Saturday, November 30, 2013

Marie-Antoinette's History Lesson by A. Tesler

From Vive la Reine. Share

The Connection Between Casual Sex and Poor Mental Health

From the Ohio State University:
COLUMBUS, Ohio – A new study suggests that poor mental health and casual sex feed off each other in teens and young adults, with each one contributing to the other over time.

Researchers found that teens who showed depressive symptoms were more likely than others to engage in casual sex as young adults.  In addition, those who engaged in casual sex were more likely to later seriously consider suicide.

“Several studies have found a link between poor mental health and casual sex, but the nature of that association has been unclear,” said Sara Sandberg-Thoma, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in human sciences at The Ohio State University.

“There’s always been a question about which one is the cause and which is the effect.  This study provides evidence that poor mental health can lead to casual sex, but also that casual sex leads to additional declines in mental health.”

Sandberg-Thoma conducted the study with Claire Kamp Dush, assistant professor of human sciences at Ohio State.  The research was published online recently in the Journal of Sex Research and will appear in a future print edition. One surprising finding was that the link between casual sex and mental health was the same for both men and women.

“That was unexpected because there is still this sexual double standard in society that says it is OK for men to have casual sexual relationships, but it is not OK for women,” Kamp Dush said.
“But these results suggest that poor mental health and casual sex are linked, whether you’re a man or a woman.” (Read more.)

Vivien Leigh: Life on Screen

From The Guardian:
Three years later, she would up her game once more by playing Blanche DuBois in Elia Kazan's version of A Streetcar Named Desire. It is simply one of the greatest pieces of acting in any American film; no Oscar was ever more deserved. Leigh had lived to unite in one career the acting styles of two distinct worlds – moving from dinner-jacketed Rex Harrison suavely proffering his cigarette-case all the way to Marlon Brando bellowing in a ripped T-shirt. She had passed from urbane theatricality to passion and "the authentic". (Olivier would have to wait years before following her by playing Archie Rice in John Osborne's The Entertainer.) There can hardly have been two such different southern belles as Leigh's two Oscar-winning performances as Scarlett O'Hara and Blanche DuBois; not least in the fact that, as Leigh herself pointed out, where one survives, the other goes under. With Blanche, Leigh finds a space for insecurity, for her elusive sense of failure. She seemed to be putting her disintegration on screen; Leigh is felt to suffer as Blanche suffers. To play with her persona, with her talent, was a high‑risk activity but also a sign of things to come. (Read more.)

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Parisian Prison for Women, 1899

Life at Saint-Lazare. To quote:
In the great dormitories, there may be witnessed each morning such a scene as that reproduced in the illustration, the prayer addressed to the image of the Virgin on the wall, decked out with faded artificial flowers and with tapers in front of her; following the example of the Sister, all stoop with more or less reverence before this symbol and utter with more or less sincerity from impure lips the prayer for a pure heart. This grand dormitory is a great hall containing more than eighty beds arranged in four rows. The red tile floor is of irreproachable cleanliness, the eighty beds, with their gray blankets and white bolsters, are arranged with military symmetry. But this cleanliness and this good order, it is claimed, count but for little in the amelioration of these unfortunates, gathering contamination from each other in this indiscriminate herding together.

According to the law, those merely accused, the prévenues, and those actually convicted, are kept apart from each other, but in each of these two classes no distinctions are made—the homeless unfortunate, arrested for délit de vagabondage, is associated with the criminal guilty of infanticide or assassination. Even the little girls of ten and twelve years are kept together in the same promiscuousness, those already hardened in criminal ways corrupting the more innocent. (Read more.)

Common Core Goes Global

From Mary Jo Anderson:
The education reform known as Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for grades K-12, adopted by forty plus states and more than half of the U.S. dioceses, is designed to produce a universal “work force ready” population prepared to self-identify as “global citizens.”  Many education professionals have been critical of CCSS. But even they may not know the philosophical reason why financiers like Bill Gates have bankrolled the Common Core system. The same sources of funding for Common Core in the United States are promoting similar methods and aligned texts world wide through the auspices of the United Nations.

In Crisis, readers learned that Common Core is financed with over $150 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The collaboration of the Gates Foundation and the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been well publicized.  In addition, Gates, on behalf of his Microsoft Corporation, signed a 26-page Cooperation Agreement in 2004 between Microsoft and UNESCO to develop a “master curriculum” which included benchmarks and assessments.  The agreement stipulates that “UNESCO will explore how to facilitate content development.”

Some have decried Common Core as the nationalization of American education. Far more dangerous, however, is the globalism of Common Core that demotes American values, undermines American constitutional principles and detaches students from their families and faith. Common Core is simply the newest attempt in the decades-old battle (Outcome Based Education, Goals 2000) to impose a U.N. globalist worldview aimed at “peace,” sustainability and economic stability at the expense of freedom.

Briefly, the globalist philosophy calls for the establishment of a global culture based on a commitment to sustainable processes and humanistic ethics to ensure world peace and “fair” distribution of natural resources.  The U.N. serves as the hub for this globalist hope.  Adherents believe that some form of world congress and world citizenship is the end point of political evolution, and, therefore it is inevitable.  What is not certain, in their view, is the time of fulfillment. (Read more.)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Rabbi's Warning to U.S. Christians

From the Catholic Education Resource Center:
In 1983, a brave French writer, Jean-Francois Revel, wrote a book called How Democracies Perish. In this remarkable volume, he described how communism's aim is world conquest. For decades he had been trying to warn of communism's very real threat. Yet in January 1982, a high State Department official said: "We Americans are not solving problems, we are the problem." (Some things never change.) A good portion of the planet fell to communism, which brought misery and death to millions because we failed to recognize in time that others meant to harm us.

Heaven knows there was enough warning during the 1980s of the intention of part of the Islamic world to take yet another crack at world domination. Yet instead of seeing each deadly assault on our interests around the world as a test of our resolve, we ignored it. We failed the test and lost 3,000 Americans in two unforgettable hours.

I am not going to argue that what is happening now is on the same scale as the examples I cite above, but a serious war is being waged against a group of Americans. I am certain that if we lose this war, the consequences for American civilization will be dire.

Phase one of this war I describe is a propaganda blitzkrieg that is eerily reminiscent of how effectively the Goebbels propaganda machine softened up the German people for what was to come.

There is no better term than propaganda blitzkrieg to describe what has been unleashed against Christian conservatives recently.

