Sunday, December 20, 2015

'Round Midnight

'Round Midnight by Debra Hurd
Science calls it Seasonal Affective Disorder, that tendency towards wistfulness we can get this time of year. The days have gotten shorter and darker and so can our moods.

There is a reason the somber "White Christmas" is way more popular than "Holly Jolly Christmas." (Note to young folk: "White Christmas" refers to the fact that in prior years it would snow in winter over much of North America.)

In 1941, Thelonious Monk penned a song that has become a jazz standard, some say he wrote it as early as 1936 at the age of 19. "Round Midnight" has been recorded and embellished by countless jazz legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Ella Fitzgerald.

My favorite version was recorded by Linda Ronstadt with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. And, yes, I've had a crush on her for decades.

Indulge the wistful.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Is Vlad Putin a Vampire?

A series of photos have been discovered that suggest that Vladimir Putin is ageless.
According to his official bio, Putin was born in 1952 but, there he is serving in the Russian military decades before his birth.

Putin first appears in 1975 as a fully grown adult working in the KGB division responsibility for falsifying identities. His supervisors described him as having a "lowered sense of danger," as if he knew he was immortal.

This photo shows Putin in his KGB uniform looking exactly the same as he does now except for having a little more hair. His physical prowess is said to be superhuman. He killed a grizzly bear two years ago with his bare hand using the "force of a thousand men." Russia expert Sarah Palin says that Putin wrestles bears for fun.

Earlier this year, at the age of 63, he scored seven goals in a hockey game against former NHL players, a feat not even the great Wayne Gretzky accomplished in his prime.

The rumors aren't just that Putin is a vampire. He might even be The vampire, the real Dracula. They share the same first name, Vlad, and in Cyrillic lettering and allowing for the strange Slavic dialect of 15th century Transylvania, Putin is an anagram of Tepes (I don't have any actual proof of that but you can't prove me wrong).

Tepes had a large Roman nose while Putin's is rather petite, but plastic surgery was invented in the first century AD so he had plenty of time to get a nose job. They both have a notable dimple in their chin.

Putin's endorsement of Donald Trump proves Trump is not a werewolf, which I guess is a good thing. But Trump is known to associate with vampires so Putin's endorsement proves Trump is under the thrall of a vampire or a bloodsucking fiend himself, which is probably a bad thing.
The telltale signs of vampire enthrallment are weird hair and bizarre behavior. Trump is suspected of eating millions of spiders a day, and Trump's hair makes Renfield look normal.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

More Christmas Traditions

Yes, I know there was a Republican debate filled with fear mongering, war mongering, and the extermination of "thousands of children." Not going to let it dim my holiday spirits.

Christmas Trees
What's Christmas without murdering some helpless conifer, hauling it inside, and dressing the corpse in lights and tinsel? (Sorry, still a little bummed about that debate.)

The Christmas tree is pagan, of course. Germanic pagans understood that woodland fairies got cold in winter just like everyone else. They would bring inside pine boughs so the sprites would have a comfy warm place to winter. In return, the fairies would give the family good luck the rest of the year.

Don't osculate under the tree parasite with anyone else but me. In Norse mythology the mistletoe was sacred to the goddess Frigga. Frigga feared for the life of her son, Baldar the god of the summer sun, and got pledges from all the plants and animals on earth to protect him. But she had neglected the lowly mistletoe. Loki snatched a sprig of the plant and fashioned it into an arrowhead which killed Baldar.

Frigga cried over her child, her tears becoming mistletoe's white berries, until he was resurrected. She then decreed that all who meet under the mistletoe should show no harm and kiss each other in greeting.

Wassailing began in the Celtic tradition of drinking toasts to fruit trees to make them happy and insure a bountiful harvest. It merged with Nordic caroling into an English tradition of door-to-door singing followed by a demand for fruity goodies like figgy pudding and cider or ale.

Christmas Pickle
I didn't know this was a thing but, hey, I love a good kosher dill.

In the 1880's, Woolworth department store sold a line of glass fruit and vegetable ornaments imported from Germany. The pickles were not moving because they were ugly, bumpy, kinda phallic looking. Woolworth had a stockpile of unpopular pickle ornaments.

Some advertising genius publicized the story that in Germany the pickle ornament was the last one put on the tree and a special present was set aside for the first child to find it. Utter poppycock but people flocked to the stores to buy their Christmas pickles and a new tradition was born.

Candy Canes
There is a fascinating story that the choirmaster of Cologne Cathedral in 1670 was looking for a way to keep the children quiet during his interminable liturgical services. He went to a confectioner and asked him to put a curve in peppermint sticks to symbolize the shepherd's staff.

Another story is that an American candy maker around 1900 wanted to make a religious treat. His candy would look like a shepherd's staff but if you turn it around the hook becomes a J for Jesus. The white in the cane symbolized Christ's purity while the red symbolized the blood of His scourging at the crucifixion.

