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Standard Time

Harold Lloyd in Safety LastWe’re back on Standard Time now. That means you drive home from work in the dark. Hawaii and Arizona never left Standard time, so they don’t have to mess with their clocks. Some of us liked it better before the world began organizing time. Some of us right here at Critical Pages, for example, get suicidal when twilight creeps up in the middle of the afternoon.

But suicide isn’t necessary. A study by professors Paul Fischbeck, at Carnegie Mellon University, and others, found that after the time change pedestrians walking during evening rush hour are nearly three times more likely to be struck and killed by cars than before the change. Which is another reason we don’t like messing with the clock.

Fooling with clocks is always lethal. “The Monday and Tuesday after moving the clocks ahead one hour in March is associated with a 10 percent increase in the risk of having a heart attack,” says Martin Young. Professor Young is in the Division of Cardiovascular Disease at the University of Alabama (Birmingham), so he probably knows what he’s talking about. Furthermore, he says, “The opposite is true when falling back in October. This risk decreases by about 10 percent.”

In the old days — we’re thinking of the 1800’s here — every town and city set its own time. When the sun was directly overhead, that was twelve noon, so they set the big town clock to twelve and everyone in town set their timepieces by the local clock. That worked fine until railroads became an important feature of life. British railroads switched from local time to the time set by the British observatory at Greenwich, hence what we call Greenwich Mean Time. And by most folks it was called Railway Time. During the 1800’s the British and the French were competing to set standards — standards for weights, lengths, time, and where the zero meridian should be placed. The French wanted it to run through Paris. The British won out, so it runs through Greenwich. On the other hand, the French won on length and had the final word on how long a meter was.

But we digress, as usual.  The illustration for this post is a still from the 1923 movie “Safety Last” starring Harold Lloyd. It’s an example of how dangerous it is to mess with clocks. Check it out — if you have a few minutes of Standard Time.


Stephen Hawking and St. Augustine

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking points out that in the structure of contemporary physics, time doesn’t exist apart from or prior to the existence of the universe, so God wouldn’t have had any time in which to create the universe. So, how did we get here? According to Hawking, the universe just came into being all by itself. There was no God creating it.

It’s interesting to note that St Augustine, who also thought deeply about the nature of time, came to something very like the same conclusion about time and creation. Of course, St. Augustine believed there was a God — “almighty God, the all-creating and all-sustaining, the architect of heaven and earth. ” Or, to quote him directly, deum omnipotentem et omnicreantem et omnitenentem, caeli et terrae artificem.  (Writers in St Augustine’s day didn’t impose capital letters on God, the lower case deum [god] was good enough for Augustine.)

St. Augustine

Saint Augustine

While reading Augustine’s passages on time you get the distinct impression that this extremely sophisticated man is being driven crazy trying to figure out exactly what the nature of time is. (Indeed, he looks pretty sullen in that portrait to the right.) The past, as he notes, doesn’t exist, the future hasn’t even come into being, and the present is continuously vanishing into the non-existent past while advancing on the not yet existent future.

In Book Eleven of the Confessions, Augustine wrestles with the problem of time and has what amounts to  a dialog with his God, saying “For thou madest that very tine itself and periods could not pass by before thou madest the whole temporal procession. But if there was no time before heaven and hearth, how, then, can it be asked, “What wast thou doing then?” For there was no “then” when there was not time.”

And, as he says more pointedly in Chapter XIV of Book Eleven, “There was no time, therefore, when thou hadst not made anything, because thou hadst made time itself.”  The Latin is Nullo ergo tempore non feceras aliquid, quia ipsum tempus tu feceras.  And if we avoid the intimate forms, which are so unusual in English, we can translate that as Therefore, there was no time before you made anything, because you made time itself. In other words, God creates time and everything else. And for Augustine, there’s no paradox here at all. Augustine’s God is not bound within by the rules that fence us mortals.

Isaac Newton’s conception of time was much like St. Augustine’s.  Newton saw time as distinct from all things. “Absolute, true and mathematical time, of itself and from its own nature, flows equable without relation to anything external, ” he said. Most of us live in Newton’s universe, not Einstein’s.  We instinctively envision space undistorted by gravitational forces and we imagine time passing whether or not there’s anything with which measure it.  Einstein himself, though he was able to envision time and space as inseparable and was able to discover relativism where earlier generations had been certain of absolutes, found himself baffled by the discoveries of a younger generation of physicists.  He wasn’t able to accept the fundamental uncertainties and probabilities of the universe as described by quantum mechanics.  Einstein said many times, and with slight variations, “God doesn’t play dice with the world.”  The critics at Critical Pages sure don’t know.

