the minor premise

the minor premise

Monday, February 25, 2008

Operatic Interlude

I've had virtually zilch time to try to write anything lately, but as nothing's been posted here for several days, I thought I ought to put something up. As it just so happens, I've had an idea in my back pocket for several weeks now that I thought deserved mention; right now seems as good a time as any.

Timeliness is generally regarded to be of essence where dated material is concerned; thus I suppose justifying posting this should require more reasons than mere whim on my part. Well, I've come up with a few. First, we've been on something of a parody kick lately anyway; the work of which I write, while not strictly a parody, does contain some elements thereof. Second, the subject is Richard Wagner's Nibelung cycle; Wagner died in February of 1883.

All right, so Wagner actually died a couple of weeks ago on Feb. 13, 1883. I'm a little behind. I should perhaps have tried to come up with something on Baseball Hall of Fame Shortstop and subject of very few baseball cards Honus Wagner, who was born yesterday, Feb. 24th, in 1874, instead.

Getting back to matters at hand, however: I recently "rediscovered" this after having shelved it in the back of my mind for some years, thanks to its having been mentioned in conversation to me. I decided I had to find it, and went a-Googling.

Fortunately for us all, this classic skit by singer/comedienne Anna Russell can be found on the 'Net, so it's not necessary to wait around for NPR to decide to air it. Below is a partial text, plus the link at which I found it (I believe that part or all of it have also been reprinted at other sites.)

As anyone who's heard it can tell you, it's Russell's hilariously deadpan delivery (in patrician British accent) that really makes the piece. Audios of the four parts (listed by title: Das Rheingold, Die Walkure, Siegfried, and Gotterdammerung) are on YouTube. They look like video; unfortunately, all you get is a still picture of a Valkyrie galloping over storm clouds. I guess film of Russell performing could not be had for that purpose. But the audio is there, with roll-in-the-aisle clarity; thanks to the generous soul who took the time to upload it. It is not to be missed, especially if you're a Norse epic lover, opera lover, opera hater, Wagner lover/hater, musical historian, remotely musically inclined, or just fond of satire. It's a darn good intro to the Nibelung cycle for any novice, as well.

Without further ado:

The Ring of the Nibelungs (An Analysis)
by Anna Russell

Now that the opera season is with us again, I feel it would be appropriate for me to give a talk on Wagner’s “Ring der Nibelungen.” Now I know that analyses of “the Ring” are frequently given over the radio by some great expert for the edification of other great experts, but these are usually so esoteric as to leave the average person as befogged as before…and in fact I think tends to discourage him from going altogether. So I would like to tell you about it as from the point of view of one average opera-goer to another.

Now, the first thing is that every person and event in the Ring cycle has what is grandly called a “leitmotif.” Now you don’t need to worry about that, it merely means a “signature tune.”

The scene opens in the River Rhine. IN it. If it were in New York, it would be like the Hudson. And swimming around there are the three Rhinemaidens…a sort of aquatic Andrews Sisters. Or sometimes they’re called “nixies.” Mairsie-nix and doesie-nix and little nixie-divie. And they sing their signature tune, which is as follows. [Plays and sings] “Weia! Waga! Woge, du Welle, walle zur Wiege! wagala weia! wallala, weiala weia!” I won’t translate it, because it doesn’t mean anything.

The Rhine maidens are looking after a lump of magic gold. And the magic of this gold consists of the fact that anybody who will renounce love and make a ring out of this gold will become Master of the Universe. This is the gimmick.

Now, up from underneath the river, as it might be, let’s say, the Holland Tunnel, comes a little dwarf called Alberich. [Piano swoop.] And here he is. [Plays and sings] “Garstig glatter glitsch’riger Glimmer! wie gleit’ ich aus! Mit Händen un Füssen nicht fasse noch halt’ ich das schlecke Geschlüpfer! Feuchtes Nass füllt mir die Nase…” Well you can see he’s excessively unattractive. He makes a pass at the Rhine maidens, who think he’s perfectly dreadful, and so they’re not very nice to him, they tell him [Plays and sings] “Pfui! du haariger, höckriger Geck! Schwarzes, schweiliges Schwefelgezwerg!” So he thinks “Well, I’m not going to get any love anyhow, I can see that, so I may as well renounce it, and take this lump of gold, make the Ring, and become Master of the Universe. So he takes it back to the Holland Tunnel with him [Piano glissando]. And here he is making the Ring. [Plays] No steel strikes here! Well, that’s him.

