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November 3, 1999

Book: Have Space Suit, Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein 1958

This is one of Heinlein's juveniles, and far from his best. I had the good fortune to find a first edition in a used book shop in Ithaca for $9, and couldn't resist it. I'm sure I must have read this long ago, but it didn't really ring any bells. I probably read it no more than once. (Most of Heinlein I've read at least 4-5 times.) The more-than-usually improbable plot is not worth summarizing, and I would only recommend this to die-hard Heinlein fans like myself. I did manage to harvest a rather quaint quote for my quotations file:
|  Anyone who can't use a slide rule is a cultural illiterate,  |
|  and should not be allowed to vote.    --Robert A. Heinlein   |
Dress rehearsal for Iolanthe tonight. The steps to the back of the stage were not yet installed, and on my first entrance, I fell off while attempting to climb aboard. Landed on my back, got a bit of a bruise on my shin, but nothing serious. I was a bit rattled throughout #6 "Loudly Let the Trumpet Bray" and missed a few entrances as a result.

November 4, 1999

Jazz: Ryles, Cambridge

George and his group played an excellent set, along with a couple of other groups from the Harvey Finstein Music School.

November 6, 1999

Sometime today, my main Harris Cyclery Web site got its half-millionth hit!

November 7, 1999

Four Iolanthes down, three to go next week. The show has come together nicely, and has been quite well received. This afternoon, Harriet and I took photos after the show. Nikon FG w/28-85, 82A filter, Fujicolor 1600 (@1250). Harriet also took some during the performance, with the Vivitar 70-210.

November 7, 1999

Book: King Leopold's Ghost, by Adam Hochschild 1998

This is the grisly tale of the rape of Central Africa by King Leopold II of Belgium. By dint of sleazy maneuvering and passing himself off as a great humanitarian, he managed to gain complete control of the entire Congo river basin, an area about the size of the U.S. east of the Mississippi.

Once he had this land in his grasp, he squeezed it as hard as he could for every franc he could get out of it, not caring how many Africans he killed (estimated at 5,000,000-8,000,000!) He stole the land from the people, and enslaved the entire country, first for ivory, later for rubber.

The "Congo Free State" under Leopold was neither free nor a state. It wasn't even a Belgian colony--it was his personal property to do with as he wished. It was fabulously profitable for him, especially when the invention of the pneumatic tire caused a drastic rise in the demand for rubber.

He and his hirelings were very concerned that the African soldiers in their employ might be wasteful of ammunition (or that they might hoard it to turn on their masters.) To combat this, they required soldiers to provide a chopped-off right hand from a victim for each cartridge expended. If a soldier were to shoot an animal for the pot, he'd have to catch a villager and cut off a hand to keep the accounts square.

One of Leopold's key agents was Henry Morton Stanley ("Dr. Livingston, I presume?") a psychopath who liked to murder Africans for sport.

The chief hero in the case was E.D. Morel, a British shipping clerk who happened to notice that the ships coming from the Congo to Belgium were carrying fabulously valubable cargoes of ivory and, later rubber...while the ships going the other way were only carrying soldiers, weaponry and ammunition. This tipped him off to the fact that the merchandise was not being paid for, but was being stolen at gunpoint. He quit his job and devoted most of the rest of his life to shining the light of day on this scandal.

Other heroes included George Washington Williams and William H. Sheppard, both African-Americans who took great personal risks to bring the grim details to light, and Roger Casement, then a British consular official, who was the first person of official government standing to bring the vicious system to public notice. (This same Roger Casement was hanged by the British in 1916 for conspiring with the Germans to bring about Irish independence.) This is a very readable, if shocking book. Much of it deals with the greatest grass-roots human-rights campaign between the Abolition struggle in the U.S. before the Southern Rebellion, and the struggle against South African Apartheid in the 1960s-'80s

November 14, 1999

Book: The Cobweb, by Stephen Bury 1996

As with Interface, this is a pseudonymous collaboration between Neal Stephenson and an un-named writer. This spy thriller is set in the run-up to the Gulf war, and is an exciting read. Stephenson's usual gift for quirky characterization is at work here as well, and the lives of thousands hang on the brains and pluck of a dumb-looking midwestern deputy sherrif, while the feds are paralyzed by the "cobwebs" of political infighting.

November 18, 1999

Concert: Harvestfest, Newton North High School

The highlight of this concert was Billings's David's Lamentation, gloriously performed by one of the choruses.

