January 27, 2004
Musical Anniversaries

January 27th is not only the 102nd anniversary of the death of Verdi, it is also the 248th birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and the 198th of Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga. Never heard of Arriaga? Though he died before his twentieth birthday, he left some very pleasing compositions. After I finish compiling my first semester grades, due later today, I plan to listen to his complete recorded works, which fit easily on two compact discs. The three string quartets have been recorded several times: I have the Claves recording by the Quartet Sine Nomine, with a luscious still-life of a canteloupe on the cover. The other disc is by Jordi Savall and Le Concert des Nations, playing the Symphony in D, the Overture, Op. 1 "Nonetto", and the 'pastoral overture' to Los Esclavos Felices. The title of the opera translates as 'The Happy Slaves', which I hope is either metaphorical, referring to the slavery of love, or ironic. Only bits and pieces of the work survive, so it's possible that no one knows. Three idle questions:

  1. Is Austria already gearing up for the big 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart?
  2. Will Arriaga's 200th, on the same day, be noticed at all?
  3. Would Spain have had a much larger role in early Romantic music if Arriaga had not died so young? Perhaps not. Other Spanish composers of the time are nearly forgotten, at least outside Spain. There is a single recording of Martin y Soler's opera Una Cosa Rara, quoted with approval in Don Giovanni, but the only other Spanish composer I can think of anywhere near Arriaga's time is Fernando Sor. Other than a single disc of songs, his recorded works seem to be confined to the solo guitar repertoire.
Posted by Dr. Weevil at 12:21 AM
January 25, 2004
Bearded Barbarians?

More recycled content (I'd post more here if I spent less time commenting elsewhere):

"Tom Paine" of Silent Running links to "imbecile blogger Michael Talismann" (no link for him), who writes (in his own comments):

The Greeks came up with the word "Barbaroi" because of the beards most of the Celtic / Germanic / Thracian / Dacian men they met had beards [sic]. And because they way they spoke sounded like "bar-bar-bar" to the refined Greeks.

The part about beards is hogwash. Barba is Latin for 'beard', but the Greeks were calling foreigners Barbaroi long before they had ever heard of the Romans, who then controlled only a few square miles of central Italy. The adjective barbaróphonos,* 'foreign-sounding, speaking a foreign tongue', is in the Iliad, which was written a generation or two after Romulus and Remus, though this particular line may have been added later. The Greek words for 'beard', pógon and (in verse) geneiás, géneion (which also means 'chin'), and hupéne, have no resemblance to Latin barba or Greek Barbaroi. If the ancient Greeks had wanted to refer to foreigners as 'bearded', they would have called them 'Pogonians' or 'Geneians' or something along those lines, not 'Barbarians'.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

*I've underlined the long e's and o's to show that they are etas and omegas, not epsilons and omicrons.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:47 AM
Questionable Content?

Tim Blair has an interesting post about Australia's staunch support for the U.S. and Israel. I just now tried to add this comment:

Bill Murray in Stripes (quoted from memory):

"What is an American? Someone whose ancestors were kicked out of every decent country in the world."

Australia and Israel are the only other countries I can think of whose citizens can say that.

Of course, most Israelis are ethnic/religious refugees, while the first Australians were convicted criminals, and American immigrants left the Old Country for a combination of reasons: religious discrimination, political oppression, and just plain poverty. But the similarities are still greater than the differences, and I can't think of a fourth country to which Murray's line could be applied.

The Spleenville software rejected my comment, displaying this message:

Comment Submission Error
Your comment submission failed for the following reasons:
Your comment could not be submitted due to questionable content: link.net
Please correct the error in the form below, then press Post to post your comment.

What could possibly be objectionable about my content?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 09:09 AM
January 20, 2004
Author-Title Puns

I used to think that Origen, On First Principles was the best match of author to title, but have just run across the gloomy Sonnets de la Mort ("Sonnets of Death") by the French Baroque poet Jean de Sponde.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:27 AM
January 17, 2004

I'm heading for New York City in a few minutes to see The Merry Widow and Rigoletto at the Met and do some shopping. Posts will resume tomorrow afternoon. The first semester ended yesterday, and my exams are Thursday, so they should be a bit less sparse, though I still have heaps of homework and quizzes to grade.

