Tuesday, October 31, 2023

An Irish Halloween

The picture above was painted by Irish artist Daniel Maclise in 1833, inspired by a typical Irish Halloween party. (Click on picture for details.) It was called "snap-apple night." Here is the caption which accompanied the painting:
There Peggy was dancing with Dan/While Maureen the lead was melting,/To prove how their fortunes ran/With the Cards ould Nancy dealt in;/There was Kate, and her sweet-heart Will,/In nuts their true-love burning,/And poor Norah, though smiling still/She'd missed the snap-apple turning.
For the ancient Celts, November 1 was Samhain, their New Year's day. It is not necessary to detail some of the more gruesome pagan customs which accompanied the festivities in pre-Christian times, customs which eventually disappeared as the Faith spread and took hold. Nevertheless, on a more positive note, the Celts believed that on the day in question the veil between the worlds grew thin, and one could easily pass from world to world, from time into eternity.

As Christians, in celebrating the Solemnity of All Saints, the sacred liturgy permits us to glimpse the place where the blessed ones dwell in light. We are led to think of all the dead, of the awe-inspiring realties of death, judgment, heaven and hell. On All Souls' Day we recall those who are still undergoing purgation in the realm beyond time. We, too, through the Mass and through prayer, pass from world to world, for all are present to God.

Here is an article (via A Conservative Blog for Peace) which elucidates on the history of All Hallows' Eve, the pagan versus Christian aspects and how the Irish, French, Germans, and English brought it all to North America. To quote:
Halloween can still serve the purpose of reminding us about Hell and how to avoid it. Halloween is also a day to prepare us to remember those who have gone before us in Faith, those already in Heaven and those still suffering in Purgatory. The next time someone claims Halloween is a cruel trick to lure our children into devil worship, I suggest you tell them the real origin of Halloween and let them know about its Catholic roots and significance. (By Fr Scott Archer)
 More on Irish Halloween traditions HERE.


Extreme Catholic Heroism

 From Stephanie Mann at Catholic Answers:

The first martyrs were hanged, drawn, and quartered during the reign of Henry VIII; the last martyrs were executed during a wave of anti-Catholic hysteria during the reign of Charles II. They were accused under different laws and for different reasons: for refusing to swear to the spiritual authority of the monarch, being priests in England when it was an act of treason, aiding and abetting priests, attending Mass, celebrating Mass, or all manner of other grave accusations.

Their sufferings and deaths were known in the Catholic community at the time: Reginald Cardinal Pole, the son of a beatified martyr (Margaret Pole), expressed his horror at the martyrdoms of Thomas More; John Fisher; and the first martyrs in this group, the Carthusians John Houghton, Augustine Webster, and Robert Lawrence. Saint Philip Neri hailed the missionary priests leaving the Venerable English College in Rome by saying, “Salvete flores martyrum” (Hail! flowers of the martyrs) in the 1580s as depictions of the martyrs’ sufferings decorated the walls of the chapel in that college. One of the last vicars apostolic of the Penal era, Bishop Richard Challoner, collected the stories of the martyrs in 1741 in Memoirs of Missionary Priests and other Catholicks of both Sexes who suffered Death or Imprisonment in England on account of their Religion, from the year 1577 till the end of the reign of Charles II.

None of the martyrs of the English Reformation era—not even Thomas More and John Fisher—was even beatified until late in the nineteenth century. The first cause did not begin until 1874, almost a quarter-century after the hierarchy was re-established in England by Pope Pius IX. His successor Pope Leo XIII beatified fifty-four in 1886 and nine more in 1895. Pope Pius XI beatified 136 more in 1929 and canonized Fisher and More on May 19, 1935.

The selection of the Forty Martyrs was presented in 1960 and approved in 1961: they were chosen on the basis of their popularity and the devotion shown to them in England and Wales. Miracles attributed to their intercession were investigated and documented (Pius XI had canonized More and Fisher equipollently without verification of medical miracles); their canonization was announced by Pope Paul VI and approved by the hierarchy present at the consistory of May 18, 1970.

There was one delicate issue: the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Church of England. Representatives had met in Malta and organized the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) for ecumenical discussions. Unitatis Redintegratio, the Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council, had singled out the Church of England (“Among those in which Catholic traditions and institutions in part continue to exist, the Anglican Communion occupies a special place,” Chapter III, paragraph 13). Michael Ramsey, the archbishop of Canterbury, and Pope Paul VI had met several times, and the pope in 1966 had given Ramsey a ring that he was wearing—an extraordinary gesture. (Read more.)


This Australian Behemoth

 From Popular Science:

Not only did the researchers find that Cooper was not a member of any previously described species, they also officially deemed the Australotitan dinosaur, or the “southern titan,” to be the largest known dinosaur to ever roam the outback. It likely weighed somewhere between 25 and 81 tons. At about 80 to 100 feet long and 16 to 21 feet tall at its hip, Australotitan is also within the top 10 to 15 largest dinosaurs in the world. For comparison, the Tyrannosaurus rex was only about 40 feet long and 12 feet tall. 

With those stats, Cooper joins the ranks of the titanosaurs, a group of mega-beasts previously only discovered in South America. It lived between 92 million to 96 million years ago. The findings were published in the journal PeerJ.  Mackenzie told ABC News that Australotitan was just “the tip of the iceberg” and that there are plenty of Australian sites brimming with potential for more fossil excavations. Australotitan was a plant eater, Hocknull noted, “so what was marauding around trying to eat these guys? We don’t have any evidence of that just yet.” Each discovery will help complete the story of Australia’s ancient past. (Read more.)


Monday, October 30, 2023

Dragons and Other Monsters

From Smithsonian:

The dragon resting on its golden hoard. The gallant knight charging to rescue the maiden from the scaly beast. These are images long associated with the European Middle Ages, yet most (all) medieval people went their whole lives without meeting even a single winged, fire-breathing behemoth. Dragons and other monsters, nights dark and full of terror, lurked largely in the domain of stories—tales, filtered through the intervening centuries and our own interests, that remain with us today.

