חג פסח שמח
This blog has been fairly silent due to a combination of real life and three long-form writing projects.
The first project, a quirky music-themed romance novel called “On Different Strings”, is currently being copy-edited, and should hit the Kindle Store sometime next month. I will post one or more teaser chapters later, or create a separate author blog for that purpose.
For the second project, an espionage thriller, I have laid down the “draft zero” (a.k.a. the ‘piano and vocal demo’). Individual chapters are being passed around to FB friends for critiquing.
The third project, currently half written, is a murder mystery involving the protagonists from On Different Strings as sleuths.
The kind of entertainment fiction I like best almost invariably entails some degree of genre crossover: my ambition is to ‘write the books I’d like to read’ in this regard. One recommendation to beginning fiction writers is “write what you know”, so one doesn’t either get mired down in research, or write howlers. Indeed, for my initial forays into fiction writing, I am sticking to settings and subject matter I am intimately familiar with.
This has been a great learning experience. I would not be able to pull this off without a little (more like: a lot) of help from my friends in cyberspace. The greatest challenge has been learning the rules of a game that is radically different from the type of technical nonfiction writing I do for work. There, one wants things to be as clear, unambiguous, and comprehensive as you can, yet also as concise as possible — everything else can be sacrificed to that. A storyteller’s goal is to entertain one’s readers: that often means deliberately leaving things open and ambiguous to the end (or leaving them to the reader’s imagination entirely) — and sacrificing everything for the sake of the story if need be. It also means leaving some things to the reader’s imagination — the very last thing I’d want to do in my day job.
Exodus were/are a band in the Bay Area thrash metal scene. Two former lead guitarists of the band moved on to greater things: Kirk Hammett of course joined Metallica, while Gary Holt recently replaced the late Jeff Hannemann (RIP) in Slayer.
I’m not a huge Exodus fan, but via Facebook, I found this hidden gem. It’s more melodic than their usual fare, and has a country tinge to it too. But aside from the splendid lead break, the lyrics will hit home to anybody who has ever seen depression and one of its classic symptoms, suicidal ideation, up close.
Without further ado:
Would that this Daily Mail article were an April Fools joke. (The story was earlier reported by the Belgian press in French and in Dutch. I tweeted the coverage in Le Soir.)
In an astonishing open letter, the officers said they have warned about the terrorist sympathisers whose security badges give them access to planes, but they remain employed.
The airport police, who are threatening to go on strike because of security deficiencies, also said they have raised the issue of terrorists scouting the airport to plan possible attacks.
Police at Brussels airport have claimed at least 50 Islamic State supporters are working there as baggage handlers, cleaners and catering staff. […]
The extraordinary claims come after the Mail reported how the family of two of the bombers involved in the attacks last week said they had worked as cleaners at the airport.[…]
The officers said they had raised suspicions about certain staff members including those who apparently celebrated after the Paris attacks in November that killed 130 people.
‘When we checked these people, we were surprised more than once. It was men with a radical ideology and a long police history,’ the officers continued.
‘Even today, there are at least 50 supporters of the Islamic state who work at the airport. They have a security badge and have access to the cockpit of a plane.
And get this:
An uncle of Ibrahim and Khalid el-Bakraoui last week told how the brothers had been employed at the airport and would have gained intimate knowledge of the terminal destroyed in the carnage.
The man, who asked not to be named, told the Mail: ‘They worked cleaning at the airport and in a restaurant. They didn’t finish high school in the end. They cleaned the airport in the summer months.’
Read the whole thing and weep: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3517493/At-FIFTY-ISIS-supporters-working-baggage-handlers-cleaners-catering-staff-Brussels-airport-claim-police.html#ixzz44apMn9HM
It is high time to bring back the “pole of shame” (schandpaal), the Belgian equivalent of the pillory. On second thought, perhaps the Schwedentrunk would be more fitting…
“Belgium suffers from political AIDS in the literal sense of the word” (La Belgique souffre du SIDA politique au sens étymologique du mot.) [Acquired Immune-Deficiency Syndrome, Ed.]
[…] The fate of all mankind I see
Is in the hands of fools
Confusion will be my epitaph
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back and laugh
But I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying…
PS: lest you think that Islamofascism is only a threat to the West, and not to non-Islamists elsewhere, think again.
PPS: French intellectual celebrity Bernard-Henri Levy, himself threatened by extremists from Belgium: Europe might be dying.
Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light…
UPDATE 3: Belgian soldiers standing on guard had no bullets. As “Dianne” quipped on Facebook, “it’s like a bad Monty Python skit”.
UPDATE 4: A penpal in Belgium sent me this article in Het Nieuwsblad (in Dutch), in which former Belgian minister of justice Marc Verwilghen reveals that his prior attempts to institute even limp-wristed anti-terrorist measures were blocked by former PM Elio di Rupo (Socialist Party chairman at the time, as well as alleged “Wicked Uncle Ernie“) and his party comrade, deputy PM Laurette Onkelinx, as “racist” and “creating stateless persons”.
Chris Nuttall on how traditional book publishers are making themselves irrelevant, and how for indies, Amazon is basically the only game in town.
Scene one: At a reception at an unnamed organization, as I was talking shop with a few colleagues, I overheard conversation from the next cluster of people over. They were discussing churches being repurposed as libraries, discos, shops, a hotel, and, increasingly… mosques. What struck me (as an non-Christian who largely grew up in Europe) was not that they were discussing this matter. It was the perfunctory tone in which they did so — as if the subject matter was the rainy weather or a 10% increase in the price of vegetables.
Scene two: a number of people — card-carrying New Class members, what else? — lamenting the “xenophobia” of the common ‘native-born’ people. Needless to say, they live in neighborhoods that are largely insulated from the mass ‘refugee’ wave and its fallout.
Scene three: a former mail carrier in his eighties struck up a conversation with me, after he figured out I was fluent in his language and familiar with the country. He pointed out that, while he had a sizable pension after his 45 years of service, a refugee family that had just moved in across the street got more in welfare payments than his , plus a nearly rent-free house.
The man pointed out he had voted Socialist all his life. But he was so sick and tired of being called a ‘racist’ for even mild criticism on Muslim refugees that he was switching his allegiance to a shady far-right party I myself never would want any truck with. Upon being queried, he basically said: ‘if they’re gonna call me a racist anyway’
Now if I had a Euro for every time in five days I’d heard variations on this theme: “if the Eurocrats and media are gonna brand us racists anyway, we might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb”, I could have at least paid for a roundtrip flight. Behold the incentive structure the New Class has created.
When things blow up, it will not be pretty. Having largely grown up in Europe, this is heart-wrenching to see.
In some countries, conservative-leaning politicians are trying to stem the tide by reforms that aim at eliminating the worst abuses and at stanching the fiscal hemorrhage from a generally unsustainable welfare state. One such party leader, Bart De Wever of the Belgian N-VA party, actually has the audacity to invoke Edmund Burke — the father of modern conservatism — as an intellectual founding father. One can only hope he and others like him can offer an alternative to, on the one hand, mindless ‘multicul’, and on the other hand, ‘blood-and-soil’ thinking that might lead Europe down equally dark alleys.
Any glimmer of hope is welcome. It is two minutes to midnight.
The Unaffordable Dontcare Act at work. Whatever bad stories you’ve heard about it are wrong. The reality is WORSE.
Sometimes I forget how lucky I am. I have a wonderful job I love that pays me well and keeps me intellectually stimulated. I have health insurance paid, in part, by my employer. It isn’t fabulous, but it gets the job done, and I’m sure that if I ever wound up deathly ill, my family wouldn’t be financially broken.
Sometimes I forget to be grateful.
A friend of mine is an incredible intellect, who unfortunately lost his full-time job last year, and with it his health insurance coverage. The following is his account of his experience with healthcare.gov.
The website seized up four times, but finally we were able to make our application. We never got to the marketplace, because my salary as a part time adjunct was so low, we automatically qualified for Medicaid.
I want to stress this point. We never got to the marketplace because the system automatically…
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Mark Perry discusses the failure of socialism. Among the cardinal features he singles out is the fact that, if you allow me to translate him into engineering lingo, the system is “not robust”: all it takes for the system to fail is a few people behaving like, well, jerks. In contrast, imperfect as capitalism may be, it’s the equivalent of a piece of machinery that only works “well enough”, but keeps going and going even if severely abused — a “robust” design.
Aside from that, Perry particularly stresses the role of incentives. Now if I’m ever asked to summarize economics while standing on one foot (the Talmudic version of “give an elevator pitch”), I’d say: “Humans respond to incentives. All the rest is commentary.” I am sure Steven Levitt would like this as a summary of his bestselling “Freakonomics” series.
