East and West and Strong Men

Rudyard Kipling’s “The Ballad of East and West” is one of my favorites, and I can declaim large chunks from memory. The Australian poet A.B. “Banjo” Patterson observed that Kipling had a gift for describing horses, and that shines through in the mid-section of the poem. But I want to focus on Kamal and the Colonel’s son.

“Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face,
tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!”

For two, or three, strong men, a chase after a stolen horse becomes an occasion for a feat of daring, a display of honor, and a moment of brotherhood.

Kamal has gripped him by the hand and set him upon his feet.
“No talk shall be of dogs,” said he, “when wolf and gray wolf meet.
May I eat dirt if thou hast hurt of me in deed or breath;
What dam of lances brought thee forth to jest at the dawn with Death?”
Lightly answered the Colonel’s son: “I hold by the blood of my clan:
Take up the mare for my father’s gift — by God, she has carried a man!”
The red mare ran to the Colonel’s son, and nuzzled against his breast;
“We be two strong men,” said Kamal then, “but she loveth the younger best.
So she shall go with a lifter’s dower, my turquoise-studded rein,
My broidered saddle and saddle-cloth, and silver stirrups twain.”
The Colonel’s son a pistol drew and held it muzzle-end,
“Ye have taken the one from a foe,” said he; “will ye take the mate from a friend?”
“A gift for a gift,” said Kamal straight; “a limb for the risk of a limb.
Thy father has sent his son to me, I’ll send my son to him!”
With that he whistled his only son, that dropped from a mountain-crest —
He trod the ling like a buck in spring, and he looked like a lance in rest. . .

They have looked each other between the eyes, and there they found no fault,
They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on leavened bread and salt:
They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on fire and fresh-cut sod,
On the hilt and the haft of the Khyber knife, and the Wondrous Names of God.”

The Ballad of East and West.” Rudyard Kipling

Two strong men, one older, one younger, both brave, both determined, and both seeing honor and respect in the other, even though they are sworn enemies (more or less). And it doesn’t matter, not in that moment.

I grew up understanding what Kipling meant, and what veterans and others meant, when they showed respect (if at times grudging) for opponents and foes. The loss of that sense is something I feel keenly. “The honorable opponent” seems to be fading from popular culture. I try to explain it to younger people, that you can respect people you disagree with, and even feel sorrow at their passing even as you know that they’d have killed you first if given the chance. “For true comrades and true foemen, Madonna, intercede!” Kipling wrote in a different place.

There’s an academic I vehemently disagree with. She sets my teeth on edge. Her work broke major ground in our field, and has opened up useful new lines of questioning and uses of archaeological and archival material. So when I had the chance, I told her how much I admired her work and how valuable it has been to me. She was glad that a younger generation still read and engaged with her ideas. I still don’t care for her, and she probably would not care for me, were we to meet in other than an academic setting. It didn’t—and doesn’t—matter.

“But there is neither east nor west, border, nor breed, nor birth

When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!”

Book Review: Clanlands

Heughan, Sam and Graham McTavish. Clanlands: Whisky, Warfare, and a Scottish Adventure like no Other. (London: Hodder and Stoughton LTD, 2020)

Short version: A readable walk through the Highlands of Scotland and their history with two of the actors from the TV series Outlander.

Sam (plays Jamie Frazier) and the older Graham (Dougal MacKenzie), a camera team, and a rather sturdy camper van make their way to the sites of events described in the best-selling Outlander series. It starts with a morning whisky tasting, and Sam admitting that he has not driven a stick in several years, and never driven something that large with a stick shift. Graham begins to doubt his sanity (both his Sam’s and his Graham’s). They survive, although not without one very, very close run for Graham. That wasn’t Sam’s fault for once.

