Denton’s Gypsy Cats, “All Blues”

January 27, 2020

All Blues from Steve Horn on Vimeo.

Denton’s Gypsy Cats and Miles Davis’s “All Blues.”

One of the guys from our monthly jazz jam at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Oak Cliff called — needed a bass for a more regular band he puts together up in Denton. How could I resist?

The Gypsy Cats play Gypsy Jazz (will a different name come along?) — Django Reinhardt-inspired, guitar and string driven, often fast, stuff you might hear in a French cafe or at Eastern European folk dances. Sometimes they take jazz standards and adapt.

What do you think?

Sadly, A Creative Arts Studio is closing down. What has been a monthly gig for great music in Denton will need a new home.

Glad I got into it, if only for a brief while.

Denton, Texas's Gypsy Cats, line up in December 2019
Gypsy Cats: Jeffrey Barnes on harmonica (and reeds, whistles, percussion); Steve Prouty (behind Barnes) on drums, Ed Darrell on bass, Austin Smith on violin and Steve Horn on mandolin, December 18, 2019.

Ruckelshaus, Sweeney and DDT – rescued from the archives, for the record

January 14, 2020

Years ago Jim Easter tracked down the actual decision document from EPA’s Administrative Law Judge Edmund Sweeney, in which detailed his findings from the months of hearings at EPA on whether to pull registration as a pesticide from DDT.

Masthead and first few sentences of Jim Easter's late, lamented blog Some Are Boojums, and his 2007 post on EPA Administrative Law Judge Edmund Sweeney's decision on DDT labels after several months and 9,000 pages of hearings.
Masthead and first few sentences of Jim Easter’s late, lamented blog Some Are Boojums, and his 2007 post on EPA Administrative Law Judge Edmund Sweeney’s decision on DDT labels after several months and 9,000 pages of hearings.



It was great sleuthing, taking him through several EPA regional libraries, for a document that just falls into the cracks of most history of environmental law, DDT and regulation.

Jim posted the document at his blog, Some Are Boojums, and linked to his .pdf of the document. A great historical record.

Then his blog went out of commission, then it came back. And now, it’s gone again.

Meanwhile, I’d linked to the post, and have over the years sent a few hundred people to the old blog to find the .pdf and read Jim’s write-up of EPA’s hearings, findings and effects.

Some time in the late-Bush/early-Obama years EPA posted a copy of Judge Sweeney’s decision. That disappeared with the Trump administration, and I’ve not found it anywhere.

So to defend myself, make linking easier, and to aid any stray researchers who are having difficulty finding Judge Sweeney’s real decision, perhaps to debunk the pro-DDT lobbyists’ shouting that Sweeney said DDT is perfectly safe and should be used to bath every newborn, I’ve recaptured Jim Easter’s post from Some Are Boojums, and put it all here.

Warning: I’ve not rejiggered any links. I suspect many of them have gone sour. I may come back to fix a few, but you should know that at one time they all worked well.

Comments were quite lively, but I haven’t quite figured out how to post them; that may come later, or it may not.

Judge Sweeney’s decision? Full text here: Sweeney decision.

After all that ado, here’s Jim Easter’s post:
______________________________________________________________

Ruckelshaus, Sweeney and DDT

On June 2nd, 1972, William D. Ruckelshaus, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, issued an order effectively ending the agricultural use of DDT in the US.

Thirty-five years later, that order is still the subject of fierce controversy.

One claim often made by proponents of renewed DDT use is that Ruckelshaus’ decision was capricious and unsupported by the evidence — specifically, that he acted in willful disregard of his own hearing examiner’s findings. For example, in a post co-authored[1] with the late J. Gordon Edwards, Steven Milloy states that Ruckelshaus “ignored the decision of his own administrative law judge.”[2]

Milloy’s distortion of the history and science surrounding DDT is shameless, and deserves to be the subject of a separate post. But let’s stick with the Ruckelshaus order for now.

Did Ruckelshaus ignore the conclusions of his hearing examiner? You’d think, since this claim is made so relentlessly by DDT advocates, that we could find the relevant document somewhere on the Web. But it’s not that easy. Ruckelshaus’ order itself is readily available (see below for a more readable copy), but the hearing examiner’s findings … not so much. The document is sometimes cited as “Sweeney, E.M., 1972. ‘EPA Hearing Examiner’s Recommendations and Findings Concerning DDT Hearings,’ April 25, 1972. 40 CFR 164.32.” — which helps a bit, but only a bit, since “40 CFR 164.32″ is just the Federal Regulation governing administrative hearings at EPA. Anyone who offers that to you as an actual cite for the opinion is blowing smoke. A better cite is the one given in the order, viz.: “Stevens Industries, Inc. et al., I.F&R. Docket Nos. 63 et al. (Consolidated DDT Hearings)”. But even that will not get you anything online. EPA does give its Decisions and Orders online, but only back to 1989. A good deal of fruitless searching convinced me that the Sweeney opinion would not be mine with the click of a mouse; it was old-school or nothing. After several weeks, a dozen or so phone calls and the help of some very nice university librarians, I was able to get my hooks on all 173 glorious manually typewritten pages of Edmund M. Sweeney’s “Recommended Findings, Conclusions and Orders.”

Here it is. (56 Mb pdf!) EPA’s librarians indicated that they would not post it online, because of the wretched quality. I’m not so picky. While we’re at it, here is a (slightly) more readable copy of Ruckelshaus’ order.
(UPDATE: See [4] below.)

The following are some of the more notable things we can observe if we look at both documents:

Did Sweeney’s findings generally support the Petitioners (DDT registrants)?

Yes. Sweeney found no evidence to indicate that DDT causes mutations or birth defects in humans, considered the evidence for DDT’s carcinogenicity in humans to be inconclusive, and, though he found that DDT is harmful to wildlife, he deemed that harm to be outweighed by DDT’s value as a pesticide. Sweeney’s findings of fact are summarized in pages 91-92, and his conclusions of law in pages 93-94. Milloy quotes (#17) part of those conclusions:

The EPA hearing examiner, Judge Edmund Sweeney, concluded that “DDT is not a carcinogenic hazard to man… DDT is not a mutagenic or teratogenic hazard to man… The use of DDT under the regulations involved here do not have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds or other wildlife.”

That partial quote is misleading. Sweeney also found (p. 92) that

20. DDT can have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish and estuarine organisms when directly applied to the water.

21. DDT is used as a rodenticide.

22. DDT can have an adverse effect on beneficial animals.

23. DDT is concentrated in organisms and can be transferred through food chains.

It is not true that Sweeney found no harm caused by DDT. Rather, he found that, using a “preponderance of the evidence” test, DDT users and USDA had shown that DDT’s usefulness to agriculture outweighed the demonstrated harm.

