Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

As Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus said, "As this year has gone, so our life will go, and soon we shall say 'it is gone.' Let us not waste our time; soon eternity will shine for us." Share

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman

To tempt, and to be tempted, are things very nearly allied, and, in spite of the finest maxims of morality impressed upon the mind, whenever feeling has anything to do in the matter, no sooner is it excited than we have already gone vastly farther than we are aware of, and I have yet to learn how it is possible to prevent its being excited. ~Catherine II
Empress Catherine II of Russia is the subject of Robert K. Massie's recent stellar biography. Taking control of her own destiny, Catherine the Great oversaw the building of palaces, universities, cities and towns as the sole ruler of the largest country in Europe. The Empress began the first state-sponsored university for women in Europe. She wrote a books of laws and called the first ever Russian legislative assembly. Traveling all over her empire as she expanded the boundaries through wars of conquest, Catherine did everything on a vast scale; she should be a heroine to feminists. Catherine had at least twelve love affairs. One would think she would have a broader appeal among contemporary young women than poor, doomed Marie-Antoinette, but that has not been my impression. However, I think that often, in movies, films and novels, elements from Catherine's life are lifted and patched onto Marie-Antoinette, including the husband with a phimosis, and a dashing foreign lover. (In Catherine's story his name was Poniatowski and he was from Poland.) Furthermore, Catherine actually wrote her own memoirs; she was introspective in a way that Marie-Antoinette was not, and yet so many novels are based upon fictional memoirs or diaries of Marie-Antoinette.

The above quote from her own writings is Catherine II's explanation of why she so easily capitulated to romance. It is hard to understand how a woman who was otherwise disciplined and sensible, who had displayed a will of iron on the international stage, could be so weak when it came to handsome men. She was like a female King Solomon, except that her affairs were consecutive and spread out over a long period of time. She was in love with love, claiming that she could not live a day without love; it is safe to assume that she was addicted to sexual relationships. How Catherine's inclinations came to be formed is analyzed in Massie's solid biography; he carefully pulls the information together in such a way that I felt as if I was finally meeting the real Catherine.

Massie reveals, more than any other biography that I have read, the emotional deprivation experienced by Catherine from her early childhood on, due to the fact that her ambitious and narcissistic mother had wanted her to be a boy. She was the recipient of constant criticism and stringent training which would have broken the spirit of a frailer child. Her family were minor German princelings, but her mother had connections by which she was determined to advance herself and drag Catherine along with her. As a young teenager, Catherine, whose birth name was Sophie, was sent to Russia to marry her cousin Peter, the unwilling heir to the Russian throne. Peter had severe psychological problems which increased with age. The ordeals Catherine went through in Russia at the hands of crazy Peter and his eccentric aunt the Empress Elizabeth amounted to mental torture and at times caused her great physical suffering as well. When Catherine's son Paul was born, the baby was whisked away while Catherine was forgotten, lying alone for hours after childbirth without any care. She thought she would die of thirst. That is just one example of the neglect and thoughtlessness visited upon Catherine as a young person which later contributed to her insatiable hunger for affection, passion and pleasure.

One quality for which Catherine is always praised is her love of the Enlightenment and the writings of the French philosophes. She corresponded with Voltaire as if he were her father, sharing matters of state with him as well as her personal life. She gave financial support to Diderot, bringing him to Russia for a long visit. Catherine tried to harmonize the new liberal philosophies with her role of autocrat; she aimed at mercy, tolerance and just laws and strove to bring culture and education. Sadly, her good intentions often broke down when it came to political realities; she found herself tolerating serfdom when she had wanted to abolish it because she could not risk losing the favor of the nobles. Serfdom in Russia was as bad or worse than slavery in the United States. There were millions of serfs and they could be bought and sold, families divided; they could be beaten, tortured, raped. It was terrible; Catherine knew it was terrible, but the writings of Montesquieu about the rights of man were completely lost on most Russians. During the French Revolution, which horrified Catherine, she banned the works of the philosophes in Russia, even those of her friend Voltaire. She blamed them, not unjustly, for stirring up the class warfare and contempt for religion which erupted into violence, murder and social chaos. The Empress was determined to protect Russia from waves of change which, she was convinced, would only lead to disaster.

Massie's book not only vivifies the complex personality of the Great Catherine, but gives clarity to the exceedingly complex European politics of the eighteenth century. At the beginning of each section the author reviews information spoken of in previous chapters so as to keep the reader from getting lost or confused. It is helpful without being repetitive, and the only way to keep all the names straight. Most of all, Massie gives us a flesh and blood portrait of an all too human leader who, in spite of the sadness and turmoil of her private life, was able to accomplish great things, making Russia a major player in world politics as well as in art and literature.



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Stranger Than Fiction

The real Brothers Grimm. To quote:
Because they had no father, Jacob and Wilhelm grew close to each other. They attended the University of Marburg, where their law professor introduced them to philology -- the study of language in historical texts. Because of their family's poverty, Jacob and Wilhelm were excluded from the school's social life -- which drove them to pursue their studies more energetically.

After college, both brothers worked as librarians in the town of Kassel. Neither Grimm earned much at his job, but their jobs gave them enough time to continue studying, and in 1806 they began writing down the folk tales they heard around Kassel. At first, the brothers were more interested in the stories' research value than their entertainment value -- Jacob was especially concerned with how German had evolved from languages of the past, and even went on to develop "Grimm's Law," which describes how consonants changed over time to give rise to modern German.

The Grimms published the first volume of their collected folk tales -- called "Children's and Household Tales" -- in 1812, and a second volume in 1814. Though they continued to write scholarly books and articles on linguistics and medieval studies, their folk tales gained them the most recognition, and they even received honorary doctorates from their alma mater. (Read entire post.)
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Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Exhibit on Mary Stuart

At the National Museum of Scotland this summer. (Via On the Tudor Trail.)
The exhibition will provide an opportunity to re-visit much that has been written and speculated about Mary, one of the most charismatic monarchs of all time. Taking a fresh, innovative approach, using jewels, textiles, furniture, documents and portraits, Mary’s dramatic story and this fascinating period in Scottish history will be explored in detail. (Read more.)
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A Monument to Henry VIII

It was never completed. Henry and Jane have to share a tomb with Charles I. I never knew. According to English Historical Fiction Authors:
Henry, never one to let a good thing go to waste, lost no time in acquiring elements of Wolsey’s tomb for his own use, and Cromwell, who was now the project manager, made several payments to Italian and English metal founders. A giant effigy of the king was produced in gilt bronze and work continued until the last decade of Henry’s reign when war with France and Scotland put pressure on the royal coffers. By this time the project was well underway. In his will Henry stated that his tomb was 'well onward and almost made therefore already with a fair grate about it, in which we will also the bones of our true and loving wife Queen Jane be put also.’ But with the king out of the picture the project for his grand burial was no longer of primary importance, even to his children.
Under his successor, Edward VI, work continued half-heartedly and under the new protestant regime even the chantry priests who had been asked to pray for Henry and Jane’s souls were forbidden to continue. The King's tomb was shelved and after Edward’s early demise in 1553 work on his own tomb took precedence over Henry’s.
When Mary Tudor assumed the throne she declined to continue with the work for fear she should be seen as supporting one who broke with Rome, and when Elizabeth's turn came, she showed no more filial respect than her sister. Records show that she did consider continuing with the project but rejected several designs, hampered no doubt by the reluctance to spend too much money on it. After all, her own considerable monument, taking many years to complete and requiring a fortune in white marble, was of more immediate importance. (Read entire post.)
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Saturday, December 29, 2012