Periodically, people bring up the Israeli kibbutzim in this debate — socialists as an example of “socialism that works”, detractors of Israel (when speaking to conservative or libertarian audiences) as a reason to dislike Israel. Few of them actually have any familiarity with life on a kibbutz.* Unlike them, I have plenty of current and former kibbutzniks around me, and I’ve lived in a kibbutz-like community in the past.
In fact, they are remarkably similar to medieval monasteries from a socio-economic point of view, except of course for the enforced celibacy and religious orientation. Allow me to elaborate on this point a bit. For those interested in more detail, Stanford University economist Ran Abramitzky has published a number of very interesting papers on the subject just as this one and that one.
Some of the points old-school kibbutzim and monasteries (both quasi-socialist micro societies, at least historically) have in common:
For all the talk about them, it might be hard to believe that kibbutzim only account for a few percent of Israel’s population. Aside from speaking to the imagination, they played a larger-than-life role in Israel’s founding, and still are heavily represented in IDF combat units and in the political scene.
Considering the value that left-wingers attach to “diversity”, Dr. Abramitzky rightly points out that kibbutzim are just about the least “diverse” society one can imagine. Separate kibbutz movements existed for hardline socialists (HaKibbutz HaArtzi), moderate socialists (TAKA”M, Hebrew acronym for United Kibbutz Movement) and religious kibbutzim (HaKibbutz HaDati). Ideological rifts within a kibbutz can end, and have ended, in kibbutz splits — Ein Harod being a prominent example.
The membership of most kibbutzim were nearly wall-to-wall Ashkenazim of Central and Eastern European background — moreover, the founding gar’in (“core” [membership group]) of a kibbutz often all hailed from the same town! A few carefully vetted members of different origins might gain admission, or a like-minded group of such people might found a kibbutz of their own. A few individual kibbutzim were formed by somewhat ‘out there’ communities: Hararit, for instance, was originally founded by a group of Transcendental Meditation devotees. (She-yihyu bri’im/”bless their hearts”.)
There are a few really large kibbutzim, such as Giv`at Brenner (secular, about 1,700) or Kvutzat Yavne (religious, about 1,100). But more typically, membership is in the range of a couple hundred — which Dr. Abramitzky points out is near the limit of the human mind’s ability to process personal relationships. Kibbutzim that grow larger than that may eventually see rifts or be weakened by attrition — or a gar`in would form and a new kibbutz would be established elsewhere.
The model of “from each voluntary and vetted member according to their abilities, to everyone according to their needs and our resources” worked, after a fashion, until the 1980s. Worldwide economic changes that made agriculture and light industry less profitable were one factor. The second (sometimes third) generation of kibbutzniks being born into a model they had not taken upon themselves voluntarily was another. Many kibbutzim started experiencing an exodus of young people, particularly the talented and ambitious ones.
The 1980s financial “Kibbutz Crisis” forced most kibbutzim to reform in order to stave off bankruptcy. Some were privatized outright and turned into community villages that just retain “Kibbutz” as part of their name. The remainder exist in one of three models:
A few “urban kibbutzim” have been founded in recent years, where members voluntarily associate into such a form of living in an urban setting. Some of these groups are a little weird (centering around ecological or “alternative” obsessions), others more mainstream. The key word is, however, voluntary. Such “socialism” is not scalable to a large and diverse country of inhabitants mostly by birth rather than choice.
To the extent the kibbutz/monastery form of “socialism” ever worked, it did so because it was voluntary, vetted, tightly knit, and in tune with local economic circumstances. When one or more of these factors no longer pertained, it had no choice but to transform or disappear.
(*) Footnote: a kibbutz should not be confused with a moshav, which is an agricultural community organized as a smallholders’ cooperative.
I have been filled with a sense of foreboding recently.
The lib-left Inner Party has been overreaching and playing with fire. Soon they may get a reward they never bargained for, and the rest of us may get a cure that is as bad as the disease.
When you have insanity like this going on (just the most recent of heaps of examples)
And anybody who speaks up is shouted down by tarring them with the “R”, “S”, or “H” scarlet letters, eventually people get so angry that they will glom onto the first demagogue who dares say out loud what they themselves are thinking, and who does not try to wish the elephant in the room away (or worse, play a shell game with it).
