The Lacuna

The central character in this
book
is the son of a US bureaucrat and a Mexican woman. He
lives in both countries growing up, and in Mexico city ends up
working for Diego Rivera; his wife, Frida Kahlo; and their
houseguest, Leon Trotsky. Later he becomes a best-selling
novelist and is hounded by the House Committee on Un-American
Activities.

For some reason, the reviews I read of it are lukewarm, but
since I’m both a Barbara Kingsolver fan and interested in those
characters, I read it anyway. I think the reviews are what
always happens when someone is famous — it’s easier to say the
book is a falling-off from earlier work than to really describe
how good it is, so they say it’s a falling-off.

I wouldn’t recommend it as the place to start if you haven’t
read Barbara Kingsolver before. That would be
Prodigal
Summer
if you like novels,
or Animal,
Vegetable, Miracle
if you prefer nonfiction and are interested in eating local,
non-industrial foods. Both of these books are set in the
Appalachian south where Kingsolver grew up.

But I thought it was certainly up to the standard of The
Poisonwood Bible
, also about a disfunctional family
in an unfamiliar setting.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=laymusicorg-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=0060852577&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=laymusicorg-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=0060959037&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=laymusicorg-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=0060852569&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=laymusicorg-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=0061577073&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

Following up on last August’s arrest

I spoke to my neighbor who was arrested
last August when a neighbor called the police because his dog
was barking.

He’s still not completely out of the woods, but his lawyer made
a motion last month to have the evidence thrown out on the basis
that the breakin was improper, and the judge granted the
motion.

So the DA can still go through appeals and drag it out, but
they may just drop the case, if they accept that they don’t have
any admissible evidence.

I asked him if that meant he would get his computer back, and
he said he’d asked that too. His lawyer said the next thing the
police would do is apply for “destruction of the evidence”, which
will certainly apply to the alleged marijauna plants, and might
apply to the othe items seized in the breakin. (Not just the
computer, but his camera, printer, monitor…)

I can see claiming that a hard drive is evidence, but I really
don’t see how a printer can be.

Anyway, the lawyer’s advice is that he can fight the
destruction of evidence application, but he advises against it,
on the grounds that it might well cost more time and money than
the equipment is worth.

I’m glad I set up my offsite backup system.

How the Burns party went

I’m just now getting to hear the recordings from the concert on
January 30, so I’ll write about that later. Yesterday’s Burns
birthday party was quite pleasant.

My sister, the hostess, read an article from the Manchester
Guardian pointing out that the custom started within a few years
of Burns’ death, when there were still people around who had known
Burns. She discussed the history of the 19th century parties
where the guests provided the entertainment. At the Burns
parties, everybody contributed, whether professional or not.
Later, at the parties where Chopin played and George Sand read her
works in progress, it was the professionals who performed, but
they were doing it in their own social context. Later still, the
professionals were asked to perform for other people, and either
were paid, or felt they should have been.

There was an animated discussion of the “Question” — Resolved:
that candidates for public office *should* want to stand in the
cold outside Fenway Park and shake hands. Everyone agreed that
Coakley had not been a good candidate, but none of the
political activists in the room wanted to discuss my point
that there had been no Get Out the Vote.

People enjoyed my selections from Judith. A friend who has
usually played recordings of folksongs he likes this year sang an
Irish lullaby from the Clancy Brothers’ repertoire, and turned out
to have quite a pleasant voice. Someone read a newly discovered
poem by Burns, and someone else sang his setting of a lullaby by
Yeats. I got a chance to play my Mexican Polka with piano
accompaniment. My sister read the whole of the Wordsworth poem on
the death of Lord Nelson that President Obama had quoted the last
three lines of in his eulogy of Edward Kennedy.

The food and drink were all good. Monte began the procedings
by making off with the whole wedge of the most expensive cheese.
After that it was mostly humans enjoying the food they’d cooked
for each other, including “neaps and tatties”; a casserole with
barley, shrimp, and chicken; and lemon squares.

