July 01, 2016

Our country reeks of trees

"Ah, trees, trees, and more trees. What a wonderfully green universe we live in, eh?"—Colonel O'Neill, Stargate SG-1

It is Canada Day once again. Today is Canada's 149th birthday, so there is but one more year the (presumably) big sesquicentennial celebration next summer.

I haven't been blogging recently—between a return to school and a change of employment, I found myself early on having little to say. At some point it became a challenge to see if I could go, say, six months without blogging. And so here we are. If nothing else, I'm not going to miss my annual tradition of posting a Canadian patriotic song each Canada Day.

This year, however, I'm feeling a little more frivolous than I usually do. This year's post came about mainly because at sometime on Thursday, the lyrics to the Anthem of the Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen came into my mind, and I couldn't get rid of them. (To their credit, they finally rid me of Styx' "Lorelei," an earworm I have been suffering for three days.)

So, it's kind of patriotic.

Additionally, it was co-authored by a Canadian: animator John M. Kricfalusi, who comes from Quebec. Kricfalusi is influenced by classic animation such as that of Tex Avery and Chuck Jones, and is best known for creating The Ren & Stimpy Show for Nickelodeon in the early 1990s. The Anthem of the Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen is the set piece of the second season's final episode.

The tune, of course, is that of the Royal Anthem, "God Save the Queen," but I imagine Kricfalusi's main inspiration was the American patriotic anthem "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" since it bears a closer lyrical relationship, most notably the wordplay in the first line.

As always, happy birthday, Canada.

Previous Canada Day songs:

December 25, 2015

The glory of the LORD shall be revealèd

Every Christmas, I make a point of listening to George Frideric Handel's great oratorio, Messiah. So do many people. If you live in a large enough city, you could potentially attend a performance several times each December. And because of Messiah's lengthy performance history (and Handel's habit of modifying the score to suit his performers), the variations are endless: modern or period instruments, professional or amateur soloists, mass choirs or small ensembles—to say nothing of the extensive catalogue of recordings! A more recent tradition is the "sing-along Messiah," in which the choir invites the audience to bring their own scores and sing with them. Paradoxically, this makes the oratorio one of Western art's highest achievements, as well as one of its most accessible.

Messiah is a Christmas institution. So it may come as a surprise to many that its first performance—a benefit in Dublin, Ireland, for the relief of prisoners' debt—took place in April, 1742. (The performance was a success, raising enough money to release 142 debtors from prison.) Its official debut in London took place the following March. Handel himself never had Messiah performed at Christmas; it was for the Easter season. Only the first of Messiah's three parts deals with the birth and ministry of Jesus, telling of the promise of judgment, redemption, and salvation through selected Old Testament passages as well as the birth narrative from the Gospel of Luke. Most of the best-known selections come from Part 1, likely because of its association with Christmas.

However, Part 2 tells of Christ's passion, his death and resurrection, his ascension into heaven, and his glorification. It continues by speaking of the beginning of the spread of the Gospel, and its rejection by the world. It culminates in the "Hallelujah" chorus, which declares the absolute sovereignty of God:

Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. (Revelation 16:9)

The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 11:15)

The words are so closely associated with the "Hallelujah" chorus that you probably think of the music while you're reading them. We hear this chorus every Christmas, but it rightly belongs to Easter! The meaning of Messiah is not "for unto us a child is born"; it's that He is "King of kings and Lord of lords." Hallelujah!

Finally, Part 3 promises eternal life, the Day of Judgment, and the final destruction of sin and death. The oratorio concludes with the exaltation of the Messiah:

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by his blood, to receive power, andriches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.

Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.