Did Ruckelshaus ignore Sweeney’s opinion?

No, but he disagreed with substantial portions of it. Ruckelshaus quotes extensively from Sweeney’s opinion, including the findings of fact and conclusions of law noted above. He repeats arguments made by the petitioners, and describes how he differs. Choosing one example:

Group Petitioners and USDA argue that the laboratory feeding studies, conducted with exaggerated doses of DDE and under stress conditions, provide no basis for extrapolating to nature.
They suggest that the study results are contradictory and place particular emphasis on documents which were not part of the original record and the inconsistencies in Dr. Heath’s testimony as brought out during cross-examination. Group Petitioners also contend that the observed phenomenon of eggshell thinning and DDE residue data are tied by a statistical thread too slender to connect the two in any meaningful way.

Viewing the evidence as a total picture, a preponderance supports the conclusion that DDE does cause eggshell thinning. Whether or not the laboratory data above would sustain this conclusion is beside the point. For here there is laboratory data and observational data, and in addition, a scientific hypothesis, which might explain the phenomenon.

This is exactly the kind of language that sent J. Gordon Edwards ballistic (detailed discussion reserved for another post). Then as now, DDT advocates felt that the existence of studies with negative results created enough doubt that a ban could not be justified. Ruckelshaus felt just the opposite — that the bulk of the evidence supported a ban — and explained why. For eggshell thinning, 35 years of research have shown that Ruckelshaus was right. A follow-up report issued in 1975 cited 179 studies related to eggshell thinning alone (pp. 69-81). Today, a quick check of PubMed for “ddt eggshell” turns up 50 papers since 1969, and it is clear from the abstracts that the association of thinning and DDT is well established. Bald eagle populations have rebounded since the DDT ban, so successfully that they are now delisted as threatened, a result accepted matter-of-factly by wildlife biologists as a benefit of the DDT ban.

How did Ruckelshaus’ order differ from Sweeney’s recommendation?

One word: cotton. Sweeney ruled on six separate applications for DDT registration, affirming the cancellations for two, vacating the cancellations for three, and allowing a sixth to start the application process. Two of the cases where Sweeney restored the DDT registration were for public health uses: Wyco’s for treatment of mosquito larvae and Eli Lilly’s for use against body lice. Ruckelshaus permitted both applications, as well as public health use of DDT generally, but required a label restricting it to that use. As to DDT’s application worldwide against malaria (the topic of so much dispute nowadays), Ruckelshaus took pains to say that he was not restricting it:

It should be emphasized that these hearings have never involved the use of DDT by other nations in their health control programs. As we said in our DDT Statement of March, 1971, “this Agency will not presume to regulate the felt necessities of other countries.” (p. 26)

The remaining case in which Sweeney vacated the cancellation of DDT registration, permitting its use, was a biggie: USDA and Group Petitioners (31 users of DDT). These had argued collectively that DDT was “essential” for economical production of various crops and control of pests such as the spruce budworm. Of these applications, by far the most important was cotton production, accounting for at least half of all DDT consumption in the US[3]. Other crops were discussed, with sweet peppers in the Delmarva peninsula used as an example. In his order, Ruckelshaus carved out specific exceptions for several crops where DDT was considered the only acceptable alternative, and said that

… if these users or registrants can demonstrate that a produce shortage will result and their particular use of DDT, taken with other uses, does not create undue stress on the general or local environment, particularly the aquasphere, cancellation should be lifted.

The fact that a few loopholes were left open for a while does not change the fact that Ruckelshaus intended to eliminate use of DDT on crops in the US, and his order did have that effect. Even for the “essential” uses, alternatives were found and DDT was dropped. The largest impact of the order was on cotton production. And this is where it gets even more interesting. One of Sweeney’s conclusions of law (p. 94) was that

13. The use of DDT in the United States has declined rapidly since 1959.

The EPA’s 1975 report gives a table (p. 149) that I’ve represented graphically below.
DDT plot
Although exports, and overall production, continued to rise until 1963, US consumption of DDT peaked in 1959, before any significant restrictions were placed on its use, and declined steadily thereafter. A reasonable person might wonder why that would be. Guess what? The boll weevil and the bollworm were becoming resistant to DDT. Sweeney refers to this fact (p. 86) and observes that

While the evidence convinces me that the use of DDT on cotton is declining and should be reduced as soon as effective replacement means of controlling pests are developed, I do not feel that the evidence to date permits any conclusion to the effect that DDT should be banned for use on cotton at this time.

Ruckelshaus disagreed. With his order, use of DDT on cotton pests became history. The economic impact on cotton growers was significant but far from catastrophic: costs to cotton producers were estimated at $7.75 million nationally, and for consumers at 2.2 cents per capita per year (p. 193).

Even in the one arena where the DDT ban was argued to be unbearably burdensome, its use was already declining, the hearing examiner recommended that it be reduced further in favor of alternative methods, and in the event, the ban’s effects were easily absorbed. Well, then — did it have any impact that we should care about?

Glad you asked.

Returning to Steven Milloy’s DDT FAQ, cited above, we find a pearl. Robert Desowitz’ The Malaria Capers is quoted (#8):

“There is persuasive evidence that antimalarial operations did not produce mosquito resistance to DDT. That crime, and in a very real sense it was a crime, can be laid to the intemperate and inappropriate use of DDT by farmers, especially cotton growers. They used the insecticide at levels that would accelerate, if not actually induce, the selection of a resistant population of mosquitoes.”

That’s right. The 1972 DDT ban did nothing to restrict the chemical’s use against malaria, but had the effect of eliminating the single most intense source of selection pressure for insecticide resistance in mosquitos. As the rest of the world followed suit in restricting agricultural use of DDT, the spread of resistance was slowed dramatically or stopped.
By this single action, William Ruckelshaus — and, credit where it’s due, Rachel Carson — may well have saved millions of lives.

Steven Milloy is invited to add that to the DDT FAQ any time it’s convenient.

_____________________________________________________________

[1] A footnote explains that the post is “largely drawn from materials compiled by J. Gordon Edwards, professor of entomology at San Jose State University.” How much actual collaboration took place, if any, is not stated.

[2] Technically, it’s not a “decision”, but an opinion stating “recommended findings, conclusions and orders.” A fine point, to be sure, but it makes a difference.

[3] “It has been estimated that two-thirds of the DDT that is used in the United States is used in agriculture, and that 75% of the DDT that is used on agricultural crops is used on cotton.” (Sweeney, p. 83). According to the 1975 report, cotton’s share had increased to 80% by 1971-1972.

