Thursday Morning Open Thread: Dependable Solace

(Jim Morin via

Well, that’s deplorable solace. Books, on the other hand…

The research is all but irrefutable: Parents of very young children who talk to, read and engage with them as often as possible help them build literacy skills at an early age – an educational foundation that can give kids a jump-start on future academic success.

Also certain: Parents of very young children usually have to do a lot of laundry. And low-income families tend to bring their kids with them to public laundromats.

Those truths converge once a week at select neighborhood laundromats in Chicago. That’s when librarians from one of the nation’s largest library systems lay down colorful mats, oversized board books and musical shakers beside the industrial washing machines and wire laundry baskets.

Inside one of about 14 laundromats in the city’s low-income neighborhoods, the librarians gather all available children for Laundromat Story Time, a Chicago Public Library program that combines early education principles with public outreach and a dash of parental modeling.

Amid the muffled churn of the washers and the humming of dryers, anywhere between a handful to more than a dozen children hear stories, sing songs and play games designed to help their brains develop. The event also aims to tacitly instruct parents on how to repeat the experience for their kids, working to reverse poor literacy rates in underserved communities…
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Joyful Noises!

I love this meme — it’s been around for a while, but was only recently shared with me by my music-professor sister:

OK…so it’s a little harsh.

Anyway, on this Christmas afternoon, I thought I’d share a lovely scene from a movie I’ve never actually watched the whole of, just because boy sopranos, when they’re good, are surreal:

And just because we can’t have it all be sickly sweet, how about a little rougher edge…

Well, not that rough.

Gonna leave this one with what remains one of my favorite bittersweet-to-bitter Christmas songs:

This came on the radio the other day while I was driving somewhere with my son, and he couldn’t believe that Shane MacGowan was anyone’s idea of a singer. More fool he.

Top of the day to  y’all. My sprout and I have finished our ritual (and delicious) Chinese lunch, and will be heading down (w. the spouse) to more family south of the Athens of America.  Roast beast and red wine, and a day w. four generations.  I wish your preferred company (self and others) to all my fellow jackals.

Over to y’all.

Tuesday Morning Open Thread: Merry Xmas, Earthlings

From the Washington Post:

The astronauts had spun around the moon a few times already, their gaze pointed down on the gray, pockmarked lunar surface. But now as they completed another orbit of the moon on Christmas Eve 1968, Frank Borman, the commander of the Apollo 8 mission, rolled the spacecraft, and, soon, there it was.

Earth, this bright, beautiful sphere, alone in the inky vastness of space, a soloist at the edge of the stage suspended in the spotlight.

“Oh, my God,” exclaimed Bill Anders, the lunar module pilot. “Look at that picture over there! There’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!”

Anders knew black and white film wouldn’t do it justice. But he also knew he didn’t have a lot of time if he was going to get the shot.

“Hand me a roll of color quick, will you,” he said.

“Oh, man, that’s great,” said Jim Lovell, the command module pilot and navigator.

“Hurry,” Anders pleaded. “Quick!”

Anders loaded the color film into his Hasselblad camera and started firing away while his anxious crewmates remained transfixed by the blue and white vision outside their windows…

Two days later, the film was processed, and NASA released photo number 68-H-1401 to the public with a news release that said: “This view of the rising earth greeted the Apollo 8 astronauts as they came from behind the moon after the lunar orbit insertion burn.”…

“As I looked down at the Earth, which is about the size of your fist at arm’s length, I’m thinking this is not a very big place. Why can’t we get along?” Anders said during a video played during a ceremony at Washington National Cathedral recently celebrating the 50th anniversary of the mission. “To me it was strange that we had worked and had come all the way to the moon to study the moon, and what we really discovered was the Earth.”

A Beary Merry Christmas Eve

My family does presents and the big dinner on Christmas Eve, so today we did the traditional Czech goose/dumplings/kraut meal my grandma always used to cook. All went well. Present-wise, I got socks and a new set of Switch controllers. And throughout it all, we were accompanied by my mom’s very good boy, Bear.

