Saturday, December 31, 2016


Let's listen to the late Debbie Reynolds sing "Tammy" as the old year dies and a new year is born. Share

When to Hyphenate

From Writing Explained:
When should you hyphenate the phrase years old? Is someone 18 years old or 18-years-old? In this post, I want to give you some advice on dealing with age in your writing. How should you write ages? When should you hyphenate? Should you spell out the numbers or use numerals? After reading this post, you won’t ever have to wonder again. (Read more.)

Friday, December 30, 2016

Pre-Raphaelite Princess of Star Wars

From Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood:
When Time magazine asked George Lucas about the unusual hairstyle he created for Star Wars character Princess Leia, he answered:
In the 1977 film, I was working very hard to create something different that wasn’t fashion, so I went with a kind of Southwestern Pancho Villa woman revolutionary look, which is what that is. The buns are basically from turn-of-the-century Mexico. Then it took such hits and became such a thing. looks at the possible inspirations of Leia’s iconic buns in this post: The Curious Case of Leia’s Rolls.  Unable to find similar buns among photos of Mexican revolutionaries, Kitbashed author Michael Heilemann did find a 1906 photograph called ‘A Hopiland Beauty’ that bears more resemblance to Padme Amidala in Episode II.  It seems that the roots of Leia’s buns lie not from a single source, but an amalgam of several influences –Batgirl wears the double buns as Dr. Barbara Gordon, as does Queen Fria from  the Flash Gordon comics.

The twin-side-buns hairstyle exists in Pre-Raphaelite inspired art.  In John William Waterhouse’s The Crystal Ball, the hairstyle is seen in profile.  We cannot see the other side but the part down the middle of her head is visible, indicating a similar bun on the other side. (Read more.)

The Most Persecuted

From Church Militant:
Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world, with around 90,000 killed for their faith in 2016, the director of a leading religious study group has said. Massimo Introvigne, Director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (Cesnur), told Vatican Radio that around half a billion Christians in the world are unable to express their faith completely freely, while around 90,000 — one every six minutes — died for their faith in the past year alone. Referring to statistics from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, Mr. Introvigne said around 70 percent of Christians murdered in 2016 died in tribal conflicts in Africa. These deaths were included, he said, because very often they involved Christians who refuse to take up arms for reasons of conscience. "The other 30 percent, or 27,000, were killed in terror attacks, the destruction of Christian villages, or government persecution," he added. (Read more.)

Katherine Howard: A Victim of Child Abuse?

I have always thought so. From The Telegraph:
It’s all very well to describe her “easy charm”, and her “abundant store of good nature”, but it is questionable to do so about a girl who, from the age of 11 or 12 onwards, had older men coming into her bedroom. Especially when Manox was placed in a position of responsibility towards Katherine as her music teacher.

Regardless, you might argue, there’s still the damning ‘love letter’ that she wrote to Thomas Culpepper after her marriage: surely to take such a risk as queen is evidence, if not of adultery, of stupidity?  

But when you consider the personal politics of abusive relationships, you have to suspect that all is not as it seems. Thomas Culpepper, a favourite of Henry’s, was a thoroughly unpleasant character. He’d been accused of raping a woman, although the king had excused him. He too was associated with Katherine’s grandmother’s household, and knew what had gone on here.

Imagine, then, Culpepper using his knowledge of Katherine’s past against her. It is quite understandable that a woman in her position would say or do anything at all to try to placate or mollify such a dangerous blackmailer. We know today that’s not impossible for a ‘love letter’ to be motivated entirely by fear.

With this in mind, think again of Katherine’s last journey by boat to the Tower of London. Think again of her asking, the night before her execution, as we know that she did, if she could please practise the laying of her head upon the block in order to do it properly. Her final requests were that the king spare her family vengeance, and that he should give gifts to her attendants. (Read more.)

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Tobolsk: Museum of the Imperial Family

From Royal Russia News:
The Tobolsk Historical and Architectural Museum-Reserve have announced that the Museum of the Imperial Family will open in Tobolsk in August 2017. The date marks the 100th anniversary of the arrival of Russia’s last emperor Nicholas II and his family in Tobolsk.
In 1996, the former Study of Emperor Nicholas II was opened as a museum. The new museum will offer visitors additional rooms, and exhibits based on the life of Nicholas II and his family during their stay and held under house arrest for 8 months between August 1917 to April 1918.

The museum which is housed in the former residence of the Governor of Siberia, is currently undergoing restoration and construction work. The restored memorial rooms will be recreated from surviving documents, and photographs. According to the museum director Svetlana Sidorova, the museum is dedicated to "preserving the authenticity of the building’s façade, and the historical ambience of the interiors". Visitors to the museum will get a sense of how the imperial family lived during their captivity in Siberia. Sidorov noted that restorers “had spent a great deal of time and effort to remove all the original elements and to refurbish them, and not substitute any of them for modern elements.” (Read more.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Crawling to the Manger

From Catholic Exchange:
It is quite true that a great many depression sufferers have all the material and familial comforts they could ever desire. I will use myself as an example. I have a wonderful husband, amazing daughter, I am a graduate student in a great theology program, I have begun a writing career, I have never slept in the cold or rain, and I have never starved. From the outside my life is one of abundant blessings, but as I said before, Crosses are different for each person. I get to live knowing that I have everything, but battle despair, soul shattering anxiety, and darkness all while crawling to the Manger in which the Christ child waits for me. (Read more.)

The First Holy Cards

From The National Catholic Register:
The first holy cards were sold during the Middle Ages to pilgrims as keepsakes of their visit to a shrine. The oldest surviving holy card is a black-and-white woodcut image of St. Christopher dating from 1423. These cards were not really cards; they were pictures printed on inexpensive paper. Since they were easily lost, or torn, or destroyed, very few medieval holy cards have survived. But in 2005 one turned up unexpectedly at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, where the art history faculty was mounting an exhibit of artifacts and relics from the period of anti-Catholic persecution in England in the 16th and 17th centuries. Among the treasures on display was a Book of Hours that had belonged to an English family who remained faithful Catholics after Henry VIII broke with Rome. As the curators examined the prayerbook they found, pasted on the last page, a holy card from the early 1500s, hand-colored, from the shrine of the Holy Rood in Bromholm, Norfolk. Only one other Bromholm holy card has survived the iconoclasm of the English Reformation, so this discovery created a sensation among the curators and among art historians and historians of the Church during the age of the Tudors.
Almost as rare as holy cards from Catholic England are the cards that were produced by cloistered nuns in 17th century France. The sisters would mount a holy picture on a piece of plain white paper large enough to create a frame. Then, using the finest razors and penknives available, they cut out bits of the white paper to create elaborate lacy patterns around the holy picture. Such intricate handwork could take months for one nun to complete. Given the fragility of these lace paper cards and the exquisite workmanship involved in creating them, when one appears on the market collectors have been known to bid $1000 or more to acquire such a prize. (Read more.)

