Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Songs of the Underground Railroad

Recently I volunteered to present the history of some of the songs we’re singing in our homeschool chorus this year. Happily, our theme is Songs of American History. Because Wade in the Water is one of the songs that we’re singing, I have been spending some time over the last few days exploring the coded meaning in the spirituals that the slaves sang as part of the Underground Railroad.

Like all traditional or folk songs, the words often change from place to place to suit the specific needs of the people who sing it. But one thing constant with the coded slave songs is the repetition of the important part.

Wade in the Water, wade in the water children.
Wade in the Water. God's gonna trouble the water.

This was telling the slaves to stay in or near the water so that the slave catcher’s dogs can’t track them.

Follow the Drinking Gourd is a famous coded slave spiritual telling the slaves to follow Polaris to which the Big Dipper points, to go North to freedom.

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, Go Down Moses, Steal Away, are just a few of the other songs that were known to have codes to help escaping slaves. Pathways to Freedom: Maryland & the Underground Railroad site has a lot of great information and some primary source documents. National Geographic has a decent interactive website, as does PBS as part of In the Time of the Lincolns with plenty of primary source documents about abolition and the Underground Railroad.

But the most fascinating thing I found was a collection of songs recorded between 1935 and 1939 in the south by John and Ruby Lomax, digitized by and found at the Library of Congress. There are many spirituals, but there are hundreds of songs about all kinds of other topics as well. Take a listen to a few of them (they're short). It’s kind of eerie.

In two weeks I present the history of Take Me Out to the Ball Game which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year! This recording is on cylinder from Edison’s National Phonograph Company in the year it was written, 1908! Cool beans!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

May I speak to the cheese-boy, please?

I have decided that I shouldn’t waste money on going out to eat unless the establishment has a cheese-boy (or -man, or -woman, or -girl – that doesn’t matter much, only that there is a person dedicated to explaining and providing the cheese course).

Our trip to the CIA for SB’s birthday was great fun! The campus, located along the Hudson River, is a beautiful little oasis of stately brick buildings (not including the dorms which are just ugly, but I assume, functional brick buildings), and includes a reproduction Italianate villa with a formal herb garden, and an interesting little pavilion with a dancing waters fountain. It is about 2-3 miles from Marist College and from FDR’s library in the other direction on Route 9 in Hyde Park, NY. There are also several wineries in the area.

Before our dinner, I just needed to see the Danny Kaye Theatre that I had read about. It turns out that Danny Kaye became quite a chef in his later years and the Institute dedicated one of its “theatres” (an amphitheatre focusing on a demonstration kitchen rather than a lectern) to him. In addition to the beautiful trompe l’oeil paintings of a French, Italian, or perhaps American countryside manor, the theatre had two large and compelling black and white photos of Danny Kaye cooking (taken by Roddy McDowell) and a few sayings by and about him and his love of cooking. It was nice.

We ate at the
American Bounty restaurant (reservations three weeks in advance) and enjoyed the atmosphere, the nervous, inexperienced, and seemingly dyslexic wait staff, and mostly, the food. Sadly, I was actually kind of full, so I didn’t really devour my meal as I am known to do, but we did manage to savor everything we ate and drank. Since getting there took us a while, we decided to soak it all in and make the most of it. I sampled four kinds of soups (sample size!) including Alligator-Andouille sausage soup (yes – the alligator tasted like chicken), and beer-cheddar soup (which oddly, tasted like beer and cheddar), while SB enjoyed the fattened goose liver (ew) also known as foie gras. After much pleading and begging from SB, I tried the foie gras. All right - it was pretty good. I found a new favorite in spinach spatzle (the side dish to my 3” thick grilled Berkshire pork chop), and tried to politely ignore the moaning from my table-mate whilst he was consuming the smoked Long Island duck with curried onions, ginger, almonds, and pickled mango.

The very best part of the evening was the wine pairing that we both had with our dinners. Not that the wine was the best part, but that experimenting with the combination of flavors imparted by the wine to the food and by the food to the wine was just fascinating! I had a red flight (three kinds of red) and loved the first very smooth pinot noir, and not the second, merlot, nor the third, syrah. After eating some of the meal, I again tasted the pinot and it tasted like Robitussin. That’s fascinating to me! The syrah then became my favorite. Somehow, I managed to drink all three 2-oz. glasses anyway. Then came the cheese course.

