Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Stupid, It Burns

I read an article today whose author assumed that all lady schoolteachers who lived together in the early twentieth century did so because they were long-term lesbian lovers.

First off, the obvious. More than one woman in a house meant help with the rent, the grocery bill, and the housework. If they could afford a full-time servant or a part-time cleaning lady, it was also someone to share that expense (and outnumber the servant, if labor relations got tense). It was the same reason that single men who weren’t rich usually shared rooms with a friend or two or three. As the old saying goes, “two can live cheaper than one.”

Women schoolteachers, and women of many other professions and jobs, shared apartments and houses and boarding houses with other women because they were poor, were not living with their families, and wished to reduce the chance of scandal, rape, and murder. A woman living totally alone was a potential target. A woman living with other women had built-in chaperonage. She could discourage the burglar or the over-eager suitor, because she had witnesses around.

Teachers were in a particularly sensitive position, because many schools insisted that all women teachers be single, never married, constantly ladylike (ie, not constantly brandishing pistols and shotguns), and of spotless public character. If they lived alone, they had to guard their honor (and hence, their livelihoods!) from whispers. If they lived with relatives or with other single women, there were witnesses around.

Maiden ladies alone had only their force of character. Maiden ladies in twos or in gaggles could go places and do things with impunity. And they did.

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Why You Don’t Write Books Addressing Popes Emeriti

Because an ex-pope who isn’t dead can reply to your rhetorical “open letter.”

I don’t think he would have felt the need, except for the groundless accusations toward his own handling of the issue of kids who were abused. Since then-Cardinal Ratzinger basically kept going around slapping the Curia and then-Pope John Paul II into dealing with the issue, and even went to the lengths of getting his own CDF put in charge so they could move cases along and get rid of the bad apples, it’s pretty disgusting to blame the man. It’s like telling Lincoln that slavery was all his fault, especially since he didn’t wiggle his nose and make it disappear in 1840.

But Benedict being Benedict, he goes after the debate in his own typical style, picking up his opponent’s points, agreeing with them, admiring them, and then using them as his own points to the contrary.

This always cracks me up, particularly since the atheist guy disses theology as “science fiction” (in a context which seems to be dissing science fiction as well), and our little pope emeritus comes back defending science fiction, including his opponent’s right to his own crazy speculations! Hah!

Anyway, for those of us who’ve heard the debate before and are more interested in the sf part, here’s Benedict’s definition of science fiction and speculative fiction:

“…science fiction in the good sense of the word… views and forecasts in order to reach real understanding, but… imagination with which we try to get closer to reality.”

This is a pretty typical Benedict view — that fiction and art go wide of reality, or overemphasize certain choice bits, in order that those experiencing the art will understand actual reality better.

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There Are Always Heroes

Presenting Mr. Abdul Haji, one of the heroes who saved people in the Kenyan mall massacre.

Typically for heroes, Mr. Haji insists that he just did what any other Kenyan would have done.

I’m trying to find that story about the Royal Marine guy, too.

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What Sukkoth/Sukkot Is a Feast of

Here’s an interesting article on Sukkoth’s connection to the harvest, or rather, to harvest-processing.

Of course, we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration on August 6th (thanks to the vagaries of lunar vs. solar calendar), whereas Sukkoth is whenever it comes up in the lunar calendar. But I bet you all remember the bit where Peter offers to build Moses and Elijah and Jesus “booths” on top of the mountain so they can all celebrate the feast together. The booths or tents are where people camped out during the harvest and harvest processing season. Urban people were commanded to build them also, and to remember the people’s nomadic past and the exodus from Egypt too.

Anyway, since “harvest” is one of the big Biblical and Gospel eschatological images, you can see how the Transfiguration ties into it. First Jesus harvests us, then He gets rid of the chaff at the Judgment with the threshing and winnowing, then the good grain is sifted and purified and brought into the barns of eternal life, and then there’s bliss and feasting after the processing is over.

Sukkoth also includes prayers for rain, since the end of harvest processing is the beginning of the rainy season. This ties in with the traditional water games played at the Feast of the Transfiguration, both to cool people off while reminding them of Baptism, and because most of the folks in the Eastern parts of the world are also waiting for rain. But also, since folks in Israel had been praying for it _not_ to rain, and rot the grain before the processing was done and everything safely under cover, it was a ceremonial reversal of what they’d just been doing! 🙂

Here’s a good talk from the “Feasts of Faith” series of talks comparing the great Jewish and Catholic feasts. This one is “Tabernacles: Old Testament Feast and Eucharistic Fulfillment.”