Via Stephanie Mann. Share

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

How Jimmy Stewart Became George Bailey

From the WSJ:
Every year around Christmas, Americans stop to pay homage to what is perhaps our most beloved motion picture, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The 1946 film may flicker in black and white, but it still manages to feel fresh in affirming the human spirit as we head into each new year. Fans of the movie might assume that making such an uplifting tale was a joy for cast and crew. In truth, this story of redeeming angels was born in the devastating wake of World War II, and it starred an actor swatting away his own demons.

The first time that Jimmy Stewart appears on screen as George Bailey, the image freezes in close-up as two angelic figures discuss the character in voice-over. One says to the other, “I want you to take a good look at that face.” It’s something that all of us should do as we watch the film. Stewart is supposed to be playing a young man in his early 20s, but the once-boyish 38-year-old had just returned the year before from fighting in Europe, and only makeup and careful lighting could give him a semblance of youth. More seriously, as we know from the testimony of those who worked with him in the military and in Hollywood in those years, Stewart was suffering from what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder.

After two years of subsisting largely on ice cream and peanut butter, he had only just begun to eat real food and keep it down. He had the shakes and at times flew into rages, and his sleep was interrupted by images of bombers burning in the sky and men tumbling to earth.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” was Stewart’s first picture after almost five years away, including 20 months on the front lines. As a squadron commander of B-24 heavy bombers, he flew his first combat mission to Germany on Dec. 13, 1943. He commanded 12 missions in his first two months and was almost shot down twice. The experience unnerved him enough that he spent time at the “flak farm,” where fliers went to decompress after seeing too much combat.

It wasn’t fear of losing his own life that had gotten to Stewart. It was his deeply ingrained perfectionism, which made him fear making the wrong split-second decision in German airspace while leading dozens of planes and hundreds of men in combat.

Filming “It’s a Wonderful Life” found him back in Hollywood after surviving too many crash landings and close calls. In sunny Southern California, the land of make-believe, this suddenly middle-aged man faced other problems. A new crop of youthful leading men had emerged in his absence. He also faced a crisis of conscience, wondering if acting was a worthwhile profession after the gravity of his daily life in the military.

This back story may help to explain the remarkable emotional energy of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Stewart’s bordering-on-frantic performance was not just virtuoso acting. Co-star Donna Reed reported that both Stewart and the picture’s director, Frank Capra, made the production difficult at times as they second-guessed how scenes were done.

And why not? Both men were desperate to re-establish themselves in a Hollywood that, they feared, had passed them by while they served in the military. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is considered the picture that relaunched Stewart as a more serious, seasoned actor. But for him, making it was just one more trial by combat.

It was the veteran actor Lionel Barrymore—the movie’s villain, Old Man Potter—who helped Stewart to claw his way back. When Stewart wondered aloud during production if acting was worth his time, Barrymore looked him in the eye and asked: Isn’t entertaining people better than dropping bombs on them?

Stewart seems to have gotten the message. He was able to convey great joy and passion in the movie’s closing scenes, shouting “Merry Christmas, Bedford Falls!” as he runs through the streets and saying with a wink to his guardian angel, as he turns heavenward, “Atta boy, Clarence.” (Read more.)

The War on Children

From Life Site:
Just consider this. The city of New York has 31 legally protected genders. Facebook has gone further by giving account holders 58 genders in the United States and 71 in the United Kingdom. In Ontario, the new sex curriculum will teach children at least six genders. There is no science to back these new words. It's being pushed by the politics of power, sex and correctness. And those that control language shape thought and behaviour. Laws are in place to make that one disagrees, otherwise the person can be charged with hate speech, fined or even go to jail.

These newly constructed words, acronyms and expressions about human sexuality are very confusing to young people in schools. They confuse adults. Can you define gander, sexual orientation and the difference between gender identity and expression? There you go, not so easy. That's the whole purpose, to confuse. Just imagine how a teacher can misuse this new language of gender to shape what children think about themselves and their sexuality. A teacher could say to a class: "Boys and girls you may not be a boy or a girl but any one of these 31 genders." (Read more.)

5 Ways to Live Like a Monk in the World

From Roman Catholic Man:
Numerous parts of the Rule of St. Benedict highlight the importance of humility, most notably in Chapter 7 where St. Benedict depicts humility as a ladder with twelve rungs which the monk is to ascend. The first step is that a monk keeps the “fear of God” always before his eyes (RB 7:10). When you fear God or are in “awe” of God, you maintain a right relationship, realizing that you are a creature and not God. Humility is a virtue that needs to be developed, and it entails being down to earth, honest, and truthful, both in prayer, at work, and in everyday matters. St. Benedict wrote, “Place your hope in God alone. If you notice something good in yourself, give credit to God, not to yourself, but be certain that the evil you commit is always your own and yours to acknowledge” (RB 4:41-43). Being a humble person means being grateful for the blessings and opportunities that God gives you and recognizing that your gifts and talents have God as their source. Allow daily struggles, and even falling into sin, to be an invitation to humility, where you admit without hesitation that you must depend entirely on God’s grace, and not on your strength. (Read more.)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Guadalupe Mysteries

From Church Pop:
New and evolving technological developments pertaining to Our Lady of Guadalupe are discussed in detail in Guadalupe Mysteries: Deciphering the Code. For example, it wasn’t until 1929 when the official Basilica photographer Alfonso Marcue Gonzales first discovered an image in the eyes of the Blessed Mother of Guadalupe. As technology improved, several studies were conducted into these images. In 1979, a Peruvian engineer, Jose Aste Tonsmann, discovered a group of 13 people in Mary’s eyes, a discovery that was confirmed in 2006 by another engineer using the most up-to-date technology. It is believed that these people represent those who were present at the very moment when Juan Diego presented the image of Our Lady to Bishop Zurmarraga who didn’t seem to believe him at first.

It’s confounding because the image’s iris measures only 5/16 of an inch, and easy to believe the author’s contention that no human could have painted “such a precise image on such a small surface, observing virtually 100 percent conformance with the laws of optics, which were not known until the nineteenth century.”

Another fascinating fact has to do with the material on which the image is presented. The tilma was constructed of agave thread. This type of material isn’t durable; it’s expected to wear out within 20-40 years. But the material on which appears the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is virtually unscathed after nearly 500 years, which is miraculous, especially since no real effort at preservation has been made. In fact, it didn’t even have the protection of a glass encasement during the first 100 years of its existence. Instead, it was exposed to incense, candle smoke and other unfavorable elements.

There was a time when pilgrims were able to directly touch, kiss and even place their faces directly against the tilma, yet no marks were left on the material. The image famously survived at least two episodes that should surely have been destructive. One includes dynamite that exploded after being placed by the altar where the image hung. Not even a scratch was left on the protective glass while windows were shattered in nearby houses.

