Monday, June 30, 2014

Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg

The Cross of Laeken honors the beautiful morganatic wife of Franz Ferdinand, who died with her husband. To quote:
Yesterday was a sorrowful centennial, marking a hundred years since the murder of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, by Serbian nationalists in Sarajevo.  As is known all too well, the killing triggered the First World War.  Above is a lovely pastel painting of the assassin's less well-known victim, the Archduke's beloved, morganatic wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg.  Below is a photograph of the couple with their three surviving children.  Sophie died along with her husband, just a few days before their fourteenth wedding anniversary.   Here is an article on their tender courtship, loving marriage, and tragic deaths.   Here is an interview with a great-granddaughter of the couple. (Read more.)

The Organ at Wanamaker's

From the WSJ:
For two and a half decades, Peter Richard Conte has had one of the strangest, most wonderful jobs in all of retail. Twice a day, six days a week he has performed 45-minute concerts on one of the largest pipe organs in the world, an instrument improbably located in a downtown Philadelphia department store.

The organ, built for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, was such an enormous—and enormously expensive—undertaking that it bankrupted the manufacturer. It was claimed that the instrument, with some 10,000 pipes, was "capable of producing 17,179,869,183 distinct tonal effects."

After its starring role at the world's fair, the organ languished in storage for a few years until it was bought by John Wanamaker as the centerpiece of the new store he was building in Philadelphia. In 1911, the organ debuted in the Grand Court—a seven-story, marble atrium that proved too large for even such a monster. And so Wanamaker and his son Rodman had the organ vastly expanded through the teens and '20s—to more than 28,000 pipes. 

For more than a century, there has always been an official Grand Court Organist at the department store. The longest serving was the second, Mary E. Vogt, who performed at Wanamaker's from 1917 to 1966. "You must entertain without distracting," she said. You don't want to "annoy people who after all have come into the store to shop." Vogt managed the six keyboards at the massive console, but couldn't quite reach all of the organ's 729 color-coded "stop tablets" (the domino-size paddle-switches that turn ranks of pipes on and off). She would throw the more distant tablets with a whack from a rolled-up newspaper.

Mr. Conte still follows Vogt's repertoire advice, shying away from the atonal and modernistic, and avoiding extravagant works from composers such as Olivier Messiaen. "Great music," he says of Messiaen, "but not shopping-conducive." 

On a recent Saturday afternoon Mr. Conte performed the sort of accessibly eclectic program that the organ, and the organ's commercial environment, calls for. The mix included a third-act scene from Richard Strauss's "Der Rosenkavalier," a scherzo from Alexandre Guilmant (the French organist-composer who famously performed on the organ during the St. Louis World's Fair) and "The Easy Winners," a Scott Joplin rag.

Mr. Conte's specialty is symphonic works that he transcribes for the organ himself. His scores are housed in black binders, and the sheets inside are crowded with little fluorescent sticky-dots in magenta, green and tangerine that he uses to mark the many changes to the stops.

Mr. Conte was a choir boy at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City, N.Y., when he took up the organ. After earning his degree at Indiana University, he began pestering the third Grand Court Organist, Keith Chapman, to let him audition to become an assistant. Chapman finally gave him a chance in 1987 and Mr. Conte got the gig, which entailed performing when Chapman was on tour, travels he made at the controls of his own plane. It was on one of those trips, in the summer of 1989, that Chapman crashed in the Rockies. In September 1989, Mr. Conte was named the fourth Grand Court Organist. (Read more.)

Sunday, June 29, 2014


The royal tombs were despoiled at Saint Denis in 1793, at the height of the French Revolution. The long dead kings, queens and their families were torn from their tombs for being "oppressors" of the people. In so many ways, the French Revolution was a blueprint for future Communists. (Via Vive la Reine.) Share

The "Dark" Ages

From The Orthodox Christian Network:
Among the literature of those who make it their main business to vilify the Christians, perhaps no concept has served a more useful purpose than the idea of “the Dark Ages.” The Dark Ages, according to this reading of history, were those centuries in which the Church was culturally ascendant, with the inevitable result that civilization sunk into superstition, ignorance, obscurantism, and moral decadence. Here everything that was bad about the world is laid at the Church’s door, especially the decline of Science (with a capital “S”), which apparently had been going great guns until the Church took over.

As evidence of the Church’s war against Science, enlightenment, tolerance, and reason in general, the name of Galileo is usually bandied about, along with the notion that everyone in the Dark Ages thought that the world was flat. It was from this ecclesiastical abyss that Science eventually pulled us all out, saving the world from the Church and restoring civilization. But as we talk about the Dark Ages, it is worth asking how the Roman Empire of the west came to be so dark in the first place? (Of the Roman Empire in the east, usually known as Byzantium, the vilifiers seem to know precious little. Their world is a western world.) In other words, who turned out the lights in the west?

Your average person who delights in blaming the Church for the Dark Ages presumably thinks that it was the Church which was responsible for turning out the lights. It is hard to argue with the sort of person who knows only this sort of history. C.S. Lewis in his day lamented that for this sort of person, “History” was “that vague, composite picture of the past which floats, rather hazily, in the mind of the ordinary educated man…a land of shadows, the home of wraiths like Primitive Man or the Renaissance or the Ancient-Greeks-and-Romans” (from his essay Historicism). Things have not changed much since Lewis’ time, and for your average person today, “History” is often what you get from popular talk around the water-cooler, or perhaps from watching “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

Polemicists who comment on blogs often blame the Church for the Dark Ages. Actual historians know that the Dark Ages, insofar as they were dark, were darkened by the barbarian invasions that inundated the western Roman Empire, and that it was only in the Church (and in its monasteries in particular) that any light was preserved. It might be a bit of a stretch to suggest (as Thomas Cahill did in his book of similar name) that “the Irish (i.e. the Irish monks) saved civilization,” but it is certain that whatever vestiges of earlier Roman civilization managed to be saved were saved by the Church.

It was the pagan Gothic tribes sweeping down from the north and east that submerged classical Roman and Christian culture in a sea of barbarism. It was the Church that tried to preserve what learning it could, and which strove valiantly to convert them. After centuries of work it did a passable job, and it was only thanks to this that classic learning was preserved to become the foundation for later progress. On that foundation the west has built many things, including modern democracy, modern science, and the concept of human rights. But the foundation upon which they were built was a Christian one, one laid painfully and laboriously by the Church in the so-called Dark Ages. In short: it was the pagans who turned out the lights. It was the Church who kept a lamp burning, and eventually turned the lights back on again. (Read more.)

A Lame Duck Country

From The American Spectator:
The Constitution of the United States does not give presidents the power to carry out major policy changes without the cooperation of other branches of government. Once the country becomes disenchanted with a president during his second term, Congress has little incentive to cooperate with him -- and, once Congress becomes uncooperative, there is little that a president can do on his own.

That is, if he respects the Constitution. (Read more.)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Love and the Underworld

An analysis of  Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini portrait from Histories of Things to Come:
 The painting was long thought to depict Arnolfini's second wife, Jeanne (or Giovanna) Cenami. But in 1997, it was discovered that she had married Arnolfini in 1447, thirteen years after the painting's date and six years after the death of van Eyck. Only in 2003 did art historian Margaret L. Koster realize that Arnolfini's first wife, Costanza Trenta, had died by 1433, a year before the portrait was painted. In other words, this painting is a memorial to her. The identity of the man is also disputed, in which case Koster's theory does not hold, except her idea seems to match van Eyck's symbols. Everything on the man's side of the portrait indicates life, while items on the wife's side of the painting represent death.

