My Rimsky-Korsakov Moment in Academia — vulcanhammer.net

In 1871, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov became a Professor of Practical Composition and Instrumentation at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. In retrospect, given the music he composed, this is not extraordinary. At the time, however, it was amazing. He was still in active service in the Russian Navy. More importantly, although he had had private music lessons and […]

via My Rimsky-Korsakov Moment in Academia — vulcanhammer.net

A Warm Reception

I posted this piece before WordPress times and thought it could use reposting now, with a few modifications.

On 4 July 1911, the citizens of Houma, Louisiana, in Terrebonne Parish, gathered together to celebrate the 135th birthday of the United States. The concept of a Fourth of July celebration in South Louisiana is interesting in itself, given that this part of the U.S. is very unique in many ways. One thing that wasn’t unique was that the politicians showed up to deliver speeches. One of these was Judge W.P. Martin, and he began his speech as follows:

Ladies and Gentlemen: At the outset permit me to thank you for your warm reception. I cannot say that it is unexpected because Terrebonne has always been generous with me in the distribution of her favors. Some of the happiest days of my boyhood were spent among you and many of my warmest and dearest friends are in this Parish. Terrebonne has always extended me a WARM reception. When as a young man I courted the favors of the fair sex, other young men who were courting the same girls saw to it that I received a WARM reception. When I sought political preference, my opponents here extended me a WARM reception. And when in the course of human events, I shall shuffle off this mortal coil, it is my earnest hope that my reception in the world to come will not be as WARM as it has always been in the Parish of Terrebone.

If you want to avoid a warm reception in eternity, click here.

Why I’m Leaving Facebook

It’s another New Year, an opportunity (hopefully) to do better than before. I’m taking the opportunity for new beginnings to do something I’ve thought about for a long time: leave Facebook. After nearly a decade on the medium (with the enormous amount of time to show for it) I’ve had enough. I’ll be leaving shortly. And I’m not alone either.

I like to take the long view of things, and that long view involves this site and its companions. I’ve been at this website thing for 21 years, had an internet presence long before the advent of social media or even the blogosphere. In the last decade that blogosphere reigned supreme, and although I was slow to adopt a real blogging platform I eventually did so. By that time social media was getting going and it has, tbh, eclipsed much of the activity of site such as this.

But deep down, I’ve always disliked the idea of being dependent upon someone else for expression. The internet, IMHO, was always supposed to be the place where ideas and knowledge could be disseminated openly, and being forced into a “gated community” like Facebook was never really to my taste. I always felt that, since it was their medium, they could control what went on it, and what you put on it one day could be altered or removed the next. But I was in the minority: the attitude was “this is great, what could go wrong?”

We now know what did go wrong: the medium was manipulated in many different ways, some with the connivance of Facebook, some without. And, of course, many on Facebook expressed their opinions which were, and are, contrary to the idea of the hegemons that control it. (Frankly I’m surprised they let it go on as long as they did, although this too contributed to their revenue stream.) The clampdown came, the people reacted in glee or horror, but the end result is that the growth of Facebook has stalled in this country and people’s trust in it across the political spectrum has diminished.

Much of that lack of trust as stemmed not only from the issue of manipulation but also from the data gathering problem. That too exposed peoples’ lack of sophistication. Anyone who has been online for any length of time and has thought about what is going one realises that anything to say or post on this medium–inside or outside the gated community–is is reality permanent and, like a police interrogation, can and will be used against you. I always tried to watch what I posted there, but it was still creepy when, while my wife attempted to make travel arrangements for our next trip, ads for hotels right where she was looking would pop up on Facebook. Obviously algorithms have outrun human caution.

As far as the experience, on the whole Facebook has been positive but time consuming. I’ve connected with many people, and those connections have lacked the acrimony (for the most part) others have experienced. As a medium to disseminate prayer requests and news, it has worked well. Two things stand out: one is my mother-in-law’s death over five years ago, where it’s easy to forget people who pass with so many miles (or kilometres) on the odometer. The other is my cousin’s trip to Jerusalem during the Temple Mount Rumble in 2017; she documented that event, complete with gunfire, while most reporters fled for safety. One thing that has become evident–and has driven my decision to depart–is that Facebook is limiting both what I look at from others and what others look at from me, and that defeats the whole purpose of the medium.

I’ll still be out there on social media; my Twitter feed is featured on this blog, and I’m also active on LinkedIn, to say nothing about this place and its companions. But with limited time and resources, I have to put them where they advance my objectives, and Facebook just doesn’t do that at this point. It’s been a good ride, but it’s time to move on.

