Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year's Eve 2016

Tradition and All That Jazz

This year I've decided to eschew the sort of Grand Summary that is so popular among writers on New Year's Eve. I did that sort of thing with last year's entry, so if that's your cup of tea you can go back and read it instead of today's. That entry also details my traditional New Year's Eve celebrations, if you're interested.

As for 2016 as a whole, here's a visual of my sense of it...

"What the actual fuck???"

My Bowl Season

Christmas/New Year's season is also college football bowl season. Even though the so-called "major" bowl games have yet to be played, for my own rooting interests the bowl season wrapped up yesterday

10-3 record, Commander-in-Chief's Trophy winners

The Air Force Falcons came from behind in the Arizona Bowl on Friday, winning 45-21 after scoring 24 unanswered points in the second half. The victory concluded a highly successful 10-3 season.

The teams for whom I root who went to bowl games this season wound up 3-1 in those games. Navy (9-5) lost the Armed Forces Bowl on a field goal as time expired, but Boston College (7-6) beat Maryland to win the Quick Lane Bowl, and Army (8-5) wrapped up their best season in 20 years by winning the Heart of Dallas Bowl in thrilling overtime fashion.

"You can't fool me! You're still going to watch all those other games, too!"

As a fan of the sport, sure...of course I'll be rooting for my best friend Skip's Penn State Nittany Lions in the Rose Bowl...and I suppose I'll grudgingly root for Iowa in the Outback Bowl as well...

Happy Birthday!

"The Goldfish," 1912

On December 31, 1869 Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse was born in Le Cateau-Cambrésis in northern France.

Although he studied law and worked for a time in the courts of his hometown, his life changed forever when a bout of appendicitis required a lengthy convalescence. His mother provided him with art supplies to help pass the time, and Matisse found his true passion. To the dismay of his parents, he abandoned the law for a career as an artist.

Matisse went on to become one of the most important figures in 20th century art. When I began decorating my classroom with fine art prints some years ago, there were several Matisse works which appealed to me, and now I have a number of them hanging in my apartment. I even have a Matisse coffee mug!

"Why is it that all of your favorite artists have such weird styles?"

I see no need  to defend my taste in art to a quadruped who spends much of his time with his snout jammed in an anthill...


Like many adults I will be imbibing some alcoholic beverages later this evening to celebrate the arrival of the New Year. The only issue to be decided is which alcoholic beverage...

It is possible that I might keep things simple by making myself
a few gin & tonics using one of my latest discoveries, the most excellent Aviation Gin, made in Oregon...

I may also go a more traditional (for me) route with the Vodka Collins, using Tito's Vodka (made in Texas, of all places)...

If it weren't for the fact that New Year's Day is also a Sunday I might treat myself to some good Scotch, but I don't want to oversleep...

Bowl Fatigue

From the pen of Henry Payne, whose editorial cartoons you should read often, as I do.

Until Next Year...

Of all of the songs associated with this time of year, the one I've had the most difficult time with is the classic "Auld Lang Syne." For most of my life I have struggled to find
a rendition that doesn't make me cringe.

The first version I ever remember hearing was the Guy Lombardo arrangement made famous on New Year's Eve telecasts when I was a kid. As I grew up, of course, that sort of schmaltzy treatment did nothing for me. Almost every instrumental version of the song I've ever heard either slavishly apes the Lombardo formula or goes for a bombastic orchestral style that seems inappropriate to me. While the occasion might be one of celebratory partying, the song isn't really about that at all.

It gets worse when you try to find a good vocal rendition. Virtually every singer who takes on the material feels obligated to "own" it with their particular stylistic touches, which can be everything from country & western nasal twang to melisma-drenched
pop diva nonsense. And there are few things worse than hearing non-Scots attempting the correct Scottish pronunciations of Robbie Burns's lyrics.

When preparing this section of last year's New Year's Eve entry, I came across a marvelous version of "Auld Lang Syne" by Scottish artist Dougie MacLean, on his album Tribute.