The surface story in this painting is about material wealth and love. But the underlying allegory is about life and death. This is a picture of the present, holding onto the past, with the artist speaking on the back wall to the future. How would you depict a ghost in a time poised between two great European eras, with the earlier period being an age of spiritualism and faith, and the later period fixated on the rise of secular capitalism? This portrait is both a modern-oriented realistic representation of a rich businessman and a medieval-styled vision of his wife's spirit. (Read more.)


The Benedictine-Jesuit Controversy

There has long been two different schools of thought about the primacy of the liturgy of the hours. From Vultus Christi:
When, in 1947, Pope Pius XII wrote the encyclical Mediator Dei, he was fully and painfully conscious of two opposing currents of thought concerning the sacred liturgy and the interior life. At the risk of oversimplifying an exceedingly complex issue, I would argue that Pope Pius XII was, in effect, attempting in Mediator Dei to reconcile the longstanding Benedictine —Jesuit controversy. Not surprisingly, a number of Dominicans aligned themselves with the Belgian, French, and German Benedictines; the Jesuits, for their part, had behind them the strength of the Apostleship of Prayer, various retreat movements, and an enormous sphere of influence in institutions of learning and among congregations of women religious.

The theological current emanating from the  Rhineland Abbey of  Maria Laach, and made illustrious by the writings and teachings of Dom Ildefons Herwegen, Dom Odo Casel, and Dame Aemiliana Löhr, promoted an “objective” approach to the spiritual life, an approach exclusively grounded in and expressed by the action of Christ in the liturgy. Some in “the opposing camp” misconstrued the affirmation of the sacred liturgy’s primacy over personal prayer as an absolutisation of the former and a denigrating dismissal of the latter.

To add to the complexity of the situation, there were, notably among certain German Benedictine proponents of objective liturgical spirituality, voices critical of adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, of acts of reparation, and of the Eucharistic mysticism typified by Mother Mectilde de Bar and by the Institute she founded. The criticisms articulated by a few even affected the Institute of the Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration. I shall address this particular question in another article. (Read more.)
More HERE. Share

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Horse Fair

From The Metropolitan Museum of Art:
This, Bonheur’s best-known painting, shows the horse market held in Paris on the tree-lined Boulevard de l’Hôpital, near the asylum of Salpêtrière, which is visible in the left background. For a year and a half Bonheur sketched there twice a week, dressing as a man to discourage attention. Bonheur was well established as an animal painter when the painting debuted at the Paris Salon of 1853, where it received wide praise. In arriving at the final scheme, the artist drew inspiration from George Stubbs, Théodore Gericault, Eugène Delacroix, and ancient Greek sculpture: she referred to The Horse Fair as her own "Parthenon frieze." (Read more.)

The Pregnancy of the Duchesse d’Angoulême

In 1813, during her exile in England, Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, the duchesse d’Angoulême, experienced a pregnancy and a miscarriage. It is called a "miscarriage" although it sounds as if she might have been far enough along for it to be a a still-birth. The baby was the grandchild of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. Susan Nagel's biography of the princess is the only one I have read to describe the sad event. To quote (Via Tiny-Librarian):
As she turned thirty-four, on December 19th, 1812, Marie Therese seemed overflowing with happiness. On January 27th, 1813, Princess Charlotte gave a ball and noticed that d’Angouleme too was in high spirits. In a letter dated February 7 to her friend, Miss Mercer Elphinstone, the English Princess made a special note that at her grand fete, d’Angouleme proved to be a wonderful dance partner. Marie Therese’s doctor, Monsieur Lefebvre, knew the reason for the couple’s ebullience, as he would explain to Hue that January: “At this moment, I am tending to a woman who lives above me and is pregnant for the first time after more than thirteen years of marriage.”

On January 30, Hue wrote to his wife that Dr Lefebvre had given him the miraculous news that the Duc D’Angouleme would be a father in June. The doctor confirmed this in his own handwriting on the same letter. Madame Hue received the note and added a formal sentence on the paper: ‘Monsieur Hue and Monsieur Lefebvre designate Madame the Duchesse D’Angouleme, announcing her pregnancy’. On February 15, 1813, Louise de Conde wrote to her father that she was stunned to hear of the pregnancy as she had heard for years that, while Marie-Therese had been in the Temple Prison, The Jacobian guards had bragged about destroying her fertility with a combination of drugs. Marie-Therese’s joy was to be short lived. Quite a few months into the pregnancy, she suffered a miscarriage and that summer left for Bath to recuperate.

Marie Therese, Child of Terror: The Fate of Marie Antoinette’s Daughter - Susan Nagel
 In her early forties, Marie-Thérèse again experienced the symptoms of pregnancy but it turned out to be a false call, much to her great disappointment. Share

Thursday, June 26, 2014

La Rue du Roi de Sicile

The street where the Princesse de Lamballe was so grotesquely murdered. Share

The Pink Dress

From The Metropolitan Museum of Art:
The fashionable portraitist Jacques-Emile Blanche witnessed this painting being made at the Villa Fodor, the family home of Marguerite Carré, the sitter: "One day, she [Morisot] painted before my eyes a charming portrait of Mlle Marguerite in a light pink dress; indeed, the entire canvas was light. Here Berthe Morisot was fully herself, already eliminating from nature both shadows and half-tones." But the painting required several sessions, since Morisot "constantly changed her mind and painted over what she had done once the session was at an end . . . ." The Pink Dress is one of the artist's few surviving early works. (Read more.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Alexandra of Denmark

The young Princess of Wales. (Via Tiny-Librarian.) Share

Conversation Rules

From 1875:
Never interrupt anyone who is speaking; it is quite rude to officiously supply a name or date about which another hesitates, unless you are asked to do so. Another gross breach of etiquette is to anticipate the point of a story which another person is reciting, or to take it from his lips to finish it in your own language. Some persons plead as an excuse for this breach of etiquette, that the reciter was spoiling a good story by a bad manner, but this does not mend the matter. It is surely rude to give a man to understand that you do not consider him capable of finishing an anecdote that he has commenced. (Read more.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Restoration

From Chron:
For nearly a decade, one of the world's greatest palaces has also housed a dusty building site. Now, thanks to a 26 million-euro ($35.4 million) restoration, one of the Louvre Museum's most exciting collections, the 18th century decorative arts wing, has been re-opened to its full glory. Paid for entirely by private donations, the nine-year restoration modernized creaky halls and corridors and built new rooms for over 2,000 design objects. They start with the reign of France's Louis XIV, who lived in the Louvre, to his successors Louis XV and Louis XVI....The Louvre's north section, the Richelieu wing, has been transformed into 33 glittering salons, full of gold mirrors, velvet chaise-lounges and cabinets with intricate precious stone inlays.

"These collections now show off the real spirit of French-style art de vivre," said Louvre President Jean-Luc Martinez said at a dinner to thank the principal sponsor — Marie Antoinette's watchmaker, Breguet. "It's part of a project to build a Louvre for the 21st century."

