Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Fritz and I have been doing some volunteer work on a couple of fronts.  The three-fold brochure for a walking tour of the Historic District of the town of Raymond is finished and a first run was printed today.  There will probably be some additions for later runs, but the Historical Society was very happy with the final mock-up and we're happy to have it done.

The very simple, very New England building above is the local Quaker Meeting House in West Epping, just east of Raymond.  It was built in 1851 and except for one electric line, four simple hanging lights and one electric outlet, it is unchanged from the day it opened. 

The interior is exquisitely simple.  When Fritz and I had our Quaker marriage ceremony after we had done the legalities to marry in Massachusetts, we sat in front of the window on what's called the Facing Bench with other members of the Meeting, and special guests who were going to speak, on either side of us.  The little bracket on the railing to the left of the aisle is something I built for one of the members who brings vases of cut flowers or potted plants for the Meetings which are on the first and third Sunday mornings every month.

Meetings vary in form: some are open to spontaneous outburst as members are moved to speak, some have ministers like mainline Protestant sects while others, like the one here, are silent and amount to an hour of meditation.  If guests are moved to speak, they are not silenced, but neither are they encouraged. 

Looking down from the Facing Bench to the back of the room.   The panels on the left wall rise into the attic to reveal a mirror-image room on the other side.  In the days when the Meeting had an extremely large membership, those panels were mostly up, allowing the whole membership to be together on Sunday mornings.  However when business meetings were held, the panels were lowered so that the men on one side and the women on the other could confer privately on their separate responsibilities.

The Meeting House is unheated but for the little box stove.  The blankets are used as lap robes in fall, winter and spring.  The Meeting House sits in a grove of towering white pines and has very little opportunity for solar gain -- it doesn't get particularly warm even in summer.  As the stove is small and the stove pipe now by code has to be double-walled, it doesn't give off any near as much heat as the old single-walled pipe.  So we all bundle up, keep our outerwear on, and wrap our legs up during our contemplative hours.

The work we're doing here is in the attic which hasn't been cleaned out in a very long time.  It is stacked in several places with raw cut lumber that had been laid in over the years against times when the roof needed re-planking.  But whenever it had been cut, the sawdust and wood chips were never cleaned out; we'll need shovels for some of it   The entire surviving contents of the Meeting House's 19th century library and some of the effects of the old First Day (ie. Sunday) School had been stacked in deteriorating cardboard cartons.  There was also old, mostly damaged furniture and other discarded stuff.  The big rocks hanging from the rafters are counterweights for the panels that slide up from below -- the slot they come up through is covered by the insulation bats that run down the center of the space.

We're cataloging the books with the idea of exploring any interest in them by the libraries of divinity schools.  The earliest we've come across so far is dated 1809.  The great majority come from mid-century and a surprising number are anonymous as to author.  In the title page there will be the name of he book and the only credit will be "by the author of" followed by the names of several other books.  A great many are what might be called moral tales for youth; these are typical:
Anon.   Blind Willie; or, The Way to Heaven   American Tract Society   New York undated
Anon.   Good for Evil or, Rose Cottage   Henry A. Young & Co.  Boston  1868
Anon.   Mark Barnett, The Cripple or, West Morelands   Henry Hoyt  Boston  1864
They are all written in the height of Victorian sentimental style and a secure belief in the total and unquestionable superiority of Christianity.

Other books are biographies of Quaker luminaries, travelogues, commentaries on the scriptures, adult novels, bibles, hymnals and an one or two surprises, like a book of Ellery Queen crime stories!   


The state of nature around the house and gardens:

Japanese iris blooming in the big English country garden.

A squirrel who had been a particularly vicious fight,  The wound was deep and there was a second one on his hind quarters.  He had come searching for seed dropped from the bird feeder but was moving in a slow, unsquirrel-like manner.

The day lily garden on the leach field of the septic system.  Trees and bushes can't be planted there because their roots would destroy the pipes that distribute water from the septic tank, but the shallow-rooted lilies are perfect.  Less than half of them have flowered so far.

A bird house that I'd been given for my birthday.  It comes as a kit to put together and the pieces lock together without glues or fasteners of any kind.  Unless there are some birds out there that mate very late in the season, it won't see action until next spring.  It has a contemporary house design look to it.  


Friday, June 22, 2012

Not your Grandfather's String Quartet.  

