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Still Thankful After All These Years c/w The Turkey Pardoner's Tale

Thomas Nast - Uncle Sam's Thanksgiving - 1869

Last year for Thanksgiving, I posted (with lyrics) the original 1970 Christmas-single* recording of Fairport Convention's "Now Be Thankful."  Here's another:

This is a reworking by the current version of the band for their 2002 collection XXXV.  (The album title refers to the band's then-thirty-five year history.)  This new turn is a bit more overstuffed, a bit more self-consciously stately than the 1970 rendition, but it is still a lovely, lovely song.  I am curious to know which of the cowriters (Dave Swarbrick or Richard Thompson) was principally responsible for the lyric, especially in the chorus, which achieves a deceptive simplicity reminiscent of Blake.

[Illustration, from Harper's Weekly, November 20, 1869, via the Thomas Nast Portfolio, at Ohio State University.]


Turkey Pardon 2005 - the President with 'Marshmallow'

With the song last year, I also posted a photo from the annual Turkey Pardon at the White House.  Here is a snap from this year's ceremony.  (White House Photo by David Bohrer; others available here.  Photos of various prior Presidents, going back to Harry S. Truman, with our National Bird may be examined here.)

In the past, the pardoned foul have left the White House to take up residence at a Virginia animal farm named -- to the turkeys' dismay, I'm sure -- Frying Pan Park.  This year, however, the turkeys will instead be winging their way to southern California, where they will take up residence at Disneyland.  The zealots at PETA are claiming responsibility for the change of plans; Disney spokespersons give a somewhat differing version.  The Los Angeles Times reports:

With a contentious Congress in recess, some might speculate that the turkeys are benefiting from the benevolence of a capital in seasonal good cheer.  But the travel plans may have more to do with a letter-writing campaign sponsored by People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals, along with some reports in the media, decrying the fate that befell the pardoned birds in the past.  'We sent a letter to President Bush early last week, as we have for the last five years in a row, asking him to send the birds to a better environment than Frying Pan Park, where they shiver in a 10-by-10 shed with no mental or physical stimulation and tend to die within six months,' said Bruce Friedrich, director of vegan campaigns for PETA.  'Really, the pardon for the last 15 years has been more like a death sentence.'

The park, an animal sanctuary in Herndon, Va., that re-creates a 1930s farm for visiting schoolchildren, denies that it has mistreated the turkeys, which it considers honored guests.

'The claims of poor or inhumane treatment were a little painful for our staff, because they take pride in the care of the animals,' said spokeswoman Judy Pedersen.  'Many of these turkeys are bred for the table.  They don't tend to have a long retirement.'

For its part, Disney said that it scored the presidential turkey with a request to the National Turkey Federation, a Washington-based advocacy group that has provided a Thanksgiving bird to the commander-in-chief since 1947.

But this being Washington, conspiracy theories have popped up about the real motive behind the destination change.  With the White House referring all questions to the federation and the federation not returning calls, PETA is sure the president wants to fend off any more negative publicity.  'He's dodging Turkeygate,' Friedrich said.

The President's remarks on the occasion of the 2005 Turkey Pardon (full text available here) included this:

I'm going to grant a pardon this afternoon, and the pardon I grant comes with a new measure of responsibility and fame for [the turkeys named] Marshmallow and Yam. In the past years, the turkeys I spared went on to lead lives of leisure at Frying Pan Park in the state of Virginia.  This year is going to be a little different.  Marshmallow and Yam were a little skeptical about going to a place called 'Frying Pan Park.'  I don't blame them.  So I'm proud to announce that Marshmallow and Yam will serve as honorary grand marshals at Disneyland's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  And they'll go on to spend the rest of their natural lives at Disneyland.

Discuss: to what extent are there any "natural lives" at Disneyland?

Also apropos of the turkeys' visit: a turkey recipe from the excellent Napa Rose restaurant at the Disneyland resort.


*  The "Christmas single" phenomenon -- the breathless wonder with which the public awaits the revelation of which performer tops the UK charts on Christmas Day -- has no U.S. equivalent.  In 2003, it provided the background for what was arguably the most amusing of the innumerable subplots in the film Love Actually, with Bill Nighy as wizened rocker Billy Mack making it to the top by promising to perform his tune "Christmas is All Around" in the nude.

