6 May 2016

Universities: where reason, logic, common sense and accountability go to cough up blood.

Last night I found myself talking about work to a few friends. I don't often dicuss work. When I do tell a story, I find I am frequently interrupting the story with the words "...and I'm not making this up..."

Case in point: my workplace's official standard of cleanliness. Some years back, the administration commissioned grounds and cleaning staff to conduct a feasibility study on what it would cost... to clean this place. Grounds examined the matter, crunched some numbers, and gave a report. The report listed various levels of cleanliness, and they gave each level a name and a cost. The levels were, as I recall, in descending order: "Pristine" ,"Very Clean", "Clean", I don't know, "Cleanish", I guess. the report was submitted to the administration. They went down the list, saying: "No, no, no. no, no, no," flipped the page "No, no, no....there. That's the one."

And thus the matter was settled, and our official standard of cleanliness is called- and I'm not making this up- "Moderately Dingy".

You read that correctly.

Even better. Moderately dingy is an average. Some places- mainly those used by the administration are pristine. Others, like my area, are almost totally neglected. The level of cleaniliness in my area is somewhere around "Absolutely Disgustin'" and "Well, Those Guys Are Probably Going To Die From Exposure To The Crud Down There Already, So Why Bother?"

5 May 2016

And down the rabbit hole we go

Today the Canadian Parliament will almost certainly vote in the euthanasia bill. The justification for this bill lies solely on an appeal to feelings and emotions, without a shred of reason and logic. Sympathy and fear. So let's talk with sympathy and fear. The bill itself bears some resemblance to the old abortion law that was struck down as unconstitutional, which means that at some future date this law may be struck down, and euthanasia would then be unregulated and unrestricted.

It was also in the news recently that in Belgium and others nations that have similarly adopted euthanasia approximately 30% of those euthanized have given no permission- or, to use the technically accurate term, they are murdered. But no charges are laid. They were simply ending a life unworthy of life, I suppose.

We live in a nation with socialized medicine, with an unsustainably huge deficit, with an even bigger deficit thanks to our new, feckless Prime Minister. They will inevitably be looking for ways to trim the bottom line and avoid expensive treatments, and Parliament is putting death on the table as an option.

Some of us believe in truth, and reason, and logic. Prime Minister Trudeau believes it's 2016. Last year he believed it was 2015. Next year he will believe it's 2017. He is no leader. He is a weather vane, pointing the direction of every ill wind that blows.

3 May 2016

While I'm on the subject of singing

As I mentioned in the post below, I usually go out of the hymnal when picking communion hymns.  Last night, when setting out the hymns for the coming weeks, the director and  suggested that I do a piece we have been working on sporadically for a while: Frank's Panis Angelicus.  You know, the famous one. The really, really famous one.  The one so famous most people are unaware there are other settings for the words.

On the one hand, I have always wanted to sing this piece.  On the other hand, there is no upside to singing this piece.  It has been done  over and over, and there are many, many recordings of it performed by the finest singers the word has to offer.  I cannot imagine coming off well in comparison.

Oh well.  Once again, here goes nothing.

I gotta be more careful about picking Sundays for singing.

I met with the organist last night to practice and set the music for the next four Sundays.  We found acceptable appropriate hymns for the first three Sundays, and then opened the hymnal to see what we had for the fourth, which, as it turns out, is Corpus Christi.

It was horrible.  I had somehow forgotten just how bad the communion hymns are in CBWIII, perhaps because I always pick communion hymns from outside that book.  But here I was, stuck with trying to find some music for communal singing out of that dreadful book.  I would have liked to have just given out some handouts for the day, but we were already doing that for Trinity Sunday (Holy Holy Holy- for some unfathomable reason it was excluded from CBW III) and we can't push it.  I am faced with the realization that Gift of Finest Wheat may be the best the book has to offer.

In all sincerity, the only good thing I can say about CBWIII is that it is slightly better than some other hymnals out there, although their names escape me, and it will most likely be much better than whatever the bishops create to replace it. True story: about a year ago the bishops sent out a survey to people involved in parish music programs, asking what they would like to see in a new hymnal. My response was, in short: "No need for a new hymnal: the old one is bad enough."  My wife's tart response could be summed up as "How about this time not having it edited by a gay paedophile?"

27 April 2016

Will... to live... fading...

First I heard that some intellectual colossus had optioned the movie rights for Three's Company.  Now I find out that this movie is real and is in production.

To have an idea of what they are making, here is the real Florence Foster Jenkins, First Lady of The Sliding Scale, singing Mozart like you have never heard before, and will probably wish you hadn't heard at all.