Brooklyn Rider is a thoroughly 21st century "downtown" group that will be making its debut at the Caramoor Festival north of New York City in the lush countryside of Katonah and Bedford in Westchester County.  Located on an old estate of baronial splendor, Caramoor had always been a bastion of the classic 19th century repertory in opera, symphonic and chamber music.

A new music director has, however, decreed that "contemporary" is not a four letter word.  New works and new musicians are flooding into Caramoor's programs and will continue to do so even though the new director was almost physically accosted last summer by a furious audience member who informed him in no uncertain terms that a piece by Elliot Carter had "RUINED the program" that was otherwise made up of works by Schubert, et al.  Perhaps not coincidentally, attendance at Caramoor has increased since the change in programing went into effect, after several years of slow decline.  

The Vatican: Catholic Official Blames Media and Devil for a Scandal

A senior Vatican official on Monday blamed the media — and the devil — for fueling the scandal over the butler who leaked Vatican documents. The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, told the Italian Catholic weekly Famiglia Cristiana that journalists reporting on the scandal were “pretending to be Dan Brown,” an author who has written novels about power struggles inside the Roman Catholic Church. “The truth is that there’s a will to create division that comes from the devil,” Cardinal Bertone said.

As usual from that source, everybody's to blame but them.   Interestingly, I came across this fascinating dedicatory page from one of the Quaker books I'm helping to catalog:
"This work, a revelation of the Borgias, is dedicated to Archbishop Hughes as a token of ETERNAL ENMITY! with the hope that it will be instrumental in awakening Americans to their duty, and in forming a bulwark of defense against Foreign and Papal aggression around the rights of all Protestant Americans."

This from a normally tolerant, pacifistic Quaker!  I looked up Archbishop Hughes and found an immigrant child from Ireland who was educated in the Philadelphia area and entered the priesthood, rising in the ranks until he was named Bishop of New York City in 1842, and Archbishop when the Diocese was upgraded in 1850.  This assignment placed him on the receiving end of the great flood of Irish immigration resulting from the catastrophic failure of the Irish potato crop in 1845.

Desperate for food, shelter and jobs, the Irish poured out of any hulk that could reasonably expect to make it across the Atlantic and settled along the East Coast, most notably in Boston but also New York where riots and persecution awaited them.  Hughes managed just barely to save the old St. Patrick's Cathedral on Mulberry Street from mobs that wanted to burn it by marshaling 'round the clock defense by thousands of Irish guards until that particularly bad persecution blew itself out.  Given the huge spike in the Irish Catholic population of New York, Hughes planned and began construction of the current St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in 1858.

So far, so good.  But Hughes had a dark side that manifested itself in efforts to persecute other minorities -- and he strongly opposed the abolition of slavery.  From Wikipedia:  "In 1850 he delivered an address entitled "The Decline of Protestantism and Its Causes," in which he announced as the ambition of Roman Catholicism 'to convert all Pagan nations, and all Protestant nations . . . Our mission [is] to convert the world—including the inhabitants of the United States—the people of the cities, and the people of the country . . . the Legislatures, the Senate, the Cabinet, the President, and all!'"  The Quaker book's dedicatory page is dated 1854, and makes total sense in light of Hughes' militantly aggressive statement four years previously.

Ironically, Old St. Patrick's still stands on Mulberry street in lower Manhattan.   At the end of its second century, its site declares that it looks forward proudly to serving a neighborhood that, in the decades following the death of Hughes in 1864, saw settlement by Jews, Italians, and Chinese -- none of whom would have gotten much respect from Archbishop Hughes.*

*I base this statement on my Catholic school education by Irish Catholic nuns.  They announced that Italian Catholics were too emotional, nowhere near strict enough, and should be avoided.  Given that those were the days when the Papacy was firmly in Italian hands, you have to wonder.  And given that I identify strongly with my Italian heritage on my father's side, you can probably think your way through to my  reaction.


