Sunday, December 26, 2010

Good King Wenceslas

In honor of St. Stephen's Day, here's one more holiday favorite, sung by the Irish Rovers.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Brief History of Christmas Part 2 -- Christmas in America

After the Protestant Reformation, Christmas celebrations in non-Catholic nations became much more sober and church-based, shedding much of the trappings of the ancient solstice festivals which the early church had absorbed. The Puritans did not celebrate Christmas at all, since there was no biblical basis for a December celebration, and they considered it nothing but Popery (not far from paganism, in their view). To this day, some Protestant sects (notably the Seventh Day Adventists) do not celebrate Christmas.

The New England colonies were largely founded by Puritans, and some had laws on the books in the 17th century forbidding Christmas celebrations. Most colonists, however, followed mainstream English post-reformation Christmas traditions.

The German states did not shed their old Yule traditions, keeping their tannenbaums and hot mulled wine. During the American Revolution, England employed Hessian mercenaries to help subdue the rebellious colonists. General George Washington was an educated man who knew that the Hessians would have a raucous celebration on Christmas Eve. He led his troops across the semi-frozen Delaware River and attacked the Hessians' quarters on Christmas Day, while they were hungover from their traditional Christmas Eve overindulgence. It was a significant victory for the Continental Army.

Although the American states became politically independent from England, we continued to evolve together culturally. When Victoria became Queen of England in 1837, she was courted by (and soon married) her German cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Albert brought German Christmas traditions to the royal court, and it became fashionable for everyone in England (and eventually in the United States as well) to have a Christmas tree.

Merry Christmas to you and your family, no matter how you choose to celebrate it.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Island

I couldn't find an actual performance video of this song, which is a shame. It's a favorite in my family, and it expresses both my love of early 20th century American musical styles and my longing for tropical climes at this time of year.

Although, to be honest, I'd rather spend Christmas in Hawaii or Tahiti than Christmas Island.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Very Liberace Christmas

My younger readers may not remember Wisconsin native Liberace. He was a talented classical pianist who was also a flamboyant showman. Not since Sally Rand had a performer so successfully turned a highbrow art form into lowbrow entertainment.

Here is the musician who dressed like a human Christmas tree all year round playing a Christmas medley:

The Christmas Song

For me, this song will always belong to Johnny Mathis. Here's a performance from 1974 -- which should be obvious from the loud plaid jacket and wide striped tie he is wearing. His voice soars above the ugly fashions, though.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Santa Baby

Here's a fantastic performance by the late, great Eartha Kitt. She really brought it in response to Madonna's cover. Her voice was like a hot buttered rum.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)

Here is the great Darlene Love's 1995 appearance on David Letterman's show (an annual tradition that is possibly Letterman's greatest gift to our nation).

The song is more poignant 15 years later, as so many of our loved ones are still overseas serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Please come home, K.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Jingle Bells

Here's more seasonal fun, from the Secretary of Retro, Brian Setzer. I'm pretty sure that snow is fake, though. That's probably why he had to substitute a '57 Chevrolet for the one-horse open sleigh.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

It's a Marshmallow World

Southwestern Wisconsin may get a little more snow today.  Southern Wisconsin has already had an official blizzard, and it's not even officially winter yet.

Fortunately, Dino and Frank can make anything seem like fun.  So put some booze in your hot chocolate and enjoy.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Matt Flynn in Oz

I'm a pretty decent back-up;
The yards and points I'd rack up
And come back from behind.
I'd throw more to Jennings,
Move us up in the standings,
If I only had a line.

The fans would be less nervous,
And coach would be less churlish
And for Rodgers wouldn't pine.
I'd beat up the Lions,
Keep our playoff hopes from dyin'
If I only had a line.

Our defense would be rested,
Instead of being bested,
And on victory we'd dine.
I'd be an inspiration;
They'd forget my interception,
If I only had a line.

Who Were the Samaritans?

Most Christians are familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan.  As modern Americans, we tend to think that the point is that a stranger went out of his way to help someone, when his own people passed him by because they didn't want to get involved. We may think an appropriate modern analogue would be a tourist in New York City coming to the aid of a mugging victim, while his own neighbors ignored his plight.

However, many of us misunderstand the significance of the story because we are unfamiliar with the history of the Samaritans and their relationship with the Jews of Jesus' time.

When Babylon was conquered by the Persians, the exiled Israelites were allowed to return home.  However, the returning Jews found their homeland partially occupied by the Samaritans, who claimed to be the descendants of Israelites who never went into exile.  They also claimed that the Samaritan faith (as defined by the Samaritan Torah) was the true ancestral faith, before it was altered by the experience of exile.  The Jews, however, believed the Samaritans to be descendants of other subject peoples who were moved to Israel by the Assyrians.  The Samaritans were not allowed to participate in the building of the second Temple, and so they built their own. The two groups occasionally fought wars, and the Samaritan Temple was destroyed by a  King of Israel a little over a century before Jesus' birth.

The Samaritans suffered persecution under rule by the Romans, the Byzantine Empire, and the Muslims who conquered the region in the Middle Ages.  Many fled, and others converted to Islam.  There is a tiny remaining population, divided between enclaves in modern Israel and Palestine.

I think that an accurate modern analogue to the story of the Good Samaritan would be to imagine an Orthodox Jew (one whose religion is identifiable by his clothing and hairstyle) visiting Jerusalem, where he was mugged and left for dead, then ignored by other Jewish passersby.  Imagine that a Palestinian came to the man's aid, protected him from hostile neighbors and paid for his hospital stay, then paid for his transportation back home.

We cannot appreciate the significance of the parable unless we understand the historical context that made the story so very difficult for Jesus' audience to imagine.  No one should be judged by their ethnic group or religion.  Each individual should be judged on his or her own actions.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Must Be A Cold Day In Hell

Infernal foot of snow bearing down on area

Just what does infernal snow look like anyway?  Dante was surprisingly uninformative in that area.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Mayor Dave Is Running Against Governor Brown Bag

At a news conference yesterday, Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz lashed out at Governor-elect Scott Walker for killing the rail project that would have injected $810 million in federal stimulus funds into Wisconsin's economy.  Rather than being used for deficit reduction or road projects, as Walker implied would happen, the money will be sent to other states for their rail projects.

In addition to criticizing this particular Walker policy decision, Cieslewicz said:  "If this is an indication of how he is going to run the state, we are in for a long four years."

With an election coming up in April, nothing will energize Madison's left-leaning voters more than bashing Scott Walker.  If he keeps it up after the election, however, I will wonder if he has ambitions of moving to Maple Bluff in four years.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Finally, some good news

Daniel Craig will return as James Bond. (h/t Screen Rant).

It's either an early Christmas (or Saturnalia) present, or a fabulous Channukah present (depending on your personal beliefs).

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Blackwater Fails to Gain a Letter of Marque

About a year and a half ago, when Rep. Ron Paul was suggesting that Congress resume issuing letters of marque and reprisal, I speculated that Blackwater might go into the privateering business.  It turns out that they had already made moves in that direction.
In late 2008, Blackwater Worldwide, already under fire because of accusations of abuses by its security guards in Iraq and Afghanistan, reconfigured a 183-foot oceanographic research vessel into a pirate-hunting ship for hire and then began looking for business from shipping companies seeking protection from Somali pirates. The company’s chief executive officer, Erik Prince, was planning a trip to Djibouti for a promotional event in March 2009, and Blackwater was hoping that the American Embassy there would help out, according to a secret State Department cable. 

However, the would-be privateers were unable to attract any clients.  I guess we won't be drinking Blackwater spiced rum anytime soon.