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The raving thoughts of a misanthropic academic

December 20, 2010

Song of the Week: Silent Night

Brown Baptist ChurchUnlike many families, the Fodder Family Christmas is traditionally held on Christmas Eve. Some of my earliest memories of life come from Christmas Eves spent in the drafty Brown American Indian Baptist Church, just five miles south of Walters on Highway 5.

(Incidentally, this is the same church where I met my wife at the tender age of 13).

As did many of the children, I had a sense of dread as we lined up to participate in the annual Christmas Program. Like criminals waiting to be executed, we somberly walked down the narrow aisle toward the front, parading before the stained glass windows and our adoring families, badly reenacting the birth of Baby Jesus. Invariably someone would fall, see their mother, or make a b-line for the exits in the middle of the procession. And every other year or so, the odd child would simply stand on the stage and cry, giving my mother/director fits.

Of course, nothing matched my personal dread, standing before a packed congregation, and reading the Christmas Story from the book of Luke, usually chapter two:

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
(Luke 2:1-2 ESV)

Not to brag, but I have sometimes been asked how I developed what scant public speaking skills I have. My stock answer is that nothing steels the soul quite like reading the Christmas story to a church full of Baptists on Christmas Eve.

And let’s face it, if you can learn to properly pronounce “Quirinius” while speaking in public, well quite nearly anything can roll off the tongue.

Brown Church, Stained Glass WindowAt any rate, my big relief came when the bell tolled, sending a signal to Santa Claus that the torture of the children was over.

Bounding through the front door, parading past the stained glass windows, Santa Clause came with a big bag of presents for all the boys and girls – whether good or bad, much to my chagrin. That particular moment always struck me as an incredible teaching opportunity to stiff the kids that had screwed up our Christmas play.

Santa seemed to think better of it.

Of course, this came as little surprise. Santa Claus was always one to let the odd bit of mischief go unpunished. I knew this first hand. After all, the part of Santa Claus was played by my Grandfather who was generally quite keen to turn a blind eye to the trouble-making caused by his grandchildren.

Many years have passed, and Grandpa Fodder has long since relinquished his role as Santa Claus in the Brown Church Christmas Program. I suppose hip replacement surgery makes it somewhat perilous for squirming children to sit on his lap these days. But the Christmas tradition soldiers on every Dec. 24th.

Papa's Living Room, Christmas 2004Church services were followed by our family Christmas at the Fodder Family Farm. Our stockings hung neatly above the cramped living room. Toys packed deep within the branches at the base of the Christmas tree. Nothing compared to the smell of the cedar as we entered the house. The scent was even more satisfying, knowing that I had helped cut the tree from a grove near the creek behind our house.

After Christmas dinner, pie, and coffee (I began drinking the nectar of the gods around age five) it was finally time to open presents. As the living room became a wasteland of wrapping paper, I could always look forward to the pouting face of my youngest sister when she did not get the Bratz Doll of her choice.

Chelsey - I Hate This Bow

But what I remember most about the Church service, and our family gathering was the music. From the church singing carols in unison, to the small cd player tucked into the corner of our living room, it was always the Christmas music that set the spirit of the evening. Christmas would surely have been memorable and special without the sounds to match. But with them, the evening was perfect.

Among the pantheon of hymns, no song stood out more in my mind than the timeless Christmas Carol, Silent Night as performed by Bing Crosby. I could wax eloquent about the song’s timelessness, and the depth of meaning it communicates. But the carol’s genius is in its brevity, and its profundity in its simplicity. A simple song, for a simple message of redemption that mankind will never fully grasp.

The Bing Crosby version of the Silent Night, circa 1947 is the gold standard for the song. Crosby’s performance is notable for its starkness. A simple white backdrop and a boys choir are all that accompany the voice more widely associated with Christmas than any other.  The carol will almost certainly blare from the iPod player as we open Christmas presents Friday night, in the same cramped living room you see above. For if Christmas isn’t about tradition, then nothing is.

With that, please enjoy the Pax Plena Song of the Week: Silent Night as performed by Bing Crosby. Lyrics follow after the jump.

Silent Night, Holy Night
By Bing Crosby

Silent Night, Holy night, all is calm, all is bright
'Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in Heavenly peace
Sleep in Heavenly peace

Silent Night, Holy night, shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from Heaven a far
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia
Christ the Savior is born
Christ the Savior is born

Silent Night, Holy night, Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

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December 19, 2010

Realism and The U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Much hay was made late last week when the United States endorsed the 2007 United Nations' Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or the UNDRIP.