Graham is the older, calmer and more history minded head of the pair. I admit, I’d skim Sam’s adventure tales for the most part, and focus on Graham’s discussion of history, landscape, and the people around them. And how the TV series fits into the history of Scotland in the early 1700s, the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie and Culloden. Although I’m not a fan of buddy-stories or of reading narrative, the two actors do a good job with their respective stories. They also give a good sense of the society of the Highlands before Culloden and the Clearances that depopulated the region. There’s heroism, treachery enough to make Judas blush, cruelty, honor, and amazing scenery. And whisky. And wine, and whisky. And adventures in kilts, and the “joys” of shooting night scenes in cold rain for the third night in a row on a rather steep grassy slope with weapons that, while not all that sharp, can still hurt you pretty badly.

I have not seen the Outlander show or read the books. Time-travel romance aside, they are pretty smelly, gritty depictions of the harsh world of the Highland clans, and I have a low tolerance for rapine and sadism. I read to escape history. However, the still images I’ve seen from the series are pretty impressive. It’s not glamourous or romantic Scotland, but the hard-scrabble world I’ve read about.

As I was saying . . . . Press release PR image from Clanlands Book, used for review purposes under Fair Use.

The book climaxes with the Battle of Culloden. I’ve been told that the battlefield is haunted, especially at night, and what Sam and Graham describe explains part of why. It was cousin-against-cousin, with clans having people on both sides in order to ensure survival of the larger group. Sometimes it didn’t work. They visit on a chilly, misty day, and Sam is especially moved.

The sense you get from the book is that 1) the Highland clans were hard, determined, and sometimes cruel people who were not the Romantic heroes Sir Walter Scott and others portrayed. 2) But they weren’t demons, either (OK, one or two people aside. That one laird . . .) 3) Do not let Sam drive large stick-shift vehicles.

I’d recommend the book as a light read for people interested in Highland history, in Outlander, and in how guys behave in front of cameras. Sam and Graham are professionals, for all their grousing about each other, and are good friends. It’s an easy read, and if you want the history, you can skim the whisky and vehicles bits.

FTC Notice: This book was borrowed from a family member who purchased it for his own use and the author of this review received no remuneration or promotional consideration for this review.

Walls and Wanderers

Walls appear all over the world. Not just building walls, but defensive walls, some of which are huge. The Great Wall of China is the most famous, with Hadrian’s Wall not far behind. The prehistoric wall in Syria, only discovered in the 20th Century, is enormous, longer than Hadrian’s wall, but very few traces remain.

Hadrian’s Wall is well known because it is Roman, and the British found it to be a useful divider between civilization and the Scots. Well, domesticated Britons and the Scots. Mostly domesticated Britons. Anyway . . . The Romans had a problem with the people of the north. Since the army was at both the geographic and financial limits of the Empire, and the proto-Scots were far less likely to make it all the way to Rome than the Germanic peoples, Marcomani, or Perisans were, a static defense made sense. The idea was to control passage north and south, rather than to block off passage from the north entirely. Very much like the Limes defensive line separating Germania from the civilized world.

Here be Picts (and maybe dragons. But certainly Picts). Creative Commons Fair Use. Original source: https://www.visitbritain.com/us/en/node/16141
The route of Hadrian’s Wall: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/189432728066128278/

Hadrian’s Wall was started in AD 122 CE, way out at the western end of the Roman Empire. Eighty mile-castles, 160 smaller watch points, seventeen larger forts (camps for the border guards and the associated towns), and the wall itself stretch across the narrow neck of Britain. The wall was built of dirt and stone, with wood added. The goal was to funnel trouble into the strong points, and to overawe the people on both sides of the structure.

A later emperor, Antininus Pius*, pushed even farther north and had the Antonine Wall built. It was made of a bit of stone and mostly turf, and lasted a far shorter time (AD 122-162 CE). The Romans had overextended, and pulled back to the earlier fortifications. By the mid to late 300s, the Romans had begun to reduce the size of the force in the north, and the wall (and Britain) was abandoned by Rome. But the wall remained, at least until someone decided that it would make absolutely lovely houses, barns, churches, and other things. Roads consumed a lot of the wall as the English built military routes into the still-recalcitrant north. Ah, recycling!

