A Pillar of Salt

 

“Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.”
Job 38:4, from the King James Version of the Bible.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death. Many Americans are probably familiar with it because it has been assigned reading in high schools when it hasn’t been banned or burned by the outraged and the self-righteous. Being assigned reading tends to sap some of the enjoyment of reading, and in that case it might be a good idea to read the book again voluntarily, as an adult.


Mr. Vonnegut was most of all a Humanist, as he himself proclaimed, and the last thing any Humanist would claim is to also be a Saint. On looking back at Vonnegut’s work, the one feature that stands out as discordant from our modern perspective is his treatment of female characters, whom he usually portrayed without much depth, and sometimes unsympathetically for no good reason. That again is viewed from our perch 50 years in the future. Mr. Vonnegut was not out of step with his times in regard to men’s views about women, sad and embarrassing as that may seem to us now. 50 years from now, who can say how people will view us for opinions and attitudes we hold in keeping with our own time?

Brand im Dresdner Zwinger D 18Jh
An anonymous painting, possibly by Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich (1712-1774), of a fire at Dresden Castle.

We must remember that until Slaughterhouse-Five came out in 1969, nearly every book and movie in Western culture depicted the Allies in World War II as the good guys, and the Axis as the bad guys, with little shading of gray to add any moral nuance. The Humanist in Mr. Vonnegut could not abide that state of affairs, particularly since he had been present as a prisoner of war at the Allied fire bombing of the German city of Dresden, a target which had virtually no military or political value. The primary reason Allied command ordered the fire bombing was to terrorize the civilian population. In doing so, the Allies sought to deal out righteous retribution for German bombing of English cities earlier in the war. Atrocities, in other words, were perpetrated to one degree or another by both sides, and that is the nature of war and part of human nature and cannot be avoided, no matter how much books and movies gloss it over and glamorize one side over the other. And so it goes – to borrow a phrase from Mr. Vonnegut.

Slaughterhouse-Five was not revisionist history, but a necessary corrective to over two decades of mostly superficial accounts of World War II, at least in the popular media. It joined John Hersey’s 1946 non-fiction book Hiroshima in telling of war’s cost in suffering and the capacity for cruelty, alongside acts of kindness. In 1970, a non-fiction book written by Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West, was published and changed the national discourse about relations with Native Americans, a discourse which had been dominated for over a century by white people of European descent demonizing them.

American prisoners caught in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 march to their quarters in Dresden, Germany. In February 1945, Allied air forces fire bombed the city, killing as many as 25,000 Germans, mostly women and children. The 1972 film, directed by George Roy Hill, starred Michael Sacks as Billy Pilgrim, the character based on Kurt Vonnegut, and Eugene Roche as his friend Edgar Derby, the ranking soldier among the prisoners.

Important works by great writers and historians come along infrequently and, while nothing and no one is ever perfect, their overall worth to humanity becomes even more apparent over time than at initial publication. Mark Twain’s 1885 novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, another great work that has stood the test of time, has also been subjected to periodic bouts of righteous indignation and banishment by different groups for divergent reasons over the years. Certainly we cringe today at some of its language and at the attitudes Mr. Twain portrayed, but many readers, perhaps most, understand that at the heart of the novel is the growing respect and friendship between a white boy and a black man, which in its day was a radical idea that undermined social conventions. We are all prisoners of our time and cannot, like Billy Pilgrim, the central character of Slaughterhouse-Five, become unstuck in time. But we can be charitable and preserve and cherish the greater Humanist vision given us by Kurt Vonnegut and other writers whose works have stood outside of time, imperfect as the writers and their works, like we and our works, will always be.
— Vita

 

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Backslidin’ Away

 

“Believe we’re gliding down the highway
When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away.”
— from “Slip Slidin’ Away”, a 1977 song by Paul Simon.

Recently the Virginia House of Delegates refused to vote on ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), defeating it perhaps for good. If Virginia had voted in favor of the Amendment, that would have been the 38th and deciding vote among the states, and then the measure would have returned to the United States Congress for reconsideration of whether the time limit for ratification should be extended.


