Sunday, January 29, 2017

Elizabeth Watts and Consequences

Elizabeth Watts publicity photo
Last night to 22 Mansfield Street to hear Elizabeth Watts and Malcolm Martinu do a dry run of their Wigmore Hall recital on the 2nd Feb. This was a veritable feast of Schubert lieder

  • Nähe des Geliebten D162
  • Vergebliche Liebe D177
  • Liebe schwärmt auf allen Wegen
  • Das Rosenband D280
  • Lambertine D301
  • Die verfehlte Stunde D409
  • Gott im Frühlinge D448
  • Aus Diego Manazares D458
  • Pflicht und Liebe D467
  • Der Sänger am Felsen D482
  • Die Blumensprache D519
  • La pastorella al prato D528
  • Heiss mich nicht reden D726
  • So lasst mich scheinen D727
  • Der Blumen Schmerz D731
  • Nachtviolen D752
  • Du bist die Ruh D776
  • Auf dem Wasser zu singen D774
  • Im Frühling D882
  • Über Wildemann D884
  • Heimliches Lieben D922
  • Frühlingslied D919


and for an encore An Die Musik which I love so much and played at my 60th.  All beautifully sung and played!  For me the most convincing performance was Die Blumensprache and also the only Italian song, La pastorella al prato.  Do get to their Wigmore if you can!

It was also interesting and commendable that she used the opportunity to publicise a charity of which she is Patron, called Consequences which is "a small group of people who have a serious offender in our family. We have years of experience of turning the pain which once darkened our lives, into a healing resource for all who request our help. We offer on going support free of charge to anyone who needs us."  Apparently they have worked with 100 serious offenders and only one has re-offended.

We wondered if we'd see anyone we knew at the concert. Pretty well immediately we saw an old friend who we've known since we were at Cambridge. Then we saw the great Sally Burgess and her husband Neal in the audience, who we haven't seen for ages. Then C recognised another woman she'd been at Cambridge with but hadn't seen since. And finally I was accosted by someone I had been at school with but had barely seen since then. So we all had dinner together. And then when Sally and Neal left, a charming young couple joined us who turned out to know one of my running friends. What a small world!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Kind helpers on the Psalms translations

Title Page of Great Bible
Courtesy Wikipedia
A very kind priest friend has spoken to a number of her colleagues and 7 of them have kindly agreed to look at a number of my draft translations of psalms and comment on them. This is enormously encouraging and helpful.

For example one of the commentators has already come back with a significant improvement on my translation of Psalm 121 - which I was already pretty happy with.

My last lines ran
The LORD will guard you from all [that is] evil
[yes it is even He] who'll guard your soul.
The LORD will guard your leaving and returning
For now and evermore [while time is turning].
(The square brackets are around words that aren't in the Hebrew but are added to scan.)

But the correspondent pointed out that 
The LORD will guard you from all [that is] evil
wasn't quite right.

The temptation is to translate it as;
The LORD will guard you from all evil [things]
But the problem is that that the Hebrew is “the LORD will guard you from all evil” and I don’t really want to disambiguate with “from all evil things” because (I think) it means both that the LORD will guard you from evil things and that he will guard you from evil ways/actions.  Indeed the Hebrew goes:
The LORD ishmararh mikol rah
Ishmor et naphshe(r)ah
The LORD will guard you from all evilHe will guard {your life and soul/ the soul of you}

Sadly this rhythm and rhyme doesn't carry on the whole way or I'd have tried a different form.

But we can do
The LORD will [surely] guard you from all evil
which reads a lot better, partly because of the rs and ls, and partly because it scans better.

If you'd like to review 5-7 draft translations Psalms let me know and I'd be happy to send you a few of your favourites.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Accord of the Rings - another stunning paper in Nature by Corina

Nature arrived on Thursday with this front cover. When I saw it I thought at once that it would be a paper by Corina Tarnita and her colleagues and sure enough it is. "tanquam ex ungue leonem." (or rather leanem I think)

The paper, A theoretical foundation for multi-scale regular vegetation patterns, develops an integrated model which explains the emergence of fascinating self-organised vegetation patterns such as North American Mima mounds, Brazilian murundus, South African heuweltjies, and Namibian fairy circles.

There has been a lot of controversy, some fairly heated, as to whether the best explanation is scale-dependent feedback (SDF) or the activities of subterranean ecosystem engineers such as termites, ants, and rodents.  However as the paper shows conclusively, both mechanisms are important and the correct explanation comes from integrating both factors in a single model.

