Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Rubinstein, Romaine, Ravel

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Sirin

I've always loved the Aria of the Indian Guest from Rimsky-Korsakov's Sadko. However, I've never been able to figure out what the heck he is singing, because at such a slow tempo where every syllable is drawn out and melts into the next, it is really almost impossible without knowing what the context is. After the first couple of lines, I was lost. And for the life of me I could not find a libretto either on line or in print.

I pretty much gave up on this quest until last week when I stumbled across a a famous tenor RECITING the words carefully on YouTube:

Here they are (in my translation)

You cannot count the diamonds in the rocky caves,
You cannot count the pearls in the midday sea,
in faraway India of wonders.

There is in the warm sea a wonderous ruby rock.
Upon this rock sits the Phoenix, a bird with the face of a maiden.
Sweetly singing songs of paradise,
Spreading out its plumage,
Blotting out the sea.
He who hears its song
WIll forget everything.

You cannot count the diamonds in the rocky caves,
You cannot count the pearls in the midday sea,
in faraway India of wonders.

I have no clue what the midday sea is, and will probably never find out, but the rest of the words are fascinating. Despite the name, the song is not talking about the Phoenix, but another bird of Slavic mythology, the Sirin. The Sirin, whose name probably came from the Greek Sirens, is a very interesting bird. Its song is both a blessing and a curse - forgetting your life is a terrible, yet in some ways tempting, proposition. The notion of escaping the world being true happiness - a concept usually associated with Eastern religions, but in some ways also the driving force of the Christian monastic movements.

Anyway, I certainly get this Zen-like feeling watching this scene from the movie version of Sadko, or "The Magic Voyage of Sinbad" as it was called when released in the West.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Ballad about Struggle

Can't make up my mind of it is trite or deep. Also, tried translating, but poetry is almost impossible... read Nabokov to find out why :(

Among the melting candles and evening prayers
Among the war trophies and peacetime bonfires
Lived bookish children, who didn't know battles
Tortured by their minor catastrophies.

Children always resent
Their age and their life,-
And we fought till we drew blood,
Until mortal insults.
But our clothes were patched up
By our mothers just in time,
Meanwhile we swallowed up books,
Getting drunk on their words.

Our hair stuck to our sweaty foreheads,
And we were sweetly nauseous from the phrases,
And our heads were spinning from the scent of battle,
That was coming off the yellowed pages.

And we tried to grasp
We, who didn't know wars,
Who mistook howling for
A battle cry,
The mystery of the word "order",
The designation of borders,
The point of an attack and the clash
Of battle chariots.

And in the boiling pots of previous battles and troubles
How much food for out little brains!
To the roles of traitors, cowards, Judas'
In our childish games we assigned our enemies.

And the trail of the evildoer
We would not let get cold,
And the most beautiful ladies
We promised to love,
And calming our friends
And loving those close,
We would put ourselves
In the role of the hero.

But one can't escape into dreams forever:
Playtime is short - how much pain is around!
Try to pry open the hands of the dead
And accept the weapons from their calloused hands.

Experience, possessing
A still warm sword
And putting on armor
What it's all about, what it's all about!
Figure out who you are - a coward
Or one chosen by fate,
And try a taste of real battle.

And when next to you a wounded friend collapses,
And you'll howl, mourning, over your first loss,
And when suddenly you'll be left skinless
Because, they killed him - not you,-

You'll understand that you've recognized,
Discerned, sought out
By the scowl of the visor:
This is death's scowl!
Falsehood and evil - look,
How crude their faces are!
And always behind them -
Crows and coffins.

If you've never eaten
Meat from a knife,
If folding your arms,
You observed from above,
If you've never entered battle
With a scoundrel, an executioner,
Then in life you were
Irrelevant, irrelevant!

If, clearing a path with your father's sword,
You saved the experience of your salty tears,
If in hot battle you've learned what is what,
Then you read the right books when you were young!

Vladimir Vyssotsky (1975)

Friday, June 15, 2007

Sui Caedere

Not until recently, killing oneself either in avoidance or as a consequence of disgrace was considered the honorable thing to do. Now, it is considered as sign of mental illness, and constitutes a medical emergency. Why? Although it is the case that mentally ill people may pathologically wish to kill themselves, how is the converse of this true? Why does wanting to kill yourself a sign of mental illness?

Personally, I cannot imagine any kind of condition in my life where I would feel dishonored or ashamed enough to kill myself. Is this healthy, or do I just have no backbone?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Last week discovered a pair of rabbits copulating outside the kitchen window. Did not realize the incredible efficiency of the act - perhaps 10 seconds!

A question for the halachic minds out there - is it against halacha to post nude pictures of oneself on the Internet if the pictures are completely anonymous? No - there are no anonymous nude pictures of me on the Internet, it is a purely hypothetical question!

David Ben-Gurion once said - ''Were I to know that all German Jewish children could be rescued by transferring them to England and only half by transfer to Palestine, I would opt for the latter, because our concern is not only the personal interest of these children, but the historic interest of the Jewish people.'' This quote really bothers me, especially in the context of many other behaviors of Jews before, during, and after the Holocaust. Idealogues really bother me. There are several blogs right now that are discussing the whitewashing of personalities in Artscroll books. When will we talk about the whitewashing of Zionist leaders?

Monday, June 11, 2007

How I met my wife

Monday, June 04, 2007

Skeptics and Believers

There are certain blogs out there which always contrast religious believers with what they call 'skeptics'. Inevitably, skeptics are equated with atheists, and furthermore proponents of 'Science' and 'Reason' as the opposite of religion.

Why someone cannot be skeptical of certain claims of religion without necessarily being in one of the camps is beyond me. When analyzing a 'concept' such as a particular religion, (and it is important to look at particular religions because they cannot be lumped together), why does one need to provide a better alternative? One should be able to analyze it on it's own merit. That's like having a mathematical proof be overturned because the man who proved it turned out to be gay.

Next, about Science - the scientific method, with hypotheses and tests and controls and statistics, had only been practiced for at most a couple of hundred years. Prior to this time, there were what I would call pre-scientific discoveries in the areas of chemistry, physics, biology, upon which modern science rests. Furthermore, the symbiotic relationship between science and mathematics, as well as these disciplines and computational devices has only been established in the last fifty years. Already the rate of progress is astonishing. I am not predicting anything sensational, but if I were to compare religious thought and scientific thought, (as appley and orangey as they are) I would say that let the scientists have their 2000 years and let's see what they discover.

Finally, about Reason. Reason is abstract. It is a formalization of thought. Furthermore it is a refinement of thought. And lastly it is a gradient, not a scalar. What I mean by this, is that reasoning is not unique to humans. To some extent, many higher mammals reason - i.e. they are conscious of the world around them, of themselves, and they use facts about the world to be able to predict behaviors, and to use this to their benefit. In this way they are creating a mental model of reality. Man, due to whatever circumstances has been able to advance this to another level, due to perhaps language, perhaps genetic variation in the size of the cerebrum - really not important what specifically.

What is important to realize is that it is OK to not always be bound by Reason. Man, in general behaves reasonably, but He is not Mr. Spock or a computer. And that is OK. However, showing a counterexample where a person does something that doesn't follow Reason doesn't disprove the utility of Reason. It is not an all-or-nothing proposition!