I chopped down a cherry tree

I was late with my post yesterday because I spent the morning
in Fall River. I usually go there to see my mother and sister
for dinner, but there are things you don’t feel like doing after
dinner, so I spent the night and in the morning helped with the
tree and practiced some of the music
and I will be playing on September 21 at the Fall
River Arts Around the Block festival.

We didn’t really chop down the whole tree, but we ended up
cutting off a lot more of it than I would have expected. The
problem was that Comcast wouldn’t install cable television
(which they need because with the new, improved digital
broadcast TV they can’t get a lot of stations they used to get)
unless they trimmed the branches that were in the way of where
lines come into the house. It needed to be trimmed in any case,
because it was quite likely that if a storm moved the branches
violently enough, they would stop having telephone service.

There was really only one branch that needed to go away, but
the ladder we were using wasn’t high enough to reach that branch
just before it started trying to grab the phone line. So we had
to saw it off close to the trunk of the tree, and to get to
that, we had to saw a lot of other branches. To get the ladder
to where we could saw those branches, we had to saw some more

So the upshot was there was a fairly big pile of cherry
branches, some of which will make firewood for next winter.
They’re choke cherries, so the birds will be upset, but it won’t
affect the Conrad family food supply any.

And the flower bed on that side of the house will get a lot
more sun now. It’s a southern exposure, so you tend to think of
it as full sun, but of course the part that was under this tree wasn’t.


The farm share included a sheaf of edamame two weeks ago. I’ve
served them at two gatherings, and was surprised by how many people
had never heard of them, or if they had heard of them, couldn’t
remember enough of how they were spelled to pronounce the name
anything like right. So I figured I should tell you about

They’re soybeans that are picked still green. The pods of the
ones I had were fuzzy — someone in the band claimed to have had
them with smooth pods, but nobody else remembered them that way.
I’ve only ever had them already shelled until now.

One enjoyable feature of this farm share item was that they
came on the stalk — that is, the farm saved labor costs by just
cutting off the plants and putting them in the box, and I took the
beans off the plants and put them in a bowl. I did this while
chatting with a friend who was picking up some items that she
could use better than I could, so it wasn’t time-consuming.

I put a little water in the bowl, and microwaved the pods for
about 4 minutes, and then served them after band rehearsal last
Tuesday. It’s pretty good finger food if you aren’t really
hungry and just want something to nibble on, but they really
taste better with some flavoring. I put out sesame oil and soy
sauce, but nobody felt like shelling enough at once to put on a
plate and put sauce on them, so we just ate them straight out of
the pods.

There were still a lot left, and my plan was to shell them into
the salad I made for the cookout I went to yesterday. I went
through all the vegetables in my refrigerator and put at least
some of most of the ones that are edible raw into the salad
bowl. I’d had a dozen ears of corn last week, and cooked them
all and eaten all but three, so I cut the kernels off the cobs
and put that in the salad too.

By the time I’d done all that, it was time to leave for the
cookout, so I decided to take the edamame with me in the pods
and maybe people would just eat them while we waited for the
charcoal to cook the meat, or maybe someone else would want to
shell them.

Everybody had a few, but then went back to munching on potato
chips, but one person volunteered to shell them for the salad,
so we got some in there, and they were good with the dressing.

I think there are still a fair number left, but they’re at the
house where the cookout was.

If you want to try them and don’t have a farm that sells them,
some supermarkets (Trader Joe’s that I know of for sure) have
them in the frozen foods section.

How the gig went

I posted yesterday that I
had a gig in Waltham and I didn’t know much about what I was going
to play.

As is usual with gigs where you don’t know much about what’s
happening the morning of the gig, it didn’t work out to very
much playing. It wouldn’t have been worth going to Waltham for
the 5 minutes of performing time, but the rest of the performance
was entertaining, and the rehearsing with Lynn and Ishmael was really
fun. They’re both good people to play with; I play with Ishmael
all the time but usually in the context of a larger group, not all
of whom are very experienced performers, and I’ve only had a
chance to sing with Lynn a couple of times.

The original email sent to possible performers talked about
two 5 minute intermezzos and implied that there might be a fair
amount of playing time before the performance. So we rehearsed a
fair amount of stuff, and we were all prepared to fill in with
solos if something needed setup time.