The public can now get up close and personal with Marie Antoinette's fastidiously embellished desktop or another French queen's incredibly ornate hot chocolate maker — all opened up thanks to glass cabinets. "It now reunites more than 200 masterpieces from one of the most glorious periods in the decorative arts," said department director Jannic Durand. (Read more.)

Marriage and Masculinity

From Ethika Politica:
Getting married expressed discipline, commitment, and self-sacrifice on the part of the man. Such virtues are still considered intrinsic to many other masculine choices, such as going to war or participating in sports. Of course the major difference between being a soldier or an athlete and being a husband is the question of sexual integrity. And that just isn’t a thing in American culture.

To the Christian, it is common to think of marriage as promoting the moral good both in ourselves as individuals and in our society at large. Nevertheless, it is difficult not to imbibe cultural norms which represent marriage—indeed any form of a monogamous, committed relationship—as feminizing, even shameful. This view is problematic for reasons too many to enumerate, but one I find particularly insidious is that such a view automatically puts all women asking for any level of commitment in the functional position of the shrew. That is to say, marriage is redefined as a social force that denies a man his identity and dignity and that further makes the woman the culprit. (Read more.)

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Romanov Sisters

Father asks me to tell all who have remained loyal to him...that they should not avenge him, for he has forgiven everyone and prays for them all; that they should not themselves seek revenge; that they should remember that the evil that there now is in the world will become yet more powerful, and that it is not evil that will conquer evil only love. ~Grand Duchess Olga Nicolaevna of Russia
Helen Rappaport's new biography of the four daughters of the last tsar and tsarina, Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra, reminded me that there is no tragedy like a Russian tragedy. The story of Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, told as never before, goes from being Little Women to The Trojan Women as four young girls are forced to enter the heart of darkness of Bolshevik oppression. In my subconscious mind I suppose I am always hoping that the ending will be different; that somehow they will all escape. As the final hour draws inexorably nearer, I always experience the same sinking feeling of dread. However, as the book reveals, the Imperial Family took great pains to live the liturgical life of their Church and, taking the suffering Savior as their model, they accepted everything that came their way with both serenity and heroic virtue, in spite of their very human fears and frustrations.

The Romanov Sisters is a book for die-hard fans of Nicholas, Alexandra, and their children. If a person is interested in reading about the aches and pains suffered by Alexandra during each month of her five pregnancies, then this book is for them. It is a treasure trove of details of life at the Alexander Palace. Although I have read numerous books on the Imperial Family I nevertheless found new information on just about every page. And the information with which I was already familiar was placed in the proper context of events and situations so that my understanding of family dynamics and the characters of the daughters has been immensely enriched.

I never before really understood Alexandra's total anguish at having daughter after daughter when so much pressure was on her to produce a son. When the longed-for son was cursed with an incurable, potentially fatal illness, of course it was too much for her. Her emotional and physical health never recovered. She was not able to be consistently present to her girls as they grew up. They sent notes and letters from their floor to hers, which is why they loved going on cruises because on the yacht they had their mother at hand.

Each of the sisters is brought to life through letters, diaries and anecdotes. Their innocent romances are described, as well as their growing isolation from the world at the very time most young women were preparing for marriage. No wonder many family members thought that Alexandra was crazy. The Grand Duchesses were sheltered from the pollution of high society and yet they were allowed to mingle informally with young officers at their Aunt Olga's Sunday teas, playing wild games which could have compromised them. Where elegance is concerned, Olga and Tatiana could have conquered all of Europe, had not the First World War swept away the old civilization and their very lives.

It is easy to feel for them, especially for Olga, who seemed to understand what was happening to their world, and was afflicted with depression as she felt her own powerlessness to disperse the cloud of doom which surrounded her family. I have nothing but admiration for Tatiana, who was able to take on the social duties of her mother and work incessantly and skillfully as a nurse in the operating room. As for the younger pair, the good-natured, pretty Maria and the irrepressible Anastasia, they each were able to rise to the occasion, showing spirit and courage as the darkness fell.

Whatever their faults, Nicholas and Alexandra succeeded in building a loving family and passing on their strong faith to their children. What roles the Grand Duchesses would have played upon the stage of the world had they survived is anyone's guess. (We can safely guess that Anastasia would have lived eccentrically, causing no end of trouble to family and friends.) We do know that under the most brutal circumstances they displayed love for their God, their Church, their family, and their country. In a short span of time they became more than great ladies, they became martyrs.

One of the last formal portraits of the Grand Duchesses. From left to right, Anastasia, Olga, Maria, and Tatiana


La Cocina

From Wells Fargo:
There’s a San Francisco kitchen cooking up a lot more than meals. Called La Cocina (pronounced la co-see-nah, meaning “The Kitchen” in Spanish), this “incubator” helps low-income entrepreneurs launch food businesses and find financial independence along the way.

Founded in an ethnically diverse and economically vulnerable part of the city, La Cocina’s Mission District neighborhood now is thriving — thanks in part to the many small businesses that serve it.

La Cocina has helped 41 entrepreneurs establish businesses since its founding in 2005, and it also has aided countless other residents find jobs in local kitchens. Wells Fargo was a founding funder of La Cocina and has supported it ever since.

Soon La Cocina will open an East Coast outpost in Brooklyn, N.Y., bringing its recipe of business skills and financial support to New York.

The work that La Cocina does transforms lives and has an impact on the entire community. It’s an example of how, little by little, we can achieve a lot. For individuals, for a community, for a neighborhood, the effect can be huge. (Read more.)


Madame la Duchesse d'Angoulême reflects upon the last wishes of her mother, Marie-Antoinette. (Via Tiny-Librarian.) Share

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Marie-Antoinette and Madame de Lamballe

A nineteenth century print (via Tiny-Librarian). Share

God's Traitors

A book review by Stephanie Mann. To quote:
Rather like Adrian Tinniswood with The Verneys: A True Story of Love, War, and Madness in Seventeenth Century England, which focused on that family's reactions to events like the English Civil War and Interregnum,  in God's Traitors: Terror & Faith in Elizabethan England Jessie Childs focuses on the Vaux family of Harrowden Hall (and connected families like the Treshams of Rushton) and how they, remaining true to their Catholic faith, responded to the ever-tightening restrictions on recusant Catholics during Elizabeth I's reign--and how much they knew about the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

One great feature of the design of this book, which includes two insets of color images, other illustrations, a list of principal characters, and a family tree, is the map of the Midlands of England with the Catholic houses identified in each county: Staffordshire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, and Northamptonshire. Seeing the distances (if not the terrain) between the houses, I could imagine the missionary priests moving from house to house, celebrating the Sacraments, keeping ahead of the government pursuivants. I could also imagine the government pursuivants, going from house to house, hoping to catch a priest! (Read more.)

Financial Stress Increases Racial Bias

From The Smithsonian:
Millions of people were affected by the recession, and many are still feeling its impacts. But as the Atlantic points out, some people might have unfairly suffered more—and could still be suffering—solely because of the color of their skin. According to a new study, people's racist biases might be amplified during times of economic hardship. 
Researchers asked 70 mostly white participants to fill out a survey measuring pre-existing racial biases surrounding money.The participants ranked statements such as  “When blacks make economic gains, whites lose out economically,” the Atlantic explains. Then, the participants were shown a photo line-up of faces, on a gradient of changing skin tone—the pictures were created by fusing a white person and a black person's features. The study participants had to say who on the line-up was white and who was black. The more a participant saw black people as his competition for jobs and money, the more likely he or she was to rank any face with a slight dark complexion as "black," the Atlantic reports. A second experiment focused on economic scaricty, and a third asked participants to divide up limited resources between two people, one lighter skinned than the other. (Read more.)