Consider the long list of anti-Christian books that have been published in recent months. Here are just a few samples of more than 30 similar titles, all from mainstream publishers:
American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right's Plans for the Rest of Us
The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason
Piety & Politics: The Right-wing Assault on Religious Freedom
Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person's Answer to Christian Fundamentalism
Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America
Religion Gone Bad: The Hidden Dangers of the Christian Right
What is truly alarming is that there are more of these books for sale at your local large book store warning against the perils of fervent Christianity than those warning against the perils of fervent Islam. Does anyone seriously think America is more seriously jeopardized by Christian conservatives than by Islamic zealots? I fear that many Americans believe just that in the same way that many pre-World War II Westerners considered Churchill a bigger threat than Hitler. (Read more.)

In Thanksgiving for Religious Freedom

From Mary Ellen Bork:
"What madman would exchange present gifts for those unseen? You fly from real blessings, blessings unreal you chase. Purge, I pray, these vain dreams from your fevered mind, and drive the hope deep-embedded far from your heart."

Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote these lines in 1753, while at St. Omer’s College, in a poem recently discovered at the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst College in England.

This discovery came from the oldest surviving museum collection in the English-speaking world, and its directors are eager to make its riches more available through digitizing and expansion.

On a visit to the United States, Lord David Alton, a prominent British Catholic and pro-life leader and an advocate for religious freedom, and Lord Nicholas Windsor, cousin to Queen Elizabeth II and a Catholic convert, said they see this collection of artifacts, relics and art as a critical reminder of what religious freedom costs, namely the blood of martyrs. (Read more.)
Via Stephanie Mann. Share

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Miraculous Medal

Today is the feast of the Miraculous Medal. The apparitions of Our Lady to Saint Catherine Labouré at the convent of the Daughters of Charity on the Rue de Bac in Paris are quite famous. Many people are unaware that the novice from Burgundy also experienced a vision of Christ the King, which foretold to her the July Revolution of 1830, and the final fall of the House of Bourbon. The July Revolution sent the Duchesse d'Angoulême and her family into permanent exile, as is told in the novel Madame Royale.

Fr. Joseph Dirvin describes the vision of June 6, 1830 in detail in his biography of St. Catherine.

On Trinity Sunday, June 6, 1830, Sister Laboure was given a special vision of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, or more specifically of Christ as King. This time she is precise as to the moment of the vision. Our Lord appeared to her, robed as a king, with a cross at His breast, during the Gospel of the Mass. Suddenly, all His kingly ornaments fell from Him to the ground—even the cross, which tumbled beneath His feet. Immediately her thoughts and her heart fell, too, and were plunged into that chasm of gloom that she had known before, gloom that portended a change in government. This time, however, she understood clearly that the change in government involved the person of the King, and that, just as Christ was divested of His royal trappings before her, so would Charles X be divested of his throne.
It is a startling thing, this sacred vision of God Himself coming in majesty to foretell the fall of an earthly monarch, and the vision of Christ the King to Catherine Laboure seems to have had no other purpose than to foretell the fall of Charles X of France. The mystery of it will never be fully solved; yet here and there the mind may mull over certain clues.
The greatest of these clues is the nature of the French monarchy itself, which, as Hilaire Belloc understood so well, was a holy thing, wedded to the people it ruled, and the prototype of all the monarchies of Europe. This ancient royalty had its roots in Rome and had received its Christian mandate in the crowning of Charlemagne by the Pope on Christmas Day, 800 A.D. It had lived for more than a thousand years in one line of men. No matter how great the goodness or wickedness of these royal men—and there was an ample supply of both—the sanctity of the monarchy itself and its mystical espousal to the French people is not to be questioned. In its institutions, its duties, its relationship to those it governed, its elaborate ritual, it was an imitation on a much lower plane of the Church of God. The French, kings and subjects alike, knew this well. Jeanne d'Arc was in an agony until the Dauphin should be crowned at Rheims and his body anointed and consecrated in the sacred rite which was so essential to this kingly religion; in a sense, it was her sole mission, and it is significant that her fortunes declined afterward. Louis XI had the Ampulla of holy oil brought from Rheims that his dying eyes might rest on it. Napoleon III sought to sanctify his usurpation by having himself anointed with the small, hard lump that was all that remained of the holy oil in 1853. The Kings of France, no matter how absolute their rule, had to be born and to die, had to eat and drink, take their recreation, and pray in the sight of the people. At the birth of her ill-fated Dauphin, Marie Antoinette almost died of suffocation, because of the press of the common people in her chamber, witnessing her lying-in; only the quick-witted action of a bystander, breaking a window to let in the fresh air, saved her.
The double religious family to which Catherine belonged had had official relationships with the French monarchy. Louis XIII had died in the arms of Vincent de Paul. The Founder continued to serve his widow, Anne of Austria, during the early part of her Regency, both as her confessor and as an important member of the royal Council of Conscience, a body established for the reform of the Church. Under Louis XV and Louis XVI, the Vincentian Fathers had been royal chaplains at Versailles, and, after the restoration, had been privileged to form a guard of honor about the bier of Louis XVIII.
That the vision of Christ the King had some intimate relationship with the end of the Bourbon dynasty seems evident, for Charles X was the last of the royal Bourbons; his cousin Louis Philippe, who succeeded him, belonged to a lateral line. Again we are confronted with the astonishing preoccupation of Heaven with the fortunes of France.
Before leaving this vision, we must point out the noteworthy fact that Catherine Laboure was the first saint in modern times to be vouchsafed a vision of Christ as King. In the light of the great present-day devotion to the Kingship of Christ, we would seem justified in questioning whether the vision might not have a mystical meaning. In announcing the end of the oldest of monarchies, might not Christ have meant to point up the passing quality of all earthly authority, and to foretell present-day devotion to His Kingship as the index of the eternal quality of His own Reign?
Certainly, however, Sister Laboure did not ponder thus in her heart. She knew only, as the common people know, that there was to be "a change in government," and that, as inevitably came to pass, "many miseries would follow." She knew only, as the common people know, that there had been too many changes of government in France over the last forty years, too many miseries following, and, with this instinctive knowledge of the people, she grew sad and feared.
The statesmen and politicians of the land would have laughed at the long, prophetic thoughts of the little Sister, for national order seemed well established and peace reigned. Indeed, the government was enjoying the flush of esteem that had come with the brilliant victory of the French troops in Algiers, a victory which the nation had asked through the intercession of St. Vincent. In certain coffee houses and wine shops of Paris, however, there would have been no laughter. The brutal men assembled there would merely have smiled with grim satisfaction at this forecast of success for the revolution they were plotting.
(~from St. Catherine Laboure of the Miraculous Medal by Fr. Joseph Dirvin)


Sodom and the Church

From Orthodoxy Today (graphic content):
 ...If you support what is now described in euphemistic terms as "the blessing of same-sex unions," in practice you are supporting the abolition of the entire Christian sexual ethic, and its substitution with an unrestricted, laissez faire, free sexual market. The reason that the homosexual rights movement has managed to pick up such a large contingent of heterosexual fellow-travelers is simple: Because once that taboo is abrogated, no taboos are left. I once heard a heterosexual Episcopalian put it this way: If I don't want the church poking its nose into my bedroom, how can I condone it when it limits the sexual freedom of homosexuals? That might sound outrageous, but if you still believe that the debate is over the religious status of monogamous same-sex relationships, please be prepared to point out one church somewhere in the U.S. that has opened its doors to active homosexuals without also opening them to every other form of sexual coupling imaginable. I am too old to be taken in by "Father" McNeill and his abstractions anymore. Show me. (Read more.)
Terry Nelson discusses the attempts to reconcile sodomy with Christian ethics, HERE and HERE. Share

Changes in China's One Child Policy?