[4] UPDATE: EPA has now posted its DDT archives, complete with the Sweeney opinion, here. You can now download a better-quality copy of the opinion at a fraction of the size, so do that. If my copy is adding no value, I’ll probably take it down eventually. I see that the EPA page was last updated September 25th, roughly a month after this post. I’d like to think that my prodding was a factor, but there’s no way to know.

_____________________________________________________________

(Hat tips are due Ed Darrell, for the best historical coverage, Bug Girl, for the best scientific coverage, and Tim Lambert, for the best overall coverage of this issue.)

 

This entry was posted on Sunday, August 26th, 2007 at 6:25 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


Happy 220th birthday, Millard Fillmore!

January 7, 2020

Millard Fillmore, bronzed, sitting at the corner of 9th and St. Joseph Streets in Rapid City, South Dakota. He still gets around. Photo by Ed Darrell. Please use.

Millard Fillmore, bronzed, sitting at the corner of 9th and St. Joseph Streets in Rapid City, South Dakota. He still gets around. Photo by Ed Darrell. Please use. Creative Commons copyright.

Millard Fillmore, our 13th President, was born on January 7, 1800.

That was 24 days after the death of our first President, George Washington.

Fillmore’s birthday isn’t such a big deal anymore, since fun organizers discontinued the bathtub races once word got out that the story of Millard Fillmore putting the first bathtub in the White House, is a hoax.

Historians from the University of Buffalo — an institution founded by Fillmore after his presidency — usually hold a graveside ceremony with speeches. In 2020 the service was scheduled for 10:00 a.m. EST, at Fillmore’s grave. No news I can find about whether it occurred. The ceremony has been cancelled for snow, ice and cold in recent years. (About as cold as the response I get from the University of Buffalo when I ask for a copy of the speech or paper to publish here.)

It’s a shame, really. Fillmore is the victim of fake news, a hoax perpetrated by H. L. Mencken 100 years ago, in 1917. Mencken claimed, falsely, that Fillmore’s sole good, memorable deed was putting that fictitious bathtub in the White House. That story crowds out the real history, and any good Fillmore should be remembered for.

Fillmore did a few notable things as president.

  • Fillmore secured a steady supply of bird guano for the United States. Funny as that may be, the guano was essential for making gun powder, which in turn helped fuel the military might of the United States for years (including through the Civil War).
  • Millard Fillmore and his first wife, Abigail, read books all the time. Deprived of the opportunity of going to school much in his youth, Fillmore became an ardent reader, read for the law, became a lawyer, got into politics and was selected Vice President for President Zachary Taylor. When Taylor died (probably of typhoid) in 1850, Fillmore succeeded to the presidency. In the White House, the Fillmores found few books to read, and so established the White House Library. Say prayers that library survives the current president.
  • Fillmore thought globally, and he could see world trade as a huge opportunity for a young nation with a strong navy and army, and a lot of resources including intellectual capacity to manufacture things. Trade in the Pacific was problematic, and a large number of problems stemmed from Japan’s closing itself off from the world. Japan had coal, which could refuel steamships. Japan instead closed its ports. An occasional U.S. sailor would be executed if he washed up on Japanese shores. Fillmore sent a small fleet of “black ships” under Commodore Matthew Perry, to tell Japan it was time to open up to trade and assume its place among nations. Perry was successful, after a second visit and a small round of cannon fire. Japan became a strong economic power in the West Pacific, and in its march to glory decided to take over resources of several other Asian nations. We might say Fillmore started the slide to World War II in the Pacific.

History should be kept to accuracy. Mencken upset the ship of accuracy with his essay, and America has not recovered, nor has Millard Fillmore’s reputation. There’s a moral there: Don’t spread hoaxes; seek the truth, and glorify it. (Mencken apologized for the hoax, but too late.)

Rapid City, South Dakota, is a booming town. Mineral wealth and oil in the state combine with a nearby Air Force Base, great housing prices and good weather to benefit the town. One of its civic watchdogs got the idea of putting statues of all U.S. presidents on downtown corners. That is how Millard Fillmore comes to be seated with a book to read, at the corner of 9th Street and St. Joseph Street, where I met him in August 2017. Altogether a fun little history enterprise for Rapid City, very well executed, and worthy of a stop there if you’re passing by.

Perhaps someday Rapid City will take to decorating the statues on the birthdays of the men (so far!) represented. I hope they won’t be frozen out like Buffalo, New York, is, if they commemorate Millard Fillmore’s birthday.

We can reflect on happier times, when even our disrespected and forgotten presidents were good people who did great things.

Millard Fillmore and Ed Darrell meet, in Rapid City, South Dakota, August 2017

Millard Fillmore and Ed Darrell meet, in Rapid City, South Dakota, August 2017; photo by Kathryn Knowles

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New Mexico flies U.S. flags January 6, 2020, for Statehood Day

January 6, 2020

President William Howard Taft signing the bill that made New Mexico a state, in 1912. (Other people in the photo, I have not yet identified). Image from OldPicture.com

President William Howard Taft signing the proclamation that made New Mexico a state, on January 6, 1912. (Other people in the photo, I have not yet identified; can you help?). Image from Library of Congress Harris and Ewing Collection, via Albuquerque Historical Society.

New Mexico became the 47th member of the Union on January 6, 1912.  New Mexicans should fly their U.S. flags today in honor of statehood, the U.S. Flag Code urges.

U.S. and New Mexico flags fly from the state education administration building in Santa Fe, 2014

U.S. and New Mexico flags fly from the state education administration building in Santa Fe, 2014. The third flag is the U.S. POW/MIA flag.

I don’t think Statehood Day is a big deal in New Mexico.  New Mexicans love art, though, and statehood and history of the land and the peoples who live there are celebrated throughout Santa Fe and New Mexico.  The New Mexico Art Museum features a lot about history.

The New Mexico State Capitol is one of the more unique in the U.S. There is no grand dome. Instead, the building is a large, circular structure, a giant kiva, honoring New Mexico’s ancient residents and ancestors.

We toured the Capitol in July 2014. It features a massive collection of art by and about New Mexico, and is worth a stop as one would intend to visit any great art museum.

"Emergence," a representation of the creation of the present Earth and people, by Michael A. Naranjo, 2000. Part of the massive collection of New Mexico Art at the State Capitol -- this one outside the building itself.

“Emergence,” a representation of the creation of the present Earth and people, by Michael A. Naranjo, 2000. Part of the massive collection of New Mexico Art at the State Capitol — this one outside the building itself.