When we got there, the first person we talked to said there would
be 5 minute intermezzos, but that he didn’t think he wanted before
performance music. So we arranged to get food before the
performance. (At one point there’d been a mention of food during
the rehearsal time, but that didn’t happen, and I’d gone easy on
lunch expecting an early supper, so I was hungry by 6:30.)

The second person we talked to said the intermezzos would be
3 minutes or less, but he had no problem with lots of music before
the performance. So Ishmael played fiddle tunes when he’d
finished his sandwich. I could have played too, but I’d packed my
soprano recorder when they told us there wouldn’t be
before-performance music, and I wasn’t confident enough that the
right key would come out on the G alto.

So we ended up doing Ravenscroft’s
be three poor Mariners
for the first intermezzo, but being cut
off before we could follow it up with To
and He
that will an alehouse keep
, which would have been a 5 minute
set, or maybe a little more.

The second intermezzo was supposed to be Jenny went to
gather rushes
, sung by Lynn with me and Ishmael chiming in
on the choruses to encourage the audience, and maybe doing an
instrumental verse if Lynn needed to catch her breath, followed by me and
Ishmael playing one or two Morley
to two voyces
, but the actors popped out during the last verse
of Jenny.

Ishmael’s friend who came along and hasn’t had much experience
of this kind of thing was quite annoyed at how truncated the
performing was, but Ishmael, Lynn and I had really been
expecting it. I was surprised during rehearsal when Lynn
suggested we sing Purcell,
since he’s a good 200 years later than the play, but she denied
that she’d ever suggested we do it in performance — she says
she just said I
gave her cakes and I gave her ale
is fun to sing, which it is, so we burst into song..

Gig in Waltham

I Sebastiani, a
Commedia del Arte troup based at MIT, is giving a free
performance in Waltham tonight and I’ll be playing before and
during intermission with Lynn Noel and Ishmael Stefanov.

The website says:

# Saturday, August 22 at 7pm at 144 Moody Street,
Building 18, Floor 3, Waltham, MA; open to the public and

It’s a pretty informal gig, so I will be able to tell you what
we played tomorrow, but it’s likely to include lots of singing
and some serpent and recorder. We’re pretty sure to play Ravenscroft’s
We be three poor Mariners,
which we do with an instrumental on serpent and five-string fiddle
in between the verses.

Feb. 2003 I Sebastiani performance

Come if you can. The Commedia del Arte is quite good — I
played stage music for a week-long run once, and they really are
improvising, and a better audience does make for a better

That week, the lead actress (left in the picture above) was someone who teaches fourth grade for her day job.
She was playing a lusty young widow in a very low-cut bodice with fairly raunchy improvised dialog. She did her very
best performance the night a bunch of her students came. This is probably related to why
three of the five Hugo
award nominees
, including the winner, were Young Adult fiction.

Wrote a program yesterday

It’s a pretty short program, and it doesn’t do as much as I
wish it did, but it will make a tedious and error-prone job a
little bit less tedious.

I’ve mentioned this before, but turning a website from html
into a content-manged site is a pain in the neck, and one of the
most painful things is getting the images and pdf files and such
into the media library, because that’s a terrible web-based
program, that only lets you do one file at a time.

So my program uses the python wordpresslib. It takes
one argument, which is the name of the file to upload. (The url,
username, and password
for the wordpress blog are hard-coded for my purposes.)

The program uploads the file and returns the URL for accessing
the raw file in the media library.

This isn’t really as good as you would hope for — what you’d
want is to supply a title and caption for the item and get the
link that shows the image in your post as a link to the page
page in the media library. You have to do all of that through
the web interface. But at least that web interface is a
reasonable program. The one for uploading gives you two
choices, one of which never works for me and the other one makes
you pick the filename via the browser even if you know it.

I’m glad I got programming energy for this even if it isn’t
much of a program. I think it’s important to use skills like
that pretty often. Of course I’ve been writing some PHP in the
course of the website redesign, but that’s closer to writing
html than it is to real programming.

Here’s the program if you want to use it:

#!/usr/bin/env python

# 09-Aug-20 lconrad; created
# usage: addmedia.py filename
# adds filename as a media object to the serpentpublications.org wordpress blog

# import library
import wordpresslib, sys

if sys.argv < 2:
print "usage: addmedia.py filename"

filename = sys.argv[1]
# note that it's the xmlrpc.php interface you need to specify
wordpress = "http://serpentpublications.org/wordpress/xmlrpc.php"
user = "*redacted*"
password = "*redacted*"

# prepare client object
wp = wordpresslib.WordPressClient(wordpress, user, password)

# select blog id

# upload image for post
imageSrc = wp.newMediaObject(filename)

print "Image uploaded to: %s" % imageSrc

Little House at the New Yorker

If you enjoyed the
Little House books
by Laura Ingalls Wilder,
there’s a New
Yorker article
about Wilder and her daughter,
Rose Wilder Lane.