Amen. (cf. Revelation 5:9,12-14)

Even less commonly known, perhaps, is that Messiah is as much an apologetic work as it is an artistic one. The libretto (text) was composed by Charles Jennens, Handel's friend and frequent collaborator. Jennens was a devout Christian who was concerned about the rise in popularity of Deism amongst England's intelligentsia. Deism is a philosophical theism that rejects divine revelation as a source of knowledge, concluding that human reason alone is sufficient to establish the existence of a deity. When God created the universe, He established natural laws for its running, but He does not involve himself in its activity. Jennens' brother had lost his faith and committed suicide after corresponding with a Deist. Grieving for his brother, Jennens composed the libretto to Messiah as a response to Deism, compiling Scripture after Scripture from the King James Version of the Bible (paraphrasing here and there) to show that Christ was the promised Messiah and that God took an active interest in the redemption of the world. Jennens was reportedly less than satisfied with Handel's score (which he composed in less than a month), complaining that some parts were "far unworthy of Handel, but much more unworthy of the Messiah." The judgment of history has, perhaps, been more favourable.

My favourite selection from Messiah takes its text from Isaiah 40:5:

And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed; and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

The last phrase is drawn out in long, solemn notes that underscore its significance. It is immediately followed by a bass solo that thunders out: "Thus saith the LORD of hosts" (Haggai 2:6). Jennens draws out the story of Jesus almost entirely from the Old Testament, primarily the prophet Isaiah, drawing from the Gospels only for the annunciation of Jesus' birth to the shepherds by the angles (Luke 2:8-14). The Creator is no mere spectator, and this birth is no mere accident of history. The mouth of the Lord has spoken it; therefore, it has come to pass.

There is a strong relationship between good art and a good message. I have met many Christians who can appreciate many kinds of mediocre art as long as they mention Jesus enough times and are helpful for sharing the Gospel. Yet, in Messiah, a devout Lutheran composer has created one of the acknowledged masterpieces of the Western musical canon, listened to by millions every Christmas. Thanks to his friend, a devout Anglican with a concern for the spiritual state of England, those millions flock into auditoriums and churches willingly to hear the Gospel sung to them.

I wrote last Christmas about why the Incarnation is important. Only God, taking on true humanity, could atone for the sins of, and intercede for, the human race. Without that first Christmas, when "God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law" (Galatians 4:4), there would be no Easter—no cross to free us from the penalty of the law. But Charles Jennens and George Handel were right to focus on the work of Christ on the cross, and the blessings that result from it. Without the hope of Easter, there would be no joy at Christmas.

September 01, 2015

September means back down to earth

Welcome to September, everyone!

If you've kept up reading this blog for more than a few years, you know what September means: it's time for my 12th annual Science Fiction Free September. Back in September 2004, I decided that I spent too much of my reading time with science fiction, so I declared a month-long moratorium on the genre, and instead used the time for something I might not read otherwise: classic literature, nonfiction, maybe just even a bunch of books I had started but never got around to finishing. (This year to date I've read three SF novels—about half what I've read in nonfiction. As the years go by the SFFS has either outlived or fulfilled its purpose, but I keep it up anyway, just for fun!)

This year, my big September reading project will be themed around the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. My primary objective is to complete a very long book that I have had for a number of years, but never gotten farther in than, perhaps, one-tenth. This book is the blockbuster history of Nazi Germany, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by CBS war correspondent William L. Shirer. This is a popular history rather than an academic one. Shirer was present in Berlin from the Nazis' coming to power to the first year of WWII, when he left after he heard that the Gestapo was trumping up espionage charges against him.

I actually started two days ago, since my last book finished up conveniently on Saturday night (Dolores Claiborne, the latest in my read-all-the-way-through-Stephen-King project). By page count, I am now 2% of the way in, and if I can figure out how to HTML-ize a progress bar, I'll add it to the sidebar.

At ths time I have no secondary objectives, but there's no shortage of unread books in my collection, so I'm sure I'll work something out.