Well, now, up here, as it might be on top of the Empire State Building, you find Wotan, the head god. And he’s a crashing bore, too. Well he and his wife, Mrs Fricka Wotan, have had a castle built for them called Valhalla [Plays piano theme] by a couple of giants called Fasolt and Fafner. Well of course the giants want to be paid for building this castle, and part of the giants builders union scale consists of this magic ring that Alberich’s made. So Wotan goes all the way down from where he is to Alberich [Piano smacks] and takes the Ring away from him. Well of course Alberich is simply furious. So he puts a terrible curse on the Ring. [Plays classic Villain theme.] That’s the wrong curse, isn’t it! I’m sorry—here—[Plays Alberich’s curse music.]

But Wotan takes no notice, he takes the ring up [Piano smacks] and gives it to Fasolt. Well right away Fafner kills Fasolt [Piano SMACK] to get the Ring for himself. So Wotan knows that the curse is working. And this worries him, so he goes down to ground level [Piano black-key glissando] to consult an old fortune-teller friend of his called My Friend Erda; she is a green-faced torso that pops out of the ground—at least we think she’s a torso, that’s all anyone’s ever seen of her. And she says to Wotan, she says [Plays and sings] “Weiche, Wotan, weiche!” Which means “Be careful, Wotan, be careful.” She then bears him eight daughters.

These daughters are the Valkyries, headed by Brünnhilde…and they are the NOISIEST women! [Plays and sings] “Heiaha! Heiaha! Hojotoho! Hojotoho! Heiaha! Wo—” Well, that is the end of Part 1.

Read the rest here

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Trials of the Arche-Bishop, Wyth Sum Byrd-Countynge Toss'd In

I haven't read all of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan William's remarks on the place of Sharia in the English legal system yet, and it's often hard to judge what exactly was said based on news reports. Just ask Benedict XVI. Thus I'm disinclined to weigh in on whether it's fair to start addressing the man as "Archbishop Neville Chamberlain."

Nonetheless, we enjoy nothing better than a well-done satire in parody form here at the Minor Premise. And as the Chaucer blogger hasn't been penning lately, I really, really appreciated being able to get my Chaucerian fix courtesy of the irreverently literary Iowahawk. So rightly or wrongly, I had a very good laugh with a twist of schadenfreude at the expense of the aforementioned unfortunate archbishop. Perhaps it's just as well that confession season is upon us. An excerpt from Heere Bigynneth the Tale of the Asse-Hatte: An Archbishop of Canterbury Tale follows:

1 Whan in Februar, withe hise global warmynge

2 Midst unseasonabyl rain and stormynge

3 Gaia in hyr heat encourages

4 Englande folke to goon pilgrimages.

5 Frome everiches farme and shire

6 Frome London Towne and Lancanshire

7 The pilgryms toward Canterbury wended

8 Wyth fyve weke holiday leave extended

9 In hybryd Prius and Subaru

10 Off the Boughton Bypasse, east on M2.

11 Fouer and Twyntie theye came to seke

12 The Arche-Bishop, wyse and meke

13 Labouryte and hippye, Gaye and Greene

14 Anti-warre and libertyne

15 All sondry folke urbayne and progressyve

16 Vexed by Musselmans aggressyve.

Read it all here. Hat tip to MrsDarwin, who, like myself, wold she had ywriten yt.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch:
Baby and I forgot and got into the Great Backyard Bird Count a bit late (and wouldn't you know it, our previously plentiful yard birds weren't cooperating the first day of the count anyway.) As I seem to be having some trouble getting the Count website to load, I figured I might as well get our notes from the rest of the weekend off the back of a postcard and on here.

Our results, mostly from 15-minute intervals at the back window, but including some time Baby spent on the boardwalk out at the Swamp:
8 Mallards
3 Blue-winged Teals
4 Great Egrets
3 Chipping Sparrows
3 American Goldfinches
1 Pair Dark-eyed Juncos
2 Chipping Sparrows
1 White-throated Sparrow
3 Am. Goldfinches
2 male House Finches (one was my bud with the pinkeye--he was looking a little less goopy today!)
2 American Robins
1 Carolina Chickadee
1 Tufted Titmouse
1 Yellow-Rumped Warbler
1 Mourning Dove
2 Am. Goldfinches
2 Carolina Chickadees
1 female Northern Cardinal

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Monday, February 18, 2008

There is no St. Kermit . . . .

