Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Screenings - Exit Through the Gift Shop

Director: Banksy
Genre: Documentary (2010)

I have been pushing this film around Pittsburgh, so I thought I would expand my recommendation to the blog. Mostly, I want to make sure Dan sees the film, but I suspect he knows much more about it than I do. This is a documentary about street art or graffiti. For the most part the director/editor stays out of the way and just presents the story, which, like many good documentaries, changes direction a few times in the film. It is remarkably entertaining and toward the end moves sideways into the age old question about what art is. But it does so with a twist.

Please, do NOT read any reviews or commentaries about this film before you see it. Your experience will be much richer. Afterward, you may read what you want.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Christmas Threat


I received two exciting Christmas gifts; two Great Courses:
1. No Excuses: Existentialism and the Meaning of Life, and
2. Cosmology: The History and Nature of Our Universe

So you may want to temper any future desire to visit this site with that in mind.

As proof I will offer this selection from the introduction on Existentialism:
The message of existentialism, unlike that of many more obscure and academic philosophical movements, is about as simple as can be. It is that everyone of us, as an individual, is responsible—responsible for what we do, responsible for who we are, responsible for the way we face and deal with the world, responsible, ultimately, for the way the world is. It is, in a very short phrase, the philosophy of "no excuses!" Life may be difficult; circumstances may be impossible. There may be obstacles, not least of which our own personalities, characters, emotions, and limited means or intelligence. But, nevertheless, we are responsible. We cannot shift that burden onto God, or nature, or the ways of the world.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"Rainbow Valley"

Abandoned on Everest

Warning Disturbing Images.

Pittsburgh specific skating

I'm not sure when people are free from work, school, and other obligations, but let me know if any one wants to skate at Panther Hollow. I can probably make it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It's that time of year (24 hours of a Christmas Story)

Just in case you were wondering what ever happened to Peter Billingsley (Ralphie in A Christmas Story) as you catch snippets of various parts of A Christmas Story on Christmas Eve and Day this year, he seems to have done quite well for himself helping to make more modern day classics like The Break Up and Couple's Retreat.
Hey guys, just found out how to post on the blog!!!!!! :D

Nerds Unite!

You may need your Ovaltine secret decoder ring for this post. I have never been so pleased and so ashamed of myself at the same time. I thought I was just well versed in cultural references, that is until I recognized the WC2 cheat code.

Here are 32 more pictures.

(Via Sullivan)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Nativists vs. Homophobes

In a stunning develpment, the Nativists for the first time since about 1950 now have the upper hand again over the Homophobes:

Don't Ask, Do Tell, Don't Dream: Twelve Senators Who Oppose Immigrants More Than They Oppose Homosexuals

Posted Sunday, December 19, 2010 6:15 PM | By Tom Scocca

Congratulations, gays! As of yesterday, America officially hates you less than it hates immigrants.

So it was a great day for civil rights, because the armed forces will allow homosexuals to serve without having to conceal their orientation. And it was a lousy day for civil rights, because young people who grew up in the United States after arriving as illegal immigrants will still be treated as irredeemable lawbreakers, even though the illegality isn't their fault. Sure, you've been raised as Americans, kids. But if we actually let you become Americans, you might inspire other little foreign children to nag their parents to smuggle them into this country, too.

We have to draw the line on tolerance somewhere, right? For the record, here are the 12 senators who specifically drew the line to exclude young illegal immigrants but not homosexuals—voting to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and then voting against the Dream Act:

Max Baucus (D-MT)
Scott Brown (R-MA)
Richard Burr (R-NC)
Susan Collins (R-ME)
John Ensign (R-NV)
Kay Hagan (D-NC)
Mark Kirk (R-IL)
Ben Nelson (D-NE)
Mark Pryor (D-AR)
Olympia Snow (R-ME)
John Tester (D-MT)

And here are the two senators who ignored the new culture-war marching orders and voted with what's left of the anti-gay bloc, but then jumped over to vote pro-immigrant:

Robert Bennett (R-UT)
Richard Lugar (R-IN)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

By popular request

Christmas 2010


This is how Dickens describes the feast provided by the spirit of Christmas present:
Turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, suckling-pigs, long wreathes of sausages, mince pies, plum puddings, barrels of oysters, red hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelth-cakes and seething bowls of punch….

