Jun 202016
 

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The June solstice is the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and the Winter Solstice  in the Southern Hemisphere. The date varies between June 20 and June 22, depending on the year, and which time zone you are in. The June Solstice this year (2016) in Universal Coordinated Time (UTC – formerly GMT) is on Monday, 20 June 2016 at 22:34 UTC, which is Monday, 20 June 2016, 23:34 BST in London, but on Tuesday, 21 June 2016 at 06:34 CST in Los Angeles. So when is it? The thing is that the exact time of the solstice is determined by the moment when the sun’s zenith is at its furthest point from the equator. On the June solstice, the sun reaches its northernmost point and the Earth’s North Pole tilts directly towards the sun, at about 23.4 degrees. It is also known as the northern solstice because it occurs when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer in the Northern Hemisphere.

This means that, strictly speaking, the solstice is not really a day, but a moment in time. The day on which that moment in time occurs, however, is generally referred to as the solstice, and significant events take place on that day. Ancient cultures went to great lengths to calculate when solstices were to happen, especially the winter solstice. With days getting colder and nights getting longer, it’s comforting to know that things are going to turn around, and Spring is on its way. It’s a ridiculous modern chronocentrism (http://www.passionintellectpersistence.com/chronocentrism/ ) to believe that we are oh-so-smart and know better, but primitive peoples in the distant past thought that the sun was dying every winter and that they had to light big bonfires and perform superstitious magic to bring it back. Hogwash. People really aren’t that stupid. When the same thing happens year after year, you kinda get the idea. The numerous monuments all over the world, aligned to solstices, make it clear that ancient peoples knew what they were doing and were skilled observers.

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Calculating an extremely precise moment for solstices (and equinoxes) is a function of modern astrophysics. I suspect that I am like most people who don’t really care when the exact point is, as long as I know roughly. When I lived in Buenos Aires my apartment had a great view of the setting sun, and because the sunsets were amazing, and different, every day, I got in the habit of photographing the sun every evening as it set. When you’ve done this for a year (and I did it for three – because I’m just a tad driven), you notice how days and nights lengthen and shorten, and how the position of the sun on the horizon shifts over the course of the year.

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Naturally, around the solstices you are aware that the sun’s apparent movement along the horizon is changing direction. It’s not a blink-of-the-eye moment; it takes several days to notice. But it’s evident over time. It’s good if you have a specialist to tell you exactly when the change occurs, otherwise you end up saying “Oh, the sun is heading back in the other direction – damn, I missed the turning point !” It’s much better to be able to have a party right when the change is happening. Here’s a decent video explaining solstices and other stuff if you are interested. There’s a lot more here than just explaining the seasons https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82p-DYgGFjI

When it comes to dating my blog posts I have several challenges. When does the June solstice occur this year, for example? In Italy, where I am now, it is today (20 June), but in California it is tomorrow by their reckoning. Sorry Californians – I’m going with where I am now. I liken this to figuring out when my birthday is (and when other people’s birthdays are). I was born at 9 pm on 30 March in Argentina. Obviously I don’t celebrate at exactly 9 pm Buenos Aires time; that’s going a bit far, even for me. If I were to, though, I’d have to figure out when it is 9 pm in Buenos Aires according to my current time zone. I am not that nuts. I celebrate my birthday from midnight to midnight where I am (and I try to wish people a happy birthday when it is the day of their birthday where they are). With blog posting, things are not quite so simple.

My server is set to UTC, so it changes from one day to the next at midnight UTC.  Here in Italy that is not a big problem because my local time (which is summer time) is only 2 hours ahead of UTC, so what I think the date and time are locally, is not so different from what my server thinks it is (not that my server does a lot of thinking).  When I was in Argentina and China it was a whole different story. What date my server thinks it is makes a difference to me because my posts are date stamped. If I want to say “today is . . . blah blah,” I have to synchronize with my server so that the date stamp is correct. That meant that when I was in Argentina I had to get the day’s post finished and up before 8 pm or it was stamped on the wrong date, and in Kunming, I could dither around until 7 am and still get a post up for the day before. I’ll be in real trouble if I ever move to Alaska. Fortunately that’s unlikely to happen in this lifetime.

