Saturday, December 24, 2011


An AP-GfK poll found that 77% of American adults believe in angels. I'm not sure if this completely discredits American adults or polls. I would like to see what the results would be for belief in Hobbits. I also would like to hear how these 77% define angels (and possibly, 'belief').

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Golden Age of Popular Christmas Music

Was it the trauma of the depression and WWII that created a need for songs of togetherness and family? Was it the perfect storm of the standardization of records, the emergence of the movie musical and the invention of the microphone? Was there some more mystical cause? Well, in any event, in a relatively short span of years in the mid-20th century a great outpouring of Christmas music occurred. I’ve seen different dates for this golden age of popular Christmas music. But everyone agrees that it encompassed at least the 40’s and 50’s. Others include the late 30’s and still others the early 60’s. But, somehow or other, every great modern Christmas song was written within these 30 years. Except for a few isolated songs, everything since has been a cover or terrible.

Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town 1934

Winter Wonderland 1934

Jingle Bells 1935

Carol of the Bells in 1936

Happy Holiday 1942

White Christmas 1942

I'll Be Home for Christmas 1943

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas 1944

Let it Snow! Let it snow! Let it Snow! 1945

The Christmas Song 1946

Here Comes Santa Claus 1947

Merry Christmas, Baby 1947

Blue Christmas 1949

Baby, It's Cold Outside 1949

Sleigh Ride 1949

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer 1949

Frosty the Snowman 1950

Marshmallow World 1950

Silver Bells 1950

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas 1951

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus 1952

Santa Baby 1953

Home for the Holidays 1954

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day 1956

Jingle Bell Rock 1957

Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree 1958

Little Drummer Boy 1958

Do You Hear What I Hear? 1963

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) 1963

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year 1963

All I Want for Christmas Is You 1963

A Holly Jolly Christmas 1964

Quotes of the Day

This is from the "everyone knows it, but no one will dare do anything about it" department.

As has been reported previously on In Progress, Barak Obama has said (without a trace of humor):
"These past 10 years have shown that America does not give in to fear."

Charles Mann wrote an article for Vanity Fair about his experience with airport security which included this quote:
 "…so much inconvenience for so little benefit at such a staggering cost…."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

This week in the Weekly

The one or two things you should know from this week's Harper's Weekly.

Officials in Los Angeles disclosed that they had infiltrated Occupy LA on suspicions that protesters were stockpiling bamboo spears and buckets of human feces.


Congress passed a $662 billion defense spending bill that allows for indefinite detention of terror suspects. "And when they say, 'I want my lawyer,'" said Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), "you tell them, 'Shut up. You don't get a lawyer.'"

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Second Coming

Once upon a time a man was born who recognized the hypocrisy of religious leaders, their institutions and the oppressive laws constructed by those leaders and their institutions. Those laws were defended as "God's laws" and as such were considered by those leaders as sacrosanct—unchangeable, unquestionable, and above the laws of man and nature. These religious leaders, the so-called Sadducees and Pharisees of their time, defended themselves and their institutions by intimidating others with God's punishment, as if they had been bestowed with a special knowledge of God's dictates.

After a period of study during the early years of his life, this man publicly ranted against this hypocrisy and exposed it as the sham it was. He did so despite vicious public outcry and condemnation from church leaders. In essence, he said he came to destroy the Temple. In its place he proposed the sanctity of, not religious institutions and totalitarian laws, but the individual. Each person should not be beholden to the law but to their individual conscience.

Sadly, this man died before he could see the full benefit of his work.

I'm talking not of Jesus of Nazareth, but of Christopher Hitchens.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Kidnapped! - episode 8

[on the closet floor, listening]

Up until now, dear reader, you may be excused for thinking this adventure was more comedic than calamitous, more droll than deadly. And, while each of us views life's events in our own unique way, from my perspective, as you can tell by the tale told thus far, that is how I saw it. Certainly on the night's scale there was much that weighed on the deadly side: the gun, the gunmen, and the abduction. Sitting on the toilet or the closet floor tied and blindfolded is not something you do for a good time…after the age of 12 or so. But on the other side of the balance rested the clear novelty of the adventure, the less than brutish nature of my abductors, and all of life's inevitable quirkiness when people are performing a very high stakes game with absolutely no prior experience. I was definitely winging it in my role, and I had to believe that these two had done little more than breaking and entering, and selling stolen goods. If they are alive today they are probably doing illegal downloads. So, on balance, it wasn't a calamity, say, compared to spending a night with Krampus or Miss Ames. It was intense and important, and could easily escalate into actions that could be calamitous. The problem with this type of adventure is that you don't know how it will end…and that is what makes it scary.