"Travelling Companions"

From the Victorian Web:
Augustus Egg's Travelling Companions strikes the viewer at once with the near-perfection of its symmetry — the identical billowing dresses, the hats perched on the laps, the brunette-framed faces that face one another like a woman and her mirror. In fact, it might at first compare to some children's puzzle, in which one must point out the few things discrepancies between the one half of the image and the other. But as one begins to look, one finds a greater diversity of detail than is first apparent. One sits with a basket while the other sits with a bouquet, one reads while the other dozes, and outside the window a vivid and varied landscape expands, filling the center of the image.

And it is in this latter element that arises a point of particular interest. While the window-view confronts the viewer (by virtue of the vantage point from which the image was painted), drawing him outside to the colorful, the asymmetrical, the mesh of forest, lake and mountain ridge, the two women's eyes remain focused inward, the one on some novel or poem, the other on her private meditations. They travel — as the title indicates — and yet they do not leave the world in which they began; they remain in the carriage box with the drab color scheme and what might appear to a first glance as absolute uniformity.

The second word in the title also suggests a certain irony. The two are companions in that they share the same space, and even share the same dress, and yet they do not interact. Each seems apathetic to all external elements of the experience: both the landscape far off, and the person nearby. In this painting the luxuries of the aristocracy and the rise of modern transportation capabilities intersect to isolate the two figures from everything beyond the individual: they travel in such comfort, with all the familiar amenities, that they discard the experience of traveling altogether. (Read entire post.)
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Independent Authors

More and more, self-published authors are gaining the respect their works warrant. According to NPR:
There have been more and more self-publishing successes recently, and the audiences are growing by leaps and bounds, says Carolyn Reidy. She's the CEO of Simon & Schuster, which recently announced that it's launching a new self-publishing service. If traditional publishers want to survive, Reidy says, they have to keep up with the rapid changes taking place in the industry. The growth of self-publishing is one of them.
"We actually understand that it is a different world than what we do," she says. "We want to understand it, and if it is going to ... be a threat to our business, we definitely want to understand it and also see how we can turn that to our advantage. And one of the advantages is, it is a great way to find authors, also new genres and new audiences." (Read entire article.)
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Friday, December 28, 2012

The Hobbit (2012)

I thoroughly enjoyed Peter Jackson's latest foray into Middle Earth, starring Martin Freeman as Bilbo the Hobbit. Unlike most films based upon books, The Hobbit fleshes out personalities and situations, even those which are only hinted at in the novel and its epic sequel, The Lord of the Rings. My only complaints are the long drawn out battle scenes and the gross humor which makes it a film which will go over well with teenage boys. There are, however, deeper messages and meanings delivered throughout the film; I plan on seeing it again. According to The Catholic World Report:
Bilbo lives a comfortable life, with no intention of stepping out further than the Shire. But Gandalf knows him better, and he makes Bilbo aware of how trapped he is in his comfort zone. Gandalf recalls when he knew Bilbo as a young hobbit with dreams of seeing the elves and mountains. “When did you start caring about doilies and your mother’s dishes?” Gandalf asks him. Gandalf insists that Bilbo has been “sitting still for far too long.” As Tolkien's tale comes to life on the big screen, we see that real living is a journey that pulls us out of our comfortable selves and challenges us to pursue what is good and right and truthful. 

After watching The Hobbit a second time (yes, a second time), I realized that this story calls its characters to poverty and humility—which in the end prove to be greater than power or glory. This seems most apparent not only in Bilbo’s character, but also in Thorin. The dwarves have already lost their home and their wealth, and Bilbo must learn to abandon his own home and everything and everyone he loves. His apparent lack of stature and power also prove to be more useful than Thorin or any of the dwarves originally thought. As Gandalf explains to Galadriel, it is not great power that will conquer evil, but the small and ordinary things. Gandalf chooses Bilbo, not because he is great, but precisely because of his insignificance. Hobbits are far removed from the rest of Middle-Earth, and as we well know from The Lord of the Rings, the humbleness of their race proves far more useful against the Enemy than any great army. 

Gandalf serves as the company’s conscience through the majority of the film. He is far removed from material possessions and his heart does not lay claim on any home in Middle-Earth. Some Tolkienites might argue that he considers the Shire a home. But Gandalf’s preference for good weed aside, we know he is a guardian not from this world. He stands as the voice of reason, telling them to “Run!” or “Stand and fight!” when the dwarves cannot think for themselves. He is also the most aware of Thorin’s shortcomings, reminding him of his duties and keeping him humble when the others cannot. Gandalf uses his powers only when necessary—his main duty seems to be that of a guide. We know Gandalf’s abilities reach far beyond what he reveals here, but he chooses instead to play a minor role—only giving Bilbo, Thorin, and the dwarves the “shove” they need to act when they lack conviction. 

This approach of Gandalf’s proves to be most effective for Thorin’s conversion to humility. From the beginning, we know Thorin to be a good dwarf—one who respects the loyalty and honor of his men—yet, he still lacks the humility and the willingness to sacrifice that is needed to restore his homeland. He knows from experience that the impossible can be achieved with very little—he allegedly destroyed a great orc with only an oak branch for a shield—and still, he doubts Gandalf and the wizard’s faith in Bilbo. If not for Gandalf’s prodding, Thorin’s pride would have prevented him from seeking the counsel of the elves, which would have left him unable to understand the map handed down to him by his forefathers. Good is not achieved until Thorin surrenders his pride. Only then may the dwarves take another step further on their quest. (Read entire post.)
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Massacre of the Innocents

Mark Steyn on dealing with obscene horror at Christmas. To quote:
'Lullay, Thou little tiny Child, by by, lully, lullay . . .'

The 16th-century Coventry Carol, a mother’s lament for her lost son, is the only song of the season about the other children of Christmas — the first-born of Bethlehem, slaughtered on Herod’s orders after the Magi brought him the not-so-glad tidings that an infant of that city would grow up to be King of the Jews. As Matthew tells it, even in a story of miraculous birth, in the midst of life is death. The Massacre of the Innocents loomed large over the Christian imagination: In Rubens’s two renderings, he fills the canvas with spear-wielding killers, wailing mothers, and dead babies, a snapshot, one assumes, of the vaster, bloodier body count beyond the frame. Then a century ago the Catholic Encyclopedia started digging into the numbers. The estimated population of Bethlehem at that time was around a thousand, which would put the toll of first-born sons under the age of two murdered by King Herod at approximately 20 — or about the same number of dead children as one school shooting on a December morning in Connecticut. “Every man a king,” promised Huey Long. And, if it doesn’t quite work out like that, well, every man his own Herod. (Read entire post.)
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Thursday, December 27, 2012

The London Season

From Gio:
If you have ever read a historical novel set in 17th, 18th or 19th century England, you've probably heard of the London Season. The aristocracy considered it so important that for them the year revolved around it. But what was this Season? And when did it take place?

