Monday, November 20, 2017


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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 19, 2017

once more unto the Beagle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 18, 2017

two concerts reviewed

1. New Century Chamber Orchestra. This was a late call. When I looked at the program list, I didn't know what Stravinsky's "Concerto in re" - which is what they called it there - was. I thought it'd be his Violin Concerto of 1931, which is in D and which I could happily go a while without hearing again. On investigation I found a quite different and much better piece. At the concert itself, I was pleasantly surprised to find a performance at Oshman that didn't sound awful. It's been a while since I had one of those.

2. Morgenstern Trio. Pure happenstance that my annual DJ review at Kohl has been of a piano trio two years in a row, but this one fit my schedule, and I was curious about the Martin piece, new to me, and pleased to hear the others. As a fan of the Schubert Op 100 Andante, I've been inclined to dismiss that of Op 99, but this was a honey of a performance. I'm converted.

Having a live painter working to some of the music was quite the novelty. She was placed in such a way that probably only half the audience could see her, and most of them were not actually watching: painting isn't really as dynamic a process as playing violin, cello, or piano (not that most of those who could see the painter could also see the pianist). Half an hour is not long for work on a painting; fortunately, some of the painter's finished works were in the foyer, so at least I could see what sort of style she was aiming at.

Friday, November 17, 2017

not quite about Tolkien

I suppose I should say something about the recent spate of news articles to the effect that Amazon has contracted to make a tv series based on The Lord of the Rings.

I'm not really your go-to expert on matters like this. I got into Tolkien studies to study Tolkien and his works, not media spinoffs. Willy-nilly they have intruded themselves on my attention, and I've been warned that I count as an expert on the Jackson movies even though I really don't want to be one.

But I can say that the news reports have conveyed that this will not be a remake of The Lord of the Rings itself, but fan fiction prequels. Oh wacko. I shall probably have to avoid this. I'm a scholar; I already have to mentally juggle all of Tolkien's varying drafts and outlines. I can't deal with all of this as well. The human brain's multitudes are finite. Once in the back of John Rateliff's car I found a card deck for some Tolkien-based RPG. I started flipping through it idly, but when I realized it contained characters the deck-writers had made up, I hastily put it down. I cannot afford to have miscellanies like that cluttering up my head.

As for what the result will be like, I fear that this is less of a parody than it looks. Tolkien's legendarium is an enormous, widely-known, and even widely-loved creation; there's much that could be mined out of it.

The most curious question is, what authorized entity is responsible for conveying the rights to do this? News articles in the past have often confused the Tolkien Estate - the family-controlled entity that owns Tolkien's writings - with Middle-earth Enterprises (formerly Tolkien Enterprises), the company which owns the movie and associated marketing rights to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and which licensed them to New Line to produce the Jackson movies.

They're not associated. Tolkien sold the movie rights outright in 1969, and they eventually wound up in the hands of the late Saul Zaentz, who was the producer of the 1978 Bakshi movie and the creator of the firm that now owns those rights. It's this firm which is responsible for most of the trademark defense that's hit the news over the years, but it's the Estate that sued New Line for shafting it on royalties owed.

Since the Estate has no control over the LotR movie rights, its opinion on the topic is moot, though Christopher Tolkien, head of the family and his father's literary executor, has expressed his distaste for them. Because of this, and because of the historical confusion between the entities, the assumption was that the new project came from Middle-earth Enterprises, despite news references to the Estate.

But that apparently is wrong, and it has to do with the fact that the new series will be television, not movies, and will be inspired by other writings by Tolkien. Middle-earth Enterprises does not own rights to either of these aspects; the Estate retains that.

This article on a Tolkien bulletin board is the fullest I've seen, and looks the most reliable to my eye. It cites scholar Kristin Thompson on this. Despite Thompson's lack of comprehension of criticisms of the Jackson movies, I've found her well-versed on the facts of the history of the movie rights, so if she says this, I accept it.

That means, in turn, that the Estate did authorize this, and that brings up the other big news, which occurred nearly three months ago, but nobody noticed it until now. This is that Christopher Tolkien, who after all turns 93 next week, has resigned - retired, presumably - from his co-directorship of the Estate. There are six officers today, two lawyers from the firm that handles the rights, and four family members: Christopher's wife and elder son (the novelist Simon Tolkien), Christopher's sister Priscilla, and the son of Christopher and Priscilla's late brother Michael. Presumably some of these are less opposed to filmic enterprises.

