Monday, January 31, 2005

Class TV

The best explication of the American Idol phenom that I have yet come across was in yesterday's New York Times. I cannot watch the show--I have a low tolerance for humiliation, for myself or for other people, even if the other people have signed on willingly and seem to embrace it, so long as it comes with 15 seconds of national exposure. "But the unquenchable appeal of "the Apprentice" and "American Idol" lies at least in part in their poignancy: both series combine the preposterous feel-good optimism of "42nd Street" with the desperation of "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" The article goes on to discuss both Idol and its companion piece, The Apprentice in terms of class warfare--a model that made the penny drop for me. Apprentice is hitting this gong very hard in their promos this year, pitching the "book smart" team--the people with fancy pants education and (the subtext suggests) fancy money and fancy manners--against the "street smart" team--who are positioned to be the trailer trash who worked themselves up from the gutter and are the more virtuous for not having any of that there fancy book-larnin.'

It's red and blue by other names, is what it is. It's spinach, and I say to hell with it.

Sunday, January 30, 2005


Last night Younger Girl had her First!Ever!Slumber!Party!

Needless to say, very little slumbering occurred. In part this was functional. One demure little girl conked out relatively early...and turns out to snore like a stevedore. At about 12:30 Spouse went in to the living room (where they were piled like puppies on various mattresses and sleeping bags) and found three of the girls had disappeared into YG's room, where they were playing cards (Uno, I think, though poker would have been more picturesque). They were herded back to the living room and instructed to sleep. At 1 or so I came back in to find the four still awake could not sleep because the snoring had them giggling so hard. So Spouse and I moved the snorer into YG's room, then instructed the rest to sleep. At 1:30 I impounded a flashlight. At 2, probably with sparks shooting out of my eyes, I told them that if I heard another peep they would all be delivered to their parents, post haste.

They woke at 7:45. Ah, youth. I expect they will all be pretty crispy tonight.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Have You Seen This Warrior?

From a list I'm on comes an exhaustive debriefing on all the time wasters, trolls, and Flame Warriors you're ever likely to encounter on line. Someone put a lot of time and effort into this; I couldn't read the whole thing in one shot (my eyes started to glaze over) but I could give names to several species. I won't, though...

Thursday, January 27, 2005


I am told (by the principal of YG's elementary school, who should know) that the California 3rd Grade tests are a bear. And of course, we are in the season of ramping up to the tests, so the homework has increased. I am seeing a kind of moral development crisis in my newly-minted nine year old which is fascinating--or would be, if it didn't try my own moral development pretty severely. The kid is very bright. While she doesn't like math particularly, she (like her sister) is pretty good at it. Her verbal skills are scary, and she's got exactly the sort of inquiring mind that can drive a sensitive adult to exhultation or drink, depending. What she doesn't have a whole lot of is organizational skills. Most nine year olds, I would venture to state (given my own experience) do not have a whole lot of organizational skills.

So, at this point when homework is increasing, YG has begun to forget to bring workbooks home, or finds (just as she's packing up her backpack) a whole 'nother worksheet she was supposed to do. Since the consequences of not doing homework are missing out on recess the next day, these forgettings cause tears and outrage and bouts of self-loathing. She knows that she should be doing the work, and feels guilty about her failures, but also wants to blame them on someone else. Anyone else. So the tears fall like rain...

I haven't got much patience these days (I may have had more patience once than I currently do...I seem to recall it) and after the second or third bout of very sincere small-child-being-overwhelmed tears, I was beginning to feel like crying myself. What she would have liked, I don't doubt, is for me to pile her into the car and drive to school so she could fetch home the missing book. And I know that, in theory, the way she'll learn to pack everything is to suffer the hideous consequences of her foul misdeeds. So I did not give in to her unspoken entreaty. Homework is almost done for the day (then there's guitar practice and karate practice to get through, which can be heaven but, after an afternoon like this is more likely to be hell).