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Empress of Russia

Maria Feodorovna on horseback (via Tiny-Librarian.) Share

Seeing Ourselves as Objects

From Barefoot and Pregnant:
I’ve told my husband point-blank that I’d give up my education, my talent for writing, anything and everything that I value about myself, for a good body. At the age of 30, with a solid marriage and four kids, I still measure my worth in terms of sex appeal.The worst part is that even though I know, intellectually, that this is exceedingly unhealthy and flat-out wrong, I can’t make myself stop believing that looks are where a woman’s worth really lies. Or at least my worth. (Read more.)

Marijuana and Brain Damage

I am so sick of people trying to defend marijuana use by saying it's safe.  It's not. To quote:
The debate on the negative consequences of marijuana use seem to go on and on with no conclusion in sight. Research released today, however, on marijuana use and the brain may bring the debate to a close, as it puts forth that the casual use of marijuana does indeed cause brain damage. The study, published on Wednesday in the Journal of Neuroscience, which was undertaken by psychiatrist and mathematician Hans Breiter from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, analyzed the correlation between casual marijuana use and structural changes in the brain. The conclusion: that even casual use among young adults was enough to cause significant brain abnormalities in two important brain structures.
The amygdala and the nucleus accumbens were the parts of the brain where the abnormalities were most prevalent. These two regions of the brain are responsible for processing emotions, making decisions, and motivation. Damage to these parts of the brain often yield some types of mental illness such as anxiety disorders, paranoia, bi-polar and depression, and Breiter argues that this is the part of the brain that, “you do not want to mess with.”

Breiter’s study involved a sample of 40 patients between the ages of 18 and 25. Of those involved, 20 were marijuana users and 20 were well-matched control subjects. Among participants that were marijuana users, there was a wide-range in usage of the drug, ranging from those that used the drug a couple of times a week to those that used it every day. What was found was the more often marijuana was smoked, the more the participants brains differed from the group of non-users. (Read more.)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Marie-Antoinette at the Alexander Palace

There was a portrait of the last Queen of France in the reception room of the last Empress of Russia. (Via Tiny-Librarian.) Share

The Impossible Exile

There is a new biography of Stefan Zweig, who appears to have projected the issues of his own generation on to Marie-Antoinette. From The Economist:
Zweig was raised in the glamour of fin-de-siècle Vienna and became part of the cultural ferment that produced Gustav Mahler and Gustav Klimt. But behind the Jugendstil façade, Zweig’s Vienna was also the place where another young man eight years his junior was rejected from the Academy of Fine Arts and began to ponder the programme of racist terror that he would inflict on continental Europe a generation later.

Partly as a result of Hitler’s campaigns in the wake of the Great Depression, by the mid-1930s the cosmopolitan Europe that Zweig had known—in the coffee houses of Vienna, the salons of Paris and the cabarets of Berlin—had shrunk into a draughtboard of warring nation-states. Zweig, the consummate European who had once been at home everywhere, suddenly found himself safe nowhere. As a pacifist, Jewish intellectual, his books were burned in Berlin in 1933, and, like millions of others, he was driven into an exile that took him to London, New York and, finally, Brazil, where he committed suicide in February 1942. He died not so much a man without a country as a man without a world. (Read more.)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Divina Commedia

An excerpt from Longfellow's "Divina Commedia":

Oft have I seen at some cathedral door
A laborer, pausing in the dust and heat,
Lay down his burden, and with reverent feet
Enter, and cross himself, and on the floor
Kneel to repeat his paternoster o’er;
Far off the noises of the world retreat;
The loud vociferations of the street
Become an undistinguishable roar.
So, as I enter here from day to day,
And leave my burden at this minster gate,
Kneeling in prayer, and not ashamed to pray,
The tumult of the time disconsolate
To inarticulate murmurs dies away,
While the eternal ages watch and wait.


How to Ruin a Queen

From The Spectator:
You usually know where you are with a book that promises the story ‘would violate the laws of plausibility’ if it appeared in a novel, and that’s in deep trouble. In the case of How to Ruin a Queen, however, this is a boast with a surprising amount of substance to it. You could make it up — just about — but you’d probably have a very sore head afterwards.
In 1786 Cardinal Louis de Rohan, Grand Almoner of France and scion of one of the country’s leading families, went on trial accused of having stolen a 2,800-carat diamond necklace. This was serious enough, but what was far more serious was that he was accused of having appropriated the Queen’s name to do so.

Rohan furiously protested his innocence — as well he might, considering he had been the victim of one of the most audacious cons ever perpetrated. The mastermind behind it was a woman called Jeanne de Saint-Remy. Jeanne’s father was descended from an illegitimate son of the Valois King Henry II, but any inherited money had long since disappeared. As a child she was reduced to begging, proclaiming her antecedents in a shrill voice in an attempt to play on people’s sympathy.

On returning to the family hovel, her mother would beat her with unflagging vigour, sometimes with a vinegar-soaked rod wrapped in nettles. Jeanne’s prospects were looking somewhere between bleak and non-existent when one day she saw a carriage go by and swung into her usual patter. Astonishingly, the occupant — a local count — believed her, and she was soon ensconced in his château with a pension from the King.

Alas, the pension wasn’t enough to keep Jeanne in the style she felt she deserved and she began casting about for ways to boost her income. Her eye soon fell on Prince Louis de Rohan. As well as being a prodigious shagger, Rohan was a colossal snob. But while serving as French ambassador in Vienna, he had unwisely made some disparaging remarks about the Empress Maria Theresa. (Read more.)

Taking Photos at Mass

From Monsignor Charles Pope:
Consider the scene. The Bishop has taken his place at the entrance to the sanctuary. He is prepared to confirm some twenty young people. It is a sacred moment; a Sacrament is to be conferred. The parents are in deep prayer thanking the Holy Spirit, who is about to confirm their children for their mission … oops, they’re not!

Actually, they are fumbling with their cell phone cameras. Some are scrambling up the side aisle to “get the shot.” Others are holding their phones up in the air to capture blurry, crooked shots. The tussling continues in the side aisle as parents muscle to get in place for “the shot.” If “the shot” is gotten—success! If not, “Woe is me!” Never mind that a Sacrament has actually been offered and received; the point was “the shot,” the “photo-op.”