In 1791 nitric acid was accidentally spilled on part of the image while the frame was being cleaned. This accident should have instantly put a hole in the fabric. Instead, only minor damage was done in the form of stains, and even those eventually faded. (Read more.)


From Victoria:
Practiced hands measure flour, eggs, spices, and the most important component—honey—to form the dough for the traditional cookies, Ivana Smulikova has made since her childhood in Slovakia. Eleven years ago, her family of four moved to British Columbia with only eight suitcases among them. Much was left behind, but tucked in her heart was the recipe for her homeland’s classic confection. Known under different names in other European countries (lebkuchen in Germany, taai-taai in Belgium), the cookies, called medovniky in Slovakia, look similar to gingerbread, but rather than molasses and brown sugar, they rely on honey as the sweetener. This natural ingredient also acts as a preservative, keeping the treats edible for several months. (Read more.)

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas at the Trapp Family Lodge

From Victoria:
When Maria von Trapp first gazed at the snow-blanketed hills and valleys of Vermont’s Green Mountains after she and her family fled Nazi-occupied Austria, the area looked much like home—a sister scene to her beloved Alps. In 1943, the famous Sound of Music singing troupe bought a farm on Luce Hill, near Stowe, and welcomed guests to their farmhouse. Four decades later, fire destroyed the original house, but within three years, the family rebuilt and created a ninety-six-room inn that embraces Austrian style and outdoor vigor. Comprising 2,500 acres, the property includes villas and chalets, as well as a restaurant, garden, brewery, and bakery. The resort continues to thrive in the hands of third-generation von Trapps. Although the singing tours ceased in 1955, hospitality is now the high note they strive to achieve. (Read more.)

The Marian Solution

From Vultus Christi:
In all the discussions surrounding the controversy stirred up by Amoris Laetitia, I am struck by how little one speaks of grace, and of Our Lady, and of prayer. There is but one solution to difficult pastoral situations, and that one solution is grace. Grace is obtained by prayer, and prayer is within the reach of every soul. There are souls who choke on the words of the Act of Contrition but who can murmur a Hail Mary. Let such souls do this much.  Our Lady, the Mediatrix of All Graces, will not refuse the grace of contrition to one who, incapable of anything more, simply calls upon her name. It is, I think, a great pity that the magnificent text of Saint Bernard, Respice Stellam, Voca Mariam, is not more often cited by those ministering to souls in difficult pastoral situations. At the end of the day, The Marian Solution may be not only the best solution, but the only solution. (Read more.)

Of Popes and Heresy

From In the Light of the Law:
No one in a position of ecclesial responsibility—not the Four Cardinals posing dubia, not Grisez & Finnis cautioning about misuses, and not the 45 Catholics appealing to the College, among others—has, despite the bizarre accusations made about some of them, accused Pope Francis of being a heretic or of teaching heresy. While many are concerned for the clarity of various Church teachings in the wake of some of Francis’ writings and comments, and while some of these concerns do involve matters of faith and morals, no responsible voice in the Church has, I repeat, accused Pope Francis of holding or teaching heresy. 

That’s good, because the stakes in regard to papal heresy are quite high. Those flirting with such suspicions or engaging in such ruminations should be very clear about what is at issue. First. Heresy is, and only is, “the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth that must be believed by divine and catholic faith.” 1983 CIC 751. Heresy is not, therefore, say, the failure to defend effectively specific truths of Revelation (though that might be negligence per Canon 1389); moreover, privately-held heretical views, even if they are leading to certain observable actions, are not in themselves actionable under law (Canon 1330). 

Second. We can dismiss as impossible—indeed, as unthinkable thanks to the protection of the Holy Spirit—any scenario whereby a pope commits the Church to a heresy. See Ott, Fundamentals (1957) 287 or Catholic Answers tract “Papal Infallibility” (2004). However grave might be the consequences for a pope falling into heresy, the Church herself cannot fall into heresy at his hands or anyone else’s. Deo gratias.

Those two points being understood, the canonical tradition yet recognizes (and history suggests) that a given pope could fall into personal heresy and that he might even promote such heresy publicly, which brings us to some thoughts on those possibilities.

Setting aside a few who, relying on half-baked notions like “popes are not bound by canon law”, throw up their hands in despair at the prospect of a heretical pope and predict the End-of-the-World-as-We-Know-It, others, more reasonably, point to Canon 1404, which states “The First See is judged by no one”, and conclude that the only remedies in the face of a genuinely heretical pope are prayers and fasting. May I suggest, though, that canon law has somewhat more to offer than that. (Read more.)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

'Tis the Season

Some magical photos from Sanctuary. Share

Trauma-driven Sexuality

A psychologist speaks. From Crisis:
In the natural sex act, the human race is preserved, and the man lives on through future generations. But in the trauma-driven sex act that violates our bodily design, his generative power engenders death and annihilation. And so the wisdom of the body presents this contrast: new life vs. decay and death.
No wonder we see so much dissatisfaction in the gay world; not just because of society’s disapproval, but because the man who lives in that world, senses the futility of a gay identity. It represents the termination of that long line of his ancestors who were once linked together, through the ages, in natural marriage. (Read more.)

The Marriages of Margaret Beaufort

From Casting Light upon the Shadow:
It is believed that Henry’s birth caused such physical damage to Margaret that it was impossible for her to conceive another child. No further pregnancies are recorded, but this did not deter her from marrying twice more.  Her youthful marriage to Edmund Tudor is made more remarkable by the fact that this was not Margaret’s first experience of the married state. At six-years-old a marriage was arrange with the eight-year-old, John de la Pole; the eldest son of the Duke of Suffolk, a union that was quickly annulled when the duke fell into disfavour with the king. As a mark of favour toward Margaret, she was subsequently betrothed to the king’s brother, Edmund Tudor.
Both historians and fiction authors often assume Margaret’s marriage to Edmund Tudor was unhappy, yet there is no evidence for this. Although there was a disparity in age, and he took her straight from the nursery at her mother’s home at Bletsoe castle to the wilds of Wales, she never spoke ill of Edmund. Much later in life, despite remarrying, she made her wishes clear that she should be buried with Edmund at Carmarthen; a wish that was ignored. She was, instead, interred at Westminster Abbey close to Henry VII, while Edmund lies at St David’s, his body moved from Carmarthen during the dissolution of the monasteries.
Edmund died at Carmarthen in 1456, either from the plague or wounds received in battle, or possibly a mixture of both. Margaret was left a vulnerable widow, six months pregnant and far away from the court of her cousin, King Henry VI. She turned for protection to her brother-in-law, Jasper Tudor, who took her to his fortress at Pembroke to await the birth. Shortly after she was churched, seeking security as the country descended into civil war, Jasper assisted her in forming an alliance with Henry Stafford, a younger son of the Duke of Buckingham. (Read more.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


From The Guardian:
Somehow the statue escaped the wholesale wrecking of religious artifacts in churches and cathedrals during the Protestant Reformation of the mid-1500s to travel across the Channel. De Beer and his colleagues speculated that it might have been bought by a wealthy foreigner long before the threat of destruction to religious icons that came with the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. Alternatively it could have been smuggled out later, as the danger to religious works became clear. Much of its early life was spent in seclusion at a monastery in St-Truiden, Belgium. There it avoided the violence of the French Revolution, when many religious icons were also destroyed. (Read more.)

