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Summer is icumen in…rather late this year

Earth & Ecliptic by Andreas Cellarius

The astronomical diagram above was designed by Andreas Cellarius, the Dutch-German cartographer best known for his elaborately decorated maps of the heavens, the Harmonia Macrocosmica, which display the divine harmony of the macrocosm.  The engraving reproduced above shows the earth tilted in regard to the plane of the ecliptic — and that’s important, because if the earth were not tilted we wouldn’t have seasons.

The earth travels around the sun in a nice flat path, but the earth is tilted in regard to the plane of that path, so that at different times of the year the northern hemisphere is tilted toward the sun (summer), and at other times it’s tilted away (winter.) And twice a year the angle is such that the northern and southern parts get an equal amount of sunshine — the equinox, when night and day are essentially equal in length.  We’ve now gone through the vernal (spring) equinox.

John Milton, the heavy-weight Puritan poet of the 17th century,  says that when God created the Garden of Eden, the earth’s axis was not tilted, and the weather remained wonderfully temperate. But after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, everything got slanted awry and we wound up with our freezing winters and hot, hot summers. Milton’s Paradise Lost is too long to quote here, so instead we’ve chosen a very, very short lyric.

“Sumer Is Icumen In” is a poem in Middle English, actually the lyrics to a round, or rota, from about the middle of the 13th century. The little verses celebrate the arrival of spring.  The first stanza, below here,  mentions the loud song of the cukoo bird, the growing seeds, the blossoming meadows, the new growth of trees in the woods.

Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing, cuccu;
Groweth sed
and bloweth med,
And springth the wode nu;
Sing, cuccu!

Awe bleteth after lomb,
Lhouth after calue cu;
Bulluc sterteth,
Bucke uerteth,

When we originally posted this we also posted Ezra Pound’s parody, “Winter is icumen in,” but we found it too depressing.It must have been posted by our evil twin brother. We’ll stick with spring.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree, the Poem

Maybe you’ve read  “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” the poem by William Butler Yeats that begins:

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

William Butler Yeats may not be the grand exciting figure he was some decades ago, but his major poems  still retains their beauty and mystery. “Innisfree” is one of his earlier,  simpler verses. Marilyn Robertson is acquainted with”The Lake Isle of Innisfree” and has named her own poem “Innisfree.” Here it is:

When I can’t sleep, I often recite a poem I’ve memorized,
taking deep breaths between the lines, but not so much
that I ruin the meter. Last night it was Yeats.

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree
But I soon realized it was a poor choice, because
the last ting I wanted to do was rise.

Then I began to wonder where Innisfree was, exactly,
and could you get there in a rowboat
with all the things you’d need for a long stay.

Gardening implements. String for the beans to climb.
The beehive, of course. A couple of warm sweaters—
who knows what the weather will be like?

I’m thinking it would be summer and, with any luck,
someone else will have built the cabin—
maybe Yeats himself—and left behind a basket

of wattles to use for kindling, plus a few poems
to read on the porch after supper as I watch
the linnets busily fluttering away the Irish light.

—Marilyn Robertson

Happy Birthday, CPE Bach

Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach

Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach

If you read this on March 8, you’ll be reading it on the 300th anniversary of the birth of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, son of Johann Sebastian Bach. Or we could say it’s  the 300th birthday of CPE Bach — yes, CPE  is what musicologists call him for short. CPE, born in Wiemar, was the second oldest son of JS, and one of the four surviving children of seven.

The Bach family was loaded with musicians. Johann Sebastian’s father, his uncles, his elder brother, his children — it would be a geneticist’s dream to study the DNA of that family. Most important, there was no jealous squelching or abuse of talent among the Bachs. Quite the contrary, they appear to have educated and helped each other in many way. Carl Philipp is the transitional figure between J.S. Bach and Mozart, and CPE broke new ground, composing a more emotional and more fluid music than his father. Here, also, it’s significant that the father didn’t stand in the way of the son — quite the contrary, he gave moral support to his son in that venture.