The wall remained in memory under different names, and when the English at last more or less settled things on the Border, antiquarians came to look at the wall. Eventually efforts were made to trace all of it, and to preserve what little remained intact. Large parts have been mapped and in part restored today. There are a number of museums, as well as hiking routes, along the route. The find of water-soaked documents at Vindolanda, and the discovery of how to read them, opened up a window into daily life for ordinary troopers on the Wall. They wanted dry socks, and complained about rations and other stuff. You know, things have not changed much in the past 2000 years . . .

Kipling wrote about the wall in Puck of Pook’s Hill.

A Song to Mithras

(Hymn of the XXX Legion: circa 350 A.D.)

Rudyard Kipling

MITHRAS, God of the Morning, our trumpets waken the Wall!
‘Rome is above the Nations, but Thou art over all!’
Now as the names are answered, and the guards are marched away,
Mithras, also a soldier, give us strength for the day! Mithras, God of the Noontide, the heather swims in the heat.
Our helmets scorch our foreheads, our sandals burn our feet.
Now in the ungirt hour—now ere we blink and drowse,
Mithras, also a soldier, keep us true to our vows! Mithras, God of the Sunset, low on the Western main—
Thou descending immortal, immortal to rise again!
Now when the watch is ended, now when the wine is drawn,
Mithras, also a soldier, keep us pure till the dawn! Mithras, God of the Midnight, here where the great bull dies,
Look on thy children in darkness. Oh take our sacrifice!
Many roads thou hast fashioned—all of them lead to the Light,
Mithras, also a soldier, teach us to die aright!

*Antoninus Pius ordered the wall built, but had his hands full in the east and never visited. Unlike Hadrian. The later emperor, Constantine, was British, as was his father. Emperors from the frontiers tended to be defense minded . . .

The Syrian Wall: https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/syria/great-wall.htm

June 6, 1942 . . .

An SBD Dauntless at Midway. Creative Commons Fair Use: https://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/museums/nmusn/explore/photography/wwii/wwii-pacific/turning-the-japanese-tide/1942-june-battle-of-midway/1942-june-6.html

Planes from the Enterprise and Hornet chased the retreating Japanese fleet. The battle had begun on June 4th and continued until the 7th.

I helped restore an SBD, back when I was in college the first time.

My Cat’s a Hussite!

She takes treats sub utraque specie.

OK, to explain the joke for those who are not far, far too deeply versed in Central European history for their own good . . . When the preacher Jan Huss in Prague in the 1410s raised some complaints people had with the behavior of the Church as an administrative unit, one of the objections was that people could only partake of communion/eucharist in one kind – the body (wafer), not in both kinds (sub utraque species). Those who, after Hus’s followers broke from their local bishop, insisted that laity should be allowed to partake of both elements were called Utraquists.

Athena T. Cat gets two kinds of treats. One is a special formula to help her joints. The other are the little crunchy cat nibbles most cats like. Athena decided to stop eating the joint goodies, for reasons she does not deign to discuss. Mom finally tricked her into eating them by alternating a bit of joint food with a real treat.

So, the other day, I did the same thing. The joint supplement went into the cat, followed by the “real” and we were all happy.

When Mom came back, I informed her that Athena is an Utraquist. MomRed blinked a few times, then grinned.

(Alas, I can’t find my terrifying picture of the statue of Jan Zizka, the scariest Utraquist in the Czech lands. You walk into the museum in Tabor and he’s looming over you, war hammer in hand.)

EDITED: Ah, Found it!

Author Photo, June, 2019. Tabor, Czechia.

Keeping the Peace

One of the two main plots in P— Familiar centers on a growing conflict between Arthur and Skender. These things happen, and we’ve seen hints (OK, in one case a flashing neon sign) that the brothers do not always abide in brotherly love. Marius and Florian also had their moments. When you have a group of young men not yet ready to marry, who are trained and somewhat genetically selected to be hair-trigger, and are prone to settling philosophical disputes with more than pillow fights, society has to have an outlet. Venting on abyssal creatures or bad magic users is an acceptable outlet. But that’s not always available.