Interview with Frances Mayes

From Victoria:
I’m no expert; I’ve written only two novels. Most of my books are nonfiction, which is so much easier for me. No plot necessary! You write what happens, as well as you can. I started both novels with a general idea, not an outline. I learned as I proceeded, letting myself go down discursive paths if they appeared. Unless you’ve written one, you can have no idea how deeply tracked in your psyche a story is. How to keep all the subterranean working aloft in the narrative is the skill you must learn. I enjoyed writing my second novel so much. By then, I let the characters have free reign. I liked them and was not going to let anything bad happen to them. They’d had their share of sorrow. In my pages, they could soar. Writing is a rich life, the life of the imagination, of possibility. To create something where there was nothing—well, that’s the joyous root of any artist’s life. (Read more.)

Women and the Protestant Reformation

From Catholic World Report:
For much of the past 500 years, to the extent that anyone bothered to think or talk about women and the Reformation, the assumption was that since the Reformation improved everyone’s lives, then women’s lives were made far better as well. Luther and other Reformers had profound, deep, and violence-inducing differences, but since they all seemed to prioritize the “freedom of the Christian” in opposition to the rules-and-works mentality of the prison of medieval Catholicism, that must mean that everyone was better off (because they were more “free”) after 1517—and “everyone” includes women, does it not? No longer forced into convents against their will, no longer told that marriage was an inferior state, and now encouraged to read the Bible in their own languages, the lot of the post-Reformation woman must have been an improvement over what her grandmothers had suffered.

The first problem we run up against in this scenario is the Reformers’ definition of “Christian freedom” and our contemporary understanding of their understanding. Whether their understanding was an accurate, truly biblically-based one is a matter for theologians. Whether their sense of it was anything even close to what we think “freedom” is, even interior freedom, is doubtful: ask Anabaptist Felix Manz, executed by drowning for his beliefs by order of the Reform-controlled Zurich council in 1527, barely a decade after the movement began and just a few years after Luther published his On the Freedom of the Christian

Setting that aside, we can turn to the question of women’s actual lives. The impact of the Protestant Reformation on women was profound. In some senses nothing changed: nothing Luther or the other reformers said questioned basic, traditional, medieval Catholic assumptions about human anthropology or the roles of men and women in marriage. What did change was something else, but something quite simple, and with profound implications: Luther and the other Reformers went to war against the evangelical counsels as ideals, and especially as the core of a vowed way of life. This type of life and spirituality was no longer an ideal; marriage and domesticity—might we call it the domestic church?—was. 

The Reformation was, of course, a diverse and constantly evolving phenomenon. Common to the entire movement, however, was this conviction that vowed, celibate religious life as an ideal was non-scriptural, unnatural, harmful, led to sin and hypocrisy, and must be eliminated, supplanted by another model of ideal Christian life: the individual, saved by faith alone, dwelling productively in the community as believer, spouse, and parent. 

The strongest symbol of this non-biblical ideal of virginity was of course, the monastery, so in Reformed lands the closing of male and female religious houses was a top priority, and the Gospel of domesticity was preached and enforced in their stead. Every woman, it was assumed, was meant for marriage, children, and homemaking. Gone was that space—as the convent was—for women to pursue intellectual and artistic pursuits, to provide institutionalized charity, to interact with religious, political, and business interests as leaders of their communities, and—very importantly—to support the community and serve the living and the dead through their once highly valued, now “useless” prayers. 

And so, a survey of the large and continually growing body of research reveals wide agreement that is, in fact, 180 degrees away from the former view of the Reformation’s impact on women as beneficial. “The down side of the peculiarly Protestant ‘good news’ to women,” Lutheran historian Kirsi Stjerna notes, “was the exclusiveness of marriage as the basis for the holy vocation. No other options received a theological blessing. Thus, Reformation theology, generally speaking, enforced the domestication of women. … The domestication of women to the honorable callings of motherhood and marriage, advocated through theological argument, knitted with the Protestants’ valorization of family and marriage as the cornerstones of society, on the one hand, and their reiteration of the Pauline rejection of women teachers and ministers, on the other.” 

In other words, what we are left with in Reformation-dominated lands is a vision of a holy society in which worship is centered on preaching from a literally-interpreted Bible, from which female saints have disappeared, and in which women might no longer envision or live out their spiritual lives in ways unrelated to earthly marriage and family life. They must be connected to a human male in a legal, familial way in order to have social legitimacy, human worth, and a role in the spiritual landscape. (Read more.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Medieval Art Revealed

From the Daily Mail:
Incredible medieval church murals not seen since the 16th century have been restored as part of painstaking preservation project. The murals were covered after William Shakespeare's father was ordered to paint over them more than 450 years ago. The colourful murals, thought to be some of the finest in Europe, were covered with limewash in 1563 when John Shakespeare was bailiff of Stratford-Upon-Avon. He was acting on orders from Henry VIII as part of the Protestant Reformation which was a backlash against the Catholic Church. The 16th century Reformation, championed by reformers including the Tudor king and Augustinian monk Martin Luther, saw a huge upheaval in the religion, politics and culture of the day, triggering persecutions and conflicts. (Read more.)

The Wonder of Santa

From Victoria:
"Christmas was a magical time for our family and the small community I grew up in,” says entrepreneur Bethany Lowe. “Families went for horse-drawn carriage rides, ice-skated together on country ponds, went caroling door-to-door, and built snowmen to greet passers-by.” Lowe, a self-taught folk artist, weaves the spirit of these idyllic holiday memories into the realistic Santa figures that form the foundation for her company, Bethany Lowe Designs. Bethany’s somewhat unexpected career began in the 1980s when she and husband Curt were running a family farming operation and raising four children in their home state of Illinois. Her mother had always encouraged her creative pursuits, so when Midwestern farmers were hard-hit by the country’s economic woes, it was natural for Bethany to turn to art as a means to supplement the family’s income. She began making “country décor” items to sell at home parties, which soon led to juried folk art shows across the country and, eventually, the wholesale market. (Read more.)

Uther Pendragon

From English Historical Fiction Authors:
The Dark Ages of ancient Britain is an incredibly interesting period of time. We know so much about other times in history, but the Dark Ages is an era where we find few facts handed down to us. There are many stories, poems and myths, and many of these refer to the shadowy figures of Uther Pendragon and his far more infamous son Arthur. There are many people that would love to find proof of King Arthur’s existence; he is a figure that looms large in the imagination, and yet that proof continues to remain elusive. Uther, however, appears more often in the few written accounts that have survived as a man that actually lived, a man who may possibly have drawn the tribes of Britain together when it was needed most.