From The American Conservative:
China announced last Friday that it would change its one-child policy, offering a little more flexibility to select families: if either parent is an only child, parents are now allowed to have two children. The nation’s Communist Party leadership made these changes after seeing the damage its one-child policy has wrought demographically on its populace: the Wall Street Journal reports that China faces maturing growth, a wide wealth gap, pollution, and the world’s most unbalanced sex ratio. This policy was not changed out of a desire to grant freedom, human flourishing, or strong family structure. It was motivated by pure practicality.

While that utilitarianism isn’t bad, it is not necessarily good either. It means that many parents who want more than one child will still be banned from having them. The government will still dictate the reproductive rights of Chinese parents.

This is not to dismiss the magnitude and importance of this change. The policy has remained unchanged since its formation in 1980, and is one of the largest experiments in state-enforced demographic engineering. But if China made this choice purely out of perceived utilitarian necessity, will it ever grant parental freedom without constraints? There is a likelihood that China could swing from one controlling extreme to another: if there is a shortage of children in China’s future, might they begin mandating married adults to have at least one child? Some sort of 1+ child policy?

This change does not indicate that China’s leaders are ready to diminish their control on society. Rather, this exception to the one-child policy is yet another example of attempted population control. Throughout China, local “family planning service centers” will remain in business. And it is likely that, especially in country regions, the one-child policy will continue to have a scarring effect. (Read more.)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Garments Worn by Louis XVII

Coat and trousers worn by the Dauphin.

 Coat, waistcoat and trousers worn by Louis-Charles of France in 1792.

Obamacare: Will It Be Fixed?

I hope so. I know lots of people who need affordable healthcare. But I'm not holding my breath. According to Jeffrey Tucker:
What does failure mean? The most obvious was the exploding website that in the first day of operation only managed to enroll six people in the program. Looking through the notes from the war room, one observes all the troubles that every highly ambitious and poorly constructed website has: tangled databases, bad connections, leaky memory explosion, mixed-up authentication rules, and about a thousand other things. 
Will it be fixed? Possibly. But at what price? To prepare the site, the feds have already spent some $600 million and deployed a dud. More than twice that sum will be spent on repair, but with what results? If the site follows the usual government pattern, it will only work as long as it is frozen in time. It can’t adapt to change and will become antiquated in only a few years, and will thereby require other massive infusions to keep up.

A government-run website is the digital-age equivalent of the failure of government to run factories and farms in the 1920s and 1930s. Under socialism, it was true that with enough force and money, even Soviets could produce trucks, grain, and bombs. But every economic decision involving physical resources and time requires trade-offs: If you do this, you are not doing that. The real question is, at what cost? Lenin made some progress in electrification even while major parts of the newly socialized Russia were experiencing famine.

Likewise, has become a costly symbol of a wider system failure.
The website can and probably will be fixed—but will the program itself achieve its aims? The ACA promised to retain existing health-insurance coverage and then expand it. Upon implementation, the ACA immediately and dramatically reduced coverage by forcing many individually provided healthcare plans to be dropped. Otherwise, most are experiencing sticker shock.

In many cases, mandated coverage of new ailments made continued service economically unfeasible. In other cases, existing plans were suddenly outside the law. For example, the government said that plans must cover outpatient care, emergency room visits, lab tests, hospitalization, maternity, preventative services, pediatric services, prescription drugs, and much more. If the plan didn’t, it was essentially declared illegal and had to be cancelled. 
In other words, the companies who dropped millions from the rolls were merely complying with the law. They were obeying government diktat. That few people expected this outcome reveals the true nature of government planning. Two lessons emerge from the mess: Planners cannot account for all contingencies and/or they must lie to get what they want.

Then came the doubling—in some cases tripling—of premiums of many individual plans because of the requirement that insurers take no account of pre-existing conditions, which is a bit like requiring that auto insurers cover drunk drivers who are training for NASCAR. 
It is very easy after the fact to look at any government failure and point to all the reasons why the failures should have been anticipated and thereby prevented. But remember that this is knowledge gained after the fact. Before the trial, there are a million possible contingencies, and it is not possible for anyone to prepare for them all. That’s why markets specialize in embedding trial and error as a feature of the system. A market system learns over time, copying success and avoiding failure. Governments are terrible at this. They build, release, and forget about it—with very little ongoing adaptation.

After the disaster took place, some politicians immediately responded by saying: Make it illegal to stop dropping coverage. This response piles error on error. It amounts to a form of nationalization of already cartelized companies—another step away from the market and toward fully socialized healthcare. Of course, those who’ve always called for a single-payer system won’t mind—even as it will turn U.S. healthcare into a Brezhnevian breadline. (Read more.)
(Via A Conservative Blog for Peace.) Share

Christ, King of the Apocalypse

A fabulous homily by Fr. Angelo. To quote:
History teaches us that  mankind is caught in a perennial crisis.  The conflict between the light and darkness defines our experience of human history at the center of which is Christ the King, who reigns from the Cross.  The Apocalypse is not so much the end of the world as it is the status quo across the ages—our age no more or less than any other.  If the potential for evil in our age has multiplied exponentially because the works of human pride have come to full fruition, our time can claim for itself the graces given to the Christians of the early Church to whom the Apocalypse was addressed:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.  He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne (Rev. 3:20-21).
The other thing to remember about both the Kingship of Christ and the Apocalypse is that they are ecclesial realities.  Both our personal and social apocalypses will be solved in and through the Church which is in crisis.  The crisis within society and the Church is never an excuse to find solutions elsewhere.  There have been many apocalyptic communities throughout history, who used crisis within the body of Christ an excuse to compromise their ecclesiality.

