Saturday, April 4, 2020

Little Women (2019)

Emma Watson as Meg
Saoirse Ronan as Jo
Eliza Scanlen as Beth
Florence Pugh as Amy
Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth March
Laura Dern as Marmee
Meg March: I want to get married.
Jo March: WHY?
Meg March: I love him.
Jo March: You will be bored of him in two years and we will be interesting forever.
Meg March: Just because my dreams are not the same as yours doesn't mean they're unimportant. I want a family and a home and I'm not scared of working and struggling, but I want to do it with John. ~from Little Women (2019)
I was not too enthusiastic about seeing the 2019 Gerwig version of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, as I mentioned in a blog post. I guess it was because of the various reviews; I just cannot stand being constantly bludgeoned by feminist agitprop. However, the Gerwig production was no more feminist than past versions, and in many ways less so. Of course, Louisa May Alcott herself was a feminist, although the feminism of her time was not comparable to the extremism of today, since a high value was placed upon children and family life, family relationships being at the heart of Little Women. I found Gerwig's take on the story and characters to be utterly entrancing, making me fall in love with them all again, and remembering the impact the March family had upon me as a child, and how I wanted a house and a life like theirs if at all possible. It is now my favorite film version. Filmed on location in Concord, Massachusetts I could almost smell the New England crispness and cold. And Saoirse Ronan was born to play Jo, just as she was born to play Mary Stuart.

There were a few things I did not care for in the film, which I will get out of the way first. The way the timeline was seemingly shattered into a mosaic of disjointed scenes made the story very difficult to follow, even for those who are familiar with the plot. After watching it again, I saw more of a pattern in the way the scenes were arranged, with the past alongside the future almost as a foreshadowing. Woven in and out of the other scenes is a sequence showing Jo putting a love letter to Theodore "Laurie" Lawrence in their private mailbox in the woods, a letter which she will later retrieve and that he will never read. But the beginning and the near-ending segments, which frame the tale, are of Jo meeting with a gruff editor Mr. Dashwood, first as a young, new writer and later as an authoress who knows that what she has written is pure gold. It all came together gracefully by the conclusion of the movie.

Another thing I did not care for is that some of the hairstyles seemed inaccurate. After age sixteen or seventeen, women always wore their hair up in company, or at least in a hair net. In the film, even Mrs. March "Marmee" is shown with her hair trailing down in the middle of the day. And then Meg at her just was strange. It seemed odd to have such an inauthentic departure when the costumes and sets were otherwise so perfect.

In the book, the March family is based upon Louisa May Alcott's own family, and the various film versions play up the similarities between the Marches and the Alcotts in different degrees. The 2019 portrayal closely identifies Jo March and Louisa May Alcott as being the same person, even though Jo marries while Louisa remained a spinster. Not that it is a problem. But I think that it sometimes needs to be pointed out that the real Alcott sisters were teenagers in the 1840's, not the 1860's, and that it was Louisa who later went to War as a nurse for the Union Army, not her father who went as a chaplain. The book and films show them living in the same house, Orchard House, when in reality they moved often, experiencing near destitution more then once. Eden's Outcasts, John Matteson's Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Louisa May Alcott and her father, Bronson Alcott, describes the very real poverty experienced by the Alcott sisters. The girls often did not have enough to eat; the family was always inundated by debts. However, the girls received a classical education. It was very odd how they would go from studying German and Latin and discussing philosophy to a meager supper of squash and apples. All of this was due to their father's desire of pursuing Utopian projects at the expense of his family's well-being. 