I crossed the International Date Line by ship from west to east in 1965 on the way from Australia to England. That was a trifle surreal. You’re sitting down to dinner on Wednesday night, go to bed, and then next morning it’s Wednesday again. Time zones, the Date Line, Summer Time, etc. are all human artifacts that are important in the global age, but they can mess you up. I tend to be happiest when I can organize my life by the sun, and not by clocks. My body tells me what I need to know. I can’t remember the last time I woke to an alarm clock. If I have something urgent to do, such as catching a plane, I’ll set an alarm to be sure. But I always wake before it goes off. When light fades I go to bed, and when dawn breaks I am up.

Solstices are of marginal interest to me. They do mark the passage of the seasons, and that’s important, but I don’t do much to celebrate them. I get the feeling that a lot of “sun worshippers” at Stonehenge and the like, are ordinary folks trying to invest their humdrum mechanized, modern lives with some kind of meaning beyond clock watching and the daily grind.  More power to them. If you want an excuse for a party, go for it, but don’t expect me to be there. I answer to my own rhythms these days, and they don’t generally involve hanging out with other people.

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As it happens, Queen Victoria succeeded to the British crown on this date in 1837. William IV died at the age of 71 in the early hours of the morning. Victoria wrote in her diary, “I was awoke at 6 o’clock by Mamma, who told me the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham were here and wished to see me. I got out of bed and went into my sitting-room (only in my dressing gown) and alone, and saw them. Lord Conyngham then acquainted me that my poor Uncle, the King, was no more, and had expired at 12 minutes past 2 this morning, and consequently that I am Queen.” Official documents prepared on the first day of her reign described her as Alexandrina Victoria, but the first name was withdrawn at her own wish and not used again. She had just turned 18, which meant that a regency could be avoided, but was young and inexperienced in government and had to grow into the role. This she did over her 63 year reign, the longest in British history until Elizabeth II surpassed her in 2015.

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My mum always made apple Charlotte on Sundays to replace the usual apple crumble for the winter months. It’s a good treat for this time of year. If you make it with wild berries or a mix of berries and apples, which I usually do, it’s called Summer Pudding. Either will do for a celebration today. Here is Mrs Beeton first to combine solstice festivities with the Victorian:

A VERY SIMPLE APPLE CHARLOTTE.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—9 slices of bread and butter, about 6 good-sized apples, 1 tablespoonful of minced lemon-peel, 2 tablespoonfuls of juice, moist sugar to taste.

Mode.—Butter a pie-dish; place a layer of bread and butter, without the crust, at the bottom; then a layer of apples, pared, cored, and cut into thin slices; sprinkle over these a portion of the lemon-peel and juice, and sweeten with moist sugar. Place another layer of bread and butter, and then one of apples, proceeding in this manner until the dish is full; then cover it up with the peel of the apples, to preserve the top from browning or burning; bake in a brisk oven for rather more than 3/4 hour; turn the charlotte on a dish, sprinkle sifted sugar over, and serve.

Time.—3/4 hour. Average cost, 9d.

Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons.

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This is not quite the way my mum did it, nor I. I completely line a buttered pudding basin with bread, fill it with apple slices (or berries), top with a lid of bread, then bake in a 300°F oven for 45 minutes. I used to add sugar to the apples, but I don’t any more because I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, and I try to minimize sugar intake. Use white sugar if you do.