I had been a fan of MacLean's ever since his "The Gael" was used as the main theme for Trevor Jones's score for The Last of the Mohicans (easily my all-time favorite soundtrack), and his version of "Auld Lang Syne" is perfect: Gentle and quiet, with just the right sense of wistfulness Burns wished to convey, and with
a proper Scottish accent to boot.

When I began this blog one of my intentions was to avoid repetitions in this section, which is designed to share music which I love as a way to help others understand me. With only an occasional slip-up I have adhered to that goal, but for me there is simply no better "Auld Lang Syne" than this one, and I make no apologies for featuring it again.

Today's send-off is the original Tribute album track, from Dougie's YouTube channel. Enjoy...and remember...

Friday, December 30, 2016

New Year's Eve Eve

Thank Father Time It's Friday!

"I'll stay for the party tomorrow night, but then I'm out. I have HAD IT with you people!"


The world's most perfect meal?
Today is National Bacon Day, which is an observance near and dear to my heart.

For many years I have enjoyed
the sublime Belgian Waffle Combo
at Village Inn, and I have likely consumed bacon as part of that meal more often than in any other restaurant context. On occasion
I even dream about this meal,
when it has been too long since
I last treated myself to it...

"Why can't you dream about sex like a normal person?"

You underestimate just how much I love a good Belgian Waffle Combo, sir...

Bowl Binge

Today will be a day for binge-watching college football, beginning at 11:00 AM CST with the Liberty Bowl from Memphis, followed by the Sun Bowl from El Paso, the Music City Bowl from Nashville,
the Arizona Bowl from Tucson, and the Orange Bowl from Miami.

Only four of the ten teams involved in these games are ranked, and only one of them
is in the Top 10. My main interest is the Arizona Bowl, where my 9-3 Air Force Falcons will be playing.

"Aim High...Fly-Fight-Win!"

Uno ab alto, baby!


From the pen of Lisa Benson, whose editorial cartoons you should read often, as I do.

Until Next Time...

For much of my life I vigorously resisted any music that was described as "mellow," "smooth," "easy listening," etc. I preferred raucous guitars, brassy big bands, and powerful vocalists. Thus, I was never really a good candidate for recordings on the Windham Hill label that operated for about 20 years or so beginning just as I was graduating from college. By the time the label disappeared in the mid-90s following
a series of corporate acquisitions and transfers, their style of music had come to be called New Age, and had developed quite a following. That following just never included me.

It turned out to be an album of Christmas music that turned me around on Windham Hill and its associated artists.

In 2002 I happened to spot a copy of A Windham Hill Christmas on sale at one of the local record stores in St. Joseph, and bought it because it had a version of "The First Noël" by one of my favorite artists, the amazing W.G. Snuffy Walden.

As it turned out, I enjoyed the entire album very much, and its collection of traditional hymns and carols is firmly ensconced in my Christmas playlists. Really great stuff, and it is a shame the collection is currently unavailable in digital form.

Today's send-off is the album's charming instrumental rendition of the popular traditional carol "In Dulci Jubilo," by multi-instrumentalist Barbara Higbie and guitarist Nina Gerber, from Barbara's YouTube channel. Enjoy...

Thursday, December 29, 2016


Requiescat in Pace

Mother & daughter at charity fundraiser in 2003

Proving once again that fiction
can't hold a candle to real life, Hollywood icon Debbie Reynolds passed away yesterday at age 84, only one day after her daughter Carrie Fisher died at just age 60.

Reynolds, who was one of my early movie star crushes as a kid, lived a truly remarkable life both in and out of show business. She richly deserved the Lifetime Achievement Award she received from the Screen Actor's Guild in 2015 as well as the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award she received from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences earlier this year.

Carrie Fisher earned worldwide stardom for her role as Leia Organa in the Star Wars film franchise, but she did fine work in a number of other films, including The Blues Brothers and When Harry Met Sally... She was also a talented writer, publishing several novels and a stage play, and became one of the most highly sought-after "script doctors" in Hollywood. She was also acclaimed for her work as a mental health advocate and activist.