One cannot disassociate food and drink from the Christmas season. To my mind, any discussion of holiday fare must begin with steam pudding. Dad was the purveyor of this decidedly less-than-popular Christmas dessert. He admired all things British from tea time to Tolkien to the Repeal of the Corn Laws. The only two songs I remember him trying to sing/whistle/hum were British Grenadiers and English Country Garden. (A young Brit once sang me a parody of the latter that went something like: “What do you do/When you can't find the loo/in an English country garden?/Unzip your pants/And suffocate the ants/in an English country garden.) Steam pudding is unusual in many ways – its preparation, texture, smell, taste and presentation. It is, shall we say, an acquired taste. To try and generate some enthusiasm for the desert, Dad offered many versions over the years – figgy pudding, plum pudding, sterling pudding, finally breaking through to the indisposed with chocolate steam pudding. I gradually came around to the desert by suffocating it with its traditional accompaniment, hard sauce – butter and sugar and alcohol. Naturally, as a Dad myself lo these many years I have striven mightily each Christmastide to convince my children of the virtues of steam pudding. At least they love its pyrotechnic aspects. Anyway, as long as suet is available I'll continue to carry on a hallowed family tradition. (There are updated versions that substitute butter, but what's the point of steam pudding that doesn't feature a robust wad of beef fat?)

To counter Anglo influences, I have added “Bûche Noel” to our holiday fare the last few years. The extra challenge of preparing this dessert is that all the recipes I've found have been in French. This means calculating flour in grams, milk in liters, and preheating the oven in centigrade. It also means wading through paragraphs of verbiage as most French recipes include lengthy deconstructions. I'm also surprised how much French recipes use the subjunctive tense. The most authentic Bûche Noel recipe I have used called for preparing “crème au marrons,” which I first thought had something to do with blending idiots. But of course it was chestnuts I needed. A laborious preparation required the removal of the chestnut's hard skin through incisions, par-boiling, incantations and a veg-o-matic, or as the French say, veg-o-matique. The standard challenge of the Bûche Noel is baking and utilizing the “grénoise”—a thin spongy cake that's supposed to be easy to roll, unroll and re-roll. But it always cracks at some point so that the chocolate covered “Christmas log” winds up looking more like a cow pie. Anyway, it's a great recipe for facilitating the mastery of French swear words ("fils d'un biscuit!").

Eggnog certainly must be near the top of everyone's holiday beverage list. For years I thought eggnog was a trade name of Schneider's Dairy. Each December our milkman would pause long enough from pick-up basketball games with us in the driveway to stick a couple of quart containers of Schneider's eggnog in our refrigerator. And when Epiphany was over, we'd dump the contents down the drain. Even fresh grated nutmeg didn't help much. Homemade eggnog is another drink altogether. Our family was introduced to real eggnog by brother Bob who had a knack for discovering many good things ranging from Monty Python to Captain Beefheart to Rolfing. If he ever used a recipe, it is now unfortunately lost. Apparently, Bob's eggnog could only be made in huge quantities, which was just as well because it was so addictive. The taste was superb. The alcoholic blend perfect: Rum, bourbon and, as I recall, antifreeze. But it was its consistency that made Bob's creation distinctive. It was a sort of high-volume Elmer's glue; quite impossible to drink. My memories are of imbibers holding their cups upside down over their mouths and waiting…and waiting. Suddenly the gelatinous blob in the shape of a cup would drop into their twitching mouths – or the general vicinity. Bob later used his recipe to develop landscape formations integral to his game “Panama Rocks”. (See Christmas letter 2007)