It's worth remembering that the late Rayner Unwin, for many years Tolkien's extremely loyal publisher, with a great respect for the integrity of the works, nevertheless maintained, as a publisher with his eye, as it should have been, on profit, that to continue to sell Tolkien's works need be continually repackaged. New editions, new formats, new packaging, etc. This has continued since Unwin's time, and the licensing of new media productions could be seen as an extension of that.

Enough, however, of the quotation from one of Tolkien's letters to the effect that he wished for his mythology to "leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama." Nothing Tolkien ever wrote has been more selectively and misleadingly read. As for why this isn't the easy defense of media colonization that it looks, that will have to wait for another post.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

English suites no. 11

We've already had a suite by Elgar commissioned in 1930 in the names of the little princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. But they're not the only royal infants to be immortalized in this way. Let's move down a generation to 1948, when Michael Tippett wrote a Suite for the Birthday of Prince Charles. Not the birthday anniversary, the birthday.

Tippett was a modernist composer, but he could have a surprising populist side, such as the beautifully arranged American spirituals he inserted into his magnificent oratorio A Child of Our Time. This suite is a slightly spicy stew composed of a series of medieval religious and folk tunes of various origins. It's in five movements, identified on screen.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Santa Rosa and San Francisco

On my last trip to Santa Rosa, for a concert about six weeks ago, I took some extra time and drove around the hill residential areas above the town. I had a specific reason but that doesn't matter now. This was before the destructive fires swept through, and afterwards I wondered how well what I'd seen had survived. Tuesday I finally had a chance to go back. Big rains were expected to come through on Wednesday evening, so it was my last chance to get a pristine look (and, it turned out, to still smell the ghost of the ashy air). I no longer had access to the material by which I planned my earlier trip, but I followed my route by memory as best I could remember, and spent as many tourist dollars as I could reasonably manage.

Much of the lower hills had been untouched, and even when I entered the fire area within the rural zone, the damage was scattered. Trees and vineyards looked untouched, and while some homes were gone - invariably identifiable as home sites by the lonely stone chimneys sticking up - others were intact.

Only when I came down on Mark West Road to the flatlands did I find entire neighborhoods where all the homes were gone. That was a hideous spectacle and I passed through quickly. But across the major road, no apparent damage, even though the fire map suggested it was hit.

Strange patterns emerged. The Fountaingrove resort hotel, famously gone. The trailer park kitty-corner at the same major intersection, also (mostly) famously gone. The other two corners of the intersection, untouched. The supermarket where I'd bought lunch on my previous trip, on the edge of the fire zone, intact with a big sign saying it was open. The condos on the hill above it, apparently intact except for one building that appeared to have collapsed more than it had burned.

Around here, also, I saw the only scorched hillsides. This fire ignited more by floating cinders than by walls of flame, and that showed in the results.

I was back down in San Francisco in time for another event sponsored by Slate, my favorite political webzine. This one was less successful than the last. Apparently an attempt to produce a live version of a podcast - I hardly ever listen to podcasts; they just don't fit into my day - it consisted of four writers sitting around and chatting about current events for 90 minutes. Although I know their work (when they're not doing podcasts) and they're good writers, their remarks were neither so polished nor so witty as their writings, on top of the fact that none are trained speakers and it was often hard to make out what they were saying, and they jumped around between topics so much I couldn't remember much of what they said when I could deduce it. I'll be more selective of future offerings when Slate brings them to my city.

Monday, November 13, 2017

English suites no. 10

Sorry for the long pause, but I'm not nearly done yet. I was going to put in another Peter Warlock suite that I hadn't known about, but it got taken offline. Instead, we have here a piece by Gordon Jacob, a workman composer of the mid-20C. It's his William Byrd Suite, arrangements for concert band of music by the English Renaissance composer.

While there are a number of earnest amateur performances in single YouTube files, you really want to hear the classic professional recording of this one. Each individual movement of that is in a separate file, and while they'll play in succession automatically on YouTube, that doesn't work in embedding.

So instead of embedding this one, I'll just link to it, and there it is. The opening "Earle of Oxford March" is to my taste the most terrific, but the whole suite is absolutely charming.

not seating Roy Moore

... if he's elected.

Here's an article about that.

It offers three possibilities. One is to refuse to seat him, but it says that can only be done because of the irregularity of an election, e.g. ballot-stuffing or bribing.

