Boys Who Wear Shorts All Winter, Britain’s Forgotten Theme Parks, and Studying Notre Dame’s Ashes
Ashley Fetters has a fun piece in The Atlantic on “Boys Who Wear Shorts All Winter.” We have one in our house—or, at least, we would if we let him wear shorts all winter. We make him wear pants sometimes, though not because it’s cold: because shorts look sloppy. In the piece, a therapist suggests that Boys Who Wear Shorts All Winter do so to appear “tough…masculine.” Perhaps, though I can say that that doesn’t seem to explain our son’s decision. He couldn’t care less what people think. “[S]ometimes, Fagell noted, kids just want to do things their own way, or for their own reasons—and in climates where the cold is milder, perhaps above freezing, Fagell advises parents to just ‘pick their battles … If they’re not going to [get] frostbite—say, if it’s in the 40s—it’s a dumb decision, but they’re unlikely to suffer real harm,’ she said.” True, that.
Britain’s forgotten theme parks: “Opened in 1983, Camelot theme park was once a hive of activity, with a 100ft roller coaster – the Knightmare – as one of the main attractions. Yet in 2012 the 140 acre site near the village of Charnock Richard closed down, claiming bad weather and the 2012 Olympics were behind dire visitor numbers. Now, it lies forgotten, many of its rides left to rust and moulder – a far cry from the park’s illustrious origins. Themed around the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, the park took inspiration from the local area, which used to be submerged by the largest lake in England: Martin Mere.”
Scientists are studying Notre Dame’s ashes. Why? “Construction of the cathedral, considered one of the finest examples of the French Gothic style, began in the twelfth century. The structure was modified in the Middle Ages and extensively restored in the nineteenth century by the architect Eugène Viollet-Le-Duc. But it has been the subject of surprisingly little scientific research, compared with other Gothic monuments in France and elsewhere, says Martine Regert, a biomolecular archaeologist at the CNRS’s CEPAM centre for the study of historical cultures and environments in Nice, who is one of the Notre-Dame project’s leaders. Many questions remain about the structure, such as which sections are medieval and whether Viollet-Le-Duc reused some of the older materials, says Regert.”
Fred Siegel reviews Amity Shlaes’s Great Society: A New History: “Shlaes sums up by telling the reader that ‘the results of our experimentations in expanding government were not generous.’ There were, she explains, ‘profound sources of the unexpected tragedies of the Great Society endeavor,’ which had looked upon the private sector as little more than a ‘milk cow.’ Worse yet, she argues, the ‘1960s experiment and its 1970s aftermath suggest’ that the ‘social democratic compromise’ of the Great Society came ‘close enough to socialism to cause economic tragedy.’”
Inside the tomb of Frederick III: “For the first time in over 500 years, we are able to see inside the tomb of one of the most important of the Holy Roman Emperors. The sepulchre of Frederick (Friedrich) III, emperor from 1452 until his death in 1493, the greatest monument in Vienna’s cathedral of St Stephen’s, in the city’s historic centre, has been shown to contain his enamelled gilded crown and imperial regalia . . . For much of the 20th century there were rumours that Frederick III was not actually buried in the tomb. To counter these suggestions, in 1969 the cathedral authorities agreed that a small hole should be drilled through the thick stone of the sepulchre to enable specialists to check whether there was a body inside. Using a tiny light and mirror, it was confirmed that the emperor’s remains were inside. But with 1969 technology it was impossible to take photographs. Six years ago, the small hole was reopened, and by this time the interior could be photographed. These sensational images remained confidential and were only made available on 8 November, following a joint research project by the cathedral and Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum.”
The “unsettling” comedy of Jane Austen’s final, unfinished novel: “In contrast to the earlier novels about great houses and rural villages, Sanditon’s 12 chapters do not describe a tight country society but a developing coastal resort full of restless traveling people—the novel becomes an exuberant comedy not of organic community but rather of bodies whose weaknesses are delivered with zest. It is a surprising subject for Jane Austen’s last work, which fits neither with her previous subtle comedies of manners nor with the sentimental romantic nostalgia they gave rise to in her global fandom. The world of Sanditon is absurd, unsettled and unsettling.”