Simple Pleasures of New Mexico, acrylic by Gary Morton, 1992

“Simple Pleasures of New Mexico,”  stunning painting in acrylic by Gary Morton, 1992

If you’re in Santa Fe, plan to spend a half of a day, at least, looking at the Capitol and its art collections.  There are more than 400 pieces on display, sculpture, paintings, mixed media, and more.  It’s a world class gallery, free for the browsing.  Much of the art packs a powerful emotional punch, too, such as the sculpture outside the building honoring the vanished native tribes of North America.

Happy statehood, New Mexico.

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USPS stamp honoring the centennial of New Mexico's statehood, in 2012. The stamp features a representation of the beauty of the state found in its desert hills and mountains. VirtualStampClub.com

USPS stamp honoring the centennial of New Mexico’s statehood, in 2012. The stamp features a representation of the beauty of the state found in its desert hills and mountains. VirtualStampClub.com

This is an encore post.
Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

Fly your U.S. flags in January 2020

January 1, 2020

“Raising the first American flag, Somerville, Mass., January 1, 1776.” Harper’s Weekly painting by Clyde Osmer DeLand, 1897. From the digital collections of the New York Public Library

January is loaded with flag flying dates, when we add in statehood days, dates those states are invited to fly their U.S. flags.

In January 2020, the U.S. Flag Code urges citizens to fly flags on these dates, listed chronologically:

  • New Year’s Day, January 1, a federal holiday
  • January 2, Georgia Statehood Day
  • January 3, Alaska Statehood Day
  • January 4, Utah Statehood Day
  • January 6, New Mexico Statehood Day
  • January 9, Connecticut Statehood Day
  • Martin Luther King’s Birthday, a federal holiday on the third Monday of January; that date is January 20, in 2020; King’s actual birthday is January 15, and you may fly your flag then, too
  • Inauguration Day, January 20, the year after election years; 2020 is not an inauguration year; 2021 will be
  • January 26, Michigan Statehood Day
  • January 29, Kansas Statehood Day

You may fly your flag any other day you wish, too; flags should not be flown after sundown unless they are specially lighted, or at one of the few places designated by Congress or Presidential Proclamation for 24-hour flag flying.  According to Wikipedia’s listing, those sites include:

  • Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Maryland (Presidential Proclamation No. 2795, July 2, 1948).
  • Flag House Square, Albemarle and Pratt Streets, Baltimore, Maryland (Public Law 83-319, approved March 26, 1954).
  • Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial), Arlington, Virginia (Presidential Proclamation No. 3418, June 12, 1961).
  • Lexington Battle Green, Lexington, Massachusetts (Public Law 89-335, approved November 8, 1965).
  • White House, Washington, D.C. (Presidential Proclamation No. 4000, September 4, 1970).
  • Washington Monument, Washington, D.C. (Presidential Proclamation No. 4064, July 6, 1971, effective July 4, 1971).
  • Any port of entry to the United States which is continuously open (Presidential Proclamation No. 413 1, May 5, 1972).
  • Grounds of the National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge State Park, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania (Public Law 94-53, approved July 4, 1975).
Flag House in 1936, 844 East Pratt & Albemarle Streets (Baltimore, Independent City, Maryland) (cropped). Image courtesy of the federal HABS—Historic American Buildings Survey of Maryland.

Flag House in 1936, where Mary Pickersgill sewed the garrison-sized, 15-star flag that flew over Fort McHenry at the Battle of Baltimore in 1814; one of the sites where the U.S. flag may be flown 24 hours. The house is at 844 East Pratt & Albemarle Streets (Baltimore, Independent City, Maryland). Cropped image courtesy of the federal HABS—Historic American Buildings Survey of Maryland.

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Children unfurl a large flag at a Denver Nuggets/Indiana Pacers NBA basketball game in Denver, January 2016. Colorado Public Radio image.
This is an encore post.
Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

Travel and culture: Chimney Rock National Monument, Colorado

December 28, 2019

Chimney Rock National Monument, Colorado, and Moon. NPS image.

Chimney Rock National Monument, Colorado, and Moon. NPS image.

It’s off the tourist-beaten path, it’s relatively new to the National Parks system, and it’s not highly developed.

All of which means you can have a fantastic, unhurried adventure among ruins of ancient Americans, without the crowds.

We found it almost accidentally, driving by on our way to Abiquiue, New Mexico. Film from CRIA (Chimney Rock Interpretive Association?) recently dropped into my in-box.

I tried to get the definitive photo of a rufous hummingbird male who was trying to keep a dozen other hummers of three different species away from a battery of hummingbird feeders, but he was too fast.

Chimney Rock is a good example of the vast number of ruins from Puebloan Indian tribes and tribes even more ancient, found across the desert Southwest, mostly unprotected, uncatalogued, and unknown to any but local people who hunt pots, mostly illegally. As a nation, we should fund better preservation and more study of these human habitations.

Another short video:

Note there is at least one other formation in southern Colorado called Chimney Rock, and another formation in North Carolina that is probably more famous.

A view of the kiva and other ruins atop the small mesa formation of Chimney Rock N.P. USDA photo.

A view of the kiva and other ruins atop the small mesa formation of Chimney Rock N.P. USDA photo via OutThere Colorado.

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Rare, Alternative and New Christmas music 2019: Pogues, “Fairytale of New York”

December 25, 2019

Cover for a version of The Pogues,

Cover for a version of The Pogues, “Fairytale of New York. Wikipedia image

If you think Joni Mitchell’s “River” represents a turn to blue for Christmas songs, what does “Fairytale of New York” show?

I must admit, this is one I was not familiar with — I’d heard it before, but not paid much attention. Surprised to learn it was written and rewritten 1985 to 1987, with a first recording by the Pogues in 1987. Judging by its popularity in the UK, it’s a song we all should be familiar with.

Fairytale of New York” is a song written by Jem Finer and Shane MacGowan and first released as a single on 23 November 1987[1] by their band The Pogues, featuring singer-songwriter Kirsty MacColl on vocals. The song was written as a duet, with the Pogues’ singer MacGowan taking the role of the male character and MacColl the female character. It is an Irish folk-style ballad, and featured on The Pogues’ 1988 album If I Should Fall from Grace with God.

Originally begun in 1985, the song had a troubled two year development history, undergoing rewrites and aborted attempts at recording, and losing its original female vocalist along the way, before finally being completed in summer 1987. Although the single never reached the coveted UK Christmas number one, being kept at number two on its original release in 1987 by the Pet Shop Boyscover version of “Always on My Mind“, it has proved enduringly popular with both music critics and the public: to date the song has reached the UK Top 20 on fourteen separate occasions since its original release in 1987, including every year since 2005, and was certified platinum in the UK in 2013.[2] The song has sold 1.18 million copies in the UK as of November 2015.[3] In the UK it is the most-played Christmas song of the 21st century.[4] “Fairytale of New York” has been cited as the best Christmas song of all time in various television, radio and magazine related polls in the UK and Ireland.[5]

Is it a downer of a song? Voices in the lyric do not appear happy, but rather angry with each other for imagined slights that put each of them where they did not wish to be, when they met years ago.

