The Evisceration of the Uighurs

The thing that bothers me more than anything else, these last few years, is the question of how to respond to matters like these.
A small medical team and a young doctor starting a practice in internal medicine had driven up from Sun Yat-sen Medical University in a van modified for surgery. Pulling in on bulldozed earth, they found a small fleet of similar vehicles—clean, white, with smoked glass windows and prominent red crosses on the side. The police had ordered the medical team to stay inside for their safety. Indeed, the view from the side window of lines of ditches—some filled in, others freshly dug—suggested that the hilltop had served as a killing ground for years.

Thirty-six scheduled executions would translate into 72 kidneys and corneas divided among the regional hospitals. Every van contained surgeons who could work fast: 15-30 minutes to extract.
That is only to set the stage. We understand about harvesting organs from executed prisoners, yes, but what about people who were never prisoners -- who were summarily executed by China's armed police?
[T]he armed police saw the ambulance and waved him over.
“This one. It’s this one.”
Sprawled on the blood-soaked ground was a man, around 30, dressed in navy blue overalls. All convicts were shaved, but this one had long hair.
“That’s him. We’ll operate on him.”
“Why are we operating?” Enver protested, feeling for the artery in the man’s neck. “Come on. This man is dead.”

Enver stiffened and corrected himself. “No. He’s not dead.”

“Operate then. Remove the liver and the kidneys. Now! Quick! Be quick!”... As Enver’s scalpel went in, the man’s chest heaved spasmodically and then curled back again....  Enver worked fast, not bothering with clamps, cutting with his right hand, moving muscle and soft tissue aside with his left, slowing down only to make sure he excised the kidneys and liver cleanly. 
What about the ones who were butchered alive?
[I]t took years for him to understand that live organs had lower rejection rates in the new host, or that the bullet to the chest had—other than that first sickening lurch—acted like some sort of magical anaesthesia.... 
Nijat finally understood. The anticoagulant. The expensive “execution meals” for the regiment following a trip to the killing ground. The plainclothes agents in the cells who persuaded the prisoners to sign statements donating their organs to the state. And now the medical director was confirming it all: Those statements were real. They just didn’t take account of the fact that the prisoners would still be alive when they were cut up.
What about ethnic cleansing via the murder of babies?
If a Uighur couple had a second child, even if the birth was legally sanctioned, Chinese maternity doctors, she observed, administered an injection (described as an antibiotic) to the infant. The nurse could not recall a single instance of the same injection given to a Chinese baby. Within three days the infant would turn blue and die. Chinese staffers offered a rote explanation to Uighur mothers: Your baby was too weak, your baby could not handle the drug.
What bothers me isn't the existence of evil:  the structure of the world is not our fault.  What bothers me is the lack of a way to respond to it without creating a worse evil:  economic sanctions could collapse China, leading to millions of innocent deaths and civil war; smiting the wicked with the sword would lead to an international war.  This is what bothers me about the world.

Christmas Oratorio

This one is by Bach.  I assume you need no introduction.  The man was a miracle.

A True Victory

The NRA's Institute for Legislative Action normally trumpets their successes on law-making matters; given the general turn against anti-gun legislation, these are less crucial than they were twenty years ago.  However, this report is not about legislation, but about an even more substantial victory:
Data recently released by the National Center for Health Statistics shows that in 2008, the number and per capita rate of firearm accident deaths fell to an all-time low. There were 592 firearm accident deaths (0.19 such accidents per 100,000 population) in 2008, as compared to 613 accidents (.20 per 100,000) in 2007. In 2008, the chance of a child dying in a firearm accident was roughly one in a million.
Firearm accidents accounted for 0.5% of all accidental deaths; well below the percentages accounted for by motor vehicle accidents, falls, fires, poisonings, and several other more common types of mishaps.
I say this is more substantial because it relies upon moving a far greater number of people.  To achieve a victory in Congress, as difficult as that can be, requires affecting the behavior of fewer than 300 people -- often far fewer, since bad bills can often be killed in committee.

To bring the rate of accidental gun deaths down to so low a level requires influencing the behavior of millions.  This required a commitment to gun safety in perhaps a hundred million households nationwide; it required discipline and education on the part of all those families.  Nevertheless, quietly, it was achieved.

Canceling the Mass in Christmas

The sorting out of Iraq's internal tensions was inevitable given our rapid departure; but the threats against Christians are not new.
Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk in northern Iraq told the agency Aid to the Church in Need that Christians will spend Christmas in "great fear" because of the risk of new attacks. 
All services and Masses have been scheduled for daylight hours, he said in an interview with Rome-based AsiaNews. 
"Midnight Christmas Mass has been canceled in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk as a consequence of the never-ending assassinations of Christians," he said, citing the Oct. 31, 2010, attack on the Syrian Catholic cathedral that left 57 people dead in the Iraqi capital.
Something to think about, this Christmastide.

Christmas Overture

It's a German piece, given what "German" meant in 1700.

