would never have happened under my watch. We didn't prepare anything except the templates until we finalized the winners, and then we made the cards, the press release, instructions for the plaque-maker, and everything else.

But that's not what happened at the Oscars. Instead of the card being incorrect, Beatty was given the card for the wrong award. How that happened, I don't know either. And so Dunaway saw the name of the movie the Best Actress winner was in and read that. I'd give them both some slack for screwing up: they weren't expecting this; they're actors, they work from scripts; and also but not only because of their ages, they may have "senior moments" from time to time, something that's fuddled previous venerable presenters worse than this without the wrong card as an excuse.

Contrary to statements that nothing like this has ever happened before at the Oscars, it has. In 1964, Sammy Davis Jr. was given the card for the wrong film score award (in those days there were two awards).
He read the nominees for the first award — scoring of music, adaptation or treatment — opened the envelope and proudly announced that John Addison had won the Oscar for "Tom Jones." The problem was Addison actually had won the Oscar in the music score, substantially original category. "They gave me the wrong envelope?" asked Davis, as a representative of Price Waterhouse quickly came out with the envelope that had the correct winner — Andre Previn for "Irma la Douce." "Wait'll the NAACP hears about this!" he quipped.
I've seen neither Moonlight nor La La Land - they don't sound like my kind of movies. I like musicals, but an attempt to watch Chicago proved that's not enough to save a movie for me if I'm otherwise uninterested in it. The only movies that won Oscars this year that I have seen are:
  • Manchester by the Sea - a very close cousin of Seth Meyers' Oscar Bait parody. Story about really depressed people with a happy ending consisting of their becoming slightly less depressed. Arrival was supposed to be the hard-to-follow movie this year, but this is the one whose plot confused me, because the flashback scenes were not stylized in any way, and I often didn't realize I was in one.
  • Zootopia - I realize this movie wasn't about its plot, but the plot was such a tedious routine crime-detection story it bored me, and the parallels with race relations were painfully self-conscious to the point of agony.
  • Arrival - hey, a movie I actually liked.
Other nominated movies I've seen:
  • Hell or High Water - a caper film, fun to watch, but typically for the genre quite amoral. And if the scene where the brothers are getting into separate cars to drive away didn't telegraph what was going to happen next, Samuel Morse never lived.
  • Hidden Figures - I saw this because I like historical movies about the Moon program, not to feel virtuous. But gosh, does it ever make you feel virtuous.
  • Jackie - far duller than I'd expected, and an uncomfortably eerie movie. Felt as if it had been filmed in that weird apartment at the end of 2001.
  • Florence Foster Jenkins - I saw this out of curiosity as to what would be done with a movie about the worst singer of all time. Turned out that they toned down the badness of her singing (she was actually much worse than Streep portrays her), and made the moral out of turning her into the kind of person who'd have sung "I did it my way!" if that song had been written yet.
  • Kubo and the Two Strings - arresting animation, sprightly dialog, but rambling and wayward story.
  • Deepwater Horizon - Liked Mark Wahlberg in Patriots Day? Come see him do the same sort of stuff on an oil rig! Actually, this was an impressively taut suspense/adventure movie.
  • Sully - a vicious libel on the investigating commission, but other than that, pretty good.
  • Hail, Caesar! - If you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you'll like. Turned out I didn't.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

itemization

1. We saw a student production of The Ballad of Baby Doe, B.'s favorite opera, at Stanford. The leads had some professional experience. Eugene Brancoveanu, whom I've heard with the Peninsula Symphony, as Tabor has such a powerful baritone that he outclassed everyone else on stage, even if they were skilled, which a few of them were. Sets and costumes were basically non-existent. The sight of respectable 19th century ladies wearing miniskirts was difficult to parse.

2. See the note at the end of this Nook help card telling you to connect to WiFi to unlock your book? I'm responsible for that, having complained to them that it was basic enough to tell you how to enter your name and credit card number but didn't bother to say the WiFi needed to be on, which you actually need to know.

2a. Bibliographic compilation and source citation become difficult when the ebook edition contains no clue as to the pagination of the print edition.

3. Cross-posting between DW and LJ stopped working - yesterday, for me. Others complaining about this blame LJ. I blame DW. DW promises you, on the page enabling cross-posting, that if the cross-post fails, it'll send you an error message. It didn't. Further, long before the cross-posting problem showed up, DW's function allowing your own posts to appear on what they call your Reading Page stopped working. [Ed.: cross-posting is working again.]

4. In UK news, Labour lost a by-election to the Tories in a safe seat in Cumbria, and a lot of people think that proves Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn should resign or beat his breast or something. But on the same day, Labour saved a seat in Stoke that everyone thought they'd lose to UKIP. So what does that prove? Should Corbyn resign north of the Mersey and stay on south of it?

5. In US news, Trump voters want people to stop dissing the President. Where were they when some guy called - what was his name? oh right, Obama - when some guy called Obama was the President?

5a. Also in US news, Trump has decided not to attend the White House Correspondents' Dinner, undoubtably because speakers would diss him. I like Mark Evanier's suggestion: Alec Baldwin should go instead.

6. Mark also speaks of suicide and suicide hotlines. I wonder about those. I once called a suicide hotline: not for myself, but because a friend of mine had gotten very depressed and was saying suicide-like things. I wondered how I could help. But they didn't have any useful advice.

7. Imminent, impending, or already immersing tasks: Compiling the Tolkien studies bibliography (see 2a above). Editing a wad of submitted material for the journal, currently sitting in my inbox. Getting the stuff that hasn't been submitted to be submitted. Installing the new cataloging program on our synagogue's library computer, the vendor having stopped supporting our old one, which would be less of a hassle if it didn't mean the online data connections are switched off. A visit from my brother. More concerts. A meeting with our accountant, to humbly submit the tax papers which I hope will all have arrived by then. Next?

