Marriage is love.
(And thanks to The Mad Prophet for pointing me to this bit of code.)



I'm sitting in my living room as the final minutes of the penultimate day of the year of grace 2004 tick away, and I'm listening to a driving rain being whipped against the patio door by 30-mph winds, with lightning on the horizon. I was expecting to watch the start of the Silicon Valley Classic (Troy vs. Northern Illinois), except that a freaky storm in San Jose cut power to the entire city and forced a half-hour delay in the kickoff.

All I really want is for the weather to be reasonably nice (seasonal, even) for the next five days, until my plane is safely off the ground and heading eastward to Paris. After that it can get as nasty as it wants to--until it's time for me to come home again. And it would be nice if it was nice in France, too!



Quarum hodie memoriam facimus*

It really has been a dreadful few days. Eighty thousand and more are now confirmed dead in the aftermath of the tsunami that struck the Indian Ocean earlier this week, and the death toll could easily rise above 100,000--while G. Dumbya Bush plays hide-and-seek at his "ranchette" in Texas. Then Susan Sontag died on Monday. And now Jerry Orbach has succumbed to prostate cancer.

All in all, it's been a bad year for the arts. I was watching something on Turner Classic Movies last week and they were doing their annual "in memoriam" reel, commemorating all the actors, directors, producers, writers, composers, etc., who had passed on during the previous year--and the list took a full five minutes to get through. Just consider a few of those who won't be with us anymore: Yasser Arafat, Richard Avedon, Geoffrey Beene, Marlon Brando, Laura Branigan, Ray Charles, Julia Child, Alistair Cooke, Francis Crick, Rodney Dangerfield, Jacques Derrida, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Spalding Gray, Uta Hagen, Bob Keeshan, Alan King, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, Janet Leigh, Ann Miller, Jack Paar, Johnny Ramone, Tony Randall, Ronnie Ray-gun, Christopher Reeve, Marvin Runyon, Pierre Salinger, June Taylor, John Toland, Peter Ustinov, Paul Winfield, and Fay Wray.

I don't agree with or endorse everything everybody I've just listed ever did--far from it. But there's a hell of a lot of talent in that list, and talent seems harder and harder to come by anymore.

On a somewhat lighter note, posting here is likely to be light--and very sporadic--for the next few weeks. I leave for France on Tuesday, and I have packing, cleaning, and last-minute errands to attend to. I do intend to check e-mail and try to post a few items while I'm in France, but I can't promise any kind of regular service: digging in the archives is Job #1, and when that's out of the way let's face it--sightseeing is next on the list. Blogging will have to bring up the rear, as it were.

*The title of this post is Latin. It comes from the Offertory of the Requiem Mass, and the full quotation is:

Hostias et preces tibi, Domine, laudis offerimus. Tu suscipe pro animabus illis quarum hodie memoriam facimus.

We offer to you, O Lord, these gifts and prayers for praise. Do You accept them on behalf of those souls whom we remember today.



Confessions of a Christmas junkie

First, a tip of the hat to Mustang Bobby, whose Sense of Christmas post got me thinking about writing this one.

Christmas is without a doubt my favorite holiday of the year. I don't much care for winter, but Christmas goes a long way toward redeeming it--and Christmas, to me, means cold weather, bare trees, and, hopefully, snow. (Though I will say that a morning low of -5 this morning was a little excessive, and at least according to the National Weather Service's standard--one inch of snow on the ground--we will not have a white Christmas this year unless we get more than just a flurry tonight.)

I've heard a number of people (most notably and frequently my stepfather, but I know he's not alone in this opinion) suggest that Christmas is for the kids and adults really shouldn't celebrate it. Humbug, I say! In fact, such sentiments qualify as heresy in my book.

We were not well-to-do growing up (nor are we really now) in my family, but we were comfortable. Once the Thanksgiving remains had been disposed of, it was time to start hauling the Christmas boxes out of the basement and transforming the place. Martha Stewart would probably not have been impressed, but that's fine with me: I think she's a skanky wench that no self-respecting person pays any attention to.

What mattered was the traditions. The most treasured ornaments on the family tree are the ones we made ourselves, decades ago. I still have a small red blown-glass ball with my name and the year ('71) written on it in gold glitter that was given to me by my third-grade teacher. My sister cherishes a felt Santa Claus whose feet were mistakenly put on backwards--and we always used to argue about whose ornaments would get the "best" places on the tree.

Christmas music plays non-stop in our homes from the day after Thanksgiving at least until Little Christmas (6 January, the Epiphany). The decorations go up at the earliest possible moment after Thanksgiving consistent with our schedules, and stay up until we really have to worry about attracting attention from our neighbors.

When we were younger, there was always a mess of holiday baking to be done: gingerbread, sugar cookies in seasonal shapes (sometimes decorated, sometimes just plain), surfer squares (a lusciously gooey concoction involving butterscotch pieces, chocolate chips, and miniature marshmallows), brownie mounds. We've cut back on that a little in recent years, but it's still something we look forward to. There would be eggnog and mulled cider, and bayberry or evergreen scented candles burning into the night.

We always shared Christmas lists of things we'd like, though by far most of the presents that wound up under the tree were things that weren't on those lists. Both of those things are just as true today as they were 30 years ago. My mom never did believe in anything like a Christmas shopping season--if she saw something that just screamed "Michael" to her, she bought it--even if it was July. In the leanest years there would maybe be only a couple of "list" presents per person under the tree--the rest would be school clothes and other necessities.

In most families it's the kids that wake everybody else up to open presents bright an early on Christmas morn. Not in our house: to this day, my mother insists it's near blasphemy to open presents after the sun has poked above the horizon. We often celebrated Christmas with my aunt and her family--and by "family" I mean something closer to "clan" than to the traditional "nuclear" family of mommy, daddy, 3.2 kids in the suburbs, and a dog. My senior year in high school, just after my mom and my stepfather were married, we moved into a new house on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (8 December)--and had Christmas for 40-odd people just two and a half weeks later. It was always a rowdy, boisterous gathering, full of talk and good cheer, mountains of food, and usually rounding out the day with rounds of Pit or 500 or other games. Everybody was sorry to have to leave, and the party often continued until late into the night.

The big gatherings are a thing of the past, as children have grown and moved away and started new traditions--and I miss them a little. On the other hand, there's something to be said for noshing on hors d'oeuvres all day (and parceling them out among the family members so that no one person has to do all the work) instead of cooking up a full traditional Christmas feast, and for being able to carry on a quiet conversation without having to find an unoccupied room or go outside to do it.