Consider another scene. It is First Holy Communion. Again, the children are assembled.  This time the parents have been informed that a single parishioner has been engaged to take shots, and are asked if they would they please refrain from amateur photography. This is to little avail. “Who does that deacon think he is telling me to refrain, denying me the shot?” The cell phones still stick up in the air. Even worse, the parish photographer sends quick word via the altar server, “Could Father please slow down a bit in giving the children Communion? It is difficult to get a good shot at the current pace.” After the Mass, the photographer brings two children up with him; could Father perhaps “re-stage” the Communion moment for these two since, in the quick (normal) pace of giving Communion, their shots came out poorly.  “You see, the autofocus wasn’t able to keep up.  Look how blurry they are, Father.” (Read more.)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Lafayette and George Washington

Lafayette at Mount Vernon
From Western Journalism:
His name was Marquis de Lafayette. At 19, against the King’s wishes, Lafayette purchased a ship and persuaded several French officers to accompany him to fight in the American Revolution, arriving JUNE 13, 1777. Trained in the French Military, he was a descendant of one of the oldest French families, with ancestors who fought in the Crusades and alongside of Joan of Arc. Commander-in-Chief George Washington appointed Lafayette a Major General in the Continental Army, though Lafayette paid his own expenses. Lafayette endured the freezing winter at Valley Forge, was wounded at Brandywine, and fought with distinction at the Battles of Gloucester, Barren Hill, Monmouth, Rhode Island, and Green Spring.

Returning to France, Lafayette worked with Ben Franklin to persuade King Louis XVI to send General Rochambeau with ships and 6,000 French soldiers to America’s aid. Lafayette led troops against the traitor Benedict Arnold, and commanded at Yorktown, helping to pressure Cornwallis to surrender. George Washington considered Lafayette like a son, and belatedly wrote back to him from Mount Vernon, on June 25, 1785:
My Dear Marquis…I stand before you as a culprit: but to repent and be forgiven are the precepts of Heaven: I do the former, do you practice the latter, and it will be participation of a divine attribute.Yet I am not barren of excuses for this seeming inattention; frequent absences from home, a round of company when at it, and the pressure of many matters, might be urged as apologies for my long silence…I now congratulate you, and my heart does it more effectually than my pen, on your safe arrival in Paris, from your voyage to this Country.
Lafayette joined the French abolitionist Society of the Friends of the Blacks, which advocated the end of the slave trade and equal rights for blacks. On May 10, 1786, George Washington wrote from Mount Vernon to Marquis de Lafayette: “Your late purchase of an estate in the colony of Cayenne, with a view of emancipating the slaves on it, is a generous and noble proof of your humanity. Would to God a like spirit would diffuse itself generally into the minds of the people of this country.”

On August 15, 1787, in a letter from Philadelphia to the Marquis de Lafayette, Washington wrote: “I am not less ardent in my wish that you may succeed in your plan of toleration in religious matters. Being no bigot myself to any mode of worship, I am disposed to indulge the professors of Christianity in the church with that road to Heaven which to them shall seem the most direct, plainest and easiest, and the least liable to exception.” (Read more.)

Home Stress vs Work Stress

Why is home more stressful than work for many people? Why is home no longer a place of peace and refuge? According to The Wall Street Journal:
In a new study, published online last month in Social Science & Medicine, researchers at Penn State University found significantly and consistently lower levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress, in a majority of subjects when they were at work compared with when they were at home. This was true for both men and women, and parents and people without children.

The researchers randomly solicited 122 participants in a midsize northeastern U.S. city, which they declined to identify due to the university's research privacy guidelines. All were over age 18 and worked outside the home five days a week within the 6 a.m.-to-7 p.m. time window.
The researchers taught the participants to test their own cortisol levels by swabbing the inside of a cheek, and gave each of them a palm device that prompted them to do it six times a day. At those times, they also reported where they were, how stressed they felt and how happy they were. The researchers looked only at participants' levels of cortisol and not other hormones.

The majority of subjects had on average lower levels of cortisol at work than at home. It made no difference what their occupation was, whether they were single or married or even if they liked their job or not. One intriguing finding: The only participants who didn't have lower levels of cortisol at work—their levels remained the same as at home—were those who earned more than $75,000 a year. (The researchers, who didn't pursue that finding for this study, said they believe the salary bar would have been higher in a city with a more expensive standard of living.) (Read more.)

In the Black Forest

From Food and Wine:
The first thing you notice about the Black Forest is that it is full of light. Between clusters of towering conifers are vineyards and fields that produce white asparagus and fragrant strawberries. Hilltop castles straight out of a Grimm's fairy tale stand over small, wealthy cities with Michelin-starred restaurants; the tiny village of Baiersbronn has as many three-star restaurants as London. The Black Forest is also renowned as the birthplace of many German clichés, from cuckoo clocks to the eponymous chocolate-cherry cakes and ham.

Yet the region has recently become interesting enough to attract the attention of Tim Mälzer, Germany's most famous chef. The idea that something modern could happen in the tired Black Forest appealed to Mälzer, who is known for rebelling against stuffy German fine dining. Mälzer was born outside of Hamburg but got his start in London, after failing to land a job at any of his New York City restaurant choices. He cooked for just one day under Marco Pierre White in London ("Gordon Ramsay was his sous-chef then. I was gone in 45 minutes"). Eventually, he was hired at Neal Street Restaurant, where Jamie Oliver was also working. Mälzer is now a TV star known for two hugely successful Hamburg restaurants: the chef's-menu-only spot Das Weisse Haus (which he left in 2007) and the meat-centric Bullerei, located in an old, brick horse-stable yard. (Read more.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Royalty Complex

The Economist on why, in spite of several revolutions, the French still love monarchy. To quote:
THE capital of the French republic is better known for beheading monarchs than celebrating them. But Paris went wild for Britain’s queen during her state visit last week. Crowds on the Champs-Elysées cheered as her royal convoy drove past. Socialist ministers lined up enthusiastically to greet her at her birthday garden party.

The queen’s arrival at the international ceremony on “Sword” beach to remember the 70th anniversary of D-Day drew louder applause than that of America’s president. Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist mayor of Paris, even had a flower market named after her on the capital’s Ile de la Cité, which happens to be home to the Conciergerie prison where Marie-Antoinette was held before being carted to the guillotine in 1793. “The queen of the French” ran a headline in Le Monde, a left-leaning daily.
Why are the French so smitten by the world’s longest-reigning queen? Partly because she embodies the post-war era in which their modern republic was born: she was crowned in 1953 and has known all seven presidents of the Fifth Republic. Her affection for France, and grasp of the language, also help. After foie gras de canard at a state dinner at the Elysée Palace, with François Hollande, the president, she spoke of her “grande affection” for the French people. This was the queen’s fifth state visit to the republic.

Another reason is that the French, shorn of their own monarchy, have long become avid voyeurs of everybody else’s. Point de vue and Paris-Match, two magazines that splash photos of royals across their pages, were launched back in the 1940s. The French turned the Monaco royals into celebrities before reality television invented instant fame for everybody else. In 2011 the French cleared the airwaves to cover Prince William’s wedding on live public television; 9m viewers tuned in to watch.

Perhaps the hidden reason for French royal fervour, though, is a secret envy mixed with regret. Mr Hollande, stuck with a 16% popularity rating, is said to have noted wryly how refreshing it was to hear cheering crowds when he accompanied the queen. Asked in a poll what they thought today of the execution of Louis XVI in 1793, more of the French (29%) judged it “unfair” than “understandable” (23%). The French “have a royalty complex”, wrote Hervé Gattegno in Le Point, and have built their republic on monarchical traditions as if to compensate. The president, who has more sweeping powers than almost any other modern democratic leader, is fussed over by much pomp and splendour—and the seat of the presidency is a palace. (Read more.)

