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Lethargic Man (anag.)

Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2015-07-05 09:14
Subject: Album review: Our Routes, by Gypsy Hill
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I was listening to Our Routes by Gypsy Hill a few days ago, and it occurred to me I never blogged about it or them here. (I appreciate that this is a somewhat inappropriate day to discuss music for some of my readers, but it's when I've got around to writing this; you can always read the post now, and investigate the album if you're interested later.)

Gypsy Hill were the support act at the Fanfare Ciocǎrlia concert I went to earlier in the year; but they were one of those rare* occasions where the support act was as good as the main act, and indeed I got myself the CD before the main act had even come on the stage.

* Hah, what do I know what I'm talking about, from the number of times I go to concerts?

Gypsy Hill's setup was like that of the Apples, the Israeli dance band I saw perform at Limmud Fest back in 2008: a drummer, a substantial brass section, and a DJ (in this case, very thin and with long long hair) scratching and sampling on the turntables.

On further investigation, there turned out to be an actual connection: one of the members of the Apples is thanked on the Our Routes sleeve notes, and the album and the Apples' Attention! share a sample (of a man saying "These are the things that you and I have to understand": a little googling suggests this may be from a speech by Malcolm X). (There are a few other spoken-word samples, which one can enjoy oneself identifying: Tom Jones saying "Think I'd better dance now" is from the Art of Noise's cover of Prince's "Kiss".) Also, half of the band members have Israeli (Hebrew or Russian) names, and there's a short Hebrew-language sung intro and outro to an instrumental track.

The style of music is a little different from the Apples, though, being a heady mix of dance vibes and a mishmash from Eastern Europe, as can be seen from the track titles, which include "Căciula Pă Ureche" (Romanian), "Balaka", "Pachupa" and "Evitza" (anybody want to identify these languages?), "Balkan Beast", and "Afrita Hanem" (Egyptian), plus one swing jazz track. The name Gypsy Hill is a bit misleading, though: it turns out to be a suburb of London rather than indicating Romany influence.

The name of "Afrita Hanem" gave me a couple of nice linguistic "ping!" moments when I looked it up on Wikipedia. It transpires the music uses a bass line taken from a 1949 Egyptian film about "a poor singer who falls in love with the somewhat spoiled daughter of his boss. [When] her father won't let the marriage happen due to Asfour's class status, Asfour turns to a genie for help, but the [female] genie falls in love with Asfour instead, and tries to manipulate his desires." When I saw the title was given in English as Little Miss Devil, I realised I actually knew both elements of the name: `Afrita (عفريتة) is the feminine of `ifrit (عفريت), a type of genie you may have come across in the Thousand and One nights or elsewhere; and hanem (هانم‎) as a female honorific I knew from the Los Desterrados song "Buenas Noches, Hanum Dudu".

The only criticism I would really make of this album is that some of the tracks are too short; in particular, the first track seems to end just as it gets going. But if this, Gypsy Hill's first album is this good, I look forward to seeing what heights they will reach in the future.

—Originally posted on Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments. Please comment there using OpenID or a DreamWidth account (which you no longer need an invite code to create). Though I am leaving comments enabled on LiveJournal for a bit, please don't comment here if you can do so there instead.
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Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2015-06-25 12:21
Subject: Stromboli eruption
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Now here's a crazy sight:

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Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2015-06-24 20:32
Subject: Statue
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There should be more statues with the facial expression of this one (set into a gigantic book!) of late Sicilian comedian Giovanni Formisano.

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Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2015-06-21 13:59
Subject: Septuagint Pentateuch compared to Masoretic Text
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After spending the Torah readings in shul the other year following along in a chumash with the Masoretic text down one side of the page, and the Samaritan text along the other, with the differences highlighted in bold, I thought I'd like to do the same this coming year with the Septuagint. (Note for non-Jewish readers: by this, I refer to the original translation of the Five Books of Moses described in the Letter of Aristeas, not the later extension of the term to cover the translation of the complete Bible.)