I'll always be a Christmas junkie. I never want to lose the excitement of buying presents for the people I care about, and waiting expectantly as they open them on Christmas morning. I will happily put up my tree early, and keep it up late, so that I can squeeze as much enjoyment as possible from sitting in the room with it with all the lights turned off, Christmas music on the stereo, or a classic holiday movie (anything except It's a Wonderful Life, which gives me gas). You'll never get me to agree to buy only one gift per person, or to some inane lottery system whereby everybody picks a name or two out of a hat and only buys one present for that person or people. Christmas isn't a time to be concerned about frugality or practicality: it should be celebrated expansively and joyously, loudly and long, with all the gusto that can be managed.

Happy Holidays to all my loyal readers, and peace on earth to all people of good will.


I think not

The headline for this Agence France Presse story was "Rumsfeld brings cheer to US soldiers in 'bleak' Iraq." That was also how NPR was pitching Dummy Rummy's "Not-Quite-Preznit-Giv-Me-Turkee II" tour of "liberated" Iraq this morning on "Morning Edition."

As the French would say (gotta brush up, you know!), Je crois que non.

I've never served in the armed forces, but I know a number of people who have. I'm also an historian of the two world wars and as you might expect, that means I've read a fair number of books on the military, soldiers' memoirs, and the like. Everything I know about the military tells me that the average GI has an excellent built-in bullshit detector. From that fact I conclude that it is unlikely that Dumsfeld's flying trip to Iraq brought much cheer to our brave men and women in uniform.

No, the only morale his trip is likely to have raised is his own, as he finds himself buffeted on all sides by increasingly bitter criticism--some of it from members of his own party. Perhaps Dummy Rummy's trip lifted a spirit or two elsewhere in the Shrubbery, as he tried to blow the fading embers of the conservacons' beloved "freedom and democracy are on the march" meme back into some semblance of life.

I'm not buying it. Nor do I suspect the troops are.

Rumsfeld said although the situation looked "bleak" right now for US forces in the country, they would ultimately prevail over insurgents and be part of something "truly historic."

He later promised troops in Tikrit, south of Mosul, more support and equipment in next year's budget.

They don't have to wait to be part of something "truly historic." They already are--the world-historical fuck-up that is the Bushoviki's doctrine of pre-emptive war. And I can't help but think nobody in his audience was deceived--or comforted much--by Dummy Rummy's pie-in-the-sky-bye-and-bye promise in that last sentence. If the man knew the first bloody thing about running a war, which he obviously does not, he never would have sent troops into harm's way until they had all the support and all the equipment they needed to accomplish the tasks he had set them--and the equipment they took with them into battle would have been sufficient unto their needs and outfitted for the specific conditions they were expected to face.

Of course, in Dumsfeld's defense, he thought the Iraqi people were going to greet our boys and girls as liberators. You know, the whole candy-and-flowers routine that we see in miles of newsreel footage from the liberation of France in 1944. I don't doubt that Dummy Rummy actually believed that would happen. But I do think the fact that he really believed it would is sufficient reason to toss his arse into the dustbin of history.



Musings from Messiah

(No, not the "Hallelujah!" chorus--that's from the Easter section, not the Christmas one--why it gets ubiquitously performed at this time of the year is just one of those things I'll probably never understand.)

Resting at ease in my comfortable (if not spacious) apartment tonight, I popped the first disc of Messiah into the CD player. As I usually do, I skip right to the tracks I like to sing along with, which can result in some interesting sequencing. I started with the bass recitative "For Behold Darkness Shall Cover the Earth" (No. 10), which for reasons passing understanding is usually cut from performances and recordings:

For behold darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people. But the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee.

(Isaiah 60:2, KJV)

Yes, it's a slow piece--close to three minutes to get through the two pages the recitative takes up in the standard vocal score. (I do it at about 75 eighth notes per minute, which is faster than the tempo marking in the score.) But the vocal line on that second sentence is bellissima. There are extended sequences on both "arise" and "glory" that give me goose-bumps. I have dreams of getting to sing it someday in a great cavernous space that would hold the reverb even longer than I can: and I did sing it in the Once and Future Parish, once upon a time, when His Purpleness was in town. (And yes, I chose it specifically for that purpose, though I don't think the bishop caught the allusion that his presence represented "gross darkness" upon "the people.")

Then I cut backward, to the opening tenor recitative, "Comfort Ye, My People":

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplish'd, that her iniquity is pardon'd.

(Isaiah 40:1-2, KJV)

The tenor air that follows this "introduction" ("Ev'ry valley shall be exalted") is the one that usually gets all the attention. It has arpeggios to spare, and I've had tons of fun singing it--still do. But tonight I'm more in tune with the recitative, which--at least in the original-instruments version I'm listening to--has some glorious ornamentations in the line, particularly when the phrase "that her iniquity is pardon'd" is repeated.

And that was what got me to musing. There's heaps and heaps of iniquity that want pardoning these days, and I would love to be the voice that gets to speak comfortably (i.e., "comfortingly") to Jerusalem and tell her that "her warfare is accomplish'd," that there can be peace in the Holy Land again: and throughout the rest of the world as well. The darkness that is covering the earth is deep and very gross. Even the light of the sun hides at this time of year, and it's easy to think it's never coming back. (It's supposed to drop to -10 or thereabouts here tonight, and our "warm" high on Christmas Day will only make it up to 30 if we're lucky.) But I'm choosing to focus on the second part of the first recitative: "But the Lord shall arise ...and his glory shall be seen..."

I'm not expecting the Parousia (the technical theological term for the Second Coming of Christ) anytime soon. The world isn't in a fit state to receive him (or so it seems to me, though of course I don't have the first clue about when or under what conditions he's coming back), for one thing--I think we the people of good will have our work cut out for us before we'll get anywhere near that point again. But while all around is dark and seems grim, I refuse to abandon what my new junior senator so eloquently described as "the audacity of hope."

Because if we lose that, we've lost. Everything. The political race, the heart and soul of the nation, and the world as well. Pack it up and head for home, game over.

I have no great illusion that what I say here is going to be the spark that sets the tinder afire and brings about world peace, the fullness of justice, or even the lesser goal of equal justice under law that is supposed to be what the Supreme Court enforces for all Americans. But it might, and at least I'm doing something. Maybe I only win the occasional small victory, but that's enough for me. I'll have left the world a better place than I found it. If that can justly be said of my for an epitaph, I will consider my life well-lived when I come to lay it down.

(Now just wait for it to be getting nigh to Easter, when I can riff on another of my favorite tenor recitatives, "Thou shalt break them.")




No, this post is not about Oprah. Or about overstocks, overcoats, or anything else that starts with the letter "O."