Stick Around And Live Forever

Raymond Kurzweil

Raymond Kurzweil

Raymond Kurzweil is planning to live forever. Kurzweil is a futurist, a person who predicts the future based upon current trends. He’s a brilliant inventor and he knows far more than most people about trends in science and technology. And based on what he knows he says that in two or three decades we’ll be at a point where we’ll be able to live forever. Wow! Eternal life! And in just ten or twenty years from now!

No one laughs at Kurzweil.  (Well, maybe a few people at Critical Pages do.) The man has an astonishing record — as a student at MIT he founded a company and before he graduated he sold the company for $100,000 plus royalties. Six years later he started a company to develop a computer program that could recognize printed text; later he and others developed a system that could read text aloud. Kurzweil is also the man who pushed the music synthesizer forward to the point where it could produce musical sounds indistinguishable from those produced by musical instruments. He’s received the half-million dollar MIT-Lemelson Prize for inventive genius.

Currently, Ray Kurzweil is taking good care of himself, aiming to get through the next two or three decades to the year when science will have brought humankind eternal life. He keeps fit, exercises and eats well and, according to an article in Wired,  he takes “250 supplements, eight to 10 glasses of alkaline water and 10 cups of green tea” every day and drinks several glasses of red wine a week. He figures that should do it.

Raymond Kurzweil is brilliant and helpful and and nobody will say I told you so when he dies.  You don’t have to know what he knows to know he’s not going to live forever. His hope for immortality assumes that in the next twenty or thirty years we’ll acquire complete and perfect knowledge of human biology and the technology to apply what we know. Maybe we’ll have the ability to apply what we know. But thus far in history we’ve never acquired complete and perfect knowledge about anything.

Foxglove – Poison & Cardiac Cure

Foxglove flowerThis unusual flower is called Foxglove. It’s also known as Purple Foxglove, or Lady’s Glove, and in Latin it’s named digitalis purpurea. The Latin and English names are related, more or less, by meaning, but they’re not translations of one to the other. The Latin digitalis purpurea means purple ring.

A ring and a glove, of course, fit smoothly over a finger, and you can see how each elongated bell-shaped blossom can fit neatly over a finger. In fact, kids when left to themselves are liable to poke a finger into those blossoms — until you rush up, shouting, “Those are poisonous! Don’t touch them!” Because, as a matter of fact, the entire plant from root to top is lethally poisonous.

The Latin digitalis is formed from the word digitus, which means finger, and even if you don’t know Latin you can probably see that it contains our word digit, which means finger or toe, and because we count on our fingers, the word digit also refers to any of the numerals from 1 to 9, and a long time ago we decided to include 0 in that group, too.

Wake up, we’re not through yet!  About 235 years ago, William Withering, a British doctor, noticed that people with dropsy, which was the name given at that time to the swelling seen in people afflicted with congestive heart failure — people with dropsy got better when given a certain herbal remedy. Withering discovered that the active ingredient in the herbal mix (it contained over 20 different herbs) came from Foxglove. The herbalists who compounded that concoction must have been skilled, because a bit too much of the Foxglove would have killed the patient.

William Withering was not only physician, but also a botanist, chemist and geologist. A brilliant man, he married a young woman who was a botanical illustrator, and they had three children. Withering died in 1799, age 58, and though he contributed to many branches of science he’s now remembered chiefly for his recognition of digitalis as a remedy for certain cardiac conditions.

We haven’t mentioned the different explanations of why the plant is called Foxglove. It’s too confusing. Besides, you may feel we’ve already gone on too long about that tall plant with the purple bell-shaped blossoms.

Women Lose Interest in Sex

But men don’t. That’s the conclusion of researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. The researchers, Sarah Murray ad Robin Milhausen, asked 170 undergraduate women and men who had been in heterosexual relationships from one month to nine years to report on their levels of relationship satisfaction, sexual satisfaction and sexual desire. What they discovered was that the longer a woman was in a relationship, the weaker her sexual desire became. Men reported no decline in desire over time.

Well, that wraps it up. End of post.