Another highlight for me was the final piece, the St. Saëns Danse Macabre, featuring a very prominent and difficult trombone solo by George.

I recorded this concert on Minidisc, using the Radio Shack stereo mike. The recording came out pretty well.

November 19, 1999

Concert: Matapat, Museum of Our National Heritage, Lexington

I had the pleasure of performing with Gaston Bernard and Benoit Bourque in the 1997 Midsummer Revels, and have been a fan of theirs ever since. They've added a bass player, Simon Lepage, and started a new trio. George and I went to their show in Lexington, produced by Music for Robin. This was an excellent show, a good time was had by all. There were lots of familiar faces in the audience as well, maninly Revels connections.

November 21, 1999

Book: Blue at the Mizzen, by Patrick O'Brian, 1999

This is the latest in the superb Aubrey/Maturin series, #20. Following on the heels of The Hundred Days and the final defeat of Napoleon, our heroes sail Surprise and her tender Ringle to Chile, ostensibly on a hydrographic mission, but actually in furtherance of Bernardo O'Higgins and Chile's struggle for independance from Spain.

If you've already discovered this series, you know what to expect, and won't be disappointed. If you haven't, buy Master and Commander!

November 24, 1999

Book: Down and out in Paris and London by George Orwell, 1933

I've long been a major fan of Orwell. I believe that his essay Politics and the English Language should be required reading for all voters. I'm also very fond of Homage to Catalonia, Animal Farm and 1984. I'm not sure why I had never read Down and out; many people consider it his best work. Now that I've read it, I can't agree. I'll grant that it's well written, but it wallows in gloom and squalor. It tells of his career as a dishwasher in a Paris hotel, and the hunger that drove him to it. The latter part of the book tells of his adventures as a tramp in England, going from workhouse to barracks, living on bread and margarine.

I was startled and appalled by the book's racism--this may not have been extreme by the standards of 1933, but his constant harping on Jews and, in particular the following passage really disappointed me:

"Fear of the Mob is a superstitious fear. It is based on the idea that there is some mysterious, fundamental difference between rich and poor, as though they were two different races, like negroes and white men. But in reality there is no such difference."

November 25, 1999

Book: Protector, by Larry Niven

Driving out to Ithaca and back, we listened to the Books On Tape version. Protector is set fairly early in the Known Space series, well before Ringworld. It's a good one, which I believe I had read some years back.

November 27, 1999

Book: A Matter for Men by David Gerrold, 1983

This is the first volume of a series (so far 4 books) dealing with an alien invasion by large, voracious worm-like creatures, who may or may not be intelligent. It's fairly heavy on politics and self-reliance propaganda. Gerrold wrote "The Man Who Folded Himself" which is a favorite of mine, and also the screenplay for "The Trouble With Tribbles" among other Star Trek episodes, and I had high hopes for this, but, while I'm usually pretty easy to please with science fiction, I really didn't care too much for this one. Maybe I'll look for volume 2 sometime, but not with much enthusiasm.

Two new domains under my control, and both related to the site. I used, which is currently having a special sale.

December, 1999


I'm really enjoying a new show called "Once and Again." This is television at its best. I'm also watching "The West Wing" and "Futurama" with some pleasure. Old favorites include "ER", "The Simpsons", and "Ally McBeal." I eagerly await the return of "NYPD Blue."

I'm afraid, however, that "Ally McBeal" is losing it. David Kelly has a long history of putting to gether great shows for a season or two, but then running out of good ideas and resorting to gimmicks that work against what he had created before. Particular examples include the elevator shaft episode toward the end of "L.A. Law", and the transformation of Jill Brock into a racist in "Picket Fences." Recent Allys have had characters acting so out of character that the whole ensemble effect is undermined.

December 5, 1999

Film: South Park. (Video)

My kids and I generally have pretty congruent tastes, but this is an exception. While there were a few chuckles to be had, most of it was too sophomoric to entertain me.

December 6, 1999

Film: A Midsummer Night's Dream (Video)

This was the new version, and quite good it was.

December 10, 1999

Film: Fight Club

I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to this film, which we saw on the big screen in Harvard Square. I had read reviews of it, and it seemed extremely unappetizing to me, but Tova was really hot to see it. As usual, she was right, it was quite a good film, which I'll not attempt to describe.

December 12, 1999

Opera: Siegfried (Video)

The kids have been watching the Boulez video of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen for a few days. I dropped in to watch most of Siegfried with them (it's my favorite of the 4.)

December 19, 1999

Show: The Christmas Revels.