Today, the parody department presents a work gleaned from the comment box of the The Curt Jester. The verse was penned by Burnt Marshwiggle in response to a story on a Baton Rouge, Louisiana Mass in which a dog puppet made frequent explanatory interruptions.

reprinted with permission from the author:

It's time to play the music
It's time to light the lights, it's time to meet the puppets on the puppet mass tonight.

It's time to put on makeup
It's time to dress up right
It's time to raise the curtain on the puppet mass tonight.

Why do we always come here? We both already know, we have an obligation, despite the puppet show.

And now let's get things started
Why don't you get things started
It's time to get things started

On the most irrational desperational congegrational puppetational
This is what we call the Puppet Mass!

I generally don't get as wrapped around the axle on cultural variations in Mass (guitar vs organ vs silent, etc.). However, I do get very upset about the unnecessary disruption of others' prayer in Mass.

Update! There actually is a St. Kermit. Click here for details.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Yard Eco

I'd noticed him once before, several days ago. This afternoon, he returned to the feeder. He is a male house finch who looks to be in the throes of conjunctivitis. On my first sight of him, I noticed his left eye looked swollen and a bit crusty. Today, I got a better look. The left eye was definitely in the thick of it; it was partly filmed over and at times oozed a yellowish discharge. The finch blinked much more than usual.

On the brighter side, he still looked fat and stalwart and seemed to be able to fly all right. I got a look at his right eye; it appeared clear. Maybe not an ideal situation for aviation, but at least it hadn't grounded him yet. As I understand it, the conjunctivitis itself isn't fatal, but can lead to fatality if it grounds the bird or prevents it from foraging. I'll be keeping an eye on this guy. He looks to be the type that could ride it out if his eyes don't become completely obfuscated.

Just to be on the safe side, though, I gave the perch a good thorough swabbing down with vinegar. I don't want the infection to spread if I can avoid it. Recently we've been inundated by a small flock of goldfinches; fortunately, they seem to prefer the finch sock I put out to the feeder. As they are also suceptible, that's just as well.

The goldfinches threw me at first. I looked out the window one morning, and there was what looked to be yellowish warbler. I had a hard time getting a good look; I thought at first it might be a pine warbler. But getting out the binocs threw me. There were patches of black on the bird's brow! After several of them started showing up, there wasn't room for them all to hide behind the sock and I was able to get a positive ID. The goldfinches are in winter plumage right now, but some of them are starting to turn. That explains those wacky black patches.

Late last summer we had a goldfinch trio stop by for a while. One of the males was leg-banded; so I've been scrutinizing the gang that's here now for a banded bird. I haven't seen him, though. At any rate, it's a nice-sized little group; we've counted up to eight at a time with at least two that look to be changing to mature male breeding plumage.

I put out some lettuce plants last weekend, and some radish and beet seeds. We'll see if the beets get to any size worth picking before the heat kills them. At least the bunny likes the leaves. No sooner had I put in the lettuces than the wind picked up and the temperature plummeted. I'm hoping they didn't take it too badly. They weren't looking great this morning, but perhaps the watering will help.

This weekend, I have some onion sprouts of Vidalia stock to plant. I've never tried them before; we'll see what comes of them.


Dressing to Advantage

Or, why clarification in writing is sooo important:

Our daughter's troop is currently busy with the annual cookie sale. This item was on a list of safety rules included with the sales material:

Wear the...membership pin and/or clothing.

One would certainly hope so.

In a similar vein, the following is an official rule of fencing:

No undressing on the strip.

Because those sword blades on bare skin, y'know...they can really hurt.

Enough preteen humor for one day. Signing off.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Proofread, Proofread, Proofread, and don't get too dependent on that Spellchecker.