Another intriguing seasonal drink is a smoking bishop. This was again one of Dad's British imports. The wonderful thing about a smoking bishop is that each drink is supposed to be heated in your glass by a hot poker. Our family tried this on numerous occasions. The poker was heated in our living room fireplace. This was an ordeal because we had to get a decent fire going. Thus, there were spider-filled logs to be carried in from the cold outside, flue adjustments to be made, bellows to be mended, furniture to be busted up for kindling, and back issues of the Fuddette* to be wadded up for ignition. Usually the logs refused to burn or else produced a thick layer of acrid smoke obligating us to crawl around on the floor in search of a strata of unpolluted air (contrary to accusations at the time, there was no connection between this behavior and alcoholic consumption). Often stubborn smoking logs were tossed out into the front lawn which generated phone calls from concerned neighbors. “Betty, is everything all right? We heard John cursing and now the front of your house seems to be on fire." (Neighbors harbored deep suspicions of our household due to the years of Halloween related hijinks and our liberal use of Vietnam War-era explosives – again, thanks Bob!) A major breakthrough in poker heating occurred when brother Steve miraculously procured a 19th century poker specifically designed for heating beverages. It was a handsomely crafted thing which we found worked most effectively when the beverage was first brought to a rolling boil on the stove.

One evening while preparing smoking bishops., Dad observed that an alternate name for the drink was an “irate prelate”. I can see him making this remark sitting there at the head of the dinner table, arms crossed, breathing audibly through his nose, his mouth clenched shut as he tried desperately to suppress a smile which seemed to escape anyway through his watering eyes. He just could not contain his mirth over witticisms like this. We left him there his nasal breathing growing louder, tears streaming down his face as the conversation moved on to whether biblical characters should be treated as nonfictional or fictional for the purposes of playing Botticelli.

I would be remiss in a holiday beverage discussion not to at least mention Olde Frothingslosh. The beer was a brilliant marketing ploy by the Pittsburgh Brewing Company to sell a truly sub-mediocre product. Their signature Iron City Beer could only be tolerated on very hot summer days while watching a pirate game when they had talent. The idea of Olde Frothingslosh originated with Pittsburgh radio nutball Rege Cordic in the 1950s. The Pittsburgh Brewing Company eventually cashed in on the idea and our family was suckered into buying a case or two down through the years. It was advertised as the "stale pale ale" that was so light the foam was on the bottom. I believe the cans glowed in the dark too.

So hoist a glass, unloosen your belt, and hide the fruitcake.

Merry Christmas,


*The Fuddette was a brilliant if short-lived literary effort by brother Steve. After being kicked off the junior high newspaper for refusing to reveal his sources for a scandalous story on bell schedules, Steve launched an underground school newspaper, the Fuddette. Steve was reporter, writer, editor, typesetter, printer, distributor and gopher. It was a true underground newspaper as Steve ran off copies in our basement using a little manual printing press we'd gotten one Christmas. Presaging the echo chamber media today, Steve composed all the letters to the editor.

Friday, December 17, 2010

In Progress Casts its Shadow

I've long suspected that the Harvey blog AKA "In Progress" was having its impact in the world. This suspicion has now been confirmed.

Every year in December Foreign Policy magazine publishes its list of 100 top global thinkers for the past year. This list does not necessarily represent the most intelligent thinkers in the world or even those who have done the most good. Rather, the criterion is: who has contributed the most to make this world a richer and more interesting place.

After reviewing the list, I could see clearly the heavy influence of the Harvey blog. Many on the list are people that we've discussed -- some at length -- here on the blog. It's obvious that either directly or indirectly we were the source for any number of the top hundred.

Here is just a brief sample of the list of 100 discussed on the blog. Obama clocked in at #3 in the top 100. Feisal Abdul Rauf (the ground zero mosque guy) was #11. Nouriel "Dr. Doom" Roubini was # 12. Steve Jobs was #17. Paul Krugman weighed in at #26. Christopher Hitchens was #55. Ayaan Hirshi Ali showed up at #61. To give equal time to the other side, Tariq Ramadan was #62. Malcolm Gladwell was #68. Steven Pinker #69. Atul Gawande was #72. And last but not least Ian Buruma slid in at #100.

These were just the ones that jumped off the page. There are probably others. Feel free to check it out for yourself. Top 100 Global Thinkers

Now the question is: who else is reading "In Progress?"

"Irate Prelate"

While researching the flip history and its use of its luggerhead (see A Drink for the Season), I had come across a Smoking Bishop recipe (all these recipes must be part of the heated poker family).  After reading Peter's Christmas letter I thought I would post it (sorry no poker version).  From Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol-
"A merry Christmas, Bob! Said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken…I'll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob!..."
(Via HistoricalFoods.com)

Smoking Bishop Recipe

This recipe will make enough for about 10 small glasses, double the ingredients to make a large punch bowl to serve around 20 people. It can also be re-corked in the wine bottles once cool and be re-heated and drunk in small batches over a few days.
You can use just oranges (older, bitter varieties) or just a few lemons (making it an Oxford University ‘Bishop’) although this recipe gives the right balance and authentic taste using 6 modern variety oranges and two lemons, which is then sweetened to taste with sugar.