As I blindly listened to what was going on outside the closet, I could hear nothing. It was now or never. Perhaps they had already left. Or, perhaps they were quietly waiting for me beyond the closet door, trying to see if I could escape. I easily slipped my hands out of my bindings. If they discovered me now, there was no way I could re-tie my hands. I would be undone. I removed my blindfold. It was dark in the closet. Quickly I went to open the closet door. Perhaps it was locked or they had placed a chair against the knob. I tried to turn the handle, but my hands were so wet with nervous sweat that they just slid right off the knob. My body was trying to tell me how apprehensive I really was. I bent down to grab the scarf which was my blindfold and used it to grasp the door knob. It turned.

Here is where I was more afraid than anytime in my life. I was shaking for real. I felt there was a good chance the gunman was simply waiting silently outside the closet ready to use the gun if I tried to escape. I opened the door and…no one! I ran to the front door which was open. I slammed it shut. They had my keys, but there was a chain lock on the inside. Quickly I went to slide the chain lock in the slot. It wouldn't go! This was a bad dream; why wouldn't it go? I was about to panic when I saw that this type of chain lock was not just a round knob. It was oblong and had to be inserted on the slotted track the right way. Finally, I was able to chain lock the door to my apartment.

Then I ran to the kitchen in the back of the apartment and picked up the phone. They had cut the wires and the phone was dead. From my window in the back I could see other apartments. By this time it was fairly late and everyone's lights were out. I started screaming out the window trying to wake up a neighbor.

"Help! I'm being robbed! Call the police! My phone has been cut! Please, call the police. There is a robbery going on!"

Meanwhile the two came back up the stairs and opened the door hard against the chain lock. I could hear it bang from the kitchen. I yelled a little louder. If they had tried, I'm sure they could have shouldered the door hard enough to tear the screws of the lock out of the door frame. But they did not. They ran.

Eventually I woke someone up and was just coherent enough to get them to call the police. Not calmly, I tried to explain by yelling out my kitchen window to what was probably their kitchen window, perhaps 50 feet away, what was happening, so they could relay it to the police who were now on the phone. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I do recall that it took some time for me to provide information in a manner that made sense to the police. It was like the telephone game played around the dinner table. There were only three people playing, but one was yelling in a highly agitated state instead of whispering.

After I was told that the police were on their way, I didn't move, literally, until I could see the reflected flashing red lights of a police car from my window.

[To be continued…]

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

This Week in the Weekly

The one or two things you should know from this week's Harper's Weekly.

A U.S. surveillance drone crashed in Iran. Iranian military officials claimed to have brought down the plane by hacking into its control system, though an American analyst said the craft most likely crashed on its own, because "that's what drones do."


In the second attack by a gunman at Virginia Tech in four years, Radford University student Ross Ashley shot and killed a police officer, then shot and killed himself. "I'm kind of surprised," said Ashley's former roommate. "I'm also not kind of surprised."

Monday, December 12, 2011

Season 2

A Canticle for OWS?

At today's Mass, in lieu of the psalm, we sung part of the Magnificat, or the Canticle of Mary. Mary goes to visit her kinswoman, Elizabeth and, just like a musical, when Elizabeth greets her, Mary breaks into song. She starts off with the great line: My soul doth magnify the Lord. From there it goes to:

He has shown strength with his arm
and has scattered the proud in their conceit,
Casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.

I couldn't help but think of the Occupy Wall Street people.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Let's Keep the Creepiness in Christmas

According to a piece I heard on NPR this morning, the antidote to Christmas saccharine is the Krampus. The Krampus is a creature from Alpine folklore. It stands on two hooves and has horns growing out of its skull. An extremely long tongue hangs out of its mouth, and it carries a basket to haul away naughty children to its lair presumably to devour them. The creature works with St. Nick, who rewards the good children. St. Nick, however, either can't or won't interfere with the work of the Krampus. In places in the U.S. there are Krampus parties, and the traditional Krampuslauf: a procession of people dressed as Krampus, walking through the streets with noisemakers. In this age of no-consequences, I think this is a good story for children everywhere.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Dance v. Powerpoint

Science and dance: perfect bedfellows. Also another reason to leave arts funding alone.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Occupy Wall Street may finally have a practical focus

And it's Bill's idea* of taxing stock transactions. Finally a policy that makes sense.