Excerpt from an absolutely delightful article by Amy Copperman on the site Devine Caroline:

"And the experience taught me a few valuable lessons. The most important being that it’s a helluva lot easier to get a date with a fireman (if you’re into that sort of thing) than I originally thought. I mean, it’s not like they’re hard to spot: They ride around in huge, red trucks with blaring sirens. And at any given time of day or night, manly, fit, capable men are hanging out in clearly marked stations all around the city, waiting for someone to injure themselves or light something on fire. So basically you know where these men are at all times, which makes picking one up way easier than going to a bar. Plus, there’s a fair amount of downtime at the firehouse. In between saving lives, they just kind of hang out, watch TV, play pool, and apparently cook elaborate feasts and do chores all together like taller, studlier versions of the seven dwarfs. It’s awesome!"

Via http://www.divinecaroline.com/22065/126884-date-fireman-and-fantasy#ixzz1yQkqOiqk



And finally, for all my musician friends:

Friday, June 15, 2012


I found another of the celebratory photographs of Queen Elizabeth made for her 60th Anniversary.  Given the significance of the event and the mystique that still attaches to royalty -- the British royal family in particular -- I assume a fair amount of symbolism to be part of these images, as in the Renaissance paintings photographer Thomas Struth studied before creating the shot I featured in my last entry.  In that photo the idea seems to be a gracious, slightly casual welcome by the Windsors, Elizabeth and the man without whom she has said she wouldn't have been able to do the job, to all.

I don't know the name of this picture's photographer, but this one is different, more formal, the stakes are higher.  This isn't Mrs. Windsor but HRH the Queen, tiara in place, fur stole, major jewelry and an important gown.  She's alone.  Her body faces the viewer but she's fixed on something outside, the fact we cannot see it serving as an invitation to speculate.  Whatever it is, she's smiles calmly, meeting it with a steady gaze; she doesn't consider it intimidating.  

The past?  Possibly; it's an anniversary and a good time to look back and evaluate.  From presiding over the dismantling of the British Empire to rebranding the family to a point where the future Queen can buy her own groceries at the local super market, Elizabeth has engineered and/or adapted to enormous social change.  She found herself in the royal succession because divorce was considered scandalous and totally impossible in the royal family, but personally approved the divorces of her sister and three of her own children.   The children two generations below hers openly and warmly refer to her as Granny in public.

The present?  Again possible; the family is at a height in its popularity these days; while stressed, the UK is hardly in the pre-disastrous situation of so many other countries.  

The future?  The trees outside are bare, the sky gray, the light coming in the window is cold.  It's autumn, herald of the end of the year and, by association, reminder that for her many things will be ending.  Perhaps not soon (her mother made it to 101 and a half years of age after all) but inevitably.  If that's what's in her mind, she contemplates it calmly.  

Or perhaps she's just thinking that it's typical English weather.  


This graph appeared on the web without a great deal of provenance.  That said, from what I've read of history, it seems reasonably accurate.  The Greek bar probably should show a rather higher angle because of their great achievements in mathematics (which the Arabs recognized, admired and upon which they built in major ways) but in general, as a talking point, it will do nicely.

Ever and as always, the massive Muslim contribution to mathematics, medicine, pharmacology, optics, geography, astronomy, water management, engineering, botany and the preservation of knowledge via the translation of classic works -- all that is totally ignored.  That and an international book copying and publishing industry aided by the mass production of paper and a network of amazingly modern libraries, many of which contained a quarter to a half million volumes at a time when libraries in Christian Europe might contain two or three dozen. 

There was a book by Thomas Cahill, written from a typically Eurocentric, Christiancentric perspective, called "How the Irish saved Civilization" that credited Irish monks with copying books (probably a good three to six months for one sizable book) to preserve their contents.  Arab scribes who were trained for speed and concentration, aided no end by the flowing Arabic script and the smoothness of paper versus the rougher texture of parchment, could copy a book in two to three days.  With hundreds of them working, shipments to libraries and book sellers throughout the Muslim world went out frequently.  And authors benefited from an early version of the royalty system.

The catastrophic decline of knowledge and achievement during the Christian Dark Ages was largely self-induced.  Most of the great Greek and Roman libraries were burned because they were pagan and therefore filled with lies and works of the evil, according to the bishops and popes who ordered their destruction.  (As late as the 1400s, Catholics were still burning libraries.  When Ferdinand and Isabella took possession of Granada on January 2, 1492 from the last Muslim ruler in Spain, one of their first actions, the very next day, was to have the approximately 500,000 volume library taken out of the Alhambra palace and burned in the Plaza Bib-Rambla) .  Medicine faltered, construction techniques reverted to primitive stone upon stone building with the sophisticated lightweight Roman concrete formulas gone.  Religious superstition replaced provable science.

