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The Battle of the Thames, 2016

Thursday, June 16th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — in homage to Admiral Lord Nelson turning a blind eye ]
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Foolish persons, having no understanding of Britain’s long and cherished history of naval warfare, nor of the contemporary relevance of the Monty Python mode of doing battle, have had the temerity to mock today’s splendid outings or innings on the Thames:

Brexit Battle on Thames

Foolish persons may be satisfied with the visual splendor depicted in the upper panel, but Zenpundit‘s core strategic following will also appreciate the order of battle below.

Sources:

  • Evening Standard, Thames flotilla ‘battle’
  • Pádraig Belton, #Flotilla order of battle…
  • **

    In game theoretic terms, as between Nigel Farrage of UKIP and Brussels bureaucracy, I perceive my British fellows to be facing a lose-lose choice.

    Here by way of a suitable corrective is the first suite of Handel’s Water Music:

    Sunday surprise: two small items for your contemplation

    Monday, June 13th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — the heart speaks for itself; the recusant pyx to truth of a higher order ]
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    Two for your contemplation

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    It’s the second of these that really takes my breath away.

    Recusants were the British subjects who remained Catholic in faith and practice at a time when the newfangled Protestantism made that behavior a heinous offence, punishable at times by death.

    It has been the life and martyrdom of the Jesuit scholar and priest Edmund Campion in Elizabeth‘s reign and under her increasingly repressive laws — as Evelyn Waugh describes him in his book of that name — which engraved in me the heroic role of the recusants, and among them of their “massing priests” and the sacrament they brought to their faithful recusant remnant.

    Michael Robinson notes in Newman’s Quest for the One True Church writes:

    The Catholic majority did not submissively acquiesce to Elizabeth’s scheme. Much has been written of the fate of the priests, educated and ordained abroad, who were accused of treason, tortured, then hung, drawn and quartered; but as the Catholic Church went underground the laity also began to take enormous risks. Catholic gentry opened their stately homes up to the missionary priests. Escape routes were devised, with the diminutive Jesuit layman St. Nicholas Owen leading the way in ingenious acts of carpentry. He created hiding-holes for priests, their vestments and other liturgical items, that were so effective that centuries passed before some of them were discovered. In 1620 he died in the Tower of London under torture, taking his secrets with him.

    Campion himself gets to the heart of the recusant matter, though, in the first salvo of his celebrated Brag — addressed before his capture to those who might capture him, the “Right Honourable, the Lords of Her Majestie’s Privy Council”:

    I confesse that I am (albeit unworthie) a priest of ye Catholike Church, and through ye great mercie of God vowed now these viii years into the Religion of the Societie of Jhesus. Hereby I have taken upon me a special kind of warfare under the banner of obedience, and eke resigned all my interest or possibilitie of wealth, honour, pleasure, and other worldlie felicitie.

    Waugh emphasizes, in turn, the significance of a priest as one who says Mass, ie whose sacramental act “in the person of Christ” continues the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, turning the very bread and wine of the offering into the body and blood of Christ, while they retain their outward and physical form, following the words of Christ at the Last Supper:Take, eat; this is My body and Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood.

    It was this transformation, this transubstantiation of bread into the very body, wine into the very blood of Christ, which so frightened and infuriated the Protestants. As Waugh notes:

    Whatever the sectional differences between the various Anglican groups, they were united in their resolve to stamp out this vital practice of the old religion. They struck hard at all the ancient habits of spiritual life — the rosary, devotion to Our Lady and the Saints, pilgrimages, religious art, fasting, confession, penance and the great succession of traditional holidays — but the Mass was recognized as being both the distinguishing sign and main sustenance of their opponents

    To be a priest, a Jesuit, and above all the great scholar Edmund Campion SJ, was to court death for treason. But the priest’s duty was to bring that sustenance, the blessed sacrament, to the faithful — and when they could not attend Mass, it could be carried to them in just such a silver box on a string as is illustrated above. This pyx, as it was called, would have carried the body of Christ to the needy, hidden on a chain under the shirt, and on pain of most painful and drawn out death.

    It is for this reason that the recusant pyx, beautiful as it may be, means so much to me, and I hope to have conveyed something of that sense to you also: seldom if ever has a container carried a freight so exalted in service to a people so spiritually hungry, under so grave a threat.

    **

    But to relax a little…

    The situation was fraught, and increasingly so, for those who remained loyal Catholics — and yet just as there were pockets of recusants still faithful to the old ways, there were pockets of allowance made for them in certain circumstances. Waugh puts it nicely:

    In many places the priest would say Mass in his own house for the Catholics before proceeding to read Morning Prayer in the parish church; occasionally, it is said, he would even bring consecrated wafers and communicate his Catholic parishioners at thesame time as he distributed to the Protestants the bread blessed according to the new rite.

    Thus also Queen Elizabeth I herself favored the composer William Byrd enough that he was able to compose not only works suited to the Protestants (Anglicans) such as his four Services, but also Masses for specifically Catholic use, in three, four, and five voices.

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    Byrd for Her Protestant Majesty, Queen Elizabeth:


    The Nunc dimittis (Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace) from the Great Service

    Byrd the faithful Catholic, for his fellow recusants:


    The Agnus Dei from the Mass for five voices, Westminster Cathedral, Pope Benedict XVI celebrating

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    Sources:

  • Norfolk Heritage Explorer, June – Broken Heart
  • Annie Thwaite, Revelation and Concealment: Flipping the pyx
  • Given my propensity for seeing conflicts in sectarian terms

    Sunday, June 12th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — delicious irony in the twitter stream as a teaching tool re middle east ]
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    Given my propensity for seeing conflicts in sectarian terms, it’s a breath of fresh air / splash of wet water for me to read Hayder al-Khoei, scion of the eminent al-Khoei family and Chatham House Fellow, tweeting on the subject of the English football hooliganism in Marseille over the last three days, which has included both bottle-throwing against French riot police and a running battle with a pack of Russian supporters brandishing knives:

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    Al-Khoei‘s observations offer us a brilliant parody of the way western analysts, myself included, all too often write about events in the Middle East, and I admire his skill in delivering his reproof — but it’s also worth remarking that England as I understand it seems less and less interested in attendance at its established Protestant church, while France is notable for it’s official laïcité. Indeed, of the three nations involved in this circus, only the Russians appear to be experiencing quite a resurgence of Orthodoxy, coming after decades of official atheism.