Sometimes, a guy just needs to get away for a while. The clans are not large enough to have something like “going a viking,” where a group of overly-energetic young males can be sent out to go earn/trade for/steal resources and burn off that energy on someone else. As an interesting historical aside, the Scythians and a few other nomadic horse-riders in the Chalcolithic and Neolithic seem to have had similar practices, which is part of what led to the Greek stories of Amazons. The young men went away to go inflict themselves on enemies or just on people in the way. That left the women and older, mature men (with a lot of skills and survival sense) to defend the herds. Alas, perhaps, the clans don’t have that outlet today.*

In the case of a building interpersonal difficulty, most of the time older, calmer heads will take both parties aside and see what is going on. It might be that a carefully refereed fight or two between the hot-heads will clear the air and fix the situation. It might be that a third party [*coughcough*girl*coughcough*] will be encouraged to stop playing the two off of each other. Or it might be that someone needs to step away from the group, without doing so in a way that leads to more suspicion.

The River County clan has a chapel to the Great God, the Son, and the Lady and Her Defender. It isn’t obvious to outsiders, and it is not large enough to hold everyone at the same time. Many of the clan’s devotions are private, or family-centered, and so can be done at home or in smaller groups. The priestess and some of the other Elders oversee the chapel.

Should one approach the altar and the images of the Lady of Night and Her Defender, one will observe a sort of shelf under St. Michael’s statue. Perhaps “box in the wall” might be a better definition, because it has sides and a back, and is of the same golden oak as the kneeling rails and other furnishings. Most of the time, the niche remains empty, and gets dusted** so it stays that way.

When a Hunter decides that he (rarely she) needs to get away for a while without raising suspicions that he’s actually waiting in ambush for someone, he leaves his Hunting knife in the niche. The pommels are all slightly different, and a quick glance will tell those who need to know that a Hunter has departed in peace and will come back in peace. He’s not lurking in the shadows, biding his time. He’s off on his own, seeking discernment or just getting away from everyone in order to cool off. His family probably knows where he is, but that’s their business. The Elders won’t ask. To leave one’s Hunting blade with the Defender is a clear signal to all, and is respected. The other half of the conflict will also stand down. No one touches the blade (aside from dusting around it) until the owner returns, or is confirmed dead.

The last time a Hunter abused this tradition, he lived long enough to regret his action. To regret it intensely. And to serve as a multi-generational horrible warning. No one wants to be That Guy. Among other things, the malefactor lost all recourse to blood price, and his family turned their backs on him. What happened after that? Well, suffice it to say it was lingering and eventually lethal. The point was made.

So, for example, if Ladislu and Florian have a falling out, and it seems to be growing to the point of danger, Florian might leave his blade in the niche. Ladislu will stay away from Florian’s workplace and his family’s home. For his part, Florian will avoid clan gatherings and events. Should a Hunt arise, Ladislu won’t call in Florian. If Florian appears of his own volition, the moment the Hunt concludes, he will depart without saying anything to the others. In turn, if Florian discovers something that requires Hunting, and Marius (his twin) can’t help, Florian will call for back-up. The others will disperse after the Hunt as if they’d never been called. That lasts until Florian reclaims his knife. A true emergency, like a forest fire, major flood, or tornado strike, would probably also lead to the absent Hunter returning to help, but the same rules would apply.

*Yes, a very, very few of the young men and women do join the military. Deborah picked up on one of those veterans, and how much he “felt” like a cross between her father and her bunicot.

**We will not mention the exclamations of feminine horror uttered by the church ladies when we were cleaning up a sanctuary in preparation for decorating for Advent and found, among other things, a fossilized fern left from a funeral, and layers of dust in places that were supposed to be dust free. A two-hour task took four-and-a-quarter hours, a lot of rags and elbow grease, and the Board of Deacons got an ear-full. Coincidentally, people stopped sneezing during the service. Truly an Advent miracle.