It's a musing on a set of antiphons. For those of you who aren't musicians or liturgists, an antiphon (in the sense that I'm using the word, anyway) is "A short piece of plain-song introduced before a psalm or canticle, to the Tone of which it corresponds, while the words are selected so as specially to illustrate and enforce the evangelical or prophetic meaning of the text." (Grove's Dictionary, as quoted in the OED)

Specifically, it's a musing on the set of seven antiphons known collectively as the "'O' antiphons," which are used in the Catholic tradition for the Liturgy of the Hours on the seven days preceding the Feast of the Nativity (Christmas)--17-24 December. In order, the antiphons are:

  • O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
  • O Adonai (O Lord)
  • O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
  • O Clavis David (O Key of David)
  • O Oriens (O Rising One)
  • O Rex gentium (O King of the Nations)
  • O Emmanuel (O God-With-Us)

I have photographs at home of the antiphons, carved into the stone at either side behind the altar of the little crypt chapel beneath the Church of the Nativity wherein we celebrated Mass on my first pilgrimage to the Holy Land. If I can find them and scan them in, maybe I'll post them here later.

(Here's a neat bit of trivia. If you take the initial letters (not the "O," of course) of each antiphon, beginning with the last ("Emmanuel") and working backward to the first ("Sapientia"), they spell out the Latin phrase ero cras, "I will be [there] tomorrow.")

There is a "reason for the season," and I do happen to think that he gets left out of it far too often. But that's the sum total of the extent to which I would agree with the fundagelical set who are currently making such a big stink about the need to put Christ back into Christmas. I would argue, rather, with my blogging buddy kid oakland at dKos, that they should first of all put Christ back into their brand of so-called Christianity. It's the old business about motes and beams. The right-wingnut Christians are so busy castigating those of us who are not threatened by the fact that there are people who believe differently that they completely fail to notice the fact that the Christ they want to inject "back" into the feast of Christmas is utterly absent from their own faith lives.

For example, here is the Gospel passage I have chosen to have read out at my funeral Mass, when the day comes:

Whenever the Son of Man may come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory. All the people of the world shall be gathered together before him, and he shall separate them one from another, just as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and he will place the sheep at his right hand, and the goats at his left.

Then shall the Ruler say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed of my Father, receive the realm which was prepared for you from the foundation of the universe. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you welcomed me, naked, and you clothed me; I was ill and you watched over me; I was in prison and you came to me."

Then the just will answer him and say, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you to drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and come to you?"

And the Ruler will answer and say to them, "Verily I say to you, as often as you did one of these things for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it for me."

(Matthew 25:31-40, my translation from the Greek)

I chose that passage, and cut it where I did, for a very specific reason. I want the people who hear it read out over my casket to take it to heart as their commission: Go, and do likewise.

But does that sound anything like what you hear from such notable and allegedly upstanding "Christians" (I use the scare-quotes advisedly) as Messrs. Falwell, Robertson, Colson, Dobson, Kennedy, et aliae? It surely doesn't to me. The words of that allegedly reverend set of men resonate much more closely with the angry prophets (and the angry God those prophets revealed) of the Hebrew Scriptures than they do with the gentle Jesus of the Gospels. They can fulminate with the best of men, but when it comes to the human, healing touch, they are woefully inadequate.

And that inadequacy is the most telling failure, the most damning witness against them, that I or anyone else can lay at their doors. As we read in Jesus' farewell discourse to his disciples in John's Gospel:

Amen, Amen I say to you, anyone who believes in the works I do will do those works themselves, and greater than those works, for I am going to the Father.

(John 14:12, my translation)

And there's always the perennial favorite of the gay Christian:

By their fruits you shall know them.

(Matthew 7:20, my translation)

I'm a practicing Catholic and while I definitely wish my Christian friends a Merry Christmas at this time of the year, my default greeting is nevertheless "Happy Holidays." Christians are not the only ones celebrating a holiday this season, and neither I nor my faith is threatened in the slightest way by that fact. It's not my intent to restrict my well-wishes to my fellow Christians, so I purposefully broaden my greeting to the widest possible extent. That is not a denigration of my faith so much as an affirmation of it.

Perhaps it is because my faith has been deeply influenced by the mystical tradition which sees, with the Buddhists, that reality is oneness, not separation. It is separation which is the illusion. Again as the Buddhists say, there is but one mountain even though there are many paths that lead to its peak. I am not threatened by the fact that there are other people in the world who believe and who practice differently from me. I revel in that fact. I celebrate it, just as the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council celebrated it:

Religions, however, that are bound up with an advanced culture have struggled to answer the same questions by means of more refined concepts and a more developed language. ...The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all people.

Nostra ætate, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, 28 October, 1965; no. 2)

I'm pretty sure that it was in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, though I don't seem to have the citation (or the exact quote) to hand, that Merton said the saddest thing about the Cold War was that neither the Soviets nor the Western nations were ever going to be able to realize that they needed each other. Each had a unique piece of the puzzle that is the Truth, but neither one was willing to admit the other had anything to do with that puzzle, or to share their piece with the other--and so both were diminished, and the world along with it. I believe the same is true of those Christians (or Muslims, or Jews, or Hindus, or Buddhists... you get my point) who cannot yet, in the words of a Jewish midrash, look at another person from afar and see in him or her a brother or a sister. Because, as that midrash continues, "then the night that was in your soul disappears and both your heart and theirs are filled with light."

Today is a day of fasting and prayer for peace in the Middle East, as called by His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, and his brother bishops in the Holy Land and in Africa. A number of other churches have joined in the call. I myself have been keeping a fast for that purpose on most Fridays since the outbreak of the second intifada, and while I join in today's observance, my own prayer today is that the Prince of Peace may come again to a world that is ready to receive him: a world that is at peace terra marique, "over all the lands and seas," as the Romans used to say.

There will be a light burning in my heart for that purpose, and in my window on Christmas Eve as a sign to the Holy Family on its wanderings that they are welcome in my humble abode. But so would be the Buddha were he to knock, or Muhammad (upon whom be peace), God's prophet, or the prophet Elijah, blessed be he. Because when you get right down to it, the name by which one calls the Divine is really the least important thing about it. I'm with John Donne:

All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.

(Devotions on Emergent Occasions, xvii)

That last clause leaves me with goose-bumps every time. That's a library where I definitely want visiting privileges!



Quoth the hamster, "So not true!"

Well, we have it on the word of the press-hamster himself (sorry, no transcript is available for today's briefing on the White House site yet: you'll have to make do with this from the AP instead):

The White House denied a suggestion in an FBI e-mail dated May 22, 2004, that Bush personally signed off on certain interrogation techniques in an executive order.

Or, from another source, this time via Heather and not-me Michael at Here's What's Left:

The e-mail is wrong... the president sets the broad policy and the details are then left to the Department of Defense.

I find Scotty McHamster's statement totally credible. And I believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and a flat earth, too!

The president not only sets the broad policy, the president must also authorize any covert operations through presidential findings. Anyone dumb enough to believe that the decision to abrogate the Geneva Conventions, the laws of war, and a couple of centuries of continuous practice wouldn't be taken at the presidential level is probably too stupid to be allowed to vote, much less to represent the dolt who likes to remind us at every possible turn that he's the most powerful human being (giving him the benefit of the doubt) on the planet. As non-denial denials go, Scotty, this one wasn't particularly believable or particularly good.