Seal of Virginia
The State Seal of Virginia. On February 21, on the grounds of the state capitol in Richmond, Virginia, two pro-ERA activists posed as the figures depicted in the seal, and one was arrested.

The Equal Rights Amendment is meant to constitutionally protect women’s rights and should be a common sense addition to the country’s legal framework, but anti-abortion activists and those who cling to traditional gender roles have long suspected the amendment would be used as grounds for protecting abortion rights of pregnant women besides guaranteeing women’s rights when they are at odds with men’s long standing privileges, and consequently they have done everything in their power, high and low, to defeat the amendment.

Meanwhile, in an official ceremony for a high school in Wisconsin, female cheerleaders were given “joke” awards for their physical attributes, such as largest breasts or butt, or skinniest body. When some parents and faculty objected to singling out emotionally immature girls this way, the cheerleaders’ coach, Patti Uttech, expressed dismay that “politically correct” people couldn’t understand how the awards were all in good fun. Last year another Wisconsin high school made national news after people became aware that a photographer posing a group of boys for a prom picture had encouraged them to raise their arms in what can only be viewed as a Nazi salute, and almost all the boys appeared to comply with enthusiasm.

Then there’s Goodloe Sutton, 80-year-old owner and editor of The Democrat-Reporter, a weekly newspaper in Linden, Alabama, who in a February 14 editorial railed against Democrats he supposed were plotting to raise taxes in Alabama, and called for the Ku Klux Klan to raid the homes of Democratic legislators in Washington, D.C.. He added even more hateful remarks when asked later for elaboration by other journalists from Alabama and elsewhere once his editorial became notorious. In 2019, Mr. Sutton’s beliefs and attitudes are more in tune with those from the year of his birth, 1939.

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel perform “Slip Slidin’ Away” in the September 1981 Concert in Central Park in New York City.

Did those beliefs and attitudes ever go away in the intervening years? Perhaps partially, although mainly they went underground. Now with encouragement from the current resident of the Oval Office, ignorant and hateful talk is bubbling back to the surface across the land, and here and there action has followed. In the current environment, it will only get worse. The Ku Klux Klan of 1939 is resurrected by a bitter old man with a newspaper in Alabama. The Nazi Party of 1930s and 40s Germany is evoked by laughing schoolboys in Wisconsin. Again in Wisconsin, a high school cheerleaders’ coach hands out awards that would not have been out of place in 1950s America, though even then most people might have deemed them in questionable taste given the age of the recipients. And in Virginia an amendment to the United States Constitution goes down in flames because even in 2019 there are people – not all of them men – who cannot step away from controlling all women as if it were their right.
— Vita

 

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Find a Better Way to Give

 

Animal shelters in Germany are imposing a ban on pet adoptions this Christmas in hopes of discouraging the poorly thought out and whimsical decision to give a pet as a gift. Animal shelters in Germany and in other countries celebrating Christmas have always had to cope with a surge in animal drop-offs after the holidays, as families come to grips with the realization their decision was poorly thought out and whimsical. As always, it is the animals who suffer. Don’t add to the problem this Christmas by giving a pet as a gift. A pet is not a gift to be returned after the novelty wears off, but a living being deserving of and requiring commitment to his or her care.

 

Perhaps animal shelters in other countries will follow the excellent example set by the German shelters. Unfortunately there are still pet shops and breeders who will sell animals to nearly anyone who has the money. It’s more likely that the kind of person who visits an animal shelter to adopt a pet is not the kind of person who is as cavalier about that pet’s well-being as someone who purchases an animal from a pet shop or breeder and considers the creature a commodity or toy. Animal shelters often charge to adopt a pet as well, but in their case the fee is not for profit but to help offset costs of running the shelter, and as a hurdle, however low, to impulse adoptions.

Otto Scholderer Kind mit Katze
Child with Cat, a painting by Otto Scholderer (1834-1902).