Of course, it would have to be in translation, as the Hebrew recension from which the Septuagint was translated has long been lost (though the Dead Sea Scrolls attest to bits of it), but you'd have thought scholars would have produced such a volume as a useful tool centuries ago. However, after some time googling, I've been unable to find a side-by-side comparison of this kind.

The best I've come up with is this, but I'm not entirely sure that's what I'm after, and it's just for the Book of Genesis. Do any of you reading this know of a book which offers what I'm looking for?

—Originally posted on Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments. Please comment there using OpenID or a DreamWidth account (which you no longer need an invite code to create). Though I am leaving comments enabled on LiveJournal for a bit, please don't comment here if you can do so there instead.
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Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2015-06-18 12:48
Subject: Where to buy MP3s from legally aside from Amazon?
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In common, I suspect, with some of you, I've been boycotting Amazon, where possible, for some while, until they improve the appalling ways they treat their workers. Yes, Amazon is very convenient, and frequently very cheap, but that cheapness comes at a moral price I am unwilling to pay any more.

However, nowhere else seems to have a tail just as long as Amazon's, and in particular I'm struggling to find an alternative outlet to purchase obscure music track-by-track legally and cheaply. I can google online MP3 shops, but given the history of MP3 piracy, I'm unwilling to take any random outlet I've never heard of as legal. So, MP3 generation, where do you go to buy your music when you're not going to Amazon?

—Originally posted on Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments. Please comment there using OpenID or a DreamWidth account (which you no longer need an invite code to create). Though I am leaving comments enabled on LiveJournal for a bit, please don't comment here if you can do so there instead.
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Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2015-06-18 12:31
Subject: The largest city in the world had been throughout history
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After discovering last week that Syracuse was once the largest city in the world, I thought I'd make a map showing where the largest city in the world had been throughout history, but, not really surprisingly when you think about it, someone else has beaten me to it, so here's one I didn't make earlier.

—Originally posted on Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments. Please comment there using OpenID or a DreamWidth account (which you no longer need an invite code to create). Though I am leaving comments enabled on LiveJournal for a bit, please don't comment here if you can do so there instead.
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Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2015-06-17 13:18
Subject: Mediterranean drivers—Malta, Sicily, Israel—and the driver's prayer in סִדּוּר וַאֲנִי תְּפִלָּתִי
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Why are bike racks not everywhere like this one I saw in Valletta?

[bike rack in the shape of a bicycle]

I was a bit disturbed to read somewhere recently the one-liner that in Malta people drive on the shady side of the road—disturbed because I heard the same thing twenty years ago on Usenet. To my relief, it turned out not to be the case at all.

I was more trepidatious about getting behind the wheel of a car in Italy for the first time. To my further relief, however, most of the stereotypes about drivers in Italy are not true, or maybe not true any longer, at least in Sicily. The state of road signs in the country, however, is truly appalling; frequently we would be following signs to somewhere only for the sign to be missing completely at a critical junction or two in the middle of the route. Or alternatively, there would be so many signs (many for hotels) it would be impossible to pick out the information you needed in the time available; and the signs were frequently so small you could not read them in a speeding car until you were virtually on top of them.

But generally, driving in Sicily was a less disconcerting experience than driving in Israel, though it shared some characteristics with it, such as drivers assuming that if you were leaving a safe two second distance from the car in front, it was an open invitation to them to fill it. Italian drivers, however, did not, for example, pressure you from mere inches behind to go faster on unfamiliar roads twisting down the side of mountains with hairpin bends. And nothing could compare to the driving I saw by Israeli Arabs in Nazareth,* with the likes of motor scooters cutting sideways across slowly moving traffic then straight over the central reservation to finish with a rear-wheel skid into a space scarcely longer than the scooter's own length directly in front of me.

