Friday, February 14, 2020

The Washington State Primary

So, this week we had a micro-election: only one thing to vote for on the ballot, whether to renew a school levy. Naturally I voted for this -- supporting public education is a Good Thing in my book.

Then today came the voter's pamphlet for our next election: the primary for this fall's presidential race. We vote on March 10th -- less than a month away.

The Republican side of this is simple: the only option is to vote for Trump or don't vote at all.

The Democratic side is,  predictably, messier. If anything there's an over-richness of options (rather like the Republican campaigns of 2016 and 2012). Of the twenty-three people who at some point were running for the nomination, thirteen made it this far, or at least were still running at the point when this pamphlet went to press. Ironically among those to have dropped out is Washington state governor Jay Inslee, who wd have been a 'favorite son' candidate if he'd gotten this far.

The candidates who made the ballot are

Michael Bennet
Joe Biden
Michael Bloomberg
Cory Booker
Pete Bettigieg
John Delaney*
Tulsi Gabbard
Amy Klobuchar
Deval Patrick
Bernie Sanders
Tom Steyer
Elizabether Warren
Andrew Yang

At this point my first choice is still in the running despite troubles in Iowa and New Hampshire, and my second choice is still running and doing quite well -- so I can still entertain what-if scenarios wherein one gets the nomination and the other is his or her running mate. We'll see.

I do wish the list had fewer billionaires (as in: none) and fewer old men. It does feel like some of the candidates who don't get the nomination cd make for interesting Cabinet Secretaries. Again, we'll see

--John R.
--current reading: the MURDERBOT series by Martha Wells. didn't know they wrote them like that anymore: highly entertaining.

*I thought I'd been following the campaign fairly close, but admit to not having heard of Delaney before

*among those to have dropped out

Thursday, February 13, 2020

So this is what Diversity looks like

So, I don't much follow the local news since our city's local paper ceased issuing a print edition a few years back and went to being a news web-site rather than 'paper' as such. Which means I wdn't have seen the following (from a regional news station) had Janice not drawn it to my attention.

It turns out Kent, one of the outlying towns that make up the Seattle area, where we live, is the tenth most diverse city in America.

I'm surprised by this because 'diversity'' turns out to look perfectly normal. I've lived in areas with large minority components pretty much all my life. What's different now is how many ethnicities and nationalities one city can absorb with little outward sign. The school behind my house may belong to a school district prepared to teach kids in a hundred and thirty languages but it looks like any other school. The Kent library has an impressive array of books in a surprising number of languages but is just like any other town library.

And I say: Welcome.

--John R.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Colbert vs. The Hobbit (-eh-)

So, thanks to friend Stan for pointing out that Steven Colbert had some Tolkien content on his show last week. Here's the link, with the lead in to the Tolkien talk starting at about the four and a half minute mark:

The context for this is his guest's having just finished reading the entire Harry Potter series to his daughter, raising the question of what next. Colbert maintained that at age ten she wd now be ready to plunge into THE LORD OF THE RINGS. When the father suggested THE HOBBIT instead, Colbert responded with -eh-   At six or even eight, he said, maybe THE HOBBIT wd have done.

Given his status as a stalwart Tolkien fan, I was surprised to find him so dismissive of what I think is one of Tolkien's masterpieces. It was revealing that the parts of THE HOBBIT he really likes are the parts that tie in with LORD OF THE RINGS and THE SILMARILLION: the Gollum story, the swords from Gondolin, the Elvenking. It sounds to me as if he loves LotR and is deeply conversant in THE SILMARILLION, but not much interested in Tolkien's other work, like FARMER GILES or SMITH or, it turns out, THE HOBBIT. 

I know there are some people who like THE HOBBIT but not LotR  (a minority opinion).

And there are quite a few who view THE HOBBIT as just a 'prelude' to LotR, something you need to get through to get on to the good stuff (a much more widely held view, though one I think wrong). I find a lot of people in this position had read LotR first and then THE HOBBIT, like Colbert himself.

And then there are those of us who love both THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS (the majority) -- and often much much more. Many in this group read THE HOBBIT first, then went on to read LORD OF THE RINGS (sometimes after a gap).

I count myself lucky to belong to the most inclusive of these groups. I'm sorry to find Mr. Colbert's sympathies more limited than mine, but though we eventually come to a parting of the ways I'm glad our road runs together for as much of its length as it does.

--John R
--current reading: ALL SYSTEMS RED by Martha Wells. The Murderbot series, Book I
(v. enjoyable; a loan from friend Jeff)

Monday, February 10, 2020

A Baggins Passes

So, day before yesterday I was sorry to hear about the death at age 91 of actor Orson Bean who played (that is, provided the voice for) Bilbo Baggins in the 1977 Rankin-Bass HOBBIT. This animated movie was much reviled, and with good reason. But back in the late 70s we Tolkien fans had to make due with what we cd get, and so I got this two-record set of the soundtrack (on Saturday December 24th 1977) and listened to the album over and over again in those pre-home VCRs days.

 And the Rankin-Bass HOBBIT did have two things going for it. First, it was better than Bakshi's LotR.* And second, it had a remarkable array of voice talent. The great John Huston made for a great Gandalf, and Richard Boone (his last role) a languid yet menacing Smaug. Hans Conried was an excellent Thorin and Bean made for a slightly snarky Bilbo (the line of his that sticks in my mind is his comment upon learning he has a magical ring of invisibility: "How convenient!").**

I'd never seen Bean in anything before, and I don't remember seeing him in anything afterwards, with the major exception of BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999), a movie I recommend but won't say anything more about because of spoilers.