♥ ♥ ♥

You want the sad details? Sarah Murray and Robin Milhausen wrote online in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy that women reported lower levels of desire depending on the length of their relationship. “Specifically, for each additional month women in this study were in a relationship with their partner, their sexual desire decreased by 0.02 on the Female Sexual Function Index.”  That’s a bit of news that will make men and women equally glum. Even more depressing, the researchers reported that the length of the sexual relationship was a better predictor of sexual desire in women than the quality of the relationship or the level of sexual satisfaction.

For those of you who still retain sexual curiosity after reading the above, the Female Sexual Function Index goes from 1.2 to 6.0. We at Critical Pages don’t know why the scale starts at 1.2 and not, say, zero or 1.0.  You can find out more about the FSF Index online —  it really exists and really is used.  We don’t know how they measured male sexual desire.  We’re beginning not to care about any of this at all.

Eating & Not Eating

Jack SpratApparently the United States is suffering from two opposed epidemics at the same time. On the one hand there’s anorexia — that’s the eating disorder where you can starve yourself in a mistaken attempt to achieve an impossibly thinner, more perfect self. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, anorexia is “a hidden epidemic.” On the other hand, we have obesity – a not so hidden epidemic.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association as many as 10 million girls and women, and 1 million boys and men, have eating disorders. And the peak onset among girls comes at ages 11 to 13. At the same time, Cynthia Ogden, PhD, a CDC epidemiologist, along with other researchers, made a study of weight in the United States and discovered that 31 percent of adults are obese.  Not only is one-third of our population obese, but two thirds are overweight. And obesity begins among the young: 15 percent of children and teenagers age 6-19 are overweight. Furthermore, Ogden reports that the proportion of obese people has been growing for the last few decades, particularly among blacks — 50 percent of all non-Hispanic black women are obese.

Whereas anorexia, or more properly anorexia nervosa, is a disorder of willful not eating, obesity comes partly from overeating but mostly from eating the wrong foods and drinking the wrong drinks. Obesity appears to be by far the greater of these two health problems. Indeed, if current trends continue, the health problems spawned by obesity alone will overwhelm our health system.  We’re reporting these twin epidemics just in case you haven’t got enough to worry about.


The illustration above this piece is, of course, Jack Sprat, who ate no fat, and his wife, who ate no lean. And if you don’t know the Jack Sprat nursery rhyme, we’re really sorry about your neglected childhood. Our particular version of the couple who licked the platter clean was done, we believe, by Frederick Richardson for Mother Goose, the original Volland edition, in 1915. We don’t know what Jack Sprat is doing with that knife, but we think it will give little children the wrong idea of how to handle a cutting utensil.

Assassination and the 14th Amendment

Drones and targeted killings are discussed on editorial pages every day. But has the discussion been as targeted as the killings? Our colleague Jack Slack doesn’t think so. Here’s his take on the way these issues are being talked about:

America’s use of drones is in the news nowadays. And when it comes to discussing those small, unmanned aircraft, the focus is often on the virtually inevitable killing of innocent civilians near the actual target — collateral damage, as it’s called. But in fact, drones are way down the list when it comes to collateral damage. Using cluster bombs or a single 2,000 pound bomb against the typical drone target would kill many more innocent civilians.

America’s policy of “targeted killings” — called “assassination” by its critics — is also in the news. Drones are used for many purposes, but their use for targeted killings in the Afghan border region of Pakistan and in Yemen has led to heated opinions on the editorial pages of newspapers. The discussion often centers on the permissibility of assassinating members of al Qaeda and/or any other terrorist group, and whether the president or upper echelon leadership have had a “proper” review of the decision before assassinating people,

The proper topic of discussion should be whether it is constitutional to assassinate anyone. In other words does the U.S. Constitution provide due process to “all persons” under its jurisdiction? Or is the right to due process (habeas corpus) guaranteed only to citizens of the United States?

Section 9  U.S. Constitution reads: “The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” That means when Rebellion or Invasion endangers public safety, then habeas can be suspended.   The U.S. Civil War was rebellion, terrorists are not invaders, nor revolutionaries. They are international criminals, not unlike the Mafia.

The 14th Amendment reads: …”No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The creators of the 14th Amendment were obviously well aware of the use of the words citizens and persons.

Aliens are entitled to constitutional protections. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution apply to aliens residing within the United States. As such, the courts guarantee aliens the right to due process of law and equal protection of the laws. Courts have generally construed the Fourth Amendment as applicable to aliens as well.  If a person exists under U.S. jurisdiction he is entitled to constitutional protections weather he is a citizen, legal or illegal alien.