* Except non-Israeli Arabs; I don't think I've ever come potentially closer to death than when the jeep I was being driven in in the Sinai overtook another one at 50mph on the wrong side of the road on a blind corner on a road with five-foot ditches either side; if something had come in the opposite direction at that point, that would have been the end of us!

Which is why I was amused, last November, to see a prayer for drivers in וַאֲנִי תְּפִלָּתִי, the new Masorti siddur in Israel, which features "special prayers for uniquely Israeli moments". It began like תְּפִילַּת הַדֶּרֶךְ, the traveller's prayer, and shared some wording with it, but then went on with wording like (accuracy not guaranteed: I'm paraphrasing from memory after six months):

God, help me to be a good driver, and to keep my distance.

which is indeed an intention that Israelis need reminding of; but then went on:

Help me to remember that all other drivers are created in Your image, and that nothing justifies endangering them: neither time, nor money, nor honour, nor revenge.

As you can imagine, my mouth was hanging open by the time I reached the end of this; I've never seen anything like it in a siddur anywhere else before or since.

—Originally posted on Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments. Please comment there using OpenID or a DreamWidth account (which you no longer need an invite code to create). Though I am leaving comments enabled on LiveJournal for a bit, please don't comment here if you can do so there instead.
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Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2015-05-22 10:12
Subject: TV you can hang on the wall using magnets
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Finally, the sort of TV SF writers of the last century were so fond of, is on the way: something so thin you can hang it on the wall using magnets. (Well, I suppose that's just the display; once you've included the tuner and PSU and logic circuitry and hard disk solid-state media for recording programmes, it won't be quite so thin... yet.) —Originally posted on Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments. Please comment there using OpenID or a DreamWidth account (which you no longer need an invite code to create). Though I am leaving comments enabled on LiveJournal for a bit, please don't comment here if you can do so there instead.
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Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2015-04-26 12:48
Subject: What filled the gap between the Bible and the Mishna?
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Tags:cool, limmud

When I was growing up, the impression I got is that there was a huge gap in ancient Jewish literature between the last books of the Bible, closing shortly after Cyrus the Great let the Jews return to their homeland in 538 BCE, and the Mishna, the first written formulation of the Oral Torah, written at the start of the third century CE.

This is unfortunate, because the rabbinic Judaism of the Mishna is very different to the ancient Israelite religion depicted in the Bible, and because of a taboo against writing down the Oral Law, there's very little to see how we got from the one to t'other. The Talmud paints a picture that "we've always done things this way", but, as [personal profile] liv first pointed out to me a dozen years and more ago, this is Pharisaic propaganda. The Pharisees radically reformed Judaism, recentring it from the Temple to the synagogue and home, to enable it to survive the destruction of the Temple, but, because they lived in a society that rejected innovation in religion, they had to make out everything new they came up with to have gone back to the year dot, even where the Bible clearly disagrees with it.

But it's not actually true that the literary record between the close of the Bible and the Mishna is as empty as one might think. There's a whole bunch of documents that were written during this period, which the Jews largely went to forget about; we call them the Apocrypha, and the Pseudepigrapha (and the writings of Philo of Alexandria and Josephus, and *ahem* the Gospels). None of these give us an in-depth examination of the development of the Oral Law or the embryogenesis of Pharisaic Judaism, but there are some clues if you look for them.

For example, one of the two main prayers in the Jewish liturgy is the `Amida. The Talmud gives a variety of contradicting accounts of how this prayer originated, over the course of hundreds if not thousands of years. However, if you want hard evidence, look to the Wisdom of Ben Sira, which contains a sequence of prayers following the same themes as the central prayers of the weekday `Amida (though the words are completely different).