As Halloween approaches, we’re naturally thinking about scary stories. Though horror today is most often about entertainment—the thrill of the jump scare or the suspense of the thriller—it hasn’t always been that way. In the European Middle Ages, monster stories served as religious teaching tools, offering examples of what not to do, manifestations of the threats posed by the supernatural and the diabolical, and metaphors for the evil humans do to one another. (Read more.)


Woman With Small Child Mocked

 What a nightmare. From The Daily Wire:

A mother of three in Washington, D.C., was mocked and called “the devil” for being Jewish by a man whom she asked to stop blocking the bike lane so she could pick up her two other children from school, video shows. The woman, who posted video of the encounter on X, is heard asking the man to move his SUV from the bike lane; he refuses and in turn asks the woman if she’s Jewish. 

"You a Jew?” the man asks, to which the mother responds, “I am, in fact.”

“Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha,” the man laughs. “I knew it! I knew it! I knew you was [sic] a Jew! You people are the devil!”

He then proceeds to call her “trash” and “entitled” and asks the person in his passenger seat to start videotaping her. (Read more.)


Where Otto the Great Died

 From Arkeonews:

Archaeologists believe they have found the site where Emperor Otto I (936-973), known as the Great, founder of the Holy Roman Empire, died. Otto the Great is regarded by historians as the first Holy Roman Emperor. He earned a reputation as a defender of Christendom as a result of his victory over pagan Hungarian invaders in 955 C.E. He used his self-proclaimed divine right as a ruler and his dealings with bishops to tighten his control over his kingdom and to begin his aggressive expansion into Italy. His son Otto II would succeed him after his death in 973 C.E.

Archaeologists from the Saxony-Anhalt State Office for Monument Preservation and Archeology have been excavating the former imperial palace and the rich Benedictine monastery in Memleben, Germany, since 2017. This year’s investigations yielded new findings of extraordinary importance. For the first time, reliable archaeological evidence of the Palatinate of Memleben, the as-yet unlocated place of death of Emperor Otto the Great and his father Heinrich I, was identified in the form of a stone predecessor of Otto II’s monastery church. A mysterious foundation in the cloister of the monumental monastery church can possibly be linked to the mention of a subsequent burial of Otto the Great’s intestines. Recent research focused on three areas directly adjacent to the monumental church of Otto II: the area around the northeast side apse, which is partly used as a cemetery, the cloister area at the northern aisle and the connection between the side aisle and the cloister on the western transept. (Read more.)


Sunday, October 29, 2023

Kale, Cabbage, and Matrimony

Some old Celtic customs.
For Hallowe’en...kale was used in the traditional dish, colcannon, or “white-headed cabbage” when translated from its Gaelic roots cal ceannann’.  Charms hidden in the mush of cabbage, kale and chopped onions, were thought to determine who at the table would be the next to tie the knot. If you were lucky enough to find a ring concealed in your meal, no longer would you spend your Halloween dinner single and sighing—wishing you’d find a piece of metal in your food. The other hidden object was a thimble, which meant the life of a spinster...(Read entire post.)

The Road to Serfdom

 From The Brownstone Institute:

The term “serfdom,” of course, alludes to the feudal system that, in one form or another, dominated human civilization for thousands of years. The common people, the “serfs,” did most of the work that kept society functioning, then handed over much of the fruits of their labors to a strong central government, usually represented by a “nobleman” (i.e., a member of the elite class) in return for relative peace and security.

That system was eventually displaced by the rise of liberal democracy during the Age of Enlightenment—an experiment that has now lasted 300 years and brought to the West, and other parts of the world where it has been embraced, a freedom and prosperity never before seen in human history.

But does this fairly recent development mean, as President George W. Bush opined in a speech before the US Chamber of Commerce in 2003, that “liberty is the design of nature…the direction of history?”? Is it true that, in the popular phrase, “every heart yearns to be free?” 

I used to believe that. Now, I’m not so sure.

We can certainly point to countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, where the United States and its allies have attempted to “liberate” the people, only to have them return to centuries-old power struggles and warlord tribalism—essentially, a form of serfdom—as soon as the Western powers pull out. Do those people really yearn for freedom, for democracy? Why don’t they have it, then?

But the problem actually strikes much closer to home. I’m convinced that a large and growing minority of people in this country, especially among young people, don’t really want freedom—certainly not for others, but ultimately not even for themselves. Witness the recent Buckley Institute poll in which 51 percent of college students supported campus speech codes, while 45 percent agreed that violence was justified to prevent people from expressing “hate speech.” 

Or consider how many people vote almost exclusively for the politicians who promise them the most free stuff, with no apparent thought to the strings attached or concerns about what their “free stuff” might cost others—and even themselves, in the long run.

Then think about how people in this country and elsewhere have behaved for the last three-plus years—but I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll come back to that point in a moment.

I first observed this apparent willingness to trade freedom for relative ease and security, on a micro level, about 22 years ago. At that time, my academic unit was led by a dean with more or less absolute authority. At the very least, he had the final word regarding everything that went on in the unit, from textbooks to teaching schedules to curriculum.

The faculty, predictably, claimed to despise this arrangement. They constantly decried the “top-down structure” and complained that they had no say in anything. They demanded to be heard, under the principle of “shared governance.” 

So the upper administration gave them what they wanted. The dean was transferred to another position, and in his place was put a committee of elected faculty members whose job it was, collectively, to make all the decisions the dean had previously been making. 

Can you guess what happened next? Within a year, the faculty were grumbling about the new system. They complained that they felt adrift. There was no one they could go to who was empowered to make quick decisions. And the work of making those decisions collectively—serving on committees and subcommittees—was tedious, thankless, and time-consuming.

The bottom line is that—with apologies to The Amazing Spiderman—with great freedom comes great responsibility. Self-reliance is hard work. You must be willing to fail, and to take the blame for your failure, and then to pick yourself up and start over again. That is mentally and emotionally taxing. It’s much easier just to let others make decisions for you. Just do what you’re told, with the assurance that everything will be fine.    

Which brings us back to the last three-plus years, when people in Western democracies, accustomed to an unprecedented level of civil liberty, willingly surrendered it. They docilely stayed at home, covered their faces, avoided friends and neighbors, gave up vacations, cancelled celebrations, and lined up for their next “booster”—all in return for a promise that, if they did so, they would be safe from a highly infectious respiratory virus.

