Archive for April, 2011

15 to Follow

April 29, 2011 9 comments



There are few things more serious than evaluating another person’s efforts.

And this is doubly true in an almost completely volunteer field like blogging. People put their hearts on the line and share themselves in a way that demands a thoughtful response.

In less dramatic terms, this is the moment when, following the Laws of Award Recognition passed on by Aubrey, I recommend fifteen blogs/sites/tweeters worth following. But, like the portrait painter who must convey the essence of his subject, I approach this task with some trepidation.

So, here without further ado, are my nominees for versatile blogging:

1) WolfnWings. Some blogs are to be approached with circumspection; this is one of them. You will find much here that is widely available on the Net, but the sensibility that lies behind these posts may be vastly different from your own. Poetry, photography, video, music, language…all of it original and much of it outstanding…offered by someone who has had occasion to experience life at its extremes of joy and loss. We are never prepared for the truth… 

2) Yin Yang. There is certainly a respect for things Oriental here: Japanese woodblock prints, ceramics, ink on paper, the Chosen Dynasty–but this blogger’s field of vision at times ranges far beyond the East. Tags include Ramon Santiago, Wikileaks, Tom Waits, the Human Genome, and Antonio Gaudi. And I find the interest in Korea refreshing; more has happened there than many folks imagine (and as one of the RT’s threads will get around to discussing before too much longer). Check out YY and expand your horizons!

3) Cross-Ties: This blog sneaks up on you. Unassuming, almost like an old photo album, you keep waiting for it to fade into the background, but it refuses to disappear. Then you realize it’s poking you in the ribs, grabbing you by the hand and running down the street, pointing out visual details, coincidences, and serendipities you never would have noticed on your own. Next it starts throwing haiku in your face–good haiku!–and sending you on wild (but very satisfying) goose chases after such souls as Edith Sitwell and Roland Barthes. Take my word for it: you will never be the same!!

4) Wordgathering. From Hong Kong with insight, this teacher avoids all the cliches: neither pedantic, boring, nor burned out, she carries on the craft she has practiced for decades. This blog is a clearinghouse of information on writing, poetry, prompts, giveaways, style, tips, and ideas. And all of it wonderfully, logically organized… a labor of love. Anyone who practices even a few of her exercises will benefit enormously. A++

5) Meaxylon. Places on the edge of the world generally slip off our radar: what is going on these days, for instance, on Easter Island? What about Lake Baikal, the Turfan Depression, or the more northernly reaches of Europe (such as Sweden)? I can’t say much about the Turfan Depression, but this blog will bring you an unexpected, endlessly curious, and remarkably informed perspective from Sweden. The blogger is an artist, and besides her own fine artwork, the site includes an encyclopedia in progress, and so more than a few unexpected topics: butterflies, crystals, Pliny the Elder, Utopia, and Mercury. This blogger is looking for a pattern, and not one found at first glance…Meaxylon may help you find your own.

6) AskSappho. This blog offers advice and information on issues important to lesbians, but ranges far beyond support for broken hearts (as important as that is) in its responses to readers’ questions. Here you will find information on the bullying of gay students, Sappho’s prosody (and poetry in general), a reference to Corinthians on the nature of love, ways of transcending the mundane, and what to do when a previously well-employed girlfriend loses her job. The Re-emergence of the Goddess is one of the Rag Tree’s themes, and AskSappho offers a thoughtful response to some of the questions attending this cultural revolution.

7) Antiphon. Just when you thought that a topic had been plumbed to its depths & are preparing to move on to something with a little life left in it, Antiphon appears and guides you into her gardens of further insight. Haiku, arguments that might remind one of the famous explication de texte, socialist commentary, and manifestos for global change remind us that the spirit of revolution and beauty linger on in such obstreperous places as France. And the posts in French might help you expand that command of the language you acquired while visiting Paris… the King is dead; Long live the Revolution!

8) Earthquakes and Rattlesnakes. Man does not live on bellybutton contemplation alone, and for those of us who hanker after Luscious Chocolate Cheesecake; a musical hit from the 80’s band, the Cars; a report on surviving $4-a-gallon gas; and news on what 14-year-olds are wearing these days, E&R offers refuge and solace. & then there’s Petaluma… when I come back as the guitarist for the resurrected Steely Dan, I want to live there.

