Saturday, July 30, 2005
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Unbelted occupantsConfession: even after it is revealed to be from a 2003 VW Passat manual, I still kind of like it.
Are not able to resist
The tremendous forces of impact by holding tight
Or bracing themselves. Their impact
With the vehicle interior
Has all the energy they had
Just before the collision.
I don't really get short poems. I need structure and length in order to engage aesthetically. I like Gawain, I like Paradise Lost, I like Homer and Spencer and Chaucer. I am completely at sea with any poem under fourteen lines in length. I can't tell if it's good, bad, or ugly; a parody or a heartfelt cry; high art or haiku. When William Carlos Williams tells me he's eaten the plums in the icebox, I want to reply, "That's all right, they would have gone bad anyway. Did you have a nice fry-up, too?" I am reliably informed that that is a great poem: it is so far over my head that intergalactic geese need to dodge it. I also cannot bring myself to believe that so much depends on a red wagon.
I can, I think, judge certain pieces of art with reasonable accuracy. I can tell a good novel from a bad novel, and a great one from either. Ditto opera. But given a piano concerto, all I can do is grunt and nod. Some art is simply opaque to me, when those around me are moved to tears by it.
With these short, formless poems, I fall back on the obvious features. I like Basho's
Winter downpour-because I picture a sad, wet monkey in a trenchcoat & fedora. Is it art? Beats me. I like the Passat poem, too; even the faux-analysis that follows it makes as much sense to me as any other examination of like poetry I've heard.
Even the monkey
Needs a raincoat
This is probably my own inadequate study showing. But certain works of art are instantly powerful; and I can't think of a modern poem that achieves that. Some art is great, and will always be great, even in translation, even out of its own time and compass. I have no theory behind this statement, nor any evidence I can present beyond my own experience.
UPDATE: At least in English poetry, I'm sure that my inability to appreciate certain poems has much to do with the difficult of scanning them. My ear hears feet, and is pleased by their regularity as well as deviance from that regularity. When someone tries something subtle, I lose the thread.
UPDATE 2: I like this.
UPDATE 3: I thought I would pull Mr. Mullenix's recommendation out from the comments. I like the poem very well, but I keep looking for structure that isn't there. To me, it reads like an incomplete sestina--which is oddly charming, but I want two more stanzas and tighter key words. This reflects more on me than on the poem, which is lovely.
UPDATE 4: "I do not like this country's women."
There were twice as many cookies as I normally make. I eat a lot of dough.
Thursday, July 21, 2005
A team of British and Russian scientists led by Professor Geim have discovered a whole family of previously unknown materials, which are one atom thick and exhibit properties which scientists had never thought possible.
Not only are they ultra-thin, but depending on circumstances they can also be ultra-strong, highly-insulating or highly-conductive, offering a wide range of unique properties for space-age engineers and designers to choose from.
Marshall’s study concluded that the reports of serious health risks from DU exposure are not supported by veteran medical statistics nor supported by his analysis. Only a few U.S. veterans in vehicles accidentally struck by DU munitions are predicted to have inhaled sufficient quantities of DU particulate to incur any significant health risk. For these individuals, DU-related risks include the possibility of temporary kidney damage and about a 1 percent chance of fatal cancer.DU is a heavy metal. Don't eat it. But it's not the unholy mother-of-all-carcinogens it's been made out to be. It is used as a radiation shield (under "APPLICATIONS OF DEPLETED URANIUM"). It is not going to transform the areas in which it's used into Mad Max Land. Unpleasant? Certainly. But rather low amongst potential health problems in Iraq right now.
Original link via Eurekalert.
The lovely Pamela Dean, whose only fault is that she has not written enough books over which I can drool, links to TV Bookshelf and an interview she gave. If you've 38.7 MB to spare I heartily recommend it. Also note the other interviewees: Lois Bujold, Tim Powers, Terry Pratchett, Caroline Stevermer, Pat Wrede. I can't speak for the quality of each interview (I am not really here), but it's an excellent selection.