Saturday, February 25, 2017

concert review: Oakland Symphony

Michael Morgan's imaginative programming often takes the form of theme concerts with social relevance. Friday's turned out to be two of them.

The theme that was previously announced was Native America. This intrigued me. My past encounters with actual Native folk music I have not found, shall we say, enlightening. But I remain desirous of coming to a cultural understanding of the original inhabitants of my country; and this, I understood, would be actual Amerinds composing, not 19C white musical Longfellows like Dvorak and MacDowell writing tourist music.

Well, there was one of them. He is a Chickasaw named Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate* whose long choral suite Lowak Shoppala' (Fire and Light) got two movements performed which, it says, include "numerous traditional Chickasaw melodies and rhythms." One depicted a series of clan totem animals in jagged and dramatic but attractive and well-constructed music. The other was based on a series of Chickasaw and Choctaw church hymns, even more attractive and definitely in a Native-sounding harmonic style, sung monophonically by the chorus and then picked up by the orchestra in a dark, heavy scoring (e.g. strings and trombones). I like this guy's style.

The other piece on this half was by John Wineglass, who isn't Native American at all, but African American. His Big Sur: The Night Sun does not, he says, utilize Amerind music but was inspired by a spiritual retreat he took at Big Sur. So I guess it's tourist music. Wineglass is best known as a film and TV composer, and he writes in the florid Americana style common there: themes in strings and soft trumpet, backed by piano chords, with swooping harp coming in at the climax; that sort of thing. He did have some of what I gathered were improvised sections for "world percussion" (including the biggest drum ever, 6 feet tall and about 4 wide), some sort of ethnic flute, and an Ohlone-Chumash vocalist named Kanyon Sayers-Roods whose eerie keening was so striking that it suggests my lack of response to other Native American ethnic singers may simply be explained as she's talented and they're not.

The other half of the concert was Shostakovich's Ninth Symphony, a fine, straightforward performance. So tell us: what's that doing on this program, Maestro Morgan? Well, he explained, this short, light, cheerful and cheeky work defied Stalin's expectations for a huge, pompous peroration to celebrate victory in WW2, the more so as it was a Ninth, with all the epic burden that number has carried in symphonies since Beethoven. "Sometimes," Morgan said, "when you have a strongman leader, who thinks he can tell everyone what to do, artists have to punch back." And when the audience erupted into huge applause at this, he said with a grin, "I don't know what you people think I'm referring to." And he concluded, "Think of the Shostakovich Ninth as a work of resistance ... our own little poke in the eye to strongman dictators." So, social relevance here too.

*Since you asked, it's a tribal name meaning "high corncrib", as everything written about him explains.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

Not a very large crowd showed up at Davies to hear Scheherazade.2: Dramatic Symphony for Violin and Orchestra by John Adams. The ".2" as in a software version 2.0 release (a reference the composer made in his pre-concert talk) is the only acknowledgment the piece makes to Rimsky-Korsakov, though the works have a strong structural resemblance, being long rambling works in four movements with Scheherazade represented by a solo violin, which, however, gets a lot more work here than in Rimsky; it's a violin concerto in all but name. It was played by Leila Josefowicz, for whom the piece was written. Adams says he was inspired de novo by the original story and wanted to give Scheherazade her feminist voice back in response to the Sultan's marital abuse.

However, I'd rather hear the Rimsky. In the role of villains trying to oppress Scheherazade, Adams' orchestral parts were rather anemic. And, purely as music, his work sounded more like a garrulous piece from the Richard Strauss school of Giganticism than like anything that might have distantly descended from Minimalism.

Second half was a reprise of an old MTT success, a big wad selected from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. This was pieces from the original ballet score, not the composer's reworked suites. I prefer the suites.

That morning I got a call from the box office alerting me, a couple weeks in advance of the next season subscription mailing, that they're eliminating the Wednesday concert series altogether. I'm not too surprised. Years ago, the main concert programs were on Wednesday and Friday, with some Saturdays and an occasional Thursday matinee. But in recent years they've been cutting back on Wednesdays and piling up the Fridays and Saturdays.

However, in the last couple years they've introduced some Thursday evening concerts for weeks without a matinee, and the box officer told me they'll be beefing the number of those up next year. So since I'm often attending other events down here on weekends and it gets uncomfortably crowded in the City on weekends, Thursday it'll become for me.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

on the Electoral College

I was asked to comment on this article about the Electoral College.

First I should add that most of my understanding of the Constitution’s intent probably comes from the Federalist Papers. Prof. Finkelman’s quotes all appear to be from Madison’s reports of the debates, which I’ve never read end to end, though I’ve certainly read a lot of works citing them.

Here is what I wrote directly in comment about the article:

That’s a very interesting article, but I’m not sure about accepting all of the arguments. It is, of course, dangerous for an amateur like myself to dispute with an expert when I haven’t even done any research directly in response to this, but I don’t have time to do anything other than lay out my thoughts based on my past education in the creation of the Constitution. I’ve tried to put the phrase “as I understand it” or “my understanding is” around everything I’m thus dredging up from memory.

I’d like to believe the argument that the construction of the Electoral College had nothing to do with protecting the interests of small states, because that would do away with the irritating Trumpista claim that the College’s purpose was to ensure that the presidency went to a winner of a wider variety of states. But I’m not sure I do believe it.

Certainly the Convention’s rejection of having governors choose the president is no proof that the interests of small states weren’t being protected. The governor system would mean one vote per state, which would give the small states too much power. My understanding has always been the makeup of Congress was intended as a compromise: the Senate was apportioned purely by state, while the House more closely approximated apportionment by population. Therefore, the Electoral College, whose numbers were tied to the number of members of Congress in both houses together, gave the small states more power in the Electoral College than they had in the House, but much less than they had in the Senate.