2016 has been a rough year for prominent deaths, rougher than most, but this particular pair of losses seems especially heart-rending. And, in a Hollywood twist that no screenwriter would risk, Debbie's last words were reportedly "I want to be with Carrie."

Me too, old friend...Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them...

Feast Day

Statue at St. Thomas' Hospital, London, by B. Child

Today we celebrate the feast day of St. Thomas Becket, named after
St. Thomas the Apostle, on whose feast day (December 21) he was born in 1119 (some sources say 1120).

Born into a relatively prosperous middle-class family, Becket's formal education was interrupted when his father suffered financial reversals and Becket began taking on household positions to bring in extra money.
His service to the Archbishop of Canterbury was so distinguished
that King Henry II selected Becket
to be his Lord Chancellor in 1155.

He excelled in that position as well, and in 1162 Henry elevated Becket himself to the vacant position of Archbishop of Canterbury, believing there would be political benefits to having his Chancellor also hold the highest clerical post in the kingdom.

Not long after his elevation, however, Thomas became an ascetic, resigning as chancellor and devoting himself wholly to the Church. This created friction between Henry and Thomas, which led to Thomas's murder at Canterbury Cathedral on December 29, 1170.

Thomas was both beatified and canonized on February 21, 1173 by Pope Alexander III. He is the patron of secular clergymen and of Exeter College, Oxford.

So, This Happened

"Noise? What noise? I don't understand the question."

Yesterday afternoon I had a fairly significant amount of (clear) water leak all over my guest bathroom hallway and entrance hallway before I noticed it was happening and got to the shutoff.

Earlier this morning the professionals showed up to extract the water from the carpet, disinfect just to be on the safe side, etc. That process was annoying enough, but now I have SIX of the bad boys shown above drying the carpet, and they have to stay on for THREE DAYS.

"On the plus side, I won't be able to hear you curse while you're watching football!"

And I won't be able to hear your smart-aleck color

Obama's Foreign Policy Legacy

From the pen of Chip Bok, whose editorial cartoons you should read often, as I do.

Until Next Time...

One of the first Christmas songs I learned in Catholic elementary school choir class was "Away In a Manger," one of the small handful of wholly American religious carols. It is also one of the most popular carols, being covered by dozens of recording artists over the years in almost every style and genre. Perhaps because of the way my own earliest acquaintance with it came about, I have always been fond of choral versions of the song, especially ones featuring childrens' voices.

The English all-boys' vocal ensemble Libera first came to my attention just a few years ago, when I heard their single "Sanctus" on a radio station one Sunday morning. I liked it so much I took the trouble to track down the group, and quickly became a fan. Their versions of sacred hymns in particular are quite powerful. 

In November 2013 the group released a special holiday album,
Angels Sing: Christmas in Ireland, which was recorded live on location
at historic St. Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh, Northern Ireland earlier that same year.

The set list ranged from classic sacred hymns like "Gaudete"
to modern secular favorites like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," all delivered with
the ensemble's trademark delicate treble harmonies.

Today's send-off is the official video of their performance of "Away In a Manger," from the ensemble's YouTube channel. Enjoy...

Wednesday, December 28, 2016


Happy Birthday, Hawkeye State!

On December 28, 1846 Iowa became the 29th state of the Union when President James K. Polk signed the bill formally admitting the former territory.

My own attachment to the Hawkeye State dates back to my birth here in 1953. All told, I've lived in Iowa for nearly 20 years, including the past 12, and some of the fondest experiences of my life have happened here.

"Home is where the heart is, eh?"

For me, at least, "home" is a complicated concept...but my affection for Iowa runs deep...

Literary Landmark

1973 paperback edition

On December 28, 1973 The Gulag Archipelago, the blistering indictment of the forced labor camp system employed in the Soviet Union, was first published in the West, in France. Not long afterward a thick paperback edition appeared in English, and almost everyone I knew at the time owned a copy.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn risked his life writing the book and smuggling it out of the Soviet Union. Early in 1974 he was deported, and he spent the next 20 years living in exile in the United States.