The fact that, even with all these “interventions,” they still weren’t safe from a mostly mild illness that practically everyone contracted is really beside the point. It’s not that their fears were completely unfounded. In this fallen world, the dangers are undoubtedly real enough. 

The questions are, 1) can we actually mitigate those dangers by giving up our liberties, and 2) even if we can, is it worth it? Count me among the increasingly few who declare that the answer to the latter question, at least, is “No.” The government’s main job is to protect us from foreign incursions and domestic crime. Beyond that, I am happy to assume any risks associated with living as a free person, and that includes making my own decisions, medical and otherwise. (Read more.)


The Controversy Over Tyrannosaurus Rex

 I did not know there was one. But there is so much we are just beginning to discover. From Big Think:

Gregory Paul, an independent and prolific paleontologist, thought there might be another explanation. Perhaps these different forms of T. rex are not T. rex at all, but other species in the genus Tyrannosaurus. With the surge of fossil discoveries, Paul finally felt he had the data he needed to put this idea to the test. After assessing three dozen Tyrannosaurus specimens, Paul and his team of researchers argued that the fossils cluster into three distinct species. To name any species, researchers follow an international convention. Species names are split into two words. The first indicates the genus name, and the second lists the specific name, or epithet. Together, the words make up a unique species name. Now, along with T. rex (Latin for the “king” Tyrannosaurus), Paul and colleagues proposed the inclusion of T. imperator (“emperor”) and T. regina (“queen”). Their results, published in the journal Evolutionary Biology, sparked intense debate among paleontologists. Robustness is not the only line of variation. Tyrannosaurus specimens also exhibit differences in their teeth. Some possess a single incisiform tooth, while others have two. Paul and his colleagues contend that since these variations progress within the genus over geological time, the differences could hint at evolution at the species level. (Read more.)

Saturday, October 28, 2023

James I and Witches

If James VI and I had been brought up by his mother Mary Queen of Scots, I doubt that would have been so obsessed with the dark side. From author Linda Root:
The king’s unhealthy concern with witchcraft and the occult began with his marriage to Anne of Denmark. They wed by proxy in August 1589 at Kronborg, Denmark, with George  Keith, 5th Earl Marischal, sitting in for James in their bridal bed. North Sea storms nearly left Queen Anne shipwrecked as she sailed to Scotland to meet her spouse. As it was, instead of sailing to her coronation, she ended up marooned in Oslo.  The already daemonophobic Danes were convinced witches were to blame.

In what one of his biographers has called the one romantic episode of his life, the King of Scots braved both witches and the North Sea, commandeered a less than enthusiastic Chancellor Thirlestane and sailed to Scandinavia to fetch his bride.  It was less than smooth sailing, but he made it safely to a Scandinavian port. While in Denmark, he shared his apprehensions concerning interference from the Underworld with his brother-in-law the King of Denmark and apparently got an earful from King Christian. Then he learned that a congregation of covens had been held at North Berwick where they tossed tortured feral cats into the surf and offered incantations to the Devil to churn the seas. There is ample evidence a group of Scottish witches indeed congregated on All Hallows Eve in a North Berwick churchyard, harboring a malicious intent. (Read more.)

The Left Needs to Find Itself

 From The Brownstone Institute:

It is tiring to be accused of being ‘far-right’ by people doing the bidding of the corporations and investors who recently made a killing on Covid. It is particularly irritating that such people, whilst deriding low-income workers and the ‘uneducated,’ have convinced themselves that they are somehow being virtuous. They call themselves ‘left,’ but so do I. We either need to rethink or ditch these outdated epithets, or be more honest about our positions.

As explanation, the following is a list of some actual ‘left’ policies I have always supported. They lean towards public health issues, as this is relevant to the times. They include:

  • An emphasis on human rights, bodily autonomy and freedom of movement.
  • An effort to limit inequality in wealth distribution. 
  • Decolonization (i.e., large rich countries and the corporations in them (or that run them) should not dictate to, or extract wealth from, smaller and poorer countries.)
  • Community-based influence or control on local policy and resources, particularly healthcare.
  • A publicly funded health system that ensures reasonably equal access to good basic care.
  • Free and equal opportunity for education, to reduce poverty and improve gender equality.
  • Constitutional democracy, where governments exist on the will of the people, and inviolable rules protect minorities.
  • Free speech (essential to stop dictators from entrenching themselves, and to ensure progress)
  • Willingness to stand your ground for the above principles, even at some personal cost.

The list could go on, but generally this is where I was, and remain. This is why, ignorantly or not, I have always voted that way. Working in global health, I had thought that was where most of my colleagues were, though I was fine with those that differed. However, with notable exceptions, nearly all have actively supported the following list of antithetical policies during the past few years:

  • Mandated face coverings and injections, and vilification and exclusion of individuals and minorities who refused (Note: “exclusion” is the opposite of “inclusion,” so the opposite of DEI)
  • Desperation to defend the largest concentration of wealth in the history of humankind, with ‘left-wing’ media lauding the recipients (and incidentally sponsored by them).
  • Imposition of global policies geared to ensure broad uptake in low-income countries of Western health products to address a Western problem (i.e., “No one is safe until everyone is safe”), at the cost of deterioration of the health issues that actually impact low-income countries most.
  • Increasing centralization in international public health policy, with the World Health Organization (WHO), ‘philanthropists’ and a parrot-like sponsored media pushing the same policies on  young mothers in Nigerian villages that they push on aged-care centers in Seattle.
  • Restricting healthcare access across much of the globe, from chemotherapy for NHS cancer patients in Britain and basic birthing support for young mothers in Kenya.
  • Advocating for school closures that will ensure increased poverty for the next generation, widening gender inequality, promoting child marriage, and child labor.
  • Rule by emergency decree, because the public may choose differently from the government. Then planning for a transfer of powers to the WHO for any health event, or even the threat of one, that WHO staff in a comfortable Swiss city deem to call an “emergency.” 

(Read more.)