Most listeners probably cannot tell the difference between music written by JS Bach and CPE Bach. That includes us at Critical Pages. However, we’re reasonably familiar with certain pieces by JS and certain other piece by CPE. We know those when we hear them.
Here’s a brief stunning piece by Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach. You’ll hear what we mean.

Putin and Geopolitical Poker

Republicans are beating up on President Obama, telling him to do something to stop Putin from interfering in Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin

Senator Bob Corker, Ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is good example of Republican thinking on the subject of Russia and Ukraine. “The Russian government has felt free to intervene militarily in Ukraine because the United States,” Corker said, “along with Europe, has failed to make clear there would be serious, potentially irreparable consequences to such action.”

Exactly what “serious, potentially irreparable consequences” does Senator Corker have in mind?  “The United States and our European allies should immediately bring to bear all elements of our collective economic strength to stop Russian advances in Ukraine,” he said.  Oh, our economic strength — maybe that means boycotts or trade sanctions or limiting the G8  to G7, something like that. Or, better yet,  maybe we can withdraw our ambassador from Moscow before they withdraw theirs from Washington, that’s been suggested, too.

The unpleasant fact is that in this game of geopolitical poker, Putin is holding the strong cards.

The US is currently trying to disentangle itself from its longest war; our voters are broke, the Republicans want to shrink government and cut taxes, the Democrats want to raise the minimum wage and the middle class, and everybody is tired of wonderful foreign adventures to bring democracy wherever. Furthermore, the US wants cooperation from Putin in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear facilities, and in Syria and in regard to North Korea.

Ukraine had been part of Russia for about 300 years. Russia gave Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 when Russia and Ukraine were part of the Soviet Union – or Evil Empire, as President Regan correctly called it. And Crimea is sufficiently distinct from the rest of Ukraine that it’s a semi-autonomous republic with its own parliament. Ukraine has been an independent nation since 1991 when the Soviet Union fell apart – that’s 23 years, during which time it’s  had a largely corrupt pro-Russian government, the underlying reason  it lost the support of its people.

What’s going on in Ukraine is terribly important for the Ukrainians. As for Russia and the West,  in terms of strategic geopolitics, it’s far more important to Putin and the future of Russia than it is to the United States or the nations of Western Europe.  We can jawbone the Russians and we can put together NATO meetings, committees and envoys and negotiators. But the principal actor in this dangerous game isn’t a politician in the United States or Europe, he’s an autocrat in the Kremlin.

The Heart of the Valentine

Valentines and hearts are romantically linked. For long-ago Valentine heartcenturies the human heart was thought to be the place where emotion resided. After all, our heart will beat faster and harder when we feel a great emotions (think terror or erotic excitement) even though we may be bodily at rest. What more proof do you need that emotion dwells in the heart?

So when we send a valentine, a message declaring love, the little note often carries the image of a heart, a human heart. Well, not exactly an image, but a symbol, a red thing that stands for a heart. That design, nowadays called a  heart-shape, was around for a long time and was thought of as a leaf or a dart. It was taken over and used to represent a heart only later.

And in the photo below, there it is on the cheek of the young woman kissing the young man. Indeed, the young woman is wearing sunglasses, and the beach-like sprawl in the background suggest that this is not February 14th, that it’s not Valentine’s Day and that the heart is the sign of human affection any day of the year.Valentine's kiss

The first image we have of a man giving a woman his heart occurs in a Medieval manuscript and the heart is shaped like a pine cone, because classical authority, namely the  philosopher-doctor Galen, said it was shaped like a pine cone. Gallen was a brilliant man and his influence lasted from the 3rd century through the 16th, but he did his disections on monkeys, not humans. Furthermore, there are many shapes to pine cones, and we don’t know what Galen had in mind when he said the heart was shaped that way. But we’re getting lost in a digression here.

Let’s take a look at that Medieval depiction of a lover giving his “heart” to his beloved. The scene comes from  Li romanz de la poire — let’s call it The Romance of the Pear and please don’t  get fussy over the etymology and meaning of romanz in medieval French. Here’s the scene.
Medieval man giving his heart to his lady
You’re right, she doesn’t look happily impressed. In fact, she looks likes she’s going to swat the poor man. Yet she does have a certain passion. In fact, the story is called The Romance of the Pear because the Lady peels a pear with her teeth and shares it with her lover. There’s a certain intimacy in that. No? Well, the story was pretty hot in the 13th century.