The same thing could happen today, here.  There are people working to make it happen. 


I was not familiar with the Chinese city of Tianjin (north of Beijing more or less on the border with Mongolia) until last week when this picture of the city's new performing arts center appeared along with an article on the tremendous boom in arts complexes throughout China.   The building below contains a western-style opera house, concert hall and a moderately sized theater.  Subsidiary buildings contain other performance spaces, libraries, and other arts-related activities

Although perhaps not well known to most Americans, Tianjin is China's sixth largest city with a metropolitan population of some thirteen million.  Another center like this is being built across town in a different district.  The boom in China is similar to the one fifty years ago in the U.S. when arts centers, many conceived in the highly-publicized wake of Lincoln Center in New York City, sprouted up all over the U.S.

The design of the halls all over China (the strikingly handsome opera house, above) is an indication of the tremendous interest in and influence of Western art forms throughout eastern Asia.  Classically-trained singers, instrumentalists and composers are now spread throughout the world in symphony orchestras and opera houses.   Korean soprano Hei-Kyung Hong has been a renowned member of the Metropolitan Opera for decades; Madame White Snake, a strikingly beautiful opera by Chinese-American composer Zhou Long was premiered in Boston and won the Pulitzer Prize for opera in 2011 to give just two examples.  American and other Western artists are welcomed by China to perform and to give master classes.  Chairman and Madame Mao's Cultural Revolution that stunted Zhou Long's musical education until he could get out of China and study in the West, is long gone and discredited. 


Every now and again a squirrel will explore the planters that are built onto the front of the house and look up to see the tall glass windows that make up the house's southern facade.  Sometimes they chin themselves on the window sills and peek in.  When Starr is in the room, this can result in nose to nose confrontations through the double pane glass.  The other day when one was going on, I grabbed my camera and walked over to the window.  The squirrel decided to check me out nose to nose and quickly climbed up the side of the window frame to get a good look, allowing me to do the same.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

German photographer Thomas Struth was one of several artists asked by the UK's National Portrait Gallery to create a commemorative image of Queen Elizabeth for this year's 60th anniversary Jubilee. He said in an interview that he was dubious at first. His career has been notable for magnificently detailed monumentally scaled photographs of great world architecture.   Portraiture, when he did it, was devoted to non-celebraties; he said he hadn't had much luck photographing the famous and powerful as he couldn't get them to loosen up and reveal themselves.

Eventually, he gave in and studied royal portraits through the ages, including existing photographs of Elizabeth taken throughout her reign.  He then focused on the furniture, ornamentation and colors of the potential backgrounds, anxious to include the grandeur but not allow the richness of detail to overwhelm the face.  He did the shoot at Windsor Castle a little over a year ago, working extensively with one of the Queens ladies in waiting who would bring dresses, suits, jewelry and other accessories for him to review in relation to backgrounds that looked desirable.  He then made his choices, all of which were approved by the subject.  The image above is the final choice from among all the pictures Struth shot.

So much is going on that's so right -- they're a couple, but the color of the dress and hair and slight extra light on her face make you look at her. The clothing is simple; her not overly-fitted dress is almost casual and doesn't distance her.  It's The Windsors at Home but the rich yet subdued background, accented and anchored by the great standing candelabra lamp, sets the royal tone.  It's much like an excellently propped and costumed stage set -- which in fact it is.   And it has interested me in exploring Thomas Struth's other work.

Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker has survived the recall attempt and is claiming vindication for his anti-union stand.  His new project is to deny GLBT people rights visit their partners in the hospital.
Walker wants the state to cease defending its domestic partner registry on the grounds that it's unconstitutional.  This is from the Associated Press:
Members of the conservative group Wisconsin Family Action filed a lawsuit last summer arguing the registry violates the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage. Former Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat who proposed the registry as a means of granting same-sex couples more legal rights, chose to defend the registry and had filed a motion asking Dane County Circuit Judge Daniel Moeser for summary judgment upholding it. Walker, a Republican, inherited the case from Doyle when he took office in January.
Walker has filed documents saying the registry shouldn't be defended because it mimics marriage, and  is unconstitutional because of that. The registry, which has somewhat fewer than 1400 couples listed, guarantees same-sex couples the right to visit each other in hospitals, make end-of-life decisions, and inherit each other's property, just as married couples do.  A laundry list of other rights is still denied, but former Governor Doyle's registry unquestionably filled a great need and is now endangered.  A gay advocacy group, Fair Wisconsin, will step up to defend the registry in the absence of state support.  Governor Walker's opposition will continue; somehow guaranteeing all citizens of the state the rights to protect and exercise their relationships as they so choose is a danger to the concept of small government.     


