Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Poignant memories

Cat and I just watched "The Constant Gardener" (again) even though we knew it would sadden us. If you have not seen the movie, I recommend it despite the R rating (yes, I am a prude). Much of it was filmed in Kenya, and although we did not recognize specific sites, it was all very familiar: the children constantly asking "How are you?" of white strangers, the matatus (van-sized buses), the red earth. Within the movie is the presentation of a play about AIDS and I believe that, the last time we were in Kenya, we saw the troupe which performed this in the movie. At any rate, the troupe we saw did something quite similar. They use an interesting technique whereby each role is played by three actors speaking and moving in unison. So 12 people play out a drama of a father, a mother, a sister, and a brother.

Seeing the movie made me long to be in Kenya again. With the drought there has been a rise in crime, mostly thefts and robberies. It is a more dangerous place for wazungu (white people) now than even a year ago. And yet, I have friends there to visit and projects which need attending. Well, I have to stop thinking about this or I will become morose.

Monday, January 30, 2006

To set everyone's mind at ease . . .

Really, I do not want to be responsible for sending Annie over the edge. The old book from which the snippet was taken is the 23rd edition (January, 1921) of the Boy Scout Handbook. Ironically, even though I said that it was priceless to me, you can see that the price was 50 cents at the time of publication. A very large portion of this edition was devoted to recognizing wild plants and animals. One of the merit badges it lists is blacksmithing.

I got this book from my grandfather, who to my knowledge was never a Boy Scout, and appreciate it because I was a Scout until the age of eighteen. Alas, I only made it to the rank of Life Scout, just short of Eagle. But to tell you the truth, making the rank of Eagle Scout practically requires ignoring the troop and pursuing your own project single-mindedly. So I don't mind. I learned more about being a man from Scouting than from any other institution.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

How about another "watzat"?

As I waited for the photo to load, I thought about the proper way to describe it. One could not truthfully say "priceless" because in this world everything (as ebay has proven) can be priced. Isn't it odd how we abstract our interdependence into money? Here's what I am talking about. Let's say that in remote village A, where everything is quite unrefined, a woman with three goats finds herself to have a surplus of goat cheese. She realizes that her cousin, whose family is rather large, does not have enough food all of the time, so she gives the family some of her excess cheese. The cousin, in a natural response of gratitude, composes a song in honor of the goat-lady, and the family performs this song at the next village meeting.

Meanwhile, in less remote village B, an adolescent with a fistful of dollars from her weekly allowance goes into Hastings and buys a CD by her favorite (this week) artist. In both villages an exchange took place and music was received. But how did the events differ in quality? In village A the relationship of the elements exchanged was never measured. The song was not valued at two pounds of cheese, nor was the cheese determined to be worthy of one song and a poem.

In village B, not only was the exchange very closely measured, but it involved an item with no intrinsic value: money. The value of money depends absolutely on what people think it is worth. A fifty-dollar bill has no more inherent value to it than a one-dollar bill. Children know that but adults forget. We tend to think so highly of those bits of paper, that we imagine they have the power to replace our interdependence.

Let's say one of your friends has a son graduating from high school and you are sent a graduation announcement. Do you write a poem in praise of the student's accomplishment? Or do you send him a check for $25.00? Which would the student value more? Does that even enter into the decision-making process?
Well, the photo has been loaded for some time now. Just tell me what you think it is. To me it is priceless.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

See for yourself

OK, take a look at this photo and tell me what you think. Cat says I am delirious (more or less).

Could this be Michael J. Fox?

It is clear that staying home with the inability to do projects that demand any intelligence or energy is taking its toll on me. (It took me three tries just to type that sentence.) Anyway, I was looking at the "self-portrait" from which the "eye" photo below was taken and the resemblance to Michael J. Fox struck me. (He has lots of lines, too, Annie.) Am I hallucinating here? OK, time to return to bed. The heck with writing that rondo for handbells.

