Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Wednesday Wordage, a Royal puzzle

I don't know what made me think of this.  Anyway, how well do you know your nobility?  What's the title for each group, no fair looking it up in Debrett's:

1.  Samedi, Robber, Sacha Cohen, Red
2.  Size, Los Angeles, African, Hearts
3.  Cruises, Pea, Diaries, Bride
4.  Queens, Pirate, Swing, Kong
5.  Earl, Iron, University, Dubuque
6.  Black, White, Ridder, Rider
7.  von Count, Long, Full, Basie
8.  Persia, Black, Peace, Charming

I don't need to include the answers, do I?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Friday Fungus

We took advantage of a pause in the rain to go for a walk on the hills across the creek from us.  They graze cattle there, and the land is severely affected by this--grazed to nubbins and pretty tired looking.  But it's a good-sized plot, draped over some hilly terrain; intensely managed grazing for soil health would be very expensive and require a smaller herd and a long time before it made economic sense.  There's also tradition to contend with: the cemetery next to us has several generations of the grazier's family resting in it.  So, it's unlikely that things will change.  

There are a few copses of oaks on the hills, and some lovely fungus-food lying on the ground.  Most of what we saw was tough shelf fungus and turkey-tails.  There was one large clump of oyster fungus that would have made us a nice dinner had we been there a few days earlier.  And there are little cute gems like this, bursting out of the wood they've been digesting, adding a jolt of color to grey decay.    

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Wednesday Wordage Sporting News Edition

I love skimming the sports pages of our newspaper.  I don't give a fig about the games, but I do like the headlines:  "Penguins confuse Devils," "Beavers bowl over Wolverines" and so on.  I especially like it when there are teams whose names function both as nouns and as verbs, which can lead to some especially confusing headlines.  Here are some of those teams, disguised and then unmasked:

1.  22nd president gets toasted
2.  Beatified French king engages in vehicular assault
3.  American Bison submits an invoice.
4.  Windy City offers support

5.  Beantown Bolshevik engages in battery

6.  Harley Hometown throws its rider
7.  Big Apple Borough goes fishing
8.  Pop star Whitney goes into orbit
9.  Patron saint of those who search for lost articles offers forceful encouragement
10.  Mythical bird works on her tan

College Sports (the last two are kind of obscure, not Division 1!):
11a and b. Pacific State both works assiduously and shirks (two teams)
12.  Cheeseheads annoy
13.  A spinster bucks convention
14.  Malibu school bids adieu
15. Windy City abandons

Answers (Highlight to see):  1--Cleveland Browns.  2--St. Louis Rams.  3--Buffalo Bills.  4--Chicago Bears.  5--Boston Red Socks.  6--Milwaukee Bucks.  7--Brooklyn Nets.  8.  Houston Rockets.  9--San Antonio Spurs.  10--Phoenix Suns.  11--Oregon both Beavers and Ducks.  12--Wisconsin Badgers.  13--Ole Miss Rebels.  14--Pepperdine Waves.  15--Chicago Maroons.

Got a good one to add?  Or a favorite sports headline?  Comment!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Tuesday Tool: The Needle and the damage done, and the damage repaired.

Today's tool is the needle.

Every so often, we need to draw blood from our animals.  There's a couple of reasons for this.  One is biosecurity.  There are a number of infectious diseases that can be devastating to an operation that is trying to sell breeding stock, as we are.  The pathogens responsible for these diseases have in their bag of tricks ways of bamboozling the immune system; they can infect an animal for years, and yet the animal's immune system will not register their presence.  (One of the pathogens is a lentivirus, like AIDS; another is a relative of the tuberculosis bacillus--both of which are similarly hard for human immune systems to process.)  So, a critter could be infected at birth, and give rise to a couple of years' worth of offspring, and infect them, before you could be sure that they were infected.  So, it behooves us to periodically do blood tests on everybody.

Another reason for blood draws is to test for pregnancy.  We want to know whether our animals have been successfully bred, or whether they need to go and visit the boys again.  A blood test can tell you this within a month of breeding, well before the mom-to-be's start bulging.

At any rate, a blood draw is no big deal, mostly.  The tool of the day is a 20ga, 1" needle on a 12cc syringe.  My job in the process is to straddle the goat to immobilize her, and firmly but gently hold her head pointing slightly up and to the side.  The Real Doctor is getting quite good at feeling for the jugular vein, slipping the needle in, finding the lumen of the vein, and pulling out five or six cc's of blood.  The vein seals itself up nicely when she pulls out, and, just as I always got a lollipop for getting a shot, the goat goes away with a couple of peanuts.

All is mostly routine, and for a dozen of our goats all was routine.  However, there was one doe, Mizuki, who went all drama queen on us.  First she was totally squirmy, and would not agree to be held.  As soon as I could hold her somewhat still, and the Real Doctor started palpating her throat, she would scream, and scream loudly.  If we ignored the screaming and the Real Doctor could actually locate the vein, she would give a tremendous wrenching twist, or rear up on her hind legs, or somersault, or lash out with a hoof, or otherwise upset things--and we'd have to start all over again.