Pope Leo III and Charlemagne

"The Justification of Leo III" by Raphael
From Nobility:
With the letter informing Charlemagne that he had been unanimously elected pope, Leo sent him the keys of the confession of St. Peter, and the standard of the city. This he did to show that he regarded the Frankish king as the protector of the Holy See. In return he received from Charlemagne letters of congratulation and a great part of the treasure which the king had captured from the Avars. The acquisition of this wealth was one of the causes which enabled Leo to be such a great benefactor to the churches and charitable institutions of Rome.

Prompted by jealousy or ambition, or by feelings of hatred and revenge, a number of the relatives of Pope Adrian I formed a plot to render Leo unfit to hold his sacred office. On the occasion of the procession of the Greater Litanies (25 April, 799), when the pope was making his way towards the Flaminian Gate, he was suddenly attacked by a body of armed men. He was dashed to the ground, and an effort was made to root out his tongue and tear out his eyes. After he had been left for a time bleeding in the street, he was hurried off at night to the monastery of St. Erasmus on the Cœlian. There, in what seemed quite a miraculous manner, he recovered the full use of his eyes and tongue. Escaping from the monastery, he betook himself to Charlemagne, accompanied by many of the Romans. He was received by the Frankish king with the greatest honour at Paderborn, although his enemies had filled the king’s ears with malicious accusations against him.

After a few months’ stay in Germany, the Frankish monarch caused him to be escorted back to Rome, where he was received with every demonstration of joy by the whole populace, natives and foreigners. The pope’s enemies were then tried by Charlemagne’s envoys and, being unable to establish either Leo’s guilt or their own innocence, were sent as prisoners to France (Frankland). In the following year (800) Charlemagne himself came to Rome, and the pope and his accusers were brought face to face. The assembled bishops declared that they had no right to judge the pope; but Leo of his own free will, in order, as he said, to dissipate any suspicions in men’s minds, declared on oath that he was wholly guiltless of the charges which had been brought against him. At his special request the death sentence which had been passed upon his principal enemies was commuted into a sentence of exile. (Read more.)

Pope Francis and Robert Hugh Benson

From OSV:
It’s a different story with the end times and the devil. The pope makes no bones about accepting the reality of both.

Regarding the end times — the era preceding the Second Coming of Christ, the last judgment and the end of the world — several themes stand out in his thinking. One is that this will be a time when the Church and Christians are persecuted.

In his Nov. 28 homily, he spoke of the present as a period of “general apostasy.” Mighty forces anxious to keep God from being worshipped seek to convince Christians to take a “reasonable and peaceful road” by obeying “worldly powers” bent on reducing religion to “a private matter,” he said.

Describing the ensuing persecution of the Church as “a calamity,” the pope said: “It will appear to be the triumph of the prince of this world, the defeat of God. It will seem as though he has taken over the world [and become] master of the world.” As for the persecuted Christians, he added, they are “a prophetic sign of what will happen to everyone.”

Lest there be any doubt, Pope Francis emphasizes that the persecution of religion he envisages will involve the shedding of blood. In his Nov. 18 homily, he cited the Old Testament Book of Maccabees, which tells of the martyrdom of faithful Jews and cautioned today’s believers against subscribing to an “adolescent progressivism” that encourages the abandonment of faith.

“Do you think there are no human sacrifices today?” he asked rhetorically. “There are many, many of them. And there are laws that protect them.”

This apparently means laws that protect the sacrifices, not those who are sacrificed. Legalized abortion comes to mind.

It was in this context that Francis — in a reference that caught the attention of people who understood it — spoke of “Lord of the World,” calling it “almost ... a prophecy.”

Published a century ago, “Lord of the World” is a novel by Robert Hugh Benson, son of an archbishop of Canterbury who converted to Catholicism, became a priest and wrote works of fiction and popular devotion.

The novel is probably Benson’s best known book. It’s a futuristic end-times story depicting a radically secularized society whose authoritarian regime controls its mostly willing subjects by providing them with a feel-good environment where religion and traditional morality are systematically excluded.

The “Lord” of this world of the not-so-distant future is a mysterious figure who, as the story unfolds, grows more and more recognizable as the Antichrist whom the Bible foretells as precursor of the end times. The tale concludes on the plains outside Nazareth where the Antichrist and his followers are preparing to exterminate the last believers led by the last pope.

Francis evidently thinks at least some end-times events are already taking place. But that’s not new. “With God’s coming into history,” he said, “we are already in the last times” — and could be for a long while to come.

However that may be, on May 4 he said Christianity is more persecuted today than at the start. “So many Christian communities are persecuted around the globe,” he said. “More so now than in the early times ... Why? Because the spirit of the world hates.” (Read more.)

(Via Abbey-Roads.) Share

Monday, June 16, 2014

Twelve Years a Slave (2013)

Solomon Northup: I will not fall into despair! I will keep myself hardy until freedom is opportune! ~from Twelve Years a Slave (2013)
Sometimes it is hard to believe that chattel slavery ever existed in America. Yet little more than one hundred and fifty years ago, people could be legally bought and sold in the country which prided itself on being the "Land of the Free." I say "legally" because there is still a great deal of human trafficking that goes on illegally, all over the United States. Slavery is as much a part of our American heritage as the pilgrims, the pioneers and the "Star-Spangled Banner." America was built by slaves, in both the North and the South, because the men, women and children who worked in the coal mines and factories of the North were often little better off than the chattel slaves of the South. In fact, the working conditions in the North were usually worse; at least, however, the workers could not be legally bought and sold. In the recent Academy Award-winning film Twelve Years a Slave the full horror of the slave market is exposed in the most harrowing way, as the audience watches a mother separated from her children. One horror follows another, all masterfully filmed and acted, leaving the viewer hollow with despair.

According to Grantland:
It is a grim sight, the man hanging from a tree. His neck is noosed. His arms are tied behind him. The toes of two booted feet tap, tap, tap in the mud, neither foot firmly on the earth. Each skates a bit. But all that planting the entire foot guarantees is more drudgery. He continues to tap and struggle just the same — for hours and possibly days. The cicadas keep changing their tune. From a distance, we watch him. And from a distance, he is watched. Men and women leave their shacks and go about their duties as if the hanging man were a natural botanical product. They know him, and they know better than to help. He was bad, insurgently so. Now he hangs as an advertisement against insurrection. From a different angle, a finely dressed woman watches the man briefly from her balcony, turns around and heads inside. Children are playing. From the left, a woman, less finely dressed, sneaks him something to drink, and you feel the risk. She bets her safety to water this strange piece of fruit.

I’ve never seen a sequence that so elegantly uses duration to lay out an ecosystem of power and powerlessness, one that ripples across time, from the 1840s to the 21st century. 12 Years a Slave manages to do that again and again. It coolly clarifies the United States’ lasting social underpinnings: the seeds of black anger, black self-doubt, black resilience, white supremacy, and white guilt. The director is Steve McQueen, a 44-year-old Englishman. The screenwriter is the American entertainment-industry veteran John Ridley. Both men are black, and the movie they’ve made radically shifts the perspective of the American racial historical drama from the allegorical uplift to the explanatory wallop.
The hanging man is Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a violinist, carpenter, husband, and father, whose 1853 memoir gives the movie its source material. Northup was born a free black man, and a series of non-chronological flashbacks show that he enjoyed his middle-class life in Saratoga Springs, New York. His wife and children leave for a three-week trip, and to pass some of the time, he accepts an invitation to accompany two performers (Scoot McNairy, Taran Killam) to Washington, D.C. He awakens in a cell, chained to a wall and accused of being a runaway from Georgia. His back is beaten with a board until the board breaks. Then he’s whipped. In one of the flashbacks, a slave notices the Northup family walking into a shop and wanders, astonished, from his owner to gape at these unicorns. Now that man’s disbelief is Solomon’s.