More Judith

I had to spend most of the morning producing the handout for
the
party
, so I’ll give you the rest of it today.

I’m reading parts of two sections — the one I gave you
yesterday about Holofernes cutting off the water supply to
Bethulia, and the one about the death of Holofernes.

Here’s the version in the Apocrypha:

And Holofernes was made merry on her occasion, and drank exceeding
much wine, so much as he had never drunk in his life.

And when it was grown late, his servants made haste to their lodgings,
and Vagao shut the chamber doors, and went his way.

And they were all overcharged with wine.
And Judith was alone in the chamber.
But Holofernes lay on his bed, fast asleep, being exceedingly drunk.

And Judith spoke to her maid to stand without before the chamber, and to watch:

And Judith stood before the bed praying with tears, and the motion of her lips in silence,

Saying: Strengthen me, O Lord God of Israel, and in this hour look on the works of my hands, that as thou hast promised, thou mayst raise up Jerusalem thy city: and that I may bring to pass that which I have purposed, having a belief that it might be done by thee.

And when she had said this, she went to the pillar that was at his bed’s head, and loosed his sword that hung tied upon it.

And when she had drawn it out, she took him by the hair of his head, and said: Strengthen me, O Lord God, at this hour.

And she struck twice upon his neck, and out off his head, and took off his canopy from the pillars, and rolled away his headless body.

And after a while she went out, and delivered the head of Holofernes to her maid, and bade her put it into her wallet.

The version from the program notes for last June’s concert is
interrupted by two soliloquies, so I’ll give it to you straight,
first:

Holofernes was barely able to stand
on his feet, and sleep did overtake him.
Bagoas closed the tent and ordered the others to leave.

Holofernes’s strength melts away,
the filthy deeds of lust dilute it,
The bed was in the middle of the chamber,
soft, clean, white.
Entering, Holofernes collapsed upon it,
he began to snore louder than a sea lion,

Judith moved aside the curtains of the bed
while her heart beat fiercely,
She joined hand to hand,
fell to her knees, poured forth tears;
and prayed to herself:
O God,
remove from me all fear, guide my arm
that it accomplish what my mind has plotted!

Now, now I pray, free Your city Jerusalem,
smite the arrogant who elevate themselves,
give peace to the virtuous who humble themselves,
Give me Your power, and deign to assist me.

This she said, then silently she took the sword from the pillar of
the bed,
and drew it; with one hand she seized Holofernes’s hair,
with the other she smote him.
He groaned, shuddered, lying on his back, then
he expired; he had no strength; from his throat dribbled blood:
thus the hero perished, thus he closed his eyes.

He lay there like a log,
God did help Judith
that her work was not in vain,
she struck him again and took off his head.

I believe these soliloquies are not from the original epic, but
are what were called “Agonies” in Croation poetry. The first one
is inserted between Judith’s prayer and her actually taking the sword in
her hands:

[At that moment, the mind of Judith got up and spoke to her soul]

Why are you so sad, my soul, and why are you confusing me…

The soul answered: oh, how greatly you confused my heart…
I have been given to the body to live with it, and the body
cheated me…

The mind: My soul, your excuse isn’t good,
Because your body is made of earth, and you are made of wisdom…

Therefore I am so surprised that your heart is so petrified…
Overcome your body…

Then the soul said: Woe to me, I hoped to receive from you a
consolation, and instead I received even bigger sadness… You
know that I have been living on this world for many years… I
cannot overcome my body. It is older, cannot move, and cannot do
any good…

O, my soul, how bitter are your words, don’t lose hope if you are
losing your mind, I pray you… weep and fall upon your knees…

And then there’s one for Holofernes right after he dies:

[Then, Holofernes’s soul stood up and spoke ot his body angrily:]

Where are your lands and vineyards?

Where the pearls and Stones?

Where are your golden rings?

Where all the money that was your god?

Where are the delicious spices, that you prepared and forgot about
the poor?
There is no more fowl or wine on your table, now you are the drink
of disgusting worms,
that will crumble your body into dust.