All of this is quite far from our freezing Valentine’s Day of  2014. Today we have ice and snow from Georgia to Maine. So we’ll insert our favorite image from our previous Valentine’s Day posts.A couple of lovers in a snowstorm

As we said before on an earlier Valentine’s Day, we admire the young gentleman helping the young lady across the street in a snowstorm, and we admire the young lady who wears a short dress and those high-heel shoes in a blizzard.  If you’d like to see the posts on a couple of  earlier Valentine’s Days, just type Valentine’s Day into our little search box on the upper right, over the right-hand column.

 

 

Eighty-five very, very rich people…

Eighty-five very, very rich people own the same amount of wealth as the bottom  half of the entire population of the world.

In the United States, the 400 richest have more wealth than the 150 million citizens who comprise the poorest half of the population.

Maybe you’re wondering if these crazy statistics were produced by a wild-eyed radical group intending to overthrow the capitalistic system No, these facts come from a briefing paper, “Working for the Few,” prepared by Oxfam International.

Just to be on the safe side, let’s take a closer look at that organization. Oxfam was founded in 1942 in Oxford, England, as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief. It was organized by a group of Quakers, Oxford academics, and social activists. Over the years it has spread and now has many affiliates around the globe. Oxfam America is a member of Oxfam International, an international confederation of 17 organizations networked together in 94 countries, as part of – to quote them – “a global movement for change, to build a future free from the injustice of poverty.” Oxfam America is a 501(c)(3) organization, and gifts are tax-deductible to the full extent allowable under the law. Definitely not radical. You can make a donation without worry.

Here are some of the other interesting statistics from the Oxfam briefing paper:

• Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.
• The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion. That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population.
• Seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.
• The richest one percent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries for which we have data between 1980 and 2012.
• In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.

I’m sure there’s a way of looking at this data and believing that we can’t do anything about it. Capitalism is the dominant economic system around the globe — in some places it’s more regulated than others, but it’s still capitalism. And some people believe that capitalism is a “natural” system of economics, that it simply comes into being all by itself, naturally.  But none of that is true. Capitalism is an economic structure created by people, not by nature nor by God and angels. Like legislative or judicial systems, it’s devised and brought into being by people. For a long time, monarchy was considered the natural system of governance, part of the divine order of things created by God. It wasn’t and neither is capitalism. We can change it. We can make it better, fairer, more broadly productive.

January Was National Soup Month

Pot of minestroneJanuary is coming to an end and we’ve neglected to point out that January is officially National Soup Month.  I don’t know who the national officials are who decide  these things, but Critical Pages was informed it was National Soup Month so, to be absolutely sure, and knowing that the Web never lies, I looked it up on the Web and, yes, January is National Soup Month.

The soup in that pot is minestrone. Maybe you already knew that. The Italian word for soup is minestra, and when you make it into a diminutive and say minestrina, that means you’re talking about a thin, clear soup, and when you use the heavy word minestrone, that means it’s a thick soup. Maybe you didn’t know that.

The soup pictured in this post was excellent. Here’s what went into it:

  • Tomatoes, 1 small can of diced tomatoes (14.5 oz). Whether or not to use the juice from the can is a judgment call. We used the juice.
  • Garlic, 2 cloves, diced.
  • Olive oil, 1 and 1/2 tablespoons. You can sauté the garlic in this.
  • Onion, 1 sweet white Spanish onion, or any other onion, chopped. Half an onion if it’s a big one.
  • Celery, 1 cup chopped.
  • Carrots 1 cup, sliced carrots. That’s 2 or 3 good thick ones.
  • Yellow summer squash, or zucchini, 2 of them at most, sliced or halved or quartered and sliced.
  • Spinach, regular or baby. I tore the spinach up into biggish pieces and I guess 1 or 2 cups full, but I don’t how to measure a cup of spinach.
  • String beans. Get a couple of handfuls and cut them up into bite-size pieces. I used a heaping  1/3 cup full and it was fine.
  • Bell pepper, sliced to bite size. I added half a red bell pepper. Actually, this was a mistake. It was OK, but I won’t do it again.
  • 3/4 cup of ditalini pasta. That was way too much. It’s best to cook up the pasta separately, otherwise it gets mushy.
  • Vegetable broth or water. One time I used 1/2 can of vegetable broth and 2 cups of water, and another time I used no broth and 5 cups of water. When I’ve included the juice from the small can of tomatoes, I’ve added 3 cups of water. If the vegetable broth has herbs in it, then you should be careful when adding herbs.
  • Wine. 1/3 cup of white wine. Some people add wine to every soup they make. I’m one of those.
  • Oregano and parsley, 1/2 teaspoon. of oregano and parsley. Or maybe neither; salt seems to be all you need. Season to taste with salt as you go along, or in the soup bowl.
  • Some people add ceci beans (also called chick peas or garbanzo beans). Those beans have all sorts of health benefits and I wish I liked them more, but I don’t.  If you like them, open a small can (14 oz), drain the beans and use however much you want.

Get a fresh loaf of Italian or French bread to go with this.

Heat the olive oil and sauté the garlic in the pot you’re going to make the soup in.  If you want to add the chopped onions, go ahead, but don’t add more olive oil. Add the broth and/or water and tomatoes, and stir it all. Then toss in the celery and carrots and stir some more. Next, bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. After it’s simmering add the softer stuff – the squash or zucchini, beans and spinach. The last thing to add is the wine and not quite a half teaspoon of parsley – and maybe a pinch of oregano. It’s best to add salt to taste, but that’s hard to do if the minestrone is too hot, so let some cool in a dipper and try it there. If you simmer it too long, things get mushy. A bit crisp tastes better.

By the way, a mix of carrots, celery and onions, roughly chopped and thrown together, is the starting point for a lot of soups, stews, stocks and sauces.  These three aromatics, as they are called, are found together in so many recipes that the French have a word for the group — mirepoix. We’re showing off our Italian and French today.

Critical Pages isn’t a recipe site.  This post is about what we got when we used these ingredients in this way. Past performance is no guarantee of future results, not even when we do it in our own kitchen. That’s true for a lot of things in life.

 

 

Snowflakes

Johannes Kepler

Johannes Kepler

Johanes Kepler was the astronomer who first understand the beautiful eliptical orbits of planets around the sun. He had a wonderfully restless mind and in 1611 he composed a charming, learned little book speculating on why snowflakes have six points. Brilliant though he was, Kepler didn’t have the knowledge of atoms and molecules that we do today, so his book, fascinating as it is, doesn’t come up with the answer.

Here’s how we get those delicate snowflakes, some of which landed on Kepler’s coat as he walked across the Charles bridge in December of 1610. A molecule of water is composed of two little atoms of hydrogen linked to a bigger atom of oxygen. The two hydrogen atoms are positioned 104.5 degrees from each other, and that gives the three atoms taken together a shape rather like a three-sided pyramid. That’s a water molecule.

That’s not the same as what we call water, which is a bunch of water molecules hanging out together. The comparatively large oxygen atom is composed such that the side opposite the two hydrogen atoms is able to link up with the hydrogen atoms of other water molecules. When a water molecule links up with four other water molecules, it arranges into a nice four-sided pyramid – called a tetrahedron in your geometry class.

Now we’re getting someplace. Because as the temperature drops, these four-sided arrangements of water molecules draw closer together and form a six-sided, or hexagonal, structure – which is what we see when we look at an ice crystal. That ice crystal is the heart of the combined molecules which add up and spread out to a clearly visible snow flake. Now you know.

Another version of why snowflakes have six points can be found in the very short tale The Queen of the Rain Was in Love with the Prince of the Sky. Furthermore, that little story also explains why no two snowflakes are precisely alike. And this is shameless self-promotion, because that little gem is by Eugene Mirabelli, who writes all these unsigned posts at Critical Pages.

