The Jethro Tull Christmas Album

Jethro Tull’s music reaches back to English folk and Renaissance songs for inspiration, so they have produced some amazing Christmas and winter-themed tunes over the years. For this album, they’ve provided both fresh versions of old material and some brand new songs that make for a very immersive and enjoyable holiday disc.

The first song, “Birthday Card at Christmas”, grabbed my attention and did not let go. It let me know that this album was not Ian Anderson and co. resting on any sort of laurels. I loved it, and I loved it all the more when I read Anderson’s comments about the song. He has a daughter whose birthday is near Christmas that gets completely overshadowed by the season. Likewise, Anderson noticed that there’s one birthday for a Mr. J. Christ of Bethlehem that also tends to be overshadowed by all the activities at Christmas. Well played, Ian Anderson. Well played.

The songs themselves invoke either the cold rush of winter or the warmth by the fire – or other appropriate seasonal evocations. It’s not a disc to spin in tropical climes, I assure you. This one is decidedly part of the experience of the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere and points northward, and it is rich in its local color. I enjoyed it all the way through and it’s yet another example of how gramps with amps can still rock hard and rock well.

Christmas with Buck Owens

When I was a kid, I loved watching “Hee Haw”. I came for the cornball jokes and skits, but I stayed for the music, especially the gospel quartet at the end. (I’m still looking for a decent version of them performing, without a load of studio overdubs, by the way.) Buck Owens and Roy Clark were the centerpieces of the show, so I’ve always had a soft spot for them in my heart. I suppose then, it was only a matter of time before my interest in collecting Christmas music would lead me to a Buck Owens Christmas platter.

I picked this one because it was his first. It did not disappoint. Released in 1965 at the start of the “Bakersfield Sound” style in country-western music, this disc has 12 great tracks, half of them upbeat holiday tunes and the other half tear-in-the-beer lonely heart songs. I loved ‘em all. It opens with “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy”, which is by now a Christmas standard – this is where it got its start. After that, Buck asks, “Pardon me, but do you have any… Bluuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuue Christmas Liiiiiights…” Oh yes, we got us a cryin’ song, and it’s a good one. If you suffer from holiday depression, these are perfect songs for commiseration. Honestly, if you’re feeling the blues, you need to hear someone singing the blues to put your life in perspective, to where you can get back on the right track. As I said, about half the album is for cryin’ and the other half is for smilin’. All the songs have a stripped-down Bakersfield feel, with that ticka-tack drum line and the picked Fender guitars.

The only exception is “Jingle Bells”, which plays properly Bakersfield except for the drummer. The guy sounds like a refugee from a surf music band. I’m telling you, it’s a Stan Freberg send-up just waiting to happen. It’s a fun song, though, so what the heck, right? It doesn’t ruin the tune, and the drumming makes sense on every other track, so I’m fine with it. Overall, this is a great collection and I’m glad I got it.

A Little Historical Fiction…

THE BATTLE OF FORT STEVENS AND ITS AFTERMATH

I.

Major-General Alexander McCook barked out desperate orders to the men who were barely soldiers that made up the Washington, DC defenses. Jubal Early’s corps was just on the other side of the battlements at Fort Stevens, and threatened the nation’s capital. McCook wished he had better men, but a commander always has to order the soldiers he has, not the ones he wished he had. When McCook heard the sounds of drunken singing from some of the Confederate throats, he took heart: it sounded like they had looted a whiskey store somewhere and were in no fit condition for battle. They’d sober up soon enough, but that time would be what McCook would need to get reinforcements to the critical area. Wright’s corps was on its way to the front, and those tough veterans would do the job of defense that the invalids and rag-tag troops of the regular garrison wouldn’t be fully capable of.

McCook studied the movements of the Confederates. It was clear that Early’s men were hesitant, unsure of Union numbers behind the breastworks. McCook knew that hesitation would buy him more time and he stood a good chance of not being remembered as “The General That Lost Washington.”

