Friday, November 11, 2005

A Modest Proposal

‘Tis the season to be jolly, it seems, earlier and earlier with each passing year of my young adulthood. This year, I found myself helping a friend who works for a major retailer take down their entire fall line and put out the Christmas display and all the Christmas decorations, including the tree -- on October 16th. Through some cosmically sick twist of fate, the life-sized light-up talking Freddy Krueger doll was still leering at passers-by outside of Spencer’s while we were decking the halls with boughs of holly.

When I was a little younger, you could always count on trolling the ancient Yuletide carol on certain radio stations round the clock, come about Thanksgiving. Despite the fact that as a Catholic, I suppose the singing of Christmas carols during Advent should liturgically irritate me, I could deal with this minor breach of etiquette. However, this season, I made my way through a department store the day after Halloween only to hear a rousing chorus of “Santa Baby” arrest mine poor ears.

To me, it begs the question – do the money-grubbing powers-that-be of American capitalism really think the American consumer is naive and stupid enough to be tricked into believing Christmas is coming sooner than usual this year and shelling out more money faster simply because they see a Christmas tree on October 16th? Do they really think that the average shopper’s first thought upon hearing “Santa Baby” on the loudspeakers on November 1st is – “Gosh, I really ought to get to Christmas shopping right this second!” rather than “Alright, what consummate social reject screwed up and started playing the Christmas music the day after Halloween?”

This situation presents a real catch-22 to the public. How can one avoid jarring the public so traumatically, while still keeping Christmas shopping at the forefront of the consumer’s mind all year long so as to nicely line greedy capitalist pockets?

As a solution, it has been proposed that we in America embrace a radical new system of keeping Christmas in our hearts all year long. Not only will this save effort for those of us who already don’t take our Christmas lights down till May, but will also result in a drastic increase in revenue for American retailers. Rather than Santa Claus emerging to hear Christmas lists from the kiddies only in the dark winter months, Santa will become a staple part of the shopping experience, easily accessible by the Information Desk where small fry can accost him all year long with incessant demands for ponies and Ipods and Soul Calibur3. Different Santas for different seasons are currently in the works – Swim Team Santa in a Speedo for July, Caribbean Cruise Santa in the spring, Ozzie Osbourne Santa for Halloween. Additionally, Santa will soon be trading in his all-too-seasonal reindeer for flamingoes in the summer, trained raccoons in the fall, and a team of Canada geese in the spring.

Christmas music, of course, will be played 24/7 on every radio station nationwide in order to foster the right holiday attitude and consequent dizzying stress necessary to incite Christmas shopping.

The other holidays, of course, will take a back seat to preparation for Christmas. No more Valentines, Easter egg dying kits, Halloween candy, or Thanksgiving turkeys will be available in mainstream stores and will heretofore have to be special-ordered off the internet, for it is assured that keeping them in stock will only distract the consumer from Christmas shopping and thus must be avoided at all costs.

In fact, new federal legislation will be passed regulating the use of Christmas decorations. Steep penalties will be enacted against those who fail to have their Christmas tree and lights up and passing inspection by July at the latest.

In this way, by enforcing the new Christmas All Year Long policy, we can avoid all customer shock and discomfort while still keeping the monopolist retailers living large and eating off the fat of the land.

As usual, one brave voice has stepped up to the plate as the first to embrace these new reforms. “We’re all on board for the Christmas All Year Long policy,” Mr. Eb Scrooge, C.E.O. of the Wal-Mart Corporation, has publicly stated. “By the time Christmas comes, you can bet that one store at least will already be having its after-Christmas sales, at prices lower than any competitor’s!”

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. God bless us, everyone.

"The great majority of people will go on observing forms that cannot be explained; they will keep Christmas Day with Christmas gifts and Christmas benedictions; they will continue to do it; and some day suddenly wake up and discover why." (Chesterton, "On Christmas")

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Judge Roberts

A lot neo-cons are going “ugh” over the recently appointed Chief Justice Roberts.

Here, in Roberts’ own words before the Senate Judiciary Committee, is why so many pro-lifers are disappointed with what they had hoped would be the nominee to help guide this country away from the abortion holocaust:

“Roe vs. Wade is the settled law of the land…There’s nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent…”

“My faith and my religious beliefs do not play a role in judging. When it comes to judging, I look to the law books and always have. I don’t look to the Bible or any other religious source.”

And, finally, “The right to privacy is protected under the Constitution in various ways…It protects privacy in matters of conscience.”

It is with his choice of words such as these that Roberts slipped the noose of the anti-religious lynch mob comprised of folks such as Senator Feinstein, and allowed Roberts to become Chief Justice.