In 1798, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “Habeas Corpus secures every man here, alien or citizen, against everything which is not law, whatever shape it may assume.”

 —Jack Slack

Breast Feeding Time Magazine

Time magazine cover May 2012We at Critical Pages always thought we were keeping current. We figured we were in the swim with the rest of the culture. We supposed we knew society, its older conventions and its newer, younger ways of doing things. But, OK, we were startled by this cover of Time magazine. I mean, TIME magazine!

The cover photo is  certainly eye-catching. The striking  young woman in those stylish black leggings is Jamie Lynne Grumet, a 26-year-old mother, breast feeding her three-year-soon-to-be-four-year-old son. The mother has a blog called I  am not the baby sitter which crashed upon publication of the Time magazine cover.  In her Time magazine interview, Grumet says  that she herself was breastfed until she was six. Clearly we’ve not been keeping up with nutritional trends.

This might bring to mind the protracted breast-fed youngster in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, the kid who was nicknamed all his life as Milkman. But, no. This isn’t literature, it’s science. And it isn’t nutrition so much as psychology.  And psychology is more or less a science. Well, sort of.  Maybe you’ve heard about Dr. William Sears and his wife, the nurse Martha, and their books on “attachment parenting.” As we understand it, attachment parenting means getting close to your baby, as much of the time as possible for as long as possible. Bring the kid to bed with you. It builds confidence in the child, we’re told.  OK, we’re cool with all that.  Every happy family is happy in its own way. We were just startled by the magazine cover, is all. And only for a moment. We’re cool.

Intergalactic Alien

Intergalactic vehicle

Read Intergalactic Vehicle Fake Photo

Have you ever listened to radio programs that broadcast late at night, very  late at night? At that hour your mind is open to all sorts of strange thoughts, and some pretty strange thoughts get broadcast in those small hours. Once, when Marilyn Robertson couldn’t get to sleep, she tuned in and heard an interesting story which she reports to us in her poem, “Alien”

Last night, a man on the radio was reminiscing
about the time he was touched by an alien.
He was sitting in his carport, shooting the breeze
with an ex-Marine buddy,
when a woman passed by the house.

She was making a kind of humming sound
and she stopped and asked him for a cigarette.
Well, he gave her one and when their fingers touched,
that’s when he felt the electric current in his stomach.
That’s how he knew.
She told him her name was Tomorrow.

Elsewhere on the dial, the usual mayhem:
hurricanes, robberies, runaway trucks, a warning
not to eat certain vegetables…but nothing more
about the humming woman from another galaxy,
bumming cigarettes along a country road.

 —Marilyn Robertson


Lean, Finely Textured Beef, or Pink Slime

Ground beeIf you haven’t heard of pink slime, you’re fortunate. Pink slime is gross. The meat industry calls it “lean finely textured beef,” a wonderful phrase which shows that poets and rhetoricians have an important role to play in industrial America.

Pink slime, or lean finely textured beef, is a meat filler that is routinely added to hamburger. Think of it as hamburger helper that you didn’t know was there. Most of the time when you buy a slice of meat the label tells you what part you’re getting – chuck, sirloin, tenderloin, and the like – but when you buy hamburger the label often says simply ground beef. And if you take the leftover bits of those named cuts, plus muscle, connective tissue and blood which would ordinarily be dumped, and heat all this, spin it to remove the now liquid fat, and compress the remainder you get what a federal microbiologist called “pink slime.” The name stuck, because that’s what it looks like.

Getting rid of the fat in those throwaway leftovers means that you can add this stuff to fattier ground beef and thereby reduce the percentage of fat in the total. That way you can end up with hamburger that’s, say, 80 percent lean, just like the ground beef that’s made from a cut of meat that’s naturally 80 percent lean. And since pink slime is made from beef it’s not considered an additive so there’s no regulation compelling the meat industry to label the mixed ground beef as having this stuff in it. Oh, it’s true that these leftover bits are more likely to contain pathogens, so the meat is gassed with ammonium hydroxide to kill them, a treatment considered safe and approved by the FDA.

Well, enough of this juvenile grossness! It’s estimated that 70 percent of the ground beef for sale in your local grocery store has got pink slime in it. You’ve already eaten a barrel of the stuff and you’re OK. Stop whining. Or regurgitating. If you want more on this subject, there’s a balanced piece  that was on NPR a while ago. Bon appétite!


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.