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The secret ministry of frost

Sunday, 21 October, 2018

The year of the endless summer continues. Autumn was simply steamrollered out of the way by a summer that had hijacked spring and then refused to negotiate with the seasons. Still, change is in the air. The mornings are chillier and the secret ministry of frost is sending out feelers at night. That phrase, “the secret ministry of frost,” was coined by the English poet, literary critic, philosopher and theologian Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who was born on this day in 1772. Coleridge also minted “suspension of disbelief” and lots of other great phrases (“a sadder and a wiser man”, “water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink”), many of which can be found in his major works, especially The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan.

In his poem Frost at Midnight, the narrator is speaking to his infant son, asleep by his side. It begins, “The Frost performs its secret ministry / Unhelped by any wind,” and the last ten lines have been cited as a perfect example of the kind of verse that’s uniquely Coleridge: as natural as prose, but superbly poetic.

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the night-thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Icicles


Lionel Shriver: Time’s up for #MeToo

Saturday, 20 October, 2018

Speaking at Cheltenham Literature Festival, the author of We Need To Talk About Kevin said that the ongoing movement against sexual harassment has “run its course” and is having a negative effect on relationships between men and women.

According to The Times, Shriver said that that the movement had been “important to begin with”, having exposed “some of the real malefactors” such as Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. However, she added: “Then it took a turn and suddenly we were talking about bad dates and bad taste or making crass remarks and it trivialised itself and I thought that was really regrettable.” Quote:

“I don’t like the feeling that now everyone has to have their story of some kind of terrible sexual abuse in order to be able to have an opinion about any of this stuff. I don’t want younger women to locate their sense of power in their weakness, in their fragility. I think the movement has run its course and we can pretty much call time on it now.”

In today’s febrile climate, it amounts to an act of bravery to speak sensibly. Lionel Shriver is sensible and brave.


The known unknown Plantagenet House of Saud

Friday, 19 October, 2018

What Do We Really Know about Saudi Arabia? That’s the question posed by Kevin D. Williamson over at National Review. Good line: “It’s one of the few extant monarchies that seem serious about keeping the mon in their archy.”

Good point: “Khashoggi wasn’t just a troublesome journalist; he was, as the New York Times puts it, a man who had had ‘a successful career as an adviser to and unofficial spokesman for the royal family of Saudi Arabia.’ A businessman who has spent many years working in the Middle East says: ‘I don’t think the Saudis would send 15 assassins to chop up a ‘mere’ journalist, but they would send 15 assassins to settle some internecine family feud.’ He also cautions that the Middle Eastern tendency to resort to conspiracy theories to explain complicated relationships is likely to muddy the water.”

Williams says this GUBU (Grotesque, Unbelievable, Bizarre, Unprecedented) Saudi spectacle is “a platinum-plated Shakespearean succession drama in the desert, with schisms within the royal family and between the royal family proper and other centers of power.” Sadly, the Saudi’s don’t have a Shakespeare, but neither does the rest of the world right now. Still, the template is there because the 14 Plantagenet monarchs who ruled England from 1154 to 1485 inspired Shakespeare to write eight “Plantagenet plays,” from Richard II to Richard III via the two parts of Henry IV, Henry V, and the three parts of Henry VI. In Plantagenet England, murder was the order of the day, and it’s no different today in the land ruled by the House of Saud.


Bill Gates recalls Paul Allen

Thursday, 18 October, 2018

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen died on Monday at the age of 65 of complications from a form of cancer known as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Bill Gates remembers his schoolmate, friend and business partner in a blog post titled “What I loved about Paul Allen.” Snippet:

Paul foresaw that computers would change the world. Even in high school, before any of us knew what a personal computer was, he was predicting that computer chips would get super-powerful and would eventually give rise to a whole new industry. That insight of his was the cornerstone of everything we did together.

In fact, Microsoft would never have happened without Paul. In December 1974, he and I were both living in the Boston area — he was working, and I was going to college. One day he came and got me, insisting that I rush over to a nearby newsstand with him. When we arrived, he showed me the cover of the January issue of Popular Electronics. It featured a new computer called the Altair 8800, which ran on a powerful new chip. Paul looked at me and said: “This is happening without us!” That moment marked the end of my college career and the beginning of our new company, Microsoft. It happened because of Paul.

Paul Allen made our world a better place and during his lifetime and he gave more than $2 billion towards the advancement of science, technology, education, wildlife conservation and the arts. RIP.