The social reign of Christ the King will come in and through the Church—always, even if we must pay for entrance with the price of our blood. (Read more.)

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Fairy Princess

From Tiny-Librarian.


ADHD in France

From Psychology Today:
Is ADHD a biological-neurological disorder? Surprisingly, the answer to this question depends on whether you live in France or in the United States. In the United States, child psychiatrists consider ADHD to be a biological disorder with biological causes. The preferred treatment is also biological--psycho stimulant medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.

French child psychiatrists, on the other hand, view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes. Instead of treating children's focusing and behavioral problems with drugs, French doctors prefer to look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress—not in the child's brain but in the child's social context. They then choose to treat the underlying social context problem with psychotherapy or family counseling. This is a very different way of seeing things from the American tendency to attribute all symptoms to a biological dysfunction such as a chemical imbalance in the child's brain....

The French holistic, psychosocial approach also allows for considering nutritional causes for ADHD-type symptoms—specifically the fact that the behavior of some children is worsened after eating foods with artificial colors, certain preservatives, and/or allergens. Clinicians who work with troubled children in this country—not to mention parents of many ADHD kids—are well aware that dietary interventions can sometimes help a child's problem. In the United States, the strict focus on pharmaceutical treatment of ADHD, however, encourages clinicians to ignore the influence of dietary factors on children's behavior. (Read more.)

An Obamacare Cancellation

From a disappointed supporter of the new health care legislation:
We received the letter in the mail a couple months ago. The good people at Regence Bluecross Blueshield were pleased to inform us that due to Obamacare our current low-monthly premium, comically-high deductible medical policy would no longer exist come January 1, 2014. Pleased, because a new and better plan would be offered in its place. Old monthly premium: $578 for a family of four (non-smoking, helmet-wearing, and paternally snipped). New premium: $1,123. A 94% increase.

Once the sound of boiling blood dissipated, in my head I heard my Republican friends chuckling at the sight of a liberal Democrat hoisted ten stories high on his own petard. How’s the view up there, Obamacare Ollie

For the past 15 years my wife and I have made our living as freelance writers. (To young readers, I say: Do not do this. Your bliss is marvelous, but its following will need to be supported by a banker, plumber, union machinist or tenured faculty member.) As such, our health insurance is our own concern. Over the years we’ve held on to our coverage by letting our co-pay and deductible rise and our covered procedures fall. You may be aware that the three-tiered state exchange policies are labeled Gold, Silver, and Bronze, reflecting their price and level of coverage. If our policy still existed it would fall into the column of Wood.

But Wood we had—and Wood we liked. (Read more.)

Judge Napolitano sums up the crisis, saying:
One of the reasons many Americans had their policies canceled this month is the failure of those policies to conform to the new federal minimum requirements. At the heart and soul of Obamacare is the power of bureaucrats to tell everyone what coverage to have. At the core of Obamacare is the removal of individual choice from the decision to purchase health care coverage. The goal of Obamacare is high-end coverage for everyone — brought about by Soviet-style central planning, not in response to free market forces.

From the perspective of the central planners who concocted Obamacare, minimum insurance coverage is the sine qua non of the statute. They want you to pay for coverage you will not need or ever use, so that the insurance carriers will have extra cash on hand to fund coverage for those who cannot afford high-end policies. This is where the laws of economics enter. By forcing all carriers to offer only high-end policies, the statute forced the carriers to raise their rates. By raising rates, the substandard policies — with their lower rates — could no longer be offered. If the government forced everyone to buy a Mercedes, when most are perfectly happy with an Acura, soon the Acuras would disappear from the market and most of us would be walking to work. (Read more.)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

El Cid Confronts the King

Speaking truth to power. From Nobility:
According to a tradition accepted by Menéndez Pidal, Rodrigo was not so eagerly swayed. He and the rest of Sancho’s vassals were convinced that Alfonso had engineered the treacherous murder of their king. Before he would give his allegiance to Alfonso, Rodrigo insisted that the king swear an oath, in the Church of Saint Gadea in Burgos, that he had not murdered his brother. After Alfonso repeated the oath three times, Rodrigo replied, “Then, if you swear falsely, may it please God, that a vassal slay you, even as the traitor Vellido Adolfo slew King Sancho.” (Read more.)
(More HERE) Share

The Gettysburg Gospel

Lincoln and the new civil religion. From The American Conservative:
Lincoln’s speech also engages the other side of civil religion—not the appropriation of the sacred for the purposes of the state but the elevation of the secular into a political religion. Early in his career, Lincoln had explicitly promoted this kind of civil religion. Again in his 1838 Lyceum address, he called for fidelity to “the blood of the Revolution” and the Declaration, the Constitution, and the laws to serve as America’s sustaining “political religion” now that the founding generation was passing away. In 1863, Lincoln filled the Gettysburg Address with the words “dedicated,” “consecrated,” and “hallow.” The cumulative effect of this sacred language was to set the American Founding, the suffering of the Civil War, and the national mission apart from the mundane world and transport the war dead and their task into a transcendent realm.

Bellah, a defender of American civil religion who wanted to globalize it in the post-Kennedy years, claimed that Lincoln and the Civil War gave America a “New Testament” for its civic faith: “The Gettysburg symbolism (‘…those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live’) is Christian without having anything to do with the Christian church.”

To this civil religion, Lincoln added his distinctive civil history and civil philosophy. Subtracting the “four score” years from 1863 takes us back to 1776. America was “brought forth” in 1776—not in 1787 or 1788, when the Constitution was ratified by state conventions. In his First Inaugural in 1861, the Republican president had insisted that the Union was older than the states: it had formed at least as early as 1774 and had organically “matured” through the war years. But now at Gettysburg, the Union vanished and the claim appeared that a “new nation” was born in 1776. (Read more.)
Via Joshua Snyder. Share

When Law Subverts Order

From Return to Order:
The rise of the absolutist kings saw the legists turn Roman Law into a veritable arsenal that disconnected the ruler from the restrictions of both customary and natural law. By the time of the Enlightenment, the West abandoned yet more its higher law tradition with the declaration of the divine right of kings, effectively proclaiming the king free from consultation and even exempt from higher law. 

It was Thomas Hobbes in his terrifying Leviathan who wrenched law from its moral foundations in eternal law and introduced individual self-interest and fear as the basis for government. It was John Lock who secularized and truncated natural law and turned law into a mere social contract among men in protection of estate and property. It was the French Revolution that swept away the patchwork of organic legal systems and enacted abstract legal codes.

