End of the week link roundup

I’m writing this in the back seat of our minivan on my iPhone, surrounded by a pair of Bichons who don’t travel well. So links are what you’re going to get. 

IBM: Migrating security to the cloud: a model for Total Cost of Ownership. I thought I had seen all the models for savings from adopting SaaS products, but this one adds a few factors I hadn’t considered. 

Aeon: Why bullshit is no laughing matter. In passing, this article uses tweets by Deepak Chopra to illustrate the qualities of BS and calls out some reliable signs of it: “The words … are unnecessarily complex, and the intended meanings are not obviously clear. Perhaps the tweets have been constructed to impress rather than inform. Chopra might have used vagueness as a tool to elicit profundity.”

Doom and Gloom from the Tomb: Invisible Hits 2016. Roundup of interesting Pitchfork articles from the bootleg folks. 

Smithsonian: Listen to JRR Tolkien read songs and poems from the Lord of the Rings. Um, yes please. 

Evaluating Paul Goodloe McIntire

Following yesterday’s link regarding the possible fate of the Confederate war statues donated to the City of Charlottesville by Paul Goodloe McIntire, I thought it might be worthwhile to dig a little deeper. Was McIntire, a huge donor to both the city and the University of Virginia, a virulent racist like composer and white supremacist John Powell

It seems many have been asking the same question, and as you might expect the evidence of his intent is a little murky. 

Let’s start with the facts. McIntire, after having made his fortune on the New York Stock Exchange, returned home to Charlottesville and started giving away that fortune. In addition to the school of fine arts, the amphitheater, and other gifts to UVA, he donated land and money for parks in Charlottesville, including two white-only parks (Belmont Park and McIntire Park). At the same time he donated the land for McIntire Park, he also donated the land for the all-black Washington Park.

Was he on the side of white supremacy? Or was he simply endowing all Charlottesville’s citizens, black or white, within the scope of the prevailing legal framework of “separate but equal”?

It’s hard to say. An article in CVille Weekly notes that “he did invite the Confederate Veterans, Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy to plan the statue’s [Lee’s] unveiling.” But given the heavy concentration of Confederate veterans in Virginia, was this like inviting the Klan or only like inviting the Disabled American Veterans?

I don’t know if we will ever get a good answer on this, given that people like Ben Railton and Waldo Jaquith have been plumbing it since 2009. But it’s worth continuing to remind ourselves that many who have been held up as civic heroes were also products of their times. And, with Railton, to remember that we have many public spaces dedicated to the narrow Confederate view of history, and to call for more reminders of how life was on the other side. 

Your daily “past isn’t even past” update

Cavalier Daily: Final report on Confederate memorials presented to city. Interesting tension between moving the statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and recontextualizing them, with some unusual voices on both sides. 

Interesting, too, to note the association of both statues within a historically segregated park and the donor of both statues and park, namely Paul McIntire, also a major donor to the University of Virginia. 

Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance

Carrie Fisher with Paul Simon, from People magazine

Yes, of course I’m sad about the loss today of Carrie Fisher, probably my first preteen crush and certainly my first model of a strong female lead. (At least in A New Hope.) And then she was my first seriously funny, seriously damaged novelist (I read Postcards from the Edge in high school), and later a kind of shamanic touchstone in any movie in which she appeared. But the main thing is she was there, fiercely telling critics even this year to blow her. As more people who seemed eternal verities in our cultural hoard are taken by 2016, of course I want to roar.

But I’m also wistful. Paul Simon, Fisher’s ex husband and longtime friend, in some ways eulogized her best in songs on Hearts and Bones, Graceland, and Rhythm of the Saints, the youngest of which is now over 25 years old. And today I think about “Hearts and Bones”:

Thinking back to the season before

Looking back through the cracks in the door

Two people were married

The act was outrageous

The bride was contagious

She burned like a bride

These events may have had some effect

On the man with the girl by his side

The arc of a love affair

His hands rolling down her hair

Love like lightning, shaking till it moans

Hearts and bones

And “Train in the Distance”:

The thought that life could be better

Is woven indelibly

Into our hearts

And our brains

And “Graceland”:

She comes back to tell me she’s gone

As if I didn’t know that

As if I didn’t know my own bed

As if I never noticed

The way she brushed her hair from her forehead

And she said “Losing love is like a window in your heart

Everybody sees you’re blown apart

Everybody feels the wind blow”

And “She Moves On”:

And she says “maybe these emotions are as near to love as love will ever be”

So I agree

The moon breaks

She takes a corner, that’s all she takes, she moves on.

Dammit. And now I want to read her autobiography and hear her side of the story.

Merry Christmas from 1953



Part of the 1953 Virginia Spectator Christmas issue (previous posts here and here) was a set of mildly off-color Christmas woodcuts showing the life of the Baron Soppenscotten, who appears to have had a good deal in common with the students at UVa during the period. This is definitely the most elaborate art published on the theme in any UVa magazine I’ve seen. And what is Christmas, after all, without a little gluttony and drunkenness? (I know: it’s Christmas.)