I haven’t reread the books in a while, but here are some
thoughts that occur to me reading the article:

  • I hadn’t remembered that the Ingalls family were illegal
    settlers in Little House on the Prairie.
  • Part of the article is a survey of other literature about
    the books. There’s a lot of material for research here, since
    the original pencil-written legal pads on which Laura drafted
    the books have been preserved. It’s not clear whether we have
    the typewritten versions that Rose submitted for publication,
    but apparently the scholars are assuming that most of the
    differences between Laura’s drafts and the published versions
    are Rose’s editing. It gives one little confidence in
    literary scholarship as a whole that there the scholars who
    have examined this material come to drastically different
    conclusions about the extent of Rose’s contribution. Some of
    them apparently believe that Rose was the real author, using
    Laura’s drafts as raw material, and others believe, “Wilder
    demonstrated a high degree of writing competence from the
    beginning, and her daughter’s contribution to the
    final products, while important, was less significant than has
    been asserted.” (Quoted from John Miller in his introduction
    to Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder. )
  • Another big part of the article is the history of the Wilder
    family reaction to twentieth century politics. They were
    supportive of the William Jennings Bryan free silver
    movement. Rose became a supporter of Eugene Debs, a
    socialist, later flirted with communism, and after that
    espoused what we now call libertarian principles, and in fact
    may have been one of the first people to use that term. Laura was a
    Democrat until the late 1920’s, but decided that the party was
    committed to taking money from the farmers and giving it to
    the urban poor, and was quite upset at the election of
    Franklin Roosevelt. She believed (ignoring railroads, free
    schools, and government-backed credit) that the Ingalls family
    had accomplished what they had with no government assistence.


Crime in the Broadway Building Condominium

I got home last night after band rehearsal and the sidewalk in front of my house was crawling with

The yappy little dog that my next door neighbor was taking care
of for his parents was yapping his head off, and one of the
officers asked me if I knew whose dog it was, because someone
had complained that it was barking and they were worried that it
was dehydrated. I told them, and
gave them his phone number. At this point I saw that they had
opened the door, so I was a little confused that there was still
a problem with the dog. The neighbor, arrived as I was
going into my unit.

I walked my dog, and when I got back there were still lots of
policemen around, and my neighbor was sitting on the steps looking glum
and explaining to a woman about where the dog’s pills were. I
kept thinking that this was an awful lot of police attention for
a crabby neighbor complaining about a barking dog.

When I got up this morning to walk my dog, there was a police
officer standing in front of the building, and she was still
there when I returned from the dog walk. I asked her what was
happening and she said that she couldn’t tell me, but they were
watching the building today, and we’d be very safe for the day.
When I looked out during the morning, there were frequently lots of
police officers and other onlookers.

Here’s what the online police blotter has to say about the

On 8/17/09 at 9:15 PM, 31-year-old *redacted* of *redacted* was arrested for Possession of Class D w/ Intent to Distribute & Violation of the School Zone. Police were dispatched to the residence to investigate a noise complaint and found a large amount of marijuana plants being cultivated on the third floor of the residence.

I still think the next time the police complain about not
having enough resources I will be thinking about all the
officers spending all this time on this particular case. I
support legalizing marijuana, and if it is going to be illegal,
and people are going to smoke it anyway,
I’d rather they grew it in their apartments for their friends
(which I would assume is what my neighbor has been doing)
than that they pay lots of money to organized crime for it.

In any case, if you live somewhere where there are crabby
neighbors, you clearly should be careful about what you do
that’s illegal. I don’t know for sure that a good lawyer
couldn’t get this thrown out of court for search with a lack of
probable cause, but even if that happens, it will still be a lot
of trouble for a little bit of marijuana. (Yes, the blotter
says it’s a lot of marijuana, but it’s an 1100 square foot
apartment, with the usual amount of furniture, clothing, kitchen
equipment, … so there’s a
limit to how many plants there could be.)