It will be God’s decision,

do you want to cry in this chaber, where you lie with your nose
up?

Your beautiful eyes now stay closed,
your tongue is now silent, speechless.

[Then the evil Holofernes’s body, parting from the world, started
lamenting in a death rattle:]

Alas, where is my pride,
alas, where is my life?
Alas, where are my friends?

Alas, where are all my riches?

Oh, my dear companions, look at my body which lived with you
not fearing death,

My arms are still here,
but they don’t help my soul.
My eyes are closed
and all my arms killed.

Why has God created me?

Cursed be the day when I was born;
cursed the place when I was fed!
Be lost the paths that I crossed!

The Book of Judith

I’m going to a Robert Burns Birthday Party tomorrow, where
people read poetry that’s impressed them. We’ll also song some
Burns songs and read some of the standard Burns, but people
mostly pick poems that mean something to them no matter who the
poet is or
when they were written.

I thought over what poetry I’ve run into this year, and what
impressed me most was the Croatian
poems based on the Book of Judith
that I heard at last
year’s Boston Early Music
Festival.

I’m going to just read a couple of short passages from a Bible
translation, and some slightly longer passages from the
translation in the BEMF booklet. But I’ve been looking at some
of the information on the internet about the original, and why
it’s in Apocrypha.

Here’s an article
about how it’s been perceived in several religious traditions,
and here’s the Wikipedia
article
, which includes a list of literary, musical, and
artistic works based on the story, including the Croation Juditha,
which was part of the basis for the concert last June.

My brief summary is that the Rabbis who decided on the Hebrew
Canon decided not to include it because it was clearly not a
contemporary account. It seems to have been written during the
time of the Maccabees, and set during the reign of
Nebbuchadnezzar. So it’s a historical novel.

One of the aspects of it that struck me last June was the
description of the Assyrian atrocities against the civilian
population, like this one from chapter 7:

Now Holofernes, in going round about, found that the fountains which supplied them with water, ran through an aqueduct without the city on the south side: and he commanded their aqueduct to he cut off.

Nevertheless there were springs not far from the walls, out of which they were seen secretly to draw water, to refresh themselves a little rather than to drink their fill.

But the children of Ammon and Moab came to Holofernes, saying: The children of Israel trust not in their spears, nor in their arrows, but the mountains are their defense, and the steep hires and precipices guard them.

Wherefore that thou mayst overcome them without joining battle, set guards at the springs that they may not draw water out of them, and thou shalt destroy them without sword, or at least being wearied out they will yield up their city, which they suppose, because it is situate in the mountains, to be impregnable.

And these words pleased Holofernes, and his officers, and he placed all round about a hundred men at every spring.

And when they had kept this watch for full twenty days, the cisterns, and the reserve of waters failed among all the inhabitants of Bethulia, so that there was not within the city, enough to satisfy them, no not for one day, for water was daily given out to the people by measure.

The Croatian version of this is shorter and more vivid:

Holofernes approached Bethulia and diverted the water that
flowed into the city.

The water finished, there was thirst in the town,
Nothing to moisten their mouths,
their tongues began to dry out,
their lips to crack, and people waxed pale.

Sent a movie back unwatched

I don’t usually do that, and it’s not that it’s a terrible
movie.

It’s called Hands
over the City.
It’s about urban development politics, which I expected to be
interested in, but in this case I just wasn’t. I tried twice,
and I just couldn’t get interested in any of the characters
enough to even recognize them when they came back in later
scenes.

There is a good scene at the beginning when a building
collapses, injuring several people. You expect that kind of
European film to have a lot of visual interest even if you don’t
like the characters, but I think one of the points of this one was
how ugly the development was making Naples, and there were an
awful lot of ugly shots of skyscrapers.

So I can’t really tell you not to watch it, because it could be
if I’d persevered there would have been all kinds of catharsis.
But I can tell you I found the first 50 minutes or so pretty boring.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=laymusicorg-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=B000H5U5KS&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

Crutches

I got a phone call at 8 AM Friday morning.