While I don’t belong to any cheese eating secret societies, I do love cheese. And I have now discovered that I love cheese with dried fruit – not in the cheese, but as an accompaniment to the cheese. Mild apricots go well with mildness of Camembert, and the sweetness of dates make a nice foil to the sharp intensity of the Bleu. Goat cheese – well…nothing I’ve found can make goat cheese taste like anything but goat. I decided to go against the advice of the cheese boy and had a glass of late harvest vignoles (roughly translated, sickeningly sweet white wine). I didn’t think it provided anything but sweetness and alcohol. Then I tasted what SB got with his dessert – an even sweeter wine, Muscat (it tasted just like honey), but his dessert, panna cotta, interacted with the wine to make it takes less sweet! It’s a really cool thing. We pretty near closed down the place. Three hours after beginning, we took the shuttle back to our hotel (shuttle - good deal after two full glasses of wine combined with a jubilant attitude).

Next time, we’d like to try out the
Ristorante Caterina de Medici!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

My Favorite Cook's Birthday

For those of you who don’t watch a lot of TV, or don’t yet know the joy of the Food Network, I am pleased to introduce you to Alton Brown. Mr. Brown, or Alton (Al – ton) as he is known in our house, is part chef, part TV host, chemist, MC, electrical, and mechanical engineer, and comedian. His show on the Food Network, Good Eats should be considered as “educational TV”. Not only does Alton teach you how to braise beef and retrofit your variable speed drill with mixing paddles, but he’ll also tell you why the molecules in emulsions do what they do and give you a brief history of cans. There is nothing this guy won’t tackle – and he does it with great style!

Here, for your edification and preparatory pleasure, is Alton's Beef Map.

In addition to Good Eats, the ubiquitous Mr. Brown hosts
Iron Chef America, his own show, Feasting on Asphalt which combines his joy of motorcycle riding with food of the American highways and byways (I love roadtrips, but I wasn’t really fond of this show during the first season, anyway). He’s written a few cookbooks, and has awesome kitchen gear.

You have to love a guy whose motto is “Science: It’s what’s for dinner!”

Happy Birthday, SB!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Great Poem

The other day, in honor of the anniversary of tremendous events in American history, I posted the poem Paul Revere's Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in its entirety. It's a great poem and one that I just need to read every so often.

Today, I'm posting another poem in its entirety but not for its historical significance, but rather personal significance.

Last year, in searching for a classic poem for my daughter to memorize and recite, I stumbled across this one (sure, it's famous, I just didn't know it). I had never read it and was really taken with it. What's more, I was thrilled that my pink-clad, dress-wearing, 9 year-old girly-girl was so impressed by my impression that she agreed to recite it with nary a cough or sputter in repeating the last line, "And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!"

Since then, her history teacher used this poem in reflecting on the qualities of George Washington with great effect. This morning I was reminded of it again in reading Sparrowhawk, Book One: Jack Frake by Edward Cline. As Jack becomes a man he realizes that he is the master of his life by retaining "a tight grip on his original, uncorrupted, and undiminished perspective." Mr. Cline refers to an American poet who says the same, and I'll try to find that poem, but for now...enjoy the soul food.


by Rudyard Kipling

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Shot Heard Round the World

Yesterday I cheaped out and posted the excellent poem, Paul Revere's Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Today, I'm happily sharing my own pictures and experiences of the Battle of Lexington and Concord this morning.

Here are the Regulars retreating across the North Bridge in Concord. The Minute Men followed them up and chased them back to Cambridge.

I can't believe I've lived here all this time and have never seen this 3 minute, but all-important battle!

It was a beautiful day to start a revolution.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Paul Revere's Ride

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,--
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."

Then he said "Good-night!" and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,--
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,

In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, "All is well!"
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,--
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,

Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse's side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer's dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,---
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,---
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Join or Die

I started out the day wanting to write about joining and severing ties with certain groups and my reasoning for doing either, when I was sidetracked by my interest in Benjamin Franklin’s famous political cartoon.

While familiar with the cartoon, I didn't understand that it was published in The Pennsylvania Gazette in 1754 to help support Franklin’s Albany Plan in which he (and Thomas Hutchinson, the would-be governor of Massachusetts) recommended that the American British colonies join together to fight against the French and Indians. This plan, the first to encourage a union of the different colonies for common defense, while rejected by both King George II and the leaders of the states involved, was later used in part to help form the Articles of the Confederation, helping to preserve the state’s union before the development and ratification of the Constitution.

