Thursday, December 22, 2011

The War on Facts--Christmas 2011 edition

So, let's see if I'm up on the media's version of the history of Christmas. It's a feast stolen from "the pagans," Christ was never "in" it to begin with, it only very recently became a popular holiday in the U.S., and there's some Santa vs. Jesus controversy going on, the latter the subject of a Religion News Service piece.

By the way, I had quite a surprise when I checked out Religion News Service and found out that 1) it's not sponsored by the National Lampoon, and 2) it's been around for nearly 80 years. An interesting outfit. Its "unbiased coverage of religion and ethics"--secular coverage, of course--consists of treating religion like the rest of the media treats it. That is, as a far-right phenomenon. They take the standard slur against religiosity and turn it up several notches. Apparently, "unbiased" means flowing with the trends.

Anyway, much of the Christmas history data offered at and elsewhere is perfectly accurate in a detail by detail sense, but false in its often contradictory presentation. This isn't surprising, since the the media's Christmas story is meant to function primarily as a rebuttal of the conservative Christian take. The most hilarious example is found at Dig this:

After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Christmas wasn't declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.

Wow. That pretty much takes out the 1800s. Or seventy years thereof. But, wait--it goes on:

It wasn't until the 19th century that Americans began to embrace Christmas.

Whereupon, they continue with... the early 1800s. Which they had just dismissed from discussion. Why the contradiction? Did get lost in its own narrative?

No. It's simply a matter of received truth colliding with actual truth. You'd think that one would have to give way to the other, but the media's quite expert at combining contradictory accounts. Most people receive data very selectively--so much so, that even gross contradictions (19th century a time of major change in U.S. Christmas/19th century quiet on the Christmas front) can be presented side by side with few people noticing. The media, left to its own devices, tweaks everything toward popular reality.

As an example of the manner in which these things migrate, here's (who else?) Huffington Post on Xmas in the 19th century:

(The Puritans) could find no biblical support for the holiday, and they believed (correctly) that it was originally a pagan festival now masquerading as a Christian one. This view was widely held in American throughout the 19th century.

Gone is any of's qualification.

So, was Christ's Birthday a mere blip on the American pop radar during the 1800s? Not according to what I found when I examined some of my U.S. tune books and hymnals from that period, starting with the 1823 edition of Musica Sacra, which includes Joy to the World, While Shepherds Watch (sic) Their Flocks By Night, and a Nativity anthem (Click on images to make them larger):

Meanwhile, my 1842 copy of the American Tract Society's Sacred Songs for Family and Social Worship includes, among others, such items as Hark! What Mean Those Holy Voices, Joy to the World, Hark! The Glad Sound, and Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning. For a period allegedly lukewarm about Christmas, there was sure a lot of attention given in sacred songbooks to the infant Christ.

Jumping to 1857, we find this list of Nativity numbers in Hymns for the Use of the Methodist Episcopal Church (tunes included):

You'll notice that Hark! The Herald Angels Sing is joined to a tune other than the well-known Mendelssohn melody. Keep in mind that, in the old days, hymn texts weren't necessarily associated with a particular melody (i.e., tune). The hymn Amazing Grace, for example, was used with 30-plus tunes, including the one we associate it with today. Probably more.

Then, from an 1865 songbook, it's hard to imagine anything more Christ-in-Christmas-y:

Finally, an 1883 collection of quartets and choruses with its very own Christmas (there's that word again) section:

Many conservatives call it the War on Christmas. Maybe it's more like a war on responsible journalism.


Tune book, hymnal photos

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Friday, November 25, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The media left vs. the left

Given the lukewarm comment and download rate this Halloween, I've decided to adopt a casual posting pace, if for no other reason than the chance to use the cool phrase, "casual posting pace." I always feel like I'm on some deadline, but this is obviously some trick of perception caused by the essential Internet/user dynamic.