Memorial Day, Decoration Day

This year, 2022, Memorial Day’s observance falls on Memorial Day (actual), May 30. The United States did not have a day set aside to honor war dead until after the Civil War/War Between the States. Because so many families lost sons, fathers, husbands, brothers, the Grand Army of the Republic (northern veterans’ organization) pushed for a day to be set aside. On May 30, 1868, then US Representative James A. Garfield – a veteran – spoke these words:

Thousands of soldiers are to-day turning aside in the march of life to visit the silent encampments of dead comrades who once fought by their side. From many thousand homes, whose light was put out when a soldier fell, there go forth to-day to join these solemn processions loving kindred and friends, from whose heart the shadow of grief will never be lifted till the light of the eternal world dawns upon them.”

The cover of what I suspect was a little history or civics book. Creative Commons fair use. Original source: https://lauriegauger.blogspot.com/2020/05/happy-decoration-day.html

He was at the then-new Arlington National Cemetery. Some in the South had already selected a different date, April 26, to use. However, after 1898, May 30 became the common date in all states. In 1971 Congress changed things so that federal employees got three-day weekends, and Memorial Day was shifted to the last Monday in May. Some people still do not care for this, or for the commercialization and loss of focus that followed.

As my readers know, this is not Veterans Day, or July 4. It is to remember the dead. Celebrate life, enjoy time with family, friends, and comrades, but we should not forget those who never came home.

The YouTube video is John Williams “Hymn to the Fallen” from Saving Private Ryan. The images are of memorials, and US and Allied military cemeteries around the world.


Below are links to two history sites with more information:



Warm and Cool Voices

One of the intriguing things about the human voice is the sense of “color” that voices can convey. Vocalists, and some instrumentalists as well, talk about warm and cool sounds, or dark and bright sounds. It has to do with the depth and shading of the tones involved. A warm or dark tone sounds richer, with more harmonic shading while still holding a single note. A cool or bright tone tends to be clearer, with fewer overtones or less vibrato shading the pitch. Older singers often have richer, darker voices, but this is not always true [waves paw]. Certain instruments have darker “voices,” and organs can be registered for a bright or dark tone, depending on the stops chosen.*

I was thinking about this as I listened to a recording of a Spiritual that one of my choirs is considering doing. Here’s the recording:

Both the women’s section in general, and the soloist in particular, have a very dark, warm tone, especially for such a young choir. Many Spirituals and Gospel songs require a darker vocal tone, a mature voice that fits the emotions and depths of the song. (This carries over to R&B as well, where older women vocalists are preferred to younger ones. It’s probably the only place in pop music where this is true.)

Renaissance and madrigals, and some Baroque and classical music, demands a purer tone, either to keep the slight pitch variations of vibrato from interfering with the actual notes, or because of the tight harmonics. Or because they were written for boy sopranos or castratos, and so just don’t work with a darker voice. It is hard for someone with a fully developed voice to keep all vibrato and color out of his or her voice, although men in falsetto come close. The easiest way is to tense the vocal cords, which strains the voice and interferes with tone quality. Try doing that for an hour – or better, don’t do that in the first place. Mozart’s choral works, Handel, Hayden, Bach, Scarlatti, Vittoria, they all need clearer voices that blend well, especially in the quieter passages. Solos often do better with a darker voice, but not always.

Some of us have naturally lighter vocal colors. My voice is somewhat warm, but very clear, because I damaged my vocal cords when I was a teenager. (Sopranos should not try to sing tenor at full volume. Bad things happen to the vocal instrument.) My voice remained a “boy choir” voice until I was in my mid-thirties, and even today I have no vibrato to speak of. I can blend with pretty much any other voice. This makes me in high demand for Renaissance music, and as a choral-support singer. I can’t do the great soprano solos, even when they are in my range, because I sound “funny” compared to a woman with a truly developed, darker voice.