In a better world, there would be no pet shops and breeders selling animals. In a better world, the necessity for animal shelters would dwindle because responsible people would take care of the first priority in pet adoption and have their pet spayed or neutered. But until a better world comes into being, reconsider giving a pet as a Christmas gift and consider instead making a financial donation to an animal shelter. The youngster whose heart is set on adopting a pet can, with the help of an adult in the family, volunteer a few hours a week at an animal shelter to help with the care, feeding, and socialization of the animals. Once the youngster gets a real grasp on the commitment required, then it may be time to consider adoption as a responsible and giving way to bring a new member into the family, not as the equivalent of a toy under the tree on Christmas morning, without needs or feelings.
— Izzy

 

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Trolls

 

“troll – verb
definition 2c: to harass, criticize, or antagonize (someone) especially by provocatively disparaging or mocking public statements, postings, or acts.”
Merriam-Webster Dictionary

At a partisan political rally in Mississippi on Tuesday, the Troll-in-Chief entertained his audience of trolls with mockery of Christine Blasey Ford, who had testified before a Congressional committee the previous Thursday about an alleged sexual assault Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge, had perpetrated against her in 1982. The crowd of trolls at the rally revived the “Lock her up” chant from the 2016 presidential election campaign, this time referring to Ms. Ford rather than to Hillary Clinton.


What did Ms. Ford have to gain by giving her testimony and subjecting herself to sneering from the Oval Office Oaf and his cadre of morally warped minions? What does Mr. Kavanaugh have to gain by avowing his innocence other than the crown jewel of his ambition, a seat on the Supreme Court? Encouraged by their Chief Manipulator, the trolls at the Mississippi rally laughed at Ms. Ford and her testimony while taking Mr. Kavanaugh seriously. It’s difficult to fathom the hardness of heart and smallness of spirit it must take to attend one of these rallies and show support for such a Cancerous Leader.

Horror World Circus Exhibition outside Nazi-Era Congress Hall - Nuremberg-Nurnberg - Germany
Horror World Circus Exhibition outside Nazi-Era Congress Hall in Nuremberg, Germany, in August 2012. Photo by Adam Jones, Ph.D.

Before this political and social nightmare progresses to its foul end, there will be divisions within families and among friends and neighbors on a scale not seen in this country since the Civil War. If Cancerous Leader manages to consolidate his power in the elections of 2018 and 2020, then the divisions will be more like those in Nazi Germany, where a minority of sociopaths cowed the majority of decent people into silence about their casual cruelties and major abuses of power.

A compilation of clips from a 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone, titled “Five Characters in Search of an Exit”, written by Rod Serling, and starring William Windom as the Major and Susan Harrison as the Ballerina.

There will be similarities, but not exact resemblances as the United States fashions its own brand of totalitarianism based on worship of the Almighty Dollar. People will have to ask themselves, as some no doubt already have done, how can I possibly remain on good terms with that family member, that friend, that neighbor, when they support such foul rhetoric and willingly follow such despicable and cruel policies? Why should I, and how could I, without abandoning my principles, my self-respect, and the defense of their victims, among whom I can eventually almost certainly number myself?
— Ed.

 

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A Purple Haze of Legal Uncertainty

 

Cannabidiol (CBD) oil has been showing up on the shelves of pharmacies, grocery stores, and health food outlets around the country over the past few years, and yet there remains some confusion about the legality of the product. CBD oil is derived from the Cannabis sativa plant, the same plant that produces hemp and hemp-derived products, as well as marijuana and all its psychoactive derivatives. The difference between hemp and marijuana is in the strain, or variety, with plants bred for hemp production being much lower in the psychoactive property of marijuana known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). CBD oil is typically very low in THC, often less than 0.03%, sometimes 0%, and the easiest way for manufacturers to keep THC content low in their CBD oil is to produce it from hemp plants, which are naturally deficient in THC but flush with cannabidiol.

Cannabis sativa 001
Cannabis sativa plants growing in the Botanical Garden at Karlsruhe, Germany, in August 2009. Photo by H. Zell.