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Cork is a stupid sort of stopper, fit only for use in Portugal, and even there not on the good stuff. Screwtops must overcome prejudice and rise as the superior choice. Give way! How many eyes are senselessly lost, how many ears pierced each hour in corkscrew accidents. It is the silent genocide of our time. I myself managed to embed the blade on my winekey rather deeply into the flesh between thumb and forefinger the first time I opened a bottle at a table.
"There seems to be something wrong with this cork," I said, trying to bleed discreetly behind my back. "I'll be right back." I ran to the service bar, where another waiter laughed callously at me, threw bar sanitizer on the wound, and sent me back out on the floor.
"The bartender took care of it," I told the table in a voice rather higher than usual. "Here you are!"
So one can see the perils of cork. I have not even mentioned the heartbreak of mistaking musty flatulence for terroir.
Oft in times past we have posted on various aspects of self-defense. Sticks, canes, crochet-hooks, knives: for each weapon there is a defense. For each defense there exists a counter. But when a defense cannot be overcome, that is called perfection:
Mugger: (Waving it under his nose) You know what this is?Even the Greeks' relentless search for excellence in all things could lead them no further down the martial path than eironeia.
Hugh: Yes. I do actually. Sweet of you to try and help me
out, but I do actually know what it is.
Mugger: Right. Wallet.
Hugh: Wall ... oh for heaven's sake you're mugging me.
Mugger: That's right.
Hugh: Oh, now you've ... oh. Of all the people here...you've picked on little old me. I don't know what to say. I think I'm going to cry.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
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Saturday, July 16, 2005
Last week we saw Barber of Seville, and I haven't got too much to say about it, except that I liked it but am not tempted to go see it again. People say the Barber is one of the masterpieces of comic opera, but I remain unconvinced (even within the composer’s oeuvre, I prefer L‘Italiana in Algieri). I've always struggled a bit with Rossini; even at the acme of my indulgence for twittery sopranos and bathodrama, I had a hard time making it through a whole Rossini recording, comic or tragic. Every ten-measure passage he writes is excellent, but his entire arias and acts and operas are too sprawling for me. They always feel like enormous and very wrong dinosaurs, assembled from each and every wonderful bone in the fossil bed, not a single treasure omitted, third head or fifth backbone though it be. That said, however, Barber came across much better on stage for me than it has on recording, and all the cheap slapstick really helped. Figaro was very fun, exophthalmic and vocally fine, though rather leering and sniggering. The harpsichordist for the recitatives was placed on the edge of the stage, and idle characters would sometimes go to him for commiseration or, in one case, kisses. Continuo musicians need love too!
The soul has a faculty with which it mediates experience, filters it, judges it, contemplates it at a distance, prevents it from gaining unimpeded access to our inner hearts. Thank God we have it; but if ever we want it to turn off, it's at a live opera performance. This faculty only turned off once for me during Barber of Seville: during Don Basilio's aria La Calunnia, Slander! The bass had good power and presence, the stage went dark, half a dozen creepy Don Basilio clones emerged from holes in the scenery and skulked about, the singer piled on sadistic Machiavellian delight in causing a man's unjust downfall, right up to the cannon-shot climax. If I could have played any role that night, it would have been Don Basilio.
Barber was all very well, but Turandot last night was awesome! It helped that we arrived in leisurely and luxuriant fashion, enjoying a tailgate meal of rice and squid and ginger beer beneath the aforementioned Miltonian atmosphere. Jack wore her lovely chinoiserie gown, with green and purple eye makeup that made her look like a sorceress in a Kung-Fu movie, or possibly a cuttlefish (I find both attractive): an apt outfit for an odd, out-of-control opera production. Most newspapers who have reviewed this Turandot have done nothing but complain and whine about the lurid staging, but they just don't want to have fun. One does not go to Turandot for subtle, understated realism; lurid is the whole essence of both plot and music.