In other words, he's still guilty as far as I'm concerned.


The sound of the other shoe dropping

All polls suck. Including this one.

However, I do think it's more than a little bit interesting that the WaPo, which has historically been very good for the Shrubbery, comes out with a poll this week showing that support for Commander Codpiece has actually dropped by three points since the end of October and since the Shrubbery won its much-crowed-about "man-date."

I wonder if there's any plausibility to the notion that at least some of the drop in support is related to the Bushoviki's continual use of the word "mandate" since the Day the Country Died (Again). Their base isn't too comfortable with the idea of two men doing anything at all together except playing sports, hunting, or having a slash.

But seriously, for a newly re-elected president to be heading for his inauguration with a net approval rating under 50 percent (48) and with his "strongly disapprove" number (38 percent) a full 10 points higher than his "strongly approve" number (27 percent) spells major trouble. Any talk of "mandates," except the kind involving two possessors of a Y chromosome, should cease forthwith. It was ludicrous to call a 3 percent marginal victory eked out at the last minute a "mandate" in the first place. Half the country already agrees that Emperor Chimpy is doing a rotten job as preznit, and he hasn't even begun pitching any of his second-term agenda yet, which is likely only to piss off the last few un-pissed-off voters left in America. To keep talking (and more to the point, acting) as if the Bushoviki had any kind of political clout (or capital) is just foolish. Nobody buys it anymore, if they ever did.

Now what can those of us still playing in the reality-based community do to turn these numbers to our advantage, electorally and otherwise? Let's get those thinking caps on, folks!



Skip the swearing in...

...Unless it's an oath to "Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," administered in the prisoner's dock. The ACLU is reporting that it has received an FBI e-mail that appears to indicate Commander Codpiece signed an executive order "authorizing the use of inhumane interrogation methods against detainees in Iraq":

The two-page e-mail that references an Executive Order states that the President directly authorized interrogation techniques including sleep deprivation, stress positions, the use of military dogs, and "sensory deprivation through the use of hoods, etc." The ACLU is urging the White House to confirm or deny the existence of such an order and immediately to release the order if it exists. The FBI e-mail, which was sent in May 2004 from "On Scene Commander--Baghdad" to a handful of senior FBI officials, notes that the FBI has prohibited its agents from employing the techniques that the President is said to have authorized.

I'm sure our apparently soon-to-be attorney general Mr. Gonzalez would beg to differ, but in my book the document referred to in the passage I quoted above from the ACLU's press release, if authentic, would constitute irrefutable evidence of the commission of "high crimes and misdemeanours" within the meaning of the Constitution. It would also, most likely, constitute prima facie proof that Bush had knowingly and with malice aforethought violated the Geneva Conventions, which would make him liable for trial before the International Criminal Court at the Hague as a war criminal.

Now that's a sight I'd pay good money to see.



Yo ho ho...zing!

Something tells me a few members of the Shrubbery might want to up their dosages of blood-pressure medication tomorrow before reading the editorial page of the Washington Post:



Not good enough by half

There is much that is lame about the Bushoviki, but I'm thinking the latest bit of ineffective damage control from the Pentagon bids fair to win top (dis-)honors if a contest for the lamest Shrubbery schtick were ever held. I really can't improve on the first two grafs of the story, from today's Chicago Tribune:

Pentagon officials, confronting a growing furor that has thrown the military on the defensive, have begun firing back at those questioning whether it has supplied enough armored vehicles in Iraq.

As part of the offensive, an Army general said Wednesday the military will spend more than $4 billion to ensure that all U.S. military vehicles in the war zone carry protective armor by next June.

June? Next June? We'll have been in-country nearly two and a half years by then, and at least according to some reports, the Bushoviki were planning to invade Iraq as early as 2001. It is simply inexcusable, a dereliction of duty, and, where the civilian leadership is concerned, an impeachable offense, that any military vehicles designated for use in any war were not properly prepared long before the actual shooting started. It borders on the criminal that the Pentagon sent such vehicles into combat anyway, knowing full well that injuries would result.

That they now seek to deflect the growing (and eminently justified) criticism of this idiocy by promising to get right on the problem and have it fixed within six months simply boggles the imagination. Apparently it's no great shakes if hundreds of our men and women in uniform are killed or maimed in spectacularly gruesome fashion because they were sent into a war zone with equipment not up to the job. But let the candy-arse secretary of defense, who really should be sitting in front of an impeachment hearing for his completely ineffective handling of the War on Iraq, take a couple of pointed questions from the press and suddenly there's movement? That suggests to me that Ronald Dumsfeld has his priorities exactly backwards (as does the rest of the Shrubbery, for that matter).

It's the secretary's job to take the heat when things go wrong. It's also part of his job to make sure that they go wrong as infrequently as possible, yet Dumsfeld's watch at the Pentagon has been a freak-show merry-go-round of screw-up after screw-up. In anything remotely resembling a just world, he'd have been out on his arse long ago, replaced by somebody who could actually get the job done--and who wouldn't sit idly by while the men and women of his command were shot up in vehicles that he knew to be deficient.

For the Bushoviki, "supporting our troops" seems to consist solely in using them for the occasional photo opportunity when somebody in the Shrubbery needs props on national security or defense issues. The rest of the time, the troops can go screw for all the Bush White House cares. They're like the rest of us in that respect. But they shouldn't be.



A not-so-bleak midwinter

I was feeling so good last night when I went to bed. My holiday shopping is nearly done, we're barely a week away from the start of the long winter holiday at the university where I work, and in three weeks' time I'm flying to France for a month.

And then Jesse blogged on this little tidbit from the Associated Press. Don't get me wrong: I like the idea of having a little more Christ in Christmas, and a whole lot less materialism and hype and showmanship. But if you read all the way to the end of the story, you find this little, uh, gem:

"Why not simply require stores owned by Jews to put a gold star in their ads and on their storefronts?" the Rev. Jim Melnyk, associate rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Raleigh, wrote in a letter to the editor.

Oh. My. Holy. God!

How in hell does a man get ordained and appointed to a church without once having to read or hear about the Holocaust? And how in the name of all that's holy could a priest--anywhere--make such a suggestion? The very thought sends chills up my spine and makes me want to fly down to North Carolina and smack some sense into this fool. If I were his bishop, he'd be getting a very public dressing-down post-haste, and packing his bags to spend the next few years in a rustic bakery with the Trappists, doing penance for his sins. It would be a long, cold day in Hell before he'd ever get himself another rectorship.