  • So central to the essence of UK-ness is this ritual that the British Council has prepared a classroom curriculum on the subject. 
  • Making it to Number One is not without a price, however, as the Guardian reported in its 2004 exposé of "The curse of the Christmas single."  (Pity if you will poor Bing Crosby, who succumbed to the dual curses of a Christmas #1 and a duet with David Bowie.  And may the sorry tale of The Singing Nun be a lesson to us all.)

"Now Be Thankful" was released as a Christmas single in 1970.  It is notable as the final Fairport Convention recording with Richard Thompson before he left the band for his well-respected solo career.  It is also notable for its B-Side, a medley of mostly traditional tunes to which was attached the band's bid to achieve the ranks of Longest Song Title in the Guinness Book of World Records:

"Sir B. McKenzie's Daughter's Lament for the 77th Mounted Lancer's Retreat from the Straits of Loch Knombe, in the Year of Our Lord 1727, on the Occasion of the Announcement of Her Marriage to the Laird of Kinleakie"

Details?  They're right here.

And a most Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Fresh Greenery

I have grown weary at last of the previous design of this weblog and so have opted to apply one of the standard templates provided by the good citizens at TypePad.  Someday, perhaps, I will achieve my ambition of learning something really useful concerning HTML and CSS and LSMFT and such, and will generate a more resoundingly attractive page.  For the time being, I hope that this one will suit your fancy.

The link lists in the left column [formerly in the right column] have also been trifled with, with additions and deletions throughout.  Several of the additions are weblogs that I could have sworn I had already added long ago; I am chagrined at my inadvertent delay in bringing them on to the relevant lists.  Deletions include some sites that I have simply got out of the habit of reading, but most are weblogs that are no longer extant or active.

Alfred the Butler Tends to His Gardner

"The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne"

    -- Geoffrey Chaucer, The Parliament of Fowles, ln. 1

Matthew Perpetua's FLUXBLOG is usually a pretty-darned-good MP3 weblog, but Matthew recently took a moment to indulge his fondness for The Art of the Comic with a nod [here] to


[Michael Allred's] brilliant 'Batman A-Go-Go!,' an ambitious story that makes a strong case for the upbeat, flamboyant Batman of the 60s over the dreary, oppressive Batman of the past twenty years.  The story is as much about Batman's cultural evolution as it is about Allred's pro-joy philosophy of art.  He totally nails it on this page [also accessible by clicking the excerpted detail at right], as Alfred Pennyworth challenges the popular notion that the only valid depiction of reality in art is ugly and relentlessly negative.

The treat here, for me, is the notion that Stately Wayne Manor contains, if only in the butler's private library, a copy of the late John Gardner's On Moral Fiction, an imperfect but worthy book that I make it a point to revisit every few years.  Gardner was last mentioned here in connection with the operatic adaptation of his novel, Grendel; I have held Gardner's writing in high regard since I first read that book over 30 years ago.

On Moral Fiction is frequently criticized by people who have never read it, not unlike Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind (though Gardner's book has never sold remotely the number of copies as Bloom's).  Gardner held strong opinions and, as strongly opinionated persons will, not always with basis in fact. 

A good portion of the book is taken up with clouting various of Gardner's contemporaries in the fiction game about the head and shoulders for their sins.  Many of those writers are hardly heard of anymore -- meaning either that Gardner was right or that he was wasting his time critiquing minor practitioners.  Of the writers who still appear on the lit'ry radar, Gardner got it wrong as often as he got it right.  Broad swaths of his critique of John Barth are unjustified, to take a prominent example, and he is much too harsh on Thomas Pynchon.  His essential premise, however, was sound and while it may not be the only commendable way in which to approach the writing of fiction, it is certainly one of the most commendable.

As Gardner acknowledged at the time, he let himself in for no end of trouble when he elected to incorporate the M-word -- "MORAL" -- into his title.  Well before the book was first published in 1979, "morality" had come to be seen as the province of prudes and self-important puritanical sorts, and any number of well-read readers had developed a near-allergic reaction to the very idea that the moral and the immoral were worth identifying and separating from one another.  Gardner never held a brief for puritanism (despite his own chronic inability to write a credible sex scene).  His notion of The Moral had more in common with The True and The Beautiful than with Conventional Right Thinking or Good Behavior.  (Alfred's comic-book synopsis above is a major oversimplification.)