Furthermore, when you keep trying to muzzle people by speciously accusing them of being “racists”, “sexists”, “homophobes”,… eventually some will say “I may as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb” and join truly unsavory elements.
All of this is utterly predictable to anyone with an elemental feel for mass psychology. Hence the rise of a blowhard demagogue like Trump. Note that I am not accusing him of being the R, S, or H words – I think Trump’s entire ideology starts and ends with his own 0bama-sized ego. Nature abhors a vacuum, Trump saw it, filled the void, and is obtaining the narcissistic supply from it he seeks. Think of the “Mirror, Mirror” episode of Star Trek (TOS), and what 0bama would look like in the parallel universe where Spock had a beard.
Trump may not get the nomination. If he does, he stands a very serious chance of being elected. Contrary to the prejudices of some, this prospect is giving many constitutional conservatives sleepless nights. A number of years ago, a dystopian novel named “Caliphate” (Baen Free Library Link) was published which prefigured not only the rise of an ISIS-like movement but also the rise to power of a populist politician who promptly proceeds to use the legal and bureaucratic tools put in place by his lib-left predecessor against the ones who created them in the first place.
And that is just the US. In Europe, I see similar things happening. Sane liberals, moderates, and constitutional conservatives alike watch in horror as a three-cornered psychodrama unfolds: between an ever more delusional looney left out-virtue-signaling each other; an ever more psychotic Islamofascism; and a yearning for/resurgence of authoritarian populist-right strongmen.
Cinema buffs may know the following eerie Chopin Prelude (No. 2 in A minor) from the Ingmar Bergman movie “Autumn Sonata”. All the preludes were given nicknames in Hans von Bülow’s edition (e.g. the “Raindrop” for No. 15 in Db major). This one was given the heading “Todesahnung”, German for “foreboding of death”.
I’m a natural “dark optimist” — worried about things that can go wrong, wanting to stitch in time to save nine, but fundamentally with a deep sense thing will turn out alright in the end.
But like in the hoary Jewish joke, “you think it’s easy being an optimist?”
The same sort of hidebound small-mindedness that is decimating the music industry is now doing the same for publishing. Meanwhile, production values of Big Five books keep declining while those of indie books keep improving. Another chapter in the Chronicle of a Death Foretold
It continues to amaze me that now, years after e-books became a viable alternative to printed books, we are still having discussions about e-book pricing. When you look at what the Big 5 are saying about e-book sales vs what you see in the Author Earnings reports, you have to ask if they are operating in different worlds, maybe even universes. One tells us that e-book sales are slowing to the point of almost being flat. The other tells us the opposite. You look at the best seller lists on Amazon and you see more and more mid and small press books — as well as indie — finding their way onto the lists. So who is right?
If you want to be honest, both are. I have no doubt sales for Big 5 e-books are slowing. All you have to do is look at the pricing of their e-books…
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Within a couple of days, both of the co-moderators of CLFA (Conservative Libertarian Fiction Alliance) had noteworthy books come out, one indie, the other published under the auspices of Amazon’s own Kindle Press. Kindle Unlimited subscribers can enjoy both books for free. If you do not own a Kindle, official reader apps are available for all major computer and mobile device OSes.
“Chasing Freedom” ($2.99 on Kindle, $10.99 in paperback), Marina Fontaine’s powerful debut novel, was seeded by a short story submitted to a flash fiction context at Liberty Island. The story itself does not appear in the book, but the premises of its world building are rooted in it.
The novel is a near-future dystopia, but a very realistic one. Technology features, but all of it extant and in use as of the time of writing. As the author herself puts it, you can’t have much technological progress in a society where creativity is stifled.
The government is ‘elected’ between nominally ‘different’ Tweedledee and Tweedledum parties. In practice, it is best described as ‘soft totalitarian’. It holds an iron grip on both the flow of information and the lives of its subjects. Suburbs have been forcibly emptied out in the name of ‘restoring the environment’, with most people living in micro-apartments in overcrowded cities, eating subsistence-level processed rations. Healthcare is spotty and heavily rationed. The population resorts to a variety of coping and avoidance mechanisms that sound familiar to anyone who has lived in the former USSR or one of its satellite states. (Marina emigrated to the USA as a young adult.)