When they did this they explained all the observed features of the system, but now comes the completely beautiful part....
Fig 4 from Tarnita et al. a, Panorama
showing matrix-vegetation clumps.
b, Low-altitude (10-m) image of matrix
vegetation  Scale bar as in c. c, Model
output used for comparison with b.
d, Normalized radial spectra of field
images (n = 27 samples) and model
simulations (n = 52 samples), as
functions of wavenumber. 
Our coupled model also predicts a previously unrecognized feature of these Namib Desert landscapes. Prior studies have focused exclusively on the Fairy Circles and have largely ignored the matrix in between. In our model, SDF induces dynamic self-organization of the matrix vegetation, but at smaller spatial scales that are more compatible with ecohydrologically realistic grass–water feedback distances (Supplementary Video 3). Following wet seasons, small, regular clumps of matrix vegetation emerge, interspersed with larger, randomly distributed clumps (Fig. 2c). These larger clumps are rare in the SDF-only model without termites, but arise in the coupled model from small-scale soil-moisture variability in the matrix (Fig. 2d; consistent with published data)—itself a ripple effect created by the Fairy Circles (Extended Data Fig. 6). To evaluate these theoretical predictions, we photographed NamibRand Nature Reserve matrix-vegetation distributions from 10-m height in February 2015 and characterized both observed and model-predicted patterns using Fourier-transform analyses (see Methods). We found strong agreement between model outputs and field data (Fig. 4).


Saturday, January 14, 2017

More light on the evolution of Eukarya

Fig 1 from McInerney and  O'Connell News and Views
outlining suggested evolution of Eukaryotes.
Very interesting paper online in Nature by Katarzyna Zaremba-Niedzwiedzka and colleagues at Uppsala University (collaborating with others at Berkeley, UT Austin, Aarhaus, NZ and Japan) sheds new light on the evolution of the Eukaryotic cell, one of the extraordinary and pivotal events in life on earth.

As Denis Noble points out in his wonderful book Dance to the Tune of Life the fact that the Eukarya evolved from symbiosis two different domains is a striking instance of how the simplistic "selfish gene" stuff gives a highly misleading picture. Life is in fact an exquisite balance of cooperation and competition, and that fact that all animals, plants and fungi are based on this symbiotic fusion is truly remarkable.

When the Archaea were discovered it was believed that the "family tree" looked like Fig 2. It's truly amazing how much has been discovered since I was an undergraduate, and how much more there must be to find!
Fig 2: From Woese 2000 Interpreting the universal phylogenetic tree

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Belated Happy New Year - Psalms draft finished and Psalm 12

Psalms Scroll, courtesy Wikipedia
Belated Happy New Year and apologies for the delay in posting. This was due to:

  1. Delightful family visit of Elder Daughter and Grandchildren.
  2. Filthy Cold afterwards
  3. Lots of work
  4. C's birthday, for which I presented her with the first draft of my verse translations of all the Psalms.
One kind friend has offered to look through some of the translations and to try to find other priests who can do so as well. She asked me for some background on them and I explained that my goal is to have translations which are:


a. English verse in the sense that a reader of Shakespeare would understand (not necessarily the way 21st Century Poets would write at all) so most of the Psalms are pentameters with rhyming final couplets, occasionally there is more rhyming (Psalm 23 is a sonnet) though sometimes different forms and rhythms are used. But it’s clear to anyone listening or reading that is poetry and not just prose with line breaks.  There is a lot of alliteration as there is in the Hebrew. 

b. As accurate as possible in terms of the Hebrew (given a above) with any small divergences clearly marked in the printed text. Of course there are no divergences that change the meaning (I hope) but for example in Psalm 150 I have
O praise God in His [awesome] holiness
O praise Him for His might in {heavenly song / the firmament}
O praise Him for His excellent greatness
O praise Him for (the many ways He’s strong / His strength + order swapped)
meaning “I’ve added “awesome” to make it scan, changed “the firmament” into “heavenly song” and “His strength” into “the many ways He’s strong” and swapped the 2 halves of the 2nd verse around to give a consistent rhyming pattern.

c. At least somewhat indicative of the form of the original. For example all the acrostic psalms are translated as acrostic poems, and sometimes when there is heavy alliteration or a particularly striking use of repetition this is preserved in the English even though it may read slightly oddly.  And sometimes when a line is very ambiguous in Hebrew I have managed to find an English translation that keeps the ambiguities – far preferable in my view to fixing one interpretation and ruling out the others. (Tom Wright agrees BTW).

I’ve used the typography of Him/His/You/Your referring to God partly to be clear that we don’t suggest that God is male and partly because it makes the translation less ambiguous since it’s almost always clear in the Hebrew whether God is being referred to or a human being and sometimes in the English it is less clear. Otherwise I’ve worked hard to use inclusive language – I think I’ve always succeeded when referring to the Righteous/Godly but sometimes I’ve let the ungodly remain Sons/Men when they are this in the Hebrew and it would be awkward to change.


Anyway, with that preamble, here is Psalm 12


Help, LORD, for there is no-one godly left;
    those who are loyal have gone from humankind.
Everyone speaks falsely to their neighbour;
    With flattering lips, dissembling in their hearts.
May The LORD cut off all the flattering lips
    [and every] tongue that utters arrogance
those who say, “By our tongues we'll prevail;
    our lips defend us—who will master us?”
“For plundered poor and needy ones who groan,
    I'll now arise,” declares The LORD. “I'll place
Them in the safety they are longing for.”
The LORD's words are the words of silver pure,
    Smelted on earth, and seven times refined.
You, LORD, will keep the needy in Your {care /watch}
    and will forever guard us from that brood,
the wicked prowling all around [we find]:
    as vileness is raised high with humankind.