Recipe Ingredients:

  • 6 large oranges
  • 2 large lemons
  • 120g of brown sugar (demerara)
  • 1 bottle (750ml) red wine
  • 1 bottle (750ml) ruby port
  • 8 cloves
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ground mace
Ingredients For A Smoking Bishop
Ingredients For A Smoking Bishop
To serve:
  • 1 or 2 lemons, cut into wedges to serve
  • 1 or 2 oranges, cut into wedges to serve
  • optional – a grating of nutmeg over the top
  • small bowl of white sugar for guests to individually sweeten the Bishop

Recipe Method:

The day before: bake the large oranges and lemons in the oven on a shallow baking tray (with a lip to contain any leaking juice) on a low heat at 120°C until they are pale brown (after about an hour and a half). If any liquid leaks from the fruit when baking pour this from the tray into the bowl with the fruit and wine.
The Oranges And Lemons Baking In The Oven
The Oranges And Lemons Baking In The Oven
After the fruit has baked in the oven stud the oranges and lemons with one of the cloves pricked into each, place into a large bowl, add the ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and mace. Add the sugar and pour in the wine – but not the port or the cinnamon sticks. Stir gently for a few minutes. Cover and leave in a warm place overnight or for 24 hours.
Leaving The Oranges, Lemons, Sugar, Spices And Wine Overnight
Leaving The Oranges, Lemons, Sugar, Spices And Wine Overnight
The next day: cut the baked oranges and lemons in half and squeeze all the juice into the spiced wine in the bowl. Do not worry about adding in the pulp and pips, this will be strained through a sieve next.
Pour this wine, fruit and spice mix through a sieve into a large saucepan, use the back of a spoon to press out the juice from the pulp in the sieve. Then add the cinnamon sticks. Heat the wine to a high simmer for 5 minutes, then turn down the heat under the saucepan and add the port and heat for 20 minutes very gently (so as not to boil away the alcohol). In the last two minutes turn up the heat to a medium simmer and get the Bishop ‘smoking’ hot with vapours rising.
Making Up The Smoking Bishop
Making Up The Smoking Bishop
Following the advice given in 1836, “sweeten it to your taste, and serve it up with the lemon and spice floating in it” – taste the Bishop and add in a little more sugar if it is needed. Although I prefer to serve it as it is and supply a small bowl of white sugar with a spoon so guests can sweeten their own Bishop.
When the Bishop is hot through and ‘smoking’ pour into a heat-proof punch bowl or serving jug (including the cinnamon sticks) with fresh cut wedges of lemon and orange, and serve in goblets, or heat-proof glasses, and drink warm – optional, take the advice from Eliza Acton in 1845, either grate a little nutmeg on top of the Bishop in the serving jug or bowl, or as I do, grate it individually on top of the Bishop in the glasses if people request it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Year in Ideas

Via Kottke, the New York Times' 2010 Year in Ideas. If you're feeling particularly gloomy this holiday season, check out the section "The 2000s Were a Great Decade".

The 10-year retrospective is written by economist Tyler Cowen, who runs the must-bookmark blog Marginal Revolution.

Cowen recently wrote a piece exploring both bogus and legitimate fears about income inequality in America. Here's an excerpt that touches on some of our discussions about material wealth and its connection to well-being:

Most analyses of income inequality neglect two major points. First, the inequality of personal well-being is sharply down over the past hundred years and perhaps over the past twenty years as well. Bill Gates is much, much richer than I am, yet it is not obvious that he is much happier if, indeed, he is happier at all. I have access to penicillin, air travel, good cheap food, the Internet and virtually all of the technical innovations that Gates does. Like the vast majority of Americans, I have access to some important new pharmaceuticals, such as statins to protect against heart disease. To be sure, Gates receives the very best care from the world’s top doctors, but our health outcomes are in the same ballpark. I don’t have a private jet or take luxury vacations, and—I think it is fair to say—my house is much smaller than his. I can’t meet with the world’s elite on demand. Still, by broad historical standards, what I share with Bill Gates is far more significant than what I don’t share with him.