The London Season did not fall between two specific and set dates, but coincided with the Parliamentary session, which usually started sometime after Christmas (depending on when the hunting season came to a close in the country), and ended in July, when it adjourned for the summer. During that time, anyone who was anyone rushed to London to see and be seen, entertain and be entertained. And of courses, women rushed to their seamstress and milliners to buy new gown, hats, gloves, shoes and any other piece of attire they could think of to show off during the season! (Read entire post.)

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A Surprise Ending

I always heard that film director Alfred Hitchcock died outside the Church. The Jesuits who ministered to him in his last days say it is not so. According to Fr. Mark Henninger, S.J.:
Tom and I returned a number of times, always on Saturday afternoons, sometimes together, but I remember once going by myself. I'm somewhat tongue-tied around famous people and found it a bit awkward to chitchat with Alfred Hitchcock, but we did, enjoyably, in his living room. At one point he said, "Let's have Mass."

He was 81 years old and had difficulty moving, so I helped him get up and assisted him across the breezeway. As we slowly walked, I felt I had to say something to break the silence, and the best I could come up with was, "Well, Mr. Hitchcock, have you seen any good movies lately?" He paused and said emphatically, "No, I haven't. When I made movies they were about people, not robots. Robots are boring. Come on, let's have Mass." He died soon after these visits, and his funeral Mass was at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Beverly Hills. (Read entire post.)
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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

La Princesse de Montpensier (2010)

The 2010 Tavernier film La Princesse de Montpensier is a retelling of the story by Madame de Lafayette which warned young seventeenth century ladies of the perils of forsaking virtue. With marvelous actors and riveting sets and scenery, the movie had enormous potential which was lost in the director's attempt to make the original parable fit a modern agenda. It sadly became a mishmash dominated by feminist ideology, as the author of this essay clearly points out, saying:
Dissimulation leaves open the possibility for discovery; the imperative of self-control holds open the potential for an explosion of emotion, anger, or violence.  Both are absent from the movie’s universe.  With its characters endowed with static personalities, liberated from doubt and emotional turmoil, the film lacks any dynamic drawing the viewer forward. Part of the problem is that Tavernier has not gone far enough in transforming Madame de Lafayette’s story.  Too many traces of her text’s narrative architecture and moral economy still inhabit the film.  In the film, virtue hasn’t guided anyone’s actions, nor indeed is virtue even present as an operative category, making this a pointless gesture.  We are faced with a kind of archeological accretion of incompatible elements deposited from both the original text and Tavernier’s historicist-modernist vision.  A credible tale of female agency could have been told either by truly historicizing the action and taking seriously the options and constraints available to women in the sixteenth century, or by unmooring the story from its source text and historical context – but not both simultaneously. In the end, we are left with a film that is a pastiche of a period-costume historical epic, a bodice-ripping swashbuckler, a reverential adaptation of a literary classic, an auteur’s reinvention of a canonical text, a romantic tale of impossible love, a melodrama, and an exemplary feminist tale. A more interesting film could certainly have been made about unrequited love (or the absence of love) in early modern marriages.  But here, too many themes spoil the cinematic pot. (Read entire essay.)
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The Piano as Paintbrush

The wondrous colors of Debussy.
Debussy once said that if he had not been a musician he would have been a painter. His favorite painter was not an Impressionist, a term he abhorred, but J.M.W. Turner, whom he thought the greatest of all colorists. And it is as a colorist that Debussy is the most wondrous tone-painter of music, exploring unknown regions of sonority and timbres. In 1905 he completed "La Mer," one of the miracles of orchestral music. To perform it well, the composition needs musicians who are painters. "There should be only sirens in the sea," Debussy said.

The piano was his most important paintbrush, always close at hand. His body of piano music is the most original since Franz Liszt's. His biographer Edward Lockspeiser wrote of "Debussy's mysterious conception of tactile properties." He was a man of the widest culture. But above all he was a nature worshipper, and nearly half of his art was inspired by the natural world, which he best reflected in his piano music. A pupil, the pianist E. Robert Schmitz, speaks of "Clouds, moonlight, passing breezes—sunken churches, the wind at sea or in the plains, sunrise on a golden roof, shimmering gold fish inspired by a Japanese lacquer," and so much else. (Read entire post.)
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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

King, Priest, and Victim

"Come to Me and I will bless you!"

From Mother Mectilde de Barr:
Let all creatures fall silent. In fact, all that they should be able to say will never come near even to the minimal part of the reality. We can honour this mystery in no better way than by keeping a respectful silence, filled with awe and with admiration. The Eternal Word who keeps this silence gives us the example.  (Read entire post.)
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The Nativity in Renaissance Art

From Donna Russo Morin:
As one of the fathers of the Renaissance, Giotto’s Adoration of the Magi also deserves mention. In this piece, created between 1304 and 1306, is a glimpse into the discovery of three-dimensional painting; a hallmark of the early Renaissance. This particular piece is a portion of a cycle of frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. The draping of the clothing, the emotion of the faces is so distinctly Giotto, so enrapturing for the onlooker. But one of the most intriguing figures of the composition is the Star of Bethlehem and its movement through the sky, where almost all such other depictions find it stationary. It is a conjecture that Giotto was inspired to render it as such after seeing the 1301 sighting of Haley’s Comet. (Read entire post.)
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Monday, December 24, 2012

The Crèche at Greccio

From Historical Fiction Research:
On Christmas Eve, when it grew dark, the friars and the townspeople formed an extraordinary candlelit procession, which wound its way slowly up the hill toward the little stable.  As Adrian House says in his biography of Francis, Francis of Assisi:  A Revolutionary Life, "The night seemed to light up like day and the woods on the hillside rang with the joy of the singing."

Once everyone was gathered around, a mass was said near the manger.  (It is sometimes said that shepherds and their flocks gathered around the edges of the crowd, but if so, there must have been some confused and sleepy sheep.)

Francis acted as deacon for the mass.  He sang the gospel and he preached on the meaning of Christmas.  It is said that he even imitated the voices of the animals as he told the Christmas story. (Read entire post.)
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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Family Dinner

Some last minute ideas:
  • Asymmetrical table arrangements can be unexpectedly lovely, and they create an inviting look. A rustic vase filled with branches of red berries adds just the right amount of height; a single candle adds an understated, cozy glow.
  • If place card holders seem too formal, try placing a single party cracker on each place setting for a lively start to the meal. Filled with charms, written jokes and other trinkets, guests will have something to take home and remember the evening.
  • Mix and match patterns in similar colors. Our solid gold chargers are the perfect complement to painted Christmas plates and golden toile linens.
  • A tray makes it easy to carry glasses of wine from the kitchen or bar area to the table. Glasses with a touch of metallic color feel especially festive.
(Read entire post.)

