Miscellaneous Christmas Gleanings

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain routinely gives little gifts to their fans at Christmastime in the form of particularly generous postings on their (already very generous) website; this year they’ve posted a series of videos under the title “Christmas Playalong.”  Here’s one of them:

Also, our old friend Al Wood has posted his usual excellent Christmas things at Ukulele Hunt, including the Christmas UkeToob.

I remember Mystery Science Theatre 3000 fondly, or perhaps I should say I am of the age of people who remember that show fondly. I didn’t have a TV when it was on. Anyway, I don’t think I’d ever heard this one before.

Here‘s a holiday favorite:

And a great classic from the 1980s:

Thanks to theologian Alastair Roberts, I found a new favorite Christmas song just this morning, as I said on Twitter:

This has been making the rounds today:

Psychologist James Thompson engages in one of the most venerable of all Anglican religious traditions, publicly declaring that Anglicanism is doomed and wondering whether it deserves to die. I can’t explain why we do that, I can only say that it’s our way.

Jacobin magazine has a brief summary of how the Christian Left in the USA tends to think of Christmas, which picks up where James Brown left off a few decades ago:

I allowed myself a little scholarly musing on Twitter this morning, in response to a remark by Tom Holland:

As to who should do what with which holiday at this many-festivalled time of the year, here‘s a view from Mya Gosling:

Asked on tumblr whether it’s okay for Gentiles to celebrate Hanukkah, Scott Alexander writes:

To stick with stuff on tumblr for a minute, here’s a cartoon in which Gahan Wilson expresses irritation that various holidays, including Christmas and Halloween, run together in the USA:

This is kind of neat:

The Comics Curmudgeon has taken a vacation over the holiday, and it looks like Rebecca Watson is missing him as much as I am:

Ross Pearsall has put together a nice concept cover for a Christmas comic book that ought to exist:

calvin-and-snoopy

So, Merry Christmas, everybody.   And:

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Martin Luther King Day, 2015

Last week, National Public Radio reported on a study by Indiana University professor Sara Konrath and others.  Professor Konrath and her co-authors showed that, while Americans of all races think warmer thoughts about African Americans in general on Martin Luther King Day than they do the rest of the year, their opinion of General Colin Powell and President Barack Obama goes down on that day.  Professor Konrath’s theory is that this is because Mr Powell and Mr O are prominent male African American leaders, and Dr King was a prominent male African American leader, so we compare them to him on that day.  Since Dr King is presented on his birthday as a saint of America’s civic religion, that sets an impossible standard for any living person to meet, and they look bad by contrast.

I am sure there is much truth in Professor Konrath’s theory.  At the same time, I would point out that Messrs. Powell and Obama are particularly ill-chosen as comparisons with Dr King.  Dr King was a thoroughgoing pacifist, while Colin Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 1991 war against Iraq and Secretary of State during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  And Barack Obama is one of the most warlike US presidents ever, responsible for ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, for injecting the US into wars in Libya and Syria, and for sponsoring a coup in Honduras that constituted an act of aggressive war against that country, among many other acts of extreme violence.  If people actually listen to Dr King’s message on the day America sets aside to remember him, one would expect their opinion of warlords like Mr Powell and Mr O to be very low indeed.

In honor of this MLK Day, I’d like to post this statement of Dr King’s on the power of nonviolence:

The internal structure of the calendar, part 2

In December of 2012, I posted a few remarks about the calendar.  The visual representations of the calendar we see in the West usually take the form of a grid in seven columns, each representing a day of the week, with the rows representing the succession of the numbered days of the month as iterations of the sequence of the seven days of the week.  As for example:

What, you've seen one of these before?  That's FANTASTIC!

What occasioned my post in December of 2012 was this xkcd cartoon, in which Randall Munroe wrote the number of each date in a size that reflects the relative frequency with which that date is mentioned in materials searchable through Google NGrams:

In months other than September, the 11th is mentioned substantially less often than any other date.  It's been that way since long before 9/11 and I have no idea why.

The patterns here made me wonder if our usual grid layout oversimplifies the way the calendar is actually structured in our thought and social practice.  I’m a Latin teacher, and so my working life brings me into contact with the calendar of the ancient Romans.  That calendar did not include the week and was not organized as a grid.  Rather, each month had an internal structure in which days were expressed by their proximity to other days and by their religious status.  A visual representation of the Roman calendar might look like this:

This drawing is based on some fragments from about 60 BCE

Recently, other bits have appeared online suggesting that the calendar may have more internal structure than we commonly realize.  This morning on Slate, Ben Blatt looked at times of the year when newborns are most and least likely to be given particular names.  Mr Blatt’s charts, and the box in which readers can search for the seasonal patterns of particular names, are based on death reports released by the US Social Security Administration, since there is no national agency in the USA that collects and publishes comprehensive reports about births.  So his data is about 80 years behind the times, but it still is interesting.