Update, 15:30. It appears, based on the testimony of multiple reliable witnesses, that Rev. Melnyk knows everything he needs to know about the Holocaust, and was in fact making a very pointed satirical suggestion based on that knowledge. However, shame on the Associated Press for failing to provide that VITAL bit of context. Sticking that quote in, plain, at the very end of the story, was an egregiously bad move.



'Tis the season

And I'm not talking about NODWISH. The nominations for the 2004 Koufax Awards are now open. Here are mine:

Best Blog: Daily Kos

Best writing: David Neiwert of Orcinus

Best post: Kid Oakland's The Politics of "Mosh" diary at dKos.

Best Group Blog: Jesse and Ezra at Pandagon; Oliver, Tarek, Aaron and Shawn of The Liquid List; Heather and Michael (not me) at Here's What's Left.

Most Humorous Blog: Tbogg

Most Deserving of Wider Recognition: NTodd of Dohiyi Mir, Mustang Bobby of Bark Bark Woof Woof, and Heather and not-me-Michael at Here's What's Left

Best New Blog: Heather and not-me-Michael at Here's What's Left, Scott Slemmons of The Scooter's Freakin' Wicked Weblog!, Bryan at Why Now?. And, what the hey, my blog, Musing's musings.

Best Commenter: Bryan, now at Why Now?.

Head on over and second (or dispute) my nominations. Send your favorite bloggers a little love!



Early, early days

I want to make it very clear right up front that it's way too early to have anything remotely close to certainty about this. But it does appear that we've gotten another breakthrough in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

The story ran in Sunday's edition of the Globe and Mail, which is not exactly known for tabloid journalism. (If I remember correctly, it's considered quite staid in Toronto, where it is based.) It's late at night and I'm not at the office, so I haven't had a chance to go dig up the articles in J. Med. Chem. yet, but I'll be doing that tomorrow in all likelihood.

At least if the newspaper accounts are correct, the basic gist of the story is this. Rutgers scientists, in partnership with subsidiaries of Johnson and Johnson, claim to have developed three drugs "they believe can destroy HIV." They all target the enzyme reverse transcriptase, the Achilles heel, if you will, of HIV and all other retroviruses.

The distinguishing characteristic of a retrovirus is that its genetic information is coded in RNA (ribonucleic acid), not in DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid, which is how human genetic information is stored). In order to replicate itself, the virus must first transcribe its genetic information from the RNA template into DNA, which can then be used to code for the necessary proteins to make copies of the virus. Reverse transcriptase is the enzyme that initiates the transcription process from RNA to DNA. Without it, HIV is just a harmless collection of foreign protein material that can infect nothing.

I repeat: it is far too early to be dancing in the streets over this discovery. These drugs are only in the preliminary stages of research--basically, one laboratory has claimed they are effective in laboratory tests. The Globe and Mail report did say that the drugs in question are easily absorbed in humans and have minimal side effects. They can even be taken in a single pill, instead of the witch's brew of multiple medications that now comprise state-of-the-art HIV therapy. But the new drugs haven't even had a Phase I clinical trial yet (or if they had, I'm not aware of it and the news report never mentioned it). That's the minimum first hurdle to clear: proving that the drug is safe for human use and has some beneficial effect. Then there are at least two further stages of clinical trials before the company (or the university) could even submit an application to the FDA to produce and market the drug commercially. We're years of time and thousands of volunteers and mountains of data away from that point.

But it might be time to consider putting a bottle of champagne down to chill against that happy day in the future when we lick this latest scourge of the human race. God grant it be soon.


Right whiners

I'm coming to the conclusion that the first and foremost requirement for being a movement conservative these days is the ability to whine without ceasing at the drop of a hat--for any reason or for no reason. Someone, somewhere might be having fun? Whine away! College campuses and faculties are home to more liberals than conservatives? Whine in chorus! (You get my drift.)

I spent part of my time at the office today, now that final exams are over and the campus is practically deserted, on working my way down through the pile of back issues of The Chronicle of Higher Education that I simply tossed on a stack as they came in, lacking the time to go through them. A number of pieces dealt with complaints by conservatives at how under-represented (and repressed, and disliked, yada, yada, yada) they are on campuses across America. Several others highlighted complaints raised by conservative students that their professors didn't agree with them, or criticized their comments in class.

To which my visceral response was "Boo fucking hoo: welcome to the real world!"

I mean, really. Unless one is in engineering, the hard sciences, or some kind of professional school (business, medicine, law), academic salaries are not, by and large, anything to crow about. Given that one of the major drives of the conservative movement seems to be amassing flipping great wodges of cash, it comes as no surprise to me that we are likely to find fewer conservatives in the halls of Academe.

There's also that tendency to react poorly to criticism. One of the characteristics of the academic life is that almost everything is open to question, and people really do expect you to be able to cite your authorities--something that most conservatives of my acquaintance have trouble doing. They'll find life in the academic world all the more difficult, given that most scholars are not likely to accept Limbaugh, O'Reilly, the Heritage Foundation, James Dobson, or the Republican National Committee as viable sources of factual information.

But mostly I think the problem is that conservatives really don't value education that much. They seem to feel it's something that should be reserved for a privileged few, and that it should consist primarily of ideological indoctrination--with theirs being the ideology of choice, naturally. I actually saw a comment from some right-wingnut in one of the Chronicle articles (I can't remember which one it was) suggesting that the reason there were fewer conservatives in the humanities and the social sciences these days was that these fields had become more "touchy-feely" and less scholarly.

I have to say, that has not been my experience as a graduate student in history. The only touching and feeling going on this semester in my studies was my handling of dozens upon dozens of primary and secondary source materials as I worked my way through a couple of research projects. (It literally took me four trips to get most of my books back to the library, not counting the ones I'd taken back piecemeal throughout the semester after I was finished with them or when their due dates fell due.) I worked my ass off, which is one reason I'm enjoying a little mini-vacation right about now--because in three weeks I'm getting on a plane to go work my ass off in France for a month, digging around in the French national archives for some primary source materials for my M.A. project which, God willing, I'll finish up next year and graduate in August with my third master's degree.

Then, if I have the strength and the committee agrees I've got what it takes, I'm going to finally take a shot at piling higher and deeper. When it's all over and done with, if I'm lucky, I'll get to do some teaching on the side of my administrative responsibilities. The financial "reward" is likely to be minimal--and it will probably turn out to be a net loss when we factor in all the outlays for books and travel and photocopying. But it's something I've got to make a stab at doing, because I want to be able to ask better questions about the things I'm interested in and this is the only way I know of to get to do that.

But what the hell do I know? I'm just another one of those damn liberal academics.



The beginning of the end for "don't ask, don't tell"?

A quick primer for those of y'all who aren't quite the research geek that I am. One of the arguments* put forward by the military for maintaining its policy of keeping gays and lesbians out of the military is that Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice makes sodomy illegal:

Any person subject to this chapter who engages in unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex or with an animal is guilty of sodomy. Penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete the offense.