Monday, January 23, 2006

I'm sick

And not in the way you perverts are thinking. I had a dry cough on Saturday and by the time I went to bed my fever was nearly 101. Sunday I managed to go to Sunday school, but came back home immediately afterwards. I stopped in at work today just to send budget info to the CFO then came home and called the doctor's office. They assured me that the doctor would call in a prescription. It is now 4:00 PM and still no prescription. Boy, am I grumpy! Does my eye look sick to you?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Zenith and weekend word S

Comments on the previous post indicate that Rachel learned that I claimed "zenith" was a Greek word. Yeah, I was mistaken about that. I presumed it was from Greek because I knew that it was not a Latin word. But the real story of "zenith" is pretty interesting.
Back in the Middle Ages, there was an Arabic philosopher named Averroës who lived in Spain. He became so popular that scholars commenting on Aristotle used some Arabic terms that Averroës introduced. One of these was the word which got transliterated into Medieval Latin as "camt" or "cemt" meaning "road." When scribes copied scrolls with this word, at least one English scribe thought the "m" was "ni" (since they didn't use dots over "i"s yet), and wrote it as "cenit." That later became "cenith" then "zenith" meaning highest point. The opposite word is "nadir" which comes from an Arabic preposition which means "against" or "opposite." Averroës described a road above (the high road) which was preferable to its opposite below. Thus, zenith and nadir.
Now for the weekend word in S. There are just so many to choose from. I guess it will be a word that I used yesterday at work. The word is SYCOPHANT [SIK-uh-funt] and it does come from Greek meaning "one who makes the sign of the fig." What the heck is that?! Well, a fig-displayer in ancient Greece was a snitch (hey, we use "stool pigeon" to convey the same idea--does that make sense?). Sycophant is used in English to describe a "fawning parasite" (as the Webster's Unabridged puts it). Hey, maybe you will use this word at work, too.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Music theory

When I was in seminary, I was required to take a couple of courses from another institution. I chose UC Berkeley which was a pretty easy 45-minute train ride away. One class was about the biblical book of First Samuel. The teacher, Robert Alter, is a well known scholar of Hebrew literature, one whose books I had read with great interest. The first couple of meetings intimidated me. Here I was with a couple of years of biblical Hebrew under my belt and I was in a class with Hebrew majors. In fact a couple of the students were Israelis; they seriously had no problem reading the Hebrew text. I almost dropped the class, but the professor talked me out of it, and I am glad he did. The paper I did for that class turned out to be the center of my dissertation. Anyway, I can remember the day that I made a comment in class and one of the Israelis looked over at me with appreciation for the insight. Wow, what a rush! From then on, I resolved to find out what I was good at in every class and then share my knowledge in that area.

This morning in music theory class, the teacher was introducing the distinction between the range of a musical piece and its tessitura. Both have to do with the extent of pitches occuring in a song. She said that the technical name for the lowest note in a range is "nadir" and asked what the highest note might be called. I said "zenith" and the teacher agreed. A girl behind me asked "Where did you get that?" I just shrugged and the teacher said, "He knows a lot about languages." I am beginning to feel slightly less stupid in this class.

Friday, January 13, 2006

It's an ace!

Well, that didn't last long. Jonboy, apparently on a break from his highly demanding job, made an extremely accurate claim. This little pig was carved from a bar of Ivory soap. I did it in junior high school art class. Even when I moved out of the house, my mom would not let me take the pig with me. She kept it in a display case with other odds and ends: an old photo , a tiny flower vase, a little porcelain monkey. I had made other items in junior high school art class, but she did not want to keep them around.
Here's something else that happened in that art class. We sat on stools around tall tables. Sherry Burkhalter sat next to me, on the right. She was friendly and cute, so in my adolescent boy way (which is to say "clueless") I tried to do things to impress her. One day, Sherry was talking to the student on her right and leaned over to see what the student was doing. I picked up my ruler and swatted Sherry on the posterior. The reaction was swift. She grabbed the ruler out of my hand and proceeded to thrassh me with it, ending with the threat "You don't ever do that to a girl!" Well, Sherry, all these years I have heeded your words. Yes, that was a lasting impression.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Yet another "watzat?"