So, thanks for the memories, Mr. Bean.

--John R.

*though even Bakshi's dud was better than the horror that was the Rankin-Bass RETURN OF THE KING.

**I pass over without comment on the more eccentric vocal castings that didn't come off: Cyril Ritchard as Elrond, Otto Preminger (!) as the Elvenking, and 'Theodore' as Gollum.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Levees

So, I'm happy to report that the levees along the Green River held and we didn't have a flood here this week in Kent. But it was a near thing.

We've had a lot of wet weather, and the reservoirs can only hold so much. So sometimes they have to let as much water through the dam as they can, to make room for more water on the way, given that it hadn't stopped raining yet. Better to have a controlled release if they can and let the levees do their work.

They send out the warning in stages. Phase Two involves an email and a phone call letting those of us down on the valley floor know that there might be some flooding in rural areas upstream of Auburn (the next town over).*

The Phase Three warning came at 1.13 in the morning, which is an unsettling time to get a do-not-panic-all-is-well phone call. It let us know that "Moderate flooding" was expected but that urban areas shd be okay. Later that day (Thursday) Janice and I went out walking on the Green River Trail near the Neely-Soames House and were startled by how high the river was. I'd only seen it this high before once; Janice said this was the highest she'd ever seen it.

Friday evening came the Phase Four warning, which is rather alarming:

The Green River is in flood phase 4. Major flooding may occur. Critical flood control levees may weaken from saturation. Sudden changes in flood conditions are possible including rapidly rising water, widespread inundation, road closures, and utility disruptions. Be alert and prepare to respond quickly. 

At this point, all you can do is have flashlights near at hand in case the power fails (it did not), know where the cats are so we cd grab them up in case a hasty exit was called for, and hope the levees do their job.

They did.

We wd probably have been okay, since as low down as we are (about thirty feet above sea level) we're not at the lowest point of the valley floor. But it was still a relief when they went back to Phase Three, meaning that the crisis had passed. And it's good to know that the levees are in good shape. They've been upgrading and reinforcing the levee in stages ever since the last big scare about nine years ago.**  Nice to know preparedness paid off.

To wrap things up, Saturday we went walking along the Green River in Tukwila just east of SouthCenter, and it was a good-god-amighty moment seeing the submerged underpasses and flood level markers showing how high above sea level the water got at various places. We saw one that hit 26 feet, with a red mark to indicate flood level just over 31 feet. Too close for comfort. And seeing the river about three times its normal width due to having submerged so much of the banks on either side was deeply unsettling. And Algernon Blackwood was right: stands of willows do make a distinctive sound when half-submerged in racing floodwaters.

So, All Is Well. But I'd rather not come that close to having An Adventure, if it's all the same to the Powers That Be.

In the midst of all this I think the thing that amused Janice most was my response to the lights flickering. Facing the prospect that we might lose power and possibly spend a day or two sheltering in place, I made myself busy in the kitchen making up six thermoses*** and caraffs of hot tea to see us through.

--John R.
--current reading: a lot of old manga that's on its way out the door

*(I've never actually gotten a Phase One warning, which I assume is just an internal state of alert among the dam-minders)

**when the dam was compromised and they had to sandbag the levee for a year or so till they cd get the dam repaired

***thermosoi ?

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Kay and Christopher

So, I've been delayed getting this post up by three smallish projects I wanted to get off my desk. Don't want to bog down and get distracted again so I'll try to keep this short.

First off, thanks for the many interesting and well-informed Comments.

My own take on the the respective roles of Christopher Tolkien and Guy Gavriel Kay in putting together the 1977 SILMARILLION is simple: I don't know of any evidence that Kay wrote any of it. And I wd be surprised if he did.

I think it far more likely that Kay helped in the sorting and sequencing of the manuscripts, that all-important stage of surveying just what materials existed for each chapter or associated work, after which Christopher wd have decided just which Ms he wd use as his text(s). I think Kay also served as a sounding board, whereby Christopher wd occasionally ask his opinion on specific points. Sometimes Christopher took Kay's advice, and we know of one or two specific examples. But the decisions wd have been entirely Christopher's to make.

In short, I see the Christopher/Kay working relationship as paralleling Christopher's working relationship with Taum Santoski a decade later on the LotR Mss, probably because I was there to see the latter.

By contrast, Kilby's role a decade before CT/GGK 's work was quite different: every other day or so for a month Kilby dropped by Sandfield Road and picked up a typescript of a given chapter of SILM, talking about the preceding chapter with Tolkien*, and repeated the process day by day. So what he saw was the latest version of the component pieces (including associated documents like the ATHRABETH), what I call 'the 1966 SILMARILLION'. Of the three --Kilby, Kay, and Taum -- I think Kilby had the least input and Kay probably the most, with Taum between the two, closer to Kay than Kilby.

And I'm grateful to them all.

--John R.
--current reading: Richard Sala graphic novels (EVIL EYE, THE CHUCKLING WHATSIT)

* though given the interconnectedness of everything in Tolkien, in practice they spent more time talking about the legendarium than that day's specific piece.