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February 5, 2013

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Adlai Stevenson II (1900-1965), governor of Illinois and twice presidential candidate on the Democratic Party ticket. His final political role was as American ambassador to the United Nations.

In his day Stevenson was considered something of an intellectual among politicians; he certainly would be considered that today. He was not the best judge of character—in 1949 he testified at a Congressional hearing in defense of Alger Hiss—nor the best...

February 4, 2013

Whew! I got through another year without being marched toward the domestic gallows: Today is my wife's birthday, and I remembered it. Safe for another year!

I don't think she'd want me to advertise the number associated with her birthday (let's just say she's been 21 more than once now), but there is another number worth considering because it is illustrative of the fact that most people guess numbers wrong.

Before I get to that number, consider another one: I read recently...

February 3, 2013

One hundred years ago today the Sixteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, bringing Americans the joy of the income tax. You see some of them—perhaps your grandparents or great-grandparents among them—in this 1920 photo of people filling out tax forms at an IRS office.

Not many Americans complete their 1040s that way any more. Most use tax preparation software. I've been doing my taxes on the computer for years, and the process, though a bit tedious, is straightforward...

February 2, 2013

On this day in 1904 Pope St. Pius X issued an encyclical on the Immaculate Conception. The issuance was in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of the dogma by Bl. Pius IX on December 8, 1854. The new encyclical was called Ad Diem Illum Laetissimum.

A century ago, most Catholics were less educated than they are today. Indeed, a good proportion of them were illiterate, and most of the rest, even in a country such as the U.S., could not hope to go beyond high...

February 1, 2013

This is the third and, for now, last post that mentions episodes from the life of Paul Claudel.

During World War I Claudel was stationed in Rome, Italy being an ally of France and Britain. One day he dined with Hilaire Belloc (seen in the photo flanked by his friends George Bernard Shaw and G. K. Chesterton) in an osteria on the Via Nomentana. The eatery was called Pozzo di San Patrizio (Well of St. Patrick).

Belloc spoke words of praise about a talented young author. Claudel...