The entire film presents savagery in civil terms. Paul Giamatti plays a slave trader who informs Solomon, with a slap, that his name is to be Platt. He goes on to sell a mother named Eliza (Adepero Oduye) to a New Orleans plantation owner named Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). He does so as she pleads not to be sold separately from two children. The pulse of Giamatti’s character never seems to go up. He kicks one child, and makes the other demonstrate for Ford how “it’s very like he will grow into a fine beast,” while their mother is dragged from the room. Whether he’s heartless by nature or circumstance is unclear. A well-appointed house doubles as his market, with men and women arranged for sale along the walls and Solomon playing his violin. You tend to see scenes like this in public, as tragic commercial theater. Domesticating it, as this movie does, compounds the awfulness. (Read more.)
The film retains the Victorian language of the book upon which it is based, making for an authentic atmosphere. Historically, everything is believable, until we arrive at the Epps plantation. There I noticed some historical discrepancies. What grand plantation house would have the pig sty in the front yard? There were the pigs, not far from the curtained portico of the neo-classical mansion. And where were the peacocks, geese and chickens? And for an estate of that size, they did not keep many field hands, maybe about a dozen.

Furthermore, what Southern lady would stand by and cheer as her slave rival was being flayed alive? Ladies stayed in the house and tried to pretend that sort of thing was not going on. And the master, Mr. Epps (Michael Fassbender), was certifiably insane. He ran around drunk, half naked, spouting Sacred Scripture like the devil in the wilderness, openly preying upon the black girls. His behavior can only be defined as what in the South is referred to as "white trash." How such a lunatic could make a profit from that farm is anyone's guess, especially when he forced his exhausted field hands to dance half the night.

 Such inconsistencies led me to do some research. Here is an article from Vanity Fair which discusses the search for the historical Patsey. Patsey is the saucy, spirited beauty whom the white trash Mr. Epps almost flays to death. She is brilliantly portrayed by the lovely Lupita Nyong’o. To quote from the Vanity Fair article:
My research in Louisiana also centered upon finding a cause of death for Edwin Epps, in pursuit of some manner of cosmic justice for Patsey. (If his will was written prior to emancipation, she would be listed among his inventory if she was still with him at the time). It’s documented that he passed away in 1867, and his wife died shortly thereafter—both are interred at Fogleman Cemetery, a short distance from where his plantation once stood, though their headstones have long since been lost. (The space itself is completely overgrown—a few original headstones, a historic marker and a fence are all that separate it from a forgotten patch of farmland).

Epps’s will exists at the Marksville courthouse (I held the original, as it happens). His inventory proved enlightening—his children and wife Mary were named, as were all of the items currently on or within his plantation. As it turns out, the papers were drawn up post-emancipation (on April 27, 1867, shortly after he died), so there was no record of Patsey. There was mention of outstanding debts that included a cotton order from New Orleans, with the stated proceeds being split among his laborers—proving that he did have either sharecroppers or hired laborers working his farm at the time of his death, one of whom could possibly have been Patsey.

“What we know about slavery is heavily weighted to the larger slave owners,” explains Stacey. “Around 50 percent of slave owners in the antebellum South owned 25 or fewer slaves over the course of their slave-owning ‘career.’” Epps falls firmly within the average of that group, having owned between eight and 12 slaves at any given time. “There’s a whole yeoman or middle-class slave-owning group of people we don’t know a lot about,” says Stacey. “Most of the largest planters kept thorough records, but it’s less likely that this group of people kept thorough records because they didn’t have enough resources. They were quite often working right next to their slaves picking cotton, breaking corn.” This means that Patsey’s fate was, in many ways, directly tied to that of Epps. “These are men, women, and families who owned a few slaves throughout their lives,” says Stacey. “The recession would hit and they’d have to sell off a few of their slaves. How did they treat their slaves? I suspect it’s just as uneven as their richer counterparts, but we don’t know that. My sense is that they’re ranges of extreme. Either they were very benevolent or they were very, very sadistic—because they had to live and work and exist in much closer proximity to their slaves than the larger plantation owners.” (Read more.)
 It sounds highly probable to me that the Epps did not have a neo-classical mansion but a simple farm house. They were not gentry but struggling farmers, struggling with alcoholism and mental illness as well as with the economy. Poor Solomon Northup ended up in the worst hell hole in Louisiana. In spite of the dehumanizing conditions, more worthy of a Nazi concentration camp than an American agricultural enterprise, Solomon clings to his human dignity and his Christian faith, refusing to give into despair. He comes very close, however, when he is made to participate in the oppression of his fellow African-Americans.

Even under "favorable" conditions, chattel slavery was a grotesque institution which should never have been introduced to America. It should have been abolished by the Founding Fathers. While Twelve Years a Slave reminds us of the worst aspects of our history, it should also remind us that slavery still exists in the world, in Africa as well as in our own country. Ridding our nation of the scourge of human trafficking should take more of a priority. Share

Mainline Decline

From A Conservative Blog for Peace:
Most English people don't go to church anymore; it's like the elite in America's Northeast but even more skeptical (agnostic, not our wimpy "spiritual, not religious"). I think the few churchgoers are Polish guest workers going to Mass outnumbering the remaining English Evangelicals at some C of E parishes. The Anglican membership roll still outnumbers the Catholic one (20 and 10%, respectively) but practicing Catholics in terms of Sunday attendance outnumber practicing Anglicans. (Read more.)

The Hollywood Canteen

From Lapham's Quarterly:
When America went to war following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hollywood went to war as well. Quite literally: between 1941 and 1944, over 6000 Hollywood workers joined the service, including 1500 actors. Clark Gable manned machine guns; Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. won a silver star; Jimmy Stewart flew dozens of bombing runs over Germany, rising from private to colonel. It was the equivalent of Will Smith going to Afghanistan and Brad Pitt on the ground in Iraq. The government understand the risk of putting prominent faces in battle, but also understood the stars’ potential as recruitment tools: a recruitment film starring Stewart supposedly prompted 100,000 men to enlist in the air force.

But Hollywood also went to figurative war, partnering with the war office in dozens of ways, some more obvious than others. The “Hollywood Unit” made training films, recruitment films, and newsreels, while various genres and stars were given over to “war production,” meaning a film noir starring a curmudgeonly iconoclast like Humphrey Bogart suddenly became Casablanca, complete with self-sacrificing conversion to the allied cause. Under this wartime production paradigm, The Hurt Locker would have become a celebration of grace under pressure.

Hundreds of stars, however, couldn’t go to war: they were too female, too old, or unable to pass the draft physical. Many of these stars toured the famed USO Circuits; some performed on large theaters on base, while others traveled to the front on the Fox Hole Circuit, giving impromptu performances on makeshift stages just miles from the front. 53,000 appearances by 4100 performers over four years, a figure that boggles the mind. The USO Circuits still operate today (Louis CK famously profiled his visit in an episode of last season’s Louie) but with neither the vigor nor visibility of World War II (or, for that matter, Vietnam or Korea).