[Link]

But as one friend put it, the Declaration is little more than a "non-binding gesture of goodwill," for my money, not unlike a Christmas card. And in fact, the Christmas cards you receive this month may have more meaning behind them.

Many tribal interests have lauded the Obama Administration's decision to endorse the instrument, but the functional difference the endorsement makes for indigenous rights in the United States is anyone's guess.

Realistically, the Declaration does precious little to alter the domestic policy of nations' toward their indigenous populations. Nothing in the UNDRIP, for example, requires that nations consult with indigenous peoples prior to making decisions on issues affecting them. Article 19 of the Declaration provides:
Article 19

States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.
While the language of the Article reads like a robust mandate, the Declaration is actually non-binding on signatory governments. The actual language from the Declaration's Preamble merely "encourages" states to comply with the instrument's provisions. This, of course, means that signatory parities are free to disregard the Declaration so long as they make a good faith effort to implement its aspirations.

To be fair, this criticism is not specific to the UNDRIP. The problem of weak mandates is endemic to many areas of international law, even where the instruments in question are actually said to be binding on the signatory parties. Consider the matter of Dann v. U.S..

There, the Dann sisters routinely grazed their cattle on public lands that were once part of the Western Shoshone Reservation. When the U.S. Government slapped a fine on the sisters for grazing without a permit, the Danns claimed that the lands were part of their ancestral territory, and that the fine violated their indigenous human rights. Naturally, the matter was litigated in the U.S. Courts where the Danns lost at every level, including the United States Supreme Court.

Having exhausted their domestic remedies, the Danns brought their petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights which issued a sweeping finding of violation against the U.S. Government.

While the matter might seem like a win in any domestic court in the world, in international law the outcome was quite the contrary. In response to the IACHR opinion, the U.S. Government flatly ignored the Commission's ruling, seized the Danns cattle, and dismissed the entire proceeding as the misguided effort of two Indians to upset the settled expectations of tribal property law.

Note carefully, that this was the outcome litigated under an international law instrument that is said to be 'binding' upon the signatory parties. If a binding instrument produces such incongruous results, the long-term viability of a non-binding instrument is a legitimate concern for advocates seeking to affirm rights on behalf of indigenous peoples under the Declaration.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
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December 10, 2010

Song of the Week: The Holly and the Ivy

It’s already Friday, and our Song of the Week feature is nigh on life support just under two weeks after its resurrection. In correcting course, it seems appropriate to run a series of Christmas songs to get back on track, and to get our readers into the Holiday mood.

The Christmas carol The Holly and the Ivy has been around almost as long as Christmas itself. Originating from the early, Druid songs and ceremonies of the British Isles, The Holly and the Ivy became a mainstay of Christmas hymnody during the 1400 and 1500s. 

The music is fairly simple as one might expect Druid music to be, but it commends a delicate grace toward the Christmas season. In its best form, as in the Bing Crosby version below, the music is light and festive. It’s not hard to envision carolers singing the song in a London pub, slogging back pints around the corner piano.

The lyrics, by contrast, are fairly austere. They invoke nearly every icon of the Christmas season, from the purity of Marry in Bethlehem to the blood of Christ at Calvary.

But the mix works. While it’s true that the Christian faith is sometimes called cheerless, and even dreary by some, the overarching theme of the music and of Christmas itself is one of great joy – all made possible by Jesus’s birth.

With that bit of introduction, please enjoy these initial sounds of the season brought to you courtesy of the Pax Plena Song of the Week, The Holly and the Ivy. The Bing Crosby version begins at the 2:09 mark, while Cambridge University’s King’s College Choir performs the song in full below.

 

 

King's College

 

The Holly and the Ivy

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood
The holly bears the crown

Chorus:
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir

The holly bears a blossom
As white as lily flower
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To be our sweet Saviour

Chorus

The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good

Chorus

The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas Day in the morn.

Chorus

The holly bears a bark
As bitter as any gall;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to redeem us all.

Chorus

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Organic, free-range thought courtesy of your average, coffee-addicted, American Indian, academic. Program Manager @IGPatUA.


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