Friday, December 24, 2010

Photo Journal: Nativity Scenes of Wilkes-Barre

(Above) From Chapel of Christ the King, King's College, PA.

Close-up of creche at King's College.

Manger Scene at Public Square. Donated by the people of St. Mary's Church of the Maternity, located nearby at 40 Park Ave. Wilkes-Barre.

Luzerne County Courthouse.

Regarding the last picture, the photographer noticed only afterward that the baby Jesus is apparently missing. It is possible that he was stolen, or that he may have simply not yet been born. More inquiry will be made into this subject later.

Also, the reason the manger in the last picture is jumbled up by Santa and candy canes behind it is that county officials do not want a lawsuit on their hands, which would likely be by brought by the the ACLU again on behalf of the same person(s) who contacted them last year. Although the scene now looks jumbled, and is now farther away from the corner, it looks cool against the enclosure of the early 20th century court house building.

Update 12-25-10

On Christmas day the baby Jesus was found safe and secure in the manger.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Top Ten Worst Christmas Songs

by NuPo music critic

This is a list of the most annoying Christmas songs & renditions of songs, many of which are broadcast by "soft rock" stations in favor of better songs or renditions. Some are used as background music in big box stores. (Sorry if one of your favorites made the list.)

Warning, listening to any of the more accursed songs mentioned below may result in getting them stuck in your head. To get them out, try listening to better Christmas songs or renditions.

* Added in 2012

1. Ho! Ho! Ho! (Who'd be a turkey at Christmas?)*
There really ought to be a law against this song. The singer, Elton John, sounds like a maniacal drunk pervert harassing someone. We fear it will become a radio regular...since the radio always promotes the worst.

2. Santa Baby -When I heard this, I remarked that it sounded like Fran Drescher --the nanny-- composed it. I concluded that a Jewish woman from New York must have written it, because of its NY-Semitical "nyah nyuh nyeh nyih" intonations. It turns out I was partially right; a Jewish man named Fred Ebb from Manhattan wrote this cheeky monstrosity in 1953. Chaim Potok warned us of these sorts of monstrosities.

3. The Man with the Bag*
It all boils down to a "man with a bag"... Reducing things to this level of description is so warm and endearing, and way better than something like Old Saint Nick (sarcasm). There seems to be a sprouting genre of jazzy celebration "Christmas music," and this song belongs to it.++

4. Jingle Bell Rock -This song seems to be the favorite of soft rock stations, and its menacing prevalence is one reason why it tops the list. The reader may also remember this song from the movie "Mean Girls," in which it was used to sexualize Christmas--Christmas of all things! This is a typical rock & roll song, and if Christmas songs had IQ's, this one's would be vegetative-grade.

5. Unknown Title* This song involves the lyric "Sing Noel" and eventually deteriorates further into a sort of "eh eh eh eh sing Noel" that sounds like wretching. Please let me know if you can find the title. Anyway, it's bad because its tune gives the impression of someone singing a song intently without knowing what they're singing about. It implies sincerity without purpose, if that were possible.

6. Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree -A soft-rock radio station favorite that provides more evidence for the equation: Rock + Christmas = Fail.

7. Last Christmas I Gave You my Heart
"Last Christmas, I gave you my heart But the very next day, you gave it away." The lamentations of an organ donor's ghost who mourns at seeing his heart rejected by his donee, this is another favorite of soft rock stations, and totally unsatisfying. There's an evil sort Beatlish tinge to it, and its lyrics sort of remind me of the song that goes "I'll do anything for love--but I won't do that."

8. Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Carol of the Bells"
This rendition scores highest on the perversion index. A normal rendition of "Carol of the Bells" has an inspiring melody from the traditional Ukrainian song Shedryk and is arguably one of the best Christmas carols when performed by Robert Shaw or anyone willing to sing it normally. There are also decent instrumental versions of it, such as this piano piece. Sadly, T-S Orchestra has set it to a horrid electric guitar--hardly an instrument that is capable of communicating its melody--and most plebeians out there probably think T-S Orchestra originally composed it. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra ought to be exiled to the place of their namesake for bastardizing this dear tune.