The first act staging must have been a real joy for the props guys: there were six or seven severed heads on stakes around the stage, each with individual facial features and clearly in several stages of decomposition. The costumes were pretty far out, in eye-watering colors, a sort of Manchurian tyranny cum space barbarian aesthetic. It all made me think of John Derbyshire's description of a Brittany Spears concert: "The sort of entertainment provided by the gaudier kind of Oriental despot for the enjoyment of the coarser kind of barbarian conqueror."
Hallucinatory though it was, the production did achieve a real creepiness, an undeniable and horrifying sense of just how twisted Peking had become through Turandot's murderous virginity. Timur, Calaf and Liu seemed very isolated and far from home in their subtler, more elegant costumes: unnerved strangers speaking sense (well, Timur and Liu anyway) amidst a hideous culture obsessed with ritual torture. "We'll embroider your skin with our knives."
The Chinese aren't all bad, of course. Ping, Pang and Pong were really excellent, singing with vim and wearing hats with long feathers that I will covet for the rest of my life. Their numbers added genuine comic relief while adding a measure of creepiness at the same time: "Well, let's go enjoy another torture." Their nostalgia for pre-Turandot China was serendipitously present in the vocally lethargic Emperor, who came across as though he very much wished he were emperor of absolutely anywhere else. I couldn't help but imagine him thinking, "Beheading my daughter's suitors sounded like a corking idea when she brought it up, and the first eight or ten were sure a lot of fun, but they keep coming, the heads are taking over the palace, they sing in the night... Whatever's to be done?!"
It was a loony production, but Jack and I loved it, and Odious would have too. The two leads were excellent singers, really belting out the Wagnerian bits; Liu's voice was tender and lovely and sympathetic and really made Calaf look like an ass; Timur was perfect. My only gripe was the somewhat ponderous choreography, which often required Calaf to belt out his money notes facing 180 degrees away from the character he was addressing. But overall, well, the opera's wonderfully bonkers to begin with, and I am not at all disappointed to have seen an equally bonkers production.
Mozart's Lucio Silla in two weeks!
Thursday, July 14, 2005
"Some degree of consciousness will probably be retained for 9 to 11 seconds (see chapter 2 under Hypoxia). In rapid sequence thereafter, paralysis will be followed by generalized convulsions and paralysis once again. During this time, water vapor will form rapidly in the soft tissues and somewhat less rapidly in the venous blood. This evolution of water vapor will cause marked swelling of the body to perhaps twice its normal volume unless it is restrained by a pressure suit. (It has been demonstrated that a properly fitted elastic garment can entirely prevent ebullism at pressures as low as 15 mm Hg absolute [Webb, 1969, 1970].) Heart rate may rise initially, but will fall rapidly thereafter. Arterial blood pressure will also fall over a period of 30 to 60 seconds, while venous pressure rises due to distention of the venous system by gas and vapor. Venous pressure will meet or exceed arterial pressure within one minute. There will be virtually no effective circulation of blood. After an initial rush of gas from the lungs during decompression, gas and water vapor will continue to flow outward through the airways. This continual evaporation of water will cool the mouth and nose to near-freezing temperatures; the remainder of the body will also become cooled, but more slowly.Intrigued?
I try not to be angry. Anger, I am reliably informed, comes from a feeling of victimhood. It's better than fear, but not as good as reason. It indicates a wild striking out at real or imagined oppressors, which may be effective, but does not have the same chances as a rational response. Better than passivity or paralysis in the face of an attack. But no substitute for a calm, clear-seeing mind.
In any case, leaving aside the effectiveness of anger, what cause do I have to be angry? If I am doing the best I can to deal with the situation, I won't even need to control my anger: I won't feel it in the first place. From an active point of view, the situation is the situation, and the only question is how I plan to deal with it. Anger emerges when I look at things as happening to me. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hatred, &c., it all ends up with skin problems and no arms. Anger is something always to be avoided, both for its own qualities and because of what it indicates about my mindset. It's a very modern view, although often passivity and fear are disguised as a desire for understanding. Some people want to empathize themselves to death.