A Russian author invariably evokes images of very long novels that move at a glacial pace. As the fictional Howard Anderson quipped to his former operations officer, admiral Ivan Antonov, in “The Stars At War”:
“I read a Russian novel once,” Anderson cut in bleakly. “People with unpronounceable names did nothing for seven hundred and eighty-three pages, after which somebody’s aunt died.”
Not this novel. It is written very tightly (though not unpleasantly so), with essentially no fluff. The author was almost apologetic about its ‘short’ length, until I pointed out her book is about the same length as “Brave New World”, about 65K words (roughly the median length of novels on Amazon).
If you need superpowers, over-the-top action, and improbable Mary Sue superheroes to enjoy your fiction, go elsewhere. One of the most refreshing features to me was the novel’s realism: the protagonists are clever and resourceful but not implausibly so, while the antagonists are not ‘love-to-hate’ cartoon villains but ordinary, flawed people who gradually sell their soul to an inhuman system.
Marina writes like a native speaker. I could only find one typo: “his metal state”, which may have been Freudian, considering Marina’s musical predilections.
I read the book in two sittings and enjoyed the heck out of it.
In contrast, Kia Heavey’s third novel “Domino” is a tale set in the animal kingdom. Its device of anthropomorphism in animals goes back to at least Aesop’s Fables — fittingly, Kyriaki (Kia) is of Greek heritage herself. Unlike Marina’s independently published novel, this book was published by Amazon under its own Kindle Press imprint after being nominated through the Kindle Scout program.
The eponymous protagonist is a tomcat keeping the suburban house of his mistress free of mice and rats. He lives in an uneasy truce with the dog and protects the chicken coop against small predators. In the process he makes the acquaintance of a mysterious but beguiling female feline who lives and hunts in the wild. The cats have an informal social life of sorts.
Then a mysterious feline orator named “Socrates” moves into the neighborhood, and starts preaching a message of coexistence between cats and rats. This ‘community organizer’, if you like, is manipulated by a couple of rodents through stroking his enormous intellectual and moral vanity. (Sounds familiar?)
Soon the entire neighborhood is predictably infested with rodents, who then start nibbling away (literally and metaphorically) at the lives of the others and upsetting the local equilibrium.
The theme of ‘social justice’ being imposed by moral preeners who need not live with the consequences, or make any of the sacrifices, runs strong. It gets to the point where cats with kittens are forced to feed ratlings out of ‘fairness’ even when they can hardly keep their own alive.
It is difficult to talk more about the plot without leaving spoilers. Suffice to say, the tale is well told, at a fairly brisk pace, and its denouement surprising.
One need not be a cat person to enjoy this book: I’m a lifelong dog person and was quickly drawn in, to furious yips and howls of ‘Treason!’ on the part of my faithful rat terrier.
Amazon appears to outsource its editing to a well-known firm in the business: the book looked as professional as anything I’ve seen from a major publishing house.
“Domino” can be enjoyed on several levels. For children and young teenagers, there’s a delightful animal adventure. For those who love the outdoors, Kia offers plenty of great atmosphere without getting long-winded.
Older and more politically literate readers, of course, will surely recognize the allegory: although the book is not an outright roman à clef , many of the calamities that befall the animals in the wake of “Socrates” have parallels in current or historical events, even as any allegory can only be taken so far.
Both “Chasing Freedom” and “Domino” are highly enjoyable reads, and both eBooks a steal at $2.99 and $3.49, respectively. I suggest buying both. Kindle Unlimited subscribers of course, can read both books for free.
Read and weep.
It would seem so.
Look how hard they work to avoid doing their job. First they have the computer flush 75% or more of the people applying.
First, reduce the number of résumés to be read
By now you’ve heard about the applicant tracking system (ATS) and understand its purpose, to eliminate as many résumés to read as possible. Simply stated, it screens résumés for keywords and phrases. Those without the proper keywords don’t make the cut.
To give you an idea of the sheer number of applicant for each job: according to Jobvite.com, nearly 100 résumés are submitted for professional positions and 150 for other entry level.
The ATS effectively eliminates 75% of résumés submitted for a position, but even reading 25 résumés can be a burden
Heaven forbid they should actually read the resumes people send to them.
And the ones that get glanced at?
