Monthly Archives: January 2008

Smart Peasants, Stupid Shrinks

Via Eve, an interesting article on whether or not literacy is leaving our culture, and what the characteristics are of a brain raised in an oral culture. Lots of interesting stuff, yes.

However, it also features some of the stupidest cognitive psychology tests ever, starring Your Soviet Scientists.

 Experimenters showed peasants drawings of a hammer, a saw, an axe, and a log and then asked them to choose the three items that were similar. Illiterates resisted, saying that all the items were useful. If pressed, they considered throwing out the hammer; the situation of chopping wood seemed more cogent to them than any conceptual category. One peasant, informed that someone had grouped the three tools together, discarding the log, replied, “Whoever told you that must have been crazy,” and another suggested, “Probably he’s got a lot of firewood.” One frustrated experimenter showed a picture of three adults and a child and declared, “Now, clearly the child doesn’t belong in this group,” only to have a peasant answer:

Oh, but the boy must stay with the others! All three of them are working, you see, and if they have to keep running out to fetch things, they’ll never get the job done, but the boy can do the running for them.

If you are a “gifted child” having your IQ tested, and you point out that the test is ambiguous or wrong or stereotyped in a meaningless way, the shrinks are impressed and mark you higher. But apparently, if you are a Russian peasant being tested by a New Soviet Member of the Intelligentsia, your creative viewpoint and criticism of the test’s relevance is not appreciated.

What’s really disturbing, though, is that today’s cognitive shrinks apparently don’t appreciate it, either. There they are, sure that illiterate people aren’t objective; and they ignore evidence that the peasants can appraise pictures very objectively. So objectively, in fact, that the test is made to reveal its true lack of importance to their lives.

To any objective observer, anyway.

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Happy St. Agnes Day!

There’ll be some chilly lambs in Rome today!

For your St. Agnes needs: “Virginis Proles”, the Vespers hymn for virgin martyrs. It comes from Women in Chant…Virgin Martyrs, a Gregorian chant album by the Regina Laudis nuns.

Wikisource also has the words to the Lauds hymn, “O castitatis signifer” and “O Christe, flos convallium”. No music, though.

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Techies in the Pews

Br. Guy Consolmagno, forced to take, every so often, a sabbatical from his normal duties as per Jesuit regs, has found occupation in the anthropological study of engineers’ religious positions. (This is the short version of a book he has out.)

Oh, yes, I know people like this. (Heck, I have acquaintances in common with Consolmagno, though I doubt I’d be able to identify them from the pseudonymous stuff in the book. I might flatter myself that I could, of course….) But it’s very helpful to see it all written out in logical order.

Via Zadok.

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A THIRD Detectives in Togas Book!

The good news: there’s another Roman kids’ mystery by Henry Winterfeld after Detectives in Togas (Caius ist ein Dummkopf) and Mystery of the Roman Ransom (Caius geht ein Licht auf).

The bad news: they’ve never translated Caius in der Klemme.

Aughhhhhhh! The citizens of Babel have a lot to answer for!

I shall drown my sorrows by looking at what seems to be a nice omnibus edition cover.


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An Early Christian Calendar!!

The Chronology of 354 has a complicated history, a boatload of information, and more pictures than you can shake a stick at. Including a twelve-month illustrated Roman calendar! Made by a Christian calligrapher for a Christian senator. Enjoy!

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Patron Saint of Idiots Who Run Out onto the Field

St. Telemachus, martyr. On his first visit to Rome in the fifth century, this Eastern monk was appalled to learn that gladiatorial games still were being held in the Western Empire’s Colosseum, as if it were still the first century or something. So he ran out onto the arena sand, trying to get the gladiators to stop. These days, someone would call security. Back then, the enraged (and probably Christian) fans of the games grabbed anything they could reach and stoned him. To death.

When Emperor Honorius heard of this, he outlawed the Games at last.

(Of course, chariot-racing in the East continued to lead to mass deaths on the track, in the streets by horsy hooligans, and in riots and Byzantine politics — because the two rival teams were also political parties. But hey, Telemachus could only die once.)

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Dear Vince Gilligan…

…Remember, during The X-Files, when I swore I’d watch any TV show you cared to invent?

I’m pretty sure we had an implicit agreement that this would never include shows about supposedly sympathetic suburban methmakers. It’s a Lockean thing.