To set the scene for when the Pendragons may… or may not have existed, we have to take into account that the term Dark Ages refers to the long period of time which started several decades before the Western Roman Empire fell in AD 476 and lasted to the beginning of the Renaissance period, which was around AD1300.

These dark ages were a time of little or no law and order, when civilisation, the written word and record keeping were at a very low point. Britain and most of Europe was in turmoil as the rule of Rome dissolved, all of which leaves modern scholars somewhat ‘in the dark’ as they search for their solid facts. Many of these ‘almost’ facts, these stories and tales of battles, the struggles of leaders and kings, were handed down verbally through generations as people sat around their fires and entertained each other with tales during the cold British nights. As they repeated them they changed, so many facts turned into myths. (Read more.)

Monday, December 19, 2016

Brilliant Spools

From Victoria:
After twenty-three years of flying, Paulette Knight translated her air miles into yards upon yards of ribbon that decorate her San Francisco shop, The Ribbonerie. A former flight attendant for American Airlines during the industry’s fabled golden era, she wandered the arrondissements of Paris between flights, repeatedly drawn to the enchanted trimmings that festoon the city’s candy stores.

“I was a real Francophile and went to France on all my vacations,” says Paulette. “I saw this extraordinary French wired ribbon hanging in the windows, but it was just decoration—you couldn’t get it even if you bought a box of bonbons.” Following successive trips, she happened upon a place that supplied the Paris confiseries and was able to purchase a few coveted satins and grosgrains to take back home. Eventually, her keen eye for embellishment (she was a student of fashion design prior to her jet-setting days) would shift the direction of her career and lead her to a new venture within the French marketplace. (Read more.)

The History of Early English

From English Historical Fiction Authors:
Two thirds of England’s rivers take their names from ‘Celtic’ words, for example, Avon. We have place names which are a mixture - in the case of Much Wenlock, Much is from Anglo-Saxon mycel, meaning great, Wenlock comes from Celtic wininicas, white area, and the Anglo-Saxon loca, (place.) We have Roman influence, too, with castra (fort), seen in places such as Chester, and Manchester. Of course, the Anglo-Saxons did build forts of their own - burhs, which give Britain all the burgh and borough place names. But the Anglo-Saxons didn’t just come to fight, and/or defend, they also came to stay. They cleared places, to make space for their settlements, and gave us word endings like ley, ly, leay and leigh, which all mean 'clearing'. The Scandinavians followed suit and also added place names - by, booth, and thwaite.

The Normans did add a few of their own - Ashby was given to the de la Zuche family, (giving us Ashby de la Zouche) and Bewdley came from Beau Lieu (beautiful place).

But the Norman-French did not settle in with the same comfort as the Anglo-Saxons and the Scandinavians, nor in the same number. As we saw above, the commoners kept speaking English, which was still evolving, nevertheless, and came to add many French words. (Read more.)

The Jilted Princess

Joan of England was the oldest of daughter of King John and his 2nd wife, Isabella of Angouleme. Born 10th July 1210 she was the 3rd of 5 children; she had 2 older brothers and 2 younger sisters would join the family by 1215. Even before her birth, she was mooted as a possible bride for Alexander of Scotland, son of King William I of Scotland. A verbal agreement between the 2 kings in 1209 provided for John to arrange the marriages of William’s 2 daughters, with 1 marrying a son of John’s, and Alexander marrying one of John’s daughters. Following the death of William I a further treaty in 1212 agreed to the marriage of 14-year-old Alexander II to 2 year-old Joan. However, the agreement seems to have been made as a way of preventing Alexander from looking to the continent – and especially France – for a potential bride, and by extension allies.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Unmatched Discipline of the Prussian Army Under Frederick The Great

From War History Online:
This was the army of the Kingdom of Prussia under the direct command of her king, Frederick II, called Frederick the Great. Frederick was the consummate soldier-king, a great general with many victories – as well as some notable defeats – in his career. His soldiers were the product of a century of sustained and rapid training and development, paralleling the swift expansion of Prussian-controlled territory on the northern European landmass.

Including Frederick, three generations of Prussian kings had given their close attention to military affairs. By the time Frederick II the Great marched at Leuthen, the precision and discipline of his troops was without peer. Even Rome at the height of her ancient power, thought Frederick, could not show so well as this. He rode with his staff in the midst of his cavalry, a powerful figure physically, but dressed without ostentation, with practicality and speed in mind; just a cavalry officer. Messengers rode near him, ready to speed his orders to any point in his army at a moment’s notice.

He was a learned and practiced tactician and strategist. In 1757, Frederick was in his mid-forties, as was his opponent on this early day in December. Upon hearing news of Frederick’s arrival in Silesia Charles had arrayed his huge force in a line facing west. The line stretched fully four miles long from north to south with the hope of guarding against a fast flanking maneuver by the Prussians. Charles’ army outnumbered Frederick’s two-to-one, and they both knew it. (Read more.)

Florence Ebersole Smith

From War History Online:
Florence Ebersole was born in Santiago, Isabela province, in the Philippines, in 1915. Her mother was a native Filipino woman, and her father was a US Army veteran of the Spanish-American war. After graduating from high school, Florence began working with US Army intelligence in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Here she met her 1st husband, Chief Electricians Mate Charles Edward Smith, who also worked as a crewman on a PT Boat. They were married on August 19, 1941, only months before the United States and Japan were at war.

When the war was declared on December 8, 1941, Chief Smith reported for duty on board his PT Boat. They joined the fleet to defend the islands from the Japanese who attacked the same day. Their invasion of the Philippines had begun. On December 22, 1941, the main force attacked, quickly smashing through the ill-equipped and untrained American troops on the island. Florence Ebersole Smith was in Manila at the time, with two armies advancing from either side. On the 25th, all Military personnel were ordered to evacuate, and the whole of the Army Intelligence office packed up and left. They knew if they were captured they would likely be subjected to harsh interrogations, and their information was too valuable to lose. Florence, however, stayed. She had to care for her 16-year-old sister, who had no prospects and no protection. (Read more.)

The Secret of Human Identity

From Dr. Anthony Esolen at The Public Discourse:
When I was young, I wanted to know Dante partly because I wanted to know everything, but mainly because I was in love with poetry and wanted to learn the craft from the masters. I was hungry, and it never occurred to me to think that the grandson of coal miners in America could not lay claim to Dante, or Shakespeare, or Caravaggio, or Aristotle, or any artist or thinker or mystical seer, just because they lived long ago, came from another part of the world, spoke a different language, and were nourished in cultures that were so distant from mine. If they wrote in a different language, I might learn that language; if they came from another part of the world, I studied its geography; if other cultures nourished them, I tried to place myself in their midst—tried to walk with Dante along the streets of Florence, that city riven with partisan passions and all too often running with blood. I did not need these works to affirm my identity. I was not even aware I had an identity, other than that I was a certain young man, American by birth, and by the grace of God Roman Catholic and a fan of the Saint Louis Cardinals.