Timing was everything. Wallace’s corps had fought Early’s men at Monocacy, just up the road from Washington. Though Wallace didn’t keep the field, his action bought a day for McCook’s defense, giving Wright’s corps the time it needed to move up from Virginia to the capitol. Now the combination of disorder and hesitation looked set to give McCook the time he needed. McCook said a silent prayer of thanks. There was a chance that the Rebels wouldn’t even attempt an assault. If all they did was fire a few artillery pieces and put up a skirmish line, casualties would be light and Early would have to withdraw before even more Union forces arrived to crush him. Early depended upon mobility to survive, given his limited numbers. He would have to move soon. Again, timing was everything.

McCook heard a commotion coming from the rear area: no doubt, that was the first column of Wright’s force. McCook descended from the breastworks to greet them and give them direction on where to post first. They would go to the right bastion first, where McCook’s men were least reliable. That would keep that area shored up, just in case Early lived up to his reckless reputation and chose a suicide ride into death and glory to burn the capitol at all costs.

McCook went pale when he saw that the only soldiers in the group that was causing all the fuss were part of the President’s security detail. Abraham Lincoln himself at Fort Stevens! On today, of all days!

“I came here to see the progress of the defenses of the capital.” McCook didn’t know where to begin with his laconic Commander-in-Chief. Mary Lincoln was with her husband, even. And what would become of them if Early’s boys crested those battlements and rained musket balls on the spot where McCook met his President?

And what could McCook say to Lincoln? This was the man that had moved to have McCook court-martialed after the disaster at Chickamauga. This was the man that had put events into motion that blamed McCook for the crushing Union loss. Right or wrong, this man that doubted McCook so deeply was also the one that had placed him in charge of the Washington defenses for the current crisis. McCook wanted to serve his president, but he wanted to perform that service with his president at least 10 miles away from the front lines. This was insanity, inspecting the defenses on the day of their most earnest test under fire!

And that test had just begun.

McCook heard the report of cannon-fire and the whipping-by of musket balls. He turned to regard his men in the fortifications. They were returning fire, which was a comfort to McCook, who had feared that they would have broken and ran. Instead, they borrowed a little courage from the earth that rose between them and the enemy, and it did suffice them so long as they kept their heads low.

“Ah, the sound of battle! I shall see it myself!” Lincoln moved from behind McCook, through his peripheral vision, and was well on his way to the actual walls of the fort.

“Mr. President, I must advise you not to go up there!” McCook’s voice faltered slightly with fear on behalf of his president.

“Nonsense! I fear no battle!” Lincoln waved away McCook’s concerns and took to the battlements and stood upright, viewing the whole field of battle, just as soldiers did in 1861. It was 1864 now, however, and every soldier worth his pay had learned the very important lesson of securing cover in a battle.

“Mr. President, there are enemy snipers in that line! Please get down!” McCook realized he had been rooted to the spot where he stood, immobilized with the fear of what was to become of a very tall man in a highly recognizable stovepipe hat in front of a mass of armed men, eager for a choice target to train their weapons upon.

A surgeon next to Lincoln on the parapet tried to convince the president to duck low. McCook thought for the briefest of moments that the surgeon was, once again, a masterstroke of timing. Either he would prevail upon Mr. Lincoln or he would at least be there to tend to the President, if he were wounded by enemy action.

McCook hoped against hope that he would be an anonymous name, little remembered in the annals of the great war between the states. Other generals would write their memoirs: let them. McCook had already been in command of soldiers that were overwhelmed by the enemy in three other battles, so he had nothing glorifying to offer the public other than apologia, which he preferred to not write. History was written not just by the victors, but by the victors that were lucky enough to have good public relations people working for them and a few victories under their belts.

A shot rang out. Suddenly, McCook experienced every moment as if it was a revolution around the sun. With complete clarity, he saw the darkness pass inches away from the surgeon, slamming directly into the right temple of the sixteenth President of the United States.

The red told a terrible story – even as the President fell, the surgeon leaped to catch him. McCook, released from the spell of fear by the shock of reality, ran to make his way to Lincoln’s side.

