You are currently browsing the daily archive for February 24, 2010.

No, it doesn’t mean the same thing as “smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em.”  Instead, it’s one of those delightful anachronistic expressions – and, indeed, a legal term – still used in the Mother Country and signifies that point in the evening  when it’s getting a bit too dark to see and is time to light the candles or turn on the headlights (one of my favorite times of day).

Technically, it starts half an hour after sunset.  Yes, you could just say “dusk”, but where’s the poetry in that?

Anyhoo, I was reminded of this expression again as I read this story of a plan next month to light up Hadrian’s Wall:

It is forbiddden to climb on Hadrian’s Wall, to remove even a fragment of stone or to make a lasting imprint in the ground around it, but next month more than 1,000 people will set it alight.

The plan, on March 13, is to ignite a chain of 500 points of light along the 84-mile length of the wall to illuminate it in a line of flaming torches and flares.

(You can nip across to the Times via the linky to see a video of the dress rehearsal.)

There doesn’t seem to be much point to the project other than to serve as a publicity stunt to draw attention to the Wall and boost tourism.  Nonetheless, I think it’s a good thing.  When I watched the vid, I kept imagining some poor Roman legionaire standing in a guard tower, ceaselessly glancing up and down the line for signs of Picts and wondering to himself how on earth he wound up here at whatever the Latin equivalent of “the back of beyond” might be.

Kinda gives one the historickal chills.

Another study documenting the chipping away of our common heritage, one name at at time:

Celebrities aren’t the only ones giving their babies unusual names. Compared with decades ago, parents are choosing less common names for kids, which could suggest an emphasis on uniqueness and individualism, according to new research.

Essentially, today’s kids (and later adults) will stand out from classmates. For instance, in the 1950s, the average first-grade class of 30 children would have had at least one boy named James (top name in 1950), while in 2013, six classes will be necessary to find only one Jacob, even though that was the most common boys’ name in 2007.

Refreshingly, and rayther surprisingly, the article goes on to note that the author of the research, San Diego State’s Jean Twenge, thinks this is not necessarily a good thing and may actually promote narcissism.

“The most compelling explanation left is this idea that parents are much more focused on their children standing out,” Twenge told LiveScience. “There’s been this cultural shift toward focusing on the individual, toward standing out and being unique as opposed to fitting in with the group and following the rules.”

The positive side of individualism, Twenge said, is that there is less prejudice and more tolerance for minority groups. But she warns that when individualism is taken too far, the result is narcissism.

“I think it is an indication of our culture becoming more narcissistic,” Twenge said.

Past research has shown that back in the 1950s parents placed a lot of importance on a child being obedient, which has gone way down. “Parenting has become more permissive and more child-focused and [parents] are much more reluctant to be authority figures,” Twenge said.

As for whether these unusually named kids will have personalities to match is not known.

“It remains to be seen whether having a unique name necessarily leads to narcissism later in life,” Twenge said. “If that unique name is part of a parent’s overall philosophy that their child is special and needs to stand out and that fitting in is a bad thing, then that could lead to those personality traits.”

Somebody once recommended to me that the best rule of thumb for choosing children’s names was to stick to popes and saints.  Feeling that this is still a pretty wide net and that a kid named Innocent, Boniface or Mewrog would be just as likely to get beat up on the playground and to resent their moniker later in life as someone named Moon-Unit, Apple or Fuschia, I have always been much more hide-bound even than that.

For boys, I would never go beyond Robert, John, Charles, James or William.  Perhaps Peter or Richard.

For girls, Katherine, Mary, Elizabeth, Anne, Caroline. Maybe Margaret.

(These are just my particular preferences, so certain persons near and dear to me can just put that rock back down and stop hyperventilating.  Your results may vary, of course, and good luck to ye.)

Of names that have withstood the test of time like these, all I can say is that they’ll never be flashy, but then again they’ll never be obsolete, either.  Nor will they give the child a hyper-inflated sense of Self.

For those two or three of you together who were wondering about yesterday’s “Spot the Quote” entry, the answer is that the line comes from Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, somewhere toward the end of Act I:

PIRATE KING:     Although our dark career
Sometimes involves the crime of stealing,
We rather think that we’re
Not altogether void of feeling.
Although we live by strife,
We’re always sorry to begin it,
For what, we ask, is life
Without a touch of Poetry in it?
(all kneel)

ALL:      Hail, Poetry, thou heav’n-born maid!
Thou gildest e’en the pirate’s trade.
Hail, flowing fount of sentiment!
All hail, all hail, divine emollient!
(all rise)

So there you are.  With no winner this time, the pot now stands at $15.75 and two boxes of crunchy frogs.

Today is the birthday of American artist Winslow Homer, born this day in 1836.  Among other things, Homer worked as an illustrator for Harper’s Weekly during the Civil War, hanging about with the Army of the Potomac.  He later developed what he saw and recorded into a number of paintings, including Prisoners From The Front above.  They are well worth a look if you have the opportunity.

I bring this up because B.B. and I were discussing the movie Gettysburg in comments to my recent post on the shortcomings of the effort to transpose Percy Jackson and the Olympians from print to celluloid.  Contrary to my usual jaded view of movies made from books, I happen to think that Gettysburg was a reasonably decent adaptation of Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels.  However, as I mentioned to B.B., one of my gripes with the movie was its penchant for pinching images from Homer’s work (and others’ as well).  Prisoners From The Front is perhaps the best example of this.  The movie set up one scene based exactly on the position of the characters in Homer’s painting, as I’m sure many of you will quickly recognize.  Now, you may say that this actually is in tribute to Homer, but I don’t recall seeing anything in the credits about it.  Further, I’d be willing to bet that not one in a thousand viewers recognized the nod.  Some people call that sort of thing plagiarism.

By the way, as long as I’m at it, the Union officer depicted in this painting is not, of course, Lt. Tom Chamberlain of the 20th Maine, but instead is Brigadier General Francis Barlow (who was, in fact, at Gettysburg himself and has his own remarkable story).  The painting is said to depict his capture of a numer of Confederates at Petersburg in 1864.  Homer used the painting as a chance to do a case study on various types of Rebel – proud cavalier officer, apprehensive old man and clueless country bumpkin cannon-fodder.  One of my other minor gripes with Gettysburg was that it was the bumpkin who spoke with Tom Chamberlain, and not the officer.


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February 2010