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Good Stuff about Cloaks

Good stuff about cloaks from the guy who does weapons talks.

A lot of people believe the anti-cloak propaganda of Diana Wynne Jones’ Tough Guide to Fantasy. No, cloaks are good. For some purposes, they’re better than coats; for other purposes, they’re less good but still useful. (But yes, rolling up in only your cloak isn’t advisable; you’ll want at least another blanket beside your cloak, and a ground sheet.)

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The Chronicle of Melusine (Middle English translation)

Now here’s a really popular romance of the Middle Ages: Melusine of Lusignan, as told by Jean d’Arras and company.

Melusine is normally drawn with a fish tail or tails. (In fact, the German woodcut that Starbucks first used for their trademark was not a mermaid but a melusine, as you can tell by the lack of mirror and the twin tails.) But in the actual legend, she had a lower half that was a snake (or dragon!) on Saturdays.

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Dragonfighting Saints of France

This page has a good list of “sauroctones,” or dragonslayers, of French legend and hagiography:

Saints Agricol (Avignon), Amand (Tournay), AndrĂ© (Villiers-sur-Loir), Aredins (Gap), Armel (PloĂ«rmel), Armentaire (Draguignan), Arnel (Vannes), Avit (Dordogne), Bertrand (Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges), BienheurĂ© (VendĂ´me), ClĂ©ment (Metz), Derrien et Neventer (Landerneau), Donat (Sisteron), DiĂ© (Saint-DiĂ©), DyĂ© (Saint-DyĂ©-sur-Loire), Efflam (Plestin-les-Grèves), Florent (Anjou), Front (Lalinde), Georges (Velay), Germain d’Auxerre, Germain d’Ecosse (Flamanville), Hilaire (Poitiers), Jacques (Aix-en-Provence), Jean AbbĂ© (Tonnerre), Jouin (vallĂ©e de la Dive, dans les Deux-Sèvres), Julien (Maine et vallĂ©e du Loir), Liphard (Meung-sur-Loire), Loup (Troyes), Marcel (Paris), Martial (Bordeaux), Martin de Vertou, Mauront (Saint-Florent-le-Vieil), MĂ©en (vallĂ©e de la Loire), Mesmin (aval d’OrlĂ©ans), Neventer et Derrien (Landerneau), Nicaise (Rouen), Nicaize (Moret-sur-Loing), Ortaire (Normandie), Paul (Lyon), Pavace (Maine), Pol-AurĂ©lien (Ă®le de Batz), Quiriace (Provins), Romain (Rouen), Samson (estuaire de la Seine), Saturnin (Bernay), Saulve (Montreuil-sur-Mer), Tugdual (environs de TrĂ©guier), VĂ©ran (Fontaine-de-Vaucluse), Victor (Marseille), Vigor (Bayeux), ainsi que saintes Marthe (Tarascon) et Radegonde (Poitiers).

Plenty of laypeople were non-saintly dragonslayers too, of course. Generally they were either noble knights or condemned prisoners fighting for life, but there were also clever peasants.

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Catch and Release Dragons: St. Clement of Metz

St. Clement of Metz’s legend tells of him finding a bunch of serpents and dragons nesting in the city’s Roman amphitheater, biting people. They surrendered after he made the Sign of the Cross, so he captured their leader with his stole and led it out of town. All the other snakes followed obediently. He commanded the dragons and snakes to live in the wilderness and not venture back into the city, and they all slithered happily ever after.

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Good Christian Dragons – “Good Holy Vermine”

It’s a well-known fact that anti-Catholics and anti-historics refuse to see jokes. You can wave them in front of their faces and explain the whole thing, but they won’t get it. They’d rather be shocked and horrified.

So in Poitiers, like many other places in Europe, they had a processional dragon called the Grand’Goule. It had a legend with it, about how good St. Radegonde and her nuns defeated the wicked dragon. St. Radegonde founded St. Croix (Holy Cross) Abbey, so named because they had some relics of the True Cross (courtesy of the Byzantine Empire and St. Radegonde’s aristocratic connections). The legend says that one day, nuns who were sent down to the caves of the wine cellar next to the river weren’t coming back. So armed with either some blessed bread, some holy water, her abbess staff, or the abbey’s bit of the True Cross, St. Radegunde went down the cellar and found that a big female dragon had come in from the Clain River’s spring and made the cellar its den, and was eating all the nuns. (Not just meat, but virgins too, you’ll notice.) So St. Radegonde defeated the dragon, and all was well. There’s a little statue of the Grand’Goule sporting bat wings, eagle feet, a wyvern’s tail, and a snake’s head.