By the time McCook was there, the surgeon was already in tears, shaking his head in disbelief. McCook fell to his knees and saw the awful entry wound in the President’s head. A pool of blood beneath the President’s left side indicated the severity of the exit wound.

Why couldn’t the ball had been just two inches to the right? It would have hit the surgeon’s shoulder. Why couldn’t the President have taken off his hat and lowered himself? Why couldn’t the President have inspected the defenses after the action was over? Why couldn’t the President have left for a campaign stop up in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, or – better still, further still – Bangor, Maine? Why now, of all moments, did the timing have to favor the Rebel and not the Union?

Tears broke out of McCook’s eyes, involuntarily. This fateful day, 11 July 1864, would be forever known as the day Lincoln fell to the bullet of an enemy soldier, the first and hopefully only President to die in battle. McCook no longer worried or wondered about himself. A soldier through and through, he ordered his men to continue holding the line while a few officers carried the corpse of their Captain, their Captain to the rear.

II.

Hannibal Hamlin pounded the table in the Oval Office. “No! Absolutely not! Not one more word of this talk will trouble me! Every one of them needs to be hung as a traitor to the United States of America, if possible! I want Grant removed from command for even suggesting we accept a surrender from those butchers! Put Burnside in charge, he’ll know what to do!”

The seventeenth President of the United States had no intention of going easy on the officers and generals of Slave Power. They had had their chance with the lenient-minded Lincoln, but that chance had died with Lincoln. Hamlin was of one mind with the hard-line Republicans, dead set upon destroying the Confederate Army along with any vestige of the society of enslavement.

Scorched earth is what won him the election in 1864. Grant’s bumbling around Richmond was no help. Sheridan’s razing of the Shenandoah Valley provided the boost in popularity Hamlin needed to defeat McClellan. Now, Union columns were burning all in their path. Officers had orders to re-deed plantation lands to the freed slaves that once worked those lands without hope of owning them. Those that resisted were shot, making the disposition of their lands all the easier.

Andrew Johnson railed against the despoiling of the South, but the Constitution had no bearing on lands or people that had divorced themselves from it. Johnson could say all he wanted and Hamlin would not care, for it was a trivial matter to jail any editor that dared to agree with his sentiments. Hamlin had promised blood for blood in his inaugural speech, and Jeff Davis would be swinging from a tree before any talk of peace would be entertained.

And while the Confederate field armies had dissolved after the spring of 1865, their confounded bandit gangs continued to plague the Union occupation armies. 1866 had been a bloody enough year, and 1867 had begun much in the same manner. Hamlin took some cold comfort in reports that much of the violence of this year was not connected to resistance against the Union, but were most likely the final, violent climaxes to feuds that had broken out in the course of the recent rebellion. 1867 would see a tapering to the violence and, in the peace of 1868, hopefully the last of the Confederacy’s leaders would be rounded up and hung, which would practically guarantee Hamlin’s re-election in 1868.

As the officer left the Oval Office to relieve Grant of his command, Hamlin gazed out the window. He looked upon a land that would soon have the cancer of slavery completely exorcised from it. As he watched the trees swaying in the breezes of early summer, he contemplated the thought that it might be necessary, after winning election in 1868, to carry forward the fight against slavery to Cuba. That would mean a war with Spain, but Hamlin was confident his nation would be ready for the crusade. After that, Brazil needed a lesson in the rights of man.

The United States of America would stand astride the whole of the Western Hemisphere as a beacon of civilization and an eternal champion in the war against barbarism. Hamlin did not flinch from the thought of a war against not only soldiers, but ideas and practices. That was the American thing to do.

Why Choose Networking?

This was something I wrote on a forum in response to that question. Consider this to be career guidance for any young person looking to get ahead in the world.

The first time I left teaching, I got into IT. I realized that it was like the Wild West as far as careers went. See, I had a great-grandfather that got to be an engineer for the railroad because there was an opening and he learned quick how to use dynamite. He later found out the opening was created because his predecessor apparently didn’t learn the ins and outs of dynamite quickly enough. No college degree required, no certification exam, just hands-on, can-you-do-it stuff. If you said “yes”, you got a shot at proving yourself. If you were wrong, you didn’t last long. If you were passably good, your career was set.