And here are five rum drinks for the holidays.

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Noah's Ark

It's back in the news.
Robert Ballard, the man who discovered the wreckage of the Titanic in 1985, recently sat down with ABC's Christiane Amanpour to talk about his findings. He and his team are scouring the floor of the Black Sea off the coast of Turkey. Ballard believes the sea is hiding remnants of an ancient civilization, one that dates back to the time of Noah. Ballard is using robotic technology, which has evolved in leaps and bounds since his robotic submersible equipped with remote-controlled cameras found the Titanic, to conduct his search operation.

The archaeologist was intrigued by a controversial theory proposed by two scientists from Columbia University. Walter Pitman and Bill Ryan believe the Black Sea was once a freshwater lake that was flooded by a massive torrent of water from the Mediterranean Sea. They say that flood washed away everything in its path.

"With more than 200 times the force of Niagara falls, the flood caused water levels in the Black Sea, which was no more than a large lake, to rise six inches per day and swallowed 60,000 square miles in less than a year," wrote Hannah Fairfield in the Columbia News several years ago.

The people who lived there scattered as they fled the rising water that erased the obvious signs of their existence. But Ballard and his team believe the evidence of an ancient civilization is there for them the find. When Ballard launched his operation, he had a very specific goal in mind. "We went in there to look for the flood," Ballard told ABC News. "Not just a slow moving, advancing rise of sea level, but a really big flood that then stayed... The land that went under stayed under."

Ballard's team eventually found ancient pottery and what appears to be an ancient shoreline, which he believes supports the scientists' theory. Based on carbon dating of the shells along that shoreline, Ballard estimates the flood happened around 5,000 B.C., which is believed to be the time of Noah. Ballard, Pitman and Ryan believe it's the recounting of this flood from generation to generation that evolved into the story of Noah's Ark (Genesis chapters 6-9). (Read entire article.)
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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Beautiful Libraries

Many of us are looking forward to getting more books for Christmas. Here are a few examples of creative home libraries. Share

Small Talk

Why it can be difficult for some people and how it can be made easier. To quote:
Because small talk is such a BIG deal I have made it my business to learn about it and become proficient enough to use it so as to fit more comfortably into the world around me, having more positive encounters with strangers and business people along with better relationships with close friends. Here are some things that have helped me:
  1. Watch for small talk: For many weeks I intentionally watched for small talk when going on errands, working and spending time with friends. Once I started watching for it I was able to identify it. This helped me to understand what sorts of things were considered small talk.
  2. Find appealing aspects of small talk: For example, even though I find small talk difficult, I do very much enjoy the predictable repeating pattern – basically, you can count on small talk to be part of most conversations so the pattern repeats with each conversation regardless of the conversation partner.
  3. Identify the small talk topics: The topics I have identified include the weather, the weekend and compliments. It has been helpful to me to know these topics that usually come at the beginning and sometimes at the end of a conversation are small talk in that I don’t need to pay close attention or remember all the details. This allows me to focus on the more important words that usually follow the small talk in business transactions.
  4. Writing Scripts Ahead of Time (Endow, 2006, pg. 52): My brain cannot retrieve something it hasn’t stored. Writing Scripts Ahead of Time allows my brain to store the generic small talk fluff words so that I can pull them up and use them without needing to waste the energy it takes to create my portion of each small talk transaction that my brain otherwise reads as novel. I have scripts for the weather with a multiple-choice feature to accommodate current weather events. Here is one small talk weather script I use: “How are you liking this (heat, cold, wind, rain, sunshine)?
  5. Play acting scripts: It will not work to simply repeat rote small talk scripts. You will come off looking very odd. I have found it helpful to think in terms of play-acting. This allows me to match the information of the script to the real life setting. For example, to a friend I might ask, “So, what’s the scoop on your weekend?” With a business acquaintance I might ask, “Did you have a nice weekend?”
  6. Build word sandwiches: Whenever I have something important to say I pop up a picture of a sandwich. This shows me that my important words are the filling, but I need to build the sandwich, with the bread being the small talk words. The sandwich pop up reminds me to start and end my important words with small talk. It is amazing how much better people like my ideas when I sandwich the idea in small talk! (Read entire post.)
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Vintage Beauty Advice

Tips from The Lady magazine from days of yore. To quote:
"NOTHING adds so much to personal attractions, as a bright, clear complexion and a soft skin. Without them the handsomest and most regular features are but coldly impressive, whilst with them the plainest becomes attractive."

The Lady. Good Complexion and Nice Hands. 16th January, 1890

"THERE is no dull-season in the world-wide desire to be attractive. The style of living to-day, the high pressure at which work and play, together with late hours and rich living all tend to work havoc health and digestion."

The Lady. How to Preserve Beauty and to Improve the Appearance. 18th January, 1900

"FASCINATION springs from the hidden depths of character. It will never be gained by face-posturing before the looking-glass."


The Lady. Gargoyling: A new Art. 10th January, 1907

"BEAUTY herself must have a care with perfume, which to be perfect should be subtle as a charm and clean as lavender."

The Lady. Perfume. 28th January, 1904
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Friday, December 21, 2012

Twelve Lost Letters

Even the alphabet is not immune to change over the centuries. Here are some letters that were left behind. To quote:
Have you ever seen a place that calls itself “ye olde whatever”? As it happens, that’s not a “y”, or, at least, it wasn’t supposed to be. Originally, it was an entirely different letter called thorn, which derived from the Old English runic alphabet, Futhark.

Thorn, which was pronounced exactly like the “th” in its name, is actually still around today in Icelandic. We replaced it with “th” over time—thorn fell out of use because Gothic-style scripting made the letters y and thorn look practically identical. And, since French printing presses didn’t have thorn anyway, it just became common to replace it with a y. Hence naming things like, “Ye Olde Magazine of Interesting Facts” (just as an example, of course). (Read entire post.)
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The End of the World

From LPL Financial:
December 21 also happens to be the day that another doomsday clock is ticking down to. The Mayans, who spread across Central America from about 2000 B.C. to 900 A.D., used a unique Mesoamerican “long count” calendar that marked time in long cycles lasting 394.3 years called b’ak’tun. A “sun,” or era, may be defined as 13 b’ak’tun cycles. The Mayan creation date was in 3114 B.C., and the 13th b’ak’tun cycle will end on Friday of this week — on December 21, 2012. The Mayan calendar has three “calendar rounds;” these three cycles each turn as time passes. They align with each other in a unique way to begin a new full cycle only rarely, and like a primeval Y2K event, the Mayans believed that the world as we know it will come to an end and will experience a profound transformation. The Mayans may be right about three cycles coming together and transforming into a new era. But we don’t think it takes any mystical knowledge to see the new era transforming in the fiscal, economic, and political cycles that has profound impacts for investors.