But still the bells ring out on Christmas Day. (Remember that, if I get around to posting the Chieftans’ recording I have in mind for this series.)

I found the song in 2017 on Twitter, improbably, in something called the World Cup of Christmas Songs, sponsored by UK radio guy Richard Osman (@RichardOsman). It’s not a serious competition, and it excluded most Christmas music we all know, which tips the scales a bit, it seems to me. But here it is, and the vox populi rings out.

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Merry Christmas, 2019! Fly your flag on Christmas Day

December 24, 2019

“A Gift to a Nation” by painter of western scenes Tom Browning; Santa Claus puts together a flag for a family to fly on Christmas.

Christmas Day, December 25, is one of the holidays designated in the U.S. Flag Code for U.S. residents to fly the flag.

No, you don’t take the flag down for mere inclement weather; fly it through rain and snow. Remember to dry your flag before putting it away.

More:

  • Next dates to fly the flag: December 28, for Iowa statehood; December 29, for Texas statehood; New Years Day
  • Look around for other Christmas and Santa Claus posts

Ron Cogswell captured a flag displayed at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., in December 2015; Creative Commons license

Ron Cogswell captured a flag displayed at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., in December 2015; Creative Commons license

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Christmas 2019 questions: Who invented Santa Claus? Who really wrote the “Night Before Christmas?”

December 24, 2019

An encore post and Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub tradition from 2007, with modifications.

“Today in History from the Associated Press notes, for December 23:

In 1823, the poem “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” was published anonymously in the Troy (N.Y.) Sentinel; the verse, more popularly known as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” was later attributed to Clement C. Moore.

Regardless who wrote the poem first published 196 years ago, how did the poem influence America’s view of St. Nicholas, or Santa Claus?  And how much of the Santa Claus story really was invented in America?

Thomas Nast invented Santa Claus? Clement C. Moore didn’t write the famous poem that starts out, “‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house . . . ?”

The murky waters of history from Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub soak even our most cherished ideas and traditions.

Isn’t that part of the fun of history?

Santa Claus delivers to Union soldiers, "Santa Claus in Camp" - Thomas Nast, Harper's Weekly, Jan 3, 1863

In Janaury 1863, Thomas Nast portrayed Santa Claus as he delivered gifts to Union troops a few days earlier in Washington, D.C., wearing a blue, star-spangled coat.

Yes, Virginia (and California, too)! Thomas Nast created the image of Santa Claus most of us in the U.S. know today. Perhaps even more significant than his campaign against the graft of Boss Tweed, Nast’s popularization of a fat, jolly elf who delivers good things to people for Christmas makes one of the great stories in commercial illustration. Nast’s cartoons, mostly for the popular news publication Harper’s Weekly, created many of the conventions of modern political cartooning and modeled the way in which an illustrator could campaign for good, with his campaign against the graft of Tammany Hall and Tweed. But Nast’s popular vision of Santa Claus can be said to be the foundation for the modern mercantile flurry around Christmas.

Nast is probably ensconced in a cartoonists’ hall of fame. Perhaps he should be in a business or sales hall of fame, too.  [See also Bill Casselman’s page, “The Man Who Designed Santa Claus.]

Nast’s drawings probably drew some inspiration from the poem, “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” traditionally attributed to Clement C. Moore, a New York City lawyer, published in 1822. The poem is among the earliest to describe the elf dressed in fur, and magically coming down a chimney to leave toys for children; the poem invented the reindeer-pulled sleigh.

Modern analysis suggests the poem was not the work of Moore, and many critics and historians now attribute it to Major Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828) following sleuthing by Vassar College Prof. Don Foster in 2000. Fortunately for us, we do not need to be partisans in such a query to enjoy the poem (a complete copy of which is below the fold).

The Library of Congress still gives Moore the credit. When disputes arise over who wrote about the night before Christmas, is it any wonder more controversial topics produce bigger and louder disputes among historians?

Moore was not known for being a poet. The popular story is that he wrote it on the spur of the moment:

Moore is thought to have composed the tale, now popularly known as “The Night Before Christmas,” on December 24, 1822, while traveling home from Greenwich Village, where he had bought a turkey for his family’s Christmas dinner.

Inspired by the plump, bearded Dutchman who took him by sleigh on his errand through the snow-covered streets of New York City, Moore penned A Visit from St. Nicholas for the amusement of his six children, with whom he shared the poem that evening. His vision of St. Nicholas draws upon Dutch-American and Norwegian traditions of a magical, gift-giving figure who appears at Christmas time, as well as the German legend of a visitor who enters homes through chimneys.

Again from the Library of Congress, we get information that suggests that Moore was a minor celebrity from a well-known family with historical ties that would make a good “connections” exercise in a high school history class, perhaps (”the link from Aaron Burr’s treason to Santa Claus?”): (read more, below the fold)

Clement Moore was born in 1779 into a prominent New York family. His father, Benjamin Moore, president of Columbia University, in his role as Episcopal Bishop of New York participated in the inauguration of George Washington as the nation’s first president. The elder Moore also administered last rites to Alexander Hamilton after he was mortally wounded in a tragic duel with Aaron Burr.

A graduate of Columbia, Clement Moore was a scholar of Hebrew and a professor of Oriental and Greek literature at the General Theological Seminary in Manhattan. [See comment from Pam Bumsted below for more on Moore.] He is said to have been embarrassed by the light-hearted verse, which was made public without his knowledge in December 1823. Moore did not publish it under his name until 1844.

Tonight, American children will be tucked in under their blankets and quilts and read this beloved poem as a last “sugarplum” before slipping into dreamland. Before they drift off, treat them to a message from Santa, recorded by the Thomas Edison Company in 1922.