The Trial of Pétain

 Pétain should not be compared to either Charles I or Louis XVI. They were kings and died as kings; Pétain had become a lackey. From The Interpreter:

France’s trial of a doddery, geriatric war hero is an eccentric entry to this eclectic list of examples. Marshal Pétain, who doggedly refused to lose the Battle of Verdun in 1916, took power in 1940, signed an armistice with the Nazis and presided over France’s collaborationist Vichy regime for the next four years. Just as the Liberation liberated the French from memories of their often-shameful collusion with Germany, so too did Pétain’s trial supply a scapegoat for the errors and crimes committed between 1940 and 1944.

Putin could hardly be tried by his compliant, corrupt Duma, but Pétain had precedent on his side in expecting a trial by parliament. Charles I and Louis XVI were both accorded that right, albeit with purged and cowed assemblies sitting in judgment. Instead, Pétain’s guilt was appraised by an unlikely, unwieldy combination of former parliamentarians and former members of the resistance. Anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny might as well be enlisted as a juror for Putin.

Stalin’s purges are conventionally denounced as show trials because of the absence of due process, the foregone conclusions and the seemingly random selection of many victims.

Nonetheless, any war crimes trial, including those of Albert Speer, Hideki Tojo and Adolf Eichmann, contains an element of show and tell. Julian Jackson in France on Trial: The Case of Marshal Pétain designates them as “exercises in national pedagogy”. Their process and record are meant to teach morals, not least by setting limits on acceptable behaviour. For France, Pétain’s trial also provided a biased, partial explanation of why France had suffered the most rapid and total defeat of any Great Power in history.

During his trial, Pétain’s answers blended “evasion, blame-shifting, amnesia and perplexity”. He maintained that, absent an armistice and without a puppet government, France’s fate would have been worse (like Poland’s, say). “If I could no longer have been your sword, I have wanted to be your shield.” Imagine how much more defiantly articulate Napoleon would have been had he been brought to trial. (Read more.)

Friday, October 27, 2023

A Flâneur’s Guide to Paris: Chopin and Père Lachaise

 From France Today:

Plots are so scarce here that the lucky few who can secure a future in the hallowed ground need to take out a lease, at the end of which the remains are moved on (a bit like certain annoying restaurants where lingering clients are asked unceremoniously to give up their table to make way for the next, potentially more interesting, punter). They say there are no pockets in a shroud but deep pockets at Père Lachaise will see customers secure 10, 30 or 50 years of relative peace and quiet.

But think about what edifying company you will keep! Jean de la Fontaine, Molière, Honoré de Balzac, Frédéric Chopin, Heloïse & Abelard, Sarah Bernhardt, Georges Bizet, Oscar Wilde, Isadora Duncan, Marcel Proust, Colette, Max Ophuls, Edith Piaf and more. The cemetery was originally known as the Cimetière de l’Est and was the first major burial ground located inside the city walls (intra muros); it was subsequently renamed after François d’Aix de la Chaise 1624-1709 (padre to Louis XIV, aka Le Roi Soleil) who lived at a parish house on the site. (Read more.)


Government Gangsters Exposed

 Kash Patel is interviewed.


French Parenting

 From Reader's Digest:

Americans, fairly or not, have gotten a reputation for the “everyone gets a trophy” style of parenting. Fearful of hurting tender feelings, parents praise every child for everything. But while it might save tears in the short term, in the long run all that praise becomes diluted and meaningless. Instead, Druckerman notes, “After children have learned to talk, [French] adults don’t praise them for saying just anything. French parenting is about praising kids for saying interesting things, and for speaking well.”

When children truly earn your praise, they will feel a true sense of accomplishment and take pride in what they learn. This is true across cultures, making it one of the 10 habits parents of successful children have. (Read more.)


Thursday, October 26, 2023

Medieval Pottage

From Medieval Recipes:

Making pottage was the simplest form of cooking and provided at least a reasonable meal for peasants in 12th century England. Recipes for pottage essentially called for vegetables and stock to be cooked in an earthenware pot or cast-iron cauldron. This is of course is the forerunner to soup making as we know it today.

Cooking pottage was an everyday activity for most people in medieval England. In their meagre homes the average peasant would cook in an earthenware pot amongst the hot ashes beside their fire in the down-hearth. If their hut had a beam stretched across it, they had the option of hanging a cauldron (usually a cast-iron one) from it over the fire like the one in the photograph. Here is a video of a fireplace with a cauldron over it at the castle of St. Mesmin in the Vendée area of France. The pottage mixture was brought to the boil, simmered and stirred occasionally with a ladle or wooden stick called a spartle. In the kitchens of grand medieval castles of course cauldrons were commonplace and much in evidence around the great fireplace.

A pottage recipe would vary depending upon the vegetables and meat available at the time. As our introductory page on pottage explains, peasants tended to be able to make only thin pottage with the thicker and more tasty pottages (frumenty and morrews) being enjoyed by the wealthy. (Read more.)


More HERE.


Consequences of American Weakness: Wars, Terrorism, and a World on Edge

 From America's Voice:

Weakness, specifically American weakness, has led to a pair of major wars, the root of which is Joe Biden and his incompetence. Look, we can debate what Russia would or would not do, but make no mistake, Vladimir Putin’s first major incursion, the invasion and annexation of Crimea, came when Barack Obama was in the White House. Then he rolled into Ukraine when Joe Biden was sleeping in the Oval Office or under his bed in Delaware.

Hamas launched its unprecedented attacks on unarmed civilians—slaughtering Israelis and anyone else in their way under this, the weakest presidency in modern American history. Neither Jimmy Carter nor Gerald Ford would have allowed this on their watch. Reagan, Clinton, and both Bushes go without saying. They would have all stood up for America. During Donald Trump’s time in office, they simply didn’t dare because none of them had any idea what he might do. None of them were willing to the chance—but he’s not in charge, and the wars rage on with a high price for people on all sides.

Reflecting on the events in Israel and the reaction of thousands of people in the streets of London, Sidney, Paris, and even Dearborn, Michigan makes you wonder, what next? FBI Director Christopher Wray warned Americans that terrorists—many of whom, whether they admit it or not, walked into this country illegally—may begin Hamas-type attacks here on American soil. The question of how this happened is persistent now—with plenty of people questioning who dropped the ball.

And it is a fair question. Between the United States, our European allies, and Israel itself, we have about the best intelligence in the world. But somehow the low-tech assault using hang gliders, pick-up trucks, and inflatable boats went undetected in its planning and its execution for possibly two years or more according to several sources now. And yet—nobody can accept responsibility.