Compare these circumstances to those of 1911, a century ago. Even in the wealthier countries, the average person had little formal education, worked six days a week or more, often at hard physical labor, never took vacations, and could not access most of the world’s culture. The living standards of Carnegie and Rockefeller towered above those of typical Americans, not just in terms of money but also in terms of comfort. Most people today may not articulate this truth to themselves in so many words, but they sense it keenly enough. So when average people read about or see income inequality, they don’t feel the moral outrage that radiates from the more passionate egalitarian quarters of society. Instead, they think their lives are pretty good and that they either earned through hard work or lucked into a healthy share of the American dream. (The persistently unemployed, of course, are a different matter, and I will return to them later.)

Enlightening read.

Thoughts on Bradley Manning's Detention?

I read Glen Greenwald's post The inhumane conditions of Bradley Manning's detention on Salon the other day. I was surprised how little attention it has gotten when one considers all the press on Wikileaks and Assange. Manning - the purported leaker of classified government documents to Wikileaks - has been in solitary confinement since May. He isn't allowed to exercise in his cell and gets released for one hour each day. Greenwald's post certainly paints a sympathetic picture, and I tend to agree with him. Having read Atul Gwande's piece Hellhole, I've come to see solitary confinement as a pretty inhumane way of punishing someone (and Manning hasn't even been tried... a frightening precedent for whistle-blowers).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Songs, Ctd.

To continue the thread of favorite off-the-beaten-path Christmas songs, here's The Waitresses "Christmas Wrapping". Apologies for the seizure-inducing video, it was the only one I could find.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Drink for the Season...and The Ages

New England Almanac, 1704 December-
"The days are short, the weather's cold, By tavern fires, tales are told. Some ask for dram when first come in, others with flip and bounce begin."
A flip was a colonial mixed drink first mentioned in New England, 1690. The drink was very popular in Colonial America, as illustrated by Washington's expense reports. General Isreal Putman, famed leader of the Bunker Hill Battle, had his own personal rules for mixing. John Adams was reported to have said, "if you spent the evening in a tavern, you found it full of people drinking drams of flip, carousing, and swearing."

Abbott's Tavern at Holden, Massachusetts Bill 1763-
"Mug New England Flip . . . . . 9d.

Mug West India Flip . . . . . 11d.
Lodging per night . . . . . 3d.
Pot luck per meal . . . . . 8d.

Boarding commons Men . . . . . 4s. 8d.
Boarding commons Weomen . . . 2s."
Two Recipes of many-
1. "Keep grated Ginger and Nutmeg with a fine dried Lemon Peel rubbed together in a Mortar. To make a quart of Flip: Put the Ale on the Fire to warm, and beat up three or four Eggs with four ounces of moist Sugar, a teaspoonful of grated Nutmeg or Ginger, and a Quartern of good old Rum or Brandy. When the Ale is near to boil, put it into one pitcher, and the Rum and Eggs, etc., into another: turn it from one Pitcher to another till it is as smooth as cream. To heat plunge in the red hot Loggerhead or Poker. This quantity is styled One Yard of Flannel." 
2. "A great pewter mug or earthen pitcher filled two-thirds full of strong beer; sweetened with sugar, molasses, or dried pumpkin, according to individual taste or capabilities; and flavored with `a dash' -about a gill- of New England rum. Into this mixture a red hot loggerhead, made of iron and heated in the fire, was thrust."
A quartern is a quarter of a gill, which is about the "dash" of rum." 
The flip with eggs was often called a "Bellowstop".  Unfortunately, loggerheads are tough to come by so I will be using a poker.

James Lowell 1868-
"Where dozed a fire of beechen logs that bred Strange fancies in its embers golden dred, And nursed the loggerhead, whose hissing dip, timed by wise instinct, creamed the bowl of flip”

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Worst Christmas Song of All Time

The following is quite possibly the worst Christmas song ever recorded. We can only hope that those responsible will some day be consigned to the lowest levels of hell.

Thanks to Jim Nayder, host of The Annoying Music Show, for this one.