The fiscal policy cycle is turning to a new phase, away from the tremendous stimulus and spending of the past five years to austerity and cuts. The decision on the fiscal cliff will set in motion the path for addressing the country’s long-term fiscal solvency. The structure and depth of this new multiyear phase of fiscal policy will soon be decided. This change in fiscal policy after years of helping to boost. (Read more.)
Interesting. I do not know quite what to think, having read various contradictory opinions.

HERE are my posts on 2012 based on a book by a Belgian Jesuit. To quote:
Fr. Thibaut says that 2012 signifies the end of an era in the history of the Church, recalling how other eras have come and gone. The destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 marked the close of an era, as did the fall of Rome in the fifth century. The fifteenth century saw the end of medieval Christianity with the Reformation. (p.22) The Revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as well as the World Wars of the twentieth century were events which manifested the judgment of God as well as signaling changes for the Church and the world. (pp. 88, 92, 96)Throughout such stages, the Church has been guided by the successors of St. Peter. (p. 22) (Read more.)
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A Fading Folk Art

Decoy carving. To quote from Eastern Shore Savvy:
“It’s a traditional folk art,” states fellow carver Clenton Warnick. “People used to make these and actually set their decoys out to sell the ducks that they shot. This was a big market hunting area. You would catch crabs, you would do oysters, or you would shoot ducks.” At some point that very utilitarian view of decoys evolved into an art. The talent of the artisans whose table I shared the other day was matched by their respect and appreciation for the history and culture of the art form itself.

Obvious to anyone that attended the recent Waterfowl Festival, decoy carving has a history strongly rooted in the Eastern Shore. But like many things that define the communities of our country, a change in priorities, lifestyle, and technology is easing art forms like decoy carving into obscurity. Gene Rall and his fellow carvers, however, are dedicated to keeping the craft alive and relevant.  “We’re trying to build [the group] so that it is at least sustainable as a beginners class and an experienced class,” says Gene who moved to the Eastern Shore from Philadelphia for the decoy carving culture. “Then our mission would be to reach out to high schools. And, either through the industrial arts program or through the art program, get younger people involved in this art form of bird carving.” (Read entire post.)
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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Regency Gowns

Some gowns from the period of 1800 to 1820 from The Pragmatic Costumer. Share

The Decline of Honor

Some historical background from the Art of Manliness.
In 1790, 95% of Americans lived in small, rural communities. By the 1990s, 3 out of 4 citizens made their home in urbanized areas. While in small towns everyone can keep track of the doings of their neighbors, in cities and suburbs relationships tend to be more impersonal and anonymous; any city dweller has experienced the sensation of being in a large group of people and yet feeling entirely alone. In large populations you can live out your whole life without anyone checking up on what you’re doing, much less judging your reputation as honorable or dishonorable.

In cities and smaller towns alike, civic participation and community-mindedness has fallen significantly since WWII. And while honor formerly centered on one’s clan, extended families no longer live close together and familial relations have constricted to the nuclear family alone, which itself is often split up.

As a result of these shifts, immoral, unethical, and cowardly behaviors are rarely known outside one’s immediate circle of family and friends. And even then, for reasons we’ll discuss below, they are more likely to shrug and say, “It’s none of my business,” or, “To each his own,” than to condemn and challenge the errant behavior.

The internet has only accelerated the shift towards impersonal and anonymous relationships. Traditional honor is designed to act as a check on people’s claims to merit and force them to stand behind and defend their insults; exaggerations of one’s deeds or shameful actions are called out and challenged by one’s associates. On the internet, however, people can claim to be a Navy SEAL or issue the basest of insults to another person without having to prove their claim, suffer consequences for their character, or allow the insulted person to defend themselves. They can be anyone and say anything, all while safely ensconced behind a screen. (Read entire post.)

Professor Anthony Esolen discusses the importance of finding the masculine genius. To quote:
 When a virtue falls by the wayside, when it is no longer a lived reality recognized by a community in its manifold forms, we recall only a scrap of it here or there, or we can only imagine a gaudy caricature of it.

That, I think, is the case now for both manhood and womanhood.

Many millions of boys in America, for instance, are growing up in homes without fathers, so they find "fathers" of their own on the streets or in the diseased and silly fantasies of mass entertainment, musclemen who can take down a city, or charismatic gang leaders who move caches of drugs and make exciting things happen.

They miss the more subtle fortitude of moral vision and farsighted self-sacrifice. Male heroes in popular literature for boys, 80 or 90 years ago, might be all right with a gun or a sword, but they might also be bespectacled dons like Mr. Chips whose discipline was a form of love.

I see manhood as the drive to lead -- to serve by leading, or to lead by following loyally the true leadership of one's father or priest or captain.

The man exercises charity by training himself to be self-reliant in ordinary things, not out of pride, but out of a sincere desire to free others up for their own duties, and to free himself for things that are not ordinary.

The man also must refuse -- this is a difficult form of self-sacrifice -- to allow his feelings to turn him from duty, including his duty to learn the truth and to follow it.

A man loves his own family, but he also loves his family by refusing to subject the entire civil order to the welfare of his family; he understands that if he performs his duty, other families besides his own will profit by it. (Read entire article.)
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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Pudding

All you need to know. (Via Stephanie Mann,)
 Few foods can trace their history back through multiple centuries. Plum pudding stands out as one of those few. It began in Roman times as a pottage, a meat and vegetable concoction prepared in a large cauldron. Dried fruits, sugar and spices might be added to the mix as well.

Another ancestor to the plum pudding, porridge or frumenty appeared in the fourteenth century. A soup-like fasting dish containing meats, raisins, currants, prunes, wine and spices, it was eaten before the Christmas celebrations began. By the fifteenth century, plum pottage a soupy mix of meat, vegetables and fruit was served to start a meal.

As the seventeenth century opened, frumenty evolved into a plum pudding. Thickened with eggs, breadcrumbs, and dried fruit, the addition of beer and spirits gave it more flavor and increased its shelf life. Variants were made with white meat, though gradually the meat was omitted and replaced by suet. The root vegetables also disappeared. By 1650, the plum pudding had transformed from a main dish to a dessert, the customary one served at Christmas. Not long afterward though, plum pudding was banned by Oliver Cromwell because he believed the ritual of flaming the pudding harked back to pagan celebrations of the winter solstice.

George I, sometime called the Pudding King revived the dish in 1714 when he requested that plum pudding be served as part of his royal feast to celebrate his first Christmas in England. Subsequently it became entrenched as part of traditional holiday celebrations, taking its final form of cannon-ball of flour, fruits, suet, sugar and spices, all topped with holly in the 1830’s. In 1858 it was first dubbed the Christmas Pudding, recorded as such in Anthony Trollope's Doctore Thorne.  (Read entire post.)
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Guns, Insanity and Tragedy

A must-read article from David Kopel of The Wall Street Journal. The following is an excerpt:
A second explanation is the deinstitutionalization of the violently mentally ill. A 2000 New York Times study of 100 rampage murderers found that 47 were mentally ill. In the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry Law (2008), Jason C. Matejkowski and his co-authors reported that 16% of state prisoners who had perpetrated murders were mentally ill.