Since then I have read neo-conservatives ask what, then, is the difference between Roberts and John Kerry when it comes to abortion? Many believe Roberts will turn out to be just a luke-warm servant of the status quo.

But carefully read his words again and remember that this story is just beginning to unfold. Bear in mind that these words may not be platitudes meant as an olive branch to placate the rabid pro-abortion forces. It could be that we have in Judge Roberts a very clever and clear-minded man who had the grace to know that he would be delivered from the snares laid out for him simply by speaking the unalterable truth to men who are no longer capable of recognizing it.

Read Roberts’ words again and remember that a true conservative is not the same as an activist. Activists look at documents like the Constitution and see things that are not there, as is the case with the “rights” to abortion that were "discovered" in 1973. A conservative does not read into the document what is not there, and this is something Roberts will not do. The corollary to this is that Roberts will not ignore language in the Constitution that is there but that might not necessarily aid the liberal agenda.

So now what we need is laws introduced that protect life. They will be challenged, of course. But the pro-life movement stands a better chance if final arbiter of that dispute is a Supreme Court comprised of judges who can clearly interpret the Constitution.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Javanese Gamelan

Because we had no submissions this week, we've decided to follow through with our earlier threat and force upon you knowledge regarding a musical term about which no one has ever heard. Without further ado, a paper on the Javanese Gamelan, circa 1995:

Javanese Gamelan

The island of Java is a part of Indonesia located about three thousand miles south east of India. The Javanese gamelan is the orchestra of the royal courts of Java. The gamelan technically can be any sort of musical ensemble for the Javanese. However, the court orchestra is the main type of gamelan for the Javanese culture. This orchestra can be compared to that of the European Symphony Orchestra.


The gamelan contains a wide variety of instruments. There are variously sized stringed instruments as well as a family of different sized gongs. Other instruments include bowed chordophones, chimes, xylophones, a fiddle, a female singer, a male chorus, a zither, drums, and a flute in some of the soft passages. This orchestra has approximately 30 to 40 performers and 75 to 80 instruments. Not all of the instruments are played at the same time. The most important instrument of the gamelan is the great gong. The rhythm and compositions are controlled mainly by this instrument. “At full strength the gamelan is a powerful producer of rich and varied tones, and like many other musical ensembles, depends largely on the effects of its percussion.” (Blom, gamelan).


The music of the gamelan is drastically different from that of western music. The elements however, can still be defined within the same terms. The rhythmic cycle of the gamelan is the gongan cycle. One gongan is equivalent to the time elapsed between strokes of the great gong. The texture of the music is heterophonic, and the melody consists mainly of complex irregular patterns. There are three levels of melody within the gamelan: basic, punctuating, and elaborating. The basic part of the melody is the controlling meter. It is a comfortable medium pace. The punctuating level is somewhat slower than the basic level, and the elaborating level is faster than that of the basic level. Contrasts and enhancements to the melody are made by the singers, the fiddle, and the flute. The “strong style” of the orchestral compositions is forceful, powerful, and aggressive. The “soft style” is more mysterious, and sensuous.

The basic structure of a composition begins with a solo introduction by one of the elaborating instruments. Following this solo, the drum joins in. When the great gong sounds, the entire orchestra joins in playing the melody at the pace of their instrument. Each composition ends with the sounding of the great gong.

The performance of the gamelan is a very important social, religious, ritual, and personal event. The music often contains a spiritual element. The performance marks significant events in all realms such as: the rice harvest, a wedding, a birth, a circumcision party, a funeral, the arrival of an important person, the commemoration of Indonesian Independence Day, and the fond farewell party for a beloved friend.


It is apparent that the gamelan offers many uses within the Javanese culture. This non-western style of music is very important to the culture of Indonesia as well as other areas into which the style has spread.


References

1. Blom, Eric. “Gamelan,” Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians: Fifth Edition, Volume III. St. Martin’s Press, Inc., New York. 1954.


2. Davis, Shelley and Signell, Karl. Music: A Multi-Cultural Experience. College Park, MD. 1992


3. Schaareman, Danker. Balinese Music in Context. Amadeus Verlag. 1992.


4. Tejada, Irene. Brown Bag Ideas from Many Cultures. Davis Publications, Inc. Worcester, Massachusetts. 1993.


5. Tenzer, Michael. Balinese Music. Periplus Editions, Inc., Republic of Singapore. 1991.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The French Riots

While I must admit, and I am not proud of this, I took some twisted pleasure in the recent problems in France at the beginning of the riots, and I know that that is wrong. So I made an effort to help the French. While there is clearly not much I can physically do to aid them, I can offer suggestions. Unfortunately, the riots in France are one of those things that are complex, not because of their cause, and not because ending them would be difficult if that were your only objective, but because ending the riots the right way is a true conundrum. If we throw out morality and humanity, simply shooting all the rioters would end the riots. But, for many, that is not a legitimate option. What then is France to do?