The nineteenth century saw the encroachment of civil law systems where law was reduced to mere statutes bound to no other law thus stripping away the “moral and ontological moorings of governance.”1

Today, we reach the final stages where there are those who would tear down the final stones from our legal foundation and wrench all morality from law.
Indeed, there are those who seek to make law serve disorder rather than order. They wish to employ the State to make use of the full force of law against those that profess an objective morality. Nothing must inhibit a man from being his own law subservient to any other, thus echoing the slogan of the student revolts in the sixties who affirmed that supreme paradox: it is forbidden to forbid! (Read more.)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Queen Elizabeth of York

Alison Weir is interviewed about her new biography of the eldest daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. To quote:
Alison Weir is buzzing with a new discovery. “It was one of my ‘oh- my-god’ moments – though it’s been there for all to see since the 19th century, when the Privy Purse accounts were published,” she says, animated. A five-day visit by Elizabeth of York, Henry VII’s Queen, to the Tower of London in 1502 immediately preceded the arraignment and beheading of Sir James Tyrell, the suspected murderer of Elizabeth’s brothers, the Princes in the Tower. While there, Elizabeth was in contact with the Abbess of the Minoresses – a cousin of Tyrell’s, sheltering his sister and another cousin – sending a considerable sum, apparently in exchange for a gift of rosewater. Was the real purpose of her visit, Weir postulates, to extract a confession from Tyrell, or perhaps to meet him, at his request, as he would only willingly confess to her? “Elizabeth acted to the full within the traditional sphere as Queen – Henry encouraged that. But in the last year of her life, we have an insight [when considered with other evidence] that there was so much trust between them, Henry may have entrusted her with state secrets too.”


Weir sees her as a historical challenge – from being a young woman “she’s quite proactive, she loses her voice. She’s achieved what she wanted to” – and turns the  tables on modern feminist assumptions. To medieval commentators, it was not the likes of Henry VI’s “great and strong-laboured” wife Margaret of Anjou who represented the ideal but “the Virgin Mary, as exemplified by her chastity and humility” – and despite seven children, Elizabeth came closer than any to her. (Read more.)

More HERE and HERE. Share

Eggs and Health

Is it better to refrigerate eggs? To quote:
When a hen lays an egg, she coats it in a layer of liquid called the cuticle. It dries in just a few minutes, and is incredibly effective at protecting the egg from contamination, providing what European egg marketing regulations describe as "an effective barrier to bacterial ingress with an array of antimicrobial properties." America's egg-washing systems strip eggs of this natural protection. "Such damage," the EU guidelines note, "may favour trans-shell contamination with bacteria and moisture loss and thereby increase the risk to consumers, particularly if subsequent drying and storage conditions are not optimal."

Washing eggs is therefore illegal throughout much of Europe. In an interview with Forbes, Chief Executive of Britain's Egg Industry Council Mark Williams gives another reason for the ban on industrial egg-cleaning facilities:
In Europe, the understanding is that [prohibiting the washing and cleaning of eggs] actually encourages good husbandry on farms. It's in the farmers' best interests then to produce the cleanest eggs possible, as no one is going to buy their eggs if they're dirty.
Okay, fine – but then why not just refrigerate the eggs, anyway? Wouldn't this just give unwashed eggs an extra line of defense? Perhaps, but the European Union laws again note that – like washing – refrigeration could actually wind up posing a risk to consumers. 

Again according to European egg marketing regulations, eggs that are stored cold and later left out at room temperatures could become covered in condensation, "facilitating the growth of bacteria on the shell and probably their ingression into the egg." EU guidelines therefore stipulate that eggs should be transported and stored at as constant a temperature as possible – a temperature between 66.2 °F and 69.8°F in the winter and between 69.8°F and 73.4°F in the summer. (Read more.)

A History of Birthdays

From the HuffPost:
The prevailing opinion seems to be that the Romans were the first civilization to celebrate birthdays for non-religious figures. Romans would celebrate birthdays for friends and families, while the government created public holidays to observe the birthdays of more famous citizens. Those celebrating a 50th birthday party would receive a special cake made of wheat flour, olive oil, honey and grated cheese. All of this said, female birthdays still weren't celebrated until around the 12th century. (Read more.)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Eighteenth Century Leopard Print Fashions

From novelist Isabella Bradford:
In the late 18th c., leopard prints could be printed on velvet, wool, or cotton & linen, or, in those days, even a bit of real leopard skin. It could be a pattern so stylized that it was little more than an irregular dot, or a literal translation worthy of a big cat. Then, as now, animal-inspired prints added a touch of the exotic, hinting that the wearer might be a bit of the animal him (or her)self.

The lady in the 1788 French fashion plate, left, is either the height of Parisian fashion, or the depths of foolishness, depending on your perspective. Not only is she wearing an entire robe a l'Anglaise printed with leopard spots, but she's also sporting a headdress sprouting exotic feathers, no doubt imagining herself a perfect belle sauvage. The hedgehog inspired hair, the giant pouf of ribbons on her headdress, the large cluster of silk flowers pinned to her bodice, and the barrel-sized muff on her arm would also have been considered very stylish. (Read more.)

Who Was Oswald?

From Hornberger's Blog:
Of course, we all know that Lee Harvey Oswald, a purported lone nut who supposedly loved communism, just happened to be employed in a building that was on President Kennedy’s parade route in Dallas.

But consider this: Just a couple of months before the assassination, this same Lee Harvey Oswald just happened to have a close, personal encounter with an anti-Castro organization, the DRE, that the CIA was secretly monitoring and funding through CIA agent George Joannides.

What are the odds of that happening? Whether one is a lone-nut theorist or a conspiracy theorist, I think everyone would agree that that is just one more heckuva big coincidence.
What was the nature of Oswald’s encounter? He just happened to drop by the place where the head of the DRE, a man named Carlos Bringuier, was working.

Doesn’t that seem amazing? A guy who is just a lone nut who later supposedly kills the president just happens to drop in on an organization that is secretly being monitored and funded by the CIA.

It gets better. During the visit, Oswald offered to help the DRE with its anti-Castro activities.


Yes, the ardent lover of communism offers to help out a CIA-monitored and CIA-funded organization with its anti-communist activities.

Doesn’t that seem a bit unusual?

Later, however, Oswald has another fascinating encounter with Bringuier and the DRE, one that ended up bringing lots of publicity to Oswald. Oswald was passing out pamphlets in favor of an organization named the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, an organization that was composed of Americans from all over the country who were opposing the embargo against Cuba. It was also an organization that the CIA and FBI were determined to destroy as a threat to “national security.” (Read more.)
Via A Conservative Blog for Peace.

