“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Mark Twain

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“All the pathos and irony of leaving one’s youth behind is thus implicit in every joyous moment of travel: one knows that the first joy can never be recovered, and the wise traveler learns not to repeat successes but tries new places all the time.” Paul Fussell

**A question: Does anyone know who this painting is by?

 

Beauty is Unfair

Margaret Gorman, Miss America 1921

Margaret Gorman, Miss America 1921

The young goatherd Paris had no idea he’d start a war. All he wanted was the most beautiful mortal of his day–Helen of Troy. Beauty and equality do not go hand in hand. It’s not enough to be one of the beauties or to admire one of the beauties. We must crown one as supreme.

Juno, Venus and Minerva quarreled amongst themselves over who was most lovely. They bribed a goatherd to settle things. But beauty is unsettling. It’s fleeting and it makes us wonder about fairness. Beauty captivates us even when we think we should know better. Shouldn’t we love even second-rate art? Beauty shows us the most pleasing sights, yet leaves us sometimes feeling resentful and inadequate.

Way back in the mists of time beautiful women came to symbolize the virtues of nations. P.T. Barnum in 1854 saw another way to capitalize on humanity’s beauty cravings. After successful dog, chicken and baby beauty contests he stepped it up with the first American beauty contest. People were outraged at the idea of virtuous young women being ogled and judged. Barnum scratched his head. Beauty should be celebrated as one of the finer things in life. We all secretly judge and make friends first on their attractiveness. We look at masterpieces in the high falutin’ museums because those nudes take our breath away. Who are we kidding?

She even had a beautiful dog!

She even had a beautiful dog!

Barnum never gave up. He changed the rules ever so slightly. Okay, no women standing there getting uncomfortable. Send me your daguerreotypes and a little bit about what you do as a beautiful person. If you win you get a fancy portrait done of yourself instead of the promised dowry for the old contest. Seems pretty girls like selfies. The contest was a grand success at combining low-brow and high-brow entertainment for the masses.

I know some of you will cry, “How snobby of you to delineate between high and low! Children’s drawings and Renoir are just the same!” “Beautiful women should not be objectified!” No one puts a gun to the beauty’s head (do they?).

I get it. Ugly people can lurk within their beautiful bodies, but let’s not pretend we aren’t mesmerized by symmetry and smooth skin. In the interest of being nice and democratic let’s not embrace mediocrity as a badge of honor. I’ve never entered a beauty contest and I’m well past my prime, but I don’t hate beautiful people. I don’t automatically love them either. I just like to look at them.

Margaret rocking the stockings.

Margaret rocking the stockings.

The first Bathing Beauty Pageant  took place at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware in 1880 as an advertizing gimmick.

“The modern beauty pageant’s origin is traceable to the “Atlantic City’s Inter-City Beauty Contest” in 1921, which was held to entice summer tourists to stay in town past Labor Day. Local newsman Herb Test created history by offering to title the girl who won “Miss America.” Out of the eight competitors for the title, Margaret Gorman, who represented the nation’s capital as Miss Washington D.C., was declared the beauty queen, winning the first-ever Miss America title.” theloc.gov

“There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it.” John Swinton 1880

The paper and some smokes. Library of Congress

The paper and some smokes. Library of Congress

“One night, probably in 1880, John Swinton, then the preeminent New York journalist, was the guest of honour at a banquet given him by the leaders of his craft. Someone who knew neither the press nor Swinton offered a toast to the independent press. Swinton outraged his colleagues by replying:

‘There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it.

‘There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before twenty four hours my occupation would be gone.

Newsboy in Camp 1863. Library of Congress

Newsboy in Camp 1863. Library of Congress

‘The business of the journalists is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it, and what folly is this toasting an independent press?

‘We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.”
(Source: Labor’s Untold Story, by Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, published by United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America, NY, 1955/1979.)

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“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” Will Rogers

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One of my very best friends in the world died last night. It was just me and him. Everyone else traveling or gone. Huck Finn, my stomping, imperious little King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, stole cookies, started fights and chose me as favorite. A writer needs a dog like him–one who jumps in your lap when you’re feeling rejected and growls so nobody else will come near you. His heart was weak and he’d been suffering, but on Sunday he followed me out into the flower garden and rolled in the grass like old times. I’ll bury him in a shady grove on our hill top where just enough sunlight allows a soft carpet of green.

Click through to a wonderful blog post featuring 19th century dogs and their owners.