Some gratuitous Animal pictures:

Monday, June 04, 2012

Mitt Romney, who claims that he accepts the long form Hawaii Birth Certificate that Barack Obama released to the media some while ago, nevertheless has embraced Donald Trump who is militantly claiming that Mr. Obama is an ineligible foreign-born illegal president.  And as if taking up the birther cry himself, Romney unexpectedly released his own birth certificate, with one resulting revelation that may ironically sink the whole birther farce altogether.

Mitt's birth certificate lists his father's birthplace as Mexico and has revived the question of George Romney's eligibility to run for president, which he did in the late 1960s.

From Wikipedia:

Questions were occasionally asked about Romney's eligibility to run for President due to his birth in Mexico, given the ambiguity in the United States Constitution over the phrase "natural-born citizen".
His Mormon paternal grandfather and his three wives had fled to Mexico in 1886, but none of them ever relinquished U.S. citizenship. While the Constitution requires that a president must be a natural-born citizen, the first Congress of the United States in 1790 passed legislation stating: "The children of citizens of the United States that may be born beyond the sea, or outside the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural-born citizens of the United States." Romney and his family fled Mexico in 1912 during the Mexican Revolution.

George Romney with his then 14 year-old son Mitt and his wife at the time of his campaign for Governor of Michigan

During the campaign, Romney was generally considered a viable and legal candidate for United States president. He departed the race before the matter could be more definitively resolved, although the preponderance of opinion since then has been that he was eligible.

From Newser on the web (bolding of the key statement is mine):

As early as 1967, Democratic members of Congress were questioning whether George Romney was eligible to run for president, leading to numerous legal arguments which concluded that Romney—whose parents were American citizens who moved to a polygamous Mormon colony in Mexico—was indeed a "natural born citizen." The Congressional Research Service issued a paper saying the legal meaning of natural born citizen "most likely" included anybody born out of the US with at least one parent who was an American citizen. The elder Romney's own take, via a written statement from his records: "I am a natural born citizen. My parents were American citizens. I was a citizen at birth."

Not both parents, but at least one parent.  As that statement came from Congress's own research department,  it would undermine the birthers' tiresome campaign.  Barack Obama's mother was an American citizen, and it wouldn't matter whether he was born in Hawaii or not given Congress's 1790 legislation that birth on U.S. soil wasn't necessary anyway. 

Now to everyone out there (Mr. Trump) who insists on beating an obviously dead horse, could we all please get working on real problems that need real solutions? 


It's almost incomprehensible that this is still going on.  I realize that prejudice and racism are on the rise in this country, and will probably get a lot uglier before the pendulum swings the other way.  But I still find it unreal and very dangerous.


CNN's site published a severe condemnation of Facebook last week, including all the usual accusations that it's destroying conversation, promoting ignorance, etc., etc.  My thoughts:

I view Facebook as a tool that, like any tool,  can be used or misused.  I choose to use it for keeping in touch with people I care about -- family, friends, colleagues both former and current, and internet friends I initially encountered through their blogs.  Blogging and Facebook have brought me together with people, many of whom I value deeply as essential in my life; in other words I have used Facebook to enliven, enrich and increase my community.  As to privacy, one can control what one decides to reveal.  I really don't understand such blanket condemnation as CNN's.  Apparently, they deny that we have any discretion or control over our own lives.


Our goldfinch couple in the seed feeder.  They always enter the feeder facing away from each other and maintain that pose until they fly out together.

I'm told I should hate chipmunks but it isn't happening.  The ones we have here have not damaged anything as far as we can see, and they happily inhabit the rock walls I constructed all over the property.  I wasn't mad for this one making repeated visits to the seed feeder and filling his cheeks with sunflower seed hearts, however, so I greased the pole with Crisco and haven't seen him in there since.

Last Thursday, all the roses opened at once!

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