Caledonian strangeness

Today is Tartan Day in North America. (In Australia, it’s July 1.) Here’s a medley of melodies that were once Scottish: “The Piper’s Weird,” “Bonnie Thackit Hoosie,” “Marnock’s Strathspey” and “Mackenzie Highlanders.” I don’t have a good set of bagpipes on my computer, so I had to make do with other virtual instruments. That may or may not disappoint you. The first two tunes are from James Scott Skinner’s collection The Harp and Claymore. Skinner uses “weird” here in the sense of “destiny” or “fate,” though the more common meaning may also apply.

Literary linkdump

The worst dictators were often bibliophiles. The young Lenin read Virgil and other Roman authors in the original Latin. He was also a fan of Jack London. Mussolini at one point was the honorary president of the International Mark Twain Society. Hitler “… had a special fondness for the literature of a land he could not subjugate: England. Hitler preferred Shakespeare to Goethe and he was also fond of tales of far-off lands, such as Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels.”

Mao Zedong’s bedroom was full of books even as his minions in the Cultural Revolution wrought havoc outside. The Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha enjoyed vampire novels. Fidel Castro loved Ernest Hemingway and reviewed Gabriel García Márquez’s novels before publication. In 2015, the Ayatollah Khameini took to Twitter to praise the works of Mikhail Sholokhov and Alexei Tolstoy, Leo’s less talented, pro-Bolshevik cousin….

What does this mean for our understanding of literature itself? At the very least, the fact that some of history’s worst mass murderers were avid bibliophiles should kill any lingering notion that there is something innately ennobling about the book. Literature is far too ambiguous for that. We take what we want from it and dictators are no different. When Lenin wrote his essay on the religious-vegetarian-pacifist Tolstoy, he focused on the prophet’s “pent-up hatred”. When Mussolini read Dante, he enjoyed the poet’s invective best of all.

It is also striking that all these well-read men preferred mediocrity to masterpieces. Just as their political theories reduced the ambiguities of history to simplistic narratives of good and evil, they were most inspired by crude tales with a moral or political message.

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Neville Longbottom > Harry Potter.

In related news, Rowling states that Black Clover takes place in the Potterverse.1 (Don’t read the comments; you’ll despair for humanity.)

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Poe’s poetry was allegedly improved by translation into French. Something similar happens with H.P. Lovecraft. His prose

… is indigestible: so very mannered that sometimes it comes off as a parody. The saving grace comes when Lovecraft’s work is translated into a Romance language. I’ve read Lovecraft in Italian and in Castilian, as with this particular book [El horror de Dunwich], and his prose becomes more elegant and less heavy simply because Romance languages are more parenthetical and better support long-winded periods.

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Could a great—or even a readable—Latin poet have possibly emerged in eighteenth-century Guatemala?

If your Latin is in good working order, you might want to take a look into the works of the 18th-century Jesuit Father Rafael Landívar. Vulcanologists might find something of interest there.

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An appreciation of Camille Paglia. Yeah, she’s crazy, but she’s interesting crazy.

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Josh writes about James Joyce, Thomas Aquinas and Marshall McLuhan.

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Holy foolishness: Once upon a time, one found Myles Connolly’s Mr. Blue on nearly every reading Catholic’s bookshelf. He wrote the story in 1928, just in time for the Depression. 20 years later he wrote a couple more novels. I might have to track them down, though I expect that some of the writing will make me cringe.2

(Via Amy Welborn.)

Seeing pink, and an administrative note

The semi-Japanese Okamé cherry1 was by far the most colorful item at the botanical garden yesterday, along with the usual daffodils. The deciduous magnolias were getting started but were not fully open.

There was a bit more color here and there, but the garden is off to a slow start this year due to the lingering winter.

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A few years ago, it looked like I would be soon locked out of Flickr, which was where I posted most of my photographs. I was unable to log into my account except on one particular computer, and only with Safari. To log in anywhere else, I would have needed to respond to emails sent to a couple of long-defunct addresses. It made no sense to me, but logic is irrelevant to the yahoos at Yahoo. I therefore started a second weblog just for pictures.

Flicker is now owned by a different, smaller company, and has fixed the login snafu. I can now log in anywhere with any browser. Consequently, I am resuming posting the bulk of my photos at Flickr. I’ll leave the photo weblog up in case things at Flickr get screwy again, but to see more from yesterday’s trip, go here.

Continue reading “Seeing pink, and an administrative note”

Heroic links

The Greeks have Achilles and Odysseus; the Romans have Aeneas; the French have Roland; the Spanish have the Cid; the British have King Arthur. And, Americans have Batman.

(Illustration from here.)

And the Japanese have Utena Tenjou. Josh lists some possible interpretations of Revolutionary Girl Utena. (Caution: spoilers.)

e)Financial interpretation

Male uniforms have a tendency to suggestively come undone for no reason at all, a tendency which increases as the show progresses. This indicates that Ohtori Academy has contracted the production of these uniforms to a low quality manufacturer. Furthermore, the academy seems to be perpetually understaffed, as we rarely see any faculty, and indeed almost never see them actually teaching. All this suggests severe budget cuts. Meanwhile, the Chairman’s quarters has a projector which can physically manifest objects, while the Student Council is given an entire tower with a picturesque view. All this is obviously an indictment of how many educational institutions allocate funding in an inefficient manner, resulting in greater financial burdens on students and a lower quality of education.