Speaking of tricks, illusionist Penn Jillette seems to be the media left's replacement for the acrimonious misanthrope Richard "I'm not going to change the minds of many dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads" Dawkins, and I can't imagine a better swap. Unlike Dawkins, whose crude cracks require constant damage control of the "He never said that" variety, Jillette has no gentleman's image to maintain--he can, for instance, compare someone to Hitler and not have to insist that he didn't compare someone to Hitler. Plus, playing religion against science isn't Penn's primary goal--he's just doing the rock and roll thing by trashing faith, church-going, belonging to "middle America," and similar crimes against the entertainment industry. He's not desperate to be accepted as an important scientist--he's a magician/entertainer, and proud to be just that. I doubt he bristles at being called a jerk or blowhard, whereas his British counterpart can't figure out why people feel the need to fire back for being labeled morally and intellectually obsolete. No sense of humor, those folks.

Besides, as a high school-educated entertainer, Penn's the perfect spokesperson for education, logic, reason, science, etc., at least by the media left's standards. Don't get me wrong--in the actual left, as I call it, these things are highly regarded. In the media left, not so much. I mean, take a look at the people who pass for sages on the MSNBC and Current TV airwaves--comics, actors, animators, Penn Jillette, etc. Nothing against any of those groups, but the media left's take on smart culture often resembles, more than anything else, a swipe.

In a recent Los Angeles Times's op-ed, water-carrier Jillette trashed Christianity across the board, and some readers complained. Predictably, the paper pretended that the author's put-downs were qualified (they were not), and spent the space of an essay playing games with word use. It's possible that deputy Op-Ed editor Susan Brenneman doesn't realize that dissing something in whole is the essence of an unqualified judgment. Which, of course, raises the fascinating question of why not.

In that op-ed, Jillette talks about state/church separation in the usual careless MSNBC fashion, as if any mention of religion by a politician violates same. (By the way, clearly our nation was meant to have no state press, so why are reporters allowed in the White House, thus creating the danger of state and press coming in contact?) Ironically, the two presidents he gripes about--Carter and "church slut" Clinton--are Democrats. Will we lefties survive our media wing? That is the question.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Burroughs Suite (Lee Hartsfeld, 2011)

Too-long essay by the composer

Two weeks in the making, this is my musical tribute to my--or should I say our?--time at Burroughs Elementary in Toledo. The titles explain themselves, though it may not always be clear what I'm trying to say in the music itself (to me, least of all!). That is, things get a little abstract now and then. For instance, does the percussion on Empty Bottle Deposit represent the clinking of pop bottles, or was I even thinking of that when I picked the sound patch? (Memory tells me I simply liked the effect.) And why the 1922 dance music for Libbey Rag--1922? After all, my Dad attended L. in the 1940s, and I in the 1970s. Is it possible I was just trying to be cute? Probably.

Oh, well, art--including music--isn't required to always make sense. Luckily for the composer.

I played these on my Casio WK-3800 (a surprisingly fine keyboard) in "real time"--i.e., without relying on my music software's step-time function, as I usually do. In fact, I did all my recording, splicing, and multi-tracking on my MAGIX brand sound-editing software. There isn't a lick here that didn't come from my fingers, though not necessarily at the same time. On the Libbey Rag, for instance, you'll hear five Lees--piano, guitar, banjo, saxophone, and a saxophone patch subbing for a tuba. Any "You Are There" feeling is purely imaginary.

(Are there times when I recorded my right- and left-hand parts separately? I'll never tell!)

The strange, stretched-out sounds which occur here and there are the result of reverb, echo, and audio re-sampling. Goodbye, Burroughs, for instance, is a result of re-re-re-sampling--that's why it sounds like a cassette tape on its last gothrough after 300 car-stereo plays.

Despite all that, most of the sounds here are very conventional. Most of the audio effects were applied to enhance the mood, mix, and/or give a sound patch greater depth. MAGIX's "audio simulator," for example, is the reason that The Burroughs Rock sound like it's taking place in an empty barn instead of a living room.

Hope you enjoy! I've set things up so that you can download one section ("movement," for the cultured set) at a time or in a single zip file. In fact, you can play the single tracks at the storage site,, if you choose. But you know you want to download these.

The music

Suite in zip file form: Burroughs Suite

Lee Hartsfeld

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Monday, January 10, 2011