In the mid-1960s, many of the killings would have been prevented because the severely mentally ill would have been confined and cared for in a state institution. But today, while government at most every level has bloated over the past half-century, mental-health treatment has been decimated. According to a study released in July by the Treatment Advocacy Center, the number of state hospital beds in America per capita has plummeted to 1850 levels, or 14.1 beds per 100,000 people.

Moreover, a 2011 paper by Steven P. Segal at the University of California, Berkeley, "Civil Commitment Law, Mental Health Services, and U.S. Homicide Rates," found that a third of the state-to-state variation in homicide rates was attributable to the strength or weakness of involuntary civil-commitment laws.

Finally, it must be acknowledged that many of these attacks today unfortunately take place in pretend "gun-free zones," such as schools, movie theaters and shopping malls. According to Ron Borsch's study for the Force Science Research Center at Minnesota State University-Mankato, active shooters are different from the gangsters and other street toughs whom a police officer might engage in a gunfight. They are predominantly weaklings and cowards who crumble easily as soon as an armed person shows up.

The problem is that by the time the police arrive, lots of people are already dead. So when armed citizens are on the scene, many lives are saved. The media rarely mention the mass murders that were thwarted by armed citizens at the Shoney's Restaurant in Anniston, Ala. (1991), the high school in Pearl, Miss. (1997), the middle-school dance in Edinboro, Penn. (1998), and the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo. (2007), among others. (Read entire article.)
Here is a article by Monsignor Charles Pope about the mental illness and the law. To quote:
Somewhere, in the late 1970s, as I recall, the ACLU, and other interest groups, sued the federal government, claiming that many were being unjustly detained in mental hospitals. Having lost a series of suits, the government largely emptied the mental hospitals, resulting in a great exodus of the seriously mentally ill into our streets.

As most of you know, the “homelessness” problem, in our large cities, was deeply rooted in mental illness. Who of us have encountered homeless persons have seen the depths of their pain and understand that they struggle with mental illness, and also addiction. I know the mental hospitals prior to 1975 were not wonderful, or well-run, but I have grave concerns that we overreacted and severed many people from the necessary, and protected environment that they most needed.

My sister, was among those who were ushered out of mental hospitals, and placed into group homes settings and other less protected environments. Ultimately, this led to the death of my sister, and of great pain for many others.

In the years following her dismissal from the mental hospital system, my sister bounced back and forth through many different group homes. She often ran off, and in her difficult moments and became involved in many incidents that harmed her and others. (Read entire article.)
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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Baths and Privies

In the great houses of England.
The numerous visitors to Moccas included: 
The old Duke of Norfolk (in his old coach and four black horses) who always drank like a fish, and it was said that he used to make a compromise with his coachman, saying ‘John, you must be sober tonight, I shall be drunk,” or vice versa. Sometimes he slept at Moccas, but never brought a clean shirt with him and came down to breakfast next morning with a portwine spotted shirt, generally himself unwashed. The servants considered him a dear man, as he never wanted any water in his bedroom.
Lady Duff Gordon to her niece, Mrs. A.C.Master (unpubl.) 20.11.1872
(Read entire post.)
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Give Chivalry a Chance

A good article from The Atlantic. To quote:
Perhaps because of women's ambivalence about chivalry, men have grown confused about how to treat women. Will holding doors open for them or paying for the first date be interpreted as sexist? Does carrying their groceries imply they're weak? The breakdown in the old rules, which at one extreme has given rise to the hookup culture, has killed dating and is leaving a lot of well-meaning men and women at a loss. (Read entire post.)
 I am physically weak compared to most men and I greatly appreciate having help when I have to carry something heavy. Chivalry is just common sense. Share

Monday, December 17, 2012

How to Dye Fabrics

From Gio:
To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of history is discovering how people did things in the past. Like clothes for instance. These days when we need a new dress or blouse, we go to a shop where we can choose between a vast array of clothes in all kinds of fabrics, styles and colours. But it wasn't always like this. In the past, people either went to a dressmaker or made their own clothes themselves. But what did they do when they wanted to change the colour of a garment? (Read entire post.)

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Connections Between Mother and Child

They are much deeper than originally thought. According to Scientific American:
The link between a mother and child is profound, and new research suggests a physical connection even deeper than anyone thought. The profound psychological and physical bonds shared by the mother and her child begin during gestation when the mother is everything for the developing fetus, supplying warmth and sustenance, while her heartbeat provides a soothing constant rhythm.

The physical connection between mother and fetus is provided by the placenta, an organ, built of cells from both the mother and fetus, which serves as a conduit for the exchange of nutrients, gasses, and wastes. Cells may migrate through the placenta between the mother and the fetus, taking up residence in many organs of the body including the lung, thyroid muscle, liver, heart, kidney and skin. These may have a broad range of impacts, from tissue repair and cancer prevention to sparking immune disorders.

It is remarkable that it is so common for cells from one individual to integrate into the tissues of another distinct person. We are accustomed to thinking of ourselves as singular autonomous individuals, and these foreign cells seem to belie that notion, and suggest that most people carry remnants of other individuals. As remarkable as this may be, stunning results from a new study show that cells from other individuals are also found in the brain. In this study, male cells were found in the brains of women and had been living there, in some cases, for several decades. What impact they may have had is now only a guess, but this study revealed that these cells were less common in the brains of women who had Alzheimer’s disease, suggesting they may be related to the health of the brain. (Read entire article.)
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Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Reviews are In

Some commentary on the new Hobbit film directed by Peter Jackson. I have not yet seen it but plan to do so soon. There are also some articles about Tolkien and his works in general.

To quote from "Knight of Middle Earth" by Stratford Caldecott:
After all, Tolkien wove the idea of "nobility of soul" very deeply into his mythology.  This concept is represented partly in the Elves.  The human beings and hobbits who are closest to the Elves by influence or nature are the noblest: Frodo (named "Elf-friend") among the hobbits, Aragorn and Imrahil and Faramir among the men.  The "elvish" tendency in man is always towards physical beauty, artistic ability and respect for creation.  It is associated with a love for God's creation that seeks to improve, protect, celebrate and adorn.

The "chivalry" that reveals this nobility is shown in behavior towards others, such as kindness and mercy, the refusal to mistreat even prisoners of war, and the showing of honor to the bodies of the dead.  We see this, for instance, when Aragorn, heir to the throne of Gondor and leader of the fellowship of the Ring, insists on a proper funeral for Boromir before they continue with their quest.  The knights of Middle-earth defend the weak from their oppressors and remain faithful to friends and liege-lord.  Such behavior outwardly signifies the presence of heroic virtue within the soul, especially the cardinal virtues of prudence, fortitude, temperance and justice. (Read entire article.)

From "The Hobbit and Virtue" by Joseph Pearce:
 At its deepest level of meaning, The Hobbit is a pilgrimage of grace in which its protagonist, Bilbo Baggins, becomes grown-up in the most important sense. Throughout the course of his adventure, the hobbit develops the habit of virtue and grows in sanctity, illustrating the priceless truth that we only become wise men (homo sapiens) when we realize that we are pilgrims on a purposeful journey through life (homo viator).