As a result of the Christmas Eve preëminence, I often travel on Christmas, and indeed, I’m heading back home to NY tomorrow (I almost typed SF just then!). But perhaps some of you are staying up late waiting for/being Santa, so I figured we could use an overnight open thread. Hope your Christmas Eve was as Bear-y as mine!

Imitatio Christi vs. Trump’s Example

A story from The New York Times that reminds that there are some folks who walk the walk:

THE HAGUE — Jessa van der Vaart and Rosaliene Israel, two Dutch pastors, usually get to church by cycling through the streets of Amsterdam to a Protestant parish in the city center. But last Wednesday night, they packed their robes into the trunk of a car and drove down the highway to The Hague for what was the equivalent of a priestly shift change.

They would take over at 8 p.m. from a local minister at the modest Bethel Church. Then, at 11 p.m., they would be replaced by a group from the city of Voorburg, who were scheduled to pull an all-nighter, singing hymns and preaching until daylight, when another cleric would arrive to take the baton…

The two ministers were making their way to their post in what has become, as the Times wrote, a “marathon church service,” one that has been conducted continuously for the last six weeks, night and day.

Why is this happening? Because enough Dutch people, church-goers and more secular, have committed themselves to the succor of the least among them, and are being very clever about how they go about it:

Under an obscure Dutch law, the police may not disrupt a church service to make an arrest. And so for the past six weeks, immigration officials have been unable to enter Bethel Church to seize the five members of the Tamrazyan family, Armenian refugees who fled to the sanctuary to escape a deportation order.

What I find particularly cheering at this wretched pass in both US and European times is that this effort has grown into something more than a (totally praiseworthy) effort of a few folks in one neighborhood into a national expression of values:

The service, which began in late October as a little-noticed, last-gasp measure by a small group of local ministers, is now a national movement, attracting clergy members and congregants from villages and cities across the Netherlands. More than 550 pastors from about 20 denominations have rotated through Bethel Church, a nonstop service all in the name of protecting one vulnerable family.

This is, of course, a symbolic gesture, as vital as it is to the Tamrazyan family.  There are hundreds of thousands of refugees scattered through Europe, thousands upon thousands of people trapped at the US-Mexico border, and way too many evil figures weaponizing their misery to utterly malign ends.  Mobilizing over five hundred people to save five leaves so many more in desparate need.  And yet…

Symbolic acts are not meaningless ones, and far less are they powerless.  Trump and his European counterparts are loud, and they assert a claim on reality just on the volume of noise they project.  It is impossible to counter that without creating a joyful noise in response, and that is what I think is going on here.  550 ministers carry a lot of congregants behind them.  The news is clearly getting out, if late nights in a small Hague sanctuary make the Grey Lady (no longer of) 43nd St.

One last note, on the eve of one of the most festive days in the Christian calendar.  I’m far from Christian myself, as y’all know; I am rather, an atheist (some days agnostic, but not that many) Jew.  There are lots of things that the historical church has to answer for — and by “church” I mean not just those ruled by the See of Rome, but the whole passel — and in this there’s an analogue in Judaism, where as far back as Isaiah keen observers have noted gaps between ritual perfection and a genuine commitment to tikkun olam.   Through it all, though, the idea of imitatio Christi, living one’s life as much as Jesus would have, is a powerful ideal.

It’s true (and that’s exactly what Isaiah was warning about) that the loud assertion of faith can — and we’ve seen it a lot ltely — produce at best an external appearance of godliness.  But this one example in Holland cheers me tonight, if only because it bears witness to the notion that what passes for Christian politics is not defined by the travesty American evangelicals have made of it.

And with that:  a merry Christmas to all who merrify; a happy holiday to all those who happify; and a premature new year’s wish to all my fellow jackals, with no false seasonal saccharine:

FSM bless all here, and may Grabthar’s Hammer wreak havoc upon all our enemies, soon, in our days.

This thread is open for piety, blasphemy, patristics, yiddishkeit, and/or any thing else….

Image: Pieter Brueghel the Younger, The preaching of St. John the Baptist, betw. 1601 and 1604.