9) CreativeIsthmus. New doesn’t necessarily meaning boring or overdone; it can mean fresh and inviting, as is the case with this blog on beauty and nature offered by someone I surmise is relatively newer to the world’s satisfactions and conundrums than I am. Want to remember what it felt like when things were less familiar? Click on the link! 


No, dear reader, you are not being shortchanged, and the RT is still working on the delivering the balance of 15 promised blogs…  I’ll be back w/ Installment II of Versatile Bloggers!    RT


Art: Proclamation, WikiCmns, Public Domain.

So, It Does Get Better!

Saturn's moon Mimas seen against the planet's rings, 2005.


This has got to be one of the most sensational photos ever taken in space, so good that words really can’t add much to the experience. Taken by the Cassini space probe–sit back and enjoy!

PhotoAuthor: NASA/JPL; Source: WikiCmns; License: Public Domain w/ author acknowledgment requested.

It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This, Folks

April 26, 2011 2 comments

Yeah, I know–was it Napoleon who remarked that awarding medals made one of his men very happy and the rest of them jealous? But what did Napoleon know about anything?! I mean, conquering Europe, so what? Did he know how to make a good chocolate mousse?

I like the feel of this award/nomination. And I won’t deny that my postings range far and wide as the mood strikes…the RT has 153 tags… !

This is my first WP award. Here is what the nominator had to say about the Rag Tree:

“Words; pictures; poetry. There is a deep love of language here – there is an experimentation with understanding of speech that is inspiring. Art and words flatter each other – in a world of beauty and culture, this Tree climbs high, indeed.”

I mean, I don’t get words like this over breakfast every day. And as for the nominator (ms. aubrey), the nominatee can only offer a big, fat smoocheroo right on the cheek!


On a more formal note, Aubrey informs us that there are Laws about such things as awards, and despite my well-known iconclastic and anarchistic tendencies, I will attempt to honor them.

1) Tell 7 random facts about myself: a) I sometimes eat ice cream with a fork; b) I live over a  homeless ministry (the gospel choir is quite good); c) my paternal grandfather was born in the same town that I’m living in; d) I have an unfulfilled dream of going to Madagascar and carrying a mouse lemur on my finger; e) If I could bring back any extinct animal, I would bring back New Zealand’s Moa; f) my high school English teacher/wrestling coach turned me onto poetry (& many thx for it, Ace!); and g) I’m going to call my book about my maternal grandfather The Nitrate Angel.

2) Pass the nomination onto 15 new bloggers. This is the tough part. I can see that I’ll have to put off picking them until my next post…

That’s all for now folks. And yes, it’s a grand feeling you have when you win an award…    RT


April 25, 2011 3 comments


William Morris has been one of my inspirations since I first saw his patterns back in the 80’s. Poet, painter, pattern designer (perhaps the greatest since the Middle Ages), architect, furniture designer, weaver, head of a major textile firm, socialist, and one of the founders of Britain’s Labour Party, Morris drew his complex patterns freehand (sometimes over breakfast) and wrote his poetry on buses (sometimes). While he lay dying, the physician attending him remarked that his illness was “being William Morris, and having done more work than most ten men.” Artist, poet, thinker, maker, businessman… and certainly one of the most extraordinary men that Europe produced during the 19th Century, an embodiment of diversity…. go out on Wikipedia and the Net and learn more about his talents and creativity!    RT

p.s. & thx to Aubrey for nominating me for a versatility award (more on that in the next post)


Image: Lea printed textile (1885), William Morris & Co., WikiCmns, Public Domain.

Ode to a Nightingale

April 24, 2011 2 comments

As the warmer weather of spring begins to make itself felt, maybe it’s time for a little dreaming. Here is a masterpiece from the romantic dreamer himself:




My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,—
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.


O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:


Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.


Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;
But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.


I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;
And mid-May’s eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.


Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
To thy high requiem become a sod.


Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.


Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?