That’s how it was in the 90′s. If you could spell “PC”, you had at least an entry-level job. As I watched my compensation packages grow from job to job and over year to year, I thought that the pay would eventually draw in millions more people to the profession, like medicine, law, and business had in theirs, and that the requirements for job qualifications would get more stringent. I thought then that, by 2005 or so, everyone would need a CS degree and post-graduate certifications on the lines of a bar exam/MCAT/CPA/brokerage license in order to be a practicing networking professional. Like engineering, the Wild West days would fade to more structured qualification procedures and regimented courses of education, just to weed out the people that wanted the money, but didn’t have the talent.

When I taught economics for 11 years after leaving IT in 2001, I kept up with what careers had good prospects and which ones were getting harder to get in to. I was always pleasantly surprised each year as IT jobs remained hard to fill. People were not flocking to them. If you were a talented person that wanted to rise quickly, relative to other jobs, IT was the way to go. There was a rough patch in the early 2000s when there was the outsourcing craze, but that has passed over and IT jobs are back on native soil. Because of the lack of talent in the field, the jobs are still Wild West jobs. Can you do it? If you don’t blow yourself up, you have the job. If not, consider your last brush with dynamite to be your exit interview.

2008′s crash changed a lot of things. It ended the days when a college degree meant an automatic job, regardless of your major. Those jobs are going, going, and gone, either because the company that did that stuff is closed permanently or because a Python script can now do that same job – which means a business can stay profitable in a recession/depression, but only if it cans the humans that are less productive than a script. Read this, especially if you have children: Oxford report on employment.

The summary is simple: computers are replacing people in low-skill and semi-skilled jobs. Pages 57-72 show a list of jobs and the probability a computer takes it over. Network admins? 3% chance of losing a job to a computer. Compare that to Cashiers at a 97% chance of getting canned in favor of a computerized system. 47% of US jobs are at high levels of risk of being lost to computers, and many of those jobs are where the middle class used to eke out a living.

I wanted to leave teaching in 2013, and because the IT world still had many jobs and few qualified persons, I returned to the Wild West. My teaching job is still there, but it’s no longer the kind of teaching I want to be doing. Although the Oxford survey I cited puts a low chance on teachers being replaced by computers, teaching itself is giving way to online content delivery, with the teacher being a sort of combination child psychologist/prison guard that follows a strict syllabus in lockstep content delivery. My job here in IT still affords me great leeway to apply my professional knowledge and I am happy to say that I am well compensated for my skill.

True, I have to put up with constant recruiter emails, but that’s a nice problem to have. I see people desperate to get minimum-wage jobs where they have to put up with all kinds of awful, picky, petty requirements in order to keep those jobs. I see people crowding into colleges because that was the rat maze path that used to deliver the cheese at the end. They graduate with massive debt, no job, and misery awaiting them as they get in line to get a minimum-wage job where the assistant manager is a guy that started there right out of high school.

Take the same guy that has a knack for thinking well and, instead of putting him into a college, get him to spend a few thousand dollars on equipment and certification materials. After a few months, he’s ready for an entry-level IT job. Salaries there are in the $40K area, well above the average starting salary for a college graduate of $30K, which is down $3K since peaking in 2008. The same guy getting $40K also has no student loans to pay off, so he’s ahead of the recent grad in that respect, as well. If you look at the time spent, college means exchanging four years of drawing a salary in the hope of getting a bigger salary with that degree. Compared to an IT career, it doesn’t add up. The guy that spends a few months getting a CCNA starts out at $40K, and earns that much or more for the next four years while his counterpart is living in a dorm at the university. After those four years, the IT guy can be a CCNP, possibly in multiple areas, and will be contemplating a CCIE and a six-figure income, if he doesn’t have that already. The guy with a BA in some liberal arts area? $30K, *if* he gets a job, and it’s a long, hard slog to the top. A BS in engineering can get a person to the $60-80K area, but that’s still with debt. Meanwhile, our CCNP is already clearing that much or more after 4 years, debt-free. It’s not a life of luxury, but it *is* a life that affords many opportunities and options because of the amount of money being earned.