The second is the extraordinarily high bar of actually expelling him, something that hasn't been done since Confederate sympathizers in the Civil War.

But the third (no. 2 on the list) is to refer his case to the Ethics Committee. The article doesn't say this, but it could defer his seating until the Ethics Committee had made his report. Something similar to this has happened since the Civil War. The notorious Mississippi racist Theodore G. Bilbo was investigated for his 1946 re-election on grounds of his inflammatory campaign tactics and shady finances. But impasse over whether to take action was postponed when Bilbo became ill and did not insist on being sworn in until he'd recovered and returned to Washington. The committee reports were tabled (which in US discourse means action was deferred). But instead of returning, Bilbo grew more ill and died several months later, which rendered the issue moot. Here's the official version of that story.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Peace with Honour

I guess since it's Armistice Day it's a good time to talk about this. Researching on A.A. Milne for my fisking of a recent movie, I came across, as I had before, references to his having considered himself a pacifist for much of his life, even though he'd served in WW1 after reaching that conclusion, and even though he eventually decided to support participation in WW2 as well. In 1934 he published his only serious non-fiction book, Peace with Honour, expounding his pacifist case, and I decided to read it.

I'd really like to put the Milne who wrote this book in a room with the Milne who supported WW2 and let them argue it out, because Milne-'34 is very prescient about what would happen and is entirely opposed to exactly and specifically the war that Milne-'40 would support, and in the meantime is also opposed to rearmament to prepare for that war, the meagerness of which is now considered Britain's greatest failing of the time.

Milne-'34 starts well, arguing against the glorification of war and pointing out that all the slaughter of WW1 hadn't wiped that attitude out. He scoffs at the idea of fighting for national honor, saying that this really means just national prestige, and that that prestige amounts to the ability to beat up other countries. His pocket summary of WW1 ("In the summer of 1914 an Austrian archduke was killed ... [This] led directly to the killing of ten million men who were not archdukes ...") is justly famed, but I liked even better his definition of a patriot ("a man who believes that other people are not patriots"). And insofar as he shows that stating that war is terrible is not arguing against a straw man he's on solid ground.

But he also dismisses the idea of a legitimate casus belli, assuming that every country will lie about its grievances and since it's impossible to get at the truth in a dispute, not bothering to try. (Imagine applying that attitude to today's "he said/she said" disputes.) And he uses this scoffery to evade his way out of addressing Christian "just war" doctrine.

But, the reader will ask - and Milne invents an imaginary reader who, at several points, does ask this question - if a country abjures war, what is it to do if it's attacked? In parts, Milne starts to respond to this, contrasting war with an individual being attacked by a criminal. There, there are police and courts, while war, because it's so destructive, is the equivalent of defending yourself by pulling out a bomb that would blow up yourself as well as the criminal, and the surrounding neighborhood: you wouldn't do that. A pacifist as prescient about the subsequent peace as Milne is about WW2 would discuss the creation of an effective international equivalent of a system of police and courts, but Milne doesn't: he doesn't even more than passingly mention the League of Nations, let alone analyze how it could be made to work better.

Like every other diagnostician of a world problem, from Marx on down, when it comes to proposing a solution Milne has only inanities to offer. His idea is to force (he doesn't say how) every world leader to swear a solemn oath by whatever God they hold dear to renounce war entirely, defensive as well as offensive, and then by golly they'll be forced to seek mediation of their differences by neutral parties (he doesn't say how they'll be chosen, and evades the question of how the countries will be forced to abide by the decision).

One odd part to this is that it doesn't comport with his ideas of disputes being unresolvable and not worth trying to resolve.

The other odd part is that he treats neutral mediation as a radical new idea he'll have to talk the countries into accepting; in fact it was a standard way for countries to settle differences they didn't want to get into wars over. The boundary dispute between the US and Canada over the San Juan Islands was settled in 1872 by asking Kaiser Wilhelm I to decide. Even wars could be ended that way: The Russo-Japanese war of 1905 was mediated by Theodore Roosevelt. But Milne makes no reference to this tradition.

But what, the reader insists on asking, if a country attacks you anyway? To this Milne goes to his most inane. Well, he says, assuming that other countries act in bad faith and thus preparing for war has always led to war, so why not assume they act in good faith instead? Couldn't be worse, could it? I shudder at that level of trust. Given your money to any Nigerian princes lately?