Sprung

Winter hung on like the respiratory crud that was going around earlier this year, but it looks like it’s finally gone. It won’t officially be spring until the first tornado watch, but I did find a little color on my visit to the botanical garden this past weekend. There are more pictures here, plus orchids here.

There’s a springtime jigsaw puzzle below the fold.

Continue reading “Sprung”

The king is dead

Dick Dale, the king of the surf guitar, died Saturday at the age of 81. I discovered his music late, when I listened to his comeback CD Tribal Thunder out of curiosity. Ever since then his spring reverb-infused twang has featured regularly in the various playlists I put together.

Dale never hit the top 40. His biggest hit, “Let’s Go Trippin’,” only went as high as #60 on the charts fifty-eight years ago. So what? Quality is at best weakly correlated with popularity.1

His signature tune was the eastern Mediterranean tune “Miserlou.”

Dale often did covers of other people’s music. When he performed them, they became Dick Dale songs, no matter who wrote them. The following were once Link Wray and Johnny Cash tunes.

Just wondering

(Via Borepatch.)

Is there anyone who thinks that daylight “savings” time is a good idea? I’ve never met any such person, yet twice a year every year I have to remember again how to set the time on my wristwatch.

There has been some talk about setting clocks a hour ahead permamently.1 Some people might find that advantageous, but for me it would be a pain. I keep an early schedule, waking up early in the morning and getting sleepy around the middle of the evening, independently of the clock. My mind is clearest when I first wake up, and the period between getting up and preparing to leave for the office is the best time to work on my current projects or do anything that requires care and concentration. DST robs me an hour of this valuable time. Plus, it seems that the more noise a neighbor generates, the more likely he keeps late hours, and DST encourages extending evening activities. While perpetual DST might be preferable to resetting clocks twice a year, standard time is best.

29 years ago

Evening classes at Wichita State University were abruptly cancelled Tuesday evening, March 13, 1990, because of a tornado warning. There was no obvious threatening weather visible from the campus, so the Fortran instructor and I chatted for a while in the student union basement. Back in Michigan where he came from, he told me, they had real monster tornadoes, not the tame little wimpy ones that frolic on the prairie.

Yeah, right.

Odds and ends: musical edition

The one memorable part of the otherwise disappointing series Ghost Hound1 was the opening theme, Mayumi Kojima’s “Poltergeist.” It immediately became one of my favorites. I don’t understand a word Kojima sings, but I don’t need to; the music tells me all I need to know.2 I recently came across a video of the song with the lyrics translated. Does knowing what the words mean add to (or subtract from) the value of the song? In this case, I don’t think it makes any difference. Judge for yourself.

If you want to hear more of Kojima, you face a challenge. Aside from “Poltergeist,” none of her most listenable songs are on YouTube. Your best bet probably is to locate a copy of A Musical Biography, a best-of compilation.

*****

I tracked down a couple of tunes mentioned in an episode of Hozuki no Reitetsu. Yutaka Ozaki’s “15 no Yoru” is probably best appreciated by adolescent drama queens, but the other, “Giza Giza Heart no Komoriuta,” by the Checkers, is not bad at all. (Epileptics beware: jerky video.)

*****

A long time ago, back before the last ice age, I received Malcolm Hamilton’s recording of The Well-Tempered Clavier as a Christmas present. I discovered a few days ago that most of the six-record set is now available as free downloads. The sound is very good for being digitized from vinyl. I can’t give the set an unreserved recommendation, though. At least two of the prelude and fugue pairs are missing, and there are occasional skips — true to vinyl, perhaps, but annoying. Still, the performances are good and the price is right. You can also listen to them on YouTube.3

If you prefer piano to harpsichord, Kimiko Ishizaka has released Book I of the WTC, completely free of any copyright and downloadable for any price you care to pay (including $0 if you’re a cheapskate).

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And now for something completely different: Jordan Peterson, performing with the Muppets.

The return of funny noises

I’ve been playing around with an old fiddle tune dating back to the interrupted presidency of James Garfield, “Democratic Rage.” Except for the piano and percussion, all the sounds are the u-he Diva.1

(Wonder what it sounds like on a fiddle? Here’s Dave Swarbrick. (I don’t have a good violin on my computer, though I’m looking at this one, or perhaps this one if I can budget it.))

The kawaii demon lord

Ken the Brickmuppet wondered a few weeks ago if there are any current shows worth watching. I’ve only found one tolerable this winter, Endro! The series starts with the hero and her companions defeating the regional demon lord. However, they bungle the forbidden spell and send their opponent back a year in time instead of sealing him away. There/then1 the demon lord finds himself in the form of a little girl, albeit one with horns and reptilian wings. She obtains a job teaching at the local school for adventurers, where she hopes to end the hero’s quest before it starts. Things don’t go according to plan. It’s silly, lightweight fluff — the hero reminds me of Milfeulle Sakuraba — but sometimes silly is exactly what I need.

Screencaps are below the fold.

Continue reading “The kawaii demon lord”