Bill Gates and  Paul Allen


Pine Wood at Montenero

Wednesday, 17 October, 2018

The photographer George Tatge was born in Istanbul and now lives in Florence. He studied English Literature at Beloit College in Wisconsin and moved to Italy in 1973 to work as a journalist in Rome before focusing on photography, which he does mostly with a 5x7in Deardorff view camera.

That mid-West study of English Literature was repaid when his Italia Metafisica won the Ernest Hemingway Award sponsored by Lignano Sabbiadoro, a town in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of north-eastern Italy. The story goes that when Hemingway was exploring the lagoons around Venice, he discovered Lignano Sabbiadoro and fell in love.

Presences – Italian Landscapes is the title of a photo series by George Tatge currently on display at the Catherine and André Hug Gallery in the heart of Saint Germain des Prés. This is the beautiful Pine Wood at Montenero and it was taken near a famous Catholic sanctuary perched on the Livorno Hills in central Italy.

Pine Wood at Montenero


Those Daft Democrats

Tuesday, 16 October, 2018

Peggy Noonan nails it in the Wall Street Journal:

“A word on the destructive theatrics we now see gripping parts of the Democratic Party. The howling and screeching that interrupted the hearings and the voting, the people who clawed on the door of the court, the ones who chased senators through the halls and screamed at them in elevators, who surrounded and harassed one at dinner with his wife, who disrupted and brought an air of chaos, who attempted to thwart democratic processes so that the people could not listen and make their judgments:

Do you know how that sounded to normal people, Republican and Democratic and unaffiliated? It sounded demonic. It didn’t sound like ‘the resistance’ or #MeToo. It sounded like the shrieking in the background of an old audiotape of an exorcism.

Democratic leaders should stand up to the screamers. They haven’t, because they’re afraid of them. But things like this spread and deepen.

Stand up to your base. It’s leading you nowhere good. And you know it.”

Not just daft, then. Howling and screeching daft.


Grazing at large in meadows submarine

Monday, 15 October, 2018

“It was the kind of Sunday to make one ache for Monday morning,” wrote Joan Didion in South and West: From a Notebook. Monday has a questionable reputation but not everyone complains about the day. On Monday, 26 April 1784, the notable English poet William Cowper dined on a flatfish of the genus Hippoglossus from the family of right-eye flounders and was very pleased with the result.

Language note: “wast” is an archaic spelling of the second-person singular simple past form of be, and the adjective “minikin” means small; insignificant.

To The Immortal Memory Of The Halibut, On Which I Dined This Day, Monday, April 26, 1784

Where hast thou floated, in what seas pursued
Thy pastime? When wast thou an egg new spawned,
Lost in the immensity of ocean’s waste?
Roar as they might, the overbearing winds
That rocked the deep, thy cradle, thou wast safe —
And in thy minikin and embryo state,
Attached to the firm leaf of some salt weed,
Didst outlive tempests, such as wrung and racked
The joints of many a stout and gallant bark,
And whelmed them in the unexplored abyss.
Indebted to no magnet and no chart,
Nor under guidance of the polar fire,
Thou wast a voyager on many coasts,
Grazing at large in meadows submarine,
Where flat Batavia just emerging peeps
Above the brine, — where Caledonia’s rocks
Beat back the surge, — and where Hibernia shoots
Her wondrous causeway far into the main.
— Wherever thou hast fed, thou little thoughtst,
And I not more, that I should feed on thee
Peace, therefore, and good health, and much good fish,
To him who sent thee! — and success, as oft
As it descends into the billowy gulf,
To the same dreg that caught thee! — Fare thee well!
Thy lot thy brethren of the slimy fin
Would envy, could they know that thou wast doomed
To feed a bard, and to be praised in verse.

William Cowper (1731 – 1800)

Halibut


Saudi Barbaria

Sunday, 14 October, 2018

“The fate of Khashoggi has at least provoked global outrage, but it’s for all the wrong reasons. We are told he was a liberal, Saudi progressive voice fighting for freedom and democracy, and a martyr who paid the ultimate price for telling the truth to power. This is not just wrong, but distracts us from understanding what the incident tells us about the internal power dynamics of a kingdom going through an unprecedented period of upheaval.”

So writes John R. Bradley in The Spectator. His article is titled What the media aren’t telling you about Jamal Khashoggi. Among the things we don’t hear in the reportage about the disappearance in Istanbul of the Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi is his view of democracy. “In truth, Khashoggi never had much time for western-style pluralistic democracy,” writes Bradley. “In the 1970s he joined the Muslim Brotherhood, which exists to rid the Islamic world of western influence. He was a political Islamist until the end, recently praising the Muslim Brotherhood in the Washington Post. He championed the ‘moderate’ Islamist opposition in Syria, whose crimes against humanity are a matter of record.”