9. Mahalia Jackson's Rendition of "What Child is This?"
"What Child is This" is a beautiful song, set to the beautiful melody of "Greensleeves." But somehow Jackson manages to bastardize thoroughly, with her "Whi-ile She-epherds" lyric being totally undesirable. The tune of Greensleeves is the work of centuries of mastery, but Jackson's rendition illustrates how one person can nullify all of it. Thus, this rendition makes this list because of its high score on the perversion index.**

10. All I Want For Christmas is You
Lyrically it's a moot point since slavery is illegal, but the real reason this song makes this list's just too "pop" and too feminist to fit a decent definition of Christmas music.

And now that we've endured mention of these "soft rock" and other depressing tunes & renditions, the reader is commissioned to listen to some good traditional songs which are bound to be better.

Top Ten in 2010
1. Jingle Bell Rock
2. Santa Baby
3. Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree
4. "Christmas Canon" by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra
5. Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Carol of the Bells"
6. Mahalia Jackson's Rendition of "What Child is This?"
7. Last Christmas I Gave You my Heart
8. Happy Christmas (War is Over)
9. All I Want For Christmas is You
10. Do You Hear What I Hear

**As a side note to #6 on the list, I must inform the reader that in Christmas carols, a singer exists to communicate the music of the song; the song does not exist to communicate the nicety of the singer's voice. Although a nice voice may be pleasant, it should ultimately be subservient to the song in order to effectively communicate the melody, and if Jackson had highlighted the tune "Greensleeves" rather than her own wretched jazzy bellowings, then she may have done a good job. This isn't to say adaptations are always bad, some can even be improvements, but jazzy adaptations are ill-suited for communicating rather unjazzy English airs. A similar episode happened when one opera star tried to sing popular Christmas carols. She sounded bad because the carols were not written to meet the needs of opera singers, and so also, carols are not intended to be sung by wailing jazz singers.

++The main time one hears jazz music as background music in stores is during Christmas. I guess this is some sort of paean to the past, but we're only allowed to go back to the jazz age when Jews such as Irving Berlin were writing Christmas music that didn't mention God or Jesus. It seems we're not allowed to go back farther, to pre-20th century Christian Christmas music, with all its majestic tunes and lyrics which usually concerned the nativity or blessing from God. If only the tunes were allowed to survive as instrumentals. But then again, the

Dishonorable Mentions:

11. Handel's Messiah Rocks "Hallelujah" -A holiday show that shouldn't be, for it perverts with rock & rhythm that which ought to be melody. The syncopated beat is a terrible perversion the original Hallelujah. This rock rendition proves that it is easy to tear things down and to pervert what is good.

12. Happy Christmas (War is Over)
This one was actually composed by a Beatle--John Lenon. There's a sort of straining quality to it that is too self-centered for a celebration that is supposed to be either festive or holy. McCartney's blasé "Wonderful Christmastime" was also considered for this list, but was found to be too light-hearted and not disturbing enough to make it.

13. Do You Hear What I Hear?
I wish I didn't. Composed in the early 60's, although it seems it could be from earlier, the chorus of this song is weird. It just tastes bad musically, sort of like some art does visually.

14. In Dulci Jubilo (aka Good Christian Men Rejoice)-This song is by no means malevolent to the idea of Christmas, like many in the top ten, but it is uninspiring and doesn't fit in with any good old carols. The tune is just kind of awkward.

15. "Christmas Canon" by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra
This is the first [now second after re-ranking] appearance of this horrible group on this list. Let it be stated that this song ranks high on the perversion and effeminacy index, and gets stuck in one's head very easily and is difficult to get out. T-S Orchestra composed the part with the lyrics--the effeminate part. Although Pachelbel's Canon--the tune they bastardize--is not traditionally a Christmas carol, T-S Orchestra's devalued rendition of it is frequently played by commercial radio.

16. I Saw Mommy Kissin' Santa Claus -I wish you hadn't.

16. Christmas Shoes -If I had heard this song earlier, it may have made the top ten. The corny country lyrics aren't the problem; the problem is its un-moving melody combined with its sappy emotionalism. Also, it sounds particularly horrendous when sung by a choir: avoid hearing a choral rendition of it at all costs.

17. "Hodie Christus Natus Est" by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
This is an older tune, composed at the beginning of the baroque period (late 1500s early 1600s). This song's bumptious first stanza rubs me the wrong way (the "Hodie, hodie, hodie, hodie" part). Yet the rest of the tune is borderline pleasant, sounding very baroque and like one of Bach's compositions. Because a good portion of it is decent, this tune did not make the top ten, but its beginning verse nevertheless warrants the entire tune a dishonorable mention.