If you’d like to read the mini-book The Queen of the Rain Was in Love with the Prince of the Sky which is considerably lighter and  more entertaining than molecular chemistry, click on the title at the start of this sentence.  On the other hand, if you’re a chemistry buff and can’t follow the lucid explanation of the arrangement of atoms and molecules posted here and insist on seeing diagrams, you can find some really good ones on the web. And if you’d like to read that book by Kepler, check out the offerings at Paul Dry Books.

Somebody Up There Hates You

Somebody Up There Hates You coverCritical Pages has never taken notice of fiction in the Young Adult category. One reason is that we’re not Young Adults ourselves. Another reason is that when we were Young Adults — and that was a long, long, long time ago — young adult fiction was mostly books like the Rover Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries. And no, we’re not kidding. We were more or less aware that things had changed, especially when we read the Judy Blume novels that our kids left around the house. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that we’re astonished by Hollis Seamon’s young adult novel, Somebody Up There Hates You.

 It begins this way:

 I shit you not. Hey, I’m totally reliable, sweartogod. I, Richard Casey – aka the Incredible Dying Boy — actually do live, temporarily, in the very hospice unit I’m going to tell you about. Third floor, Hilltop Hospital, in the city of Hudson, the great state of New York.

 This wild, touching but hard-edged story is about two teenage kids, Richard and his girlfriend Sylvie, who are in a hospice unit, dying and behaving pretty much the outrageous way teenage kids behave, or certainly might behave, knowing that their time is limited.

 The narrator’s voice is one of the many marvels of this short, incandescent novel. Another marvel is the antic spirit that enlivens scene after scene amid the stark reality of hospice. The tone is not sentimental; Richard is dying and when you close the book you know he’s not going to get a reprieve.

 The book’s flyleaf tells us that Hollis Seamon spent years visiting a children’s hospital, fascinated and touched by the young people she met there, while she was caring for her young son.  Seamon’s web site shows that prior to Somebody Up There Hates You Seamon had published a collection of short stories, Body Work, plus a mystery, Flesh, and the recent Corporeality, a second short story collection — all for adult readers. No matter your age, Somebody Up There Hates You is a tough book to read but worth it all the way.

 

Taking Down The Christmas Tree

Christmas tree trashedTaking down the Christmas tree is one of the saddest domestic chores. For a week or longer this evergreen has been standing in the room with us, filling the air with the scent of balsam or other pines, glittering with lights and sparkling ornaments. And those ornaments are so important, so beautiful, no matter that they’re inexpensive baubles or, say, ordinary pine cones tinted with gold-like paint, or paper and glitter glued together by one of the children a dozen years ago. Each ornament has it’s family history — the history of which grandparents had it on their tree a generation ago, or who brought it as a gift, or made it just this year.

There’s no joy of recognition when taking these ornaments from the tree. That delight happened two weeks ago when, after an absence of a year, we carefully lifted this delicate trinket from it’s wrapping and — oh, yes! — we remember that one, the Santa with the paint chipping off, the glass sphere with Mother and Child inside, or those tiny gold balls we got forty years ago for our first Christmas. And if you turn off all the lamps in the room and leave only the strings of tiny tree lights — how magically beautiful it is!

Now we’re simply returning the faded old ornaments to their little egg-crate boxes, if we can find the right boxes that fit, and stacking them one upon the other in a corner of the attic, or in a closet behind the bag of swim suits and beach clothes.  Then, after struggling to unfasten the tree from the stand, and after spilling water on the floor, we finally grapple with the brittle tree amid a shower of dried pine needles, drag it out the door and toss it on the snowbank down by the road. And there it will lie until the town truck comes to take it away, bits of glittering tinsel still fluttering here and there.

More Notes


Tim Carmody, in his excellent piece, "How Haiti Became Poor", notes that President Trump's racist policies and vulgar language have sullied the word "shithole" which used to be one of the all-time great swear words. He's right. It's another terrible power this careless President wields.