Bradley portrays the struggle for the soul of Saudi Arabia is one between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wahhabi movement. Both hate each other and they’re united only in their hatred of the West:

“The Wahhabis loathe democracy as a western invention. Instead, they choose to live life as it supposedly existed during the time of the Muslim prophet. In the final analysis, though, they are different means to achieving the same goal: Islamist theocracy. This matters because, although bin Salman has rejected Wahhabism — to the delight of the West —he continues to view the Muslim Brotherhood as the main threat most likely to derail his vision for a new Saudi Arabia. Most of the Islamic clerics in Saudi Arabia who have been imprisoned over the past two years —Khashoggi’s friends — have historic ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Khashoggi had therefore emerged as a de facto leader of the Saudi branch.”

And, says Bradley, there’s another issue: “Khashoggi had dirt on Saudi links to al Qaeda before the 9/11 attacks.”

Bringing Saudi Arabia into the 21st Century — or even the 19th — was never going to be easy, but the feeling in the West up to now has been that if Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman could pull it off, the results would be worth it. The brutal reality is that it’s always one step forward, two steps back in the barbaric monarchical autocracy.


Aristides the Just in Bavaria

Saturday, 13 October, 2018

Bavaria is booming. Unemployment is under three percent and the sun has shone almost every day since April. Easy peasy then, you would think, for the CSU, which has ruled the southern German state with an absolute majority for most of the post-war era. The party won nearly 48 percent of the vote at the last regional election, in 2013, but change is in the air. For the first time in living memory, the CSU appears almost certain to fall well below the 40 percent mark in tomorrow’s election, an outcome that would send shockwaves all the way from Munich to Berlin.

What’s up? Frustration with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s moralistic migration policy is one issue; infighting within the CSU and in the coalition government in Berlin is another. People are looking for alternatives. Despite the extraordinary prosperity and stability that the CSU has helped bestow upon Bavaria, the voters are restless. The situation reminds one of an incident recounted by Plutarch in The Life of Aristides the Just. Note: An ostracon (plural ostraka) was a shard of pottery upon which the ancient Greeks wrote short messages:

“Now at the time of which I was speaking, as the voters were inscribing their ostraka [to determine which politicians would be expelled from the city], it is said that an unlettered and utterly boorish ostrakon fellow handed his ostrakon to Aristides, whom he took to be one of the ordinary crowd, and asked him to write Aristides on it. He, astonished, asked the man what possible wrong Aristides had done him. ‘None whatever,’ was the answer, ‘I don’t even know the fellow, but I am tired of hearing him everywhere called ‘The Just’. On hearing this, Aristides made no answer, but wrote his name on the ostracon and handed it back.”

In the most recent polls, CSU support has fallen to 33 percent. In much of Europe today, that would be a dream result for a centrist party, but given the CSU’s almost permanent reign, such an outcome would be treated as a disaster. Stay tuned.


Porridge with pomegranate seeds

Friday, 12 October, 2018

The list of benefits from starting the day with porridge is legendary. This simple mix of oats and water contains protein, zinc, iron, magnesium, vitamin B, vitamin E and phytochemicals, while the high fibre content in porridge is said to improve digestion, reduce high blood cholesterol and help prevent heart disease. In other words, the package of nutrients that is porridge will fill your tummy at breakfast and help boost your immune system throughout the day.

The pomegranate (Punica granatum) is a beautiful fruit filled with red “jewels” or arils that contain juicy nectar. Pomegranate seeds are rich in vitamin C and potassium and they contain a high number of antioxidants, which help protect the body against inflammation and free radical damage. Formula: porridge + pomegranate = goodness.

Porridge with pomegranate seeds


Believe in miracles

Thursday, 11 October, 2018

Healing wells were traditional shrines dedicated to the miraculous powers of water, which is the fons et origo of life itself. They were incorporated by Christianity and country people still make pilgrimages to the holy wells to seek relief for a variety of ills from rheumatism to cancer. A great many wells are supposed to cure eye problems and it’s customary for the petitioner to leave a token piece of clothing, usually hung on a bush or a tree, so that the healing power of the water can act through it.

Believe that a farther shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.

The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney (1939 – 2013)

At the holy well