Dec 242015
 

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The Eggnog Riot, sometimes known as the Grog Mutiny, was a riot that took place at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, on 24–25 December 1826. It was caused by a drunken Christmas Day party in the North Barracks of the academy. The riot eventually involved more than one-third of the cadets by the time it ceased on Christmas morning. A subsequent investigation by academy officials resulted in the implication of seventy cadets, and the court-martialing of twenty of them and one enlisted soldier. Among the participants in the riot—though he was not court-martialed—was future Confederate States President, Jefferson Davis. The following account is lifted (edited) from:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eggnog_Riot

Sorry! It’s a busy time for me.

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In 1817, Sylvanus Thayer took command at the United States Military Academy. By 1826, the academy had 36 men serving as faculty and staff with four recognized departments – mathematics, engineering, natural philosophy (now physics, chemistry and life sciences), and military tactics. Alcohol possession at the academy was prohibited along with drunkenness, both of which could lead to expulsion. Tobacco use and gambling could lead to demerits, minor incarceration, or a loss of privileges. By 1826, concern had been raised that drinking was starting to get out of hand among the 260 cadets at the academy. The cadets were informed that, due to the alcohol prohibition on the site, their Christmas eggnog would be alcohol-free, prompting the cadets’ decision to smuggle liquor into the academy.

Timeline of events

22 December 1826

20:50 – 22:15

At Martin’s Tavern, cadets William R. Burnley (Alabama), Alexander J. Center (New York), and Samuel Alexander Roberts (Alabama) almost got into a fight with the proprietors of another tavern concerning getting whiskey back to West Point. Private James Dougan, the duty security guard, agreed to let the three cadets take a boat across the Hudson to smuggle the whiskey. The cadets planned to purchase a half-gallon of whiskey as an alcohol base for the eggnog party that would take place in the North Barracks two nights later. Phillip St. George (Virginia) was the 24-hour duty cadet guard of the day. Burnley, Center, and Roberts successfully obtained two gallons of whiskey, smuggling them into North Barracks room No.33. Cadet T. M. Lewis (Kentucky) also returned with a gallon of rum from Benny’s Tavern to North Barracks room No. 5.

Thayer

Thayer

23 December 1826

07:00

Thayer met with George Bomford (New York) and Robert E. Lee (Virginia). Bomford was questioned about his parental correspondence by Thayer, while Lee questioned Thayer about trigonometry problems for artillery gunnery. Classes and barracks inspections continued as usual that day.

17:45

A Christmas party took place at Thayer’s residence at which wine was served. Reverend Charles McIlvane, the academy chaplain, was among the attendees. During the party, a conversation ensued between Thayer and Major William J. Worth, the commandant of cadets, about Jefferson Davis’ (Mississippi) disciplinary problems. Entertainment was provided by the West Point band. The party ended at 21:30.

18:00

Four cadets, Walter B. Guion (Mississippi), Davis, John Stocker (Pennsylvania), and David Farrelly (Pennsylvania), met at Benny Haven’s tavern. They left before academy quartermaster Aeneas Mackay arrived.

Meanwhile at the North Barracks, cadets were planning the party. Preparations included stealing bits and pieces of food during their visits to the mess hall. During this time, cadets residing in the South Barracks found out about the North Barracks’ planned Christmas party.

Hitchcock

Hitchcock

24–25 December 1826

22:00 to 04:15

Nathaniel Eaton (Massachusetts) was the cadet in charge of the external post of the North Barracks. Captain Ethan Allen Hitchcock, a faculty member in military tactics, was also stationed in the North Barracks. Eaton and Hitchcock met and discussed the smuggled liquor in the North Barracks.

The eggnog party started among nine cadets in North Barracks room No. 28. Numerous cadets appeared as the party progressed, while another party began in room No. 5, mentioned by seven cadets including Davis. Farrelly went again to North’s or Havens and returned with another gallon of whiskey early on Christmas morning.

Cadet Charles Whipple (Michigan Territory), the division superintendent during the first part of the incident, went to North Barracks room No. 5 at 02:00 after hearing a commotion, interrupting a round of singing among eight cadets, including Davis. Whipple returned to his room after a verbal exchange with Davis and the other cadets. Hitchcock made another patrol around the barracks at 03:00. Lieutenant William A. Thornton was asleep while the events unfolded.