Bilbo’s journey from the homely comfort of the Shire to the uncomfortable lessons learned en route to the Lonely Mountain, in parallel with Frodo’s journey from the Shire to Mount Doom in the Rings trilogy, is a mirror of every man’s journey through life. It is in this sense that Tolkien wrote in his celebrated and cerebral essay "On Fairy Stories" that "the fairy story … may be used as a mirour de l’omme" (the mirror of scorn and pity towards man).

In short, we are meant to see ourselves reflected in the character of Bilbo and our lives reflected in his journey from the Shire to the Lonely Mountain.

Indeed, and perhaps surprisingly, Bilbo bears a remarkable resemblance to many of us, his diminutive size and furry feet notwithstanding. He likes tea and toast and jam and pickles; he has wardrobes full of clothes and lots of pantries full of food; he likes the view from his own window and has little desire to see the view from distant windows. He is a creature of comfort dedicated to the creature comforts.

In Christian terms, Bilbo Baggins is dedicated to the easy life and would find the prospect of taking up his cross and following the heroic path of self-sacrifice utterly anathema.

The unexpected party at the beginning of the story, in which the hobbit’s daily habits are disrupted by the arrival of unexpected and unwelcome guests, is, therefore, a necessary disruption. It is the intervention into his cozy life of an element of inconvenience or suffering, which serves as a wake-up call and a call to action.

A review of the new film from Medievalists.net:
Liked: The scenery, as always, New Zealand made a beautiful Middle Earth and the care that went into the costumes and settings was beyond reproach. The orcs are as hideous as ever; their lair in the mountain is reminiscent of the scenes in the mines of Moria in The Lord of the Rings. The swooping scenes underground can be a bit disorienting but the visuals were incredible. Ian McKellan. The man can do no wrong and kills it as Gandalf. He is always a pleasure to watch and reprises the wizard’s role perfectly. Martin Freeman (Love Actually, Sherlock) as Bilbo Baggins did a great job and saved the film from losing ground in many parts. Richard Armitage (North and South, Robin Hood) as Thorin Oakenshield. He is quite a presence onscreen.

Disliked: Most of the dwarves became caricatures of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and fell prey to over acting and poor writing with some of the humour coming off as trying too hard. The Dwarves lost their mystique and coolness and became campy. The fight scenes. The movie was plagued with too many unnecessary fight scenes for the sake of seeing how far they could go with CGI. I’m very glad I did not watch this in 3D because I would’ve needed a barf bag. It was jarring at some points. Radagast the Brown played by Sylvester McCoy (Doctor Who). I disliked his scenes. Why? Not only were they a bad departure from the book, they seemed to be inserted for cheap laughs and filler. Corny, and cringe worthy, I don’t know why Radagast (who is only mentioned briefly in the book) suddenly became a major character. Speaking of filler – there was a lot of it. Jackson seemed to want to force 3 hours on his unsuspecting audience by inserting many things that were not part of the book for the sake of drawing the storyline out. So many scenes should have been left on the cutting room floor. The additions, (I won’t mention them all here), were just not needed to make this a great film. Lastly, the length. I actually checked my watch because it dragged on forever. I even mentally checked out after what seemed to be the 85th fight scene. I could feel myself losing interest after two hours thinking, “There’s more!?”. It could’ve been condensed. Period. Instead of offering an “extended” version when the DVD comes out, I’d love to see Jackson offer a reverse short version that’s two hours long and it would probably be much, much better. (Read entire post.)

A review from The Integrated Catholic Life:
The film begins in the peaceful Shire of Bilbo Baggins—Frodo’s uncle—sixty years prior to the events of The Lord of the Rings take place. When Bilbo leaves the comfort of his home, it’s one battle after another as Bilbo accompanies Gandalf the Wizard and a company of dwarfs, led by the outcast King Thorin, traveling to reclaim their lost homeland, the Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor in the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain, from the treasure-coveting dragon, Smaug.

Bilbo and company must navigate through a dangerous world where internal and external evil forces are at work to sabotage their virtuous intentions.

“Can you promise me I will come back?”  Bilbo asks Gandalf.  “No,” Gandalf responds, “and if you do, you will not be the same.”

Fear and hopelessness begin to take hold as their fight against dark forces loses it’s footing. The courage to overcome these dark forces, Gandalf teaches, is not about an absence of fear, but trust in the higher virtue of hope and practicing mercy. (Read entire post.)
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The Royal Molecatcher

Still in business. To quote:
The king is dead, but the molecatcher lives on.

He even signs SMS messages: "Molecatcher to the king." It's been over two centuries since Louis XVI was guillotined on Paris' Place de la Concorde, but the job of hunting the underground pest that so troubled French monarchs on the grounds of the Versailles palace still exists.

Its current holder carries on, business as usual, with a task that hasn't changed in centuries.

"It might sound funny, but it's serious work. My job is to make sure molehills don't deface Europe's finest gardens," says 36-year-old Jerome Dormion, the latest in an unbroken 330-year line of mole-killers in the royal palace and gardens visited by six million people a year. "We still have visiting dignitaries too. Imagine if they were to see them!" (Read entire post.)
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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Mourning for Newtown

"Weeping she hath wept in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: there is none to comfort her among all them that were dear to her." Lamentations 1:2 Share

Gentlemanly Behavior

Is it "benevolent sexism"? To quote:
Here’s the latest from the Psychology of Women Quarterly. It’s an abstract of an article by Kathleen Connelly and Martin Heesacker on benevolent sexism. If you’re wondering what “benevolent sexism” is, think gentlemanly behavior. I offer the abstract partly as a window onto the wonderful, wacky world of modern sociological prose and partly in despair at the use of the word “thus” to open the final sentence. I have put the key passages in bold.
Previous research suggests that benevolent sexism is an ideology that perpetuates gender inequality. But despite its negative consequences, benevolent sexism is a prevalent ideology that some even find attractive. To better understand why women and men alike might be motivated to adopt benevolent sexism, the current study tested system justification theory’s prediction that benevolent sexism might have a positive linkage to life satisfaction through increased diffuse system justification, or the sense that the status quo is fair. A structural equation model revealed that benevolent sexism was positively associated with diffuse system justification within a sample of 274 college women and 111 college men. Additionally, benevolent sexism was indirectly associated with life satisfaction for both women and men through diffuse system justification. In contrast, hostile sexism was not related to diffuse system justification or life satisfaction. The results imply that although benevolent sexism perpetuates inequality at the structural level, it might offer some benefits at the personal level. Thus, our findings reinforce the dangerous nature of benevolent sexism and emphasize the need for interventions to reduce its prevalence.
(Read entire post.)
 More on chivalry from First Things, HERE.