Bronson Alcott was not a Christian; he did not accept the divinity of Christ and thought that every child was divine. He deemed it possible to create a heaven on earth by subduing human nature and by divesting oneself from the desire for material possessions. There is much of what he believed that mirrored Christian asceticism except that Christ was not the goal. It was not for the love of God that he embraced such austerity but for self-improvement. In his quest for perfection he forgot that his main duty was to feed his children and provide them with shelter and safety. It was his wife Abba Alcott, upon whom "Mrs. March" is based, who kept the family together. Although Mrs. Alcott struggled with her temper she managed to maintain a spirit of cheer and grace in the household, working like a beast of burden so that her girls could have a decent life. The happiness amid poverty that abounds in Little Women was a reflection of the reality, and it was a reality created by their mother. However, such dire poverty made all of the girls, except for Elizabeth who died young, resolve that they would never live the way their mother had been forced to live. It gave an edge to Louisa's determination to support the family through her writings, and give her mother a comfortable old age. In spite of the hardships, or maybe because of them, Louisa seemed to grasp the sacramentality of family life, of the rough-hewn young personalities who shape each other under the guidance of loving parents. 

For the most part, I think the casting of the 2019 Little Women is brilliant and provides some the best portrayals ever of the beloved characters. Only the role of Meg might have been better with someone other than Emma Watson. Emma is just too thin and introspective. The perfect Meg, in my opinion, is Willa Fitzgerald in the 2017 BBC series, who is softly pretty, vivacious and gentle, but determined. However, having James Norton as Mr. Brooke was an excellent choice by Gerwig. Norton is so handsome and such a gentleman that almost anyone (except for Jo and Aunt March) can forgive Meg for choosing poverty in order to be with him. I thought that Meg's proclamation to Jo is astonishingly counter-revolutionary and anti-feminist, as she says: "Just because my dreams are not the same as yours doesn't mean they're unimportant. I want a family and a home and I'm not scared of working and struggling..." Neither the film nor the book skimp on the hardships that do overwhelm Meg after her marriage, although her husband is reliable, hardworking and loving. She perseveres and finds contentment.

Jo and her writing ambitions are at the center of the novel as well as of the latest film adaptation. Jo's commitment to her writing is not just from the love of her craft. Jo, as did the real Louisa, sees writing as one of the few means open to her to rescue her family from poverty. Saoirse Ronan's gifted depiction of Jo, as well as the film's unique editing, highlight the obsessive nature of her "scribbling," which ultimately conflicts with her relationship with Laurie. Timothée Chalamet is the best Laurie ever, in my opinion. Together he and Saoirse's Jo bring to life one of the most famous duos in literature as never before. Jo and Laurie are not so tormented as Cathy and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights yet similarly they represent a kind of Eden, a Paradise Lost between two people who love each other so much yet cannot be together, because what they have is almost beyond this world. It is a relationship between a young man and a young woman that has all the electricity and magic of a great romance, with the innocent camaraderie of soulmates. Their two souls complete each other, and Gerwig heightens the effect by having the actors share clothing as spiritual twins who are yet opposites. Yet Jo cannot bring herself to the total surrender it would take to marry Laurie. She fears that emotional leap and what it might mean for her psychic equilibrium, since she must keep writing, she must support her family. The tragedy of Little Women is not the death of poor sweet Beth, but that Jo and Laurie, whom she alone calls "Teddy," are divided forever.

Beth has seemed to me to be the least interesting personae until now. Eliza Scanlen's Beth is carefully nuanced in way that made me pay more attention to her role in the family. Some people who saw the 2019 film think that Beth is the youngest, probably because Beth is shown playing with dolls, as she does in the novel. Beth is not the youngest in the Gerwig film; Amy is the youngest, as she is supposed to be. But yes, Beth is indeed thirteen or fourteen years old and still spoon-feeding her dolls at breakfast. This, combined with her pathological shyness and ability to create her own "happy world," as Louisa calls it in the book, makes me wonder if Beth would now be diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. That, along the fact that she is a musical prodigy, since many people on the spectrum exhibit extraordinary talents and gifts. The gentle way Beth strokes Jo's arm while searching her face when asking about Laurie shows how Beth was able to connect on a deep emotional level with her sisters, showing affection while never being a rival. The viewer can see that Beth is truly the core of spiritual and emotional strength in the family, even for her parents, and that when she dies it leaves a huge hole that no one else can fill.