I just loaded up a half dozen more "watzat?s" and I can't wait to try them out on you. I will tell you that this one was created about 40 years ago and resided in my mother's house until her death. The piece is unique so you have your work cut out for you. Well, I have to go do music theory homework now. Have fun!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Weekend word R and other stuff

OK, I am a day late and a dollar short. The word for the immediately preceding weekend is RISIBLE [RIZ-uh-bull]. Here's why I like this word: it can be either passive or active. It can be used to mean "disposed to laughter." "That risible Emily giggles constantly, doesn't she?" But it can also be used to mean "causing to laugh." So when Emily gets a fit of the giggles while drinking a milkshake and shoots milk out her nose, so that her friends start laughing, too, she is being risible in both senses.
Now for something less risible (for me at least). This morning I started as a student in a university-level music theory class. The teacher and I had talked about it. Even though this is a second-semester class, she thinks I can probably catch up with the twenty-five other students. Here are the comments I wrote down in the first twenty minutes.
Most of the rest of the students seem to know each other. They probably took first semester together. They chat about the holidays. Some are nervous about this class. The only person who introduced herself to me was instructed by the professor to do so. Many of them feel it is weird to be back in the class after the holidays. They are already planning on the next holiday [Martin Luther King Jr. Day]. Every row in the room except mine was filling up before someone sat on my row--two seats down. The teacher was late by three minutes, so the students continued to chat: diet, a strange pair of earmuffs, a little bit about music and classes. I felt nervous and alone. I understand why, but that does not slow my heartbeat significantly.
I was caught without staff paper [for marking musical notations], but would have had no idea how to do the assignment [a review from the previous semester] anyway. I will have significant reading to do to catch up with this class. The review was terrifying. I didn't understand the terms although I had heard them. Although the other students were groaning, it is clear that they were getting correct answers. Most felt rusty. I have stuff to memorize.

So now I am going off to learn all the triads and key signatures. If I don't learn these tonight, I will not be able to keep up tomorrow. No pressure, eh?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

It's a whistle!

I have a son named Greg. He is quite artistic and also weird. He changes his hair style often. Right now it's blond and sticks out all over his head (and he has a black beard). He has had a braided mohawk and for a while sported a set of five hair spikes on the front of his head that were reminiscent of the Statue of Liberty. Anyway, Greg made this figure which is a whistle. See the little nostrils? When you blow through those, the air exiting the figure's mouth sounds a note. I don't know how he figured out the logistics of this. He just sets his mind to it and can do anything. His band's website is listed in my links at right. Go visit the Zuigia site some time. Greg designed it.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Prairie wildfires

The part of West Texas in which I live has not been terrorized by prairie fires, although we have had some incidents. My assistant at work was returning from the Dallas area after New Year's day. As she and her husband approached a small ranching town, they saw a huge plume of smoke. They saw no flames, but the base of the smoke mass was red. When they got to the town, people were frantically cramming their vehicles with their most treasured possessions. Tears streamed from their faces because it was evident that there would be no rescue. No big-city fire trucks would arrive in time. All they could do was to flee. As my assistant left the town, the highway patrol closed off the road. As they drove along, they could see the wall of fire, flames ten feet tall, sweeping along the countryside. The town was destroyed. My assistant realized that theirs was the last car that would likely ever pass through that town.
Massive floods, wildfires. Where are the locusts?

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Time for another "watzat"

Just when you thought I had forgotten. This item fits on a bookshelf, but it has a function greater than ornamental. Start guessing.
So how has your New Year started off? The site of my favorite blog Princess requested participants state a dozen goals for the year of 2006. How about you? Have you made any resolutions?