 

Many users and manufacturers have been touting the benefits of CBD oil for treating epileptic seizures, inflammation, and arthritic conditions, among other conditions. People are eager to use the product, but the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has been holding up progress because they classify anything even remotely connected with marijuana as a controlled substance, and therefore illegal. The DEA has rules defining what is marijuana and what is not which are byzantine in their complexity and which can conveniently be applied at their discretion. Meanwhile, states have been passing laws, not just rules, related to marijuana and hemp products, and some of those laws contradict DEA rules. Do the mere guidelines of a federal agency supersede state laws? In a manner of speaking, that’s no way to run a railroad.

Congress needs to pass legislation restricting the reach of the DEA so that it is not constantly in conflict with state laws and causing confusion among the citizenry. Like any bureaucratic agency, the DEA will fight to maintain its budget and its relevance. Congress must drastically curtail the DEA’s mission, however, because the agency has long overstayed its welcome as society has moved on. Over the long term, the DEA and the regulations it enforces have had the same deleterious effect on society as Prohibition and Prohibition agents in the early twentieth century. The peculiar thing about the foggy legal status of CBD oil caused by the DEA standing in the way of progress the states are trying to make is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is having a difficult time regulating the CBD oil market because of its status in limbo. Any policy that continues on the books after it has lost the support of the populace needs to be eliminated before it becomes subject to abuse by an irrelevant agency seeking to hold onto power using selective enforcement on behalf of its own entrenched bureaucratic interests and those of powerful pharmaceutical companies.
— Izzy

Cannabis sativa 002
Male flowers of a Cannabis sativa plant growing in the Botanical Garden at Karlsruhe, Germany, in August 2009. Photo by H. Zell.

 

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It Grows without Spraying

 

A jury at San Francisco’s Superior Court of California has awarded school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson $289 million in damages in his lawsuit against Monsanto, maker of the glyphosate herbicide Roundup. Mr. Johnson has a form of cancer known as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and it was his contention that the herbicides he used in the course of his groundskeeping work caused his illness, which his doctors have claimed will likely kill him by 2020. Hundreds of potential litigants around the country have been awaiting the verdict in this case against Monsanto, and now it promises to be the first of many cases.

WEEDING SUGAR BEETS NEAR FORT COLLINS. (FROM THE SITES EXHIBITION. FOR OTHER IMAGES IN THIS ASSIGNMENT, SEE FICHE... - NARA - 553879 (cropped)
Migrant laborers weeding sugar beets near Fort Collins, Colorado, in 1972. Photo by Bill Gillette for the EPA is currently in the National Archives at College Park, Maryland. Chemical herbicides other than Roundup were in use at that time, though all presented health problems to farm workers and to consumers. Roundup quickly overtook the chemical alternatives because Monsanto represented it, whether honestly or dishonestly, as the least toxic of all the herbicides, and it overtook manual and mechanical means of weeding because of its relative cheapness and because it reduced the need for backbreaking drudgery.

 

Monsanto has long been playing fast and loose with scientific findings about the possible carcinogenic effects of glyphosate, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently sides with Monsanto in its claim that there is no conclusive evidence about the herbicide’s potential to cause cancer. In Europe, where Monsanto has exerted slightly less influence than in the United States, scientific papers have come out in the last ten years establishing the link between glyphosate and cancer. Since Bayer, a German company, acquired Monsanto in 2016 it remains to be seen if European scientists will be muzzled and co-opted like some of their American colleagues.

 

Empty Glyphosate (Herbolex) container discarded in Corfu olive grove
The intensive use of glyphosate herbicide to remove all ground vegetation in olive groves on Corfu, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea, is evidenced by the large number of discarded chemical containers in its countryside. Photo by Parkywiki.

