Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Quote of the Day (Timothy Snyder, on Globalization, Totalitarianism, and History)

“Both fascism and communism were responses to globalization: to the real and perceived inequalities it created, and the apparent helplessness of the democracies in addressing them. Fascists rejected reason in the name of will, denying objective truth in favor of a glorious myth articulated by leaders who claimed to give voice to the people. They put a face on globalization, arguing that its complex challenges were the result of a conspiracy against the nation. Communists ruled for longer, for nearly seven decades in the Soviet Union, and more than four decades in much of Eastern Europe. They proposed rule by a disciplined party elite with a monopoly on reason that would guide society toward a certain future according to supposedly fixed laws of history….

“Americans today are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism in the 20th century. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so.”—Yale historian Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons fromthe Twentieth Century (2017)

The accompanying photo of Timothy Snyder was taken Mar. 31, 2016, by Frauemacht.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Quote of the Day (Robert Benchley, on a Christmas Pageant in the Vestry Starring Kids)

“Twenty-five seconds too early little Flora Rochester will prance out from the wings, uttering the first shrill notes of a song, and will have to be grabbed by eager hands and pulled back. Twenty-four seconds later the piano will begin ‘The Return of the Reindeer’ with a powerful accent on the first note of each bar, and Flora Rochester, Lillian McNulty, Gertrude Hamingham and Martha Wrist will swirl on, dressed in white, and advance heavily into the footlights, which will go out.

“There will then be an interlude while Mr. Neff, the sexton, adjusts the connection, during which the four little girls stand undecided whether to brave it out or cry. As a compromise they giggle and are herded back into the wings by Mrs. Drury, amid applause. When the lights go on again, the applause becomes deafening, and as Mr. Neff walks triumphantly away, the little boys in the audience will whistle: ‘There she goes, there she goes, all dressed up in her Sunday clothes”!”— American humorist and actor Robert Benchley (1889-1945), “A Christmas Spectacle,” in Love Conquers All (1922)

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Fr. Ronald Knox, on God and ‘The Love That Waits’)

“The world… does not understand the love that waits, any more than the love that weeps. It is so impressed with the feeling that this and that needs doing here and now that it cannot wait for God’s signal; cannot realize that He has His own way and His own time for doing things; and, in consequence, a great deal of activity is wasted in overlapping, and misdirected effort, and fussiness.” —English Catholic priest, theologian, radio broadcaster, and author of detective stories Ronald Knox (1888-1957), October 1936 sermon on St. Mary Magdalene, quoted in Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., “On Sitting Down and Waiting,” in Idylls and Rambles: Lighter Christian Essays (1994)

Waiting: the appropriate activity for this Advent season of preparation…

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Quote of the Day (Poet Jack Gilbert, on How ‘We Must Risk Delight’)

“We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.” —American poet Jack Gilbert (1925-2012), “A Brief for The Defense,” in Refusing Heaven (2005)

Friday, December 3, 2021

Quote of the Day (Tracy Morgan, on His Christmas List)

“What I need for Christmas is another zero at the end of my paycheck."—Comedian Tracy Morgan, quoted in Clark Collis, “This Week We’re Talking About…Tracy Morgan,” Entertainment Weekly, Oct. 30, 2009

Don’t we all, Tracy…Don’t we all…

Except that, over the last decade, misfortune has taught you—not to mention hundreds of thousands of other Americans, under different circumstances—that other things are more important, chief among them staying alive.

(Photo of Tracy Morgan taken at New York City's Union Square Barnes & Noble to discuss his book I Am the New Black, Oct.22, 2009, by David Shankbone.)

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Flashback, December 1971: Lennon’s Yule Classic, ‘Happy Xmas,’ Released

Released 50 years ago this week, while American soldiers were still dying in Vietnam, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” did not enjoy the kind of immediate success that John Lennon was used to. But the single from the ex-Beatle and wife Yoko Ono has since become a staple of the holidays.

The single was so melodic that some have decried it for sappiness. (Producer Phil Spector noted its resemblance to The Paris Sisters’ 1961 hit “I Love How You Love Me.”)

But Lennon wanted to leave listeners with more than the cheerful ditties that he, Paul, George and Ringo used to send each Christmas to members of members of their fan club.

As a religious skeptic who had caused a firestorm of controversy by claiming that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus,” he would not write a hymn to Christ the Redeemer. Likewise, he was uninterested in evoking the sleigh rides or winter landscapes that had increasingly filled the pop airwaves in the last few decades.

What he aimed for was, in part, a challenge—another attempt, like “Give Peace a Chance,” to attempt to rally sentiment against the Vietnam War through the power of music. His song’s refrain, “War is over (if you want it),” put to musical use a slogan of his “Bed in for Peace” protest with Yoko in late spring 1969.

The tune, recorded in late October 1971, came too late in the year for it to be promoted adequately in time for the Christmas season. (One singular exception: Lennon’s performance on the song in a December 16 appearance on The David Frost Show.)

From the last days of the Beatles through most of his decade as a solo artist, Lennon was engaged in a competition with Paul McCartney. One manifestation of that rivalry can be seen in their respective biggest Christmas hits as solo artists. Before he was murdered in 1980, it would not have been out of character for Lennon to compare his major solo Christmas song with McCartney’s, “Wonderful Christmastime.”

In the U.S., “Happy Xmas” peaked at number 36 on the Cash Box Top 100 Singles and number 28 on the Record World Singles Chart. Over in the U.K., matters were even worse, as a publishing-rights dispute between Lennon and music publisher Northern Songs led the song to be delayed for a year. “Wonderful Christmastime” didn’t do particularly well, either, in the U.S., reaching only number 83 on the Cash Box Top 100 Singles chart.

But in terms of how other artists how viewed the tunes, matters have shifted more decidedly Lennon’s way. The Website Second Hand Songs, which tracks song covers, lists approximately 100 interpretations of “Wonderful Christmastime” by other artists, versus more than 2 ½ times that amount for “Happy Christmas.”

The question of other artists’ interpretation of the song came to the forefront for me over 30 years after its release, when Sheryl Crow sang it live as part of the televised Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting in 2002. One year after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, with an attack on Iraq being prepared for the following year, Lennon’s call for collective responsibility (“Another year over/And what have we done?”) retained its melancholy undertone.

Nearly 30 years later, it still does, along with its appeal to universal brotherhood and the instinct for peace that crosses so many spiritual traditions.

Quote of the Day (Carl Safina, on Early December in Eastern Long Island)

“With a real frost in the air and a mad-dog bite to the wind, winter is no longer just a concept. A new moon has the tide kicked way up. Waves acting like winners at a poker table greedily pull piles of beach into their lap. On the south side, waterfront home owners are finding the water much closer. Many have lost up to a staggering twenty feet of land this autumn, and in places, sloping dunes that once led gently toward the beach have become ten-foot-high bluffs. Swept-away beach stairs and walkways have gotten hurled back at the crumbled dunes up and down the beach. And it’s not even officially winter yet; such has been the strange tantrum of a mostly warm autumn.”—American ecologist, nature writer—and MacArthur “genius” Fellow—Dr. Carl Safina, The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World (2011)

(Photo of Carl Safina taken by Carl’s Crew on Feb. 7, 2011.)