Category Archives: Culture

Browsing the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

I’ve made my peace with this world of electronic books—I think I’m glad not to have two hundred pounds of encyclopedia sitting on a shelf awaiting an occasional analog read.  I’ll regret not having it when our infrastructure collapses, though.  Anyways, there I was last night idly browsing Project Gutenberg’s 1911 EB when I read about the indomitable Isabella Bird Bishop, a Victorian travel writer.

Here’s a Bird bibliography from John Mark Ockerbloom’s Online Books Page, featuring such classics as Among the Tibetans, Korea and Her Neighbors, Unbeaten Tracks in Japan, and Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan, volumes one and two.

Annie Dillard on how we spend our days

I found this a must-read:  An excerpt:

There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life. A day that closely resembles every other day of the past ten or twenty years does not suggest itself as a good one. But who would not call Pasteur’s life a good one, or Thomas Mann’s?

Moonwalking with Einstein

Maybe I’ll post something about each book I’ve read.  First up: Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer.  A journalist covers a memory competition, gets talked into competing in the next year’s competition, and becomes the reigning American memory champion.  This is an entertaining introduction to the ancients’ memory techniques, centered on the concept of the “memory palace”.

The great modern books on ancient and medieval memory are:

The three ancient sources are:

Piety, ritual, and divine incarnation: then and now

Learning how to behave toward the gods, in daily piety and ritual, and how to negotiate the incursions of the divine into the human—from interpreting oracles and portents to facing the presence of a god in disguise or in epiphany—all of this tests and defines what it is to be human. –Ralph J. Hexter, A Guide to the Odyssey: A Commentary on the English Translation of Robert Fitzgerald.

How to make palm crosses

Nowadays you kids have websites and videos, but back in the olden days the ancient ways were handed on via email. From the archives of a mailing list I was on back in the ’90s:

“As far as I can tell, the palm should be “fresh,” meaning that you probably should do this when you get home from church on Palm Sunday. Pat and I debated whether crosses could be made with palms a few days old (and drying) and soaked in water to limber them up. Anyway …

Split the palm lengthway. Typically the palm is “hinged.” Split it at the hinge. You should have two long slender palms. Take one.

About one fifth up from the broad end (the bottom), fold down. Take the longer of the halves and fold up and to the right about a third from the first fold (now the top). With this second fold, you are forming part of the crossbeam.

You are now going to make the third fold, and thus the length of the crossbeam to the right. Find a point on the palm facing away from the cross (from that second fold) that is about the same distance from the center of the cross as is the top part of it. Fold to bring the palm back toward the cross and forming the crossbeam.

For the fourth fold, again, find a point on the left half of the crossbeam equal in distance from the center of the cross as the right side. Fold to bring the palm back to the body of the cross, completing the crossbeam. The cross itself is finished, but it won’t hold without completing the finishing work.

Take the remaining palm and fold up and to the right, folding over that corner. What you are going to do is wrap the remaining palm around from the top corner, over the front and to the bottom opposite corner. Bring it up the back, to the upper right corner again and repeat. As you bring the remaining palm back around, bring it horizontally across the back. As you bring the palm back toward the front again, bring it across the front to the opposite corner and around to the back. The front should almost like draped cloths criss-crossing the cross.

Should should have a couple inches of very thining palm remaining. Take the remaining palm and thread it in and around the layers in the back (much like taking thread and weaving it in and out of itself when sewing, to finish it off.). Flatten it out, take any kiltering out of the cross and you should have the finished product.

I hope these instructions made sense. I’m a communicator by trade, but I am very accustomed to having visual aids present!

Discovering Dorothy Day

I’m reading through her writings for the Catholic Worker in chronological order from January 1, 1933.  I last turned my attention to her when I was a college Republican in the 1980s and I’d filed her under “crazy radical”.  Turns out she wasn’t crazy at all.  It’s exciting to see her Catholic orthodoxy mix with and ferment her social radicalism. 

Pope Francis

Whoever was in charge of the smoke bombs in the Sistine Chapel did a terrific job this time around. The smoke was thick and plentiful, giving one plenty of time to head to the bathroom and return without missing anything.

After the white smoke appeared this afternoon we all gathered around my computer to watch the video broadcast from Radio Vaticana, which provided intelligent and sympathetic commentary. Kids came and went and I called them in whenever something was about to happen.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the Habemus Papam guy this time around, looked a bit halt and spoke with some effort. Wikipedia says he has Parkinson’s disease.

And after a delay, Pope Francis appeared. Not “Francis I” – a Vatican guy pointed out that he’ll become Francis I when there’s a Francis II. He seems like a serene sort of guy. I won’t attempt any analysis or predictions, except the safe prediction that we’ll see what the future brings. Before Francis and John Paul, the last pope to take an original name was Lando, from the early 900s.

Was anyone else worried about suicide bombers in that huge crowd outside St Peter’s?

Tolerance and intolerance

Fr Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange OP, from somewhere in his 2-volume “God, His existence and His nature: a Thomistic Solution of Certain Agnostic Antinomies”:

The Church is intolerant in principle because she believes; she is tolerant in practice because she loves. The enemies of the Church are tolerant in principle because they do not believe; they are intolerant in practice because they do not love.