Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Summer Solstice 2017

For Northern Hemisphere folks the sun reaches its highest point in the sky today. It is the longest day of the year.

Summer Solstice Sunrise at Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England                    NASA

Although the sun begins its descent tomorrow, insolation from our star will continue to raise atmospheric temperatures until late July. As this day marks the end of the season of renewal and the beginning of the season of growth and flower, I am reminded of this quote by D. H. Lawrence...

The greatest need of man is the renewal forever of the complete rhythm of life and death, the rhythm of the Sun's year, the body's year.

...and this music by Johann Sebastian Bach:

Shout with joy to God, all the earth!.... Psalm 66

Monday, June 19, 2017

Juneteenth: Remembering Emancipation

Juneteenth as described by the Library of Virginia...

...has grown into a popular event across the country to commemorate emancipation from slavery and celebrate African American culture. Juneteenth refers to June 19, the date in 1865 when the Union Army arrived in Galveston and announced that the Civil War was over and that slaves were free under the Emancipation Proclamation. Although the proclamation had become official more than two years earlier on January 1, 1863, freedmen in Texas adopted June 19th, later known colloquially as Juneteenth, as the date they celebrated emancipation. Juneteenth celebrations continued into the 20th century, and survived a period of declining participation because of the Great Depression and World War II. In the 1950s and 1960s Juneteenth celebrations witnessed a revival as they became catalysts for publicizing civil rights issues of the day. In 1980 the Texas state legislature established June 19 as a state holiday.

Emancipation                                                        Thomas Nast, American, 1865

It's not a federal holiday but there will be official state celebrations of this historic event in forty-three states. 

The idea that Juneteenth was the most fitting day to celebrate emancipation has faced competition from several significant days including September 22: the day Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation Order in 1862;  January 1: the day it took effect in 1863; January 31: the date the 13th Amendment passed Congress in 1865, officially abolishing the institution of slavery; and December 6: the day the 13th Amendment was ratified that year.  The persistence of the day's celebration in Texas embedded it in the social fiber of former slaves and their families who carried it with them in their migrations to all corners of the nation and to urban areas in particular.  Growing wealth among black communities in the 20th century also enabled them to hold lengthier and more elaborate celebrations.  

Despite a near-century of prejudice and racism, both de jure and de facto, Juneteenth survived across the nation. It was revitalized nationally by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. (April 4, 1968), in combination with his Poor People's March on Washington (planned for May 12 to June 24, and its early conclusion with the Solidarity March on June 19.  

We extend our best wishes for a joyous day to all those celebrating Juneteenth.   And it's the perfect time for all of us to "honor the countless contributions made by African Americans to our Nation and pledge to support America’s promise as the land of the free."

For more about the history of this significant day in American history visit the Juneteenth World Wide Celebration site.


Photos and Illustrations:
Library of Congress at

Text:, The African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross 
"honor the countless" quote,

Sunday, June 18, 2017

"Bring Me My Bow Of Burning Gold!...Bring Me My Chariots Of Fire!"

Seventy-seven years ago today, Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered his most memorable speech during Britain's war against Adolf Hitler. The threat of invasion by German ground forces was high. The British people descended almost nightly into their bomb shelters as waves of Luftwaffe bombers flew overheard dropping their terror on thousands of victims.

Churchill was a master of the English language but even he struggled for the right words to both describe the reality his countrymen faced and rally them to endure what he knew would be their darkest hour:

The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour.

Churchill would go on to receive the Nobel Prize in literature in 1953 for his many volumes of history, biography and other works. He possessed a vivid, lively writing style well worth reading for information as well as enjoyment. For more on this remarkable leader, here is a link to his Wikipedia entry.

And here is a link to the "finest hour" speech in its entirety of thirty minutes. All of it is worth hearing but as one would expect the conclusion is remarkably powerful beginning at 26:13


Photos and Illustrations:
public domain photo, Imperial War Museums

title quote, from the short poem, "Jerusalem," in the preface of William Blake's Milton a Poem.
Winston Churchill,


Father's Day 2017

Best wishes to all dads on their special day. Below is a picture of my dad taken in 1917 when he was in the fourth grade. He grew up to be a lot happier than he appears here - maybe it was the Great War or just a bad day.