The scope of global agribusiness sales and practices that is put at risk by the verdict in Johnson v. Monsanto is enormous. From the discovery of glyphosate in 1970 by Monsanto chemist John E. Franz to today, the use of the herbicide has grown to the preeminent place in the chemical arsenal of farmers around the world and has spawned the research into genetically modified, or Roundup Ready, crops such as corn, cotton, and soybeans. There are trillions of dollars at stake, and Monsanto and its parent company, Bayer, will certainly use all their vast resources of money and lawyers to fight the lawsuits to come.

Because scientists have found traces of glyphosate in the bodies of most people they have examined in America for the chemical over the past 20 years as foods from Roundup Ready corn and soybeans spread throughout the marketplace, they have inferred it’s presence is probably widespread in the general population. That means there are potentially thousands of lawsuits in the works. Like the tobacco companies before them and the fossil fuel industry currently, agribusiness giants will no doubt fight adverse scientific findings about their products no matter how overwhelming the evidence against them, sowing doubt among the populace and working the referees in the government.
— Izzy

 

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It Ain’t Library Science

 

Archaeologists recently uncovered the remains of a public library in Cologne, Germany, which they surmise was built in the second century of the common era by the Romans or the workers of the Roman client state in control of the region. The architecture follows the model of other large Roman libraries of the period, such as the one in Ephesus, on the western coast of modern Turkey. The reason for thinking it was a public library rather than a private one is the great size of the structure and its location in the public forum of the ancient city, where all buildings were public.

Bookplate of Edward Penfield
Bookplate of American painter and illustrator Edward Penfield (1866-1925). Bookplates are labels people paste into the frontispiece of their books to declare ownership. They were more popular a century ago than now, and as seen here some readers contrived custom bookplates.

 

A public library of two thousand years ago was not the same as a public library now, offering books on loan to members of the general public. Because books were hand copied into scrolls or codices, they were limited in number and expensive to produce. No one could walk in to a public library of two thousand years ago and expect to walk out with one or more books under their arm, to be returned after several weeks. People read the books in the library and the books never left the premises.

The meaning of “public” was also limited at that time to those who were literate and therefore had a reason to be there accessing the books. These would have been scholars of one sort or another, whether in the employ of government, academia, or a wealthy individual, and they would have been almost certainly all male. Lending libraries did not come about until the Renaissance, after the invention of the printing press made available large numbers of copies of books at lower cost.

 

Even then, the number and type of people who could borrow books was limited. Universities and colleges had their own libraries, with their collections available not to the general public but to students and faculty of the institution. That model persists to this day. Private societies lent out books to their members, who also contributed books. They were lending libraries, but in no sense were they public. It was not until civic groups and prominent citizens in Boston, Massachusetts, created the Boston Public Library in 1848 that the institution of the lending library as we know it came into being. The Boston Public Library was the first institution in the country that was open to all and was funded largely by taxpayers, with some assistance by private endowments and gifts of books.

BostonPublicLibrary BoylstonSt 1850s
An 1855 engraving showing the future building of the Boston Public Library on Boylston Street. The library moved into the building in 1858 and stayed there until 1895, when it moved into the grand building on Copley Square where it has remained to this day.

The model caught on, obviously, since today there are over 16,000 public libraries around the country. In the past 30 years or more, two great changes have affected those public libraries, and they are no longer what they were during their heyday in the twentieth century. The first change came from the effects of cutbacks in social programs starting with the Reagan administration. Homeless numbers increased as politicians undercut the social safety net and as mental hospitals could no longer afford to house indigent patients, setting them loose on the streets. Shelters that took in homeless people overnight often turned them out during the day, and the homeless gravitated toward public libraries for safe daytime shelter with access to bathrooms.

Boston Public Library Reading Room
Boston Public Library Reading Room in October 2013. Photo by Brian Johnson.

 

The second change came about with the rise of computers and the internet. Public libraries have gamely kept up with the technological changes despite cutbacks in taxpayer funding, and for the most part they have successfully integrated patrons’ interest in checking out electronic books as well as traditional paper books. Where conflict has arisen it is in affording access to library computers to patrons, some of whom had little interest in setting foot in their local public library until it installed computers with free internet.