I was nervous when I realized who it was — it was the partner
of one of the people I was playing the concert with yesterday.
The last time I got a call from someone like that the day before
the concert, it was the wife of one of the performers saying he
had slipped on the ice and was flat on his back in bed and
couldn’t possibly get to and play a concert the next day.

So I was relieved when it turned out that this call was because
my friend wanted to borrow my crutches.

The story was actually somewhat alarming. She’s a fairly fit
person who climbs mountains and does folk dancing and ride a
bicycle for long distances. Two weeks before she’d been to a
folk dance weekend and danced 15 hours between Friday night and
Sunday afternoon and felt fine during and after.

For a couple of days before, her knee had been bothering her a
little, but then all of a sudden she went to leave work, and
pushed back the chair, and she couldn’t stand on her right
leg.

She was glad I didn’t mind loaning her the crutches. Until she
got them, she wasn’t able to move anywhere without assistance. So
she had to wake up her partner to go to the bathroom at night. I
said that was like having a dog, but she said the dog probably
didn’t whimper both to and from the bathroom. Actually it’s
probably easier with the human, because for the dog, you have to
put shoes and a coat on to take them out.

Anyway, I reminded her when she was being grateful that she
wouldn’t have thought to call me if she hadn’t been so helpful
during the six weeks I was on them — she regularly called to
see if I wanted to come to the supermarket with her, and went to
the pharmacy for me, and took me to visit Bonnie.

I was also glad I’d tested getting them out of the closet while I
was fit. They had enough ice skates and vacuum cleaners and
camping equipment in front of them that I wouldn’t have wanted to try
to do it standing on one foot. I’ll be more careful when I put
them back in the closet.

We don’t know quite what’s going to happen with my friend’s
knee. She’s had an x-ray, and it looks like torn cartilage or
maybe other junk in the joint. She has an appointment to see an
orthopedist next week.

Crutches aren’t so expensive that comfortably off people can’t just go buy
them, but they do take up enough space in a closet, and
reasonably fit people use them seldom enough, that it seems silly
for every household to have a pair. I think it’s something the
socialist model “From each according to his abilities; to each
according to his needs” should apply pretty well. So there
should probably just be a central supply depot that delivers a
pair when you need them, and then you bring them back there when
you don’t any more.

My rationale for keeping mine after the hip surgery instead of
donating them to one of the places that gives them free to poor
people, was that when you sprain your ankle, which I had been
doing every 3 or 4 years, people tell you it heals faster if you
use crutches and keep the weight off of it. I’d never tried that,
because of not having the crutches, but I was going to test it
out the next time my ankle gave out on me. It hasn’t given out
since the hip surgery. I hope that’s because the physical
therapy I got then, which focused more on balance than on
strengthening hip muscles, fixed the problem with my ankle, but
maybe it’s just having crutches in the closet makes it less
likely that you sprain your ankle. The same way carrying an
umbrella makes it less likely to rain hard.

Amazon and Macmillan

So far, the best comment I’ve read on the current war
between Amazon and Macmillan
, which has caused a lot of
books people would be buying and reading to disappear from the
Amazon shelves, is this
one
by Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing.

He points out how ridiculous both sides look — both Amazon masquerading as a defender of
consumer rights by demanding low prices for ebooks and Macmillan
masquerading as a friend of the book industry for demanding that
ebooks sell at the price of hardcovers.

He says:

If true, Macmillan demanding a $15 pricetag for its ebooks is just plain farcical. Although there are sunk costs in book production, including the considerable cost of talented editors, copy-editors, typesetters, PR people, marketers, and designers, the incremental cost of selling an ebook is zero. And audiences have noticed this. $15 is comparable to the discounted price for a new hardcover in a chain bookstore, and it costs more than zero to sell that book. Demanding parity pricing suggests that paper, logistics, warehousing, printing, returns and inventory control cost nothing. This is untrue on its face, and readers are aware of this fact.