There has been a resurgence in appreciation for Amy March in the last couple of years, and Florence Pugh's depiction of the youngest sister is certainly partly responsible. In the beginning we are treated to a strong-willed and opinionated child, who can be exceedingly annoying as she interjects herself into her older sisters' business. Now I see how Beth, with her dolls and her happy little world, was probably driving Amy crazy. Amy, like Jo, is determined to defeat the family curse of poverty, and will do whatever she can within the bounds of morality and decency to break the cycle. Amy, however, resolves to be an accomplished lady; she does not flout convention like Jo, which is why she gets to go to Europe with their aunt. Her strength of will and personal charm and beauty captivate brokenhearted Laurie, whom she then proceeds to order about, without Laurie being fully aware of what has befallen him. He seems almost an emasculated Laurie. Gerwig's odd editing really highlights the rivalry between Jo and Amy over Laurie. From the beginning, Amy does not like being outshone by Jo but since she can never be her intellectual equal, she tries to outshine her as an elegant lady, becoming Laurie's consort, which is her ultimate goal.

I will conclude with a quote from Screen Rant:
 This 2019 Little Women movie is something new. It feels surprising. The performances are all stellar, with Saoirse Ronan's starring turn as Jo being some of her very best work. However, all of the characters are given room for complexity, from the often ridiculous Aunt March, here played with shrewdness and subtle care by Meryl Streep, to the sugar-sweet Beth, given new life and by Eliza Scanlen. Florence Pugh is a stand-out as Amy - at once confident and vulnerable - and Timothee Chalamet's Laurie is one of the first interpretations of the heart-throb that gets to the book character's infuriating mix of petulance, awkwardness, and sweetness.

 Ultimately, this is a Little Women about little women - all of them. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, but also the girls Marmee, Hannah, and Aunt March once were, and the adults the students at Jo's school will one day become. Gerwig's Little Women movie adaptation is not only one of the best but also one of the most daring film interpretations of Alcott's novel. But it will feel familiar to anyone who remembers what it was like to be grow up with adventure, hardship, and love. (Read more.)

Read more about the defense of Amy March, HERE.  And was Professor Bhaer Jewish? More on that, HERE.
Timothée Chalamet as Laurie/Teddy
James Norton as John Brooke
Meryl Streep as Aunt March
Louis Garrell as Professor Bhaer

This Too Shall Pass…

From The Last Refuge:
Thankfully as a nation this crisis is causing us to reevaluate our priorities: faith, family, community and freedom; and seeing the easy dispatch of liberty also reignites that oft forgotten flickering flame…  
Journalists are less important than janitors. Our nation’s best athletes are healthcare workers rushing to assist those in need. The true heroes are not celebrities, but rather farmers, truck drivers, stock clerks, and supermarket cashiers.

The most valuable businesses do not glitter or present themselves with self-congratulatory award shows; they do today what they have always done to keep our food supply flowing. Perhaps now, at least for a few short weeks, we stop taking them for granted.

Effective right now comfortably invisible workers are recognized as critical priorities; or as the government has officially designated them “essential services.” These folks form the network of our lives; they always have, but we didn’t notice. Everything else is less than.

Any average hard-working American is worth more today than all those who chase the golden statues of Hollywood; and ultimately if they want to go down the superiority path… well, what they provide is essentially useless.

The Curious Case of Proxima C

From Scientific American:
Proxima Centauri, the star closest to our sun, may harbor a second planet—still. “Still,” because astronomers first announced this candidate world in April 2019, based on observations and analyses that had yet to be published or peer-reviewed. Now more thoroughly vetted and bolstered by additional data, the study reporting the potential discovery appears today in the journal Science Advances. Yet certainty is elusive—the planet could still prove to be a mirage.

“Since the very first time we saw this [potential planetary] signal, we tried to be its worst enemies,” says Fabio Del Sordo, an astronomer at the University of Crete in Greece, who spearheaded the study, along with his colleague Mario Damasso of the Astrophysical Observatory of Turin in Italy. “We tried different tools to prove ourselves wrong, but we failed. However, we have to keep the doors open to all possible doubt and skepticism.” (Read more.)