See also what "the woman in the blue raincoat" had to say. To quote:
The day will be forever etched into her memory - the moment America's youngest ever president was assassinated on the streets of Dallas, Texas. Mary Ann Moorman and her friend had gone to the parade route with her new Polaroid camera, eager to take a snapshot when the President and First Lady passed them in the motorcade. Little did she know that she would capture the moment immediately before Lee Harvey Oswald fired the fatal shot that killed John F Kennedy. (Read more.)
Via LRC.


Doris Lessing and Political Correctness

From David Chambers:
British writer Doris Lessing died in London today, aged 94. She had become a communist in the 1940s about the time she married Gottfried Lessing but had abandoned such ideas by 1949. 1 2

In 1992, Lessing wrote and lectured about “Unexamined Mental Attitudes Left Behind By Communism.” 3 A brief of that essay appeared in the New York Times, called “Language and the Lunatic Fringe.” 4 In it, she warns of vestiges that remain after the “apparent death of Communism.” She was particularly concerned one of those vestages not “as immediately evident,” namely “Political Correctness.”

Lessing was a fair-minded writer and so is careful to note, “I am not suggesting that the torch of Communism has been handed on to the Political Correctors. I am suggesting that habits of mind have been absorbed, often without knowing it.” She does concede that Political Correctness can have a “good side” in that it challenges us to “re-examine attitudes, and that is always useful.”

Lessing did not address other political movements or their own tendencies toward Political Correctness. For instance, the Encyclopedia Britannica notes Political Correctness as a characteristic of the American Neo-Conservative movmement: “It also encourages the excesses of “political correctness”—that is, an overly acute sensitivity to offending people of other backgrounds, outlooks, and cultures.” 5 (Read more.)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Marie-Antoinette and Her Oldest Daughter

The young mother watches Madame Royale with her nurse. From Vive la Reine. Share

The Fantasy of Ayn Rand

From the Acton Institute:
Those who fail to notice the way that Rand defines altruism often mistake her critique as an argument against Christian morality. This isn’t surprising when we consider that Rand herself seems to make the same error. But the Christian view of altruism is not predicated on an obligation to love others more than we love ourselves. While there may be instances where such self-sacrificial love is appropriate, it is not an absolute duty. What we are commanded to do is love others just as we love ourselves. We are to love other humans in the same way, taking into account their interests and needs. We are not to treat them, as Comte would have us, in a disinterested manner.

Fully considered, it becomes obvious that Rand’s views congeal into a fatally flawed philosophy. Even when stripped of its atheistic elements, Objectivism’s focus on radical individualism cuts it off from reality and causes it to wither under scrutiny. And as much as we might admire Rand’s deep-rooted hatred of collectivism, her philosophy is still just another utopian dream, a transvalued Marxism. (Read more.)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Poem in Honor of Marie-Antoinette

From Vive la Reine:
Who is that pale yet stately one,
Robb’d of her royal pride?
The throne, the crown, all from her gone—
The sceptre thrown aside?
Is this the haughty Austrian
That meets each scornful glance?
And will she never reign again
As the proud Queen of France?
Alas! poor, hapless one! thy brow
Is furrowed o’er with care—
For grief has made thy form to bow,
And silvered o’er thy hair!
This day of bitter agony
Has sealed thy doom to die;
Yet not one murmur comes from thee-
No tear drop dims the eye!
Still proud, though not in royal robes,
In truth and virtue strong—
Her only prayer for mercy this,
"Don’t make me suffer long!"
—An excerpt from The Flower Girl and the Queen by Carrie Bell Sinclair. Circa the 1860s. The full poem can be read here.

Queen Mary's Speech at Guildhall

Historian John Murphy on the speech which helped Mary Tudor to win a kingdom. To quote:
Unlike Elizabeth’s address at Tilbury, when it was known already the the Spanish armada was dispersed, Mary gave this speech when events might have moved either in her favour or against. She demonstrated remarkable nerve and certainty Hers is one of the few speeches history has to actually attest to the power of words. Mary Tudor moved men’s and women’s hearts and thereby we can say this speech changed the course of events.

Once more it is an example of how Mary as one of England’s most extraordinary rulers has been written out of history just as Elizabeth’s monument in Westminster Abbey subsumed her half-sister’s resting place. Mary may not have had the intellectual brio of Elizabeth nor the romantic elan of Mary Stewart but she had all the practical sense and courage and determination to become England’s first regnant female; hold her throne; marry whom she chose; impose the reformed Catholicism of Trent upon the country; take the country into a war with France and to her last breath, like her father, hold to the course she set. Remarkable seems way too small a word for such a huge achievement. (Read more.)

Learning About Marriage

The lessons of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. To quote:
The first marriage we encounter in Pride and Prejudice is Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s. These two illustrate magnificently by negative example just how crucial respect for one another is to marital bliss. Mr. Bennet treats Mrs. Bennet like the fool she assuredly is, and Mrs. Bennet, in return, exerts the only authority she has: nagging. As readers, we may laugh with Mr. Bennet (and the narrator) at Mrs. Bennet, but we don’t side with him entirely. Even Elizabeth, as much as she loves her father and as much as he respects her, admits she “could not have formed a very pleasing opinion of conjugal felicity or domestic comfort” based on her parents’ marriage.

We can’t help but wonder along with Elizabeth, who “had never been blind to the impropriety of her father's behaviour as a husband,” if Mrs. Bennet might have grown into a better partner and woman with more active loving-kindness from him. Instead, Mrs. Bennet fits the description of what one marriage expert—Pat Ennis of the marriage-enrichment program The Third Option—calls the “Critical Nag,” one who is never happy with how others do things. Mr. Bennet, meanwhile, is the “Ridiculer-Name Caller,” the person who constantly puts others down. Ennis says that respect is the bedrock of lasting love, wisdom the never-married Austen recognized long before psychology, life coaches, and marriage retreats were invented. (Read more.)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Whittaker Chambers on China in Crisis

From David Chambers:
Sixty-nine years ago today, TIME magazine published a controversial article edited by its then Foreign News desk editor, Whittaker Chambers. It analyzed the recall of U.S. general Stilwell from China as head of the Chinese nationalist army.
Chambers’ assessment of the situation was blunt:

Stripped to the bare facts, that situation was that Chungking, a dictatorship ruling high-handedly in order to safeguard the last vestiges of democratic principles in China, was engaged in an undeclared civil war with Yenan, a dictatorship whose purpose was the spread of totalitarian Communism in China. At the same time Chungking was locked in a life and death struggle with Japan.
No matter that Chambers had called both nationalist and communist governments “dictatorships.” He had also criticized American journalists who had lauded the Chinese Communist regime (then in Yenan). Fellow TIME staffers who were Chinese Communist sympathizers—notably Teddy White — took deep umbrage at his criticism and never forgave him.