As certifiable language geeks, we like to collect Freudian typos, grammatical faux pas, and other examples of anguished English. We feel that these horrid examples perform a service beside mere entertainment by providing memorable examples of common errors and the necessity of good editing. D often uses them in the course of his work to drive home grammatical and semantic points; I keep such internet wisdom as "An Owed to the Spell Checker" and "How to Write More Better" posted in sight of the computer keyboard for the edification of all users. (The jury is still out on the effectiveness of this practice.)

Recently, an example of particularly embarassing dimensions came our way in a message from an institution of higher learning. The message, from which we have excised and paraphrased the following excerpt (both for confidentiality reasons and to protect the guilty) dealt with behavior at sporting events:

It is [inappropriate] to shout epitaphs against the other team.

We envision the student body in chorus:

Here I lie! Food for worms! (B. Franklin)
I would rather be living in Philadelphia! RAH! (W. C. Fields)

Spellcheck has its limitations; it will not save your neck when you use the wrong word (leastwise, not if you spell it correctly!) It is vitally important when writing in an official capacity to reread (and have others review) your work. And for goodness' sake, if something looks or sounds funny, LOOK IT UP! Chances are there's a reason!


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Wow, Fred Thompson was in Die Hard II! I am so gonna vote for him in the primary!"

--Hon. Son #1, reviewing the candidate stats in the newspaper.

Because there is no school for governance like a really badass action flick with lots of car chases and explosions.


Monday, February 04, 2008

Pigskin, Pancakes and Politics

After Super Sunday comes a big fat Super Tuesday. This is the one time when you can in safety vote your conscience, conviction and issues. I would be willing to bet that in November the filter of party will be the deciding factor for most of the electorate. So, if you are in a Super Tuesday state, kick off the Mardi Gras right. Be one of the giants that help our country have the superb manning it needs to come back from any adversity. If anyone says that voting in the primary doesn't matter, 'e lie! If you don't vote, your candidate may be the first down the drain. Pass on this and you run the risk of a penalty. If your concerns are defense, the economy (who wants to get sacked?), respect for life, or respect for marriage, you don't want the debate to come to a bad end. Zone in, block out some time, invest some thought and you're bound to get at least half back in a sense of pride in being a patriot. Aye, hop to it! Consider your power. Sweep up your courage, touch down on your screen or what ever your local voting method is, and pick the best in the field. Goals can be achieved this way. Be you left or right, guard against complacency and center your concentration so that we can tackle the issues in the end. Hold the line now, for you may find that you may have to fly to the computer and post your frustrations at the November line-up. The one extra point you make could be the difference between chains and breaking into the clear! Get out of the yard! Line up at the polls!

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Matters Weighty and Trivial

D pulled this item up on The Smoking Gun this morning:

Mississippi Pols Seek To Ban Fats
New bill would make it illegal for restaurants to serve the obese

FEBRUARY 1--Mississippi legislators this week introduced a bill that would make it illegal for state-licensed restaurants to serve obese patrons. Bill No. 282, a copy of which you'll find below, is the brainchild of three members of the state's House of Representatives, Republicans W. T. Mayhall, Jr. and John Read, and Democrat Bobby Shows. The bill, which is likely dead on arrival, proposes that the state's Department of Health establish weight criteria after consultation with Mississippi's Council on Obesity. It does not detail what penalties an eatery would face if its grub was served to someone with an excessive body mass index.

When a bill like this comes up, my usual reaction is mystification. What possesses an elected official to make himself (herself--but I'm hereafter going with the masculine for simplicity's sake) look absolutely ridiculous with such trivia? And why, for the love of all that is sane and reasonable, do legislators in a state with a considerable body of real woes--high poverty and low education to name just two--choose to pick at something so picayune? That, of course, comes before the irritation that hits when I recall that the nonsense these folks are contemplating constitutes a whopping intrusion into the lives and liberties of the citizenry.

Some years ago here in Geawgia, a state legislator sponsored a bill that would have required all restaurants in the state to serve sweet tea (a concoction already so prevalent that it gives Coca-Cola a pretty good run for its money in any contest for Official State Beverage.) A recent transplant to the state, I promptly made use of internet access to fire off my first ever irate email to my representative, requesting that my tax dollars not be wasted on such boondoggles. I also grumbled privately that no legislator who sponsored such balderdash would ever get my vote again (fortunately for that guy, he isn't my headache.)