    Enfin:

    The England v Russia match was a 1-1 draw. Game theorists would presumably call the event a zero-sum game, since the two sides do seem to have cancelled each other out — but in the larger context of sectarian rivalry, the entire three days have surely been lose-lose, while al-Khoei‘s wit is a win for us all.

    The Cat and the Database

    Saturday, May 28th, 2016

    [ By Charles Cameron — of knotted cords, corporal punishment and external memory ]
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    Tablet DQ 600 quipu cat-o'nine-tails 75

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    I have long toyed with the idea of the Quipu as a variant HipBone game-board, as exemplified here:

    QuipuBoard

    I hadn’t until now considered the cat-o’-nine-tails in the same light.

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    This particular ramble began when I saw this tweet:

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    Reading that tweet set me wondering, not for the first time, what punishments were like in the Royal Navy, say 150 or 200 years ago — not so very many generations in the grand torrent of time.

    I hail from a Royal Naval family, and hadn’t until today realized quite how recently fierce corporal punishment had been a part of RN training. This image shows the punishment known as Twelve Cuts administered on HMS Ganges, as recalled from his own early years by the singer Jimmy Lee of the Edge of Chaos Orchestra:

    Corporal Punishment Jimmy Lee HMS Ganges

    A few pertinent details:

    Before receiving his punishment, the young man would be given a medical inspection (“the boy’s buttocks are examined and his general physical condition observed” — Admiralty, 1950). He was then marched to the ship’s tailor to be fitted into a pair of extra-thin tropical-weight white cotton duck trousers, with — at least on HMS Ganges — no underwear allowed. (The Admiralty wrote in 1950 that the latter provision “allows the strokes of the cane to be as painful as need be”. They seem not to have been following their own rules, because the King’s Regulations in 1943 had amended the wording to “Caning on the breech, duck trousers with pants being worn”, but perhaps this was intended to apply only to seagoing ships and not the training ships.)

    Perhaps some idea of the fruits of such training can be found in this impressive video of Ganges

    :

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    That image of the “cuts” brings back sore memories.. though my own treatment was far more lenient.

    In my own youth, I was caned as early as age 6 and as late as age 17, the latter beating administered with sincere expressions of regret by my housemaster, the great archaeologist of the Assassins’ castles, Maj. Peter Willey. I’d admitted to doing the (London) Times crossword puzzle in the time allotted for my maths homework, and school regulations left him with no option — I had no option, either.

    Six with a bamboo cane was the worst I suffered, so I can barely imagine what twelve cuts, let alone a hundred lashes with a cat-o’-nine-tails, would be like.

    Discipline, lad: chin up.

    **

    Image sources:

  • Wikimedia, Cat-o’-nine-tails
  • Wikimedia, Quipu
  • I’m no historian, so cannot vouch for the quality of these materials — but my readings today included:

  • Roger Davies, Stringing together a database
  • C. Farrell, Corporal punishment in the Royal Navy
  • Edge of Chaos Orchestra, Jimmy Lee bio
  • Jimmy Lee – The Runaway, Naval Punishment
  • EyeWitness to History, A Flogging at Sea, 1839
  • That Bach Chaconne

    Sunday, May 8th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — JS Bach in Palmyra, in the DC Metro, and variously on YouTube ]
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    I have to applaud Putin and the Russians for bringing the full orchestra of the Mariinsky Theater from St Petersburg to Palmyra now that the Islamic State has departed, with added kudos for choosing Bach‘s towering Chaconne from his Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004 as one of three works to be played there — by the Tchaikovsky Competition winning soloist Pavel Milyukov:

    As I say, I applaud the gesture. OTOH, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, according to Breitbart, called the event “a tasteless attempt to distract attention from the continued suffering of millions of Syrians” and said it “shows that there are no depths to which the regime will not sink.”

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    This may not be the greatest performance of that work musically, but the work itself is extraordinary. Johannes Brahms said of it:

    On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.

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    It was famously this Chaconne that violinist Joshua Bell played — twice — with his violin case open to receive tips, in DC’s L’Enfant Plaza metro station, during a 45 minute anonymous session in which he netted $32. $32 and change, for a man whose upcoming performance with the National Symphony Orchestra at DC’s Kennedy Center (February 11, 2017) is ticketed at $216 or $223, depending on how well seated you wish to be…

    Here’s the poorly recorded, hidden videocam account of the second of those performances, which starts at about the 30’15” mark:

    Gene Weingarten‘s description of the event in the Washington Post, Pearls Before Breakfast, won the Pulitzer..

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    For the fullest musical appreciation, here is that same Joshua Bell playing the Chaconne in 2014 in the DeLaMar Theater, Amsterdam:

    Hillary Hahn, also superb:

    The no less beautiful Hélène Grimaud, playing the Busoni transcription for piano:

    And last, violinist Christoph Poppen plays the Chaconne, with added chorale motifs as reconstructed by violinist turned musicologist Helga Thoene sung by the Hilliard Ensemble — the culmination of the group’s celebrated album, Morimur:

    Post-modern adaptation, or quintessential Bach? Either way, I find the entire project enthralling.


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