–John Keats (1819)

RT’s Related Posts: 1) Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal; 2) Flowers

Image: Bird on a Branch; Li Anzhong (1st half, 12th Century); WikiCmns; Public Domain

Text Source: Project Gutenberg

The Tax to Caesar

April 20, 2011 5 comments

Ἀπόδοτε οὖν τὰ Καίσαρος Καίσαρι καὶ τὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ τῷ Θεῷ

“Give Caesar what is Caesar’s and God what is God’s” — Mark 12

More than any other episode in the Gospels, this response to a trick question about imperial taxes convinced me that there is something extraordinary about Jesus.

1) The first thing to know about this episode is that it is widely attested: it is included in all of the synoptic gospels (SynG), the gospel of Thomas (GTh), and the Egerton fragments (EgrF), with a loose parallel in John 3 (GJn).

2) Using this information about witnesses, let’s look at the episode section by section:

a) And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words.
And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give? (Mk 12:13, 14 & 15a, KJV)

This is the most widely attested section; only GTh (which has “They said to him”) does not contain it. There can be no doubt that Jesus is in trouble: he is the victim of an intellectual ambush. A group of collaborators with the established authorities accosts him in the temple precincts and springs a trap on him: should we pay our taxes? If Jesus answers “Yes,” then he will be seen as a collaborator himself; if he answers “No,” he will be seen as a rebel against the Romans and Herodians and arrested.

The tax in question was a capitation or head tax, that is, a tax on each individual. This tax was collected by contractors whose only obligation was to extract the tax from the people and send it to the local authorities, who in turn paid it to the imperial treasury. The tax was levied regardless of the ability to pay, and the methods used to force the community to pay could be brutal. People in Judea had rioted over the tax, and the inception of the Zealot movement has been dated to its imposition.

b) But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it. And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Caesar’s. (Mk 12:15&16)

This section is attested in four of the witnesses: the SynG and GTh. The most important point to hold onto here is that the collaborators, by questioning Jesus about a subject he had given a great deal of thought to, had their own trap turned against them. Jesus was well aware of the anger that imperial taxes roused–and of their injustice. Money in general was one of his chief themes; Jesus saw it as an attempt to escape from God’s Rule by putting trust in men and their devices for protecting themselves: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” So it is plausible that Jesus showed no alarm at the question and asked for a coin. Here he is at his most brilliant, improvising in the middle of a deadly debate.

They produced the coin, and Jesus set up his own trap, asking whose image is on the coin. By calling attention to the image on the coin, Jesus reminded his questioners that they were breaking the Second Commandment by even possessing the coin. In a single stroke he destroyed their credibility: how could they be masters of the Law when they were guilty of such an elementary oversight?

c) And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. (Mk 12:17)

This is the least well attested section; the response in this form is recorded in the SynG only; GTh has “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, to God the things that are God’s, and to me the things that are mine.” GJn and the EgerF, moreover, record lengthy responses to the questioners, signaling the possibility of a different tradition regarding the end of the story. A plausible guess, since even in the synoptics Jesus makes a brief remark before delivering his punchline, is that he did in fact take a few seconds to gather himself, probably by referencing scripture, before delivering the coup-de-grace. (And the EgerF break off before the ending; perhaps they contained some form of the teaching.)

Much has been made of Jesus’s teaching, one of the most memorable in the Gospels. Should we pay our taxes, as our due to the realities of the world, or withhold them in protest against the corruptions of government? Jesus would have counseled neither course: to enter the Kingdom of God, we must give all our money to the poor and follow Jesus. As the story of the second rich man in the gospel of the Nazarenes makes clear, this is never an easy choice (especially for the rich), but it is the act that defines adherence to Jesus’s teachings–and so Jesus had little patience with those who could not find the courage to become poor themselves. If you have the money to pay your taxes, you are shirking your duty to God.

d) And they marvelled at him. (Mk 12:17)

Attested in the synoptics. I certainly did.