If you don't know what the Christmas Revels is, check out my Revels, Inc. Web site. This year's production was on the theme of the Italian Renaissance, with Patrick English as Leonardo da Vinci. A good show, all in all, though I don't think quite as enjoyable as last year's edition. A highlight was the wonderful Leonardo flying machine.

Book: The Great War: Walk in Hell, by Harry Turtledove, 1999

This alternate history extravaganza is the third in a series that began with How Few Remain and The Great War: American Front.

The South won the Civil War (in How Few Remain), and, along with Mexico, they also won the Second Mexican War in the 1870s. The Great War and Walk in Hell depict the WW1 that might have been. The U.S. is allied with Germany and Chile. Lined up on the other side are the Confederacy, Canada, Great Britain, France, Japan and Argentina. Trench warfare occupies a front from the Mississipi to the Atlantic, and along the southern edge of Canada. In the west, things are a bit more fluid, partially due to sparser settlement, partly due to the Mormon rebellion which is in full swing as Walk in Hell opens.

Teddy Roosevelt is president of the U.S., and George Armstrong Custer is in command of the Tennessee/Kentucky front--as big a fool at 75 as he ever was.

Meanwhile, the Confederacy is faced with a Marxist rebellion among its Black population. In this timeline, slavery was abolished in theory in the 1870s, but Blacks are kept so thoroughly subjugated that their lot has little improved. Since there is an international border between the Confederacy and the USA, the movement of southern Blacks to the northern cities never happened, and virtually all of the Black people in North America are wage-slaves on southern plantations.

As with the World at War series, the story is told in short interlocking vignettes of many quite disparate characters, in the trenches on both sides, on the rivers and the high seas (and under the sea in a Confederate sub) and the home fronts of Boston, New York's garment district, and South Carolina. The characters (most of whom were introduced in The Great War) are interesting and well drawn.

December 25, 1999

A quiet but pleasant Christmas at home, presents under the tree, the usual deal. I gave my sister a Web site for her antique business, but it's not yet ready to be linked publicly.

December 27, 1999

I've been busy on my personal Web pages, particularly those relating to photography. I updated my main Photography page, and added two new pages: one of photos from my first trip to Europe, in 1975; another of photos from my honeymoon in the Yucatan, in 1980.

Actually, the Europe '75 page is in the form of an extension backward of this journal, and has quite a lot of text as well as the photos.

These files are stored on a free site, to avoid cluttering up I've also re-instated some of the M.I.T. Gilbert & Sullivan photos that had lost their home when the site went belly up.

I've created a new navigational grid for my photography pages. The links mostly go to forwarding pages on, so they don't directly reference the possibly less-than-stable URLs.

Sheldon Brown's Photography
Bicycles Disposables Gilbert & Sullivan
Europe, 1975 Europe, 1989 France
Québec Whales Yucatan 1980

December 28, 1999

I've been transferring a bunch of my 78s to Minidisc. What a wonderful format this is! You can edit in 60 ms increments after recording the disc, blending tracks, removing and re-arranging tracks at will. As with a computer disc, if you delete n minutes here and y minutes there from a full disc, you have a space n+y minutes long that you can record something else on.

The discs normally hold 74 minutes, but in mono mode, they hold twice that, which is a LOT of 78s!

I've done a bunch of Chaliapin, Kipnis, Marian Anderson, Mischa Elman and Rachmaninoff playing a Beethoven violin sonata, Richard Tauber singing German folk songs.


January-February, 2000

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November-December, 1998 April-May, 1975

The CobwebStephen Bury11/14/99
Have Space Suit, Will TravelRobert A. Heinlein11/3/98
King Leopold's GhostAdam Hochschild11/7/99
Blue at the MizzenPatrick O'Brian11/21/99
The Great War: Walk in HellHarry Turtledove12/19/99
Click here for more Books


Fight ClubDecember 10, 1999
A Midsummer Night's DreamDecember 6, 1999
Much Ado About NothingJuly 18, 1999
South ParkJune 13, 1999

December 19, 1999The Christmas Revels, CambridgeItalian Renaissance Revels
December 12, 1999Pierre Boulez, Met Opera (video)Wagner: Siegfried
November 19, 1999Matapat, Lexington
November 18, 1999Harvestfest, Newton North High SchoolSaëns Danse Macabre
November 7, 1999M.I.T.G.a.S.P.Gilbert & Sullivan, Iolanthe
November 4, 1999George and his band at Ryles, Cambridge

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