Three times, Mizuki reared up just as the Real Doctor was about to poke her.  Even though she's a Nigerian Dwarf doe, she's on the large end of the spectrum for her breed, and way overweight.  So, when she reared, it was with some power; it was enough to throw me over (and because of a wrist injury, I was choosing to roll onto my back rather than catch myself).  Three times she did this, interspersed with bouts of kicking and flailing.  I was getting kind of sore, the Real Doctor was getting kind of frustrated, and eventually, Mizuki was getting kind of tired.

After almost half an hour of this, Mizuki gave one mighty effort and reared up, and I was able to hold on to her as I was launched onto my backside.  There I was, on my back in the mucky straw, clamping a wheezing, upside-down seventy-pound goat to my chest.  The Real Doctor was able to slip in, find the right blood vessel, and slip out before Mizuki recovered herself enough to struggle.  I let her get up, gave her a peanut, and picked myself up.

Surveying the damage, I had a lot of scratches and stiffness.  There was evidence of one close call: a sharp hoof had punched a four-inch-long gash into my jeans, from the crotch seam to the inseam.  I had a nasty welt, but given the location of the tear, I was glad that was all that it was.

Which means that the tool of the day makes another appearance: the needle, but this time it's one used with thread.  I just got the jeans back from the seamstress, nicely patched and (I guess) more fashionable than new.  A few dollars of repairs have saved me $40 of jeans, so I'm happy.

And Mizuki?  Not reactive for any diseases, and pregnant.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Monday Musical Offering, Found in Translation

Translation is treason.  That is what we're told, at any rate, when it comes to the art of opera these days.  There's so much concern about purity, and not just in the early music camp, that performers and audiences seem obligated to experience exactly what the composer experienced.  In opera, composers and librettists worked together to make words that flowed with the pulse of the music, to make assonance and cadence work together.  Opera in translation belittles the work of both musician and scribe, and crudely misrepresents art.

To which I say, what a load of horse poop.

Set aside that "purity" and "what the composer heard" are imaginary and belief in these goals is a road to fundamentalism.  Set aside that until the middle of this century, it was common practice to hear opera performed in the vernacular, so one can hear recordings of Boris Gudonov in German or Siegfried in French.  Hell, set aside the existence of Otello and Falstaff and Romeo et Juliette and Faust.  Rigidity about original language performance puts a fence around opera, and says "you don't get to enjoy this until you fully understand Italian (or German or French or Czech or...)"

Supertitles are the most common way to try to satisfy the purity police and provide some degree of comprehensibility, but I don't feel like they are adequate.  If composer's intent is important, then I'm pretty sure that the composer did not intend for us to be reading during their works.  Reading supertitles, the voices on stage are forced to compete with the much less mellifluous voice in your head.  If supertitles are the best solution to the problem of language in opera, then the best way for me to enjoy the poem "Eugene Onegin" is to listen to somebody reciting it in Russian while I read a linear translation.

Translation is necessarily inexact; translation changes the sound of the piece; translation interpolates one more artist between the artist and the audience.  All true, and all trivial compared to experiencing an opera as it should be experienced, through sound and spectacle.  Opera isn't about words, but music (this is sometimes used as the dividing line between opera and musicals).  It's true that the sound of English is very different from Czech, but if you're not Czech, then the Czech language sounds like noise (and if you do speak Czech, then listening to an Australian singing Makropolous in the original language probably also sounds like noise).  And hopefully, just like the conductor, orchestra, and singers, our translator is an artist.  And fortunately, such artists are not rare.  I'm pretty sure that the politicians who claim the Bible as their favorite book know very little Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek.  One of my favorite books of all, The Cyberiad by Lem, I know only in translation by Kandel; one of my favorite guilty pleasures, the French Asterix comics, are well enough translated by Bell and Hockridge that some of the puns are actually improved in English.

What spurs this rant is a recent purchase: CD's of  Don Carlos and Ariadne on Naxos.  These are from Chandos' thoroughly excellent "Opera in English" series, of which I own several and I want to get them all, eventually.  The translations are extremely good (there are occasional clunkers, but they're not bad enough to disrupt the flow of things), and having the meaning of the words intelligible as they are sung increases the impact of the music to an astonishing degree.  Opera, at its best, gives me the chills or puts a major lump in my throat.  Well, I've listened to Don Carlos' Auto-da-fe scene a bunch of times, and Rodrigo and Carlos swearing their friendship, but listening to them and finally understanding the words made them hit me like a ton of bricks.  Same for Zerbinetta's big number and the meeting of Ariadne and Bacchus in Ariadne.

It may be, years hence, that I'll have studied enough Italian and German to fully understand these in their original tongues; but until that time, I will probably be listening to these recordings a lot.  I have recordings of Falstaff both in English by middle-of-the-road performers and in a powerhouse performance conducted by Toscanini, and I listen to the English version a lot more.  Pure or not, I derive a lot more enjoyment and feeling from hearing these operas in a language that speaks to me.  Which, when you get to it, is most likely the author's original intent.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Yet more on the recent awfulness, and a Wednesday Word

So, I wrote this yesterday, and then today happened.  I wrote it too soon, and may have been too optimistic.