Somehow she's going to get to be an adult. I will doubtless be several inches shorter by that time.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


I learned to drive in rural Massachusetts, where I got my driver's license. I was taught any number of quaint rules about driving: using turn signals when changing lanes, not passing on the right, stopping for pedestrians, staying one car length behind the car in front of you for every ten miles per hour of speed. Some of these quaint things have, perhaps, evolved: the no passing on the right rule dates from before standard right side rear view mirrors (I still hate people who pass on my right, and I don't do it myself, but I'm not sure whether that's law or my own preference). I drove for two years in Massachusetts before I went to college, and sporadically after that...until we became Californians. On the other hand I've been a pedestrian--a New York Ciity pedestrian at that--most of my life. Jaywalking is an entitlement right up there with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And the pedestrians out here drive me crazy.

A few weeks ago I was chaperoning a school trip for Older Girl's high school. We took the Bart, but of course had to walk several blocks between the school and the station, and between the station and our destination. When we reached a corner with four-way stops, this one boy, a hyper, clownish kid, very sweet and funny in a hip-hop kinda way, starts out into the street, despite the fact that an SUV had already started across the intersection. So I grabbed the hood of his sweatshirt and stopped him.

"Hey! What?" he asked.

"Car coming," I said tersely, and put out my arms to stop the rest of the crowd from spilling out into the crosswalk. They all looked at me as if I were insane.

"They have to stop," the kid said. "It's the law."

"If they can."

"No, man, if they hit me, they'd go to jail."

At this point I permitted myself a sigh. "And you'd be dead. That a good swap?"

"But it's the law," he insisted.

"Sometimes the laws of physics overrule the laws of the land," I said. By now the SUV had gone by and I was trying to get the geese to start across the street. As we walked along, he kept insisting that if the driver of the SUV hit him, he'd have to go to jail. I mentioned that it wasn't automatic: that if an investigation indicated that he (Ricardo, the kid) had precipitated the accident, the driver probably wouldn't go to jail (I've read a couple of editorials since we've been out here, written by pedestrian's rights activists, decrying the how rarely such drivers are jailed).

Finally Ricardo said, "Well, I'd sue. My family'd sue."

"You'd still be dead, and it would still be a rotten swap. Wait til you take physics, kid."

He walked off, shaking his head. I did notice, however, that he looked both ways before crossing, all the rest of the trip. My work here is done. For the moment, anyway.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Now We Are Tween...

Emphatic Girl (aka Younger Girl) turns nine today. As it happens, the school district declared today a Staff Development Day, so she gets the day off as well as presents (she now has all the Series of Unfortunate Events books, a karaoke machine, hoop earrings, and a cookbook, and a gift certificate from iTunes). What none of us had expected is that all the venues in which she's registered online (Neopets, Willie, etc.) have little congratulatory screens and messages for her, celebrating her birthday. And she loves this a lot; already I have been called in to the other room to look at several different birthday screens.

I know that this is a simple programming thing--every Neopets member who has a birthday today got the same screen--but it has delighted the kid in the simplest way. And now she's in there singing old Motown hits on the karaoke machine.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Library of Congress

An email from GraceAnne DeCandido, librarian and really excellent person, contained this (note the last entry):

The following codes have been approved for use in the
international language code standard, ISO 639-2 (Codes for
the Representation of Names of Languages--Part 2: alpha-3
code) and are also being added to the MARC Code List for

New code Language name Previously coded

csh Kashubian sla (Slavic (Other))
fil Filipino
krc Karachay-Balkar tut (Altaic (Other))
mdf Moksha fiu (Finno-Ugrian (Other))
mwl Mirandese
myv Erzya fiu (Finno-Ugrian (Other))
nwc Newari, Old
scn Sicilian Italian ita (Italian)
srn Sranan cpe (Creoles and Pidgins, English-based (Other)
tlh Klingon (Artificial language)

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


Can someone explain to me why four day school weeks are frequently longer and more harrowing than the usual five day week? Just wondering.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Reading, Part One