Oh come on, the exasperated reader says. What if it's THE NAZIS? And to his credit, Milne addresses that straightforwardly. He has a whole chapter, chapter 13, on exactly that question. He says that fascist dictators like Hitler or Mussolini keep control by keeping their people constantly on the pitch of threatening war. But, he says, 1) if they actually do declare war, they will begin to lose that control they hold most dear. And 2) if they should lose a war, that would be the end of them.

Here again Milne is prescient. Those gleaming fascist empires did indeed begin to crack when war was declared. And both Hitler and Mussolini met ends as degrading and humiliating as any anti-fascist could have wished for.

But Milne falls down with his conclusions from points 1 and 2. He says, 3) the dictators know this. I'm not sure if they did. Nothing I've read about Hitler suggests that he was aware of #1. He did know #2, but neither he nor Mussolini thought that could happen. They'd look out on their gleaming armies and think, "How can I possibly lose a war?" And then Milne says, 4) their talk of war is just bluster. They can't risk actually doing it.

This, I trust, is where Milne-'40 sadly shook his head and departed from his earlier self, because Milne-'34 was just flatly wrong about that. For one thing, he'd acknowledged that the dictators had to keep their populaces on the pitch of war, but he didn't realize that you can't do that indefinitely without eventually producing one.

Oh, but it gets worse. In chapter 8, the one in which Milne evades Christian responses to pacifism, he has his imaginary reader bluntly ask, What if Germany invaded anyway? Would you acquiesce, then, in their conquest of Britain? Milne's response defines "acquiesce" as liking it. He says, and here I quote: "In fact, I should hate them. It would be easy to feel intensely humiliated by them. But then ..." Oh, I can hardly bear to type this: "But then it is easy for an author to feel intensely humiliated whenever his play is rejected or his novel is a failure." And he provides several other examples of the same sort, and says, you don't kill people over that.

Oh, Milne-'34, you silly old bear. Do you really think those two forms of humiliation - an author's book not selling and the Nazis conquering a country - are even remotely comparable? All he can say to defend this position is to point out that, if we fought Germany, women and children would be killed, and (the reader he's addressing at this point is a Christian) we might have to ally ourselves with godless Russia. Well, those things were both true, but they didn't seem to bother Milne-'40: ask him. You don't even need to conjure up the ghosts of six million Jews and as many other Romani, homosexuals, et al, to argue this point: that mostly hadn't happened yet in 1940. But even then, Milne-'40 had figured out that there are things worse than war.

The problem is that Milne-'34 is so terrified by the memory of WW1 that he considers another war worse than literally anything else. The one other thing he's as certain of as the points I numbered 1 and 2 above is that another general war will be the end of European civilization, and he quotes that noted expert on world affairs, Stanley Baldwin, in support of this. (I'm being sarcastic: Baldwin was probably the least internationally-oriented politician in British history.) Milne-'34 is in the position of Chamberlain-'38, who was moved by the same terror to do anything to prevent another war. Remember that, technically, Munich was Chamberlain mediating - just as Milne would want - a dispute between Germany and Czechoslovakia. But it wasn't a real dispute, it had been gingered up out of nothing by Hitler. And the reason appeasement didn't work is not because appeasement is inherently bad, but because Hitler would not negotiate in good faith. In chapter 17 in describing his utopian plan for forced mediation, Milne says this assumes "(i) a Germany which recognizes that another European war will be disastrous, and (ii) a contented Germany." But such a Germany did not exist, and under the dispensations then existing in Europe, which only WW2 changed, such a Germany could not exist. So the entire argument is nugatory.

Nice try, Alan, but I prefer your children's books.

world according to cat

There's much excitement in the mornings. Because there will be food. Fooood. Food, that knits up the raveled sleeve of care, or something.

Pippin says, "If She* is getting fed, then I will get fed. I will now run around the living room several times to express my excitement at the prospect of being fed."

Maia, meanwhile, is jealous. When she and Pippin were on different kibbles, she wanted his kibble and would go to any lengths to sneak past my watchful eye and scarf some out of his dish. Was it just that it was his or did she actually like his kibble better? Then we put her on the same as his and lo, she was content. But now he's been switched to some lovely stinky wet food, and she's jealous again. These changes have all been for medical or dietary reasons, not to annoy Maia, but she is not to know that.

*who must be obeyed, of course