Second, read the…
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From “TXRed”, some interesting observations about climate history in Texas, and how global cooling could make us BEG for “global warming”
Some of my long-term research projects require paying attention to local and regional weather and climate patters, often going back several hundred years if possible. When you start digging that far at that level of detail, interesting things appear, the sort of thing that makes you sit back and go, “huh. I’m kinda glad I wasn’t there then,” or “Geepers, no wonder they [action]. If both those rivers went dry, I’d [action] too.” As more and more historians are pulling more and more climate data and weather observation into their work, it’s becoming apparent that while we certainly cannot, and should not, credit or blame climate events for all human actions, the weather has played more of a role than we’ve previously given it credit for. Geoffrey Parker’s book about the 17th century is probably going to become one of the classics in terms of that, up there with Le…
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The Gregorian calendar is so deeply embedded in Western culture that people take it for granted — even those of us who deal with another calendar for religious purposes. But what exactly does it stem from? Below is an attempt at a “TL;DR” summary.
All the leading calendar systems in the world can be classified in three categories: solar, lunar, and lunisolar. It was from Bernard Lewis, I believe, that I first read about the link between calendar system and type of society. Early Roman society, for instance, was agricultural so it gravitated toward a solar calendar, as the rhythm of the seasons dictated. In contrast, early Islamic society was primarily urban and nomadic, and seasons meant very little, so the Islamic calendar is lunar (to this day). Lunisolar calendars, such as the Babylonian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Chinese,… calendars, reflect mixed agricultural-urban societies.
The vagaries of the different calendar systems, then, are attempts to cope with two basic astronomical facts: the moon taking an average 29.53 days to complete one orbit around the earth (“synodic month”), and the Earth taking an average 365.24219 days to do the same around the sun (“tropical year”).
Ancient Roman calendars
The first documented calendar was attributed to Romulus, legendary co-founder (with Remus) of Rome in 753 BCE. It had 10 months of 30 or 31 days with a total of 304 days, plus a winter period. The first month was the month of vernal (spring) equinox: Martius (named after Mars, the Roman idol of war). The second through fourth months were named Aprilis (from “aperta”/open, as the Earth was ‘opened’ for seed); Maius from Maia, the idol of growth; and Junius, possibly from Juno (the wife of Jupiter). The remaining six months were prosaically named “5th” through “10th” in Latin: Quintilius, Sextilius, September, October, November, and December.
Under the 2nd of the Seven Roman Kings, Numa Pompilius, a reform took place, in which the winter period was replaced by two new months: Januarius (after the two-faced idol Janus) and 28-day Februarius (after Februa, the Roman festival of purification). As even numbers were considered unlucky, all months except Februarius had either 31 or 29 days. The total of 355 days meant that every few years, by priestly decree, an Intercalary Month had to be added to keep the calendar roughly aligned with the solar year: it was inserted between 23 February and 24 February.
Years were counted AUC (ab urbe condita, from the founding of the city, i.e., Rome).
From considering equinoxes and solstices, ancient Greek astronomers already had figured out that the solar year is something close to 365 1/4 days, even if they had it backwards as to what rotates around what.
This, combined with the difficulty of communicating a priestly decision across a far-flung empire, inspire the 46 BCE (708 AUC) calendar reform by Julius Caesar (hence “Julian”). The months acquire their current lengths, leading to a 365-day year, plus a leap years with an extra day in February every 4 years. Sounds familiar?
After the assassination of Julius Caesar, Quintilis was renamed in his honor and memory as Julius in 44 BCE; during the reign of the first “official” emperor Augustus, Sextilis was renamed in his honor 8 BCE. So now we have the year pretty much in the form we know it.
Gradually this calendar was adopted throughout the Western and Eastern roman empire, later to all lands that became Christianized.
The solstices and equinoxes shift by about 11 minutes a year in the Julian calendar. As a result, Christmas and Easter drift away from the winter solstice and the vernal equinox, respectively, by about one day every 131 years.
In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII promulgated a calendar modification in which the leap year is skipped at the turn of every century, except if the century is divisible by four. The resulting average year of 365.2425 days is tolerably close to the solar year. A onetime realignment correction was made: the days from October 5-14, 1582 were simply skipped.
Catholic countries made the switch immediately, Protestant ones followed suit later. The UK and its colonies officially switched in 1752. Where ambiguity exists about which calendar a given date refers to, dates are conventionally followed by O.S. (“Old Style”) if Julian, and N.S. (“New Style”) if Gregorian.