I'm rarely reading one book at a time. For one thing, every Sunday the New York Times arrives, and I stop everything until I've made my way through the Magazine, the Arts & Leisure, and the Book Sections (I am occasionally seduced by the Week in Review and Style sections, but life is short; I try to maintain my focus). But for the rest of the week (I can generally read whatever I need to get through in the Chronicle before I start working) I have books litered about the house. Currently I am reading China Mieville's The Scar, which I enjoy, but find curiously easy to put down for a day or two. For Christmas I was given a set of miscellaneous history books and am reading one of them, about the celebrated Somerset poisoning case at the court of James I (true crime with farthingales and ruffs! How can I resist?). I carried home a whole bunch of books containing my work from my workshop meeting (the library where we meet gave us their display case for a month, so we could promote the workshop and our own stuff) and found myself re-reading the whole of Starlight 3 (which has a wonderful, sad story by Maureen in it) last night. And here and there I am making my way through a book called Old Sword Days, Old Sword Ways, about period fencing styles, which is not exactly compelling, but interesting in small doses.

When I really like what I'm reading it tends to insinuate itself into my dreams.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Techno Whoopee!

I have finally potched around in Blogger enough to figure out how to create a Links sidebar, and have added Maureen and Greg's blogs to it. I will undoubtedly go about for the next few days adding other blogs to the list in a frenzy of Techno Exhaltation.

I live a quiet life. I take my excitement where I get it.

Friday, January 14, 2005


Okay, this may take a bit of explaining. Let's start here: my mother grew up in Hollywood in the 30s and40s; went to Hollywood High, and had friends who were in the local business--film. (Alexis Smith was in her gym class, for example.) Mom's two best friends were Portia Nelson and Susanna Foster. If you've seen The Sound of Music you've seen Portia--she's the nun with the long face who pulls the distributor cap from the Nazi's car during the climactic chase. She was also an incredible vocalist, headlining at clubs almost up to the time of her death. Susie, as Mom called her, had a relatively brief career in film; she was a coloratura soprano, brought out to Hollywood when she was 12 to become the next Deanna Durbin--she didn't, but she did make films with Claude Rains, Nelson Eddy, Franchot Tone, Buster Keaton, Boris Karloff and Donald O'Connor. Eventually she left Hollywood, married, had kids. I remember Susie and her two sons, Michael and Phillip, visiting us in the country, and going uptown to their apartment (in Hells' Kitchen, I think) when I was pretty small.

Jump forward many years. Younger Girl wants to see the new movie of The Phantom of the Opera. I am, as I think I have stated elsewhere, no big fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and I think I did my duty five years ago when I took Older Girl to see the show on Broadway. Many curlicues, but all the music sounds like all the other music. So I said "If you want to see Phantom, you have to see the non-musical version first." So this evening we rented the 1943 Claude Rains version, with Susie as the singing ingenue, Christine DuBois.

It's not a great film. It's stilted, and can't decide whether it's a horror film (according to the conventions of the time) or a musical or a comedy. Before the movie, at dinner, we started playing a "six degrees of separation" game in which I realized that I knew Susie, who worked with Claude Rains, who worked with Humphrey Bogart and Errol Flynn and Lionel Barrymore, and Bogart worked with Katherine Hepburn, I (and the girls, who were totally thrilled by this nonsense) are all connected by six degrees or less to any number of great old Hollywood stars. Whee.

We sit down to watch the movie. And once again Younger Girl throws me for a loop by being brokenhearted at the end when the Phantom dies in a cave-in in the catacombs under the Paris Opera. She was howling, in tears, calling "Phaaaantom! Phaaaaantom! Why did he have to die! Why were they so mean to him?" Sarcasm Girl attempted to explain that this was a kinder death than if he'd been hung for the murders of all those people he dropped the chandelier on, but YG wasn't having it. When I tucked her in to bed tonight she was beginning to get silly, but there was still a core of sadness for the poor, misunderstood psychopath who just wanted to make music.