All of this information is, to some extent, common knowledge. What people forget about is the sexiest part of the war effort, operated entirely outside of the auspices of the war board: The Hollywood Canteen.

The Canteen was the brainchild of actor John Garfield, a “flag-waving socialist” unable to enlist because of a heart condition, and Bette Davis, the so-called “fourth Warner Brother” and reigning queen of the studio. They wanted a place for troops to have fun before embarking on tour—and for the stars to facilitate that fun. Garfield suggested the idea, but Davis ran with it, finding an abandoned nightclub a block off Sunset Boulevard and calling upon her agent, Jules Stein, to head the financial committee. (Read more.)


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Allegory of Louis XVI at His Coronation

June 11, 1775. From Vive la Reine. Share

On Ill-Gotten Gains

From Christine Niles:
There is a curious museum in the heart of Dijon, France: Musée d’Art Sacré – the Museum of Sacred Art. A more accurate name would be The Museum of Illegally Confiscated Church Property.
The building originally housed the city’s first community of Cistercian nuns, transferred from the city of Tart to Dijon in 1623. The convent was completed in 1708, and the nuns enjoyed approximately ninety years of order and tranquility – until the Jacobins arrived.

In the summer of 1792, 270 priests who had refused the oath to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy – which would have required them to renounce papal authority – were arrested in Dijon and deported. The same happened to other non-juring clergy throughout France, although a number of them remained in the country and went into hiding. 

Much like the Jesuits under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, these French priests went about in disguise, pretending to be street vendors, laborers, or patissiers, offering secret Masses to the faithful by night, in secluded woods or candle-lit attics. Those caught were imprisoned in the Conciergerie, where they continued their ministry in secret, offering the consolation of the sacraments to those awaiting the guillotine – until  they in turn fell under the blade.

The guillotine was not the only fate that awaited refractory priests. In Nantes, in two mass drownings intended to put down resistance in the Vendée, more than 200 priests were gathered onto barges that were set adrift on the Loire River, and then sunk. Only one, a Fr. Landeau, escaped and lived to tell the story of these atrocities. At least one account tells of a priest and nun stripped naked, bound together in an obscene posture, and thrown into the water. These spectacles were mockingly called “republican marriages.” Catholic laity in the hundreds – men, women, and children alike – met the same deaths.

Clergy who swore the oath to follow the Civil Constitution – five bishops and half of all priests in France – went into schism. They were given comfortable positions and could serve in an official capacity as priests – as long as they remained loyal citoyens and did not criticize the Republic. These juring priests were permitted to minister to the imprisoned – but not every Catholic would accept their services.

Marie-Antoinette, for instance, curtly refused to confess to a non-refractory priest. Instead, in a little-known account, a non-juring priest by the name of Abbé Magnin was smuggled into the queen’s cell the night before she died and heard her last confession. And he offered one final Mass for her before she was taken by cart in the morning to the place of execution. (Read more.)

The Cleansing of Iraq's Christians

Unspeakable. From Nina Shea:
The government of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, fell overnight to the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, also called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Mosul’s panic-stricken Christians, along with many others, are now fleeing en masse to the rural Nineveh Plain, according to the Vatican publication Fides. The border crossings into Kurdistan, too, are jammed with the cars of the estimated 150,000 desperate escapees.

The population, particularly its Christian community, has much to fear. The ruthlessness of ISIS, an offshoot of al-Qaeda, has been legendary. Its beheadings, crucifixions, and other atrocities against Christians and everyone else who fails to conform to its vision of a caliphate have been on full display earlier this year, in Syria.

As Corner readers will remember, in February, it was the militants of this rebel group that, in the northern Syrian state of Raqqa, compelled Christian leaders to sign a 7th-century dhimmi contract. The document sets forth specific terms denying the Christians the basic civil rights of equality and religious freedom and committing them to pay protection money in exchange for their lives and the ability to keep their Christian identity. (Read more.)
The Iraq fiasco is summarized at A Conservative Blog for Peace.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana in Uniform

Some pictures from Tiny-Librarian of the eldest daughters of the last Tsar in their regimental uniforms. Share

Time for Congressional Hearings on the Common Core

From The National Review:
When the story of the Common Core is finally told, it’s going to be ugly. It’s going to show how the sponsors of the Common Core made a mockery of the Constitution and the democratic process. It’s going to show how the Obama administration pressed a completely untested reform on the states, evading public debate at both the federal and state levels. It’s going to show how a deliberative process that ought to have taken years was compressed into a matter of months. It’s going to show how legitimate philanthropic funding for an experimental education reform morphed into a gross abuse of democracy. It’s going to show how the Obama Education Department intentionally obscured the full extent of its pressure on the states, even as it effectively federalized the nation’s education system. It’s going to show how Common Core is turning the choice of private — especially Catholic — education into no choice at all.

A good part of this story was told by Lyndsey Layton in yesterday’s front-page, above-the-fold Washington Post article on Bill Gates and the Common Core. Many will point to a pro–Common Core bias at points in this piece. The oddest moment comes when Layton appears to dismiss complaints about federal intrusion by claiming that the impetus for Common Core came from the states. In truth, her own account shows that Common Core wasn’t “state led,” it was “Gates led.” That is, serious public consideration of the Common Core at the state level was never in play. Cash-starved state bureaucracies simply responded to lavishly funded offers from the Gates Foundation and the Obama administration. This was not a campaign to educate America’s voters, it was an attempt to evade them.

Quibbles aside, the thrust of Layton’s account is devastating for the Common Core. This is the story that opponents of the Common Core have been telling for some time, only to see it dismissed as a crazy conspiracy theory. It is a story of vast and very arguably unconstitutional changes made to America’s education system, often without a single vote by an elected lawmaker. It is a story of standards adopted largely unseen — sometimes before the standards themselves were finalized — and with no public debate. It is the story of how a private foundation working hand in glove with the Obama administration made an end-run around democracy and the law.

Bill Gates reportedly sees himself as an apolitical technocrat. At a couple of points in Layton’s piece he refers to “gaping inequalities” between the education “suburban kids” receive and the education of “low income kids.” In Gates’s view, well-intentioned technocrats seek out ways to fight these inequalities, while everyone else is soiled by politics.

What Gates doesn’t say is that Common Core tries to overcome inequality by dumbing down all state standards to a mediocre national mean. The misguided notion of social justice that stands behind the Common Core leads to the search for a cheap shortcut. Since tough tests and high standards create “disparities” between students, a false equality is sought via dumbing down. Admission to colleges will begin to equalize under Common Core, not because of genuine parity but through the suppression of real measures of educational achievement. Gates’s view isn’t “technocratic,” it is thoroughly political—and thoroughly misguided. Before the top-flight standards in Massachusetts were killed off by Common Core, for example, test scores of minority students were rising at a higher rate than those of whites. Everyone benefits when quality comes first.

Gates sends his children to private schools that don’t use Common Core. He says he wants his children to know “everything in the standards and beyond.” Yet by forcing all state standards down to a mediocre mean, Gates has made it vastly harder for ordinary American kids to get where he wants his own children to go. (Read more.)