But I have come to see that many of my students now have no such grounding, no such matter-of-course assurance of who and what they are. If the self is nourished by culture, and culture implies deep roots and carefully tended soil, what happens to the self when the topsoil is stripped bare? And stripped bare it has been. Young people have been starved of beauty: the great majority of them do not even recognize the names of the greatest of English poets, of Milton and Wordsworth and Tennyson, let alone know their songs. They have been taught almost nothing of our nearly three-thousand-year-old heritage of art, no classical or sacred music, no folk music, and no popular music older than a generation. Even many of those who regularly attend Mass on Sunday show no deep familiarity with Scripture. For those who do not darken the church doors, the gospels themselves may as well have come from another planet. (Read more.)
The most significant find was the original leather cover that protected the psalter. It was found intact and provided an insight into the origins of the Irish church. The inside of the leather cover “is lined with papyrus, a writing material produced from reeds grown in the eastern Mediterranean, famously in Egypt. The papyrus was probably placed inside the cover to act as a stiffener.”
Some scholars believe the “discovery of Egyptian papyrus represents the first tangible connection between early Irish Christianity and the Middle-Eastern Coptic Church.”
Two pages of the Psalter are currently displayed at the National Museum of Ireland and because they are so sensitive to light, they can only be displayed three months at a time. It is regarded as one of the greatest finds in Ireland since the Ardagh Chalice.
- See more at:

Saturday, December 17, 2016

"Victoria": Exclusive First Look

From Veranda:
Do you miss "Downton Abbey" with every fiber of your period-piece-loving being? Fear not, Victoria is here to ease your suffering. The PBS drama tells the story of a young Queen Victoria as she finds her footing as England's unlikely regina and falls in love with Prince Albert, the most emo man of all time. The show can best be described as stunning, addictive, "why am I not an 18th century English royal?" inducing, and ridiculously romantic — i.e. exactly what you need to get you through this winter. (Read more.)

An American Martyr

From The Catholic Herald:
Fr Rother, born on March 27, 1935, on his family’s farm near Okarche, Oklahoma, was brutally murdered on July 28, 1981, in a Guatemalan village where he ministered to the poor. He went to Santiago Atitlan in 1968 on assignment from the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. He helped the people there build a small hospital, school and its first Catholic radio station. He was beloved by the locals, who called him “Padre Francisco.” Many priests and religious in Guatemala became targets during the country’s 1960-1996 civil war as government forces cracked down on leftist rebels supported by the rural poor. The bodies of some of Fr Rother’s deacons and parishioners were left in front of his church and soon he received numerous death threats over his opposition to the presence of the Guatemalan military in the area. (Read more.)

Shrine of St. Olaf Discovered

From Live Science:
The Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) announced Nov. 11 that its researchers had discovered the foundations of a wooden church where the body of King Olaf Haraldsson was taken immediately after he was declared a saint in 1031. St. Olaf, as he is now known, conquered and consolidated Norway in 1016 but held on to rule for a little more than a decade before his power was threatened by Canute I, king of Denmark and England. Olaf died in the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030. Now, archaeologists say they've found a key location in the king's posthumous journey from martyr to Norway's patron saint. (Read more.)

Friday, December 16, 2016

Madame Auguié

Here is a portrait of the lovely Adélaïde Genet, Madame Auguié, by Anne Vallayer-Coster. She was the younger sister of Madame Campan, Marie-Antoinette's femme de chambre, and was likewise in the Queen's service. Marie-Antoinette called her ma lionne or "my lioness" because of her thick, beautiful hair. Madame Auguié was one of the ladies who saved the Queen from being torn to pieces in her bedroom when the mob broke into Versailles in October, 1789. After the Queen's death, Madame Auguié leaped to her death from a window. One of her daughters was Madame Ney. There is more about Madame Auguié and the Queen's other ladies in Marie-Antoinette, Daughter of the Caesars. Share

Patsy Jefferson and the Nuns

From The National Catholic Register:
There was a period when Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin were all in Paris at the same time. Franklin was there as our first ambassador to the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. His job was get funds from France to bankroll the Revolution, and to cement a military alliance so we would win the war. Jefferson and Adams were there as commerce commissioners whose task it was to arrange an import/export trade deal with the French. Being in Catholic France was a new experience for all of them, and we know that the Church made a profound impression on one of Jefferson’s daughters, Patsy, and on one of Adams’ sons, John Quincy.

Polly and Patsy Jefferson were in their early teens when they arrived in Paris, so one of Jefferson’s first tasks was to find a suitable school for his daughters. All of his new French acquaintances recommended an elite convent school, l’Abbaye Royal de Panthemont in the Faubourg Saint-Germain. There the girls studied mathematics, history, geography, and they learned modern languages. It was a splendid education, of a kind that very few girls received back in America. Jefferson’s daughters also learned to play the harpsichord from Claude Balbastre, the organist at the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

In addition to operating a school, the nuns also offered rooms to aristocratic ladies who sought a quiet retreat from their troubles—the lack of a husband, the death of a husband, or the separation from a husband. One of the ladies living at the Panthemont at the same time as Polly and Patsy was Josephine de Beauharnais, the future lover, wife, and empress of Napoleon.

Over time, the life of the nuns made an impression on Patsy Jefferson. On April 18, 1788, Jefferson received a brief note from his daughter: Patsy formally requested her father’s permission to join the nuns at the abbey. Jefferson sent no reply. Instead, he took Patsy shopping, spending more than one thousand francs on new clothes and shoes for her, and 48 francs for a ring. He also permitted her to attend balls and other entertainments. If his aim had been to make his daughter give up her dream of a religious vocation by enticing her with the pleasures of the world, it worked; Patsy abandoned any thought of changing her religion and becoming a nun. Once the problem had resolved, Jefferson had himself driven to the Panthemont, and after a brief conversation with the abbess, withdrew Patsy and Polly from the convent school. (Read more.)

The Forgotten Precepts of the Church

I was taught that there are six. From Church Pop:
Catholics are not supposed to receive the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin, and the Sacrament of Confession is the means by which a person can be cleansed of mortal sin. Since you are required to receive the Eucharist at least once a year (see precept 3), and since the Church is realistic about human sin, you have to go to Confession at least once a year. But that’s just the bare minimum. So that you can receive the Eucharist more often than once a year, and for the salvation of your soul, most Catholics probably need to be going to Confession with some sort of regularity throughout the year. (Read more.)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Charlemagne and the Saxons

From author Kim Rendfeld:
Neither side is innocent. The Saxons burned churches and killed indiscriminately, the latter perhaps as a thanksgiving to the war god. As for the Franks, in 782, Charles issued a capitulary that among other things called for the death of anyone who didn’t convert to Christianity.