But Chambers was concerned with the long term. He would later reflect on those times: “China was the key to world politics… To lose China to Communism was to risk losing World War III.” (Witness 1952, p. 87) (Read more.)

Thanksgiving and Old World Harvest Festivals

From Medievalists:
 November hearkens the coming of that great American harvest feast wherein we express our gratitude for Nature’s bounty, and for the indigenous people whose generous support ensured the survival of the progenitors of our nation. However, when we dig a little deeper we discover that the tradition of Thanksgiving extends far beyond the borders of the United States. Canada celebrates her own Thanksgiving in October, and Germany’s version, called Erntedankfest, is celebrated either at the end of September or in early October. The November harvest festival that the British-American pilgrims would have been familiar with, prior to their emigration, is the Feast of Saint Martin, or Martinmas.

The first American settlers in New England were British separatists and largely Puritan. Recent history had seen the Protestant Reformation and the birth of the Anglican Church. The Puritans believed that the new Church of England’s reforms did not go far enough in breaking from Catholic tradition; hence the journey to settle new lands and form what they hoped would be a religious utopian life in the New World. We all know the story from here. (Read more.)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Louis XVI and Mount Vernon

Anna Gibson shares the history of George Washington's portrait of the King who saved the American cause.
As Washington observed, the print was certainly “elegant,” but its frame was even more impressive. A “palace style” frame similar to others used for state portraits, it was clearly commission by Louis XVI as a gift to Washington. In the lower corners, the cartouches feature the president’s initials (“G” and “W”) with the Washington family crest in the middle. The monogram of the French king (“L” and “XVI”) appear in the top corners, while the center ornament features the French royal coat of arms topped with a pierced crown, and flanked by a Native American headdress on the right and the French cap of liberty on the left. This merging of symbols of the nations and their leaders emphasized the exceptional bond between France and the United States established by their alliance in the Revolutionary War. (Read more.)

The "Cursed" Marriage of Henry VIII

From The Catholic Herald:
Anne Boleyn’s coronation song, with its optimistic lyrics about her future childbearing capabilities, was performed again by schoolchildren as part of the procession during the Lord Mayor’s Show in the City of London. Only weeks before the song was first sung Henry VIII had made the final break with Rome, frustrated that the Pope would not dissolve his marriage to Katherine of Aragon.

Henry believed his first marriage had broken a biblical rule against marrying your brother’s wife, and that it had therefore been cursed. But Katherine insisted that her marriage to his brother Arthur had never been consummated, and was never, therefore valid. The revival of the Anne Boleyn song, prompts the old question, was Katherine telling the truth, or did she lie in a desperate attempt to save her marriage? (Read more.)

Opening Doors

Should men open doors for women? Some thoughts from a blogger:
As a real man I know that for my masculinity to scale the heights of greatness, I depend totally on the feminine genius to become the best that a man can ever be – in much the same way that I depend on oxygen to keep on living.

Without the complimentary and amazing feminine genius I can never be a real man. Instead I am doomed to be nothing more than the masculine equivalent of a rōnin – the Japanese name for a samurai without a master to lead him, a term which literally means “wave man” because he is adrift without direction and purpose.

I open doors for women because I know they deserve my profound adoration and selfless love. My tiny act of sacrifice is my way of saying ‘I am in awe of your feminine genius and all that I owe to it as a man’.

Any man who tries to tell you to stop opening doors for women is unvirtuous and selfish – he is not a real man. Do not listen to him. Any person who tells you that opening doors for women makes you a hater or belittler of women and femininity is tragically confused and desperately out of touch with reality. 

Ladies, not only do you have every right to expect such respect and selflessness from the men who encounter your presence, but you should be extremely worried by any person lobbying for a world where men walk past women with a blind ignorance to your female greatness. Such a world would be a truly scary place, and definitely not the world I would want my daughters to grow up in – their feminine genius deserves far better than cold indifference. (Read more.)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

To the Scaffold

A nineteenth century painting of Marie-Antoinette on her way to the guillotine. Share

Peasant Dwellings

From Medievalists:
 Now we know that peasant housing was not universally badly built and incapable of surviving for a long time. The earliest dated house which is still inhabited and likely to have belonged to a peasant was built of timbers felled in 1262. With the full impact of dendrochronology a wave of building in both town and country can be identified which coincided with the ‘great depression’ of the 15th century. As well as telling us about the resources that peasants could afford to devote to building, houses can be compared with other types of expenditure – peasants could give priority to investment in production, or in spending on communal projects such as the parish church, or could choose to concentrate on food, drink and clothing. For a long time it was believed that peasants had a largely self-sufficient economy and would have built their houses themselves, using materials from local woods and quarries, with earth, turf and reeds from the village commons. Since the acceptance of the ‘commercialisation’ model, it is now possible to conceive that peasants employed artisans (carpenters, masons and roofers) and labourers, and bought building materials, even from a long distance. (Read more.)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Death of Charles X

November 6, 1836. Some people may naturally object to seeing Louis XVIII standing beside Louis XVI in heaven. But who are we to judge.


Remembering Kristallnacht

Only seventy-five years ago. From Haaretz:
“I still don’t know if that night was either the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end. But it clearly marked a turning point”, says the now 81-year-old Dr. Menachem Mayer. He and his family had led an ordinary life in the village of Hoffenheim, in Southwestern Germany – a life that suddenly ended in the early hours of November 10, 1938. It was well before dawn when German forces broke into the Mayers' home, pulled six-year-old Menachem, his parents and his brother Manfred, 9, out of their second-floor apartment, threw their belongings into the street and burned the nearby synagogue.
The nationwide pogrom has made history as "The Night of the Broken Glass", or “Kristallnacht” in German. It was exactly 75 years ago that Nazi storm troopers murdered hundreds of German Jews and destroyed thousands of synagogues and Jewish shops
“I still remember standing on the street, only wearing pajamas and watching those Nazi SA (Assault Division) thugs wrecking our life”, says Dr. Mayer as if no time had passed since then. “I may have forgotten many things - but this image was burned into my memory since 75 years. It was the end of my childhood.”

At the end of 1940, the two young brothers and their parents were deported to France and held in a detention camp there. In 1942, the parents were then sent to Auschwitz where they were murdered. Heinz was smuggled into Switzerland under a false name, and Manfred was hidden in France until the liberation. The brothers survived. Manfred made his way to the United States while Menachem immigrated to Israel in 1948, installed himself in Jerusalem and became a science teaching superintendent. (Read more.)