Also, because the number of electors per state was a second-order effect, derived from the numbers in Congress, I’m not surprised if there was not, as Prof. Finkelman states there was not, much discussion of using the Electoral College to protect the interests of small states. But I would be very surprised indeed if there wasn’t discussion of this point in the Convention’s consideration of the creation of the Senate.

Similarly, the 3/5ths clause was, as I understand it, intended to protect the slave power in the House. The Electoral College would again be a second-order effect, despite the quotes from Charles Pinckney and Hugh Williamson (which, as given here, don’t even directly address that point). In any case, because the Electoral College numbers were based on House + Senate together, the 3/5ths clause would be less powerful in the Electoral College than in the House. Although my understanding is that it is certainly true, as Prof. Finkelman states, that it was the 3/5ths clause that enabled Jefferson to defeat Adams in 1800.

(Incidentally, the description of Adams as one “who never owned a slave” reminds me that visits to historical sites have revealed to me that two presidents we don’t think of as slave-owners actually were slave-owners for brief periods, these being Van Buren and Grant.)

I’m also a bit bothered by an unspoken implication that the Electoral College is illegitimate because of the slave-based taint on its origin, even though the 3/5ths clause has been, by definition, a dead letter since 1865. Really it’s accusing the Electoral College of original sin, and as a Jew I find such an argument does not make much of an impression on me. In any case, I’ve seen people denounce the entire Constitution on grounds of one taint on the Founders or another, an argument that must go all the way back to the first Marxist who ever read Charles Beard’s Economic Interpretation.

Prof. Finkelman reports that James Wilson and Gouverneur Morris supported direct election of the president on the grounds that the people would be sure to elect a famous or distinguished candidate. I’m sure they said this. But I’ve always understood that the argument that prevailed against popular vote for president was that the general voters, being ill-informed of nation-wide affairs in days of poor education and when most voters thought of themselves as citizens of their state, not of the U.S. as a whole, would not know much about potential presidential candidates outside their state. But they would know who would know that, and the original intention was to have the electors of the Electoral College be the sophisticates of their states, men who knew the most eligible candidates from other states. But just in case the electors weren’t so sophisticated, there was the insurance clause preventing them from casting both their votes for candidates from their own state.

This argument contradicts the ones given by Wilson and Morris, but I would have thought that there were disputes over this point and that Wilson and Morris lost the argument. If that’s so, then to quote Wilson and Morris alone would be to misread the Convention’s state of mind.

I could be factually mistaken here, but only if I entirely misremember my own education on this matter. But these are my thoughts.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

concert review: Santa Cruz Symphony

It's been raining fairly hard the last couple of days. Yesterday, the main road to Santa Cruz was blocked by a tree falling over, and just as drivers who happened to be packing chainsaws cleared away half of that problem, the same direction of the highway was blocked several miles further back by a rockslide.

On Saturday, however, no rain fell, and because of that I thought it safe to venture to Santa Cruz on that road, since it was already by then the only one open without going 50 miles out of my way and then probably still being blocked. I left very very early and got there in plenty of time, having brought with me a pile of scanning work I needed to do at FedEx, and used my extra time to do that.

I was there on assignment to review the Santa Cruz Symphony, as it was being guest-pianisted by Yuja the Unavoidable, and my editor was curious as to what would happen when she descended in all her sequin-clad glory on a small waterlogged central coast town.

Turned out that she and the locals meshed well together, and I could describe it quite succinctly. (I disclaim responsibility for the Trumpesque headline.) My reviews used to push 1000 words, but ever since I was told to keep them under 650, I'm finding my whole thought processes changing. I thought I had a lot to say about the music, but it turned out brief. Anything else I might have added seemed superfluous. Yuja's dresses (she changed at intermission)? No. The bizarre venue, strangest one I attend regularly, with the ambiance of a basketball arena? No.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Patience

B. and I went to Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience yesterday from the Lamplighters, probably still the best G&S troupe anywhere. The singing was excellent, particularly strong from deep-voiced Cary Ann Rosko as Lady Angela and newcomer Jacob Botha as Grosvenor.

But what was better still was the sumptuously impressive sets (scenic design, Peter Crompton) and the brilliant costumes (design, Melissa Wortman; construction, Miriam Lewis). That was critical, and here's why.

Patience is one of the finest of the G&S operettas - though Sullivan had composed great songs before, this is the first full show where he was consistently on top form from start to finish. But it has a problem, which is that the satire of the aesthetic movement more quickly dated than anything else Gilbert wrote for the Savoy. Even as early as the first revival twenty years later, reviewers were incredulous in recalling that characters resembling Bunthorne had once actually existed. Remember that the trial and fall of Oscar Wilde (who was modeled on Bunthorne rather than the other way around) had occurred in the interim, and the world had changed.

Accordingly, some modern productions update the costuming. The Sixties, which provided later days with their most striking contrast between their aesthetic fad and their conventional style, is a favorite. But Lamplighters artistic director Rick Williams, in an essay in the program, said that these haven't caught on. He thinks we should stick to the original setting because Gilbert's satirical point is universal.

Well, it is. Certainly artistic fashions always lend themselves to popular frenzies and to being exploited by poseurs, a more universal point than, say, Pinafore's now quaintly obsolete class rigidity. But for that reason it seems to me that it's more, not less, appropriate to re-set Patience in the days of some more contemporary artistic fashion. If it's universal, it should be applicable to any time.

The big question is, what do you do about the clothes for the ending, where the hero and the maidens abandon aestheticism and become conventional? There is no contrast available in Victorian days that would equal the impact of a Sixties production I once saw, in which what had been hippie chicks for the entire show were transformed into Jackie Kennedy clones, pillbox hats and all. Suddenly I understood the story in a way I never had before.