We live in a world where those in charge are always standing around pointing fingers and trying to fix the blame somewhere, acting like little kids who got caught with a box full of crayons coloring the walls. From the moment we first heard of the hideous and grotesque attacks on a music festival—where hundreds of unarmed civilians were slaughtered—and the killing of children and the elderly in their homes, we moved to the brink of a much wider regional war, where the casualties will mount quickly, and the hair-trigger of a world war could be put to the biggest test of our lifetimes.

Iran says it will not stand on the sidelines—and the usual warmongers are thrilled with the idea of going back to the sandbox, whether they say so or not. Lindsey Graham is already beating the drums, advocating for the use of American military force against Iran if they take an active role in the ongoing conflict. But honestly, if Iran enters the war in a more open fashion, what choice would we have? There is no question that Iran has been working with and funding Hamas and Hezbollah for decades. Now, they are making noise about not being able to sit idly by. Well, that would create a much more critical situation as the war is set to expand in the coming days.

The IDF is carrying out strikes in Gaza against Hamas militants and leaders, targeting the architects behind the massacre in southern Israel. The language of Israeli political and military leaders is more definitive than in the past. They are sick and tired of Hamas’ terror and seem motivated to end this mess once and for all. Again, this is all predicated by weakness in the White House and the American public. Too many are far more willing to bury their heads in the sand than make a stand for America and the future of our kids and grandkids. We do not have the luxury of sitting idly by and waiting to see what happens. If we do, this war may well come to us, and it may anyway because of our reckless and failed border policies and the obtuse notion that if we are just tolerant enough, then everyone will just get along. (Read more.)


Earth's Hidden Eighth Continent

 From Popular Mechanics:

Zealandia’s history is quite closely tied to the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana, which broke up hundreds of millions of years ago. Zealandia followed suit—roughly 80 million years ago, according to the latest theory. But unlike neighboring Australia or much of Antarctica, Zealandia largely sunk, leaving only a small portion of what many geologists believe should still be dubbed the eighth continent. New Zealand makes up the most recognizable above-water portion of Zealandia, although a few other islands in the vicinity are also part of the maybe-continent in question.

The latest research, led by Nick Mortimer, dredged the northern two-thirds of the submerged area, pulling up pebbly and cobbley sandstone, fine-grain sandstone, mudstone, bioclastic limestone, and basaltic lava from a variety of time periods. By dating the rocks and interpreting magnetic anomalies, the researchers wrote, they were able to map the major geological units across North Zealandia. “This work completes offshore reconnaissance geological mapping of the entire Zealandia continent,” they said. (Read more.)


Wednesday, October 25, 2023

The Ghost of Sherlock Holmes

From Chronicles:

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Adventures of Sherlock Holmes are an enduring part of our cultural lexicon. In the cases Holmes and his trusted friend, Dr. Watson, pursued, Doyle brilliantly weaved mystery with subtle commentary exposing the uneasy interactions between the various classes of British society. Although Doyle’s stories have been adapted for the screen many times, Sidney Lanfield’s 1939 film, The Hound of the Baskervilles, is considered one of the finest and it is a perfect sort of spooky film for an October viewing. Basil Rathbone’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes captures the essence of Doyle’s most famous character who, in this instance is approached to solve a dark and prowling mystery surrounding Baskerville Hall.

Baskerville Hall, we learn, has been plagued by a terrible curse. As the story opens, Sir Hugo Baskerville is discovered to be the latest victim of a vicious hound lurking in the moor that attacks unsuspecting strangers and regular inhabitants of Devonshire. A legend surrounding Baskerville and the hound adds another layer of strangeness and fear to this gothic tale. Apparently, there is an age-old curse on the Baskervilles whereby some kind of demon-dog sets upon members of the family.There is an air of the supernatural attached to the story, but of course the rationalist Holmes dismisses such explanations. For his logical and deductive mind, this analysis is not only impossible; it’s also quite useless.

The family doctor warns  the family’s last heir, the young Sir Henry Baskerville, not to return to the estate.  Holmes decides to help the young master and encourages him to disregard the advice, vowing to solve the mystery once and for all.

The arrival of the detectives Holmes and Watson to Baskerville Hall, however, is marked by one strange event after another. The housekeeper and his wife behave toward the Hall and the estate in an odd, possessive manner. Their gaunt appearance enhances the oddity of their behavior, and they are naturally on the list of suspects in the murder of Sir Hugo Baskerville.

Although Holmes does not question the existence of a hound, he correctly suspects that someone is deceiving Sir Henry in order either to drive him away from his rightful inheritance or simply trying to murder him. The mood of the film has all the classic elements of horror and gothic storytelling.The London fog settles over the scene just as a mysterious stranger attempts to kill Sir Henry; later, the foreboding landscape of the moors of Devonshire figure prominently in both the mood and the action of the story.

Although filmed in studio, every decision made by the set designers stays faithful to Doyle’s vision of the story and holds up for viewing today. The lifeless trees, the night, the perpetual fog, and Baskerville Hall itself, all create a gripping sense of atmospheric horror. Other 19th century gothic worlds come to mind, such as those created by the Brontë sisters, with Mr. Rochester’s “mad woman in the attic” or Heathcliff roaming Wuthering Heights. Here, too, the foreboding house and the moor are characters in and of themselves. But in many ways, this is also a typical Hollywood production—one that aims to bring the “charm” of Victorian England to a primarily American audience, but with a gothic twist. It is a familiar routine now, but it was novel in 1939.

As usual, Holmes plays harmless tricks on his friend and sidekick, Dr. Watson, here by appearing in Devonshire in disguise. Often, Holmes’ disguises involve taking on the personae of people in the lower classes, those who go unrecognized and unnoted by wealthy aristocrats like Watson. Holmes brings out the snobbery of the elites and shines a spotlight on the growing rift in British society. Yet, of course, Holmes himself enjoys the high life, which paradoxically allows him to speak for those less fortunate.