Both stories have no actual historical support. Peppermint sticks have been around for centuries. The hook was probably added as a seasonal marketing tool to make it easier to hang the treats on a tree. Just like marshmallow peeps have no religious significance.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas Traditions

For the remainder of the Christmas season I am boycotting politics (unless Donald Trump get even more outrageous) and will think atheistically happy thoughts. The English language has a staggering array of words for the winter solstice season and traditions.

Yule comes from the Norse word jol, and like much of northern European religious celebrations has a pagan origin. The Norse jol celebrated the passing of the winter solstice and the slow return of daylight to the cold north.

It was a 12 day celebration and the source for the Twelve Days of Christmas tradition that is inexplicable under the Catholic calendar. There was drinking, feasting, and probably more than a little whoring.

No one knows the exact origin of the Yule Log but it probably came from the tradition of lighting a fire to keep warm. Sometimes the simplest answer is the correct one.

Another pagan Norse tradition cleaved onto a Middle Eastern religion. The jol celebrations included songs sung to Thor and Sunna, the Sun goddess. Early Christians worked tirelessly to replace the joyful Norse tunes with turgid Latin hymns. In 17th century England the humorless evangelicals of their day, the Puritans, banned the singing of carols along with any other Christmas celebrations. Caroling went underground, whispered in the privacy of home and hearth, until those fun loving Victorians made wandering minstrel shows of carol singing.

Boxing Day
Traditionally a day when employers give their employees gifts in celebration of the season. This is basically a British concept that, in the United States, is considered by bosses an obscenely evil act of generosity tantamount to theft of millionaire property.

In recent years, influenced by American businesses, Boxing Day has been turned into a Black Friday-like shopping day when low income workers are encouraged to go into staggering debt buying useless garbage to the greater profit of their bosses.

Nativity Creche
The first nativity scene was made by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223. He was holding a Midnight Mass in the Italian town of Greccio and wanted an attraction to boost attendance. He gathered a few farm animals and put a actual baby in a feeding trough filled with hay and a Christmas tradition was born.

Wander most neighborhoods in America and you will find all sorts of nativity scenes - religious themed, cartoon character themed, serious representations and comic displays. In Sycamore, Ohio, a man designed a front yard nativity where the shepherds and and wise men were skeletal wraiths and baby Jesus was a demonic child. The local government has declared the creche a "zoning violation" even though similar but more reverent depictions are given a pass. He is being fined $500 a day for his blasphemy.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The American Circus of Lunacy

The British have the Monster Raving Loony Party, we have Republicans.

Cruz Courage Failure
In a small, private meeting, just Ted Cruz and a few of his millionaire investors, Cruz tentatively questioned Donald Trump's judgement. The statement got out and Trump challenged Cruz to say publicly what he was whispering in private to his "bosses." Cruz, with the craven obsequiousness for which he is justly famous, immediately kowtowed and twitted, "Donald Trump is terrific."

Carson Will Bolt the Party If Trump Isn't Nominated
Republican leaders are musing about managing a brokered convention to prevent Donald Trump from becoming the party's leader. Ben Carson is having none of it. He is threatening to leave if party leaders use the delegate process to keep Trump from getting a majority of the convention delegates. In other words, if politicians use politics to influence a political party Carson will throw a tantrum.

Romney's White Horse
It is an LDS article of faith that should the US Constitution be hanging by a thread a Mormon leader will rise up at the last moment to save the nation. A growing theory is that, in a brokered convention, Mitt Romney will be selected by the delegates to save the nation from the joint threat of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. With neither money nor organization, Romney will ride to the rescue in a historic election.

'If Cruz Is Elected I'm Going to Canada'
An opinion that is showing up on many comment boards is if Ted Cruz becomes president people will seek asylum in Canada. It may not work. In 1938, the foreign born leader of Germany forced the country of his birth to join his greater German Empire. Jews who sought asylum in Austria didn't do well.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

More Frightening Than Trump

It is no longer Godwin Lawish to point out that Donald Trump is preaching a neo-Nazi brand of Republicanism that is resonating with substantial portion of the party.
We use to think Trump and Carson were funny. In the words of a 1943 American propaganda film...
When we saw these people [on the news] quite often we laughed. To us they seemed like characters in a musical comedy. But they weren't comic, they weren't funny, there were deadly serious. ~ Why We Fight
But more frightening than Trump, who I've likened to the popinjay dictator Mussolini, is the horror lurking in the shadows - Ted Cruz.

Whenever Trump promoted some ethnic cleansing of America, Cruz refuse to denounce it. Rather he offers finely nuanced support. In response to Trump's proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the country for any reason Cruz said, "I commend Donald Trump for standing up and focusing America's attention on the need to secure our borders." Cruz went on to imply he would do things differently.