By 04:00, voices from the floor above Hitchcock were loud enough to cause the faculty member to investigate room No. 28, where Hitchcock knocked on the door and found six cadets drunk from the eggnog, as well as two others sleeping on a bed. Hitchcock ordered two of the cadets back to their rooms. After they left, Hitchcock woke the two sleeping cadets and ordered them to leave as well. Then he confronted cadet James W.M. “Weems” Berrien (Georgia), who responded with equal force. Hitchcock read the Riot Act to the residents of the room for possessing alcohol on the premises. The captain left the room at 04:15. Berrien began verbalizing his rage toward Hitchcock, which led William D.C. “Billy” Murdock (District of Columbia) to lead an effort to organize a riot against Hitchcock.

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25 December 1826

04:30 to 06:05

Hitchcock went down to his room to sleep. Three times he heard knocks on the door only to find no one there. After finding another cadet drunk, Hitchcock saw Davis head over to room No. 5 where thirteen cadets were partying. Davis, seeing Hitchcock’s arrival, warned the other cadets. The captain entered the room, ordering one of the cadets to open up another cadet’s footlocker, but the cadet refused. Hitchcock ordered no more disorder, left the room, and started looking for Thornton around 04:50.

Meanwhile Thornton had strolled the North Barracks between 21:00 on the 24th and 02:00 on Christmas Day observing the ongoing partying, before going to sleep at 02:00. He was awoken by loud yells and, once out of his room, was attacked by two cadets. Thornton then put cadet William P.N. Fitzgerald (New York) under arrest for brandishing a weapon. Fitzgerald retreated from Thornton, then told two cadets in room No. 29 about the arrest.

At this point, noises erupted from the South Barracks which distracted Thornton. While going to investigate that commotion, Thornton was knocked out by Roberts, who had been ejected from room No. 28 by Hitchcock earlier that evening.

Davis was asleep, but other cadets went looking for Hitchcock. Three other cadets were discovered by cadet James G. Overton (Tennessee), a relief sentinel and not involved in the parties, and questioned about their actions. They gave a drunken explanation about needing drums and a fife.

At around 05:00, Hitchcock found another inebriated cadet wandering the academy.

By this point, several window panes had been broken. Hitchcock returned to the room where he was staying, No. 8. Several cadets then attacked his door, Guion drawing his pistol and firing a shot into the room. Hitchcock opened the door and yelled at the cadets to stop. The captain then began arresting cadets.

Worth

Worth

Hitchcock ordered Eaton to find Worth’s headquarters. Overton asked Hitchcock to find Thayer and Hitchcock replied “No, Mr. Overton. Fetch the com(Commandant Worth) here.” Several of the drunken cadets thought Hitchcock had said that the bombardiers would be the ones to quell the riot, using heavy weapons, causing several cadets who were not drunk to take up arms in defense of the North Barracks. Thayer had been awoken at 05:00 by the sound of drums. He ordered his aide, Patrick Murphy, to get Major Worth because of what he could hear going on in the North Barracks.

Hitchcock continued restoring order in the North Barracks, getting into a fight with cadet Walter Otey (Virginia). Thornton awoke from the stairway where he had been knocked out and returned to his room. Hitchcock greeted him in his room at 05:45. By 06:00, other cadets who were not drinking were also involved in restoring order. The main rioters were attempting to recruit other cadets, but with no success.

Overton could not find Cadet Eaton, who was checking the South Barracks, but did find Major Worth. Hitchcock met Worth and told him what had transpired. By this time, Thayer’s aide had arrived in the North Barracks’ guardroom. The Second Artillery had arrived at the North Barracks by the time of reveille at 06:05.

