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A genius who had plenty of sex

One thing I've learned in the short time I've been blogging is that you can learn things almost anywhere -- for instance, on the packaging for Stila eyeshadow. Not only is the "java" shade favored by Reese Witherspoon, its box bears the quote "Genius has no sex!"

Yes, the sentence would be phrased better as "genius has no gender," which is not only alliterative but also doesn't function as a double-entendre joke about the inability of nerds to get some. Nonetheless, it's a commendable sentiment, and it allowed me to crack wise in the headline above. Plus, it got me interested in the woman who said it, one Anne-Louise-Germaine Necker, Baroness de Stael-Holstein. (The short version is Germaine de Stael.) Turns out there's a lot to be interested in:

[She was a] French-Swiss writer, woman of letters, [and] early champion of women's rights who was considered among Napoléon's major opponents and spent much of her life in exile. However, Mme de Staël did not only gain fame with her books or her salon for leading intellectuals, but with her numerous affairs. Her lovers included Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, who was bishop of Autun, Count Louis de Narbonne (1788-93), with whom she had two sons, Benjamin Constant, a writer and influential politician, and Count Adolphe-Louis Ribbing, who masterminded the assassination of Gustavus III, the king of Sweden-Finland.

Any of this sound familiar? There's even a link to Voltaire:

After the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, she became involved with power struggles, and supported the moderate liberal policies of her father. Both revolutionary Jacobins and aristocratic émigrés viewed her with suspicion. Perhaps this prompted her to state: "In monarchies, women have ridicule to fear; in republic, hatred." Mme de Staël believed in progress - like Voltaire in his own way - and claimed that liberty and religious tolerance were essential preconditions for bringing literature to new heights. She also warned about the too enthusiastic military spirit which started to spread. The view did not gain much response among Napoleon's supporters.

Mme. de Stael was no beauty (despite her showing up on my eyeshadow box, and despite the flattering portrait above), but she doesn't seem to have had any trouble attracting great men to her side. Heck, to Voltaire, she probably would have been a great man: yet another figure of that era, it seems, whose chief fault was being born a woman.

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Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
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Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

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