At the time of the book's publication, it was thought that the Soviet Union was going to be a permanent fixture in the geopolitical life of the world. It is one of God's graces that Solzhenitsyn lived to see the Berlin Wall come down and the Soviet Union itself dissolve. He returned to Russia in 1994 with his citizenship restored, and died in his beloved mother country. The brutal regime he revealed fully to the world has been on the ash heap of history for a quarter of a century now...

Pigskin Update

To this point my rooting interests
in college football's bowl season have made a good showing.

Navy suffered a tough loss to Louisiana Tech in the Armed Forces Bowl on a field goal as time expired, but Boston College beat Maryland 36-30 in the Quick Lane Bowl, and yesterday Army capped off their best season in twenty years with a hard- fought, exciting 38-31 overtime win in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Air Force plays Friday in the Arizona Bowl in Tucson, wrapping up the bowl slate for my rooting interests.

"Don't forget Penn State in the Rose Bowl!"

I haven't forgotten, but I root for them because they're Skip's favorite...I do hope they win, of course...

Christmas is About Family

From the droll comic strip Zits, by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman, which you should read every day, as I do.

Until Next Time...

The 19th century English carol "The Holly and the Ivy" is one of those popular Christmas songs whose origins are murky at best. The version with which most of us are familiar was first published in the early 20th century, but variants of the song's lyrics were appearing in print more than 100 years before that. The melody is said to be a traditional French carol, and was first paired with these lyrics in 1868.

In 2003 the English choral ensemble Mediæval Bæbes released Mistletoe & Wine, a collection of Christmas season music which included recordings from previous albums as well as new recordings made specifically for this project.

The collection included sacred classics like "Guadete" and "In Dulci Jubilo" as well as traditional favorites like "The Coventry Carol." One of the songs the group recorded especially for this project was their version of "The Holly and the Ivy."

Today's send-off is that recording of the song, complete with lyrics. Enjoy...

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


A Voice That Shall Be Missed

Yesterday brought the announcement by the incomparable Thomas Sowell that he was retiring from the business of writing his regular column for Creators Syndicate.

It isn't clear if this also means he is finished writing books, but I hope he isn't. He has written some of the most incisive and inspirational books in the history of conservative thought, and it would be a genuine shame if there were to be no more such contributions.

His "farewell" column published today is typical: sentimental without being maudlin, wise without being preachy, focused on the world as it is rather than as some wish it were.

Enjoy your well-earned leisure, sir...

Feast Day

St. John the Evangelist on Patmos, by Pieter Lastman

Today is the feast day of St. John the Apostle, also called St. John the Evangelist, one of the original Twelve Apostles of Jesus and the source of more texts in the New Testament than any other author.

In addition to the Gospel which bears his name, John is also credited with writing three epistles as well as the Book of Revelation.

Among his many patronages, John is the patron saint of love and friendship, of authors and editors, and of publishers and booksellers.

Speaking of Feasts

I have heard that there are people in the world who don't believe that an open-faced hot turkey sandwich is the best sandwich.

Such people are monsters...

May God bless you and your turkey leftovers
as 2016 comes to an end!

Pretty sure they have hot turkey sandwiches in Heaven, so I'm not worried...

Damned Zebras

From the pen of Henry Payne, whose editorial cartoons you should read often, as I do.

Until Next Time...

The interval between Christmas and New Year's Day will continue to feature seasonal music in this space, but with a somewhat less solemn tenor than in the days leading up to Christmas.

One of the most swinging bits of music on my Christmas playlist comes from my jazz hero Maynard Ferguson. Some time during 1956 saxophonist Willie Maiden, playing and arranging with Maynard's big band at the time, came up with a medley of seasonal music that came to be called "Christmas for Moderns." After performing the piece at seasonal gigs for a few years, Maynard recorded a version for the Roulette label that was supposed to be released as a single in 1960. A manufacturing defect resulted in a recall of the unplayable discs.

The recording didn't die with that snafu, however. Maynard's mentor Stan Kenton recorded A Merry Christmas! in 1961, and because they were worried about the commercial appeal of Kenton's highly experimental versions of traditional hymns and carols, Kenton's label Capitol Records chose to include Maynard's Christmas medley. Even now some jazz fans mistakenly credit Kenton with its creation, even though Ferguson hadn't played with Kenton's orchestra since 1953.