But let's look at such matters seriously and not merely with an individualistic curmudgeon's eye. Why not mandate sweet tea or exclusionary restaurant practices? (Lordy, I just had a momentary vision of the lunch counter sit-ins for this one. We don't learn, do we?)

In the case of the sweet tea bill, the reasons why no legislator with any sense (or sense of self-preservation) ought to even consider such a thing should be self-evident:

1. He works for us. We the people expect just what most of us put in--a solid day's work with no shenanigans-- while the legislature is in session. Is it too much to ask that our elected representatives have left behind the Class Clown act in high school or at least at the frat?
2. It constitutes an unneccessary and onerous intrusion into the lives of citizens.
3. It is completely superfluous as most Georgia restauranteurs, knowing well on which side their bread is buttered, provide sweet tea to their customers anyway. (Now, a little subtle encouragement to provide decent unsweetened iced tea for those of us who don't find 30% syrup refreshing would be nice. But I think we the people can handle that matter just fine.)

Now, let us turn to Mississippi's Bill No. 282, if only as an exercise in civics and our own amusement. Obviously (1) and (2) above apply and the vast majority of state legislators there will recognize this and laugh the bill out of session. But as there are apparently those in the government who think this sort of thing a Good Idea, let's go The Handmaid's Tale route with it and imagine the potential fallout of such a bill actually passing.

[I should perhaps interject here that no one would confuse me with Twiggy (think Nicole Richie with panache, kids, if the reference throws you.) Nonetheless, I am all for improving one's health and dropping that spare tire. I'm working on it myself. But let's get real: we tubbies have to eat, too; folks occasionally need a quick bite away from home, and outside dining doesn't have to constitute a full-scale arterial assault.]

Getting back on track, let's imagine this bill passed. As the article points out, penalties for violations are not mentioned in the bill. There's a Handmaid's Tale sitch in the making for sure, but I find it far less entertaining to think about than some of the enforcement ramifications:

A. Restaurant Level
1. By what guidelines do we decide who is too fat to be served? Weight? BMI? The ability to "pinch an inch?"
2. D outweighs me, but I have longer fingers and can probably get a bigger handful of skin. Do I have to wait outside while he gets a pass? Can he slip me some breadsticks with impunity, provided he's paid for them and it's off-premeses?
3. Should we all start carrying our latest BP and cholesterol scores with us to help the restaurant staff in decision making?
4. Whose responsibility is it, actually? The manager's? The cook's? The cashier's?
5. If a crew member is obese, is he DQ'ed for the employee discount?
6. What if the manager's the fat one? Can the crew refuse to feed him? The food service unions may need to open several hotlines to deal with some of these questions.

B. Law Enforcement Level
1. How are the authorities going to keep up with violators? Will they stage sting operations, as with liquor distributors suspected of selling to minors? Will a squadron of overweight undercover agents patrol restaurants, trying to get served? (Ooh--here's an idea: we'll call them the Chubby Checkers. I know of a good embroidery shop if they'd like to have jackets and ball caps.)
2. While I hate to employ an old cliche, might not this law lead to an overall simultaneous decline in the donut industry and police ethics? (Sorry, Big E. I had to go there.)

C. State Legislature Level
1. Shall Subway be excluded from the ban? (We'll call it Jared's Amendment.)
2. Is this contingent on them serving only "7 under 6" items to the overweight? Are all bets off if they capitulate to demands for mayonnaise or double meat?
3. Should they first be required to end the "Family Guy" sponsorship, at least until the artists start drawing the title character a bit thinner?
4. What about that new salad place up the road?

That, in a Brazil nut shell, pretty much sums up why I consider legislation of this sort unduly burdensome and an unneccessary intrusion in our lives, liberties, and pursuit of happiness--or, at least, pursuit of a sandwich when caught downtown at lunchtime. Besides, if the would-be Nannies in the Mississipi legislature had their way, every short-order kitchen within ten miles of the Georgia line would go under as the locals stampeded over in search of the nearest Chick-Fil-A. That would be good for us, but not for them; moreover, I'm afraid that it would ultimately undermine the presumed intent of getting Mississippians to shed those extra pounds.

So lighten up, guys! You're probably better paid than the average Mississipian as it is. Start earning your keep by dealing with the state's problems in a sensible and more importantly Constitutional fashion, and they might just decide to keep you on.