But this show did pretty well. The gowns that the maidens wore for the bulk of the show were so vividly pre-Raphaelite that they outdid any actual pre-Raphaelite paintings I could find online. Then for the final scene the maidens came out in what I think can best be described as 1910s middle-class summer hoop dresses, with these stiff medium-brim hats with a sprig of lace hanging off the back. I've seen these hats in period drawings before, but nothing I Google can produce a picture of one. (Nothing appropriate on the Lamplighters site either, for either set of costumes.)

Anyway, I think this production did as good a job as possible with this problem, given that restriction. But I think it odd that a company that entirely re-set their most recent Mikado, and stating while doing so that this was permissible because Gilbert's point was universal (it's "not actually about Japan"), should be so rigidly insistent on preserving his original setting for Patience, when, in the words of the same artistic director, Patience "focuses on the ubiquitous phenomenon of fads, cults and crazes in style, taste and lifestyle in general."

Sunday, February 19, 2017

comfort food by state

Today's Parade magazine has a list of favorite comfort foods, by state. It looks like a good list to go through and check off: whether I've eaten it, whether I've eaten it in the state it's associated with, whether I'd want to eat it. Your reactions are welcome.

Alabama: Barbecue Chicken With White Sauce. White sauce, made with mayo? On barbecue? Ewww, I'm glad I'd never heard of this before.

Alaska: Smoked Salmon Chowder. Sure, I've had this.

Arizona: Chimichangas. Them too, but they're not a particular favorite.

Arkansas: Biscuits and Chocolate Gravy. Gravy, yes; chocolate gravy, no.

California: Ramen. I should warn you that the ramen you'll be served at a restaurant in California is not the cheap bowl of noodles eaten by impecunious students. It's a big bowl of extremely serious Japanese soup, with weird Japanese things in it. I've had this, but it's not something I'd go looking for. The article also mentions Vietnamese pho, though, and that I have extremely frequently.

Colorado: Chile Verde. Sure. If I'm at a Mexican restaurant that has neither tamales nor mole, I'm likely to order this.

Connecticut: Steamed Cheeseburgers. What? No. I've had a plain hamburger from the tiny place in New Haven that claims to have invented them, but to me the great Connecticut food is their thin-crust pizza.

Delaware: Scrapple. I associate this with Philadelphia, and I guess listing it here is proof that Delaware is really not much more than a suburb of Philadelphia. Strangely, the only time I've had scrapple in the Philly area was in the Jersey suburbs. I've not seen it on restaurants elsewhere: I've bought it from the market, but it's not the same.

Florida: Cuban Sandwich. I've had one of these, though in San Jose, not Florida, and my reaction was, "That was interesting. Not likely to have it again, though."

Georgia: Peach Cobbler. I limit my fruit desserts to ones with apple.

Hawaii: Saimin. I had all kinds of unique-to-Hawaii foods in Hawaii, including poi, which is never to be forgotten (and never to be eaten again), but I never even heard of this.

Idaho: Finger Steaks. Interesting idea; never heard of it before. But I haven't been in Idaho in 35 years.

Illinois: Deep-Dish Pizza. Yes, I usually wind up having some of this when I'm in Chicago, because the natives always take me there. I won't tell them this, but it's not really my idea of pizza, so I've almost never had it anywhere else.

Indiana: Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich. Nothing I recall ever having seen on the menu in Indiana, and I've had more great food in Indiana than any other Northern state.

Iowa: Maid-Rite Sandwich. Don't recall ever seeing this either.

Kansas: Chicken-Fried Steak and Mashed Potatoes. I've had chicken-fried steak, I've even had it in Kansas, though I associate it more with Texas. Leave out the mashed potatoes, though: I won't eat those.

Kentucky: Hot Brown. Never heard of, and doesn't appeal to me.

Louisiana: Gumbo. Of all the classic Louisiana dishes, this is the one I found most disappointing in New Orleans restaurants, rather bitter. Way out in Cajun country they told me, in a shocked tone of voice, that Orleans cooks burn the roux, which would explain it. I liked the Cajun gumbo better. But I'd rather have jambalaya, rice dressing, sauteed catfish, fried shrimp, fried chicken ...

Maine: Lobster Roll. I've had this, but I prefer my lobster in bisque, which I've had in Maine.

Maryland: Crab Cakes. Trader Joe's used to sell a really good frozen version of this. The best I've had in a restaurant outside of Maryland was in San Diego; but I did once have them in an ultra-Maryland place right on the shore of Chesapeake Bay, in a sampler plate along with soft-shell crab (which I did not like), and amazingly delicious corn on the cob.

Massachusetts: Clam Chowder. Yep. I was all over central Boston trying clam chowders. I would not rate the fabled Legal Sea Foods anywhere near the best.

Michigan: Pasties. These usually have potato, so I've avoided them. And I've never been to the U.P., which is the part of Michigan these are popular in.

Minnesota: Hotdish. I had something sort of like this at a restaurant in St. Paul once, but not the complete mishmosh.

Mississippi: Tamales. I've heard of the distinctive Mississippi tamales, but I didn't have any when I were there. I eat Sonoran tamales, which are the default kind in California.

Missouri: Toasted Ravioli. I had this in St. Louis, and liked it so much I made it at home.

Montana: Huckleberry Pie. See previous comment on peach cobbler.

Nebraska: Runzas. Now this actually sounds good, but I don't recall coming across it even in rural Nebraska.

Nevada: Thai Food. Kind of a wimpy response. What dish, exactly? We have Thai restaurants all over the place here, too, for the same reason, and I eat at them frequently. I make a few Thai dishes at home, too: pad thai (when I can find the sauce, which stores are strangely reluctant to carry), broccoli with peanut sauce, and occasional red curry.

New Hampshire: Apple Cider Doughnuts. I'd have eaten this, back when I was still having rich desserts, but I don't recall ever being offered any.

New Jersey: Trenton Tomato Pie. Never had this.