Santa Claus Hides in Your Phonograph
By Arthur A. Penn, Performed by Harry E. Humphrey.
Edison, 1922.
Coupling date: 6/20/1922. Cutout date: 10/31/1929.
Inventing Entertainment: The Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies

Listen to this recording (RealAudio Format)

Listen to this recording (wav Format, 8,471 Kb)

But Henry Livingston was no less noble or historic. He hailed from the Livingstons of the Hudson Valley (one of whose farms is now occupied by Camp Rising Sun of the Louis August Jonas Foundation, a place where I spent four amazing summers teaching swimming and lifesaving). Livingston’s biography at the University of Toronto site offers another path for a connections exercise (”What connects the Declaration of Independence, the American invasion of Canada, the famous poem about a visit from St. Nick, and George W. Bush?”):

Henry Livingston Jr. was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, on Oct. 13, 1748. The Livingston family was one of the important colonial and revolutionary families of New York. The Poughkeepsie branch, descended from Gilbert, the youngest son of Robert Livingston, 1st Lord of Livingston Manor, was not as well off as the more well-known branches, descended from sons Robert and Philip. Two other descendants of Gilbert Livingston, President George Walker Herbert Bush and his son, President-Elect George W. Bush, though, have done their share to bring attention to this line. Henry’s brother, Rev. John Henry Livingston, entered Yale at the age of 12, and was able to unite the Dutch and American branches of the Dutch Reformed Church. At the time of his death, Rev. Livingston was president of Rutgers University. Henry’s father and brother Gilbert were involved in New York politics, and Henry’s granduncle was New York’s first Lt. Governor. But the law was the natural home for many of Henry’s family. His brother-in-law, Judge Jonas Platt, was an unsuccessful candidate for governor, as was his daughter Elizabeth’s husband, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Smith Thompson. Henry’s grandson, Sidney Breese, was Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court.

Known for his encyclopedic knowledge and his love of literature, Henry Livingston was a farmer, surveyor and Justice of the Peace, a judicial position dealing with financially limited criminal and civil cases. One of the first New Yorkers to enlist in the Revolutionary Army in 1775, Major Henry Livingston accompanied his cousin’s husband, General Montgomery, in his campaign up the Hudson River to invade Canada, leaving behind his new wife, Sarah Welles, and their week-old baby, on his Poughkeepsie property, Locust Grove. Baby Catherine was the subject of the first poem currently known by Major Livingston. Following this campaign, Livingston was involved in the War as a Commissioner of Sequestration, appropriating lands owned by British loyalists and selling them for the revolutionary cause. It was in the period following Sarah’s early death in 1783, that Major Livingston published most of his poems and prose, anonymously or under the pseudonym of R. Ten years after the death of Sarah, Henry married Jane Patterson, the daughter of a Dutchess County politician and sister of his next-door neighbor. Between both wives, Henry fathered twelve children. He published his good-natured, often occasional verse from 1787 in many journals, including Political Barometer, Poughkeepsie Journal, and New-York Magazine. His most famous poem, “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” was until 2000 thought to have been the work of Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863), who published it with his collected poems in 1844. Livingston died Feb. 29, 1828.

More on Henry Livingston and his authorship of the Christmas poem here.

Thomas Nast’s full realization of Santa Claus, “Merry Old Santa Claus,” January 1, 1881. Harper’s Weekly, from the Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, via Bill Cassellman's site

Thomas Nast’s full realization of Santa Claus, “Merry Old Santa Claus,” January 1, 1881. Harper’s Weekly, from Wikimedia.

Our views of Santa Claus owe a great deal also to Coca-Cola advertising campaigns. Coca-Cola first noted Santa’s use of the drink in a 1922 campaign to suggest Coke was a year-round drink (100 years after the publication of Livingston’s poem). The company’s on-line archives gives details:

In 1930, artist Fred Mizen painted a department store Santa in a crowd drinking a bottle of Coke. The ad featured the world’s largest soda fountain, which was located in the department store of Famous Barr Co. in St. Louis, Mo. Mizen’s painting was used in print ads that Christmas season, appearing in The Saturday Evening Post in December 1930.

1936 Coca-Cola Santa cardboard store display

1936 Coca-Cola Santa cardboard store display

 

1942 original oil painting - 'They Remembered Me'

1942 original oil painting – ‘They Remembered Me’

Archie Lee, the D’Arcy Advertising Agency executive working with The Coca-Cola Company, wanted the next campaign to show a wholesome Santa as both realistic and symbolic. In 1931, The Coca-Cola Company commissioned Michigan-born illustrator Haddon Sundblom to develop advertising images using Santa Claus — showing Santa himself, not a man dressed as Santa, as Mizen’s work had portrayed him.

For inspiration, Sundblom turned to Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (commonly called “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”). Moore’s description of St. Nick led to an image of Santa that was warm, friendly, pleasantly plump and human. For the next 33 years, Sundblom painted portraits of Santa that helped to create the modern image of Santa — an interpretation that today lives on in the minds of people of all ages, all over the world.

Santa Claus is a controversial figure. Debates still rage among parents about the wisdom of allowing the elf into the family’s home, and under what conditions. Theologians worry that the celebration of Christmas is diluted by the imagery. Other faiths worry that the secular, cultural impact of Santa Claus damages their own faiths (few other faiths have such a popular figure, and even atheists generally give gifts and participate in Christmas rituals such as putting up a decorated tree).

For over 100 years, Santa Claus has been a popular part of commercial, cultural and religious life in America. Has any other icon endured so long, or so well?

Coca-Cola’s film, “The Legend of Coca-Cola and Santa Claus”:

________________________
Below:
From the University of Toronto Library’s Representative Poetry Online

Major Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828)

Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas

1 ‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house,

2 Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

3 The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

4 In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

5 The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

6 While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads,

7 And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,

8 Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap –

9 When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

10 I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

11 Away to the window I flew like a flash,

12 Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.

13 The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,

14 Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below;

15 When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

16 But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,

17 With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

18 I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

19 More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

20 And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name:

21 “Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer, and Vixen,

22 “On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blixem;

23 “To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

24 “Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

25 As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,

26 When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;

27 So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,

28 With the sleigh full of Toys — and St. Nicholas too:

29 And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

30 The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

31 As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

32 Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:

33 He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,

34 And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;

35 A bundle of toys was flung on his back,

36 And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack:

37 His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry,

38 His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;

39 His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow.

40 And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

41 The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

42 And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.

43 He had a broad face, and a little round belly

44 That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:

45 He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

46 And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;

47 A wink of his eye and a twist of his head

48 Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

49 He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

50 And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk,

51 And laying his finger aside of his nose

52 And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

53 He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

54 And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:

55 But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight –

56 Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Online text copyright © 2005, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto. Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries. Be sure to visit this site for more information on this poem, on Maj. Livingston, and on poetry in general.

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Rare and alternative Christmas songs 2019: “It’s Beginning to Snow,” Thisbe Vos

December 24, 2019

Cover to

Cover to “A Jazzy Christmas,” by Thisbe Vos. Image from ThisbeVos.com

A December, near-Christmas episode of “Bull” on CBS ended with this one, “It’s Beginning to Snow,” performed by Thisbe Vos.

