Daily Update: Friday, March 11th, 2016

03-11 - Rigoletto

Today is a Friday in Lent, thus today is a day of Abstinence from Meat. We continue with a lack of Saints to honor. However, on this date in 1851 the opera Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi had its premiere performance at La Fenice in Venice, Italy.

Verdi was commissioned to write a new opera by the La Fenice opera house in Venice in 1850, at a time when he was already a well known composer with a degree of freedom in choosing the works he would prefer to set to music. Verdi soon stumbled upon Victor Hugo’s Le roi s’amuse; Hugo’s play depicted a king (Francis I of France) as an immoral and cynical womanizer, a topic that was not accepted in Europe during the Restoration period. At the beginning of the summer of 1850, rumors started to spread that Austrian censorship was going to forbid the production, as they considered the Hugo work to verge on lèse majesté, and would never permit such a scandalous work to be performed in Venice. In the end the parties were able to agree that the action of the opera had to be moved from the royal court of France to a duchy of France or Italy and that the characters would be renamed. The opening was a complete triumph, especially the scena drammatica, and the Duke’s cynical aria, “La donna è mobile”, was sung in the streets the next morning. It is considered by many to be the first of the operatic masterpieces of Verdi’s middle-to-late career. Its tragic story revolves around the licentious Duke of Mantua, his hunch-backed court jester Rigoletto and Rigoletto’s beautiful daughter Gilda. The opera’s original title, La maledizione (The Curse), refers to the curse placed on both the Duke and Rigoletto by a courtier whose daughter had been seduced by the Duke with Rigoletto’s encouragement. The curse comes to fruition when Gilda likewise falls in love with the Duke and eventually sacrifices her life to save him from the assassins hired by her father. In modern times, it has become a staple of the standard operatic repertoire. It appears as number 9 (with 395 performances) on the Operabase list of the most-performed operas worldwide between the 2008/2009 and 2012/13 seasons, and was also the 9th most frequently performed opera in Italy during that period.

I did my Bathroom Devotional Reading, and remembered to bring the set of V. C. Andrews books for Deborah. On our way to work through a thunderstorm I did my Internet Devotional Reading. Once we clocked in, Richard was on Mississippi Stud, and I was the Relief dealer for Mini Baccarat, Pai Gow, and (once, at the start of the shift) the Sit-Down Blackjack table. On my breaks I started reading The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes for my Third Tuesday Bookclub.

After work Richard picked up prescriptions at the Pharmacy, and when we got into town we got gas for the truck. Once home I read the morning paper and ate my lunch salad, then I took a nap for the rest of the day. At the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tennessee, our LSU Men’s Basketball beat Tennessee by the score of 84 to 75, our New Orleans Pelicans lost their away game with the Memphis Grizzlies by the score of 114 to 121, and in the first game of their three-game home series our #7 ranked LSU Baseball lost to Ball State by the score of 1 to 7. And I did not do my Daily Update.

Tomorrow is Saturday, with no Saints to honor (again). On tomorrow’s date in 1933 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, having been elected for the first time as President the previous fall, made his first radio address to the nation, the first of his “Fireside Chats”. We will work our eight hours at the casino, and on my breaks I will do my Daily Update for Friday via WordPress for Android. I will also continue reading The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. Once home from work Richard will pay bills (our paychecks hit the bank Friday night), and then he will do the grocery store shopping while I go to the Adoration Chapel to do my Weekly Hour of Eucharistic Adoration. At the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tennessee, our LSU Men’s Basketball team will play #17 ranked Texas A&M at 12:00 pm. Our New Orleans Pelicans will play an away game with the Milwaukee Bucks at 6:30 pm, and our #7 ranked LSU Baseball team will play the second game of their three-game home series with Ball State at 6:30 pm.