New Mexico: Breakfast Burritos. I've seen them on the menu, but won't order them. The idea makes me a little ill.

New York: Buffalo Wings. I'm even more authentic than with Chicago pizza here, and I like these a whole lot more. I've had these, I've had them in Buffalo (as well as many other places), I've had them in the joint that claims to have invented them, which is where I learned that the other half of the wing, the halves that aren't called "drumettes", are called "flats".

North Carolina: Pulled-Pork Barbecue. I've had what claimed to be North Carolina barbecue, but not in North Carolina (another state I haven't visited for 35 years), and I wasn't much impressed. I trust the real thing is better.

North Dakota: Knoephla. Never heard of it; it has potato, so I don't want it.

Ohio: Cincinnati Chili. I've frequently had it in Cincinnati, and unlike some of the other local dishes I've actually had in their home towns, it's completely unknown anywhere else. Don't tell the locals, but it's completely unlike anything else called "chili". It's actually a cinnamon-flavored spaghetti sauce.

Oklahoma: Onion Burgers. Not something I recall seeing in Oklahoma.

Oregon: Mac and Cheese. I know Tillamook cheese, all right (good quality, but milder than my preference), but I don't associate this standard dish with Oregon.

Pennsylvania: Philly Cheesesteak. I've made a point, on some visits to Philadelphia, of heading down to South Philly to have one of these in its canonical home. Like the Mission Burrito in San Francisco, it's better there than anywhere else. I have it with provolone, not Cheez Whiz.

Rhode Island: Doughboys. Another tasty-sounding dessert I've never heard of.

South Carolina: Shrimp and Grits. Ah, the best edition of this I've ever had was in Savannah, right across the Georgia border.

Tennessee: Hot Chicken. I've never seen this in Tennessee, but I did try the truly vile mockup of it that KFC has been promoting. I promise not to judge the real thing by that.

Texas: Smoked Brisket. I've had brisket barbecue in Texas, but I don't know if it qualified as smoked or not.

Utah: Funeral Potatoes. Won't eat any such thing.

Vermont: Blueberry Pancakes With Maple Syrup. I've had pancakes with maple syrup in Vermont (where it's real maple syrup, and they don't charge extra for it as they do in New Hampshire, at least in the places I've been), but I don't care for blueberries.

Virginia: Brunswick Stew. Vaguely heard of this, but I didn't know exactly what it is, and I've never had any. Possibly lima beans would be tolerable in small quantity in a thick enough stew.

Washington: Cedar-Plank Grilled Salmon. Yep, had that.

West Virginia: Pepperoni Roll. Never heard of this, but I like pepperoni.

Wisconsin: Deep-Fried Cheese Curds. Heard of this, even seen it offered, but never had the nerve to try it.

Wyoming: Bison Meatloaf. I've had bison burgers (usually much drier than beef; otherwise I can't tell the difference), but not meatloaf.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

itemization

1. Three concerts, all at Stanford:

1a. Concert no. 1: Bruckner Orchestra of Linz. I've spent the week since this one listening obsessively to Philip Glass symphonies. Why? Because this concert was on the premiere tour of the new one, No. 11, and the sound is in my head. My first thought afterwards was that I'd write in this blog, "The new Glass symphony sounds just like the previous three Glass symphonies." But I couldn't write that in my review, could I? Well, why not? So I did.

1b. Rebecca Young viola masterclass. Instead of being in Campbell, the usual venue for events that might attract 20-30 people, it was in the 700-seat Dinky, so we were all invited to sit on stage. First time I'd actually set foot up there. Alas, the chairs were uncomfortable. So was the music the students played, which was the Bartok concerto. Afterwards, though, and the reason I came, Young (assoc. principal with the NY Phil) and other worthies played the Brahms G-minor Piano Quartet, yum.

1c. Stanford Wind Queertet [sic], 5 students + 2 student pianists, most not majoring in music. Played a perky, attractive Nielsen Wind Quintet together, and each a piece separately. Most amazing of these was the one unaccompanied one, a Bach Cello Suite arranged for French horn. For horn? He struggled, but he got through it.

2. After much running around to various libraries, I think I've finished acquiring everything that everybody - including me - needs to finish up the Year's Work in Tolkien Studies. I'm busily working on my own contribution, drawing lines down the margin of my bibliography printout as I finish each one, and watching the lines get longer and longer. Weirdest statement of the year: a newspaper editorial column stating that Frodo claiming the Ring was abandoning his moral qualms. Did this guy read the book? Then: on to the next year's bibliography, which will require even more running around to even more libraries.

3. Fifty things Millennials have never heard of. Most of them are after my time, too. And 50 things Millennials know that Gen-Xers don't. Being even older than that, I've never heard of most of them either. The only one I can claim familiarity with is Alison Pill, as I noted her in a couple of movies I've seen. I've heard the names "Snapchat" and "Tinder", and I can guess they're things online, but I have no idea what they are. I could look them up, but 1) I don't care, and 2) partly because of that, I'd just promptly forget.

4. On the other hand, there are things I really want to look up, but can never remember to do so when I'm at a computer. Finally, an online video (from this news roundup) reminds me:
Donald Trump: Drugs are becoming cheaper than candy bars.
Seth Meyers: I think I know what happened here. [shows picture of 100 Grand candy bar] Donald, that's not the price; that's the name.
And that reminded me: why was the name changed from $100,000 Bar? Was it because some store clerk once claimed that really was the price? This site suggests that names beginning with "$" make computers hiccup. But Wikipedia reports that people are still screwing around with the newer name, e.g. radio hosts announcing that they're giving away 100 Grand, and then surprise, the winner gets a candy bar.