And a wonderful article on the crisis of masculinity. Perhaps if our young men had positive ways of establishing their manhood they would not have to kill. To quote:
A crisis of masculinity dawned on the Catholic Church forty years ago and now we’re squinting in the noonday sun wondering ‘what happened?’  It’s time to admit that one of the most critical features of the new evangelization, if not the most critical, is the re-evangelization of men to Christ.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Men then need formation to assist them to become Christlike: strong, decisive, chaste, self-sacrificing, not ruled by rage, loins, or the feminist superego that’s emasculated them for five decades and made them believe that to be a man means to be sensitive, non-judgmental and most of all silent on the issues that matter. (Read entire post.)
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Thoughtful Gifts

From The Wall Street Journal:
Some gift givers spend time and energy trying to find just the right gift. But thoughtful gifts don't necessarily lead to greater appreciation, according to a study published in November in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. The benefit of a thoughtful gift actually accrues mainly to the giver, who derives a feeling of closeness to the other person, the study found.

People are more appreciative when they receive a gift they have explicitly requested, according to a similar study published last year in a separate publication called the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. (Read entire article.)
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Friday, December 14, 2012

Tolkien the Artist

From The Guardian via Stephanie Mann:
Tolkien designed the cover for that first edition of The Hobbit. It immediately promises a rich and strange world within: layers of trees in green, white and purple fold over one another towards stylised mountain peaks and the great disc of the sun. Runes are inscribed along the edges of the design. Runic writing is the script of the elves in Middle Earth – but Tolkien did not invent it. Runes were used by the Vikings to inscribe memorials and spells. The Viking connection is telling, for Tolkien's art has a Scandinavian quality. The dreamlike elegance of The Hobbit's original cover is reminiscent of modern northern European art as well as ancient Viking designs. (Read entire post.)
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The Vikings in America

From the National Geographic:
Five hundred years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, a Native American woman may have voyaged to Europe with Vikings, according to a provocative new DNA study. 

Analyzing a type of DNA passed only from mother to child, scientists found more than 80 living Icelanders with a genetic variation similar to one found mostly in Native Americans. (Get the basics on genetics.)
This signature probably entered Icelandic bloodlines around A.D. 1000, when the first Viking-American Indian child was born, the study authors theorize. (Related: "Vikings' Barbaric Bad Rap Beginning to Fade.")
Historical accounts and archaeological evidence show that Icelandic Vikings reached Greenland just before 1000 and quickly pushed on to what is now Canada. Icelanders even established a village in Newfoundland, though it lasted only a decade or so (regional map).

The idea that a Native American woman sailed from North America to Iceland during that period of settlement and exploration provides the best explanation for the Icelanders' variant, the research team says.
"We know that Vikings sailed to the Americas," said Agnar Helgason of deCODE Genetics and the University of Iceland, who co-wrote the study with his student Sigrídur Ebenesersdóttir and colleagues. "So all you have to do is assume … that they met some people and ended up taking at least one female back with them. (Read entire post.)
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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Aristocratic Life is All a Stage

Barbara J. Elliot on the new Anna Karenina film. To quote:
Anna Karenina is a lush, beautiful, stylized film about succumbing to sexual flame and the complicated relationships of infidelity that tear a beautiful woman apart. The themes of love, lust, and forgiveness are depicted in the opulence of aristocratic society in late 19th century tsarist Russia. If you are expecting an experience like Dr. Zhivago, forget it. This is a heavily stylized rendition played as a stage within a stage, with overlapping realms of reality that may leave you bewildered (admitted by two moviegoers who went with me) until you work your way into the story. If you like art films, you’ll be fine. If you like linear plot lines, well, read a synopsis of the novel and maybe have shot of vodka before you go.

It took the genius of Tom Stoppard to condense 350,000 words of Tolstoy’s 1877 novel into 130 minutes of screenplay. Director Joe Wright took a boldly creative approach to this film, with a style reminiscent of Moulin Rouge (directed by Baz Luhrmann.) Life in Russian aristocracy had elements of theater, played out for the audience of high society, so Wright films the scenes on an actual stage, with aristocrats in the audience, whom we watch as they watch. The action alternates between this stage, where characters also move behind the curtains, into other realms of reality, such as a moving train, or they step from backstage into a snowscape that looks like a Magritte painting. (Read entire post.)
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Sing We Noël!

A history of Christmas carols.
It is from the medieval Church and from her very life, the liturgy, that the custom of singing songs to the Christ child descends. The earliest noëls sprang directly from such chants as the Carolingian anthem Puer natus est and the O antiphons sung before the Magnificat at vespers during the octave leading up to Christmas. The word noël itself derives from the Latin natalis and appears in the form of the salute Noé! in Christmas Masses in the 12th century, meaning approximately “Hail, newborn one.” In the 13th century, the O antiphons emerged from the monastic choirs and took to the streets in the form we still know and love as Veni, veni Emmanuel. Many of the earliest Christmas songs that survive today are similarly bound to the liturgy and its language, often taking the form of what is called macaronic verse, in which Latin lines alternate with vernacular, with Bl. Heinrich Suso’s In Dulci Jubilo and the anonymous Célébrons la Naissance Nostri Salvatoris being particularly fine examples of the type. (Read entire article.)
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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Winter at Trianon

Photos from Marie-Antoinettes's gardens at Versailles. (From Château de Versailles Photos)



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Marie-Antoinette's Books

Some brilliant soul put all of the books from Marie-Antoinette's private library on the Library Thing. Even the most cursory look at the titles in the Queen's library should tell us that she was not the feather head that pop history makes her. (She obviously loved drama...and history, too.) Share

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

La Barry

Madame du Barry with Louis XV. The anniversary of her death was on December 8. Pray for her. As Madame LeBrun wrote in her Memoirs:
Being arrested and thrown into prison, Madame du Barry was tried and condemned to death by the Revolutionary Tribunal at the end of 1793. She was the only woman, among all who perished in those dreadful days, unable to face the scaffold with fortitude; she screamed, she begged for forgiveness to the hideous mob surrounding her, and that mob became moved to such a degree that the executioner hastened to finish his task. This has always confirmed my belief that if the victims of that period of execrable memory had not had the noble pride of dying with fortitude the Terror would have ceased long before it did.
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Regency Gambling Clubs

The story of Crockford's Club.
Take William Crockford, who began his career as a London fishmonger and ended it, half a century later, as perhaps the wealthiest self-made man in England. Crockford managed this feat thanks to one extraordinary talent—an unmatched skill for gambling—and one simple piece of good fortune: to be alive early in the 19th century, when peace had returned to Europe after four decades of war and a generation of bored young aristocrats, who a few years earlier would have been gainfully employed in fighting Napoleon, found themselves with far too much time on their hands.

The result was a craze for heavy gambling that ran throughout the notoriously dissolute Regency period (c.1815-1838). The craze made Crockford rich and bankrupted a generation of the British aristocracy; at the height of his success, around 1830, the former fishmonger was worth the equivalent of perhaps $160 million today, and practically every cent of it had come straight from the pockets of  the aristocrats whom “Crocky” had lured into the luxurious gambling hell that he had built on London’s fashionable St. James’s Street. So successful was Crockford at his self-appointed task of relieving his victims of their family fortunes that there are, even today, eminent British families that have never properly recovered from their ancestors’ encounters with him. (Read entire article.)
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