Countries in which the prevailing religion was Orthodox Christianity were much slower to abandon the Julian calendar. Russia only switched in 1918, February 1 (O.S.) becoming February 14 (N.S.). This is the reason, incidentally, why the October Revolution (O.S.) actually took place in November (N.S.) for the West. Greece switched even later, on March 1, 1923 (N.S.).
Of the principal churches of the Eastern Communion, the Greek Orthodox Church (including its US branch [*]) has switched to a Revised Julian Calendar proposed by M. Milanković (yes, he of the cycles!), which is effectively identical to the Gregorian until 2800. The Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian,… Orthodox churches continue to use the Julian calendar, as do the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem and the Greek Old Calendarists. Until 2100, Julian dates can be converted to Gregorian ones by adding 13 days: for example, Russian Orthodox Christmas actually takes place on January 7.
In Russia since Soviet days, January 1 (N.S.) is celebrated as a secular winter holiday (“Novy God”) into which many Christmas/Yuletide traditions were co-opted.
Here’s to a Happy Gregorian New Year!
[*] Many thanks to Kia Tsakos Heavey for clarification.
Merry Christmas to my Christian readers, Facebook friends, and tweeple!
In honor of the holiday, herewith Bach’s Weinachtsoratorium BWV248 (Christmas oratorio). The full text and translation can be found here.
Bach was a devout Lutheran all his life: at great expense, he procured a collection of theological works that, in his day, would have been the pride of many a church. (I got to see a portion of it with my own eyes, during a visit to his birth house in Eisenach, presently a museum.)
You don’t have to sit through the whole thing, as rewarding as that experience will be: just the opening “Rejoice!” will put you in the mood for holiday mirth.
Here is a somewhat “historically authentic” performance conducted by John Eliot Gardiner :
Those of us with absolute pitch may prefer this performance by the King’s College Choir and the Academy of St. Martin In The Fields, on modern instruments tuned to A=440 rather than Baroque chamber pitch.
PS: today is also Isaac Newton Day (born December 25, 1642 O.S.). For non-Christians, as well as for those Christians of the Eastern Communion who observe the holiday according to the Julian calendar, this can be an alternative observance
The other day I stumbled onto the YouTube channel of Tina S., a teenage guitar prodigy from Paris who is a student of French fusion jazz guitarist Renaud Louis-Servais. According to an interview, she started out at age 6 playing classical guitar in junior conservatory but switched to electric at age 13.
There are a number of “guitar girl” channels on YouTube but Tina stands out. Her playing is precise as well as versatile, seemingly in total possession (as the French would say) of her instrument and material.She generally plays with great economy of motion rather than with theatrical flourishes – for this amateur musician she is a delight to watch.
Her versions of Steve Vai’s “For the love of G-d” and Jason Becker’s “Altitudes” brought tears to my eyes.
But also this Gary Moore rendition is very moving:
At the same time, somewhat incongruously, this sweet, unassuming girl plays Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” with a controlled ferocity that does great credit to this all-time metal classic. Her recording uses the original vocal track with its bitter tale of manipulation and addiction: she plays both the lead and the rhythm parts live, with no overdubbing. (She plays only the top part of the twin-lead section at the beginning of the first solo: live, Metallica drop the rhythm part so James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett can do the leads together. It seems the incomparable John Petrucci plays both lines simultaneously in Dream Theater’s cover.)
Her currently most popular video seems to be her cover of Dragonforce’s “Nintendo Metal” hit:
At the other extreme, she even does not shy away from David Gilmour’s signature lead on Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”. Despite (hopefully) being way too young to truly grasp the emotions described in the lyrics that David Gilmour so brilliantly succeeded in evoking, Tina offers a surprisingly convincing rendition.
Something tells me this young woman will go very far. I am looking forward to hearing some original material from her. Merci beaucoup et chapeau, Tina!
Some debates about the Omnibus bill drove home a few things. On the one side, there is a wide sense of betrayal among the conservative and libertarian base that Paul Ryan has sold out to The Worst President In History. There is also the sense that a 2,000-page bill that was passed in record time cannot but contain some fugly stuff. (Echoes of 0bamacare.)
On the other side, people that have actually read the bill and have experience in dispassionately analyzing long documents found that 0bama paid for his pet concerns (and those of the party base) by major concessions on less eye-catching issues.
I can in all sincerity say I sympathize with both sides of the argument. The fracas drove home again to me the concept of a proxy issue. This is something one sees in politics as well as during arguments within relationships.