Friday, April 3, 2020

Gabrielle d'Estrées and Marie-Antoinette

Vive Henri IV
Vive ce roi vaillant !
Vive Henri IV
Vive ce roi vaillant !
Ce diable à quatre
A le triple talent
De boire de battre
Et d'être un vers galant.
The royalist anthem Vive Henri IV was from Collé's 1770 opera La partie de chasse d'Henri IV. In 1774 it was often sung to honor Louis XVI, became popular again during the Restoration in 1814, as is told in the novel Madame Royale. The lyrics which celebrate the monarch who was seen by the French people as the epitome of justice, kindness, and virility. It was an attempt to identify the Bourbon dynasty with the popular first Bourbon monarch, Henri IV. Louis XVI had also been seen as sharing with the King from Navarre an easy manner with the common folk, as well as a strong sense of justice and love of the hunt. Early in their reign, the King and Queen held a costume ball where everyone came in dress from the era of le bon roi Henri, with Marie-Antoinette herself garbed as Henri's beloved mistress, Gabrielle d'Estrées. It was part of the Queen's attempt to show that she was loved by her husband, and that she was his mistress as well as his wife. During the Restoration, members of the Bourbon family, especially the daughter of Louis XVI, the Duchess of Angoulême, were frequently welcomed with the anthem. After the fall of the Bourbons in 1830, the anthem was no longer played, and soon became a relic of the past. Share


From Marco Respinti:
China is a totalitarian regime that unlawfully detains, tortures, and kills⸺The Chinese communist regime systematically violates human rights, represses liberties, violates consciences, persecutes religions, and harasses ethnic minorities⸺The Beijing government fabricates fake news to confuse and dominate⸺Facing the challengeof the coronavirus, the regime has hidden the epidemic for weeks, and has silenced doctors, jailed journalists, and obstructed science⸺Now it acts as a "liberator", but it is only propaganda⸺Let's then stop calling this global pandemic a "Chinese virus"⸺Let's simply call it a "communist virus" or the "Chinese Communist Party virus", a disease that lies and kills. Subscribe at, share this message, resist the infection. We are on Facebook, too.

China’s ruling system is a totalitarian regime led by a single party, the Chinese Communist Party (or CCP). It is a regime in which freedom and democracy do not exist. Chinese citizens are persecuted, tortured, and killed if they dare to stand up to the regime or simply ask questions.

China’s proudly Communist (or neo-post-communist) regime is also afake news industry, able of blowing smoke into the eyes of global observers and unjustly accusing those who oppose its liberticidal policy. A number of organizations, religious and secular, private and institutional, media and advocacy groups—groups such as Bitter Winter, AsiaNews, ChinaAid, Citizen Powers Initiative for China, Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, The Jamestown Foundation, World Uyghur Congress, Uyghur Human Rights Project, Uyghur Canadian Society, Campaign for Uyghurs, Sinopsis, International Campaign for Tibet, Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, Central Tibetan Administration, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong Free Press, The Epoch Times, China Uncensored, and many others—currently provide powerful antidotes to the lies disseminated by the regimeon a daily basis.

In China, all religions are persecuted: Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists, Muslims, Taoists, Jews, folk religions, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Shouters, Association of Disciples, Falun Gong, The Church of Almighty God, and so on. When the regime does not have sufficientstrength to repress them harshly, it infiltrates and controls them, heavy-handedly intervening in their operations at first chance.

In Xinjiang, one million Uighurs have been unjustly imprisoned, guilty only of belonging to an ethnic minority and being believers (Muslims). The regime claims it is hosting them in “vocational centers”, but these are truly internment camps—in which some of the prisoners are senior and retired professionals—where people are tortured and die. One million people is the prudential figure that international documents use to estimate how many are detained, but independent researchers have reasonably increased thatnumber up to three million, plus thousands of other members of Turkic minorities (Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Tatars, and others). And those who live outside the camps live in constant terror, under the strictest control, in fear.