Sexual Crimes Seem to Inspire Suspension of Due Process

That was certainly the case in early Byzantium, as recorded by Procopius in his Secret History, 11:

After that he (the Emperor Justinian) passed a law forbidding pederasty, not inquiring closely into those acts committed after the passing of the law but seeking out men who had succumbed to this malady some time in the past.  The prosecution of these cases was conducted in the most irregular fashion, since the penalty was imposed even when there was no accuser, and the word of a single man or boy, even if he happened to be a slave forced to give evidence most unwillingly against his owner, was accepted as final proof.  Men convicted in this way were castrated and paraded through the streets.  At first, however, not everyone was treated in this shocking manner, only those who were thought to be either Greens (an athletic/political party) or exceptionally wealthy (so their wealth could be confiscated), or who happened to have offended the rulers in some other way.

That’s One Way to Deal with Sexual Assault

This, from Livy, 38, 24: the Romans were conquering Galatia in Asia Minor, which the Gauls (the Romans’ frequent opponent) had occupied.  This incident tells us that Celtic women were as strong willed then as now:

The wife of the Gallic chieftain Ortiago was one of a number of prisoners.  She was a very attractive woman, and charged with guarding her was a centurion with the sexual appetite and the greed of a soldier.  This man at first attempted to seduce her, but seeing that consensual sex was abhorrent to her, he assaulted her person, which fortune had enslaved to him.  Later, to temper the humiliation of the assault, he gave the woman hope that she might return to her people, but even that was not offered free of charge, as by a lover.  The centurion negotiated the payment of a certain amount of gold and, not to have any of his men privy to his dealings, he allowed the woman to send any one of her fellow-prisoners she wished as a messenger to her people.  He picked a spot near the river to which no more than two of the prisoner’s kinsmen were to come to fetch her the following night, bringing the gold.  It so happened that a slave actually belonging to the woman was amongst the prisoners in custody with her.  This man was chosen as the messenger, and the centurion took him out at dusk beyond the guard-outposts.

The next night the woman’s two relatives came to the appointed place and the centurion also came with the prisoner.  Here they were showing the centurion the gold, which amounted to a full Attic talent–the price he had negotiated–when the woman told them in her own language to draw their swords and dispatch him while he was weighing the gold.  After they killed him she cut off his head, wrapped it in her dress and came with it to her husband Ortiago who had made good his escape home from Olympus.  Before she embraced him she threw the centurion’s head at his feet.  Ortiago was wondering whose head this was and what was the meaning of such unfeminine conduct, and she openly confessed to her husband the sexual assault and the retribution she had taken for the violation of her honour.  And it is said that by the moral purity and propriety she showed in the rest of her life she maintained to the end the esteem won by this act of a decent woman.

Polybius records her name as Chiomara.  it’s interesting to note that Livy implies that the centurion has the right to sexually assault her.  By the law and custom of the time that was correct; slaves had no rights to personal integrity.  That was the case until Christianity challenged that more than two centuries later.  But whatever was accepted custom did not dim Livy’s–or our–admiration for this woman.

The “Debt Direction” of the British Empire Needs to be Reversed

While musing over what’s the “morally appropriate language” one should write in, Arundhati Roy was confronted with the following:

Only a few weeks after the mother tongue/masterpiece incident, I was on a live radio show in London. The other guest was an English historian who, in reply to a question from the interviewer, composed a paean to British imperialism. “Even you,” he said, turning to me imperiously, “the very fact that you write in English is a tribute to the British Empire.” Not being used to radio shows at the time, I stayed quiet for a while, as a well-behaved, recently civilized savage should. But then I sort of lost it, and said some extremely hurtful things. The historian was upset, and after the show told me that he had meant what he said as a compliment, because he loved my book. I asked him if he also felt that jazz, the blues, and all African-American writing and poetry were actually a tribute to slavery. And if all of Latin American literature was a tribute to Spanish and Portuguese colonialism.

One thing I’ve discovered about just about anyone who grew up in a former British colony is that they really don’t like either the concept or the reality of British colonial rule.  Americans, who themselves were the first to head to the exits, don’t really grasp this.  Roy offers some interesting observations on the effect of English in India (it’s been an advantage to Indian expats who head to some of those other former colonies) but I think that the following, which I observed in an appendix to my Positive Infinity New Testament, bears repeating:

The use of Bahamian paper explains how many of the pounds, shillings and pence got on this page; it came out of having to learn how to count it and spend it while in the Bahamas. The good news was that this education could be had in a place with a warm climate and people. This also illustrates one of the characteristics of the old British Empire: many of the colonies were improvements over the mother country. Why else would two small islands be able to populate two entire continents with the people who either wanted or had to leave, to say nothing of the “expatriates” in places such as South Africa and India?