In 1993 Jazz Hour Records released Live at Peacock Lane, made from
a privately held recording of a gig Maynard and his band did at the famous venue on January 6, 1957. Because it featured what many fans consider his best ensemble, the Birdland Dream Band, it quickly became a favorite among Maynard fans around the world.

Among its treasures the album contained an early version of Maiden's "Christmas for Moderns" that was probably very close to the Roulette single. It consists of "Jingle Bells," "The First Noel," "White Christmas," "O Come All Ye Faithful," "The Christmas Song," "Silent Night" (sung by the band), and then "Jingle Bells" again for the finale.

Asked to make a contribution to his current label's Christmas album in 1996, Ferguson and his Big Bop Nouveau ensemble re-recorded the Maiden arrangement, although they called it "Christmas Medley" and made a couple of changes. This version opens with
"We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and omits "Silent Night," with "Jingle Bells" only appearing at the medley's finale.

Maynard's new version of an old fan favorite led off A Concord Jazz Christmas 2, one of the first compact disc albums I ever purchased. Great stuff.

Today's send-off is that 1996 incarnation of the medley, from the Big Bop Nouveau YouTube channel. Enjoy...

Monday, December 26, 2016

History Lessons

25 Years Gone

On December 26, 1991 the cause
of human freedom got a belated Christmas gift when the Orwellian Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was officially dissolved.

It was a particularly satisfying development for conservatives like me who had long resisted the idea that the Soviet Union was simply
a historical inevitability.

"So, did you you dance an Irish jig that day?"

I absolutely did, yes...

Feast Day

Statue of St. Stephen at Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, Paris

Today we celebrate the feast day
of St. Stephen, revered by Christians around the world as
the First Martyr.

Stephen was one of the original seven deacons of the Church chosen by the Twelve Apostles.
His death by stoning is recounted
in Acts of the Apostles 7:54-59,
and was witnessed by a young man named Saul who would later become St. Paul.

Among his many patronages Stephen is the patron of masons and bricklayers.

Merry Chiefsmas

Last night at Arrowhead Stadium my beloved Kansas City Chiefs gave their rain-soaked fans a Christmas gift with a convincing 33-10 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. The victory kept the Chiefs' hopes for an AFC West Division title alive, and completed a season sweep of the Broncos, something the Chiefs last accomplished 16 years ago. It also put an end to Denver's annoying five-game winning streak at Arrowhead.

Neither the steady rain nor memories of last week's gut-wrenching, last-second defeat could dampen the enthusiasm of Chiefs Nation.

As usual, the noise generated by
the crowd induced some false start penalties on the Broncos...

"Now THAT'S what I'm talkin' about!"

On offense, Pro Bowl TE Travis Kelce, who expressed displeasure about not being targeted much in last week's discouraging home loss to the Titans, had the best game of his career. Kelce caught 11 passes for 160 yards, both Chiefs records for a TE in a single game. One of
his catches was an electrifying 80-yard TD reception.

The Chiefs also rushed for 238 yards and two TDs against the vaunted Broncos defense. The 12 points they scored last night were their first 2nd half points in their last three home games.

Chiefs NT Dontari Poe even got into the act on offense, throwing a TD pass on a wild gimmick play in the 4th quarter.

"Merry Christmas, schnook!"

The Chiefs defense, even without Pro Bowl LBs Justin Houston and Derrick Johnson, completely dominated the Broncos and their second-year QB Trevor Siemian, who gained only 246 yards and turned the ball over 3 times. Denver had just 21:59 in time-of-possession and was forced to punt 7 times.

"That was a nice 'stocking stuffer' Skip's team gave your team, eh?"

Yes, it beating the Ravens earlier in the day Skip's beloved Steelers not only clinched the AFC North championship, they clinched a playoff spot for the Chiefs as well, which took a lot of the pressure off of them against the Broncos...frankly it was the least the Steelers could do after clobbering the Chiefs back in October...