06:05–18:30

Reveille sounded at 06:05, along with gunfire, the sound of glass breaking, profanity by cadets, cries of pain, and threats to academy officials. North Barracks residents who were not drunk from the eggnog were appalled by the damaged property. Cadets in the South Barracks were well rested, while other cadets in the North Barracks were disheveled. Some of the cadets remained in their rooms drinking, although some appeared in parade formation despite being drunk. Worth met with superintendent Thayer after the first formation to discuss what had happened in the North Barracks the previous evening. Thayer instructed Worth to get the officers into the North Barracks and restore order.

Captain Mackay, academy quartermaster, took down details of the damages to the property at North Barracks so repairs could take place in the following days. Many cadets who were drunk made it to company roll call at 06:20, though they were subdued. The mutiny officially ended when Cadet Captain James A.J. Bradford (Kentucky) called the corps to attention and dismissed them from the mess hall after breakfast. Chapel formation took place after breakfast, followed by two hours of service, with most of the drunk cadets still recovering.

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Thayer was advised by Worth regarding the events at North Barracks. Captain Hitchcock and Lieutenant Thornton were bruised, while several cadets suffered minor injuries, and Fitzgerald suffered a hand injury. Worth told Thayer that between fifty and ninety cadets had been involved in the mutiny. Later that day, Thayer met with Gouverneur Kemble, an ordnance manufacturer in Cold Spring, New York, to discuss different items, including the events at West Point. Kemble asked Thayer what he would do about the misconduct, to which Thayer replied he did not know.

26 December 1826

07:00–08:00

A faculty and staff meeting took place, with all but Captain Thomas C. Legate of the 2nd Artillery A Battery and a few assistant professors in attendance. Thayer informed them that Major General Alexander Macomb, Chief of Engineers and Inspector General of the Academy, had been told of the riot, and that he was awaiting orders from Macomb. The superintendent also informed the attendees that an inquiry would take place during semester finals in January 1827, so some of the cadets would face simultaneous examinations and inquiry.

Macomb

Macomb

Cadet Battalion Order 98 was read at formation and posted at several prominent locations at the academy. Twenty-two cadets were placed under house arrest until further notice; among them was Davis, who had been reported as a malefactor by Hitchcock and Thornton.

Davis was never charged, but 19 other cadets were. All but one (John Archibald Campbell – later Justice of the Supreme Court) were found guilty, and most were sentenced to expulsion. On review only 10 expulsions were upheld.

This post is, of course, merely an excuse to give a recipe for eggnog. Most people in the U.S. settle for cartons of commercially made eggnog (spiked with rum). Not me. My wife had an old family recipe which we made every Christmas Eve. If you try it you will never have commercial eggnog again. Warning !!! This recipe is made from raw eggs, so you must be careful about people with allergies, and must be absolutely sure that your eggs are bacteria free. My wife made it so strong it would fell a horse. It’s perfectly delectable, but not the same, without the bourbon. We always used Maker’s Mark, and you should use the best bourbon you can find. A full batch uses one dozen eggs, but we always made it with half a dozen, because a full batch would have killed us. I don’t believe you can go wrong with this recipe because it’s just eggs, cream, and sugar. You can vary the quantity of sugar to suit your tastes.  We always used a 1950s hand-held electric beater owned by my wife’s grandmother. Hand held is more convenient than a stand mixer. That way you can beat the yolks and cream directly in the punch bowl.

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©Blincoe Family Kentucky Eggnog

Ingredients

6 eggs, separated
1 pint heavy cream
½ cup caster sugar
½ bottle bourbon
nutmeg

Instructions

Beat the egg yolks to a creamy yellow. Add the cream and sugar and beat until frothy. Pour this mix into a punch bowl.

Beat the egg whites until firm but not stiff. Spoon on top of the mix in the bowl.

Gently pour the bourbon into the eggnog down the side of the bowl, and give the whole mix a gentle stir with a ladle.

Ladle into punch glasses and top with freshly grated nutmeg.