If we compare the British Empire (especially in its early stages) with the, say, French or Spanish, the whole settlement pattern was different.  France and Spain wanted New France and New Spain to be echoes of the official idea of the mother country: no religious or political dissidents, etc.  With the Brits things were different: they were happy to export their malcontents (religious and political dissidents, economically distressed like the Scots-Irish, etc.) to their American colonies, and later to their others.  People wonder why there was a French Revolution and no English Revolution.  Actually there was an English revolution; it just took place over here and not in England.  Although the colonial system required the export (temporary or permanent) of officialdom, many of these (along with others) left because they could find a better life elsewhere than “Old Blighty.”

And the colonies returned the favour: they saved the “Old Country’s” bacon in two world wars (and that included just about all of them, including Canada, Australia, NZ, the US and yes India) and made English the global language that it is.  So perhaps next a Brit “imperiously” (how else would he or she do it?) waxes about the greatness of the British Empire, it’s worth reminding them that not only did the UK export the people, it exported the greatness too.  The debt of Empire is reversed.

Jubal: Trust

Wheat WR 1001  (1977)

Although this Detroit-based production has been described as “Christo-funk,” it’s really very eclectic, with a wide variety of styles that reflect the makeup of the group.  There’s both jazz and soul elements in it, some hard driving stuff and some very light stuff too.  One thing that’s missing is any churchy or even any CCM sound to it.  A real delight that is sure to brighten your day.

Thanks to Dennis for providing this music.

The songs:

  1. Whom The Son Sets Free
  2. Changed Man
  3. I Long To Glorify Thee
  4. Blessed Abundantly
  5. Rock Of Refuge
  6. Be All That You Can
  7. Psalm 57
  8. Expose Yourself To His Love
  9. Loser
  10. Trust

For more music click here

The Oyster and the Flying Fish

There are many ways of expressing the idea that you should be content where you’re at, but my favourite is this one, from Kevin Ayers’ 1970 album Shooting at the Moon:

The lyrics are as follows:

An oyster was a’travelling
Along the ocean road
He’d been some time preparing
And now he’d left the fold

He was sick of being oysterized
And he wanted to explode, to explode
Ooh la, ooh la, ooh la, ooh la
La la la la la la la la

He saw a pretty flying fish
And said if I could have one wish
I’d change into a flying fish
And then I would be happy, yes I would
Ooh la, ooh la, ooh la, ooh la
La la la la la la la la

The flying fish came down to see
Just who had made this plea
And seeing the poor oyster
Said this cannot be
An oyster has to stay inside
And a flying fish must flee, all the time
Ooh la, ooh la, ooh la, ooh la
La la la la la la la la

As the oyster turned to go away
The flying fish was heard to say
“If I could find a place to stay
I know I would be happy, yes I would!”
Ooh la, ooh la, ooh la, ooh la
La la la la la la la la

Growing up in South Florida, I remember seeing flying fish paralleling our boat as we went to and from the Bahamas.

The Wrong Side of the Border for Good Tamales

Even the Mexicans know the truth, if they won’t admit it:

We bring tamales by the bagful to holidays gatherings, trading them like baseball cards with friends and cousins—I’ll give you some of my Tía Meme’s pineapple tamales if you hook me up with the potato ones from your Guatemalan sister-in-law. And, once we’ve put on the pounds (the Freshman Fifteen has nothing on the Tamale Ten) and sworn to reform our ways in the new year, we freeze what’s left to extend the holiday cheer.

The truth of the matter is that the Guatemalan Christmas and year-end tamales are far superior to anything produced in Mexico.  They are some of the most outstanding holiday food out there, and let’s hope they serve them when they move their embassy back to Jerusalem.

Sounds of Christmas Past: Robert Shaw's Joy to the World

The first Christmas album I ever owned–and I still have it–is the Robert Shaw Chorale’s Joy to the World, released on RCA Camden in 1958.  Recorded right after World War II, it has two distinctives: it’s entirely a capella and all the carols are traditional and sacred.

“Jeffnham” has done something completely different: he’s recorded the entire album while playing on his 1967 Magnavox console.  (We had one of those, too.)  It’s one of those things that could be a dud but it comes off very nicely; he did a great job miking the console and he’s brought back the experience of listening to albums on units like this.  Enjoy and be blessed!