Let’s say that our networking guy is being considered for a management position and he’d like to get into that area, but he needs a college degree. Guess what? He’s probably now at a company that will pay for his college, provided he makes good grades. Worst case, it’s on his own dime, but he’s earning his way through college the right way, with a full-time job in a career with potential.

That’s why I’m in networking. It offers an exceptionally rapid career development phase for a person with talent. If poets were similarly rewarded with a similar dearth of qualified persons in the profession, I’d be slinging rhymes and anapestic hexameters for a living. They’re not, so I’m a networker. Very early on in networking, you’ll have a job that pays better than 75% of the available jobs out there. That cutoff for that better than 75% number is an annual salary of $50K, by the way. When you hit your stride in the mid-range of IT jobs, you’ll be in the top 10%, easily. Again, it’s not cruising around the world on your yacht as you work remotely 15 minutes per day, but it *is* decent health insurance, retirement, paid time off, and flexible workplace policies for the most part. Considering the outlay and the return on investment, it’s one of the best things one can do as far as career choice goes.

Yes, I enjoy what I’m doing, but I also know there’s a lot of crap they can throw at me that’s mitigated by my compensation package. This is not a minimum-wage job that I can do no better than the next shlub waiting in line behind me. This is a field in which most employers know that if they’re not offering a good deal that their IT talent can walk out the door at any time and start somewhere else where there is a good deal. This will continue until kids decide that this is where the gold rush is and swarm the profession. That is not likely to happen for two reasons: math and smartphones. People see numbers and they panic, typically. Subnetting turns away most folks not already scared off by the 10 in 10BaseT, let alone the 100 in 100BaseT. Smartphones mean that kids that would have been tinkering with their PCs no longer have those in their hands, so there are far fewer PC/Network gurus in the making among the rising generation than there were in GenX and GenY. It’s going to be wide open for a good, long time, and while I’m not planning on becoming complacent, I’m also not worried about a Python script suddenly doing my job. This is a good field to be in, where merit and talent are proportionately rewarded with quality of work and compensation packages.

If a kid out there can learn to get over the natural human tendency to be afraid of numbers and then gets his hands on a PC and some second-hand routers and switches, he’ll be well-placed to enter a dynamic, rewarding, challenging career in networking. Given the costs and rewards of the alternatives, it’s easy for me to see why one should choose a career in networking.

That’s My Boy

When he was four and kicked a goal, I was proud of him. It was the wrong goal, but in four-year-old soccer, a goal is a goal is a goal and is always something to be proud of.

When he was thirteen and we climbed the Temple of the Sun together, I was proud of him. So it was only the third-largest pyramid in the world, beaten to second by a few lousy feet on the Pyramid of Cheops. It’s still a great pyramid in my book, and it was a great climb. I had to lean on his arm all the way down, and that didn’t diminish my pride one little bit.

When he was eighteen, he completed all his requirements to become an Eagle Scout, and I was right there on the front row of his Eagle court of honor, and I couldn’t have been more proud of him at the time. Eagle is Eagle, folks, and it’s never something to shake a stick at. Not that folks tend to shake sticks all that often, but, should one take up that dark and nefarious practice of stick-shaking, you keep it away from my son’s Eagle! He did me proud, getting that badge.

And now my son Calvin is Elder Webb. He’s heading down to Santiago, Chile tonight and will be there in the morning. He’s on a two year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Santiago, and I’m even more proud of him than I was when he was four or when he was thirteen or even eighteen. He’s nineteen and he’s just started on the best two years of his life. That’s my boy with the white shirt, tie, and nametag. I love him and I’m very, very proud of him and the choices he’s made to be able to be in that position.