Christmas Songs, Ctd.

Inspired by Mary's posting of a Shane MacGowan Christmas song, here's another classic dark carol entitled "Fairy Tale of New York" performed by his later, more famous band, the Pogues. Warning: It's got some hearty NSFW language.

The song is a back-and-forth between once-idealistic lovers hoping to find gilded streets and a better life in New York, but were greeted instead by a cold, uncaring, difficult city that made them bitter, estranged alcoholics.

They've got cars big as bars
They've got rivers of gold
But the wind goes right through you
It's no place for the old
When you first took my hand
On a cold Christmas Eve
You promised me
Broadway was waiting for me

It's incredibly depressing (is there anything more heartbreaking than extinguished hope?), which is probably why the song is rarely heard in the US, but consistently voted the #1 Christmas song by the Irish.

In an essay entitled "Goodbye to All That" Joan Didion relates a slightly tamer -- but no less bittersweet -- reality about New York, namely that to experience all of its wonder, beauty, pace and excitement requires either a boatload of money, or, echoing the Pogues' insistence "It's no place for the old", the resiliency and naïveté of youth:

Part of what I want to tell you is what it is like to be young in New York, how six months can become eight years with the deceptive ease of a film dissolve, for that is how those years appear to me now, in a long sequence of sentimental dissolves and old-fashioned trick shots—the Seagram Building fountains dissolve into snowflakes, I enter a revolving door at twenty and come out a good deal older, and on a different street.
But most particularly I want to explain to you, and in the process perhaps to myself, why I no longer live in New York. It is often said that New York is a city for only the very rich and the very poor. It is less often said that New York is also, at least for those of us who came there from somewhere else, a city only for the very young.

I still miss it.

Friday, December 10, 2010


I've been reading a few of the highlights from the recent diplomatic cable dump by Wikileaks this week. One of my favorites is a report written by an American diplomat stationed in Canada, in which he gravely describes a worrisome trend: growing anti-American sentiment in Canadian sitcoms.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has long gone to great pains to highlight the distinction between Americans and Canadians in its programming, generally at our expense. However, the level of anti-American melodrama has been given a huge boost in the current television season as a number of programs offer Canadian viewers their fill of nefarious American officials carrying out equally nefarious deeds in Canada while Canadian officials either oppose them or fall trying. CIA rendition flights, schemes to steal Canada's water, "the Guantanamo-Syria express," F-16's flying in for bombing runs in Quebec to eliminate escaped terrorists: in response to the onslaught, one media commentator concluded, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that "apparently, our immigration department's real enemies aren't terrorists or smugglers -- they're Americans." While this situation hardly constitutes a public diplomacy crisis per se, the degree of comfort with which Canadian broadcast entities, including those financed by Canadian tax dollars, twist current events to feed long-standing negative images of the U.S. -- and the extent to which the Canadian public seems willing to indulge in the feast - is noteworthy as an indication of the kind of insidious negative popular stereotyping we are increasingly up against in Canada.
I really hope this guy has one of those direct-to-Obama emergency phones.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

You Know It's a Myth

Billboard outside the New Jersey entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel.

This reminds me of the Christmas song:

"God Rest Ye, Unitarians"
Lyrics by the Rev. Christopher Gist Raible of the First Unitarian Church of Worcester

God rest ye, Unitarians, let nothing you dismay;
Remember there's no evidence there was a Christmas Day;
When Christ was born is just not known, no matter what they say,
O, Tidings of reason and fact, reason and fact,
Glad tidings of reason and fact.

There was no star of Bethlehem, there was no angels' song;
There could have been no wise men for the trip would take too long.
The stories in the Bible are historically wrong,
O, Tidings of reason and fact, reason and fact,
Glad tidings of reason and fact!

Our current Christmas customs come from Persia and from Greece,
From solstice celebrations of the ancient Middle East.
We know our so-called holiday is just a pagan feast,
O, Tidings of reason and fact, reason and fact,
Glad tidings of reason and fact.


And now for my editorial comment:

You know it's a myth? Of course. All the more reason to celebrate Christmas.