The other thing that people don’t get is that dragons, when representing Ultimate Evil or Death Incarnate or just something scary, are usually portrayed by the medievals as kinda funny critters. The devil and his angels may be dragons, but their wings are stunted and unable to carry them back to heaven. They’re just pests and nuisances and losers. Dragons are usually shown this way, too. They quickly turn into the procession’s comical characters.

OTOH, because of the draco banners’ use in warfare and because dragons guarded things like cities and treasures, the French city’s dragon is something of a patriotic monster. It’s like Godzilla protecting Tokyo from all other monsters. So the processional dragon was popular and loved in its comical menace.

By the 17th century, the little processional draco banner had turned into a big parade float, with the statutory kung-fu action jaws that really opened and shut, and a big bag to hold bread donations to the poor (and the guys who worked hard propelling the float and operating the jaws). So people would throw bread, apple cakes, buns, and cookies* into the Grand’Goule’s mouth, or try to aim flower wreaths at the head as extra decoration.

Then the good Catholic people of Poitiers in the 1600’s thought that it would be funnier to elaborate on this. So when tossing bread, they’d yell, “Bonne sainte vermine, protegez nous!” or even “priez pour nous!”

“Vermine” means vermin, in French. It’s also a pun on “verminus”, little worm or little wyrm/dragon; and on “vermina,” someone who has worms. Finally, it sounds like “St. Firmin” or “Fermin,” the shorter versions of St. Firminus of the famous bulls. So it’s funny several ways, especially if you’re pretending to ask for intercession against worms. It makes a great parody of normal saint processional float behavior, too.

When you give donations to charity, it’s normal for the receivers to pray for the givers. So it’s funny to feed the dragon while asking it to pray for you; but it’s also not a total joke, because the poor and the guys driving the dragon really are going to pray for the donors.

Needless to say, the anti-Catholic English sources of the 19th century take this fun float and turn it into the epitome of ignorant idolatrous ebil. They are all for saying that this proves that Catholics think dragons are saints, that Catholics worship dragons, blah blah blah.

I say that they are party-poopers. And I really, really want me a dragon float.

* The Poitier dragon-feeding cookies were called “casse-museaux,” which means “snout-breaker.” (This pictures St. Radegonde whacking the dragon with blessed bread.) Here are some recipes for today’s casse-museaux, which are probably pretty different from the ones in 1600’s Poitiers, but obviously are still yummy.

Rogation Days casse-museaux biscuit-cakes with white cheese and orange peel. A similar recipe with both milk and cheese with a texture more like muffins or cake.

Casse-museaux hazelnut bars.

Casse-museaux the Ste. Maure de Touraine way, with goat cheese and a lot of alcohol.

Kid in Brassac selling anti-dragon casse-museaux. Here they make them from sheep’s milk. The article describes them as being hard and crisp on the outside, but soft and scrumptious within. Legend says that the inhabitants of Castle Brassac drove a dragon back to the Agout River by smacking him on the nose with some quickly flung casse-museaux. If you have sheep’s milk, here’s a recipe for Brassac casse-museaux.

(Casse-museau can also mean a sort of apple cobbler, chestnut biscuits, or an unsweetened goat cheese cake from Berry.)


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St. John’s Dragon and St. John’s Love

St. John’s dragon in a chalice is almost as common in some churches as St. Michael vs. the dragon/devil. There’s a lot of different stuff behind this.

1. Pretty much everybody in church history identified St. John the Apostle with the author of the Book of Revelation. (And “the beloved disciple,” too.) The Book of Revelation has a dragon in it (the one menacing the Woman Clothed with the Sun), so there’s an obvious association of ideas. (Sometimes St. John even gets pictured with the monsters of Revelation, which is cool if you like many-headed monsters on your stained glass.)

2. St. John and St. James (the “brothers of thunder”) used to share December 27 as their feast day. They were associated with the chalice as a symbol, because (after they angled for thrones next to Jesus) of the fulfilled prophecy that they would both “drink from the chalice from which I will drink” by suffering similar troubles. The confusion lies in that Church also carries a chalice in scenes of the Crucifixion; and that Jesus had another prophecy about John (the ‘hey, what business is it of yours when John dies’ prophecy/snark), and in fact John didn’t get martyred. So it’s a little bit confuzzling as an attribute.

