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Stamp out starving writers, buy their books!

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Who’s Reading Over Your Shoulder?

Visitors to Critical Pages typically enjoy libraries and book stores. So we should warn you that our Congress recently voted to allow the government to search bookstore and library records of people who are not suspected of criminal acts or terrorism.


Your Government Spy

To be precise, Congress merely allowed the government to continue doing what it’s been doing since 2001 when the Patriot Act was first passed. It came up for reauthorization and Congress reauthorized the whole damn thing, even those parts which invade the privacy of ordinary non-criminal citizens. So if you take out a library book, or buy a book at a bookstore, you might keep that in mind. Maybe you’d like to read about Islamic religious law, or about the safety features of US nuclear power plants, or US railways, or interesting sexual preferences, or AIDS, or impotence in older men or pregnancy problems of older women. And maybe you would have liked to think that those concerns were your own very private business, not open to your government.

Neither the House nor the Senate spent much time considering amendments to the Patriot reauthorization bill, and it passed both chambers handily. (more…)

“The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”

You probably know  about Sarah Palin’s novel misinterpretation of Paul Revere’s ride – the famous gallop he made through the countryside to warn the militias, the Minute Men, that the British were coming. According to Palen, Paul Revere rode through Boston warning the British that “they weren’t going to be taking away our arms.” In addition to giving comics another opportunity to skewer the irrepressible Sarah, her remarks have drawn attention to the ride and to Longfellow’s poem about it.

Paul Revere's Ride

Paul Revere's Ride

“The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” is a wonderful poem to memorize and to recite. It’s an exciting, colorful narrative and the lines go at a great gallop — yes, yes, we know it’s a romanticized rehearsal of the facts, but it’s still a great, rousing poem with many memorable passages. And what’s wrong with a burst of rousing rhymed patriotism? Let’s enjoy this.

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide. (more…)

What Fruit Grew on the Tree of Knowledge?

Some religious debates end up in slaughter, others create schisms, and there are some which merely entertain. The debate over what fruit grew on the tree of knowledge in the garden of Eden hasn’t resulted in any serious factionalism or bloodshed, and that’s the one we’re going to illustrate here. Now, as you surely recall, after God created Adam and put him in the garden of Eden “to dress it and keep it” the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree in the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

Nowhere in the story of Adam and Eve does it say what fruit grew on the tee of knowledge. Some Talmudic scholars have said the fruit was a grape and, indeed, there’s a Slavonic tradition, perhaps inherited from Jewish epigraphical texts, that says it was a grape. Other commentators have declared it was a fig, since the fig tree is the only other tree mentioned by name as growing in the garden. The fruit isn’t specified, but if you want to portray the fall of man in a painting, you have to decide what fruit to show.

Depictions of Adam and Eve in Christian tradition began ages ago in illuminated manuscripts, wall paintings and carvings. Our richest trove of images, and certainly those most familiar to us, come from painters who flourished during the Renaissance. Perhaps the best known depiction of Adam and Eve receiving the fruit from the serpent is Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine Chapel. The full painting occupies a panel of the gorgeous chapel ceiling; the tree of knowledge divides the panel into two parts: on the left we see Adam and Eve receiving the fruit, on the right we see them being driven from the Garden.

Adam and Eve and serpent by Michelangelo

Adam and Eve and serpent by Michelangelo

Above is the left side of Michelangelo’s painting. The figs themselves may not be clear to the casual viewer, but the leaves of the tree are unmistakably fig leaves. Another interesting feature is the sex of the serpent. Eve has stretched her hand upward toward the serpent who has leaned down, revealing her breast. And, in passing, we should note that for centuries figs have symbolized, or suggested, female genitalia. Well, maybe not for you, but for generations of people in the fig-growing lands around the Mediterranean.

For contemporary Christians, the fruit that grew on the tree of knowledge of good and evil was an apple. Below is small part of a larger painting by Lucas Cranach, the Elder, of the tree of knowledge.  Clearly those are apples. The snake is not only female, but a rather pretty and engaging woman.

Tree of Knowledge by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Tree of Knowledge by Cranach the Elder

It’s safe to say that the tradition of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden apple arises when the Bible is translated into Latin. In Latin the word malum means apple and it also means evil. This kind of wordplay, which can become elaborate,  occurs among scholars – yes, even among Biblical scholars. As for that deadly apple, it stuck a while in Adam’s throat as he ate it, leaving it’s mark on males ever since – the Adam’s apple.

Apple Computer logo

Apple Computer logo

Oh, wait, one more thing! That same apple with a bite taken out of it has been so sanitized that it no longer is associated with evil and death, but now symbolizes pure knowledge. Indeed, the name of the tree is casually referred to as the tree of knowledge – of good and evil has been dropped. Thus we have the ubiquitous logo of Apple, Inc. the  computer company. The original Apple logo depicted Isaac Newton under an apple tree and had nothing at all to do with the garden of Eden. In late 1976, Apple introduced the rainbow apple with a bite taken out of it. (OK,  class. Can you think of story in Genesis that has a rainbow in it? Yes? And what did the rainbow symbolize?)  Since 1998 the company has used the bitten apple in monochrome.

Garrison Keillor at Poetry’s Grave

Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor is a very funny guy. Whether in his variety show, “A Prairie Home Companion,” or simply telling tales about the folks at Lake Wobegon, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average,” he’s a superb low-key comedian. He has a unique brand of humor which, for lack of a better phrase, we can call Minnesota Lutheran. On occasion, he’s been a serious and thoughtful writer who knows what it means to be human and humane.

But for years Garrison Keillor has been killing poetry. His mini radio show, “The Writer’s Almanac,” is broadcast on XM Satellite Radio, podcasts, National Public Radio, and more stations than you can count. The radio spot, introduced by an old-fashioned piano tune, is only a few minutes long. Keillor tells us about some notable literary events or birthdays that occurred on that date in the past – much like an almanac – and then, alas, he recites the poem chosen for that day.

Garrison Keillor’s recitation technique is a good definition of lugubrious. His is a sad, depleted voice, rather mournful. No matter the poem, no matter the lines, he speaks with the gentle, falling tones of a mortician. The casual listener will come away reinforced in the common belief that poetry is a nice old ladies’ pastime, genteel, rather like pressing flowers. Certainly it doesn’t sound like a vibrant part of our everyday world. Garrison Keillor’s voice is sorrowful and respectful. And it’s poetry he’s burying.

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.