What is a proxy issue? In short, it is a comparatively trivial issue that takes on a larger-than-life importance in a relationship or political debate, not because of its intrinsic value, but as a stand-in for a deeper issue.
How many of you remember the hoary joke about the man who got his wife a beautiful present for their anniversary, took her to a nice restaurant and a show she was sure to like, then had to sleep on the couch because he had forgotten to write her a card? That joke is really a cartoonish exaggeration of the concept of a proxy issue.
Take, for example, the issue of additional H-2b visas in the Omnibus. The numbers involved, less than 60,000 unskilled workers, are but statistical noise in a labor market the size of the US. Some of the anger created may be due to innumeracy, to be sure. But much of it is about a deeper issue: that Congress really seems to not care about the plight of US workers in a ‘jobless recovery’, or that an unholy alliance of left-wing transnational oligarchic collectivists (“tranzis”) and big business lobbyists seems hell-bent on ramming ever more immigration down our throats. Not to mention the security concerns, pooh-poohed by tranzis especially.
Another example of a proxy issue. Israel’s Law of Return offers immigration and an accelerated citizenship path to people of Jewish ancestry and their families, as well as to converts to Judaism. (Contrary to widespread belief, Israel is not unique among democracies in this regard.) The Orthodox parties on one side, and the (in Israel tiny) Reform and Conservative denominations in alliance with left-wing parties on the other side, have been engaged in a tug-of-war for decades about whether this law extends to non-Orthodox converts. Based on the amount of noise on both sides, one would think we were talking about at least tens of thousands of people each year (out of a population of eight million). In fact, the actual number of such cases is in the dozens (!). While its actual, sociological importance is therefore essentially nil, it has become a proxy for the debate “who really calls the shots here, the Chief Rabbinate or the secular Jews”?
I have noted with wry amusement older US women well past child-bearing age saying they must vote Shillary because she will protect her right to have an abortion. Muggeridge’s Law at work? Or is it not really about the abortion per se, but a proxy for the very concept that religious scruples in these matters would have any effect whatsoever on society?
This is not to be confused with single-issue voting. I know a number of stridently pro-life activists got extremely upset when they saw the Omnibus Bill does not defund Planned Parenthood. This is *not* a proxy issue: PP is too large-scale an operation to qualify as such. In this context, a proxy can instead be seen on the other side: their insistence that the extremely disgusting and indefensible practice of partial-birth abortion remain legal.
[*] Full disclosure: numbers are quite literally my livelihood.
Executive summary: Nicki goes through what is known about the San Bernardino massacre, and concludes they were prepared for a big attack elsewhere but something made them “go off prematurely” at the county employees event instead.
Note to some readers, whose attention span is that of gnats on meth: I wrote this piece as events were unfolding. I also tried to take everything we knew then and know now into account when examining the events in San Bernardino. There are some strange details about this attack that make it seem like it was a bit more spontaneous than a normal jihadist attack. And if you actually read to the end, my assessment is that there may have been a bigger attack planned, but Farook probably lost his temper at the party and launched an unplanned, spontaneous attack on his coworkers, rather than waiting to execute a bigger event elsewhere that he and Malik probably planned. In essence, this is my attempt to analyze the actual details of the event and provide a deeper analysis than just “OMG JIHAD!”
Yesterday’s shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San…
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Any fiction lover and/or aspiring fiction writer can relate to the heart-breaking lyrics of Rush’s ballad about the aging Ernest Hemingway losing his faculties. Here is a snippet from the lyrics:
The writer stares with glassy eyes
Defies the empty page
His beard is white, his face is lined
And streaked with tears of rage
Thirty years ago, how the words would flow
With passion and precision
But now his mind is dark and dulled
By sickness and indecision
…And he stares out the kitchen door…
…Where the sun will rise no more…
The song was never part of their live set, as it has an extensive solo violin part (performed by Ben Mink on the record) and Rush historically refused to use additional stage musicians. They have no problem relying on technology (e.g., sequencers to play synthesizer lines) but always drew the line at live musicians, Geddy Lee quipping that “our audience pays to hear just the three of us”. Indeed, quite a few Rush fans point to the powerful and complex arrangements they play with just a trio as one of the things that attracts them to the band.
Since the “Clockwork Angels” album had extensive string orchestra parts, however, they started taking a small string section along, and this must have prompted the addition of the song to the live set.