Friday, February 17, 2017

itemization: three books

These are just the ones I'm using to take breaks with in between massive bouts of library research, writing for TS, and concert-going:

Book no. 1: Twenty-six Seconds by Alexandra Zapruder (Twelve, 2016). A history of the film - the film - by Abe Zapruder's granddaughter. To the family, he was just Dad or Grandpa who happened to have been responsible for this thing that hung over them for decades. The author is convincing on her grandfather's and father's sense of moral responsibility to make the film available without letting it be tackily exploited; less so on their desire to make money off it. They wanted it to go eventually to public ownership, but her father told her, "We can't afford to make an $18 million gift to the federal government." But since they never intended to auction it for any such price, how would they lose money by a gift? The most unusual part of the book is a detailed description of the Seinfeld scene parodying the use of the film in Oliver Stone's JFK, included because it was the only occasion in decades of association with the film that the Zapruders found anything concerning it worth laughing about.

Book no 2: Midcentury Journey by William L. Shirer (Farrar Straus & Young, 1952). The foreign correspondent (and future author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich) travels to postwar Europe, ostensibly to take the pulse of the political landscape. Sounded interesting, so I read it. Unfortunately, there's none of the in-depth interviews or even the local color you'd expect from such a book today. Instead, it's punditry that Shirer could just as easily have written from his armchair at home. The bulk is a rehearsal, in the same incredulous tones one recognizes from Shirer's other books, of what he considers the fecklessness of 1920s and 30s politicians. And what of today, 1952? Shirer is convinced that the neo-Nazis are about to take over West Germany (didn't happen), and that Charles de Gaulle will come to power in France (he did that, five years later), throw out the constitution (he did that too), and become the latest fascist dictator (he didn't do that). Yeah, de Gaulle was the hero of 1940, but Petain had been the hero of 1916 and look what happened to him. The only thing that makes Shirer happy is Britain's NHS. He recognizes that the country is nearly bankrupt, but that doesn't seem to worry him.

Book no. 3: John Lennon vs. the USA by Leon Wildes (ABA, 2016). The infamous deportation case, told in full by Lennon's lawyer. He's writing it up now because it suddenly seems relevant again. Full of concrete but lucid detail on lawsuits (including one delightfully named Lennon v. Marks), but doesn't neglect the personal angle. Unsurprisingly, Wildes was as square as they come and had barely heard of Lennon before taking the case, but he boasts of quickly becoming, and staying, a confidant of Yoko (whom he depicts as a highly intelligent layperson who asked her lawyers really sharp questions) as well as John, largely because, unlike many of their minions, he was really competent at his job. What did Wildes think of John and Yoko hijacking his press conference by declaring the state of Nutopia? He thought it was delightfully witty. Not so square after all.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine's

It's the 30th Valentine's Day that B. and I have had together. Can you believe it?

On the 7th Valentine's, I proposed.

Somewhere around the 10th Valentine's is when we figured out that dining out in a restaurant on Valentine's Day is a really bad idea. We would pick a nearby weekend to celebrate in that manner, and eat comfort food at home on the day instead.

Today I cooked her up a bowlful of pan roasted Brussels sprouts, her favorites. Chopping them up into small pieces and roasting them to oblivion seemed the best way of dealing with the tennis ball-sized sprouts that have been in the stores lately. (For other purposes, B. much prefers the tiny ones.)

During the day, more mundane activities prevailed. She was at work, and so was I: I finished up and submitted a review (to be seen here later), and then drove over the mountains to Santa Cruz for more library research. So many roads are down due to the storms that I figured I'd better go now, before the rains come back in a day or two. It wasn't too hard getting there: I got without much delay through the one-lane section past the landslide that closed the northbound lanes. It's not very large, though the hillside it came from is towering, but it's large enough. However, the northbound traffic was backup for miles, and it was still backed up that far when I came back after finishing research and lunch. So I tried the back roads. I knew Soquel was closed, but I hadn't known that Glenwood was closed until I went there. Summit is closed, part of Skyline is closed, Congress Springs is still closed. I had to take the long way around to Page Mill again, eating up half the afternoon.

Still, that's nothing to the total evacuation of the better part of three counties in the Feather River valley yesterday, news which I've been following with horrid fascination. Though not quite as horrid as the way I try to remember how HRC was pilloried for keeping some not particularly secret e-mails on a server that just might have been susceptible to hacking. You recall how she was accused of treason for that? If that was treason, the world lacks a word to describe the restaurant table conference on North Korea of our current supposed leaders.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

rally

I went to another political rally today. No marching. What used to be called the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society decided to make today the National Day of Jewish Action for Refugees. I went to a local gathering in the Mountain View civic plaza, where a couple hundred people - not all Jewish - gathered for an hour of exhortatory speeches, personal testimonies, prayers, group chants, and songs in English and Hebrew, a little like an extremely populist guitar service. A little more variety than some such occasions, and hence a little more interesting.

There were signs reading things like "My People Were Refugees Too." There were apposite quotes from the Book of Exodus. There was a moving expression of solidarity from a local Muslim community leader. The director of the local Jewish Family Services group said, "Thanks to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for making America great again." And one of several participating rabbis said, "If we do not protest, we are complicit." And so we protested.

The organizers had suggested that we bring along photos of our immigrant relatives. I dug up a large studio portrait of my maternal grandfather, my one ancestor of that generation who immigrated and my only immigrant ancestor whom I knew. He was maybe 6 when he came here from what was then the Russian Empire, now Lithuania. Need I say I'm glad that the US let him in?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

musical theatre review: 1776

After South Bay MT's first show of the season, I wasn't sure how good their chops were, but their 1776 was up to snuff. There were only a couple of minor characters who couldn't act, a couple more who couldn't sing, but the only song that was scuffed thereby was "Momma Look Sharp". Everybody else was good, some excellent. Dickinson was the best actor of the bunch; Richard Henry Lee pranced vigorously throughout his song without losing breath (I complimented him on this after the show and he explained, "Aerobic exercise"); a more stolid and weathered Adams than the usual contributed to the power and hence amusement value of his interruptions of the chorus in "But Mr. Adams". Abigail was a woman of size, and not afraid to use it. So was Franklin: this and several lesser parts were played by women, and except for the one who couldn't figure out what octave she should sing in (see above criticism) you'd hardly notice.