3) We really can’t expect a profound, well-thought answer in a situation as tense as the Tax to Caesar; what is amazing, however, is how much Jesus conveys in his brief answer, even as he extricates himself from a situation that could well have cost him his life. The rich are with us always: we can’t get rid of money, and as long as we use it, there will be people who have lots of it. What we can do is handle money (and the success and power that can come with it) gingerly, expect the rich to support the poor, elderly, crippled, mentally incompetant, and sick; and admire those people who are capable of living a good life with little or no money. Taxes themselves are not evil if they serve a good end, and they can be essential to maintaining a community’s health and cohesion. What we have a right to demand is fair, compassionate, and frugal government. But as Jesus would point out, such a Rule begins in our own hearts.   RT


Photo: Silver denarius w/ Tiberius’ portrait; WikiCmns; Public Domain.


April 15, 2011 5 comments

The thought of language extinction can bring frightening images to mind: whole populations defeated, oppressed, and eventually destroyed or driven into exile, taking their words with them. But not all language extinctions happen in such a violent way, and some languages survive and reappear again in everyday speech despite intense persecution (e.g., Hebrew). What seems to be most important to language survival is the degree to which a language is necessary to conducting daily business. Next most important is whether the power elite speaks it. Finally, the use of a language in liturgy can preserve it–once again, Hebrew is an example, as are Latin, Old Church Slavonic, and Sanskrit.

When a language does disappear in speech, its written record can preserve important stories, and, above all, the history of the language’s community.


Here are some extinct languages you may not have heard of (I hadn’t–and note that all are European), accompanied by stories and history:

1) Shaudit. A Romance language spoken by Jewish people living in southern France from at least the 10th century A.D. It is unclear whether Shaudit developed from Judeo-Latin, evolved independently after Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, or owes it origins to the Jewish exegetical school at Narbonne. Shaudit declined rapidly during the Inquisition, and the last known speaker, Arman Lunel, died in 1977.

2) Sicel. Spoken by the Sicels, one of the three pre-Latin and -Punic tribes of Sicily. The language is of Indo-European origin, and scholars think that they arrived in Sicily after 1000 B.C. and introduced the use of iron to the island. The Odyssey mentions them, and Thucydides notes that they may originally have inhabited central Italy. After the arrival of Greek colonists in Sicily, the Sicel tribe began to decline, and sometime after 400 B.C. the language died out.

3) Cumbric. A Celtic language spoken in Hen Ogleth, the Old North of England and southern Scotland. Associated with the Kingdom of Strathclyde, Cumbric died out in the 12th century A.D. By the way, speakers of Cumbric were P-Celts.

4) Norn. A north German language spoken in the Shetland Islands and Caithness. After the Shetlands were transferred from Norway to Scotland in the 14th century, the language began to die out. Walter Sutherland, from Shaw in Unst, was possibly Norn’s last speaker. He died in 1850.

5) Auregnais. A dialect of Norman spoken on Alderney, one of the English Channel Islands. By 1880, the local children has stopped speaking it among themselves. Population movement and official neglect have been cited as reasons for the language’s extinction.

6) Tartessian. A language spoken in the southwestern Iberian peninsula (Spain) before the Romans secured the peninsula and Latin became its common language. Tartessian, which was spoken from about the 7th century B.C. to the 1st century A.D., is an unclassified language and one of the paleohispanic languages.

7) Meyra. Merya was spoken be the Merya tribe, an important pre-Slavic community centered around Lake Nero near Yaroslavl in northwest Russia. Merya was a Uralic language, related to Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian, and Meryan religious sites, such as sacred stones and groves, continued in use for feasts much longer than other such sites in the region. It is believed that the Slavs peacefully assimilated the Merya about 1000 A.D., and Yaroslav the Wise founded Yaroslavl on the site of a Meryan shrine where a sacred bear was kept.

8) Galindan. A little known language, spoken in Poland until the 14th century, Galindan was a member of the Baltic language group,  and thus related to Lithuanian, Latvian, and the extinct language Old Prussian. The Galindans were known to Ptolemy, and medieval Russians have left a written reference to them. No inscriptions in Galindan are known. Possibly, like their neighbors, the Old Prussians, the Galindans were warlike and very difficult to convert.