But I'm reconsidering this point of view. Aristotle's Ethics has this to say on the subject:
Now, a man is praised for being angry under the right circumstances and with the right people, and also in the right manner, at the right time, and for the right length of time. He may be [termed] gentle, since gentleness is used as a term of praise. For being gentle means to be unruffled and not to be driven be emotion, but to be angry only under such circumstances and for as long a time as reason may bid. But he seems to be more prone to going wrong in the direction of deficiency: a gentle person is forgiving rather than vindictive.I'm deliberately avoiding political commentary with regard to this quote. For one thing, any side might seize upon it, and, with a few examples, make a case against their opponent. I intend it as an internally directed criticism.
The deficiency, whether it is a kind of apathy or whatever else it may be, receives blame. For those who do not show anger at things that ought to arouse anger are regarded as fools; so, too, if they do not show anger in the right way, at the right time, or at the right person. Such people seem to have no feelings, not even for pain; they do not seem to rise to their own defense, since they do not show anger; but to let one's own character be smeared and to put up with insults to those near and dear to him is slavish.
Aristotle says that anger, like other emotions, has a time and place in which it is correct to suffer it. Anger is not in itself wrong, but instead stirs us to action when, like Hamlet, reason might delay us unreasonably. I don't mean to endorse rash, thoughtless behavior. The conclusion I'm reaching is that anger is not inherently evil, nor does it disqualify one from making a rational response. We are meant to be angry with some things. I don't have the book with me right now (stupid moving boxes), but in Perelandra there's a scene where Ransom finds that his anger with the devil is perfectly acceptable. Like a child with an axe who finds a tree, I believe is how Lewis describes it. I don't mean to imply that anger with people is justified, but that anger in response to actions is both human and virtuous.
-a minor poet of the 1800s.
-If Iris, a caveman. Vivo Mr. Sot!
-A vicarate for Miss Mivvion.
-a pseudonym under which Kim Jong-Il writes romance novels.
At first Sokrates and the others praised him [Kallias], naturally, for the invitation, but would not promise to join him for dinner. But when they all saw how vexed he would be if they did not, they went with him. After that some of them exercised and were oiled1, others bathed, and then they arrived. Autolycos2 stretched out beside his father while the others, of course, reclined.I think of Xenophon more and more as an Aristotelian. Not that he consciously absorbed and followed those precepts, by much in the same way that modern Americans are, whether they know it or not, Cartesians. It simply makes sense to them, in a direct way. Socrates' reluctant acceptance of the invitation is an example of philia as Aristotle describes it:
Right off a thoughtful man would have concluded that the beauteous is also in his nature kingly, especially when, like Autolycos, he possesses reverence and self-control. For just as, when a light appears in the darkness and all eyes are drawn to it, so indeed the beauty of Autolycos drew the eyes of all to him. And of all the spectators not one found his soul unmoved by the boy: some grew quieter, and others went so far as to pose.
All, then, who are possessed by the gods appear to be worth seeing; however, those of other gods are monstrous to see, terrible to hear, and violent, while those inspired by chaste Love have a cheerful glance, gentle voice, and lovely posture. Kallias now, through Love, behaved so as to be a worthy example to the initiates of Love.