This is not to say that Holmes is in any way charitable. In fact, most of the time, he appears almost without compassion, self-involved, and especially looking down upon those of lesser intellect. But his much-needed if overbearing analytical skills allow him to solve one mystery after another, bringing closure and even happiness to those who have been afflicted by the darkness that always lurks in the foggy streets of London.

Although Rathbone is considered by many to be the quintessential Holmes (my own heart tends to embrace Jeremy Brett’s brilliant portrayal), he had misgivings about playing the famous detective. Rathbone was classically trained as a stage actor, and he brought that training to the role of Holmes. Unfortunately for Rathbone, however, the role managed to give him a bit of anxiety.

In his 1956 autobiography, In and Out of Character, Rathbone wrote that he was “jealous of his [Sherlock Holmes’] mastery in all things, both material and mystical …  [Holmes] was sort of a god in his own way, seated on some Anglo-Saxon Olympus of his own design and making! Yes, there was no question about it, Holmes had given me an acute inferiority complex!” (Read more.)


‘Vindictive’ Special Counsel Indictment Criminalizes Speech

 From The Federalist:

Monday’s motion to dismiss based on constitutional grounds argues the entirety of Smith’s case against Trump is based on prosecuting the latter’s speech. Free speech is a constitutionally secured American right.

“Additionally, as the United States Senate has previously tried and acquitted President Trump for charges arising from the same course of conduct alleged in the indictment, the impeachment and double jeopardy clauses both bar retrial before this Court and require dismissal,” says the constitutional dismissal motion. “Finally, because of our country’s longstanding tradition of forceful political advocacy regarding perceived fraud and irregularities in numerous Presidential elections, President Trump lacked fair notice that his advocacy in this instance could be criminalized. Thus, the Court should dismiss the indictment under the Due Process clause as well.”

The motion quotes multiple Supreme Court cases, including multiple leftist justices, affirming that Americans have a constitutionally protected right to speak freely, even when their statements are false. Chutkan has stated she believes the speech Smith is attempting to criminalize with his indictment — publicly alleging problems with an election Democrats won — comprises “conspiracy theories.”

Another motion seeks to introduce some protections for Trump in a case that may involve a Washington, DC jury pool in a district where 92 percent voted for the president who demanded Trump’s current prosecution. It requests the judge strike “inflammatory allegations” from Smith’s indictment: “Because the Government has not charged President Trump with responsibility for the actions at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, allegations related to these actions are not relevant and are prejudicial and inflammatory.” (Read more.)


From American Greatness:

The reason you have not heard of a gag order on par with the one imposed on former President Trump is that it is highly unusual. Normally, in a criminal proceeding, there are no gag orders. To the extent they exist, they typically only bind the lawyers, who are admonished to adhere to the rules of professional conduct. Rarely—as in almost never—are criminal defendants forced into a gag order on such spurious grounds as they might “vilify and implicitly encourage violence against public servants who are simply doing their jobs.”

In fact, precedent almost uniformly emphasizes familiar First Amendment principles, which limit the court’s authority, including disfavor towards “prior restraints” and “content-based restrictions” on speech.

In a case involving the prosecution of a congressman, the Sixth Circuit federal court of appeals noted that “such broadly based restrictions on speech in connection with litigation are seldom, if ever, justified. Trial judges, the government, the lawyers and the public must tolerate robust and at times acrimonious or even silly public debate about litigation.” (Read more.)


A Panegyric for Dorothy Sayers

 From Eighth Day Institute:

The variety of Dorothy Sayers’ work makes it almost impossible to find anyone who can deal properly with it all. Charles Williams might have done so; I certainly can’t. It is embarrassing because, in our present state of festering intellectual class consciousness, the admission might be taken as a boast. It is nothing of the sort: I respect, though I do not much enjoy, that severe and civilized form, which demands much fundamental brain work of those who write in it and assumes as its background uncorrupted and unbrutalised methods of criminal investigation.

Prigs have put it about that Dorothy in later life was ashamed of her “tekkies” and hated to hear them mentioned. A couple of years ago my wife asked her if this was true and was relieved to hear her deny it. She had stopped working in that genre because she felt she had done all she could with it. And indeed, I gather, a full process of development had taken place. I have heard it said that Lord Peter is the only imaginary detective who ever grew up—grew from the Duke’s son, the fabulous amorist, the scholar swashbuckler, and connoisseur of wine, into the increasingly human character, not without quirks and flaws, who loves and marries, and is nursed by, Harriet Vane. Reviewers complained that Miss Sayers was falling in love with her hero. On which a better critic remarked to me, “It would be truer to say she was falling out of love with him; and ceased fondling a girl’s dream—if she had ever done so—and began inventing a man.”

There is in reality no cleavage between the detective stories and her other works. In them, as in it, she is first and foremost the craftsman, the professional. She always saw herself as one who has learned a trade, and respects it, and demands respect for it from others. We who loved her may (among ourselves) largely admit that this attitude was sometimes almost comically emphatic. One soon learned that “We authors, Ma’am” was the most acceptable key [This expression, attributed to Benjamuun Disraeli, was found to have a soothing effect upon Queen Victoria.]. Gas about “inspiration,” whimperings about critics or public, all the paraphernalia of dandyisme and “outsidership” were, I think, simply disgusting to her. She aspired to be, and was, at once a popular entertainer and a conscientious craftsman: like (in her degree) Chaucer, Cervantes, Shakespeare, or Molière. I have an idea that, with a very few exceptions, it is only such writers who matter much in the long run. “One shows one’s greatness,” says Pascal, “not by being at an extremity but by being simultaneously at two extremities.” Much of her most valuable thought about writing was embodied in The Mind of the Maker: a book which is still too little read. It has faults. But books about writing by those who have themselves written viable books are too rare and too useful to be neglected.

For a Christian, of course, this pride in one’s craft, which so easily withers into pride in oneself, raises a fiercely practical .. It is delightfully characteristic of her extremely robust and forthright nature that she soon lifted this problem to the fully conscious level and made it the theme of one of her major works. The architect in The Zeal of Thy House is at the outset the incarnation of—and therefore doubtless the Catharsis from—a possible Dorothy who the actual Dorothy Sayers was offering for mortification. His disinterested zeal for the work itself has her full sympathy. But she knows that, without grace, it is a dangerous virtue: little better than the “artistic conscience” which every Bohemian bungler pleads as a justification for neglecting his parents, deserting his wife, and cheating his creditors. From the beginning, personal pride is entering into the architect’s character: the play records his costly salvation.