In 789, Alcuin was optimistic about the spread of Christianity and for good reason. The Saxon war leader Widukind had accepted baptism four years before, and the peace thus far held. Alcuin asked a friend how the Saxons took his preaching, and a few months later, he praised Charles for pressuring the Saxons to convert whether it was with rewards or threats.

Three years later, Charles’s wars with the Saxons had restarted. Other contemporary sources complain that the Saxons broke their oaths. The entry in the Lorsch annals invokes Proverbs and compares the Saxons’ reverting to paganism, burning churches, and killing priests “as a dog returns to its vomit.”

Alcuin took a more nuanced approached in 796. Writing to Arno, a former student and bishop of Salzburg, Alcuin advised, “And be a preacher of compassion, not an exactor of tithes … It is tithes, men say, that have destroyed the faith of the Saxons.” (Read more.)

An English Rose

From English Historical Fiction Authors:
Philippa was the daughter of the future Henry IV, the last child born in his marriage to Mary de Bohun. Philippa’s birth in 1394 led to Mary’s death, and her early childhood must have been rather confusing, what with her father being exiled by Richard II in 1398, only to return in 1399, depose the king, and claim the crown himself. In one fell swoop, Philippa became a princess.

Henry’s usurpation was not welcomed everywhere, testament to which was the plot which had as its goal to murder Henry and his four sons while they were celebrating Twelfth Night at Windsor. Somehow, Henry got wind of the plot (some say due to a kind-hearted whore, some say due to the guilty conscience of one of the would-be plotters) and managed to gather up his brood and flee to the safety of London. While there was never any intention to kill Philippa or her older sister, I imagine these events would have affected a five-year-old. They certainly had a major impact on Henry, who would never feel entirely secure on his throne, not even when Richard II met his timely death some weeks later. (Read more.)

At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

From EWTN:
An astonishing discovery has been made during repair work to the Edicule -- the ancient chamber housing Jesus' tomb in Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Scientists have reported extraordinary phemonena that may support the authenticity of the Holy Shroud of Turin.

On October 26, 27 and 28, 2016 a group of scientists and religious authorities oversaw the removal of the marble slab that covers the tomb of Christ. Marie-Armelle Beaulieu, editor-in-chief of Terre Sainte Magazine, reports that some of the measuring instruments used by scientists were altered by electromagnetic disturbances when they were placed directly on the stone in which Christ’s body rested. The scientists reports that their measuring devices either malfunctioned or ceased to work at all. Aleteia reports

The phenomenon was confirmed by one of the scientists authorized to access the tomb. Later, one of the heads of the building and construction team, Antonia Moropoulou, indicated that it is really hard to imagine that someone would be willing to put in danger his or her reputation just because of a “publicity stunt.” Moreover, the journalist testifies to the scientists’ surprise during the opening of the slab: they hoped that the grave would be much lower than it was. Their conclusion: previously performed analyses with the instruments seemed to have been distorted by an electromagnetic disturbance. 

The observation of unusual electromagnetic disturbances at the tomb of Our Lord may support a scientific hypothesis proposed to explain the creation of the mysterious image on the Holy Shroud of Turin. After five years of study and experiments scientists at Italy's National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development [ENEA] concluded that the Shroud of Turin cannot be a 'medieval fake'.  The ENEA study proposed that the image may have been created by an intense source of light, but no man-made light would produce the required strength. (Read more.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Rescuers of Victorian Art

From The Guardian:
In the early 1960s, Andrew Lloyd Webber, while a pupil at Westminster School, came across an unframed canvas in a shop on the Fulham Road and instantly fell in love with it. The painting, or at least what he could see of it through a thick film of dirt, showed a slumbrous young woman, swathed in diaphanous hot orange, sprawled heavily across a sofa, the sky molten behind her. The owner of the shop – it would be pushing it to call it a gallery – told his young customer that the painting was by a former president of the Royal Academy, Lord Leighton. Schoolboy Lloyd Webber didn’t have the £50 necessary to buy the grubby canvas and his grandmother, when beseeched to cough up the cash, growled: “I will not have Victorian junk in my flat.” Instead, Flaming June went to the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico, from where it was recently granted a rare exeat. In recent weeks it has been making a guest appearance at Leighton House, the grand studio-mansion in Holland Park where Frederic Leighton lived and worked for the last three decades of his life. The painting, long primped back to luminous loveliness, is now worth … well, no one will say exactly, probably because no one really knows, but it must be multiples of millions.

Like any endlessly repeated story, the discovery of Flaming June after 60 years in hiding has acquired the patina of a fairytale, with the painting cast as a princess disguised in dirty rags and Lloyd Webber as the heroic prince who realises her true worth. But he wasn’t the only young knight in that psychedelic decade who embarked on a quest to rescue the despised art of the previous century. Rob Dickins, subsequently chairman of Warner Music UK, was another creative mogul in the making who took to haunting country house sales and obscure provincial auctions in the hope of finding something wonderful buried among the dismal junk. The museum curator turned newspaper critic Richard Dorment was another, as was Richard Ormond, soon to become 19th-century curator at the National Portrait Gallery. (Read more.)

Napoleon and Talleyrand

How Napoleon tried unsuccessfully to shame and humiliate Talleyrand. I love this story. From Nobility:
Napoleon began with a few remarks…to the effect that his…Ministers had no right even to think for themselves, far less to give their thoughts expression. To doubt was for them the beginning of treason, to differ from him was the crime itself. With that he turned upon Talleyrand, who, in a characteristically graceful and negligent attitude, was half leaning against a small table by the fire. For one solid half-hour, without interruption, a steady flow of invective poured from the Emperor’s lips. There was hardly a crime omitted from the indictment, hardly a word of abuse that was not applied. He was told that he had never worthily performed a single duty, that he had deceived everyone with whom he had ever dealt, that he did not believe in God and would sell his own father. He was accused of responsibility for the execution of the Duke of Enghien and for the Peninsular War. Maddened by the impassivity of his victim, the Corsican lost all control and proceeded to taunt him with his lameness and to throw in his face the infidelity of his wife. Finally, shaking his fist and seeming to be upon the point of striking him, he informed his Vice-Grand Elector, in the language of the camp, that he was nothing but so much dung in a silk stocking….Talleyrand never changed his attitude. No spark of color appeared in his pale cheeks. No flicker of an eyelid betrayed the fact that he was conscious of being addressed. (Read more.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Great Vanderbilt Masquerade Ball

From Messy Nessy Chic:
Invites had been hand delivered by uniformed servants and the press had been invited beforehand to take exclusive photographs of the decor and build the hype. The Vanderbilts were trying to flex their muscles for New York’s high society, particularly Mrs. Alva Vanderbilt, the new ambitious wife of William Kissam Vanderbilt, grandson to Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, the shipping and railroad mogul who had struck it rich after the Industrial Revolution.