As soon as I get back, I will update the Ba'ath Poker page to include the capture of #54 on the Wanted List. He wasn't quite important enough to earn a card in the Deck of 52, so it doesn't seem urgent.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:23 AM
Etymological Lightbulb

Robert Musil's post on mammoths and mastodons reminded me of my last visit to Monticello in 1996 or thereabouts. One of the treasures of the collection was a mastodon jawbone Jefferson had collected, with a few grinding teeth still attached. Like most molars, these had conical bumps for grinding. To be more precise, they were bulging cones, or something between a cone and a hemisphere -- again, nothing unusual. However, unlike most molars, these had little nubs at the tip. When I saw them I couldn't help exclaiming "so that's why they're called 'mastodons'!". I had never thought about the name before, but it is obviously Greek for 'breast-tooth': mast- (as in "mastectomy") means "breast", while -odon means "tooth". It may seem odd to name a huge hairy beast after an unobtrusive feature of its dental apparatus, but I suppose that's the point that separates mastodons from the other extinct members of the order of elephants (Proboscidea).

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:19 AM
Cruel And Unusual, But Not Unjust?

I finally got around to seeing the movie South Park: Bigger, Longer, Un-Cut a few nights ago. If interrogators really want to break the spirits of Saddam and his henchmen -- and I certainly hope that's the plan --, they could arrange to have this movie equipped with Arabic subtitles that explain every nuance of every joke in every scene (not just those where Saddam appears) and then show it to the high-ranking prisoners over and over again. Only a lawyer would know for sure, but I suspect this would not be a violation of the letter of the Geneva Convention, though it massively violates the spirit. With these prisoners -- I'm thinking of the deck of cards --, I have no problem with violating the spirit.

If the subtitled version were then distributed throughout the Arabic-speaking world, all the better. I assume it would not be available for sale openly in most countries, on grounds of verbal and pictorial obscenity and general crudity, but there would surely be a demand for bootleg copies. Of course, it may already be a hot item in the back alleys of Barbary. But professionally-done subtitles would help.

I didn't find the South Park movie half so amusing as advertised, but that doesn't affect my point. When it comes to torturing motivating prisoners, the cruder the better. In fact, I've never found South Park half so amusing as Beavis & Butt-Head or Duckman. I don't know why the latter has not been repackaged on DVD: the number of fan sites on the web suggests it would sell well.

About the only redeeming feature of the movie portrayal of Saddam from his point of view is that he is depicted as (please excuse the jargon) the penetrator, not the penetratee in his dysfunctional relationship with Satan. If the CIA had made the movie, it would surely have been the other way around.

Speaking of sex roles, I think David Janes of Ranting and Roaring meant to call the Canadian politician who wants to bring traffic radar cameras to Ontario "pathetic", not "pathic". As the second definition on www.dictionary.com puts it, "pathic" means "A male who submits to the crime against nature; a catamite", in the terms of the movie a Satan, not a Saddam. So Janes' "evil, pathic little man" likely violates Canadian non-discrimination law by implying that there is something wrong with taking that particular role in a homosexual relationship. Then again, the dictionary's archaic "crime against nature" is probably illegal, too.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 07:06 AM
January 11, 2004
Listening Vs. Hearing

"Reflections in D Minor has an interesting post on the difference between listening to music and merely hearing it. It reminded me of something a teacher said when I was in college (early 1970s). Here is my best recollection of his exact words:

Tristan and Isolde used to be something that you would scrimp and save for twenty years to be able to see and hear in person at Bayreuth, where you would be overwhelmed by the experience, not" -- begin bitter and cutting tone of voice -- "something you play in the background while you're doing something else."

He may have said "Wagner's Ring Cycle" rather than "Tristan and Isolde", but it was one or the other: he was a serious Wagnerian.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:03 AM
January 09, 2004
Kosher Pigs?

In an interesting post on the Rain Forest (3:08 PM today, if the precise link doesn't work), No Watermelons Allowed writes:

If you want to save a species, make sure it has commercial value. Nobody is worried about cattle, hogs, chickens, rice, corn or wheat going extinct.

