Friday, January 20, 2017

instead of watching the inauguration ...

... we took Maia to the vet for her regular appointment. No special reason for today; this just happened to be a good day to schedule it, being the second day of one of B's long weekends, and having postponed it from last month as we didn't want to risk having the cat run up the Christmas tree while chasing her down to put in the cat carrier.

As usual, we succeeded in outwitting the cat by closing all the doors except the one to the hall bathroom. Bathrooms: not good places for cats to hide inaccessibly, though they don't seem to realize that. We'll see how long we can continue to pull this trick.

At the vet's, we were confronted by the conundrum that Maia is gaining weight despite the fact that she hardly ever eats anything. It's not like she's sluggish, either.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

CW in shul

I was not expecting to have Charles Williams moments at my synagogue's library committee meeting.

But I arrived early and settled down with a copy of a Jewish book review journal, only to find that for some reason they'd reviewed Lindop's biography of CW. (The reviewer finds Williams "not very anti-Semitic," which is about the best that you could hope for.)

Then I met the new member of our committee.

Her name is Michal.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

concert review: Pacifica Quartet

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

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

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

Friday, January 13, 2017

Frankenstein rebound

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

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

Mary Shelley not only invented science fiction.

She discovered the Uncanny Valley.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

media fantasy

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

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

thin ice

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

water, anywhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

A couple hours later, the water comes back on.

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

Monday, January 9, 2017

he doesn't remember what he said

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 8, 2017

the book review of Patricia Hearst

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

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

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

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

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

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

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