Comments on the NFL & NFL Network

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should encourage the banning of women from locker rooms because the players don't like being seen naked by them. I know doing so may be considered non-PC, but it's worth it for the players.

Also, I'm really getting sick of the show-boating by players like DeSean Jackson (pictured below). Think about it, whenever he taunts a defender after scoring a TD, he basically says to him: "that million contract extension isn't going to be yours, and you won't be able to help your (possibly poor) relatives."

I'm also sick of the convulsive seizures payers have after every single play they make.

The Whole Pinkification of the month of October was really annoying. It's one thing to fight for a cause, it's another to be in-your-face about it. The aesthetic devastation caused by the breast cancer racketeering out-weighed any tiny marginal benefits from additional donations garnered by it.

Finally, I applaud the efforts to discourage helmet to helmet hits because a sports game should not entail severe brain damage. One player, I believe it was Steelers WR Hines Ward, said in an interview that the league's crackdown on concussing head to head hits was not about protecting the players but about protecting the NFL's public image since, if the league owners truly cared about safety, they would not be currently calling for a 18 game season. Concerning this, I believe Ward is right. Moreover, we already have enough games with 16: as far as I know there are no fans clamoring for more games; and the players, who will have to risk incurring more injuries, don't want a longer season. To me, the marginal gains for the NFL of an 18-game season will be small since they'll sell beaucoup de memorabilia regardless of season length, and since any additional injuries would hurt the players and thereby the NFL.

The best three NFL Network hosts are:
1. Jamie Dukes--he's really good both in offering substantive analysis and in terms of being generally amiable.
2. Mike Mayock is a great draft analyst and also a good on the show Playbook.
3. Sterling Sharpe is a good announcer, voice-over doer, and analyst.

Warren Sapp is a good host because of his bubbly personality and game experience, but his thick ebonics make him ill-suited for voice-overs of highlight reels.

In terms of bad hosts, I find hosts Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders annoying.

Finally, I'm sick of the grungy rock music set to most of the highlight reels on NFL Network. The commentary is good, but must it be accompanied by that squizzy, nasty noise?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Non-Smoker Argues Against Proposed Smoking Ban

See this Article in the King's College Crown Newspaper

Let me begin by stating that inhaling smoke is obviously bad and against the laws of nature. But, although those who wish to abolish smoking on the King's College campus may mean well, I believe the proposed smoking ban set to go into effect next summer would bring inconvenience and little or no benefits.

For one, King’s College is located in the city--not on a sequestered campus where a smoking ban may be more enforceable. City streets intersect the King’s campus, and as far as I know, even if the college passes a smoking ban, students will still be free to smoke on Franklin, Main, Jackson, River, and Union Streets because smoking on Wilkes-Barre’s streets is legal. So for those of you who’ve complained about encountering smokers on campus, if the smoking ban goes in effect, you’ll merely encounter them on the city sidewalk instead of (say) outside the student center. I doubt those who wish to avoid cigarette smoke would gain much from a ban. Moreover, smokers would be temporarily exiled to the city sidewalks as they smoke.

I have asthma, and I’ve never been bothered much by smokers on the King’s College campus. (Maybe other asthma sufferers have a worse reaction than I do.) Most of the time, I can simply refrain from inhaling for the second it takes to pass by somebody smoking. The only time I’ve ever been bothered by smoke on campus was when somebody was smoking while walking in front of me, leaving a trail of smoke behind him. But as long as smokers stay stationary, they don’t bother me.

I also believe designated smoking areas are unnecessary because so few people smoke on campus. Those who say encountering a smoker ruins a nice spring day are probably being overly-dramatic and hyperbolic for the sake of argument.

Today, few people smoke on campus, and more often than not, there are no people smoking to be found. But back in the early 70’s, as alumnus Rick Mayock relates, one professor chain-smoked cigars throughout his lectures, and so many of his students smoked cigarettes that at the end of the lecture the ceiling was filled with smog. What influenced Mayock to quit smoking was information he learned of in a science class concerning the detrimental effects cigarette smoke has on the lungs.

An educational approach that would encourage smokers interested in quitting to do so would seem like a more effective, less inconveniencing way to persuade smokers to quit. Perhaps every semester or two some visiting expert could give a laid-back speech about the health risks of smoking. This would be a positive move that student government could take credit for, which would not place a burden on smokers.
For that matter, student government and the college need not take any action; non-smokers could merely encourage their smoker friends to quit on a more effective, personal level.