I have at least four other albums, all collections, that share the title “A Jazzy Christmas.” Thisbe Vos’s album dropped in 2015, I think. She wrote “It’s Beginning to Snow,” and (ironically) recorded it in Pasadena.

More:

Thisbe Vos, publicity photo from AllAboutJazz.com

Thisbe Vos, publicity photo from AllAboutJazz.com

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

 


2019 Reprise, best editorial: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” It must be so, it was in the New York Sun

December 23, 2019

“Papa says, ‘If you see it in the Sun, it’s so.'”

Do we, you and I in 2019, stand as witnesses to the end of newspapers in America?  In recent years we’ve seen body blows to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the San Diego Union, and The Cleveland Plain Dealer, and far too many others. Who anymore remembers the Washington Star, or the wonderfully-named San Antonio Light, or the Dallas Times-Herald? Some experiments might work. The Salt Lake Tribune turned non-profit.

Those are just the dailies. Smaller papers, especially weeklies, are all but wholly disappeared.

It’s painful to compare where Americans got their news, and what they thought about it, during the Watergate crises leading to the almost-impeachment and resignation of Richard Nixon, and today’s multiple crises leading to the impeachment of Donald Trump, and how it is yet to be resolved.

It’s been a grand history. Newspapering gave us great leaders like Benjamin Franklin. Newspapering gave us wars, like the Spanish-American War. Newspapering gave us Charlie Brown, Ann Landers, the Yellow Kid, Jim Murray, Red Smith, Thomas Nast (and Santa Claus), the Federalist Papers, Watergate, Herblock, news of Vietnam and Pearl Harbor, Neil Armstrong on the Moon, the Pentagon Papers, and coupons to save money on laundry soap.

It’s been a curious history, too. An 1897 editorial vouching for Santa Claus rates as the most popular editorial of all time, according to the Newseum in Washington, D.C.  That’s 122 years ago, and that’s quite some staying power.

Francis Pharcellus Church, probably about 1860

The man who saved Christmas, at least for Virginia O’Hanlon, Francis Pharcellus Church, probably about 1860 – Wikipedia image

In autumn, 1897, 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon of 115 West 95th Street in New York, wrote to the New York Sun with this simple question:

“Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”

In the age of Yellow Journalism, the fiercely competitive Sun‘s editors turned the letter to Francis Pharcellus. He responded to little Virginia on September 21, 1897:

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

Church’s brother, William Conant Church, owned and published the newspaper. Both had followed their father into the news business. They co-founded The Army-Navy Journal in 1863, and went on to a series of journalistic collaborations. Francis was 58 years old when he answered Virginia’s letter. (He died at age 67, in 1906.)

The New York Sun held down the conservative corner in New York journalism at the time, versus the New York Times and the New York Herald-Tribune. But it also had an interesting history, to a blogger intrigued by hoaxes. In 1835 the paper published a series of six newspaper stories falsely attributed to Sir John Herschel, a well-known astronomer, claiming to describe a civilization on the Moon — the Great Moon Hoax. The discovery was credited to a new, very powerful telescope.

In 1844 the paper published a hoax written by Edgar Allen Poe, the Balloon Hoax. Under a pseudonym, Poe wrote that a gas balloon had crossed the Atlantic in three days.

The Sun also featured outstanding reporting. A 1947 and 1948 series about crime on the docks of New York City won a Pulitzer Prize for writer Malcolm Johnson. That series inspired Elia Kazan’s 1954 movie On the Waterfront starring Marlon Brando, Rod Steiger, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb.

Despite the occasional hoax, people trusted newspapers to get the basic facts right, most of the time.

The New York Sun ceased publication in 1950.

For all of its history, the Sun and the Churches are most remembered for that defense of belief in Santa Claus.

Virginia O'Hanlon, about the age of 8

Virginia O’Hanlon, about the age of 8, when she wrote to The New York Sun’s editors to inquire about the veracity of the Santa Claus story.

Virginia O’Hanlon grew up, graduated from Hunter College, got a masters at Columbia, and earned a Ph.D. from Fordham Univeresity. She taught in the New York City Public School system, from which she retired in 1959. She died in 1971.

Birth of tradition

Columbia University was Church’s alma mater, as well as O’Hanlon’s. Her letter and his response get a reading each year at the Yule Log Ceremony at Columbia College, along with the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Animated, live-acting, and other television productions have been mounted in 1974, 1991, and 2009.

Is there a Santa Claus? Did Church write a credible defense? The text of the letter and answer, below the fold.

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Read the rest of this entry »


Rare, new and alternative Christmas songs, 2019: Joni Mitchell’s “River”

December 23, 2019

Joni Mitchell skating away on a river. Photo by Joel Bernstein.
Joni Mitchell skating away on a river. Photo by Joel Bernstein.

This song, one of my favorites, got me thinking about alternatives to the hoary old Christmas carols and songs we grew up with, and may be tired of. I collect some of these songs — not just specialty or humor, but songs that inspire, or put us to reverie.

Washington Post picked up on it: A lot of musicians make great performances of non-standard Christmas tunes.

Joni Mitchell’s “River” has picked up covers by quite a few artists as a Christmas tune.

Does it just mention Christmas, or is it really a song of the season?

For example, Sam Smith:

In a discussion of Joni Mitchell back in April, here on Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub (with Paul Sunstone), I noted how people appreciate Joni Mitchell as a songwriter more as time goes on, including the use of “River” in Christmas collections:

Joni Mitchell’s fans are superappreciative, including such people as Judy Collins, who covers Mitchell on several songs.

But generally, yes, I think she’s not considered a great composer by those who compile lists of great composers, and she’s not considered a great singer by those who compile lists of great singers.

Part of the issue is that Mitchell came out of Canada as folk-rock took off. When I first bought her albums they were in the folk section; later they moved to the “pop” section (go figure). Her later albums stayed in rock or pop, even as her love of Mingus and Jazz pushed her work solidly into jazz. I’ve never seen her work listed as jazz in any recording sales store.

So she’s tough to categorize. Is she as strong or influential in folk as Joan Baez or Bob Dylan? Is she as strong in Rock as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (at least half of whom she had affairs with)? Is she as good at jazz as Ella [Fitzgerald] or Tony Bennett? Is she as good a poet as Leonard Cohen?

I think one can make a solid case that Joni Mitchell’s work is as poetic as Paul Simon’s, deserving as much attention for that reason as his. Simon won the Gershwin Award from the Kennedy Center; has Mitchell ever been considered? Is she less deserving than Billy Joel?