It's a little difficult to watch 1776 today, when our long democratic story is lying choking in its own blood upon the ground (to borrow a phrase), but a good enough production can make you forget that ... momentarily.

Friday, February 10, 2017

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

Second week of the annual Blomstedt festival, more of the same heavy German classics. I am so there.

Blomstedt was frailer this week, requiring someone to walk arm in arm with to enter and leave the stage. Still, he is 89.

Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto. Yefim Bronfman distinguished the piano from the orchestra in the slow movement's dialogue of opposites by playing very slowly rather than gently.

Brahms' Third Symphony. Slightly stiff interpretation, but the sound was rich and gorgeous. I just wallowed in the sheer Brahmsitude of it all.

Earlier in the day, I was at Stanford for a free noontime performance by the Elias Quartet. Their Mendelssohn Op. 13 did not remind me of the Pacifica Quartet: Elias has a much gruffer, heavier style. Only they could make Mendelssohn's fairy-light trio sound like the dance of a large animal. Appropriately, they paired this with Op. 95, the gruffest of Beethoven's quartets and one of several models in his output for Op. 13.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

breaking a thing

Anyone interested in reading an insanely convoluted argument in Tolkien scholarship is welcome to it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

stranger than fiction

So I'm casually re-reading Big Trouble, which was humor columnist Dave Barry's first novel, from 1999. I find this scene at the start of chapter 9. A drunk, overzealous and incompetent wanna-be vigilante has been taken in by the police, who are trying to soothe him.
"I got rights," said Crime Fighter Jack Pendick, for perhaps the fourtieth time since he had been taken into police custody.
"Indeed you do, Mr. Pendick," said Detective Harvey Baker. "You have rights up the wazoo. And I'm sure you're going to exercise every single one. But first you're going to go with these officers, who are going to take you to a nice room where you can lie down and see if you can get your blood alcohol content down below that 300 percent mark, OK?"
"Do I get my gun back?" asked Pendick.
"Of course you do!" said Baker. "Just as soon as we run a couple of tests and a giant, talking marshmallow is elected president."
Well, that happened. He can have his gun back now.

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

I find on checking my records that, though I used to review the San Francisco Symphony often (and thereby once contributed the most prominent blurb to the ads for one of their concert recordings), it's been four years since my SFCV editor called me up and asked me to go.

He did last Wednesday morning. "Want to hear the San Francisco Symphony this weekend?" "I'm already going tonight," I replied.

I was going because it was conductor emeritus Herbert Blomstedt doing the big heavy stuff, which is what I most like to hear. It was the Ninth, the Ninth, and it was righteous.

And I arrived in the City early enough to have time for dinner at the place in Bayview that cooks your fried chicken to order from scratch. Yum.

Note: The video embedded at the bottom of the review is labeled "Herbert Blomstedt conducts Beethoven's Ode to Joy," but the music he's actually rehearsing in the video is from the first movement; the Ode to Joy is the finale, or more precisely most of it.

Monday, February 6, 2017

the vanishing American

I sent a link to my last post to the Stanford music prof who'd convened the panel. He wrote back to say thanks, and commented that he was delighted with the full house turnout, "especially on Super Bowl Sunday!", a conjunction he'd mentioned at the time, too.

I get this at every concert or lecture I attend that happens to coincide with a major sporting event, sometimes even ones I wasn't aware of until the convenor mentions them: astonishment that there are actually people present who'd skip that in order to attend this.

You know, folks, there are a lot of us who don't give a hoot about the Super Bowl, and the audience was probably drawn from that not-small segment of society. For the last several years, the TV audience in the US for the Super Bowl has been about 111 million people. That's a lot of people, but at the last census, the US had 308 million people. So, considering that the population has gone up since then, that's at least 197 million who aren't watching it, 177% the size of the number who are.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I don't mind that other people are interested in sports. People are interested in all sorts of odd things, and I'm glad they have a hobby. What makes me grumpy is the assumption that everybody is interested in sports, which is not something you get when the topic is, say, gardening or train-spotting. It's not even remotely true, and I dislike the assumption that I am among 197 million Americans who do not exist.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Music and Nationalism: Engaging with Orff's Carmina Burana

Such was the title of the panel discussion I attended at Stanford today: in recognition of an upcoming campus performance of the work, five experts delivered thoughtful little talks inspired by this most famous of all musical works to have been composed in Nazi Germany.

Anna Schultz, professor of ethnomusicology, began by examining the definition of nationalism. The ability to define it both by ethnicity and by territory lies behind much of the Nazis' evil. As for Carmina Burana, Nazi music critics were at first puzzled by the work, put off by its hedonism and jazz-like rhythms, two things they abhorred; but then they embraced it for what they saw as its celebration of Aryan ethnicity.

David Abernethy, chorus baritone and professor emeritus of political science, spoke of the challenges of coping with living under a totalitarian regime. Orff did cooperate with the Nazis, most infamously by composing a set of Midsummer Night's Dream incidental music to replace the banned Mendelssohn's. But in other respects he kept himself aloof, despite pressure from the regime. Abernethy concluded passionately by saying it's easy to criticize Orff's failings, but no option for behaving is morally clear. We should avoid facile condemnation of human frailties in horrific circumstances.

In comments later, Abernethy added that, although totalitarian regimes push mass culture and a hive mind, they're ironically highly individualistic as their honors and condemnations, in the arts as elsewhere, are based on the Leader's whim.