The quotation doesn't seem to be available on the web, but I believe it was James FitzJames Stephen who said "if all the world were Jews, there would be no pigs at all". This is only a slight exaggeration of the truth. Celebes (Sulawesi) and neighboring Indonesian islands are home to the babirusa, a species of wild pig that is remarkably ugly even by pig standards -- uglier than a warthog. The aptly-named and very impressive Ultimate Ungulate site has pictures. There are only 4000 babirusas in the wild, although (or because) the locals, being Muslims, are (I assume) not allowed to eat them.

There have been suggestions that the babirusa might be kosher, since it has horns, cloven hooves, and a multi-chambered stomach like a ruminant. But the horns are actually bizarrely-formed teeth and it does not seem to chew its cud, so it is not in fact kosher, and (I imagine) not halal either. This is too bad, since, as I read years ago in (I think) The Wall Street Journal, pigs are more efficient than other domesticated mammals when it comes to turning small amounts of vegetables and garbage into large amounts of high-quality meat: a kosher/halal pig would therefore be a very good thing for impoverished Muslim or Jewish areas, assuming the locals could be convinced to eat them. Perhaps such a beast could be genetically engineered.

No word on why the scientific name is spelled Babyrousa babyrussa: was the beast discovered and named by an illiterate taxonomist, or is this some kind of joke?

In researching the babirusa, I ran across a few amusing web-texts:

1. Zoo Torah tells us that the babirusa is not kosher, but the giraffe is, and adds:

Incidentally, it is a myth that giraffes are not eaten because we do not know where on the neck to slaughter them. You can slaughter them anywhere you want. The reason why we do not eat giraffes is mainly that they are extremely expensive.

Not to mention rather large. I don't imagine it would be easy to cook a giraffe on a spit or in an oven, either all at once or piece by piece.

2. Star-K gives an equally practical and no-nonsense answer to another question:

Q. Are genetically engineered tomatoes kosher?
A. If it looks like a tomato, smells like a tomato, feels like a tomato and tastes like a tomato, it's a tomato and it's kosher.

I suppose a tomacco would not qualify, even if it were edible, which has not yet been tested.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 08:07 PM
Thinking Things Through

Colby Cosh thinks the Democratic presidential nomination will go to a "man on horseback", since the current field of nine "is just waiting around to be swept away by a late-arriving saviour". He suggests Ted Kennedy as a plausible candidate for this particular saddle. I wish he had used a different metaphor, for two reasons:

  1. The description of Ted Kennedy as a "man on horseback" summons up unwanted images of Kennedy's enormous butt planted on the huge back of a Clydesdale or Pomeranian. Any other breed would have the ASPCA up in arms.
  2. Even then, I can't shake the further and preceding image of Kennedy being lifted onto his enormous horse with a crane, like a Mediaeval knight. And my unfortunate mental film-clip does not include any armor.
Posted by Dr. Weevil at 05:16 PM
January 06, 2004
Verbal Ambiguity In The News

The front page of today's Washington Times (hard copy) reports that visitors are now being "electronically fingerprinted and digitally photographed at Washington Dulles International Airport". Electronic fingerprints are done without ink, which means they are just as digital as the photographs. And of course an electronic photograph of a finger (or toe, for that matter) is "digital" in two entirely different ways.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:25 PM
A Crime Victim Speaks

I have very little spare time lately, but can't resist logging on for a couple of quick notes. Here's the first one:

WBAL-TV had a story on the 11 O'Clock News about a foolish man who tried to rob a pizza place in Anne Arundel county (Domino's, I think). He pulled a knife on the manager as she was making a cash deposit at the bank across the street. Unfortunately for him, a couple of employees saw him, and one knocked him down twice with his car, after which the other tackled him -- he was still ambulatory --, stomped on his hand, took his knife, and held him until the police arrived. If there was any further beating or kicking involved, they were discreet enough not to mention it on TV. My favorite part was the quotation from a cheerful and almost giggly Amanda, the blonde, pony-tailed, eyebrow-ringed manager: "Nobody was harmed, except for him, but that's OK".

Posted by Dr. Weevil at 11:19 PM