One of my criteria: I think every party I attended as an undergraduate, someone put on the album “Blue.” In graduate school, in a hotter climate, Maria Muldaur made a run (time to get away when “Midnight at the Oasis” came on); but “Blue” has stayed a turntable hit for decades. When our oldest son was at the University of Dallas, on one visit I was struck that “Blue” played out of three different apartments in his complex, at least 40 years after its release. It’s not Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” but I think it lasts longer on the play list of people who play them both.

In the past three years I’ve been impressed at the appearance of her song “River” on Christmas song compilations. “I wish I had a river I could skate away on,” she and her covering artists sing. She captured a feeling of Christmas much as Irving Berlin did, with a more beautiful melody, if not quite as hummable. Has anyone ever compared her to Irving Berlin?

Long post required. I’m not musicologist enough to do it justice, I think.

See these:

“River” has become a movement!

This one is odd; I wonder if someone did a mashup of Charlie Brown and Joni Mitchell, or if the Schulz cartoon organization really did use Mitchell’s tune.

“River” is not ready for use in churches, I think. Still a good song for the time of year, if not the actual religious celebration.

Any other good versions of “River” you like? Any on Christmas albums? Tell about them.

Any other songs you like that aren’t the old chesnuts? Tell us about them, please.

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Rare/Alternative Christmas music 2019: Macy Gray’s call for social justice

December 23, 2019

Some encores from last year. Here’s one in a spasmodic series of posts on Christmas songs you probably haven’t heard a thousand times already, and may actually enjoy hearing. Got a song you’d like to suggest? Suggest it in comments.

Cover sleeve for Macy Gray's

Cover sleeve for Macy Gray’s “All I Want for Christmas.” Amazon image

This one speaks for itself, I think. From experience, I can tell you that playing this song can weed out the Trump supporters in your party attendance rather quickly.

Oddly, I think, it also brings out the dangerous elements of American society to complain about it, judging by comments at the site (go see; there are a lot more):

Grotesque comments at YouTube on Macy Gray's Christmas wishes.

Grotesque comments at YouTube on Macy Gray’s Christmas wishes.

Those thought zombies walk among us. Our cross to bear.

Gray didn’t include it on any album I’ve found.

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Rare, Alternative and New Christmas Music, 2019 reprise: Sufjan Stevens, “Christmas in the Room”

December 23, 2019

Sufjan Stevens lists 100 of his Christmas song performances, 100 to 1; “Christmas in the Room” is #1.

Stevens’ catalog of Christmas is so large it’s a wonder any list can be made without some of his performances on it, and a major piece of work to run a radio station’s Christmas play list without several of Stevens’ recordings included (but somehow they pull that off).

Interesting artist, interesting work.

The Verge lists all 100 of the songs, and explains Stevens’ work on the seasonal stuff.

He’s the kind of guy who would record an album of songs for every state in the union. And yes, he did set out to do that (but slowed down after a few releases, and it is an uncomplete project).

Hey, confess: How much have you listened to Sufjan Stevens’s work?

You may benefit from Stevens’s other songs:

Sufjan Stevens released a 5 EP set of Christmas songs in 2006.

Sufjan Stevens released a 5 EP set of Christmas songs in 2006.


Scrooge’s continuing Christmas gift: Trump administration reduced to three words

December 23, 2019

I wish it were not so. These words of Dickens’s through Scrooge, remain salient, damning and depressing, every day Donald Trump holds the Oval Office. Now Trump’s been impeached, but he still sits on his throne, messing up America in every way he can think to do it.

Roberto Innocenti, Scrooge on a dark staircase

Ebenezer Scrooge, up a dark staircase; “Darkness was cheap, and Scrooge liked it.” Illustration by Roberto Innocenti, via Pinterest.

It’s a Quote of the Moment (an encore post for the season, with a bit of context thrown in later), Trump’s platform, and life, edited down to just three words, in green:

Darkness is cheap,
and Scrooge liked it.

– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Stave 1

Isn’t that the entire GOP platform in three words? “Darkness is cheap.” Substitute “Trump” for “Scrooge,” you’ve got the picture.

I think of that line of Dickens’s often when  I read of the celebrations of calumny that pass as discourse in Republican politics these days. Although, with the 2008 renewing of Limbaugh’s contract, it may no longer be true that his particular brand of darkness is cheap. With the advent of Donald Trump’s insult politics, offending America’s allies and all American ethnic groups possible, with un-ironic calls to drop nuclear weapons, GOP politics is even darker than ever.

Cheap or not, darkness remains dark.

John Leach, Scrooge meets Ignorance and Want

Scrooge meets Ignorance and Want, the products of his stinginess (drawing by John Leech, 1809-1870)

Here is the sentence Dickens put before the quote, to add a little context; Scrooge was climbing a very large, very dark staircase.

Half-a-dozen gas-lamps out of the street wouldn’t have lighted the entry too well, so you may suppose that it was pretty dark with Scrooge’s dip.

Up Scrooge went, not caring a button for that. Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.

Speaking of darkness, a longer excerpt from a bit later in Dickens’s story, when the Ghost of Christmas Present ushers Scrooge to glimpse what is in the present, but what will be the future if Scrooge does not repent:

‘Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,’ said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, ‘but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?’

‘It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,’ was the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. ‘Look here.’

From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

‘Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!’ exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

‘Spirit! are they yours?’ Scrooge could say no more.

‘They are Man’s,’ said the Spirit, looking down upon them. ‘And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!’ cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. ‘Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!’

‘Have they no refuge or resource?’ cried Scrooge.

‘Are there no prisons?’ said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. ‘Are there no workhouses?’ The bell struck twelve.

Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old Jacob Marley, and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him.

A Christmas Carol, Stave 3

Think of 2014, 2015, and 2016, children abused in Central America and in the Middle East, fleeing as best they can, only to die, off the shores of Greece, on the southern deserts of the U.S., or be cast into incarceration after having achieved a nation whose very name promised them refuge, the United States. “Two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable,” Dickens described. Whose children? “Man’s.” Yours, and mine.

Christmas is a festival to celebrate light, what many Christians call “the light of the world?” If so, let us work to stamp out the darkness which the unrepentant Scrooge so dearly loved.

Darkness may be cheap, but it is not good.  Light a candle, and run into the darkness, spreading light. We need more light.

Hope you had a merry Christmas in 2016. Let us remember, as Tom and the late Ray Magliozzi always reminded us, the cheapskate pays more in the end, and usually along the way. Is Darkness cheap? Let us then eschew it as too costly for a moral nation, too costly for a moral people.

Is Donald Trump as smart as Ebenezer Scrooge? Is his heart as good as Scrooge’s heart?

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Yes, this is an encore post, mostly. Fighting ignorance is taking a lot longer than anyone thought.

Yes, this is an encore post, mostly. Fighting ignorance is taking a lot longer than anyone thought.

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