“… or, I saw Donner Kissing Santa Claus”


I first wrote about the questionable treasures and pseudo-carols locked within the December 1953 “Misplaced Mistletoe” issue of the Virginia Spectator back in June, but with Christmas only a few days away it seems high time to revisit the book. Having gotten the clean carols out of the way early, here’s one of the more questionable numbers, “Sexual Misbehavior of a Female Reindeer, or I Saw Donner Kissing Santa Claus.”


I saw Donner kissing Santa Claus
It was really Mommy dressed to kill
Dear Mother looked so queer
In the costume of a deer,
With furry antlers from her front
A tail from out her rear!
Then I saw Donner licking Santa’s paws,
Mommy’s eyes just never had that look.
It wasn’t mother, costume-clad,
‘Twas Donner deer seducing Dad!
Doctor Kinsey, where in hell’s that book?

More from North Carolina

Jedediah Purdy: North Carolina’s Partisan Crisis. Great article in the New Yorker running down the “torch the place on the way out” law passed at the behest of outgoing Republican governor Pat McCrory to restrict the powers of the incoming Democratic governor, Roy Cooper.

Purdy makes the argument that the real crisis is not the restriction of powers, but the steady erosion of the Republican Party’s moral authority in North Carolina. To which I say, Gee, ya think? The gerrymandering that led to the creation of 28 illegal House and Senate districts to disenfranchise minority voters; the 2013 voting law that attempted to restrict black franchise by reducing early voting hours, eliminating same-day registration, and raising barriers to ballot access; the 2012 state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, later ruled unconstitutional; the March 2016 “bathroom law” that placed trans people in real jeopardy by seeking to induce moral panic; the repeal of the Racial Justice Act; the refusal of Medicaid expansion.

There is no vision of serving the needs of the people in this legislative agenda. This is naked will to power, mean-spirited suppression of minority interests, and complete indifference to the protection of underprivileged minority groups. I look forward to seeing what Cooper can do to restore some sanity to the state’s government, but he faces a Republican legislature that surely will run the Mitch McConnell playbook in refusing to govern.

(This is the problem, by the way, with the “practical guide” put forth by the Indivisible folks. If each side engages in total trench warfare without putting forth an adult policy alternative, we’ll be trapped rudderless in windless seas as the disasters of the 21st century bear down on us. We need to be able to govern this nation.)

Here’s hoping, though, that there are a few grownups left in the Tar Hell State.

The Pogo issue of the Virginia Spectator

I’m one step further along on my ultimate UVa checklist. Last week I received my copy of the February 1951 Virginia Spectator, the one with the cover by Pogo artist Walt Kelly showing Pogo and Albert the Alligator trying to sell ice cream to all the college students and their dates trysting in the serpentine walls at the University of Virginia.

I hope I find time to scan bits of the magazine in the next few weeks.

“Go tell it on the mountain”

I’ve been writing about Christmas carols and songs embedded in a Boston Pops arrangement called “Songs from the Hill Folk” that ends the first half of this year’s Holiday Pops program. Unlike the other songs in the medley, the final one, “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” was not collected (or written) by John Jacob Niles, but it was collected—by the first African American folk song collector, John Wesley Work, Jr. (And probably partly written by him too; it’s hard to tell with these things.)

Work was born after the Civil War in Nashville, Tennessee, and graduated from Fisk University. He did post graduate work at Harvard and the University of Chicago, but in between returned to Fisk as a professor. In 1907 he published New Jubilee Songs and Folk Songs of the American Negro, which contained the first publication of “Go, Tell It On the Mountain.” 

He was also active with the Fisk Jubilee Singers and other singing groups, leading a concert tour through the south. Some credit the Jubilee Singers’ at-first-reluctant embrace of public performance of spirituals (which were then thought to be a shameful product of slavery) with the financial survival of the university. 

The song’s text has proved elastic over the years, as some of these alternate verses illustrate:

When I was a seeker

I sought both night and day.

I ask de Lord to help me,

An’ He show me de way.

He made me a watchman

Upon the city wall,

An’ if I am a Christian

I am the least of all.

But it has been Work’s stanzas, based on the Christmas story in Luke, that have proven the most resilient. 

Except during the Civil Rights era. Then, protesters replaced “Jesus Christ is born” in the song’s chorus with “Let my people go,” and added entirely new verses to the song, such as “Who’s that yonder dressed in red?/Let my people go/Must be the children Bob Moses led/Let my people go.” So the song that once helped to save Fisk University, that historic center of African American culture, was pressed into service to help save the whole race from segregation and racism. 