As the detective stories do not stand quite apart, so neither do the explicitly religious works. She never sank the artist and entertainer in the evangelist. The very astringent (and admirable) preface to The Man Born to Be King, written when she had lately been assailed with a great deal of ignorant and spiteful obloquy, makes the point of view defiantly clear. “It was assumed,” she writes, “that my object in writing was ‘to do good.’ But that was in fact not my object at all, though it was quite properly the object of those who commissioned the plays in the first place. My object was to tell that story to the best of my ability, within the medium at my disposal—in short, to make as good a work of art as I could. For a work of art that is not good and true in art is not true and good in any other respect.” Of course, while art and evangelism were distinct, they turned out to demand one another. Bad art on this theme went hand in hand with bad theology. “Let me tell you, good  people, an honest writer would be ashamed to treat a nursery tale as you have treated the greatest drama in history: and this in virtue, not of his faith, but of his calling.” And equally, of course, her disclaimer of an intention to “do good” was ironically rewarded by the immense amount of good she evidently did.

The architectonic qualities of this dramatic sequence will hardly be questioned. Some tell me they find it vulgar. Perhaps they do not quite know what they mean; perhaps they have not fully digested the answers to this charge given in the preface. Or perhaps it is simply not “addressed to their condition.” Different souls take their nourishment in different vessels. For my own part, I have re-read it in every Holy Week since it first appeared, and never re-read it without being deeply moved.

Her later years were devoted to translation. The last letter I ever wrote to her was in acknowledgement of her Song of Roland, and I was lucky enough to say that the end-stopped lines and utterly unadorned style of the original must have made it a far harder job than Dante. Her delight at this (surely not very profound) remark suggested that she was rather starved for rational criticism. I do not think this one of her most successful works. It is too violently colloquial for my palate; but then, she knew far more Old French than I. In her Dante the problem is not quite the same. It should always be read in conjunction with the paper on Dante which she contributed to the Essays Presented to Charles Williams [Link to “‘…And Telling You a Story’: A Note on the Divine Comedy”]. There you get the first impact of Dante on a mature, a scholarly, and an extremely independent mind. That impact determined the whole character of her translation.

She had been startled and delighted by something in Dante for which no critic, and no earlier translator, had prepared her: his sheer narrative impetus, his frequent homeliness, his high comedy, his grotesque buffoonery. These qualities she was determined to preserve at all costs. If, in order to do so, she had to sacrifice sweetness or sublimity, then sacrificed they should be. Hence her audacities in both language and rhythm. (Read more.)


Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Before and After House Tour

Dining room before and after house tour

before and after house tour back entry way

 From Thistlewood Farms:

Before I walk you through the rooms in the house and tell the story of how we moved, I wanted to start way back. Waaaaaay back.

Back at the very beginning.

The house we live in—the house we “jumped back” to in Texas was built in 1908. This is a picture taken with the original exterior of the home. There was a double porch on the front with columns that extended all the way to the top of the roof and the front porch extended all the way across the front of the house.

And yes. This is Texas. Apparently Texas had a snowstorm that year. (Read more.)


Gen Z Never Learned Cursive

 From Deseret News:

According to The Atlantic, this means, “In the future, cursive will have to be taught to scholars the way Elizabethan secretary hand or paleography is today.” This directly impacts archival work. Many written documents from the 19th century and other early time periods are written in cursive. Or they’re written in a type of quasi-cursive that makes it difficult for non-cursive writers to identify individual letters.

While it was once taken for granted that American students would know how to read cursive, now that cannot be the case. Archival work largely depends on a reader’s ability to read hard-to-read texts in shorthand and/or cursive. Will this mean that universities will start having to offer college courses in history programs on how to read cursive? Only time will tell. Though with AI advancing, archival work might be impacted, too.

In Jan. 2023, researchers announced they were able to use artificial intelligence to transcribe a play written in the 1600s. Using AI, researchers were also able to confirm previously unknown authorship of the play by comparing it to other authors’ work from the time period, per Reuters. (Read more.)


Five Ways to Support an Author

It is good form that, if you receive a free copy of a book from an author, you review the book somewhere, or at least tweet about it. Or if an author has reviewed several of your books, it is only common courtesy to review at least one of theirs, or at least link to their blog, or post about it on Facebook. Authors need to help each other; reciprocity is the name of the game. From The Catholic Writers Guild:

While we’re talking about free ways to support your favorite authors (I hope that includes me!), leaving reviews is high on the list. Amazon is the biggest one, but reviews on Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, the author’s website, and anywhere else you buy the book (like local bookshops that sell online, etc.), have a huge impact and can make the difference when someone is thinking about purchasing the book. While you’re on there, be sure to “like” the other five-star reviews so they populate at the top of the list. The best reviews mention specific things that you loved and why you would recommend it, but even just taking 30 seconds on Amazon to click five-stars without writing anything helps! 

Another simple, fun, and free way to support authors is to engage with them on social media. Following your favorite authors and liking their posts is a great start, but the algorithms require engagement to boost a post. A reel or post that has a lot of comments will have more exposure, and one that has multiple shares will see the most traffic. Next time you’re scrolling, take that quick second to comment, tag your friends who would also enjoy the post, and share the content on your own feed. You can find me on Facebook and Instagram @mariarileyauthor if you want to engage with me there!

My next suggestion has less to do with increasing sales and everything to do with encouraging your favorite author: send fan mail. There is something profoundly uplifting and motivating about a reader who loved your book and wanted to let you know. Nothing brightens my day more than reading an email from a child who loved my books. Bonus points for the seven-year-old’s note that included a picture of her holding my book. Seriously, a three-minute email could be exactly the thing that an author needs to stay focused and determined when writing her next book. It might be the difference between her throwing in the towel or continuing writing. As authors, we put ourselves out there and hope that people will like and buy our books. It’s tough business. A few kind words really go a long way, and they won’t cost you a cent.