For example, Mr Blatt shows that babies born on prominent saint’s days in the USA 80 years ago were much likelier than other babies to be named after those saints.  So lots of Valentines and Valentinas were born on 14 February, lots of Patricks and Patricias born on 17 March, lots of Johns and Janes born on 24 June, etc.   This strikes me as a bit sad- I’ve always thought the Orthodox had a good idea with celebrating both a birthday and a name day.  Having your birthday and your saint’s day simultaneously would cheat you out of an excuse for a party in your honor.  Mr Blatt also shows that lots of girls named June were born in June, lots of boys named August were born in August, etc.

Last week, Cracked highlighted an old piece called “The 9 Most Statistically Terrifying Days on the Calendar.”  I remember the weaknesses of Cracked magazine, I even remembered them in a post here,  and more than once I’ve seen things on the site that I knew to be false.  So I take everything I read there with a grain of salt.  But each of the items on that listicle looks pretty plausible.  For example, #9 tells us that traffic accidents spike the morning after people set their clocks ahead for daylight savings, since the hour of sleep-deprivation has the same effect as drinking a couple of shots of Scotch.  I haven’t done any checking to verify that or any of the other claims on the list, but none of them is outlandish on its face, and they all have explanations attached that make me feel smart when I read them, so why the hell not repeat them.

 

 

Merry Kitschmas!

Last year, Mark Shea linked to and reposted this set of pictures of weird nativity sets and other kitschy Christian art.  The title is “The 42 Worst Nativity Sets,” but I’d suggest another title: “A Thousand Kinds of AWESOME.”  Who could possibly resist the Chicken Nativity?

Or the Mermaid Nativity?

Granted, the Zombie Nativity might be a bit too sacrilegious for some:

Though I don’t think it’s as bad as any of the various sets made out of pigmeat, such as the Bacon & Sausage Nativity or the Spam Nativity.  Not only were Jesus and his family Jews who certainly kept kosher, but there’s the additional problem that the standing figures in the Spam Nativity are shaped like penises:

Circumcised penises, I grant you, but it is still disrespectful.

Perhaps the most reverential item included is the least conventional, Sebastian Bergne’s “Colour Nativity.”  I want it!  But only if I can put it on that table, in front of that wall.  Since neither of those things is in my house, I suppose there wouldn’t be much point in actually buying it.

 

 

Ecce Crock

I read Josh Fruhlinger’s mockery of the day’s newspaper comics at his mighty website every morning.  This morning, he included today’s Crock:

Mr. Fruhlinger’s remark on this piece was:

So … I’m assuming there’s, like, a handyman who endorses things on TV by saying he’s a handyman? Like Schmeese does in the throwaway panels here? Damn it, I hate being made to feel like I’m missing some pop cultural reference, and being made to feel like I’m missing some pop cultural reference by Crock is particularly humiliating.

I commented on his post: “This morning’s Crock is certainly an unconventional retelling of the Easter story.”

Today is Easter.  The strip shows a man of humble social station tied to a wooden stake, in the process of execution by the representatives of an imperial power.  The man proclaims that his execution will be merely a prelude to the realization of his great project.   In the words, “You always thought I was the dumb one,” he tells his executioners that they know not what they do.  Schmeese’s contemplated postmortem advertising campaign for the bullets that will have killed him evokes the Church’s traditional veneration of the cross and the other instruments of Christ’s Passion.

 

 

 

 

Mournful tunes

Quite without meaning to, I’ve built up a liturgy of mournful tunes and made a habit of listening to them every year on the eleventh of September.  Three of them are from Tom Waits; I listened to both “The Fall of Troy” and “Yesterday is Here” on 11 September 2001, and was struck by how well lines like “There’s a world where nothing grows” (from “The Fall of Troy”) and “Today’s grey skies, tomorrow is tears,/ you’ll have to wait til yesterday is here” (from “Yesterday is Here”) fit the events of that day.  I also tried to listen to “Jersey Girl” that day, but it hit a bit too close to home; I still cry when I hear that song, but not so hard that I can’t hear it.

Two other songs I listened to that day have also become part of my annual liturgy.  One is by Phranc, the “all-American Jewish lesbian folk singer.”  It’s her remembrance of her brother Gary Gottlieb, who was murdered in 1997.  Another is “Deportee,” with lyrics by Woody Guthrie and music by Martin Hoffman, about a group of people who died in a plane crash in 1948 while being deported from the USA.  That day I played an old record I had of Guthrie himself singing it; I can’t find that recording online, but here’s a link to Joan Baez doing her version of the song.

Twice already on this site I’ve posted about Martin Espada’s poem “Alabanza,” a tribute to the 43 members of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 100 who died that morning after reporting to work at the Windows on the World restaurant in the World Trade Center.    I still think it is the best 9/11 poem.  Since most of those 43 had Spanish names, the chorus of “Deportee” (“Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,/ Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria “) reminds me of them, and of Mr Espada’s poem.

My favorite patriotic song, aside from “The Star Spangled Banner,” is “The House I Live In”; Paul Robeson’s recording of it usually helps me to remember that September 11, 2001 was a day when ordinary citizens rose to extraordinary challenges. That’s a lesson the USA’s political leaders, military officer class, and securocrats of various stripes have spent the last eleven years working feverishly to obscure, but the record of the day’s events is unequivocally clear.  American national treasure Rebecca Solnit and Tom Engelhardt wrote admirably succinct articles about this a few years ago, which I noted at the time and which repay reading today.