Essay of the Day:
In The Guardian, Charlotte Higgens tells the sad story of possible theft of ancient manuscripts at Oxford. Ignore the scare quotes and occasional snarkiness towards Evangelicals. This is an important story:
“One blustery evening towards the end of Michaelmas term, 2011, two visiting Americans climbed Obbink’s staircase – Drs. Scott Carroll and Jerry Pattengale. Both worked for the Greens, a family of American conservative evangelicals who have made billions from a chain of crafting stores called Hobby Lobby. At the time, the family was embarking on an ambitious new project: the Museum of the Bible, which opened in Washington DC in 2017. Carroll was then its director. Items for the Green collection were bought by Hobby Lobby, then donated to the museum, bringing a substantial tax write-off. Pattengale was the head of the Green Scholars Initiative, a project offering academics research opportunities on items in the Green collection.
“The Greens, advised by Carroll, were buying biblical artefacts, such as Torahs and early papyrus manuscripts of the New Testament, at a dizzying pace: $70m was spent on 55,000 objects between 2009 and 2012, Carroll claimed later. The market in a hitherto arcane area of collecting sky-rocketed. ‘Fortunes were made. At least two vendors who had been making €1-2m a year were suddenly making €100-200m a year,’ said one longtime collector.
“That wintry evening, Carroll and Pattengale were making one of their occasional trips to seek Obbink’s expertise on matters papyrological. According to Pattengale, just as they were about to leave, Obbink reached into a manila envelope and pulled out four papyrus fragments, one from each of the gospels. Obbink told them that three of these scraps dated from the second century AD.
“But the fourth, a fragment of the Gospel of Mark – a 4cm by 4cm scrap the shape of a butterfly’s wing, containing just a few broken words – was earlier than that. It was almost certainly from the first century AD, which would make it the oldest surviving manuscript of the New Testament, copied less than 30 years after Mark had actually written it. Conservative evangelicals place enormous weight on the Gospels as ‘God-breathed’ words. The idea that such an object existed was indescribably thrilling. Carroll was ‘ecstatic’, Pattengale recalled. “Veins along his neck bulged. He paced with arms flailing.”
“Carroll, who declined to be interviewed, has said that Pattengale’s account is full of ‘misrepresentations, misrecollections, and exaggerations’. But he has confirmed this: Obbink showed him the Mark fragment ‘on the pool table in his office … and he then went into some paleographic detail why he believed it must date to the late-first century … It was in this conversation that he offered it for consideration for Hobby Lobby to buy.’
“No purchase was made at the time. Nevertheless, the objects did eventually end up being sold to the Greens, after Carroll left their employ in 2012. The vendor, or so it appears, was Dirk Obbink. His name, and seemingly his signature, appear on a purchase agreement with Hobby Lobby dated 4 February 2013.
“The problem is that the items – if the purchase agreement is genuine – were not Obbink’s to sell. They are part of the Oxyrhynchus collection of ancient papyrus, owned by the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) and housed at Oxford’s Sackler Library.
“Thirteen additional fragments from the collection, it transpired this autumn, had also been sold to the Greens, 11 apparently by Obbink in 2010, and two by a Jerusalem-based antiquities dealer, Baidun & Sons. (A spokesperson for the company’s owner, Alan Baidun, says he was an agent acting in good faith, and that he checked the provenance supplied by the person who sold them to him.)
“Six further fragments from the Oxyrhynchus collection have turned up in the possession of another collector in the US, Andrew Stimer, a spokesperson for whom says he acquired them in good faith, and with an apparently complete provenance (though parts of it have subsequently been shown to have been falsified). The dealer who sold them to Stimer told him they had come from the collection of M Elder of Dearborn, Michigan. That is, Mahmoud Elder, Obbink’s sometime business partner. (Elder did not respond to requests for comment. Both the Museum of the Bible and Stimer have cooperated fully with the EES, and have taken steps to return the fragments.)
“In total, the EES has now discovered that 120 fragments have gone missing from the Oxyrhynchus collection over the past 10 years. Since the appearance, in June 2019, of that fateful purchase agreement and invoice bearing Obbink’s name, the scale of the scandal has taken time to sink in. What kind of a person – what kind of an academic – would steal, sell, and profit from artefacts in their care? Such an act would be ‘the most staggering betrayal of the values and ethics of our profession’, according to the Manchester University papyrologist Roberta Mazza.”
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