Finally, if you have a book and author that you love, tell everyone you know. There is no marketing like word of mouth, and personal recommendations are second to none. If you loved a book, chances are your friends will too. Make it a habit to spread the word about your favorite books and hopefully turn a new reader onto his new favorite author. (Read more.)


Monday, October 23, 2023

The Saplings of Sherwood

Robin Hood and Maid Marian

Robin Hood, Robin Hood,
Telling his beads,
All in the greenwood
Among the green weeds. 

~from the nursery rhyme "Robin Hood and Little John"

 Having grown up in a house surrounded by woods, I have always had a fascination with life in the forest, with the solitude, the dangers, the sense of freedom inherent in wilderness dwelling. Robin Hood has long been one of my heroes. He is essentially a noble character forced by circumstances to rebel against unjust laws. There are many tales about Robin Hood, ballads and poems spanning the centuries, including an account of his death. And not to forget the wonderful poem by Alfred Noyes, Sherwood Forest, which captures the magic of the Robin Hood tales:

Sherwood in the twilight, is Robin Hood awake?
Grey and ghostly shadows are gliding through the brake,
Shadows of the dappled deer, dreaming of the morn,
Dreaming of a shadowy man that winds a shadowy horn.

In Book 1 The Saplings of Sherwood of her new series The Telling of the Beads, Avellina Balestri revives the mystery and magic of the great forests of England which were the settings for many legendary quests and adventures, from those of King Arthur and his knights to those of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Saplings imaginatively recounts the childhood of the folk hero called Robin of Locksley, the son and heir of a Saxon noble in the century following the Norman conquest of 1066. As Robin comes of age in the country where his people have been defeated and are second-class citizens, he finds the sufferings of the common folk more and more unbearable. Not only the poor suffer, however, as Robin's nemesis Roger Cavendish endures abuse at the hands of his own family, crippling him emotionally and spiritually. Meanwhile, Robin's devotion to his neighbor Marian Fitzwalter, a highborn Norman maiden, grows amid local quarrels and misunderstandings as well as festivals and happy times.

From Dr. Joseph Pearce at The Imaginative Conservative:

It was in the light or shadow of such historical abuse that I plucked a new novel, Saplings of Sherwood, from those shelves in my library that contain contemporary fiction. Published last year, it is billed as Book One of a larger work, The Telling of the Beads. As the title suggests, Saplings of Sherwood has as its setting the area surrounding Sherwood Forest during the years when Robin Locksley and Maid Marian were children and later teenagers. This is the first thing that gripped me. This is a book in which children are the principal characters, but it’s not a children’s book. On the contrary. Some of the content is decidedly not suited for children. In most fiction written for adults, children are decidedly absent, as creatures not really belonging in the adult world. Similarly, in most children’s literature, adults are decidedly absent or at least only visible in the periphery of our vision, as though adults do not really belong in the world of the child. It is difficult to have the both worlds not merely presented in parallel but in an interwoven drama of intersecting and conflicting desires. Only the greatest writers can do this successfully. One thinks perhaps of Dickens. In this sense, the young author of this novel, Avellina Balestri, has the mark of a great author, or at least a great author in the making.

As I continued reading with a heightened degree of interest and avidity, I wondered why such a novel had been self-published. Why had Miss Balestri not secured a reputable publisher for this work of indubitable literary merit? As I read on, the reason became apparent. On the one hand, the real presence of Catholicism would have precluded its acceptance by any secular publisher in our political and ideologically-charged culture. On the other hand, Miss Balestri’s unflinching approach to sexual activity would preclude its being accepted by any Christian publisher, except the most adventurous, such as Wiseblood Books.

With regard to the presence of sexual practices, Miss Balestri shows an all too rare sensibility. She is certainly not prudish nor puritanical, nor is she even coy; yet neither does she succumb to the lascivious voyeurism which is all too common in contemporary fiction. We are not left at the cabin door in the manner in which Waugh leaves the reader in Brideshead Revisited when Charles and Julia cross the threshold into Julia’s cabin and into the commencement of their adulterous affair; nor are we invited into the room to become a fly-on-the-wall. Instead, Miss Balestri shows us rape, attempted rape, child abuse, marital relations, and adulterous relations, without ever losing control of the descriptive language necessary to keep such incidents from becoming either offensive or titillating. This is a rare gift indeed.

Most important is the historical realism which pervades the telling of the tale. Even allowing for the fact that Sherwood Forest is a place of mystery, shrouded with mythic mist and haunted by the shades of the legendary spirits which walk in its shadows, the backdrop of twelfth-century England is alive with historical verity. Miss Balestri has done her homework. The tension between the Saxon population and their Norman overlords is shown as it must have been at the time. The daily lives of the protagonists seem to reflect what we know or imagine we know about the daily lives of people in medieval England. There is no gatecrashing of the past with anomalous and absurd characters from the present day, parachuted in to deliver the moral agenda of the nihilistic zeitgeist. There are no radical feminists or militant atheists. Instead, there are sinners innumerable and noble souls who try to live virtuously in spite of temptations to pride, hatred, anger, violence, and lust. They are not saints themselves, but they revere the saints enough to want to become more like them. They are, therefore, whether they know it or not, saints in the making. Such are Robin Locksley and Maid Marian.

It is perilous to offer the final word on any work of literature until the final word is written. I have no idea whether Miss Balestri has yet even written the final word. As such, I have no idea whether Book Two of The Telling of the Beads will be as good as this first book or, for that matter, whether there will be a Book Three or a Book Four. I do know, however, that I have just finished a truly masterful piece of storytelling. It is not without flaws, which I will desist from listing, but they are remarkably few in number. Above all, it is historical fiction which offers a true reflection of what is known of the historical facts. Although the story moves in the mysterious spaces in which the historical pieces are missing, it does so in a way that fits comfortably beside the historical pieces that are present in the documentary records. (Read more.)

Robin Hood and Maid Marian

 About the Author:

Avellina Balestri is a Catholic author and editor based in the historic borderlands of Maryland and Pennsylvania. Her stories, poems, and essays have been featured in over thirty print and online publications. She has published two books: "Saplings of Sherwood", the first book in a Robin Hood retelling series, and "Pendragon's Shield", a collection of poetry. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Fellowship & Fairydust, a magazine inspiring faith & creativity and exploring the arts through a spiritual lens.