(*This "reason" is about as credible as the host of various reasons that have been offered as justifications for the War on Iraq by the Bushoviki. But that's a topic for another post.)

Technically, as the paragraph I have quoted above from Article 125 states, the provision makes any form of "sodomy" (defined as oral or anal sex) illegal, irrespective of the respective genders of the persons committing the act, and also regardless of whether the act in question took place on a military facility or not. In actual fact, however, prosecutions under Article 125 are virtually always for homosexual sex, and hardly ever for heterosexuals.

Those days may well be drawing to a close, however. An unpublished ruling by the army's top court may represent the beginning of the end for this particular "justification" of an inherently unjustifiable policy of exclusion of otherwise qualified gay men and lesbians from the armed forces.

In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in Lawrence v. Texas last year, a number of challenges to Article 125 have been filed, most of which are either still in preliminary proceedings or have not addressed the question of whether the Supreme Court's invalidation of sodomy statutes in the states also invalidates the parallel statute in military law. But the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals recently overturned the guilty plea of an Army specialist who engaged in oral sex with a female civilian in his barracks. The court's ruling was explicitly based on Lawrence.

If this ruling stands, one of two things will happen. Either the armed forces will be subject to the precedent established in Lawrence and the men and women of our armed forces will then be free to pleasure themselves and one another in any way they choose (at least as long as they're doing so with another human being who is of the age of consent or older, and not engaging in prohibited fraternization). Or else Congress, which has the authority to legislate for the military, will find a way to get around the ruling. The former is what I hope will happen, the latter is the scary possibility I can't rule out.

If the ruling stands, the Department of Defense will have one fewer leg upon which to stand in upholding its misleadingly named "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue" policy. It doesn't matter that the army court ruling applies to a case of heterosexual sex. As the law is presently written, oral sex is oral sex, no matter who is doing it to whom. If that prohibition is found to be unconstitutional (as it should be), that decision will apply equally to hetero and homo: as it should.



Plaudite, quaeso

First, kudos to Greg at News from the Sixth Borough for pointing this one out to me. And even bigger kudos to Canon Lesley Northup, who delivered one kick-ass homily on "taking back Christianity" on the Feast of Christ the King. Some of the highlights:

Real Christians have to stand up and say, "Morality? This is what you call morality? You've got to be kidding!" Real Christians have to point out that "Christian" means "someone who follows the example and teachings of Jesus," not "someone who will swallow whatever a preacher will tell them." Real Christians have to take this book that everyone keeps referring to, this Bible, and actually read it and find out what those teachings are.

In the book, Jesus never said a word about abortions. Some Christians oppose aborting a fetus that cannot even live on its own, but this deeply held conviction did not prevent millions of good life-respecting Christians from voting to continue an unprovoked and falsely justified war of aggression that has killed tens of thousands of perfectly innocent people who were already living. I think Jesus probably would not have liked this.

In the book, Jesus never said one word about homosexuality. It probably never even crossed his mind. As a matter of fact, Jesus very seldom talked about "thou shalt nots"--about terrible things you weren't supposed to do. His morality was about what you were supposed to do. He was crystal clear about "thou shalts." Here is what morality is, according to Jesus: Feed the poor (there are about 12 million people in our country who worry daily about whether they will have food); comfort the prisoners (probably includes not torturing or shooting them); accept the outcast (the queer, the single mother, the street person, the Muslim); shelter the homeless (and stop creating more of them); be good stewards and shepherds (stop raping the environment); depend on God, not on wealth (and don't collect it at the expense of the poor); treat others as you would have them treat you. And FIGHT for justice.

This is the morality Jesus taught. This is Christian morality. This is what "good" Christians endeavor to do. Everything else is self-righteous prooftexting of the old Hebrew Scriptures and unworthy of the adjective "Christian." Morality? Murder and violent aggression are immoral. Allowing people to wallow in poverty is immoral. Raising children to hate others for any reason is immoral. Rewarding the rich and greedy is immoral. Lying is immoral. Suspending basic human rights is immoral. Torturing prisoners is immoral. How dare the supporters of a list of atrocities like these claim to be voting for morality?


Get real. Read the book. Listen to what Jesus says. Do the right thing. And speak out. Rise up and take back Christianity, so that we can be proud to be Christians again. Talk loudly and often about real Christian morals. Practice them conspicuously. Refuse to be intimidated when bigotry and fear and power-hunger drape themselves in the robe of morality. Apply your morality to your life and your votes. It is not just an election at stake here--it is the future of Christianity, and the ethical face of tomorrow's world. If we don't stand up and take back Christianity, we can hardly expect our children to do it. The time is now. Get real. Get Christian.

Pre-emptive clarification: I'm pretty sure that Canon Northup did not mean by that last sentence that everybody in the world should "get Christian." I certainly don't mean it in that way. But those of us who are Christian should seriously take this lady's advice to heart.


Lubyanka on the Potomac

The press corpse (as usual) seems to have been snoozing on watch and forgot to mention this disgusting little tidbit (via lapin's dKos diary via Salon). So spread it around:

On June 15, 2003, Sgt. Frank "Greg" Ford, a counterintelligence agent in the California National Guard's 223rd Military Intelligence (M.I.) Battalion stationed in Samarra, Iraq, told his commanding officer, Capt. Victor Artiga, that he had witnessed five incidents of torture and abuse of Iraqi detainees at his base, and requested a formal investigation. Thirty-six hours later, Ford, a 49-year-old with over 30 years of military service in the Coast Guard, Army and Navy, was ordered by U.S. Army medical personnel to lie down on a gurney, was then strapped down, loaded onto a military plane and medevac'd to a military medical center outside the country.

Seems that Sgt. Ford's commanding officer had tried to have him diagnosed with "combat fatigue" and declared delusional. The reason? Because he'd reported abuse of Iraqi prisoners. Far easier to discredit the witness than to do something about the abuse, naturally.

Nor, apparently, was Ford's an isolated case:

Col. C. Tsai, a military doctor who examined Ford in Germany and found nothing wrong with him, told a film crew for Spiegel Television that he was "not surprised" at Ford's diagnosis. Tsai told Spiegel that he had treated "three or four" other U.S. soldiers from Iraq that were also sent to Landstuhl for psychological evaluations or "combat stress counseling" after they reported incidents of detainee abuse or other wrongdoing by American soldiers.

Heads need to be rolling over this--starting with Rumsfeld and then working upward and downward in the chain of command. Bastards!


Holy bureaucracy, Batman!