There’s a part of me that just wants to always hold him close. That’s the part of me that remembers he was once a little boy, a great little guy that fit on my lap. But there’s another part of me that knows those days are over. Once he was four and kicking that soccer ball, he was starting on a road to make his own choices and it was my job as his dad to be there for him, to cheer him on, and to tell everyone how proud I was of the great things he did.

Now he’s on that plane. He’s on that plane to Chile and I’m here at home, a little sad, but a lot proud. That’s my boy! Look at him go!

For those who may be wondering, yes, he did take his tiger Hobbes with him. When you read Calvin and Hobbes, you can rest assured that Calvin came out all right. He’s a young man about to do great things and his dad is very, very proud of him. He’s going to do fine, just you watch. He’s my boy, and I know he’s going to do just fine.

Best of luck, Elder Webb, may God be with you, and I’ll see you home in two years. We’ll see what else you can do to make me proud, all right? :-)

The “Dawn of History” Diet

Since I’ve gotten a Fitbug with my company’s wellness program, I’ve been entering my food data every day. There are some things that, after I ate them and entered the data, I decided that I’d never eat them again. That led to me checking on things before eating them and adjusting my intake appropriately. Then there were other things that had a good-to-great level of nutrition per calorie, so I’m keeping those in the diet.

My basic plan is to enjoy one vendor lunch per week, but to eat carefully in the restaurant. It won’t kill me to have the odd burger here or there. Every other day, though, I’m going with what I call a “Dawn of History” diet. I made it up myself, so I know it’ll be awesome for me. YMMV.

While I like the idea of a paleo diet, I’mma gonna have my tortillas. Also cheese. Both of those things were available early on in the civilized human experience, so that gives me an opportunity to coin a new name for the diet.

The heart of the idea is portion control. When I look at what I’m eating and keep things to proper portions, I can enjoy a range of foods that I like, sampling them here and there, and not feel full during the day. When I do hunger, I follow the adage, “If you’re hungry enough to eat an apple, eat an apple.” Carrots, bananas, oranges, and other fruits and vegetables work just fine as substitutes. If, after having one of those, I still need a little taste of something sweet, a single chocolate miniature (40 kcal) hits the spot and I’m good.

So what do I eat? Greek yogurt, bananas, frosted mini-wheats, whole milk at breakfast. Tortillas (2) and 1/3 cup cheese for lunch, along with a cup of mandarin oranges in light syrup, and a serving of baby carrots for lunch. Snacks can include 1 oz of beef jerky, a chocolate, more fruit, or a bag of popcorn. Dinner is whatever the family is going to have for dinner, but I’m sure to have a reasonable amount. We typically have chicken or turkey as a supper protein, with a goodly amount of vegetables served up. That’s good stuff. Drinks are all zero calories, like water or diet soda. OK, so diet soda wasn’t available in 3000 BCE, but the name of the diet is just a guideline, not a rule.

Added to this is a good walk on most days of the week. A good walk is around at least 20-30 minutes of brisk walking, enough to where I can feel the blood pumping in me and I take in some good breaths. If I can eat that light lunch quickly, I can use my hour to drive to the botanical gardens (10 min), walk around and see the sights (40 min), and then head back to work (10 min). I feel great after that walk and I don’t feel like crashing around 2PM. If the weather is bad, I can hit a local museum on any day but Monday – and on Mondays, I can take in the hothouse at the botanical gardens for a tropical stroll.

I’m doing this because I want to get good value out of what I eat, I want to enjoy art and nature, and I want to be a happy person. Crash and fad diets leave people unbalanced and miserable. I’ve seen portion control work for Alton Brown and others for a simple reason: it involves a permanent change in the way one looks at food and lifestyle. I can eat whatever I want to eat because I make a strict accounting of everything I eat… and that leads me to not wanting certain things because of their lack of underlying value.