And of course, now she's going to start a campaign to get me to take her to the Lloyd Webber film. Sigh.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Rant On

Okay, so I'm crotchety. There are some things I like just fine as they were, thank you very much. I mean, what's the point of remaking a film if you're not going to add anything to it? Or covering an old standard if you do a note-for-note and phrase-for-phrase copy of the original? Or if you rip up the original and redo it your way without adding anything much to it?

The three formative albums I listened to as a young child were An Evening with Tom Lehrer, The Fantasticks, and Candide. This explains a lot about me, I'm sure. There were other standards in our household--West Side Story and My Fair Lady, as well as some Rogers and Hammerstein, and any number of my parents' favorites, Sinatra and Streisand and Jobim and Louis Armstrong. Then I started buying records (my first single was "Downtown" by Petula Clark, followed quickly by everything Beatles I could find..). But Tom Lehrer, The Fantasticks, and Candide lodged in my brain; I know those songs and those performances so well that when a breath is out of place it startles me.

Of course, I turned Sarcasm Girl on to all three as early as was reasonable. Candide suits her adolescent snarkiness right now in particular. So when we heard that PBS was showing a staged concert performance we made an appointment to watch. We have now watched. It was a particularly antic production (during the auto da fe number the head of the inquisition shows up to sentence Pangloss to the pyre in the guise of Donald Trump: "Yuh fired!") which worked some of the time. The gags were funny, but they did not permit any emotional engagement at all--and the reason the glorious finale works so well that I can't hear the music without getting teary is that, with all the humor of the show, its events are harrowing enough so that the finale, "Make Our Gardens Grow," is genuinely affecting. The music still got to me--understand, I cry at long distance commercials--but it was the music itself, not anything the production wrought.

But that's not what's bothering me.

The original Candide had music by Leonard Bernstein and a libretto by Lillian Hellman and divers hands (Dorothy Parker added a one liner or two, as did, as near as I can tell, every wit with a pulse at the time). The show did not, as they say, find its audience in Eisenhower America. Twenty years later, give or take, it was staged again; I saw that production, which was wild and vulgar and funny, and still retained an emotional core. The libretto had been largely overhauled by Hugh Wheeler, with some new songs added, others ripped up and reassembled. The production we saw tonight uses the Wheeler libretto, which is now apparently the preferred one (the Hellman libretto has been, um, "retired") and I, for one, don't think it's as good. Not as funny, not as witty, not as true to the book (Sarcasm Girl read the book this fall, and was taking notes on where the plot veered from the original). What makes me sad is that, with the Wheeler libretto now the preferred one, no one is likely to hear the older libretto, certainly not in performance. Which is a shame, dammit.

Perhaps someday someone will hear the original cast album and want to mount a production of the Hellman libretto. Will they be permitted to, I wonder? When you license the rights to a show, are you required to license the preferred version? If you license the preferred version and then, under the radar, revert to the original, would the libretto police hunt you down and beat you with sticks? Pfui.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Novel Fodder

Not infrequently you hear the phrase "if I wrote this in a book, no one would believe it." I submit the story of The Roofman as the single best example of this I have recently come across. I can practically see the cover--and the reviews--for the novel. My favorite detail: when he was robbing fast food restaurants he would hand out coats to people before locking them in the walk-in-freezer. But you can choose your own favorite bit.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Drive Carefully

Spouse forwarded
to me. Can you imagine coming around a corner on a nice, twisty road,

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Sense and Sensibility

Emphatic Girl has discovered a new cable feature: press a button and you get a menu of movies from which you may select; you can then stop, start, and pause the film, quite as if it were a DVD or tape. When I rose this morning she pulled me in to the sunroom, where the TV lives, and showed me this feature and the film she had selected, Sense and Sensibility. A few years ago she had watched the film when I was watching it with my mother-in-law; she had only a hazy sense of what was going on, I think.