Our Parting Quote this Friday afternoon comes to us from Gerald Hurst, American chemist and fire investigator. Born in 1937 in Davis, Oklahoma, he grew up between Oklahoma and California since his parents, a sharecropper and a waitress, were divorced. He earned a doctorate from the University of Cambridge. He worked to develop explosives for use in warfare and he made rocket propellant for Harshaw Chemical. After leaving Harshaw Chemical, he invented Kinepak, a special explosive that does not detonate until its components mix together. His business was bought out and merged with the Atlas Powder Company. Hurst served as chief scientist with Atlas. He worked about ten hours per week in the Atlas laboratory in Austin, Texas. Hurst made other scientific discoveries, including the Mylar balloon and an improved version of Liquid Paper. He said that he had earned a great deal of money from inventing the Mylar balloon but that much of it had gone to patent lawyers. When he came up with the idea to use Mylar sheets to make balloons of different shapes, he protected that innovation as a trade secret rather than pursuing another patent. He also developed an exploding T-shirt and a very powerful explosive known as Astrolite in the 1960s. In 1972 Hurst launched a lucrative sideline as an expert witness and consultant in lawsuits, mostly product liability claims against manufacturers whose items were suspected of causing a fire. Sometimes he worked for plaintiffs, sometimes defendants, pitting top-of-their-field scientists and engineers against each other. By 1980 a steady stream of cases allowed Hurst to leave his position as chief scientist for Atlas Powder Company. A decade later he was making $275,000 a year as a consultant, and had taken to wearing all-black clothing to better hide soot stains. He received a liver transplant in 1994. In 1996 he was contacted in reference to the arson case of Sonia Cacy, who had been found guilty of dousing her uncle’ s bed with gasoline and lighting a fire that killed him and destroyed the small Fort Stockton, Texas, home they shared.and sentenced to 55 years in prison. In a resentencing trial for Cacy, Hurst testified on her behalf, but she was resentenced to 99 years in prison. He helped to bring attention to Cacy’s case and he presented evidence on her behalf before a parole board. Faced with Hurst’s evidence, the board decided to release Cacy in 1998 after six years in prison. An article in Texas Monthly described the impact of Hurst’s work, saying, “If there was a moment when fire investigation began to emerge out of the dark age of hunches, untested hand-me-down arson indicators, and wives’ tales, it occurred when Hurst turned his attention to Cacy’s case.” Hurst began to provide pro bono testimony in several arson cases which he believed a determination of arson might have been based on flawed investigations. Some fire experts were turned off by Hurst’s penchant for publicly attacking investigators’ conclusions he considered unscientific, particularly on professional listservs (mailing lists) on the Internet. Other fire experts faulted Hurst for lacking formal training in arson investigation, but Hurst claimed his training as a chemist sufficed for his investigations. He appeared in two Forensic Files episodes: “Fire Dot Com” (2001, Season 6, Episode 6) and “Plastic Fire” (2003, Season 7, Episode 41). He worked on the case of Ernest Ray Willis, a Texas man sentenced to death in 1987 after a fire killed two women. Hurst discovered that the fire had not been a case of arson, and Willis was released from death row in 2004. In 2004 Hurst was asked to review the case of Texas death row inmate Cameron Todd Willingham, who was sentenced to death after a fire in which his three children died. By that time, Hurst’s work had contributed to ten exonerations. Hurst was contacted only a couple of weeks before Willingham’s scheduled execution. He issued a report in which he criticized the conclusions of the original fire investigators in light of more current fire investigation knowledge, and said that the fire had not been a case of arson. Hurst’s report was faxed to the office of Texas governor Rick Perry on the day that Willingham was scheduled to die. However, the execution proceeded because Perry was unconvinced that the report provided a basis for a stay of execution. In 2006 the Innocence Project brought together a group of arson experts to review the Willingham case, which agreed with Hurst’s conclusions. A 2009 review by the Texas Forensic Science Commission found that the original arson determination had been made using “flawed science”. Hurst was featured in Incendiary (2010), a documentary film on the Willingham case. He died of complications from his 1994 liver transplant (died 2015): “You consider the possibility that you might be wrong. But that’s why you have one standard: Either there is evidence of arson or there isn’t.”

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