Dad in fourth grade, 1917-18

His mom and dad were the son and daughter of first generation immigrants from Germany and Wales. He was afflicted with polio in his early years, but that didn't stop him. He graduated from high school in the midst of the Roaring Twenties, went to work to support his aging parents and married the love of his life in the midst of the Great Depression in 1933. 

Graduation, Class of 1925

He was an entrepreneur at heart who was self-employed in the insurance and utilities industries and owned his own business by the early '50's. He left the Rust Belt in 1956 for even better careers in hospitality management, a field he loved dearly because of his commitment to quality service and customer satisfaction. He was "old school:" through and through and never met a stranger.

At home in 1928

Nancy and I have raised three fine children to successful adulthood. Though neither of our dads was present during virtually all of our children's "shaping" we know that their values played a major role in teaching our kids to be responsible, caring, and loving individuals. Such continuity is essential if we are to have community and commonwealth in these and future times. 

Dressed for community theater in 1928

Not a day passes without a wish to have our dads and their guidance with us once more. How fortunate we were to have such beacons in our lives. And how wonderful it would be to see the reverence and respect for fatherhood restored in our nation today.

Having expressed that wish for the future, we are left with this wish for today: Happy Father's Day and a big "Thank You" to our dads, Bill and Vergil, and to fathers everywhere.

Dad and Mom at her family's farm in 1936

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Igor Stravinsky: He Put The "New" In New Music

Igor Stravinsky, popularly recognized as a leading founder of Modern music in the 20th century, was born in Russia on this day in 1882. He lived in Switzerland and France before immigrating to the United States after World War II. Over his lifetime he composed in a variety of styles but is best remembered for his dazzling, rhythmic music in the early years - 1910 to 1914 - of the Ballets Russes produced by Sergei Diaghilev in Paris.

 Portrait of Stravinsky                                  Robert Delaunay, 1917

His work during that brief period included The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911), and The Rite of Spring (1913). One could say they are all signature pieces - experimental and revolutionary - that dazzled and in some cases infuriated their audiences. Regardless, the three compositions as well as other sounds from Stravinsky's imagination had a huge impact on music and the arts.  He was 27 when audiences first heard The Firebird. For a taste of that music here is the finale. While you listen, keep in mind that Henry Ford sold 10,000 cars that year, the U.S. had 1000 miles of paved road, half the American population lived on farms or towns with fewer than 2500 people, and the flying machine was a very rare and thrilling sight. 

In the century since the premiere of The Firebird, its innovative sounds have been re-patterned by the likes of Aaron Copeland, Leonard Bernstein, John Williams and others including Philip Glass who has perhaps carried rhythm as art to its farthest horizon to date. In the view of Tom Service writing in The Guardian in 2011,

Stravinsky is the only common influence that composers from Steve Reich to Thomas Ad├Ęs, from Judith Weir to John Adams, from Elliott Carter to Louis Andriessen, can all agree on. Without Stravinsky, there would be no minimalism, not much neo-classicism, not enough rhythmic energy, and not nearly enough compositional freedom in the 20th and 21st centuries. Four decades on, the Stravinsky that's proved most popular with audiences, orchestras and concert halls is the colouristic brilliance of the three early ballets, Firebird, Petrushka, and the Rite.

Although Stravinsky left this world almost a half century ago he indeed remains as the title of Service's article describes him, "Stravinsky Our Contemporary."


Photos and Illustrations:
portrait, public domain, Robert Delaunay, New Art Gallery Walsall, West Midlands, England

Igor Stravinsky entry,
quotation, Tom Service, "Stravinsky Our Contemporary,, April 6, 2011

Friday, June 16, 2017

Ulysses At 95: "Hold To The Now, The Here, Through Which All Future Plunges To The Past."