So this morning she decided to watch it. Because the film can be started and stopped, she would start and stop it frequently, asking about things she did not understand. So far I have explained entail, jointure, the servants' hall, manners ("Why do they keep curtsying and bowing?"), the economics of marriage in Regency England ("You mean, someone wouldn't marry you because you didn't have enough MONEY?") and what a corset was (with side commentary on girdles and bras). Whatever she lacked in background information and understanding, EG totally got the emotional story, hissing Willoughby, crooning "I love you!" whenever Colonel Brandon came on stage, and scolding Marianne for showing too much, too soon. "Though I think Elinor should have told Marianne what that EVIL Lucy Stone was doing!"

During the course of the movie both Spouse and Sarcasm Girl came into its orbit and were drawn in.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

In the Nick of Time

It isn't just that it's raining again, today. It's doing that quintessentially San Franciscan thing; regular rain, patch of blue sky, deluge, fog, patch of blue sky, hail, rain, deluge, patch of blue sky, rain, rain, rain, fog, deluge, hail, deluge, rain... All in the course of four hours.

I am so happy we had the roof fixed. So happy.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Honor Where Due

Can I just raise my glass to Barbara Boxer and Stephanie Tubbs Jones? May I say "Hurrah" to Sheriff Larry Myers of Neshoba County, Mississippi--and "about time," too?

Who am I to be giving out thanks? Just a citizen, is all.

Thursday, January 06, 2005


I know everyone is panting to know this. The roofer came back today, examined the site of the problem, gave a proposal, and as we have agreed to a price ($700) is returning later today to finish the repairs. This will require me to hang about the house all day, which is not so swell, but given that they're predicting a big storm tonight, getting this done this afternoon is a very good thing.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Everything Old Is New Again

One of my favored tricks, when I'm stalled on a book, is to take the material I have and retype it. I have about a hundred pages on the current book, and this morning I started the big retype.

Before my readers recoil in horror, let me point out that this technique allows me to examine on a word to word basis what I've written and to make new choices. I do a lot of fat-cutting in the process, and frequently find plot opportunities that don't occur to me when I'm just reading or line-editing.

This morning I retyped fifteen pages (down from sixteen) and made copious notes. I feel, if not virtuous, at least worthy. Onward and upward.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

My favorite commercial is one that has been running for a couple of years, at the end of August-beginning of September, in which a father is shown scooting up and down the aisles of a big-box office supplies store on a shopping cart, while that old Andy Williams Christmas song plays. Behind him, like tiny refugees from a funeral march, are a boy and girl. It's the back to school season.

What this means, of course, is that Christmas break, as lovely as it was, is over, and I'm back to work on the book. For me, the first few days after a break are always frustrating, filled with moments of lovely inspiration and moments of slogginess, where my brain appears to need to have its synapses cleaned. I spend a good deal of time staring out windows. On the other hand, sometimes a break will give me fresh eyes to see what should not be there, or what I omitted in the first pass. Given that this particular book has been very recalcitrant (no fewer than five starts--two of them well over a hundred pages!) fresh eyes are very useful.

Off to find a window to stare out of...

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Water Everywhere

When the rainy season decided to start, it started. Every day this week there has been rain, occasionally punctuated with brief moments of high blue sky and scudding clouds. Today has been unrelievedly dreary and wet and cold. Spouse, in his guise as Superhero, clawed his way through the ceiling of Younger Girl's closet and found what he believes to be the source of all our discontent: some of the flashing over the Dutch gutter over the bathroom (which is set in about three feet from the side of the house) is corroded. So he was able to put a catch pan up in the innards of the roof; we can change it every day and there will be no further leakage into the house.