So since you violated our pact first, I’m not bound to watch your bathos of a “moral dilemma” about a terminally ill chemistry teacher providing for his family, by means likely to get them killed and all their belongings confiscated by the law. Even if you can make me believe that anybody is that stupid, I’m not stupid enough to watch him.

Sincerely yours,



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Doctor Who Reference in The Court Jester?

Okay, so it’s not the Tardis. But one of the victims of court intrigue and pellets of poison in that Danny Kaye flick is… “Pertwee!”

You may yawn now.

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Oh, This Is Cruel….

The same monks in Brazil who have all those mp3s of them singing Mass ordinaries and hymns?

They also sell some scrumptious-looking cakes.

Ah, how cruel it is that teleportation has not been invented yet, and shipping fees have been.

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“Inventor Rutili” – Hymn for Lighting the Easter Fire

“Inventor Rutili” is the first three verses of Prudentius’ “Hymn for the Lighting of the Lamps”. In the Sarum Rite, two cantors would trade off lines of it, and then the whole choir did something I didn’t understand. (What does “answer the verses” mean?)

It has a lovely chant tune, which the current translations don’t fit very well. Being stupid about going to bed on time, I have allowed myself to be drawn into writing a new translation. Filler phrases that are not in the original poem will appear in italics. You can listen to my rendition of the original Latin lyrics here and my mp3 of my translation here. (Although I’ve fiddled a bit with the translation since I posted the mp3 of it. Sorry.)

“Inventor Rutili”
Translated by Maureen S. O’Brien, 1/17/08

Inventor of red-gold light, o honest guide through night,
You give each season time; each waits its turn in line.
The sun’s plunged into the black; Chaos charges to attack.
For your faithful in the night. O Christ, bring back the light.

In Your court, King divine, countless the stars that shine.
You decorate the sky; lamp-like, the Moon up high.
Still You teach us to hit flint on steel to look for it –
One tiny spark alone, born from the heart of stone.

You did this to make us see our hope of light must be
In the solidity of Christ’s Body.
Rightly Our Lord we call Rock, strong against ev’ry shock.
All our tiny tongues of flame spark from Him. Praise His Name.

Btw, you might want to see a comparison of other translations in Bryn Mawr Classical Review.


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Hymn Tunes for Liturgy of the Hours Hymns

The Topmost Apple has been doing yeoman work to find tunes and .mp3s for all the Office hymns. Yay!


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Carols I Found a Little Late for Christmas

The Latin Library includes a very few hymns, but they’re choice.

“Qui Creavit Coelum” was written by some medieval nuns in Chester, and includes lullabye noises. That guy who wrote the blog post about how Christmas hymns weren’t Marian enough? He should see this one. Breastfeeding fans will love this verse:

lactat mater domini, lully, lully, lu,
osculatur parvulum, by, by, by, by, by,
et adorat dominum, lully, lully, lu.

There’s also a hymn that Coleridge copied down when he was in Germany from an old print. Very cute.

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Books.Google.Com finds

Latin Hymns: With English Notes, for Use in Schools and Colleges, ed. by Francis Andrew March. This looks like a pretty good compendium or reference source. However, it doesn’t necessarily tell you whether it’s the original version of the hymn or one of the rewrites. Includes a Latin hymn by Gladstone. *goggle*

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Free Christian Romance Plot Complication

I hate plot complications and especially I hate hopeless starcrossed love, but I know some people love ‘em. So here’s one you don’t see in fiction in English –

A forbidden love for your godparents’ kid.

IIRC, it’s traditionally been a lot easier to get a dispensation to marry your cousin than your godfather’s son, or your godparent. (Which makes sense. I mean, marry your godparent? EW!)  In a traditional Christian society, godparents are very important figures in a child’s life and one would tend to spend a lot of time at their house. (And a lot more if the child’s parents were to kick the bucket, of course.)

So the spiritual relationship really would be as important to protect from abuse as a physical genetic relationship, and yet one could see people screwing up on this point. In fact, I seem to remember that this sort of thing came up a lot in the medieval tabloids. (Those darned nobles!) So there’s something that people could fight a lot, and finally come to their senses and get over (but which would keep them from recognizing the charms of the real love interest for a good long time).

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