To society snobs of the day, such as the Astor family, the Vanderbilts were still “new money”. When an infamous “list of 400” was circulated by Mrs. Astor (aided by social arbiter Ward McAllister), identifying the people who could be counted as members of New York’s “Fashionable Society” amongst the vastly increasing rich families of the Gilded Age, the Vanderbilts were deliberately left off the list.

Mrs. Astor did not receive an invitation to the Vanderbilt ball. Nor did her daughter Carrie Astor, who had been excitedly preparing her costume and dancing skills for weeks. When all their friends received invitations except for them, Mrs. Astor was going to have to do some grovelling.

As the gossip stories go, Alva (pictured above) claimed that since Mrs. Astor had never called on the Vanderbilt home on Fifth Avenue to introduce herself formally, she had no address to send an invite. Mrs. Astor begrudgingly dropped in on the French chateau style mansion that overshadowed all the other luxurious homes on the street and left her visiting card. The following day, the Astor’s received their invite. (Read more.)

How Complaining Rewires Your Brain

From HackSpirit:
Are you a complainer? Do you sometimes feel like anything you do can be complained about? Complaining feels good, like how smoking and eating chocolate feel good. It lets us vent our negativity. Although we know it’s not necessarily good for us but we do it anyway as a guilty pleasure.

Researchers have found that not only does complaining express our negativity, it rewires the brain to focus more on negative ideas. Is this a good thing? Not if you want to be a grumpy old lady that nobody likes. The neurons in your brain start branching out to each other when behaviors have been repeated. So the more you complain the more likely it becomes easier to complain, and you won’t even realize you’re doing it. Soon enough complaining will become your default behavior, making the bonds between the neurons more permanent. As scientists often say, “Neurons that fire together, wire together”. (Read more.)

Monday, December 12, 2016

Miniature of the Duc de Normandie (Louis XVII)

Marie-Antoinette's younger son, her chou d'amour. The prince is probably three or four in this picture.

Dauphin Louis-Charles a couple of years later, at six or seven. Small boys wore pink in those days. Share

Cleopatra Unconquered

The first in a series, Cleopatra Unconquered by Helen R. Davis is a treat for those fascinated by Egypt and the lost glories of antiquity. The last Queen and ruler of the Egypt of the Pharaohs, Cleopatra VII, known to posterity as a shrewd politician, met her demise through a fatal alliance with Marc Antony of Rome. They were crushed and defeated by Octavian, the future Caesar Augustus. History was set upon a different course after the battle of Actium, which led to Cleopatra's death by suicide, following Antony's own self-inflicted demise. People who admire Cleopatra as a great woman ruler usually lament her tragic end which was also the end of ancient Egypt. The author weaves the fruits of her careful research into a fascinating combination of both the historical fiction and fantasy genres. It gives readers a look into history as it was, as well as into what might have been.

Davis imagines what the world would have been like had there been a different outcome to the Battle of Actium, where Antony was defeated at sea by the forces of Octavian, the adopted son of the great Julius Caesar, former lover and husband of Cleopatra. What if Cleopatra and Antony had triumphed? What if Octavian had foundered in the depths of the sea? Only someone who knows the ins and outs of the actual history can tell us. The novel, written with simple and forthright prose, is full of marvelous insights into the personalities which shaped Cleopatra's world. On the fantasy level, we are occasionally given a glimpse of the "immortals", the goddesses of Egypt, Greece and Rome, Isis, Athena, and Venus, discussing Cleopatra as they watch her life unfold from their otherworldly dimension. Their discussions are humorous but also give background information about the various motivations of the historical characters.

Most compelling is the presentation of the fears, hopes and motivations of the young Cleopatra as she grows to womanhood in a treacherous court, where members of her own family are her worst enemies. The Ptolemaic dynasty, of Greek origins, ruled Egypt for three hundred years and were famous for both incest and murder. Alexander the Great had founded the magnificent city of Alexandria, the capital of the Ptolemies, and was buried there, although his tomb is now lost. Alexandria was renowned for its architectural achievements, especially for the great library. In a palace filled with excess and luxury, the young Cleopatra seeks learning, while struggling for her own survival. Of all of her siblings she proves to be the most clever and capable. Furthermore, she truly loves the traditional Egyptian culture, religion and language, striving to learn all she can about her people and their rich heritage. Among monarchs it cannot be doubted that she is one of most fascinating in world history. It is wonderful to read a book in which she is given another chance.

Here is a television interview with the award-winning author, Helen R. Davis.

(NOTE: This book was sent to me by the author in exchange for my honest opinion.)


Words Are Not Enough

From The Hill:
During the 2003 invasion, Iraqi Christians were often simultaneously viewed as Iraqis by the Americans, and as suspect “co-religionists” of the enemy by their neighbors. Such suspicion resulted in many Christian church bombings, and the kidnapping and murder of priests and lay people alike.

When the U.S. military left Iraq in 2011, the plight of Christians worsened. Al-Qaeda morphed first into the Islamic State of Iraq and then into ISIS. Persecution metastasized into genocide. The country’s Christian population has plummeted to about 200,000 from about 1.5 million in 2003. Now, as the traditional Christian homeland of the Nineveh Plain is being liberated, America may have its last opportunity to support pluralism and minority religious groups in Iraq.

Despite the liberation of their former towns, they cannot return without real security. Even then, there may be no home for them to return to since these towns suffered terrible damage in the fighting. In the best case scenario, rebuilding would take months or years, and enormous amounts of money. (Read more.)

Is Storytelling Becoming Obsolete?

From The Guardian:
The neuroscientist Susan Greenfield has been prominent in arguing that our new digital lives are profoundly altering the structure of our brains. This is undoubtedly the case – but then all human activities impact upon the individual brain as they’re happening; this by no means implies a permanent alteration, let alone a heritable one. After all, so far as we can tell the gross neural anatomy of the human has remained unchanged for hundreds of millennia, while the age of bi-directional digital media only properly dates – in my view – from the inception of wireless broadband in the early 2000s, hardly enough time for natural selection to get to work on the adaptive advantages of … tweeting. Nevertheless, pioneering studies have long since shown that licensed London cab drivers, who’ve completed the exhaustive “Knowledge” (which consists of memorising every street and notable building within a six mile radius of Charing Cross), have considerably enlarged posterior hippocampi.

This is the part of brain concerned with way-finding, but it’s also strongly implicated in memory formation; neuroscientists are now discovering that at the cognitive level all three abilities – memory, location, and narration – are intimately bound up. This, too, is hardly surprising: key for humans, throughout their long pre-history as hunter-gatherers, has been the ability to find food, remember where food is and tell the others about it. It’s strange, of course, to think of Pride and Prejudice or Ulysses as simply elaborations upon our biologically determined inclination to give people directions – but then it’s perhaps stranger still to realise that sustained use of satellite navigation, combined with absorbing all our narrative requirements in pictorial rather written form, may transform us into miserable and disoriented amnesiacs. (Read more.)