No denouncement from Cruz for the most obscene policy position uttered by a presidential candidate since George Wallace. Just sly support followed by a subtle suggestion that Cruz be more efficient at the cleansing.

While the Trump barge breaks water, Cruz follows calmly in his wake. Cruz expects, in time, to pick up Trump's StormFront supporters and merge them with Carson's evangelicals into a coalition of racial and religious hate that will propel him to the White House. Ted Cruz is more frightening than Donald Trump. He is a kinder and gentler fascist who, if elected, will do unimaginable violence to both the concept of democracy and to the many enemies of the state (liberals, atheists, intellectuals, gays, Muslims) he sees surrounding him.

Friday, December 04, 2015

The Rage of Xenophobic Nativists

On May 15, 1972, I was talking to a college professor about the news that someone, then unknown to us, had attempted to assassinate segregationist presidential candidate George Wallace. She said that she prayed the shooter wasn't black because the backlash against all African-Americans and the civil rights movement would be devastating. Wallace at the time was running second to George McGovern in the Democratic primary race.

Fortunately, the shooter was a whiter than white lunatic named Arthur Bremer who had wanted to kill someone to prove his questionable manhood.

There will be no such check following San Bernadino on the rage of xenophobic nativists being fueled by the hate rhetoric of the leaders of the Republican presidential race. I've noticed two things while browsing right-wing opinion.
Collective Guilt - There is a growing belief that all Muslims are guilty of the acts of two individuals. Anti-Muslim hate crimes have skyrocketed in Europe since the Paris attacks and will blossom like an obscene flower in the US.

Guns Are an "Inalienable Right" - Any effort to keep military style weapons out of the hands of potential extremists will be opposed by the NRA and by the same people who would force all Muslims to register themselves. AR-15s are being spoken of with a holy reverence that I have never heard before. Semi-automatic weapons have reached the level of religious sacraments for many Americans who worship guns now before God.

Trump and Cruz will likely see another bump in their poll numbers in the coming days. Harassment of women wearing hijabs will increase. Bomb and death threats against mosques and Muslims have already spiked. Actual physical attacks will probably follow. If we are lucky we will not see actual pogroms in Muslim communities but that is possible in states like Texas where gun worshiping nativists abound.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

San Bernadino

I sit here watching coverage of the latest mass shooting, reading blogs (several commenters at right-wing Hotair described the massacre as "the cost of freedom"). One lone gunman or three concerted terrorists. The softest of soft targets, a facility treating developmentally disabled people.

You may have noticed a lack of verbs in those sentences. There are no verbs to describe the horror. Only adjectives.

My Political Refuge

I was going to write about presidential odds (Cruz and Rubio are 3 to 1, Trump is 5 to 1, everyone else double digits) But I just don't care. This is the time every election cycle I am grateful to not live in Iowa or New Hampshire.

Actually, there are lots of reason I'm glad to not live in Iowa where the most popular pastimes are meth addiction and cow tipping.
What passes for a tourist attraction in Iowa.
But most pleasing is, unlike Iowans, I don't have candidate advocates descending like locusts whenever I step out the door.

As for New Hampshire, a winter cold snap in Southern California is three consecutive days when no one is wearing shorts and a tank top, so there's that. But mostly I am happy that I can sit down in a diner and not have some stranger running for president trying to get his picture taken with me like I'm some sort of celebrity.

I do pay for living in SoCal - literally, the cost of living is freaking high. Then there is the need to measure out my bath water with a thimble and constantly wondering if I can afford to flush the toilet this week. And don't get me talking about the football team.

Still, living in a True Blue state with a late primary (June 7) means I can pretend the presidential nominating process is happening in some crazy foreign land where illegally entering the country is punished by summary execution.

It'll get real soon enough but give me my winter refuge.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Police Killings Continue

The death of Officer Garrett Swasey in Colorado Springs is ample proof that many officers risk their lives daily to protect the public. Unfortunately, there are some police officers, ill-trained and too quick to anger or panic, who are putting the public at daily risk. Eighty-four people were killed by police officers across the United States in November.
Jeremy Mardis was shot multiple times by police on Nov. 3.

Six year-old Jeremy Mardis was killed when police unloaded a hail of bullets into the car holding Jeremy and his father. At least eighteen bullets were fired into the car, five struck the child, killing him instantly, while two bullets hit his father. Given that the smaller target was hit more frequently, I suspect the officers were firing into the passenger side of the car. According to reports, the father was holding his arms up the the universal sign of surrender when the barrage began.

The killing took place in the small central Louisiana town of Marksville. Marksville strikes me as one of those frightening Southern towns that are a cross between Mayberry and Touch of Evil. Allegedly, officers there assaulted someone on the street in July because he was an outsider, "definitely not a local boy." The city marshal is an elected position allegedly belonging to a school bus driver with no law enforcement training who, apparently, is running a speed trap scam.

Two of the four officers involved have been charged with murder.