The Handmaid’s Tale (book)

I wrote about
the movie last
April, but now that I’ve reread the
, I thought I’d talk about it again.

I must not have reread the book since before September 2001, or
I’d have noticed and remembered this paragraph:

It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time.

What struck me particularly both this time and in the past, is
the depiction of benign power, and how unimaginative people who
have power are about the plight of the powerless. This happens
at several points but the one that’s always struck me is
when the Commander gives the narrator the hand lotion:

On the fourth evening he gave me the hand lotion, in an un-labeled plastic bottle. It wasn’t very good quality; it smelled faintly of vegetable oil. No Lily of the Valley for me. It may have been something they made up for use in hospitals, on bedsores. But I thanked him anyway.

The trouble is, I said, I don’t have anywhere to keep it.

In your room, he said, as if it were obvious.

They’d find it, I said. Someone would find it.

Why? he asked, as if he really didn’t know. Maybe he didn’t. It wasn’t the first time he gave evidence of being truly ignorant of the real conditions under which we lived.

They look, I said. They look in all our rooms.

What for? he said.

I think I lost control then, a little. Razor blades, I said. Books, writing, black-market stuff. All the things we aren’t supposed to have. Jesus Christ, you ought to know. My voice was angrier than I’d intended, but he didn’t even wince.

Then you’ll have to keep it here, he said.

So that’s what I did.

What this always reminds me of is something that happened when
I was in the fourth grade. I’d been coming home from school and
telling stories with the locution, “So I raised my hand and
said…”, and one day my father said something that made me
realize that he had no idea that after you raised your hand in
school, you then had to wait for the teacher to call on you
before you could say anything. I don’t know what it was like
when he was in school, although I did sit in on classes he
taught (he was an organic chemistry professor) later, and I
don’t remember students contributing uninvited.

There’s also this discussion of a pre-catastrophe interview with the mistress
of a high-up Nazi:

From what they said, the man had been cruel and brutal. The mistress … had once been very beautiful. There was a black-and-white shot of her and another woman, in the two-piece bathing suits and platform shoes and picture hats of the time; they were wearing cat’s-eye sunglasses and sitting in deck chairs by a swimming pool. The swimming pool was beside their house, which was near the camp with the ovens. The woman said she didn’t notice much that she found unusual. She denied knowing about the ovens.

At the time of the interview, forty or fifty years later, she was dying of emphysema. She coughed a lot, and she was very thin, almost emaciated; but she still took pride in her appearance. (Look at that, said my mother, half grudgingly, half admiringly. She still takes pride in her appearance.) She was carefully made up, heavy mascara on her eyelashes, rouge on the bones of her cheeks, over which the skin was stretched like a rubber glove pulled tight. She was wearing pearls.

He was not a monster, she said. People say he was a monster, but he was not one.

What could she have been thinking about? Not much, I guess; not back then, not at the time. She was thinking about how not to think. The times were abnormal. She took pride in her appearance. She did not believe he was a monster. Hw was not a monster, to her. Probably he had some endearing trait: he whistled, offkey, in the shower, he had a yen for truffles, he called his dog Liebchen and made it sit up for little pieces of raw steak. How easy it is to invent a humanity, for anyone at all. What an available temptation. A big child, she would have said to herself. Her heart would have melted, she’d have smoothed the hair back from his forehead, kissed him on the ear, and not just to get something out of him either. The instinct to soothe, to make it better. There there, she’d say, as he woke from a nightmare. Things are so hard for you. All this she would have believed, because otherwise how could she have kept on living? She was very ordinary, under that beauty. She believed in decency, she was nice to the Jewish maid, or nice enough, nicer than she needed to be.

Another brilliant piece of analysis and description is the way
people who are supposed to be completely controlled are always
forming alliances to get small pieces of information. Here’s
how Atwood introduces the story about her friend Moira escaping
from the training center for the Handmaids:

Part of it I can fill in myself, part of it I heard from Alma, who heard it from Dolores, who heard it from Janine. Janine heard it from Aunt Lydia. There can be alliances even in such places, even under such circumstances. This is something you can depend upon: there will always be alliances, of one kind or another.

Here’s a discussion of how an alliance starts, in a whispered
conversation at the birth of a baby:

I receive a cup, lean to the side to pass it, and the woman next to me says, low in my ear, “Are you looking for anyone?”

“Moira,” I say, just as low. “Dark hair, freckles.”