Joseph Campbell begins his classic, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, with the following paragraph:
Whether we listen with aloof amusement to the dreamlike mumbo-jumbo of some red-eyed witch doctor of the Congo, read with cultivated rapture thin translations from the sonnets of the mystic Lao-tse; now and again crack the hard nutshell of an argument of Aquinas, or catch suddenly the shining meaning of a bizarre Eskimo fairy tale: it will always be the one, shape-shifting yet marvelously constant story that we find, together with a challengingly persistent suggestion of more remaining to be experienced than will ever be known or told. . . It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation.

Problems in Media

After reading a couple of op-eds today, I was reminded to post Jon Stewart's excellent interview with Rachel Maddow in which they discuss American media. The interview is long, but well worth watching.

Stewart's main point is that the sane middle is often ignored by news outlets because being moderate is boring. The media is a business, and in order to gain viewers and money, they give platforms to the loudest, most reactionary elements of society-- on both ends of the political spectrum. Which brings me back to those two op-eds.

The first is from Roger Cohen in the New York Times, who writes about Oklahoma's anti-Shariah law. Cohen "decided to take the pulse of a resurgent conservative America at the Kumback Café" in "downtown Perry, population 5230", where he interviews a bunch of old drunks.

I don't believe that the political views of a handful of elderly career drinkers can really be considered a microcosm of conservative America, but Cohen thinks otherwise. After quoting a few people, making sure to note their drinking habits and incredibly old age (I suppose to emphasize how retrograde old people's political views are?), he makes the claim that "Not since 9/11 has Islamophobia been at such a pitch in the United States."

The idea that Islamophobia is rising in America has become something of a shibboleth in the media. It's a large claim, requiring clarification and evidence. What, exactly, does Islamophobia mean -- is it a rise in largely peaceful but unwarranted worry? Is it a fear of brown skin or ideology or origin? Or all of these? And if Islamophobia is growing, does that herald a likely erosion First Amendment rights? City councils refusing to grant building permits to mosques? A rise in physical violence against Muslims? And just how high a pitch is American Islamophobia, compared to other potential religious "phobias", like "Judeo-phobia", or "Catholic-phobia"? These are all questions that can be answered, or at least argued over, using concrete facts.

But surprisingly, just when Cohen should elaborate, he moves on, leaving his claim hanging there, unclarified and unargued, simply offered up as self-evidently true. For actual numbers, you'd need to read the op-ed pages of the Boston Globe:

"In 2009, according to data gathered from more than 14,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide, there were 1,376 hate crimes motivated by religious bias. Of those, just 9.3 percent — fewer than 1 in 10 — were committed against Muslims. By contrast, 70.1 percent were committed against Jews, 6.9 percent were aimed at Catholics or Protestants, and 8.6 percent targeted other religions. Hate crimes driven by anti-Muslim bigotry were outnumbered nearly 8 to 1 by anti-Semitic crimes.

Year after year, American Jews are far more likely to be the victims of religious hate crime than members of any other group. That was true even in 2001, by far the worst year for anti-Muslim incidents, when 481 were reported — less than half of the 1,042 anti-Jewish crimes tabulated by the FBI the same year.

Does all this mean that America is in reality a hotbed of anti-Semitism? Would Time’s cover have been closer to the mark if it had asked: “Is America Judeophobic?’’

Of course not. Even one hate crime is one too many, but in a nation of 300 million, all of the religious-based hate crimes added together amount to less than a drop in the bucket."

Suddenly, by looking outside the walls of the Kumbuck cafe and its wacky cast of cantankerous Morris Buttermakers, a much different picture appears. Do I think passing an anti-shariah law is silly? Yes. Do I think some people are irrationally fearful of Islam in America? Absolutely. But are the fears and reservations of a small percentage of drunken elderly coots in a bar a reliable indicator of Muslim life in most of America? Lord, no.

But you wouldn't know it from Cohen's smug trend-piece, which is more interested in mocking the easiest of targets than presenting a reasoned argument.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Book Club

Anyone interested in starting a book club?


-You get to read something you may not ordinarily read.


-If you're forced to read something you wouldn't ordinarily read, you'll probably hate it.

-The (relatively) large time commitment of reading an entire book.

-The internet is way more interesting.

-Book clubs always collapse after 2 weeks due to lack of participation.