In social relations, in living together, and in associating with our fellow men in conversation and business, there are people we regard as obsequious. They praise you just to give you pleasure, never object to anything, and think that they must avoid giving pain to those they meet. Their opposites, who object to everything without caring in the least whether they give pain, are called grouchy and quarrelsome. That the characteristics just described deserve blame is clear enough, and so is the fact that the middle position between them deserves praise, i.e. the position of a man who will put up with--and likewise refuse to put up with--the right things in the right manner. No name has been given to this characteristic, but it bears the greatest resemblance to friendship [philia].--Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Martin Oswald
Xenophon was always anxious to prove Socrates a virtuous fellow, and shows him demonstrating that he was not "grouchy and quarrelsome", accusations which had been leved at Socrates before. Here we see Socrates in a sociable, pleasant role. Moreover, examples of the two extremes of obsequity and grouchiness will be soon to follow, in the person of Antisthenes, already mentioned as a companion of Socrates, who also followed Gorgias, and, I believe, founded the Cynics, and Phillipus, whom we shall meet shortly (but not today).
Autolycos, Kallias' beloved, is sitting quite properly next to his father. I find the viciousness of the pankration--leather headgear was worn to prevent ears from being pulled off--difficult to reconcile with this image of a retiring, lovely boy, but apparently the Greeks did not. Note also that Xenophon, unlike Plato, gives a glowing description of the youth. Plato's sexual references always have a sniggering, sly quality to them. One can't help but feel that he was uncomfortable with the carnality of them. But Xenophon seems to feel that Love can and does enoble the spirit. He is open about his admiration, even when Socrates isn't. For example, from Xenophon's Memorabilia:
Thus, on hearing that Critobulus [yes, the same one as is attending this banquet] had kissed Alcibiades' pretty boy, [Socrates] put this question to Xenophon before Critobulus: "Tell me, Xenophon, did you not suppose Critobulus to be a sober person, and by no means rash; prudent, and not thoughtless or adventurous?"--trans. E. C. Marchant
"Certainly," said Xenophon
"Then you are to look on him henceforth as utterly hot-headed and reckless: the man would do a somersault into a ring of knives; he would jump into fire."
"What on earth has he done to make you think so badly of him?" asked Xenophon.
"What has the man done? He dared to kiss Alcibiades' son, and the boy is very good-looking and attractive."
"Oh, if that is the sort of adventure you mean, I think I might make that venture myself."
Leaving aside the absurdity of anyone, ever, considering Critobulus sober and prudent, Xenophon's attitude is much more relaxed than Socrates'. He does not see himself being overwhelmed by lust, and, even should it occur, doesn't seem to think it overly worrisome. Moderation in all things, might be his motto, including moderation. This "virtue is the mean" is paid lip service by Socrates in a number of dialogues, but his own life so contradicts it that it's hard to take such espousals seriously. Socrates steadfastly refuses to apply moderation to his immoderate virtue.
2Autolycos was the subject of a comedy, Autolycos, and was later executed by the Thirty. Knowing this I find the portrait of him as a youth immeasurably sad.
Saturday, June 25, 2005
Thursday, July 07, 2005
If you're still bored after Steve (Philistine!), and if you share my tastes, you'll find that Summit Post will provide no end of amusement (Warning!! May absolutely kill your productivity at work. But what's the loss?)
It's also, may I add, the best site I've found thus far for planning a honeymoon.
"Springtiiiime for Henkel and Germanyyyyy...."
My current employment is teaching me far more about global corporate culture than I, or I hope you, would ever care to know. German personal care and adhesive chemical company Henkel seems quite pleased with the following song:
Many tones combined make a songTrue phonomasochists may find the sheet music here, though you might prefer to slit your throat with your piano's c-string.
Many hands together are strong
And the story of success
Is based on more instead of less
From good to great
From better to best
In a world that keeps on turning
It's the change that keeps us learning
The glory of our dream
Is what we share when we're a team
From one to all
From many to more.
We together – all together
Let our visions and our values
lead the way
We together – all together
That's why the Henkel name will always stay
From beginning to end – A Brand like a Friend
With an open mind
We find the time
To talk things through and through
Cause at the end of the day
What counts the most
Is what you say and do.
Can I please have my island?