In the world of Western literature June 16 is far from an ordinary day. It isn't that a number of significant events occurred or that any event occurred that day. Instead, June 16 (1904) is the setting for a several hundred page descriptive stream of happenings in the life of Leopold Bloom, the protagonist in the James Joyce novel, Ulysses. The Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, said this about the book:

What is so staggering about Ulysses is the fact that behind a thousand veils nothing lies hidden; that it turns neither toward the mind nor toward the world, but, as cold as the moon looking on from cosmic space, allows the drama of growth, being, and decay to pursue its course.

First edition copy (1922) "unread except for the racy bits

To say the least, Ulysses is an adventure. For some it may be merely pornographic or a huge word puzzle or a unique work of art in its truest form. However you chose to view the novel keep in mind that people are celebrating this work and its author across the world today on what has become known as Bloomsday. And even those who know nothing about Bloomsday, never read the book or know little about the author have likely encountered bits and pieces of Joyce's skill in school and through popular culture. Here is one of those most often quoted pieces:

I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

I came to appreciate that quote so much I used it for several years in a descriptive writing course. Others could have been useful but their playfulness simply made them enjoyable:

Meditations of evolution increasingly vaster: of the moon invisible in incipient lunation, approaching perigee: of the infinite lattiginous scintillating uncondensed milky way, discernible by daylight by an observer placed at the lower end of a cylindrical vertical shaft 5000 ft deep sunk from the surface towards the centre of the earth: of Sirius (alpha in Canis Maior) 10 lightyears (57,000,000,000,000 miles) distant and in volume 900 times the dimension of our planet: of Arcturus: of the precession of equinoxes: of Orion with belt and sextuple sun theta and nebula in which 100 of our solar systems could be contained: of moribund and of nascent new stars such as Nova in 1901: of our system plunging towards the constellation of Hercules: of the parallax or parallactic drift of socalled fixed stars, in reality evermoving wanderers from immeasurably remote eons to infinitely remote futures in comparison with which the years, threescore and ten, of allotted human life formed a parenthesis of infinitesimal brevity.

Rest assured there is more there than the racy bits.

If you want to learn more about the day, the book, and the author, visit these sites: Bloomsday, Ulysses, and James Joyce.


Photo and Illustrations:, June 4, 2009, photo by Martin Argles

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Magna Carta: Origins Of Royal Accountability

By all accounts he was a rather nasty king who habitually squeezed money from his subjects to fund his quest for territory.  He was so land hungry that he was nicknamed "Lackland" because his father gave all his sons territory except for him. By the early 1200's England's King John had lost Normandy and virtually all of Avignon to France. He also quarreled with Pope Innocent III over a nominee for the post of Archbishop of Canterbury. By 1215, the king found himself face to face with opposition from influential, learned, and powerful members of English society.

On June 15, 1215, the opposition demanded certain liberties from the English crown throughout the kingdom. King John had no alternative but to sign the document, the Magna Carta, if he wished to remain on the throne. The document had several demands but three of them were most significant. They were: the Church had authority to select its staff, money beyond set payments were to be collect by the King from his tenants without their approval, and all punishment of freeman was to be carried out according to the law of the land.

Articles of the Barons (Magna Carta), 1215            British Library

Here is a summation of the significance of the document for English people written by Michael Wood in his  book, The Story of England, a companion volume to the BBC documentary of the same name:

In the Magna Carta in 1215 King John had acceded to the barons' demands made in response to his wholesale abuses of power. In essence it was a charter for the ruling class but it embodied the crucial principle that the king was bound by the law. Immediately after John's death Magna Carta was reissued in the name of his successor, and there were several versions up to 1225. Since then it has come to be regarded by English people, and by all who have adopted English law, as the chief constitutional defense against arbitrary or unjust rule. Its most famous clauses express some of the English people's most deeply held political beliefs, and pertain to both rich and poor:
No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed, or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals, or by the law of the land . . . To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.
Later lawyers found here the basis for fundamental English rights: equality before the law and freedom from arbitrary arrest . . . .

Stephen Hayward provides more information in this fine Instapundit tribute to today's historic moment in Western history.


Kings and Queens of England and Great Britain, Eric R. Delderfield, David & Charles Publishers, Devon, 1977