Thursday, February 14, 2013

VD! Not That Kind

Credit: TARDIS Coloring Page by VioletSuccubus on DeviantArt - For time travel use only.
I have nothing insightful or particularly profound to offer up on this Saint Valentine's Day, but I thought I'd try to bring together all my passing knowledge of the holiday. I have decided to work backward, as I could not quite come up with a way to work from a point of origin to the present day... so, let's take a ride backward through time, linearly.

There was more than one Saint Valentine. I think there were seven, or eleven (open 24 hours a day?). Of course, this holiday is said to be named for a particular Saint, martyred for performing forbidden marriages. Notably, marriages for Roman Soldiers who were not allowed to wed while engaged with their soldiering duty. I don't recollect that I ever knew a time frame for this story.

What I do know is that it became associated with Courtly Love. This is no ordinary love, but a distant and chivalrous courting affair. ...Courtly love is a little weird and, I think, largely misunderstood by people who romanticize the notion.

To take us further back in time; the Valentine for whom the holiday appears to be named lived during the rule of the Roman Emperor Claudius. The Christian church was fledgling, and Claudius was not a Christian. (I've never been happier to be a humanities student who studied 3 years of Latin. I can finally tie all this together. Of course, I have a lot more information to which all this is tied that I couldn't hope to dump into a post - nor would I torture you in that fashion, my gentle reader.)

Overall, most people are at least passingly aware that many of our modern holidays, particularly tied to the Christian faith (or inspired by its influence), were created and placed in such a way as to overwrite older, pagan celebrations. Valentine's Day seems to be no exception. Mind you, this was not a uniquely Christian practice. Within pantheons, one deity's festivals could be subsumed by the rise of another, similar deity's worship...

Lupercalia was a festival held from February 13th-15th and while it probably had a lot of nuances I am forgetting, it was a kind of 'rebirth' festival. It's difficult to think of expecting spring while it's snowing out side where I am... and I'm pretty sure even Rome is at the same or a very similar latitude... but, it is what it is. Daffodils and some other plants bloom this early, despite the cold... so who am I to say nay to the ancients that wanted to party in the name of Spring as soon as possible?

At the same time, but temporally earlier in history than Lupercalia, was the "Februa" festival. This was a festival of cleansing and/or purification. "Spring Cleaning," if you will. (Februa. Roman month Februarius... February. (That word gets weirder the more you type it.).) It was celebrated on the same days during which Lupercalia was celebrated.

These sorts of events have always interested me. Somewhere in there came the chocolates and the love letters and then the candy hearts and witty cards. Somewhere in there it became highly commercialized, to the point that flower commercials sound more like invitations for men to compete with one another through showings of status and public gift-giving (there's been a commercial locally for a flower delivery company that shows snippets of interviews with women talking about how their husbands/boyfriends made all the other women jealous, and put all the other men to shame by purchasing superior arrangements). Then came the bitterness and a little spite. And somewhere in that we've lost the cleansing festivals, the celebrations of spring-to-come, and even the notions of distant, courtly, transcendent love. I want to take it a touch further than that.

As frustrated as I may be with humanity, as curmudgeonly as I tend to feel toward my fellow people...

I love you all. I can't (and won't) give you flowers or chocolates or jewelry, but I can give you my respect and consideration and courtesy. Sometimes, I can give you fruits of my brain. This is a low-hanging fruit, and for that I apologize. (I keep trying to give you British s's ("apologise") but spell-check doesn't like them.) Those are things you have until you lose them, and sometimes you can gain them back. It may not seem as nice as flowers, but I hope it is all esteemed a little higher. Just a little?

Plus, I give you random information that you can probably fact-check against Wikipedia and tell me
where I screwed up if you need to feel better today.

Happy Love Day.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Artists Doing Good

Too often people believe that "legal" means "right" - but I disagree. Sometimes, other people also disagree and we remember words like "ethics" and "fairness". Or, we remember how to treat each other the way we'd like to be treated instead of being hateful and rude. There are people out there doing and saying things better than I feel I ever could, and I wanted to share these in a way more lasting than a Facebook or Twitter update. Most of these links will involve people doing the "Right" thing in the face of actions that may be legal (or not) but are definitely not "Right". In the face of a world that seems ever more morally bankrupt, there are people doing good. Here are some pretty easy ways to help...

First, Jonathan Coulton. I love Jonathan Coulton. His music is quirky and perhaps he now dwells in the same house Weird Al carved out in my young heart. In Season 4 of the Fox program Glee, the song "Baby Got Back" was used. Glee often reworks pieces (or appears to), and this case was no exception - EXCEPT that they appear to have taken J. Coulton's individual arrangement (new melody, new lyrics, and all) and used it nearly wholesale. There was no acknowledgement of Coulton associated with the episode or the iTunes release of the song. (A article says that they did edit out "Jonny C's in trouble" line eventually but it was in early releases and can still be heard in this video at the 2:15 mark.)

In answer to this, Jonathan Coulton has re-released "a cover of Glee’s cover of my cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s song" ("which is to say it’s EXACTLY THE SAME as my original version"). Proceeds from the sale of this release will go to the VH1 Save The Music Foundation and the It Gets Better Project.

Links to the specific tracks from three different platforms:
Amazon MP3

(This information is directly from Coulton's blog post on the subject, put here for those who don't like following links to find links to find things they want.)

Second, John Scalzi. Not only do I enjoy Scalzi's fiction writing, I have come to enjoy his "nonfiction" by way of his blog and the way he tackles often controversial topics with aplomb.

Due to his candid manner of presenting his opinions, he's attracted his fair share of internet trolls. In light of one particularly persistent troll, Scalzi has decided to turn this person's bigotry and hatred into a good cause he refers to as "Counteract a Bigot" . In brief, everytime this one particular person mentions Scalzi's name, Scalzi will set aside $5 toward a fund, up to $1,000, which he will donate at the end of 2013 split between several charities. I highly recommend checking out his blog directly - it will allow you to read further details on the situation, and if you decide to participate, you can let him know in comments. This is not a traditional fundraiser nor a website driven one (such as Kickstarter or IndieGoGo), but based on the honor system. If you say you're going to participate, it's up to you to honor your word - no one is going to know one way or another (except for you).

On a smaller scale, a more local and more personal level, I'd like to add Art as Action to my list of folks doing good in the world - not to combat a particular wrong, but because doing good is something that should be active, not just reactive. This group is about performance art, but they also provide programs for people involving dance, especially people who live with Parkinson's Disease. They launched their Reconnect with your Body program in 2011 and it has been successful, but small groups like this are always in need of some funds - no matter how little - to keep their good works going. If you know someone with Parkinson's Disease, you know how important bodily health is and the ways the body can betray a person after so many years together. This is a program that I've seen do good personally and I am happy to support. I encourage you to take a look at their webpage.