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I’ll probably go to the hot place for saying so, but “Joy To The World” is actually a pretty weak carol.  Don’t blame Isaac Watts, who published the words in 1719.  Instead, blame Lowell Mason, who set them to their musick in 1839.  That second verse about the “fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains” in particular goes clang! clang! clang! across my soul every time I hear it.

I was braced for it, and so was not terribly put out that we got a helping of John Rutter at last Sunday’s Carols & Lessons.  This year it was the “Shepherd’s Pipe Carol“.  Am I just being unreasonable, or is there something a might creepifying about the combination of the repeated address to the “shepherd boy piping merrily”  and such a squishy setting? Ceci n’est pas nice.

UPDATE: One or two walnuts were chucked across the table at my head, as there seems to be some feeling that ol’ Robbo is being a bit unfair to Mr. Rutter.  Well, meb.  But the fact of the matter is that this damned tune has got itself thoroughly lodged in my ear – it and that old German carol with the refrain that starts “Ideo -o -o” – and like the neeker-breakers of Midgewater Marsh, they’re beginning to make me a bit frantic.

I find this report on the decrease in capital punishment both interesting and, well, encouraging:

States are continuing a trend of executing fewer prisoners and juries are wary of sentencing criminal defendants to die, according to year-end figures compiled by a group that opposes the death penalty.

The 46 executions in 2010 constituted a nearly 12 percent drop from the previous year’s total of 52, according to the group, Death Penalty Information Center, which produces an annual report on execution trends. The overall trend shows a marked drop when compared with the 85 executions in 2000.

Jurors, too, show a continuing preference for the alternative of punishing criminal defendants with sentences of life without parole. Juries handed out 114 death sentences in 2010, slightly higher than the 112 death sentences last year, and 50 percent fewer for the current decade than in the 1990s — before the widespread availability of life without parole sentences for juries in capital cases.

“There’s just a whole lot more concern about the accuracy of the death penalty, the fairness and even the costs — all are contributing,” said Richard C. Dieter, the author of the report and the executive director of the center, which is in Washington. The availability of the alternative to the death penalty, Mr. Dieter said, also means that “prosecutors know it’s going to be a harder sell and are seeking it less.”

As I say, I am rayther encouraged by this news.  You may find that somewhat hard to believe, given that you probably assume that I am a boot-stomping law and order kind of guy.  In fact, that assumption is correct.  And in fact, for many years I was very much pro-capital punishment.

But the truth is that I find myself increasingly agnostic on the issue, primarily, I think, because of the possibility of error and the irreversibility of the results.  I don’t think I’m ready to come out against capital punishment.  Perhaps I never will be, completely.  There’s always going to be some scumbag out there who commits a crime so horrendous that justice can ask nothing less in retribution.   But I do believe that it should be a punishment of last resort, and I’m glad that the judicial system seems to be actively looking for more ways around it.


Two months after a California mall was closed following a devastating fire, authorities had to close it again Monday night after Christmas singers clogged the shopping center.

“The enthusiasm for the Halleluiah event tonight was far greater than anticipated by organizers,” said a statement from the Westfield Galleria at Roseville. “Out of an abundance of caution, the center was evacuated. We apologize for this inconvenience.”

The Sacramento Choral Society was holding what police called a “well-publicized” event to sing the “Hallelujah Chorus” in the mall’s food court, scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

“Come join our large Chorus of area Singers as they burst into Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus much to the surprise and delight of Shoppers in the Food Court of the recently reopened Westfield Galleria at Roseville,” the society’s website trumpeted ahead of the event.

But less than an hour beforehand, too many people had crowded into the mall.

“At 6:45 p.m., the Roseville Police and Fire communications center received reports that people in the food court heard popping noises and felt floor movement,” a police statement said.

Well, hurrah for the enthusiasm.  Not so much for the popping noises and floor movement, which are sick-making to contemplate.

I suppose it’s irreversible now, but it has always struck me as too bad that the “Hallelujah” Chorus has been so thoroughly identified with Christmas.  Its more proper season is Easter, given that it comes from the section of The Messiah concerning Christ’s Passion and celebrates his triumph.  The Chorus is, in fact, a coronation anthem and really has nothing much to do with babies in mangers.




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December 2010