In his editorial which first accompanied the cartoon, Franklin stated:

"The Confidence of the French in this Undertaking seems well-grounded on the present disunited State of the British Colonies, and the extreme Difficulty of bringing so many different Governments and Assemblies to agree in any speedy and effectual Measures for our common defense and Security; while our Enemies have the very great Advantage of being under one Direction, with one Council, and one Purse...."

It is most interesting to note that in retrospect, Franklin judged that had his plan worked, it would have postponed, or obviated the need for the American Revolution as in being able to operate in their common defense, the colonies might not have suffered the ensuing indignities of the Stamp Act among others, and would not have been forced into action against the British monarchy.

Somehow, I suspect this history is applicable to my personal struggle with joining and leaving groups, and my reticence to do either; therefore, my distraction wasn’t a waste of time, merely a gathering of more information for my 3 ring binder.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Andrew DeVries

We came across this sculptor a while back and I just thought of him today. His work was featured prominently at a resort hotel we visited in the Berkshires and was beautiful. You can visit his website here, but I like his large dance and outdoor sculptures best.

There is also an interesting step-by-step pictorial of the bronze process (don't forget to state with the OVERVIEW up top.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Indian Food Anyone?

A friend of mine told me how she learned to make naan. You can find more of Manjula's recipes here.

Isn't the internet great?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Sea of Red!

This just in: Sox win home opener! 5-0. Diasuke gets the win.

Spewing and Spreading a Dangerous Philosophy

Gus Van Horn (OBlogger) and Eric Zorn (Chicago Tribune) both write about Representative Monique Davis (D) and her behavior toward Rob Sherman in the Illinois General Assembly last Wednesday. Part of the transcript is reported on Mr. Zorn’s blog, and can be heard here. Ms. Davis made the following statements to Mr. Sherman, while he mostly did not respond, except to ask what was dangerous and to thank her for her perspective:

“I’m trying to understand the philosophy that you want to spread in the state of Illinois. This is the Land of Lincoln.”

“What you have to spew and spread is extremely dangerous, it’s dangerous—“

“And it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists!”

“I am fed up! Get out of that seat!”

“You have no right to be here!”

Now, you may rightly ask, what “philosophy” would cause a congresswoman to act so violently toward a citizen testifying before the House State Government Administration Committee? Is he endorsing slavery? Self-sacrifice? Pedophilia (not so much a philosophy as psychosis, but you get the point)?

Nope. Mr. Sherman merely wanted to testify that the Governor’s
plan to donate $1 million to the Pilgrim Baptist Church was unconstitutional. Mr. Sherman’s criminal philosophy, which is not so much a philosophy as an apparent affront to all Illinoisans? Atheism.

Now, I’m not so concerned that she got all excited and spouted some crap (though that killed Howard Dean’s bid for the Presidency, so you'd think any politician would be wary of the ramping rant) but rather that the crap was so incredibly vile and anti-American! That she had the audacity to invoke the name of Abraham Lincoln as a poster child for religion, rather than individual freedom! That she actually seems to believe that she is righteous in the eyes of the Lord for such a harangue from the floor of the State Congress! That she does not understand the fundamentals of the Constitution which she has sworn to uphold.

It matters little to me that she is a Democrat as opposed to a Republican from whom we have come to expect such blatantly religious drivel except that there seems there is no safe political place to land – something this rational atheist laissez-faire capitalist has felt for a long time. In fact, this may be a good thing. It may expose the threat of religious ideology in the government not merely as a “Republican” problem, but as a serious threat to the real philosophical foundation of the United States: the necessary separation of church and state in a rational government.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

On Heroes and Horatios

I found a new hero!

Horatio Hornblower, the young midshipman of C. S. Forester’s novels as presented by A&E is a terrific example of a principled man who has bold courage to spare. This is probably not new to anyone who may happen to read this on purpose, but in case anyone stumbles by, check out Horatio Hornblower – you won’t be disappointed. Thanks to Kim who mentioned how great it was so that I finally got off my duff (well really, back on my duff) and watched it! I have watched only the first, but am very excited that there are 7 more which I expect will be as good as the first.

Update (4/14/08): We just finished the 8th and final movie last night. We both felt Horatio took an ugly personal turn toward the end of the 7th and in the 8th movie. His strong sense of duty (as he is a solider) went awry. Even with this tainted ending, it was an exceptionally series and Horatio is an exceptional hero. Awesome naval battles.