Do not miss this excellent interview with Kenyan economist James Shikwati. Mr. Shikwati is very insightful and very unapologetic in his denunciation of foreign aid as the true cause of Africa's perpetual poverty and indolence. Some money quotes:
If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn't even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.Ouch.
[Much of the food] ends up on the black market where the corn is dumped at extremely low prices. Local farmers may as well put down their hoes right away; no one can compete with the UN's World Food Program.
Our politicians were overwhelmed with money... The late tyrant of the Central African Republic, Jean Bedel Bokassa, cynically summed it up by saying: "The French government pays for everything in our country. We ask the French for money. We get it, and then we waste it."
Why do we get these mountains of clothes? No one is freezing here. Instead, our tailors lose their livelihoods. They're in the same position as our farmers. No one in the low-wage world of Africa can be cost-efficient enough to keep pace with donated products.
...an applicant is needed who also speaks English fluently -- and, ideally, one who is also well mannered. So you end up with some African biochemist driving an aid worker around, distributing European food, and forcing local farmers out of their jobs.
I finally have an information sorcery machine at my residence again, so it's possible that posts may start to occur once more. But, mercy's sake! don't count on me! Go look at all the wonderful things Steve is thinking about!
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
"Well," continued Dr. Hutton, "the Master described before both Houses of Parliament the real scientific objection to all existing legislation about lunacy. As he very truly said, the mistake was in supposing insanity to be merely an exception or an extreme. Insanity, like forgetfulness, is simply a quality which enters more or less into all human beings; and for practical purposes it is more necessary to know whose mind is really trustworthy than whose has some accidental taint. We have therefore reversed the existing method, and people now have to prove that they are sane."--G. K. Chesterton, The Ball and the Cross.
This article fits nicely in my mind with Kate's sister's statement about eating disorders. I shall see if I can find a source for that figure.
I hope Mr. Fry is home. "And God have mercy on our souls."
This charming riffle bug was named by H. M. Parshley after Oriander, also called The Swimmer, Manuel's divine progenitor in Figures of Earth. From god to bug; Ra would sympathize.
Friday, July 01, 2005
The secret of love, how can it be containedVery nice. There are clearly influences from the early Hebrew poets of Spain.
Like the unicorn it bursts all confinements.
But the heart is held back from what it seeks,
Confined into the space of a fist,
Unable to obtain its desire.
It tosses it head in pride, like thunder,
But drags its tail in the dust, brought low.
Beloved gazelle, more than a lion,
You may slay me out of hand,
I stretch my neck out to the knife.
SPANISH men will be required to scrub toilets and change nappies as often as their harried wives under revolutionary reforms aimed at shattering the traditionally macho Latin nation's patriarchal division of labour in the home.This seems to me a perfect example of what law ought not be used for. First and foremost is the impossibility of enforcing it. A law that cannot be enforced--that may be flouted at will--debases the dignity of its makers as well as that of all other laws. The law should not be used to "send a message," as Margaret Uria would have it do. It is not a Mercury but a Jove. It commands; it does not tattle.
Yet despite the prescriptive nature of the new gender laws - due to pass the Spanish Senate this week - there is no means of enforcing equal sharing of unpaid work in the home in a nation where many mothers still regularly do their adult sons' washing and young girlfriends automatically prepare their partners' meals.
I have no difficulty with such changes when they emerge from the free will of society. But to have them imposed is tyranny. Imagine if every washing machine were one of these:
Attempts to blast Spanish males out of their cosy reliance on women as girlfriends, wives, chefs, cleaners, childcarers and custodians of the elderly include technological changes to household appliances. The latest washing machine, named "Your Turn", prevents the same person - typically a wife and mother - from using the appliance consecutively by adopting fingerprint recognition technology.If a household wants to get one to ensure equality, far be it from me to prevent them. Its imposition, however, would be an unalloyed evil. I say this as someone who can identify delicates at twenty yards, and has never failed to separate colors from whites.
Via Thysdrus, who also spotted the giant catfish.