Conflicts of interest #1: Trump Hotel in the Old Post Office

TPM: Federal agency warns Trump he must give up DC hotel before inauguration. It has long galled me that Trump took over the Old Post Office space, which I thought as a young visitor to DC was one of the most amazing places to visit in the nation’s capital.

Turns out, the GSA thinks his ownership is problematic, but for a different reason: there’s a clause in the lease contract that says no elected official of the US may have a say in or benefit from the lease of the property. So they’re advising Trump he needs to fully divest the hotel before his inauguration.

I think this is just the first real manifestation of what will be a long series of conflicts of interest between Trump’s business dealings and his job as our head of state. It’ll be interesting to see how this proceeds.

Follow up: iOS 10.2 fixes my gripes with Music

Yesterday’s iOS 10.2 update appears to address the two most nagging problems I had with the original iOS 10 Music App, including the discoverability of the Repeat and Shuffle controls and the temporary disappearance of star ratings.

Which is a big relief. Because I’m here to tell you that Siri was very capable of misunderstanding instructions like “give this song four stars.”

Thanks, Apple, for paying attention to the feedback.

“Kentucky Wassail”

As I’ve written about other Christmas songs featured by the Boston Pops this month, I at first left off “Kentucky Wassail” because there didn’t seem to be as much to say about it. But on reflection it’s worthy of a note in its own right.

Like “Jesus, Jesus, rest your head” and “The Seven Joys of Mary,” “Kentucky Wassail” was collected by Appalachian singer-songwriter and folk collector John Jacob Niles (his performance is here on Spotify). Folk songs vary from region to region and tend to drift in melody and lyric, but even so, as Hymns and Carols of Christmas notes, there are points of resemblance to the “Somerset Wassail” and the “Gloucestershire Wassail.”

The family resemblance is likely due to the nature of the wassail song. It wasn’t performed in parlors or churches, but was sung out in the cold by revelers visiting from house to house. While wassailing may have originated as a pagan rite of propitiation to encourage the apple trees to bear fruit for cider (no, seriously!), its more well known use was by villagers while making their “luck visits.” The verse in the Kentucky Wassail about the “good man, good wife, are you within… think of us singing in the muck and mire” has its roots in a song from Jacobean England that might have been heard by Shakespeare: “Good master and mistress,/While you’re sitting by the fire,/Pray think of us poor children,/Who are wandering in the mire.”

The tradition of the luck visit was part of the overall English tradition of the Christmas misrule, in which the poorer villagers went to the houses of the wealthy to drink them a toast from the wassail-bowl and wish them good health with the expectation of a tip. The well-wishing is the linguistic origin of “wassail,” from the Old English wæs (þu) hæl (“be you healthy or whole”). But woe betide the wealthy gentleman who did not give generously to the wassailers! Hymns and Carols notes:

“the practice of wassailing has degenerated into nothing short of armed home invasions. The banning of Christmas altogether in both England and the American colonies by the Puritans and Pilgrims were, in small part, a reaction to these and other excesses (certainly larger theological issues were at work which led to the English Civil War)… In the early 1800s in New York, prominent citizens were very concerned about such practices (which also featured such actions as gunfire, drunkenness, sexual licentiousness, excessive gambling, and riots…). It was their desire to take Christmas off the streets and into the homes. The evolution of Christmas practices in those years was a direct result. One change was from ‘wassailing’ (and a wassail bowl containing alcoholic beverages) to ‘caroling’ (which was more likely rewarded with hot chocolate, cookies, and the like).”

The important question: what was it like? Apparently the earliest wassails were spiced hard cider, but over time ale-based and wine-based varieties evolved. I like this version from Alton Brown which uses ale, apples, spices, and some eggs for body, and also this “lambswool” variant.

The long way around the sea

Christmas is a complicated time for me. On the one hand, I love the holiday—tree, lights, carols, smiling kids, what’s not to love?

On the other hand… the weeks before and after the solstice are the hardest weeks of the year for me. I’m prone to fits of the Black Dog at odd times but it hits especially hard in these dark days of the year.

I’ve been reading Comet in Moominland to The Boy for a few weeks. He didn’t quite get hooked on the Moomins with Finn Family Moomintroll, but the narrative sweep of the journey of Moomintroll, Sniff and Snufkin (not to mention the Snork Maiden) to learn about the approaching comet and then try to get home, where “Moominmama will know what to do,” seems to resonate. And last night I found an image that resonated for me within its pages.

The wanderers are on their way back home but are challenged on the journey because the hot approaching comet has boiled away much of the water. This is a subtheme for a few chapters, which talk about streams running low, until they get to the ocean and find it’s gone.

They can’t cross the ocean on a boat—no water. They can’t cross it on foot—they’ll get mired in the muck that was the ocean floor. So they cross it on stilts.

It feels like that sometimes. You can’t get down too close to things because you’ll get trapped in the muck. So you have to approach them at a distance, or else (as Low once sang) take the long way around the sea.