Rather than just offering my own ideas, I thought it an interesting exercise to survey a couple people I work with, and see if any of them had any revolutionary ideas. To summarize the options these people came up with, the French authorities could exercise lethal force (killing the rioters) and make an example of the dead rioters, I call this the head-on-the-pike solution. Another option was lethal force, but without the head on the pike. The third option suggested was, what sounded very Israeli, to deny any captured rioters, and their immediate families any benefits of France's liberal welfare system. I had two votes for the head-on-a-pike, one vote for plain lethal force, and one vote for the Israeli method.

I can't really say I like any of those methods. At some point, the police will have to use lethal force to protect the public from the rioters, but before that, what else can be done? Amazingly, they have only just started imposing curfews(1), a week or two into the riots. The curfews are a good first step. It will be interesting to see if that works. In conjunction with the curfews, perhaps the French ought to consider relaxing their gun control laws. France is regarded as having very strict gun control laws. I looked, but did not find much specific in regards to their restrictions. Perhaps a reader with great knowledge on French gun laws could comment. There is no doubt however, that right now, the police have weapons they have refused to use. The rioters have weapons they have used (firebombs, guns, etc), and according to some reports(2), rioters may have access to grenades and other heavier weapons. Right now, the only people that are defenseless and unarmed are the law abiding French citizens, one who was set on fire, and another who was beaten to death(3). This leads into the same old arguments for and against gun control used in America, but one cannot deny, in America or France, that police are by their nature reactive. Police come AFTER a crime has been committed, and hopefully then track down and capture the criminal. The only way to stop crimes as they are in progress is to have a suitably armed, law abiding population, willing and able to defend itself.

(1) Curfews
(2) Rioter weapons
(3) Riot Victim

Pat Buchanan on the riot's greater meaning
French youth, riot sympathizers

Monday, November 07, 2005

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

It's that time of the year again….when we have to scratch our heads to come up with something that Dad, or Mom, or Great-Aunt-Martha might like. It can seem harder and harder each year as everyone starts to become the people "with everything." So…a few ideas:

~For someone who has family or friends, or business contacts who regularly relocate (or for someone who just likes stickers), you might want to look at the address book with peel away sticker address slots, so you can update as needed. One such option is Flex Address Systems You can customize the binder and purchase replacement sheets. The filled binder prices range from $39.95-$225, so you could fit a range of budgets. If you like the idea, but not the price. Current has the same idea with an address book that's only $5.99.

~For the silver lover in your family, if you haven’t seen the Silver Jewelry Club, check it out. You can get a sterling silver piece of jewelry for “free” (plus $5.99) shipping and handling. The site changes the piece of jewelry every fifteen minutes, and only that piece of jewelry is available for that interval.

~Somebody love movies? How about a movie night package? You could include popcorn and candy, maybe a bowl, and gift certificates to Blockbuster or Netflix (a subscription through-the-mail DVD rental company). You pay your monthly subscription fee, and then there are no late fees or other charges. You return the DVDs in postage-paid sleeves. There are different package prices depending on how many DVDs you want out at a given time. Cleanflicks is another subscription service, and one which edits out gratuitous violence, sex, and obscenities.

~For the kids on your list…you might be interested in Snap Circuits. The wires are embedded in plastic pieces with snaps on them that connect on a peg board and do the activites in the book, for lighting up a light, and running a fan, etc. There are several different sets in different prices, which incorporate different activities. You can look at them here and here

~If you're looking more for "Classic" type toys, be sure to check out Magic Cabin, Hearthsong, and Rosie Hippo's.

~If you've got a college-aged kid to buy for, chances are he's a Homestar Runner fan. Check out the store here.

~Amazon always has a large variety of things, from books to toys, to exercise DVDs. You can probably find something for everyone on your list there, and if not, you could consider a gift certificate.

~Perhaps you’re looking for something more personalized? With your photo, you can order picture ornaments from Exposures Online, a photography catalog.

~Now if you want to compose a nifty picture for those ornaments, consider some matching Christmas pajamas from TheChildren's Place in Christmas color stripes! Moms and dads can get in on the fun too, since they have adult sizes as well.

~Another nifty catalog site is the Wendell August Forge site, where you can order hand-forged metal pieces...from serving pieces to jewelry, to candle holders, and more.