*James Tobin also independently came up with the idea…and he won a Nobel Prize. Bill's idea, unlike Tobin's, however, has the additional advantage of thwarting institutions from making money on instantaneous differences in stock prices between world stock exchanges.

High Tech or Old School?

Here's the perfect gift for the author who wants to illustrate his own work. It is the creation of Washington-based artist Tyree Callahan, who converted an old 1937 Underwood Standard model.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kidnapped! - episode 7

[tied up on the toilet]

We have arrived at the moment of truth. Two strangers with a gun and a clear disregard for personal freedom and private property have arrived at my apartment after a long circuitous journey which has left them in a foul mood. I am helplessly tied up and blindfolded in the bathroom. As you can imagine, they were horrified.

"Do you believe this guy?!" was repeated again. "Where is the TV? Where is all your stuff?" Looking around the apartment, they must have thought I was a member of some religious sect practicing the vow of poverty. No expensive furniture. No rings or jewelry. No fancy appliances. Not even a Betamax. I didn't even have a watch they could take. They were completely confounded that anyone could live without a TV, despite what I had told them. It was un-American.

"Where is all your money?"

At this point I wasn't going to say, "I told you so." I just repeated that I was new to the city and had just started my job. Come back in a few years.

I did have a nice stereo system with tape deck and speakers that I had bought in Guam on my way back from Palau. This was probably the only thing that saved me from being shot on the spot out of frustration. As I sat on the toilet, I could hear them gathering up anything they thought was of value and stacking it in the living room. They kept trying to figure out where my worth was.

Looking through my closet was a big disappointment. "Where do you buy your clothes, Sears?"

Not only was I being robbed, but also humiliated. I had told them I was wearing my one nice suit. They were so desperate for something that they took my sweaters. They also rolled up my rug.

At one point they asked if I had money in the bank. When I told them I did have some, they suggested that I write them a check. Incredulous, I readily agreed knowing I would just stop payment on it. However, they never followed up on that notion.

As they worked, I guess they started feeling sorry for me. Perhaps they felt I was poorer than they were. They started opening up about how tough it was for blacks in Boston. They had a rough childhood and really had no opportunities. They were just trying to get by.

"We're really not bad. We don't want to hurt you. We just need to provide for our families. You can understand that. After we take your stuff, we'll leave your car at the Government Center Garage where we found you."

As desperate as they were, they weren't going to keep a Chevette with no back seat or glove compartment. Everything, I learned, can be justified for one's own benefit. It was just basic monetary policy, redistribution of wealth. They talked as if robbery should become a fully funded federal program.

It was probably around 10:30 when they were ready to carry the few things they had gathered—mostly stereo equipment—down to the car to make their get-a-way. For some reason they moved me from the bathroom to the closet floor. Here was one of the more frightening moments for me. After they sat me blindfolded on the floor of the closet, I imagined that they would smack the back of my head with the gun to ensure I would not escape. I braced for it. Fortunately, the blow did not come.

Something must have spooked them during the process of carrying my goods down to my car. They entered the closet, raised me from the floor, and brought me out to the stairs. I was instructed to repeat, "Hey! Be careful with that stuff" for the benefit of anyone else living in the apartment building. The assumption was that my voice was giving unqualified approval for removing stereo equipment, sweaters, and a rug from the apartment. I had to say it a few times in order to get the right pitch and loudness. Satisfied, they placed me back on the closet floor.

There I sat, frustrated that I had done little to thwart this kidnapping and robbery. I had failed to out smart them. As I listened to their movements, there came a time when I heard nothing but silence. Maybe I could still do something. Were both of them carrying something down to the car, leaving the room empty? Perhaps this was my chance to slip my bonds and escape!

 [To be continued…]

Saturday, December 3, 2011

December 3 — Shonen Knife

Here's my favorite…universal appeal even to Pluto.

BTW, they were in Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago, but didn't do Space Christmas.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Jackson Browne's Xmas song

One of my favorites:

December 1!

Let the countdown begin!

Quote of the Day

This quote explains why, when traveling, you may want to avoid the expensive hotel in favor of a cheaper one.
if you want to swap stories about taking a boat through the backwaters of Kerala, go with the cheap place. If you want to talk about who’s going to win the Superbowl this year then go with the package tourists.