Daily Update: Saturday, March 11th, 2017

Ember Day and 03-11 - Rigoletto and Purim

Today is the third of three Ember Days for this season of the year. On this date in 1851 the opera Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi had its premiere performance at La Fenice in Venice, Italy. Early Voting in Louisiana begins for the Municipal Primary Election on March 25th. Finally, tonight at sunset we will celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim.

Today is the third of three Ember Days for this season of the year. Ember days (a corruption from the Latin Quatuor Tempora, four times) are the days at the beginning of the seasons ordered by the Church as days of fast and abstinence. They were definitely arranged and prescribed for the entire Church by Pope Gregory VII (1073 – 1085) for the consecutive Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after December 13th (the feast of Saint Lucy), after Ash Wednesday, after Whitsunday (Pentecost), and after September 14th (Exaltation of the Cross). The purpose of their introduction, besides the general one intended by all prayer and fasting, was to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach men to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy. Turning to Italian operas, 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 acceptable 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 would 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. The work 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 nine (with 395 performances) on the Operabase list of the most-performed operas worldwide between the 2008/2009 and 2012/2013 seasons, and was also the ninth most frequently performed opera in Italy during that period. Early Voting begins today in Louisiana for the Municipal Primary Election on March 25th. And turning to tonight’s Jewish holiday, the first religious ceremony ordained for the celebration of Purim is the reading of the Book of Esther (the Megillah) in the synagogue, a regulation ascribed in the Talmud (Megillah 2a) to the Sages of the Great Assembly, of which Mordecai (the cousin of Esther) is reported to have been a member. Originally this enactment was for the 14th of Adar only; later, however, Rabbi Joshua ben Levi (3rd century CE) prescribed that the Megillah should also be read on the eve of Purim. Further, he obliged women to attend the reading of the Megillah, inasmuch as it was a woman, Queen Esther, through whom the miraculous deliverance of the Jews was accomplished. Oddly enough, the Hebrew text of the book does not mention God at all. During the public service in many congregations, when the reader of the Megillah mentions the name of the villain Haman (54 occurrences), there is boisterous hissing, stamping, and rattling. Since the Book of Esther is long, with many descriptions given at great length, the term “megillah” is now also slang for “A tediously detailed or embroidered account”.

Last night our #12 ranked LSU Lady Tigers lost their College Softball game with the Auburn Lady Tigers by the score of 4 to 5, and our #6 ranked LSU Tigers won their College Baseball game with the Wichita State Shockers by the score of 6 to 1.

I did my Book Devotional Reading; when we went out to take the truck to work, the battery was dead, so we moved the car down to the curb and took the car to work instead. I did my Internet Devotional Reading on our way to work. We clocked in at the casino, and learned at the Pre-Shift Meeting how they will do the Time Change tomorrow (more anon). When we went out onto the floor, Richard was on Mississippi Stud. I started out on the second Pai Gow table, closed that table, went to Let It Ride, closed that table, went to a Blackjack table in one of our Overflow pits, closed that table, went to Flop Poker, closed that table, helped change Blackjack cards, and finally, at 7:00 am, ended up on Pai Gow.

When we got home from work I set up my medications (none to renew), and then, while Richard paid bills, I ate my lunch salad (more anon) and read the morning paper. I then made up my store list for Richard. I headed to the Adoration Chapel, where I did my Weekly Hour of Eucharistic Adoration. The bulletin for this week in the Chapel had a notice that our Bishop has issued a Dispensation from Abstaining from Meat for Friday, March 17th (St. Patrick’s Day). I started reading the March 6th, 2017 issue of my Jesuit America magazine during my Hour.

After my Hour I returned home. Richard reported that he had talked to Susan; Butch fell at the nursing home, but is okay, and Bonnie and Bob (his sister from Texas and her husband) will be in on Wednesday to see Butch. Richard then left in the car to do the grocery shopping. I plugged the bills Richard had paid into my Checkbook Pro app, then got busy with this Daily Update; and when I finish this Daily Update I will go to bed for the duration. Our New Orleans Pelicans (25-40, 3-9) will be playing an Away NBA game with the Charlotte Hornets (28-36, 6-3), our #6 LSU Tigers (10-4, 0-0) will again play a Home College Baseball game with the Wichita State Shockers, and our #12 LSU Lady Tigers (18-5, 0-0) will be playing an Away College Softball game with the Auburn Lady Tigers (21-2, 0-0).

The Jewish feast of Purim continues tomorrow. Tomorrow is the Second Sunday of Lent, and the Remembrance of Servant of God Rutilio Grande (died 1977). Tomorrow is the World Day Against Cyber-Censorship. There will be no Early Voting in Louisiana for the Municipal Primary Election on March 25th, due to tomorrow being a Sunday. And Daylight Savings Time begins tomorrow. Richard and I will wake up an hour early; before we leave the house we will change the clocks and other timepieces that do not change automatically to account for Daylight Savings Time. Once at the casino, we have been instructed not to clock in until the clocks flip from 2:00 am CST to 3:00 am CDT. We will then work our eight hours at the casino. The Full Moon will arrive at 10:55 am. When we get home I will put my nail polish on my toenails for the first time this season and read the Sunday papers; we will then go next door to our neighbor Mary’s house, as we have been invited to a crawfish boil (which is why I ate my Sunday salad today). In the afternoon our our #6 LSU Tigers will again play a Home College Baseball game with the Wichita State Shockers, and our #12 LSU Lady Tigers will again be playing an Away College Softball game with the Auburn Lady Tigers.

Our Parting Quote this Saturday 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; she had been 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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