That’s why I like calling it a “Dawn of History” diet. That takes my mind back to philosophers of old that advocated finding a balance in one’s life. It takes me back to when men did not think themselves masters of all that they could see, but wanting to find harmony with the nature around them. Sure, I’m romanticizing and picking and choosing what philosophies and folkways I identify with: that’s the whole point of creating a theme for an otherwise hokey meal plan. By making it a process that I’m aware of and intrigued by (accounting) and framing it with a motif (ancient philosophies), I can savor my life choices and see this as what I permit myself to do and not what I am forbidden to do. I am forbidden in no thing, but I am free to choose to decline that which does not keep me in balance.

Christmas Island

Leon Redbone Christmas Island

Light, playful, and cheery: that’s this Christmas album in a nutshell. It’s not at all religious, so it’s for the whimsical side of the holidays. There are some recognizable standards, but there are also some gems from bygone days – or at least performed in the style of bygone days – and it makes one wonder why those days are bygone. This is some great stuff.

If you don’t know about Leon Redbone, you should. Well, at least his music: he keeps his personal history closely guarded. That’s fine with me. He’s a great artist with a distinctively charming voice and delivery. If you saw “Elf”, he was the guy singing the duet with Zooey Deschanel in the closing credits. Yeah, him.

The best track on this collection is the title tune, “Christmas Island.” It’s some toe-tapping, whistle-along, delicious ear candy that puts a tropical spin on the old, familiar holiday. These tunes will all help put a smile on your face for what should be the happiest time of the year. Enjoy!

Mahalia Jackson vs. Ray Charles

Mahalia Jackson Silent Night Ray Charles Gospel Christmas

Let me start by saying that Mahalia Jackson and Ray Charles are legends, national treasures. I’ve liked Ray Charles for quite some time and I recently purchased my first Mahalia Jackson CD – the one I’m going to talk about in this post – and was bowled over. Let me be one more voice telling anyone not yet familiar with the work of these two artists that you really owe it to yourself to discover them.

With that being said, I’ll give away my findings now: one CD amazed me, the other disappointed.

“Mahalia Jackson Silent Night” amazed me. Mahalia Jackson’s CD gave me 16 heavenly tracks. Most of them feature just Ms. Jackson’s voice and sparse, muted accompaniment from an organ, piano, or choir. She owns the music on this CD. Her richness of tone, her diction, her clarity, her range, her presence – all are remarkable, and I treasure these songs as sung by her. The overall feel of the album is strongly religious, with only one song, “White Christmas”, having a secular theme. All the other songs can move a body to tears of joy and praise for the power she puts into them. If you’re worried about the commercialization of a holy time of year, play this disc and dispel the messengers of mammon with the angelic delivery of Mahalia Jackson. If you love gospel music, this absolutely belongs in your collection, no excuses.

Now for the disappointment. I really wanted to love “Ray Charles Celebrates a Gospel Christmas.” I really did. My suspicions were aroused, however, when I heard a dubbed intro at the start of the CD. Why did that have to be added in? And while I wanted a Gospel Christmas album, only half the tracks could be considered religious. The rest were Christmas standards that happened to have a gospel choir around while they were being sung. Sadly, those tracks simply did not work with the rest of the mix. I enjoyed “What Kind of Man Is This” and “Oh Happy Day”, but the rest failed to get me going, either from a gospel or from a holiday perspective.

I’ll stick with other offerings from Ray Charles, but I’ve only begun to discover Mahalia Jackson. If you want gospel music with a Christmas theme, follow my recommendations and you can’t go wrong.

God and Guns

Saw a show last night in which yet another weak priest voiced a declaration that God would protect the group he was with, only to be growled down by others proclaiming their trust in a particular make of handgun. Why does the weapon industry need to send the message that, given a choice between looking to God or looking to guns, that we should make an idol out of a gun?

I have faith in God. Faith is the opposite and absence of fear. One reaches for a gun out of fear. I have faith, because I strive to do God’s work in serving others. I know that I will not be taken from the earth until the work I have to do is complete. Gun or no gun, that is the truth.

My commandments tell me to not worship idols. I understand what weapons can do, but the protection they offer is nothing compared to the protection offered by God.

Joshua told us to choose whom we would serve. I’m with Joshua. This day I choose to serve God. Put a gun to my head and the choice is the same.