It's been a damnably long time since I've written anything here, and it's not for a lack of things to write about.  Nor is it entirely due to a lack of time to write (though free time to ruminate and write has been scarce).  I just haven't been feeling very open lately.  Why?

I can't say why this mood exists in me at this time, though I think some of it is due to the mood around me.  I am reminded too often of the late craziness just over at UCC, and this community's (and this country's) response.  There have been a few concrete actions hereabouts, local charities and the like--but the main response has been business marquees urging us to "Pray to UCC"* and like sentiments, and bumperstickers that are almost invariably sandwiched between an aging NRA sticker and a new "I support Sheriff Hanlin"** sticker.  There is no hint of anything wrong with feeling a need for one's own second-amendment stockpile; there is an omnipresent tacit acceptance of the status quo, that things will never--must never--change; and that it will, must, happen again.

As this goes on, I am treated to the national spectacle of a presidential campaign.  A lot of the country, including far too many of my neighbors, is aroused by candidates who have openly espoused hatred, racism, and something akin to fascism.  There seems to be a need for someone other to hate and fear because they're different.  One would think that we, as a nation, might have graduated from the Middle Passage and the Exclusion Act and Manzanar and gay-bashing, but now it's the Muslim's turn. Things will never change, and folks want it to happen again.

A while ago, I was forwarded an email about the Muslim threat, from someone who ought to have known better.  I pointed out to the sender, with abundant citations and quotes, how one could replace "Muslim" with "Jew" and end up with near-perfect quotes of statements from leading Nazis.  The sender's reply was kind of equivocal, that it was something a pastor had forwarded, maybe as an example?  And now we have political leaders talking about barring refugees and setting up internment camps and getting applauded.

This gets me towards one of the things I have been wanting to write, and that is the striking abuse of a word and what it defines: courage.  I was first made aware of the degradation of this word in a video clip approvingly linked to by a neighbor.  In this clip, a pastor celebrated his own bravery, bragging that he had the courage to discriminate against homosexuals.  His congregation burst into boisterous applause and cheering.  I was immediately struck by his defining "courage" as something that involves hating somebody and getting rapturous applause for it.  Did he have to confront injury to do that?

Then, our county's sheriff and Second-Amendment misinterpreters were hailed for their courage, wanting to hang on to as much lethal force as possible to defend against--what?  their neighbors?  Global jihadi terrorists with an unaccountable interest in small towns in rural counties?   This was courage, needing a platoon's armory for defense against bogeymen?  Do you have courage if you feel a need to go everywhere strapped?  Against what threat do these folks stockpile ammo?

Courage, the word and concept, has been completely debased on a national stage in the aftermath of the insanity in Paris.  I saw the governors of several states celebrated for their "courage" in rejecting refugees from Syria.  That's "courage?"  Really, has ever the meaning of a word been so thoroughly perverted?  Courage, it seems, no longer means anything but fear, fear of "the other".  I remember it meaning something different, a long time ago.

Folks in the humanities sometimes talk about the "axial age," a period in human history when religions and philosophers around the world first developed notions related to the Golden Rule--in essence, recognizing that another human being, an "other," had humanity equal to one's own.  This is a stage in individual human development, as well as a stage in the development of humanity.  It also takes courage, to expose yourself to the "other," and not belittle it.

However, it is a lot easier to hew to the Golden Rule in a society where everyone is like you.  If one recognizes the humanity only in the other members of one's own group, as a child may only recognize the humanity of its immediate family, then there has been no challenge.  There is no courage in hailing the humanity of a face in a mirror.  And, for most of our history, a human rarely wandered far, and could live a life without seeing faces different from the one in the mirror.   (This still holds for many residents of my county, who celebrate the perverted new definition of courage.**)  But children, after growing up in a family and being warned against strangers, need to grow up and face the world, and so do we.

It would be really nice if we could get to the point of seeing a terrorism victim in Mali as having humanity fully equal to one at UCC.  It would be great if we saw the ethics of an atheist or Hindu as being just as worthy as those of a fellow parishioner at the local Seventh Day Adventists, assuming that they all adhered to some expression of the golden rule.  It would be swell if a woman on WIC, one generation removed from Guatemala, were regarded as being as fully a citizen as Donald Trump.  Nice, great, swell--and seemingly impossible, for all those pols and preachers who celebrate fear and call it courage, to grow up and reach a basic level of humanity.

Writing this, I feel a bit like I've vomited; my apologies for barfing all over your computer. But, we vomit to get rid of that which is noxious, and it typically leaves one feeling better.  I hope I will feel better, more open, and willing to write here in the future.

*Other choice signs include the context-free "Thoughts and Prayers," and too many "UCC Strong" or Biblical cites.

**This is the Douglas County Sheriff who approvingly linked to a YouTube video describing the Sandy Hook Massacre as a "False Flag Operation," and published an open letter to the Vice President (apparently because the President is not legitimate) saying that he won't enforce any gun-control laws.

***I am literally the first Jewish person that some of my neighbors have ever met.  Doubtful that they've ever seen a Muslim in person.