3. However, there’s a legend that John, fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy about being able to drink poison, either drank a poisoned cup of wine at a feast without harm, or that when he said Grace over the wine, a vision of a snake/dragon of poison appeared over the glass so that John and everybody else were warned, or that a snake/dragon actually slithered out of the glass and out of the room with the poison. This made for a cool stained glass scene (chalice plus big bitey snake, or chalice plus little flappy dragon) or statue or painting.

This also made St. John one of the patrons of wine and winemaking. (This was particularly fitting, since wine often is associated with fervent love in the Scriptures, and St. John’s Gospel is particularly associated with love.) This was particularly handy on his December 27th feastday, because it was still the Twelve Days of Christmas and a time to be merry.

So on Dec. 27, people would (and still do) bring some of their wine to church and have it blessed by the priest with a special blessing. When blessed by a priest with this old prayer, the wine, called “St. John’s wine” or “the love of St. John,” is actually a sacramental, not just blessed for usefulness like a car. So people would pour it into their wine barrels at home to bless all the other wine. People would save it and give to the sick or dying, or use it for peacemaking when needed. But most of all, people would drink “the love of St. John” to each other at dinner that night. (In Austria, the Family Von Trapp learned to have the older members drink to the younger, all around the table, saying, “I drink you the love of St. John,” which was answered by the toastee, “Thank you for the love of St. John.”)

It is also very nice to give one of your blessed bottles to the priest, so that he shares the merriment too! (And if he doesn’t want to drink it himself, I’m sure he’ll know who can use a nice bottle of the Love of St. John.)

So St. John’s dragon in the chalice is really more of an obedient answer to prayer than a totally bad dragon; and he’s associated with merriment and salvation.

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“Unless a serpent eats a serpent…”

“… he won’t become a dragon.”

A Greek proverb translated into Latin. Dryden and C.S. Lewis also quote it.

Well, that does explain all those solitary dragons….

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Japanese Home Remedy for Colds

There have been some research studies recently that have indicated that alcohol as a home remedy isn’t entirely crazy. (If only because alcohol kills a lot of germs on contact, and germs in your throat are thus able to be killed.)

Of course alcohol doesn’t mix well with acetaminophen, which is why they’ve taken alcohol out of cold medicines. But whiskey in coffee, whisky in tea, whisky in lemon juice and hot water, sugar in hot Tennessee whiskey, mulled wine (or mulled beer, or hot honey vodka), and many other alcoholic drinks are well known home remedies, and taste good too.

So of course the Japanese have one. (And not just the thing where you wear a flannel bellywarmer, because cold bellies are allegedly the root of all winter diseases.)

Nope, this one is heating up sake, and then adding sugar and a raw egg (which cooks in the hot sake). Tamagozake, egg sake. It’s like egg nog with no milk. (Japanese people generally have trouble digesting milk and don’t like the taste.)

And you know, a little sugar and protein and alcohol probably would taste pretty good and help kill some bugs. If it didn’t, you’d at least feel a little better for a while.

If that doesn’t manage it, there’s cola de mono (monkey’s tail) from Chile: milk, sugar, coffee, cloves, and a big slash of aguardiente. (Chilean aguardiente is made from grape residue and a variety of flavors.) So it’s sort of a cafe au lait Irish coffee. But Chileans drink this as a punch at Christmastime in fairly large quantities. Presumably they drink it like iced coffee, though, because it gets hot in Chile at Christmastime.

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Two Unusual Rock Songs

A former member of Kansas sings the story of his daughter’s life; and the 1974 Seals and Croft single “Unborn Child,” which was refused radio play.

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Your Colander Is Your Noodlemaking Machine

This is an Austrian recipe for making Spaetzle and Cheese, like macaroni and cheese except with tastier little spaetzle.

So it also tells you how to make spaetzle by hand (although you can get boxed dried spaetzle here), and reveals the Secret Use of the Colander! Just squoosh the dough through a colander, and poof! Noodles!

Obviously this can get messy….

Pictures and instructions for making spaetzle with a colander!

If you go through the whole slideshow, you see that the traditional method makes you smooth out the dough, a quarter inch thick, on a bread board after it’s mixed, and then cut to the desired length and breadth. So using the colander to control thickness takes out a step. The major problem with the colander method would be avoiding getting burned or splashed, but the dough is supposed to be at a slow splort stage anyway. So presumably gravity does most of the work, and you can just hold the colander by the handles. Otherwise, I suppose you’d just push the dough through the colander holes with a cold spoon.

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