Stirred by his example, I finally reorganized the linen closet, which was about to explode (linen closets, at least in my house, are utilized mostly by people who rummage without respect to order, and leave them in worse shape than when they found them. I do not except myself in this). Then I tidied up the bathroom cabinet, in which it was impossible to find anything one really needed. At the end of this process Spouse had finished tearing out all the remaining insulation over that closet, and I was enlisted to help clear out the vast quantity of debris (wet-mouse-smelling insulation, flakes of paint, chunks of plaster and lathe). Then we sprayed the closet with Lysol, in the hopes of laying the last of the mold to rest, and set a heater in there to warm up the last of the damp plaster. Then YG and I went to work, reinstaling all the belongings that had been removed when she fled the room the other night.

Those who have small children will perhaps recognize this sentiment: if I'd done it myself I'd have been half as tired. Getting an almost nine-year-old who is not interested in cleaning her room to clean her room is Augean Stables-calibre work. In the end, however, she was awed by how good things look. It will last a week, of course, but at least it's done, and it no longer smells like a large, wet hound in there.

Sarcasm Girl spent the day up in her aerie, working on a school project and being fourteen, which seems to take up an inordinate amount of energy. I feel like I've been beaten all over with small sticks, but I probably haven't.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

It's a Wonderful Kid

Our household New Year's Eve tradition is to stay in, eat too much, and watch movies until midnight, when we toast with sparkling cider, open doors to let the old, stale year out and usher in the fresh, spandy-new one, and go to bed. So last night we watched, first The Day the Earth Stood Still--one of Sarcasm Girl's Christmas presents--and It's a Wonderful Life--a gift from Santa to the whole family.

Sarcasm Girl knows enough now about the early '50s and the climate thereof so that she was able to appreciate TDTESS for its social merits as well as its whiz-bang SF qualities. Younger Girl was a little restive; she got it, but wasn't overwhelmed by it.

As for A Wonderful Life, Sarcasm Girl had seen it before and loves it. As for Younger Girl...I am not sure where the film got the rep of being this treacly confection--it's very dark, with the hero's willingness at every turn to take care of others to his own apparent detriment reading like an anti-Ayn Rand testimonial (or perhaps her worst nightmare of where altruism can get you). By the time the ending comes, you feel like poor ol' George Bailey has earned a little good luck. But YG is a tough cookie, and I had no qualms about her watching it. So we put on the DVD. Younger Daughter gets the whole angels-talking-about-someone-who's-having-a-dark-night-of-the-soul thing at the beginning. She feels terrible when George loses hearing in one ear after he saves his brother's life. But it was the sequence, a few years later, when the druggist, drunk and beside himself at the news that his son has died, boxes George's ears because the kid refused to deliver the pills the druggist had mistakenly put poison in, that got her. I don't think I've ever had my ears boxed, and I know my kids haven't, but I grew up knowing that some parents (or other adults) did strike children. That scene never bothered me. It completely wrecked Younger Girl. We had to stop the DVD for the first time to help her deal with it; she was in tears, outraged at the injustice of the druggist's reaction and horrified that any adult would hit a child hard enough to make him bleed.

There were a good number of other "stops" during the film. We kept asking if she wanted to stop watching, but she kept at it as if it were a particularly tough project she was bound and determined to conquer. At each juncture where George Bailey is forced to put aside his own goals to take care of other people or things (the scene where he swears he's never going to marry anyone, ever! right before he kisses the girl he does in fact marry is particularly good) YG would get tearful and upset. But she kept at it. She hissed Mr. Potter with the gusto of a silent-movie viewer of old ("I want to kick him in the butt!") and thought the children were adorable.

And at the end, when George decides to live, and returns to find that, in the words of Lina Lamont (another film) all his hard work "ain't been in vain for nothin'" YG was absolutely rapt. We congratulated her for sticking it out to the end. "It's a really good movie, but it's hard. I'm glad Clarence got his wings." And then we watched the ball drop in Times Square (adjusted for time differences, of course).

Sarcasm Girl, of course, could not go to bed until I had seen this. Not quite as biting as the bunny version of The Exorcist, perhaps, but satisfying nonetheless.


Health. Prosperity. Good work. Love. Fun.

Go to it.