Wednesday, 19 May 2021

The pun that never was

I went out to dinner last night, just for the halibut [BOU-BOUM - TSH {Ithangyou}].  (except that by the time I publish, it won't be 'last night'. and I didn't have the halibut anyway [it was an outlier at the top of the price list: the chance to resurrect the 'just for the halibut' gag wasn't worth the extra £6.50]). It, last night, that is, was the first night for some months (since the misguided 'Eat out to help out' initiative) when it was possible to eat out inside (which was just as well, in view of the biblical deluge we ran through from the car-park).

Which has led me to think of firsts and lasts. The subject of this morning's Life Scientific was Nira Chamberlain, a mathematician with many firsts to his name, all of them taking the form "the first black mathematician to be <accolade-or-position>". Towards the end of the program he's talking about being the first black mathematician to figure in Who's Who. At which point he mentioned another black academic saying something strongly reminiscent of the famous Kamala Harris quote...

<parenthesis subj="oh-yeah? Sez who?>

Well, maybe not that famous, but well enough known to feature in an oft-repeated podcast ident – Newscast or Americast, I think; and well enough known for Google to throw up millions of red-herrings...

And who knew that the red herring (which was a Thing exported to the slave plantations, I've just learnt, as a bottom-of-the-market foodstuff: see here but here's an excerpt, in case you're not interested in the whole sorry tale

From its outset, the role of the Fishery Board was to maintain standards and to intervene in disputes between fishermen.... [F]ishery officers were obliged to inspect the curing of the fish and only correctly cured fish could be sold within Europe. Implicit in this approach was the intention that fish which did not meet the standard could be shipped to the West Indies to feed the slaves. As in the case of cod ‘the West Indies presented growing market for the rejects, for anything that was cheap’. By feeding the slaves, rather than have them growing their own crops, slave-owners could keep them working longer. This trade only flourished until the abolition of slavery ‘since the blacks, in connection with emancipation, acquired the privilege of choosing their own food.’

...) So 19th-century casual racism ('not up to snuff for Europeans, give it to the blacks') has made a crucial contribution to modern-day Caribbean cuisine.

... when I was chasing down Monday morning's (Oh yes, it's already Wednesday) anecdote. based on the Vice Presidentthen-elect's "Although I may be the first black* woman..." line, which has finally made sense to me. When I first heard it, it struck me as a non-sequitur; OK, so what's that got to do with the price of fish? But when I heard Nira Chamberlain's story it made sense. Now read on...


He said, at 22'40" in that programme that when he told her of his record she said...

<parenthesis subj="Who? The cat's mother?">

The first black South African woman to obtain a PhD in mathematics education and the first black female Executive Dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology at the University of South Africa is now the first black woman to preside over the Convocation of Wits University.
Witwatersrand Convocation Report


..."Being the first is nothing to be proud of, but it's a call [HD This word isn't clear but it's a monosyllable, and the gist is unaffected] to ensure that one is not the last."

So the first/last  trope made famous by Kamala Harris is (I guess) something that parents of girls (especially in racial minorities) say to encourage assertiveness and sisterhood; (and that's not a sexist use of sisterhood, we all need to be sisters).

The other first I was going to mention was live rehearsals of my choir, which were due to restart tomorrow. But the Department for Digital, Culture,Media & Sport changed its guidance for amateur choirs last night...

<inline-ps type="esprit d'escalier">
So rather than viva voce it's going to have to be muta voce (on Zoom)

...having presumably discovered a new variant that can tell the difference between aerosols coming from a professional singer's mouth and those produced by an amateur's:

However, non-professional singing indoors should only take place in a single group of up to 6 people.

So I'm hitting the Publish button and getting on with my entry for the Stephen Spender Prize for Poetry in Translation.


Update 2021.05.20.16:15 – Added <inline-ps />

Update 2021.05.22.16:55 – Added footnote

*She didn't say this bit.

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