MomRed’s voice is like warm cinnamon bread with raisins, or was when she was in her prime. She’d be ideal for the solo in “In the Cool of the Day.” It was a dark, rich voice perfect for lullabys, Spirituals, and other roles. I wanted a voice like that. I’m smaller than Mom (strike one), built more like Dad (a tenor. Strike two), and then had the vocal damage (strike three). So I sing boy-choir solos and Renaissance and folk music.

*Within the constraints of the instrument. A Bach organ, or French Romantic, or Spanish Baroque, will sound very different, and some pieces won’t work as well on each one. Older instruments tend to be brighter and “buzzier,” in pert because of technologies at the time, in part because of sound preferences from different places and cultures.

Armed Forces Day

Somehow, it turned out that most of the friends I’ve made as an adult (over age 18) are either military, worked around military people, come from military families, or have some other connection to the armed forces of the US, Australia, or Canada, or Great Britain. I didn’t set out to do that, it just happened. (Granted, the aviation community leans that direction, especially rotorcraft, but still…)

Today in the US is Armed Forces Day. The third Saturday in May is set aside to honor the men and women who currently serve in the Armed Forces of the US (including the Reserves and National Guard). Originally there were separate days for the four (then five) branches of the military, but the SecDef lumped them together in 1949. Note that this did not and does not replace things like the Marine Corps Birthday and commemorations of the founding of the other branches. May is also V-E Day, and Memorial Day.

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The Danger of Laughter

I’ve been reminded recently that one of the most dangerous things in the world is laughter, especially when aimed at bureaucracies. I was reviewing some things about the Cold War, and found a brief description of Vaclav Havel’s early play The Garden Party. The dialogue makes no sense. It is a pile of cliches and double-speak and nonsense, all spoken by the protagonist and bureaucrats. The protagonist’s glory is that he has, at last, mastered how to navigate the bureaucracy of Czechoslovakia in the 1960s. The very absurdity and nonsense of the play is the point of the story.

The Soviets and other totalitarians fear laughter, even when it is not aimed at them. Laughter is an escape. The Grand Ayatollah Ruahola Khomei famously declared that “There is no joy in Islam.” At least not as he understood the faith. Living a life in full submission to the deity was far, far too serious a business for humor or laughter. (Aaaaand my mind went to the old cough drop commercial, replacing “Ricola™” with Ruahola. I’m a naughty blogger, yes I am.)

As you would expect, jokes flourished under the Soviets and inside the Warsaw Pact. And outside of the Warsaw Pact. People who can laugh at themselves tend to do better under stress, and have a more realistic view of the world.

You might be a Calvinist if . . . you believe that the 12 Apostles are Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, James the Brother of Jesus, Thaddeus, Peter, Augustin, Jerome, Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox.

For Stalin and others, the Cause or The System is far too important to laugh at it. For others, some things are too important not to laugh at them, or with them. I was amused to read that the Biden Administration hired a consultant to do research to find out what would be the most effective insult for political opponents. Their researcher worked very diligently, including holding focus group meetings to test the response to various terms. It took six months. Contrast this with the rapid speed with which said insult was turned into jokes. The Administration was Very Serious and believes very deeply in their cause. The opposition is not very serious, but also believes deeply in their cause. You can fill in Administration and opposition as you like – political, theological, historical, bureaucratic . . .

The Soviets and their puppet governments took laughter Very Seriously, which is part of why they fell apart. The rest of the world was serious about laughing at them, and at ourselves. Aggies tell Aggie jokes. Teachers tell teacher jokes. Christians tell church jokes, Jews tell rabbi jokes. Humor is healthy for the body politic. And dangerous, terribly dangerous for bureaucrats.

How many sopranos does it take to change a lightbulb? One. She holds the bulb and the world revolves around her.

The article below is a wonderful discussion of political humor in Soviet-controlled Europe, and has some really good jokes as well.