David Wilson, tenor and grad student in musicology, gave several comparisons to show that culpability under the Nazis has little relationship to subsequent reputation. His best example was the two leading conductors who stayed in the Nazi regime. Wilhelm Furtwängler actively helped Jewish musicians and avoided open propaganda, but his willingness to conduct before high Nazi officials all the way to the end has stained his reputation so badly that a biography is titled The Devil's Music Master. Whereas Herbert von Karajan actually joined the Nazi Party and had no compensating virtues, but his reputation, based on his post-war work, is clean.

(In speaking of Richard Strauss and his cooperation with the Nazis which has left him still a popular composer, Wilson rhetorically asked, "Who would do without Ein Heldenleben?" Thinking of that bloated and self-indulgent work, I muttered "I would." I intended to speak sotto voce, but was heard throughout the lecture room. Oops.)

Eric Tuan, choral studies administrator, examined Orff's pedagogical method, the Schulwerk. Originally conceived with leftist political overtones in the Weimar era, it proved adaptable to Nazi educational goals. For instance, its child-centered approach and primal content appealed to their anti-intellectual prejudices. And Orff went along with this. Tuan's conclusion was that nothing about the Schulwerk is inherently fascist, but it's easily appropriated.

Anna Wittstruck, conductor of the Stanford Symphony, classed Carmina Burana as a neo-classical work, and noted that this communitarian, accessible style is compatible with mass nationalism. She noted Orff's debt to Stravinsky's Les noces, and played video clips of a stage performance to show that Les noces (and also Le sacre du printemps) enact hive mind rituals right on stage. Orff intended for Carmina Burana also to be staged, a project in sensory immersion that would short-circuit critical distancing.

We also had some music. Wilson sang the tenor solo from Carmina, the lament of the roasting swan (accompanied by three choristers and a pianist) and then, just to demonstrate the musical similarity between Nazi music and Weimar music, pitched in to Kurt Weill's "Mack the Knife."

Saturday, February 4, 2017

the view out

I enjoy David Lodge primarily for his comic novels on academia, but I also like much of his other work, including the focus on the moral restrictions on sex and procreation hedging on Catholics in the 1950s and 1960s that suffuses some of Lodge's early novels, including one of the comic academic ones. Irrelevant as it is to me, Lodge makes it interesting and more than a little unnerving.

In his memoir, Quite a Good Time To Be Born, which I've been reading, Lodge traces his literary concern with this topic back to his first, never-published novel, which he wrote at 18. He describes it as including a female character who becomes pregnant out of wedlock and then dies from complications, having refused an abortion which might have saved her life. Lodge showed the story to his girlfriend, who was, he reports, "somewhat shocked by the novel's preoccupation with sexual desire, complicated by Catholic morality and guilt." Their own relationship was entirely chaste, because this was the 1950s and they were good Catholics.

Lodge says the novel wasn't very good. "The medical and gynaecological details are left vague, since I did not know what they might plausibly be." And, taking a critic's view of his own work, he adds, "The flaws in the novel become more and more evident as it goes on and the novelist gets more and more out of his depth in the subject matter."

What he lacked, he soon realized, was enough experience in the world to write good fiction, and he began looking forward to his mandatory two years in National Service, tediously boring and wasteful though he expected it to be (and it was), in the hopes that he could get material for a novel out of it (and he did).

But how then to deal with the illicit? He expressed his dilemma in an unpublished short story whose first paragraph he quotes:
The envelope fell on to the mat with a dull thud, but I didn't hurry to pick it up, being a young writer, still a student and struggling to get work published, and thus used to such a sound. However it wasn't one of my rejected manuscripts, but a large official envelope that wore its embossed crests and other decorations as self-importantly as a general with three rows of medals. The letter inside was from the Apostolic Delegate, and it was short and to the point. "Dear Joe," it ran (my name's Joe). "I am pleased to tell you that the Pope has granted your request for an unlimited right to commit sin for one day in order to get material for your new book. Yours truly, etc."
And Lodge says of this, "there was a lesson in it which it took me a long time to recognise: that the best way to treat Catholic hang-ups about sex was through comedy." And so he did.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

concert review: Telegraph Quartet

Having finally gotten to the point where I can get through two whole movements of a sonata without having to cough, it was time to attend another classical concert, only the second one I've been to since before I got home from Britain two months ago.

I chose to attend the Telegraph Quartet at Herbst, and had an athenais to accompany me, as they were going to be playing Schubert's "Death and the Maiden". But first, we had to get through the ultra-modernist jungle of Webern's Op. 5 and Leon Kirchner's First, the penance we had to pay before our heavenly reward of Schubert.

In speaking to the audience, the players said that what Webern and Kirchner have in common with Schubert is that they're all Romantics at heart. Heh, heh, I don't think so. I doubted it even of Schubert, and the way the Telegraph plays, none of them sounded a bit Romantic.

The interesting aspect of the two modernists was the sonorities, the weird and unusual sounds the players could make. The Webern, due to its brevity, actually added up to something here and there, but the Kirchner, though intriguing enough moment by moment, taken as a whole reminded me of one of those fearsomely complex mathematical equations which end with a crashing anticlimax of "=0". This is my usual reaction to Kirchner, so no surprise there. I know him of old.

So what did they do with Schubert, then, but play it as ultra-modernist as possible, with the closest thing to weird and unusual sonorities that the score would let them get away with. The sound was raw and sinewy, the equivalent of Dr. Manhattan before he learns how to put all his flesh on. The players seemed most dedicated to this principle in the first movement, which they played in an emotionless and featureless manner, but they gradually remembered that this is Schubert, and each successive movement was better and more passionate. First violinist Joseph Maile played his high figures in the finale wispily, but they worked.

We went out to eat beforehand, and A. decided to have a slice of pie. Pi, as we all know, is about 3.1416, but this slice was closer to 0.31416. Chintzy restaurant.