25 April 2016


Yesterday, Younger was Confirmed.  Please remember her in your prayers.


May I be forgiven for the times I have failed in this.

Colossians 4:6
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one.

2 Timothy 2:25-26
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to every one, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Titus 3:2
to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all men.

Hebrews 5:2
He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.

James 3:17
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity.

1 Peter 3:15
but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence;

22 April 2016

The best Hamlet.

Continuing with Shakespeare, here is my favourite performance. Branagh, Olivier, Jacobi are mere hacks compared to the power and pathos of this performance.

Tomorrow is the 400th Anniversary of the Death of William Shakespeare.

I won't be around much tomorrow, as I'll be taking my mom out for a drive around here and there, so I thought I would spend today reposting a few things I have written about our greatest poet over the years.  First, I'll answer one of the two questions I was asked most often back when I taught Shakespeare at University: Did Shakespeare write Shakespeare?

The short answer is 'yes'. The long answer is a little bit more complicated.  Here is the answer I wrote a few years back.

One of the guys with whom I work is a rather intelligent man- I believe he was a teacher in his homeland- who is, I am sorry say, also a very lazy man intellectually. His problem, in so far as I see it, is that he considers himself to be very smart with a piercing, critical intellect. Therefore he seeks out the works of others whom he considers to be piercing critical intellects, and makes their opinions his own. (The irony of reading critical works uncritically has never dawned on him, although it has struck me many times over. It is rather like those who unquestioningly accept the authority of the bumper sticker slogan "Question Authority") Even worse, being a lazy man, he does not read their entire books to gain insight into the depth of the author's knowledge and the nuance of their thinking. Instead he reads synopses of books, often taking the book reviewers opinion uncritically (thus reading a critical interpretation of a critical viewpoint/interpretation uncritically, doubling the irony) and then decides that this is the absolute truth on a given subject.

A case in point, last Friday he read a review of a book, written in German, which examines yet again the question of whether or not Shakespeare, the man from Stratford, wrote Shakespeare, the greatest plays ever. The author of the German book reaches a single conclusion which my co-worker regarded as definitive: No, Shakespeare did not write Shakespeare. Case closed. For myself, I do not much care, what he reads or believes, except he then spent much of the remainder of the day trying to convince me of his new position. To make a long story short, he said nothing I had not heard before, and I remained unconvinced. By the same token, I could say nothing to him that could shake his new found conviction.

Still, he got me thinking again about my old studies and my old degrees, colossal waste of time that they were. I asked myself the question, if we did not know the author of the play, how could we go about finding the identity of this body of work? Modern methods give us several options- diction, stylistics, and so on. For example, according to an analysis of, shall we say 'Shakespeare' for the moment, referring only to the plays, not the author?, we find he bears a resemblance to the work of one Fulke-Greville, a poet who is a near contemporary of the plays. There is, however, a small problem: Fulke-Greville published his own work, and it is second rate to the end. Why would a man write his greatest works under the name of another, and then publish his worst under his own name? Keep in mind, this was a time when writers and nobles alike were obsessed with the idea of immortal fame. Doing this, he would be giving himself an immortality along the lines of that of Herostratos: near infamy, not fame.

There are those who believe that the plays were actually written as part of a co-operative effort, as part of a group of writers who presented the work under the name of 'Shakespeare'. There is some evidence to this point. For instance, the last few plays, as they are currently dated, show signs of parts being written by Beaumont and Fletcher, as well as parts being written by someone else. Beaumont and Fletcher are known to have taken over writing plays for the King's Men, taking over right around the time that Bill Shakespeare retired from London and returned home to Stratford. Let us treat that as a mere coincidence for the time being.

There is also the manuscript of the play Thomas More. The manuscript has parts written in several different hands. The history of the manuscript and the different hands has been pieced together thusly: The play was written for one company, but over time the company changed, and new parts had to be written in or adapted to meet the needs and the abilities of the new members and the new company. In short, the play was written and then re written for specific actors. It is this point that I wish to address. But before I do, let me say the Thomas More manuscript has been under intense scrutiny of late, because one of the sets of handwriting in on of the adapted scenes bears a very strong resemblance to the handwriting found in the six most famous signatures in the world: Shakespeare's. Some of the people who claim Shakespeare did not write Shakespeare claim the signatures were written by law clerks, thus proving Shakespeare was illiterate and could not possibly have written Shakespeare. They have not explained what a law clerk was doing writing amendments to Thomas More. Let us treat that as a mere co-incidence as well.