A second example: The Bible is clear that מְלָאכָה "work" is forbidden on the Sabbath, but does not give more than a few hints as to what this includes: collecting things in (Ex. 16:26, Numbers 15:32) or transporting them into (Jer. 17:19ff) the public domain, conducting business (Amos 8:5, Neh. 10:31, 13:15. The Talmud uses hermeneutics to derive, from the fact that the order to keep the Sabbath is given immediately in the Torah after the instructions on how to build the Mishkān (Tabernacle), that the activities prohibited on the Sabbath are those that went into the construction of the Mishkān. However, this smacks of post-facto justification to me. If you look in the Book of Jubilees, however, written three and a half centuries before the Mishna, the last chapter gives a list of activities prohibited on the Sabbath. With the exception of sexual intercourse (which probably reflects the mores of the all-male monastic Qumran community), the list pretty much reflects modern Jewish practice, but does not correlate at all with the 39 categories derived by the Talmud.

So, returning to the main subject, I became intrigued to know what exactly there are written in the late- and post-Biblical periods, and when it was written, and here's what I found out:

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Titles in green are ones I have read, those in red ones I would like to try and get to read some time; those in orange ones I have read but no longer remember anything of. :-( The collection of works is not a comprehensive list of everything written during this period.

The dates here are not systematic: some date ranges indicate uncertainty as to when the book was written, others that it was written over a period. The dates come, where possible, from books on my shelf, and where not, from Wikipedia.

A few of the dates need a little explanation: Ecclesiastes (קֹהֶלֶת), Wikipedia says, has two different sets of dates proposed for it depending on whether it has Greek influence, about which there is no agreement. And though the primary text of 2 Enoch dates to the first century, this text was tweaked to add Christian and Gnostic references any time up to the seventh century.

Lastly, the impression I get is that the Book of Daniel represents the gathering of a series of stories about its eponymous hero written over the course of centuries. Daniel 10 and 11 describe, as a prophesy and with almost all names removed, the political history of the Greek period of occupation of the Land of Israel, breaking off in the middle of the Hasmonean revolt, from which it is deduced that this is when this part of the book was written. But Ezekiel, writing centuries earlier, and a contemporary of the biblical Daniel (if he existed) makes reference twice to Daniel (or Dan'el: the word is written without the י) as a famously wise man, which I take as evidence for the Daniel stories starting in this own time.

Returning to the original point, the upshot is that the period between the close of the Bible and the Mishna is anything but devoid of Jewish literary representation. This confirms my suspicions, but I did have a few surprises in what I have learned from this little project, which can I suppose be summed up as surprise at how short the period between the close of the Bible and earliest of the works in the Dead Sea Scrolls actually was.

I had thought, a little while ago, that the chronology was: the history in Chronicles ends with the return of the Jews to the Land of Israel, and the last of the prophets wrote within a generation of this; then followed Ezra and Nehemiah, about sixty years after the return. Then I discovered that, though the history in Chronicles only goes up to the return (the end of the book quoting the opening of Ezra), the genealogy of the House of David is given for a further six generations, into the fourth century, so I thought the book must have been edited to add this after the rest of it was written.

But now I discover what's actually the case is that Malachi was writing a full century after the first return from the Babylonian exile; and Ezra and Nehemiah weren't written (according to Wikipedia and the Hertz Chumash—though I'd like to get another look at the Soncino Daniel-Ezra-Nehemiah, which gives different dates IIRC) until after the last generation mentioned in Chronicles (though the men themselves lived a little beforehand).

—Originally posted on Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments. Please comment there using OpenID or a DreamWidth account (which you no longer need an invite code to create). Though I am leaving comments enabled on LiveJournal for a bit, please don't comment here if you can do so there instead.
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Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2015-04-22 13:50
Subject: (no subject)
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I thought it would be fun to take some timelapse photography of my cheeseplant as its latest leaf emerged from its bud and unrolled. Unfortunately, the results aren't as slick as I would have liked, due to (a) the fact the cheeseplant would get moved by my opening and shutting the curtains every day, and me then pulling the leaves up above the windowsill, (b) snapping photos once a day being an insufficiently high frame rate, and (c) the most dramatic changes happening when I could not take photos due to either being in Berlin, or it being Pesach; but you get the idea.

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