In the "News of the Weird" file, I spotted an interesting "Short Subject" in this week's issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education (sorry, but the web edition is subscription-only, so no link). It seems that Denmark has a law on the books (soon to be revised, according to the article) that was designed to ensure "...that every Danish baby is given what the government deems an appropriate name." Any name not on a preapproved list of first names goes to a government office for review. According to the article:

One of the original purposes of name regulation [designed at a time when most Danes used their father's name and added "-son" as a surname] was to protect against the misuse of surnames, especially those of the nobility, so names such as Jordan cannot be used as first names. Names with unusual spellings, accents, or capital letters in the middle are also barred, as are many names of geographic origin or indeterminate gender.


Also failing to make the cut have been the surnames of well-known historical personages or fictional characters. Our condolences to the parents who tried to name their children Batman, Obelix, Rasputin, and Titian.

And I thought some of the names Americans want to foist upon their offspring were weird! I doubt anyone ever tried to name their child "Rasputin" on this side of the pond.



Three-score and three years ago

I watched Tora! Tora! Tora! tonight. It seemed fitting to remember the events of this date long ago in a simpler time. And I did spare a thought and a prayer for all those who lost their lives on that day of infamy--as well as everyone else who died in that war.

I heard a piece this morning on "Morning Edition" about the son of Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, who commanded the U.S. Pacific Fleet at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. When the initial inquiry into the attack was completed, he, along with his army counterpart, Lt. Gen. Walter Short, were found to be responsible for allowing the attack to take place and were relieved of command and lost their ranks. Although a board of inquiry cleared Kimmel (or, more accurately, admitted that he was hardly the only one at fault) in 1944, he was never reinstated to his highest rank. His son would very much like for that to happen, and I have to admire his spirit. At the end of the interview, he said, effectively, "Well, if I can't get this president to do it [Bush is reportedly lukewarm to the idea, not surprisingly], then I'll work on the next one. And if I can't get him to do it, well, then there are people who will come after me until it's done."

He has a point, and that point was reinforced by watching the movie again tonight. To hold any one individual responsible for the failure that resulted in Pearl Harbor is manifestly unjust: the failure was systemic. For that matter, I think the verdict of history will rightly say that the Pearl Harbor attack represented a "catastrophic success," to borrow an appropriate malapropism from Commander Codpiece, for both the Japanese and the Americans.

Admiral Yamamoto was entirely correct in his quote that closed out the movie: "I fear that all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve." He nailed that one squarely on the head. He was also correct when he was asked, before Pearl Harbor was even an operation plan on the drawing board, what he thought the Japanese chances were if war with America were to come. He said, essentially, "I can wreak havoc on them for a year, but after that I can make no guarantees." A year turned out to be a little too optimistic since the Battle of Midway in the summer of 1942 was the definitive end to the Imperial Navy's effectiveness as an attacking force.

On the American side, the avenues of communication within the government and the armed forces were woefully inadequate. I can't agree with the pundit's assessment, from "Morning Edition" this morning, that those responsible were fighting the previous war. They were clearly doing the best they could with what they had--but what they had was not enough, and their hands were frequently tied by the very peculiar Zeitgeist with which they had to contend.

Let us remember that the 1930s and early 1940s were the heyday of the America Firsters, led by Charles Lindbergh and backed up by a whole host of notables. They wanted no part of a "European" war that was of no import where American interests were concerned. They, and millions more like them around the world, were so worn out by the First World War that they never wanted to hear another drill sergeant barking out a cadence. They certainly weren't wild about the idea of spending tons of money on arms and personnel.

Our intelligence services were quite good, considering what they had to work with in the days before satellite photography and GPS navigation and effective radar. But as the movie makes clear, the really high-grade intelligence was strictly limited to a very small circle of men at the top of the pyramid in government and the military. It was never furnished, except in outline form and as Washington felt the need, to the field commanders in the Pacific. Had Admiral Stark (then Chief of Naval Operations) done as he was urged to do and called Admiral Kimmel in Hawaii after the infamous fourteenth part of the message from Tokyo to the embassy in Washington had been intercepted and decoded, we might well have given the Japanese task force a nasty surprise. Instead, he called the president and dawdled around waiting for a reply (the president was indisposed and could not come to the telephone) while the seconds ticked off on the clock and the fleet swung placidly at anchor even as the instrument of its destruction bore swiftly down upon it.

In fact, it struck me as I was watching the movie that for all the things in the world that are different now from the way they were then, there are some things that are remarkably the same. Tora! Tora! Tora! is an appropriate movie not just for this date on the calendar, but for the whole of the Bush régime. We're still dealing with communications breakdowns in our intelligence apparatus, as witness the intelligence reform bill that's still kicking around Congress waiting for Fat Denny to get off his ginormous arse and send the bloody thing up for a vote. We still have bright, perceptive, even prescient analysts getting things right and watching as their conclusions are swallowed up in the groupthink of the chain of command--and then being expected to fall upon their swords for others' mistakes.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...


Somewhere in Washington....

...an anonymous (or he hopes he can remain so) White House staffer is frantically updating his resume. 'Cuz when you screw up on this level this badly, you don't get to stick around very long (via Kos via Atrios):

Bush introduced Mike and Sharla Hintz, a couple from Clive, whom he said benefited from his tax plan.

Last year, because of the enhanced the child tax credit, they received an extra $1,600 in their tax refund, Bush said. With other tax cuts in the bill, they saved $2,800 on their income taxes.

They used the money to buy a wood-burning stove to more efficiently heat their home, made some home improvements and went on a vacation to Minnesota, the president said.

"Next year, maybe they'll want to come to Texas," Bush quipped.

Mike Hintz, a First Assembly of God youth pastor, said the tax cuts also gave him additional money to use for health care.

He said he supports Bush's values.

"The American people are starting to see what kind of leader President Bush is. People know where he stands," he said.

"Where we are in this world, with not just the war on terror, but with the war with our culture that's going on, I think we need a man that is going to be in the White House like President Bush, that's going to stand by what he believes.

and today...

A Des Moines youth pastor is charged with the sexual exploitation of a child.

KCCI learned that the married father of four recently turned himself in to Johnston police.

Rev. Mike Hintz was fired from the First Assembly of God Church, located at 2725 Merle Hay Road, on Oct. 30. Hintz was the youth pastor there for three years.

Police said he started an affair with a 17-year-old in the church youth group this spring.

They really need to be more careful in vetting the people they're going to parade around as examples of the Republicans' alleged moral leadership. I notice, for example, that the news story carefully refrains from disclosing whether the 17-year-old with whom Mr. Hintz (I won't call such a man "reverend," as it's obviously not true) was alleged to be having the affair was a woman or a man. Plus, wouldn't you think the fact that the guy was fired a month and a half ago was a big ol' red flag that maybe he wasn't going to make a good Repuglican poster-child?

The Shrubbery: as ever, resolute in mediocrity. It's both a relief and an embarrassment that the stupidity of the Bushoviki may be the only thing that saves the world from them and their insane policies over the next four years.