9) Messapian. Few inscriptions written in Messapian have survived, making its study and classification difficult. What is known is that this language was spoken in southeastern Italy (Apulia) and died out about the 1st century B.C. If this language belongs to the Illyrian language group, as some scholars believe, its inscriptions would be the only writing found so far for this language group. Some Greek mythographers noted that the ancestor of the Messapian-speaking tribes was the son of Dedalus.

10) Anglo-Norman. The variety of Old Norman spoken by the English court after William the Conqueror deposed the House of Wessex. This language, one of the northern French dialects (or langues d’oil), is the missing link between continental French and the many words that found their way into English after the Norman Conquest. For instance, chou-caboge-cabbage. And the AN “captain” retained the /k/ sound not found in French. So it turns out that the educated English elite were trilingual in medieval times, speaking AN, Latin, and English. After English replaced AN as the language of law and in sessions of Parliament in the mid-14th century, the use of Anglo-Norman dwindled away–English (in its radically altered Middle English form) had remained the language of commerce and the common people. But the most colloquial of the many AN dialects contributed to the development of early Modern English (in general use by 1500) to such an extent that it might be truer to say that they were absorbed into everyday English usage. Readers should nevertheless note: modern English remains a Germanic language.


RT’s Related Posts: 1) The Greek Alphabets–An Independent Tradition? 2) Four Phases of Learning a Language


Photo: Etruscan Gold Pendant, WikiCmns, Public Domain.

Who Will Protect Her?

April 11, 2011 8 comments

child worker, Georgia, 1908


Here are some thoughts on cost-cutting measures for the U.S. federal government:

1) Taxes are the price we pay for living in a civilized society. Yes, Virginia, child labor, abuse, and prostitution do really exist. Not to mention public services like education; firefighting; meat inspection; the maintenance of roads, bridges, and other infrastructure; and medical benefits for the elderly (and even for those unfortunates who still have to work). It is no use pretending that we can pay our public workers little or nothing, rob them of their benefits and right to organize, and then expect heroic, selfless service from them. You get what you pay for.

2) Raising taxes on those best able to afford them is the simple and compassionate way to fund our government shortfalls. The top 10 percent of the population own roughly 70 percent of America’s wealth–a figure that suggests that an emergency tax on the wealthy would go a long way to resolving the debt crisis. A law could be enacted that would require the imposition of this tax if the national debt exceeds a certain percentage of our GDP. A much smaller tax–say 1 percent of income–would also be levied on everyone living above the poverty line. This would help ensure that we take our debt seriously and, as a nation, are willing to keep it at a reasonable level.

3) Empower the White House and Congress to name a bipartisan commission that prepares an annual budget that Congress votes up or down on. Modelled on the Federal Reserve Board, this commission would consist of seven members appointed for terms that last a maximum of 14 years. Congress would be allowed to add a fixed number of spending items–say, one for each member of Congress–to the budget, but if the process itself takes more than 2 months, the old annual budget would be passed automatically to the White House; the President’s signature would of course still be required. If the President vetoes the bill, the process would then be repeated. On a second presidential veto (or congressional failure to approve the budget), the old annual budget would automatically go into effect.



Photo: Child Laborer, 1908; WikiCmns, LOC; Public Domain.

Ad Astra

Here’s another windfall, dating from September 2005 & inspired by a single leaf left over from the previous winter. Enjoy!



Ad Astra



casual epiphany of

the gray and curled leaf


ash of the heart’s furnace


graven arc of the urgent

and shattered particle

strewn across the

film of a spider’s



perched on

our hill of certainty

refusal falling away

to a putative edge



and light like

a string snagged

and stretching back



to the place we began


its bearded stars

converged at her breast

captured in the immense



held in the


whorl, corolla,



style, a rupture muffled

in the steady




Photo: Zeta Oph; WikiCmn; NASA/JPL; Public Domain

Cassini Says: Wish You Were Here!

April 8, 2011 2 comments

10-KM High Mountain


Check out this photo of Saturn’s moon Iapetus taken by the Cassini space probe. That’s right the mountain is 10 kilometers high–and look at the detail. Just another moon-mad moment from the Rag Tree, folks… (and BTW, I’ve upgraded to Windows 7, and see no reasons for complaint)…