Who Were the Black Irish?

From Irish Central:
The term 'Black Irish' has commonly been in circulation among Irish emigrants and their descendants for centuries. As a subject of historical discussion the subject is almost never referred to in Ireland. There are a number of different claims as to the origin of the term, none of which are possible to prove or disprove. 'Black Irish' is often a description of people of Irish origin who had dark features, black hair, dark complexion and eyes.

A quick review of Irish history reveals that the island was subject to a number of influxes of foreign people. The Celts arrived on the island about the year 500 B.C. Whether or not this was an actual invasion or rather a more gradual migration and assimilation of their culture by the natives is open to conjecture, but there is sufficient evidence to suggest that this later explanation is more likely.

The next great influx came from Northern Europe with Viking raids occurring as early as 795 A.D. The defeat of the Vikings at the Battle of Clontarf in the year 1014 by Brian Boru marked the end of the struggle with the invaders and saw the subsequent integration of the Vikings into Irish society. The migrants became 'Gaelicized' and formed septs (a kind of clan) along Gaelic lines.

The Norman invasions of 1170 and 1172 led by Strongbow saw yet another wave of immigrants settle in the country, many of whom fiercely resisted English dominance of the island in the centuries that followed. The Plantation of Ulster in the seventeenth century saw the arrival of English and Scottish colonists in Ulster after the 'Flight of the Earls'.

Each of these immigrant groups had their own physical characteristics and all, with the exception of the Ulster Planters, assimilated to some degree into Irish society, many claiming to be 'more Irish than the Irish themselves!'

The Vikings were often referred to as the 'dark invaders' or 'black foreigners'. The Gaelic word for foreigner is 'gall' and for black (or dark) is 'dubh'. (Read more.)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Napoleon and Family

Marie-Louise of Austria receives flowers from her husband and son. (Via Tiny-Librarian.) It always amuses me how the man who saw himself as the embodiment of the Revolution was not at peace until he had married a Habsburg and had a Habsburg child. Share

Whatever Happened to Modesty?

From Michael Hyatt:
It’s been a while since I’ve seen MTV, but I was flabbergasted. I could not believe the sensuality and decadence I witnessed. Gail and I finally had to turn it off. We just couldn’t take it any more.

As I thought about my experience later, it made me sad. I am the father of five daughters. So perhaps I’m just a little overly sensitive. But I was shocked at the complete absence of modesty, the ridicule of virginity, and the latent misogyny displayed by Russell Brand and many of the artists themselves. (Read more.)


I have never heard of this before. From Slate:
Ghosting—aka the Irish goodbye, the French exit, and any number of other vaguely ethnophobic terms—refers to leaving a social gathering without saying your farewells. One moment you’re at the bar, or the house party, or the Sunday morning wedding brunch. The next moment you’re gone. In the manner of a ghost. “Where’d he go?” your friends might wonder. But—and this is key—they probably won’t even notice that you’ve left. (Read more.)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Queen of France

A young Queen Marie-Antoinette. (Via Louis XX.) Share

The Solar Maximum

From the WSJ:
Scientists say that solar activity is stranger than in a century or more, with the sun producing barely half the number of sunspots as expected and its magnetic poles oddly out of sync. The sun generates immense magnetic fields as it spins. Sunspots—often broader in diameter than Earth—mark areas of intense magnetic force that brew disruptive solar storms. These storms may abruptly lash their charged particles across millions of miles of space toward Earth, where they can short-circuit satellites, smother cellular signals or damage electrical systems.
Based on historical records, astronomers say the sun this fall ought to be nearing the explosive climax of its approximate 11-year cycle of activity—the so-called solar maximum. But this peak is "a total punk," said Jonathan Cirtain, who works at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as project scientist for the Japanese satellite Hinode, which maps solar magnetic fields.

"I would say it is the weakest in 200 years," said David Hathaway, head of the solar physics group at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Researchers are puzzled. They can't tell if the lull is temporary or the onset of a decades-long decline, which might ease global warming a bit by altering the sun's brightness or the wavelengths of its light.

"There is no scientist alive who has seen a solar cycle as weak as this one," said Andrés Munoz-Jaramillo, who studies the solar-magnetic cycle at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. To complicate the riddle, the sun also is undergoing one of its oddest magnetic reversals on record.

Normally, the sun's magnetic north and south poles change polarity every 11 years or so. During a magnetic-field reversal, the sun's polar magnetic fields weaken, drop to zero, and then emerge again with the opposite polarity. As far as scientists know, the magnetic shift is notable only because it signals the peak of the solar maximum, said Douglas Biesecker at NASA's Space Environment Center. But in this cycle, the sun's magnetic poles are out of sync, solar scientists said. The sun's north magnetic pole reversed polarity more than a year ago, so it has the same polarity as the south pole. 

"The delay between the two reversals is unusually long," said solar physicist Karel Schrijver at the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center in Palo Alto, Calif. 

Scientists said they are puzzled, but not concerned, by the unusual delay. They expect the sun's south pole to change polarity next month, based on current satellite measurements of its shifting magnetic fields.

At the same time, scientists can't explain the scarcity of sunspots. While still turbulent, the sun seems feeble compared with its peak power in previous decades. "It is not just that there are fewer sunspots, but they are less active sunspots," Dr. Schrijver said.

However, the sun isn't idle: After months of quiescence, it unleashed vast streams of charged particles into space five times in as many days last month, and flared again last week. Even so, these outbursts exhibited a fraction of the force of previous solar maximums.

By comparison, a Halloween solar storm in 2003, near the peak of the last solar maximum, was the largest of the Space Age. Even though it mostly bypassed Earth, the storm disabled a Japanese satellite, sent astronauts aboard the International Space Station scrambling for radiation shelter, disrupted drilling for oil and gas in Alaska, scrambled GPS navigation and forced the U.S. Defense Department to cancel military maneuvers.

As the solar cycle winds down in the years ahead as part of its normal cycle, blasts of charged particles should become even less frequent. Among other things, Earth's outer atmosphere will cool and contract, which can extend the life of satellites by lessening the drag on them.

"That makes the commercial satellite operators all happy," said Todd Hoeksema at Stanford University's Wilcox Solar Observatory. "And the astronauts are happy when there is no radiation."

Several solar scientists speculated that the sun may be returning to a more relaxed state after an era of unusually high activity that started in the 1940s.

"More than half of solar physicists would say we are returning to a norm," said physicist Mark Miesch at the High Altitude Observatory in Boulder, Colo., who studies the internal dynamics of stars. "We might be in for a longer state of suppressed activity." (Read more.)