Tibet has also been experiencing a distressing situation. Everything Tibetan is being repressed and trampled on. There, Chinese surveillance is widespread and suffocating, too. High-techmethods of control, facial recognition systems, ubiquitous surveillance cameras, DNA profiling, prohibited or limited freedom of movement, and the use of fingerprints simply to access places of worship: this is daily life in China. (Read more.)

The Mannheim Case

The case upon which the novel The Exorcist was based. From Return to Order:
The central figure in the story was a teenager known by the pseudonyms “Robbie Mannheim” or “Roland Doe.” While Robbie’s true identity and that of his relatives remains a secret the details of the extraordinary events of this 1949 exorcism were meticulously recorded in the book Possessed by Thomas Allen. Robbie grew up in Mount Rainier, Maryland. As the only child of Karl and Phyllis Mannheim, (also pseudonyms) he would often play games with adults. One such person was his Aunt Harriet, a spiritualist, who lived St. Louis, Missouri and frequently visited the Mannheims. During a visit in January of 1949, she taught her thirteen-year old nephew how to use a Ouija board.

Not long afterwards, the Mannheims noticed strange things happening around their son. They heard strange noises in his room such as the incessant sound of dripping water and later a scratching noise like claws scraping across wood. Around the same time, Aunt Harriet died and Robbie began using the Ouija board as a means to contact her. He would use the board for hours on end, until the game became for him a possession, both figuratively and literally.

Soon, his parents noticed alarming physical abnormalities on their son’s body such as scratch marks, welts and bruises, which appeared for no apparent reason. More disturbing still was the personality transformation. Their normally quiet, timid boy suddenly became aggressive with frequent outbursts of anger and violent temper tantrums directed at them. He began to speak in Latin, a language he had no means of knowing. That is when the parents decided they needed help.

They tried everything from a regular medical doctor, to psychologists, psychiatrists and even a psychic before finally turning to their minister, Rev. Luther Miles Schulze. While the parents already considered the possibility of diabolical possession, Pastor Schulze was skeptical. He looked upon possession “as a medieval relic, something that had been left to Catholics when the Luther-led Reformation split the Christian world.”2 (Read more.)


Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Most Instagrammable Places in London

From Insider:
This fine Mayfair institution has been popular for years thanks to its instantly recognizable Gallery — known as the "pink room," among the Instagram crowd, and furnished with velvet millennial-pink chairs and David Shrigley artwork. Most descend on the restaurant to have afternoon tea in the pink room, ignoring all the other supremely arty spaces it has to offer.(Read more.)

Crimes and Policy Violations

From The Daily Wire:
A new report highlights how the Department of Justice routinely fails to prosecute high-ranking department officials despite criminal referrals from the department’s inspector general. RealClearInvestigations (my former employer) examined several instances of DOJ employees committing crimes but not getting prosecuted. For example, an FBI attorney shoplifted from the Marine Corps Base Quantico Exchange multiple times before getting caught with $257.99 worth of stolen cosmetics. She admitted to also stealing from other stores but wasn’t prosecuted.
“Not that it was a surprise. The Justice Department regularly declines to prosecute high-ranking current and former department officials, even when its Office of Inspector General provides the grounds for it,” the outlet reported. “The Department of Justice OIG does not keep complete public records on the number of prosecutions that result from its investigations. But the office does keep track of certain cases – those involving wrongdoing by senior DoJ managers and officials that Justice declines to prosecute.”
In 2019 alone, the OIG “issued 27 such reports of alleged wrongdoing by senior Justice Department officials and employees that went unprosecuted – everything from nepotism in hiring, to making false claims on mortgage documents, to ‘lack of candor’ with federal investigators, to sexual assault.” You might recall the “lack of candor” crime, as it related to former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe lying to federal prosecutors regarding his role into the false claims that President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with Russia to steal the election. Former FBI Director James Comey was also referred for prosecution by the OIG. (Read more.)