August 05, 2015

Nothing to see here

Today on the Crusty Curmudgeon, we juxtapose, courtesy of Mollie Hemingway:

President Barack Obama told a group of young African leaders on Monday that harvesting organs from humans that are killed as part of an African ritual was "craziness" and a "cruel" tradition that needed to stop. He warned of dehumanizing marginal groups of humans and of the problems that arise when "you are not able to see someone else as a human being."

Meanwhile, back in the States . . .

On the topic of human organ harvesting, President Obama's spokesman Josh Earnest has said that President Obama has chosen not to watch the video footage of Planned Parenthood officials dissecting human fetuses for parts. Nevertheless, President Obama has vehemently defended the abortion group.

[Full Story]

Some humans are more human than others.

July 20, 2015

Victimocracy

The idea that the entire society is supposed to frontally lobotomize itself with regard to basic facts, like what constitutes sex, it's demonstrative of the fact that a victim-run society is unworkable. A society in which we suggest that people who are victims get to redefine reality for everyone, that's not workable. Now notice what I'm saying—I'm not saying that you can't make social changes having nothing to do with the nature of reality, all I'm saying is that you can't redefine reality itself. You can't redefine man-man as as valuable as man-woman in terms of sexual relationships producing children, you can't redefine man as woman, there are certain things in life that you just can't paper over, you can't just gloss over. And the attempts to do so are bound to fail.

Ben Shapiro, The Ben Shapiro Show, podcast audio, July 17, 2015, http://audio.kiroradio.com/seattle/kiro/2015/07/benshapiro071715_2_802.mp3.

July 15, 2015

To vamp out or not to vamp out, that is the question

Today on the Crusty Curmudgeon, we juxtapose:

Sociology researchers are now insisting that we as a society start accepting people who choose to "identify as real vampires"—so that they can be open about the fact that they're vampires without having to worry about facing discrimination from people who might think that that's weird. . . .

"Unlike lifestyle vampires, real vampires believe that they do not choose their vampiric condition; they are born with it, somewhat akin to sexual orientation,' it continues. . . .

[Lead researcher D. J.] Williams explained that no one should be bothered by a person wanting to drink another person's blood because "it is generally expected within the community that vampires should act ethically and responsibly in feeding practices," and it's not their blood-drinking that's the real problem here—it's the fact that they have to worry that other people will judge them for their blood-drinking.

[University Researchers: We Have to Accept People Who "Identify as Real Vampires"]

But meanwhile, in Florida . . .

A Florida man arrested for dancing atop the hood of a patrol car parked in the driveway of a police sergeant told cops that he was seeking the aid of the "Sheriff of Nottingham" to help combat a "woman with fangs" and vampires preparing a human sacrifice, according to court records. . . .

Radecki, a Cape Coral resident, can be seen pulling his 2000 Lincoln Town Car up to the rear bumper of the police SUV. With his car radio blaring, Radecki then climbs atop the vehicle and gyrates to "Rich Girl" by Hall & Oates and Supertramp's "Goodbye Stranger." However, by the time the Olivia Newton-John/John Travolta duet "You're The One That I Want" played, Radecki was in custody. . . .

After being taken into custody, cops reported, Radecki explained that he went to Janke's residence because "when he opened his front door, a woman with fangs was threatening him, and that a human sacrifice was about to occur involving vampires." Investigators added that Radecki claimed that he "made the conscious decision to get the Sheriff of Nottingham to help him stop the slaughter of small children."

[Police Release Video of Man's Cop Car Dance]

Now here is a man who didn't get the memo. I wonder if anyone has contacted Supertramp out of concern that their music has been used as an instrument of vampirophobic hate speech?

July 09, 2015

And now . . . this - Jul. 9/15

Meh. It's been done. It's called American light beer.

Nothing is worse than having to use a porta-a-potty at a crowded festival. But a Danish agricultural group wants to put all that urine to good use—by turning it into beer.

[Full Story]

Which does raise an interesting question: Beer looks like urine. So how come the more beer you drink, the less your urine looks like beer?