If true, Amazon draping itself in the consumer-rights flag in demanding a fair price is even more farcical. Though Amazon’s physical-goods sales business is the best in the world when it comes to giving buyers a fair shake, this is materially untrue when it comes to electronic book sales, a sector that it dominates. As mentioned above, Amazon’s DRM and license terms on its Kindle (as well as on its Audible audiobooks division, which controls the major share of the world’s audiobook sales) are markedly unfair to readers. Amazon’s ebooks are locked (by contract and by DRM) to the Kindle (this is even true of the “DRM-free” Kindle books, which still have license terms that prohibit moving the books). This is not due to rightsholder-demands, either: as I discovered when I approached Amazon about selling my books without DRM and without a bad license agreement for Kindle and Audible, they will not allow copyright owners to modify their terms, nor to include text in the body of the work releasing readers from those terms.

…[lots of good stuff about the bad effect of DRM on the marketplace, LEC]

If Macmillan wants to flex its muscle on an issue of substance and moment, an issue that will make it the hero of readers and writers and booksellers everywhere, it can demand that Amazon, Apple, B&N, and all the other ebook readers allow for interoperability and remove contracts that undo centuries’ worth of book-ownership norms.

And if Amazon wants to throw its toys out of the pram over a consumer rights issue, let it announce that it will offer a fair deal for any book that publishers and writers will allow a fair deal — no DRM, no abusive EULA, just “This book is governed by 17USC, the United States Copyright Law. Do not violate that law.” Let Amazon label the books that are a bad deal for readers with warnings: “At the publisher’s request, this book is licensed under terms that prohibit reading it on other devices, selling it used, or giving it to your children.” And let them put a gleaming seal of approval on the books that offer fair terms and a fair shake.

And trust readers to make up their minds.

In combination with the Apple announcement that the new Apple
bookstore for the iPad will have a different proprietary
format for the books it sells, this has been a bad week for
readers of ebooks. I haven’t been buying DRM that can’t be
broken — maybe I should go back to not buying DRM that can’t be
*legally* broken.

I’m currently reading:

  • A hardcover from the library for my
    bedtime book (and dealing with the light and the reading glasses
    when I want to stop).
  • A DRM’d ebook from the library on my laptop for
    my reading downstairs.
  • A Project Gutenberg ebook on my Nokia
    for when I’m out of the house and don’t want to carry anything
    as heavy as either the dead tree book or the laptop

It would really be nice if the publishers of the hardcover and
the library ebook would sell me what I want to buy and put their
books out in a format I can enjoy on my device of choice. I’m
not the only person who wants this, and there are publishers (Baen for instance) who seem to
stay in business selling it to me and others like me. But it’s
not looking like either the big publishers or the retailers are
getting the message.

Stories from the polls

I was so interested in writing about the results that I didn’t
tell you a couple of stories about the voters at the polls last
week.

One man came in and said he had a durable power of attorney for
his father and did that mean he could vote for him. I said I
didn’t think so, and so did the person I talked to at the
election commission. He came in with his father only a few minutes later, so it can’t have been a major hardship for the father to vote himself.

I had one of those for Bonnie before she died. It gave me power to do
some amazing things, like sell all the mineral rights under her
house, but I’m quite sure it didn’t allow me to vote for
her.

One couple came in together. She was registered and voted, but
he was registered in Quincy, but she wanted him to vote in Cambridge
anyway. I explained that he had to be on our list, or we
couldn’t give him a ballot. She got hostile and asked, “So
you’re turning him away?”

I think I’m supposed to say, “No, he can vote by provisional
ballot if he wants to,” but it seemed better to just say, “Yes,”
and then explain about the provisional ballots being for people
when there’s some question about whether they’re registered or
not, and it gets counted if it turns out they were
registered. There didn’t seem to be any question that he wasn’t
registered in Cambridge.

The guy from Quincy looked like he was being a bit embarrassed
by his friend from Cambridge, and not only didn’t insist on
voting a provisional ballot but didn’t even take the Voter
Registration card that would have let him change his address to
Cambridge for the next time.

I’d bet on that relationship not lasting until the next
election, but of course some very odd-looking relationships do
last for years and years.