With the influx of people who are not readers as much as internet users and are likely as not indifferent to norms of behavior in the library, and homeless people who sometimes abuse library facilities and even other patrons, librarians now have their hands full with duties that have nothing to do with their traditional training in library science. Patrons who are readers and have used their local library’s services in person for decades no longer feel comfortable there, and now often prefer checking out electronic books from the library’s website rather than visiting the library in person. Pity the unfortunate librarians then, who cannot escape the loud cell phone users, the raucous children who have been dumped by their parents in the young readers’ room as if it were a free day care center, and the homeless people who, often through no fault of their own, have been thrown on the good graces of the librarians, but who complicate the work day for those overburdened librarians by the criminal or mentally unstable acting out of some of their number.
— Vita

 

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Saving Up for a Rainy Day

 

Battery storage has long presented a conundrum to renewable energy enthusiasts who tout the relatively benign environmental footprints of wind and solar power. The batteries can contain toxic metals and chemicals which cause environmental damage in mining and formulation, and then again when they have exhausted their usefulness and users need to somehow safely recycle or dispose of them.

Partial Eclipse of the Sun - Montericco, Albinea, Reggio Emilia, Italy - May 1994 03
Partial eclipse of the sun – Montericco, Albinea, Reggio Emilia, Italy – May 1994. Photo by Giorgio Galeotti.

 

For a time, it seemed the answer for homeowners using a solar array was to sell excess power produced during the day to the power company and then draw on grid power at night and on cloudy days. These grid-tied systems effectively used the power company as storage, mostly dispensing with the need for a bank of batteries at home. Unfortunately for homeowners with grid-tied systems, it appears power companies are backing away from those setups in order to protect their equipment and to maintain tighter control over power generation.

Power companies have been investing in their own renewable energy production as costs go down. Since there is no external backup for the electricity generated by the power company, the power companies need to employ huge amounts of batteries. Batteries have improved in the past generation both in toxicity and length of usable life from the days of lead acid batteries. Improvement does not mean they are exactly environmentally friendly. The problem comes down to relative harm, such as whether it is less harmful to the environment to drive an electric car when the source for its electricity is a coal burning power plant.

20170313 xl 1911-Karikatur-Gerhard-Mester--Energiespeicher
An illustration of the relationship of renewable energy to energy storage from the German cartoonist Gerhard Mester (1956-). Panel 1: “More solar energy!!” Panel 2: “More wind energy!” And in the last panel: “More energy storage!” Incidentally, Germany is a world leader in solar energy production despite receiving less sunlight than many other industrialized nations.

Nothing people do technologically has zero impact on the environment, and arguments from the extremes of both sides of the tug of war between those in favor of continued use of fossil fuels and those who want greater reliance on renewable energy are neither accurate nor helpful. Continuing the status quo of burning fossil fuels for most energy production is clearly a path to environmental catastrophe, while renewable energy production does not have quite as low an impact on the environment as some enthusiasts suggest. It is in the batteries especially that renewable energy has an unfavorable impact.

Nevertheless, in countries with higher renewable energy production than the global average the air is cleaner and greenhouse gas emissions are lower. Because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow, the key to minimizing reliance on batteries, the most toxic element in renewable energy use, is diversification of power sources supplying the grid, from geothermal to hydroelectric. None of these methods of supplying the power necessary for humanity’s modern lifestyle are perfect, but they are all better than the alternative of continuing down the path of polluting the air and warming the planet. The two biggest obstacles to switching the United States to 100 percent renewable energy are the fossil fuel industry interests entrenched in national politics, and battery technology. Of the two, the latter will be more easily overcome by a concerted effort, and with time the new technology will push out the former technology and its moneyed adherents as obsolete and destructive. But will it be soon enough?
— Techly

 

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Many a Tear Has to Fall

 

“Many a tear has to fall,
But it’s all in the game;
All in the wonderful game
That we know as love.”
— The opening lines of the song “It’s All in the Game”, music written by Charles Gates Dawes in 1911, and lyrics written by Carl Sigman in 1951.