“No,” the woman says. I don’t know this woman, she wasn’t at the Center with me, though I’ve seen her, shopping. “But I’ll watch for you.”

“Are you?” I say.

“Alma,” she says. “What’s your real name?”

I want to tell her there was an Alma with me at the Center. I want to
tell her my name, but Aunt Elizabeth raises her head, staring
around the room, she must have heard a break in the chant, so
there’s no more time. Sometimes you can find things out, on Birth
Days. But there would be no point in asking about Luke. He
wouldn’t be where any of these women would be likely to see him.

One of the good things about this blog is that it does give me
a chance to tell people what I think is good about my favorite
books. This is one I don’t think I’ve ever managed to discuss
with any of my friends.


What I did on the Pub Crawl

I decided that if you were interested in what I wrote
yesterday, you’d want to know what it was like, so here are some
remarks and some pictures.

We started at the Cambridge
brewing company
, which is an American brewpub with a lot of
interesting beers brewed on site. Like most eating places that
used to be factories, it can be pretty loud when it gets full, but
that wasn’t a problem yesterday at lunch time. I had their
imitation Berliner Weisse, straight, although I concluded as I
have the other times I’ve tried it straight that I like it better
with the woodruff syrup. I also had the Mediterranean platter.
I’d been there for lunch on Thursday, so people asked for my
recommendations, and many of them ordered the Hefeweizen, which
I’ve been buying in growlers and drinking at home all summer, and
a Russian Imperial Stout which was a guest beef from the Stone
Brewery in San Diego.


Then we moved to the Elephant and Castle downtown, where
everyone ordered either Fullers London Porter or Fullers London
Pride. They have similar hop profiles; I was glad I had the
porter because I liked the extra taste of the roasted malts.

[Elephant and Castle]

The next stop was Jacob Wirth’s, which is
known for its selection of German beers and food. But they’ve
recently started having a cask ale on tap, and I believe in
encouraging that, so that’s what I ordered. It was something from
Dogfish Head. It’s a nice setting for drinking, with lots of wood
and old posters and signs. I’d planned to have the cherry
strudel, but I wasn’t hungry yet.

[Jacob Wirth]

After that I got tired of taking pictures, although the next
place, The Other Side, is an interesting space that
could have made a good picture. We were upstairs under the
seemingly improvised
vaulted skylight. I had a red beer with a French name, and a
piece of cherry pie.

Everyone else had the same reaction I did to the idea of
Cornwall’s, and nobody was drinking their beers very fast by now
and most people wanted some food, so we decided to skip the
Cornwall’s stop and go straight to The Publicke
in Brookline. I had something from the Scillie
Brewery in Belgium. When it was time to move on, a few of us
decided we’d be better off having food where we were than at the
next stop, so I had something called The Publicke House Platter,
with bread and cheese and salad and cold cuts, and a Framboise to
go with it.

The food and beer were all good. Of the 10 or 11 people who came, most of them were people I
wanted to talk to. So I enjoyed myself, but it was too bad that
it’s a dwindling institution. We used to get a couple of dozen
people, including people from out of town who liked the idea of
drinking with people who already knew their way around Boston.

Pub Crawl

A short one today, since I’ll be spending all afternoon and
maybe some of the evening at the Boston Wort Processors Pub

I’ve been going on these since 1991, so for me they’re a
recurrent social life, where I see people I might not have seen
since last year, or even for several years.

But if I were moving to a new city, I might try to find an
organization that does pub crawls just to see where people who
drink think the good bars are. Especially for a woman, it’s
easier to check out a new place in the company of other people.

While there’s an occasional disappointment on the list, all the
stops are places where someone has had a good meal or at
least a good pint sometime.

Today I’ll be joining at the beginning, since it’s my local pub a couple of
blocks away. I’ll definitely stay at least through Jacob Wirth’s, which has
really good strudel. I’d like to stay to the end, because I
haven’t yet been to the Roadhouse, which only opened within the
last year, but I may decide that 3 or 4 bars are enough for one
day and check out the Roadhouse some other day.

The 4:30 stop at Cornwall’s is a likely crawl-ender. That was
one of the disappointments I mentioned a few years ago, when
they had some beer of a good brand that was undrinkable because
of improper storage and refused to recognize the fact. People
say they’ve improved since then, but I may remember the taste of
that beer and decide to walk home and take care of the dog.