Color me outraged. Again.

Reasonable people can reasonably differ about the merits of the preznit's War on Whatever It's On This Week. We can certainly differ on just what it means to say that one "supports our troops." But I don't think there's any question that this doesn't count.

If I were one of these parents I think I could easily spend my nights thinking up new and varied ways to put those responsible in some serious pain. If these complete ass-hats have time to go play squash or to play at "clearing brush" from their ranchettes in Tejas, then by all that is holy, they have more than enough fucking time to sit down and personally sign the letters that go out to the families of those who have paid what Lincoln called the "last full measure of devotion" to this country.

I've always thought that Bush's much-vaunted "support" for our men and women in uniform was nothing more than a sham, a little show he put on for the cameras because it plays well in the polls and with his fundagelical base. Now I'm absolutely 100% sure of it. That fucker should be sitting down in the Oval Office and writing out each of those letters by hand, and it would still be a pittance in comparison to what those who will receive them have to go through. That man is not now, and never was, fit to wear the uniform of this nation--he's certainly not fit to lead or command it, or its armed forces.

Pity more of my fellow Americans don't agree with me on that subject. But something tells me they'll be coming around to my way of thinking long before the next four years are done.

God rot the miserable bastard (and Rumsfeld, too) in hell!



And there was much rejoicing....

I've got a few last tweaks and a couple of references to check and include, but for all intents and purposes I've finished my coursework for the semester. I'll turn in both my research prospectus and my medieval history final tomorrow and that will formally be that. I can start taking some of the 40-odd books charged out to me back to the library and then start reviewing my French grammar and vocab while I do my Christmas shopping, spend the holiday with my family, and then it's off to Paris, Nantes, and Colmar to do my M.A. research in January. If I'm lucky, I'll get in a day-trip to London to go dig around in the Public Record Office and look over the actual manuscripts I've been working with this semester.

Meanwhile, there's some blogging to do, some crappy TV to watch, and the general pleasure of having absolutely nothing to do for a while. Me likee!



Thompson quits

I'd be a lot happier at the news that Tommy Thompson is quitting as HHS secretary if I had any reasonable expectation that he'd be replaced by someone better. The Reuters report says that Mark McClellan (who I think is a relation of the preznit's press-hamster Scott), currently in charge of running Medicare and Medicaid into the ground, "is considered a leading candidate" as Thompson's replacement.

At this rate, the only familiar faces around the table in the Cabinet Room are going to be Emperor Chimpy, Big Dick, and Condoliesherarseoff. In a way, that could prove to be a good thing. It's going to take the newbies a good six months to a year to get their feet wet and figure out how to get from the corner office to the executive washroom, much less implement any of the bajillion different lunatic proposals the fundagelicals seem to be coming out with on a daily basis this past week.



Music of the season

Since last Sunday was the first Sunday in Advent, I can now officially indulge myself in one of my favorite musical genres (Christmas carols) without attracting strange looks. It really blows that I can only feed this monkey on my back "legally" for around a month out of the year, because there's some seriously gorgeous music to enjoy.

Anyway, there are a couple of pieces in my media library that I'd like to share with you, my legions of faithful readers. One that is appropriate the whole year through, but which has a special poignancy for me this year, is Patrick Ball's masterful variations for harp on the canon Dona Nobis Pacem (I hope you can hear a clip of the song here; if not, it's on his 1990 album The Christmas Rose, which I highly recommend anyway.) Those of you of a certain age may remember hearing the tune sung by the cast of M*A*S*H to Father Mulcahy during one of the show's Christmas episodes, though I can't remember which season it was. Listening to Ball's rendition is a hopeful prayer in the wintry dark, and it puts me in precisely the right mood for Advent.

A more activist piece, though that's not the only reason I like it, is Jackson Browne's 1991 song The Rebel Jesus (sorry, I can't find an MP3 to link to, but you can buy the song for 99 cents at MSN's music store: it's track 12 on the Chieftains' Christmas album The Bells of Dublin). This song also has particular oomph as we get ready for another four years of compassionate conservatism fucking the poor so the filthy rich can get even filthily richer:

We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why there are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus

But pardon me if I have seemed
To take the tone of judgement
For I've no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In a life of hardship and of earthly toil
We have need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure
And I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus

Our lives have been all about hardship and earthly toil these last few months, it seems. So take the time to enjoy a little of "anything that frees us." That goes double for the frenetic holiday shopping season. Pause a moment or three to remember why we're out spending more money than we have,* and give yourself permission to relax. Look at the lights and decorations, smell the holiday scents, with all the wide-eyed excitement of any five-year-old and don't let anybody give you crap for it. And while you're at it, spare a kind thought and maybe a few bucks if you have it to spare, for those poor souls who won't be spending time with those they love in this season of peace and joy: the poor, the homeless, our men and women in the armed forces, and the people of Iraq.

*Guilty as charged. One of the things I love most in the world is giving presents to people I care about, especially if I get to watch them open the gift and see the pleasure in their face as they unwrap just the thing they wanted. Screw my credit rating, when it comes to the holidays, I'll be generous.



Wednesday winterblogging

Those of you who live in warmer climes because you have an aversion to snow and cold will probably want to skip this post. For the rest of you, the following two images don't do the actual scene justice:

I took these photos this morning from the east-facing window of our departmental coffee room (which used to be a tiny research lab). The forecast yesterday was for scattered rain, changing over late in the afternoon to snow. We were expecting around an inch of accumulation on grassy surfaces only, since the ground had not yet frozen and temperatures have been reasonably mild for this time of year.

The models and our in-house forecaster missed it by a mile: or 75 miles to be precise, since that was the difference between the actual storm track and the one that had been predicted. It was raining lightly yesterday at noon when I walked to my favorite Chinese restaurant for lunch. By 3 p.m. when I left the office to go to class, it had started snowing. The flakes were big, which is not usually a good sign, but they were relatively sparse.

By 4:45 p.m. when my class was over, it would have qualified as a blizzard had there been any wind at all. The snow was falling so thickly that visibility was poor, and there had to be at least 3/4" on the ground by then, including a wet muck on streets and sidewalks that remains as ice today in some places. The snow was supposed to stop by around 8 p.m. When I went to bed last night at around 11:30 p.m., it was still snowing, though not as heavily as it had been when I walked to my car from class. It took me around 20 minutes to clean the five inches of snow (and the ice underneath) off of my car so I could go to work.

On the other hand, sunny days in winter, especially the day after a major snowfall, are something of a rarity in these parts. And the view today was just spectacular. I spotted one of the university's photographers outside our building, so I suspect I'll be able to grab some better-quality shots for use in our next graduate brochure when I want a "winter" photograph.

Enjoy: or count your blessings that you don't have to cope with stuff like this, as the Spirit moves you.


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