We could mitigate the cons by choosing shorter books (under 200 pages), and having the book chooser lead the discussion by posting his or her responses, which could be short or long; stream-of-consciousness or tightly structured. Whatever you're feeling. That way we'd still have a specific blog post to discuss over the course of a week or so, even if everyone hates the book and is just waiting until we can discuss Islam again.

In order to spur discussion, my pick would be something related to politics or history, However, I know that's not everyone's cup of tea, and I could be persuaded to read literature, like Justin Bieber, First Step 2 Forever, by Justin Bieber.

Sign up in the comments.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A bag tax to save transsexual fish? I think we're on to something...

First of all, thank you, Jim for your post motivating the "silent ones" to speak up on the blog. I felt so guilty for getting joy from something to which I was not contributing. I assume that was your intention.

What motivates us/others to change? This was discussed shortly at Bethel Park Thanksgiving, and is a massive topic, so i'll focus on one example.

On January 1st, 2010, the District of Columbia instituted a "bag tax." 5cents would be charged for every "Carry Out" bag (paper or plastic). So i'll go through the thoughts of a typical human being faced suddenly with a suggestion to change...

"pf, i don't care about 5 cents...i just threw some nickels away cause my coin jar was overflowing."
"Who do you think you are...taking away a crucial aspect of my shopping experience? How do you expect me to carry my groceries?! This is the way is has always been and always should be."
"So you're saying that everyone will see that I just bought tampons at CVS? Where's my privacy!"
"I'm shopping in Virginia"
"Does this mean I have to carry those big cloth bags with me everywhere?! What a pain!"
"You think 1 bag is going to stop global warming?! Really?"

and the list could go on and on...

The campaign was intended to assist the clean up of the Anacostia River, where 99.9% of the fish (male and female) have the ability to lay eggs. In most stores, all 5cents of the bag tax goes to the Anacostia River Clean Up Project.

After the FIRST month of the bag tax, 3 million bags were distributed in the District of Columbia, compared to 22.2 million the month before. $150,000 was donated to the Anacostia River clean up.

So what made people change? Is it environmental consciousness? Saving money? The negative public perception of going against the change? The type of people in DC - more open to change, younger? Does it make them feel proud to part of something "good" ?? Is it because they feel connected to and responsible for the Anacostia River?

I think this "fake top-down change motivation" has a lot of potential....especially when the "penalty" is a nickel or less.

Champions of Freedom

The west, specifically the United States, promotes "Freedom" more than any other value with the possible exception of "Capitalism." However, all organizations, the U.S.government included, tend to preserve themselves before any value, when they come in conflict. To me, that seems to be the most troubling revelation in how the U.S. conducts foreign affairs as disclosed by the recently released diplomatic cables by Wikileaks. They often put the security of their own government organization ahead of the well-being of its citizens.

Billy Guerin Retires (as a Penguin)

Billy Guerin announced his retirement as a player in the NHL. Not a huge event, but after Mario, of course, I would say that even though he was only here 2 years, he, along with Joey Mullen, are perhaps the most beloved Penguins. Boston College people are just so special.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Not sure how long this will elude copyright police, but it's interesting. That is all. (Part 1 of 9)

Friday, December 3, 2010

more Little Drummer Boy

While we're at it, GooveLily version of Little Drummer Boy.

December 3!

Continuing the countdown, Shane MacGowan's "Little Drummer Boy"- An interesting combination, Irish priests with Shane MacGowan, founder of the punk band The Nipple Erectors.

Christmas Trains Update

Christmas train layouts are nice, but, like everything else, it's time to make them bigger, faster, and in 3D.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Atheists' Anthem

Not Christmas, but a continuation of Big Myk's post.

December 2

Inspired by Pete's latest audio entry and also in an attempt to tie together several loose threads of this blog, here's "The Atheist Christmas Carol":

Awesome, Arsenic life Forms!

Arsenic life forms.  Finally we will now know what are Alien overlords will be made of.  The Research Paper, since the NASA article is light on detail.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December 1!

Woke up with snow on the ground, thought this song would be appropriate.  Let the countdown begin! (though RC/P started Nov 28, EO started Nov 14, others start Dec 10th, I started Dec 26th last year).  Also Hanukkah started at sunset this day Dec 1-Dec 9.  Islamic New Year Dec 7th.  Thx James.