It may not qualify as patriotism, but it is at least stereotypically American to commemorate sad public events with a performance of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.  I’m particularly fond of this recording of the piece, from the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

“If you see it in the Sun, it’s so.”

If you have enough money and you have access to an unrestricted market, you can find someone who will, for a price, do virtually any task you disdain to do yourself.  If the task you want to delegate to someone else is a task that a great many other people also want to avoid doing, then someone might well find a way of providing a service to many people all at once, collecting a small payment from each.

So far, so obvious.  If economics were a subject in the Kindergarten, so much might be a lesson there.  Why isn’t economics a subject in the Kindergarten?  Perhaps the text below, printed in The New York Sun on 21 September 1897 but extremely familiar to everyone who has ever spent the month of December in the USA, will elucidate:

“DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
“Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
“Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
“Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

“VIRGINIA O’HANLON.
“115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.”

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Virginia O’Hanlon of 115 West Ninety-Fifth Street was a real person, and later in life she confirmed that she had in fact written the letter the Sun published.  Her great-granddaughter displayed the original letter, in Virginia O’Hanlon’s handwriting, in 1997.    Virginia O’Hanlon’s father, who told her that “If you see it in the Sun it’s so,” was a medical doctor named Philip O’Hanlon.

What service did Dr O’Hanlon expect to the New York Sun to perform in return for his subscription?  An article in the far-right Taki’s Magazine proclaims that the newspaper’s response is a remarkably shameless lie; that article prompts me to wonder if lying to his daughter was the very task Dr O’Hanlon hoped the newspaper would take off his hands.  Surely he knew full well that the newspaper would not dare publish a statement denying that the beloved figure of childhood fantasy really existed, and that any response they printed would have to affirm Santa Claus’ reality.  By thus delegating the lie to someone else, he could distance himself from it, not leaving his daughter with a visual memory of his face as he told her something he knew to be false, and indeed to be an insult to her intelligence.  Of course, if he knew that the newspaper would say something that he knew to be false, then statement  that “If you see it in the Sun it’s so” was also a lie on Dr O’Hanlon’s part, but one that he might more plausibly be able to defend than he could defend a claim that Santa Claus existed.  On the other hand, a moralist might say that “If you see it in the Sun it’s so” was a far worse lie than “There is a Santa Claus.”  After all, telling Virginia that there was a Santa Claus might have been telling her a single, discrete, self-contained lie, while to tell her that “If you see it in the Sun it’s so” is to instruct her to put down her guard and swallow everything that might appear in that paper, day after day.

Who was Dr O’Hanlon?  He was, among other things, a functionary of New York City’s Tammany Hall political machine.  During Tammany’s dominion over city politics, Dr O’Hanlon worked for the city as an assistant coroner and as police surgeon.  When the reform wing of the Democratic Party briefly took power, Dr O’Hanlon was arrested on charges relating to his habit of helping himself to the stock of dry goods stores without bothering to pay the merchants.  In court on these charges, he boasted of his Tammany Hall loyalties.  When Tammany returned to power, Dr O’Hanlon’s legal troubles came to an end. So it’s hardly surprising that the doctor was a fan of the pro-Tammany New York Sun.

Tammany’s restoration must have been a relief to the O’Hanlon family, since Dr O’Hanlon’s had name also appeared in connection with a much more serious criminal case.  A friend of his, Dr Andre L. Stapler, had in August 1910 performed an abortion for a woman named Louise Heinrich.  Abortion was at that time illegal in New York state, and therefore unregulated.  In the course of the procedure, Mrs Heinrich died.  Dr O’Hanlon signed a death certificate saying that her death was the result of natural causes.  The state prosecuted Dr Stapler, arguing that his carelessness killed her.  Prosecutors alleged that Dr O’Hanlon’s death certificate was a fraud meant to cover up his friend’s culpability in Mrs Heinrich’s death.   Convicted of manslaughter, Dr Stapler confessed that he was part of a group of doctors who performed illegal abortions under unsanitary conditions, and that as a coroner’s assistant Dr O’Hanlon routinely filed false reports covering up the deaths of the women in their care.  Dr O’Hanlon does not appear to have been prosecuted as a result of Dr Stapler’s statement.   The doctor appears to have continued his medical and political careers without having to answer any inconvenient questions about falsified papers and dead women.  If Dr Stapler’s confession was true, then woman-killing doctors delegated a job of lying to Dr O’Hanlon, even as Dr O’Hanlon had delegated a job of lying to the Sun.

Martin Espada reads “Alabanza”

You Told Me You Loved Me on April Fool’s Day

Poopy Lungstuffing sings an original composition (by Puppetrina) in honor of 1 April.

“King of Hope,” by Honor Finnegan

An original ukulele song by Honor Finnegan calls for us to observe Martin Luther King’s birthday by giving him the gift he always wanted.