July 06, 2015

And now . . . this - Jul. 6/15

Remember yesterday's story about the nitwit who killed himself trying to launch a firework off his head?

The mother of a man who tried to launch a firework off the top of his head for July Fourth and was killed instantly said Monday she's advocating for stricter controls about who can use the explosives.

Devon Staples, 22, and his friends had been drinking and setting off fireworks Saturday night in a backyard in Staples' eastern Maine hometown, Calais, when the accident happened with a reloadable fireworks mortar tube, police have said.

[Full Story]

First, it wasn't an "accident." It was reckless behaviour done on purpose, but with an unintended consequence.

Second, you can't regulate stupidity.

Third, as a corollary, if we could regulate stupidity, then banning stupid drunkies from playing with pyrotechnics ought to pretty much solve the problem.

I'm really, really trying to work up some sympathetic feelings, but it's not working. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

July 05, 2015

And now . . . this - Jul 5/15

Hold muh beer an' watch this, part 6.022×1023

Staples placed a fireworks mortar tube on his head and set it off, injuring his head. He died instantly. . . .

[Full Story]

Dear friends, we are gathered here today to mourn the death not only of our friend Devon Staples, but of common sense and sound judgment.

Police say the friends had been drinking.

You don't say.

Meanwhile, in Texas . . .

"Only he didn't say 'Blank' . . ."

A man who apparently mocked alligators, then jumped in the water—despite warning signs—is dead after being attacked in Texas. . . .

"He removed his shirt, removed his billfold . . . someone shouted a warning and he said 'blank the alligators' and jumped in to the water and almost immediately yelled for help," Price said.

[Full Story]

Do not mock the alligators. They will blank you over but good.

July 03, 2015

This week in moral panic

Ever since Dylann Storm Roof allegedly killed nine people in a black church in Charleston on June 17, the United States has been in the grip of mass hysteria. Somehow, the court of public opinion has tried and convicted not merely Roof, but also the Confederate flag, as morally culpable for the shootings, and ever since, everyone has been piling on the bandwagon.

First came the calls to remove Confederate flags from the flagpoles of Southern state capitols. Then, retailers such as Amazon and the Apple App Store banned paraphernalia displaying the flag—the latter going so far as to (temporarily) ban even Civil war-themed computer games. Then, the retro-themed TV Land network halted all broadcasts of The Dukes of Hazzard. Of course, Bo and Luke never did or said anything slightly racist in seven years on the air, though I'm sure the Flag of Evil on their car must have tried more than once to tempt them into a lynching, or something.

And now, golfer Bubba Watson is getting on the bandwagon. He owns LEE 1, one of the original three General Lee cars used for shooting Dukes. He paid $110,000 for it in 2012. Yesterday, he announced on Twitter:

Congratulations, Mr. Watson. I haven't awarded one of these in quite a while, but for a) ignoring the context of the way the Confederate flag is used, and b) converting a valuable and sought-after collectible vehicle into a cheap used car, you are hereby awarded the DIM BULB du jour. Wear it with pride.

In light of racially motivated crimes like the massacre in Charleston, of course it is completely appropriate to start a conversation about the meaning of symbols and their power, for good or ill, to convey a message. However, arbitrarily banning all Confederate flags from public view is not that conversation. Instead, it is emotionalism. Corporations and celebrities are climbing on the bandwagon because they want to be seen as someone who Cares. In their moral panic, they stampede over even the context of the flag and ignore that a Civil War re-enactment (of which a Civil War video game is the electronic equivalent) is precisely the appropriate place for a Confederate flag, or that the General Lee without it is just another old Dodge Charger. They fail to see that with or without the Confederate flag, Dylann Roof would still have committed his crimes. Flag-banning is an empty gesture that saves people from examining the true root of his atrocity: the evil that runs through every person's heart.

Instead, we get an emotional response instead of a rational one. Robert E. Lee's body lies a-mouldering in the grave, but hysteria is marching on.