Horror Landmark

Original 1973 "one sheet" poster
On December 26, 1973 the much- anticipated William Friedkin film  
The Exorcist debuted, and promptly
became a box office sensation.

I tell people all the time that you've never really seen this movie unless you've seen it in a proper movie theater. And even then,
it is now impossible to recreate the effect
it had on audiences back then because
so many of the film's groundbreaking storytelling techniques have become commonplace.

Is The Exorcist the scariest movie ever made? I suppose there can't be a definitive answer to that question, since we lack objective criteria with which to find one.
I do know that there are two kinds of people in the world: People who think The Exorcist belongs in that conversation, and people who are wrong.

The World We Live In

From the pen of Chip Bok, whose editorial cartoons you should read often, as I do.

Until Next Time...

December 26 is the second day of Christmastide, and is closely associated with the popular carol "Good King Wenceslas" because the story told in that song takes place
on December 26, the feast of St. Stephen.

As is often the case with popular Christmas carols, "Good King Wenceslas" is the product of lyrics combined with a popular traditional melody written long before. In this case, the 1853 lyrics by Anglican priest John Mason Neale were combined with a 13th century carol first published in Piae Cantiones nearly 300 years earlier.

Nowadays it is far more common to hear instrumental versions of the carol from popular groups like Canadian Brass and Mannheim Steamroller, but from time to time
I also come across a really good choral version.

In November 2015 the Danish National Vocal Ensemble released Let the Angels Sing, a collection
of traditional European Christmas songs. Renowned recorder artist Michala Petri joined the group for the project and subsequent tour.

Although the album includes familiar Christmas fare like
"God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" and "Coventry Carol," it is mostly a collection of delightful songs largely unfamiliar to American audiences.

Today's send-off is the ensemble's live performance of "Good King Wenceslas," filmed at their Christmas concert on December 11, 2015. Enjoy...

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Day 2016

Soggy Start

When I left for 8:00 AM Christmas Mass this morning it was still dark outside, but it had already started to rain, as forecast...

...and it was still raining steadily
by the time I got home. I suppose there's nothing that says "Iowa Weather" more than having
a thunderstorm on Christmas Day, but that's what we got.

"Could have been a LOT worse, you know."

Oh, I know...believe me, I'm grateful for the warmer temperatures, and Rose Red needed a bath anyway...

Christmas Morning

Yesterday evening at sunset the Advent season ended, and Christmastide began.

Today we light all of the candles in our wreath, including the white Christ Candle in the center, symbolizing that the Son of God has been born and is now among us.

Christmas Mass

As usual, the altar society ladies at St. Peter's did a marvelous job with the Christmas decorations...

Christmas Candy

By tradition, as soon as I return home after Christmas Mass, I allow myself my first piece of Christmas candy.

This year I didn't stock up as much as in years past, but I do have a few pieces of Russell Stover dark chocolate singles (a little taste of Kansas City), as well as a box of Haviland Thin Mints with dark chocolate and raspberry.

I left the candy on the table just inside my apartment door, so I was able to enjoy my first treat as I was hanging up my coat...

"Well it's not chocolate-covered ants, but it looks pretty good."

It is indeed, old friend...candy always tastes better on Christmas morning somehow...

Really, POTUS, You Shouldn't Have

From the insightful pen of Michael Ramirez, whose editorial cartoons you should read often, as I do.

Until Next Time...

One of the most popular songs this time of year, especially on Christmas morning, is "Joy To the World," reputedly the most-published hymn in North America. As we do every year, at St. Peter's this morning we sang it at 8:00 AM Christmas Mass.

The lyrics were originally written
in the early 18th century by Isaac Watts, and the now-familiar musical setting (frequently mis-attributed to Handel) was added in the early 19th century.

Although it has been recorded hundreds of times by artists in every musical genre, "Joy To the World"
is one of those songs that just never sound quite right to me unless sung by a choral ensemble or choir.

Today's send-off is a stirring performance of the hymn by the music department at George Fox University, filmed live at their annual Christmas concert in 2012. Enjoy...