Going back to the issue of the relationship between plays and actors, we find that the plays written under the name of Shakespeare share a close relationship to the actors in the company. First and foremost, the best known and greatest actor in the troupe was Richard Burbage. He was regarded as one of the greatest actors of the age. He appears to have been, to put it mildly, a ham. Of all the plays extant from the period, those which may be regarded as what we today call a 'star vehicle', those plays which are dominated by one roll, and by dominated I mean the plays have one roll of five hundred lines or more, over ninety per cent of those star rolls can be tied to one of two actors, Richard Burbage, and Ned Allen. The implication is that these rolls were written for these actors.

As a further indication of how these rolls were tied to the actors, we can see in the plays of 'Shakespeare', as they are currently dated, a progression in the age of the main character. Is this because the writer was getting old, and thus more sympathetic to and concerned with the issues of age? Or is it because the lead actor is getting older, and can no longer play Romeo, but instead must needs play a Lear or Prospero instead?

There is also the question of Shakespeare's clown characters. They often seem to fall into one of two categories: Rather morose, and rather wise fools. Does the difference follow some dramatic need, or a change in the troupes, with an actor who specializes in one form of comedy being replaced by someone who specializes in another? Critic Edward Malone has claimed that the arrival of John Heminges, an actor who specialized in playing fat, funny drunks, to Burbage's troupe lead to the creation of one of the plays' most memorable figures: Sir John Falstaff. As evidence that an actor who specialized in playing the popular fat drunks continued with the troupe, another very similar roll, Sir Toby Belch, appears in Twelfth Night.

We have before us what seems to me a difficult question: What part did the actors take in writing their own rolls? In all honesty, I cannot answer that question. I can tell you that John Heminges did play for other troupes, but only one created Sir John Falstaff. I can say other writers wrote for Burbage, but none created a Hamlet. At the very least we have a gifted writer who has close ties to the troupe, who knows their strengths and their weaknesses thoroughly.

The writer(s) also know the playhouse. The stage directions, while few, were geared towards the Globe Theatre where these plays were originally performed. The writer also knew the stage well and tailored his plays to work within its strengths and weaknesses.

There are those who claim the writer of the plays was a nobleman. The author of the book reviewed in the article that my co-worker read which convinced him that Shakespeare could not possibly have written Shakespeare says that an Earl by the name of Edward de Vere If I am correct in my belief that the writer of the plays must have known the actors and worked intimately with the actors, then I would have to say that a noble author seems unlikely to me. Players in the period were considered to be servants and vagabonds. It is unlikely a nobleman would have worked as closely and for as long as these plays would have required. He would have considered it beneath him, and could have caused a scandal for working so closely with another man's servants, as the players were.

The alternative to this is that the writer was someone within the troupe itself. The familiarity the author fo the plays shows for his company and his theatre indicate strongly, in my opinion, someone who was connected to the theatre and the actors, with the possibility of the actors adding and embellishing their rolls. Do we have any evidence that there was someone in the Lord Chamberlain's Men, later the King's Men, who wrote? As it turns out, we do.

He went by the name of 'Shakespeare'.

21 April 2016

Price of textbooks

The price of university textbooks is skyrocketing. Again. it has become a death spiral. The higher prices increase the incenvtive for students to find alternatives- and this generation has means to find or create alternatives beyond that of any previous generation. In addition, they have no qualms about less than legal solutions. These are the kids, after all, who download music for free, and see nothing wrong with buying a ticket to one movie, and skipping throuhg every film in the multiplex.

Why are the prices getting so high? It's because sales are dropping, and as the prices get even higher, the sales will drop even further. It is simply the market driving the invisible hand to become the invisible fist.

It's actually simple. Let's look at just one aspect of the price increase.  Textbooks are largely printed from big equipment. That equipment must be mowered and maintained and housed in big buildings. Those buildings need to be lit and heated in winter and air conditioned in the summer. The need for all this does not change if you have a print run of a thousand books, or five hundred, and therein lies the problem: with declining sales the overhead operating costs must be spread out across fewer potential sales, so instead of needing to make an extra, say, ten bucks per book to cover the overhead in the thousand print run, they have to charge twenty extra bucks per book for the five hundred print run. And when the print run descends to 250, it'll be an extra forty bucks per buck.

That's really it. Its not a conspiracy, its not (completely) corporate greed. It's not a bunch of people who have decided to screw students just because. It's a bunch of struggling companies trying to find their way in the new paradigm and are struggling to meet their operating costs. And if they go under... then what?

I don't know anyone who knows the answer to that question.