The second part of Scott Powell’s In Defense of “Heroification” post is up at History at Our House. It discusses the proper “heroification” of George Washington in Emmanuel Leutze’s painting George Washington Crossing the Delaware. Part 1 of the planned 3 part series looks at the sculpture of George Washington by Horatio Greenough which was offered by author James Loewen as an example of why “heroificiation” is wrong. It’s an interesting theory except that no one thinks of George Washington as a Greek god.

Finally, if you like
Ken Burns or road trips like I do, you might like Horatio’s Drive, a film about Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson and the first American road trip. Sure, we’ve owned this movie as a part of the excellent Ken Burns American Lives series for years, but have never gotten around to watching it. I hope to change this soon.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Lie with Dogs

From an atheist homeschool list, I got an interesting email about the death knell of the 60 year-old UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. First, the United Nations is anathema to the United States. Second, the Declaration itself undermines human rights, but some of the Articles were about individual rights. Last week, the organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) helped to kill any appearance of human rights in the document by amending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression “To report on instances in which the abuse of the right of freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination …” (quoted from the original article). It is with that thought in mind that I found this article so disturbing, and this petition somewhat encouraging.

Of course, if the crash and burn of the cause of human rights incites the nations who actually value liberty to run from the flea bed of the UN, great.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Silencing the Dissenters

I am interested in reading, learning, and finally writing with concrete examples of how the encroachment of an Islamic state is a real threat to the American way of life. I clearly see not only that the currently undisturbed, politically correct masses believe that Islam is a religion of peace, but also, that anyone who speaks against it is thought a bigot. I do not condemn any individual practitioner of the religion; however, I do not believe that Islam is a religion of peace. I do think that the liberal leanings of our progressive nation are blinding the general public to the real threat.

Behavior such as marching, picketing, parading, proselytizing, gathering, letter writing, campaigning for a cause, and shouting slogans, is protected by the constitution. Using the shield of these protections in order to make violent threats, suppress criticism, or obtain submission is not.

Most of our country is so busy bending over backwards to meet the multicultural ethos we have been shamed into accepting (by virtue of our good fortune of having been born in this country), that we must be welcoming to everyone and everything, that we are losing sight of why and how we have the luxury to welcome everything and everybody: the American ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Protecting an ideology that encourages violent reprisals to those who question or disagree with that ideology is madness which will lead only to destruction of those American ideals and the very way of life we think we are perpetuating.

I understand that the hierarchy in the Muslim religion is not as well-defined or direct as that in the Catholic, or other Christian churches. Even this lack of leadership is no reason for the lack of outrage and condemnation by Muslims at the horrendous actions perpetuated under the name of Islam. There are so few outspoken ex-Muslims who do decry these actions, that we can name them! Until Muslims make a stand against their fanatic brethren, and the average American understands the difference between freedom of speech and threats, I see the spread of Islam as a danger to the western world.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A "Right" to Education

Well, I’m glad that I didn’t hold my opinion expressed in the last post for too long (my thanks to Nicholas Provenzo for his blog comments and to SB for his personal comments). The difference between parents providing an education and providing necessary medical treatment is clear.

In fact, now that I understand exactly how separate the two issues are, I am even more convinced that ensuring that a child has basic education is not the proper function of government as there is no physical manifestation of a poor, or even lack of, education.

I do not understand the position that the moral obligation of parents (to provide for their children) translates into government action beyond rights protection.

The child’s rights, the protection of which is ensured by the government, allow him the freedom from the use of force against him. These are not positive rights (e.g. the “right” to an education, the “right” to his own room, the “right” to Guitar Hero, etc).

By the very nature of children to be unable to live independently without immediate intervention, parents must be responsible for the child’s basic physical needs of survival: food, shelter, and protection from physical harm. It is proper for the government to intervene if these basic needs are not met, and significantly, it is possible to objectively assess these violations as they manifest themselves physically.

Although the ability to think is also necessary for man to survive as an independent being, the cognitive requirements for his survival do not necessarily fall directly from his abilities to read, write, and do math. The only basic requirement for a child to learn to think is the freedom to operate his own sensory apparatus and his conceptual faculty. Barring a child from this freedom (i.e. putting them in a box, or locking them in a room for 10 years) is covered in the standard of protection from physical harm. Mathematics, phonetic reading, and writing as well as many other subjects will help considerably in training the mind, but they are not a basic requirement of survival.

I do not understand how any government test which attempts to objectively measure the degree of education necessary for a child’s proper survival can remain within the rigidly defined limits of proper government actions.