Yuletide: Scottish Shortbread

The following bit of history is from The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook.  The book is an outstanding example of what a cookbook should be, and by far the finest one I've ever seen when it comes to any sort of bread.  I think they're more experts on baking than history, but so far everything else they've written about bread has proven to be right.  So why not 'history of bread'?
Scottish shortbread was originally made from oatmeal and was served on the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year.  The edges of the round "cake" were notched, symbolizing the sun which was being entreated to return.  Nowadays in Scotland, shortbread is mostly made with wheat flour but the edges are still marked with those symbolic notches.  It is served on Hogmanay (New Year's Eve) and New Year's morning to "first-footers," those revelers who have stayed up all night to see the New Year and are the first to go from house to house, visiting and celebrating.

Here at Grim's Hall, the old fashion is always the order of the day.  So, I modified the recipe to be made chiefly with oats, and am serving it on the Solstice.  This Hogmanay thing sounds like it could be fun too, though, especially since it seems to involve building and burning Viking longships.  Maybe some year we'll be able to swing the trip to Edinburgh for the celebration.

Stuff the Net Is Good at

Here's something interactive websites are really useful for: walking us through concepts in geometry. If you're trying to home school a kid, this sure would be a helpful tool. There are clear and well-organized explanations, too, better than the gibberish we often encounter in printed textbooks. I linked to the parabola page, but the site is broad.

Cherry-Picked Climate Emails Explained

We can all relax; ClimateGate2 was completely overblown. The University of East Anglia has posted explanations of some of the troubling quotations taken unfairly out of context, such as: "I too don’t see why the schemes should be symmetrical. The temperature ones certainly will not as we’re choosing the periods to show the warming," “Getting people we know and trust [into IPCC] is vital," and "Any work we have done in the past is done on the back of the research grants we get - and has to be well hidden."

Yeah, I still don't get it, either.

North Korea Goes Dark in Mourning

Wait, that's not mourning, that's just Kim Jong Il's legacy. Meanwhile, the Cuban government declared three days of mourning, presumably because he made them look good. (On the same principle, Nicaragua and Venezuela expressed sincere condolences.) I suppose he gets points, too, for reducing North Korea's carbon footprint, reducing light pollution for stargazers, and all but eliminating income inequality in his country in the only way we know from experience to be possible.

I keep looking at that satellite photograph. What would that area of the world have looked like if the U.S. hadn't gotten into the Korean War? On the other hand, why weren't China and North Viet Nam dumb enough to achieve the same fate? They certainly tried hard enough.

The Washington Post (h/t Maggie's Farm) explains it in a succinct chart:

Orientis Partibus

This version is from Hungary.  The song is in Latin, so that pilgrims from anywhere might have understood it if they had learned enough of the language to appreciate the Mass.

Most of these old Latin songs are called by their first few words.  "Orientis Partibus" means, "Out of the east came..."  Well, what came?  This version from Italy gives you a good idea:

We are a little early for the Feast of the Ass, but this will give you time to plan.
[The 14th of January] is a particularly bittersweet feastday with a vivid, raucous history of celebration worthy of the medieval epoch. It is that of the Flight in Egypt, also known as Festum Asinorum, the Feast of the Ass....
This event, amongst others, was celebrated in the Middle Ages as a play, inspired by the pseudo-Augustinian "Sermo contra judaeos, paganos, et Arianos de Symbolo," (a sermon which I burn to read, being an adjuration both to Jews and Gentiles--historial, philosophical, and prophetic). At the climax of the lively procession, the ass exchanged the wizard Balaam, who was marching to curse God's chosen people, for the virgin Mother of God, who was flying into Egypt to save her Son. All fittingly culminated in the Mass, at the end of which the officiating priest did not say 'Ite Missa est' nor did the congregation respond 'Deo gratias.' Instead there was a startling exchange of: 'Heehaw, heehaw, heehaw!'
You can read more about the Feast -- which was chiefly a French festival, though we have seen the appeal of the Latin song far afield -- in this article.
Saw these ladies on Friday night last in Philadelphia. If you ever get the chance to hear them live, please do.

Songs from All Saints

The notes say that All Saints' choir was a children's choir until 1968, at which point the school that fed the choir closed, and the choir became one of adult sopranos.

Fish Fraud

Restaurant-goers no doubt will be shocked to learn that fish are sometimes mislabeled on menus. According to an expose in the Boston Globe,
The rampant mislabeling of fish that consumers buy can be largely traced to this: the lack of anything like the regulations imposed on meat suppliers.
OK, call me a bomb-throwing anarchist, but I'd probably trace the problem to several other factors before I called in the regulators. First, fish are known by a bewildering variety of names, so it's hardly fraud to call escolar "white tuna" if that's a common euphemism. Second, the average patron would scream and run out of the room if the fish showed up on his plate still looking like a fish. Eek! Eyes! Fins! So most of us are used to seeing our fish show up filleted and anonymous, barely identifiable as fish any more, let alone a specific species. Whose fault is that? Third, not that many palettes can distinguish one roughly similar fish from another by taste and texture. My husband can; I can't. I may need an educated palette more than I need a regulator.

So this isn't a problem I'm eager to see Congress solve. I'll all for rating agencies of the Michelin variety who are willing to award stars to restaurants who practice truth in fish, but I'm really not interested in seeing federal regulators show up to harass my local restaurateurs. If the fish isn't carrying dangerous pathogens and I can't tell the difference by eating it, then I feel I ought to be left to the task of frequenting the restaurants that do the best job of winning my confidence regarding the source of their food.