In a long posthumously published interview with The Paris Review, downloadable [38 pages, in PDF format] from this page, Gardner gave one of his better thumbnail statements of what he was on about:

You've recently had essays appear on the subject of what you call 'moral fiction' and 'moral criticism.'  Some readers might have trouble with the word 'moral.'  Could you explain what you mean by 'moral?'  The word, as you've acknowledged, has pejorative implications these days.

I know.  It shouldn't.  I certainly don't mean fiction that preaches.  I'm talking mainly -- though not exclusively -- about works of fiction that are moral in their process.  That is to say, the way they work is moral.  Good works of fiction study values by testing them in imagined/real situations, testing them hard, being absolutely fair to both sides.  The real moral writer is the opposite of the minister, the preacher, the rabbi.  Insofar as he can, the preacher tries to keep religion as it always was, outlawing contraceptives or whatever; his job is conservative.  The writer's job on the other hand, is to be radically open to persuasion.  He should, if possible, not be committed to one side more than the other  -- which is simply to say that he wants to affirm life, not sneer at it -- but he has to be absolutely fair, understanding the moral limits of his partisanship.  His affirmation has to be earned.  If he favors the cop, he must understand the arguments for life on the side of the robber.

What would be 'immoral' fiction?

Mainly, fiction goes immoral when it stops being fair, when it stops trusting the laboratory experiment.  You lie about characters, you make people do what you want them to do.  This is characteristic of most hot-shot writers around now.  I would agree with people who get nervous around the word 'morality,' because usually the people who shout 'immoral' are those who want to censor things, or think that all bathroom scenes or bedroom scenes or whatever are wicked.  That kind of morality is life-denying, evil.  But I do think morality is a real thing that's worth talking about....

[Gardner completists will want to visit the John C. Gardner Appreciation Page, which includes a reproduction of a business card he used while a Visiting Professor at the University of Detroit in the early '70s -- "medievalist, novelist, banjoist, lyric and epic poet - consultant on all subjects" -- and an annotated map [PDF] of Batavia, New York, Gardner's birthplace and the setting for The Sunlight Dialogues, which appears to have fallen out of print.]

In On Moral Fiction, the one of his contemporaries for whom Gardner reserved the most praise was John Fowles, who died earlier this month at the age of 79.  Alan Sullivan's post was the first to bring Fowles' passing to my attention; a good collection of Fowlesian links can be found, naturally, at The Elegant Variation.  Most of the obituaries for Fowles focus on The Magus and The French Lieutenant's Woman (which gives the obituarists the added bonus of another opportunity to drop a curtsy to Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter, who wrote the screenplay for the film version), but Gardner favored Daniel Martin, which was just being published at the same time as On Moral FictionDaniel Martin was Fowles' attempt -- successful in my view -- at the old-fashioned Serious Novel of Character and Ideas, and is notable for the excellence of its descriptions of nature and for the lengths to which Fowles goes, without ever resorting to cheap plot trickery, to keep his two principal characters out of one another's beds until very near the end of its pages.  Daniel Martin's opening sentence would be a good summation of the goal of Gardner's "moral" writer:


Twelve Angry More or Less Sanguine Men Persons of Various Genders

Well now, that was interesting.

I have spent this past week and a half serving as, of all things, a juror on an assault case -- there was a firearm involved, or so we concluded beyond a reasonable doubt -- in the downtown Los Angeles criminal courthouse.  (Guess who got to be foreperson....)  I have always appreciated jurors; now I can finally say that I have personally Felt Their Pain.  [I have been called to serve before, but we lawyers are usually among the first to be tossed out when our brethren and sistren start wielding their peremptory challenges.]  I am left without doubt on this point as well: those who actually serve, and actually do the hard work of jurying, deserve no end of praise and appreciation (this writer excepted, of course, since claiming praise for oneself is gauche at best).

I will be acting as Chief Seminar Wrangler for an all-day insurance-related event tomorrow, then return to the practice of law for my own clients and to the spreading of foolishness for you, O reader.