Charles Gates Dawes was vice president of the Calvin Coolidge administration between 1925 and 1929, and before that he had a multi-faceted career as a lawyer, banker, soldier, and diplomat. He was also an avid amateur musician who wrote a song in 1911 that he called “Melody in A Major”, a song that Carl Sigman, a qualified lawyer himself, would write lyrics for in 1951 and rename “It’s All in the Game”. The singer Tommy Edwards was one of many performers who recorded “It’s All in the Game” in 1951 and in the years since, but it was his 1958 rendition that reached number one on the record charts and has become the most familiar to listeners. Two other interesting items to note about Mr. Dawes before moving along: He was a descendant of William Dawes, the man who made the midnight ride with Paul Revere in 1775, and he shared the Nobel Peace Prize for 1925 for his work rearranging the German reparations payments for World War I which had been crippling its economy.


White Roses-1890-Vincent van Gogh
Roses, an 1890 painting by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890).

 

“It’s All in the Game” outlined the ups and downs of courtship, and as such would seem to have no bearing on Father’s Day. When we were growing up, we generally caught mere glimpses of the affection shared between our parents. Some people may have seen frequent displays of fondness, others none at all. Seeing our fathers as authority figures, probably the last thing that would have popped into our heads was the understanding that these were men who were seen quite differently, at least at one time, by their partners in marriage. For most of us, the idea would have been difficult to reconcile with the fellow we knew. Later in life, having grown up and gotten a more rounded view of things, we might learn to perceive the side of him our mother knew, and thus understand better why she married him, even though he may have been an ogre or a gent, or most likely a little bit of both and a lot in between. Then if our parents lived long enough while we attained greater maturity, we might get the opportunity to understand them better as people rather than merely as the totems of varying degrees of nurturing and authority we looked up to as children, and realize that the first lines of “It’s All in the Game” embrace us well.
— Vita


Tommy Edwards sings his 1958 rendition of “It’s All in the Game.” The photo is from the set of the 1973 George Lucas film American Graffiti, a story about coming of age in the early 1960s.

 

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Palms Here and There

 

The palm fronds used for the procession of Jesus into Jerusalem on the original Palm Sunday would most likely have come from the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera). There were and are other types of palm trees in the Near East, but the date palm had the most day to day significance for the people of the area because it provided a staple food in their diet, and largely because of that the date palm also acquired symbolic significance for them. Date palm fronds were associated with peace and victory, and when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey – the mount of a king on a mission of peace – the symbolism of the moment for was complete.

 

Since the first Palm Sunday, Christians around the world have celebrated with whatever plant branches were available locally without getting hung up on absolutely having to use palm fronds, which in any event were not be had in cold climates in the days before large scale international trade. It is only relatively recently that palm fronds harvested in southern Mexico and Guatemala from the parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans) have been shipped great distances for Palm Sunday celebrations in areas where palms do not grow.

Jerusalem (9626454387)
A date palm in Jerusalem, with the al-Aqsa Mosque in the background. Photo by Meg Stewart.

Chamaedorea elegans Mart
A parlor palm at the Berlin-Dahlem Botanical Garden and Botanical Museum in Berlin, Germany. Photo by Bachelot Pierre J-P.

Some Christians have struggled with whether harvesting fronds from wild plants in the rainforest and shipping them halfway around the world for a once a year celebration makes sense environmentally and economically. There is irony, too, in that the common name – parlor palm – for the type of plant growing in the understory of the Guatemalan rainforest tips off its other use, which is as a quite popular houseplant. People in colder climates who are determined to use palm fronds to commemorate Palm Sunday rather than any locally grown foliage could very easily grow the plant they are used to in their own parlors. Since parlor palms usually grow to four to six feet, and eight to ten feet at most, they would be much easier to accommodate in the average living room than a date palm at 75 feet, nice as it would be to have the dates at other times of year.
— Izzy

 

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